DIGNITY 40 DEGREES BELOW DIGNITY
J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 1 ☆ 2013 July 1
Autumn clung onto the edge of the bow, her hands wrapped around the horizontal bar bolted down to the short walls on both sides of her hands, while she stared determinedly at the large blanket of wrestling waters stretching below and in front of her, ending at the pink horizon to the east, where the sun was poking up from behind the waters.
Meanwhile, pink clouds smothered the periwinkle skies above. The heavy winds blew her red-orange bangs back while the knot of her white-and-red-striped headband and her ponytail bobbed sporadically—although if she noticed any of this she certainly didn’t show it.
She turned her head behind her and asked the two she had for a crew,
Do you think we’re there yet?
Montago Estación, an anthropomorphic orange cat in an old-fashioned blue business suit and blue navy hat (although he claimed he was never in any marines; he never explained why he wore the hat) she hired for his ship answered as his thin pupils pointed down at the portable GPS in his hand,
Um… Captain Springer?
Yes, Edgar? Autumn asked, turning her head back to the other side, where her other crew member—a skeleton in a heavy petticoat and gray-and-blue striped headband who had been her partner in crime for the past few years—was, watching the other direction through binoculars.
I think I see another ship coming near, Edgar said.
So? Tell them we don’t want whatever they’re selling, Autumn said.
Um… I don’t think they want to sell anything, Edgar said.
At least not judging by the big black skull and crossbones sail they have.
Autumn rushed over to Edgar’s side, watching the currently hand-sized ship seem to gradually grow in size. She snatched the binoculars from Edgar’s hands and used them to survey the ship. She saw that, indeed, the sails were black and had skulls and crossbones on them. But what really caught her attention were the people manning the ship: She saw a crocodile with a thin, skeletal body up on the mainmast’s crow’s nest, looking at them with his own pair of binoculars; around the deck of the ship she saw a huge fish with massive teeth, staring blankly into space and waving its fins wildly, and a tiny goldfish in a water tank attached to a robot; and finally, she saw a curly-haired woman wearing a big black captain’s hat, peg leg, and hook manning the wheel.
After careful deliberation Autumn ascertained that she did not want the pleasure of their company and that it would be optimal if they got the hell outta there, ASAP.
She ran back for the wheel and turned it east, away from the other ship. Unluckily, while she could use the wheel to choose which direction her ship went, she was distraught about the fact that she could not find a way to choose how fast the ship went, no matter where she searched. Even more unluckily, looking behind her shoulder—as Autumn made a habit of doing simply out of worry—she could see that the other ship was gaining on them quickly.
Hey, Montago: Is there a way to make this ship go faster? Autumn asked while she frantically looked around the wheel with sweat dripping down her forehead.
Not that I know of, Montago said, shifting his eyes between Autumn and the other ship with equal concern.
I think they’re getting closer… Edgar said.
I can see that, Autumn said with irritation in her voice.
Autumn made one last check around the wheel and then pulled her saber out of her pocket before turning around to face the others.
Well, unless either of you have any ideas, there’s no way to avoid a confrontation, Autumn said.
So we’d better hope they’re just persistent Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They felt the ground shake for a moment as the skull ship hit theirs, almost making them collapse onto the floor. From where they stood—and none dared to move just yet—they could see the curly-haired skull captain give them a mean smile as she let go of the wheel and proceeded to climb onto their ship. Everything was silent, save the swooshing of the swaying waters and the thudding of the curly-haired captain’s peg leg against the wooden floors of both ships.
She stood at the opposite end of Autumn’s ship with her arms akimbo, her eyes sliding left and right, examining Autumn, Edgar, and Montago.
Which of you is the captain of this ship? she commanded with a deep, silence-shattering voice.
Edgar and Montago both aimed furtive glances at Autumn. Despite the quivering she felt in her legs, Autumn stepped forward with her saber held tightly in hand and answered,
I am, staring the curly-haired captain straight in the eyes… or at least, in the eye, as she had an eye patch over her right eye.
The curly-haired captain stepped forward in a leisurely walk, looking down at the hook on her left arm. They both could see that she was the more mentally-collected of the two; despite Autumn’s attempts to look fearless, the sweat dripping down her face and the way her limbs shook betrayed this just a little bit.
