Her eyes snapped open and she inhaled deeply, feeling as if seawater had plugged up her nose. She felt the rough fabric of a hammock that was all too familiar to her. Perhaps it was all a dream; the Kraken, her papa dying, the ship sinking. Maybe it was all a horrible nightmare and now she was awake in her hammock, just where she was supposed to be. But Charlotte knew something wasn't right.
She sat up and her head spun, but she didn't care. She wanted her papa. There was a stinging pain in her stomach but she didn't care about that either.
"Papa?" she asked, gazing around the dark room with only a lantern or two nearby. Her voice rang through the silent air. No one replied and Charlotte's eyebrows knit together in worry. "Hello?" she called, squinting to scan the room.
She saw the vague outline of a man sitting just out of the candle light's reach. Perhaps that was Edward, he was always having trouble sleeping. And so Charlotte was relieved to be back on her father's ship and she smiled a bit.
"Edward? Is that you? You ole' toss pot. Get back to bed," she said with a smile but was met with silence. "Edward?"
"Lass, you're not on your ship no more," the figure's voice sighed. Charlotte grew confused and then the reality of her nightmare washed over her. It all really did happen and her father really was dead. Charlotte shook her head in disbelief and the tears started to spill down her cheeks.
She looked down at her stomach to find blood and remembered. She had fallen off the ship and cut herself on the way down. If the unfamiliar place she was in was not evidence enough, the wound was.
Charlotte sniffled, running towards the figure, longing for the warmth and security of an adult's arms. She crashed into the man, her arms wrapping around half of his waist as her arms were too short to encompass all of him. She cried into his sea-stained shirt, ignoring the rips and holes. The man did not hug her back for a moment, he seemed to be in slight shock. But it didn't take long for him to return embrace.
But Charlotte noticed that his skin was not soft. Rather, it was coarse and sharp in some areas. His clothes were ripped and torn. He emanated no warmth. Something was different about this man. Something was wrong with this man.
She looked up, out of curiosity, and could see the dim outline of barnacles and...anemones? Could she be seeing things? Her hand reached up to touch the strange sea life on the man's shoulder and was surprised when the strange creature twitched. It was alive. Charlotte gasped in awe and the man chuckled.
"Sir, you wear silly things," Charlotte told him and the man laughed this time. It was a gruff laugh, the kind that grated against your ears. Charlotte was used to this kind of laughing from the men she had used to be around. Pirates and sailors all had the same laugh, it was something she had noted in her short life.
"Ye might think so," the man replied, a smile in his voice. Charlotte continued to poke at the poor creatures attached to the man's shoulder. She found it amusing that they scrunched back up inside themselves when touched but flowered back open after a few moments. "What's your name, lass?" he asked, not bothering to stop Charlotte from poking at him. He was surprised that she had made it this far without being frightened.
"Charlotte Esmeralda Crawford. But sometimes people call me Lottie for short. But I like Charlotte," she explained, trying to see the man's face more clearly through the darkness.
"That's quite fancy, Miss Charlotte," the mysterious man said and Charlotte shrugged. Perhaps she's a halfbreed, Clanker thought. Her name suggested so.
"You might think so," she returned and the man laughed once again at her use of his own words. "What's your name, sir?" she asked, scrutinizing the man even further. She could tell that he was wearing some sort of hat.
"Clanker. Just Clanker," he answered.
And suddenly, without warning, Charlotte grabbed the man's rough hand and pulled him into the light of the candle. She was bothered that she was unable to see his face after he had seen hers. Charlotte's eyes widened and for a moment, horror and fear flickered on and off her face.
Clanker's face, like his crewmates', had changed over time to the sea's will. His face was coated in barnacles, more so on the left side of his face. In fact, they were so abundant on that side of his face, his entire eye was covered. His lips had also stretched out to the point where they could resemble a clam or an oyster. Clanker's hair had also undergone change, his once shoulder-length, dark hair was transformed into strands of seaweed.
Clanker knew he wasn't a very pretty face to look at but he did know that he was one of the more human-looking men among the Dutchman.
He didn't speak as the young girl stared up at him. Charlotte took in his face with a few different expressions crossing her face. She would be lying if she had said she wasn't at least a little scared. But she was more curious and awed. She stood on her tiptoes to reach Clanker's face and she lightly tugged on the seaweed hanging from his head. Then she lightly dragged the tips of her fingers over Clanker's cursed eye.
"Ye're not afraid, lass?" he asked, sounding completely confused and surprised. He had expected a scream or perhaps some sort of remark of hatred. But no, she was touching him as if he were something to be admired.
