Curse of the Doubloons

grim-short1-180
A GRIM TALE

The Curse of the Doubloons

Set sometime in the Grim Hill world…

1

“We’re lucky to be here, Cat…” Clive waves his arm about, as if he is our king commanding us to look around Jackson Square. I stifle a giggle when his elbow catches in his Mardi Gras beads. Clive is all about dignity. Once his arm is free, he bids us, his subjects, to survey the kingdom.
A couple of weeks ago, I’d never dreamed of standing in the famous French Quarter of New Orleans with half my eighth grade soccer team. Bushy ferns festoon the fancy iron work balconies of the colorful pastel buildings. Shiny beads dangle from the galleries and jostle with Mardi Gras streamers of purple, gold, and green.
I’m about to take a slow sip of what smells like the most delicious café au lait I’ll ever taste in my life. I know I should be grateful to be here, but I badly wanted to take the deluxe swamp tour—not stand around staring at a bunch of stupid old buildings.
“I’m partly lucky to be here,” I say to Clive.
“Mom would not approve of you drinking coffee,” Sookie loudly points out.
“And I’m partly cursed.” I glare at Sookie. It’s because of my nine-year old sister that I’m stuck with the historical tour of the city instead of going on the cool swamp tour.
“Is that coffee, Miss Peters? I can’t have students drinking coffee. Dump it out and get lemonade instead.” Our teacher, Mr. Morrows, frowns at me until I do as I’m told.
“And Mom would not approve of you stuffing yourself with sugar,” I tell my little sister.
Sookie uses her blue shirt sleeve to wipe the white powdered sugar lavishly dusting her mouth and chin. She defiantly takes another huge bite of her beignet.
“I can’t believe Mom allowed you to come.” I shake my head. “Unless it was deliberate—because you are being a total snoopervisor.”
“My school was chosen for the Mardi Gras sports competitions, too.” Sookie stamps her foot.
Mr. Morrows pulls Clive’s little brother, Skeeter, away from tickling one of those living statue guys that perform on every street corner. Clive shrugs his shoulders. “I think our teachers might be regretting bringing the third graders.”
“Right now I could be on a trip to the swamp with Amarjeet, Zach, and Jasper,” I say bitterly.
“Which is why I chose the historical tour,” says my friend, Mia. She worries a strand of red hair between her fingers. “The last thing I want to do is look at a bunch of snakes.” Her boyfriend, Mitch, laughs, making it sound like he stayed back for Mia, but I have a hunch he’s not so fond of snakes either.
Sookie butts in. “I want to see the wax museum. Cat, it’s not my fault the teachers are making brothers and sisters stick together.”
If Sookie had stayed home, I’d be riding one of those air boats skimming on top of the water. We’d be gliding through dangerous bayous right now with our science teacher, Ms. Dreeble. She wouldn’t have made me dump my coffee either, because she wouldn’t have known I had coffee if my little snoopervisor wasn’t with me. There has to be some way I can still see the bayous. I stare at my watch. It’s not too late, maybe I can talk our teacher into letting us go on a shorter swamp tour.
“So what are the geographic boundaries of New Orleans?” asks Mr. Morrows. He peers straight at me even though there are six of us standing in front of him.
“Um, that water uh, over there,” I point past the square.
“Do you mean the Mississippi, Miss Peters? The mighty river is hardly referred to as that water over there…”
“It seems to me a boat tour would be a good way to learn more about New Orleans,” I can’t help mentioning.
“Do tell,” says Mr. Morrows. “What are the other waterways of this city?” Besides history, our socials teacher is all about geography. His moustache twitches and he leans forward, as if he’s dying to hear my point of view.
Waterways? “Um.” This isn’t going quite the way I planned. I try to figure out another way to bring up an extra swamp tour.
Clive jumps in. “While straddling the Mississippi, New Orleans is bordered by Lake Pontchartrain in the north and Lake Borgne in the east, which connects it to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Mr. Morrows nods in approval and begins walking again. No question why Clive voted for this tour—so he can show off. I should feel more grateful he just got me off the hook with Mr. Morrows, but I fume silently as we wander in the French Quarter. We stare at a bunch of boring statues and walk through a giant cathedral until my feet and back are killing me.
It’s funny how when I’m chasing the ball on the soccer field, my legs feel like they’re made of springs, but when I’m looking at historical stuff, my feet feel like I’m wearing cement shoes.
“Here we are at the last stop on the historical tour, the Musée Conti.” Mr. Morrows stands outside the wax museum.
The museum will only give Clive more opportunity to spout history and geography. If we were at the swamp, I could be reeling off the different animals that inhabit it. Science is my thing. But noooo. Instead we’ll be looking at boring old wax statues signing the Louisiana Purchase.
“Hurray.” Sookie’s blonde hair bobs as she jumps up and down. “The costumes at the wax museum will be amazing,” she babbles. Then spotting my frown she says, “Sorry, Cat, but the museum will be closed tomorrow because of Mardi Gras. This is our only chance to see it.”
I check my watch again. “Will this misery ever end?” I mutter.
“What’s that Miss Peters?” Mr. Morrows puts his hands on his hips.
“After the museum, it’s a while before dinner. Can some of us go on a shorter swamp tour?” There, I said it.
“I’d like to go,” says Clive. Sookie also puts up her hand. Skeeter practically waves his arm right out of his socket.
“I’d have to get tickets straight away for the final boat trip,” says Mr. Morrows. “I can’t do that and guide this tour, so you’ll have to settle for the museum.” Sighing, I resign myself to a bad time and enter the museum. It is stuffy and hot. We gather in the entry and a peculiar woman joins us.
“Byen venu, my chers. I am Miss Elisyia, your tour guide for the museum.” She has a Creole accent and sounds welcoming, but a chill crawls up my spine. She is dressed in a gold turban and caftan, and a purple mask covers her eyes. As if she reads my mind she says, “My mask is for Mardi Gras. Pa gen pwoblen, wi?”
“Pardon me?” I don’t understand her. She’s not speaking French. It must be Creole.
Miss Elisyia touches her mask with her long, slim fingers and says, “There eez no problem with my outfit is there?”
I shake my head.
“It’s superb,” says Sookie.
“Since there is a museum guide, Mr. Morrows, sir, we will be supervised,” Clive says. “Perhaps, sir, you have time to get tickets for the swamp tour?”
Can our teacher refuse his pet student? I shoot Clive a look of gratitude for still trying.
Mr. Morrows checks his watch. “Fine, but you have to stay together at all times. Meet me outside the museum in exactly sixty minutes. Then we will meet the science group at the river dock. Is that clear!” We all nod.
After our teacher leaves, I should be bursting with excitement. I’m getting what I want—well, almost. It won’t be the deluxe swamp tour, but it will be better than no tour. But for some reason I feel uneasy.
Our museum guide extends her arm and points her jeweled finger to a sign leading down a dark staircase – Haunted Dungeon. As soon as I step inside the stairwell, the temperature drops and I feel a cold rush of air.
I shiver. Something tells me it isn’t the air conditioning…