A gravelly, but excited, voice called back from the skull ship, which Autumn could see by turning her head was the crocodile with the skeletal body.
Hey, boss, can I get a confirmation on whether or not we’re gonna eat e’m?
Everyone could hear a conspicuous gulp sound leave Edgar’s throat.
The curly-haired captain turned her head back over her shoulder—her expression being what one might colloquially call
pissed off—and shouted,
Did I ask you to speak, Jolly Jim Joe Jim? Can your puny brain not comprehend that I am in the middle of a little meeting here?
Jolly Jim Joe Jim crossed his arms and answered nonchalantly,
The water must be boiled at least an hour before cooking; and you always want to cook the bodies at least a half hour after killing them.
I’ll boil you if you don’t shut your lip.
And I’ll still need time to prepare all of the spices…
The curly-haired captain turned back to Autumn and said with a heavy sigh,
Anyway, as I was about to say, do you three understand where you are running your little ship around?
Autumn’s eyebrows arched as she heard the tone of
your little ship.
Yes: It’s this little thing called ‘water,’ Autumn said.
Now the curly-haired pirate’s eyebrows arched, and she pulled her sword out of its brown leather sheath tied around her waist. Edgar couldn’t decide who he should look at—the curly-haired captain in case she might suddenly attack or Autumn for assurance—but he did know he wanted to curl his arms together and shiver nervously. Montago, meanwhile, tried to avoid attention by avoiding eye contact with either of them, staring up at the slowly floating clouds instead.
No, I meant do you know what body of water you are in, the curly-haired captain said.
Surely you are not so dumb as to think that all water is the same? For example, this body of water is my property and you are, unfortunately, violating that property.
You say this is your property, but I see no evidence that you made this sea yourself, Neptune. Autumn found that it was much easier to forget her fear when she just gets—to speak colloquially—pissed off.
In fact, I can’t say I even know who the hell you are.
The curly-haired captain stepped forward, passing Edgar and shrinking the distance between her and Autumn.
I am the notorious Captain Clearbeard; and why are you so intent on trespassing on my sea, anyway? Are you trying something sneaky or are you just that stubbornly stupid?
Well, first, I am not trespassing on your sea; and anyway, what I do is none of your business.
Pretty brave words from such a shaky shrimp with two clowns for crew mates, Clearbeard said as she took one more step forward.
Autumn had to admit to herself that she had a point: While Clearbeard was moving ever forward Autumn was sneaking backward until she was back against the bow.
Still, she wasn’t gonna take crap from nobody, whether they have a sharp sword, a crocodile, a giant-teethed fish, or a goldfish-operated robot.
Unlike your crew? Autumn asked.
Clearbeard turned her head over her shoulder and said,
You guys gonna take that gruff?
The goldfish in the robot said nothing, while the giant fish merely said in a loud voice,
I’m a giant fish!
That’s great, Buzzjaw, Clearbeard said with a roll of her eyes.
Are you guys going to answer my question?
Jolly Jim Joe Jim said, with his arms still crossed,
I need not waste my oxygen answering her infantile insults—certainly not from someone with as tenuous knowledge of economic theory as she has. Property ownership has been an aspect of economics since the beginning of time, regardless of whether humans created the natural resources or not.
Thank you, Jolly Jim Joe Jim, Clearbeard said with a look of petulance.
Now, can you idiots get over here and help?
Well, I would prefer it if you did not use such demeaning diction, first, Jolly Jim Joe Jim answered.
I’m a giant fish! the giant fish said.
Clearbeard swung all the way around and yelled,
Get your asses over here!
Jolly Jim Joe Jim ambled over to her side, looking up at the sky snootily in an attempt to ignore Clearbeard’s impertinent stink-eye. When he stopped next to her she turned her eyes on the other two and glared at them.
Well? What about you two?
She could faintly see the goldfish swim around in its tank; but the robot didn’t make a move.
Clearbeard threw her arms up in the air.
What’s the point of even giving you that fancy robot if you’re not even gonna use it?
I’m a-comin’, I’m a-comin’! the giant-teethed fish exclaimed. Clearbeard turned her head to look at it only to see it waving its fins wildly, making absolutely no progress toward her whatsoever.
Clearbeard turned around back to Autumn and groaned.
Whatever, I guess we’ll just have to take care of her, Jolly Jim Joe Jim.
