Issue 167, Fall 2003
I wrote this story for my goddaughter Josephine Messer many years ago, while we were visiting the island of Bequia in the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She was about five at the time, and I hoped the misadventures of my great great-great-great-grandfather would amuse her. I changed the location to match our surroundings, but in every other respect the details of my ancestor's unsavory career are absolutely accurate.
Ever since the earliest humans learned to sail boats on the sea, there have been pirates. Their main job is to steal treasure and bury it in secret places, but they also sink ships, take prisoners, collect strange animals, and perform bizarre tricks of magic. The most bloodthirsty and terrible pirate ever to sail the Caribbean Sea was my own great-great-great-great grandfather, Denis the Pirate. In the early 1700s no man lived who did not fear his name.
The people of the Caribbean islands lived in terror of hurricanes, and tidal waves, and sea-going monsters. But most of all they lived in terror of the day when Denis the Pirate might arrive to visit their peaceful island homes. Nobody knew when Denis the Pirate would come, except that he would come at night. Anyone standing on the beach when his ship arrived would hear no sound—not a breath would stir among his evil crew. His ship moved more quietly than a puff of wind. The only sign of the pirates' approach was the galleon's towering silhouette, blacking out the stars and the moon. And then suddenly the pirates would roar with a single, giant voice, and their guns would light up the night as they charged out of the ship and attacked the sleeping town. "Leave no one alive!" was Denis the Pirate's motto. "I'll have no one left grieving among them, not even a dog!" And his men would murder everybody there, even the goats and chickens and dogs and cats, and pile up all the gold and treasure and take it away, leaving behind a lifeless island in the sea.
Denis the Pirate stole so much gold that at one time he must certainly have been the richest person in the world.
Somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea he kept a ship with a monstrous furnace inside it, in which he melted down his ill-gotten gold. Tons and tons of molten gold he poured into the ocean, until it piled up from the bottom and rose up above the waves to make a gleaming island of pure gold. He covered it with the bodies of his victims, and their corpses rotted and made a rich fertile earth from which coconut palms and banana plants grew to heights never before known—some of them loomed higher than the clouds, and sailors could see them from hundreds of miles away.
Nobody knows what made Denis the Pirate such an evil person, but some say it was his pet monkey. Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth had only one eye, and only one arm, and only one leg.
He rode everywhere on the pirate captain's left shoulder, and he smoked magic mushrooms in a pipe all day, and whispered continually into the pirate's left ear. Nobody knows what Babe Ruth whispered, but historians believe he gave Denis the Pirate many of his worst ideas.
For twenty years the British naval vessels tried to capture Denis the Pirate, but he sank each warship that came near.
At last the Queen of England sent the entire British Navy to the Caribbean. For sixty days and sixty nights Captain Denis and his crew fought against two hundred hostile ships, and sank all but one. On the sixty-first day, the last of the pirate's crew fell mortally wounded, and his ship was burned, and its ashes blew away across the ocean. The monkey Babe Ruth escaped by flying off on the back of a pelican. But Denis the Pirate was taken prisoner. The British Captain sentenced him to be keel-hauled—that is, to be dragged by a rope underneath the British ship from stem to stern and drowned. "You may keel-haul me," the pirate swore, "but I'll scuttle this rig, you'll see!" The British crew threw him off the bow of the ship and dragged the ropes he was attached to toward the stern. Two hundred men pulled and pulled, but they couldn't drag Denis the Pirate under the keel. Finally three hundred men pulled with all their strength, and as the ropes began to move toward the stern, they heard a tremendous tearing noise from beneath their feet. Denis the Pirate's dead body came up abaft the ship with the keel gripped in its jaws! The British ship sank, and all aboard perished in the waves. As far as can be told, Denis the Pirate perished too.
Denis the Pirate wasn't all bad. He performed scientific experiments, flew over Mt. Everest in a hot-air balloon, and learned to speak twenty-seven languages, including several animal languages. He spoke Monkey, Iguana, and Elephant.
Toward the end of his life, he made a journey across the Atlantic Ocean on the back of an African elephant named Senor Tambourine. The pirate constructed an air pipe over two miles long from bamboo trees attached end to end, and Sefior Tambourine actually walked on the ocean floor from West Africa to the Eastern Caribbean with Denis the Pirate riding on his back and the two of them breathing through the long bamboo pipe, which reached all the way to the surface far above them. Along the way they saw fish and monsters no one else has ever seen, and Denis the Pirate learned to speak the Deep Sea language spoken by Giant Squids. Some people say that Sea Monsters and Giant Squids helped him in his battles, and nearly helped him to destroy the entire British Navy.
After a hundred years, the island made of Denis the Pirate's gold began to look like other islands of the Caribbean. People moved to it and built homes, and they live there to this day. They called the island "Bequia," which means "Whale Island," but they should have called it "Golden Isle." They don't know that beneath their feet lies the greatest treasure ever amassed by theft and skullduggery. But I know, and you know.