I'm planning on trying to tighten up my story writing with a tale featuring an actual plot - including escalating tension and well thought out character motivations. Until then, there is this:
The Terrapin Piratess
I dreamt of soaring through the sky and awoke on the see-sawing deck of a wooden ship. I was lying on a towel with a pillow under my head. A parasol cast its shadow over me, a translucent white disc against a bright blue sky.
I sat up and put a hand to my head. I didn’t feel any different than I normally would of a morning, except I normally woke up in my bed and not on the deck of an old sailing ship. The prow lay ahead of me, rocking against the sky, the horizon invisible. A tall wooden pole thrust out of the deck to my right - the mast, I supposed. A few figures were about on the deck, sweeping with mops, moving heavy objects. They seemed to glitter eerily in the bright daylight.
“You’re awake then,” a woman asked. I turned to face her approaching footsteps.
All I could think to say was the most obvious question that came to mind. “What the fuck?”
“Surprised?” she asked.
“You could say that.”
She was a piratess, without a doubt: she wore baggy pantaloons and a frilly shirt. Bandoleers criss-crossed her chest, stuffed with flintlock pistols; a cutlass hung by her hip. Smoky black hair spilled out from her bandana, curling through the air like ink through water. Her left eye was covered by a patch with a smiley face on it.
“How did I get here?” I asked her. I was reasonably certain that this wasn’t a dream.
“Abducted,” she said, savouring every syllable. “Scared?”
“Annoyed,” I answered curtly. “I’ll be late for work.”
“I’m sure you recognise me,” she said, ignoring my comment and raising her nose, turning her head to display her - admittedly not disagreeable - profile. “If you’re not scared, it must only be because of an entirely understandable infatuation with my public persona.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You’re that piratess.”
She cleared her throat. “Which piratess?”
“The really nice one legendary for taking men for a brief ride in her ship and then giving them a lift to work.”
She gritted her teeth. “You don’t recognise me.”
Best to stay on her good side, I thought. “Of course I do. I’m just not very good with names.”
“But you know of my many nefarious and dashing deeds? My romantic conquests and impossible escapes?”
“Yes,” I said, hoping to leave it at that.
“Which did you most enjoy hearing about?” she said, feigning disinterest and again presenting her profile to me.
She examined the mast casually, at the same time resting her hand on her cutlass and angling the hilt in such a way that I could read the name engraved on it.
“The time you stole Captain Reno’s sword… Or received it as a gift…”
“Stole,” she whispered.
“Stole it from him in a… such a daring, dashing, um, nefarious fashion. In fact,” I added, getting bolder, “when I first heard of it, I was with a gentleman of lesser constitution who swooned.”
“Really?” she said, stifling a look of surprise. “I have that effect on some men, I must admit.”
“And, although it’s hardly a dashing conquest or impossible deed, I must confess that although I could never put a name to it,” I lowered my voice as if sharing a shameful secret, “I have always enjoyed hearing about your beautiful profile.”
Her cheeks reddened. “It has been said that my profile has corrupted many a gentleman.”
“So I hear. Anyway, if it’s not too far out of your way, could you drop me off at my workplace? You’d think they could survive more than a few hours without me, but you just can’t trust those guys not to open strange email attachments.”
She rested her hands on her hips - satisfied with my flattery, it seemed. “It’s a lot of effort to turn a ship around once she’s underway. If I catch a fish I don’t want to keep, I usually just chuck it over the side…”
“I can’t swim.”
“Ha!” she barked.
She grabbed my arm and pulled me up and over to the side of the ship. I resisted a little, but I didn’t think she‘d throw me over.
“Ta-da!” she exclaimed.
I peered timidly over the side. “What kind of ship is this?”
“The best kind of ship,” she said proudly. “The kind mounted on the back of a giant terrapin.”
“So where are we?”
“The Great Desert.”
What I had taken for the rocking of a ship at sea was in fact the swaying of the terrapin’s scaly green legs as it crossed vast dunes of sand. Now I was no longer under the parasol, the sun seemed to be cooking my skin. “Is there actually much to plunder in the middle of the Great Desert?” I asked.
