Steven L. Wilson
It is early on a Monday morning in April of 1746. The sun sits on the horizon like a gold doubloon, and you, Gerald Larson, are a pirate.
You stand at the bow of the Blue Dagger, a gorgeous Bermuda sloop with two jibs, three sails, ten guns, and thirty-four men. All your men are fearsome pirates like you.
The flying jib loses the wind, flaps like a wounded gull, and fills again. You raise your spyglass to your right eye and peer into a breeze at a cutter in the distance. She is bigger than your ship. More sails. More guns. More men. It is the Morning Maiden, the most feared pirate ship in the Caribbean, and she’s headed your way, sails full, sun and wind at her aft.
Pirates usually don’t fight one another. Some things are just understood. You think that’s even part of the pirates’ code, but you know this is no ordinary pirate. This is Suzanne of the Sea, the toughest pirate west of Trinidad, and fate has brought you two together once again.
“Ready guns!” you call. A mere formality. Your cannons are already loaded. Your crew stands with cutlasses tucked into bright blue sashes. They hold their flintlock pistols high and wave them back and forth. An act of bravado. It’s much too soon to fire.
“Come port twenty degrees,” you call.
“Twenty degrees,” echoes the first mate.
You will run straight for Suzanne until one of you turns first, shows weakness. If neither of you turns, you will ram head-on.
Two hundred yards.
You stare through your spyglass at the bow of the Morning Maiden and spot a knot of pirates. But you don’t see Suzanne. Not yet.
Suzanne hasn’t flinched. She’s headed right for you. A few of your crew shift positions, edging near something to grab on to. Your first mate curls his left arm around the main mast and pulls himself in tight.
Why does she show no fear, no wisdom? She should turn and fire broadsides. You know that. She knows that. But she won’t. She’s stubborn.
“Captain!” calls the First Mate, hugging main mast.
“Bear hard starboard,” you yell. The ship comes right. You have flinched first. You steady your footing, but you don’t grab onto anything. You know Suzanne is watching. You will not show another sign of fear, another sign of weakness.
The Morning Maiden comes port, turning to match your turn, but your guns are in position before Suzanne’s.
“Fire!” you command, and the cannons let loose with a roar. Two pirates crumble to the deck of the Morning Maiden and one falls overboard with a horrible screech. It’s the crew you want to destroy, not Suzanne. Her you want alive.
Suzanne’s broadsides are on you now, and your men drop to the deck. “Cowards,” you think. You don’t drop. You will show no fear. The Morning Maiden fires her cannons. No men fall. But Suzanne’s not aiming for your crew. She has ripped a gaping hole in your mainsail.
Now you see her. Suzanne of the Sea. Fiery bandana wrapped around her forehead. Red silk blouse. Black boots trimmed with gold. Cutlass gripped in her right hand. She’s pointing, pointing at the Blue Dagger. No. Not at the ship. She is pointing at you.
“Prepare grappling hooks,” you yell. The pilot turns hard port toward the Morning Maiden.
“What?” I ask.
“Jerry, the light’s green,” says Susan.
We’ve been married twenty-one years, and I wonder how many times she’s said, “The light’s green.” I hit the gas and ease through the intersection. It’s early on a Monday morning. Yellow and green streetlights reflect off the rain-soaked streets. Traffic is light, only one car up ahead. Clean morning air flows in through my open window. Dark clouds hang thick in the sky.
“What are you thinking?” Susan watches the car in front of us as I accelerate toward glowing taillights.
“Nothing at all?” As I approach the car, Susan presses her right foot to the floorboard, hitting an imaginary brake.
“Are you thinking about that pirate game you’ve been playing on the internet?” she asks.
“Of course not.” I look over at her soft features in the early morning light. Small nose. Slender jaw. A clean, perfect profile.
“It’s okay if you are,” says Susan.
“Maybe I was thinking about it a little,” I say.
“It’s better than worrying.” Susan chews at a cuticle then examines the finger. “You’re not worried are you?”
“I’m alright. How are you doing?”
“I’m okay.” She pulls her right foot back and looks into the vanity mirror on the passenger’s sunshade.
“It’s not that uncommon, you know.” I’m afraid I sound a little insensitive, but she doesn’t seem to take it that way. I’m glad because I’ve been very careful about what I’ve said lately. Susan has too.
