Thanks to Quackers

Submitted by Christine Hungerford to Contest #8 in response to: Write a story about an adventure on a shipwrecked island.... view prompt

I walked from the beach shore up to my makeshift bed—a hammock made of palm branches and bamboo sticks. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but I was grateful I didn’t have to sleep on the sand.  

I was physically tired, but, more importantly, I was tired of this island. This place had been my home for the past twelve days, where I studied, did homework, ate fish and other seafood, slept in my hammock and waited for the day I would get out of here alive. I was losing hope fast tonight. I was sure that no one would rescue me. I was feeling like no one had remembered me anymore. I was all alone, trapped on an island no one knew and no one would ever want to know. The lonely college student stuck in some remote place the summer before her senior year before spring graduation.

      Like that’s ever going to happen. I’m going to be seafood by the time August even rolls around. I dumped myself into the makeshift bed and let it swing me side to side. It creaked like it was talking to me. Maybe it kept me company so I didn’t have to sink further into the quicksand of despair. I ate up all my food—“Be quiet, stomach!”—I had with me on the raft and caught all the fish I could with my poorly designed fishing hook and rod. Maybe I could try again but really didn’t want to, as I was sick of fish and sicker of trying and failing before even reeling the stupid seafood from my ocean to my stomach. I probably exhausted my future hope of ever getting out of here. So why was I even counting the ways this island made me want to leave it as soon as possible?       

               I turned over towards the tar-black sky. At least the waves’ crashing—like every other night for the past week and five days—distracted me from fearing attacks by pirates, robbers, island tribes or maybe all three! The hammock continued to swing back and forth like a mother’s arms do when holding her baby. After a few minutes of lying with my eyes closed, I finally fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves.            

               Screeeeech!! Whooooooo!!

               “Be quiet, bird! First, my stomach yells at me, and then you!” I scolded the animal, shooing the noise away with a hand.

               The whistling continued, but I snapped my eyes open to the sound of the screeching. I jerked my head up and gaped at a bird cocking its head at me. I studied it and then realized it was a Scarlet Macaw. But this island didn’t have very many parrots…      

               Suddenly, it hit me.

               Pirates!

               I scrambled like mad off of my hammock and whizzed around in search for mean-looking, ugly-clothed men swarming this beach. I saw people in black down below the hill—boots stomping on the sand, braids flying out behind them as they ran to and from each other, saying things that sounded remotely like words a pirate would say. Yep, I was surrounded by mean-looking, ugly-clothed people!

               If there were pirates, then there had to be a ship, but, more importantly, a captain of a crew. Suddenly, the bird squawked. I looked up at it again and watched it fly over to and land on something.

               Something flat, black and belonging to a …

               A captain!   

               I jerked back, startled and very scared. What is a pirate doing here? It was the only thought having entered my mind as I studied the person before me. Really thick black eyeliner outlined her dark eyes, but she, ironically, wore no pirate hat. Her thick, black curly hair reminded me of those thin birthday gift ribbons the way it spilled down her coated shoulders and back (I assumed.) As I gazed with sudden fascination at this woman’s brass buttons and gold-threaded dark purple jacket, I thought she must be really wealthy—or a complete thief—to own such a jacket. As for the eyeliner (or whatever that stuff was) and brass buttons, I didn’t know where she’d gotten the fancy stuff. Still, I didn’t dare ask. I just stood as respectfully as I could, for I had no idea how to address a superior-looking woman who just showed up here without my knowledge.              

               “Aye, aye, captain!” I said lamely, hoping that standing with my arms and hands straight at my side and looking at her right in the eye would suffice.

               “What are ye lookin’ at?” She demanded, glaring at me instead.  

               I squeaked out, “Nothing, Captain!” but she just turned around and yelled out to the women below. The bird squawked, but the captain told it to behave or “no cracker.”  

               “Yes, Palm Tree.” It croaked, rustling its feathers a little. It settled back down and turned its head a bit, but didn’t look at me.    

               I watched as the captain watched several pirates run up past us towards the palm trees where I had my hammock. I had a feeling they were going to take my bed, but, no, they were going for my stuff because they ran past the trees. I was barely able to start sprinting towards the other women to prevent them from taking my college homework and other necessities as I saw in disbelief as the women carried my belongings away with them down towards the other part of the puny island.

               I dashed after them, wishing I had control over my stuff, but these women looked like they would throw me overboard should I even ask them a question that sounded threatening. So I just watched the women haul my stuff, and other things, aboard a huge, wooden ship that I just noticed standing in front of me in the water. I stared at its massive size, took in its haughty-looking but gargantuan sails and marveled all around as the pirates lugged knotted ropes up onto the first and upper decks, threw wooden crates to each other and then tossed them up to other pirates hanging over from the side. Other pirates hung onto them and yet even more women with the rich colors and wealthy-looking clothes on as the captain locked boxes up with chains and sealed them with steel keys.   