She went quiet. “So,” she said, “you really don’t know my name?”
I took a deep breath to give me time to think. “To be honest, I don’t know the names of any piratesses.”
“What,” she scoffed, “not even Sawbone Kate?”
“Well, okay, obviously it would be a bit much to imagine that I hadn’t heard of Sawbone Kate, but she’s the only one I’ve heard of. Hey, you’re not Sawbone Kate yourself, are you?”
She gritted her teeth. “No. I am most definitely not Sawbone bloody Kate.”
“Well, I’m afraid that you and all the other non-Sawbone Kate piratesses will have to just tell me what your names are.”
“My name is Annabel Lovelock,” she said, as if certain that I wouldn’t care.
“Annabel Lovelock. That’s a beautiful name for a piratess,” I told her earnestly, even if my thoughts were mostly focused on how to get home from the Great Desert.
She said nothing.
“Also,” I began, “can I ask you about this piece of jewellery I seem to have acquired?”
She peered down at the shackle around my ankle and the chain connecting it to the mast. “Merely a safety precaution. It’s a long way down to the ground from here.”
“Right. So, if I can’t leave, can I get something to eat?”
“I’d love to know what you think you’re going to catch.”
“I told you,” Annabel said, “it’s a surprise. You’ll find out when I catch one.” She jiggled the fishing rod, as if that would make the lure a more inviting target to whatever passing desert creatures might survive in the wake of a giant stomping terrapin. I couldn’t even look down, it gave me vertigo.
We sat like that for a few minutes more, our legs hanging over the side of the ship, our arms resting on the railing. I had to break the silence to bring something up that had been bugging me. “Your crew are strange.”
“They’re clockwork drudges.”
“Oh. Like robots.”
“Yeah, but analogue is the way to go. I don’t know why digital ever caught on.”
“The one in the crow’s nest?”
“It keeps shouting out, ‘Land ho!’”
“Well, it can see land, can’t it?”
“Oh, right. I guess it’s supposed to do it then.”
“So, have you always used drudges?”
She seemed to answer only reluctantly. “No.”
“You used to have a crew of human piratesses? What happened?”
She sniffed. “None of your business.”
“It didn’t work out then?”
She didn’t say anything for a long time. And then: “I think they were intimidated.”
“Sure,” she said, holding her head high, “by my…”
She fixed her eye on me and I realised she wanted me to finish her sentence for her. “By your smouldering beauty and sharp wit,” I suggested.
“Yes,” she said, weighing my words carefully. “I expect that was it.”
“And your giant terrapin.”
She shook her head. “No, they have a dragon. It’s much bigger. And it can fly.”
“Well, I doubt they’re as good company as you are.”
She sighed. “Okay, you can stop flattering me now. It gets tiresome in the end.”
“Oh. I actually meant it that time.”
The fishing rod twitched. “I don’t believe it,” Annabel muttered, clearly as surprised as me.
“What is it?”
She reeled it in.
“What is it?” I asked again.
She didn’t answer.
“Is it really edible?” I asked, dubious.
She pitched the rod over the side of the ship. “Let’s find a supermarket.”
“Not that I should really be pointing things like this out, but chaining me to a shopping trolley is hardly going to stop my escape. In fact, you really don’t have to chain me to anything. I’m hungry and I don’t have any money.”
“It’s just so you don’t forget that you’re my booty.”
“I’m your what?”
“My booty. You know, my stolen treasure. What did you think I meant?”
“Never mind. This floor is freezing.”
Annabel started to pull fruit and veg into the trolley indiscriminately. I followed by her side. A dreary PA announcement played, like so much white noise.
“The other customers are all looking at us,” I said quietly.
She smiled at that. “They’re probably paralysed with fear at the sight of such a fearsome piratess.”
Two women pointed at Annabel and me and whispered to one another, covering their mouths. “Or,” I suggested, “they’re laughing at the guy in his pyjamas standing chained to a guest from a fancy dress party.”
