Chapter 3

Fish Tales - Derek Fish and the Surprise, a Children's Book

The hairs on Derek’s neck were still bristling as he sat down for a dinner of boiled potatoes, roast chicken and vegetables. It had been two hours since he’d opened the journal, and one would have expected him to have read it from cover to cover, such was his excitement. But much to his annoyance, he hadn’t been able to read a single page. Long John, grandfather Fish’s pet parrot, had flown up into the attic, flapping and squawking wildly. The bird was in such an excited state that it ended up lodging itself under the eaves. And no matter what Derek and Grandfather Fish did to entice him out, he refused, preferring to stay in the cobwebs and dust.
‘Don’t know what got into him. Never seen him like that before,’ said Grandfather Fish as he gnawed on a chicken leg.
‘He seems alright now,’ said Derek’s father, watching the parrot pacing back and forth along his perch.
‘I’m sure I heard him say Erasmus Fish, you know,’ added Grandfather Fish. ‘Never heard him say that before and damned if I remember teaching it him, either!’
‘I heard him too,’ said Derek.
‘Do you think something frightened him?’ said Granny Fish, poking at her food. Poor Granny Fish had hardly touched a morsel since the dreaded notice of eviction had dropped through the letterbox, causing her to collapse and bang her head.
‘No. I’d say he was more excited than scared,’ answered Grandfather Fish. ‘I don’t think he knew quite what he was doing. Very strange, it was. It was like he didn’t want to leave the attic. And it was only when Derek went that he decided to come out. Flew straight past me, he did!’
‘Yeah, and he’s been following me around ever since,’ said Derek.
‘Ah, he’s pleased to see you! Bless him,’ said Derek’s mother.
‘It’s not me, mum. It’s the journal he’s interested in. Look!’ Derek held the journal aloft and waved it from side to side. Sure enough, Long John’s eyes followed the journal’s path.
‘Not got Derek a parrot yet then, Jim?’ Grandfather Fish asked Derek’s father. ‘Long John’s certainly taken to the lad.’
‘Derek’s never seemed that interested,’ replied Derek’s father.
‘All Fish men have a parrot!’ said Grandfather Fish in disbelief. ‘It’s tradition.’
‘I haven’t,’ said Derek’s father.
‘You might not have one now, and you know how I feel about that, but you did when you were the lad’s age,’ said Grandfather Fish gruffly. ‘You’ve got to get yourself a parrot, Derek. It’s just not right if you don’t have one!’
Derek gulped. Only old people and oddballs have parrots in London. It would be over his dead body the day they found a perch in his house, but he nodded and grunted ‘I will,’ in order to keep the peace.
Eventually the conversation drifted away from parrots and a darker, more sombre mood fell upon the kitchen as they discussed the eviction and the clause in the deeds to the pub. Granny Fish burst into tears. ‘How could they do this to us?’ she wailed, rubbing her throbbing head.
‘There must be something we can do,’ said Derek.
Grandfather Fish shook his head. ‘I’m afraid not, laddie. They’ve got us over a barrel. It’s a legal thing.’
‘Have you had any legal advice?’ asked Derek’s mother.
‘No. Need plenty of money for that! And money, I’m afraid, is one thing that we don’t have much of,’ replied Grandfather Fish.
‘Can’t you do anything, dad?’ asked Derek. ‘You work for a bank. There must be lots of money in there. You could ask the manager to lend us the money for a lawyer, or perhaps you could even rob it!’
‘I don’t think robbing the bank would get us anywhere, Derek,’ said his father with a grin. Briefly the mood lifted as everyone pictured Derek’s father, nylon stocking over his head, frantically whizzing the dial to the bank vault back and forth as he tried to work out the combination.
The talk in the kitchen ended when Grandfather Fish had to leave to open up the pub. ‘Two more times, Ethel,’ he said with a weak smile as he stood up and left. Derek’s parents found themselves consoling poor Granny Fish, who began to blub uncontrollably the moment he walked out of the kitchen. Each time they managed to calm her down, the slightest thing – like the floorboards that creaked as Derek carried dishes to the sink, or the wonky kitchen tap and the pipes that banged and groaned as the water was turned on – would set her off again. They were part of the pub’s personality, the pub she had lived in and loved for many years. And now it was all being taken away from her. Each time she started to cry she would apologise to Derek. ‘Ignore this foolish old woman!’ she kept saying.
Suggesting that Derek got an early night, his mother ushered him out of the kitchen. Derek didn’t kick up a fuss, knowing that Granny Fish could allow herself to cry without fear of embarrassing him. It was hard to see his grandmother in such a state. He felt both angry and helpless at the same time, and so left feeling useless. As Derek disappeared through the door, Long John immediately rose from his perch, flapping and squawking, and headed after Derek, landing on his shoulder.
