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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 2

Canto Two – Bait Worth Biting On

Describing the feeling of entering the Ghost House for the first time would prove quite difficult for Valerie when she tried to do it later on in Miss Bierstadt’s class for an English essay assignment.  But at the moment she crawled through the Tunnel of Doom, she would’ve described it as a feeling in her belly like eating a bowl of iced earthworms and trying to find a place to throw up in a jungle full of man-eating plants that smelled an awful lot like marigolds or something.  It was that kind of combination of anticipation, bad smells, icky things to see and touch, and the sensory deprivation of entering a candle-lit darkness from the bright September world outside.

“Welcome, Miss Valerie Clarke,” said freshman football hero and huge Polish hunk Pidney Breslow.  Valerie was deeply in love with the square-shouldered giant, and sincerely hoped he would be the leader of this Pirate club.

“Hello,” she said, almost timidly.

“You are just in time for the first official meeting of the reforming Norwall Pirates’ Club,” said Mary Philips brightly.   Mary had extended the official invitation to Valerie to come here, although Val didn’t really know why.  Mary had said that she didn’t want to be the only girl in the club, but why would a girl like Mary want to be in a boys’ club?  She had a bad feeling that the high school freshman girl also had her cap set for winning Pidney as a boyfriend.  But, plain-looking as Mary was, Val was only mildly concerned.

A quick look around as Danny Murphy crawled in after her revealed the other boys in attendance at the secret meeting.  Ray Zeffer, another high school freshman was there.  He was kinda handsome in a way, too, but he was always so sad-looking with those big puppy-dog brown eyes of his.  He had a neatly combed mess of jet black hair too, which was also attractive.  Val could easily learn to like this club.

The other boy, a high school junior, was kinda creepy.  His name was Conrad Doble.  He was the only one at the meeting who had been a member of the original Norwall Pirates.  He was tall and thin, with lank blond hair that hadn’t had a haircut in too long.  He had a distinct problem with facial Acne.  And he insisted on leering at Valerie, like he wanted to take a bite or two and eat her up.  For the first time Val understood why he had the semi-Shakespearian nickname of King Leer.

“You know that re-forming the Pirates is a sucky idea, right?” said Doble, leering at Mary Philips for the moment.   “There’s no way to go back to those things.  Milt Morgan had all the ideas and told us what to do.  Brent Clarke was the leader and made the ideas happen.  How are we gonna fight werewolves or undead Chinese wizards without them?”

“You know that those adventures were mostly lies and fairy tales,” Mary said.

“Still, who will be the wizard?  And who will be the leader?”  Doble glared at Mary accusingly.  “I actually saw the werewolf!”

The two older boys, Ray and Pidney looked at each other sheepishly.

“Re-forming the Pirates was my idea,” said Mary.  “I think I should be the leader.”

“A girl as leader?” asked Doble.  “We only used to let girls in for sex parties.”

“Be careful what you say to Mary, Goon,” said Pidney.

“Or what?  You’ll beat me up with your football muscles?”

“No,” said Ray.  “The two of us will beat the crap out of you.”  The fire flashing in Ray Zeffer’s eyes was even more intimidating than Pidney’s football muscles, and Pidney’s football muscles were seriously huge.

“Yeah, well…  I guess there might be benefits to having girls in the Pirates,” grumbled Doble menacingly.

“So, it’s settled.  The Norwall Pirates exist once more,” said Mary with a sparkly smile.  “I will be the leader and Pidney will be second in command.”

“Who is the wizard?” growled Doble.  “Milt is the hard one to replace.”

“I get that you always thought of Milt Morgan as Merlin and Brent Clarke as his King Arthur,” said Mary, “but do we really need a wizard?”

“Yeah, I think we do,” insisted Doble.

“You know we don’t have to let you be a Pirate this time,” warned Pidney.

“I’m the only real Norwall Pirate here,” said Doble imperially.  “You have to have my permission to even do this.”

