I first met Mac the pirate on a day where white animals crawled out of the sky in crowds. It was a day where you couldn’t help but look up at the elephants with large ears, lions with rolling manes and lizards with long tongues. The sea threw hot black waves and the air smelled like menthols. Mac leaned against a moored ship on a dock. It looked like it might hold water with holes along the hull and the sails were a tattered off white, but it was tied to a glittering grey anchor. He held a colorful parrot in his arms whose squawks sounded like purrs and meows. The day’s sun boiled the sea and Mac stood with his curly red beard that hung in front of his ruffled white shirt.
Of course, I didn’t know him as Mac back then. He was just a pirate on those black seas. “You have a red beard, so you must be Red Beard.” I remember the words escaping my mouth, immediately regretting them and how he cocked his head and the purring parrot followed his lead.
“Red Beard’s been done, call me Mac, Mac the pirate.” The ocean crashed with blaring horns and yelling people and the waves shimmered in the sunlight, a sparkle of black diamonds. “Well, I need a set of hands and you look like a first mate to me. My last one ran off.” I had nothing else going on that day and he waved his hand, rope burned and peeling from the sun, and I went aboard his vessel. He gripped the wood wheel and pinwheeled it to the left. I lost my balance and fell among a clattering pile of cannonballs. The colorful bird nudged against the wheel and watched me, a tottering mess on a ship for the first time in years. Mac’s whiskers curled in brambles and his eyes squinted against the bright sun. The black waves pulled us from anchor and into the sea. I wasn’t much of a sailor before meeting Mac, but the waves cresting and slapping against the ship’s bow gives anyone sea legs.
The sky picked guitar solos and steady grey statues watched with a thousand eyes as we passed. “That’s our first target.” I remember Mac’s voice, a rasp against those axe picking clouds. I saw we’d caught a ship starboard and we were closing fast. “Man the cannon,” he screamed and his eyes widened as he leaned over the wheel. I located the cannon, grabbed the first cannonball and loaded it. I had no hesitation as the flare in his voice prodded me on and I lit the fuse. “Fire!” The smell of whiskey canvassed the air as the blazing ball left the cannon and smashed the side of their ship with a spray of glass across the black sea. “That’s a hit, load it again!” He pumped his right fist along with the words and I listened, wondering what kind of treasure they had. Another spray of whiskey on the air and another direct hit as I watched the cannonball smash into the left shoulder of the captain at their wheel and send him into the first mate; the ship pulled right when he fell and crashed into one of the grey statues sending fiery tendrils reaching skyward.
My eyes glazed for a moment and I sat dumbfounded. I saw the sky twist from the blue canvas with white animals to a scrubbed black with snarling purple snakes that snapped at me.
“No time for watching the sky, we’ve got work to do. Let’s board!” His voice split the trance and pulled my heart from my throat back to my chest. We moored in front of them and boarded their ship. We saw the mangled captain slumped into the first mate’s spot. I looked for the other sailor feeling that darkness descend again, but the mate was nowhere to be seen. The wreckage was riddled with broken glass and twisted metal.
A crashing scream came from behind us and turned our attention from the mess to the newly surfaced first mate. Mac put an arm out, pushed me backwards and pulled a dagger from his belt. “Back off! Now, where’s your loot?” Mac lurched forward, dagger in hand. His twisted face and that small, but pointy dagger shifted the gaze of the second mate, his eyelids peeling back in fear and he dove into the black waves. “Arrr, what a pale fish that one is.” The smell of whiskey was overwhelming in the captain’s quarters of the ship and one of the sprays of glass from the broken cannonball had landed there. It didn’t bother Mac and he sent his hand through a panel digging out the gold he was looking for. He stuffed it into his pockets and exited the ship back to ours. “Matey, you are a good one, you are.” He threw out his hand and shook mine with a conviction I hadn’t felt in many others. We hit two other ships that day and came away with gold to last us until the next marauding.
Mac and I see each other in passing, but I jingle the coins in my pockets when he’s not around and my eyes light up when I see someone that resembles him on the horizon. Mac is gone right now, but I know he’ll return again soon with that bruised hull and those wind beaten sails to carry me onto our next adventure. Mac and I are pirates on those black rolling seas with animals crawling out of the sky, riffs of metal playing on invisible guitars, a parrot that purrs like a cat and cannonballs that smell like whiskey.
Matt McGuirk teaches and laughs at his puns by day and scribbles somewhat coherent words nightly. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. Words in The Daily Drunk Magazine, Goat’s Milk, Idle Ink, Literally Stories, New World Writing, Purple Wall Stories and Versification. Twitter handle: @McguirkMatthew and Instagram @mcguirk_matthew.