Category Archives: Fairytale Hit Squad 2

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.1 – Brittle Jerky Leather?

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ALL I’VE BEEN trying to do is make a living.

Perhaps not the most honest one, I’ll give the lad that. But what options do I have left to me, I ask you? You try making ends meet when you can’t even use a blasted knife and fork.

I blame my parents. Or their parents, or their parents’ parents. Whoever first had the astoundingly good idea to use that as a surname. It was like some cursed legacy, passed down through generations, waiting for some poor unfortunate soul to take it literally.

Well, great-great-great-ancestors, here I am. Excuse me if I don’t salute you, in case I poke my damned eyes out.

A knock at my door hauls me from my self-pity.

‘Enter.’

It’s Jukes. Barges in like he owns the place. Never trusted him, I have to admit. Always seems to have his sights set on things above his station. Like my job.

‘Cap’n.’ It’s hard to make out his expression beneath all the tattoos. His face is inscribed like a map. To a place you wouldn’t really want to sail.

‘What is it?’ I close the book carefully, turning it away from him so he doesn’t see what I’ve been writing.

‘Something you should see, cap’n. Above decks.’ He clicks his tongue like a ticking clock. Swine.

‘What is it? We’re not due to see land for another day at least.’

‘Another ship, cap’n. Approaching fast.’

‘What colours are they flying?’ We’re deep in neutral territory, but it could be anyone. The English, the Spanish, another privateer. Even the Lost Boys on their luxury yacht.

‘You won’t believe it, cap’n.’ The tattoos round Jukes’ mouth do a smug dance of glee. ‘Never thought we’d see the like, not this far out.’

‘Who is it!’ I slam my fist on the table. The book nearly falls off. I twirl my moustache in a dastardly fashion in an attempt to make Jukes think I’ve not lost my composure.

‘She’s showing the flag of the Kingdom, cap’n. SB’s insignia.’

‘SB?’ My blood runs cold as one of Tinkerbell’s special rum daiquiris. ‘What in blazes could she want with us?’

A non-committal shrug. ‘No idea, cap’n.’ His inked body fills the doorway like a muscled collection of scribbles. ‘Better come see for yourself.’

I curse under my breath, taking the quill out the ink pot and laying it down gently. I was in full flow – the muse had most certainly blessed me with her presence: my sonnet to Tiger Lily was shaping up nicely. Once I’d found a decent enough rhyme for ‘little perky feather’, it would have been as good as done.

I gesture for Jukes to lead the way, knowing better than to have him behind me. I find myself wishing the blasted boy had finished the job, rather than just carving his initials on Jukes’ back with his rapier and flying off with a laugh. The scars slice through one of his larger tattoos, depicting a mermaid doing something I would wager a fistful of doubloons against being anatomically possible. The second letter P all but obscures her gills, which is probably just as well.

Everyone’s up on deck. Noodler, Starkey, Cookson, Smee and a dastardly crew of other pirates whose names I’ve never taken the time to remember. They’re all peering out to starboard, towards the three-master speeding in our direction. I can see the flag. Jukes was telling the truth.

‘Man the cannon!’ I shout. ‘Brace for impact!’

The crew scatter at my command, taking up positions above and below decks. Noodler swings the harpoon, aiming it directly at the oncoming galleon. An impressive feat, given the state of his fingers. I look down at where my own right hand used to be and curse that blasted crocodile to kingdom come.

‘Beggin’ yer pardon, cap’n.’ Smee toadies up to me, offering me the telescope. ‘Best ‘ave a look up at the crow’s nest there.’

I grab the spyglass and fix it to my good eye. The image is blurred, so I twist the eyepiece, bringing everything into focus.

Sharp, blood-curdling focus.

There, above the ship. Tumbling in the air like a balletic green bird. Laughing. Swishing his sword effortlessly to and fro, jabbing and feinting, ducking and weaving. The movements are unmistakable.

It’s him.

It’s Pan.

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.2 – Hook, Line and Sinker

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‘LOOK OUT, CAP’N!’

Smee manages to duck in time. Pan’s sword slices at the air where his head used to be, the blade singing a sickeningly cheery tune. The nimble emerald hooligan laughs, tumbling forwards in mid-air, then snatching my hat clean off my head.

A gasp. Some stifled coughing. My men are staring at me, eyes as wide as the Great White Whale’s blowhole. Not only did twinkletoes here grab my tricorn, but he yanked my whole wig clean off my head with it. Beneath, I’m bald as a blasted barnacle. I grasp up at my fast-ascending locks but too late – Pan twirls them round in the air like a freshly-shorn black fleece, sniggering and calling out to the crew of the Kingdom ship below.

It was my little secret. My flowing black locks were the envy of the pirate domain, looked on with awe by less follically-blessed scurvy dogs across the length, breadth and depth of the whole seven seas.

‘There goes Captain Hook,’ they would say, whispering to each other in shady Tobago taverns. ‘Does he or doesn’t he?’ From promising privateers in Portsmouth to bumbling buccaneers in Barbados: pirates across the globe would pop to their local barber’s and ask hopefully for a ‘Hook’, wishing to emulate my lustrous malevolent tresses. Now, standing here with a head like a painted pink coconut, I feel rather less inspiring.

‘Shoot ‘im out the bleedin’ sky!’ Jukes is swinging a grappling hook on a rusty iron chain with one hand and pointing at the cursed emerald menace with the other. Cookson and Starkey stuff their muskets full of powder and take aim. Starkey is first to fire. His shot goes wide, going clean through the silhouette of SB fluttering on the flag flying from the topmast of the Kingdom galleon. Gasps from the various Jacks and other minor anthropomorphic leads on the deck below. A minor victory, but a short-lived one.

