Guide to Moral Living in Examples: Gold Teeth

"Awright, you lot! On your sea legs!" Captain Juniper yelled. She was belowdecks on her beloved ship, the Fulminous Guppy, and had found her crew sprawled about in hammocks and on sacks of sea biscuits and the sacks of black pepper that they were hauling from the Spice Islands.

The crew didn't scramble to attention; they congealed.

"What is it, captain?" asked Arnold, both of his eyes focused squarely on his captain's heaving bosoms. She'd obviously just been running, though Arnold would never know. Both of his eyes were glass.

"We're in the belly of an ocean fiend!"

Arnold took a deep sniff. His enormous nose, proportionate to the size of his enormous body, sucked in enough air to be referred to as a weather system. "Well, I'll be. It all of a sudden smells like the belly of an ocean fiend. And now that I notice it, the ship isn't a-rocking."

A gray-haired man with a peg leg hobbled to the porthole with a rhythmic thud.

"Nothing but darkness out there."

"Arnold, Hogsblood," Captain Juniper, referred to the glass-eyed giant and the peg legged octogenarian, "grab some lamps and follow me. The rest of you scurvy-ridden sons of squids, stay here and bail out any spittle."

The trio went above board. Their lamps seemed inadequate against the darkness that enveloped the ship. Each of Hogsblood's pegfalls echoed out into the darkness and defined the distant edges of their prison.

"What's that?" Arnold asked. He sniffed. "I smell fire."

Sure enough, Captain Juniper saw a pinpoint of light in the dark.

"Let's find out what that is, you spawn of a sexually loose seahorse," she said, throwing a rope over the edge of the deck and climbing down.

The ship sat in a deep depression in a pinkish membrane, coated in a viscous, transparent liquid that immediately filled Captain Juniper's boots as she touched down. The trio moved very slowly but made steady progress until they lost sight of the Fulminous Guppy. They all kept a little closer to each other, now alone in the dark except for their lanterns and the light in the distance.

As they approached, they could all smell a fire. Arnold said it smelled like roast sardines. A man sat next to the fire. He turned towards them and squinted. Then he broke into a grin.

"Ahoy there!" he yelled, waving.

"Ahoy," Captain Juniper called. "Be ye friend or foe?"

"Friend if ye'd like, and I'd like, but foe if you're looking for one," he called out.

"Then friend it is," Captain Juniper called. They reached what turned out to be a small camp. The fire sat on a round stone that elevated it above the goo, and the man had used what looked like parts of a wreck to construct a makeshift bed, covered by a tattered sail. He had several sardines on a stick over the fire.

"Sardines?" he asked, taking them off the fire and offering them to Captain Juniper and her partners.

"No, thank you. What are you doing here? Where is here?"

"Oh, I'm here for the same reason you are. Bad luck. We're inside the Great Occlusion Fiend of the Matteo Archipelago."

"But that's a myth!"

The man stomped down on the pink membrane beneath their feet and shrugged.

"You have sardines, you must have caught them somewhere."

"There are several pools further down the fiend's throat with sardines, other sorts of fish. I think I saw a whale. With each gulp it could swallow an entire armada so it's no surprise."

"What about a way out? We have a cargo to deliver that was probably due yesterday, but I can't really tell without the sun."

"Never been able to find my way out. When we were shipwrecked here, we tried to find our way out but all of my mates were killed by the ghosts of dead mariners while exploring the wrecks. And probably getting their filthy hands on gold, while they're at it. There's no such thing as an unhaunted, unclaimed chest of filthy lucre, is what my grandpappy used to say."

Captain Juniper nodded. "Arnold?" she said.

"There is a wreck," Arnold said, sniffing, "probably a quarter of a league that way," he said, pointing.

"Take me, you barnacle-laden mooncalf."

"Wait!" the man said, grabbing a tassel on Captain Juniper's coat. In the flash of a pegleg, the man was on the ground, clutching a knee and Hogsblood's cutlass had materialized in his hand.

"Sorry that I couldn't stop him before he sullied your tassel, ma'am."

"Be faster next time, Hogsblood," she said. "You're old but not old enough that a shark wouldn't be interested in your old bones."

"Aye," Hogsblood said. To the man, he said: "you don't touch the captain."

"Argh," the man said.

"Let's go investigate the wreck."

The man stood up and grabbed Captain Juniper about the neck as a cutlass stroke from Hogsblood passed through the man's neck without stopping. The man stood between Captain Juniper and the fire, and she was startled to see that he was partly translucent.

"Gurgle ugh aaaccck," Captain Juniper said.

"I said don't go near the wrecks!"

"Is the man a ghost?" Hogsblood asked Arnold.

Arnold sniffed.

"I detect a whiff of the supernatural."

"Outrageous," Hogsblood said. He rummaged around in a pocket and removed a gold tooth and put it in the pocket of the man. The man loosened his grip and apparently went mad.

"How did that work? I'm incorporeal. Wait, what's that noise? Agh. No. That's not right at all. What? That's the most absurd thing that I've ever heard," the man said, talking to himself.

The man released his grip and clapped his ghostly hands over his ears and shook his head.

"Get out! Get out of my head!" he wailed. "What did you do to me?!" he yelled at Arnold.

"That's the gold tooth of old Gabber. It traveled more going up and down in old Gabber's jaw than most mariners do in their whole careers on the open seas. Haunted by his ghost, which is still telling the stories that he always meant to finish. I wager that he never will," Hogsblood said.

"I don't want it!" the man said, trying to get the tooth out of his pocket.

"I think that Hogsblood could be persuaded to be a friend if you decide to be one to us," Arnold said.

"I take it you loose-lipped mackerels have a plan?" Captain Juniper asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Hogsblood said. "Arnold and I were in a similar position several years back before we went on the account on the Fulminous Guppy. Last time it wasn't a ghost, but a wise parrot."

After a clever plan that ended up using the entire shipment of black pepper in the hold, they were soon afloat in the Matteo Archipelago in a massive cluster of Great Occlusion Fiend mucus. A hurricane from the sneeze sailed off into the horizon.

Hogsblood slept soundly, with the Gabber's tooth in his pocket, occasionally mumbling a reply to his semi-departed friend.

The Moral: if you see a gigantic fiend on the horizon, try to steer away from it.

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