"You're part of the Flying Dutchman's crew…" Charlotte mused and Clanker was surprised yet again. He hadn't expected the girl to know such tales. He had also noticed that the girl sounded much more educated than her age implied. Perhaps she could be from a rich background despite her appearance?
Before Clanker could ask her anything or even begin to wonder how strange this girl was, Charlotte felt a sharp pain in her stomach. She hissed and clutched her wound. Her gash was bothering her.
"Alright, Miss Charlotte. Let's set you down. You got a mighty, big scratch there," Clanker said, his more protective side showing. He began to lightly push Charlotte back towards the hammock but Charlotte shoved his hands away.
"I'm fine, I don't want to sit down," she protested, beginning to walk towards the steps that led to the main deck. Clanker immediately stopped her, standing in front of the daylight and sunshine Charlotte craved. "I want to see it. I want to see the Flying Dutchman." Clanker realized that she had pieced the puzzle together to know that she was indeed on the Flying Dutchman.
"Aren't ya seein' enough of it from down here?" Clanker said, trying to get Charlotte to sit back down and relax. He wanted to keep her from the crew and the captain for as long as possible. He wasn't worried about their reactions, he was worried about Charlotte's. She wasn't nearly as scared of him as he thought she would be and he was worried that she wouldn't understand the danger of his crewmates.
"No, I want to go up. It's too dark and cold down here. I want to see the legendary ghost ship." Charlotte continued to protest but Clanker refused to move out of the way.
"You're injured, lass. You need to sit down," Clanker said but Charlotte didn't budge from her argument or her spot. She was a stubborn girl.
"Please, please, please, Mister Clanker! I think I might just die down here. I feel so lightheaded, I must go above to breathe fresh air," Charlotte said, her tone showing her lie. She even put her hand on her forehead as if she were going to faint. Clanker put his hands on his hips and shook his head at her.
"You're really into theatrics, aren't ya, Miss Charlotte," he said and Charlotte grinned. He sighed, knowing that Charlotte was a child that would not be controlled by the words of another. She must've been a handful to her father and mother both. "Alright, but only for a little while 'cause I want ya to rest. That gash of yours needs to heal nicely." He pointed at her stomach and Charlotte finally decided to pay attention to it.
She realized that she was a bit fearful of what she would see. Were her intestines visible? Could you see her veins popping out? Were there any stitches? Gallons of blood or maybe only a drop? She had no idea.
When Charlotte lifted her shirt up, to her disappointment, there was a bandage covering the wound. She glared down at it and began to pull at the carefully tied cloth. Clanker immediately grabbed her hands and pulled them away.
"What on God's green Earth do you think you're doin?! Don't mess with the thing, lass. You'll get it infected and who knows what'll ail ya next. Keep it on and don't touch it," Clanker ordered and Charlotte nodded. She kept an honest look on her face but she knew she would untie it later when he wasn't looking.
"You promise?" Clanker asked and Charlotte hummed in agreement. Her focus was on the mast she could see from where she was standing. "Alright, let's go."
Charlotte was up the stairs as soon as Clanker let her past him. She grinned as the warm sun shined on her face once again and the wind blew through her hair. She gasped in awe as she looked up at the tall masts with huge sails. The sails appeared to be covered in seaweed. Charlotte was amazed with the size of the Flying Dutchman. The ship was much larger than her father's and the deck seemed to stretch out for miles.
But her awe never faltered even when she gazed upon the crew. She could feel multiple pairs of eyes on her but she didn't seem to care. The men looked like sea animals, just like the ones in her father's books. She used to love to look at the beautiful pictures and read the journal entries about each one.
A man whose head had morphed into a hammerhead shark's walked by Charlotte. She speculated the lobster legs on his back, the missing eye, and his sharp teeth. He bared them at her while Charlotte scrunched her eyebrows at him. She decided to bare her teeth back at him, making growling sounds while the man's expression turned to one of confusion. Clanker, who was behind her, laughed.
"Ye don't scare little girls anymore, Maccus," Clanker chuckled and Maccus just scowled and continued walking to wherever he had been going.
"Master Clanker!" a sharp voice called. Both Charlotte and Clanker turned their attention to the helm. There stood a very tall man with octopus tentacles as a beard who appeared to be the captain of the ship. Charlotte recalled his name to be Davy Jones. There were two other men at the helm as well. One had the skin of a puffer fish and the other was coated from head to toe in seaweed and coral.
"Come, lassie," Clanker said, gesturing for her to follow him to the helm. "This here be the captain, so take kindly to your words."
