Authors: Paul Gamble
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To my parents
THE SHOE'S THE CLUE
In the middle of the street lay a single shoe, an unmistakable warning that there was an escaped pirate somewhere nearby.
And yet people walked past, ignoring it. Even those who looked at the shoe didn't realize that it signaled danger and the possibility that they could have been run through by a cutlass at a moment's notice.
In fact, most of the people in the street thought it was just a lost shoe.
But think! Who loses a single shoe? Possibly someone might lose both shoesâbut why would anyone ever leave a single shoe behind? You'd notice the minute you realized that you were slightly taller on your left leg than you were on your right.
To the educated, those who know how to look at the world properly, the answer is clear: Only a pirate would leave a single shoe behind. Because pirates, who all have a wooden leg,
have only one shoe to lose.
But where do these pirates come from? Well, obviously they escape from a Piratoriumâa specially built prison for pirates. Then while they are running away from the guards, their shoe falls off; and, being in a hurry to evade recapture, they generally don't turn around to pick it up.
The uneducated mind would ask: Why are pirates particularly prone to having their shoes fall off? WellÂ â¦ anyone with an ounce of sense could explain to them that pirate's shoes are always falling off because pirates are notoriously bad at tying their laces. After all, it's incredibly difficult to tie a neat bowknot when one of your hands has been replaced with a metal hook.
It is this state of affairs that caused Captain Buck Steerhawk to say the second-wisest thing that a pirate has ever uttered.
“Lad, if you want to be a pirate, remember this: Get yourself a pair of slip-on loafers.”
Coincidentally, Captain Buck Steerhawk is also responsible for the first-wisest thing ever uttered by a pirate: “It's vitally important that you always think very carefully about which hand you're using the toilet paper with.”
Uneducated people believe that pirates no longer exist in the world. But how could pirates have just disappeared overnight? Pirates haven't really disappeared any more than the dinosaurs just vanished one day. These days all pirates are locked away in Piratoriums, where they are well looked after, given a daily supply of grog, and allowed to sing sea shanties and screech “A'hr Jim Lad” at each other to their heart's content.
Occasionally a pirate may escape during transportation to or from a Piratorium, and hence you may see a single shoe lying in the road. But this happens rarely, as pirates are securely transported around the road network in sealed tankers. What is truly strange about this world is that no one ever notices this, despite the fact that the tankers are clearly marked with a skull and crossbones. What would a tanker marked with a skull and crossbones be carrying other than pirates?
The question is, are you one of the people who sees how unusual the world really is? Or do you think that the single shoe lying in the road is just a lost shoe? If you look closely at the world, you will quickly realize that there are signs of strangeness everywhere. And if you can see the signs, maybe you're ready to join the Ministry.
All you have to do is open your eyes.
Unfortunately, as our story begins, Jack Pearse's eyes are firmly closed.
The most famous pirate escape to occur in recent years was the notorious French pirate Jacques le Magiste. Jacques was a pinup amongst pirates. He inspired everyone he met. He never took any prisoners, never spent his treasureâalways choosing to bury it insteadâand further boasted that whatever any other pirate did once he would do twice. Of course this made Jacques rather easy to capture as he had no hands, just two hooks; no legs, just two wooden pegs; and no eyes, just two patches.
It was morning and Jack's head was still hidden under his duvet. It wasn't that Jack didn't like mornings. It was just that he would have preferred them if they happened slightly later in the day. Maybe half past eleven. Possibly even later on the weekends.
“Jack! Time to get up,” Jack's mother yelled from downstairs. “You don't want to be late for school.”
It was a strange thing for his mother to yell. After all, being late for school was something that didn't worry Jack in the slightest.
Rubbing his eyes with both hands, he crawled from under the duvet and peeped out of his curtains. The sun was beaming down through a cloudless sky. Jack found this annoying, as it meant that P.E. would be outside today. Getting sweaty and tired was bad, but getting sweaty and tired and muddy was even worse.
As Jack looked out the window he noticed a single shoe lying in the middle of the road.
