the rumbums of bumstickle
Far, far away, nestled among the stars, is an astronomical object of great importance. If one squints at it for long enough, one will find that it is pale blue in color. If one knows enough about the astronomy, one will think that this object in the heavens is a star, burning and blazing at 100,000 fahrenheit . . . That it is, in fact, one of the hottest stars in existence, a star so hot that it is blue.
But it is not so.
The blue mystery among the stars is a planet, covered almost entirely in ocean. It is the planet Bumstickle, and it is where this story takes place.
Tucked away in a fancy cabin in the stern of the mighty and fierce pirate ship Sea Mama was a boy named Belshaz.
Belshaz was the Prince of the Pirates (under King Hoochewooche). He had been born upon the Sea Mama, lived upon the Sea Mama, and had never left the Sea Mama in all the fifteen years of his life. He had sea legs, a vast pirate vocabulary, and was prone to making rude bodily noises. But under all of his pirate-like swagger, Belshaz had a dream.
The Prince of the Pirates, son of King Hoochewooche and Queen Bellafattia, wanted to be an architect. Coating the walls of his private cabin were drawings upon drawings of elaborate ships and huts on stilts and even frowning mosaic gates.
Belshaz figured that a bard would be a good job, too. He could write poems about treacherous sea battles, or sing about sparkling booty discovered in the depths of monster-filled caves.
Unfortunately, he was sure that his parents wouldn’t approve of his dream. They wanted him to be an infamous pirate warlord who ruled all of Bumstickle with an iron hook and left no survivors.
He had locked himself up in his cabin so that he could draw architectural designs in peace. Belshaz was putting the finishing touches on the building plans for a maximum-security brig when something extremely heavy slammed into the cabin’s door.
“Ahoy, Belshazarrrr!” shouted the thing that had rammed against the door. It was Belshaz’s own father, King Hoochewooche, Ruler of the Pirates. “Open up, son!” he bellowed.
Belshaz quickly set a rusty metal plate on top of his drawing, to hide it from his father. Then he rushed over to the splintering wooden door and undid the lock. “Avast thar, ye salty sea monster o’ a dad!” he greeted in typical pirate speech, letting his father in.
King Hoochewooche thundered into the room, his heavy footfalls making the deck quake. “Greetin’s, son! Dinner gunna be ready in a minute. Th’ crew gunna be singin’ songs ‘o betrayal ‘n battles, laddie, ‘n ye won’t want to miss tha’.” He slapped his son on the back so hard that Belshaz couldn’t breathe for a second.
“Aye, Cap’n,” he wheezed when he’d gotten his breath back.
King Hoochewooche burped, filling the air with the molasses-mixed-with-alcohol stench of rum. He stared at his son for a while, likely imagining Belshaz as a fearsome pirate, as infamous and savage as Blackbeard.
Presently, someone aboard the ship hollered, “’Tis the hour for dinner! Where be th’ cap’n?”
King Hoochewooche, Ruler of the Pirates, captain of the ship Sea Mama, patted Belshaz on the back once again and charged out of the cabin. “Let th’ feastin’ begin!” he announced as the sweaty crew crowded around him.
“Yo-ho!” they cheered loudly (in the booming pirate fashion that they did everything in).
Belshaz grinned at the crew’s jolliness, mussing his wild orange hair. His cry of “Yo-ho!” mixed with the sailors’ as he burst out of his room and joined the feast.
While the pirates devoured tough hardtacks, sweet mead, and salted beef, a muscular man named McFarty (who had a serious B.O. problem) began to tell an elaborate story about how he had escaped the deadly grasp of the horrifying Kraken. No one believed him, of course, but the tale was as entertaining as always.
The pirates were about to begin a rocking dance across the deck, filled with stomps and burps and farts that were all in tune. Just before one of the scurvy sailors screamed “Yo-ho, let’s begin,” McFarty sidled up to Hoochewooche and asked, “Where’s that lass of yours, Cap’n? The Queen, the Sea Mama, the Beauty of Bumstickle? We’d all like to see her dance!”
The king’s laugh was loud enough to rival even the most tenacious wave. “My lass is down below, gettin’ the rum!” He slammed his bare, hairy foot against the smooth wooden deck, calling, “Bellafattia, me queen, what’s taking ye so long? The men are thirsty for rum!”
“Coming!” came a yodeling voice from the hold. A moment later a large iron grate built into the deck was pushed aside by someone beneath the floor. A dark-haired women hoisted herself onto the deck, a great barrel of rum in the crook of her thick arm.