Cookson fumbles, dropping his musket on the deck of our very own The Fickle Muse. The weapon discharges, spraying shot straight into Smee’s ample backside. He yelps, leaping a full six feet in the air – an impressive feat for one so portly. Pan seizes the opportunity, swooping down and grabbing the hapless buffoon in mid-air, carrying him off squealing like a tickled piglet towards the Kingdom vessel.

‘Surrender!’ Pan’s voice surfs back to us over the waves. ‘Surrender or face the consequences!’

Shouts and jeers from my men. Noodler shakes his fist at the lad, though his backward-facing hands make it appear as if he’s berating himself instead. Jukes lets out a mighty roar and lets loose the grappling hook. Pan darts out of range, but my tattooed compatriot wasn’t aiming for him. Instead, the hook tangles itself in the galleon’s rigging, catching fast amongst the ropes. With a bellow of rage, Jukes pulls the chain taut and fastens it to one of our cannons, then leaps up on top of the line and races towards the startled Kingdom sailors.

‘Avast ye lily-livered lapdogs!’ He whips out his curved blade and bites down on it, clenching it between his teeth and rushing forward with hate in his eyes and devilry on his mind.

The rest of the men cheer, willing him on. Having seen him in action many a time, the Kingdom forces don’t stand a chance. They’ll be fish food before they can blink.

‘Hold!’

Everyone freezes, even Pan. Jukes stops mid-stride, balancing menacingly close to the Kingdom ship. But even he’s impressed by what’s just appeared on the galleon’s poop deck.

A billowing pink tent, surrounded by garlands of red flowers. Shimmering out of nothing, fairies giggling and flitting their wings as they cascade their magic dust down on the canopy. And inside, resplendent on a gilded throne atop four subservient prone dwarfs, SB herself.

‘Desist!’ She waves a pink lace fan in everyone’s general direction. It’s as if time slows down and goes to sleep. ‘Everyone just relax.’

She gets up, trailing the hem of a gossamer pink gown behind her. The fairies sigh in unison. A couple of the older ones swoon, dropping from the sky like little winged walnuts.

‘Captain James Hook!’ She calls across the thin gap of ocean separating our two vessels. ‘A word, if you please?’

All eyes swivel towards me. I feel the skin of my scalp redden. ‘Aye?’ I manage, scratching my chin with the business end of my steely appendage. ‘What would that be?’

‘If you would be so kind as to join me aboard,’ she says, extending a bejewelled hand towards me. ‘Though it pains me to admit it, I am sorely in need of your assistance…’

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.3 – Lost Property

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AS I WATCH, a rainbow appears. Not in the clear skies above, but spanning the distance between my ship and hers. It glitters in the air, and smells faintly of patchouli. The fairies applaud gleefully, tiptoeing across the multi-coloured bridge and singing sickly sweet songs about unicorns and teddy bears.

‘You may cross.’ SB sweeps her hand in front of her.

I narrow my eyes. Kaleidoscopic and shimmering with fairy dust it may be, but I’ve been on the edge of one too many gangplanks in my time to trust anyone.

‘Come now, don’t be such a big sissy.’ The fairies cascade into giggling laughter at SB’s words. I feel my scalp turn scarlet, the scornful eyes of my men at my back. I peer down over the side of The Fickle Muse, scanning the waters for any stray ticking crocodiles. Only clear water, shoals of annoyingly perky fish tumbling in a needlessly-complex choreographed aquatic ballet below.

I step out, cursing the sun which rose upon this day. Far above, Pan sits cross-legged on the topmast of the Kingdom galleon, snickering to himself. I make a vow to myself to pin his shadow to his backside with a rusty harpoon, then continue across the glittering bridge, ignoring the chirruping fairies flitting about my face.

‘There,’ says SB, sitting back down on her throne. The subservient dwarves groan, taking the strain on their backs. ‘That wasn’t so bad now, was it?’

She’s a handsome woman, I have to admit. Long golden hair, tumbling down across pale white shoulders. Blue eyes which sparkle like the Caribbean seas, lips as red as a chest brimming with rubies. Dark rings under her eyes spoil the overall effect, but then I suppose that’s what happens after you’ve been asleep for over a hundred years.

‘You need my help?’ I try to keep the incredulity from my voice, but my sceptical tone betrays me. ‘Me. Captain Hook, Scourge of the Seven Seas?’

‘The most feared – and most effective – pirate the world has ever known.’ SB nods. ‘Yes, I require your assistance.’

‘But I am not under your rule.’ I puff out my chest and twirl my moustache. ‘I am a privateer, a free agent.’

‘Exactly.’ She smiles beguilingly. I feel her power, strong as any siren. ‘You are able to operate … under the radar, so to speak.’

I find myself wanting to please her. ‘One of my many skills, m’lady. Now, what is it you require of me?’

Her throne lurches to one side as one of the dwarves beneath her collapses. She gives him a sharp kick with one of her bejewelled shoes and shakes her head. I don’t fancy the poor little mite’s chances when she gets back to port, that’s for sure.

‘You will be familiar with the Lost Boys?’ she asks.

‘Of course, m’lady. A slovenly group of hooligans if ever there was one.’ I cough. ‘Though I understand they are on your side?’

‘That’s the thing.’ She flicks a wayward fairy off her shoulder like a flake of dandruff. ‘They’ve gone rogue. Set themselves up as a pirate band, in neutral waters outside our jurisdiction.’

‘Troublesome, I would imagine, but is it really a matter of regal importance? Besides, they earned their name for a reason – they’ll be sailing round in circles for months. I’m sure they’ll not cause any real trouble.’

‘I’m afraid they already have.’ Her face darkens like a typhoon on the horizon. ‘They have kidnapped someone very precious to me, and are holding her to ransom.’

‘I see. And you want me to return her, whoever it is?’