I thought we were attacking her? Jolly Jim Joe Jim asked.
We are. That’s what I meant, Clearbeard said.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim shook his head and said,
Tsk, tsk. Imprecise diction strikes again, only to be answered with a burning glare by Clearbeard.
Wait up, guys! I’m almost there! the giant fish shouted.
Autumn raised her sword and said,
Ha! You guys don’t scare us! Come on, Edgar and Montago, let’s show these clowns what’s what.
Edgar gave Autumn a horrified look; Montago pretended not to hear her, still looking up at the clouds.
Guys? Autumn asked, her haughty smile melting into an uncertain frown.
Looks like you’re alone, shrimp, Clearbeard said with a raised sword as she stepped right up to Autumn.
Autumn held her sword steadily in both hands as she watched Clearbeard make her way nearby. Sweat drenched her forehead as she prepared for what she would do first.
Autumn cleared her throat and said with her sword jabbed in Clearbeard’s direction,
You fight like a dairy farmer.
Clearbeard stared at her with weary annoyance before kicking upward, knocking the sword clear out of Autumn’s hand and into the water, where it made a great sploosh!
Autumn froze, with her left hand still hanging out in front of her, while her widened eyes shifted back and forth from Clearbeard and the sea where her sword sunk. Before she could do anything more she felt a sharp stab in her stomach and looked down to see that it was because Clearbeard had her sword aimed straight at Autumn’s stomach.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim, lock the other two up. I’ll take care of this idiot, Clearbeard said.
Autumn, Edgar, and Montago sat on a wooden box in a small room at the bottom of the skull ship with their arms and legs chained together. The only movement any of them made was a slight sway caused by the movement of the ship over rough waters; and the only activity they could think to perform was gazing around at the green-tinged moldy spots on the dirty, brown wooden walls and floor and listen to the ship’s lazy creaking.
Autumn stared down at a particular mold spot near her feet, her eyebrows furled in concentration.
Montago said in a low voice,
So, uh, you have any idea how we’re gonna get out of here?
Above their heads they could faintly hear the sound of boiling water.
Clearbeard’s deep voice called out,
How long will it take before we can start cooking them and eating them? I’m hungry… and suspicious that they might escape any time soon.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim’s voice answered,
You’ve gotta be patient when preparing Human, Cat, and Skeleton Gumbo, boss. Every step is important, and you must have utmost care. One extra sliced onion or too few pickled oranges and the stew will literally blow up in your face. That’s how I got this scar right here.
You don’t have a scar right there—or anywhere, really.
That’s because I had an Anti-Face-Scar Stew blow up in my face afterward.
Whatever. I don’t need your life story, Clearbeard said with a cough.
Anyway, I’m worried those dirt-humpers will find a way to escape.
Don’t worry, boss. I chained e’m up as much as I could.
I’m afraid that won’t be enough. You know how it is with grass-lickers and their always escaping when you don’t want e’m to.
Trust me, if they find a way to escape I’ll eat my hat.
You don’t have a hat.
Well then, I’ll buy a hat and then eat it.
Autumn made a futile attempt to pull her wrists away only to feel the hard, tight chains hold them together. She did the same for her ankles for the same outcome. Finally, she made one last desperate attempt and jumped onto her feet, which did succeed. But when she tried to hobble forward over to the door the large black metal balls held her chain back, causing her to trip mid-jump and tumble onto her face.
She raised her rumpled head and glowered at the shut door still feet away from her.
If I could use my hands I could get out my file and cut these chains, she mumbled to herself.
Although she couldn’t move her wrists even an inch she could move her fingers around; she desperately tried moving them around the back of her skirt to see if she could get access to one of her back pockets where she might have kept a useful tool or two, but could not reach anything.
Then her eyes popped open as she latched onto an idea. She drew her knees in and bounced back onto her feet like a spring and then hobbled on back to the box Edgar and Montago were still sitting despondently on. She glanced behind her shoulder, wary of her noise attracting attention from above.
She stopped right next to Edgar and said in a low whisper,
Psst, jump up onto your feet.
Just do it.
Edgar did as she said.
Okay, now turn a little left.
He turned a little left.
Okay. Now what.
Autumn made a tiny hop so that she was right behind Edgar, but a little right of him, and saw that Edgar’s hand was right under her left pocket. Perfect! She then just bent down a little so that her pockets were level with Edgar’s hand and leaned forward so that they were touching.
