A Pigeon Comes Home to Roost
I’m coming for you, Hannah Claire.
Claire rolled over onto her right side, clutched her abdomen, and moaned. The voice whispered deep in her subconscious, calling to her.
“Jack?” she whispered against something dingy and smelly beneath her head. “Jack, is that you?’
But she heard the voice no more, and as she fought through the haze, she struggled to open her eyes. Then her entire body pitched to the right, and she rolled until her body landed roughly against rotted wood, and then she was rolling again to the left. Her stomach lurched.
Had she really heard Jack? Had he called out to her subconscious? Or was she just wishing it to be so?
Clasping one hand over her mouth, the other clutching her stomach, she tried to rise, but hit her head on a beam stretching overhead. As she tried to sit, the ship pitched once more to the left and her entire body slanted forward until she sprawled across the floor in a heap.
“Ooh …” A moan escaped her lips. “I think my insides are coming out.”
Then her stomach lurched once again, as it had done a dozen times or more throughout the night. Her gaze darted from right to left in front of her until she spied the bucket, scrambled to it, stuck her head into its opening and retched until she was so weak she couldn’t hold her head up a moment longer. Then she promptly passed out cold on the hard wooden floor.
Sometime later, she struggled to raise her head off the planks and focus, but found the task extremely difficult. Was someone talking to her? Was it the person who stood over her now, creating an even blacker shadow within the room?
She blinked and tried to take in her current situation. The floor swayed back and forth, her right cheek rested near the soles of the man’s shoes.
Suddenly a mental image flashed through her mind of lying at someone’s feet, her face smashed into the floor, eyes closed and mouth open, with a tiny string of drool hanging down out of one corner.
Why in the hell is the floor moving? Where in the hell am I?
And why did she feel like she had last night’s mashed potatoes stuck to the insides of her mouth?
Her stomach rumbled in protest. The bitter taste of bile rose in her throat. She squeezed at her abdomen as if to stop the spasms that way, and tried to draw her knees up under her so she could make it to a toilet somewhere.
No, she couldn’t make it. She raised her head enough to lift her mouth over the man’s shoe, and threw up.
His kick struck her in the chest forcibly enough to fling her onto her back. “You bloody stinking wench!” She scrambled up until she sat with her back against the wall, suddenly more alert of the situation. She swiped the back of one shaking hand across her mouth and looked up at the man in the dimly lit room. She watched as he shook his foot to rid it of the smelly fluid and roared another blasphemous curse that damned her soul to hell and back. She blinked.
A freakin’ pirate?
She brought her knees up close to her chest and rubbed at the place where he’d struck her.
Kidnapped. She was kidnapped? How long ago was that?
“Get up ye bloody whore!” Fear lanced her heart as the man kicked at her again. She rose quickly, mentally trying to will her stomach into calm. It wasn’t working. He shoved at her then, pushing her toward the cabin’s portal and a short flight of stairs. Tripping up the four steps to the deck of the ship, she squinted at the shaft of morning light streaming down on top of her.
Then just as she reached the top step, the man below her kindly helped her forward by placing one of his hands between her legs and shoving upward a little too intimately for her taste. As he laughed in sadistic amusement, she summoned up enough strength to brace herself with her hands against the steps and kick, catching her captor cleanly in the jaw.
Caught off guard, he stumbled backward. She scrambled onto the deck, knowing that enraging the pirate was a stupid thing to do and that there would be no salvation waiting on deck—no escape. As she rose and looked around her, gasping for a breath of fresh air and flipping her hair back out of her eyes, she realized how true that last thought was.
At least thirty of the scruffiest, dirtiest, smelliest, and most scandalous looking excuses for men stood before her.
A horrendous growl sounded behind her, and she jerked around just in time to see the man leap up the steps from below. Within an instant, he lunged, knocked her to the floor, and began to wrestle her out of her clothing as he screamed something about “a wench’s place beneath him.” His hips pinned hers to the deck, grimy fingers clawed at the bodice of her corset as she kicked and wriggled and scratched at him. Small, incoherent moans and sobs wrenched from her throat.
The nausea forgotten now, she fought for her honor, and perhaps for her life. The sneers and cheers from the pirate crew surrounding them didn’t help matters any, and actually panicked her more. The man grew hard as he worked to pin her to the deck beneath him. She heard him grunt with pleasure as a hand sought and found one of her breasts through the ripped cotton chemise. He clamped his mouth down over her nipple, hard, and the nausea suddenly returned.
The crowd jeered.
She continued to kick and struggle. Thrusting her arms up between her body and his, she tried to force his head backward with the heels of her hands. But then, suddenly, another of the pirates grasped her wrists and pulled them backward over her head, exposing her fully to the view of everyone and giving the pirate grunting over her complete access to her breasts. Terror gripped her insides as she felt the first man’s fumbling fingers lower to her hip and begin hitching her skirt up over her thigh, pushing it up around her middle.
