I was working in my home office when I heard Bea stomp down the stairs, her car keys jingling.
“Are you going grocery shopping?” I called, thinking of our empty fridge. “Can you add flaxseed to the list?”
“What the hell’s a flaxseed?” she shouted back. “And no. I’m meeting a client.”
I jumped out of my chair and raced to the kitchen just as she grabbed her wallet off the counter. Bea was a tall, intimidating-looking woman, her muscular arms covered in sleeve tattoos. Dark-haired and brown-skinned, she wore torn jeans, an old Metallica t-shirt, and a pair of cowboy boots.
“What client?” I asked. “You didn’t say you had a new case. Can I come?”
I let Bea room with me for next to no rent, and in exchange she let me tag along on her paranormal consultant jobs when it worked with my schedule. It gave me great opportunities to practice witchcraft.
Bea glanced away. “Uh, I don’t know if anything’s going to come out of this one. Honestly, if she didn’t live in town, I wouldn’t bother going to meet her. But things have been slow lately, so I figured why not.”
“What’s the job?” I asked.
Bea looked back at me and sighed. “She says a ghost pirate stole her dog.”
I stared at her for several seconds, barely blinking. “Oh my gosh, please let me come. Give me thirty seconds to grab my purse. I’ll be right back.”
A short drive later, we met Ms. Judith Dorsey at a little café in St. Augustine Beach. I figured she was the client based on her “Dog Mom” t-shirt and tearful, red-rimmed eyes. She was petite and blond like me, though her hair wasn’t nearly as curly as mine and was streaked with gray.
“Ms. Dorsey.” Bea walked up and offered her hand. “I’m Bea Romo Reyes. We spoke on the phone. This is my associate, Maggie.”
Instead of shaking Bea’s hand, Ms. Dorsey clasped it pleadingly with both of hers. “Please tell me you can help.”
“I can’t make any promises, ma’am, but I’ll do my best.”
We ordered drinks, Ms. Dorsey getting a latte when she looked more in need of a soothing cup of chamomile. Then we took seats at a secluded table in the corner, and Bea got straight to business.
“Why don’t you walk me through what happened?”
Ms. Dorsey pulled out her phone and showed us a photo of a fluffy little Yorkshire terrier wearing a red bow. “This is Jane Pawsten. I’ve had her for about five years now. I always keep an eye on her when she goes out to do her business because I live right on the water. Last night, I let her out as usual. I stepped away for a second when my phone rang, and when I came back—”
She made a choked sound, and her hand covered her mouth. “I never should have taken my eyes off her. It’s all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” Bea said gently. “What happened when you came back?”
“I saw him.” Her voice went low, nearly a whisper. “He was faint. Like a cloud almost. He wore a three-cornered hat and tattered old coat, and his beard was a tangled mess. He looked at me, and I knew— I knew he took Jane. Then he just faded away.”
She broke off, sniffling, and I glanced at Bea to see what she thought. Her forehead was creased, arms crossed as she studied Ms. Dorsey. Had the woman really seen a ghost? Or had something more mundane (but equally tragic) happened to Jane Pawsten?
“I’ll take a look around tonight,” Bea said finally. “Let’s talk rates.”
So after sunset, we found ourselves in Ms. Dorsey’s backyard. She lived right on the river, water lapping rhythmically against the shore. Lights from houses on the opposite bank reflected off the dark water, clouds hiding most of the stars overhead. The air smelled brackish and carried a hint of something rotten. Algae maybe, or dead fish.
Ms. Dorsey’s lawn was neatly trimmed. She had a small dock that extended a couple dozen feet into the water, though it was weathered and lacking a boat.
Bea pulled out her pendulum, a neat little crystal on the end of a silver chain that pointed her toward the nearest source of supernatural energy. She held it out and waited, but it didn’t move so much as a centimeter.
“No ghost?” I asked.
She stuffed the pendulum back in her pocket. “Not now, anyway.”
“So what do you think happened?”
“The dog probably drowned or got eaten by an alligator or something.” She ran a hand through her messy hair. “I’m really not looking forward to breaking the news to the lady.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” I argued. “Maybe— Maybe it got dognapped.”
“By a ghost pirate?”
