May 15, 2013

The Ghost Ship: A Bedtime Story

"Will you tell me a story about skeleton pirates?" asked my four-year-old as I tucked him in to bed tonight. How could I say no to a request like that? Here is the story I told him.

Pirate ship
photo by Maria in Toronto
The trading ship Marilou was caught in a calm in the West Indies. A calm is like the opposite of a storm; instead of the wind blowing too much, it doesn't blow at all. If there's no wind to fill the sails, a big ship just sits there in the middle of the ocean. Captain Johnson and his crew were getting worried. They had been stuck out there for five days and were running low on food and water.

The morning of the sixth day, a sailor spied another ship far away. Immediately, the Captain had his men collect old pieces of wood and cloth and make a smoky fire in hopes the other ship would see it. He had a sailor climb the crows nest and flash a mirror in the sun to tell the other ship that they were in trouble and needed help. He hoped they saw his message, and he hoped they would be able to get close enough to help the crew of the Marilou.

But as the other ship came closer, Captain Johnson noticed that it didn't look right. The hull was damaged and the sails were ragged. It looked like it had spent the last ten years under water. The Captain wondered why he couldn't feel the breeze that was propelling the other ship, and how they were able to move at all with so many holes in their sails.

As the ship grew closer, the Captain realized that those were not regular sailors on board. The other ship was crewed by skeletons! Skeletons stood in the crows nest and climbed the rigging and stood at the wheel. Then, with a feeling of dread, he saw the flag atop their mainmast: it was the Jolly Roger, the skull and crossbones. These were pirates!

Captain Johnson didn't know how he was going to defend his ship against ghost pirates, but he refused to go down without a fight. "Get your swords and blunderbusses! Man the cannons!" he told his crew. "They will not take us easily!"

But before the sailors could move, the ghost ship raised a white flag. They wanted to parley! Captain Johnson raised a white flag as well, accepting their invitation. Soon, the ghost ship came alongside the Marilou and the skeleton crew laid a plank across between the two ships.

"If I don't return," said the Captain, "try and get out of here. Don't wait for me, save the ship and yourselves."

Captain Johnson stepped onto the ghost ship and came face to face with the pirate captain. He was a skeleton, sure enough, but even without flesh on his bones he was able to talk, and his empty eyes seemed to see everything.

"Do you carry the gold of the Spanish king?" asked the pirate captain. "We have been looking for it for many years."

"Yes," said Captain Johnson with surprise. "We do." The Captain kept his treasure hidden in the hold of the Marilou.

"Give us the gold and we will lead your ship safely to land," said the pirate captain.

Captain Johnson quickly agreed. He went back across to his ship, got the Spanish gold, and gave it to the pirates. Meanwhile, the crew of the ghost ship had tethered their ship to the Marilou. Soon, the ship's ragged sails began to flap in the ghostly wind, and the two ships sailed across the sea.

By nightfall, they arrived at an island. When they were still a ways out from land, the pirates untied their ship and sailed off. Captain Johnson and his crew made their way to shore in rowboats.

"How did you get here?" asked the islanders. "There is no wind today."

"Didn't you see the other ship towing us?" asked the Captain.

"Other ship? We only saw one ship," said the islanders.

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