Sally Hargreaves felt that events had gotten out of control. She had lost her parents and her brother. She had been kidnapped by pirates. A fox was talking to her.
Understandably, she felt more than a little anxious and not in control and when Sally felt this way, she reacted in the only way that she knew how. She got angry.
Some thoughts and facts about the subject of Sally and anger:
Thought no. 1: Sally didn’t ever mean to get angry; it just seemed to happen.
Fact no. 1: It happened quite a lot. In fact, it was something that she had got into trouble over quite a few times both at home and at school. Lately, there had been more than one letter sent home from her teachers.
Thought no. 2: Sometimes it seems that anger brings with it a certain clarity. You know exactly what you feel. There is no confusion. You do not have to face those other feelings bubbling beneath. The ones that perhaps suggest that nothing might get better; that your life is at the mercy of others; that you are a victim.
With anger at least, you feel like you might just achieve something. Even if it is just lashing out at the person or thing who has made you angry in the first place.
Thought no. 3: One thing I have learnt over the years: anger is often a hollow promise. It is like a drug that someone takes to forget all their problems. It promises more than it delivers. You bump back down to earth afterwards and your problems are still there. Often worse than before because after anger, you feel guilt. And guilt means that you feel ashamed and that you don’t like yourself or how you have acted.
And the more you start to despise yourself, the more angry you become. So the cycle continues.
Fact no. 2: It is a hard lesson that I have learnt. But Sally, at the age of eleven, had still to learn it.
“You – You –you…” She pointed an angry finger at the animal in front of her, glaring and moving a few threatening steps towards him. The fox pushed itself back on the wheels and grinned sheepishly.
“You are a –“
“Field Marshall Jack Douglas at your command, madam.” He nodded.
However, the confirmation did little to calm Sally’s anger. He backed away as she took another step towards the fox.
“You are a talking fox! And this is a-”
“Yes.” The fox nodded in encouragement. The whole gathering of animals seemed to stiffen and tense in anticipation.
“This is a-“ Her mouth fell open, her face red, she shook her head in incomprehension. “a….a…This is a ship!”
The collective in front of her breathed a sigh of relief as she finally spat the words out and they nodded happily at each other, grinning at her astuteness. Their nodding ended abruptly, though, as the angry girl began to shout:
“WHAT AM I DOING ON A SHIP? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY PARENTS? WHERE’S MY BROTHER?” She advanced on the pack of animals, her fists clenched (Not to hurt them, you must believe me. It was just that clenched fists were another of those barriers that Sally threw up. If anybody around her saw the fists, they might not look at the true emotions which hid in her eyes).
The animals quickly moved back out of her path, some of the smaller ones scattering into the shadows and the fox, who appeared to be the leader of the group, pushed himself back on the wheeled contraption causing loud squeaks from some of the animals behind him as the wheels ran painfully over their paws.
“I assure you madam…”
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY BROTHER?” She advanced.
“It wasn’t us, we are as much…” He retreated.
“WHY DID YOU TAKE ME?” She continued forward.
“…prisoners on this…” He moved back.
“WHO ARE YOU?” She stormed towards him.
“Oh for Pete’s sake!” The fox stopped backing up and straightened his back, looking the angry young girl squarely in the eyes and forcing her to stop in her tracks. His voice and posture assumed a commanding tone. “Young lady will you just stop and listen!”
“QUIET!” He barked the word, the fur rising on the back of his neck, and the order carried the weight, experience and knowledge of one who knew that what he usually ordered was obeyed without question. Sally fell silent immediately, her eyes wide in shock and the anger fizzed away as quickly as the steam when water is thrown upon a fire.
Her mouth dropped open but nothing came out. Quite simply, for the first time in a very long while, Sally Hargreaves was lost for words.
The animals quickly organised themselves into rows again, the smaller creatures who had disappeared into the shadows nervously reappearing.
“Now,” the fox said. “If we can start again, young lady. My name is Field Marshall Douglas and it is my great pleasure to greet you on behalf of the Last Ones.”
The fox straightened his back as he stood to attention and his tail bent into a sharp salute. The rows of creatures behind him shifted into even straighter rows.
Sally, who was not used to being ordered about herself, wasn’t sure how to react and before she was even aware of what she was doing said: ‘Um.. I’m Sally. Sally Hargreaves. I live at number 22-“
“No, no, no. Careful, madam. Name, rank and number only. Never give any more information than you have to. Especially not in front of the lower ranks.”
There were a few awkward coughs and whistles behind him, but one quick commanding sideways glance from the sleek, red-furred head was enough to silence the small platoon behind the fox.
