Inept Richard is the most famous pirate in the entire history of modern pirating. Which is not to say he was a particularly good pirate. Indeed, many of his friends and contemporaries felt that he would probably have been more at home with a more sedate, less challenging job, like retail, or flower arranging, because he didn't seem to be cut out for pirating at all. He could only stomach two or three pints of grog before starting to feel sick, he couldn't wear an eyepatch for more than an hour or two before complaining about headaches, and it was widely believed that he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a cannon even if someone else loaded it, aimed it and pulled the trigger for him. And yet, every pirate knows where they were when Inept Richard died.
His fame was down to three factors. Firstly, he held the all-pirate record for most injuries sustained from a single blow in a one-on-one fist fight. Admittedly, this was on a technicality - he had fallen down six flights of stairs into an industrial tumble drier.
Secondly, he was the only man to return alive from Bustier Bill's ill-fated voyage to the Caverns of Ignoble Treachery in Great Yarmouth. But most people had learned to stop asking him about that, because doing so would cause him to spontaneously vomit and go into a catatonic trance for anything up to a week.
Lastly, his death itself had something of a notoriety about it. In his final moments, Inept Richard inadvertently proved that it is possible for the human body to be moving at sufficient speed to pass straight through a metal grille, provided the grille is sharp and the human body suitably soft and pliant. I won't describe any further for reasons of decency, but suffice to say Inept Richard was regrettably in no condition to write up his findings for the scientific community afterwards.
I know exactly where I was when Inept Richard's remains were being scraped off the deck with a wallpaper stripper. I was running at full speed through the halls of residence at St. Crispin's University, England in a state of absolute panic. I was attempting to convey this state as best I could with body language, by foaming at the mouth and waving my arms like a loon, and constantly gibbering in fear-stricken unintelligibility, and students were leaping out of my way left and right.
I finally reached my destination - my girlfriend Rose's room - and burst in, slamming the door behind me without even glancing backwards to check for my pursuers. After a moment's hesitation with my body pressed up against the door, I slapped on the deadbolt and rattled the chain into place with shaking hands. Only then did I allow myself to release a long, drawn-out sigh, like the steam released from a red-hot saucepan being pushed slowly into a sink.
It was only then that I noticed that the little apartment was strangely moodily-lit. The curtains were drawn, and the only source of light - indeed, the object to which my attention was suddenly exclusively drawn - was a lit candle on the kitchen table, that had probably originally been shaped like Snoopy but was now a mass of melted rivulets, as if Snoopy had fallen victim to some kind of flesh-eating virus. By the light of the candle, it then became clear that the kitchen table was beautifully set for two diners, and that my old brown poncho - the one my weird uncle Steve had gotten me for Christmas - was being used as a tablecloth. Someone had really made an effort.
"And what time do you call this?" said Rose.
"Oh," was all I was able to say. Then, I added "Ooh", when she stepped into visibility. Effort had also been put into her appearance, as she was wearing her best t-shirt and jeans, which had even been ironed.
"I said six o'clock," she said in a menacing tone of voice.
"Six o'clock. It is now half past seven."
My mind was desperately trying to work under pressure. Going by the evidence presented, some kind of event had been scheduled between Rose and myself for six o'clock which I had apparently allowed to slip from my memory. As of a few hours ago, my plans for that evening had only accommodated sitting around in the student union experimenting with the stomach's capacity to contain alcohol. About ten minutes ago, those plans had been updated to include running for my piss poor life and hiding somewhere. I now had to introduce an angry Rose to the equation, and the stress was causing my leg to spasm uncontrollably.
"You forgot, didn't you," she said, deadpan.
"No," I said immediately, instinct taking over. "I wanted to be... fashionably late."
"Oh, really. Well then, your meal has gone fashionably cold and is now in the fashionable bin."
There seemed to be voices coming from the corridor outside, voices with a Japanese lilt. I unconsciously pressed myself a little harder against the door.
Rose didn't seem to notice. "Well, since you didn't forget, Jim, perhaps you can remind me what the occasion is?"
"So... you've forgotten as well?"
"No, I have not forgotten as well."
I decided to take a stab at it. I watched her face for changes of expression. "Happy... birth... Valenti... anniver... anniversary?"
"Yes, anniversary. Well done."
"Oh ye of little faith."
Something struck the door from outside. I flinched. "Er... listen, Rose, I'll be straight with you. I totally forgot about whatever the hell we were supposed to be doing today, but right now there is something rather pressing taking place which I'm afraid must take priority over an angry girlfriend."
