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By Douglas Rees
McElderry Copyright © 2009 Douglas Rees
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Bad News Pie
There was pumpkin pie for dessert that night. My mom makes the best pumpkin pie in the world. Whenever she does it, I get worried because she only makes it when there's bad news. Dad and I call it Bad News Pie.
I was worried even though her bad news might be good news for me. I'd gotten in another fight at school and my glasses were broken again. I have more pairs of broken glasses than any other kid in the history of fourth grade. There is something about being named Wilson, and being small, and wearing glasses, that makes kids with names like Scott or Jason think they can beat you up. They are usually right.
My parents have to spend a lot of money on glasses. This is bad because we do not have a lot of money.
Maybe a Bad News Pie meant that no one would notice my glasses were broken until after they'd heard about the thing that made Mom bake the pie. Then a pair of broken glasses might not seem so bad.
But I was still worried.
As soon as she took the pie out of the oven, Dad said, "Who died?"
And I said, "Uh-oh."
Mom smiled at us with a big, fake smile.
"No one's dead, you sillies," she said. "In fact, someone's alive. Just look."
She put the pie down in front of us and took a piece of paper off the refrigerator. It was an importantlooking letter, printed on special paper. She handed it to Dad.
"From the navy?" Dad said. "We don't know anyone in the navy."
"Just read it out loud so Wilson can hear it," Mom said.
"'Dear Ms. Johnson,'" Dad read, "'We found your brother on an island off Antarctica. He said he'd been marooned there for a long time. He had a fishing pole and a penguin with him. Since we didn't know what to do with him, we are sending him to you. He should be there in a couple of days. Sincerely, the U.S. Navy. PS: We are also sending the penguin.'"
Dad put down the letter.
"I don't think you ever said you had a brother," he said to Mom.
"I sort of forgot," Mom said.
"How could you forget you had a brother?" I asked.
"He was a lot older than I was," Mom said. "And he ran away to sea when I was little."
"This is very strange," I said. "The navy has sent me an uncle."
"Do you have any other forgotten relatives I should know about?" said Dad.
"No," said Mom. "Just the brother."
"Where are we supposed to put him?" Dad asked.
Our condo is very small. You can almost open the refrigerator from the living room. My bedroom is the size of a really big box. There are nice houses around us, but they cost a lot. We can't afford one. We couldn't afford one even if I didn't need so many glasses.
Dad looked at the letter again.
"It's six days old," he said. "The navy said he'd be here in a couple of days. I wonder if he got lost."
Just then there was a knock on the front door.
"I'll get it," we all said at once.
We walked to the door in a little knot.
"I'm the daddy. I'll handle this," Dad said.
He opened the door, and there stood the biggest trickor-treater I had ever seen. He wore a pirate costume, with a big black hat, a patch over one eye, a peg leg, a long red coat, a cutlass, and two old-fashioned flintlock pistols in his belt.
But this was March and he was no kid. He was a rough, red old man with a beard, and a wooden chest at his feet.
Then I saw the penguin. It came out from behind him. It was one of those big penguins. It must have been four feet tall.
"Permission to come aboard!" shouted the man.
"Uncle" -- I gulped it out -- "Uncle...Pirate?"
"Aye, aye," he said. "Uncle Pirate I be. Be you me sister Emmy's boy?"
"Aye, aye," I answered.
"Then ye be my nevvy," the pirate said. "What be yer name, Nevvy?"
"Wilson," I said.
"Arh, Nevvy Wilson," he said.
Then he saw Mom.
"Emmy, me darling," the pirate said. "Ye've grown."
"Hello, Bob," Mom said. "It's been a long time."
"Aye, ye were but a little squid when I left home," the pirate said.
He reached out and grabbed Dad's arm.
"And ye be the captain of this here dry dock, or I miss my guess," he said. "Shake hands and splice hearts."
He took Dad's hand and shook it up and down hard.
"How be ye called, sir?" the pirate said.
"Well, most people call me Steve, actually," Dad said. It was hard for him to talk because his teeth were knocking together from the shaking.
The penguin hopped past us and into the living room.
"Hey!" I said.
"Captain Jack, come back here!" the pirate said, and pushed past us to catch his bird.
"Ye know better than to come aboard a craft without permission," he said, grabbing the bird in his arms.
"I'm hot," said the penguin.
A talking penguin? I thought.
The pirate took the bird back outside and stood there looking at us.
"Please come in," Dad said. "I don't know about the bird, though."
