Within the Pelagic Zone

Fighting Words: A story by Grace O’Brien (13), Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

Flyaway strands of once-tucked away hickory hair, now escaped from the rather hastily made braid, flapped in Carmen’s face. At this point, she was considering chopping it off all together; hair was incredibly irritating on a ship. With no end of her voyage in sight, she couldn’t bear the weight of long hair for much longer. Her entire life was planned out, afloat in these waters. It was spread under this mast, above the deck she was standing on right now, yet with only freedom on the horizon. You couldn’t be held captive on your own ship. It was a firm rule for pirates, to never betray their crew and to never betray oceans for land and uncertainty.

Piracy was uncertainty, in a way, but it was the calm sort that you couldn’t help falling in love with. Piracy was homely and familiar, even if plans were only rough sketches and friendships outside the crew were nonexistent. But the rest of her pirates were as much part of the ship (and of herself) as the silk woven into the sail, and there was no life other than this that she would ever want.

It was the time of day where the sun was neither fiery nor existent in sight, and one of her favourite times, too, because tracing the marks of swords that had dueled on the banister of her ship while watching the sun rise was a chance for peace, which piracy lacked greatly. Time at sea did nothing to calm her thoughts, and they ran perceivably, quickly, only slow enough for her to make out the words and send them on their way.

They hadn’t seen land in days, but it didn’t matter, for the hull of the boat was stocked with supplies, piles of food, food that wouldn’t rot for months and by then they would have successfully raided another ship and come back with so much more that they would decide upon a day of feasting. A feast that would no doubt include rum, tins of fruit, of meat and any other delectable that could be imagined. Carmen didn’t fret about a lack of storage or a lack of food. Instead, she concentrated on the marks of her ancestors, tracing the cool wood with her index finger, feeling the spray of foam on her skin.


The sun rose steadily, as it did every day, as she reached the last groove in the wood of the banister. While the orange-red rays cast shadows over the deck, she stretched up, arching towards the sunlight until she felt the delicate touch of sunbeams against her face. Eyelids fluttering, she was still, energy spreading from her feet to her hair as the wind subsided. She could hear the murmurings of her crew awaking, a joyous sound. The youngest of her crew was a 16-year-old, the oldest a man of 60, but both as youthful as each other, a blessing by the sea. Now that she had finished her routine, the captain let herself lean over the side of the boat, eyes still fastened shut.

“Capt’n?” She was awoken from her trance by the clipped, heavily accented voice of her quartermaster and first mate. Drawing back from the railing, she turned to see the tall man whose face was still traced with the marks of former adolescence. He stared at her solemnly, his hair ruffled and clearly ungroomed, but no doubt still serious. “Mornin’.”

“Morning, indeed.” She moved slightly so he could slip into place beside her. “Is the route clear?”

“Yes, Capt’n. As clear as day.” His gaze focused on the waves against the boat. “Today’s waters are calm.” She watched him as he pushed a shaft of his hair to the side, still intent in his stare. The rest of the crew had stirred, but they didn’t resurface until later on, and so Carmen found herself with her first mate, looking at the abyss of a sunrise, most mornings. They didn’t need to talk. She and Quinoa had a bond that lasted beyond words and understanding, but into the deep canyons of their souls filled with devotion for the trade. Sometimes they talked, and sometimes they didn’t. It was all the same in the end.


“I think we’re on the right path.” As she listened to his remark, her shoulders sagged, but her posture straightened automatically.

“I think so, too. But wouldn’t it be luckier if we were? It seems convenient to be optimistic, but then again,” The words fled from her mouth and into the atmosphere, hanging there inaudibly.

“Captains aren’t supposed to be optimists. Not always, not right away.” She looked at him sharply as he uttered the words, but his eyes never left the rhythmic waves of the waters. For all she knew, he could be completely reassured in what he said, an overbearing remark about his captain, or captains in general.

“I’ve been a captain for two months.” Carmen prompted him, but he only shrugged, his long arms dangling over the side of the boat. “That’s not long beside a lifetime.”

She watched him for a second and then a second longer before turning to the sun. As the ship hit a patch of light and the rousing cries of their crewmates took to the skies, the two of them sat there, mulling in a silence that would break all too soon.

Piracy was satisfying, for a lack of a better word.

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