“They’ve got old Blackbeard’s head on display on a gibbet down at the Hampton River dock,” Adolf Harting remarked, looking up from his newsletter at the dinner table.
“That’s nice, dear,” his wife replied absently as she cleared the remnants of dinner and stacked the dishes in the sink.
“Paper says Governor Spotswood sent two sloops out looking for pirates. Found them too,” Adolf continued. “Had a battle with Blackbeard and his crew. Killed Blackbeard, cut off his head and threw the body overboard. Paper says that some of the crew told stories that the pirate’s body swam around the sloop seven times before it sank. Might be some sort of curse there.
“They brought the head back, tied to the bowsprit of the HMS Ranger. Brought back what was left of his crew too. Going to try them for piracy over at Williamsburg and they’ll probably all hang.”
“Why’d they bring his head back?” asked Emily, age 10.
“Master Maynard needed it. Had to prove to the Governor that he’d killed Blackbeard so’s he could claim the reward.”
“I want to go see it!” Emily exclaimed.
“You will not!” her mother scolded. “That dock is no place for a proper young lady. And proper young ladies don’t go out looking at dead men’s heads. Besides, it’s got to be rotting and stinky and nasty by now.”
Emily wrinkled her nose and made a face. “But I’m not a proper young lady,” she protested.
“You will be,” her mother replied. “Any daughter of mine will be a proper young lady. You will stop being a tomboy and act ladylike, like your sister.”
“Beth is stuffy and boring. And so are her friends. I don’t want to be like them.”
“Enough of that!” her mother commanded. “You will stay away from that dock! You hear me?”
“Yes, momma.” Her tone meant: “I hear you, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to obey you.” She defiantly skipped outside to play.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with that child,” her mother sighed. “She gets the strangest ideas.”
Adolph just grunted, continuing to read his newsletter.
The next day after dame school, Emily made a detour on her way home, down to the dock. A gibbet was mounted about halfway down, the pirate’s head hung facing out to sea.
“A warning, that is,” she heard a sailor say, nodding toward the severed head as he walked by. “Lets you know that piracy don’t pay.”
“You’re wrong there, Louie,” his companion offered. “It pays real well. Just not for very long.”
The sailors laughed and walked on. Emily walked past the display then turned around to see the pirate’s face. It was a gruesome sight. Most of the flesh had rotted away, exposing eye sockets and patches of bone. Braids of long black tangled hair and beard still remained, however.
As Emily stood there looking, the face of the pirate filled out as it had been in life. He winked one eye at her, and mouthed, “Ahoy thar, lass. How be ye?”
Emily felt a chill, and then a strange sensation came over her. She felt herself grow older and taller and felt her breasts filling out. She sensed, rather than saw, her petticoats and blue dress replaced by loose-fitting maroon pantaloons and a white doublet covered by an unbuttoned leather jerkin. She carried a pistol and a cutlass in her red sash. A floppy tricorn hat with a single yellow feather was cocked to one side of her head.
Emily’s reverie was interrupted by a merchant passing by. “Hallo there, missy, what are you doing here? This is no place for a young lady.”
“I’m not a lady,” Emily retorted.
“What’s your name then?”
“I’m called Anne Bonny,” she replied in a husky voice, surprised to hear the words come out of her mouth.
“I’ve heard that name somewhere before,” the merchant said slowly, attempting to remember.
“That there’s a lady pirate,” his companion said. “Sails with Calico Jack Rackham down Bahamas way.”
The merchant brightened and chuckled. “You’re not a lady pirate.”
“Not yet,” Emily replied, sliding her hand along the hilt of the cutlass that nobody could see. “No, not quite yet.”
Ronald M. Larsen is a retired electrical engineer who went over to the dark side (Marketing) right after college graduation and spent 50+ years writing technical manuals, marketing brochures and technical articles in the computer and automation industries. His work has been published in several engineering magazines. He’s also worked as a farmhand, draftsman, cook, salesman, drafting instructor and property manager. Current residence is in the Florida panhandle, a proper distance from snow.