               “Hey, you!”

               I swung around. The captain didn’t look happy, and she was marching right towards me. Amazingly, she passed me; however, I suddenly went forward and looked down. Her hand had gripped my arm above the elbow and was dragging me into the water with its waves crashing intimidatingly into me.

               “Come on, slowpoke!” She ordered, tugging me along as I splashed and jumped across the waves. Finally, once we emerged on the ship’s other side, Palm Tree released me roughly. She ordered me to climb aboard and help out with her crew’s jobs. But once I lifted a soaked leg out of the water, I felt like I had been picked up by something. I looked around to see what was going on. I saw several pirates around me, sloshing their way to the pier. But when I turned my head around more, I noticed my carriers, splashing as they muttered angrily about the water’s ability to toughen their running. Once they managed to get to the plank, the pirates’ boots pounded the poor wood as some complained about the wet seaweed clinging to their pants and boots while others yelled at them to suck it up and deal with it.                          

               I was then kind of thrown down onto the first deck, collapsing onto hard wood. I painfully rose up, looking around. This substance probably consumed the whole entire ship. I heard the sails billow in the wind as a rough voice cut the air above me.     

               “Y’all need to ‘urry up and get ‘er moving!” Boots stomped around me, and I looked up to see Palm Tree flinging her arms this way and that as the pirates only stood at attention, not daring to question or distract herself. After a few minutes of yelling, calling some women out and shooting her finger demandingly in several directions, the ship filled with the sound of “Yes, ma’am!” and “Aye, Captain!” as boots pounded the wood and coats whooshed in the air, slapping against their owner’s bodies as the women ran in all directions to satisfy Palm Tree’s orders. Once everyone had left, I scrambled up and remembered the way real pirates stood at attention before their captains. So I stood this way before Palm Tree.         

               But her profile was to me and, worse, she turned so her back was completely to me. Suddenly, Palm Tree whipped her head down towards the ground, grumbling about the possibility that her crew and she’d be stuck here on this island forever once Shoemaker could get that stupid anchor fixed. Then Palm Tree stomped over to a pirate with a long braid and commanded her to go clean the sleeping quarters. The woman—probably Shoemaker—whisked off immediately. Then, the captain motioned for me to apparently come over and stand before her while she yelled at me, too.           

               But as I walked over, Palm Tree chose to ignore me by looking out towards the shore. Or maybe it was the sand. Whatever it was, she didn’t look like she was in the mood to talk to me, and I didn’t provoke her. She was a dangerous pirate, and anyone, I knew, who did was going to get fed to the Macaw still sitting on her shoulder. It squawked.   

               “Then go fly somewhere!” She barked, but the parrot bravely stood up straight, opened its wings a little and rustled them a bit. I was getting the feeling that maybe it was forcing itself needlessly to stand on Palm Tree’s shoulder—it couldn’t open its wings for more than an inch and then seemed frustrated that it had to put its undoubtedly stiff wings back down.                  

               “Palm Tree, Captain, I’m not sure how you want me to call you.” I looked for an instant for the anchor. It was lodged in the sand, apparently in a state that proved it was broken. I looked back at Palm Tree. She was shaking her head and closed her eyes.

               “Girlie, I don’t know what to call you!” She looked right at me, like I should’ve told her my name in the first place. “You’re the one who’s under me!” And she titled her head and glared at me, raising her eyebrows, waiting for an answer.  

               “Uh—Molly. Molly Polls!” I stammered, scared.    

               She nodded indifferently, and then muttered something. I didn’t say anything but just stood there and waited. Then she said louder, “Captain Palm Tree” without looking at me. She went over and walked along the side of the ship and then gestured for her parrot to fly off her shoulder. It did, but I focused mainly on Captain Palm Tree.

               “So, you need to take care of Quackers.” She flicked her hand backwards, and I looked around for the bird. It was sitting up on a rail above me, looking down at Palm Tree. I looked back at Palm Tree and told her I would. She snickered. “But you can’t just feed him. He’d ignore you. You need to go to Cook down there and get some food—stale food—from her.” Palm Tree turned around and pointed to a space that looked like it was a doorless opening to a lower part of the ship. “That’s where you turn right and ask for the Cook. She’ll be busy. Just ask fer her.”

               “Yes, Captain Palm Tree!”

               “Good!” Palm Tree waved me over as she turned towards the rail again. I immediately was at her side. She pointed down towards the ocean and said gruffly, “You see that?”  

               “What, Palm Tree?”

               She jabbed. “See that?”

