Ryan was barely a man when he first climbed aboard the Sea Witch. Having been fortunate enough to be born into a family of nobles, his upbringing included etiquette and a finer education. To his parent’s dismay and utter humiliation, the young man had been expelled from the finest school in all of Britain, when it was discovered that he had repeatedly failed to attend classes, instead opting to hide away in the school library pouring over history books and news articles outlining pirate activity. Now, the shaggy red-headed eighteen year old stood tall among a line of ragged sea dogs, his inexperience doing nothing to diminish his pride.
“So, this be me new crew!” a deep, raspy voice bellowed across the poop deck.
Barossi had been the captain of the Sea Witch for over thirty years and had managed to retain most of the original crew during that time. A recent battle with his rivals ” the Diamond Sail ” left his ship depleted of manpower. Many came to the call of his recruitment and they hollered out the expected “aye” in response to the captain’s obvious statement. A high-pitched, cracked voice rose above the roar of men’s voices.
“Yes sir!” Ryan replied,
Barossi slowly made his way towards the boy. The heavy heels of his boots pounded against the wooden planks and echoed loudly across the bay. The ship’s crew was deathly silent. He stopped in front of Ryan and took him fully in from head to toe and back up again. Ryan was impeccably groomed. His tan waistcoat and matching breeches were perfectly tailored, and his polished knee high boots reflected the captain’s irritated expression. Ryan had a wide, toothy grim stretched across his pudgy cheeks. Barossi sneered.
“What’re ye smilin’ fer, boy?” he hollered. “Suren yer on the wrong ship. The fancy-pants crew is dockin’ from the other pier.”
“Oh, no sir,” Ryan replied proudly. “This is the Sea Witch. This is where I belong!” The boy’s smile never faltered. The old captain walked away, wide-eyed and defeated.
“This crew’ll be the death o’ me,” he muttered as he entered his quarters. “Well, get on it, then!” The ship ain’t gonna set itself out t’ sea you scurvy dogs!” He slammed the door behind him, ineffectually hiding away from the noise of his bumbling new crew.
They had their heading. The Sea Witch was on a direct course for a small uncharted island off the coast of Somalia. Barossi received word about a pirate’s bounty stored in a cave there, protected by a voodoo witch. He had his doubts, but the reports of the treasure were far too great to pass up.
The six week journey was uneventful. Some minor storms had hit in the second week out to sea, but Ryan smiled through each tribulation as the annoyed captain repeatedly threatened to wipe the grin off of the boy’s foolish face. The summer sun had turned Ryan’s cheeks into bright pink apples and that, along with his shock of red hair, soon earned him his pirate name, Red Ryan. He carried the moniker like a badge of honor.
The Sea Witch reached the island in record time, mostly due to Red Ryan’s knowledge of ships and because of his uncanny ability to mediate between the edgy crew members, preventing fights from breaking out. A happy pirate was a working pirate and little time was wasted in settling scores.
The ship was anchored and the captain set out with a small crew in a rowboat. Red Ryan, being the only one who could read other than the captain, was awarded a place upon that rowboat so that he could read the vague instructions printed lightly on the map.
The captain had been following the map’s general direction to the large red X. Near the marking, was a simple cryptic phrase.
The height of the X
When sun’s low in the West
After about an hour’s trek through the thick undergrowth of the islands forest, they reached a clearing. It was no more than a basin, surrounded by mountains and sporadically dotted with Acacia trees, some dead and bent over another as though they were looking for support.
“Well!” Barossi roared. “This be the spot on the map, so where’s me cave?” The men started scanning the base of the mountains surrounding them, looking for a possible entrance.
“Sir,” Red Ryan approached the captain, “I do believe this is a waste of time. We should instead be trying to decipher the meaning of the diction on the map.”
“Diction?” Barossi repeated the word cynically.
“Yes, sir. It means ‘phrase’.”
“I know what it means!” the captain bellowed, angry at the boy’s indignation. “Don’t be wastin’ yer prissy words on me, boy. Ye ain’t a pirate, and ‘til ye stop smilin’ like everythin’s a game, ye’ll never be a pirate…savvy?”
The corners of Red Ryan’s mouth dropped, but a hint of a smile still played upon his lips, as he went back to studying the map. A thought suddenly struck him. He walked to the west side of the basin and turned his back towards the mountains. There before him, stood two trees, crossed over in an X formation. He looked to the tops of the trees, the height of the X, but there was nothing indicating that a cave was nearby. His eyes fell to the ground, and that’s when he saw it ” a perfectly formed X created by the shadow of the trees. The top of the X pointed toward the base of an eastern mountain, but it had already been determined that there was no cave there. Red Ryan looked behind him and up over the top of the western mountain. The sun was still fairly high in the sky, so he sat down and waited, watching the shadow move as
the sun made its way toward the horizon.