2

As Miss Elisyia leads us forward into the shadowy dungeon, grisly wax statues of spooky denizens leer back at us.
“Okay, this place is a liii…ttle creepy,” I say as we stroll past white-faced ghosts in eerie cobwebbed gowns and Voodoo zombies with white eyes, gaping mouths, and outstretched arms.
Sookie smiles in delight. “I bet New Orleans is filled with ghosts.” She says more quietly, “Do you think there are vampires?”
“No such thing,” I tell her. We turn a corner and a gruesome wax vampire with blood-dripping fangs looms, ready to pounce.
“Would all of you like a complimentary drink?” Miss Elisyia leads us to an open counter and pours a pink liquid into paper cups. The pink drink fizzes.
“What is it?” Mia reaches for the cup.
“A love potion.” The woman smiles and winks at Mitch.
Mia snaps her arm back, and her face turns redder than her hair. “Ah, no thanks.”
I don’t think she has to worry. That love potion looks suspiciously like soda. Mitch clears his throat, and I notice his face has also turned red.
“Come on,” Skeeter tugs Miss Elisyia’s billowing sleeve. “Can we see the pirate exhibit?”
“Wi, little mister.” She smiles and there is something unsettling about her grin. “That eez a very good choice.” Skeeter darts ahead and we run to keep up.
“That’s Jean Lafitte,” says Clive when we reach the first exhibit. He starts spouting off about how pirates like Lafitte used the gulf and the bayous to hide from the navy, but they also helped Louisiana in a war. “Back then men were men.” He grins wickedly, looks at me and adds, “And women knew their place.”
I roll my eyes and clap slowly. “Thank you for the great history lesson, Mr. Morrows, I mean, Clive.” Mitch snickers, but Clive glares at me.
Skeeter scratches his head. “Look at his frilly clothes. Our gran used to tell us stories about this pirate, but he doesn’t look so scary.”
“He has a mean face,” declares Sookie.
“You’re right about him being mean,” Skeeter declares. “Gran told us Lafitte was a pirate with a ferocious temper. He made people walk the plank if they didn’t show enough respect.” Skeeter gives Sookie a little push, “Arr arr, into the briny deep.” Sookie shrieks and starts making glugging noises like she’s sinking into the sea.
“Hey,” says Skeeter. “Gran said there’s even a legend he has buried treasure on an island in the bayou.”
“Cool,” I say. This is way more interesting than some war. Maybe this tour is not so bad after all.
Now Clive rolls his eyes. “Legends are rumors, not facts, so it’s not history.”
“Non, young man, I disagree.” Miss Elisyia catches up to us and shakes her finger. “Childreen, legends are very important. When history is not clear, legends can give us clues, non? No one knows exactly what happened to the pirate, Lafitte. There is one particular legend that says heez ship disappeared, and returns every full moon. His crew is forever searching for a treasure of lost doubloons. They capture any wandering souls and force them onto the ship. Those people’s fate eez most ‘orrible.”
Miss Elisyia’s eyes widen. “Tonight there is a full moon, and it is also Mardi Gras.” Her voice quavers. “Children must beware.”
Miss Elisyia’s face is so grave I do a double-take. It feels like an ice cube slides down my spine. She shakes her head. “Now isn’t that a legend worth knowing?”
Then Miss Eliysia cackles. Mia jumps. Maybe I do, too.
“Ha. Such serious faces, non?” Miss Eliysia grins. “This eez supposed to be fun.”
“This isn’t your usual museum tour,” Mitch whispers to Mia and me.
“Spooky tales make it less boring and more fun,” I say, but for some reason my skin breaks into goosebumps.
“That’s just an old story my gran told us,” Skeeter says scoffingly. “I’m not worried. I could beat the pirates in a sword fight.” Skeeter brandishes his arm as if it was a cutlass. Waving in the air he shouts, “Arty ahr ahr, take that matey.”
“Stop acting like a pirate,” Sookie says. “You don’t want to be a pirate Skeeter, not really.” Something in her voice makes me pay close attention.
“Yes I do,” says Skeeter and he waves his arm again.
Clive snorts. “Yeah, right. You’d beat the pirates like that.”
“This way, my chers.” Miss Eliysia crooks her finger at the Voodoo sign. We push through a curtain of hung garlic.
“See Cat, there are vampires,” mutters Sookie.
Strings of dried bats dangle in front of us. A wax statue of a woman in the center of the room has snakes entwined around her. Mia does a double take. “That’s fake, right?”
The large room is cluttered with small stone altars and African masks and drums. Dark eerie paintings of strange looking creatures hang on the walls. Potion jars in bright greens and yellows fill shelves along the wall. A human skull stares at us with hollow eyes from on top of a glass case filled with long strings of beads and decks of playing cards with creepy pictures.
Miss Eliysia stands behind the glass counter. “Here is zee souvenir section. I can help you with any purchases.”
I check my watch and suggest we keep moving. Skeeter is already buying a bandana with a skull and cross print, and Mia is buying candles.
“You’re spending all your money,” Clive warns his brother. “Don’t expect to borrow more from me.”
“I’ve got all the stuff I need to be a pirate.” Skeeter ties the bandanna on his head, but it doesn’t fit snugly around his curly black hair. He ties it around his forehead instead, and slipping his hand inside his backpack, pulls out a plastic hook. Skeeter tucks it under his sleeve so it looks like a pirate’s hook. He brandishes a new plastic sword in his other arm. “All aboard, matey.” Clive shakes his head.
Sookie joins us at the glass case. She is carrying an ugly-looking doll that is a cross between a mummy and a scarecrow. Only instead of being stuffed with straw, Spanish moss spills from its sleeves. Spanish moss—I know that’s a typical ingredient for magic—so not good. Sookie doesn’t need any influence in that department. My sister has had too many temptations with magic.
The doll is wrapped in a scrap of purple cloth in the shape of a fancy top hat and a coat with tails, has a white clay face with beady red eyes, and a tiny stick for a cigar is shoved in its mouth.
“I’d like to purchase this doll.” Sookie reaches in her purse and takes out the spending money Mom gave us to buy a souvenir.
“That thing is way too creepy,” Mia makes a face. “Why don’t you wait until we are at a regular shop and buy a pretty doll with cute clothes.”
“Or at least one that won’t stare at you from the shelf in your bedroom and keep you up with nightmares,” I suggest.
“How boring.” Sookie hands the doll to the woman behind the glass counter.
“Ah, a Voodoo doll it is for zee little girl.” Miss Eliysia holds up the doll. “You have chosen the Baron Samedi. His spirit has powerful gris gris.”
“Gris what?” I don’t like the sound of this at all.
Miss Eliysia leans forward and whispers in a strangled voice, “Gris gris is magic. Powerful blaaaack mageek.”

3
“Baron Samedi is the Voodoo guardian of the crossroads.” A sly smile steals across Miss Eliysia’s face. “Be ever so careful. When the baron takes heez leave and returns to the invisible realm of spirits, he keeps with him whatever he is holding.” She reaches out with a claw like hand and pinches Clive’s arm. Clive jumps and everyone laughs. Except me…
Okay, I like the doll even less. “Seriously Sookie, why don’t you…”
Sookie tucks the doll under her arm. “Hey, it comes with a book, too.” She opens up a tiny black book and starts flipping pages.
I sigh.
“Here, I have something for all of you,” says Miss Eliysia, “lagniappe.” Looking at our puzzled faces she explains, “That’s a small gift.”
“Cool,” says Mitch.
She pulls a skeleton key out from under her neck and unlocks the glass case.
“Hey, how come the keyhole is upside down?” Skeeter is always noticing the oddest details, but he’s right.
“Don’t you know, little one? Upside down keyholes keep zee ghosts out.” It’s hard to tell if Miss Eliysia is joking. She still has that strange smile.
“Told you there were ghosts,” Sookie looks smug. I woefully shake my head. If only we’d gone to the swamp and looked at snakes and alligators. Sookie doesn’t need this encouragement.
Miss Eliysia reaches into the glass case and brings out a deck of those strange cards. She fans out the deck, the backs of the cards facing us. “Zees are Tarot cards, magic cards that foretell the future. Believe it or not, I am not a regular museum guide,” she says.
No surprise there, I think.
“I am actually a fortuneteller. You, leetle one, you must choose a card,” Miss Eliysia tells Sookie. Sookie leans over and without a second’s hesitation plucks out a card and turns it over.
“The High Priestess, sometimes called zee Sorceress.” Miss Eliysia’s odd smile spreads to a grin. “I should have known. You have mysteries, little one—powers. Be careful who you share them with.”
Sookie seems pleased. Why wouldn’t she—she likes to call herself the Queen of Magic.
“What’s mine mean?” Skeeter yanks a card from the woman’s hand before she’s even finished explaining Sookie’s card. The card shows a guy in armor on a horse.
Miss Eliysia takes back the card and studies it. “Your card is the Knight of Swords. You are a warrior.”
“Ha, you’re good,” says Skeeter.
“Ah, but that also means like any soldier you follow leaders. You need to be careful,” Miss Eliysia cautions, “that you don’t fall in with the wrong group. Danger lies ahead.” Skeeter frowns.
Mia pulls a Six of Swords from the deck. The card has a picture of people in a small boat. “You and some of your friends will be crossing very troubled waters,” explains Miss Elisyia. “I see zis peril time and again.”
Mia stares at the card as dismay flickers across her face. “Are you sure there’s nothing here about romance?”
Mitch pulls out a card with a roulette wheel. Miss Eliysia says, “Ah, the Wheel of Fortune. Something menacing is in your future. Be careful.”
Mitch shrugs. “Guess I shouldn’t gamble.”
According to the fortuneteller most of the cards say danger lies ahead. I wish the gang would stop choosing them. Clive turns over a card with a burning tower and people leaping from the windows. “Calamity,” says the woman, which I know is another word for even worse danger. “So many trials to pass,” she continues. “You will have terrible trouble until you learn to accept other points of view.”
That card’s not so bad after all, I think. “You are good. You read Clive like a book.” Clive’s lips twitch as if he’s fighting a smile.
“Your turn.” Miss Eliysia stares at me. Behind her mask, she has dark, sparkling eyes. As she reshuffles the cards and fans them in front of me, I get that creeping sensation across my neck.
“I think I’ll pass.” I push the cards back, but Mia gives me a shove. “C’mon.”
“Are you a scaredy cat?” asks Sookie.
I sigh and pull out a card and turn it over. A skeleton in black armor sits upon a horse. Just in case I don’t get the picture, at the bottom of the card written in big black letters is the word – Death. “I’ve had about enough of this museum tour.” I drop the card on the counter like it was a hot coal.
Miss Elisyia grabs the Tarot card and places the card on my palm. I try and pull away but she tightens her grip. Her eyes bore into me. “This card is your ticket at a crossroads.” She says this like it’s the most important thing in the world. “Take it. This you must keep.”
What does that mean? But I take the card and tuck it in the back pocket of my jeans. “Let’s get out of here,” I say. No one argues, not even Sookie even though we have twenty minutes before we meet Mr. Morrows, so we leave.
“Goodbye my chers,” Miss Elisyia calls after us. “You know how to run, but do you know how to hide?” We walk faster.
Outside, the square’s become even more crowded with revelers. You can’t see past your nose, the main street’s so blocked with people. Clive says, “We’d better wait right here.”
He doesn’t have to tell us. None of us feel like adventuring when all we heard from the woman in the museum was trouble, danger, calamity, death. Even if we don’t believe in fortune telling, we all believe in Mr. Morrows’ wrath, and I sure don’t want to mess up the swamp tour.
“Take a look at that,” Clive points. We notice a new crowd gathering down the street. A carnival crewe is towing a float for the parade tomorrow. It is a giant skull in a jester’s hat. Green witch light pours from its eye sockets.
“Check out the float, Sookie,” I say, but she’s got her nose buried in the little booklet that came with her creepy Voodoo doll. I drag her behind me as we all jostle to the curb to get a better look.
All at once, it’s as if we’ve jumped in river rapids. We are swarmed by the crowd and swept down the street as if we are swallowed up by a fast-running river. I’m pushed around, someone slams into me, and I bump heads with Mia. I lose Sookie’s hand.
Before I can reach for her, the crowd surges again. Sookie is swept away with them. The mass of revelers keeps moving and I lose sight of her.
“Sookie!”
I hear a faint cry.
“Caaat, helllpp!”

