The Elvira wasn’t the most massive mode of transport in her day, but what she lacked in size, she made up for in the spirit carried by her youthful passengers. The seasoned and splintery craft was hued in several tones, as a patchwork of different woods and stains had been used to conceal her scars over the years. Great white sails fluttered like bedsheets drying out in a summer breeze and complemented the skulls that had been crudely stenciled on both sides of her bow. From a distance, they looked like classic pirate skulls, but up close, a pair of lifeless red tongues dangling from jagged teeth and dagger handles protruding from all four eye sockets were quite noticeable. These were the marks of the Lost Boys.
As the Elvira sailed off into the night winds and away from the jubilant Port Junction coast, Peter, Slightly, and Jinni were the only ones still above deck. The group hovered around the sturdy flicker of an oil lamp as Slightly unrolled a tattered map.
“Look,” Jinni said, prodding his finger on the musty, yellowing paper. “Right there. Ithaca’s not more than two days off our path.”
“Slow down,” Peter said. “We don’t even know if we can stretch our provisions out another two days.”
“I talked to Tootles about it already,” Slightly said. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Thanks, Slightly.” Peter said. “Way to keep your mouth shut.”
“Come on, Pete,” Jinni pleaded. “Let’s at least go to Ithaca. If Otis hasn’t made it back, and there’s still no word on what happened to him, maybe we can find a clue as to where we can start looking.”
“This whole thing sounds like a lot of fun,” Peter sneered. “But I’m looking to get paid.”
“Shut up and let me finish, Jinni. I don’t know where Otis Seehus is—any more than you or anybody in Ithaca does. But I’ll tell you what I do know. I know that he’s dead. He died in the war. That’s common knowledge and has been for a while now.”
“But it’s not true,” Jinni said.
“Git the hell outta here—not true,” Peter scoffed.
“The war was over. Otis and two other guys left on a small cargo carrier, and no one ever saw any of ’em again.”
“Yeah,” Peter said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “That’s what happens when people die. You don’t ever see them again.”
Jinni stood up. “Whatever you say.”
“I’m telling you, this is a wild goose chase. That note is probably a fake. You said yourself, some guy tried to use it to pay the whore you stole it from. Trust me, I’ve done a lot weirder to get out of payin’ a whore.”
“That’s the part that worries me, Jinni,” Slightly said. “How can we possibly commit to this thing without knowing for sure the note is real?”
“We can’t,” Peter said. “Even if it is real, the part where he tells us where we can actually find him—it ain’t in there. It’s smudged. That’s convenient.”
“No, no. You can make out some of the letters—if you look close enough. I was going to have Nibs take a look tomorrow when we can get some daylight on it. See if he can come up with some town or island names based on the placement of the letters.”
“Gimme that,” Peter said with a hostile reach.
As Jinni handed over the Otis letter, a gust of wind ripped it from their fingertips, out of sight and into the ocean.
“Nice,” Peter said, casting blaming eyes on Jinni. “At least we still have the bottle.”
“What if it’s not a fake?” Jinni asked. “Do you guys have any idea what kind of fame and fortune would come if we saved Otis Seehus? We’ll all be able to retire fifty times over. We’ll never have to buy another drink, or whore, as long as we live.”
“I don’t want to retire,” Peter said, on the fringes of feeling insulted.
“The whore and money part sounds OK, though,” Slightly added.
“Shut up,” Peter said.
“You guys are missing the point,” Jinni said with a blunt sigh. “I don’t want to retire either. But if we do this, and we succeed, not only will this job come with an unbelievable amount of wealth, but we’ll be able to get any rate we want going forward—on any job. Ever. Worst-case scenario, we’ll snag a delivery job for a shipment headed to Nestor Island. Come on, Pete. It’s barely out of the way. Easy money.”
Peter thoughtfully rubbed the peach fuzz on his chin. “I don’t know.”
“First round’s on me.” Jinni had to stop himself from smiling, knowing he had delivered the final blow.
“What the hell,” Peter said. “Why not?”
“That’s first round of drinks,” Jinni said. “Not whores. Just so we’re clear on that.”
Over a groggy high-noon breakfast, everyone else on board was informed of the new changes to the schedule and navigational patterns. The rhythmic pitter-patter of raindrops plopping on deck was nonstop throughout the day as the Elvira sliced through fog that refused to dissipate.