Just as the sun was falling behind the western mountain the X shadow rose up to the highest peak of the eastern mountain. As it did, the sun shone brightly against the face and illuminated a small passage only visible within the sharp angel of the X shadow. Red Ryan jumped to his feet in excitement.
“Sir! There it is!” He ran over and grabbed the captain’s sleeve, shaking it violently. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Red Ryan found the cave’s entrance, the captain surely would have run him through for such an act.
The group started their steady climb into the mountain, and before long, they had reached the entrance. Barossi peered in and tried to adjust his eyes to the gloomy interior. It was a tunnel, and the treasure was surely somewhere at the end of it.
“Well, boy. Yer the one who found it, so ye should be the first one in.”
Barossi bestowed a great honor upon Red Ryan, and the boy beamed with pride. What he didn’t realize was that Barossi didn’t care to be the first one to meet the voodoo witch. They lit torches and followed the boy through the tunnel at a fair distance. It wasn’t a long tunnel, and they soon reached a chamber. It was empty except for a small coffer that sat alone in the middle of the cavern.
“Go on boy,” Barossi gave Red Ryan a nudge, “get it and let’s get outta here.”
Red Ryan took a few steps towards the chest when a cloud of black smoke temporarily blinded him. He rubbed at his eyes, and when the stinging dissipated, he found himself face to face with a short, round woman wearing a dress made entirely of dried branches and leaves. She crinkled her nose at him and her lips opened to expose several blackened teeth ” the rest were simply gone. Red Ryan jumped back a few paces before regaining his composure.
“Oh,” he said. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, my fine lady.” He smiled widely and imitated a long sweeping bow in her direction. The witch regarded him suspiciously.
“Whaddya want?” she screamed. Red Ryan could hear the rest of the crew behind him, shuffling quietly as they back away.
Clearing his throat and attempting to sound as refined as possible he answered her.
“We have come from afar in hopes that you would be willing to allow us to partake in that lovely chest by your dainty feet.”
The witch lifted an eyebrow incredulously and looked past Red Ryan, to the captain who stood quietly by. Barossi only shrugged. Snapping her attention back to Red Ryan, a wide grin appeared on her hairy cheeks. It contrasted significantly with the smile the boy had managed to retain the whole time.
“And what would ye be willin’ t’ do t’ get yer hands on me treasure?” the witch asked. Ryan stuttered, unsure of what the homely-looking woman wanted in return.
“Would ye give an old woman a tender kiss?” Her smile widened and Red Ryan’s face blanched at the notion. He straightened his back and did his best to strengthen his resolve.
“O…old? M…my fine lady, you are not old,” his smile this time was notably fake and he glanced back to the captain who now glared at Red Ryan, warning him not to do anything stupid. “I would be most honored in sharing a tender moment with such an endearing young creature.”
“Lies!” the witch screamed again. “Ye dare to speak lies t’ me? Ye want t’ stand there, smilin’ in me face and mockin’ me intelligence? Fer this, ye will never smile again!”
The witch uttered a few unintelligible words and flung her hand out toward Red Ryan. He felt as though he’d been slapped hard in the face and fell back, landing on the ground with a thud. After he caught his breath, he lifted his hand to face and felt the corners of his mouth turned down into a scowl. He smiled ” he knew in his heart and his mind that he was smiling ” but on his face remained a frown.
The crew watched in fear, cowering by the cavern’s exit and hoping the witch would forget they were there. She didn’t. Instead of punishing them, however, she grinned at them sweetly as she walked over and placed a hand on the coffer.
“The chest be yers, capt’n,” she stated kindly. “Take it and go. Ye are never t’ return.” With that last statement, she disappeared as quickly as she came.
When the crew returned to the ship, Red Ryan went below to sit on his bunk and sulk while the rest gathered around the chest, eager to see what was inside. The captain broken the lock and slowly lifted the lid. As the crew drew in closer to get a better look, a vapor rose up from the chest and surrounded them. They didn’t notice it at first, as they admired the collection of gemstones contained in the chest, but one by one, the crew began to collapse. The vapor stole away their life force and within minutes, every crew member aboard the ship was dead…except for Red Ryan, who was safely
Red Ryan heard the thumping on the deck above and decided to stop brooding long enough to see what was going on. He reached the deck just as the vapor returned to the chest and shut the lid, laying in wait for the next victim to come along. The young man understood immediately what had happened here. He had read enough in books to know when a treasure was cursed. He picked up the heavy chest and hoisted it into the sea, hoping that it never found its way back from its watery resting place.
The crew was given a decent sea burial, and once it was done, Red Ryan stood atop the quarter deck with the captain’s wheel steady in his hand. He set his course toward the Caribbean. He would acquire a new crew and spend the rest of his days as Frownin’ Red Ryan, captain of the Sea Witch and the most educated pirate to sail the seas.