Okay, Edgar, now can you feel around for my pocket and see if you can find my file?
He wiggled his fingers around until he found her pocket and dug around in them. However, he couldn’t reach in all the way, so Autumn had to move in closer.
Montago watched this all with a puzzled, yet detached expression.
Finally, with enough maneuvering, Edgar was able to get his hand in Autumn’s pocket.
I don’t think there’s anything in here.
I guess it’s all in the other pocket.
Montago cleared his throat.
I’m a little busy at the moment, Autumn said with an irritated tone.
Are you trying to get things out of your pocket? Montago asked.
Well, I’m certainly not trying to have Edgar cop a feel, so yeah.
Then I take it you don’t remember that Clearbeard emptied your pockets as she took you in here.
Autumn paused. She thought she’d remembered feeling something digging around her sides when she was being taken away, but she thought it was just part of the hustling of them being dragged away.
Well, crap… Autumn said, frozen in place, thinking.
From above they could hear Jolly Jim Joe Jim say,
I think the stew is almost ready. But we’re gonna need to prepare our main ingredients first.
I can do it! I can do it! Buzzjaw’s loud voice rang.
You can’t do anything, Buzzjaw: You can’t even move your arms or… you don’t even have feet, Clearbeard said.
As I was saying, I’ll need someone to tenderize the main ingredients, Jolly Jim Joe Jim said.
That means beat the stuffing out of them with Ol’ Woody.
Exactly, and since I am busy stirring this gumbo—and the other two are entirely useless—I’m afraid you’ll have to do it, boss.
I gotta say that I’m terribly distraught, too. Autumn could guess by her tone that she was grinning pretty large up there.
They all heard the sound of Clearbeard’s heavy footsteps above, like a chiming death bell.
Oh, wait! Autumn exclaimed, seemingly out of nowhere to Edgar and Montago’s ears.
It’s not there—I only keep money there. No, it’s in my shoe, idiot.
She lifted her foot up to Edgar’s hand.
Take it off and dig around through it.
Luckily, she had remembered the right shoe and he soon found the file.
Great. Autumn turned around, though still glancing backward to see.
Now, I’ll move my wrist chains over to the file and you slice.
Um… okay. I just hope I don’t accidentally slash your wrist or something.
To their relief, this procedure went quicker than the others and Autumn’s wrists were soon free. She immediately snatched the file and sliced the chains on her ankles with the speed of a child hopped-up on coffee.
They could hear that Clearbeard’s footsteps were now on their level—and they were growing louder and closer.
Autumn looked around the room wildly and then saw the black metal balls. Using the file, she cut the chains around one of them, releasing it from the others. She then heaved it up above her shoulder and slowly shifted her feet over to the door, her ears ever wary of the simultaneous thumping of Clearbeard’s footsteps and her own heart beating.
The footsteps stopped. Autumn could hear and see the doorknob jingle as Clearbeard unlocked it. Sweat dripped down Autumn’s forehead as she watched the door open with a loud creak. But nothing came through.
Autumn felt both relieved and worried at the same time. Her impulse was to throw the ball the second the door opened; but her mind knew better than that. Clearbeard was clearly not born five minutes ago and would be wise enough to expect anything—even the unexpected. Unfortunately for her, so could Autumn; and Autumn held control of the situation: If Autumn’s reflexes worked she would be able to conk Clearbeard on the head no matter how she entered the room, so long as she entered the room.
Although Autumn couldn’t see Clearbeard, the same applied in the opposite direction. She stopped on the edge of the threshold and looked left and right, only for the right frame of the door to block Autumn from view. That seemed to be enough of a preliminary check for Clearbeard, and she soon stepped forward through the threshold, not noticing Autumn’s absence until her mind was already knocked unconscious by the force of heavy steel. Edgar and Montago cringed as they heard Clearbeard’s head thump against the hard wooden floor.
Autumn checked around the door. Though she could tell by her eavesdropping that no one else was able to accompany Clearbeard, she couldn’t be too sure. When she was sure enough she rushed over to Montago and Edgar and sliced their chains apart and put her shoe back on, slipping the file back inside. She then heaved the metal ball back over her shoulder and turned back to them on the way toward the door.