"Oh, Captain Jack'll be no trouble to ye," the pirate said. "He be a good shipmate, really."
"Thanks very much," the penguin said.
We stood back from the door. The pirate put down his bird and picked up his trunk. He put it on his shoulder and came in.
"This be a fine, tight little craft," the pirate said.
"Do you have a refrigerator?" the bird asked. "He told me you would."
"Yes," Mom said. "In the kitchen."
The penguin waddled into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator with his beak. Then he started throwing things out onto the floor.
"Oh, no," said Mom.
"Stop that!" I said.
"Hey!" said Dad. "Do something about your bird."
The penguin forced himself onto the lowest shelf of the refrigerator and lay there looking out at us.
"Thank you," he said.
"Captain Jack won't need but the one shelf," the pirate said.
"Well, we need all the shelves," Mom said. "It's a small refrigerator."
The pirate walked into the kitchen and looked at what the penguin had thrown on the floor.
"Why, these be mostly soda water and such like," he said. "These be no fit drink for a man, nor a lad, nor a woman, neither. Would ye like old Bob to whip you all up a steaming hot bowl of punch before we sling hammocks? That be a proper drink and will help you all to sleep."
"I might be sleeping now," Dad said. "Is this a nightmare I'm having?"
"I don't think so," I said. "Not if there's a pirate and a talking penguin in it."
The pirate laughed.
"Nightmare! Captain Jack and old Bob be as real as e are," he said. "Now, be ye all snug and shipshape, Captain Jack?" he asked the penguin.
"I'm not coming out of here until morning, if that's what you mean," Captain Jack said.
"Then, I'll be securing the hatch," the pirate said. He started to close the door of the refrigerator.
"Wait a minute," said the penguin. "I won't be able to breathe."
"Arh. We'll pierce ports for ye," the pirate said.
He took his cutlass and stabbed it into the refrigerator door until it was full of long, ragged slits.
"Stop, Bob!" Mom said.
"You'll ruin the refrigerator," Dad said.
"If I can't breathe, I'll be ruined," the penguin said. "You can close the door now."
The pirate slammed it.
"Wait another minute," said the penguin. "How do I get out?"
"I'll rig you a proper hatch tomorrow, Captain Jack," the pirate said.
"Wait," I said.
I went to the drawer where we keep string and things, and I got out some twine. I tied one end to the top of the refrigerator handle and passed the other end in through one of the slits.
"Pull on that," I said.
The door opened. We saw the penguin with the string in his mouth.
"Now see if you can pull it shut," I said.
The penguin tugged the string and the refrigerator closed. "Good night," said the bird.
"Nevvy, ye be a right smart shipmate," the pirate said, hitting me on the back. "Now then, where do old Bob sling his hammock?"
"Ah. Well," Dad said.
"There isn't much room...," said Mom.
"With ye, Nevvy. Where else?" the pirate said, grinning at me. "Where be the fo'c'sle on this craft?"
"The...the bedrooms are upstairs," I said.
"Arh," said the pirate, and he went up the stairs with his wooden chest.
"Bob," Mom called. "Wouldn't you like some dinner?"
"No, thank ye," Bob said. "It were a long trip from Antarctica. I needs to hit the sack. I'll see ye for breakfast."
We heard the door slam.
"He can't stay," Dad said. "Our condo is too small. And we can't afford to feed him and his bird."
"Of course he can't," Mom agreed. "But we have to think of what to do with him."
"Can we keep the penguin?" I asked.
"No!" Mom and Dad said together.
© 2008 by Douglas Rees
A Really Bad Pirate
When I went up to my room, the pirate was fast asleep in a hammock hanging over my bed. There was hardly room for me to get under the covers without bumping him. He had a nightcap on his head and his pistols in his hands. I saw that the pistols had little skulls and crossed bones on the hammer. They were neat, and scary.
He was snoring like thunder.
I lay there trying to sleep. The hammock almost brushed my nose. The snoring got louder.
"Uncle Pirate, wake up," I said.
"Uncle Pirate, please wake up," I said.
Still nothing happened.
I tried a few more times, but the pirate just snored more. I think my bed was shaking.
When Mom and Dad went to bed, they looked into my room. Dad tried rocking the hammock. Mom tried saying "Bob, wake up" a few times. But the pirate didn't move.
"I don't know what to do," she said at last. "We can't sleep with this."
Then the penguin came into the room.
"Excuse me," he said. "I'll fix this."
He waddled over to the hammock and pecked good and hard.