Oh, bloody freaking hell…
Why hadn’t she worn those stinking panty things? At this point anything that would hamper his progress would have been welcome. Then quite suddenly, the jeers from the pirate crew silenced. The man on top of her was abruptly gone, jerked up by the back of his jacket and hurled to the side by a man she could only describe as demonic. He towered before her, some six and a half feet tall or more, with a long black beard that started just below his eyes and nearly reached his waist, unruly hair that was like bad dreadlocks run amok, and eyes as deep blue as the ocean itself.
A cool breeze wafted through the silence on the ship’s deck and teased at her exposed nipples. Blackbeard’s gaze fell upon her heaving chest, and he grinned.
The pirate holding her arms let go and backed off.
Pushing herself upward, supporting herself on one hand, she frantically tried to cover herself with the torn pieces of fabric from her chemise. Her gaze never faltered from his. He stared back with narrowed precision. A chill crept up her backbone, and she fought not to shiver as she half lay, half sat before him. He noticed her struggle for composure, and he laughed, the sound long and hearty and sickening. Still never breaking the connection between them, he could dominate with only a stare. She feared for her life should she glance away.
“So,” he bellowed, “me little pigeon has returned.”
She sat hunched in the corner of the bunk. Had sat there all day, her knees drawn up to her chest, trying to make herself as small and insignificant as possible. The glow from the oil lamp flickered above and a solitary candle lit the table within Blackbeard’s cabin, as the stench from the man filled the tiny space around them. She felt like gagging. Perhaps if she were very, very quiet, he would nod off to sleep as he sat with his back to her, rifling through a pile of loot gathered during his last pillage. If he fell asleep, she could sneak out.
But then what? Swim to shore? She was a strong swimmer, but that was ridiculous. They were too far out to sea. Call the Coast Guard?
Yeah, right. Might as well summon up a mermaid and let her lead me to shore.
Maybe she’d get lucky and they’d cross the Bermuda Triangle. She could catch a ride home with some lost World War II fighter pilot. Or get picked up by a space alien and be dropped back into the 21st century. Or swallowed by a whale and be spat back out on the banks. She fought back hysterical laughter. One scenario was about as likely as the other.
Face it, Claire, this time there’s no way out.
They were alone, although from time to time a young black man entered, bringing food or running errands for his master. She figured he was some type of servant to the pirate, and quite loyal, at that. He’d even brought food for her, some type of gruelish-looking mixture that resembled what she’d thrown up over the last twenty-four hours. The thought of recycling that mixture was not in the least enticing. Even the smell turned her stomach, so she figured she could do another day without food. At least until her stomach had time to recuperate. Seasickness, she told herself, must be the worst. She’d never felt so ill in her life.
The light in the room lowered as the night wore on, casting a dull, yellow hue. Blackbeard made no attempt to speak to her and hadn’t done so since he’d thrown her down into his cabin earlier that morning and ordered her to stay put. Claire hadn’t dared to move. He’d arrived several hours later and had ignored her entirely.
The pirate poured over the bag of treasures, chuckling to himself and periodically drinking his fill of a tankard he kept beside him. Rum, she suspected. The length of a candle on the table grew short as the night wore on and she watched it, as though with the flames’ last flicker, the nightmare would end. She watched as he divvied up the booty for his crew. It seemed to Claire though, one pile was decidedly higher than the other and contained the most precious looking jewels and coins. She was sure that one was his.
The night grew cooler and Claire brought her knees closer to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Earlier, she had tried to arrange her ripped chemise and corset over her breasts to cover her exposed skin, but it was an attempt that was ineffectual, at best, and the thin cotton did nothing to protect her from the chilly night draft of the ship. She didn’t dare ask for a blanket. She wouldn’t ask for anything.
But she watched, fighting her fatigued mind’s need for sleep. She would not close her eyes, for if she did, she might miss her chance. She knew if he slept, she would have to attempt an escape. And she feared if she slept, the pirate would catch her off guard and she’d be helpless to defend herself.
And so she waited, waited in utter stillness until the candle burned down to only a faint flicker.
The crew on the deck had silenced hours ago, minus a few faint voices below. Blackbeard’s movements slowed, due she hoped, to a combination of both fatigue and rum. She watched as his body wavered forward several times, his propped arms slid from beneath him, scattering a few coins as they did. Finally, his head fell forward with a jingle against the table. The short stub of the candle skidded aside, its wax spilling over a handful of the coins, the flame extinguished.
Plunged into total darkness, Claire hadn’t known that dark could be so black.
But she didn’t dare move. Not for a minute…or fifteen…or thirty, she guessed. She waited for nearly an hour, every nerve on end, every follicle of hair on her body standing upright, every cell, every hormone, every muscle tense and screaming in anticipation. And every bit of common sense she could muster telling her she was a fool.
Every bit of passion and emotion in her heart for Jack telling her she had to try.
She moved. Slowly, ever so slowly, she inched her arms from around her knees and let them fall soundlessly at her side. She lowered her legs in the same manner. Between each movement, she sat as quiet as a church-mouse and listened for signs of consciousness from the pirate. Each time, his snores penetrated the night and she breathed a little easier.
