The Curse of O'Braonain's Gold

Special thanks to Elle for collaborating on some of the nuances of the story line.

***

The Curse of O’Braonain’s Gold

== June 3, 1730 ==

Meagan O’Braonain stood defiantly upon the slick wooden deck of the Retribution. Her red hair whipped furiously about her head; her blue eyes fixed ahead into the darkness. Meagan had never seen such a storm. The waves were enormous and battered the ship and the winds so strong that the water looked like white smoke. She stared intently as lightning lit up the sky revealing a telltale sign of shallows ahead.

“Hard to starboard!”

The ship lurched to run with the wind just as a wave lifted it. For a moment everything felt calm and then came the sickening crunch as the heavy wooden keel crashed onto the reef.

“We’re stuck fast, captain! We’re taking on water!”

Wave after wave pummeled the side of the ship each one sending shockwaves through the deck threatening to rip the ship in two. Racing back to the helm Meagan ordered everyone below deck. “Anything we can get rid of, throw it overboard!”

“Aye, captain!”

The winds slashed at the tattered sail. Meagan pulled a gold coin from her pocket; lightning filled the sky with light as the gold glistened in her hand. Frowning, Meagan was about to order her crew to toss the gold as well when she heard a roar above the sounds of the raging storm. Looking east a white frothing wave taller than the ship bore down upon them.

“Brace for impact!”

Threading her arms through the railing the wave crashed into the ship; the force shattering the mast and shredding the deck rail all around Meagan. With a heaving groan, the Retribution tore itself off the reef and slipped mercifully to the lee side of a small island. Meagan’s coin was lost having been ripped from her hand, but she and her crew were safe for now.

The storm slowly abated and over the next day Meagan managed to limp her ship south to a protected cove on a larger island. How the Retribution stayed afloat long enough to get them safely to a safe harbor was beyond Meagan but as she looked over her all-female crew standing on shore with whatever items they could salvage, she was thankful. At her feet was a wood and leather bound chest and standing to her right, Aine O’Braonain, Meagan’s twelve year old daughter.

Meagan absentmindedly reached out and stroked Aine’s lush copper-colored hair before she opened the chest at her feet revealing thousands of shining gold coins and gems. Looking defiantly towards the women who appeared beaten and defeated she lifted her chin. “The ship is lost. There is no hope of salvaging it, but we are safe for now. We have food and water and we have our lives. We also have this.” Meagan reached in and took a gold coin and held it up for all to see. “This is our future. This is what we fought for all these years. With this we buy our freedom.”

Turning to Aine she handed her the coin and kissed her forehead. “We must hide the gold until we can find our way off of this island and secure another ship. This gold belongs to us and our descendants and I curse it now that as no man will ever touch my body again, no man will ever touch our gold. This gold can be freely given but should any man take what is ours he will suffer what each of us have suffered.” Taking a dagger from her hip, Meagan cut across her palm and let her blood spill onto the gold coins. “Spread out and find a suitable hiding place for it.”

***

== Present day ==

***

“You shouldn’t be sitting in the sun, Brian. Your skin is going to look like the color of your hair.”

Looking up I smiled at Lesia Johnson. “People of Irish descent shouldn’t live this close to the equator.” I shuffled over further into the shade of a scrappy palm leaf umbrella. It was the only object that cast shade in the entire clay dirt school yard. Lesia, as well as the vast majority of people living on Antigua, didn’t have to worry so much about sunburn with their dark skin even though hers was a little lighter than most due to her mixed ancestry. She sat down next to me and shifted her heavy thick glasses further up on her nose. “Maybe if I get enough of a suntan my freckles would go away.”

“That’s your only redeeming feature, Brian. You don’t want to hide them.”

I know Lesia was joking. It was nice to have a friend like her. I had no illusions as to any of my features. I was of typical Irish stock with shaggy copper hair, watered down blue eyes, freckles, and skin that was either white, or lobster pink from too much sun. At sixteen I thought perhaps I’d be a little taller by now. As it was I was shorter and skinnier than most of the other students at Clare High School. I decided a response was needed so I scowled menacingly at Lesia which only caused her to start a fit of laughter.

“Here comes Dewain. Scoot over more.”

“At least Dewain doesn’t mock my freckles.”

“Why would I mock your freckles when there’s so much else about you to mock?”

“Careful, you don’t want me to unleash my Irishness on you both.”