‘Indeed I do. For they have absconded with the Little Mermaid.’

‘She still lives? I had heard she was turned into a shower of sea foam.’

‘That was the ending we wanted the world to believe. No, she still lives. And not only that, she still has the Foresight.’

‘She has the power to tell the future?’

‘Since her run-in with the sea witch, yes. The potion she drank imbued her with many powers, the ability to peer into the mysteries of what is to be foremost amongst them. She was one of my most trusted advisers.’ She kicks an innocent dwarf in indignation. ‘And now she’s gone.’

‘And stolen by a group of unruly teenagers.’

‘Yes, it is most tiresome. They have already used her powers to find at least three lots of buried treasure.’

She has my interest now. ‘What? That’s my job!’

‘As I have heard, yes. You are quite the loot-seeker, by all accounts.’ She smiles coquettishly. I feel my moustache bristle with pride. ‘Which is why I ask you to help me now. Rescue the Little Mermaid and I shall be in your debt.’

‘Which would translate to what, exactly?’ Once a pirate, always a pirate …

‘Riches beyond your wildest imaginings. A pirate cove to call your own.’ She lowers her voice to a promissory whisper. ‘And a full pardon.’

‘I would no longer be hunted by your leads and heroes?’

‘Indeed not. I imagine you find the attention rather tiresome?’

I hold up my hook. ‘An understatement, m’lady.’ I imagine it. The freedom to roam the seas, without fear of a bilge-hook up my barge. ‘Very well. We have a deal. I shall return the Little Mermaid to you, safe and sound.’

‘Excellent.’ She claps her hands, accidentally squishing an unwary fairy. She wipes her hands on the back of one of the dwarves and continues. ‘There is one other thing. I’m afraid I cannot have you acting alone, given your reputation. You will be working in partnership with someone.’

‘Who?’ My heart sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

‘Someone you know very well.’

‘Who?’

She looks up, shielding her eyes from the blistering sun. ‘Oh, Peter,’ she calls. ‘Would you come down now please?’

I groan, and look around for the nearest gangplank to fling myself off…

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.4 – Boys Will Be Boys

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‘HOW’S THE POSTERIOR?’

Pan’s face spreads in an eminently punchable grin as the fairies titter delightedly. I instinctively put my hand to the back of my britches, where the scoundrel stuck me like a pincushion the last time we met.

‘Fine,’ I say, glaring at him. His shadow’s halfway up the wall, making obscene gestures at me. ‘Barely a scratch.’

‘I heard you couldn’t sit down for over six months.’ Pan hops from one foot to another. ‘And even now, you need to sit on a pile of cushions higher than your mizzenmast.’

‘Peter, please behave.’ SB smiles behind a gloved hand. ‘Be nice to Mr Hook.’

‘I’m only being as nice as he was to me and the Darlings .’ He pouts like a toddler. ‘Don’t you remember what he tried to do?’

‘Those little tykes deserved everything they got. They were trying to steal my blasted ship!’

‘Boys, boys. Enough. Time to put the past behind you.’ SB’s smile has vanished, an impatient glare taking its place. ‘I wouldn’t be asking you to work together unless it was an emergency.’

‘Where were the Lost Boys last sighted?’ I turn my back on Pan, trying to show I, at least, am a grown-up.

‘Near Pleasure Island,’ says SB. ‘Quite some distance from here.’

‘Then we shall chart a course immediately. I will return to my cabin to prepare.’

‘I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that,’ says SB. ‘The Lost Boys will recognise you and your vessel. I can’t afford for them to be alerted. You will need a disguise.’

‘A disguise?’ I run my hand through where my hair should be. ‘What do you propose?’

‘You shall pretend to be one of their own kind, seeking to join them.’

‘Lost Boys?’ I stare at the gnarled knuckles of my remaining hand. ‘I’m afraid my boyhood is but a dim and distant memory, m’lady.’

‘Then allow me to remind you.’ SB twirls a finger in the air, tracing a sparkling shimmer of fairy dust. As I watch, the skin on my hand contracts, the lines smoothing out before my eyes. Gasps from the fairies; a derisory snort from Pan.

‘Most convincing, even if I do say so myself. Here,’ says SB, handing me a diamond-encrusted mirror. ‘Have a look, let me know what you think.’

I raise the mirror, my hand trembling. I feel it: the glamour she’s cast: more than an illusion, more than a fairydust deception. She’s changed me. Even my hook feels different, less pointy somehow.

I don’t even recognise the face blinking back at me. Podgy, little piggy eyes squinting at the mirror. Buck teeth and sticky-out ears and a haircut which would make pudding bowls the realm over spin with envy.

‘What … have … you … done?’ I cough. My voice is a cacophony of wheezes, rumbles and squeaks that makes me sound like an asthmatic walrus sitting on a pixie.

‘Lost indeed,’ says Pan, almost bursting with mirth. ‘And with a face not even a mother would want to be found again.’

‘Leave my mother out of this,’ I squeal. I shake my hook at him menacingly. Pan and the fairies collapse in a heap of laughter. I stare at my appendage aghast and realise what SB has done. My hook is no longer a wicked curve of sharp and shiny steel, it’s blunt and dull as a beached jellyfish. And it’s made of rubber.

I hang my head in prepubescent shame, the sound of laughter ringing around the deck.

A flicker of yellow. A smell of marigolds. A little ringing sound.

‘Don’t be sad, my dearest captain.’ Tinkerbell alights delicately on the end of my acne-ridden nose. ‘It’s what inside that counts.’

I get some satisfaction from seeing Pan’s shocked expression. As far as he was concerned, his little fairy comrade had told him she was going away on holiday. Not defecting to join me, his arch nemesis, attracted by my swirling moustaches and my sparkling poetry.

