High Stakes on the High Seas
by Molly Flood
“En guard!” Gracie shouted, unsheathing her sword. Her opponent James had his cutlass at the ready. His sword gleamed in the florescent light of the sun as it whipped around, slashing and blocking against its adversary. The sound of the swords clashing echoed across the deck, straight over Gracie’s crew and James’ fellow shipmates.
Gracie laughed, obviously amused. It brought her joy knowing her first mate could almost always put up a good fight. He parried at her hip, which she easily avoided, slashing his weapon away as she twirled around to face him once more. The crew shouted and cheered as they made bets over who would win.
“Too slow,” Gracie taunted as she stepped just out of his reach. She dashed forward, hoping to strike him before he could recover. Her sword met his just in time and he stepped back.
“Look who’s talking!” James was now on the offensive. He pushed forward against Gracie’s sword, forcing her to step back. She smiled, picturing how amazing the two of them fighting must look.
It’s like we’re dancing, she thought. Gracie had always liked creating romantic similes.
“Ha!” James raised his sword high above his head, ready to deliver what would be the final blow. Unfortunately for him, when his sword came rushing down, it cut right into a wooden railing rather than Gracie’s body or sword.
"Careful now, James," Patrick called out. "Don't damage anything!"
“Yoo-hoo!” Gracie called affectionately, “Over here, Jamesie!” She prodded him in the back with the tip of her sword as she balanced herself on top of the railing.
“You’re such a show off,” James said. She rolled her eyes as he climbed up to face her properly. Gracie laughed full-heartily, throwing her head back.
“Jealous much?” she retorted before resuming a fighting stance. Her men cheered and laughed at her witty comment. Even James himself couldn’t hide his amused smile.
“You’re always so damn cocky!” James yelled, doing his best to stay balanced while blocking Gracie’s attacks.
She merely snorted in return. “You have to be when you’re surrounded by men everyday.” James and the crew burst out into a new round of laughter; some pounded their fists on the deck.
“True story,” Butch yelled.
“Indeed! And what a fine, delicate flower she makes, even though she associates with rough men like us!” The crew laughed at Gracie’s outraged expression.
“If I’m a fine, delicate flower then all of you are a bunch of dainty, prissy princesses!” It was Gracie’s turn to laugh at their faces. All the men shouted in protest.
“And what a pretty bunch of princesses we are,” James agreed; cheers, whistling and chuckling answered his statement.
“Sure, you agree when Jamie calls you girls but find it offensive when I do!” Gracie said with false annoyance. The exertion on her body from the battle was starting to get to her. Her breathing was getting shorter and more frequent with each swing of the cutlass. The lack of food in her stomach didn't help things either.
“Us guys have learned not to agree with everything women say,” James said, pausing a moment to catch his breath; he was also feeling the strain of the battle.
“Well,” Gracie shouted with determination, “lucky for you, I’m not a girl!” She struck hard against James, physically proving her point. James paused while the crew fell silent. They all stared at her, eyebrows raised. Gracie glanced around at them.
“Oh, fine,” she frowned. “I’ll settle with tomboy.” The cheers and laughter started up once more. They were obviously pleased with the agreement. Gracie surveyed her friend’s happy faces, taking a good look.
Her crew was a dirty and disheveled lot, with long hair and unshaven faces, in baggy trousers with leather vests. Gracie herself wore leggings and boots, with an emerald-colored shirt. She was as wild-looking as the rest, maybe even wilder. Her features were hard; her eyes piercing. She wore her short, burgundy hair down and free; she liked the way it tossed around in battle and how it stirred with a simple sea breeze. Her faded hazel-colored frock coat lay discarded on the deck. She had abandoned it just before this duel had begun.
She grabbed one of the ropes securing the sails, using it to keep herself steady as she swung herself at James. Her cutlass was mere inches from his neck. James grinned at her, smug about his dodge.
“You missed,” he announced, striking back.
“It was just dumb luck and dumb luck only goes so far!”
The witty banter, or smack talk as James liked to call it, was Gracie’s favorite part of any sword fight. It always added more entertainment to the spectators and even the fighters. The smallest statement could influence a person more than anything else especially when it came from your opponent.
“Your footing is all wrong, James,” Gracie said, watching him wiggle slightly to keep balanced. "If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: always have steady footing!" She started to kick and tap at his feet, increasing his wobbling even more.
“Quit it,” James yelled, waving his arms about.
“Oi! Stop playin’ footsy, you two!” the crew teased.
“I wouldn’t play footsy with James even if he knew how,” Gracie said jokingly.
James glared at her. “And I wouldn’t play footsy with Grace even if she acted like a lady!” The crew made a long oohing sound. Nothing like immature men to get your blood boiling.
“How dare you!” Gracie yelled, trying to hide her amused smile behind her outraged voice. “Shit, son, I’m gonna take you out!” She kicked his foot hard enough to make him lose his footing. James quickly grabbed her arm in the process. His sword clanked as it fell to the ground.
“I’m taking you down with me then!”
Gracie screamed in shock as they both fell into a heap on the floor. The men roared out with laughter at the two. Gracie and James joined in.
“That’s cheating!” Gracie complained as she heaved herself off the dirty floor, brushing her clothes free of any dust. She sheathed her sword and held a dirty hand towards James. He happily accepted it.
“Oh stop your bitching. All is fair in love and war,” he said with a smug smile.
“And this battle was neither of them.” Gracie said sternly, about to help James up.
Everyone jumped, and Gracie let out a small yelp. In the doorway stood their history teacher Mr. Hillman, looking quite flustered.
The pirate ship scenery vanished almost immediately. The wooden deck was replaced by the school’s ugly, pale tiles; the upper deck swapped places with metal desks; the wooden railing transformed into the classroom radiator; the rope securing the sails was actually the string to the window shades; the sun became florescent light bulbs once more; and the scruffy pirate crew turned back into Gracie's fellow second period, World History classmates as their buccaneer apparel melted away, alternating back to the modern, teenage threads they were actually wearing. The class stared at Mr. Hillman, speechless as his eyes wandered around the room, equally horrified at what he saw:
The classroom was a mess. Desks were shuffled around, far from their usual orderly lines of perfect rows. Muddy foot prints tracked the floor randomly and were seen all around the room. The trash can had been knocked over, its contents lay close by on the ground.
Some students were playing poker; piles of money lay in the middle of their circle as they sat on their desks. Butch was counting another pile of money, sorting it into two groups, while others crowded around him, holding more bills. All of them had stopped their previous activities to stare at their teacher, their faces resembling that of a deer caught in the headlights of a car.
His eyes followed a track of footprints that traveled well around the room, making their way on desktops and the radiator. The shades on the windows were crooked, letting a small amount of the dreary weather from outside shine through, but that wasn’t what caught his eye.
In front of the radiator stood Gracie O’Malley and James Evans, two of his least favorite students. James sat on the floor while Gracie leaned slightly over him; his right hand held Gracie’s. They both looked sweaty, tired and surprised to see him. James’ hair stuck to his face and neck from his sweat; Gracie’s was a right mess. A yard ruler was hanging from one of her belt loops at her hip while a similar ruler lay close by.
Mr. Hillman looked furiously at his two mischievous students as he yelled at them:
“For the last time, no more sword fights with yard sticks in class!”