I promise you I am still working hard on Riwenne & the Airship Gambit. But today I wanted to share something a little different.
I recently wrote this short story as a submission for an anthology about sea-faring cats. Tentatively titled “Treasure Map,” it combines my love of pirates, cats, and mermaids. The inspiration was “Treasure Island meets The Little Mermaid with lesbian cats.” (Gotta make it gay! Every time someone tells me my stories are “too gay,” I add at least one more queer character.)
The story also came from my cat, Yuri. When she came to me as a little kitten about eight weeks old, she already had a dark patch over one eye. I called her Calico Jack at first, after the infamous captain of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Later, she became Yuri, which means “lily” in Japanese (she was a lot more white back then). But she still has Calico Jack as one of her middle names. She’s called a lot of things, so her full name is something like Calico Jack Yuri Fuzzy Whinybutt. She’s also had a few more insulting nicknames from other people but I don’t like to use them. Read on to meet the character based on her.
Calico Jack never got lost. “I know these waters like the back of my paw,” she bragged in every bar and tavern that welcomed a pirate’s gold. The multicolored patches on her fur were laid out like a map of the Toebean Islands, making her the best navigator at sea. Cats signed onto her crew because she never steered them wrong.
So it was embarrassing that she couldn’t say where, exactly, her ship the Ranger was right now. They had sailed west, where the charts were less reliable, and she had a map leading to a secret island. But after days at the mercy of the storm, she didn’t know which way was up.
This is what came of getting too greedy. Every year, the Navy breathed closer down her neck, and the prizes got smaller. The last few ships they’d taken had barely paid for her crew’s wages and supplies to keep them afloat. Jackie needed one last score to retire in comfort—before the hangman’s noose caught up with her.
The ship lurched on another vicious wave, and she had to dig her nails into the table to stay upright. She closed her pale blue eyes. What was she missing?
The grizzled tomcat who had sold her the map promised it would lead her to the greatest treasure she’d ever seen. He’d been lurking in the back of the tavern late one night, hunched over a bottle of kefir, the fermented milk drink favored by some older sailors. When she offered to buy him a rum, he grinned a toothless smile and shook his head.
“When ye’ve seen what I have, lass, there’s no need for that poison,” he said with a twitch of one ragged ear. “But yer welcome to sit while I spin a tale.”
He smelled of alcohol and rotten fish, probably just an old drunk. But something about the gleam in the tomcat’s rheumy eyes had made her curious. She took the seat he offered. “You’ve seen many things, old timer. But I’ve heard lots of stories. Do you have any new ones?”
He leaned back and stroked his chin. He was an orange tabby, but his fur had darkened with age until the stripes blended. “There’s stories, and then there’s tales.” His tail swished on the floor, brushing her feet.
She half-rose, her paw going to the pistol at her hip. “Easy there, Tiger. I’m just here to talk.” Tomcats were wily charmers, so she always stayed on her toes.
He chuckled and shook his head. “Not what I meant, lass, hold yer fire.” He took a swig from his bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “A tale of tails, this be. Or ye could see it, for the right price. Fancy yerself the hero of yer own story?”
Her ears pointed forward, but she held herself in check. There was more than one way to scam a cat. Her eyes narrowed. “What’s the price?”
That’s when he pulled the map out of an inner pocket against his chest. A tuft of fur followed it, floating in the air, and Jackie waved her paw to keep it from landing in her drink.
“This ain’t worth anything t’me, now I can’t sail,” the tabby said, thumping the floor with his peg leg. “I’ll take whatever ye can spare.”