“It’s all right,” said Mary.  “What is it you think we need a wizard for?”

Conrad Doble stood up to his full height and lightly bonked his head on a cellar rafter.  After he rubbed his somewhat flattened head of hair, he went over to a nearby cabinet, and removed the right hand door which basically fell out when you touched it.  He reached in and brought out a large peanut-butter jar filled with formaldehyde.  Floating in it was the severed head of a huge black cat, its dead eyes popped and staring.  He placed that on the crate in front of the old couch.

“Gack!  What’s that?” asked Pidney.

“The secret mystical symbol of the Pirate leader,” said Mary.

“Smart girl,” said Conrad Doble.  “If you know that, then surely you know what a wizard is for.”

“I’m guessing the keeper of secrets,” said Mary.

“The teller of stories!” Valerie blurted out.

“Yes!” said Doble.  “Both of those things.  But story-teller most of all.  That’s what Milt used to do.  He told us stories and made us believe in stuff.”

“So, who here is a story-teller?” asked Ray Zeffer.

“Tell us the story of your Uncle Noah,” Pidney said to Mary.

“He is NOT my uncle,” said Mary.  “He’s just Dad’s friend.  I used to call him uncle when I was little.”

“But that’s the idea, isn’t it?” asked Pidney.  “That story you were telling me about your dad’s friend on the freighter in the South Seas?  You could tell us that.”

“Maybe.  You have to give me time to pull it all together.  I think we need to leave that position open for the moment, to give others here a chance to tell a story of their own.”  Mary glared in Conrad’s direction for a change.

“Okay,” said Doble.  “It’s a deal.”

“Who will be in the club?” asked Pidney.

“I invited everyone here to be a Pirate,” said Mary.  “I think all of us need to be here.  The Norwall Pirates used to be a group of friends that supported each other and helped each other through hard times.  That’s what we all need again.  Especially Ray.”

Ray Zeffer blushed and looked off into the darkness of the far corner of the cellar.  Valerie wondered why.  She decided she would find out… soon.

“Why didn’t you invite Billy Martin?” asked Danny Murphy.  “He needs to be a Pirate too.”

“You are right,” said Mary with a smile.  “But I didn’t know where to find him or how to get the message to him.  Inviting him can be our first club project.”

“Club project?   You make it sound all girly!” complained Doble.

“Adventure, then.”

“Yeah, better.”

So it was decided.  Valerie Clarke was now the second girl ever to be a Norwall Pirate.  She smiled to herself, but when she caught Doble looking at her again, she changed the smile for a frown.                                                                              

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 1

Canto One – A Secret Meeting Awaits

Valerie was on her skateboard on Main Street.  She was thrashing.  It didn’t matter how dangerous Daddy said it could be.  She was a thrasher, and she knew how to ride.  If he thought he could forbid her from doing it, well, that was just so boofoo!  No.  She couldn’t use that word.  Not after Danny Murphy told her what it actually meant.  Yeesh!  Okay, un-cool, then.

She was ten.  She was wearing her latex biker shorts.  You know, the ones Mom forbid her to wear because they were skin tight.  But why did it matter so much?  It was not like she actually had a butt to show off.  She could ride her skateboard naked and no one would really notice.  She did an ollie off the edge of the sidewalk and onto the hot pavement.  Summer was ending, but the last day of the Labor Day weekend was still hot.  Iowa hot.   Eighty degrees in the sun with warm, humid air that boiled you right out of your biker shorts sort of hot.  But Valerie wasn’t ready to find out if it was true that no one would notice.  She needed to keep them on.  They were black with a purple slash of color on the sides.  Her favorite thing to wear.

Across the asphalt street her wheels and trucks buzzed as she rode to the south side of Main Street.  It was a small Iowa farm town.  Only maybe four cars were parked there at any one time, and no one was on the street but her.  Still, she wished she could burn her way across right in front of someone’s moving pickup truck and scare them into dropping a bale of hay or two.  No one marked her passing by in one of the most boring places in the whole Mr. Boofoo Universe.  No.   The Mr. Un-Cool Universe.   She had to remember not to say that other thing anymore.  Especially in front of Mom, even if Mom didn’t have a clue what it really meant.

