THE SWIFT

Can the past be unbroken?

 

Everything about Pete's life stinks. His dad is dead, his grandfather doesn't even remember him, his mom cries all the time, and they're about to lose their crappy old house to the bank.

 

And Pete's twin brother Henry blames him for all of it.

 

While cleaning out the attic, the boys discover an old seaman's trunk that transports them back in time where they're forced to battle the raging sea and pirates bent on their destruction. Pete and Henry will have to work together to fix the broken past—or they won't have a future to return to.

Excerpt

Hearing the rope rasp against my palm made me wish for my hockey stick, for the shhk-shhk-shhk of my skates on the ice. Instead I was stuck here—coiling rope heavy with freezing seawater.

I opened my mouth, but clamped it shut before I said anything. I had to be smart about this. I’d already asked—begged, shouted—and Dad’d said no every stinkin’ time. But I had to get him to say yes. I had to. The thought of missing the last game of the season— the championship game—because of a stupid fishing run, made me sick.

“Tell ya what,” Gramps said, stepping up to Dad and putting his wrinkly, calloused hand on his shoulder. “I’ll go ta the game with the lad. Ye’ve got yer crew—let the boy go.”

My ears burned as my heart raced with hope. I hauled the rope as quietly as I could, straining to hear Dad’s reply over the cry of the gulls overhead.

“But he has responsibilities,” Dad insisted and my stomach clenched. It was always the same thing. We’re fishermen, Dad’d say. We fish.

“He’s only eleven, Charlie. Let ‘im—”

“You never let me skip out on a run when I was a kid.”

The rope hung in my hands as I straightened my back and flat-out watched Dad and Grampa.

“Maybe I shoulda let ye follow yer own path, Charlie. Yer ma, she—” Grampa shook his head. “I wasn’a very good to ya, was I?”

Grampa raked his hands through his thin, white hair and when he brought them down he looked at them like he didn’t recognize them as his own.

“Pa?” Dad reached for Grampa but Grampa stepped back.

“Sam?” The look of confusion and hopelessness on Grampa’s face was like a fist to my gut and I dropped the rope to the deck.

Dad’s shoulders slumped and he turned toward me. For a brief flash I expected to get a tongue-lashing for not working, but he just stared at me with this sad, lonely expression on his face. “Grampa’s right, Pete. Go ahead and go to the game. But I can’t be there.”

“I know,” I squeaked. I couldn’t decide if I should apologize for being super happy but I wasn’t sorry.

“Can you finish getting her ready?” Dad asked with a small flick of his wrist.

I looked around the deck of Charlie’s Pride. There wasn’t much left to do. “Sure!”

Bruce and Mike had the hauler greased and rigged up, and Henry already had at least ten nets bundled and ready to be flung over the side. There’s no way they’d need ten nets this early in the season, but Henry was convinced the Pride would be magically blessed with the best fishing haul this side of the Atlantic for as long as men had been fishing the coast. Or something.

Dad took a deep breath and straightened his back. “Pa?” Dad turned back to Grampa who had slumped against the railing at the prow. “Are you up to going to the game tonight? So Pete’s got someone to watch him?”

I stepped out of the circle of rope and moved closer to Dad and Grampa. Grampa’s gaze landed on me. I watched as the clouds cleared from his eyes and a smile settled there. “Aye, Charlie. Me ‘n Pete’ll have a grand ol’ time, won’t we, lad?” He reached out and I jogged over to him, letting him hug me to his side and not even caring when he messed up my hair with his gnarled hand.

“Thank you, Pa.” Dad smiled and gave a little nod. “Have a good game, Pete. And take lots of video, Pa.”

“That I’ll do.”

“Looks like we’re ready to head out.” Dad took a step closer, like he’d give me a hug, but a rattle and thunk from the bow of the boat had him whirling around.

“You’re not breaking my boat, are ya Mikey?” He strode away toward the crane mechanism that had dropped its hook.

“We’d best be on our way if yer ta get somethin’ ta eat before yer game,” Grampa said. He moved toward the ladder, but I stayed where I was for a minute. Something in me wanted that hug Dad hadn’t given me. But he was busy with the equipment and I knew he’d hoped to already be at sea by now. I didn’t want to slow him down any more than I had.

So I followed after Grampa, shouting, “See ya Dad!” before climbing over the rail and planting my feet on the ladder. I caught a glimpse of Henry before I ducked out of sight. My twin brother stood on the boat with his arms crossed, looking like thunder itself. Hey, I couldn’t help it if the guy didn’t have a life. He’d be the one to inherit the Pride and follow in Dad’s and Grampa’s wake, not me. I didn’t want anything to do with the sea. I wanted to make something of myself. Something better.