“By somebody dressed as a pirate. We should ask around at that pirate museum downtown.”
“Uh-huh. Because that’s really the most likely explanation.”
“It’s possible.” I crossed my arms. “We’ve seen weirder.”
Bea snorted but didn’t argue.
“Or we could wait?” I suggested. “See if the ghost comes back again tonight?”
“Probably not worth it.” Bea kicked at a piece of bark lying on the grass. “Some ghosts appear in the same place almost every night, but most… They might show up once a year, if that. People lose track of time when they’re dead.”
So if a ghost had stolen Jane Pawsten, what did that mean for the poor little dog? Where was she now?
Bea huffed. “I guess we can try a summoning.”
“Great! I think I have a candle somewhere…”
I dug around in my purse and found a thick white candle. Bea and I sat on the grass (after checking it for dog poop), and I held out the candle to her.
“Seriously?” She glowered. “You didn’t bring a lighter?”
I shrugged unapologetically. Who needed a lighter with her as a friend?
Grumbling, she reached toward the candle. A flame sprang to life on her fingertip, and she touched it to the wick.
“Thanks.” I set the candle carefully on the ground between us, then I closed my eyes and took a slow, deep breath, focusing on my intent. When working magic, it was best to keep things as simple as possible.
“Spirit who took Jane Pawsten, come forth.”
The flame flickered in a breeze but didn’t die, and a shiver went down my spine despite the hot, humid air. Frogs croaked somewhere along the riverside, and the rumbling of passing cars came from a distance. I surveyed the dark yard and placid waters, searching for a blurry figure or ghostly glow. I didn’t see anything, but these things took time.
“Right.” Bea stood about half an hour later and brushed grass off the back of her shorts. “This is a bust. Ms. Dorsey was probably seeing things.”
I blew out the candle and got to my feet, disappointment weighing me down. “What are we going to do?”
“Make up some psychic bullshit about sensing that Jane Pawsten is in a better place and then refund half her money out of guilt,” she answered, trudging back toward the house.
Dragging my feet, I followed. Poor Ms. Dorsey. Poor Jane Pawsten. I wished we could do more.
A cold breeze brushed me from behind—unnaturally chilly for a summer night. The wind moaned somewhere off over the water… Or was that really the wind? My skin prickled, and I looked over my shoulder.
I stopped walking. “Bea.”
“Hm?” She turned and followed my gaze. “Well, damn.”
Drifting down the river in a haze of fog was a skeletal old ship. Its black sails were shredded to almost nothingness, and its broken, beaten hull didn’t look particularly watertight, except… Was it sailing through the water or hovering over it? I couldn’t say. Movement on the deck was barely visible, figures swimming in and out of sight like a mirage. The whole thing looked as if it had voyaged out of a nightmare.
And echoing across the water from the eerie phantom ship was a faint, high-pitched barking.
Bea and I came back the next night with a boat. It wasn’t much, just a cheap little motorboat that we’d borrowed from a friend of my grandma’s who took it out fishing. It made a puttering noise as Bea drove us to the center of the river around where we’d seen the ghostly pirate ship the night before. Then she cut the engine.
The air seemed unnaturally quiet, our little boat rocking softly up and down. There were fewer clouds in the sky tonight, a waning crescent moon visible amid twinkling stars. I could see a bridge in the distance, houses and other buildings lit up along the shore. But there were no other boats out. We were alone on the water.
“Let’s get this over with,” Bea said.
I set a new candle on the floor of the motorboat where it would be shielded from the wind. Bea lit it, and I repeated the same spell as before. Then we waited.
Again, nearly half an hour passed before the ship appeared. The fog rolled in first. Seeing it from the riverbank hadn’t been so bad, but when it surrounded us, I felt my heartbeat spike with fear. I couldn’t see the shore any longer—I couldn’t see more than three feet away from us. The moist air made water droplets form on the surface of the boat and dampened my clothes and skin. A shudder went through me, the air more frigid that it had any right to be during summer in Florida.
The dark shape of the ship emerged from the fog. It smelled like low tide: rotting wood and dead sea creatures decomposing in salty air. Its dark, discolored hull loomed before us. One moment it looked solid enough to touch; then it appeared about as substantial as smoke. Cannons stuck out of small holes along its side. Other gaping, jagged holes looked like the ship had been struck by cannon fire itself—or perhaps smashed against a rock.