She was headed for the Ghost House on the south eastern edge of town.  The Ghost House was the only remaining haunted house in Norwall, Iowa, and it had collapsed in on itself.  It was more a pile of broken boards and garbage than a house, but it was the place where she was headed because, unknown to most of the adults in town, the Ghost House still had a functioning cellar, shored up with railroad ties by her cousin Brent Clarke and the rest of the original Norwall Pirates.  The Pirates had been a secret club in the 1970’s, a secret that nearly everyone knew at least one thing about.  They had been a liars’ club of young boys who supposedly caught a werewolf once and chased an undead Chinese wizard around town.  Liars’ club was more than just a local nickname for it.  It was more of a literal definition.  But she had been called to attend a secret Pirate meeting.  A meeting that shouldn’t exist because there had been no Norwall Pirates since they had graduated high school in 1978.

Mom would have a fit if she knew Valerie was headed to the Ghost House.  It was the kind of run-down rattle-trap that all mothers worried about.  No decent mother worthy of her official Mom-card would stand for a child of theirs going to such a place, especially not Val’s Mom, the Queen of Worrywarts.

She thrashed her way down Whitten Avenue and then around the corner, zigzagging for two blocks, and then passing Ugly Bill’s Junkyard to the huge pile of broken crap that had been described to her as being the actual place.

She came to a stop, kicked up her board and grabbed it, and looked around, not quite as certain now as she pondered a wilderness of junk, thistles, and burdock leaves.  Ugly Bill Pixeley had tons of used car parts and wrecked truck parts from which he salvaged the pieces that he, his brother, and his two idiot sons put together as trucks and other vehicles which he then sold at a huge profit.  Pixeley was a talented mechanic and a very crafty self-taught engineer.

“You here for the Pirate meeting?” asked Danny Murphy, pulling up on his bicycle.

“Yeah,” she answered, popping her Bazooka Joe bubble gum.  “Mary Philips says it ain’t just gonna be for boys anymore.”

“Yeah.  I heard that too.  And I’m glad you’re gonna be a Pirate,” Danny said with a sly grin.  He was a sophisticated man of twelve… well, not really… but he was a boy older than Valerie by an entire school year, though only about five months in age.  Older boys being in the club was one of the main attractions for her.  “It will be cool to have the most beautiful little girl ever born in Norwall in our club.”

Valerie blushed and dropped her eyes a little bit at that.  Her Uncle Dash had always said that about her since she could remember.  But it was one thing to hear it from family, and something else to hear it from somebody she rode the school bus with.  Some things get around by word of mouth a lot faster and farther than you ever wish they would.

“Do you know how to get inside?” Valerie asked.

“I can show you a secret entrance … for a kiss?”  Danny blushed intensely as he proposed the bargain, a truly dark red that can only be achieved by somebody as boney-skinny, white-skinned Irish, and shy of girls as Danny Murphy was.

“Boys who think like that all grow up to be rapists,” Val shot back at him.  “That’s what my Aunt Jennifer says, anyway.”

Danny turned an even darker shade of red-violet.  Valerie was suddenly feeling guilty, as if she might possibly have caused his head to explode from embarrassment by her cutting remark about his personal urges.  She didn’t dislike him.  She just didn’t want to kiss him.

“Aw, I didn’t mean anything by that.  I’ll show you the Tunnel of Doom.”

Danny pointed to a large concrete drainage tile that had been rolled up against the side of the Ghost House’s foundation.  She could see that if you crawled through the tile, you could enter through a large crack in the brick foundation.  Spiders and potentially snakes to crawl through.  Ughh!  But Valerie was no Shrinking Violet.  She pushed Danny out of the way and went in.                                                                                

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