I’ve finished writing my fourth novel! The YA (sort-of, hopefully adults will like it too!) pirate fantasy India Bones and the Ship of the Dead.
I’m editing it ready to send to agents. Also, I’ll have my previous (adult) novel WULF up in its entirety online very soon (about time!), just waiting on a cover.
Here’s the third little part of India Bones, following on directly from the last part I put up here, and beginning at the start of the second chapter.
He awoke to find himself lying in a hammock in a small wooden cabin with a skeleton staring at him.
Staring may have been the only expression it had to offer, but it did it well. It was wearing a long black coat and a wide-brimmed hat, and it leaned nonchalantly in the doorway in a manner more suited to the living.
‘Ahoy,’ it said.
India shivered and shrank away, as best he could do being in a hammock. His head swayed painfully and the cabin seemed to sway with it.
‘Rude,’ said the skeleton.
India made eye contact and tried to summon some resolve back. ‘Where . . . am I?’ he swallowed mid-sentence to stifle a stammer.
‘Who should be the first question.’
‘Who am I?’
‘Oh, no. Who am I?’
‘Right.’ India sat up in the hammock, his aching head in his hands. His fear was quickly melting away, to be replaced with confusion. ‘Who are you?’
The skeleton inclined its head. ‘My name is Grimmer.’
‘Uh. And where am I Grimmer?’
The skeleton grinned, a skill it was excellent at. ‘Why, you’re on the Ship of the Dead.’
India fell back and closed his eyes. He felt a little nauseous, and dots chased each other under his eyelids.
‘I quite understand,’ Grimmer said.
‘How did I get here?’ India managed at last.
Grimmer sighed. ‘That was Spares. He carried you aboard.’
‘He thought you were one of us.’
India opened his eyes and dared another look at the skeleton, half-expecting it to have vanished and to see the familiar sight of his room at Mrs Wayles’s. ‘Just because I have face paint on?’ he said. ‘I look nothing like you! You’re – well, you’re dead!’
‘He was very, very drunk. Not that any of us were sober, but he was something else. I’ve already had quite the bone to pick with him. It’ll take him some time to find it.’
‘You see the thing is mate, we can’t just take you back. You’re stuck with us for now. Damn fool Spares.’
India squeezed his eyes shut and opened them once more. Still there. ‘How’s that?’
‘There’s no turning back. The ship has its own course, it sails us you understand.’
‘Truth be told, nor do I much. But that’s how it is. Oh, the crew helps out, but I think that’s more cause we need something to do, a way to be useful. We climb the rigging and hoist the sails and swab the decks. But nobody can turn the wheel. It turns on its own.’
India tried to think this through, and gave up. ‘So . . .’
‘So where we going next? Kingston is our next call. We won’t be putting up to the docks though, but this lonely beach to the west that seems almost nobody knows about but us. See, with small, superstitious towns like Eyeless it’s alright to land near everyone, as they keep their respectful, fearful distance, and besides, we like to put on a bit of a show now and again. The mist and the blackness draws in, the big horn sounds . . . you know, all very fun. Nice and theatrical. But try that somewhere like the thick of Kingston and – I’m not saying they ain’t superstitious too, they all are, but there’ll just be too many people, and with lots of people crowding things there’s always some idiot who gets drunk and comes and spoils things. Not that you’re an idiot. At least you didn’t have a gun. And that face paint. Inspired. Never known anyone alive wanting to look dead before.’
Grimmer tapped his ribcage and tilted his head. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I haven’t had anybody living to talk to for some time. All these words tumbling out.’ He grinned, or rather, something happened to his face that India couldn’t quite explain.
‘How do you speak, Grimmer?’ India asked, realising one of the many paramount things that were bothering him.
‘How’d you mean?’
‘How’d you speak with no tongue?’
‘A tongue’s the least of your worries mate. I haven’t got a voice box neither. Or lips. Or a gullet to drink, lungs to breathe, heart to beat, eyes to see you with.’ Grimmer leaned in. ‘Just cause you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.’ He looked away at the sea. ‘Do you know of phantom limbs?’
India shook his head.