Rose sighed, angrily slapping the curtains open. "This should be good."
"Actually," I said, after a pause, "I've just gone over what I'm about to say in my head, and it's occurred to me that it sounds totally ridiculous and you're probably not going to believe a word of it. But it's all completely true, and you have to believe it because you know I respect you too much to try and get you to believe something so absurd. Ready?"
Her eyes rolled so hard they almost existed their sockets entirely. "Whatever."
"I have been marked for death by ninjas."
There was one of those awkward pauses.
"Ninja," she said. "Not ninjas. Ninja is plural and singular."
"Well, I'm sorry, I didn't have time to discuss semantics with the crazy bastards. They were chasing me down a corridor trying to kill me with knives." A pause. "So do you believe me?"
More things were hitting the door. I had to get away from it, because little shuriken blades had started poking through the woodwork. Not for the first time, the faculty's money-saving choice of carpentry was failing to protect me from professional assassins. I glanced over at Rose, but now she was sitting huffily on the sofa, facing away from the door. "Listen," I said, looking for things to use as a barricade. "We both know how this is going to go. You'll be all pissed off for a few days, I'll make apologetic phone calls, then I'll come over one night with a few rented videos and a bottle of wine and you'll start off being all harsh but loosen up after a few hours then everything'll be sweetness and light again, so let's just skip the whole rigmarole so you can stop being angry and help me barricade this bloody door."
I heard her tut. "Not that I care about you in the slightest, but why are you being pursued by ninjas?"
"You mean ninja."
"Well, it's kind of a funny story." I moved a wheeled computer chair in front of the door, which would make a good start, then started eyeing the fridge. "I was down in the student union with Frobisher, and we saw these two Japanese businessmen." I pulled on the fridge experimentally, but it started to tip. "And I bet him that, you know, as a joke, that they were the Japanese mafia, but it turned out they actually were the Japanese mafia. I mean, what are the odds of the Yakuza being in the student union..." I started awkwardly walking the fridge out of the kitchenette. I could hear lockpicks rattling around in the front door, it wouldn't hold for much longer. "Anyway, they were pretty cool guys until Frobisher bet me that I couldn't slip the word 'Nagasaki' into conversation without them noticing and, well, they did." The fridge's power cord ran out a few feet from the door, which scuppered that idea. I opted to find another chair and stack it on top of the first one.
"James," said Rose suddenly. I hated it when she called me that, it usually meant trouble. "I really don't think you take our relationship as seriously as I do. I think we should split up for a while."
"I assure you, any other occasion, I'd already be on my knees and begging and on the phone to the video rental shop," I assured her, carrying a coffee table I had found. "Rest assured it would be a fantastic performance and you'd be extremely moved. It's just that right now I'm a bit tied up with the whole avoiding death at the hands of a flurry of unstoppable ninja fists."
"See, this is what I'm talking about. You just don't care about my feelings."
I sighed, feeling agitation rise. The ninjas - ninja, sorry - had apparently given up picking the lock, because at that point the entire lock mechanism exploded from its housing and flew several feet into the room. Now the entire door was rhythmically juddering as the might of the ninja clan attempted to use their mighty unstoppable ninja fists to outwit a deadbolt, a chain and my pathetic barricade. And to cap it all, Rose was still sighing huffily, clearly expecting me to start apologising.
"You know what," I said quietly. "I could do without this." I turned to the fridge, which I could now conveniently access while trying to hold the door shut at the same time. Rose finally looked up in confusion as she started hearing glass clinking. She was in time to see me withdraw all the alcohol I could find from the fridge and set it up in a neat row on the kitchen counter. "What the hell are you doing?" she asked, with only superficial interest.
Hunting around for a receptacle, I found a largish washing-up bowl in one of the cupboards that would do the job. I then proceeded to empty every single drink I could find into the bowl until it was half-full with a fizzing, brownish concoction. I slipped into the bathroom for a second, ever mindful of the front door, and returned to the kitchenette with an armful of medications.
"What the hell are you doing?" repeated Rose, with slightly more concern.
"Cough medicine, perfect," I muttered to myself, emptying the small bottle of whitish goo into my cocktail. "I'm making Fog Juice," I said out loud.
"Is this really a good time?"
Someone was shouting some kind of Japanese curseword outside. I glanced at it fearfully for a second, then dropped a couple of soluble aspirin into the mix. "I can't think of a more opportune time to make Fog Juice."
"What the hell is Fog Juice?"