4

We chase the crowd down the street but as we push our way through all the people, we can’t find my sister.
“Caa-aat!
“She’s calling from the direction of the riverfront,” Clive yells above the ruckus.
We duck and dodge our way through the jam-packed side streets, avoiding the crowds, twisting and turning as if we are caught in a maze.
“I hear her.” Skeeter shoots forward, breaks away from the crowd and runs down a dark narrow alley. We have no choice but to try and keep up with him.
We turn down the lane and away from the swarms of people. Even though jazz music spills out of New Orleans’ taverns 24/7, the mysterious beats and tinny horns echoing in this lane sound more old fashioned. There is something odd about this music…
Out of breath, I finally spot Sookie at the end of a dark lane, where my little sister is talking with great glee to someone. In fact, it seems like she is showing off. I see her waving her new doll. When we catch up, a strange sight emerges from the shadows. We see a costumed carnival crewe wearing the most peculiar costumes. Instead of shiny and glitzy, their clothes are baggy, dark, and old-fashioned, making the crewe look as if they’ve suddenly appeared from a Mardi Gras long past.
“Don’t they have astonishing costumes, Cat?” Sookie beams up at me. “Meet my new friends, the Mystik Crewe.”
If Sookie was the least upset about getting lost, she seems to have forgotten. But there is something I don’t like about the Mystik Crewe.
First, there is the smell, is it just me or do any of my friends catch a whiff of stale dry air as if a crypt door has been opened, and something ancient has escaped. And then there are the creepy costumes. I check out each of the Mystik Crewe.
There are three revelers, and they are about our height, so I figure the Mystik Crewe are our ages—not that you can really tell. Two of them have heavy face paint—white with black lips—and elaborate black masks hide their eyes. One reveler wears a weird navy baggy suit covered in red stars. The other costumer is in a jester suit of black and white with giant pom-poms that remind me of those clowns you only see in horror movies.
They carry wands, wear leggings and velvet boots, and have tall pointy hats.
The third masker looks the freakiest. The girl is dressed in a ghostly blue-grey dress that looks both old fashioned and sinister. Her hat is most peculiar. It has devil horns that curl down the side of her head like a demonic goat. Her face is veiled, and I very badly do not want to see the face under that veil.
She reaches out her arm, and I’m not the only one who instinctively jumps back. Sookie snickers and mutters, “Scaredy Cat.”
The ghostly-looking girl reaches into a purple sack and pulls out a handful of gold doubloons. She hands one to each of us, and when she places the doubloon in my palm, a spine-chilling jolt shoots through me. The scar on my arm heats up – strange, that scar bothers me when I brush up against something otherworldly. Well, Mardi Gras is pretty otherworldly….
“We should be getting back to the museum before Mr. Morrows misses us.” Clive sounds like his voice is calling from far away.
I turn toward Clive to agree, and when I turn back, the Mystik Crewe has disappeared again into the shadows. It occurs to me that during that whole uncanny meeting, no one from the Crewe uttered a single word.
“Wow, these doubloons are heavy,” says Skeeter.
“I wouldn’t want them to throw these at me from a float,” adds Mia. “It would hurt.”
Clive holds his doubloon in front of his face and peers closely. “Yeah, this doubloon is not made of aluminum. There’s no Mardi Gras stamp on it either, and I think the writing is in Spanish.”
“A Spanish doubloon,” Skeeter grins. “That’s pirate money.”
Ghosts, pirates and vampires – will Skeeter and Sookie give it a rest. I look at my doubloon. It seems to grow warmer in the palm of my hand, and when I touch it with my finger it feels hot. I put it in my pocket, but can’t shake off a creepy feeling. What am I missing?
Instead of trying to figure it out, I say, “We better find our way back and fast. We’ve only got ten minutes to get back in time for Mr. Morrows.” I look around the gloomy alley. “Can anyone track all the twists and turns we took chasing Sookie?”
None of us can guess the direction back.
“We should walk to the waterfront. I can see it ahead between the buildings,” suggests Mitch. “Then we can hop an electric streetcar and get off near the museum.” Agreeing, we head in that direction.
As we near the docks, we see that booths and rides are set up along the waterfront like a carnival. Right away the gang splits up and starts scoping out the food booths.
“Is anybody else hungry? Mitch hesitates at a food tent and sounding uncertain says, “This fried alligator smells like fried chicken.” Mia pulls him away. “Don’t even think about it. Mr. Morrows is going to be so upset.”
“Do I smell beignets?” Sookie checks out the next booth.
I see my hopes of a swamp tour bursting like a soap bubble. “Hurry, stop splitting up,” I snap, but no one is listening, they’re all so hungry.
Clive walks over and hands me a cup. “I thought you might like this.”
“What I’d like is to get back in time for the swamp tour.” I sniff the creamy liquid in the cup. It smells so rich and sweet – café au lait. “Thanks Clive,” I say in surprise.
Before my little snoopervisor can catch me, I dump the coffee contents into my water bottle to hide it. I’m about to take a sip when Clive points to the crowds gathering at the dock. “Get a load of that ship.”
Before any of us can grab him, Skeeter lets out a whoop and takes off for the dock.

5

I look where Clive is pointing and Skeeter is running. Mist on the water fills the darkening horizon. Silhouetted in the fog is an old wooden ship with black sails. Strange red lights dance in its hold. Skeeter is standing on the dock shouting, “Pirates!”
“That is a brigantine.” Clive gives a low whistle.
Before he can enlighten us more, I break in, “A smaller ship popular to pirates who sailed through the Gulf and bayous.” Some history sticks in my head—the interesting stuff.
With a crash, the ship drops a gangplank on the wharf. A crew hustles to set up a boarding sign beside it. We walk closer following Skeeter, and to my surprise, I see it is the Mystik Crewe we met in the alley. The strangely costumed crewe doesn’t seem too creepy to the other people on the wharf, in fact they line up to get on board
Skeeter hustles to the front of the long line. I’m about to say we don’t have time to do this, when I see my friends staring at the sign at the end of the gangplank.

Price to board the Barataria
One gold doubloon
Lots of people are grumbling. “Daddy, they wouldn’t take my doubloon,” complains a girl about Sookie’s age. Her black braids bounce as she shakes her head in disappointment. She holds out a purple fake Mardi Gras doubloon.
Her father shrugs his shoulders. “I waved twenty dollars in front of them, but they wouldn’t take it. Sorry, Sweetie, there must be special boarding passes.”
“All aboard mateys,” Skeeter cries halfway up the gangplank.
“Look Cat, our doubloons must be the right kind. We must have won a prize.” Sookie squeals and shoots off like a cannon ball up the gangplank toward the deck. Mia is close behind.
“Wait,” shouts Clive. “We’re supposed to meet Mr. Morrows.”
“Come back, we’ll miss the swamp tour!” I add. It occurs to me Mia never wanted that trip in the first place.
“C’mon,” Mitch nudges Clive with his elbow. “We’re kids. We’ve just been offered a tour on a pirate ship—that doesn’t happen every day. We’ll still be back in time to meet Mr. Morrows.”
“Actually, we’re already late,” I point out. I’m calculating how angry Mr. Morrows is going to be. Looking for and finding a lost Sookie might be a good excuse, but if we wait too long, we’ll miss the last swamp tour.
Clive is shaking his head. He doesn’t like getting in trouble with his teachers. Me, well, I pretty much live on the bad side of teacher town. You weren’t always that way, whispers a pesky voice in my head.
“We’ll look around and get off quick.” Mitch races up the plank.
“Now we have to board the ship to drag them back,” I complain. Clive doesn’t move. “Come on,” I grab his arm and pull. “The two of us will round them up faster than one.”
Clive resists, but the others have disappeared onto the ship, and so he hands over his gold doubloon to the creepy looking clown kid and steps onto the gangplank. I hand the ghostly girl my coin, but as my fingers brush her gloved hand a cold fog seems to seep into me and wrap around my heart. The scar on my arm itches.
A warning bolts through my mind –for once I wish Clive hadn’t considered my point of view.
I shake off the uncomfortable foreboding and step onto the gangplank leading up to the mysterious ship. The plank tilts and trembles under my feet.
6

“All aboard the Barataria,” a rough voice shouts from the crow’s nest. “Have a walk about and enjoy the harbor view as the ship sets sail. Wave goodbye to your loved ones…”
Sets sail? Clive and I exchange looks of alarm. “We better get the others off the ship, quickly,” I say.
“…this trip’s not for the likes of landlubbers.” The crewman laughs as if he is in on some mean joke—one that delights him.
“I’m no landlubber,” shouts Skeeter from the aft.
Clive chases after his brother. I stand frozen on deck for a second. How can I round up everyone in moments? Then the ship lurches below my feet. We are already setting sail!
Maybe it’s better if I alert a crew member that we have to get off. I run along the port side. Nobody is there. I run to the stern and don’t see a single soul. I run across the deck, but I can’t see anyone through the swirling mist. This ship is eerily deserted. It’s not just that I can’t spot a member of the crew. I haven’t seen any other passengers either. I head back to the crow’s-nest—at least I can shout up to that crewman.
“We have to get off!” I cry up through the fog to where I heard the sailor in the crow’s-nest. “We’re in big trouble for being late. We can’t go for even a short sail.”
I crane my neck, but I can’t see anyone. Come to think of it, I only heard a voice. Maybe it was from a speaker. Maybe the crew operates the ship below deck. As I gaze up into the patchy fog, my only answer is a flag that unfurls slowly from the mast – a big, black, pirate flag.
I race to the captain’s cabin and pound on the door, but no one answers. I rattle and yank the handle of the door, but it’s locked tight. I peer into the portal. The small cabin is dark, dusty and deserted. I wander around the deck shouting, “Let us off!”
I hear Mia’s voice from the other side of the ship. “It’s no use, Cat. Come see.”
I find my friends hovering over the rail. I stand beside them as we watch the shore shrink in the distance. We have set sail and are picking up speed. Except it appears no one is manning the sails or steering.
“Is it me, or is this ride kind of freaky,” says Mia.
“Maybe that’s it,” I say, “This is one of those rides that are supposed to spook you a little. It’s part of the fun.” I remember when I was as a little kid, going to an amusement park with my parents before their divorce. That time, Sookie was still in a stroller, and my dad and I had gone on the ride. I remember leaning against a pillar, and it slipped and I heard rocks tumbling. I cried out and hid behind my dad. He picked me up and smiled. “Don’t worry, Catnip. It is all part of the ride to give you an extra thrill.”
“Ride or no ride, we are in a world of trouble,” says Mitch.
“Ya think,” snaps Clive.
“Look how fast the moon is rising.” Mia points to the horizon. The moon floats up orange and bloated like a jack-o’-lantern. Scattered clouds scud across the darkening sky and partly cover the moon. The orange glow of the moon turns the clouds from grey to red, so they glow like a crimson halo.
“Blood circled moon,” says Sookie in that detached, observant way that sends a shiver up my spine.
“What does that mean?” asks Mia.
Sookie’s voice deepens and grows more ominous. “A blood circled moon means only one thing…danger.”

