“Fly or be pushed,” began Captain “Deadly” McCormac speaking to the young man at the end of a long plank of wood. All that could be seen below the former cabin boy’s feet were the fluffy tops of cloud. “Choose to die like a man or a scurvy coward.” The young man at the end of the plank was in his mid-teens, a face barely old enough to shave, a prominent Adam’s apple, and like all members of the Deceit of Trinity, rather thin.
“I choose not to die at all,” replied the one on the end of the plank. His name was Orford, but simply known as Cabin Boy. Quite often he answered well to just, ‘Hey you.’ Orford’s transgression against McCormac was nothing more than his laziness. He could not learn that when Captain McCormac said to do something, the correct response was to immediately jump up and be at the task 30 seconds before McCormac asked you to do it. One did not get a name of ‘Deadly’ by being tolerant. McCormac was notorious for skipping flogging and going straight to pulling the musket from his belt and shooting the insubordinates. McCormac liked Orford, and was giving a chance at life, a very small one. There was a chance that not far below the clouds a mountaintop would save him, extremely slim, but better than a musket ball to the eye socket.
I watched from my position in the back of crowd. I’d been a member of the crew for only a few short months, but quickly I had learned to keep my head down, my mouth shut, and to anticipate what was requested of me. I’d also had liked Orford, when he did work, he worked hard and well, but he was easily distracted. All pirates had an eye for shiny objects, but even something as simple and norm as dolphins flying in the clouds next to the Deceit would have him off task. I took a good mental image of Orford. It would be the last I would ever see of him. We didn’t know much about the surface, only that it was there, and we lived above the clouds. Every once in awhile we’d cruise by a peak sticking up above the clouds, just a dangerous snag that could crush the hull of the Deceit.
Orford Netley was slender, not quite the tall thinness of Captain McCormac, but not much younger either. He had a high forehead, freckles, a mouth that smiled easily, and a chipped innocence. Most of the cloud dogs that were crew of the Deceit were the raunchiest, cruelest of any vessel. They were shouting now at Orford to be shot and his dead body to fall off the plank. I would miss him, and would not forget him in my memoirs.
Captain McCormac removed his cutlass from his belt. His long legs crossed to the plank quickly. “Fly Orford,” he possibly said in a voice that did not carry over the shouts and cheers of the crew. It was my romantic notion that the Captain said this. He slowly nudged Orford, who tried to dodge the tip of the cutlass. In his movement to avoid being run through, Orford finally lost his balance, and with a scream plummeted from the plank. His hands were tied behind him, but his legs flailed as if they would keep him above the clouds.
A horrible wail, a bellow of hunger came from below the clouds, it drowned out Orford’s screams. The crew had gone silent, but you could see the fear on their faces, the terror in their eyes. It was all on their minds but no one dared to even whisper: Sky Kraken, for fear that it would draw the creature’s attention. Everyone on board the Deceit of Trinity, held their breaths, waiting for the screams and bellows and what we imagined was the crunch of Orford’s bones in the massive tooth filled maw, blood squirting between jagged teeth. It was only after long moments of silence from under the clouds that Captain Sean “Deadly” McCormac gave orders to get the sails underway and to make port for Hopewell. Don’t let the name fool you, Hopewell was a pirate’s harbor, home to the hopeless, the desperate, the degenerate, and the miscreants.
“I need a new cabin boy!” McCormac shouted and I wondered what sap McCormac would convince to join our crew.
We sailed the skies in an air ship made of wood and metal, of sails and engines. The Deceit of Trinity navigated the clouds and around floating islands. We avoided the larger landmasses, looting and pillaging were our bread and butter, but often the larger lands were guarded by a monarch with an air navy. Some of the islands were small, in passing I noticed two small islands changed together, one held a tiny little quaint house, the second island sprouted a single tree with a swing dangling from a sturdy branch. A small dingy was tied up to a wooden dock, a power motor attached to the back of it. We didn’t bother with the tiny islands. The profit that would’ve come from slaves or jewelry or anything else of value from the house weren’t worth the effort. That was until someone suggested we use the house for target practice.