“I know,” she says. “It happens all the time.” She runs a finger across a black spot on her left cheek. It’s not a big spot. Looks like an oblong drop of dark chocolate. She rubs it hard. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t come off.
“Do you think this is really all of it?”
“Of course it is.” I’ve told her that dozens of times, but she still asks. “You’ve checked. Doctor Adams has checked. I’ve checked.”
After she finally realized that the spot might be more than a mole, we checked every inch of her body looking for other spots. There weren’t any more. Just this one. Just this single remnant from a drop of too much sun twenty years ago. Maybe longer.
“I hope this is all,” she says.
“It’s not even that complicated.” I pull into the hospital parking lot and find a spot marked “outpatient surgery.”
We check in at the reception desk.
“Susan Larson.” Susan takes out a driver’s license and shows it to the receptionist.
The receptionist checks her computer. “You have a procedure with Doctor Adams at eight o’clock.”
“That’s right.” Susan signs a consent form.
“Have a seat and we’ll call you soon.”
Susan and I sit down on a green vinyl couch by a lamp in the corner of the waiting room.
“I’ll be here the whole time,” I say.
“Did you bring something to read?” asks Susan.
“I’ll find something.”
“You should have brought a book,” she says. “I told you to.”
“I’ll find something to do.” I pick up a Highlights and open it up to a picture of a big tree, a fence, and two clouds. Then I start looking for the hidden clock.
“There’s the kitten,” says Susan pointing to one of the clouds.
A nurse comes out and rolls a wheelchair up to Susan. Then he takes her by the hand and helps her sit down.
“This is probably all of it.” Susan runs her finger down her face, from her cheekbone to her jawbone as if her finger were a scalpel.
The nurse rolls Susan away and I spend the next half hour looking for that damned clock.
Grappling hooks lock, men strain at the ropes, and the two ships close in anger. Your crew fires pistols, clouding the deck with grey smoke and the sharp stink of black powder. The other crew fires in return and four men drop. What’s left of your men draw cutlasses, howl in rage, and storm the Morning Maiden.
That isn’t your fight. Your fight won’t be with the crew. Your fight will be with Suzanne of the Sea. Let Captain meet Captain.
“Captain Larson,” calls Suzanne. She stands on her deck, hands on her hips, chin lowered. She is looking at you.
“Captain Larson,” you return.
“We meet again.”
“It’s time,” you say.
Suzanne removes her hands from her hips, takes two large steps, and leaps onto the deck of the Blue Dagger, landing in a squat. You lunge for her with your cutlass, but she rolls to her left. You follow with a quick chop. Her defense is good, her reflexes fast. Your swords clash.
You take two steps back and hold your cutlass at the ready. Suzanne stands and mimics your pose.
You hear cutlasses clash behind you on the Morning Maiden. Men grunt and groan. But you don’t remove your gaze from Suzanne. Her eyes narrow to slits and her lips part, showing clenched teeth.
“We have a score to settle,” she growls.
“Things to resolve right here.” Your voice is low.
She steps forward and thrusts at your midsection. “This is for boarding my ship.”
“This is for trying to ram me.” You parry and counter.
“This is for spending too much time on that damned computer.” She thrusts again, aiming for your face.
“This is for scaring the hell out of me.” You dodge and slash.
She blocks your cutlass. “For withdrawing into your make-believe world when I needed you most.”
“Why did you have to get cancer?” You circle each other, waiting for a chance to attack.
“I guess I was bored.”
“If you do it again….”
“What? You fight like a baby.”
“Don’t do it again.” You swipe at her legs and she swipes at your face. One of you will draw first blood. It’s only a matter of time.
“People get sick.” She moves to your left, looking for an opening. “Look at you.”
“What about me?”
“You haven’t been to a doctor in five years.” She steps and thrusts at your left arm.
You turn and dodge but the point of her cutlass rips your blue, silk shirt. “I feel fine.”
“It’s called a damned checkup. They check you. Then you know whether you’re really fine or not.”
“I’m not going,” you yell in rage.
“Too bad,” she growls. “You’ve got a dental appointment with Allen the Cruel on Monday.”
You seethe in anger. Allen the Cruel is the only pirate you fear more than Suzanne. “Aaarrrggghhh,” you cry.