‘That’s the problem, Tink,’ I say, drawing my sword. ‘Inside, I want nothing more than to send every last blasted soul here to Davy Jones’ Locker…’

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.5 – Row Your Boat

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IT’S LIKE A tsunami of laughter.

Pan and the fairies I can put up with, but it cuts me to the core to see even Tinkerbell tittering. My sword, once the most feared weapon this side of the Cape, is now little more than a wooden stick with a cork popped on the end of it. More suited to toasting treacherous marshmallows than slicing a swathe through bands of desperate cut-throats. I hold it aloft for one more second, then lower my hand, letting the hopeless weapon droop in a most disconcerting fashion.

‘I’m sorry, captain,’ says Tink, regaining her composure. ‘Please forgive me.’

‘It’s fine.’ I shrug my shamefully sleight shoulders. ‘I suppose I must get used to this.’

‘It is not forever,’ says SB, wiping a tear of merriment from her eye with a silken handkerchief. ‘Once you have infiltrated yourselves into the Lost Boys’ ranks, you will transform back into the man you were.’

‘That at least is some relief,’ I squawk, ignoring the already familiar gales of laughter my every utterance seem to induce. ‘And my weapons?’

‘They too shall be restored. I imagine you shall need them if you are to rescue the Little Mermaid.’

‘Remind me,’ I say. ‘Does she have legs or a tail these days?’

‘A tail. From what our fairyborne intelligence have been able to gather, the Lost Boys have her kept in a high-security fishbowl.’

‘A miserable existence, I would imagine.’

‘Exactly. She is a rather highly-strung individual and will no doubt be in the throes of desperate self-pity. It is vital you rescue her before she decides to take matters into her own hands and fillets herself.’

‘Understood.’ I bow, catching an unpalatable whiff of my hormonally-charged body odour with considerable dismay. ‘We shall act with the utmost alacrity.’

‘Very good.’ SB claps her hands. Her subservient dwarves shuffle off towards the poop deck. ‘Then it is time to embark upon your noble quest.’

Pan, Tink and I follow SB to where the dwarves are huffing and puffing with the ropes, lowering a most flimsy-looking rowing boat into the crystal clear waters lapping at the sides of the galleon. One of them curses and falls backwards, the rope burning through his stubby little fingers. The boat splashes noisly down onto the waves, where it bobs about with all the grace and seaworthiness of a dead elephant.

‘You expect us to travel in this?’ I squeak. ‘It barely looks able to float.’

‘Do not be deceived by its appearance, dearest Captain. Do you not notice it’s beautiful pea-green colour?’

I nod cautiously, despite the fact the boat’s unseemly hue reminds me more of a phlegm-filled sea-slug.

‘This is the self-same vessel used by the Owl and the Pussycat. And if it was capable of taking them to the land where the Bong-Tree grew, it is more than sufficient to carry you and Pan to Pleasure Island. Besides,’ she adds with a sly wink, ‘I’ve had it refitted with a jet turbine engine and state-of-the-art radar systems. You needn’t worry about a thing.’

I glance at Pan, who’s standing with his hands on his hips in a painfully heroic fashion. Whilst I am prepared to place a modicum of trust in SB’s mucus-coloured rowboat, I am less inclined to put my faith in the hands of boy wonder over there. I make mental note to be on my most alert, watchful for any signs of mischief – either from Pan or from his irritatingly perky shadow.

‘I too shall keep my eyes open,’ says Tink, reading my mind. ‘Together, we shall make sure we are not deceived.’

I’ve never asked her about it in detail, being too much of a gentleman to pry. Not even when she first arrived, wings drooping and her delicate face streaked with diamond tears. I prepared a space in my cabin – a gilded cage which I placed upon the windowsill – and left her to her own devices. It was obvious Pan had wronged her in some way, but to this day I still do not know exactly how. Judging from the way she looks at him now, however, she has neither forgotten nor forgiven. I will, perhaps, be able to use this to my advantage.

‘To the seas!’ I mean to shout commandingly, but my voice refuses to obey, sounding instead like a particularly pained porpoise. Nevertheless, we all spring into action: Pan flies down to the rowboat; I descend upon one of the ropes; Tink flutters down to alight upon my shoulder.

SB beams down at us from the galleon’s deck. ‘May the winds blow in your favour!’ she calls. In the distance, on the deck of my own ship, I hear my men making highly amusing flatulence noises in response. She ignores them demurely, then makes a delicate gesture, fairy dust sparkling in the air.

Then I’m thrown onto my back as the rowboat’s turbines blast into action and hurtle us off into uncharted waters.

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.6 – Promises, Promises

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I’VE BEEN AT home on the sea since before I could walk. I was born in a small port of some disrepute, then smuggled on board a clipper headed for the Indies by my mother, desperate to escape the miseries of the only life she’d ever known. And perhaps we would have made it, dear mama and I, had the ship not been overrun by a dastardly crew of black hearted pirates, every last one of them missing at least one part of their body.

For some reason, I alone was spared. Perhaps the captain saw a glint of promise in my pudgy little face; more likely his mind was filled with thoughts of how much he could ransom me for. We’ll never know, given the mutiny which soon followed. The captain was set adrift on a couple of rotten planks and the superstitious sailors adopted me as some kind of mewling mascot, reputed to bring the crew luck and fortune and — I’m ashamed to admit — more than one or two cases of projectile vomiting.

My first memories therefore are of toddling around decks and clambering happily up the rigging, gazing out at sparkling azure seas and imagining myself King of the Seven Seas, swearing vengeance on the captain who had wronged me so. By the time I was old enough to hold a dagger between my teeth without dribbling, I was already infamous — the boy pirate with a heart as black as bilge water.