“Bring her about!” Shouted McCormac, the helmsman spun the wheel that controlled the rudder, slowly the Deceit began to turn, bringing the house and the tree swing back into view. Once we had our side to the islands again. “Ready the cannons!” He shouted, his first mate, Webb, shouted the orders, repeating them as if all the hands on the deck had not heard the captain. Hands grabbed ropes and the flaps that covered the cannon holes were pulled open. The ropes were tied off. Hands then grabbed black powder, cannonballs, and primer cord. The cannons were loaded, hands grabbed chains and pulled the cannons so the barrels now protruded from the side ship like a row of black nipples.
“FIRE!” McCormac’s bellow sounded through the ship and BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM in quick succession the cannons fired. Most the cannonballs sailed harmlessly past the house, whistling through the air. A couple of them hit their mark. Gaping holes were blasted into it, and the occupants of the house ran out of it. A man, and a woman carrying a small screaming child. The pirates on the Deceit were cheering. The little house had caught fire, the family that lived there, simple folk from their dress, the man in blue biballs, and the woman in a plain pale pink dress, her hair covered with a white cap, were climbing into the dinghy. Through the port hole that my cannon shot from I could see the man fighting with the power motor on the dinghy, the woman terrified and yelling. I acted along with my crew mates, I laughed and cheered and mocked the woman, while my hands worked to reload my cannon.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM, the cannons fired again. The family had blessedly escaped in the dinghy, the woman kept looking back at her burning house. The tree had caught fire, and the branch holding the swing collapsed to the islands’s surface. I imagined the woman on better days before the Deceit of Trinity had sailed by, pushing her child in the swing, and I found myself envying her that was truthfully all I wanted for myself. A small safe island, a little house, a husband, a couple of children, a tree with a swing in it. We had obliterated with joy this woman’s life. The Deceit continued on to Hopewell, leaving the burning shell of a house behind us. I took solace in the work of taking care of my cannon, preparing it for the next time it was needed, to either fight off other pirates, or some monarch’s navy, or a defenseless little house on a floating island.
“Lou!” Shouted Webb behind me. I jumped up, turning quickly to face him, but keeping my eyes well around his boot level.
“Eh?” I responded. We were not the disciplined crew of some navy. We had more fear than respect, more greed than adoration.
“Ye be actin cabin boy until we get anothern,” Webb stated and I nodded even though I had just seen how the captain had treated the last one. Still, every vessel needed a cabin boy, basically a Captain’s slave. Instead of handling a cannon I had named Gertie, I would be polishing McCormac’s boots, trimming sails, running messages between McCormac and Webb, cleaning the galley, and serving the men in the forecastle.
There wasn’t much to say, I left my cannon and went to the galley until I’d hear my name bellowed. Everly, the ship’s cook, a short fat man, the heaviest person the Deceit, was peeling potatoes. I had not seen him on deck when Orford walked the plank. Food on the Deceit was quite often to same thing every night. Some sort of fish stew.
“Cabin boy?” Everly asked and I nodded. The galley was simple, a table for preparing food and a hot plate that currently held a large cauldron. The larder was in the back. One the table were the potatoes and a fish I didn’t recognize. The fish looked like an eel, and an octopus at the same time. It was simply one long tentacle, and pink. “Peel the potatoes.” He ordered and I took the knife from and began. He began to work on the eel.
“What kind of eel is that?” I asked, I did have some curiosity. Probably because I wanted to know what I was eating for dinner.
“It isn’t an eel, it is offspring of the Sky Kraken,” Everly said Sky Kraken so calmly that it surprised me even more than the fact we were about to eat the offspring of the most vile and evil creature in the skies.
“Shhh,” I warned, “You’ll bring it down upon us.”
“A bunch of superstitious lot, you are,” Everly said as I clumsily peeled the skins from the potatoes, taking a good chunk of potato with the skins.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The Sky Kraken was once a man, you know,” he began, pointing at me with a knife that he was using to filet the eel fish. Everly’s large hands worked expertly. He was darkly tanned like all of us, but unlike the tangled mop of hair most of us sported, Everly’s was slicked and appearing tangle free.