We’re gonna have that crocodile to deal with. If we’re lucky he probably thought all of that noise was just Clearbeard beating the stuffing out of us. But he’ll probably find the lack of noise suspicious soon, so we’d better hurry and use our advantage while we can.
Edgar and Montago nodded.
They crept up the stairs, cringing at each creak that sounded to them as loud as dynamite. Autumn, meanwhile, was too busy trying to keep her mind off the soreness in her arm and, especially, her shoulder as she continued to heave what must have weighed as much as she did, easily. She was used to carrying things around—even running around with them—when she’d rob people, but she’d never robbed anything this heavy before.
Edgar went near her—which was easy, considering how much the heavy ball slowed her—and asked in a whisper,
You need help with that? although how he hoped to help her, he himself wasn’t sure, as he would be lucky if he could lift half that much weight with two hands.
Autumn merely smiled and said,
No, I’ve got it all covered.
Um… okay. If you say so… Edgar said.
But when Edgar and Montago walked past her, she muttered curses under her breath.
They stopped their steps at the top of the stairs up to the deck where they could see Jolly Jim Joe Jim humming under the early-afternoon sun. He danced around as he shook pepper into and stirred a wooden spoon in a great pot over a charcoal grill, carefully constructed to avoid contact with the rest of the wooden ship.
Stay here, which Edgar and Montago certainly weren’t going to argue against, before sneaking over to Jolly Jim Joe Jim.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim heard the creaking of her steps and said with a Jolly-Jim laugh,
Did you tenderize them good?
Autumn paused, thinking of what to say. It took a few seconds for her to come up with the perfect idea:
She didn’t say anything and simply bashed Jolly Jim Joe Jim’s head in with the metal ball until he was lying unconscious on the ground.
Hey! Intruders! Scallywags! Solicitors! Beasts! Buzzsaw yelled.
Just wait until I get over there and I’ll show you a thing or thirty!
Edgar and Montago crept over to Autumn from their hiding place.
What do we do with them now? Montago asked.
Autumn answered his question after a quick scene transition by wiping her hands together with a proud look on her face. If the world were only a movie being shot by a camera, said camera would pan back at this point, showing Clearbeard and Jolly Jim Joe Jim chained up together against the same box she was earlier tied up to.
But what if they escape again… like we did? Edgar asked.
Autumn tilted her head and held her hand over her mouth, staring at Clearbeard and Jolly Jim Joe Jim as art purveyors do when viewing art in TV shows—but never do in real life, because it is completely pointless.
Autumn answered Edgar’s question after a quick scene transition by wiping her hands together with a proud look on her face while she heard the sound of splooshing water just outside the edge of the ship she was standing near.
Montago had just stopped near her after running, panting and heaving with his upper body leaning down over his knees from the exertion he was not used to. When he regained his composure he stood back up and waved his arms around frantically.
Are you crazy? You can’t just throw them overboard! he shouted.
But I just did, Autumn said.
Yeah, physically you did. I meant ethically you can’t, Montago said.
But I already did, anyway.
You’re gonna make them drown!
Jolly Joe Bob John, or whatever, is a crocodile. He’ll be fine in the water.
And what about Clearbeard? Montago asked with his arms akimbo.
Autumn paused to ponder this question.
She’s an asshole, she finally answered.
And how does that help her not drown? Montago asked.
It doesn’t, Autumn answered.
But it sure makes me not care.
She walked over to the wheel.
Now come on, guys, we need to find our old ship and get on with this treasure hunting business before this story wastes another four thousand words.
It was two hours later when they were back in their old ship and anchored in the area that, according to Montago’s GPS, was where the treasure lay underneath.
This required Autumn to dive underwater, which required an apparatus to keep her breathing, which required her old ship, where said apparatus was kept. Autumn and Montago dragged said apparatus by either end out from the hold and over near the edge of the deck while Edgar dug around for the cord to connect said apparatus to her mouthpiece.
And what else do you need for this crazy stunt of yours? Montago asked.
Once Edgar gets the cord we’ll be all set, Autumn answered.
Montago scratched his head.
Wait… So you’re just gonna dive underwater with just a mouthpiece and goggles? No suit to protect you from the pressure?
What do I look like, Richie Rich here? Autumn asked with her arms thrown out.
The only reason I even got the goggles was because Edgar had some lying around.