“You’re feisty today. You want to try to arm wrestle me?”

“Your arm is thicker than my thigh, Dewain.”

“Pure muscle.” Lesia and I both chuckled at that. Dewain was short, taller than me but short and on the chunky side. Between Lesia being a half-breed, me being whiter than a piece of chalk, and Dewain being abnormally heavy and vertically challenged, we were the outcasts of Clare High School.

“What’s all red and lying on the beach?” Oh God, really? Azacca Bastian, a tall, strong, good looking native of the island and my arch nemesis stood before us. “What? No answer? It’s Brian Dodd after his dad loses his job and his house is foreclosed on.”

Sometimes my mouth short circuits. It wasn’t Tourette’s, but it arose when I was feeling angry and snarky. This was one of those times. “Seriously, Azacca, I don’t know how you survived all these years with your brain only partially functioning. Darwin would have never come up with his theory had he ever met you. You’re a conundrum of worldly proportions.”

His snide sneer turned into a wicked frown as he grabbed my hair and yanked my head back. “Listen here you little piece of ocean flotsam. My dad just bought out the bank where your sniveling father works. He’s calling in all the mortgages and cleaning house. All three of your homes are going to be sold to make way for a new resort. If we’re all lucky, you’ll move so I don’t have to see your ugly face and scrappy rotting orange-colored hair around here anymore.” He shoved my head back quickly then walked away.

“You shouldn’t antagonize him like that, Brian.”

“Brian can’t help it, Lesia. The sun fries his brain.”

“Do either of you think he’s telling the truth? Are we being forced to move?”

“When has Azacca ever told the truth?”

***

The afternoon dragged on and I was anxious to get home and leave the dingy yellow school behind for the day. Upon arriving home I found dad with two men talking in the living room. Mom pulled me into the kitchen.

“Best to stay here for now, Brian. Let your dad talk to the men in private.”

“Why is dad home so early? Who are those men?”

“Nothing to worry about.”

Mom and I never got along well. I think she never knew what to do with a boy. She’s where I get my fiery Irish roots from and you don’t want to cross mom when she gets angry. I however, wanted to get to the bottom of Azacca’s threats and I wasn’t about to sit back and watch my home be taken from me. Turning a one-eighty I marched straight into the living room.

“Dad, is it true we have to sell our house?”

Dad looked at me like I slapped him. “That’s what these gentleman are here talking to me about. How did you hear about that?”

A wave of heat passed through me. Azacca wasn’t lying. “Don’t sell!”

Dad gave me the ‘you better get out of here look’ so I turned and ran to my bedroom. It was about thirty minutes later that the knock came and mom and dad entered my room. I couldn’t hide the fact that I’d been crying. It’s hard to miss with a pasty complexion like mine.

“You never told me how you heard.”

“Azacca at school was making a big joke that his dad took over the bank and was foreclosing on our house; that you’d be out of a job and we’d have to leave Antigua.”

“I’m sorry, son. He’s right. His father’s company bought the majority rights in the bank where I work. It’s a small bank that has no backing from others. They’re closing the bank and calling in the loans. I’m working for two more weeks before I’ll lose my job. The reality is we have few options. There’s no other work for me here on Antigua and without work, I can’t get another mortgage. We can’t pay off the house and unless we sell for the lower price we’ll lose the equity we have in the home. I’m sorry to say this, but I’ll need to start looking for other work and the most likely place for us to go is the United Kingdom.”

“They can’t do this!”

“It isn’t right, but they can. Azacca’s father intends to use this land to build another resort catering to the snorkeling and scuba clientele that come to the island.”

Mom never knew what to say to me to bring comfort and this was no exception. “You’ve been bullied a lot here. Maybe we can all use this as a fresh start.”

“Look at me, mom. Do you think with my size, glasses, freckles, and mop of radioactive glowing red hair that I can go anywhere and not be bullied? This is my home. Sure there are people that make my life difficult, but I have friends here and een though the sun doesn’t agree with my Irish skin doesn’t mean I don’t love it.”

Throwing up her hands, mom turned around and left my room. Dad followed shortly thereafter. None of this makes any sense at all.

***

I’m so grateful that today is Saturday and I won’t have to face Azacca. The weather looked promising and Leisa, Dewain and I decided to take a small boat over to Prickly Pear Island. It was away from any tourists and the locals didn’t go there much, but it had nice reefs around it and there was great snorkeling. This was just what I needed to get my mind off of moving.

