A tale of lavish tea parties, planning regulations, naked political ambition and a heartbroken giant squid. If you don't enjoy books that are a bit like episodes of Ever Decreasing Circles you might want to skip this one.
‘You may be interested to know that I have had an encounter with supernatural realm,’ said Napoleon, his eyes gleaming.
‘Go on,’ said Jennifer, eagerly.
‘It was during my invasion of Northern Italy. We were marching through deep snow by the light of the moon, a terrible blizzard blowing up around us. Eventually it got so bad that I decided we must stop and find shelter. By luck, the blizzard slowed for just a moment and we caught sight of a small village up ahead. The peasant shacks were dark and forbidding and even I, Napoleon, felt a shiver of apprehension as we approached.’
One of the younger pirates began to suck their thumb nervously. Napoleon leant forward and continued. ‘Despite the bitter weather, outside each hut stood a peasant family, looking back at us with dim, idiot eyes. I demanded that they bring us food and fresh horses, but they just stood there. So I grew angry and fired my pistol into the air, but still there was no response. It was as if they were statues!’
‘Dear me, are you scared of statues?’ asked the Pirate Captain. ‘Is it because they look like people but actually they’re made out of stone?’
‘I hadn’t finished,’ said Napoleon. ‘Anyway, to cut a long story short it turned out that all the peasants were werewolves and so we shot them with cannons.’ He leaned back in his chair and grinned. ‘Pretty spooky stuff, eh?’
Most of the pirates and islanders agreed that it was a very scary story and they couldn’t imagine anything more frightening. The Pirate Captain stifled a yawn. ‘I suppose werewolves are fairly spooky,’ he said.
‘I didn’t know you’d ever met werewolves!’ exclaimed Jennifer.
‘Oh yes. We had bucket loads of adventures with werewolves back in the day. So many in fact I’d almost forgotten that some people find them terrifying.’
‘Surely,’ said the Governor, who was now quite white, ‘you’re not suggesting that you’ve met something more spooky than a werewolf, Pirate Captain?’
‘Most days. An obvious example that springs to mind is the adventure where we were searching for some mythical Olmec gold. Sailed all over the place looking for it. Tricky customers those Olmecs, they have a tendency to stash their treasure in really inconvenient and unexpected places. We ended up at a haunted house in Raynes Park. Do you know Raynes Park?’
The islanders fell into an animated discussion, but none of them had heard of Raynes Park. Napoleon sat with his arms folded and made a face.
‘It’s a suburb just south of London,’ explained the Pirate Captain, helpfully, ‘between Wimbledon and New Malden. It’s not that eldritch a place to be honest, but this particular haunted house was really awful… you know, holes in the roof, bats, glow-in-the-dark stuff hanging off the trees in the garden. We could hear a blood-curdling noise coming from the attic, so me and the lads knocked down the door and crept up the stairs, which were all creaky like you’d expect. Ghosts are notoriously lax at house repairs. I assume it’s because when you’re dead it wouldn’t seem that important, would it? Stands to reason. Anyhow, as we got onto the landing, the noises got louder and even more sinister. But bold as brass I gripped my cutlass and marched straight up to the little attic ladder, expecting monsters. Sure enough, there were a load of them in there, making a horrible racket. Monsters! And they were sat round a table just like this one.’ The Pirate Captain lowered his voice eerily. ‘But where you’re sitting,’ he pointed at the islanders in turn, ‘was a zombie! And where you’re sitting was a dracula! And in your place was a triffid and next to you was a Creature from the Black Lagoon! And Governor, in your seat there was a painting where the eyes follow you about the room!’
The Governor put his hand to his mouth and let out a stifled shriek.
‘And where you’re sitting,’ said the Pirate Captain, looking directly at Napoleon, ‘there was little chubby maggot. Imagine that! I’ll bet none of you have ever heard of anything so spine chilling.’
Napoleon began to say that in fact he had just remembered an even more shocking and dreadful story, but the Pirate Captain held up his hands to cut him off. ‘Listen Napoleon,’ he said. ‘I’m sure we could spend all night telling stories about how brave we are. But I’m a man of action, not words. So what do you say to a little contest?’
