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The Journal of Literary Satire | Hastily Written & Slopilly Edited
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Captain Red Shirt

by Jack Conway

Orville Titus was kidnapped by pirates when he was nine years old. Orville was an orphan so getting kidnapped by a bunch of pirates wasn’t such a bad thing as far as he was concerned. It was a lot better than living in a workhouse where he was seldom fed and often beaten.

Orville was kidnapped when pirates broke into the orphanage one night having come ashore to steal supplies. They came in the dead of night and mistook the orphanage for the granary. When they broke in, brandishing their swords and waving their pistols, and found the place filled with children instead of grain, they high-tailed it out of there.

But the leader of the pirates, the infamous Captain Red Shirt, decided he needed a cabin boy and told one of his men to take along one of the boys and that’s how Orville was kidnapped.

In the dark, the pirate grabbed the nearest child, who was not Orville. The young boy began weeping and wailing and carrying on so much so that the pirate let him go.

“I’ll go sir,” Orville said. “I’d like to be a pirate.” And so, Orville Titus was taken back to the pirate ship and sailed away with the infamous Captain Red Shirt and his band of pirates.

Captain Red Shirt, who was known throughout the civilized world as the fiercest and bravest and most daring pirate there ever was, took a liking to Orville.

Instead of making Orville sleep in the galley, he let him stay in his own cabin onboard the Pursuit. The Pursuit was a three-masted galleon that was armed to the teeth with cannons and manned by a crew of the most dangerous convicts and criminals the pirate world had ever known.

All of the crew were devoted to Captain Red Shirt, as was little Orville. The pirates were devoted to him because he was the fiercest, most daring pirate in the whole world and because he had made them all rich by plundering ships up and down the coast. The ship’s hold was filled with trunks of gold and jewels and other valuables. Captain Red Shirt vowed to divide the treasure up equally among his crew, based upon how brave each pirate was in battle. Clearly, no one would dispute the fact that Captain Red Shirt was the bravest of all the pirates on board the ship. Whenever the Pursuit caught up with a ship laden with treasure, Captain Red Shirt was always the first one over the side and onto the captured ship. His men watched as Captain Red Shirt fought ferociously, wielding his huge sword and firing his pistols, always wading knee deep into battle. And even when he was wounded, which he had been, often enough, still Red Shirt fought on bravely. This was a great inspiration to his crew, not to mention the treasure he vowed to share with them, depending upon how brave they were in battle, and they too fought ferociously and bravely, inspired by their captain.

Captain Red Shirt, who came by his name because of the billowing bright red shirt he always wore whenever he seized a ship, did not wear his red shirt all the time. He only wore it when he was about to swing across onto a captured ship to do battle. It was, he told young Orville, his lucky shirt.

Captain Red Shirt attacked and captured big ships and small ships alike. Often his men were outnumbered but they always prevailed, mostly due to Captain Red Shirt’s bravery in battle. He was an unending source of inspiration to his crew.

No one knew exactly why the captain always wore the billowing red shirt into battle. He never told anyone. But he did, finally, reveal to young Orville, the mystery behind his famous red shirt.

“Ye see, laddie,” the Captain told the boy. “Whenever I put me red shirt on it conceals any wounds that might be inflicted upon me. The blood does not show through, so me men think I am invincible. Even when I am wounded, which I admit I have been, me red shirt hides it from the men. And so they fight twice as hard thinking that their captain cannot be harmed.”

“And, laddie, because it is such a special shirt, I keeps it locked up in my cabin and only use it when we attack,” he said.

He then handed Orville a brass key.

“This is the key to me wardrobe. Me red shirt and pants,” he said. “I am putting you in charge of me lucky red shirt.”

Thereafter, whenever the Pursuit was about to attack a ship, Captain Red Shirt would call to Orville, saying, “Best get me my red shirt, boy!”

And this, Orville did dutifully and with great haste.

The reign of pirate terror, the looting and robbing and sinking of ships all up and down the coast by Captain Red Shirt and his crew, did not go unnoticed by the King. Captain Red Shirt’s escapades were wearing thin on the King so he dispatched an enormous fleet of ships to track down the Pursuit and capture the infamous Captain Red Shirt and his pirate crew. They were, according to the King, to be hanged from the highest yardarm, if there was a yardarm available.

For several weeks Captain Red Shirt and the Pursuit were able to elude the King’s massive fleet of war ships. They sailed under the darkness of night and hid the ship in coves, always managing to stay one step ahead of the King’s fleet.

But nothing lasts forever and one bright morning as the Pursuit made her way over the bounding main, it sailed up over a crest and there lay the King’s armada of war ships.

Looking though his spy glass, Captain Red Shirt counted at least twenty ships all bearing down on him, his crew and the Pursuit. It was too late to escape. There was no place to go. The King’s fleet surrounded the Pursuit.

“Well, mateys, we have fought our way out of worse situations,” Captain Red Shirt told his crew.

Looking over the side of the ship at the vast armada bearing down on them, the crew could hardly think of any worse situation they might have been in, but still, they prepared for battle, sharpening their swords, loading their pistols and arming the cannons.

“Shall I get ye your red shirt?” little Orville asked the captain.

Captain Red Shirt took another look through his spy glass.

“I think ye best get me brown pants,” he said.

Jack Conway's short stories have appeared in The Land-Grant College Review, The Paumanok Review, The Coe Review, The Fiction Warehouse, Bostonia and Dicey Brown. He teaches at Bristol Community College and the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of the humorous novel, The Road to Ruin.