Slow Boat to Terror is the first book in the Kelly McCabe Detective Series. Join eleven-year-old Kelly McCabe onboard an old sailing schooner when she learns that she, and the other passengers are traveling with criminals.
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As she quietly stepped down the dim passageway toward the stairs to the deck, Kelly realized that she couldn’t go up the stairs and show herself. But there was no other way to the deck. As she approached the stairs, there it was. She had seen it a hundred times, but had not seen it at all: a little cubbyhole door to the backside of the stairs. What was it for? Where did it go? She looked at the cabins on either side of the hall. Each was directly across from the other. Then she realized the crew’s quarters were much larger than the galley, which was on the other side of the ship. There must be something between the galley and first cabin, Kelly thought. She crouched under the stairs, twisted the little chunk of wood with a nail through its middle, which served as a twist latch to hold the small door shut, and opened a passage to the bowels, the innermost parts of the old ship.
Once inside, Kelly sat on the rough wood floor waiting for her eyes to adjust to the eerie darkness. The only light came from the little door she had left ajar less than an inch, and a dim reflection coming from behind what appeared to be a wall near the side of the ship. Braving the darkness, she stood and slowly walked across the uneven floor toward the dim light.
After taking several steps, Kelly walked straight into a heavy wooden beam that angled its way to an even larger beam overhead. She had hit her head and felt an instant lump. Taking hold of the angled beam, she swung herself under it, stepping backward on the other side. The creaking of the ship’s structure was many times louder here than it was in the cabins. The main creaking sounds came from the middle of the ship, just behind where she had entered the cubbyhole. That was where the rear mast came through the deck and down through the floor she was standing on, to wherever it ended in the very bottom of the ship. Then– “What was that?” Kelly asked herself. There was a Squick, Squick sound she had not heard before.
Kelly turned around and stepped forward– into nothing! Falling forward, she landed on her hands and knees in a foot of seawater on the bottom of the ship’s hull, six feet below the floor she had been standing on, scraping away even more skin from her right wrist. Managing to get up, her feet were totally covered by the water taken on by the ship. She knew that most large ships leaked and that the water taken on in the ship’s bilge, the very bottom part of the hull, was pumped out regularly. But it stank, and it was disgustingly slimy. Kelly then crawled up the hull enough to get out of the water and sat on the sloped part of the hull. She took hold of her arm above her bleeding wrist and turned it upwards, trying to see just how badly she was bleeding. But she could see nothing, for it was even darker than where she had been standing. And yet, she knew she had opened the wound more; she could feel the blood running down the side of her arm. She wiped the wound against her once-white top to get as much of the slimy water off as possible. There had to be everything in that nasty water, and she was sure infection was likely. The bleeding was good, though. At least the blood would wash some of the slime out of the wound, she thought.
Kelly wondered what time it was. It had been at least ten o’clock when Newcomb had caught her. He had kept her at the back of the ship for quite a while until no one could see him take her below into his cabin. How long she was in that drawer hole she couldn’t be certain. It seemed like forever, but it was likely only a couple of hours. “It must be at least one o’clock in the morning, if not later,” Kelly found herself thinking. Her thoughts then quickly turned to her mother “He has her, or mom would be screaming bloody murder for me.” Bloody murder. . . what an expression to think of now! It seemed like a nothing expression, until she realized it could be taking place right now, just feet above her head. And the victim was likely her only remaining parent, Kelly painfully reflected. Her beautiful mother, who had never done anything wrong. Well, nothing importantly wrong at least. She was devoted to caring for her family. Her whole life was about protecting them, shielding them– even from themselves.
Kelly’s father had been big and strong. He was the kind no one would take on if they could avoid it. Most would think that the strong one with the badge and the gun would be the protector, Kelly reflected. But not really, it was her mom! She protected in different ways. She protected against cavities, by always making sure everybody brushed regularly. She protected against colds and the flu, against bad food, against bad television programs, against bad everything– even at school!
It was last year that she embarrassed Kelly a little, but Kelly was also quite proud of her mother for doing it. When she had told her mother that one of the boys in her class was using some very bad language toward her and other students, her mother went immediately to the principal and informed him of it. He sent for Kelly, and soon she was sitting beside her mother, verifying that bad language was being used, and telling the principal who the student was. The principal acknowledged that he was aware of the problem, and he told Kelly’s mother he would take care of it. Her mother smiled and said, “Good!” but she didn’t get up. She just sat there.