7

The wind picks up and my hair starts flying. Black sails billow as the brigantine tacks and lurches forward in the water. I stumble and bang my elbow hard against the railing. The wind picks up more and sends fierce howls across the deck, and cold salt spray splashes my face. The sails whip menacingly.
“Is this hurricane season?” asks Mia. “My mom wouldn’t have let me come to New Orleans if she’d known it was hurricane season.”
The skies open up and rain pelts down. In only a few moments we are drenched.
“Cat, I’m not having fun.” Sookie folds her arms, her dripping blonde bangs plasters her forehead. “Take me back.”
“How can they leave us out here?” Mia says with chattering teeth.
I’m still thinking about rides, and how lots of water rides soak you, but something still isn’t right. For one thing, this isn’t fun at all. Without anyone actually saying anything, we drift back to the captain’s cabin.
“Hey, this door has another one of those upside-down keyholes,” observes Skeeter. I hadn’t noticed that before.
“This door must be to keep the ghosts inside,” says Sookie. “The upside down lock means they can’t get out.” I just shake my head—sometimes there’s no point arguing with my kid sister.
“Was that lightning?” Clive looks up. A roll of thunder explodes above our heads, and we scramble away from the tall masts.
“Sookie, get away from the ship wheel. You’ll steer us out to sea.”
“It’s okay, Cat, it doesn’t do anything.” To demonstrate she spins the wheel easily.
“Okay,” says Clive. “We know it’s a fake, automated ship. Could someone be guiding it from the shore by remote control?”
“We’re too far out,” says Mitch. “The crew must be below.”
“Jerks!” Mia stamps her feet down hard on the deck. “We want out of the rain!” she shouts. “Let us below!”
“This isn’t a fake ship,” says Skeeter. “It’s a real brigantine.”
“C’mon Skeeter, look around—notice anything unusual about the masts?” Clive sounds sarcastic.
“There are two masts, square rigged,” Skeeter still sounds confident. “That’s what real brigantines have.”
“What else is special about the masts? Open your eyes.”
Skeeter doesn’t answer Clive.
“You’re sounding like Mr. Morrows again,” I point out, but then it occurs to me that Clive probably thinks this a compliment.
“Right.” Clive assumes a tone of annoying authority. “Nobody’s manning the masts.”
Shivers climb my spine when I look up. The sails are swinging and the ropes are sliding all on their own. This ship isn’t bobbing aimlessly on the water. It’s cutting a clear path through the currents.
“The ride is rigged, not the masts,” says Clive. “It has to be computer operated. And you say you’re not a landlubber.”
Clive practically tisk-tisks his brother—all he needs is a moustache, and he would be Mr. Morrows.
“I still know something you don’t know,” Skeeter gets a sly look. “Something you’d like to know.”
Clive storms away and joins Mitch who is busy kicking at the captain’s door. He hasn’t learned to listen to nine-year-olds.
He hasn’t had a few hard lessons like you have, says that pesky voice in my head.
“I believe you,” Sookie says to Skeeter. He leans over and whispers in her ear. Sookie’s eyes widen considerably. I’m more than a little curious to know what Skeeter has said, but I can’t hear through the pounding rain.
“What’s this?” Mia calls out. She’s tugging at a rusty iron handle on the deck. “Hey, it moved.” She tugs harder at the hatch. “A little help, here, my hands are too slippery from the rain.”
I quickly join her. The hatch is heavy and my elbow still aches from hitting the railing, but I dig in and together we yank and heave. “It’s coming open,” I say, gulping for breath. Clive and Mitch give up kicking the captain’s door and join us.
With the boys help we lift up the heavy hatch and look down into the dark depths below. A musty dank smell of old wood, and rot, and worse, drifts up from the hatch.

8

Mia begins climbing down the ladder.
“Careful,” I warn. “We don’t know what’s down there.”
“A dry place—that’s all I care about.”
Mia has a point. I climb down the ladder, and the others come fast behind. “Keep the hatch open,” I shout. “Just in case.”
Torches flicker with guttering light and bathe the hold in an eerie crimson glow.
“Sure looks authentic down here,” says Mitch as he touches a giant coiled rope that is covered in dry seaweed.
“And smells authentic, ugh,” Mia wrinkles her nose as she looks at old wooden bunks and hammocks covered in stained, moth-eaten blankets.
“Whoa, disgusting.” Skeeter has taken a lid off a barrel that’s set in the corner of the ship’s hold.
I can’t imagine what Skeeter thinks is disgusting and have to see for myself. A sharp stench clogs my nose. I look down into a writhing mass of maggots worming their way in and out of moldy cheese.
“Dinner anyone?” asks Skeeter with more than a little glee.
“That’s just not funny.” Mitch slams the lid back down.
“The water’s wormy too,” complains Sookie, closing the lid off another barrel. “I’m thirsty, Cat. I want a soda or lemonade.”
“Pirates ate maggoty rotting food and drank sour, worm infested water,” says Skeeter. Then, deepening his voice, he bellows, “Pirates are tough.” He looks smugly at Clive. “It’s what separates us from the landlubbers.”
“And pirates died from horrible diseases eating and drinking rotten food and water,” Clive tells his brother.
“I don’t get it,” I say. “What kind of ride is this that they make it so uncomfortable and unsettling?”
“It’s not a ride at all,” says Skeeter. “This is the real thing.” He and Sookie exchange another one of their secretive looks.
“What?” Clive taps his foot impatiently.
I join in. “Skeeter, maybe you should tell us why you think this is the real thing.”
“Because,” says Skeeter drawing it out to keep our attention.
“Because why?” I force myself to say kindly.
“The name of the ship is the Barataria, don’t you get it?” Skeeter sounds as annoyed as I feel. “That was the name of a ship Jean Lafitte sailed. Remember what Miss Eliysia said?” Skeeter dances around dramatically. “Yup, I bet the Barataria set sail under a full moon into misty, stormy waters. It never came back and was never seen again.”
A cold draft has worked its way into the hold, whistling a song. I swear it sounds like that old nursery rhyme, “Four and twenty black birds baked in a pie…”
Skeeter’s voice drops into a conspirator’s whisper. “This is a phantom ship. What if it has ghosts searching for the lost doubloons?”
Sookie shakes her head ruefully. “So you see? This isn’t a carnival ride. We’re on a genuine ghost ship.”
“No such thing,” I say through clenched teeth.
“Exactly,” but Mitch’s eyes dart as he checks out the shadows of the ship’s hold.
Skeeter sounds worried now. “Clive, do you think the ghosts saw our gold doubloons we handed over? What if they think we know where the treasure is?”
“That would be a catastrophe,” says Sookie.
Clive crouches down beside his brother, and in a more patient voice than I thought he could have, softly says, “If Miss Eliysia and even our gran knows those old ghost stories, everyone in New Orleans does too. That’s why they use those stories to make up the ride. It’s just old legends; we don’t have anything to fear…”
“Do you hear that?” Mitch cocks his hand to his ear.
I listen. At first I only hear creaking timber as the ship sways. Then I can make out hornpipes, faint at first, then distant shouts and laughter. So that tune isn’t the wind whistling through the hold—or at least not entirely.
Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye…
The sounds grow louder. Except the shouts and music are also warped—as if the music and voices are fighting their way up from a watery grave. My arms erupt in goose bumps as another cold draft rips past me.
“That’s a kid’s rhyme,” says Mitch. “Yet it sounds so eerie. It creeps me out.”
“Actually the rhyme is a pirate code,” says Clive. He’s staring up at the hatch. Then he looks straight at me and holds my gaze. “Pirates like Blackbeard used that old song as a way to trick people and signal each other when they were out to capture new crew members.”
“I hate this ride,” says Mia.
“It. Is. Not. A. Ride.” Skeeter sounds exasperated. Then he reaches in his pack and puts on his pirate bandana and ties it around his forehead. “I know that song. It’s not scary at all.” He dances a jig and begins singing along. “The king was in his counting house, counting out the money.” Skeeter stops and looks at us. “Do you think that’s code for the pirate captain counting his doubloons?”
“I don’t think you should be listening to that music,” Sookie tells Skeeter. “They make that song sound all wrong.” She clamps her own hands over her ears. “…When down came a blackbird and snapped off her nose.”
The music gives me icy shivers. A couple of hours ago I would have enjoyed any relief from the humid heat of New Orleans—except this peculiar chill is sapping my energy. It’s like when I went skiing once in frigid weather. At first it was fun, but by the end of the day I couldn’t get warm.
“I’ve had about enough of this place.” My stomach heaves and I swallow spit. Then I stumble as the ship lurches again. “I could use some fresh air. I think I’m getting seasick.”
“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” says Clive. He pulls Skeeter’s arm, but his brother shakes him off. Clive grabs Skeeter’s bandana instead and heads for the ladder. Skeeter follows him this time.
We all scramble up the ladder. Even Mia seems to prefer the rain to this creepy place. I go up last and as I climb out on deck, I notice the rain has stopped. My friends are huddled together and staring straight ahead. No one is saying anything. I move away from the open hatch to get a better look and peer into the gloom. Then I see too.
This is so not good. It seems we have company.

