IT’S ALMOST A pleasure to witness. Were it not for the fact that Tink’s lifeless body is lying inside my pocket, I would probably be laughing with glee.
The expressions on their pasty idiot faces were priceless. At first, the excitement and joy at seeing Pan again, one of the more dim-witted Lost Boys even rushing towards him with open arms, almost tripping over his slippers.
Then the change to surprise, followed by the delicious slide into fear and horror as they witnessed Pan twist his cap backwards then headbutt the trusting buffoon straight over the side and into the ocean. At first they were stunned into inaction, Pan pirouetting in mid-air and scissor-kicking three of them straight in their shocked faces. Then one of their number, a dark-eyed young whippersnapper in an feathered headdress, rallied his startled comrades into a counter-attack.
And that’s when I decided to wade in, adding my one good fist to the fight.
I grab one of them by the scruff of his neck and throw him forward into one of his hapless companions, watching with relish as their bodies cartwheel off the side of the ship. Another, face painted to resemble a tiger, snarls at me. I bellow back at him, which causes him to freeze, a small puddle forming beneath his feet. I push him and he topples back – another satisfying splash as he smacks into the steely sea below.
Pan clears up the last of them, hovering upside down with his legs spinning like a helicopter. One, then two, then the last of the Lost Boys fall beneath his whirling pixie-boots, until the entire company of snot-nosed assailants are either thrashing about in the seas below, or out cold on the polished deck before us.
‘We need to find her!’ Pan rights himself and lands beside me, breathless.
‘Perhaps we should have left one in a state to interrogate,’ I say, wishing I had my sharpened steel hook instead of this useless rubber appendage flopping at my wrist.
‘Too late for that,’ says Pan. ‘She’ll be here – and we know she’ll be in water.’
I peruse a handily-placed placard beside us: a map of the ship and its many decks. ‘There’s an indoor swimming pool here,’ I say, jabbing my rubbery point at the sign. ‘If I was going to keep a mermaid captive – and alive – that’s where I would plonk her.’
‘Let’s go.’ He kicks at one of the Lost Boys who’s still making a pitiful groaning. ‘The sooner we find her, the sooner we’ll be able to bring Tink back.’
Rather annoyingly, I find myself following the green-garmented nincompoop down into the bowels of the cruise ship, forcing myself to pass by the shops filled with jewels, trinkets and baubles and eventually finding myself outside the rather ironically-named Mermaid’s Lagoon Indoor Pool and Spa.
‘This is the place,’ says Pan, rattling the chains securing the doors in place. ‘Any ideas?’
He ducks just in time as I fling a fire extinguisher at the doors, shattering them into splinters. ‘One or two,’ I say, ‘but as most of them involve dangling you head-first above a pond full of piranhas, I’ll keep the precise details to myself.’
He sticks out his tongue and steps through the ragged gap in the door. Inside, I can tell what the interior designers were trying to achieve: a sparkling aquamarine oasis, ambient lights shimmering on the seashells studded around the tiled walls. To my less-refined eyes, however, it resembles the inside of a colour-blind sea-harpy’s boudoir.
I smirk at the irony of Pan’s exclamation as he rushes to the poolside. There, in the middle of the water, combing her hair with a plastic fork whilst floating on a yellow inflatable dinghy, is the Little Mermaid herself.
‘Are you alright?’ he gushes. ‘Did they harm you? Hold on, I’m coming!’
I shield my eyes as he splashes into the pool, wading out to where Ariel awaits. She looks unharmed, certainly – indeed, she eyes Pan with some bemusement, hiding a smirk behind her fingers as he flops sodden onto the dinghy beside her.
‘I am fine, Peter,’ she says, her voice rippling like moonlit waves as she combs her crimson locks. I must admit, she is indeed quite comely – from the waist up, at least. Beneath that, she bears a rather uncomfortable resemblance to a mackerel. ‘I knew you and your gallant young friend would save me.’
Pan glares back at me. ‘You foresaw us coming to your rescue?’
‘Indeed.’ She picks up a shell-encrusted mirror, gazing into it. ‘I see many things.’ My gut feels like I’ve swallowed a pufferfish with a salt-water allergy as she turns her gaze in my direction. ‘Including the fate of your little winged companion.’
‘Tinkerbell?’ I take a step towards the side of the pool. ‘Will she live?’
She smiles sweetly at me. ‘I cannot see beyond the fairy veil,’ she says. ‘But I can see you will stop at nothing in your quest to save her.’
‘That is correct, my lady.’ I bow to her, ignoring Pan’s annoyed tutting. ‘I would drain the seven seas in search of a way to bring her back.’
‘Would that you could, Captain.’ Her voice changes, a tinny echo as though she’s talking from the inside of a tin of sardines. ‘For that which you seek is in the very deepest part of them.’
‘Yes.’ She turns the mirror round to face me. A shimmering image has formed on the glass: a hideous multi-tentacled monster which makes me think of that time Smee almost swallowed an octopus. ‘A most fearsome creature.’
‘You have seen it, I understand?’
She takes back the mirror, staring into its mysterious depths. ‘Many moons ago,’ she says. ‘It swam close to the surface, near where I was swimming. It wrapped one of its tentacles around my tail and dragged me to its lair.’
‘How did you escape?’
‘By singing, of course!’
‘She has a lovely voice,’ says Pan. ‘Quite intoxicating.’
‘You sang to the Kraken?’ I ask, ignoring Pan’s besotted mutterings.
‘Yes, I sang it to sleep,’ she says, tugging at a particularly knotty strand of hair. ‘No creature above or below the sea can resist my song.’
‘And do you think you could do so again? We have need of the Kraken’s ink to restore Tinkerbell to life.’
‘Perhaps,’ she says. ‘Though whilst I am singing I am in a trance. I would not be able to collect any of the beast’s ink for you.’
‘Then one of us must accompany you,’ I say. ‘How deep is the Kraken’s lair?’
‘Far too deep for a human to be able to survive,’ she says. ‘The pressure would crush you in an instant.’
‘Then how are we going to get there?’ Tink’s body suddenly feels very heavy in my pocket. ‘The ink is our only hope.’
A blinding flash. A deafening bang. And a smell so foul it makes the shipmates of The Fickle Muse’s usual cocktail of aromas seem like a floral bouquet.
‘Don’t worry about that, my dear,’ says a voice dripping with malevolence. ‘I’m sure I’ll be able to help you out with that.’
And there, the waters of the swimming pool lapping at her bulbous flanks, floats the unmistakably hideous form of the Sea Witch …