"Aye, sir," Charlotte responded, staring at the captain with wide eyes. She watched as the man's tentacle beard wriggled like it was alive.
"Master Clanker, I assume you have taken care of the lass. She be well?" the captain asked, not even bothering to look at Charlotte.
"Aye, captain. Her name be Charlotte Crawford, Cap'n. She be a bit o' trouble," Clanker answered and Charlotte wrinkled her nose at his words.
"I ain't no trouble, Captain Jones. And my name is Charlotte Esmeralda Crawford. That wreckage there used to be my father's ship. He was a merchant and we were on the way to Kingston when you caught us," Charlotte explained, surprising the men with how much she was able to comprehend.
"I see," Jones dragged, examining the girl with close eyes. Charlotte looked to the other two men, seeing the sun glint off both of their swords. She turned her eyes to Davy Jones and saw his large sword in a sheath.
The puffer fish man had a ripped and tattered cap resting on one shoulder and an earring in one of his ears. He was holding a map in his hands while curiously glancing at Charlotte. The seaweed man just kept his attention focused on the sea ahead.
Charlotte squinted at the puffer fish man, seeing that one of his eyes was bigger than the other. They stared at each other for a moment before Charlotte spoke.
"Hola, señor. Usted habla español, ¿no?" Charlotte asked in a perfect Spanish accent. This surprised all four men with her fluency. Yet only Davy Jones and the puffer fish man knew how to respond. How she knew the man spoke Spanish was known only to her.
"Sí, lass. ¿De donde eres?" he responded, putting his map down momentarily.
"Soy de San Juan, pero yo vivo en los mares," Charlotte answered and Davy Jones cut in.
"Miss Charlotte, ¿de donde es tu madre?" he asked, his own accent making it difficult to sound native.
"Mi madre es de Puerto Rico. Mi padre es de England," Charlotte said and Jones hummed. "Capitán, will I be staying on your ship?" she asked, switching back to English.
"For the time being, yes," Jones replied, turning his gaze back to the ocean.
"What did she say, cap'n?" Clanker asked curiously.
"Her mother is from Puerto Rico and her father is from England. She's a half breed. She says she was born in San Juan but I assume she lived with her father on the sea," Jones answered.
"What is your name, sir?" Charlotte asked the puffer fish man.
"Koleniko, lass," he answered before nodding to the helmsman. "And that is Greenbeard."
"Well, Mister Koleniko. My papa named his boat after me," Charlotte boasted, lifting her chin up. Her strange British-Spanish accent showed even more when she gloated.
"And what was the name, lass?" asked Koleniko, looking at the girl curiously.
"Charlotte's Secret. I don't quite understand, I don't have a secret. But I am Charlotte. And I want to be a pirate one day. A famous pirate, like Capitán Teague. Do you know him? My papa knows him," Charlotte rambled, fumbling with her fingers.
"That's enough for now, Miss Charlotte. Would you go find Master Jimmy Legs?" Davy Jones said, more like an order rather than a request.
"Aye, Cap'n," she said rather loudly, more than pleased to have something to do.
Clanker, Koleniko, Greenbeard, and Davy Jones watched Charlotte go. Some with slight amusement while others with annoyance.
"There must be something wrong with that child," Greenbeard said in his slow, raspy voice. Jones hummed in agreement while Koleniko shook his head.
Charlotte strolled the deck of the Flying Dutchman. Something that no one had ever done before. She had no idea with Mister Jimmy Legs looked like nor did she know why she was looking for him. But orders were orders and she had to find him somehow.
Maccus passed by Charlotte and she stopped him, standing right in his path with her arms on her hips. He sneered at her but she kept her lips pursed and eyebrows drawn together.
"Mister Maccus, where be Mister Jimmy Legs? Cap'n sent me for me for him," she explained.
"Nay, lassie. I'm afraid not. Mister Jimmy Legs is most likely below deck," he answered, the ends of his lips curving up into a small smile. He was amused at the thought of an innocent, little girl in the hands of the boatswain.
"Thank you, Mister Maccus," Charlotte told him and the man nodded with the grin still on his face.
"Miss Charlotte! I do not have all day!" yelled Davy Jones from the quarter deck. All eyes turned to Charlotte as her back stood up straight in the form of a navy soldier.
"My apologies, Cap'n! I was just asking Mister Maccus a question!" she yelled back before running to the stairs that led to the gun deck.
She heard Maccus chuckle darkly behind her.
"Cap'n, this girl is obviously unafraid. What do we do?" asked Greenbeard as the four men watched Charlotte talk to Maccus; one of the most fearsome of the Dutchman's crew.
