Friday, November 3, 2017

Rent is Due

"It's the first of the month, rent is due." said the wife.

"I know! I'm on it." snapped the husband without looking up from typing on the laptop.

"Well, are you going to pay it then?" asked the wife.

"Yeah..." said the husband quietly.

"When?" the wife persisted.

"We have a couple of days of a grace period before they charge a late fee. I'll get it in tomorrow or the day after." said the annoyed husband. The annoyance was more of a cover up for other feelings such as shame and fear. It was hard for him to face the fact that his family did not have much money. "Why couldn't he earn more and save more?"--shame. "What would happen in the future?"--fear. This was not the first time he and his wife had had this conversation. It had played out at the first of every month for maybe a year now, (maybe two?)

"When can we go shopping for groceries?" asked the wife. "We're getting really low on food."

"Can we make it a week more?" asked the husband.

"I guess." she replied with a sigh. "But you need to pick up some milk and bread soon."

"OK, I will tomorrow morning then, before work." he said.

"What are you working on now?" asked the wife.

"It's my latest story. I am having trouble getting started." said the husband.

"Do you think anybody will buy your stories?" asked the wife.

"I pray that they do. It's all I can think to do to earn extra money. If I could just get a penny per word we would be rich." he said.

"Well, I'll go pick up some laundry," said the wife smiling, "while you pick up pennies."

The husband sat and stared at the start of his latest story.
Dusty Mangum spat in the dirt and looked at the mule train stretching out in front of him. "Five hundred more miles to go across this god-forsaken land while eating the dust that these smelly animals kick up." he thought.
He quickly erased what he had written. "Nobody wants to read a corny western."

"What is the purpose of telling a story?" thought the husband. "Is it to simply entertain, to distract the reader from the misery and trouble of life...?"

He was beginning to believe so. After all, it wasn't just the rent that was due that was troubling him. There was the water heater that was about to go out. It had been making a distinctive knocking sound after every shower and he had repaired it twice already to save money on a plumber.

 "And what about the car?" thought the husband. "Where will we get the money to fix it when it starts breaking down?"

"No," he thought. Somewhere inside he knew that a story was more than a distraction. It was meant to transport its audience beyond the mundane, beyond the difficult--not to distract but to lift above the noise. And being lifted the audience could see the truth ahead.

"I have a life, a wife, and a God who loves me. It's enough." thought the husband. "All good, all good, nothing but good ahead of me no matter what." he said out loud.

And being lifted to see the gifts he had received he began to type.

A ball of thick spit hit the dirt behind the mule train that Dusty Mangum drove. He had been here before: no water for the last day, no food for two, and five hundred more miles to go.
"God," said Mangum above the noise, "I thank ye for keeping me above the ground rather than below it. You fed the chil'ren of Israel in the desert and you can take care of ol' Dusty too. Favor me, Lord with your grace and git me 'cross this desert to the good woman that is waiting for me. But Jesus, if you let these bones o' mine fall here in the sun to be bleached and dried, I'll meet you on the other side. As it says in the Good Book, You is the resurrection an' the life an' he what believes in you though he die he shall live. I believe it, Lord...

The husband wrote on.

Sometime later, Fifty Mules and Five Hundred Miles was published and the pennies rolled in. But a greater story played out in the life of the husband and wife, one told by an Author writing the story of history.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Chapter 3: Water Fight

Note: This story is written by a guest, my son Reuben, who is 9. (Click to read chapter 2.)

Reuben was driving his car wearing his alert watch that alerts him when something bad happens. Suddenly, his alarm went off! He stopped so fast that the person behind him almost crashed into him. Reuben looked at his watch. It said the police station is being attacked by a band of robbers. Reuben turned around and headed for the police station.

When he got to the police station he saw the jail was broken and empty. The police said the robbers escaped with the robber in the jail. Reuben went home and got a tracking device. He tracked the robbers. They were under water but the river was 20 miles away! He had some real catching up to do.

He went outside to his car. All of a sudden he heard a tornado warning. At the same time there was a hurricane warning. The tornado was coming from the north. The hurricane was coming from the south. East was a mountain range and west was the desert. The robbers were past the tornado because they had started before the tornado formed.

He transformed his car into an airplane. He tried to drive the airplane past the tornado. He started to get sucked in. He pushed on the controls with all his might. That got him out of the tornado. He saw the river up ahead. He carefully lowered his plane until it hit the river. Then he transformed his plane into a submarine.

He went underwater. There he saw five other submarines. He fired and exploded one submarine. He put the robber he caught in the jail in the back of the submarine. One of the robbers fired at Reuben's submarine. Reuben steered his submarine to the side. That made his submarine dodge the bullet. He shot two more submarines down and he put them with the other robber.

One of them tried crashing his submarine into Reuben's. Reuben steered his submarine to dodge the attack. The robber crashed into a rock. Reuben put him in jail with the others. But he didn't see the fifth one!