"A recipe handed down from student to student for generations," I said grandly. "The all-purpose problem solver. A drink whose alcohol content is finely calculated, so that it inebriates you to the point that makes you forget everything that's going on while remaining upright and conscious."
Her concern was growing as it dawned on her that I genuinely intended to drink the foul stuff into which I was now dropping highly coloured chewable Flintstones vitamins. "How is that a problem solver?"
"Basically, once I drink Fog Juice I will have no memory of everything that takes place from now until I sober up, therefore leaving my subconscious drunken self with the problem of escaping from the ninja horde and my angry girlfriend, absolving my conscious sober self of responsibility for my actions."
The chain from the door flew across the room. The deadbolt wasn't going to last much longer. Spurred by the clamouring voices of what was probably a dense crowd of ninja, I took the washing-up bowl in both hands and prepared to bring it to my lips.
"I don't think this is a good idea," hazarded Rose, approaching me carefully, as you would a man with a gun to his head.
"Best case scenario, I wake up a few days from now alive and safe somewhere. Worst case scenario, I get killed by ninjas, but at least it won't be my fault. Down the hatch."
"NO -" she began. That, and the sound of the door smashing open, were the last things I heard.
I should probably make some attempt to describe the experience of drinking Fog Juice, because it's an experience everyone should try once, and only once if they have any sense. Many have tried to describe the sensations, but it seems to vary from vary to person, in much the same way as the things you see when you press down on your eyelids.
The last thing I saw with any degree of clarity was the surface of the Fog Juice itself as it flowed into my stupid fat gob, and the pale custard yellow of the washing up bowl. Then the drink hit my stomach like a bagful of iron horseshoes onto a concrete floor, carelessly knocked off a workbench by a grizzled blacksmith. A sensation rather like being stabbed in the back of the head with a huge studded dildo caused my eyes to start from my head. Then hallucination took over, and my eyes actually fell from their sockets and tumbled into the liquid. I stood on the sandy shore of the Fog Juice under a pale custard yellow sky and watched my eyes floating off into a beautiful, serene sunset. It took a few seconds for me to realise that I needed eyes to see with, so I waded into the shallows and began to chase them. To my horror, my eyes suddenly disappeared beneath the surface, as if snatched by some terrible undersea creature, and with a sense of betrayal I surface-dived and wrestled blindly through the water for the dastardly thieves.
About twenty feet down I wasn't in water anymore, but swimming through what I recognised as a ball pool I had gotten lost in at Flambard's Amusement Park at the age of six. I also recalled with fear that I had thrown up somewhere down here in a little hidden space near the bottom, and so common sense would indicate that it was still around. Indeed, I found it occupying a large clearing in the balls, where it had evolved into some kind of tentacled king. He was not angry at me for abandoning him all those years ago, and was in fact quite sociable, so I asked him if he had seen my eyes and he pointed me in the direction of a cake shop.
The shop had the biggest variety of cakes I had ever seen. They started with traditional chocolate and vanilla flavours, moving through slightly more esoteric ones like avocado or chicken, before starting on the completely ridiculous flavours like bricks and existentialism. Anyway, they had lots of ear cakes and nose cakes but I told the jolly proprietor that it was eye cake I was after, and then he got quite offended and hit me with a spanner. Then I was flying through what I can only equate to the last segment of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only on those moments when the camera is supposed to cut back to some twat's eyeball in all the different colours of the rainbow, it instead cut to a picture of a shifty-looking dog at a number of different angles. And at the end, when I was supposed to be in a brightly-lit hotel room, I found myself in a waiting room full of people who looked exactly like me and whose names were all anagrams of my own name. I sat around in there for a few hours, reading magazines, then I felt the alcohol leaving my system, and after a short goodbye party I returned to painful reality.
And painful was the right word. Even before I opened my eyes I could feel aches in most of my favourite joints. My back really hurt, and the fact that I was lying on a very solid, uneven surface gave me a pretty good clue as to why. On the bright side, though, I was probably still alive, because I've heard a lot about Hell and, while pain is supposed to be Hell's whole shtick, it's made out to be a little more hardcore than the 'little twinge' level.
Wishing to get the whole revelation thing out of the way, I opened my eyes and sat up to see where my drunken unconscious self had brought me. A bright sun beat down from a cloudless sky upon my head - on which I found a knotted hanky - and twinkling blue ocean stretched out infinitely in every direction. I was sitting on a rough wooden raft with a rather pathetic little sail made out of some Tesco's bags.
"The South Pacific?" I realised aloud. "You stupid bastard!"