At ten years of age, I was captain of my own ship. By twelve, I had defeated Captains Blackbeard, Bluebeard, Redbeard — even the elusive and rather peculiar Pinkbeard. By the time I was old enough to sprout my own whiskers, I had a fleet of my own, a crew so devoted they would walk the plank for me, and more riches than I knew what to do with.

All of that counts for nothing right now however, as the magic-powered rowboat speeds across the rolling waves, making me feel as sick as a drunken dolphin with dropsy.

‘This is bracing, isn’t it?’ Pan yells above the whine of the turbines. ‘Wonder if it can go any faster?’

I close my eyes, willing my stomach to stop churning like a maelstrom. As if something unseen has heard my wish, I feel the boat begin to slow. Gradually at first, then to a pace where I feel I can at last sit up.

‘Bother!’ says Pan. ‘Looks like the magic’s wearing off. Hey, Tink — got any more of your pixie power left?’

‘I am not a pixie.’ Tinkerbell’s hovering, arms folded crossly across her chest. ‘I am a fairy.’

Pan laughs irritatingly. ‘Pardon me, your majesty!’

Seldom have I seen a fairy so enraged. She turns a stormy shade of green, her eyes darkening like twin whirlpools. The air crackles around her; tiny little bolts of lightning fork above her head. I’ve seen her like this only once before, when she took umbrage to something the late ‘Bigmouth’ Bob Mullins said. It took us three days to scrub what was left of him from the quarterdeck.

‘Tink,’ I say, ‘leave it. The boy’s not worth your trouble.’

Pan continues to laugh, standing with one foot on the prow facing us, his hands on his hips. Tinkerbell tuts and flutters over towards me, where she alights gently on my underdeveloped shoulders.

‘Look,’ I say. ‘At least until we find the Little Mermaid, wouldn’t it be better if we all tried to get along?’

‘Why James!’ Pan looks set to burst with mirth. ‘Since when did you become the peacemaker?’

‘Since I agreed to this cursed quest.’

‘You really think SB will give you a royal pardon?’ Pan balances on the prow on tiptoe, a feat so impressive it makes me wish I had ready access to a cricket bat.

‘That’s what she promised.’

‘Yes, wasn’t it?’ He winks. Above us, his shadow circles the boat like a translucent albatross. ‘Though you couldn’t see what she was doing from where you were standing, could you?’

My voice squeaks out like a strangulated starling. ‘And what was that?’

He beams smugly. ‘Why, she had her fingers crossed, of course!’

‘You’re lying!’ My voice increases in pitch so drastically it sets even my teeth on edge. ‘She would never … ‘

I try to remember, standing there on the deck before her, if I could see both her hands. It’s the oldest trick in the book, one I would never normally fall for. The solemn binding power of a promise, undone by such a simple gesture.

‘Well, she did.’ Pan sticks out his tongue. I wish for a flock of seagulls to appear and let loose a salvo of droppings on it, but the skies above us remain clear, other than the wearisome smudge of his shadow.

‘In that case,’ I say, getting to my feet. ‘Then there is little reason for you and I to continue to work together, is there?’

Despite my ungainly prepubescent gait, I obviously still carry some element of my normal intimidating self. Pan’s smile vanishes, replaced by a whitewash of fear. I manage a growl of satisfaction, and advance towards him with my hands outstretched.

‘Behind you!’ cries Pan.

‘Oh please,’ I say. ‘That’s the second oldest trick in the book. You expect me to —’

I swallow my words, much in the same way as the Great White Whale that’s just loomed from the depths behind us swallows our vessel whole …

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.7 – In The Belly Of The Beast

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A SPARK.

A glimmer, like a tiny green firefly.

Tinkerbell’s glowing wings do their best to illuminate the murky gloom, glistening off the oily surface of the stagnant pool of long-swallowed water we find ourselves stranded upon.

‘What an earth is that smell?’ Pan’s voice needles from the darkness. I have to admit I agree with him on the matter: the air is fouler than The Fickle Muse’s crew quarters after a particularly hearty repast of pickled pufferfish.

Tink flutters a bit harder, casting more emerald light upon the scene.

I gasp, then gag, then gasp again.

It’s like Davy Jones Locker. Assuming old Davy had filled his locker with nothing but rotten meat, then left it unopened for a hundred years.

Bleached skeletons of unfortunate mariners tumble next to bloated corpses of part-digested mammals. Walruses, narwhals, dolphins: every species ever to feature on the marginalia of a map appears to have ended up in the belly of this particular beast.

Other things have met their doom here too: splintered hulls of wretched vessels, broken masts and sorry-looking sails, stained with the reeking bile of the monster. There’s even a fully-preserved Viking longship in here, it anachronistic presence rivalled only by the ghastly state of its unfortunate horn-helmed crew.

‘Ye gods,’ I mutter, as Tink flits around the gargantuan creature’s gut, revealing how cavernous our confines actually are. ‘The beast must be at least a league long!’

‘Never mind the size of it,’ says Pan, flying around in an annoyingly agitated manner. ‘How are we going to get out?’

‘Calm down, lad.’ I twirl the space where my moustache used to be and curse. ‘I recall a very similar predicament one of your number found himself in. He and his father managed to escape by lighting a fire, causing the whale to belch out smoke and expel them at the very same time.’ I start to look around for some dry wood we can use as kindling.

‘Pinocchio?’ Pan spits the name as if his teeth are made of splintered wood. ‘Never trust a word that comes out of that one!’

‘I thought he was a lead, like you? One of SB’s heroes?’

‘A hero? That little toothpick? The truth of the matter is the whale spat him out like a piece of rotten driftwood as soon as it had swallowed him. We, it would seem, appear to be made of tastier stuff.’

‘So what do you suggest then?’ I’m already losing my patience with the boy, who’s flitting around like a blind wasp in search of a backside to sting.

‘I’ve no idea.’ He darts to and fro. ‘I’ve got more important things to worry about.’