The heavy, battling breaths of One and Two manipulated the airborne moisture as their swords collided during intense fencing practice. They were extremely competitive when it came to any contest in which they went head to head—always trying to gain the upper hand as to which version of the pair was superior. Each proudly laid claim to the title, but it often changed hands depending on what kind of competition they had just endured. The results of their footraces and fencing often leaned in favor of One, while speed swimming and archery were more Two’s forte.
Should there have been any controversy as to which of them actually won, a fistfight was sure to follow, the winner of which would be anyone’s guess, as they were quite evenly matched in their pugilistic talents. During the rare times they weren’t arguing or physically fighting about some trivial nonsense, they were the best of friends, and each would’ve gladly given up his own life if it meant saving the other.
Slightly was the Elvira’s navigator. He was a quiet fellow, but it wasn’t from a lack of confidence. He just wasn’t much of a conversationalist and often thought that if his voice annoyed others as much as their voices annoyed him, he’d do everyone a favor and just keep quiet. Still, he had plenty of personality and was a dashing and debonair young man. When he did speak, he could do so as a proper gentleman, or he could string together the types of words that would make even the most daring of brothel managers turn red in the cheek. It really just depended on whom he was with and what he was after at that particular moment.
Not counting Jinni, Nibs was the eldest Lost Boy of this respective charter. Nibs was also a notorious ladies’ man. He had the looks, charm, and silver tongue necessary to live up to the Lost Boy reputation. He wasn’t a jerk or a chauvinist, but he did project the blind confidence and flirtatious manner of one. And despite his being the sharpest person and most profound thinker in most of the rooms he entered, Nibs often had the most fun playing the role of a deaf-mute or airheaded fool.
Almost every night, he gazed up at the stars with his paintbrush and recreated the night sky that surrounded them, all the while wondering what it would be like to sail through the heavens. Nibs and people like him were often referred to as sky sailors. They were born at the wrong time, maybe in the wrong universe. Their vibrant imaginations were hindered only by the limitations of reality. As often as Nibs fantasized about one day navigating the bright celestial planes, he couldn’t help but conclude that it just wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps his mortal eyes simply weren’t equipped to handle such splendor and beauty.
Then, there was Tootles. There’s not much to say about Tootles that his name didn’t say on its own. He was a dirty, clumsy slob and by far the laziest person onboard. But he was loyal, handy with a bow and arrow, and second to none when it came to calculating the proper number of provisions needed for a given journey.
Two often joked that the only reason Tootles was so good at his job was because he couldn’t stand the thought of missing a single meal.
Wherever they were, whatever they were doing, one thing was always evident: Peter was their fierce and trusted captain. He may have despised the title, but he was undoubtedly the sole authority on and off the Elvira. He didn’t have anyone to answer to, and he didn’t give a damn if anyone liked him or his decisions.
To his men, this was part of the appeal. While all captains wanted to be liked, Peter’s calm assuredness worked effortlessly to maintain love, loyalty, and respect from his crew. His deeds and decisions were always pending his own final approval, but one thing that set him apart from other captains was that he was always willing to accept counsel—even though most of the time, the only counsel he actually took to heart came from Jinni.
They all wanted to be more like Peter. They all wanted Peter’s approval. And they all wanted this team to last forever, with him as their captain, even though they knew it could not.
While Jinni was a relatively new acquaintance and had been hired only two years earlier, the rest of the guys had grown up together in a home for children whose parents had either died or left them. It was a large plantation, somewhere in the Americas, in a place they affectionately referred to as Cherokee Country. Some time while in their early teens, they escaped the harsh conditions of forced farm labor and found freedom by living off the land.
They hunted, gathered, and moved from one desolate mountain camp to another before finally hitching a steamboat ride to the eastern seaboard. While in transit, they successfully fended off multiple attacks from hostile Indians and river pirates. By the time the steamboat arrived at its final port, their reputation had preceded them. They were recruited by the Lost Boys and given their very own charter and vessel.
There was a time when Lost Boys could be found in almost any corner of the world. It was the most demanding, deadly work one could ask for. They did the dirty jobs that no one else was willing to do—always in the name of good, but never for free.
