Featured Story: “The Scrimshawed Ostrich Egg.”

The following story is a selection from World Unknown Review Volume III (2016).

The Scrimshawed Ostrich Egg
by Robert Allen Lupton

       I never expected to be friends with a Cajun from Algiers, but Pierre and I had been best friends since we met in jail. We had a lot in common, time together in juvenile detention and a mutual aversion to work, authority, school, and the judicial system. Our weaknesses for booze, ganja, and bad girls cemented our friendship.
       We watched each other’s back when we did time in the New Orleans Youth Study Center. “Stupid name for a jail,” Pierre always said. “A jail is a jail. A study center sounds like some stupid after school program.”
       We didn’t have many career choices, but we found work at Jolie Blon House Cleaning. This exclusive maid service employed men and women. The management preferred undocumented aliens, ex-cons, and newly released juvenile offenders. We fit right in.
       The two city councillors who owned the company weren’t worried about paperwork or criminal records. They employed people with no other options, paid them peanuts, worked them half to death, and cheated them out of anything that resembled benefits. Jolie Blon paid minimum wage, no travel time between houses, and always rounded off the work day to next lowest full hour. If a worker complained, he could keep complaining after he went back to jail or was deported.
       Our boss told us, “Pat, Pierre, either of you little thieves steal so much as a paperclip, I’ll beat you half to death before I send you back to jail.”
       Pierre’s crew cleaned a house in the Garden District that had been occupied by the same family since before the War Between the States. Pierre scrubbed hardwood floors, polished marble showers, and moved furniture around so the women could clean under chairs, tables, dressers, and footstools.
       The home had a trophy room. It wasn’t a trophy room filled with stuffed dead animals or loving cups. It was filled with stuff from the past. There were ancient leather-bound books, swords, knives, paintings, crystal goblets, and dust-covered wine bottles labeled with peeling tape and faded ink. Glass cases contained antique jewelry, pocket watches, strange coins, cameos, and military medals from by-gone wars.
       Another case held a collection of scrimshaw. There were scrimshaw walrus tusks, whale teeth, ostrich eggs, and other bones, possibly of human origin. Pierre was fascinated by the carvings. He was drawn to an ostrich egg carved with a map and a bust of Jean Laffite.
       The one thing Pierre had paid attention to in school was the story of Jean Laffite. Jean and his brother Pierre were famous pirates. My friend Pierre told people he was named after Jean’s brother. The pirate brothers took time off from piracy to help win the War of 1812, but that just raised their stature to his way of thinking. Criminals with hearts of gold and all that.
       Pierre told me about the scrimshaw egg over cheeseburgers and beer one night. We wondered why the family who owned the map left it on display rather than using it. We knew the map led to pirate gold. The more we drank, the larger Laffite’s treasure became. After a while, we convinced ourselves we were skilled swamp men and expert treasure hunters.
       We were positive the map was of the swamps and backwaters near Bayou Saint Denis. I didn’t see that as a problem; I was sure we could navigate the swamps. After all, I’d driven across Lake Pontchartrain and spent two summers of community service clearing trash and weeds out of the bayous near Delacroix. The guards at the Youth Study Center let me drive the bus for almost a month.
       We knew we could find the treasure. Pierre would steal the map, and I’d spotted a pickup truck I could take. “He leaves the key under the floor mat. There’s a pirogue with an outboard motor in the back. It’s even got a couple gas cans and poles to push the boat through the swamp.”
       We stole shovels, axes, and plastic buckets from a home improvement store. Pierre said, “We’ll need the buckets to carry the gold. I hope three buckets are enough to carry it all.”
       On Friday after Pierre stole the ostrich egg, we studied the map and compared it to modern satellite imagery of the swamp. I was sure I correctly identified where X marks the spot on the downloaded map, and I wrote down the GPS coordinates.
       We loaded the truck that night. Pirogue, outboard motor, punting poles, shovels, axes, and buckets were in the back of the pickup. We packed beef jerky, chips, snack cakes, water, and four cases of bottled beer. It would be a long day, and we needed to have enough beer.
       We left at sunrise the next day. We got gasoline for the outboard motor, cigarettes, and extra beer at a corner store in Belle Chase. The clerk said, “You boys are starting late. Most the fishermen are gassed and gone before the sun comes up.”
       Pierre said, “Big fish sleep late. Mind your own business. We know what we’re doing. We were born and bred in the bayou.”