‘More important than being slowly digested by a whale the size of an island?’

‘Yes! It’s so dark in here, I’ve lost my shadow.’

‘So?’

‘So … without my shadow, I lose all my magic powers.’

‘You’re still flying though.’

‘That’s not magic, that’s down to this.’ He points to the feather sticking jauntily from his cap. ‘If I don’t wear this, I’m as aerodynamic as a three-legged hippo.’

‘Really? Interesting … ‘ I do another empty finger-twirl. ‘Very interesting.’

‘Don’t you go getting any funny –‘

He splashes down into the rancid whale-belly water with a hugely satisfying plop. Tink flutters over to me, batting her eyelashes as she hands me the feather. I slip it inside my jacket.

‘I’ll keep this for now,’ I say, patting my pocket. ‘For safekeeping, you understand.’

He’s splashing about, spitting out water and retching. ‘You … give … that … back,’ he splutters.

‘Maybe I will,’ I say, grinning at the bedraggled imbecile. ‘And maybe I won’t. At least now we’re both at the same level, so to speak.’

‘We’ll need my flying ability to rescue the Little Mermaid,’ he says. ‘Give it back now!’

‘We already have a very capable aviatrix,’ I say, tugging the fringe of my pudding bowl haircut in Tink’s direction. She blushes a deep shade of emerald and does a dainty little mid-air somersault.

‘What about my shadow?’

‘I’m sure it’s lurking somewhere. You really should sew it to your feet more often, you know.’

He glares at me, his hair plastered to his scalp. I almost feel sorry for him.

‘Here,’ I say, offering him my hook. ‘Get up and help me get us out of here.’

He grabs my appendage, then I yelp with pain as he tugs at it, twisting with all his might. With a noise like a plunger unblocking a sea hag’s plumbing, my rubber hook pops off my wrist.

‘You blackguard!’ I draw my wooden sword, waving it about in an effort to at least look menacing. Pan sticks out his tongue and prances away from me, almost tripping over the ragged corpse of a part-decomposed porpoise.

Which gives me an idea …

‘Help me lift this,’ I say, walking over to the reeking carcass of a giant narwal. It’s single tusk is still intact, poking from its bloated body in a manner which makes it resemble a legless unicorn with trapped wind. ‘If we can jab our host in the throat with this ….’

‘Then it’ll spit us out as fast as a cannonball!’ Pan brightens, despite the rancid gloop slicking his face. ‘It might just work!’

‘Heave!’ I say, bending down and lifting the narwhal’s head with my one hand and my stump. The stench is blistering; I can hardly see through my watering eyes. ‘Heave!’

Pan strains at the other end of the corpse. I feel the body lifting. Tink flutters about excitedly, sensing a chance of freedom.

‘Now run!’ We surge forward, carrying our makeshift harpoon between us. We near the trembling tonsils of the beast. I make a tiny adjustment, aiming directly at the gigantic quivering organ.

The roar as the narwhal’s tusk pierces the whale’s tonsils is like being trapped in the midst of a tumultuous storm. Ahead in the distance, a crack of light. It widens, wider still until daylight floods into the belly of the whale. Behind us, a rushing sound, like a million whirlpools. I glance back, then my eyes widen with horror.

A tidal wave of bile, roaring towards us.

‘Brace! Brace!’ I cry, my voice a pitiful whine. ‘Bra—‘

Then all my senses are drowned as we’re swept up and along on the crest of a bilious wave, surging helter-skelter towards the gagging maw of the beast.

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.8 – Everybody’s Gone Surfing

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FOR THE BRIEFEST of moments, I’m positively graceful.

The wave surges behind us then picks us up like flotsam, the green gloopy tsunami choked with other bits and pieces of debris ingested by the massive whale. Including a gangplank, its edges weathered smooth, its tip curved and aerodynamic.

With inspired athleticism belying my awkward prepubescence, I leap up and land on the wood, standing upright as it’s borne aloft by the crest of the bile. Planting my feet firmly on the plank, I surf the wave, laughing with glee as I’m carried forward towards the whale’s yawning jaws and to freedom.

Then a half-digested squid slams into my head and I’m knocked off my makeshift surfboard, straight into the noxious soup of the beast’s digestive fluid.

One day I shall write a poem about this, which shall likely start with the line: ‘Oh, foul and hideous churning sea of viscous bile’. That day however is not today. Today I am more concerned with wondering how much it’s going to hurt when I splash down into the surface of the ocean, at least a hundred feet below.

With a gag reflex as powerful as an erupting volcano, the whale has jettisoned us like a brace of cannonballs. To my left, I see Pan hurtling through the air, turning ungainly somersaults as he hurtles from the mouth of the choking beast. I too am equally helpless, flailing about in the air like an octopus having a fight with a particularly slippery hammock.

Only Tink remains relatively unscathed, having escaped the worst of the whale’s vile gloop, and managing to flit through the skies with no visible signs of distress.
‘Captain!’ Her voice is urgent. ‘Fear not! I shall impart you with a sprinkle of my magic. Close your eyes!’

I screw my lids shut, which makes the sensation of spinning head over foot in mid-air seem all the worse. Then I feel it: a tickling, like a feather on my soles. A tingling rising up through my body, making me feel light as air.

No — lighter.

I open my eyes and laugh uproariously as Tink swoops away in a triumphant loop-the-loop.

‘Look, Pan!’ I shout to my ailing shadowless comrade. ‘I’m flying!’

But of course he’s not listening. He’s spinning through the sky, tracing an inevitable arc towards the harsh and unforgiving sea below.

‘My magic needs replenished,’ says Tink, fluttering close to my ear as I glide through the air. ‘I cannot save him, Captain!’