All of a sudden, his submarine exploded! The robber had snuck up behind him and shot a bullet. Reuben felt helpless, but all of sudden, he noticed something he hadn't before. His watch had a button that had an "E" on it. He pressed the button, then letters appeared, and his watch said, "What vehicle do you want?" He typed, "submarine." When he pressed that his watch turned into a submarine.

The robber was on land right now and heading for his car. But Reuben had other problems. He rescued the other robbers, put them in handcuffs, and then drove his submarine out of the water. He put the handcuffed robbers by a tree. Then he chased after the other robber.

He grabbed him and handcuffed him before he could get to his car. He handed over the five handcuffed robbers to the police. Reuben had saved the day! But barely...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Chapter 2: The Robber Escapes

Note: This story is written by a guest, my son Reuben, who is 9. (Click to read chapter 1.)

Reuben was talking to the police at the police station. All of a sudden he heard the alarm ring and the jail was open. The robber was gone. Then they heard a shout. A man reported that the museum was being robbed. Reuben sped into action.

He hurried toward the museum to find people screaming and running out of the museum because the museum was on fire! Reuben couldn't believe his eyes—a fire for the second time! Luckily, he found a garden hose by the nearest house. He put out the fire but the robber was gone again.

He went home and got onto his computer. The robber was in a car heading out of town! He had to hurry to catch up with him. So he got in his car and hit the road with all of his speed. But there was traffic on the bridge. He didn't have time for traffic. So he drove right off the bridge! But he had a trick under his sleeve. He transformed his car into a submarine and he drove down the river. That gave him a big boost to catch up with the robber. He saw the robber ahead. He boofed the robber's car. It broke.

But the robber jumped out of the car window. The robber threw a bomb at Reuben's car. It exploded. Reuben jumped out of his car, grabbed the robber, and handcuffed him and called the police. They took him back to jail again. Once again Reuben was the hero of the day.

And that is the story of "the Robber Escapes."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chapter 1: The Big Fire

Note: This story is written by a guest, my son Reuben, who is 9. 

One day Reuben was walking with his sword strapped to his belt. All of a sudden he smelled smoke and he heard a cry for help. He turned around and he saw a building on fire and a woman crying for help with her baby up in a high window.

He tried to open the door but it was locked. He hacked it down with his sword. When he got inside he saw a robber with jewels in one hand and matches in the other. He was lighting stuff on fire with his matches.

Reuben drew his sword. Unfortunately he had a sword too so they had a duel. Reuben won the duel by slashing his legs. Now he had to go save the woman and her baby.

He hurried upstairs and he saw the woman and her baby trapped in a ring of fire. He whipped the fire with his jacket which created a part where they could get out.

"Come with me," said Reuben and the woman and the baby hurried out of the house with Reuben.

Reuben grabbed a garden hose and put out the fire. Then he called the police and they took the robber. He was the hero of the day!

That is the story of the big fire.
(Click to read Chapter 2.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jack, the Giant, and the Dragon

Once there was a small boy who lived in a small hut in a small village. His name was Jack. He was very skinny for he ate very little. Like all boys Jack loved to eat but there was nothing for him except a few small potatoes from a meager garden by the hut. At dinner his step-father would eat most of the potatoes and even the bread. Then Step-father would leave the rest on his plate for Jack's mother. "Here," he said loudly, "I am finished with this tasteless food." Jack's mother would take the scraps and try to hand them to Jack secretly.

"No, Mother." Jack whispered. "You must eat."

"Nonsense," said Mother. "I ate yesterday and besides you are growing. I want you to grow tall like your father."

Yes... Father. Father had been dead for two winters but Jack remembered well his smiling face and tickly beard. Father was a tall, skinny woodcutter who worked long days. Because of those long days Jack and his mother had wood to keep the fire going during the coldest days of winter. There was always plenty to eat as well from the profit of the extra wood that Father sold. One night as Father worked alone, a tall tree fell on him and pinned him to the ground. The evening wolves arrived as he lay there and Father never came home.

Jack remembered seeing his mother cry and saying "With your father gone I do not know what we will eat." But then Thomas came to the door and said to Mother "I need a wife to cook and clean. I have a hut and food, but only enough food for you and me, not that little runt!" Mother told Jack they would have a new home with her new husband. She would share her food with Jack. The small boy had no choice. He quickly learned to be scared of Thomas and only said, "Yes, Step-father." when addressed by him.

"What are you whispering about?" thundered Step-father. "Runt, leave your mother's food alone and go to bed!"

"Yes, Step-father." said Jack. As Jack walked toward his bed, Step-father slapped him on the back of the head. "If you do not go to sleep soon I will knock you out myself!"

Jack cried quietly and fell asleep.

The next morning Jack awoke to rumbling sounds outside and people shouting. Jack rubbed his eyes and looked around. "What is happening, Mother?" Jack said.

"Do not go outside, Jack, it is too dangerous!" said Mother. "Your step-father has gone to grab food from burning houses."