9

Pirates.
The deck is full of them.
Grizzled, rough-looking men with long hair, skin tanned brown like cured leather, and craggy, hard faces—they laugh and smile with mouths that reveal gaps from missing teeth. Some are dancing around, and a couple are playing accordions. Some are sitting on a chest and singing as they pass around a brown glass jug, each of them taking gulping swigs that half spill down their shirts.
Some of their songs have words that I know wouldn’t be allowed on any amusement ride, no matter how scary and realistic.
Near us I see two men rolling dice, until—in a flash—they start arguing over a roll. One swings his fist at the other’s face. The other guy draws his sword and brandishes it. Mia takes a large step back, and Mitch grabs her arm, so she doesn’t fall down the open hatch.
“I don’t think the pirates see us,” I say quietly.
“That’s a good thing,” Mia’s voice quavers.
Skeeter waves his plastic sword over his head to see if it gets the pirates attention. Clive grabs the sword, “Stop it,” he whispers. Skeeter frowns and takes his sword back.
For a few shocked minutes we silently stare at the pirate antics while mist curls up from the sides of the ship, and drifts like ragged, ghostly arms reaching toward the sky. I follow the mist and realize the sky has changed. White stars burn huge in the purplish sky. The shredded clouds are orange streaks, as if someone has smeared the sky with burnt pumpkin. The moon hangs in the night sky like a floating giant fire lantern.
This isn’t New Orleans anymore. This isn’t anywhere in the human realm. A cold dread works its way up from my racing heart. I realize that by boarding this ship, we’ve drifted through the veil that separates us from the Otherworld. So very not good…
I draw in a gasp when one pirate steps from behind a tall mast and its billowing black sail. He is wearing a velvet jacket. The shirt underneath his coat spills frilly lace over his collar and cuffs. His tricorne hat has a huge feather plume, and his long black hair is neatly combed. He twirls a dapper moustache. He looks exactly like the museum’s wax statue of Jean Lafitte.
Skeeter waves his plastic sword again, but this time he shouts, “Ahoy matey!”
The pirates stop whatever they’re doing. In one long, agonizing motion they swing around and face us.
Oh crap.
In one quick motion we turn around and race in the other direction.
“The captain’s cabin,” Sookie gasps. “The keyhole…”
I’m running and breathing hard, so it takes a second for my oxygen-starved brain to make the connection. The upside-down keyhole—it isn’t to keep ghosts locked inside the cabin, it’s to keep these ghostly phantoms out. “Hurry,” I tell the others.
The door is still locked but with grim determination, we begin kicking and hammering against it. The door holds.
Outside the pirates argue on the quarterdeck. “Get those landlubbers.”
“What’s the hurry, they’ve nowhere to go.”
“I’m finishing my drink.”
“I’m winning my game.”
Lafitte rages at the other pirates. “You heard me, get moving before I keelhaul every one of you that I don’t make walk the plank.”
My stomach dives to my sneakers as the ghostly pirates slink toward us.
“If only we had some tools, we could trip the lock,” complains Mitch.
Once when Sookie accidentally locked herself in the bathroom, my Mom used her credit card to force open the lock. “Here.” I pull the tarot card from my back pocket. “Try this.”
The pirates march toward us until they’re only a free kick’s distance away. The Tarot card faces outward, death grinning up at us, as Mitch slides the card between the door jam. The thick card doesn’t bend as Mitch forces it up higher. He wiggles the card when it catches and we hear a click. Mitch tugs open the door and we dive in so fast, I fall on my knees. Clive, who practically has to drag Skeeter inside, slams the door shut.
“We don’t have a key to lock it again,” Clive says. “Is there something we can use to bar the door?”
“I don’t think you need a key,” says Sookie. “The ghosts shouldn’t be able to pass through just because of the shape of the lock.”
The pirates are gathering outside the door. They are taunting us.
“Come join our crew, ye scurvy brats.”
“You need to be dead to be part of our crew, but we will arrange that.”
“Are ye the dirty dogs that stole our gold doubloons?”
“Ar, we’ll make yer pay for that. You won’t wish for death, you’ll wish ye were never born, ha ha.”
But the pirates don’t burst through the door, so Sookie must be right, the ghost lock is keeping them out. Inside, the cabin is dark except for weak moonlight that filters through a small, dusty portal. The room is smaller than my bedroom. Cobwebs hang from the ceiling and walls and blanket a big wooden desk like a spidery table cloth. A captain’s chair is tipped against the desk. An old chest is jammed in the corner, but it doesn’t look heavy enough for our needs. My allergies kick in, and my nose itches fiercely. Stifling a sneeze, I point to the desk.
We decide that we’ll just feel better barring the door. We drag the desk away from the wall. We push and shove until we slide it across the cabin, leaving ruts on the deck and stirring up tons of dust. I burst into a series of sneezes.
“How long can we stay in here?” says Clive.
The pirates keep chanting as if they heard him. “Yer can’t hide ferever, mate. It’s only a matter of time, and we’ve got lots of it.”
“This isn’t a safe place,” says Sookie. “It’s a…”
“Trap,” I finish. “We’re no better off than blackbirds sewn in a pie.”

10

Outside the cabin, the phantom pirates continue to jabber and jeer.
“I vote we stay in here as long as it takes,” says Mitch, “Even if we starve to death.”
“At least we’ll be dry if it rains again,” says Mia.
“I want to go home,” says Sookie.
“I want to play with the pirates,” complains Skeeter.
I’m wishing for a few seconds of quiet so I can think. Mostly, I’m wishing Jasper had come with us instead of visiting the swamp. He’s the expert on the Otherworld. I’d also welcome Amarjeet’s cool logic.
You’ve had the most experience with the Otherworld, Cat. You should be able to figure this out, says that pesky voice in my head. These are the things I know about the Otherworld:
1. There are rules—weird ones, but rules.
2. Time is different between the human realm and the Otherworld—in the twilight world time stretches and snaps back like elastic between past, present, and maybe even future.
3. Creatures who visit our world have a time limit because…once the time is up, the door between our worlds snaps shut.
“Ghost ships,” I tell the group, “could be vessels that get caught between our world and the Otherworld. That is why they appear and disappear.” Sookie nods agreement, but the others look confused. They don’t remember much of their dangerous brushes with the fairy world. They haven’t been marked by the fairies like me, or been drawn to the Otherworld like Sookie.
Sookie says in a small voice, “Maybe we got the attention of the Otherworld, Cat.”
At first I think she’s talking about the Mystic Crewe—that they had a part in this. We drew them out from Fairy and they captured us. We should have been more careful. But then Sookie points to the green in my otherwise brown hair.
Then I remember, once you’ve been marked by creatures of the Otherworld, if any are about, you get their attention. Automatically my fingers brush the green stripes; the stripes that never wash out.
“I…I sort of know what you’re talking about,” says Mia, rubbing her head furiously. “But it’s foggy, like a dream.”
“All I care about is how we escape,” says Mitch.
“I bet Mardi Gras is a time where the veil is thinnest between our world and the Otherworld,” I say, again wishing Jasper was here to confirm this for me. But it makes sense. When the veil that separates our worlds is thinnest, certain ancient traditions spill over into our modern human realm—it doesn’t seem to matter where you live. There are costumes, like at Halloween and Mardi Gras, and there are nighttime celebrations like bonfires. There are also superstitious stories about things you should or shouldn’t do.
“Do you remember anything more from those ghost pirate stories your gran used to tell you?” I ask Clive and Skeeter.
Clive scratches his head, but Skeeter remembers right away. “The pirate ship disappears after all good children are asleep in their beds. But I don’t want the pirates to go, Clive. Skeeter points to the door with his plastic sword. “Those guys don’t scare me. I want to join them!”
The pirates’ curses make it hard to think. If only they’d lose interest in us. Ignoring Skeeter, Clive says, “Yeah, I remember now. My brother’s right. The ship disappears when the clock strikes twelve and all the children are asleep.”
I stare out the ship’s portal. The moon is travelling across the sky much faster than it normally does. I check my watch and catch my breath. It’s almost eleven, and I can actually see the hour hand move. We’re definitely on twilight time, and at midnight this ship disappears. So I tell everyone, “Time is running out, and I think we need a plan.”
Pirates are whooping and hollering outside our door. “Come out, come out, little ones. We want our doubloons.”
“Stop gabbing and jabbering about,” Lafitte shouts at the pirates. “Those children aren’t the only ones testing my patience. Somebody will be walking the plank before this night is out.”
My heart beats faster. Everyone’s eyes grow round. Lafitte sounds more menacing than the other pirates put together.
“What if we go to sleep like the children in the story?” asks Mitch. “Would the pirates disappear?”
“O.M.G. If the plan involves me sleeping with those pirates at the door,” says Mia wrapping her arms around herself and shivering, “COUNT ME OUT.”