‘When a limb gets amputated, sometimes people get the sensation that it’s still there. They can feel it, and they can feel it working too. Well us skeletons have phantom bodies. They’re stuck to our bones same as yours are. You can’t see them nor touch them, but we got ghost skin and ghost organs all there in order, all working like a shadow of the living. Or at least pretending to.’
India swallowed. The thought was disquieting. ‘What do you really look like then?’
‘I look like this!’ Grimmer opened his arms. ‘Hell, I don’t know what I look like anymore. I’ve known naught but these bones for too long.’
‘How did this happen? I mean, what got you all like this? On this ship, without bodies – well, without bodies to see.’
Grimmer smiled. ‘I wondered when we’d get around to the main thrust of questioning. We’re all sailors see. Pirates, merchants, even a few from various navies. Gave our life to the sea. But when we died we made a bad deal. We sold our bodies.’
‘You mean you sold your souls.’
‘No, we sold our bodies. We kept our souls. All that’s left of our bodies is the bones, and the ghost essence. The soul has had enough time to get used to the form it inhabits that it stays there after the body, the physical tangible body has gone.’
‘Who did you sell it to?’
‘To Davy Jones, of course. Who else? In return we kept our time in this world. Not realising the cost. Not realising we’d stay here, like this, forever. Or until our bones break into tiny pieces and our spirit becomes formless and can do nothing but haunt. After the deal was done some of us dead folk wandered, and still are wandering. They are rare sights, for there aren’t too many of us that made the deal, whose bodies have lasted the wear and tear of this world. You might bump into one on land if you’re terribly lucky. Not counting Tortugal, that is – we got a little spot of our own there. Otherwise it’s a solitary existence. Not many folk want to be friends with the dead. And there ain’t much that satisfies when your body is just a ghost. The best we got is alcohol. That still has a bit of a kick left, when it’s still dripping through our bones. Alcohol and dancing.’
Grimmer sighed. ‘And that’s where the rest of us ended up. The Ship of the Dead. Picking up all the wayward selfish scurves who made the wrong choice at the end of their thieving lives. I don’t know how long it’s been sailing these seas. Nobody does. Since the beginning, perhaps. There’s no captain. The only one sailing it is all the souls of the broken-boned. Or something else entirely. Who knows how many spirits haunt this ship. Taking it from place to place.’
India was listening open-mouthed. It seemed like something out of some dark fairy tale. ‘Why do you visit Mexico Island to dance once every ten years?’ he asked.
‘Dancing and drinking’s all we have. As for ten years, well we’ve got a lot of places to visit, a lot of distant seas to sail. The ship only seems to get back round to Mexico Island after ten years. Maybe cause it’s out of the way, maybe some other reason we don’ t know. I think a few of the others take ten or so years to visit again, it’s just they’re all at different times. Other places we come to more often. We just fall into the ship’s strange routine. The dead are nothing if not consistent.’
India nodded. ‘I’ve got one more question.’
‘Why are you wearing clothes?’
Grimmer laughed, a strange, clattery sound. ‘Why are you? It’s not cold. There’s little more reason to keep your body covered than ours. But there’s a lot of character in a body’s clothes. When you don’t have meat you can see on you, no real face, only a fading memory of what you used to look like, if that, then having your own clothes can do its bit to make you you. In your own eyes as in the eyes of others.’
‘Well, shank me,’ India said, shaking his head. ‘This is all a bit much.’
Grimmer laughed again. ‘Aye, I know. Look, we’ll drop you off at the Lonely Carib Beach, that’s what we call that place we put in at Kingston. We won’t be dancing there or making much of any kind of spectacle, just sitting and wandering and skimming stones, hidden by jungle. So you can take your leave and head to the city. After that though, afraid you’re on your own.’
‘That’s alright. Thanks. I’ll find some coin and then a ship to take me home.’ India paused. ‘Well. I don’t know. I guess I’ll see how I feel.’
‘First time away from the parents?’
‘My mother is dead,’ India said. ‘I never met my father.’
‘Oh,’ Grimmer said. ‘Sorry to hear that mate. You’re in good company for now. Pretty sure all our parents are long gone.’