From what I’ve heard, you are rich, Montago said,
So why you would risk your life in such a way for more is beyond me. Why not just retire and invest in stocks like everyone else around here?
The day I retire is the day crocodiles can fly, Autumn replied.
Besides, compared to most, I would hardly be considered rich.
Montago was about to say something, but was interrupted by Edgar saying,
Here it is, along with the sound of the knots of long, thick orange cord dragging against the wooden floor.
Good. Just attach that end to the machine while I attach this end to my mouthpiece, Autumn said as she twisted the end of the cord under the long oblong shaped green plastic grilled doohickey she called her “mouthpiece.” Montago was afraid to ask where she got that thing, or the air machine.
She turned back to Montago and asked,
Now, can you keep pumping that thing while I’m under?
Montago looked at the apparatus incredulously.
You’ve tested this thing out right?
Of course I have, Autumn said.
What, do you think I just waste my money on crap that doesn’t work? I made them let me test that right in that store. Now, it’s important that you remember to keep pushing that pump, okay? Only while it’s continually being pushed can I get air, which I very much require.
Got it, chief, Montago said with a halfhearted thumbs-up before walking up to the machine, his hands holding the orange plastic pump in anticipation. This doesn’t feel cheap at all, Montago mused worriedly.
Now, Edgar, could you come over here please? Autumn called with a wave of her hand.
Aye aye, Captain, Edgar said with a salute as he walked over to her.
With a low voice Autumn said,
Now, since I’ve known you for years I think I can trust you—at least more than anyone else. So, I’m going to trust you with my property due to necessity while I am down there in the wet and—most importantly—paper-money-ruining water.
Why didn’t you just keep your money in that credit union you opened up? Edgar asked.
Wouldn’t it be safer from theft there?
Autumn shook her head.
Never put all of your baskets in one egg. No, I need to prepare for all emergencies—even bank failures.
She slipped off her outer clothes, shoes, and glasses down to a swimsuit and put them in Edgar’s arms. Curious, Edgar checked the shirt to find a makeshift pocket taped behind the back and checked the shoes to find slits inside that he guessed were also secret compartments.
After throwing on the goggles, flippers, and breathing apparatus, Autumn began climbing down the side of the ship. However, she stopped when her head was just above the side to tell Montago one more time,
Make sure you keep pumping that pump.
Got it, Senorita Loca, Montago said with a salute before he started pumping.
Autumn surveyed the vicinity with the knowledge that if Montago’s GPS functioned correctly the treasure ought to be somewhere close. As she ruminated over this her thoughts also noted that oxygen still managed to make its way to her lungs, meaning that Montago was able to make that contraption work—so far.
The great thing about seas like this, Autumn thought, was that they were mainly empty, save for some reefs, coral, and a bunch of fish swimming around—nothing that could hide a large treasure chest terribly well. (She was also glad she hadn’t seen sharks or crocodiles, but that’s a different point.) So when she saw a lonely wall west of her with a small hole leading to an alcove she knew that that must be where the treasure was hiding.
She swam in and through the tight rocky—and soon, dark—tunnels, ever wary of the length of the cord connecting her to her oxygen.
I paid hundreds of dollars for this stupid thing, so this better reach far enough, Autumn grumbled. But then she thought about it more and then remembered, Oh, wait, no, the cord I found in some dumpster downtown.
Although she couldn’t see anything as she crawl-swam through the tunnels, she could feel fuzzy moss, scaly fish, and some bastard crab pinching her. However, none of this had any relevance to any later part of the story, so let’s not dwell on it too much.
Eventually, the tunnel ended in a much wider and taller—it rose at least three meters high—cove with gaping holes in the ceiling, allowing the sunlight in. Autumn didn’t spend much time looking around the area before her eyes singled out the one important object she thought she would find here: a big, dusty brown treasure chest slightly sunken in the sandy ground.
Realizing the chest could be tampered, she edged toward it carefully as she reached out and slowly opened the chest’s lid. When the glint of gold light caught Autumn’s eye she shoved the rest of the lid open. She could now see that the chest was stuffed with so many golden doubloons, nuggets, and Nintendo World Championship cartridges that they seemed to glow with their own light.
Autumn steeled her hands against the edges of the open chest, her mind reeling from the high of her newly-found success, when she heard a voice behind her call out,
So you’ve finally found it, eh?