11

“I don’t think children need to be sleeping exactly,” I say. “In the ghost story, Jean Lafitte and his pirates visit between nightfall and midnight. It’s more like the ghost ship only stays till the clock strikes twelve. That just happens to be the time when children are asleep in bed.”
“Not me, not always, “says Sookie.
“Most times,” I reply. I’m staring at the rocketing moon outside the portal. The glowing, red-ringed ball is moving faster than normal—a lot faster. In fairy time, Mardi Gras will soon be over.
“Let’s say I agree with you,” Clive begins.
I can’t keep the surprised expression off my face.
He shrugs his shoulders, “Hey, Miss Eliysia told me I needed to consider other points of view.” He gets that cocky smile that for some reason infuriates me.
“How about considering my point of view because I know something you don’t know.”
“But do you know everything, Cat?” Clive lowers his voice. “What happens if we wait here until midnight?” I want to shoot back a smart remark, but we need to work together.
“If this veil lifts between our world and the Otherworld for only a few hours…” I pace back and forth, “And we wait in here until midnight strikes,” I stop short. “What will happen? The ship disappears?”
“Then we get dumped in the water,” says Mitch.
“Or we vanish with the ship,” says Clive. I hate to admit it, but Clive has a point.
“I have a great idea,” says Mia.
“Yeah, right…”Clive sighs, then says, “Sorry. What is it?”
We huddle together, and Mia lowers her voice to keep our plan out of the pirates’ earshot. Not that I think they can hear anything with all their arguing, bellowing, and stupid singing. “There’s a row boat,” she says, “attached to the hull. If we can get it into the water, we can escape.”
“Are we supposed to ask the pirates to excuse us as we walk right past them?” says Clive. Mia frowns.
“If we can figure out a way to get to the row boat, I think I can figure out the gears and pulleys to lower it into the water, but I’ll need a few seconds,” says Mitch.
“Maybe we can create a distraction,” says Clive.
“So now it’s a good idea because a guy agrees with me?” says Mia.
“It was always a good idea,” I tell her. “It’s just the pirates are outside the door.”
Mia points to the portal. “Maybe we can escape through there and sneak toward the rowboat.”
“I’ll never fit through that little window hatch.” Mitch shakes his head.
Clive isn’t as stocky, but I can see his shoulders are too broad. Come to think of it, Mia and I won’t fit either.
“Maybe I can squish through,” says Sookie.
“It’s too dangerous. Better if you stay here where you’re safe,” I tell my sister. “Besides, you can’t lower the boat on your own.”
Sookie crosses her arms and leaves the huddle. “Humph. You’re not the boss of me, Cat. I know I can help.”
“I want to stay anyways,” whines Skeeter. “I want to be a pirate. I want to join them. Arrr!”
“You’re not going anywhere!” Clive hisses. He sounds a lot bossier than me, even bossier than Mr. Morrows. How does he get away with it? Sookie would never listen if I used that tone. Not that she ever listens anyhow.
We argue and try to come up with a plan to escape and distract the pirates.
“Hey, are the pirates getting bored? They seem to have backed off,” says Mitch.
A small ray of hope blossoms inside me. “Maybe we should make a break for it then.”
“I’m in,” says Mia.
“Me too,” adds Mitch.
Clive checks over his shoulder. “Where are Skeeter and Sookie?”
We break the huddle and frantically search the cabin. Mia checks under the desk “This isn’t funny you two,” she says crossly. I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I scan the gloomy cabin, and in the back of my mind something’s not right. What’s changed? I notice the desk isn’t in the same place anymore. It’s moved a little, and there’s a space between the desk and the door.
Not much space, but enough space for two small nine-year-olds to wiggle through the door and sneak away.

12

A cold dread builds in my chest. Why don’t we hear the pirates? I crack open the door. Sookie is crouched close by, and the pirates have backed away and are looking at something on the quarterdeck.
“Sookie get in here,” I whisper. She moves away from my outstretched arm.
“I’ve got to bring Skeeter back,” Sookie says. She brushes my arm away and points at the pirates.
My heart dives to my shoes when I spot Skeeter standing on the quarterdeck, circled by the pirates.
“Ahoy mateys, I want to join your ship,” Skeeter shouts.
Clive and Mitch shove the desk so we can open the door wider. Clive says, “Now I know what the fortuneteller meant. I should have been listening to Skeeter’s point of view, not everyone else’s. I didn’t pay attention to how badly he wants to be a pirate. Wait here.”
“As if.” I slip outside first. He follows.
“Cat?” Mia’s voice rises in alarm.
“Once I drag Sookie back, I’m helping Clive,” I tell her. “Watch my sister and don’t let her out again.”
The pirates seem to all be focused on Skeeter, and they don’t see us maneuvering. Sookie steps further away from the door while Clive moves through the shadows behind a billowing black sail, and creeps stealthily toward his brother. The pirates are closing in on Skeeter, their jeering faces twisted in cruel grins. “Skeeter, don’t trust them,” I mutter under my breath.
“You’ll make a fine pirate.”
“Give the lad his first swig of grog.”
“Let’s see you use your sword, matey.”
I twist around to check on Sookie who is keeping herself just out of reach.
“Sookie get back inside,” I demand.
“Just one more second, Cat. I want to help.” Sookie is clutching her Voodoo doll. “Maybe I can use this to try some magic.”
“Sookie,” I whisper more urgently.
“What kind of dolly is that, ma petite fille”
My head snaps around and I stare in frozen horror. Jean Lafitte has snuck up from behind, and he’s standing right beside us.
“It’s not a dolly,” Sookie says with a serious frown. “It’s the Baron Samedi. Will you let us go home?” she asks hopefully.
“Are you a sorcière, then little girl?” Lafitte’s eyes flash with menace at her Voodoo doll. “I don’t care much for your doll, or Voodoo spells.”
“A sorcière?” says a pirate with an eye patch. “Did our captain say the little girl is a witch?”
“My sister is not a witch!” Can I grab Sookie and race back inside the cabin? Mitch and Mia have left the door open a crack. Then another pirate with blondish hair clumped in greasy locks and a gnarled hand gripping his cutlass, slips between us and the cabin door. Now our way is blocked, and we’ll never make it.
“Let us go ashore,” I say forcefully, even though my legs feel like they’re turning into Jell-O.
“Are you the captain or am I?” Lafitte faces me. He looks amused. Sookie’s right—there is cruelness to his smile.
Lafitte swishes his cutlass and taps its point against the deck. “Jean Lafitte is the only captain on this ship. You, ma jeune femme, do not parlay with me. Comprenez-vous? Disrespect me and it is at your peril.” Then he swoops his tricorne hat off his head and makes a little bow.
“I am a magician,” Sookie steps between us and also does a little bow. What is she up to?
“How very interesting,” says Lafitte. He gestures to an ancient stack of playing cards scattered on top of a barrel. “Show me a card trick, oui, if you are a magician.”
“Oh yes, Captain Lafitte, my sister is very good at card tricks—she can make them disappear and reappear.” I give Sookie a meaningful look.
Lafitte orders Sookie and I to follow him. Most of the pirates follow too. I steal a glance back and notice that when the pirates turn their backs on the cabin, two shadows leave. A small bubble of hope rises in my chest.
Sookie tucks the creepy baron doll inside her pack and takes the cards and fans them across the barrel. The pirates draw in close. I can smell their hot breath over my shoulder, and it isn’t pretty—they stink of rum, and rotting garbage.
Waving her hands dramatically, Sookie shouts, “Bowla,” which I know is a Celtic word for, “take them away.”
The cards disappear. The pirates grumble and shout, “Hey! Those are valuable. Bring ‘em back.”
Sookie waves her arms again and says in her far-away creepy voice, “Foo-thee,” and the cards reappear.
The pirates back away a step, but Lafitte steps forward. “You are a little witch. How did you do that?” Lafitte looks a little too interested in Sookie’s magic.
The pirates are staring in amazement at the cards and Sookie. They have dropped their guard. I pluck the cards up. “She. Is. Not. A. Witch.” The crew all draw in close to see what I will do with the cards. If they are expecting magic, they’re in for a disappointment.
I throw the cards in their faces and grab Sookie’s hand. “Run!”
Before we can escape, a strong arm grabs me by the shoulder and yanks me around. Jean Lafitte’s cruel face is leering down at me. “Why did you use such trickery on my crew?”
I try and use a soccer spin to get away, but then I feel the press of cold steel against my stomach.