The crew halted their rowdy dancing to bow playfully to King Hoochewooche’s wife. One of them presented to her a dried, brownish flower, flattering her by smiling, “Yer as pretty as a rose, Miss.”
Queen Bellafattia’s gracious smile never faltered, not even when the crew good naturedly teased her by crowing, “Queen Bellafattia — fat enough to make the boat tip!” or “That Bellafattia, she’s fat enough to use as an anchor.”
In reality, the blue-eyed queen wasn’t fat at all — there was only enough food aboard the Sea Mama for one of them to get fat (the fine feaster was the king, who had a belly like a battleship). However, she didn’t mind their joking, because she had grown up among pirates and was used to their rudeness.
The queen wrenched the lid off the barrel of rum. She grabbed a nearby mug, which was tin and full of dents, and dipped it into the liquor. Bellafattia jerked it back out, holding the rum-filled mug aloft, much to the delight of the cheering crew.
“A pirate’s life is full o’ rum!” they shouted as the queen passed the mug to McFarty. She dipped up drink after drink, till every man had a pint of rum in his calloused hands.
“Eat, drink, and be merry!” exclaimed King Hoochewooche, raising his mug into the salty air and spilling most of the beverage on his untameable red beard.
“Eat, drink, and be merry!” echoed the crew. (This is, of course, where the well-known saying comes from.)
Once everyone had finished their third helping of rum, the dancing continued. The stamping of feet on the deck and the lively shouts from the pirates could be heard miles away. Suddenly, just as the sailors were reaching the part in their rollicking song about “tossing the scallywag overboard,” Queen Bellafattia shrieked, “Where’s PlumBum?”
PlumBum was Bellafattia’s pet octopus. The whole thing was scarcely bigger than your thumbnail. PlumBum’s slimy skin was magenta, with bright purple suckers on the bottom of her tentacles. She was from the rare species of octopus known as the RumBums, who staggered about on the tips of their tentacles in a drunken fashion. Because of this, they always seemed to be dancing.
Anyway, King Hoochewooche had given PlumBum to the queen when they were courting, so the creature was quite dear to her.
An anxious murmur washed through the crowd like a wave. “PlumBum?” they whispered. “The wee thing’s gone?”
The thought upset the crew greatly, because all of them loved PlumBum. They loved the way she stumbled about, and how she always smelled of rum.
“Everybody freeze!” ordered Belshaz. “Mates . . . please check your shoes.”
At this, the queen almost fainted.
Slowly, dreading what they might find on the bottom of their sweaty, stinky feet, the pirates lifted up one foot at a time and searched for a greasy spot between their toes that used to be PlumBum.
“Nothin’!” came their joyful cries as, one by one, they came up clean.
But there was one man . . . one man who had a look of absolute horror plastered across his face. He glanced down at his foot before whispering in a trembling, choking voice, “Belshazarrrr . . . I think I’ve found something.”
The queen fainted for real this time.
The Prince of the Pirates rushed over to the young man, a string bean of a boy named Lentil, who had several scraggly, unpleasant hairs sprouting out of his upper lip. Belshaz pinched his nose, then leaned toward the foot.
There was a sticky splotch of light brown on the ball of the young man’s foot.
Belshaz sniffed. The baffling spot smelled of meat. Octopus meat?
He sighed. The crew wasn’t going to take this well. Belshaz turned to face the nervous pirates, spreading his arms helplessly and announcing, “PlumBum has been found . . . on the bottom of Lentil’s foot.”
“Wait!” Lentil cried. He stuck his finger into the brownish goop, then licked it hesitantly. “False alarm. It was just some squashed beef.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, although there were some eyerolls mixed in.
“Then PlumBum’s still missing?” boomed Hoochewooche. “Hurry, men, we must find her! — but step carefully.”
Belshaz rushed over to where his mother was crumpled on the deck. He seized a bucket of salty Bumstickle water and dumped it on Bellafattia’s head.
The queen lurched into an upright position, gasping and spitting out seawater. “PlumBum’s dead!” she wailed.
“Mum, Mum,” cooed Belshaz, wrapping a muscular arm around his mother’s soaked, shivering shoulders, “we don’t know that for sure.” He held Queen Bellafattia while she cried, as the crew of the Sea Mama zipped around the ship, searching for the tiny magenta octopus.
* * *
It was a week after PlumBum had gone missing, and everyone had given up on the octopus — everyone except for Belshaz. Queen Bellafattia’s six-hundred-and-sixth birthday (actually, she was only turning forty-eight) was coming up, and her son was desperately hoping to find PlumBum in time to return her to the queen as a birthday present.