One day I’d be playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and then Dad and Henry would understand why I couldn’t just be a fisherman. The thought set a nugget of warmth glowing in my stomach. I jumped to the dock skipping the last ten rungs of the ladder. I’d play my best game tonight. I’d make Gramps proud and when he showed Dad the video, even he and Henry would have to admit I wasn’t cut out to be a fisherman. On the ice, I was a star.

 

 

 

“Mom, I’ve gotta go—now! I’ve gotta be on the ice in twenty minutes or I won’t have a chance to warm up.” I stood in our crowded entryway, my hockey bag at my feet.

“Pa? Are you almost ready?” Mom wrapped her hand around the worn banister and leaned up. “Pa?”

“Finally.” I hefted my bag and swung it over my shoulder when I heard Grampa’s door close.

A moment later he appeared at the top of the stairs sporting his blue flannel pajamas.

“Oh,” Mom said. “Pa. You’re going to Pete’s game, remember?”

Grampa lifted his gaze from where he was fumbling with a button on his shirt. He looked at Mom, then at me, but even from where I stood I could tell his brain was foggy. A sigh dragged out of my throat. I dropped my bag back to the floor with a loud thunk. I was going to be late.

“You go, Pete. Grampa’s...not quite ready. I’ll bring him by just before face off.” She wiped her already dry hands on the faded dishtowel that hung over her shoulder. “I wish I could be there, son. You know I would if I could.”

“Yeah.” But I knew the truth. She could be there if she wanted to. She didn’t have to sit and watch for the Pride to return—the game would probably be over before they got back anyway. Still, if she didn’t want to come to the game, well, then I guess it didn’t matter. “Can I go now?”

“Fine.” There was this awkward moment where it seemed like she’d lean forward and give me a kiss or a hug, but my bag lay between us like a dead body and the moment passed as Grampa produced a bag of nuts from his pocket and joined us in the entryway.

“See ya on the ice, m’boy!” he said around a mouth full of cashews.

“Bye Gramps.” I tugged my tuque over my head and hoisted the bag onto my shoulder. I bumped and banged through the door frame and resisted taking a deep breath of the frigid air that greeted me.

“Good luck!” Mom called before closing the door. It wasn’t easy, but I got both my arms through the straps on the bag so I could carry it on my back, my stick balanced across my bike’s handlebars. By the time I’d been pedaling three minutes, sweat warmed my back and froze at my collar. At least the biting wind that had whipped up pushed me from behind and made it easier to ride up the steep hills between Shore Road and Main Street.

At the top of the hill I pulled to a stop and turned to look out over the ocean. I thought of Dad and Henry way out on the water, beyond the horizon. That weird feeling of worry crept over my skin again and made me shiver. But the Pride was a big trawler and brand new. Dad and Grampa had pooled their resources and put all their money into Charlie’s Pride— it was probably the safest boat in the water.

A twang of guilt wormed into my brain. I didn’t want to miss the Pride’s maiden voyage, but hockey was something that was all mine. Henry loved the boats, and so did Grampa and Dad. I’d never be as into the sea-life as them, but on the ice I could make the puck do whatever I wanted. Coach said he’d never seen such talent in a player as young as me, and he should know. He coached the high school team and last year three of his players got picked up for national teams.

I caught a glimpse of the harbor but still couldn’t see even a hint of the Pride, so I swung back around and resumed pedaling. In good weather the ride from home to the rink took fifteen minutes—I’d been pedaling at least that long and I still had a ways to go.

Not two minutes later, fat drops of icy rain began to fall and my teeth started to chatter against the freezing cold. That was life in Chester, Nova Scotia— the weather could change in the blink of an eye. I hunkered down over my handlebars and pressed on toward the rink.

A horn wailed beside me and I nearly fell off my bike as I jerked hard to the right. “Pete! Pete Nelson!” It was hard to hear over the wind screaming around my head, pelting my face with biting ice crystals. The window rolled all the way down and I saw Sam Spencer sitting there with two other guys from my hockey team. Coach leaned over them to shout. “Come on, Pete. The game’s been called off. Let me take you home.” Coach jerked his thumb to the bed of his big F-150. Tom huddled there. He waved when my eyes met his.

“Big storm’s coming in—gotta get you home, bud.” Coach Bond hopped out and jogged toward me. I swung my leg over the bike and let Coach put it into the back along with Tom’s. The temperature had dropped what felt like ten degrees in less than a minute. “Gonna have to ride in the back. Sorry bud.”

“But what about the game?” I couldn’t believe I was going to miss the game after all. Frustrated, I climbed onto the tailgate and over the jumble of bikes, bags and sticks to where Tom sat. Coach slammed the tailgate and got back into the truck.