       We made plans on how to spend the money as we drove to the swamp. I’d take my share and move to Dublin. Pierre had seen a movie about Las Vegas and was fascinated by the bright flashing neon lights on the strip. We took turns making fun of each other’s plans.
       “Don’t come to me for help after you throw your money away at a craps table.”
       “I’ll be drinking pink champagne in Vegas while you eat potatoes with fat old folks in some stinky bar in Dublin. What do you want with your potatoes, sir? Oh, I believe I’ll have another potato. Give me a break!”
       We offloaded the boat from the pickup, mounted the outboard motor, and tied the punting poles in place. The motor started on the second pull, and I steered the pirogue down the bayou. Pierre used the GPS on the phone to guide us. Louisiana is so flat that cell phone coverage is great.
       Three miles later, we turned from Bayou Saint Denis into a smaller channel. We followed that channel for another mile and then entered the unmaintained smaller bayous and swamps to the east. These bayous weren’t clear channels. The water was filled with floating lilies, grasses, weeds, and cypress stumps. Water tupelo trees and palmettos grew in clusters on the small hillocks of solid ground. Spanish moss dangled from the cypress trees. Cranes, egrets, pelicans, and osprey patrolled the area. Insects were everywhere; mosquitos and dragonflies droned as they searched for prey. I knew better than to be taken in by the quiet beauty of the sun dappled wetlands. Life and death struggles constantly take place throughout the swamp. Large egrets eat baby alligators; big alligators eat egrets. Cranes and pelicans eat fish and crabs. So do osprey. Crawfish and catfish eat everything that sinks to the bottom. The cottonmouths eat anything they want.
       The water was ripe with the stench of death and rot. The decaying vegetation and smorgasbord of dead fish and partially eaten turtles made the swamp smell like a garbage dump. Occasionally, a bubble of gas from the vegetation rotting on the bottom would pop on the surface, and the foul odor made me gag.
       We didn’t care about the scenery, the smell, or the cycle of life. We were focused on the GPS coordinates. Everything went fine until the outboard motor stopped. I checked, and it still had gasoline, but the propeller was tangled with the weeds and lilies. Pierre helped me clear the propeller, and the motor started without a problem. The propeller clogged again within twenty feet.
       We spent the rest of the day fighting with the outboard motor. When the propeller wasn’t clogged, the engine was flooded. It was getting dark, and the swamps are spooky at night. “Pierre, when I get this thing started, we’re going back. I don’t want to spend the night out here. We’ll sleep in the truck and start early in the morning.”
       The motor eventually started, and I turned the boat around and steered for open water. In the fading light, I didn’t see a floating log, and I drove the boat over it. The propeller sheared off. Without a propeller, the engine revved out of control, smoked, belched, and sputtered to a stop. It was frozen, and I couldn’t budge the starter rope.
       The swamp was quiet in the aftermath of motor’s meltdown. The oily smoke drifted silently across the water. It wasn’t a good silence. It was the kind of silence that waits to jump out at you. A frog croaked and another answered back. Dragonflies skimmed across the water seeking a last meal before sundown. Fish splashed, birds chirped, and the mosquitos droned. The sounds of the swamp quickly returned to normal. It got louder as the sun set and the swamp woke up.
       We drifted under a low hanging cypress branch, and I tied our boat to it. “We aren’t going to try and pole this boat anywhere in the dark, and I’m not getting out to push. We’ll figure this out in the morning.”
       We did the best we could to hide from the mosquitos and flies, but the little buggers were relentless. We were afraid climb into the water to get away from bug bites; bigger things were in the water. We huddled in the pirogue, drank beer, ate beef jerky, and flinched at every splash we heard all night long.
       The mosquitos made a shift change when the sun came up. Pierre and I took the outboard motor apart and wasted an hour before we admitted we couldn’t put it back together.
       I untied the boat and tested the water with my pole. “We can’t stay here; we’ll have to use the poles. I’ll pole first, and you pole when I get tired.”
       “Why don’t we pole at the same time?”
       “You ain’t Mike Fink, and this ain’t no keelboat. If we try to work together, we’ll turn this thing over. I don’t care to swim with alligators and snakes. I’ve already fed the bugs. We’re closer to the treasure than we are to the boat dock. I vote to keep going.”
       I poled the pirogue through the shallow swamp. Pierre compared the GPS with the ostrich egg every few seconds. “Pat, the sun is really warming this egg. It’s so hot it burns my fingers when I touch it.”
       “Put it down before you drop it, and trade places with me.”