You step forward, swinging a slashing blow. Her feet are fast and she swings back slicing the front of your shirt. Now you spar around the deck. Past mast. Past helm. Past a barrel of rum.
“You better start flossing,” she snarls.
“My teeth are in great shape.”
“I’m telling him you’re not wearing your night guard.” She lowers her sword as she circles.
“This is for making me sleep downstairs.” You slash at her, thinking she has dropped her guard.
Suzanne jumps back and you miss her. “Have you ever heard yourself snore? I should tape you some day.”
“I can’t help it.” You lunge for her, and this time your swords lock together and you grab her wrist.
“It’s probably sleep apnea.” She shoves hard and you fly back. “You should get it checked,” she yells.
The fight is brutal. Your blue silk shirt hangs like rags. Suzanne’s bandanna is soaked in sweat.
“Just don’t do it again,” you growl.
“Don’t do what?” she snarls. “Don’t do what?”
“Don’t ever get cancer again,” you scream. As you scream, you slash downwards and the tip of your cutlass grazes Suzanne’s face leaving a long cut on her left cheek.
Suzanne of the Sea puts her left hand to her face and pulls it back, staring at the blood on her fingers. You expect anger and hate, but all you see is a blank stare.
“Now look what you’ve done,” she says.
You lower your cutlass to your side, but you don’t know what to say. Pirates aren’t supposed to apologize. You think it says something about that in the pirates’ code.
“I’m going to have a scar now,” says Suzanne.
“Pirates have scars,” you yell. “That’s what pirates do.”
“What do pirates do?” she screams back at you. “What in the hell do pirates do?”
“They fight. They get scars.”
“And they die.” Suzanne takes her bandana off her head and holds it to her face. “All the pirates have to die.”
“But you can’t,” you say. All the fighting on the Morning Maiden has stopped. What’s left of your crew is kneeling on the deck. Suzanne’s pirates stand over them, staring at you. “You can’t,” you say, backing up to the main-mast. Suzanne lays the blade of her cutlass to your throat.
Doctor Adams is standing over me in one of those green hospital scrubs. A surgical mask hangs at his neck.
“We’re done now,” says Doctor Adams. “It took a little longer than I thought it would.”
“Is she alright?” I ask.
“She’s fine, Mr. Larson.”
“Can I see her?”
“In a little while. We’re monitoring her right now. Afraid she got a little restless during the surgery. Some people dream. It’s not unheard of.”
I look at my watch. It’s been an hour and a half. I feel bad for not noticing how long it took.
“But she’s fine?” I stand up and look toward the door to outpatient surgery.
“The cancer had spread a little more than I thought, but I got it all.”
“All of it?” I ask again.
“She’s fine. She’ll need some time to recover.”
“I’ve taken a week off,” I say.
“Good.” Doctor Adams hands me a prescription. “She will need this for the pain.”
A nurse rolls Susan out of surgery. Her eyes are sagging and her lower lip juts out like a wad of pink bubble gum. She looks tired. A large white bandage covers the left side of her face.
“You look good.” I walk over and take her hand.
“I’m going to have a big scar,” says Susan.
“Can I see it?” I look at the doctor. He nods.
Doctor Adams kneels beside Susan and gently pulls the bandage back.
A long gash, neatly stitched, runs much of the way between the outer edge of Susan’s eye to the corner of her lip.
“You look really good,” I say.
She laughs a drowsy, light headed laugh. “I look like hell.”
“You look like a pirate,” I say.
“I am a pirate,” says Susan, “and I kicked your ass.”
Suzanne of the Sea runs the blade of her cutlass lightly over your throat, and you feel a trickle of blood run down your neck.
“What shall we do with them?” asks Suzanne’s first mate, waving a pistol toward your men.
“Take them as crew.” Suzanne pulls her cutlass away from your throat and cuts away the grappling hooks. The ships drift apart.
You and Suzanne are alone on the Blue Dagger. You wipe the blood off your neck with what’s left of your shirt. Suzanne throws down her cutlass and readies the rigging. Even with a gaping hole, the main sail catches some wind.
You go to the helm and steer away from the Morning Maiden.
“Where are we sailing to?” you ask.
“Home,” she says.
And you sail down the freeway toward your exit, wondering what all the other pirates are thinking as you pass them by.
Steven L. Wilson is a 2011 graduate of Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and an active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. His short stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Lightspeed Magazine.