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  A BETTER WAY TO STOP PIRATES

  The Fairweather Chronicles

  BOOK 1

  by

  Mark Douglas Stafford

  V41020110

  Copyright 2014 Mark Douglas Stafford text and graphics

  Discover other titles by this author at markdouglasstafford.com.

  Other novels by this author

  Dinosaurs Eat Paris

  CONTENTS

  Map

  Frontispiece

  Chapter 1  Harry Possum

  Chapter 2  Riding Horses

  Chapter 3  Nothing to Fear

  Chapter 4  The Windrush

  Chapter 5  Earlier that Day

  Chapter 6  A Better Way to Stop Pirates

  Chapter 7  Flossy Fairweather

  Chapter 8  First Impressions

  Chapter 9  Bad Timing

  Chapter 10  A Barrel of Olive Oil

  Chapter 11  Rumours of Pirates

  Chapter 12  Riot in Town Square

  Chapter 13  Mourning the Loss of Friends

  Chapter 14  The Stinging Nettle

  Other books by this author

  About the author

  ‘Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off.

  Build your wings on the way down.’

  Ray Bradbury, Brown Daily Herald

  (circa 1995, The Machine Age)

  CHAPTER 1

  HARRY POSSUM

  When the schoolhouse exploded Harry Possum was standing only a short distance away. Shredded timber, terracotta roofing tiles, shattered glass and twisted metal lashed out at Harry, laying him flat on the grass. The pressure-wave knocked the half-empty water tank off its flimsy platform and bowled over the old wooden fence. Burning textbook pages and homework, with far too many corrections, floated down like glowing snowflakes through a pall of noxious smoke.

  Harry’s ears were ringing from the blast and his head hurt. He was under some part of the schoolhouse, maybe a section of wall. He moved his arm, he moved his bushy tail, he moved his legs; everything seemed to be working.

  The last thing he remembered hearing was, boom! He was out under a pale blue sky and turned seaward towards the noise. The schoolhouse was perched on a hillside that meandered down to a wind-troubled sea. The last thing he remembered saying was: ‘That sounded like cannon fire.’ There had been a whistling noise that had grown louder as it dropped rapidly in pitch, then boom!

  Harry dragged himself out from under the wreckage and stumbled to his knees among a tangle of broken chairs and shattered writing tablets. His paw came away sticky with blood as he tentatively explored a sore spot on his forehead. The bright sunshine dazzled him as he looked round to get his bearings.

  ‘Ha-weez gwar-sez,’ said a baby sloth. She was sitting on an upside down school desk and wore his sunglasses. They were crooked and she was trying to straighten them—sloths don’t have external ears on which to rest the arms. He squinted at the baby sloth, remembering. Everything was fuzzy at first then snapped into focus. He had pulled her aside and sheltered her just before the blast.

  ‘Elsie!’ he said, delighted she was unharmed. ‘May I have those, please?’ He reached out, stroked her smooth white fur and gently took back his sunglasses.

  ‘Skool go big bang Ha-wee. No moor kool,’ she said, slowly shaking her pretty round head, her eyes big like saucers.

  Harry put on his sunglasses and looked round. There was nothing left of the school but smouldering rubble, a deep crater and drifting smoke.

  ‘Don’t worry, Elsie. We’ll build a new school soon, you’ll see.’ He picked her up and went looking for the others.

  Reginald Elephant, the school’s teacher, stood where Harry had last seen him—it took more than an explosion to move an elephant. Reginald’s eyes were glazed with disbelief. In an instant, the schoolhouse he had cared for and worked in for decades had been utterly destroyed.

  Larry Monkey stood in his teacher’s shadow, one black hand shielding the sun as he stared out to sea. He must have been standing safely behind Reginald when the cannonball exploded.

  ‘Are you two okay?’ Harry called ahead as he picked his way through the rubble towards them.

  Reginald nodded mutely. Larry continued staring, showing no sign of having heard.

  ‘I’m guessing that was cannon fire,’ said Harry, stopping when he reached the stunned elephant. ‘There was no one inside, Reginald?’

  Reginald shook his big, grey head. ‘No, class was out, thank goodness. They’re in the sand dunes, you see; a science project… I suppose I should start tidying up. They’ll be back soon with their specimens and they were so looking forward…’ Reginald trailed off as if realising for the first time that without classrooms there would be no class. ‘Oh my,’ he said.

  Harry adjusted his dark glasses and followed Larry’s gaze. Through the smoke and between the ramshackle cottages jostling on the hillside for a better view he could see the ocean all the way to its faded horizon. Not far from the rocky ocean beach was a sailing ship crashing through waves before a strong breeze. Every sail was full to bursting and it looked like it might be making ten or twelve knots.

  Harry recognised the ship immediately. He had seen it once before years ago and had heard many stories of her dread captain.

  ‘Pirates!’ he declared through gritted teeth, paws clenched, tail stiff. ‘They’re back.’

  The mention of pirates shook Reginald from his daze. ‘Pirates did this? Surely even pirates wouldn’t!’ He raised his trunk to stop the glare as he too looked out to sea. ‘But why would they destroy my school? Why would they want to hurt my students? Maybe it was an accident. Even pirates wouldn’t…’

  ‘They did this, Reginald,’ said Harry with conviction. ‘And they meant to. I’m sure of it. They fired on the school. That’s the Interloper out there, and if you look carefully you can see the cannon hatches are still open. The school’s the biggest building on the hillside and they had a clear shot. It was no accident.’

  ‘But why?’ asked Reginald, dumfounded.

  ‘Piwates noorpy,’ Elsie said, frowning sternly.

  ‘That’s right, Elsie. The pirates are very naughty.’ He turned and looked up at the large, grey elephant. ‘Don’t worry, Reginald. I’m going to catch them and teach them a lesson, one they won’t forget. They won’t bother Port Isabel again.’

  ‘Now, there’s no need to be rash,’ said Reginald. ‘The wrong response could well make things worse. They’re wild animals so you can’t know how they’ll react to provocation. Maybe…’

  ‘You think, Reginald. I’ll act. There’s too much thinking in Port Isabel, which is why this kind of thing happens. Everyone’s afraid to call them out. Well, that changes today!’ Harry saw a clear path through the smoking rubble. ‘I’m sorry about your school,’ he said over his shoulder.

  ‘But, Harry…,’ Reginald called out.

  ‘Come on, Elsie. Let’s go find your parents.’

  Elsie scuttled around onto his back. Sloths were very good climbers and spent most of their younger years riding on their mothers’ backs or hanging from tree branches.

  The force of the blast had torn a large branch off the old oak tree in front of the school. As it was nearing the end of winter the branch had no leaves, just buds. It had fallen across the path so Harry walked down the branch, tail extended for balance, and nimbly jumped from the end. ‘Weeee!’ said Elsie. She was so light he almost forgot he was carrying her. She couldn’t be more than two years old.

  The white picket fence and gate were untroubled by the blast. Harry opened the gate and looked back. There was nothing left, the cannonball had detonated dead centre. It seemed hard to believe tha