"Burning houses!" cried Jack and he jumped up and ran outside. There Jack saw a giant--a man who was taller than any of the village huts. The giant had dark eyes and blood running from the corner of his mouth.

Jack could not believe his eyes for he also saw a dragon, a green one with a long curved neck and fire coming out of its mouth. The giant punched the dragon with his meaty hand and the dragon bit the giant's arm.

The giant yelled, "Go away dragon! This is MY village. I am going to eat these people."

The dragon hissed back, "Stupid giant, I will eat these people and then eat YOU!"

Jack had heard about the giant and the dragon before from travelers who came to town. The giant would go from village to village scooping up people and eating them. The dragon also roamed the countryside killing people with his fire and eating their hearts out. Both of them would turn the earth brown and kill crops by their dark magic. Now they had come to Jack's village and were fighting each other.

All the villagers watched as the dragon and the giant fought. "Oh well," said Sam the Butcher "they will kill each other." Then Sam walked back to his hut. "Perhaps we should go to another village." said a farmer calmly. "I will pretend I did not see this." said John the Baker.

"Wait," cried Jack, "someone must stop the giant and dragon!" But no one listened. All the people muttered to themselves and walked off. Glenda the old maid grabbed Jack by the wrist and said, "If you have any sense you will go hide yourself or they will find you. And if they find you, they will kill you. The taylor's family has already been burned alive in their hut."

Jack rubbed his wrist and walked toward the giant and dragon who were still fighting. He walked past the smoking taylor's hut. He saw a burned body on the ground outside. It was Step-father. He had a large hole in his chest where the dragon had eaten out his heart.

Jack shuddered and almost burst into tears. "Someone must stop the giant and dragon!" he thought. Jack pictured his mother frightened inside their hut waiting to be burned and eaten. Jack pictured his father pinned helplessly beneath a tree and being attacked by wolves.

Jack ran toward the giant and dragon. He got so close he could feel the wind from the giant's punches and the heat from the dragon's fire.

Jack squeaked with all his might, "Go AWAY you wicked beasts! LEAVE!"

Jack trembled as the giant and dragon turned to look at him and braced himself to be eaten.

"ANT!" thundered the giant "I will crush you."
"How DARE you speak to me, boy!" hissed the dragon "I will turn you to ashes."

Their evil and might were too much for him. Jack sobbed and fell to his knees.

Suddenly, the elf-king on his large white stallion appeared. His crown was shining gold, his beard was the darkest red and he carried a lance so long and straight it looked like the trunk of a tall tree. Without a word, the elf-king charged his horse at the dragon with blinding speed. The magical lance sunk deep into the body of the dragon. It burned away all flesh it touched and turned the tough hide to smoke. The dragon writhed then collapsed into ash.

The giant, seeing that the dragon was dead, smiled with a wicked grin and swung his huge fist at the elf-king. From his hip the elf-king drew a sword that shone like the sun and in a flash cut off the giant's fist in mid-swing.

The giant howled in pain and raised his bloody arm which now had no hand. "I have killed a thousand lesser men than you, Elf, and you will die too!" cried the giant.

Then the giant leaped at the elf-king with all his weight. With a loud crack he landed belly first on the ground trying to crush the elf-king. But the elf-king atop his stallion was quicker than the wind. He was not under the giant when he landed. Instead, the elf-king appeared by the giant's head.

Leaping from the saddle the elf-king struck with the brilliant sword like a woodcutter splitting wood. The giant's enormous head rolled off like the wheel of a cart. It came to rest near Jack who stared into the whites of the giant's rolled-back eyes.

Jack dared not rise from his knees in the presence of one so great as the elf-king but suddenly the elf-king stood in front of him and raised his tiny chin with his strong hand. "Jack, you may be small, but you spoke the truth. Well done."

Then the elf-king smiled and mounted his stallion. He galloped triumphantly. As he rode, the ground beneath the horse's hooves turned a lush green color.

Jack ran home to his hut. He could not believe his eyes. Their meager garden was now a beautiful orchard with full fruit trees. In fact, everywhere Jack looked, there were beautiful flowers and vegetation. The land was healed. The door opened and Jack's mother ran to him and kissed him and hugged him.

"Oh, Jack," she said while crying with joy, "you are alive!"
"I AM alive, Mother." said Jack. "And we will never have to worry about food again."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Beaten to Life

Unfeeling, unseeing, dark and dead, I lay in the bottom of a mountain, surrounded by dirt. I could not move, breath, or speak. I had no color; no shape.

How long did I languish in the dark? I do not know. I have no recollection of a beginning—only darkness.

Then one day a pinpoint of light appeared. It spread into a blinding light as a blow from behind it knocked it apart. Rock clattered and fell aside like the opening of an ancient tomb, but for me it was the exit of a womb.

A miner stood in the light, sweating, covered in dirt from his descent down into the muck. His pick was slung across his shoulders like someone carrying a cross beam.

With joy on his face, he looked right at me. "I found you." he said. With that he reached out and plucked me from the dirt.