       Pierre pushed the boat where I told him to push it. One problem with a two hundred year old map is that the swamps change all the time. Channels fill in, trees grow, die, and fall over to close an open passage. Even the GPS information on the cell phone was outdated and the phone was running out of battery charge. We poled the boat forward and backward. We went right, left, and in circles. By the end of the day, we were completely lost in the maze of channels and dead ends. The cell phone was almost dead.
       We tied off to a mangrove tree before dark. Pierre used his baseball hat as a net and caught a few dozen crawfish. Raw crawfish are disgusting. We had a few beers and settled in for another sleepless night.
       I unwrapped the ostrich egg on our third day in the swamp and tried to compare our GPS position with the map. The phone finally died before I figured anything out. I left the egg balanced on a folded tarp rather than wrapped and covered. I really couldn’t tell anything from looking at the map, but it was the only source of information we had, so I was going to keep trying to use it.
       We decided to go south whenever we could, south would eventually lead to the open waters of Bayou St. Denis. We made several false starts and retreats during the morning. About noon, I recognized the mangrove tree from the night before. We turned away from the tree and poled back up the channel. We were lost and out of food and water. Beer’s OK, but not when it’s all you’ve got.
       The egg shifted and nearly rolled off the tarp. I yelled at Pierre, “Be careful when you pole. Stop jerking the boat around, you’ll break the egg.”
       “I pole smoother than a baby’s butt. You’re the one that stomps around like an elephant. If the egg breaks, it’s your fault.”
       He poled gently, and I stepped softly for a while. I noticed that sometimes the egg shifted whenever we came a channel intersection. The egg turned until the small end pointed toward different channel. I told Pierre.
       He said, “What the devil, we’re lost anyway. Maybe the egg works like a Ouija board. Following the egg got us lost, could be following it will either get us out or lead us to the treasure.”
       We changed direction whenever the egg spun and pointed to a new heading. Late that afternoon, we followed a channel until it dead ended, surrounded on three sides by a horseshoe-shaped island in the swamp.        The egg rolled point upward. Pierre said, “This must be where the treasure is. I’m going to land on that island.”
       Pierre still couldn’t pole with any skill. I said, “Pierre, don’t lean so far out of the boat before you lift the pole out of the water. If the pole gets stuck in the mud, it’ll drag you right out of the boat.”
       “I’m doing fine. If you don’t like the way I pole, you can do it yourself.”
“Pierre, just be careful. We’ve only got about twenty yards to go.”
       Pierre wasn’t careful. In fact, he began to show off. With each push, he deliberately leaned father and farther out of the pirogue. His pole sunk a couple of feet deeper into the muck than he expected it didn’t come free from the bottom, and he wouldn’t let go. The pirogue drifted out from under his feet, and Pierre hugged the pole with both arms. He wrapped his legs around the pole and dangled about a foot above the water. The pole tilted a little bit, but it stayed upright and stranded Pierre over the bayou.
       Pierre screamed, “I can’t swim, and I can’t hold on much longer. Bring the boat back. Bring the boat back.”
       The egg started shaking before I picked up my pole. I reached down to steady the egg. It was red hot and burnt my fingers. Crack lines appeared across the surface of the map, and the egg broke apart. It was filled with thick yellow and green slime. The fluid looked and smelled like pus from an infected and gangrenous sore. The pus evaporated into yellow green smoke which bubbled from the egg and flowed across the bottom of the boat and over the side onto the water. The cloud settled across the fetid swamp water and sank into the surface.
       Pierre shouted, “What was that? Did you set the boat on fire?” Before I could answer, Pierre slipped down the pole. When he felt the bayou water soak into his high tops, he scrambled up the pole. A pair of hands reached from the swamp and grabbed his feet. The hands were mostly bones with some scattered pieces of mottled flesh and tattered shreds of cloth clinging to them. The bones glowed like yellow green foxfire.
       “I’m caught, I’m caught!” he screamed. He kicked himself free but slid down the pole. He scrambled back above from the water, the pole tilted to one side, and three more sets of hands reached up from the water. Pierre fought to hold himself on the pole and kick at the hands at the same time.
       There was no almost no flesh on the bones. When the hands clutched Pierre’s legs, remnants of decayed flesh came loose and fish attacked the pieces as the rotted chunks drifted across the scummy surface.        Skulls surfaced after the hands and arms. Thick yellow slime covered the bones and congealed into translucent muscles and skin. Two of the creatures clawed at Pierre’s feet, and the other two pushed the pole into the water. Pierre surfaced and gasped for breath. He bounced backwards in the shallow water, slapping away the bony fingers that reached for him.