"Avast!" the pirate roared. "By Billy Bones and Davy Jones, we'll not be boarded! All hands to battle stations."
He waved his pistols in every direction. He knocked over the lamp by my bed. Then he saw where he was.
"You were snoring," the penguin said. "Stop it."
"Oh. Sorry, Captain Jack," the pirate said.
He turned over on his side.
"Good night again," the penguin said, and went downstairs.
Mom picked up my lamp.
"Good night, dear," she said to me.
Dad closed my door.
I looked up at the hammock swinging just above my nose. I thought it looked more interesting than my own bed.
"Uncle Pirate, would you like to trade?" I asked.
"Me, sleep in a real bed with sheets and pillows and all?" he said.
"Sure," I said.
"Nevvy, I will!" the pirate said. He rolled out of the hammock and dived under the covers with me.
"This be shipshape and Bristol fashion," he said. "What does that mean?" I asked.
"That means all be right, tight, clean, and bright," he said.
I got out on the other side of my bed and climbed into the hammock.
"This be shipshape and Bristol fashion," I said. "Thanks."
It felt almost like I was on an adventure. I'd never had one before, but I thought an adventure with Uncle Pirate could be a very good thing. Especially if Captain Jack came along. But that would be good luck, and I wasn't used to good luck. I started to worry that maybe there was something wrong.
"Uncle Pirate, are you really a pirate?" I said.
"Of course I be," the pirate said. "Did ye ever see anybody dress like this who weren't? I were a captain."
"Were you a bad pirate?"
"I were as bad as I knew how to be," Uncle Pirate said.
"That's great," I said. "Did you have a special name, like Blackbeard?"
"I tried some out," the pirate said. "I tried Black Bob. But the crew said it were only a copycat of Blackbeard. Then I tried Red Bob. But the crew said that made no sense. I tried Green Bob. But the crew said that sounded funny. Finally I tried Desperate Evil Wicked Bob. But the crew said that were too long. So I gave up. But I likes the last one best."
"What was the name of your ship?" I asked.
"Ah. That were the Hyena of the Seas," he said. "As fine a craft as ever cut a wake. A black hull, she had. And red sails. And a big black flag with skull and crossbones. The Jolly Roger."
"How come you have a talking penguin?" I asked.
"Well, there weren't no other company on that island in Antarctica," he said. "Just the one penguin. I kept trying and trying to teach him, and finally he spoke up. Better than a parrot, Captain Jack is."
"Who marooned you?" I asked.
The pirate didn't answer at first. Then he said, "They said I were a bad captain."
He said it in a small, sad voice.
"Who did?" I asked.
"Me crew," the pirate said. "They were madder than tiger sharks."
"Why? What did you do to them?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said. "It were only that we weren't making money. It be hard to be a pirate these days. If ye fires a cannonball at a supertanker, it don't even notice. Call on an aircraft carrier to surrender, and she calls back you are ridiculous. Finally me crew got tired of it. They put me ashore in the coldest spot they could find and sailed away. Mutiny, it was. The worst crime there is at sea."
"So you never buried any treasure," I said.
"Not a brass doubloon," the pirate said sadly.
Poor Uncle Pirate. If he had a treasure, I was sure Mom and Dad would let him stay.
Down in my bed I heard Uncle Pirate clearing his throat. It sounded like he was trying not to cry.
I felt like I had to cheer him up.
"I'll bet you were really a good bad pirate," I said. "I'll bet you were just unlucky."
"Maybe," Uncle Pirate said.
"Anyway, that all be past now. No more sea-doggin' for old Bob." Then he said, "Nevvy? Will ye help me?"
"Sure," I said. "Help you what?"
"I ran away when I were young," he said. "And I were a pirate for years. Then I were marooned a long time. Nevvy, I don't recall much about living ashore. Ye must help me to do things right."
"Okay," I said.
"Thanky, Nevvy," Uncle Pirate said. "That be kind of ye. Well, time to get some shuteye, I reckon."
He went back to sleep. This time he didn't snore.
I liked having a pirate for an uncle. I was sure none of the other kids at school had one. And he had a penguin. That was neat. And best of all, Mom and Dad hadn't noticed my glasses were broken. I wanted to keep Uncle Pirate and Captain Jack. And where would they go if we didn't let them stay? Tomorrow I would think of some idea that would make Mom and Dad change their minds.
© 2008 by Douglas Rees
Excerpted from Uncle Pirate by Douglas Rees Copyright © 2009 by Douglas Rees. Excerpted by permission.
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