Now the joy was mine. Air! Light! Color! Shape! Thoughts flooded me faster than I could comprehend them. It was a new world for me outside of the mountain. Was I ever really alive before?

Up in the light, the miner gently washed me. Now I had weight and form.

I had just met the miner but I loved him. I loved the one who had rescued me.

Just when I thought I could contain my joy no longer, I was taken to the furnace. The miner placed me in the bowl of a crucible and then into the fire.

An intense fire! I felt that I could not take the heat. I melted and feared that there would be nothing left of me. Yet, as I looked through the opening of the kiln, I saw the miner carefully watching me and controlling the temperature. If too hot; I would vaporize. If too cold; I would stay mixed with the lifeless and dull lead. But neither happened. He used a bellows to blow off the impurities into the fire.

The miner drew me out and I emerged as pure, liquid gold. Shiny and precious, my surface was now a mirror for the miner's smiling face.

As I cooled into a lump my faith in the miner solidified as well. No matter what fires may come I knew now that I could trust the miner's good purposes.

So when he took me and placed me on the anvil, I was ready. The hammer fell on me again, and again. Ringing out, it beat me, flattened me, shaped me. I had no idea of what the miner was making me into.

It did not matter though, I only wished to be used by the miner. I hoped I could be useful to him.

Slowly, he added jewels to the outside of my circlet. I was placed as a crown at the foot of a king. As I looked at the king I saw the same blinding light that shone on me in the depths of the mountain, and the same smiling face that found me. It was the miner as he really was—a king. As for me, I was finally home.

1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pirate Waters 3: The Return of Bill Booty

William Lily woke early. He had slept fully clothed with his dagger under his pillow. Old habits die hard. It was difficult to change his sleeping routines after years of fearing a mutiny.

William had only been retired from being a pirate for six months but the novelty of it had worn off.

Although he had a large sum of money from his plundering days, William had difficulty enjoying it, knowing that there was only a fixed amount he had to live on for the rest of his life.

"What if I want to buy a new ship fully outfitted with all the luxuries?" thought William. "I can certainly afford it." But then he realized he would have to ration his money carefully afterwards, making his best guess as to how many years he had left before dying.

In his pirate days, William just bought what he wanted and knew there was always another ship to capture and despoil. Besides, he had to look the part of the captain for the crew's sake—oh, how he missed his crew! Folks around Jamaica just called him, "Mr. Lily."
"I was a captain for 25 years, you know!" he would respond to the young men who called him "mister" or "sir."
"Oh, beg your pardon, Captain Lily." they would quickly say but it never sounded right since William always went by "Bill" and never used his surname, "Lily."

William strolled down to the tavern just as it was opening up.
"Can I bring you some wine, Mr. Lily?" asked the serving wench. William didn't correct her on his name because he liked the young lady. She reminded him of the daughter he never had.
"No, Moriah, just bring me some tea, as usual." said William. "Wine is hard on me gut of late."

William looked around and the place was almost entirely empty—even the typical drunks were gone.
"Too bad." thought William. He had hoped to hear some news of the sea from a hung-over sailor or two.

"At least I'll see El Dragón at noon." thought William. Diego "El Dragón" Díaz was an old pirate friend who might know some news.

That afternoon Diego and William played pall-mall together. They chatted while they tried to hit a wooden ball with mallets through an iron hoop at the end of a lawn.

"What news do you hear from the sea, El Dragón?" said William while Diego was taking a swing at the ball.

"I no hear nothing, my friend." said Diego. "Why you ask me? It makes three years now since I have been at sea. I'm retired like you, remember?"

"Yes, yes." sighed William.

"You know, Diego, I always thought we were pirates for the loot." said William. "That's why I changed me last name to 'Booty'. Now, I realize it was for the adventure. It was for the challenge. It was getting up in the morning and knowing somewhere there was a ship to be sacked and sunk. I've never felt so old as when I've had nothing to do. Me ankle is so stiff it will hardly move. I just know that if I were on the deck of a rolling ship it would loosen up."

"Ah sí, mi amigo, pirates are supposed to die young—not grow old." said Diego thoughtfully.

"Do you have any regrets from your sailing days, Diego?" asked William.

"What you mean?" asked Diego.

"You know, things you hoped to do but never did." said William. He had not been this open with his emotions in years. He had no idea why he was now sharing all this with Diego. He would not cry, though. He despised tears in anyone as a sign of weakness.

"You know, I finally defeated my mortal enemy on the seas, the French corsair, Jean 'le Requin' Lasalle." said Diego. "It was a great feeling knowing that I beat him when we had battled so many times before. But when I buried him at sea it was like the end of a dream. It was no fun after that—so I retired."

"There was nothing else to do then?" asked William.

"When your mortal enemy dies, a piece of you goes too." said Diego wistfully. "Is like there is no one else to prove something to, you know?"