       “Wade,” I shouted. “You can wade! The water’s only five feet deep.”
       Pierre broke free, thrashed in the shallow water, and splashed toward the boat. He never stopped screaming. Every few seconds, a bony hand grabbed him, and he shrieked louder, flailing his arms to brush the clutching hands away.
       I tried to turn the boat toward Pierre, but it kept spinning in a circle. I finally got it pointed toward Pierre. Four skeletons, now more corporeal yellow and green men, held him by his arms. He fought free and grabbed the edge of the boat. Two alligators swam toward Pierre.
       I pointed and screamed, “Gators, gators! Hurry!”
       Pierre struggled, but the men caught him and pulled him away from the boat. He used their arms for support, raised his feet and kicked the first alligator. The alligator swam over Pierre’s kicking feet straight into his chest and butted him with its snout. Two of the men held Pierre’s right arm out like an offering, and the alligator turned its head and clamped down on Pierre’s forearm. The men released him, and the alligator rolled over and pulled Pierre to the swamp bottom. In seconds, Pierre surfaced away from the skeleton men and gasped for breath. He floundered in the water and pounded the alligator’s head with his free hand. The alligator shifted its teeth and bit down on Pierre’s arm. Pierre tried to pry the alligator’s mouth open with his left hand. He shoved his finger into the alligator’s eye.
       I was close enough to reach the alligator with my pole. The pirogue pole was fifteen feet long and hard to control, but I hit the alligator three or four times for every time I hit Pierre. The men were wading closer to Pierre, and I swung my pole and knocked the first one’s head off. He disappeared under the water for a few seconds, re-emerging with his head in his hands. He put it back on. I was so focused on the skeleton man that I didn’t see the second alligator until it was almost on Pierre. I shouted to warn him, but it was too late. I poked the second alligator with my pole, but I couldn’t slow him down. The first alligator dragged Pierre through the water and away from the boat. Pierre rolled onto his back, saw the second alligator closing, and kicked at it with both feet. The alligator caught Pierre’s leg in mid-kick and bit down.
       Pierre’s was still kicking and hitting the alligators when they pulled him under the water. The water churned and bubbled a fountain of red foam as the reptiles dismembered Pierre. They swam away with the choicest pieces. They would eat some now and store the rest for later. The swamp water turned blood red. Insects, fish, turtles, rats, and crabs raced to the feast.
       The swamp creatures fought to devour every morsel of Pierre. His left arm, still in a shirt sleeve, was the last piece to vanish. It bobbed placidly on the bloody waters and then suddenly was snatched below the surface. The blood flowed in streams across the water into the yellow green men. Veins and arteries appeared and traced intricate trails over the water-logged bones and disappeared beneath the frog-colored skin congealing over the muscles and bones. When the blood had been absorbed by the men, only a few scattered bits of cloth and a Saint’s baseball hat remained floating in the grayish pink water.
       The now fully substantial men turned toward me. The slime had formed clothes, earrings, big hats, head scarves, and weapons. There were rings on their fingers, and their loose shirtsleeves were plastered wet against their arms. Cutlasses, knives, and flintlock pistols were shoved into the wide sashes they wore instead of belts. One wore ribbons in his hair and beard.
       I turned the boat around and poled like a madman toward the horseshoe island created by an old mangrove forest, threw the pirogue’s anchor into a tupelo tree, and splashed ashore.
There were three large cypress trees in the middle of the islet. I remembered the egg map showed three trees growing in a perfect triangle, and the treasure was hidden dead center of the triangle. Not that it mattered, but I believed this was where the treasure was buried.
       I ran toward the largest cypress tree, looked back, tripped, and fell. I’d tripped on the corner of a chest sticking out of the dirt. I left it there and climbed the tree.
       The four men stopped at the boat and took the shovels and axes. They looked like actors from an Errol Flynn movie but were dirtier and wetter. Pirates. The men were pirates. Two of them went to the chest, and the other two stood under the cypress tree. One knelt down and said, “It’s one of our treasure chests. It could be the witch’s gold.”
       They cleared the dirt from the chest with their hands. They shoveled, dug, and scraped the top of the chest clean. The oak chest was rotted, and the iron hinges and locks were mostly rusted away. The top of the chest crumbled when they opened it.
       What remained of the leather bags inside turned to dust when the men tried to pull them from the dirt-filled chest. They lifted handfuls of dirt and sifted it through their fingers. Gold and silver coins rained down with the dirt. The gold coins were doubloons, pirate gold.