‘Coming with me, are you, boy?’ said Derek as he made his way along the hallway to the bedroom.
‘Erasmus Fish,’ replied the parrot, cocking his head to get a better view of the journal under Derek’s arm.
‘I know. I’m just as eager to read it as well,’ said Derek as he pondered over the fact that his grandfather hadn’t taught Long John to say Erasmus Fish. If his grandfather hadn’t taught him, then who had? What a mystery! It made the prospects of delving into the journal all the more exciting.


Fluffing up the pillows on his bed, Derek fell into their soft, comfortable support, opened Erasmus’s journal and began to read the entries.
The journal was hard going. The old English language was difficult to decipher but Derek got the gist of most of it. He delighted in the descriptions of how Erasmus sailed out of Port Royal, a pirate strong hold in Jamaica, and attacked Spanish treasure ships, miraculously creeping up behind the galleons and boarding them unnoticed. The treasures on board these galleons were great. Gold, silver and jewels packed into enormous chests and stacked high in their holds below deck. The journal was full of these types of exploits and Erasmus would go to great lengths describing them, making particular reference to the navigational qualities of the moon – in particularly the full moon – when describing his night-time exploits. ‘You can see things that you wouldn’t be able to under normal night-time conditions,’ he stated on more than one occasion.
The Surprise would always return to Port Royal, where the captured treasure was divided up equally amongst the King of England, the governor of Jamaica, Erasmus and his shipmates.
Incredible sketches beautifully illustrated all of Erasmus’s entries. Derek delighted in these, his eyes dancing from one to another. Erasmus was quite the artist.
From his raids, the pirate had amassed a huge fortune, most of which he kept hidden on some remote, uninhabited island – but the most exquisite and valuable pieces he kept locked away in a large trunk in his cabin. The sketch of this treasure chest was intricate and detailed, its size indicated by numbers in feet and inches along its width, depth and height. Derek marvelled at the care Erasmus had taken over it. It was like a photograph, clear and precise, even down to the detailed depiction of its heavy hinges and lock. Just beneath the lock was a small skull with the words ‘turn to the left’ etched by its side. Fine, dotted lines indicated the presence of a secret compartment, which Derek presumed was opened by turning the skull. Derek’s finger moved down from the skull and followed the lines of the two swirly letters, clearly visible on its side. EF. Erasmus Fish. They were identical to the initials on the key Grandfather Fish had given him earlier. Derek pulled it out of his pocket and held it by the side of the drawing. ‘It must have been the key to this chest,’ he thought to himself.
Turning the page, his eyes widened and a surge of prickly electricity raced across the surface of his skin, causing the hairs to stand on end. He had come face to face with a self-portrait of the great pirate himself.
‘Erasmus Fish,’ an excited Long John rattled off repeatedly.
The bedroom door opened.
‘Time for sleep,’ said Derek’s mother, marching into the bedroom. ‘And you’re going to bed as well,’ she added as she clutched Long John with both hands.
‘But Mum!’ exclaimed Derek. ‘It’s early.’
Long John, squawking and flapping his wings, complained bitterly as he was carried from the room.
‘Lights out, please, Derek.’
‘Just a little longer, please?’
His mother shook her head, ‘Your granny needs her sleep. The next few days are going to be hard enough as it is. Have some consideration will you! It’s time for sleep now. You’ve got all day tomorrow to look at that.’
‘But Mum!’
Derek’s mother didn’t reply. She just looked at him. Her lowered head and the gaze from under her eyebrows was enough to convince Derek not to argue any longer. With a groan, he reluctantly closed the journal and placed it on the bedside table.
‘Goodnight, Derek,’ said his mother as she switched off the light and closed the door.
No sooner had the door shut than Derek’s hand was fumbling around in the drawer of the bedside cabinet. Switching on the pen-like torch that lived there, he eagerly picked up the journal and quickly returned to the self-portrait of Erasmus.
Under the bright glow of the torchlight, it was even more mesmerising than before. The face was gnarled with deep scars across his cheeks and forehead. A dark, curly mop of hair framed his features, adding emphasis to his large, playful eyes. As Derek looked into the eyes, he had the strangest feeling that Erasmus was looking back at him. His smile was broad and welcoming. It was as if he was greeting Derek for the first time.
The next few pages were crammed full of drawings of Erasmus’s crew members and enemies. Each one of these drawings had notes next to them, detailing their names, their strengths and weaknesses with weapons, and their personality traits.