"Me old enemy, Captain Powder Jack, is alive and well." said William. "He's probably living in Barbados by now with some lass he found down there. We narrowly escaped mutiny together and settled our differences. In fact, we split a large hoard of gold which is how I was able to retire. But I think I put into port too soon. I miss the sea."

"You are terrible at this game!" said Diego as William smacked a ball well past the end of the lawn and nowhere near the hoop. William banged his mallet on the ground in frustration and the head broke off.

"You need something new in your life." said Diego. "I had a feeling you would be frustrated again today so I brought you a little something."

Diego pulled out a rolled-up skin from his pocket and showed it to William. The leather was from a sea cow and a drawing had been burned onto the lighter colored side with the heated tip of a dagger.

"Say, that looks important!" mused William as Diego unrolled it .
"Waterproof and no ink to smudge." he muttered.

"This, mi amigo, is a map I got from the pirate 'le Requin'. After I had run him through with my sword he said to me, "Monsieur Drago, you have killed me. I salute you and hope that you would have done the same if my blade had found your belly first. Quick, monsieur, check my right boot. You will find a map to a vast treasure I hid. If you find it, tell my name across the seas as 'le Requin'—the richest pirate to ever die.""

Diego rolled the map back up and extended it towards William. "I want to give this to you." he said.

"I don't know what to say." said William, tearing up. It was all he could do to keep from crying.

"Just take it, my friend!" said Diego.

"I'll buy a ship, get a crew, and embark posthaste." said William exuberantly. "Come sail with me, Diego. We'll dig up a fortune together."

"No, no, my friend. Catalina is a good wife to me and I could not stand to leave her on an aventura. We are having some of the best years of our lives now that I am retired. Besides, I have plenty of money and I am not sure if the map is real. 'Le Requin' was known to play dirty tricks like this. Who knows? It could be his last revenge on me. And more, if the map is real then someone is probably looking for it and will kill to get it."

"I'll take me chances." said William. "But first there is something I need to do." William took out a letter from inside his coat. It was a letter that had cost him a fortune and a shady deal to obtain. It read:
25th of January, Anno Domini 1666
The bearer of this letter, one William Lily, is an acquaintance of mine and has received a full pardon for infractions of the law, be they in town, countryside, or on high seas, before the date affixed above. As such, Wm. Lily is under my protection and may not be charged with additional crimes on the island of Jamaica without notice first given to my office.
—The Honorable Thomas Modyford, Governor of Jamaica
Rapidly ripping the letter in his hands into pieces, the captain said, "William Lily is dead now. Captain Bill Booty, the Sword of the Seas, returns!" At this Bill threw the pieces of his pardon letter into the air and felt young again. He had learned that there was a fate worse than death—retirement—endless days without purpose.

Rushing home, Bill took his sword out of the case carefully stowed under his bed. It was a cutlass, a sword with a wide, curved blade and a broad hand guard. Its blade could cut through a thick rope in a single swing. The flat of the blade could smack a lazy sailor into action and leave him with a welt. Of course, it could also be used as a sword to dispatch an enemy or at least hack off his limbs.

Bill began sharpening the cutlass with a small stone. "Yes, today will be a great day!" he thought. "First I will squander me gold on a ship, then shop for gear and clothes, and finally recruit the saltiest toughs I can find."

Five hours later, Bill Booty walked down the main road in a new, blood-red coat, the bottom of which brushed the back of his black, knee-high boots. His cutlass was slung in a shiny scabbard on his belt. His arms crossed his chest just below his beard. Over the years, white and silver threads had sneaked into Bill's dark beard. Normally, Bill did not care. Today, however, he had his beard and hair dyed jet black. It made him look most fierce and accented the dark circles around his eyes. "Perfect!" thought Bill. He spared no expense to look the part of the notorious pirate captain he knew he was. He planned to spend as much money as he could out of his retirement stash and was having fun again.

Bill spied a man in the marketplace named Honest Bob who dealt in hard-to-get items.

"Afternoon, Bob. How much for the monkey?" said Bill pointing to a creature perched on Bob's shoulder.

"Oh, this little guy is very special! He's not for sale." said Bob quickly.

"You would sell shoes to a lame man, Bob. And they would probably be shoes that you removed from a sleeping street beggar! How much for the monkey?" said Bill.

Bob's face broadened into a smile. "Did you know I picked him up in Panama? He knows how to ride on a shoulder or broad hat, uncork bottles, steal food, or pick pockets. Isn't that right, Fester?" he asked the monkey.

The Capuchin monkey chattered back to the merchant.

"Fester? You mean, like a wound?" asked Bill recoiling at the name.

"Aye, it's short for 'Silvester'."

"Now, I see, mate. 'Fester' definitely sounds better. I'll take him. What is your asking price?"

The merchant named a price.

"I may be a pirate but you, sir, are a brigand! I've bought ships for less than that price!" ranted Bill.
"I like to think of myself as more of a highwayman," replied Honest Bob.
In the end, however, Bill handed Bob a plump sack of coins. The deal being done, Fester jumped into his arms, scaled his beard and climbed up onto Bill's tricorne hat.