She swung her head around and squinted when she saw someone familiar, unable to believe her eyes.
It was Clearbeard. She stood in front of the only exit at full height with a wry, toothy grin. She had absolutely nothing on her mouth to indicate how she was somehow breathing underwater.
Now, I believe I recall telling you to stay away from my ocean—where my treasure is kept, but you don’t seem to want to honor people’s rights, Clearbeard said, her voice cutting through the thick ocean.
Well then, I don’t suspect you’ll be leaving peacefully, then, huh?
Autumn paused, her mind still trying to take the situation in. Finally, she stood up and faced Clearbeard with warning in her eyes. She wasn’t sure how this nutjob was breathing so well underwater, but she sure knew she wasn’t going to let her ruin her success—whatever her supposed “rights” were.
Autumn watched as Clearbeard unsheaved her sword, unsure of how she would fight back with her sword lost somewhere else in the briny deep, but still determined to do so, regardless. Autumn’s eyes followed Clearbeard as she slowly paced left, only to see her suddenly stop. She followed Clearbeard’s eyes down to her left foot which Autumn just noticed was tilted up over the orange cord attached to Autumn’s mouth piece.
That sure is a pretty cord you’ve got there, Clearbeard said.
It’d be a shame if something happened to it.
Autumn’s eyes widened as she thought about the implications of said statement. But before she could do anything, Clearbeard made a swift chop down at the cord, severing it.
As Autumn heard the water begin to rush into the tube she immediately unclamped the mouthpiece from her mouth with one hand and simultaneously clamped her mouth with the other hand to keep water from seeping in her nose. She fished through a secret pocket with the other hand and pulled out a little band she kept for god-knows-what—you never know when one might be useful, she mused—and tied it around her nose, freeing her other hand again.
She returned her fists to her sides, still staring at Clearbeard, ready for her first move. Clearbeard simply resheaved her sword and crossed her arms behind her while smiling.
Well, you sure are a trooper for someone who’s lost her supply of oxygen, Clearbeard said.
Surely it can’t be healthy to deprive yourself of something so necessary? She laughed.
It’s too bad none of those gold coins you tried pilfering from me will do you any good in the breathing business. Maybe in a different game.
Autumn wished she could taunt her back, but was ever present of the need to keep water from seeping into her mouth. Instead she crossed her arms and tilted her head up haughtily.
Maybe not? Clearbeard said with her head tilted in suspicion. But then she noticed Autumn’s face reddening and her eyes cringing and she smiled again.
Then again, you don’t look terribly comfortable. It’s too bad you can’t breathe underwater like I can.
Clearbeard began to take a few deep breaths, each releasing sounds that made Autumn want to scream. Her lungs felt like they were being throttled while her whole head felt like it was being pumped and pumped until it was going to burst open.
Finally, the pain began to become so great that she was almost positive she wasn’t going to be able to end this stalemate before she drowned—especially not when Clearbeard was taking so long to do anything! So she held up an index finger and began to slowly creep over to Clearbeard as if she were simply trying to sneak by to use the restroom.
I don’t think so, Clearbeard said.
It’s rude to leave meetings so early, you know.
Autumn screeched to a stop when she saw Clearbeard’s limbs gradually pale into a full white and all of their features—fingers, socks, and shoes—melt into smooth lumps. They all flapped down in front of her while four more white tentacles sprouted out from her sides and back, flopping down onto the ground behind her. The rest of her body grew white, their features melting away. Lastly, her upper body bloated out into the large bulb of a squid’s head. Autumn repeatedly blinked at what her eyes once told her had looked like a human, but now shouted to her that it was obviously a squid.
She was so awestruck by this transformation that she did not notice one of the squid’s tentacles snap forward, wrapping itself around Autumn’s body and hoisting her off the ground. Autumn tried pushing down on the thick, muscly tentacle with her arms while her legs flailed around, but neither seemed to do much good.
Although nothing on the squid’s face indicated moving lips, Autumn could hear what still sounded distinctly like Clearbeard’s voice say,
I’m afraid you’ll have to stick around just like all of my other guests have. Her other tentacle waved forward to showcase the numerous skeletons littering the sand.
However, Autumn was too busy forcing all of her energy against this beast while her lungs continued to protest in pain. Her face was now so red and puffy it looked swollen.