"I like the lass. She's bold, brave, and clearly has been on the seas before," commented Koleniko, his cheek inflating and deflating rather slowly. Greenbeard nodded thoughtfully while Jones remained silent.
"Aye, but she is not fit for the crew. She only be a young lass," Clanker observed, noting her unusually small frame.
"Aye," agreed Greenbeard. He wasn't particularly fond of having Charlotte around as she was a child and children weren't his favorite things in the world. They were more so pests in his eyes.
"We remain with the original plan. Find a ship; British, French, Spanish, I don't care. Just get rid of her," Jones said with a snap to his tone. "Miss Charlotte! I do not have all day!"
"My apologies, Cap'n! I was just asking Mister Maccus a question!" Charlotte called before scampering below deck. She reminded Jones of a mouse.
"She'll be just fine," mused Clanker, watching Charlotte with care.
Charlotte quickly slipped down the steps to the gun deck. Her feet didn't make a sound when she reached the floorboards. There were a few crewman slinking around the gun deck as well as sleeping in their hammocks and Charlotte scanned each of them.
"Mister Jimmy Legs?" she called, feeling a bit nervous as the darkened figures turned to look at her. Their eyes almost glowed in the dim light which made them look even more menacing.
No one answered to the name so Charlotte continued even further into the bowels of the enormous ship. She entered the orlop where more of the crew seemed to be hiding. There was a small game of cards going on along with quiet conversation.
"Mister Jimmy Legs?" Charlotte called again, a bit more confidently than last time. This time, she received an answer.
"Who be callin' me?" asked a voice. A hunched figure stepped into the light of a lantern and Charlotte let out a small gasp at the sight of him.
He was different than the others. This man was scarier to Charlotte, he was like the monsters that hid under her bed when she was younger. Jimmy Legs resembled a piranha, his face had taken the complete shape of the fish. His lower jaw jutted out to reveal sharpened teeth and coral was emerging from his forehead. He was truly the most alarming face of the Flying Dutchman.
Charlotte backed up a few steps, her mouth agape. She let her fear overtake her for a few seconds before realizing how idiotic she looked. She snapped her mouth shut and put on a brave face. She looked the man in the eye without fear.
"Hello, Mister Jimmy Legs. Cap'n wants you at the helm this very instant," she said firmly. The fish-man gave her a strange look.
"What the hell do ya think yer doin' on this ship?" he asked menacingly. He grabbed onto Charlotte's wrist with a tight grip and began to drag her towards the stairs.
"Unhand me, fish face! I can walk on my own!" I yelled in annoyance but Jimmy Legs didn't listen to her.
"Shut yer trap, girlie," he said as he continued to drag her up the stairs with a disgusted look on his face.
The pair made their way to the helm where Davy Jones was waiting, an unamused look on his face at the sight of the child and Jimmy Legs. Charlotte ignored the small pain coming from her wrist as Jimmy Legs kept his tight grip.
"Mister Jones! Ol' Jimmy Legs here won't let go of me," she sighed when they reached the captain. Jimmy Legs still didn't let go and gave her a glare.
"Cap'n, what the fuck is this girl doing on the ship?" asked Jimmy Legs, spitting the word "girl" while glaring at Charlotte.
"She was a survivor of the last shipwreck," explained Jones in a tone that made Jimmy Legs neither wonder nor question him more. He then let go of Charlotte who had been pulling at her arm. "Make sure the men ain't slackin'," he ordered and an evil smile came upon Jimmy Legs' face.
"With pleasure," he answered before looking down at Charlotte again. "Annoying shit," he hissed under his breath before turning and leaving.
Charlotte watched him go before turning back to Davy Jones, not oblivious to the boatswain's insult but more careless. Davy Jones was watching her and Charlotte smiled. It wasn't really a purposeful smile, it was just a regular, old smile that she would wear sometimes for no good reason. Jones didn't smile back as she had expected he would; people usually smiled back when she smiled at them. So, she dropped the smile and tried to replicate the ever-present scowl on his face.
"Miss Charlotte, do you by any chance know how to cook a decent meal?" Jones asked and Charlotte paused to think before nodding, quite aware of the stereotypical remark. Charlotte's father was always teaching his daughter ethical lessons on prejudice and the blatant sexism of their world. Charlotte was a bright, young girl.
"Aye, I do," she answered with a raised eyebrow. "That's not all I'm good for though, Capitán," she added in a childish tone as she crossed her arms. Jones sniffed, refusing to acknowledge her other talents.