The old vessel creaked and groaned, shouts and footsteps audible from the deck above. Then Jane Pawsten started yipping.
No one seemed to have noticed us yet—assuming any of the spirits aboard were aware enough to notice the living. I glanced at Bea. What should we do?
She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Hey, assholes!” she shouted. “Ahoy!”
“Ahoy?” I mouthed at her.
The pirate ship itself seemed to grow still, and a figure became visible on the edge of the deck. A dark, unkempt beard hid half of his cadaverous face. He wore a long, tattered coat that fluttered in the wind, a sword and pistol hanging off the thick belt that encircled his waist. He seemed washed out and faint, like we were looking through a camera that hadn’t quite captured him.
He leered down at us. “Well, what do we have here? Two little ladies lost at sea. Why don’t you climb aboard? We could find a use for you.”
Chuckles echoed down. I could see the rest of the crew moving about, but they were even wispier than the pirate who’d spoken. None of them had faces, making me wonder if they were truly ghosts or just echoes like the ship itself.
“No thanks!” Bea shouted back. “We’re just here for the dog.”
The pirate’s face darkened. “The dog?”
“Light brown Yorkshire terrier. About this big.” Bea held out her hands a foot apart. “Answers to the name Jane Pawsten.”
As if she’d heard her name, Jane poked her fluffy little head through the railing on the edge of the ship and looked down at us.
“That’s the one,” Bea said. “Hand her over.”
“Never!” The pirate scooped up Jane and cradled her close to his chest. “This dog is all that keeps me sane while trapped at sea! I’d sooner hand over all the gold and jewels I’ve plundered than give her up!”
“Her real owner feels the same way,” Bea shot back. “She’s not yours. You stole her.”
“Aye.” He scratched the dog behind the ears. “I’m a pirate. Stealing’s what I do.”
Bea rubbed her face. “Okay, I walked right into that one,” she muttered. Then she raised her voice. “You can’t take care of a dog! You’re dead!”
“No.” The pirate’s voice rumbled like thunder. “You are.”
One of the cannons tilted down with a metallic screech. I jerked back, rocking the boat.
“Fire!” the pirate shouted.
The boom was deafening. The whole city must have heard it. I shrieked and covered my head with my hands like that would protect me from a cannonball.
I heard a massive splash, and cold water soaked me. The cannon had missed.
The pirate laughed. Sputtering, I looked up at him. Would he fire again? The ghostly ship might look insubstantial, but those cannonballs seemed all too solid.
Dripping wet, Bea surged to her feet. The boat pitched, making her wobble, but she didn’t fall. She clenched her fists, fire springing to life around both hands. Heat chased away the otherworldly cold, bright orange flames blazing in the dark night.
“I’m sending you straight to hell!” she shouted, raising her hands to blast him with fire.
I knew this Bea. I’d seen her exorcise demons and fight zombies, battle evil witches and slay horrifying creatures.
But none of them had ever abducted a small, fluffy dog.
“Don’t!” I cried. “What about Jane Pawsten?”
I wasn’t psychic, but I could see the future all too clearly. Bea’s flames would consume the spectral ship. The thing would go up like a leaf in a campfire, banishing every spirit onboard. And Jane Pawsten… Bea controlled the fire; she could keep it away from the dog, but what would happen when the ship disappeared? Jane would plunge fifteen feet into the river.
“She can swim,” Bea snapped.
“Can she, though?”
Dogs were supposed to be able to swim. Humanity had bred them to be hunters and guardians. But cute little Jane Pawsten with her perfectly groomed fur, trimmed nails, and bright red bow… She didn’t look like she could handle a particularly deep bubble bath.
Bea’s hands fell to her sides, flames dying. “Crap.”
What now? We’d found the dog but couldn’t get her back. Maybe we could climb onto the ship and take her by force, but I didn’t see a ladder and doubted the ghost pirate would throw one down for us. He seemed more likely to shoot us in the face with a spectral bullet.