Annabel stopped shovelling potatoes into the trolley. “Is this enough vittles?”
“How big is your fridge?”
“Don’t have one.”
“It’ll do then. Annabel, the checkouts are over there.”
She kept pushing the trolley towards the exit. “I’m a piratess,” she said. “I don’t pay for things.” A burly security guard moved to stop us, but thought twice when Annabel drew her cutlass.
Outside, the terrapin was sitting straddling a dozen parking spaces, and the drudges lowered down a platform from a crane.
Annabel pushed the trolley onto the platform and unfastened my shackle from it.
“Are you letting me go?” I asked.
“Ha! No, I just don’t want you to fall off if the trolley rolls away,” she said, adding: “It’s actually rather dramatic to watch when that happens, and the destructive side of me revels in it a little.”
I nodded silently, and wondered just how often she was successful in her desert fishing.
“Whoops!” Annabel exclaimed, before dropping the chain clumsily.
I got on the platform with her.
She cleared her throat. “That was your cue to run away.”
“Why?” I asked, a little hurt. “Are you bored with me already?”
“No, I’d catch you.”
“I thought as much - so why bother running away at all? Besides, I’m hungry.”
She gestured to the drudges peering over the edge of the ship and the platform began to lift up. “It would’ve been a bit of fun,” she muttered. “You’re a pretty rubbish prisoner.”
“You’re a pretty rubbish piratess. Nice giant terrapin, though.”
It was chewing on a nearby bus shelter, twisting the metal framework into a strange, organic shape with its reptilian beak.
“Careful,” Annabel said, putting her arm around my waist and pulling me close. “Don’t fall.”
“You’re subtle, aren’t you?”
She just smiled.
“Why do you want me as your prisoner, anyway?”
“No reason,” she said, giving me a little squeeze. “Why don’t you want to escape?”
“I’m just hungry.”
She lifted her chin, presenting her profile to me proudly. “You know, there’s no shame in having fallen in love with me. When it comes to me and men, it just seems to take the drop of a hat.”
I laughed that suggestion away, feeling strangely awkward as I did so, as if caught in a lie. “There’s no shame either,” I said, “in feeling lonely, with only clockwork for company.”
“Oh, they’re more fun than you’d think,” she answered, as we came level with the deck and its attendant crowd of androgynous brass bodies. “Right, boatswain?”
“This unit has encountered an error,” it said, helping to swing the platform over the ship, “and must be restarted.”
“See?” Annabel continued. “Always making jokes!”
The platform touched down on the deck, and drudges came to secrete away the trolley and its bounty. Annabel led me onto her ship, her arm still around my waist.
I squirmed in her embrace. “You don’t fool me,” I told her firmly, trying not to be unkind. “You’re not dangerous or frightening. And I doubt you’ve ever sunk a ship or duelled at dawn or buried treasure.”
“Nobody would bury treasure,” she retorted. “You spend it. Or invest it in the stock market.” She stopped and turned to face me. “And while we’re at it, you don’t fool me either.”
I laughed. “I’m not trying to.”
She leaned closer, and for a moment I thought she was going to kiss me. I held my breath and didn’t dare move. “I think you are,” she whispered. “So we’ll just carry on not fooling one another, shall we?”
I looked deep into the eyes of the smiley face on her eye patch. “Um, what?”
She laughed and pulled me to her side again. Beneath our feet, the terrapin began to move.
“Where are we going?” I asked her. “I mean, where are you going, even though I will reluctantly accompany you there?”
“Off to find further adventures and plunder, I think,” she said. “To woo you with the riches of the world and my own courageous feats.”
“Well,” I mused, “I have some things to do which are better than being wooed by a one-eyed, cutlass-wielding woman with her own giant terrapin, but I’ll put them on hold. Speaking of the eye, wasn’t the patch on the other one earlier?”
“Of course it was. If I left it on the same one all the time, I’d probably go blind in that eye or something.”
“Oh, right. I guess that makes sense.”
She just shrugged and smiled.
She took my hand and lead. I followed.