However, things were looking grim. PlumBum was nowhere to be found. Belshaz had looked everywhere: in the galley, in the hold, in the crows nest; he’d even shimmed out on the bowsprit and checked on the figurehead.
Belshaz spent the queen’s birthday frantically combing the ship for PlumBum. When the sun finally sank beneath the horizon, and the rippling sea reflected its dying light, he had to give up on PlumBum. Either she was dead, had slipped into the Sea of Bumstickle, or was still aboard the ship in an extraordinarily good hiding place. Whatever the case, there was no way that Belshazarrrr would be able to find PlumBum in time for the queen’s birthday feast.
While the mustached cook prepared the finest foods for the feast, the crew worked on a ballad, Belshaz drew architectural designs, and King Hoochewooche fashioned a present for his wife out of items he found aboard the ship, Queen Bellafattia locked herself away in her cabin and mourned the loss of her beloved pet.
At midnight, everyone gathered on the deck. The pirates were dressed in their best clothes. Moonlight and torchlight bounced off polished pewter plates piled high with the cook’s fanciest dishes. And although everyone tried their hardest to make the celebration merry, nothing could replace PlumBum’s adorable awkwardness.
As Belshaz bit into a spiced slice of beef, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Jagged letters were appearing on the outer wall of his cabin. A stumpy piece of white chalk was hovering in the air, scratching against the wood. His horrified gasp drew the attention of the banqueters.
“What be the problem, lad?” McFarty asked.
Belshazarrrr pointing a quivering finger at the words.
At that moment, the men (and queen) resembled fish in an uncanny way, with their mouths hanging wide open and their glossy eyes like saucers. Most of them backed away from the wall in fear. Everyone was fumbling for an explanation, so, naturally, someone shouted, “Magic!”
“Magic?!” roared King Hoochewooche. “If that be the case, then someone be castin’ the magic.”
Immediately, the sailors’ eyes darted around the deck, suspicious of everyone.
“Squid-Eye’s the guilty one! He be sweatin’!” Lentil pointed an accusing finger at the one-legged pirate.
Several men snatched food from the table and chucked them at the pirate, growling, “Squid-Eye.”
“I say!” shouted Squid-Eye, blocking the projectiles with his hairy arm. “I’ve done nothing of the sort.” He grabbed a mug half-filled with rum and splashed it on Lentil.
Now everyone was enraged. The pirates chose sides — Lentil or Squid-Eye — and an epic food fight ensued.
Dodging catapulted food, Belshazarrrr sprinted through the warzone toward the writing on the wall. The chalk was still working, spelling out what looked like a complaint: “You’re rum is terrible. You should –” And that’s as far as the chalk had gotten. Belshaz watched the tool silently as it did its work. He wanted to know what made it tick. As Belshaz sat patiently, and the food fight raged on around him, the prince was finally rewarded. Something tiny, purplish-pink, and wiggling, waved over the top of the thick piece of chalk.
“You’re rum is terrible. You should let the RumBums take over the rum-making business,” the chalk’s note now read.
“Aha!” yelled Belshaz triumphantly, springing to his feet. “Pirates — it’s not magic!” And he plucked the chalk out of the air, shook it over his palm, and held up his hand for the men to see. Nestled in his open palm was a tiny magenta octopus.
“PlumBum!” Queen Bellafattia sobbed.
“Put down yer food,” Belshaz commanded , and everyone obeyed. He thrust his hand into the air again, the moon a spotlight focused on PlumBum. “The queen’s pet, PlumBum, was writin’ with the chalk. She be so tiny that at first, none o’ us noticed her clinging to it,” he explained. “An’ PlumBum has somethin’ to tell us.” He read her message aloud.
Once he’d finished, PlumBum turned to Belshaz. She murmured something to him in the bubbly, gurgling language of the RumBums. Belshazarrrr nodded, translated her news into English, and addressed his mom. “Mum, PlumBum wants me to be tellin’ ye that she’s terribly sorry she ran off like that. She missed her family, so she went ‘n visited them. They live in th’ hold behind th’ barrels ‘o spiced rum.”
“Aw, my sweet PlumBum! Ye was lonely?” Bellafattia asked, rushing over to Belshazarrrr and taking the octopus from him. She snuggled PlumBum against her cheek before adding, “We’ll go an’ see yer family right now, if it pleases ye.”