What would we tell Ms. Dorsey? Jane Pawsten’s started a new life on a ghost ship. Sorry we couldn’t get her back, but her new undead owner really seems to love her. That seemed almost as bad as telling her the dog had drowned.
“Right.” Bea plopped back down into her seat. “Your turn.”
“Yeah, I played bad cop. It’s good cop time. See if you can reason with him.”
I looked up at the ghost pirate and swallowed. He glared down at us, his eyes black like oil pits. The way he kept stroking Jane Pawsten reminded me of a James Bond villain.
“But how?” I asked. “He loves that dog.”
“Yeah…” Bea peered at him. “Maybe we can use that.” She straightened from her slouch, suddenly full of energy. “How would you say that ship sank?”
I looked at its broken hull, its sails in tatters. “I’d guess a storm. A hurricane, maybe.”
“Same here.” She stood up and shouted at the pirate. “Okay! I get it! The dog’s your most precious treasure, and you’re not giving her up.”
“You’re not as dumb as you look,” the pirate replied. “If you realize that, then leave. We’ve no further business.”
“But I’m worried,” Bea replied. “Is the dog really safe on your ship?”
He snarled, revealing several missing teeth. “There’s no finer ship on the sea!”
“But what about the storm?”
His hand stroking the dog went still, and the scowl fell from his face. He stared ahead at nothing, his whole posture tense. He looked haunted—no pun intended.
“The storm…” he murmured.
“You remember it, don’t you?” Bea prompted.
He must have, because the mere mention of it caused the wind to wail and the ghost ship to rock and bob. The water around us grew rough, and I clutched the edges of our motorboat. Thunder echoed in the distance, and the spectral crew shouted and raced around the deck.
“It’s not enough, Captain!” one of the crewmembers cried. “We’re going under!”
The ship tilted dangerously. The pirate gripped the railing for balance with one hand, Jane Pawsten held tightly in the other. The dog barked frantically, and a massive wave sprayed the deck. The ghost pirate looked around with wide eyes.
The ship, the faceless crewmembers—they were all constructs of his memories. And now that he recalled the storm, it triggered a replay of the event. He must have drowned during it. I felt awful for him—even if he was a dognapper.
“Give us the dog!” Bea shouted. “We’ll get her to safety!”
The ghost ship pitched again, and several crewmembers fell off the edge with screams. There was no splash as they plunged into the water.
“Quick!” Bea yelled. “Throw her down!”
She extended her hands to catch Jane Pawsten.
The pirate stared down at her and then looked at the panicked dog in his grasp. His face screwed up like the decision physically hurt to make. Then, with obvious reluctance, he tossed Jane Pawsten to Bea.
Several things happened at once. Bea lunged forward to catch the dog and lost her balance. The wind howled as both she and Jane fell into the river. Thunder crashed, and the ghost ship lurched sideways, finally overwhelmed by the spectral storm. It disappeared beneath the water.
The fog dispersed, and the wind fell silent. Stock still and soaking wet on the motorboat, I stared around the dark, empty river.
“Bea?” I shouted. “Bea!”
She burst out of the water, coughing and choking, and raised a drenched Jane Pawsten. The dog looked even smaller with her fur all wet.
“Got her,” Bea gasped.
Then a frightened Jane Pawsten bit her hand.
Ms. Dorsey burst into tears when she saw Jane. We waited through several minutes of cuddling and doggy kisses before the woman noticed us dripping river water onto her carpet. She immediately offered us towels and first aid for Bea’s hand. Bea got the second half of her payment, and we left, Ms. Dorsey thanking us profusely as she hugged her dog.
We climbed into the car and sat there for a few seconds. The towels had helped a bit, but our clothes and hair were still wet. We both stank, and I could feel dirt and slime on my skin. I desperately needed a shower.
“No more dog cases,” Bea said firmly.
“Sure,” I replied.
She said that now, but as soon as the next crying pet owner called, her resolve would melt. Tall, tattooed, tough-looking Bea was a softie at heart.
“Stop smiling,” she grumbled as she started the engine.
I tried. Really, I did. But I couldn’t stop the whole drive home.
Ghost Pirate Dognapper originally appeared in the anthology Pirating Pups. Check it out for more fantasy stories about pirates and cut dogs. 🐶