The sun beat down mercilessly but with two layers of waterproof SPF 100 I was happy as a clam to lie back on the white sand beach with the softly lapping waves threatening to lull me to sleep. Lesia was a fish and came back from the water dripping all over me. Dewain was roaming the island looking for washed up treasures from passing cruise ships.

“I spoke with my parents last night, Brian. They confirmed that we have to look for a new place. Dewain said the same. I assume you heard that Azacca wasn’t lying?”

“Yeah. In our case, there are no other jobs for dad here. He’s being let go from the bank and that means we’ll likely move to the UK or somewhere cold and clammy.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I wish there was something we could do to help you stay.”

“It will be best for you and Dewain anyways if I’m not around for you to hang out with. I bet without me you both would be more accepted by the other students.”

“That’s not what friendship is all about. You know it. I can’t fathom how hard this is on you and your family, but don’t get down on yourself. You need to rise above and show the other students you can go about your day with your head held high.”

Dewain came back sporting a new ocean weathered baseball hat and some plastic rope. He hated the water. I was much more like Lesia in that I loved it. “I’m going snokeling. That storm we had last week must have done some damage and I want to check the reef out.”

“I’m just drying off. Enjoy yourself.”

Grabbing my mask and snorkel I headed off towards the north end of the island. There I slipped into the water and swam above the reef. I loved the colors of the fish and the coral. I was in about twenty five feet of water when I spotted something shiny reflecting the sunlight. I tried twice to get deep enough to get closer, but without fins I was pushing my limits. On the third try I took several deep breaths and squeezed my nose and mouth to blow out the pressure in my ears several times going down.

A flash of sunlight reflected back just feet from me. Reaching out I grabbed for it and watched in amazement as the sand sifted through my fingers exposing a gold coin. So stunned by the discovery I simply stared at the coin without remembering I was so far below the surface of the water. Suddenly my body began to convulse and shake. I was in terrible pain and now looking up I knew I was in trouble. Kicking my legs I struggled to begin moving upward. Air burst from my lungs with the next convulsion. Every part of my body hurt. Jellyfish? Perhaps some other poison barb from a fish?

My body screamed for air and my arms and legs failed me. Darkness began creeping into the edges of my vision as wave after wave of convulsions shook my body. My copper hair floated strangely in front of my eyes. I knew I must be dead in that I could now see a wispy transparent face before me. It was a woman. At first she appeared horribly angry but then her countenance softened as she looked at me. For a second things went black and then I burst through the surface of the water. I took a deep breath and coughed. Flailing, I tried to move towards the beach. It was such a struggle. The last thing I remember was the warmth of the sun and the feel of damp sand beneath me.

***

“Brian!” That sounds like Lesia.

“Brian?” That lower voice is Dewain.

I slowly opened my sand encrusted eyes and coughed spewing water.

There was a hand in front of my eyes, but it didn’t look like my hand. It was holding something. Whose hand is it? Trying to push myself up the hand before me moved with me. I screamed a long feminine scream and then I screamed again because of the sound my scream made.

A hand touched the back of my head. “Brian?”

“That’s not Brian. That’s some girl that’s stolen Brian’s ugly blue and green swim trunks. What did you do with Brian? Did you know you don’t have a top on?”

“What… What?” Every time I said something my voice faltered in my throat.

“Brian, this is Lesia. I saw what happened. I was nearby and watched you dive down and grab something. Then I saw you changing before my eyes.”

Sitting up suddenly I felt weight shift heavily on my chest. I looked down and screamed again. Dewain put his hands over his face, but I knew he was peeking.

“I’m a girl? I don’t understand. How?” Coughing again a little more water came out.

“Don’t think about that right now. I need to get you covered up. Dewain, you walk behind us and no looking.”

“When will I ever get a chance to see…”

“No looking!”

“Fine.”

Lesia helped me up and walked me to where our towels were. By the time we got to our stuff I was feeling better but very off balance. Glancing down I could see long copper hair plastered to my chest. My chest with what appeared to me large breasts. My shorts were tight across my hips and uncomfortable. Lesia sat me down and wrapped my towel around me. Dewain sat to my side and just stared at me.

“Brian, how are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you hurt?”

I had to think about that. Mentally I reached out to each part of my foreign body. “No… I’m not hurt.”

“Lesia, I don’t know why your calling this girl Brian.”