“How did that get there?” he wondered. To Jack, a shoe lying in the middle of the road was annoying. There was no sensible or reasonable explanation for it, and Jack hated unexplained mysteries. When reading detective books he almost always found himself flipping to the last few pages to find out who the murderer was. An unexplained mystery felt almost physically uncomfortable, like an unscratched itch or a crumpled sock inside a shoe.
By the time Jack got downstairs his cereal was getting soggy. Jack's father's mustache appeared over the top of his newspaper. As always, Jack's father's face quickly followed the mustache. Jack's father's face and Jack's father's mustache had a sort of double act going in that way. You rarely saw one without the other.
“Morning, Jack,” said the mustache.
“Eat your cereal,” said Jack's mother.
Jack poked his cereal with a spoon and frowned. Why did parents always make you do things that you didn't want to do? In Jack's books heroes were almost always orphans, or their parents had been kidnapped, or they just didn't seem to feel the need for parents at all. After all, Peter Pan probably would never have defeated Captain Hook if his parents had been around. They would never have let him use a pointed sword, for a start. And it's almost impossible to kill a maniacal pirate with a pair of safety scissors.
Jack thought that maybe people only ever became heroes because they didn't have parents.
The mustache looked at its watch. “You'll have to get a move on if you want to catch your bus.”
“Here's your P.E. kit.” Jack's mother handed him a bag. “I washed it.”
Jack looked halfheartedly at the bag. It made him wonder about heroes again. If heroes didn't have parents, then who did their laundry? As far as he could remember, Peter Pan never found himself wrestling with an enchanted washing machine and a pair of magically dirty pants.
“Mum,” Jack said in his nicest voice, “I don't suppose you could give me a note to get out of P.E.?”
His mother sighed. She had heard this before. “What is it about P.E. that you hate so much?”
“Partly getting muddy, but mainly P.E. teachers.”
“Not a good enough reason. So, no note.”
It was Jack's turn to sigh as he picked up his schoolbag and P.E. kit. As he was walking out the door he stopped and turned around to his parents. “Mum, how hard is it to do your own laundry? Would it take me a long time to wash my own clothes?”
She arched an eyebrow as she looked at him. “Well, the ironing might take you a while. You wouldn't have much free time if you had to do it.”
“I'm glad I'm not a hero, then,” Jack said as he left to catch his bus.
The mustache looked at Jack's mother. “That boy gets stranger all the time.”
Many people will tell you it is impossible to kill pirates with safety scissors. However, it is only
impossible. You can kill pirates with a pair of safety scissors but you have to persuade them to lie still for an awfully long time before you can achieve it. And even if you do persuade them to lie down in the first place they tend to get bored halfway through and wander off to dig up some treasure or pillage a Caribbean island.
Jack ran out the front door with his shirttail flapping inelegantly behind him, making it to the corner just in time to catch the bus. As he walked down the aisle he caught sight of David Sacher, his best friend.
David and Jack had been friends since they met as five-year-olds on the first day of school. So, when it came to going to middle school they had both decided to go to the same one.
They made a strange pair. Jack was about average height for his age with jet-black hair. The odd thing about Jack was that he was always thinking. Whether it was wondering about heroes or wanting to know how a single shoe could get abandoned in the middle of a road, Jack just wanted the world to make sense. Which was, in many ways, a bad thing to want. Because although the world made many things, sense was rarely one of them.
David was generally a lot more relaxed about such things. He didn't particularly care if the world made sense. If David woke up one morning and found a bacon sandwich tree in his back garden, he would not wonder what could have caused such a botanical anomaly. Largely because he would have been looking for a glass-of-milk bush in order to wash his bacon sandwich down.
David was thin and all angles and points. In many ways he resembled a human erector set. It was never a good idea to wander too close to David when he was walking because you never knew when a stray elbow or knee might come popping out of his body and clatter into a soft and fleshy part of you. It wasn't so much that David was excessively clumsy, it was just that he seemed to have been born with a few extra joints in his arms and legs. Whereas the girls in their junior school had exchanged friendship bracelets to show their devotion to each other, Jack's friendship with David was marked with a series of accidental bruises and numbed limbs.