Part of me — the part which justifies my reputation as the scourge of the seas — feels a surge of elation, of long-awaited triumph. The delicious irony of it: of me, Captain Hook, swooping through the skies as Peter Pan plunges to his doom like a dainty green housebrick.

But the other, lesser-known part of me wins out. The part which drips with compassion, which delights in random acts of kindness; the part which toils over rolls of of parchment, creating sparkling odes of emotion-wracked poetry.

And, it has to be said, the part which reminds me that if Pan expires on my watch, SB is unlikely to grant me the pardon I so greatly seek.

‘Hang on!’ I call to the hapless boy, soaring down to where he is falling towards the ocean’s surface. ‘I’m coming!’

I fumble in my britches and pull out Pan’s feather. Though it pains me to do so, I press it into the boy’s grasping hand, then swoop off to a safe distance.

It works. Pan slides the feather back into his sickeningly jaunty cap and laughs with glee as his descent slows, transforming into a graceful and controlled flight.

‘Why thank you, James!’ His tone almost grinds my teeth to dust. ‘You are indeed a true hero!’

I glare at him, looking for a trace of sarcasm on his perky features. Surprisingly, there is none. ‘It was nothing,’ I grunt grudgingly, almost wishing I had left him to plummet.

‘There, ahead!’ Pan points. ‘Look!’

I squint through the gathering gloom of the dusk. In the distance, I see it: the unmistakably garish neon monstrosity of Pleasure Island. Searchlights bounce off the clouds; airships and blimps buzz around the island like bloated bluebottles; every inch of the place is aglow with unnatural flickering lights, advertising every illicit slice of hedonism known to humanity.

And there, tethered to the docks, a cruise ship, almost as large as the Great White Whale itself. And atop its funnel, a fluttering flag with a forlorn-looking teddy bear emblazoned upon it, which proclaims the vessel to be under the ownership of the band of young ruffians we seek.

‘Looks like the Lost Boys have found themselves a worthy ship,’ quips Pan, clearly impressed. ‘Those things are like floating palaces.’

‘Then it is just as well you have a pirate of my calibre at your side,’ I say through clenched teeth. ‘For whom storming palaces is almost an everyday occurrence.’

Tink turns a pale shade of puce, pointing at the streak of smoke shooting from the ship with a trembling finger. ‘Captain,’ she gasps. ‘I think this palace may be a little different to those you are used to. Look —’

But her words are lost in the blast of the anti-aircraft missile which blows us from the sky …

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.9 – Don’t Make Me Angry

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‘TINK!’

The air is thick from the explosion. I wipe my eyes, swerving from the heart of the blast. I see Pan spiralling down towards the ocean, but he’s not my priority at the moment.

The limp form of Tinkerbell, drifting slowly down from the aftermath of the blast from the missiles, most certainly is.

I close my eyes tight, willing her to have survived.

And it’s then that I feel it. Like something’s been ignited within my heart, something I thought I had doused many years ago. The anger. Like a black mist enveloping a haunted island, it obscures my rational thoughts, turns my mind to thoughts of nothing but vengeance.

Since taking command of The Fickle Muse, I swore an oath to myself: that I would never again give into the inner demon which caused me to become justifiably known as the scourge of the seas; that I would keep my dark side locked and chained, buried deep within myself like forbidden treasure.

But now, as I swoop down towards Tink’s tattered frame, I welcome it back like an old, old friend.

I scoop her body in one hand, placing her inside my breast pocket as I let out a terrible cry of fury. Below, I see the guns on the cruise ship’s deck swivel towards me, a trio of Lost Boys frantically adjusting the barrels.

I set my sights on them and take out my wooden sword. With one snap of my jaws, I bite it in two, spitting the tip out towards the ripples Pan has just made in the ocean’s surface. The splintered end of my previously useless blade is sharp and ragged. It shall suffice.

I hold the makeshift weapon in front of me and dive, gathering speed as I hurtle down towards the cruise ship like an angered albatross.

A bang. I dart to my left, dodging the blast. Another. Just as easily avoided. A third. I laugh maniacally as I fly through the detonation, my free hand shielding the delicate body of Tink in my pocket.

And then I’m on them.

Three of them. Two are identical, dressed in soft pink towelling dressing gowns and fluffy rabbit slippers. I leave them until later, focusing on the third: a smug-looking whippersnapper I recognise with a top hat, glasses and an umbrella.

‘Hello, Darling.’ I laugh again, touching down on deck as the pink-gowned twins cower behind a slop barrel. ‘It’s been too long.’

His face is a picture. Shock and surprise scuttle across his features, then are replaced by a mask of pain as I jab the splintered end of my sword into his backside. You would think young Johnathan had also been granted the power of flight, so high does the moon-faced little twerp leap into the air. With a scything sweep of my leg, I drop-kick him off the ship’s deck, watching will ill-contained glee as he unsuccessfully tries to break his fall with his umbrella. The teeth-crunching crash as he hits the steely surface of the waves face-first is music to my ears.

‘Now,’ I say, turning menacingly towards the quivering twins. ‘What to do with you?’

Any plans I may have had for them evaporate like sea mist as the pair of fluffy-slippered imbeciles follow their compatriot willingly overboard, abandoning their ship to me and my seething rage. I bellow triumphantly, throwing down my splintered sword and calling down the blackest curse I can think of upon the Lost Boys and all who are foolish enough to be allied with them.

Then, like the ebb of a tide, my fury begins to subside. I look around, almost unsure of what has happened. Only the distant whimpering of Darling and the twins reminds me, as they flounder helpless in the waters thirteen decks below.

Then I remember. The thing which caused this unassailable rage in the first place. With trembling hand, I reach inside my pocket, tenderly taking out Tinkerbell and kneel, laying her down gently upon the deck. Behind me, I hear the swoosh of air as Pan alights at my side. I turn to see him wringing water from his cap, his feather limp and flaccid.