“Coach said there’s been word a ship capsized out past the bay,” Tom said, his teeth chattering around his words. I leaned past him to look at the ocean, and this time I saw three boats making for shore. “There’s my dad.” Tom pointed at the black seiner that loomed like a giant beetle on the horizon. “Your dad out?”

Coach turned the truck around so I couldn’t see the ocean anymore. I didn’t know what to say. All I could think about was how ticked I was that the game had been cancelled because of something that happened way out on the water. It’s not like it would have affected the game.

Cold ocean spray mingled with the falling sleet and by the time we pulled in front of my house, I was drenched. I helped Coach get my bike down then waved as he drove away. The docks were busy with men tying off their boats and securing equipment. The Pride wasn’t there, but I figured it couldn’t be far out. I didn’t bother to check the horizon—I was freezing and just wanted to get inside.

 

 

 

“Charlie?” Mom called as soon as I slammed the front door.

“Just me Mom—game got cancelled.”

Mom rushed forward, her hands twisting a dishcloth as she peered past me and out the front window. I followed her gaze—there wasn’t a boat in the bay. Charlie’s Pride was still at sea.

Fishermen’s homes were built with windows that faced the ocean. Hardly anyone even had curtains— they were almost never drawn, anyway. Mom pulled a purple afghan around her shoulders and sank into the big armchair facing the window. I glanced at Grampa, sitting on the couch, but his chin was tucked against his chest and his shoulders raised and lowered with the long breaths of sleep.

I didn’t bother talking to Mom. Instead I climbed the stairs to my room, toweled off, and dressed in my pajamas. It was still early—not even 7:30 yet, but the sky was already dark and I knew we could be in for a long night.

Wind tore through the house like a pack of ghosts so when Mom started crying, her wails only added to the eeriness of the night. Through the window I could see the rain pelting down from every direction. This was no ordinary shore-front storm. This was a gale.

Coach came by again. I sat on the top stair, high enough that no one would see me, but I could hear everything they said. Next came Mr. Chipman, then Pastor Laird and his wife. Mrs. Laird bustled into the kitchen and soon the whistle of the tea kettle added to the shrilling ghosts. I wrapped my arms around my knees and hugged them to my chest. I tried not to think of how Henry looked when I last saw him. How it seemed like he didn’t even like me. I tried not to think about how I’d just taken off without giving Dad a hug. Did I even look at him? I squeezed my eyes shut tight and tried to remember the last time I hugged Dad or told him I loved him. All I could remember was how happy I’d been to get off that boat.

“He’ll be all right, Mary,” Pastor said. “Are the boys with him?” Mom didn’t answer, but a moment later Coach spoke so quietly, I had to strain to hear him.

“Pete’s here,” he said.

Pete’s here. The words rattled around in my head like the spin on a puck, round and round. Pete’s here. Not out there, with my brother and father and Bruce and Mike. If I’d gone, maybe I could have spotted the gale. Maybe I could have tightened the rigging just the way Dad liked it. If I’d gone, maybe they’d be home by now.

I must have fallen asleep on the stairs, and someone must have found me, because when the bells started ringing, I woke with a start, the blanket slipping to the stairs. The church bell only rang for services or emergencies, and I didn’t think there’d ever been a greater emergency. I looked up just in time to see Mom go flying out the door and I ran after her, into the driving rain.

“They’ve found them!” someone shouted from out on the road, but everyone was already sprinting for the shore.

Everyone worked together to haul in the boat as it bucked against the swells, the heavy machinery crowding its stern barely visible in the pouring dark. But it wasn’t Charlie’s Pride, that much was obvious. Mom often joked that no one could miss the Pride out to sea with its robin-egg hull. This one was red, the body painted with white bands. The Coast Guard.

Mom ran out onto the dock, her arms already reaching for Dad or Henry, but I stopped short of the wooden planks. My slippers sank into the gravel beach while Coach rushed past me to help pull the men ashore.

I watched as the leads were tied off and the crew were helped onto the dock, their shoulders bowed by more than just rain. Henry lay in Mike’s arms. Mom cried, wailing as she clung to Pastor Laird and tripped alongside him back to the house. They walked right past me; didn’t seem to notice me at all. It was Coach who draped an arm over my shoulders and walked with me back to the house.

My feet felt like they were made of lead. I dragged them up the beach and over the rough, pocked road and the rickety porch. I ducked out from under Coach’s arm and trudged up the stairs—not so far that I couldn’t see the living room, but far enough. Just out of reach. Just apart. I hugged myself while my body shook like I was laughing, dripping rain and tears onto the threadbare stair runner.

Bruce and Mike were all right. Henry too. But Dad had not come home.