Black Cliff Pirates


-- A BLUE KINGDOMS TM story --

The Black Cliff Pirates sailed out of the sunrise, taking the overburdened merchantman vessel by surprise.  The carrack sat low in the water; she moved slowly, far more suited to hugging the shorelines between ports than crossing open waters.

Indeed, port-hopping was what the fat, slow ship--The Bullaine--usually did.  It was only this last leg of the journey that required a short skip across the straits separating the Coraltooth Archipelago from the Southern Fringe islands.  The Bullaine's captain was always nervous about this part of the trip, and the Black Cliff Pirates were the reason why.

The pirates had a fearsome reputation--even in an area known for brigands and freebooters.  Worst among them was the brigandine Scarlet Skull and her captain Red Jack Sirus. 

When the Bullaine's lookout spotted the Skull, the carrack's captain immediately heaved to.  They were too far from shore to make port, and too slow to run.  The captain hoped that by giving up he might spare the lives of his crew, even if the pirates took his cargo and ship.

It proved a vain hope.

The Skull's pirates took the loot, burned the ship, and did what they pleased with the crew.  What pleased them were all manners of torture and gruesome pastimes.  In the end, the Skull's wake ran red, severed heads decorated the tops of her masts, and entrails hung from the rigging.

The pirate captain merely laughed at the horror.  He reveled in the fear of his victims and bathed in their blood.

The last thing the Bullaine's captain saw was the grinning countenance of Red Jack Sirus -- the bandage-swathed, rotting face of a ship captain who had been dead for a very, very long time.


Author's Note:

This is the first of my Blue Kingdoms stories for the A Season of Fear: 101 Nights of Fright short story collection.  The Blue Kingdoms setting is a fantasy world that Jean Rabe and I created during the spring and summer of 2002.  A publisher we both worked for had sponsored a "Create a World" contest that year.

Neither Jean nor I had won that contest (We should have!), but while comparing notes at GenCon that summer, she and I discovered that we'd both submitted a pirate-based world.  Our world ideas were so eerily alike, that if we hadn't been old friends and co-workers, we might have suspected each other of stealing.

After having a good laugh about it, Jean and I decided to team up and began working on a combined bible for the world, with the idea that we'd pull together an anthology book and run some games or something.  The book didn't happen at the time--publishers being keen on neither anthologies nor pirates--but Jean and I both kept working on it.

As I cast around for ideas to keep my writing streak going, setting a story in the Blue Kingdoms seemed a good idea.  And an undead pirate captain seemed a cool place to start.

It's worth noting that this story was written in December 2002, before I'd even heard of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and well before the movie was released.

The story is a bit of a narrative gloss, following the style of Strangely Enough.  Looking back on it now, I'm not thrilled with that style choice--though using it is probably one reason I kept the streak going as long as I did.  Certainly, the same idea could be rewritten to achieve greater emotional impact.

Probably the inspiration for the story came from Alan Moore's gruesome pirate tales in the classic Watchmen comic.  The name "Red Jack" is inspired by Jack the Ripper, and Sirus (pronounced "Cyrus" but spelled more like the Dog Star) seemed the perfect name to cap the first two.  The three words just go well together.  I have no memory of where the ship name Bullaine came from, though I probably wanted something big, slow, and a bit dainty.

Flash forward nearly five years.  Jean Rabe and I are finally pulling together our pirate anthology -- Pirates of the Blue Kingdom -- to be published in late spring by Popcorn Press.  But despite the fabulously successful Depp movies released since we first came up with this idea, we still couldn't get one of the big publishing houses to go for the idea.

Sometimes you just have to row to the beat of your own drummer.

-- Stephen D. Sullivan


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