“Oh … I…um…” Anger seemed to have deserted the girl along with the ability to form sentences. “Sorry.”
“Never mind. The shock and all that I suppose. Nothing that a good strong cup of army tea won’t fix. Sergeant Blossompouch!”
A small red squirrel stepped forward from the nearest row. His head, back and tail as straight as an iron bar as his tiny voice gave a squeak, a whistle and two short chirrups.
“Sergeant, a mug of tea for the young lady as quickly as you can. Strong and sweet, mind!”
And with one short, sharp squeak, the squirrel disappeared in a blur of fur and tail up the nearest wooden post and flitted across the ceiling, disappearing behind the beams.
The fox cocked a head nearer to Sally and whispered: “Can’t understand a word the chap says, you know, but makes a damned fine cup of tea. Now, if I could just introduce you to my fellow officers: General Peter Smithers and Brigadier Cynthia Landrey.”
The fox nodded to his right and Sally looked at the two creatures standing to attention there. The first was
a tiny brown mole who was cleaning a small pair of glasses on his fur and next to him was a sleek, shiny otter.
“Madam,” they both piped out at the same time. Sally held up her hand to wave a short greeting but remained, understandably, speechless.
“Between us,” the fox continued, “we make up the top ranking officers of this platoon. Most of the lads and lasses are volunteers but they are a willing lot on the whole. “
He turned to face the far end of the long room. “Now if you’ll just follow me I’ll give you the quick tour of Deck Thirteen.
“General. Brigadier.” He nodded a brief farewell to the other two creatures beside him and began to move using his forelegs to pull himself along on the strange wheeled contraption. Sally now saw that it was attached with leather straps to the hind quarters of the fox. Resting on the wood, she saw two furless bumps where the fox’s back legs should have been.
“Uh-hum,” Field Marshall Douglas cleared his throat and with a start Sally realised with deep embarrassment that she had been staring. Her face flushed a burning red.
“I … uh.. I’m really sorry I just…”
But the fox didn’t stay still long enough to hear her apology. With a burst of “Follow me, Miss Hargreaves!” he was off at a surprising speed, his forelegs scampering and the wheels bumping along the wooden planking of the floor behind. Sally had to hurry to keep up as he headed to the far side of the very (and now she saw just how) very long room. As they moved, lanterns were lit along the length of the deck; their flames creating pools of light.
“Our quarters, as you can see, stretch the entire length of Deck Thirteen.”
“But what is this ship?” Sally finally found that she could speak again. “Why am I here? Why are all the doors padlocked?”
“Ah good. Some very astute questions I’m glad to hear. Well,” the fox stopped in his tracks for a moment to consider her questions. “You are aboard the infamous ship, the Huntress, madam. Legends abound about the size and purpose of this terrible floating fortress but I appreciate that none quite prepare you for the reality.
“As tall as three houses with fifteen decks and crewed by ninety nine of the most terrible mercenaries to have ever set sail.”
Sally interrupted: “I saw a black flag. Are they…”
“Pirates? Yes, blasted peglegs! And take care, for there is not a one of them who would not sell their own mother if they thought they could profit by it. Ah here we go.”
A brief chattering and a flash of red brought them both to a stop as Sergeant Blossompouch curled down the nearest post, a small wooden tankard of steaming tea held tightly in its curled tail. The squirrel presented the mug to her and Sally had to stoop down to take it.
“Thank you very much.” The squirrel acknowledged this with a quick nod of the head, a short whistle and was gone again. Sally sniffed the steaming greenish liquid that had been given to her and was surprised to find that it had a sweet, spicy smell to it. She took a quick sip and a pleasant warmth and sweetness spread along her tongue and down her throat to her chest. “Mmmm.” The sound of pleasure was involuntary.
“Did you say that this was a prison ship?” she asked.
“Yes, sadly. And we, despite appearances to the contrary, are all prisoners. This is the prison deck - Deck Thirteen to be precise. Each one of these doors is a cell. There are precisely one hundred and thirteen cells; one hundred and eleven of which are currently occupied. Fifty six cells line each side of the deck and then there is one cell right at the end which is rather puzzling-“.
The fox stopped and fell silent. He cocked his head to the side and his ears twitched in concentration.
Then Sally heard it. A soft creaking sound that grew steadily louder.
“Oh no, not again!” It was the last thing she heard before the air was rent with a tearing, splintering noise. The wooden boards below her shifted slightly and then abruptly gave way completely!
Sally found herself falling into blackness and a small part of her realised that the loud screaming which filled her ears was her own.