The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher
Caught in the night
My left leg twitched at the tickle of another night-boy. Hidden by the wide trunk of a river sycamore, I shifted in my crouch and reached a hand inside Jon’s overalls to trap and smack the creeping skitter. Darn things had been a considerable nuisance since I settled myself along the Mississippi to have a look-see at the grounded steamboat and its crew.
The men had piled onshore and hauled sitting logs from the brush while I played at them being pirates and me being a stowaway. With the help of passed flasks and a roaring riverside fire, they’d gone from grumbling to mighty spirited in the last hour, and before long I got sucked in by a story one of them was reading from a tablet of writing paper. I was tolerably invested in the tale of a dimwit and his ornery bullwhip—the dimwit having whipped himself nearly to tears while the bull
watched—and barely had time to react when the listener nearest me rose with a chuckle and a belch.
While the crew applauded the story’s end, I deepened my crouch and slunk farther behind the tree, checking to make sure Jon’s marble sack was still stuffed into one of my hip pockets.
The belching man stumbled around the fire with a happy laugh. “You mean to tell us,” he said, lurching at the storyteller, “that you put those words together in your own head?”
“That’s how writing generally works,” the story man said, standing and stretching. “Think up a few lies, put them to paper. I imagine any of you liars would make a fine writer. Now I best get going, boys. I suggest you find lodging in town somewhere.” He dusted stray bits of log bark from his pants and sighed. “I’ll be staying in a house on Willow Street if you need me. Blue house, black shutters, white porch.”
Willow? That was the street we lived on. Forgetting my stowaway role, I backed up and crunched down on an unfortunately placed twig, crying out as the skitter in my overalls came back to life and buzzed around my pant leg. Before I could flee, the storyteller’s face was in my own.
“Boys, guard your secrets, we’ve got a spy.” The man gave a once-over to my braids and small stature. “A tricky one, by the looks of her.” His smile was amused and friendly, but I knew better than to trust a pirate, even a made-up one.