‘Is she ..?’ Pan’s voice cracks with emotion, his little upturned nose snivelling with sorrow.

‘Yes, ’ I say, getting to my feet with the heaviest of hearts.

‘She’s dead.’

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.10 – Not The Pan He Used To Be

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‘NEVER FEAR!’ says Pan. ‘The applause of the boys and girls will bring her back to life.’

I glare at him. ‘What are you talking about, you blithering imbecile? This isn’t a pantomime!’

He looks to one side, then to the other, as if expecting something to be there. Then he hangs his head, a snivelling tear gathering on the end of his nose. ‘No,’ he says, ‘you’re right. This is no fairy tale.’

We look down at the delicate body of Tink, lying on the deck between us. I find it hard to believe she’s gone: in the absence of anything else, I’d come to view her not only as a form of conscience, but also as a friend.

‘There may still be a way …’ Pan’s normally annoying whine is absent, replaced by a tone which is almost grown-up.

‘What? This had better not be another of your nonsensical non-existent notions …’ I glower as menacingly as my ten year-old pudding bowl-headed self can manage.

‘The Little Mermaid,’ says Pan. ‘She has the power to foretell the future.’

‘Yes, so SB informed us. I fail to see how that can help us.’ I glance down at the piteous body between us. ‘Or Tink.’

‘She also has the power of farsight,’ says Pan. ‘To be able to see things normally hidden in the depths of the oceans.’

‘And?’ My patience is wearing thinner than an anorexic pixie in a vice. ‘Out with it, boy!’

Pan leans forward, his feather dangerously close to tickling my nose. I blow it out the way. ‘You have heard of the Kraken?’ he says.

‘Of course,’ I scoff. ‘The vilest, most dangerous creature of the deep. None who have seen it have lived to tell the tale.’

‘None save the Little Mermaid.’

‘What? You are sure?’

‘Positive. I am … ‘ He starts to blush. ‘ … something of an acquaintance of hers.’

‘Oh indeed? Have you broken this fact to Wendy?’ I say, feeling the smooth skin where my whiskers normally reside bristle with glee. ‘I imagine young Miss Darling would find that information most interesting …’

‘Don’t you dare breath a word to her!’ It’s the closest to fear I have ever seen him show. ‘Ariel and I are just good friends!’

I store this information away in my mind’s treasure chest for future reference. ‘Whatever your relationship with the scaly princess of the seas, I fail to see how her knowledge of the Kraken can help us.’

‘Its blood.’ Pan’s face pales. ‘Or its ink, to be more correct.’

‘An ingredient for a potion?’

‘No, to write something with.’ Pan’s voice trembles.

‘What exactly? Our last blasted will and testament?’

‘No. A page.’

‘You’re not making sense!’ I look over my shoulder. ‘Spit it out – the rest of the Lost Boys are likely sharpening their arrows as we speak!’

‘I had to use dark magic,’ he says. ‘I was left with no alternative. Not after my last-ditch attempt failed.’

‘What the blazes are you talking about now?’

‘It’s the reason she left me,’ he says, gazing at Tink’s forlorn corpse.

‘What did you do? And none of your usual lies and tricks. Tell me the truth.’

His feather droops like a half-hoist flag. ‘I fell ill,’ he says. ‘A terrible malady, very rare. With only one known cure.’

‘Which was?’

‘Fairy dust,’ he says. ‘And not the normal, common or garden stuff either. Only the purest would suffice. The dust which sparkles within a fairy’s heart.’

My mouth falls open. ‘You tried to kill her? To take her heart?’

‘No, nothing like that, I swear!’ Pan holds his hands up in surrender. ‘Only a small incision, whilst she slept. Just a pinch of the stuff would do. I was desperate, Hook, you have to understand that.’

‘So desperate you would threaten the life of Tinkerbell? After all she did for you?’

‘I was delirious with the fever. I didn’t know what I was doing.’ His face wets with tears. ‘In any case, it failed to work. Tink awoke just as I was about to pierce her chest with a needle. She flew off without a further word. It was the last time I saw her. Until you arrived.’

I feel the anger inside, threatening to boil over. Only the piteous sight of Tink stops me from erupting. ‘So what did you do?’ I snarl. ‘Obviously – and rather sadly, in my opinion – you survived?’

‘I was at my wits’ end. I paid a visit to the Sea Witch. She had a vial of the Kraken’s ink. Told me what I needed to do.’

‘And that barnacle-encrusted old hag just gave it to you?’

‘I made a deal with her.’ His voice drops to a ripple. ‘I defected.’

‘You did what? You’re now a Wicked?’

‘To my eternal shame, I am.’

The anger bubbles once more. Him. Pan. On the same side as me, Captain James Hook. Completely unacceptable.

‘Does SB know of this?’

‘No. No-one does.’

Under any other circumstances I would laugh up a storm. Not only do I have his infidelity to Wendy as ammunition against him, now it transpires the fleet-footed boy wonder is a traitor to boot. However, there are more pressing matters than exposing my arch-nemesis. For now.

‘And how does the Kraken’s ink come into all of this?’ I ask.

‘I used the ink I gained from the Sea Witch,’ he says. ‘To write an extra page. An extra page of my story.’

‘One where you had a miraculous recovery from your ailment?’

He nods. ‘The magic was the most powerful I’d ever seen. I was cured immediately.’

I stroke my irritatingly smooth chin. ‘And you think we can do the same for Tink? Write her a new page – one where she doesn’t die?’

‘Yes. It’s the only chance we have.’

‘Well then,’ I say, picking up my splintered sword at the approaching sound of running feet. ‘Let’s give the rest of the Lost Boys some firm directions home, then go and rescue your semi-aquatic girlfriend …’