"That's all ye're good for now, missy. Now, take yerself down to the galley and make yerself useful," he ordered, becoming annoyed with the lass. Charlotte huffed in agitation but followed Jones' orders, she wasn't one to cause any sort of mutiny aboard a ship.
"Aye, Captain Jones," she responded in a despondent way. She turned and made her way below deck.
This massive ship was a ship that Charlotte was not used to, her father's schooner was tiny compared to The Flying Dutchman. The layout was also different due to the extensive amount of space aboard the ship. It didn't take long for Charlotte to lose her way to the galley and realize that she would need help.
She looked around the gun deck at the various misshapen figures of the crew who paid her no mind and found one whose appearance was more human than fish. He even looked softer and older than the other crewmen.
"Excuse me, sir," Charlotte began, pulling on the man's ragged coattails. He turned to face her and Charlotte wasn't at all frightened by what she saw.
"Ah, so you're the young lass they've been gossipin' about," the man said with a half-smile. There was a starfish stuck to the side of the man's face and a few bits of coral here and there on his clothing and skin. But other than that, he was almost normal to Charlotte.
"I suppose I am," she said.
"What do you need, lass?" he asked, a kind and helpful look on his face.
"Cap'n Jones said I was to prepare supper for the crew but I'm afraid I can't find the galley…" she trailed off with a shrug, feeling a bit disappointed in herself. It was such a simple task that a sailor like herself should have been able to do.
"Aye, follow me," the man said, waving for her to follow him. He started off in the dimly lit gun deck and Charlotte followed. "So, how's the crew been treatin' ya?"
"Pretty nicely, I think. They don't act like my father's crew usually did but they haven't been any sort of unkind to me," Charlotte answered, thinking back to her previous interactions with a few crewmen.
"And what of the Captain?" he added.
"I think he's nice, he can be a bit demanding but I respect him," Charlotte said, surprising the man with her intelligent thoughts. "What's your name, sir?" she asked, not letting him comment on her answer.
"Bill Turner. But everyone calls me Bootstrap," he answered with a distant voice as if his name was something reminiscent of long ago.
"I'm Charlotte Esmeralda Crawford," she said, not waiting for him to return the question. They had arrived at the galley by then and Bootstrap pushed open a door that led to a good-sized room. Charlotte gasped in awe.
"It's so big in here! My father's galley was tiny; there wasn't much space on my father's ship," she told Bootstrap, gazing around the room. There was one large table that took up half the room while the other half was the galley.
"I'll leave you to your cookin'," said Bootstrap as he turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Charlotte found a door in the back of the galley and opened it to find a few crates of food, barrels of water, and other cooking supplies. From the looks of the "pantry," the crew hadn't restocked in a while. Most of the food was rotten or going rotten. Charlotte made note that she would have to tell the captain.
From the looks of it, she would be making stew with half-rotten vegetables and decaying, dried meat.
"That was delicious, Miss Charlotte," complimented Clanker, handing Charlotte his empty bowl. She knew he had to be lying at least a little bit as the ingredients she had used were going bad but she took the compliment anyway, knowing she was a half-decent cook.
Charlotte took his bowl and drowned it in a tub of stale, soapy water. Clanker had helped empty a barrel for her into a tub. He reminded her that the dishes never really got washed on the ship but Charlotte refused to put the dishes away dirty.
"Thank you, Mister Clanker," Charlotte replied, taking a few other bowls from crewmen nice enough to hand their dishes to her rather than leave them on the table.
Most of the crew ate in the galley at the barnacle-ridden table while others didn't eat at all or simply took their bowls with them. Charlotte had made them promise to give their dishes back even though all she got was a few growls and glares.
As the rest of the crew finished their meal, they gave her their compliments and thanks. The captain was to be fed before the crew and Charlotte was to take his meal to him. Jones had also enjoyed supper and told her it was a better job than Finnegan could have ever done. Charlotte didn't know who Finnegan was but she assumed she had his job until she was taken off the ship.
Clanker had informed her of Jones' plan and she accepted it, wanting to find her way home to her mother. But she was also already sorrowed to leave her newfound friends Bootstrap and Clanker. Koleniko wasn't too bad as well.
When Charlotte had finished cleaning the table and the galley, she put away all the clean dishes that she had scrubbed while Clanker kept her company. Clanker then set up a hammock for Charlotte in the gun deck along with the rest of the crew. She slept right next to him as to make her feel safe in these unfamiliar conditions.
Charlotte then fell into a deep sleep, full of dreams of strange, octopus monsters and her papa dying. But Charlotte found that she could never wake from these horrible realities.