One of my writing classes in college was an Experimental Fiction class. It mostly meant finding strange ways to tell stories, or odd rules to impose on yourself (never using the word “and” or telling an entire story frequently repeating the same two words…) My professor was adamently against all “genre writing.” Interestingly, I’ve found that in the world beyond the college classroom, the first thing anyone wants to know is what genre you write…
Despite this opinion of hers, I somehow managed to get away with writing a lot of pirate stories. I’d use whatever constraints we were supposed to use for the story-writing, but I’d write experimental stories about Captain Red Ballantyne and the Ocean Rose. I was writing Red’s Girl at the time, and I found the experimental stories to be useful writing exercises.
For this story, the constraint was to write a page that was all one sentence. Red is a bit of a rambler anyway, so it kind of fit. He’s also a storyteller, so I decided to retell in one sentence one of his stories about his many exploits. Whether it actually happened is a different question. But here it is: in one sentence.
So there we were chasing down this ship and believe me, it was a very big ship with a lot of red silk sails, which is how we knew that it was the ship we wanted: the one owned by the Sultan of Arabia, of course, seeing as we’d heard rumors (the rumors were flying pretty freely at this time, and I don’t remember exactly where we heard the rumor first but I do know that we got into a fight in a tavern once [or maybe it was twice] over a dispute involving a map that was supposed to be a shortcut to Arabia [which is very difficult to get to by conventional sailing, seeing as you have to go around a couple of continents whether you sail east or west, making the whole thing extremely inconvenient and not really worth the money, despite the rumors of vast wealth owned by said-Sultan] and so it was very interesting news to hear that all that wealth was coming to us, instead of us having to go to it [sort of like Muhummad and the mountain, if you see what I mean]) that he’d brought a lot of wealth to the Caribbean (the rumors were very free about the news that he’d come but no one seemed to know why exactly he was here [though everyone was absolutely certain that he’d brought a lot of money with him]) so every pirate in the area was on the lookout and we just got lucky (although it wasn’t only luck because we happen to be very good pirates with a really excellent ship [though I admit I’m not exactly objective in terms of Rosie (the Ocean Rose, that is) considering how much I love her (though maybe I ought to know better than anybody what an excellent ship she is, considering how much I love her)]) when we spotted the ship but then we had a bit of a problem when we went aboard because we didn’t know which one was the Sultan; there was a fellow (decked out beautifully in silk robes) who certainly looked like every storybook concept of a Sultan of Arabia, but as soon as we questioned him he confessed that he was a decoy and the real Sultan was hiding below, which left us nothing to do but search the ship and when we did we found someone hiding who admitted to being the true Sultan but I was a bit suspicious (because I’m clever that way) so I insisted on shaking hands with him—sure enough he had a seaman’s calluses so he clearly was a sailor not a sultan (and being a sailor myself I feel I’m something of an authority on this [though I’ve never been a sultan so I suppose I’m a bit less of an authority than I could be (if I’d also been a sultan, I mean) but I still think I can speak reasonably authoritatively here] so I was reasonably sure I was right) which meant we still didn’t know who the real Sultan was, and while some of my crew was in favor of continuing to search I had another idea (because I’m clever that way too) which was to go back to the first one who looked like a Sultan but said he wasn’t, because right now he was the least likely person on the ship to be the Sultan (barring the guy with the calluses) since we had apparently already ruled him out, and I know if I was the Sultan in this situation that’s where I’d want to be: the one who’d already been ruled out and wasn’t a suspect; so I shook hands with him too and as I expected his palm was absolutely soft and he’d clearly never done a day’s work in his life which made it very likely he was the true Sultan, and upon this realization (his realization that I realized his true identity) he started shrieking at us not to torture and kill him which we hadn’t really planned to do anyway (it baffles me when victims bring up torture before the pirates do; you’d think they’d be afraid of giving us ideas) so all we did was rob his ship and I can definitely assert that the Sultan of Arabia is as rich as the stories say because we spent hours taking valuables out and a good time was had by all except for maybe the Sultan.