"Fester, me lad, let's go find a crew." said Bill to the monkey. Fester was already perched comfortably on the hat and crunching on a nut. Bill could tell that they were going to be good friends.

Bill walked down to the tavern and used his big boot to kick the front door wide open. In one motion he stepped inside, drew his sword, and looked around with wild, menacing eyes. Unlike that morning, the tavern was now absolutely packed with sailors. Five different ships had come into port that day and now their crews were let out on the town. "Excellent!" thought Bill. All eyes were fixed on him. There was little doubt that a pirate stood in the doorway.

Bellowing, Bill said, "Any sailor wanting to gain a fortune or die trying will meet me down at the docks at sunrise tomorrow. Me ship is called the Drowning Rat and she's frigate-built. If ye got what it takes, I'll take you on me ship."

Just as everyone was about to turn back to his game of cards, drink, or flirting with the serving wenches, one young sailor stood up near Bill and challenged him, "Oy, who do you think you are?" Bill knew this game well. A young sailor would challenge the tough guy in the room and win the respect of his shipmates and the pretty ladies. Bill ignored him.

The young sailor persisted, "Why don't you two filthy animals go back outside." he said to Bill. His buddies around him laughed.

"You mess with the monkey, you mess with me," growled Bill brandishing his sword.

The sailor, a large man with a rope belt and a carpenter's ax, lunged towards Bill quickly. He swung the ax mightily trying to cleave Bill in two. Bill stepped into the swing and—instead of jabbing the sailor in the stomach—he slid his sword along the hip and down. The rope belt gave way and dropped the sailor's trousers exposing his nethers.

All the spectators laughed and the surprised sailor quickly bent over to grab his pants from his ankles. Bill used the flat of his sword to spank the bare bottom of the sailor. Howling and embarrassed the sailor quickly left the tavern knowing he was beaten.

"I'm Captain Bill Booty!" roared Bill triumphantly.

"Bloody Bill Booty?" exclaimed a trembling sailor.

"The same." answered Bill. "Anyone else who challenges me will become a new scabbard for me sword."

"There, that will take care of it." thought Bill and sure enough he had total freedom in the tavern the rest of the night and the respect of all.

Fester jumped down from Bill's hat and went to work, stealing bits of food to eat from unsuspecting patrons. He also kept bringing pilfered coins all night to Bill snatched from the pockets of sailors.

"That monkey's worth every farthing I spent!" thought Bill and he bought everyone a round of drinks with the ill-gotten money.

Before long a crowd was gathered around Bill and listening to him spin his yarns from the sea.

"Why didn't you ever marry?" a pretty waitress asked Bill.

"Oh, I almost did once but a mermaid broke me heart." said Bill.

"Too true! too true!" said a drunk sailor named Pete. His buddy pushed Pete's face back from the circle with numb fingers. "Ah be quiet, Pete. You don't know what you're talking about."

"Tell us about the time you attacked Maracaibo with nothing more than a canoe." said another.

"Well," says Bill, warming up to the story "We was dangerously low on provisions having been adrift at sea a month with no merchant ships in sight. The men were fighting over rats they caught below deck. But what we did have was plenty o' gunpowder. So I says to me crew, 'Lads, we're heading in to Maracaibo'—the most well-defended port in the Caribbean. They were on the verge of mutiny and scared but I tells them I would take the town me-self. While they anchored the ship out of cannon range, I paddled a canoe up to the docks with a single powder keg in it. I unloaded the barrel and announced as loudly as I could that I had come to take over the town. Oh, did they laugh at me and pay me no mind! So I rolls me barrel up to the nearest fortification and set her off. The blast started a huge blaze and those who were in the fort had to flee for their lives from the fire. All the town is in a panic by now on account of the fire spreading to other buildings. In the confusion me crew sails up and takes all the barrels and crates for other ships right off the dock and puts them on our ship. We were out of sight by the time the smoke cleared and Maracaibo never knew what hit 'em!"

"Sounds like something Cap'n Powder Jack would do." said one bold sailor.

"Pff-what?" said Bill sputtering and spitting out part of his drink. "Cap'n Powder Jack learnt what he learnt from me."

Bill noticed that during the evening one man in the tavern stayed aloof. Bill watched him out of the corner of his eye and the stranger did the same from his seat. "A Frenchman, no doubt, by the look of his dress." thought Bill. "Why does he sit alone?" Suddenly, Bill remembered an important bit of business to take care of before sailing out the next day. He excused himself from the group and walked over to the loner.

"Parlez-vous anglais?" asked Bill.

"Oui, Monsieur Booty. What do you want with me?" replied the sailor. His demeanor was nonchalant.

"Can you read French?" asked Bill. "I have a map that is useless to me unless I can read it." At this Bill unrolled the treasure map on the table in front of the stranger.