Apart from Captain One Eye, two of them stood out for Derek, mainly because of the scars that adorned their faces. The first, called Striker John, had a huge tick-like scar that ran from his ear to his chin. Pistols were his weapons of choice and no one was his equal, according to the notes. The words ‘Trust him with your life’ were scrawled below this man. The other was called Scarface. The reason for his name was self-evident in that his face was covered in all manner of scars, some large, some small but all nasty looking. A pair of evil, beady eyes peered through his mass of torn facial skin. The knife and musket were his preferred weapons.
Turning the page, Derek came upon a pastel drawing of a parrot. It stood proudly upon a perch, head aloft and turned slightly to the left. It was beautiful, regal. Its red chest, blue wings and green head were so vivid and realistic that Derek felt it could almost fly off the page. He smiled at an orange stripe of downy feathers that ran from the top of its beak, over its head, to the base of its neck. The stripe looked quite comical, almost like a Mohican! According to Erasmus’s notes, the parrot’s name was Davey Jones, and the orange stripe was very rare for a Caribbean parrot. Normally they simply had red or green heads. Erasmus had found Davey Jones on board a Spanish galleon as it sailed towards its European homeland. Destined for the court of the Spanish king Charles, thousands of these exotic birds were crammed into the hold of this particular galleon. Erasmus set them free from their suffocating cages, sending a vast wave of crimson, blue and green up into the sky. It was so dense that it momentarily blocked the light from the sun. Whilst the rest of the parrots gratefully flew back to their nests and families, Davey Jones chose to stay with his liberator and had been at Erasmus’s side ever since.
Derek continued reading long into the night, voraciously turning the crisp, browned pages of the ancient journal. He read tales of the Surprise being becalmed at sea and how the men had almost gone mad. There were entries about large, tentacled sea monsters that the sailors called the Kraken. Almost as big as the Surprise, these deep-sea creatures would cling to the ship’s hull as if trying to drag it under the ocean. With his trusted sabre in hand, Erasmus would hack away at the monster’s tentacles until it released its grip. One of the sketches that accompanied this entry depicted Erasmus stripped to his waist, covered in large, circular sores where a tentacle had gripped him and swung the pirate high above the Surprise’s deck. As luck had had it, at the very moment Erasmus’s sabre had sunk deep into the monster’s flailing limb – causing the creature to release him – he’d been passing close by the ship’s uppermost yard arm, the parallel piece of wood from which the sails hang. Managing to cling to it, Erasmus had quickly shimmied along its length and then descended down the mast to continue his fight from the deck. If it had not been for the yard arm he would have surely died, broken to pieces on the hard deck of the ship.
Then there were the entries describing the ever-present sail on the horizon. It belonged to a Spanish ship called El Ladrón – now in the hands of Captain One Eye, having been captured after a ferocious battle. With seventy-four guns aboard, the El Ladrón was far superior to the Surprise. If it caught up with Erasmus’s ship, it could blow it clean out of the water with one single broadside.
Standing on the bridge of the El Ladrón, his telescope firmly pressed against his one good eye, Captain One Eye would view the Surprise with envy. He hated Erasmus’s uncanny ability to approach the Spanish treasure ships undetected. It was earning his rival a fortune whilst leaving him with nothing. If he could blow Erasmus clean off the face of the earth, then he would have the rich pickings for himself.
One Eye’s dogged pursuit of the Surprise was of great amusement to Erasmus because he always, inexplicably, managed to slip away from his enemy’s larger and more powerful vessel, much to One Eye’s continual annoyance.
Derek revelled in Erasmus’s descriptions of his adventures, in particular the duels with One Eye. They were so detailed he could almost hear the noise of metal upon metal as Erasmus and One Eye, sabres glinting under torchlight, duelled long into the night. Their grunts and curses, and the freshness of Jamaica’s evening air as it rolled in off the sea, filled the room as Derek read on.
Then suddenly the journal ended. The last entry, dated the seventeenth of July 1698, described how Erasmus prepared the Surprise for a routine voyage. He was to sail deep into Spanish waters with the hope of intercepting a treasure fleet en route to Spain. It was a dangerous mission, as were all his attacks. If he were to be caught by the Spanish, he would be hanged as a common pirate, even though his assignment was authorised by the King of England.
Derek rapidly flicked through the rest of the journal in the vain hope that there would be more entries –  but there were none. He puzzled over why Erasmus had ended the journal on such a routine entry. There had been so many like this. Why had he not continued writing? What had happened to him to make him stop? Derek was puzzled and also a little disappointed. He wanted to know more about Erasmus, he wanted to share in his deeds, he wanted to read how Erasmus had defeated Captain One Eye, but most of all he was hoping that there may be an explanation, or at least some pointers, as to why his family had been cursed.