       They sifted the doubloons and silver coins for the next hour. They loaded the gold and silver into a plastic bucket, but it was too heavy to lift; the cheap handle broke under the weight. One pirate with several gold teeth walked to the pirogue, carried the two empty buckets to the treasure, and divided the doubloons into all three buckets. He carried the buckets one at a time and put them near the boat under the tupelo tree. He stumbled and dropped the third bucket onto its side. The coins spilled out and bounced across the ground. Some of the coins rolled under the mangrove trees and dwarf palmetto bushes. He cursed, dropped to his knees, and tried to pick up every coin, but he missed several hidden under the bushes.
       Gold Teeth loaded the buckets into the pirogue and joined the rest of the pirates under my tree. He held up one of the axes and said, “You can’t stay up there. Climb down, or we’ll chop down the tree.”
       I didn’t climb down, and I couldn’t call for help; the cell phone was dead. I scrambled higher until the lighter branches bent under my weight.
       One of the pirates found the beer and brought some to the others. As they drank, the dirty yellow green color faded, and their skin turned pink and tanned. Their matted green hair muted to normal colors. One of the pirates tossed a beer bottle away, turned to Gold Teeth, and said, “Captain Lafitte, I can’t believe the Laveau woman’s spell worked. I wonder how long it’s been since she cursed our souls into that ostrich egg.”
       Gold Teeth said, “I shouldn’t have stolen her gold. I didn’t believe in witches. How was I supposed to know she had a spell to lead her to us?”
       “She was one mean woman. Ugly, too.”
       “Can’t blame her for defending her property. I just wish she hadn’t been so good at it.”
       “Captain, seems like yesterday I was minding my own business, counting my share of the witch’s gold, and putting the final touches of scrimshaw on my ostrich egg. She put my spirit in the egg first. What happened after that?”
       “She’d have let bygones be bygones if I’d given back her gold. Of course, I refused. Pirates don’t give gold back. It’s against the ship’s articles. She dipped a feather into a little leather bag and shook the feather at you, and you dropped to the floor. She did the same to my brother and Jamie. The three of you looked dead, and you weren’t breathing. I checked. She gave me one last chance to tell her where we’d hidden her gold. I laughed and drew my cutlass.”
       “The next thing I knew, I could feel my flesh crawling, and we were feeding that boy to the alligators. I don’t know how we knew we needed his blood to complete our restoration. Marie told me we would be inside the egg until our souls reunited with our bodies. We always buried our crew in the bayou by the horseshoe island where we buried our treasure. Our spirits must have caused the egg to lead the dead man and the boy in the tree to where our bodies lay at the bottom of the bayou. Somehow, this place looks familiar and different at the same time.”
       “Do you think the young man cowering in the cypress can shed some light on how long we’ve been inside that eggshell?”
       “We’ve been in the egg quite a while. The little boat is made from strange metal, and these buckets aren’t wood or iron. The man in the tree dresses strangely. I’ll make him talk.”
       He pulled his cutlass from his wide paisley sash and pounded the flat of the blade against the tree to get my attention. “You answer a few questions, and we’ll be on our way. I’ll leave you marooned but alive. If you don’t talk, we’ll chop this tree down and make you talk one finger at a time.”
       “I’m not coming down. I don’t want anything to do with ghost pirates. Take the boat and the gold and leave me alone.”
       “We’re not ghosts. We’re more like the innocent victims of a curse. I don’t know exactly how the curse was broken, but there’s chance you broke it, so I don’t want to kill you. Answer me. What year is it? Does New Orleans still stand in the crescent bend on the Mississippi River?”
       “It’s 2015, and New Orleans is where it belongs.”
       “Imagine, 2015, as many years as that, is it? Who’s in charge? The French, the English, or the Americans?”
       “The United States of America.”
       “Excellent. I like Americans, and I know the way to New Orleans. Unless you’d care to join my crew, we’ll be leaving now. Best of luck.”
       The pirates loaded the buckets of gold and silver into the pirogue, poled it across the swamp. The captain touched his hand to his hat brim in a silent salute before they faded into the mist.
       I climbed down the tree and checked the treasure chest. I scratched through the dirt and dust without finding a single doubloon. I hurried to where Captain Lafitte had spilled the bucket of coins and searched for ones he dropped.
       I felt something under a palmetto bush and pulled it out. It was a cottonmouth water moccasin. It’s hard to say which of us was the most frightened, me or the snake. I screamed and the snake hissed. The snake bit me behind my right thumb. It wouldn’t let go no matter how hard I shook my arm. I finally ripped the snake and part of my thumb loose and threw them into the swamp. The snake swam away.