"Saint Denis!" exclaimed the stranger. "Where did you get this?" The sailor who had been quiet a moment before was now animated. Without answering, Bill sat down across from the stranger who began to study the map like it was the most interesting thing in the world. He read the first line of the map out loud, "Sur l'île de la Tortue sont cachés richesses au milieu des pierres..."

Bill slammed his hand down in the middle of the map. "Can you translate it, mate, or is our business here done?" Bill asked. Startled, the stranger looked up and narrowed his eyes.

"Oui, Monsieur Booty, I can. What shall be my compensation if I help you?" replied the sailor.

"The usual terms." said Bill evenly. "Gold, adventure, and probably death—plenty of the former if you avoid the latter."

"We are agreed then. My name is Jude Dubois." said the sailor.

"And you can call me "Cap'n" since you'll be sailing with me." said Bill. "Now," said Bill taking his hand off the map, "what do you make of this?"

"It is the treasure map of 'le Requin'." said Jude. Bill was impressed. He thought the sailor sitting alone would be intelligent—the quiet ones usually are—but he underestimated this one. Jude told Bill further that he had sailed with 'le Requin' years ago and that the pirate captain guarded the map with his life.

"I saw the map only once. It was rolled up and a small portion was sticking out of his boot. Before that I did not believe the rumors on board that the captain had a treasure map hidden on his person." said Jude.

"My friend, El Dragón, tells me this map might be an elaborate trick or one last revenge on 'le Requin's enemies." said Bill cautiously.

Non, monsieur, 'le Requin' lived by a code of honor and told the crew often that whoever killed him would receive a large treasure. Then he would smile and say, 'Who wants to try?'—for you see he was a fighter par excellence." said Jude.

"Well then, what does the map say?" asked Bill.

Jude produced a charcoal stick from his coat and a scrap of parchment. In short time he wrote out a translation of the map which read:
On the Turtle isle are hidden riches amid the stones.
From windward to leeward step 1000 paces
to the three holes shaded by a lone tree.
Dig in the middle and be a king.
"Well, then, I finally know where we'll be sailing tomorrow—Tortuga, the Turtle isle." said Bill.

"But, monsieur, that island will be crawling with pirates!" said Jude.

"Ah Jude, you're sailing with Captain Bill Booty now. Don't worry, I'll take care of that." said Bill.

Bill looked around the tavern and realized it was time to go. Things were getting a little wild and chorus of drunk sailors were singing, "Cap'n Jones Bones" in perfect disharmony. When one would forget the lyrics to a verse the others would slap him and laugh but, in reality, nobody knew what verse they were on.
Bill stood suddenly to leave and Jude pulled him close to give him a firm kiss on each cheek.
"Au revoir, Capitaine Booty. Until tomorrow when we sail." said Jude as Bill shook him off.
"Arr, none of that now, matey—especially not in front of me crew. A slap on the back will do." said Bill.
"Mais oui," replied Jude with a odd grin.
"The French!" muttered Bill to himself as he turned to go.

As Bill walked toward the door Fester came waddling up. His little stomach was bulging with food and he had two more coins in his hands. The crusty old pirate picked up the monkey and held him tenderly on his shoulder like a baby. "Let's go get some rest, Fester. We've got a big day tomorrow."

The sun came up too early the next day. Bleary-eyed sailors staggered around the docks like dead men. They held their heads or raised their hands towards the glare of the rising sun.

Bill was pleased to see the large turnout of sailors who wanted to enlist on the Drowning Rat. First, he made all the men compete for jobs. For two hours, they climbed ropes, tied knots, carried cannonballs, fought with wooden barrel staves, and were quizzed by Bill about their sailing knowledge. Finally satisfied, Bill announced who would be the quartermaster, boatswain, cook, and first mate on the crew. A surprise appointment came when a large sailor with an ax and a new rope belt was chosen as the ship's carpenter—the same guy who took a swing at Bill the night before.
"Ah mate, let's let the past roll out with the tide." Bill said to the bashful sailor. "And keep your pants on!"

Bill wanted to weigh anchor immediately but Jude Dubois, the Frenchman, had not arrived yet. Two ships were already dots on the horizon, having left port early that morning. Bill was eager to get out on the sea again. Its siren call had only increased during his retirement.

"I don't need Frenchy," said Bill finally, "I've got me map." Suddenly, an odd thought occurred to Bill. He quickly reached inside his coat and pulled out a rolled-up scrap of cloth from a tavern instead of the map. Throwing it on the ground and grinding it with his boot, he yelled, "Stir your carcasses, lads! We've got competition! Whichever ship gets to Tortuga first gets a treasure." Normally, pirates are a lazy lot but when gold is to be had they work twice as hard to steal it than anyone ever did earning it.

After much scrambling and shouting (but only moments later), the Drowning Rat embarked with a crew of a hundred strong heading for Tortuga. Captain Bill Booty was sailing again, with a ship rolling under him and the sea spray flying up before the bow.
"Fester, why did I ever retire?" Bill asked the monkey perched on his shoulder.
The Capuchin chattered back something that sounded thoughtful.
"You're right, mate." Bill replied. "I would have never appreciated this now so much if I hadn't retired first."