Soon her mouth couldn’t take it anymore and it burst open in a desperate grab for air that wasn’t there; instead, she got a bucketful of water gushing in, making her choke. Finally, she became so exhausted that she slumped forward, her arms over the tentacle as if she were asleep. Her eyes gradually blinked closed while her dizzy mind gradually blurred into unconsciousness.
I always hate how long this part takes, Clearbeard thought. Still, the brutish method would be too messy. It’s already bad enough I still have all of these skeletons lying around, much less to have blood splattered all over.
She waited, examining Autumn’s body closely to see if she was pretending or not. When Clearbeard was sure that Autumn wasn’t going to get anywhere fast at least she morphed back into her human form, causing Autumn’s body to drift down to the sandy floor. Clearbeard cautiously moved near Autumn and ducked her head near Autumn’s chest. She could hear the slow pumping of Autumn’s heart gradually slacken even more. After a minute or two the thumping stopped completely.
Clearbeard stood up straight again with her arms akimbo. Now it’s time for the next phase of my plan, she thought.
Montago felt a bright orange glare of light attack his face. He shielded his eyes with his hand and looked out to see that the sun was dipping halfway under the horizon of the river while the sky filled up with puffy pink clouds. He gave a deep sigh as he was reminded of the raw soreness still in his arms; and yet he continued to pump the stupid contraption, nevertheless.
Edgar popped out from the cabin door, staring down at the device in his hand.
I can’t find her anywhere! Edgar said in a panicked voice.
Montago grumbled. He could make numerous guesses what happened to his idiotic client—and none were pretty. Now he was in the awkward position where he wasn’t sure whether he should keep pumping or not. She could go on for days still alive—and thus still in need of oxygen. It also made him wish he’d asked for his payment before the job was done.
You… you don’t think she… Edgar sputtered before stopping with a frantic look at the ground.
But his face darted to his left when he heard the sound of splashing. He threw his arms out and cried out when he saw Autumn climb up over the edge of the boat.
Montago immediately let go of the pump and heaved a heavy sigh, rubbing his tender shoulders.
Edgar ran up to Autumn and wrapped his arms around her while she simply stared hazily out into space.
Autumn, what took you so long? I thought you might have… Well…
Edgar blushed as he recognized the feeling of Autumn’s wet skin in her arms and quickly let go.
He scratched behind his head and asked,
Uh, do you want me to go get your stuff for you?
Yeah, that would be good. Thanks, Autumn said dully.
Edgar scurried away back to the cabin while Autumn continued to stare down at the wood planks of the boat floor. Her haze was interrupted by Montago asking,
So I suppose something wrong happened, right? At least I don’t see any treasure with you… uh, unless you’re hiding it really well somewhere.
She didn’t turn to face him, but instead kept her head tilted down to the floor while her left hand rubbed it.
I don’t remember much of what was going on. Something happened with my oxygen thing, I think, that made me go unconscious. Then next thing I know I wake up on some beach. I vaguely remember taking a boat out here for some reason and then decided to swim out here in the desperate hope of finding you guys. She gave a weak smile.
Guess I’m really lucky there.
Edgar returned, holding her stuff in a neat, folded pile in his arms, with her shoes on the bottom and the clothes on the top. Autumn took it all and let most of it drop down on the floor. She immediately began to check everything—the pockets of her skirt, the insides of her shoes, and all around everything else—before she clumsily pulled everything back on.
Well, I hope you’re not planning anything else for tonight, Montago said with a sigh.
’Cause it’s getting late and I’d like to get some rest if I may.
You two may rest in the cabin or do whatever you like. I can take care of the rest.
Montago lumbered away to the cabin while Edgar stood around awkwardly like he usually did. Meanwhile, Autumn stepped up to the wheel and began to steer their ship back to the Boskeopolis mainland. As she felt her arms move the wheel left and right her eyes opened out of their listlessness. She took one hand off the wheel and stuck it around her pockets.
I think I’ve got a lot of her goods on me now. I found a few secret pockets among her clothes, and I’m sure she’s got more, too. More importantly, I’ve gotten her nosy nose away from those documents—and the whole ordeal for good!
The being formerly known as
Clearbeard smiled wryly with Autumn’s mouth.
And as for these two, they’ll make a well-deserved dessert.