When the surprised principal asked if there was anything else he could do for her, she told him no, but seeing that he had been aware of the foul language and had done nothing about it thus far, she declared that she was going to stay there until the problem was taken care of. The principal’s ears turned bright red: he was so mad. He pointedly told her that he had already spoken to the guidance counselor a week ago. Her mother tilted her head to the side and said, “That certainly didn’t cure the problem, did it? I’ll wait until it is cured.” The principal then marched out of the office and didn’t return for fifteen minutes. When he did return, he told her that he had talked to the boy and had taken care of the problem. “I’ll let you know if your efforts have been effective,” her mother said as she stood up and she and Kelly left the principal’s office. It was embarrassing, but WOW!– her mom could hold her own with anybody.
Squick, Squick. There was that sound again, but this time it was closer. Kelly’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness in the dank, musty hole. She could see her knees, and almost see her feet, as she laid back on the curve of the ship’s hull, her feet drawn up, and her knees in front of her. It wasn’t the ship’s timbers creaking. They sounded different. Squick, Squick, Squick just over her head . . . and then one of them dropped onto her stomach.
“Rats! Oh God, rats!” she cried as she shook her body trying to get the filthy thing off her– but it clung even tighter to her knit top. She could feel the thing’s claws penetrate the fabric and dig into her skin a little bit. The rat pulled itself to the center of her stomach and was sniffing the blood she had wiped on her top earlier. Kelly, with her hands held high and to her side, fingers spread, not wanting to touch the thing, stared right into the rat’s face. It was ugly, and filthy, and wet with gobby fur, and it had red eyes that she could see every couple of seconds.
It was starting to bite at her top where the blood was. “That’s it,” she thought. “That’s what they want. It’s the blood smell that’s drawing them.” Then she realized it was her arm that was the source of the blood– and that would be their target.
Kelly, without thinking and without hesitation, reached down with her right arm and grabbed the rat’s tail to throw it off her. The rat’s claws dug into the fabric of her top, and it opened its mouth wide, right at her face. She didn’t know a rat had that big of a mouth. It made a creepy little hissing sound. She could see its yellow pointy teeth, and she could tell it was not afraid of her– which made her now afraid. This caused her to unconsciously lessen her grip, for when she attempted to fling the rat away, her hand slipped off its tail. Suddenly, it seemed to lunge at her face, but Kelly then realized that it was probably just her top pulling it back. With her courage quickly regained, Kelly made another grab for the rat’s disgusting tail, exposing the raw wounds on her arm to the rat. It turned its head, with its mouth open, trying to reach her arm, but her grip held and the rat was immediately airborne, crossing to the center of the ship, where it landed against a beam with a thud, before she heard it splash into the bilge water.
Kelly was relatively sure she hadn’t killed it, and wondered if it would now be afraid of her, or if it would come back and attack. She had no time to ponder that point as two more rats slid from the beam overhead and landed, one on each side of her. She spun, trying to kick at one, when she realized she had put her face within inches of another rat that was sitting up on its hind legs. Its mouth opened as it came for her face, but she spun on her butt and stood up, kicking that one out of sight.
She reached for the beam over her head to keep herself from falling when she heard the Squick, Squick, Squick of more rats coming down the beam. The fight, or the smell of blood, or something, was drawing them. She didn’t know for certain what, but she very much wished she had a stick or something. She hated the things, and they seemed to be all over the place.
“Show no fear,” came the voice of her father. “Show no fear. All breathing things can sense fear, and they will attack it in some way.”
“Great, Dad, you don’t hate rats,” Kelly mumbled. Or did he? she considered. She didn’t know. How could she not know? He didn’t like snakes. She knew that. Alligators didn’t really bother him, as long as they weren’t too close. But how could she not know about rats? she questioned herself.
She stomped on one. It turned over and tried to bite her foot. She pushed it away with her foot before it could get its teeth through her canvas shoe. Another one was on the other side of her. Kicking worked best. Three more rats were sent into the ship’s beams with the precision of an NFL kicker. If it was as much as a shadow, it got kicked.
Kelly kicked and missed, and when her left foot slipped from under her, she landed on her butt, sliding into the water. One rat climbed up the inside of her bare thigh and clung on her shorts. She backhanded it with her left hand and knocked it into the water.
Scrambling to get out of the filthy water, she slipped again and went down on one knee, breaking the skin open. There was only a little blood, but it was fresh and she considered if that would draw the rats all the more. She scrambled to get back to her standing position.
Kelly looked around quickly. Her long blond hair, now stringy and matted, slapped her face as her head swung side to side. She pulled the dirty hair strands from her face as she realized she had gotten the better of the rats. She couldn’t see any, but she still heard them. Squick, Squick, Squick.