‘I want to find my father,’ India said, looking down.
‘I’d put money on it,’ Grimmer said, clapping him on the back. India shivered at the touch, then looked apologetically up.
Grimmer pretended like he hadn’t noticed. ‘I’ll leave you for a bit,’ he said. ‘Let you get your head in order. And I want to talk to some of the others, too.’ He got up and walked out the cabin, leaving India alone.
India sat up in the hammock and put his head in the hands. Not out of upset, but to try and stop the swaying, and get to grips with the situation. He wasn’t quite ready to stand up, fearing he might instantly fall on his face.
He’d tried to leave Mexico Island several times in his life, each time without success. He’d stowed away on ships and either been caught and flogged, or he’d bottled it and took off, flushed with the thrill and fear of getting that far. Last year he’d stayed until they’d weighed anchor and were out in the bay, before being discovered by the bosun. They’d shouted at him and rowed him back to the docks. He’d been thankful for it, as he’d felt a little sick from the whole deal, completely out of his depth as it were. No matter how often he might think of himself as an adventurer or a pirate, truth was he was still just a kid, and he’d lived his own life in a tiny patch of a much wider world.
That was the last time he’d got anywhere, for Mrs Wayles had stepped in, letting it be known to all sailors of Eyeless and Maiden both, that nobody was to give passage to India Bones or else. Even the roughest of sailors had no desire to get on the wrong end of one of Mrs Wayles’s Or Elses, and so India found himself shipblocked as soon as he approached any one of the gangways. Even when he’d gathered enough coin for legal passage, he was turned away.
‘You’re just a babe,’ Mrs Wayles had said. ‘You think you can take on the whole world but you just can’t. Suppose the ship took you and deposited you someplace. Someplace civil even, like Kingston. Then what? How you gonna be feeding yourself? Where will you sleep? The world won’t just turn over on account of your dreams, India. It’ll master you afore you master it. Is that what your father would have wanted? Maybe one day, when you’re all grown up, and when you’re no longer under my care, you can follow in his footsteps. But right now, you just stay here and stay away from those damn docks.’
And so he’d slunk off, undecided whether to scowl or feel sorry for himself, so he’d done a bit of both.
He’d never much had the patience for reading – he didn’t want to read about things, he wanted to see and experience them for himself – but year after year he’d trace his finger over maps, looking at all the places he wanted to visit, places he knew so little about but fired his imagination with their strange, foreign names and promises of mystery and adventure.
The Caribbean formed the centre of the map, and was rich with opportunities. East of Mexico Island were popular places such as Kingston and J’maika, Colorado and the fabled Indiana, with its capital ‘City of Gold’ that he was named after. Not to mention pirate haven Tortugal, home to the giant mountain of Nassar (that India would one day climb). Kingston was the Caribbean hub, ruled from afar by York, and so frequently on the wrong side of pirates. The joke was that it was called such because everybody there acted like kings, they were that pompous and arrogant.
York was on the Continent, which lay to the north of the Caribbean, and as large (and self-important) as the country and its neighbour Bordeaux were compared to the Caribbean islands, they were dwarfed still by the other lands of the Continent: China, the Harem Empire, and the vast Khan Wastes to their east.
Then there were all the other places in the world any self-respecting adventurer would long to explore. Countries little written about, and some almost entirely unknown in India’s part of the world. The cluster of a thousand tiny islands and networked waterways that was Asia. The sprawling countries of Afrika and Barbary, and the great temples and sphynxes of Gyptia. The deep jungles of Amazonia, and the rolling grasslands and mountain ranges of Zealand to the far south. Maybe even the Northern and Southern Icelands, if he could wrap up well enough for them (he had the feeling that he wouldn’t know what cold really was until he went there).
And now, here he was, on the Ship of the Dead, with a skeleton crew, and on open water.
No turning back, that’s what Grimmer had told him. No turning back.
India tried to quell the ache within him, but he felt his thirteen years of age keenly, and he had to take a hard grip of the hammock support to steady himself.
He only took his fingers away when he became aware of them hurting, and looking at his fingertips he saw they’d been pressed white.