PlumBum made a bubbly noise of agreement.
Everyone trooped below deck, carrying torches to light their way. They made their way to the rum barrels. The queen set PlumBum on the floor, waiting for her to call out her family.
“Gurgle gurgle gurgle!” PlumBum squeaked, and a second later, at least twenty tiny octopi squirmed out from behind the barrels.
PlumBum introduced the pirates to her family. Her mother, MumBum, was pale green and slightly larger than the rest. Then there was the twins, super-genius SumBum and surfer-octopus SomeBum. DrumBum was awfully noisy and drummed on everything; ChumBum was a social butterfly; CrumbBum liked cooking; DumbBum wasn’t that smart; GlumBum was always sad, GumBum was bubblegum pink; HumBum loved music; ScumBum was rather mean; StrumBum played the guitar; SwumBum was an excellent swimmer; ThumbBum was skin-colored, etc. PlumBum explained that her father had been eaten when she was just a baby.
The RumBum family begged the pirates to let them make spiced rum for the queen. They promised that it would be the best rum she had ever tasted. Bellafattia agreed, and the RumBums got to work.
Meanwhile, the pirates trudged back up to the deck and began to clean up the food that was splattered everywhere.
Queen Bellafattia rested in the crows nest, her husband and son on either side of her, and waited for her drink. Presently, the RumBums came scurrying up the mast with a mug filled with the finest rum in all of Bumstickle. They presented it to Bellafattia with a flourish.
Bellafattia took the mug from MumBum and raised it to her lips. She drank deeply, then raised it in a sloshing toast, hollering to the crew, “It’s good!”
The royal pirates and the RumBums all climbed down to the deck, and the octopi made drinks for everyone.
Word of the RumBum’s beverage got out, and soon pirates were coming from every corner of the quite round planet to take a sip of the famous rum. Queen Bellafattia would give each customer a few drops of the alcohol so that they could taste its awesomeness — then, if they wanted more (everyone wanted more), they’d have to pay. The men paid with any number of pirate-y booty: gleaming treasure, goods, even their own wives or ships. Everyone wanted a taste of Queen Bellafattia’s RumBum, as the drink was called.
King Hoochewooche and Queen Bellafattia became the richest and most famous pirates ever to sail on the sparkling sea of Bumstickle, and they lived happily ever after — until some of the wimpier seafarers formed a government and began executing pirates. (These politicians did, in fact, almost wipe out all of the planet’s human inhabitants, because practically everyone had committed some sort of crime: piracy, cannibalism, etc.)
But what about fiery-haired Belshaz and his dream to become an architect? He eventually gave up on that, because Bumstickle was mostly water anyway, so where would he be able to build his designs? He took up the ancient art of being a bard, and appeased his parents by becoming the ruthless pirate warlord Belshazarrrr the Belcher.
And to think, the pirates’ success all came from a family of tiny octopi!
The royal pirates and the RumBums all climbed down to the deck, and the octopi made drinks for everyone. After they had pranced around the deck for a while, enjoying their rum, the pirates began, one by one, to get horribly sick. Soon they were all stumbling to the rails and puking over the sides.
“What — was — in — that?” gasped McFarty.
MumBum waved her tentacles in the air and cackled. “Poison!” she shrieked.
Queen Bellafattia’s blue eyes filled with tears. She turned her devastated, betrayal-filled face toward the magenta octopus, who was hanging at the back of the crowd of sneering octopi. “PlumBum?” she whispered, her voice quivering.
PlumBum wouldn’t meet her eyes.
MumBum rubbed two tentacles together evilly. “The poison we put into your rum causes paralysis and vomiting. Once it takes hold of you, we will throw you overboard!”
Hoochewooche snorted. “An’ how are ye gonna lift us up, wee ones?”
ThumbBum flexed his tentacles, making the suckers bulge.
Within seconds, every single one of the rum-loving pirates was unable to move. ThumbBum and several of the stronger RumBums wriggled under each pirate, lifting them up with their tentacles. They staggered to the railing and rolled the pirates over the edge, cheering when they splashed into the water. The pirates, desperate not to drown, flipped onto their backs and floated.
With the crew gone, the RumBums took over the Sea Mama. They sprouted beards, strapped on eyepatches, and settled three-cornered hats on their teeny heads. The RumBums manned the ship, sailing the Bumstickle Sea and getting rid of certain unwanted people with their poisoned rum.
The fierce RumBums of Bumstickle lived happily ever after, and basically wiped out the entire human race.
Rum for all!