The Drowning Rat made great time. Bill's handpicked crew could pull ropes with the best of them and the new ship arrived at the northern side of the island of Tortuga just behind two others. A look through the spyglass confirmed that the two ships flew the French flag. Bill ordered the boatswain to blow his pipe and gather all the crew on deck.

"Lads," Bill said to the motley crew, "it is almost certain that a vast treasure lies a thousand paces inland from yon beach. Trouble is, lads, the map with the particulars to the treasure rests on one of the French ships anchored ahead. No doubt, that traitorous Jude Dubois thought he could out-sail us, dig up the treasure, and be gone by the time we arrived—But we caught 'em, didn't we? Now they will have to stay behind to fight us afore reaching the treasure. Harken to me plan now. We sails up and signal to the flag ship for a parley. I'll speak to the captain and challenge him to a duel with the terms that the winner takes all. If'n I kills him in the fight then we gain two ships and the treasure. If'n he kills me, then he gains a new, fast ship with the best crew. Either way, lads, you will get the treasure without a fight and still have a captain. What say ye?"

The pirate crew who had been grunting and nodding while Bill Booty spoke now erupted in a cheer.
"Yarr, for Cap'n Bill Booty!" one said. "The best cap'n what sailed the seas!"
"Hear, hear." exclaimed others.

"Quiet down, lads." announced the captain. "If Jude Dubois gets the best of me I only have one request: shove me body in the sea so that the mermaids will weep for me." The mood of the crew turned somber momentarily then defiant.
"Give him what-for, Cap'n!" shouted out one sailor. "Cut him some new gills!"

Thus, the plan was hatched and the Drowning Rat boldly approached the French pirate ships flying the parley flag. The French pirate ship signaled back to draw near. Before long the three ships were lashed together by grappling ropes and their crews stood on deck to watch the parley of the captains in the center gallery.

"I see you have come to die, monsieur." said Jude cooly while twirling a dagger.

"I've come like you have, Frenchy—to gain a prize!" replied Bill Booty.

"Then fight, you pig! You are surrounded and outnumbered. Try to defeat us!" said Jude. At this every pirate shifted nervously while clutching his weapon. Each man looked for the signal to attack.

Bill laughed heartily and said, "Ah, Jude! Here I sit with a brand-new ship and the fastest sailing crew and you want to tear it apart and kill them. I thought you were smarter than that." At first a few sailors chuckled nervously. Bill however swept his arms around theatrically and looked at the men. More and more began to murmur and nod.

"What do you propose, then?" Jude replied.

"A gamble, sir. I'll wager me ship and me crew as the prize. You win it by defeating me, Cap'n Bill Booty, in a duel. If, however, I kill you—you sorry excuse for a pirate—then your crew will have a worthy captain leading them, the legendary Bloody Bill Booty. And you will be another dead French upstart who..."

"Enough!" shouted Jude. "I accept the terms."

Without warning, Jude hurled a dagger that whistled through the air and stuck in the front of Bill. The old captain staggered and dropped to his knees clutching the dagger. Blood spread from the wound on Bill's white shirt. All the pirates except Jude were stunned silent.

"Aha, Monsieur Booty! You are not so great as you think." said Jude, giddy with triumph.

Fester the monkey jumped down from Bill's shoulder and ambled towards Jude. To everyone's surprise, the old captain slowly stood up again.

"I believe you dropped something." said Bill slyly.

In one motion, Bill yanked the dagger from his abdomen and whipped it back-handed at Jude who had come closer to inspect his target. The dagger flew fast and struck true in the heart of Jude. Pale and wide-eyed Jude was speechless, though he knew anything he said would be his final words.

"You see," lectured Bill to the dying pirate, "the difference between the upstart and the truly great pirate is excellence. I could have made that dagger throw with my left hand as well. You threw like a cabin boy and hit me just below the rib."

Bill caught Jude as he slumped forward and slung him over his shoulder. "And now, lads," bellowed Bill, "watch and learn how legends are made." The men of the crews followed Bill to the side of the ship and crowded around. With incredible strength Bill lifted the body of Jude Dubois over his head and said, "Farewell, Fishbait." With that he dumped Jude into the sea with a dramatic splash. For years afterwards the sailors who were there that day would tell in their tales how Bloody Bill Booty was the son of Neptune himself. The sailors swore that Bill Booty could not be killed while at sea and that he drew super-human strength from the waves themselves.

Back on the deck of the Drowning Rat, after that fateful splash, Fester the monkey scurried up to Bill with a prize in his hand. Bill took the rolled-up treasure map from Fester and hoisted the monkey up on his shoulder.

"As planned," said Bill with a gleam in his eye. "Let's go get some treasure, men!"

As for the treasure, it was indeed vast. Bill did not retire again from pirating, though. Money doesn't matter to a man doing something he loves.