Ted Lawrence was lying on the deck of his sailboat, sprawled across a lounge chair like a damp rag and soaking in the light and gentle breeze of the uncharacteristically mild August morning. The waters of Lake Superior lapped against the hull of his ship and its twinkling plain stretched on past the horizon in every direction. His ship wasn’t much to look at, with its splotched paint and patchwork sail, and he had to empty every last cent from his savings to afford even that, but the peace of the open waves was worth any price.
Ted reached over the bucket of cassette tapes next to him and rifled through them. The faded marker on the labels was barely legible, but Ted had worn these tapes out so much that he could tell them apart by their blemishes. The mixtape of top 40s that he recorded with the dollar store tape player he got for his 12th birthday had a grey case cracked in 3 places, but he would still play through it despite the risk of snapping in half. 12 year old Ted may have had a bowlcut and stuck gum in girls’ hair, but that kid had great taste. The entirety of Van Halen’s Van Halen II, which he ripped from a 8 hour block of rock albums that the classic rock station out of Green Bay was playing, was on a previously white tape that had yellowed like a smoker’s front teeth. And the piece de resistance, the Doobie Brothers bootleg that he bought from a shady character on craigslist, whose unmarked matte black plastic casing looked like the windowless F-150 van of its previous owner. He put opened the tape deck on his boombox, inserted the tape, and mashed play.
The sultry tones of Michael McDonald’s smooth baritone melted against Ted’s ears like butter. When he closed his eyes, he wasn’t just on a shitty little boat sloshing around on a lake, he was sailing across an unknown sea of gold on a yacht built for the gods, just him at the helm and Michael’s voice flowing through the shimmering air, like he was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an angel. Michael leaned over, tickling the back of Ted’s neck with his velvetine beard. His voice grew softer, blowing into Ted’s ear like a kiss of wind. Michael’s lips-
“Avast, ye landlubber! It seems ye have a vessel stuffed to the brim with booty!”
Ted snapped awake from his dream. He was no longer laying in the midday sun, but cowering beneath the shade of the furled sail of a wooden frigate’s 4 story mast. Men and women, clad in the paper-thin fabric and flimsy foam hats of cheap halloween store costumes, lined the ship’s deck, all under the banner of a black and white maple leaf wearing an eyepatch and headphones.
“Now, hand over the riches and ye won’t be harmed!” said the man in the most comically large of foam hats and purple sequin jacket straight out of Elton John’s closet. The lavish dress and wrist jangling with (painted) gold (plastic) bangles and armlets suggested that he was the captain.
“I have no idea what’s going on, but whatever it is I don’t have riches! I’m broke as hell and I just got laid off so I-”
“Not that kind of booty, ye bilge rat! We deal in riches of a dif’rent sort! We heard the sirens call of yer music box there and we knew ye had much to plunder! You see, we sail the seven seas- er, four lakes, I mean- searching for the rarest of bootlegs and deepest of cuts because we are… the music pirates of Canada!”
“Wait, my… no!” Ted dove onto his tape collection like a mine and curled into a fetal position. “Not these, man! They’re all I’ve got!”
“It looks like ye soon to have nothin’! Go on and seize the lubber’s booty so we can send him on his merry way!”
Two of the pirates scrambled down two rope ladders that dangled off the edge of the ship. They boarded Ted’s vessel and approached the cowering man. He gripped the plastic bucket even tighter. One of the men tried to pull his arms free, but they were wrapped around tighter than the hoops of a barrel. The other shot the heel of his boot into Ted’s side again and again until he was writhing on the ground, contorted like a gnarled root.
“Don’t forget the music box!” the captain shouted.
The pirates grabbed the tapes and boombox and climbed back up the ladder to the ship’s deck. Ted reached out, tried to claw his way over, but the pain, like a stake through his kidney, was too great. The sail rolled open with a sharp crack and the pirate ship skated across the water, to whatever record show or listening party awaited at their next port of call.