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Coleen Murtagh ...
Coleen Murtagh Paratore is the author of many books for children, including the Wedding Planner’s Daughter series and Mack McGinn’s Big Win. She resides in Albany, New York, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with her three sons.
King of the Sea
All this and heaven too.
— Matthew Henry, 1662-1714
I'm going to tell you straight out, I hear voices.
Not the regular kind everybody hears. These voices are in my head.
It's a talent, or a torture. I'm not sure which.
Some days I feel like a hero. Some days I feel like a freak. It all depends on the day.
Who do I hear talking?
Sometimes it's people who just died here in Clover.
Sometimes it's God, or at least I think it is.
Sometimes it's my own voice talking to me. Kip Campbell talking to Kip.
Right now, though, all I hear is the wind whistling loud in my ears. I'm sitting up here on my throne, way high up on Clover Cliff. It's not really a throne; I'm no king. It's more like a chair carved out naturally in the rocks. Up here it's just me and the sky and that big blue whippin' wild Atlantic Ocean. I come here to figure things out.
To get to this spot I crawl out over the sea wall mountain-climber style. It's easy until the last smooth boulder which doesn't have a crevice to get a toehold on; I've nearly slipped in the drink a dozen times, and then, one quick leap and I'm in.
It's like my own secret cave here, except, I told you, it's a throne. When I was a little kid and I first discovered this place, I'd wear my superhero cape and hold up a stick to rule the seagulls. Those birds flew when they saw me. I was Neptune, King of the Sea. Tell anybody that and you're dead. Just kidding.
I shouldn't joke about the dead. My father — he's a funeral director — would say that was disrespectful. Our family runs Campbell and Sons Funeral Home. We live upstairs from the business. Family on the second floor. Funerals on the first. Frankenstein stuff in the basement. Oooh, scary. No, not really. Somebody's got to do this line of work. Dad says it's more than a profession, it's a sacred calling. If that's true, don't call me. Being a funeral director is the last thing I want to be.
Everybody in my family has a job with the business. Me, I'm the Outdoor Guy. I mow, rake, shovel, and handle the parking lot. I also have another job my family and friends don't know about. I help the dead rest in peace.
I don't help all the dead in Clover, just the ones with anchors weighing them down. Something important they needed to do or say. They can't move on until that burden is gone. That's where I come in. The dead tell me what they need and I take care of it. I'm sort of like their fairy godbrother without the wings and glitter.
When I do my job well, the anchors are lifted and then the dead are free as birds, light as kites, ready to sail to Good. That's what I call heaven. Good.
Now, I know you know what life is because you're reading this and so, guess what, you're alive. Congratulations. As to what Good is...well, that's a slipperier fish.
I'm not sure about angels and saints and pearly gates, but I'm pretty certain that if you live your life right, you get to go to Good.
There's a green shamrock on the sign when you enter our town, Clover, Massachusetts. My grandmother, Nanbull, says the three petals on the clover remind us why we're here:
To leave something better behind.
Simple, huh? But simple can be hard. When dead people from Clover can't move on, it's usually because something's troubling them in one of those three simple areas. It's my job to help them wrap things up so they can go in peace.
That's what everybody says at a funeral: "May the dearly departed rest in peace."
Personally, I don't think the dead rest at all. I think once the funeral's over and the family's headed off to the potluck buffet lunch, the dead person sets sail to something better. When they open their eyes, they're right smack in the center of their best birthday ever, with everything they've ever wanted and all the people they love and meatball subs and chocolate shakes never running out and they're so whippin' happy and the feeling never ends. I think that's what heaven is. Your personal idea of good.
Just a few weeks ago I was all set to give up this job with the dead. I didn't ask for it and I don't know why I got picked. I'm just an average kid. Good-looking, but average. At first it was fun and I felt pretty decent about myself helping dead dudes move on. But then this work started mucking up my life. I'd never know when a dead one would start yakking in my head. Like, I'd be in center field with the bases loaded and the ball soaring sweet for my mitt and it's all mine, all mine, when some dead lady starts telling me her problem and my brain freezes and I lose my focus and my buddies are screaming, "The ball, Kip, the ball!!" Or, in history class when my teacher called on me for an answer and some dead guy started talking and I shouted, "Not now!" and my teacher thought I was dissing her.
And not to mention I was doing all this dead-work for free. I kept saying I needed to get a real job, one that paid money so I could save for the Nauset Whaler down at Maloney's Marina I've been eyeing since I could see.
Finally, I gave notice. I was done. Finished, kaput. Hasta la vista, baby.
Then Billy Blye died.
I'd been afraid of that mean old fisherman my whole life. I refused to help. No way. He could be anchored here forever for all I cared.
Then I heard the most incredible words:
Do this work for one more year and it will be worth your weight in gold.
At first I thought, no way, what a scam. Do you think I'm a fishbrain or what?
Then, believe it or not, I found gold nuggets on the beach and took them to this pawn shop, Clover Stamp and Coin, and guess what? They were worth $1,180! Enough for me and Tuck to go to Camp Russell this summer like we've always wanted.
I figured maybe those nuggets were appetizers. Little franks in blankets with mustard dipping sauce before the gigundo roast beef dinner.
I calculated it all out and if I gain just twenty more pounds between now and next October, when I get my weight in gold, I'll be almost a millionaire. Pretty sweet, huh?
My heart's pounding just thinking about it. With that kind of dough, Tuck, Stew, Jupe, and I would never have to work a day in our lives. We could sail our mega-souped-up Nauset Whaler around the globe like those millionaire dudes on TV, living the good life forever.
You're thinking what the heck's my problem, right? Gold sounds good to you. The thing is...I want to know where the gold came from. I can't stop wondering. This lady in Clover, Birdie O'Shaughnessy, held out something sparkly to show me one day on the beach. Was that gold? Did she put it there? Or maybe God did? Or was it from that old sunken pirate ship they're excavating off the coast of Cape Cod? Where did the gold come from? I need to know.
All will be revealed in time.
I jump at the voice inside me, nearly fall off my throne.
A deal's a deal, Kip. You agreed. Help the dead for one more year and it will be worth your weight in gold. Copyright © 2009 by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Posted April 7, 2013
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