13

“Run!” I hiss to my sister. Too late, the pirate with an eye patch catches Sookie and plucks her from the deck.
Sookie squirms and kicks and shouts. “I can turn you into a toad if I want to.” I doubt that, but the pirate doesn’t, and he drops her like a sack of potatoes and slinks back and joins his crew. Jean Lafitte, though, is fast as quicksilver, and he reaches out his arm and grabs my sister.
“I want you two to be good and behave nicely. Do as you’re told.”
From out of the shadows, Clive dives and knocks the feet from under Lafitte. “Ugh.” Lafitte doubles over and falls to the deck as his cutlass spins onto the deck. Clive jumps up but Lafitte hooks Clive’s leg with his arm from where he has fallen and holds on, wrestling Clive down again.
“Sookie don’t wait for us. Make a break for it!” I pluck the cutlass from the deck. It’s heavier and more awkward then it looks. I manage to dangle it by Lafitte’s face. In the most menacing voice I can muster, I say, “Let Clive go.”
“Drop our captain’s weapon, ye scurvy bilge rat.”
By comparison, my voice doesn’t sound menacing at all. I look up. Clive, Sookie and I are surrounded by pirates. The greasy-haired outlaw grins as he points a muzzle-load pistol at my face. I don’t like the way his hand shakes.
Jean Lafitte stands up and dusts off his velvet coat, and adjusts his lace cuffs. He jerks the cutlass from my hand. “The little sorcière amuses me, but you two are not showing me respect.” With a casual wave of his hand he orders, “Tie their hands behind their backs. We will make them WALK THE PLANK.”
“Aar, we’re in for a fine show,” says the eye-patch guy.
“No,” cries Sookie. “That’s despicable.”
Jean Lafitte smiles his cruel smile and replies, “Fine. Don’t tie their hands. We will feed them to the fish.” Then he places his own hand on Sookie’s shoulder, as Clive and I are pushed and shoved toward the side of the ship.
I wonder if on this side of the Otherworld, there are still alligators in the swamps. Probably, says that pesky voice. They’ll be bigger, and much more treacherous.
“Wait,” cries Skeeter. “Leave Cat and my brother alone.” Skeeter abandons the sailors and runs toward us. “If you want to hurt them, you’ll have to get by me.” Skeeter brandishes his plastic sword. A pirate laughs, whips out his cutlass, and with a quick whoosh cuts Skeeter’s sword in half, and shoves Skeeter out of the way.
Several pirates break into a jaunty sea shanty as they scramble to bring a plank and tie it down so it hangs over the side of the ship. I see the plank wobbling over the water splashing far below.
Clive and I are lifted onto the gangplank. “I’m sorry, Clive,” Skeeter cries. “I wish we’d never got those stupid doubloons and come on board. I’m sorry I tried to join the pirates.”
“C’mon matey, you’ve got the makings of a fine pirate. You’ll get used to watching people walk the plank.” The greasy-haired sailor pats Skeeter on the shoulder, but Skeeter shrugs him away.
“No I won’t.” Tears are streaming down Skeeter’s face. “I quit. I’m not following bad guys.” He tries to climb onto the plank with us, but the one-eyed guy drags him back and holds him with a sword at his throat.
The narrow gangplank leans over the crashing waves and bounces and dips with our every move. The murky alligator-infested water swirls below us. I swallow. My head pounds. I breathe deep and bite my lip so my panicked thoughts don’t take over. I realize Clive has taken my hand.
Reflecting in the sea, I catch sight of the bloated, blood-ringed moon. It has stopped sailing across the horizon. I check my watch—it’s one minute to midnight. Moonlight spills down and pools the ship’s deck in an unnatural glow. Sookie and Skeeter scream behind us. I spin around to see what`s happening but the plank bounces. Clive stumbles, and I reach for him.
We both fall to our knees, and wrap our arms around the teetering plank as it tries to buck us into the swirling waters below.

14

The plank teeters up and down, but Clive and I hang on. Clive’s the first one up on his feet, and he gives me a hand up. I have my back to the ship’s deck and Clive is facing it. His eyes widen and he stifles a gasp.
“Don’t look, Cat.”
Of course I look. It’s not a pretty sight. Under the eerie moon glow, the pirates’ faces are melting like molten wax. Their eyes sink into black sockets. Their noses peel away. One pirate’s arm drops out of his shirt.
“Sookie, Skeeter, run for the plank!” Clive shouts, but their phantom captors won’t let them go. We leap off the plank and onto the deck to fetch them. I trip over a heap of bones and rags, and force myself not to scream. We move toward Sookie and Skeeter who are still being held by Lafitte and the one-eyed pirate.
As we pick our way by, we see Jean Lafitte’s fine velvet coat disintegrate. The hand he’s rested on my sister’s shoulder turns skeletal. Sookie’s eyes are frozen in horror as the bony fingers of Lafitte still cling to her. As Skeeter’s skeleton pirate crumbles, he dashes forward. With the stub of his sword, Skeeter chops Lafitte’s bony fingers away from Sookie.
We huddle together as the rest of the pirates turn into rotting corpses, and then into bone heaps. The ship’s timbers groan and begin to split. The shredded black sails are flapping in tatters. We can’t stay on board. In moments this ship will sink or disappear, and we’ll be trapped on it.
“We’ve got no choice,” I say. “We’ll have to make a jump for it.” Clive nods in agreement.
“Come on you two.” I take Sookie’s hand, and Clive grabs Skeeter’s. We lead them to the plank.
“We have to dive into the water,” I tell them.
“No,” Skeeter gasps.
“Pretend you’re jumping from the high diving board at the pool,” I say. “We’ll make a cannonball; just tuck your chin to your chest.”
“Someone is coming to help us,” whispers Clive. “I think it must be Mia and Mitch.” I follow his eyes toward the prow and see a rowboat making its way toward us.
Clive lifts Sookie and Skeeter onto the gangplank. When we climb on, the plank moans, then splinters and breaks with a loud snap.
The four of us are tumbling in the air.
I fall and plunge feet first into the swamp. Water shoots up my nose and into my throat. My lungs burn and I sink deeper and deeper into the murky depths.
Air bubbles up from my throat. It’s dark above me and for a terrifying second, I wonder if I’ve slipped under the hull of the ship. It’s nighttime, silly, says that voice. Stay calm, let yourself float up. Don’t fight it.
I force myself to stop flailing, and once I begin floating, I kick my legs and propel myself to the surface. Sookie’s blonde head is bobbing beside me. I gulp in air. Sookie breaks into a free style stroke and swims toward the row boat. Taking in another ragged breath, I struggle through the waves and follow behind her.
The plank is floating in the waves, and I see Skeeter is holding on to it. Clive holds Skeeter, making sure he doesn’t slip off. Mia and Mitch row toward us. Mitch reaches us first and helps haul us in as Mia keeps the rowboat steady. Sookie scrambles into the boat, and more slowly, I haul myself up. Once in the boat, I try and catch my breath. In a few quick strokes we row up to the plank. Mitch and I help Clive get Skeeter in the boat. Then Mitch gives Clive a hand up.
“I’m glad I took swimming lessons,” says Sookie.
“I better take some,” says Skeeter. I promise myself I’ll trade a little soccer time for a few swimming lessons of my own. I cough and spit.
Mia hands Clive and me an oar. “Hurry, this boat is falling apart like the ship and taking in water.”
Mitch gives Skeeter and Sookie a rusty bucket, and they bale the water that’s streaming in from gaps between the timbers. I grab an oar and start rowing with Clive. Mitch and Mia pull on the other oar.
Not far in the distance are treacherous bayous. “Where are we now?” asks Mia, “Our world or the Otherworld?”
“If only I knew,” I say, and dip the paddle into the choppy waves.

15

The ghost ship circles going round and round in the same spot. A cloud of mist rises from the water, and fog rolls in. As we look back, the ship straightens its course, and moves silently into the fog until it becomes a silhouette against the moonlight and the fog. The crimson glow blinks inside the hull, and then the light extinguishes. The ship fades into the night. I shudder to think where we’d be if we stayed on the ship.
We row our rickety boat deep into the bayou under the bright moonlight. My dripping wet T-shirt and shorts cling to my skin. The air is humid, and there’s no chance of my clothes drying out. An odd chill works its way through me, almost from my insides out.
As we row nearer to shore, the passage narrows. Water is broken with marsh grass.
“I didn’t know swamps were so noisy,” says Sookie.
There are twitters, and creaks, slithers and loud bird calls. Marsh grass shivers and then there’s a scuffling. Something hoots. Mounds of earth covered in canes sprout up everywhere in the water, and between the canes I can see what looks like the glow of animal eyes watching us.
We navigate through winding tree roots, and Mia lets out a strangled scream when a log bumps our boat.
“Be careful, that might be an alligator,” I warn. “I read that they can look like logs in the water.”
We keep rowing, making sure we keep our limbs safely inside the boat. Even though Skeeter and Sookie keep baling, water keeps pouring in covering my feet in a slimy pool.
“This is no time for us to sink,” says Clive. That goes without saying, but Sookie and Skeeter bale faster.
My eyes dart from low hanging branches to dangling vines. I scan for any place we can go ashore. The trees springing from the water are dripping in Spanish moss, and one of the tree vines entwines itself around a branch.
“You might want to duck under the vines and proceed carefully.” I keep my voice calm. “Some of the vines are snakes, and cottonmouths have a deadly bite.”
“Nooo…” Mia ignores my advice about being cautious and starts rowing faster. “Why would you ever have wanted to take the swamp tour?”
“Yikes.” What looks like a floating stick curls and slides away when Mitch’s oar touches it.
“That’s a Black Swamp snake,” I say. “They’re harmless.”
“Not if I die of a heart attack,” says Mitch.
Mitch and Mia have a point. All I wanted was to tour the bayous but the swamp seems a lot more hazardous when you’re up close and personal.
Won’t you ever learn to be careful what you wish for, says that annoying voice.
“There’s the riverbank,” says Clive. We row until the battered boat scrapes the sandy shore. We jump out and drag the boat out of the water. Just as we step out of the ghost boat, its tortured timbers groan, and the boat breaks into a pile of kindling. Clive gives a low whistle. “That was a close call.”
“Are we home yet?” asks Skeeter.
“I don’t think so,” Sookie says hesitantly.
The city lights seem distant and blurred, as if looking through bottle glass. A din echoes in the background, and I strain my ears. It’s music, sort of like the music we’ve been hearing in New Orleans, but there is lots of drumming—and there is something wild about the drumbeats.
“At least we are close to other people,” I say, more optimistically than I feel.
We begin walking up from the shore, across a deserted stretch of road. All the buildings are stone and have columns. They remind me of a smaller version of those ancient Greek cities I’ve seen in history books. Like those old cities, these buildings are deserted. This is eerie and…
“Haunted,” whispers Mia. “Mr. Morrows said that New Orleans is a haunted city.”
“Well, we are walking past a necropolis,” says Clive.
“A what?” But then I see giant stone angels, and gravestones. I get it now. All those stone buildings are mausoleums—crypts for the dead. The smell of rotting flowers clogs my nose.
I understand before Clive answers back, “‘Necropolis’ means city of the dead.”
We come to a fork in the road with paths leading off in two directions. I hate graveyards, and we are standing at the crossroads of the most gigantic graveyard I’ve ever seen.
“We’ve seen pirates and ghosts,” Sookie says nervously. “This place must be where the vampires live.”
“There is no such thing as…” but the word dies on my lips.
A tall iron gate creaks open. Four shadows emerge from behind the wall of a mausoleum and creep through the gate. Are they walking or floating? It’s hard to tell in the dark. My heart hammers in my ears when the four dark creatures stop in front of us.
16