The trouble with getting up and simply walking out was the fact she couldn’t see two inches in front of her face. She stood. Mentally trying to map the interior of the cabin in her mind, she took a step to the right. Pushing her hands out in front of her, she stepped again and then again. With each step, she internally sighed.
When she thought she’d inched herself as far right as she dared, she stopped and rethought her location. Distancing herself from Blackbeard by the sounds emanating from his nose, Claire knew she was probably away from the table and guessed if she now stepped forward, she’d come into contact with the sides of the ship, then moving just a bit to the left, she should hit the steps, and she’d be home free.
She lifted her foot to step forward and abruptly Blackbeard snorted loudly, flopping his head away from her, coins tinkling to the floor around him, and the table legs squeaking under his shifting weight. She started backward into something and it screeched across the floor. Her hands flew to her face, and her heart rapped erratically within her chest cavity.
Shivers and icy chills raced along her backbone in the now silent darkness. Standing perfectly still, so very quiet, she waited.
Perpetual silence surrounded her, and still, for what seemed an eternity, she stood motionless. Waiting. Until her pounding heart calmed, Blackbeard’s wheezing evened, and she’d bolstered her nerves once again.
She was dizzy, weak, so she braced herself against the side of the ship. Too many hours of vomiting and no liquids in her body were the culprit. She had no idea what waited for her on deck, but she had to try. Afraid her limbs would crack if she stood still too much longer, she moved a foot and stepped forward. The other followed.
Once more. Quicker now. Closer to the steps.
Her heartbeat picked up its rhythm.
Faster. But still silently.
Quickly, but oh, so cautiously.
He snorted. She froze.
She moved again. Her shin cracked against something hard.
Lifting her gaze, she sensed the moon glow above.
Lift your foot, Claire. There.
Up the steps.
Quiet, the wood’s creaking.
The chair screeched across the floor behind her. The table groaned with increased pressure. Jewels and coins jingled as they crashed to the floor. Claire moaned, suddenly feeling more than a little fuzzy around the edges.
Things moved too quickly. Wooden splinters bit into her palms as she reached forward to grab hold of something. A hearty laugh chortled behind her. She grasped the ropes at either side of the steps.
He lunged. She tripped. He grabbed her waist. The ropes burned her palms as she slid down against him. Claire kicked and screamed. He pulled. She bit. He threw her on the bunk. She jumped up again. He threw her down once more and then pinned her body to the bed with his own.
She grew still and silent.
Blackbeard growled low in his throat.
She stifled the urge to spit into his face.
“Not so fast, pigeon,” he said. “Ye’ll not escape me again. This time, when he comes back to get ye, I’ll be ready and waiting.”
Claire summoned up enough strength to glower at him through the darkness. What was this, a trap? Was her purpose here to lure Jack to the ship so Blackbeard could exact revenge? Oh, Lord. Jack had to stay away.
“I think I’d be watching my head, if I were you, instead of my balls.” She tried not to give the impression that she’d understood his ploy. But she had to warn Jack. How?
Blackbeard squeezed her upper arms and jerked her body closer to him. “What is that, missy? A warning?”
“One you’d damned well better heed.”
“Bah!” He dropped her back against the bed. “What? Another prophet? I think not! ‘Tis nothing but a comely wench to serve me needs.” Claire sensed his face inching closer, inhaled his sickening stench, and closed her eyes. “Or perhaps be me wife,” he hissed.
A dribble of saliva dropped against Claire’s cheek, and she thrashed her head to one side. Blackbeard harshly grasped her chin in his grimy hand and steadied her face to him. She glared at him, defiant, not sure where her strength was coming from. Her throat constricted at the thought of him trying to kiss her.
The pirate’s eyes glowed in the dark. Within the darkness, it was almost all she could see. Glaring. Staring. Evil and sadistic. At first rounded ovals, then narrowing to pointy little slits of neon blue-green tinged in yellow.
She fought the urge to swipe the spittle from her face and then pushed back an even greater one not to gag. The foul smells emerging from his body reeked of a mixture of body odor, urine, and fetid breath.
His free hand traveled down to the side of her breast and cupped it roughly. “I remember, pigeon, how ye felt before…the taste of salt on yer skin— ‘Twill be a fine reunion, I think.”
The nausea returned. She was losing the battle. Her stomach lurched, and she bucked against him. Her mind reeled with the lightheadedness that accompanied twenty-four hours of vomiting. Blackbeard leaned closer to her face, and she again caught a whiff of noisome fumes and could no longer control her jumping tummy.
Gagging, she turned her head away from him; the spasms wracked her body. With one heave against him, she retched, this time only a precursor of what was to come. Then her body lunged again, and she spewed putrid liquid on him, on her, and all over the floor.
Cursing, the great pirate jumped back. She turned to her side on the bunk, clutching her abdomen, doubling up as her body spasmed again. She was barely conscious of him standing over her, cursing wildly and ranting. She decided she didn’t care. He couldn’t smell any worse than before.
He left her there, lying in her own vomit, knowing she was too ill to even lift her head off the bunk, let alone to attempt another escape. And even within the haze, she knew if she tried, she’d never succeed.