But, alas, it was not to be. Just as suddenly as his entries had finished, Erasmus had also disappeared without a trace, just as Grandfather Fish had said. No one ever heard from him again. It was a mystery!
Just as Derek closed the journal, the yellow beam of torchlight caught something on the empty page immediately after Erasmus’s last entry. Derek’s heart skipped a beat. He quickly held the page open and shone the torch directly through it. Very faintly but definitely visible were letters and words that Derek struggled to make out. He jumped up and switched on the bedroom light in the hope that the brighter light might help him make out the words. Standing tiptoe on the bed, he held up the journal with the page close to the light. There was nothing there. It was blank. Derek frowned.
He was sure he’d seen some writing. He quickly turned off the bedroom light and shone the torch on the page again. There they were! Without doubt. A faint outline of words. What’s more, there was page after page of this strange, virtually invisible writing.
At first Derek thought they were marks left from a pen pressing heavily on the page. He wondered if these pages might have been ripped out. He examined the spine but couldn’t see any evidence that such an act had taken place. It was odd that he could see the faint outline of words under torchlight but when, under the bright, white wash of the main ceiling light, there was nothing.
For some reason Derek felt compelled to turn to Erasmus’s self-portrait. He didn’t know why, he just felt an urge.
‘What’s all this about, Erasmus?’ he whispered, staring into the pirate’s eyes.
Moments passed as Derek stared imploringly into the darkly sketched eyes of Erasmus’s self-portrait. A strange stillness hung in the room, gluing the two sets of eyes to each other. Then Derek uttered two words as if prompted by someone – like when you’ve forgotten your lines in a school play and the teacher, reading off-stage, helps you along.
‘Invisible Ink!’
‘Erasmus hadn’t stopped writing! He must have continued using INVISIBLE INK!’ said Derek, hardly able to contain himself. He was sure that these pages would explain everything about Erasmus’s mysterious disappearance, and he was sure they would have the answer to the curse! But how could he get to read it?
Under the bright bedroom light the ink was totally invisible. Under the duller, yellow glow, cast by the torch, he could make out the vague outline of words. Perhaps he needed something less powerful than a torch, something that would cast less light. His mind raced – and then the solution popped into his head. Candlelight! It was obvious. These pages were secret and Erasmus would have written them away from prying eyes. He would have written them when no one was around. He would have written them deep within the silent hours of night and under candlelight! Derek’s eyes immediately shot to the candle that sat upon the windowsill in the bedroom. It was one of those large, decorative candles that gave off a lavender smell when it was burning. His grandmother would light it for a short while when she was having guests so that the unused room would smell fresher.
Derek fished around in the bedside cabinet. Smiling, he pulled out the object of his desire. Matches.
Moving quickly across the room, he struck a match and lit the candle. It spluttered and sprang into life, casting dancing shadows around the room as it flickered in the draught from the window. Derek positioned the page close to the candle – but not too close for fear of burning it. His heart sank. There was nothing there, not even a word. He kicked himself for being so silly. ‘Invisible Ink, really!’ he muttered as he blew out the candle. Then his jaw dropped and he let out an audible gasp of astonishment. A shaft of moonlight that had slipped through the gap between the curtains fell upon the page, causing a shimmer on its surface. Derek tore back the curtains, bathing the page in moonlight. It shimmered like the surface of a pool. Just beneath it, as if written on the bottom of the pool, Derek could see the vague outlines of the words again, not clear enough to read but a lot more distinct than under the torchlight.
‘Of course!’ Derek yelled. ‘You’ve been giving me clues on how to read it, haven’t you, Erasmus?’ he said as he recalled the numerous entries about sailing by moonlight. ‘You can see things that you wouldn’t be able to see under normal night-time conditions!’
Derek stared at the strange, shimmering page, twisting it this way and that, hoping that the words would become visible. But no matter what he tried, they remained out of focus and completely unreadable.
Quickly, he flicked through the pages of the journal until he found one of the entries. He began to read again with the hope of finding another clue that would help him decipher the mysterious pages. His excitement carried him on to the next entry, and then to the next. As he scanned the words, Derek realised that Erasmus didn’t mention just the moon – he was much more specific than that. It was the full moon! Every entry mentioned the FULL MOON!
‘It has to be a full moon,’ said Derek as he glanced up at the not-so-full moon casting its blue light into the room. His head swam and his heart raced. He knew he was close to discovering the secret words upon the pages that followed the last entry in Erasmus’s journal. He just needed to know when the next full moon was.
A few moments later, Derek’s iPhone, with the help of Google and the Green Parrot’s wifi, had revealed that the moon would be full the following evening. What Luck!

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Moon Fish - Derek Fish and the Surprise, a Children's Book