The Mystic Crewe is standing before us. Behind them looms a tall, thin man—his face is painted white for Mardi Gras. A top hat rests low over his face; he’s wearing a purple coat, and leans on a cane. A thick cigar dangles from his mouth.
“Thanks a lot for the stinking ride,” Mia tells the Mystic Crewe. The two creepy clown kids and the sinister ghost girl say nothing. The man laughs and takes a puff from his cigar.
“Hey,” says Skeeter, “Smoking is bad for you.”
“Ha, ha, not if you’re already dead,” says the thin man.
“I suppose not.” Skeeter scratches his head.
Sookie fishes through her sopping wet backpack and pulls out her Voodoo doll then stares at the man. “You’re Baron Samedi! Are you a vampire?” Sookie asks matter of factly. The man shakes his head. “A ghost then,” Sookie declares.
“Not quite,” says the Baron.
“A creature of the Otherworld,” I say.
“Oh,” says Sookie. She looks at her doll again and says softly, “Of course.”
“What do you want,” I say. I can feel the scar on my arm flare in pain. I realize it hasn’t been bothering me because of Mardi Gras. It’s been burning because I’ve been meeting Otherworld creatures.
“The law of our realm says that you must make an offering to enter back into the city,” says the Baron. He stretches out his arm and opens his white-gloved hand. “Those are the rules.”
“We don’t have any more doubloons,” says Mitch. “Your little friends already took them back.”
“Those coins were mine to begin with,” says Baron Samedi. “They were my gift to you—lagniappe.” Then with a wicked grin he adds, “Just as I gave Jean Lafitte a whole treasure chest of them.”
“Wasn’t that a couple of hundred years ago?” asks Skeeter.
“Are you sure you’re not a vampire?” asks Sookie.
“Has it been that long? It hasn’t done Lafitte much good.” The Baron chortles as if what he’s said is hilarious. “That’s the curse of the doubloons. You take them, and you’re trapped forever on a ghost ship. That’s a good one, isn’t it?” His laugh is dark and sinister.
“We’re not trapped on the ship,” I say.
“No, but you’re not exactly in the land of the living yet.” The Baron gestures at the necropolis with its crypts and gravestones, strange statues and stone angels—a city of the dead.
“What do you want?” says Clive.
The Baron says nothing and keeps puffing on his cigar. The smell of the smoke makes me dizzy. I take a step back and try to think. So far, everything Miss Eliysia warned us about has come true. Maybe she was trying to help, says that voice. Now think…
Mia crossed troubled waters; Sookie became the sorceress; Clive should have listened to Skeeter’s points of view; Skeeter totally followed the wrong group, and Mitch has been in nothing but danger.
I reach in my back pocket. The Tarot card of Death is still there—wet, but intact. And I am at a crossroads. Miss Eliysia said, “This is your ticket at a crossroads.” Except so far, the fortuneteller’s warnings have brought terrible misfortune, says that voice.
Forewarned is forearmed. “Skeeter,” I whisper, “can I borrow your backpack?” Skeeter nods.
“Sookie,” I whisper, “What else does your little book explain about the Baron?”
“He goes after naughty children.”
“Not helpful,” I whisper.
“Um, that people give him coffee, and that’s as far as I read.” Sookie shrugs her shoulders.
I pull my thermos from my own pack. “Offer him my café au lait.”
“Cat, Mr. Morrows said for you to dump your coffee,” says Sookie. “And Mom…”
“Now is not the time, Sookie.” I rasp. “Set the coffee before his feet and back away.”
While I prepare, Sookie takes the thermos, and sets it on the cobbled ground, offering it to the Baron.
The clown boy picks up the thermos and hands it to the Baron. Baron Samedi opens the cap and takes a long swig. “Mm mm, delicious.”
“I wouldn’t know,” I mutter.
The Baron takes another long drink. “That is a good start,” he says, “but there is still a toll.”
“I have a ticket,” I say, and wave the Tarot card over my head.
“Then hand it to me girl, and all of you may cross over into the land of the living,” says the Baron. There is menace in his voice, and I can tell he’s up to no good.
You’re just a girl, and he’s a powerful creature of the Otherworld, I think. Do you really believe you can trick him? You’ve done it before, says that voice.
Clive puts his hand on my shoulder. “No Cat. Don’t go near him.”
I shrug him off, and take a deep breath. “Miss Eliysia said I am the one who must use the ticket at the crossroads.”
“Careful,” Mitch says.
“Cat?” Mia’s face pales under her mop of red hair.
I step forward and I’m holding the card face up. Death’s white skull glows in the moonlight. I reach to place the card on the Baron’s outstretched hand.
“Do you know girl, when I take my leave, I keep whatever is in my hand?” In a flash his hand leaps out and grabs my wrist. He fiercely tugs and my arm is yanked right off!

17

Mia screams. Clive shouts and grabs me. Mitch yells, “No.”
Sookie and Skeeter giggle. I roll up my sleeve and stretch out my hand. My arm is perfectly fine.
“What? This is an outrage!” The Baron looks at the plastic pirate hook that Skeeter bought in the souvenir shop. He waves it in front of us. “You tricked me.”
“I paid my toll,” I say. “I obeyed the rule.”
The Baron puffs his cigar and seems to look me over. Then he cackles. “Ha, ha, you did. You got the Baron at his own game!”
“Yeah, so let us through,” says Clive.
“What’s the rush children, you are in the city of forever. Hmm,” the Baron puffs his cigar and leans on his cane. “Though you did give me the most excellent café au lait.”
“Through great sacrifice,” I point out.
The Baron is looking at my green hair. “You’ve been marked by the fairies for a reason. You are special.”
Baron Samedi tips his hat. “Bonswa, you may proceed. By all means, pass through to the city of life. ” Then the Baron and the Mystic Crewe enter the tall iron gate and disappear into the shadows of the necropolis.
“Cat, you could have given us a warning,” says Mitch.
“I almost tackled that baron guy to get your arm back,” says Clive.
“I thought I was going to have to give First Aid,” says Mia.
“There wasn’t time,” I say.
“Let’s get moving.” Mitch breaks into a jog. “We’re not exactly out of danger yet. Mr. Morrows is going to kill us.”
We leave the graveyard and soon reach the city’s riverfront. As we rush along the city streets, the sky begins to lighten. The air warms and our clothes dry out.
“Get a load of that,” says Clive pointing to the sky. We watch in amazement as the moon climbs back down from the sky and the sun rises. It’s like I’m watching a time-lapse video in reverse.
We run one more block, and the city bursts to life as the vendors and carnival crewes bustle. Jazz and Dixieland bands blast music from every street corner. We keep moving along the riverfront, and end up at the same dock where the pirate ship had sailed. I check my watch. I’d assumed it had stopped working when it got wet, but I was wrong. Time in the Otherworld has snapped back like elastic, and it’s only an hour since we left the museum.
“I knew you mixed up my instructions,” an angry voice shouts. “I told you to meet me outside the museum while I got the tickets. Not at the river front where the swamp boat departs.”
Mr. Morrows rushes towards us. Ms. Dreeble is right behind and so is the rest of the soccer team.
Amarjeet and Jasper reach us first. Amarjeet takes one look at me and says, “Okay, tell me what I missed.”
“I bet their story is going to take quite a while to tell,” says Jasper.
“I’ll fill you in,” says Mia. “Brace yourself.”
“You won’t believe us anyhow.” Mitch shakes his head.
“I might surprise you.” Jasper nods at me and winks.
“I’m afraid it’s too late to catch the last tour to the swamp,” Ms. Dreeble says brusquely. She adjusts the elastic in her blonde ponytail and peers over her glasses as she frowns. “Cat, Mr. Morrows told me how badly you wanted to go on the swamp tour. I hope you realize it is your own lack of responsibility that causes your problems.”
“Cat rescued me, even if she was drinking coff…” Sookie stops herself and looks at me. “Your trick saved us,” she says slowly. “Oh, Cat, I’m sorry you never got your drink or your trip to the swamp.” Then she mutters, “I should have never talked to the Crewe. Even if they weren’t boring, I knew they were peculiar.”
“I was part of the problem, too,” says Skeeter. “Sorry, Cat.”
“I’ve seen plenty of the swamp today, anyway,” I say to Sookie and Skeeter. “Trust me.” Ms. Dreeble pushes her glasses up and stares at me for a second. Sometimes I wonder if she knows there’s more going on.
“Clive, I expected you at least could follow instructions,” says Mr. Morrows. He still sounds angry, but I wonder if Clive sees the relief that washes over our teacher’s face.
Clive opens his mouth and starts to say something, then closes it. He shoots me a confused look. I know what he’s going through. What’s he going to say? That we were shanghaied on the pirate ship of Jean Lafitte, and had to face Baron Samedi, the Voodoo spirit of death?
Right. That will work out just fine.
Instead I clap Clive on the shoulder and whisper in his ear, “Welcome to the bad side of teacher town.”

THE END