‘What did you have in mind?’ asked Napoleon, his eyes narrowing
‘Well,’ said the Captain, ‘I was thinking along the lines of a Draw A Monster competition… we get some paper and pens and each of us draws something scary. The winner is the one who scares the other one most. If both of us are equally scared, then we’ll try them on the Governor here.’
The Governor didn’t look too happy about this. ‘It’s getting very late, Pirate Captain. Perhaps it would be best if we all shake hands and get off to bed?’
‘No!’ exclaimed Napoleon. ‘Let it never be said that Napoleon evades a worthy challenge. Please fetch some paper and pens for us from my desk.’
The Governor reluctantly went to get the required stationery, while Napoleon flexed his drawing hand and the Pirate Captain ran through a few quick stretches. He was hoping Jennifer might offer to massage his shoulders and mentioned a few times how tense they were, but she didn’t seem to be taking the hint.
‘Gentlemen,’ said the Governor, once everybody was ready. ‘You have twenty minutes to draw a monster. I’d rather we were all good sports and didn’t copy or try to distract the other competitor. Your time starts now!’
Before putting pen to paper, the Pirate Captain decided that he needed a strategy. He didn’t know Napoleon very well, but he realised that he had to somehow get under the French Emperor’s skin, to work out what made him tick and, most importantly, to discover what would terrify him out of his wits. ‘If I was in his place,’ thought the Pirate Captain, ‘what would frighten me? I’ve always been a keen amateur psychologist, this should be easy enough.’ Then the Pirate Captain remembered that he had often felt like he might be psychic, on account of the many bizarre and unexplainable things that had happened to him, such as the time when he found out he had the exact same birthday as a total stranger he met on holiday. With a psychic brain like that, he could probably just extract Napoleon’s greatest fears through telepathy. He put one finger on each temple and stared at the back of Napoleon’s head, which is where he assumed the frightening stuff was kept.
‘What are you doing?’ whispered Jennifer. ‘why have you gone cross-eyed? Are you ill? Was it last night’s jellyfish? I still say we should try frying them instead of boiling.’
‘Shh… I’m sucking Napoleon’s greatest fear out of his head with my mind powers.’
‘Mind powers? When did you get those?’
‘I don’t know. I’m probably a mutant or descended from gypsies. Do you mind being quiet?’
Jennifer apologised and left the Pirate Captain to it. She thought of sneaking a look at Napoleon’s picture, but he had covered it with his arm so that nobody could see.
The Pirate Captain rapidly came to realise that psychic powers were much harder to use than he had expected. And with only a few minutes left he wondered whether he might be better off letting his powers flow through his pen. This worked slightly better and before long he had drawn a monster with eight or nine googly eyes, tentacles, plenty of fangs and scales rather than skin. There was no time to colour it in, but the Captain figured that a monster might be scarier in black and white because it was ‘stark’. Just as the Governor was telling them to put their pens down, he quickly sketched a few more heads - a dragon, a cat and a hen - sat back and folded his arms.
‘Gentleman, if you could reveal your monsters,’ said the Governor, a serious look on his face. The Pirate Captain pushed his picture forward as boldly as he could.
‘There you go,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid it hasn’t got a name.’
Seeing the Captain’s drawing Napoleon suddenly screwed his sheet of paper into a ball and, with a sort of strangulated yelp, flung it into the Governor’s fireplace. Then he sat back and mopped his brow.
‘What on earth are you doing?’ asked the Captain, shocked.
‘I am sorry, Pirate Captain,’ said Napoleon, shaking his head and suppressing a shudder. ‘But my picture was so terrifying that had anyone, other than I, Napoleon, looked upon the thing, it would have caused their hearts to explode. That’s how scary it was. It’s almost as if my skill as a draughtsman had actually summoned a demon from the occult realm.’
Several of the assembled islanders ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at this.
‘Well then,’ said the Governor. ‘I suppose we must declare Napoleon the winner. For though your picture is very good Captain, it hasn’t made anybody’s heart explode, thank the stars.’
‘Don’t feel bad, my friend,’ added Napoleon consolingly. ‘It is only because of my iron constitution that I was able to withstand it myself. More quail’s eggs?’