Go to Johnny’s Tavern at the heart of Kingslow, and you will be sure to chance upon rumors about Barnacle Billy. Order a pint of ale. Johnny will tell you a little something to wet your ears. He’s heard it all. Sailors stream into his tavern daily with stories about the dread captain of the high seas.

Beware of a man with raging red hair and a bristly beard, they will tell you. This pirate wears no eye patch. He’s gotten through every skirmish without a scratch. And always slinking around his barnacle-crusted boots is Flynn, his fearless feline.

Bar your doors and lock your windows. You never know when Barnacle Billy and Flynn may come knocking at your door. He’ll loot your house, kidnap you only to abandon you on a faraway island, or even feed you to the sharks.

The people of Kingslow lived in fear, praying that Barnacle Billy would not land in their harbor.

But Mrs. Plum said it was all pish posh.

“I’ve survived seasons of blistering blizzards, savage storms, and dreadful droughts back in my days at the farm. What’s one seaman to me? If he ever steps on the grounds of Kingslow, send him my way. If he is as terrible as people report, you can bet on my broom that I will sweep him out of my house as meek as a lamb!”

And sure enough one cold, windy day, the rough-and-tumble pirate and cat stomped into Johnny’s Tavern, trailing in seawater and seaweed.

Silence filled the usually loud tavern. Red hair. A bristly beard. And barnacles on the boots. It was Barnacle Billy!

Chairs knocked about, glasses broke, and tables fell over as everyone hurry-scurried out the door!

The entire tavern was now empty except for the frightened Johnny behind the counter.

“A pint to warm me bones!” barked Barnacle Billy.

Johnny’s hand shook as he held out the filled glass.

Barnacle Billy downed the ale in just one gulp and slammed the glass on the counter. A shiny gold coin lay beside it.

“Now tell me, matey. Where be a place my feline friend and I can rest?”

Johnny gulped.

“Mrs. P-p-plum has s-s-space in her house,” he stammered.

“No inn, eh?” asked Barnacle Billy, raising an eyebrow.

Barnacle Billy made a low grumble, and Fearless Flynn hissed and spat as they left the tavern.

All the houses and inns had their doors shut and their windows closed. But at the end of the road, one small house had its door wide open.

Mrs. Plum stood at the doorway, hands at her large hips.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said.

“Dinner and a bed,” was Barnacle Billy’s short reply.

Mrs. Plum clicked her tongue.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk. You’re not to step a foot into my house with those old boots on,” warned Mrs. Plum, grabbing her broom. “Hand them over to me.”

“I’ve worn these for 20 years straight. Never took ‘em off.”

“Well, you’d better or no dinner for you,” said Mrs. Plum.

Barnacle Billy’s stomach grumbled. Muttering under his breath, he took off his boots and handed them to the plump woman.

“That’s more like it,” she said as she let Barnacle Billy pass through the door.

The smell of freshly toasted bread, soup, and roasted chicken traveled into the hungry pirate’s nose. He followed the delicious scent and was just about to enter the kitchen when Mrs. Plum barred the doorway with her broom.

“You’re not sitting in my clean kitchen with that salt and seaweed all over you,” she said sternly. “You need a bath!”

“I had one just yesternight!” shouted Barnacle Billy, impatient to eat.

“And where may I ask?”

“In the rain,” mumbled Barnacle Billy sheepishly.

“Well, that’s that!”

Mrs. Plum pushed Barnacle Billy with the end of her broom into the washroom, where a hot, soapy bath was ready for him. She held out a long scrubbing brush and said, “Now I expect you to be spick-and-span when you come out!”

Even though he did not want to admit it, Barnacle Billy enjoyed the bath. It warmed his bones more than any ale could ever.

After his bath, he wore clean, blue pajamas Mrs. Plum had laid out for him on a chair by the bathtub.

Closing his eyes, he again followed the scent of food. But Mrs. Plum was again blocking the door.

“Now will you look at that? It’s more like a bird’s nest than a beard!” laughed Mrs. Plum, holding out scissors.

Barnacle Billy took a step back.

And in that moment, a rat jumped out of his beard!

Barnacle Billy roared in surprise, and Flynn screeched in terror. Barnacle Billy ran to Mrs. Plum and grabbed the scissors from her. He quickly chopped off his beard while Mrs. Plum swept the stowaway rat out of her house.

“I’ve never seen a pair more afraid of rats than you two,” Mrs. Plum said.

“Who’s afraid?” mumbled Barnacle Billy, scratching his head.

“Well, now that I can see your face, you don’t look quite so terrifying anymore,” Mrs. Plum said. “Now let’s get you and your friend some dinner.”

Barnacle Billy and Flynn raced into the kitchen where a warm dinner was waiting on the table for the pirate and a bowl of milk and a plate of fish was on the ground for the cat.

They gobbled up the food without pausing for breath.

Never had they tasted such scrumptious food in all their lives. Mrs. Plum showed them to the bedroom after dinner.

His eyes now heavy with sleep, Barnacle Billy thought today had been a good day. He felt clean, full, and warm. Perhaps coming to land once in a while would do him some good.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.

As Mrs. Plum exited the bedroom door, she said, “I guess I was right. Underneath all that salt, seaweed, and beard, pirates aren’t so bad after all.”

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