       I ran in circles, slinging blood everywhere. I cursed the snakes, the pirates, Pierre, and Marie Laveau, but it didn’t help my thumb. After a few minutes entertaining myself with profanity and self-pity, I stopped and examined my hand.
       Suck out the poison. I had to suck out the poison. Cut the bite so the blood flows and suck out the poison. I’d heard the guards talk about snakebites when I’d been on the swamp clearing crews.
       I needed a knife, but I didn’t have a knife. I ripped a strip of cloth from my shirt to make a tourniquet and smashed two of the beer bottles against each other. I cut the snake bite with the brown glass, sucked the bite, and spit blood and yellow bile. I rinsed my mouth with the dregs of warm beer from the scattered bottles, but I could still taste the venom and blood. I flushed my mouth with the filthy swamp water. The water tasted warm and alive. I tried not to swallow.
       I put pressure on the bite and huddled against the cypress tree. I only moved to drink or catch crawfish from the swamp. I knew the water was filled with parasites and diseases, but I didn’t care.
       The night was terrifying. Every splash I heard sounded like an alligator. Animal screams woke me from my fevered sleep more than once. The slightest rustle in the bushes was another cottonmouth. By morning, I was too weak to even brush away the mosquitoes.
       I barely remember the next day or night. A boat motor woke me early the third morning. I staggered to the swamp and saw a fisherman. I think I waved at him before I passed out.
       I woke up three days later in the New Orleans Charity Hospital. When the police interviewed me, I told them about the alligators that ate Pierre and about the pirates, the ostrich egg map, and the treasure. They were interested in the treasure until I mentioned Jean Lafitte and Marie Laveau.
       The doctor said I was seeing things. He used words like delirium, hallucinations, and trauma induced psychosis. He said I was confused by snake venom, dehydration, yellow fever, and raging cramps from drinking the swamp water. “Young man, you’d have died in less than a day if that fisherman hadn’t found you.”
       A few days later, the police asked how I ended up in the swamp.
       I explained the treasure map, the pickup truck, and the pirogue. “I downloaded the GPS map from the internet. I adjusted its size until it matched a photograph of the ostrich egg map. I knew the map was Bayou Saint Denis because I recognized the shoreline. Once I had the two maps lined up, I clicked on the X marks the spot place and saved the GPS location.”
       The policeman shook his finger at me. “You’re the stupidest and luckiest man in the world. There’s no way to match a carving on a big egg to the GPS mapping system and make it mean anything. You think a map carved a couple of hundred years ago on an egg is going to be accurate? You aren’t in your right mind. You’ve been snake bit, and the mosquitos gave your yellow fever. Drinking the swamp water should have killed you. It’s a miracle you even know your own name. I guess the good Lord does protect idiots.”
       I shut up. I didn’t tell the policeman how the egg twisted and turned, guiding us like a compass through the marsh and swamps. He already thought I was crazy.
       The police found the stolen pirogue tied up at the Decatur Street dock near the French Quarter and the pickup where I parked it near Bayou St. Denis. My fingerprints were all over them. I got three years for stealing the boat and the pickup.
       I recovered from yellow fever and the snakebite. I show the scar to the other inmates; it makes me look tough. I stopped telling the story about my friend Pierre and the pirates because everyone laughs at me.
       I feel bad about Pierre. His hat is all that’s left to mark where he died. I’d used it to catch crawfish and minnows before the fisherman found me. I’d dropped it, and it drifted into a snarl of mangrove roots just below the surface.
       I read in the newspaper that a new bar opened on Bourbon Street, Lafitte’s Buccaneer Bar. The article said the décor is authentic, most of the pieces dating from before the Louisiana Purchase. The owner tells the most amazing stories about the War of 1812, old New Orleans, and Marie Laveau. The tourists love it.
       I never told anyone that Jean Lafitte spilled a bucket of doubloons on the mangrove island. He didn’t find them all. Pierre’s hat is probably still caught on a mangrove root with crawfish living in it. When I get out of jail, I’m going back for his hat and, of course, the rest of the gold.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico with his wife Sally, where they are commercial hot air balloon pilots. Robert runs and writes every day but not necessarily in that order. His stor stories, recently published or scheduled for publication this year, are stories included in the anthologies Uncommon Origins, Keeping Pace with Eternity, Twelve Days, Potters Field Six, and Hindered Souls. Visit his author’s page on Amazon for the most current information.