               I looked down and saw something black and tiny. Then I saw something else small and white. “Seashells?” I guessed, feeling both terrified she’d slap me for being stupid and angry that she was wasting my time instead of get the anchor fixed herself! Yes, she was the captain, but couldn’t even Palm Tree figure how to get her ship back up and running? I didn’t expect her to work the anchor like she was just a sailor or one of the pirates, but still. A pirate captain should have reliable crew. How’d they get here in the first place? How’d they even get shipwrecked here? Were there more women they secretly made fix their problems and then released them when the ship was ready to go again? What kind of captain had a ship that wrecked every time she beached it? Was I the fifteenth women to work out the problem so the women could continue sailing? Was I just another one of Palm Tree’s slaves?  

               Palm Tree suddenly roared out, “Yes!”   

               “Captain,” I ventured, “when is the anchor going to be fixed?”

               “Molly—don’t know. Find out.” This was all Palm Tree said before she stomped back across the deck. “Going to my quarters. Let no one in!” She turned, walked through a door and then slammed it shut.   

               I stood there, wondering whether Palm Tree just made me the captain. No, I told myself, she did make me the captain! I looked up at Quackers, and he cocked his rainbow-colored head at me. I shot my arm out, he spread his wings and flew down. Once Quackers’ talons landed heavily and a little painfully on my shoulder, I told him that we’d get him some food and then figure out the anchor situation.    

               “Food!” He cawed, flapping his wings in my face.

               “Stop it.” I ordered, but felt nervous. The other pirates wouldn’t listen to me, but hopefully, I would get them to get this ship going. Then I thought. Hopefully I wouldn’t be seen as a complete loser just because I didn’t have pirate clothes on.

               Quackers stopped and promised he wouldn’t do it again. “Not again.” He kept his feathers to himself.

               For now.

               For the rest of the day, I strived to sound important when giving orders to the rest of the pirates as they worked around the ship. Surprisingly, they obeyed, but, subconsciously, I hoped they weren’t just doing this obedience thing for Palm Tree’s sake. In other words, I hoped they didn’t just obey because Palm Tree expected them to obey because they’d get clobbered over the head should they refuse to complete orders. However, I soon forgot my fear and kept track of whether the pirates were on top of their chores, fed Quackers and strived to figure out the anchor problem. It took us hours, but, finally, three women and I were able to get the anchor to work.

               Suddenly, Palm Tree stormed out of her quarters and marched over to where we four women stood proudly. She glared at all of us and then started with me. “Get the anchor fixed?”

               “Yes, Palm Tree!” I beamed, wanting her to give me credit for acting on the problem and getting it fixed with the help of these three women. But, at the same time, I knew she wouldn’t. I was nobody to her, so why would a captain bow to a T-shirt wearing, short-sporting college kid like me?  

               As I stood before Palm Tree, she looked like she was thinking. Then she waved a pirate woman over who was busy going to the upper deck. Oh, and Quackers flew back to Palm Tree’s shoulder. He squawked softly but didn’t rustle his feathers.  

“Yes, Palm Tree?”

               “Get this kid a canoe. She’s sailing home!”

Once I had my small boat and oars ready in the water right behind my hammock and in front of the huge pirate ship, I waved to Palm Tree. She just stood there and watched me haughtily. Her crew, however, was all lined up against the rail closest to me, waving. Some women yelled out, “Get ‘er home, ya hear?”

               I yelled my reply back. Quackers then rustled his feathers. After Palm Tree told him to stop, he squawked loudly, maybe even sadly. Did he want me to stay? I blinked so no one saw the tears forming in my eyes. I knew I could get a parrot for myself, but Quackers was different. He had come from a mysterious pirate ship and, more importantly, become my friend.

               I waited for the ship to set sail, got in my boat and pushed away from the shore forever. I didn’t want anyone to see me upset about leaving Palm Tree—that big and tough captain I’d never forget—and the rest of her crew with all their braids, royal coats and obliviousness, either. But Quackers—I’d never forget him.  

               As I rowed, I suddenly remembered. My stuff aboard the ship!  

               NO! I whipped my head back. The ship was a speck on the horizon. I started looking under, to the side and inside my boat just in case they threw it overboard, too, but nothing was there but boards, myself and the oars. So I heaved a huge sigh and continued rowing myself, numbly, towards New Hampshire.   

               Suddenly, the sound of wings stole my attention. I looked up. Quackers! And he had a bag!

               My stuff!   

               Quackers’ talons dropped the bag. I caught and unzipped it. Yes, everything was there. Freeing a huge sigh of relief, I saw something gold. I grabbed and unrolled it as I felt Quackers’ talons weigh my right shoulder down a bit.   

               The message read: Here’s Quackers—thanks for fixing the anchor.  

               I shrugged my left shoulder, unsurprised. I had the feeling Palm Tree was getting tired of that bird’s squawking and wing rustling!   

               But as I continued rowing, Quackers and I were going to have many adventures at UNH!  

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