An endless number of adventures awaited with the right employer, whether it was a shipment of rum that had been highjacked by pirates, a tobacco delivery in need of armed security, or a personal escort through waters that no one else was willing to travel. Lost Boys were widely believed to be the biggest thrill-seekers of their time, a stereotype that was well earned and proudly hyped.
They had since become a dying breed, however, as a noticeable pattern began to emerge during their peak years. Most Lost Boys were somewhere between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one when they signed on. And many, once they’d reached the age of twenty-one, began to realize that they weren’t immortal and that some scars do not heal.
Another reason for the regression in prevalence was that the vast majority of Lost Boys who didn’t die before their twenty-first birthdays would eventually get greedy or lazy—or both—and retire into piracy. Old-timers like Jinni were an anomaly within the Lost Boy community. Jobs that were once readily available were no longer being offered, as previous employers became wary that they were contributing capital to a group of impending pirates.
Jinni understood this all too well. Blessed with a unique ability to recognize patterns and use them advantageously, he knew there would soon come a day when Lost Boys were no longer credible or wanted. And when that day should come, individual crews with strong résumés would reign supreme. Jinni had been around long enough to see the writing on the wall. Perhaps this is why he took such an interest in Otis’s writing.
At first, Jinni just wanted that note to be real. Then, it grew into something more significant. He needed that note to be real. Finally, with help from a little spark deep within his consciousness, his bias was confirmed. He was always receiving signals like this one. They were little moments of clarity that seemed to beam in from somewhere else—somewhere far away. More often than not, these fateful hunches would prove to be correct, but rarely did they ever feel this powerful.
Rarely did they ever feel this important.
Jinni sat in silence on the bow, with his legs crossed, his palms up, and only his mind’s eye open to the universe ahead. He could feel the olive-rich beaches of Ithaca pulling him closer and closer as he grew more confident. The note was real. It was, and always has been, meant for us to find.
Peter was more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy when it came to the religious experience. He was pragmatic, with a hint of Indian culture unique to the Americas. For him, it was more about connecting with nature and the peaceful harmony that followed. He could never get used to Jinni’s strange spiritual antics. But to each his own, I s’pose. Whenever Jinni dove that deep into his personal space, Peter would simply sit back, watch quietly, and wonder. This was one of those times: What’s that crazy bastard gettin’ us into now?
Peter removed his dingy shirt and began to walk around the vessel, letting the cool, breezy mist overtake his scrawny yet chiseled chest. He kept to himself but quickly noticed that everyone around him was working to get better. While there weren’t many rules on the Elvira, the most essential rule stated that if you ain’t gettin’ better every day, you better be gettin’ off this boat.
While he was proud to see his guys getting better, he knew that they were doing so out of fear. They, too, were starting to see the writing on the wall. And they all knew that when Jinni began to act like this, things were bound to get strange.
One and Two worked their arms ragged amid a heated pull-up contest. Nibs and Tootles were further mastering their archery skills on some unfortunate paper targets and wooden barrels. Slightly studied and redrew some maps that he’d been planning to consolidate for some time. Even Cecil the cat was showcasing a dead rat he had just killed earlier that day.
Peter soon realized that he was the only one on board who wasn’t gettin’ better. Not one to be outdone by his crew, or cat, Peter walked to the stern and wrapped a length of rope around his ankles and legs. “I’m going for a swim,” he said, knotting the rope tight. “Can someone pull me up in about an hour?”
Nibs looked at Peter with a nervous admiration. “Yeah. I gotcha.”
Peter dove headfirst off the stern. Instantly, the slack of the rope snapped straight and dragged him through the wake like a wounded whale. He gained control of his posture and rotated his arms as if swimming away from the vessel. It was a rigorous routine, both physically and psychologically, as it brought forth the combined dread of his two greatest fears. The first was drowning. The second was mutiny. Only by chipping away at these fears did Peter believe he would get better.
The demanding exercise should have kept his mind focused and occupied, but all he could think about was Jinni, sitting still and silent up ahead on the bow. It felt as though Jinni’s already-radiant personality was being amplified into the atmosphere and around the vessel. The powers that manipulated the tiniest wrinkles of the universe wanted him, and those closest to him, to know that he had been correct to trust the note’s authenticity.
“There it is.” Jinni closed the eye in his mind and opened the eyes on his face to release several tears. It was the feeling and moment he had been waiting for. Otis was still alive, waiting for them to find him.
What’s that crazy bastard gettin’ us into now?