“You didn’t see what I saw, Dewain. I was swimming near Brian and I watched him change.”

Looking from Dewain to Lesia my mind was overwhelmed by the onslaught of thoughts that were coming to me. I’m a girl. I almost drowned. Maybe I’m dead. My mom’s going to kill me. What about school? How did this happen? Is it permanent? What happens now? What do I look like?

“I was swimming… I saw something glitter.” I held out my hand that was still firmly clasped around the gold coin. I opened my hand and the gold glinted in the sun. Dewain reached for it and I closed my hand tight. “No… Don’t touch it! It’s after I touched the coin that I started to hurt all over.” Dropping the coin between my new longer and leaner legs I wondered if perhaps my letting it go would turn me back. “Maybe it wasn’t the coin. Maybe I was stung by something?”

Lesia looked at me and then at the coin. “There’s nothing that could turn you into a girl, Brian. What if that coin belonged to Meagan O’Braonain?”

“Meagan who?”

Meagan O’Braonain was one of the few female pirates that roamed these waters. It’s said her crew were all women and that she had lots of gold. I remember hearing about Meagan, but more about the curse of her gold that was never found. It was said that any man that took her gold would be cursed.”

“Do I look cursed to you?”

“If a curse means you turn into a gorgeous girl, then sure.”

Frowning I had to wonder what Lesia was thinking. “I don’t even know what I look like. Oh God… I’m a girl.”

Lesia held out her phone with her front facing camera on. “Take a look.” I took the phone and looked at the new me on her screen. What captivated me most were my eyes. Gone were my diluted blue eyes and in their place were larger blue eyes; a blue that reminded me of sapphires or the blue of the Caribbean Sea. My face was beautiful. The screen displayed my fingers siding across my full lips.

“Wait… everything is clear. Where are my glasses?”

Dewain picked something up off the beach and held them out to me like they were infected by a zombie apocalypse plague. Trying them on everything went blurry. “I don’t need my glasses anymore.”

“Stand up, Brian.”

I stood and clasped my towel tightly against me.

“You’re taller. I was a couple of inches taller than you before, and now you are taller than me by a few inches. I’m five foot five that would make you around five-seven.”

“How is this even possible?”

“It doesn’t seem like much of a curse if you become prettier, taller, and your eyes are better. Man, the kids at school are going to have a field day with this.”

“Quiet, Dewain. No one can know. At least not yet. Maybe it’s temporary?”

Shuffling my feet I began to fret. “What if it isn’t?”

“Brian, you’re really pretty. You could be a model. I bet when your hair is washed it will be gorgeous.”

“But I don’t want to be a girl.”

“We need to get you home. Take the coin in case it will help us learn more.”

Sitting in the boat with the towel wrapped around me I felt every wave that hit the boat as it made my new breasts jiggle a little. When Lesia and Dewain weren’t staring at me I would pull the towel away slightly and look down the top of my breasts. I’d never seen girl’s breasts before. Certainly never like this. How will I convince my parents?

***

It wasn’t long before I was standing on the front step of my house with my towel wrapped around my chest. Mom and dad were both home. Lesia and Dewain stuck around to add support, but I was wondering if perhaps they wanted to see me fumble trying to explain my situation.

Do I knock or just go in? If I go straight in, it connotes regularity or habit which could lend to a small degree some acceptance. I walked into the house and stood before my mom and dad in the living room. Lesia and Dewain poked there head in behind me.

What do I even begin to say? My parents were staring at me and glancing back and forth between Dewain and Lesia. “There’s been an accident. I’m your son, Brian.”

Watching their expressions change so rapidly from one of concern to anger to confusion was hard for me. “I know this is hard to believe, but we were out at Prickly Pear Island and when I was snorkeling I spotted something. When I touched it I became a girl. Look, I’m still wearing my swimsuit.”

Lesia finally got bold enough to talk. “It’s true. I was swimming near Brian when I saw it all happen. It was frightening to watch. My theory is that it was because of the coin he found; that maybe he found a coin from Meagan O’Braonain.”

Dad was having none of it. “This isn’t the time or place for practical jokes. Where’s Brian?”

Mom’s face had gone white. “Do you still have the coin?”

I held out my hand and my mom’s breath caught in her throat. Dad got more irritated. “Surely you don’t believe this nonsense?”

“I’ll be right back.” Mom rushed into their bedroom and came back a minute later. In her hand was a gold necklace with a coin in it. She compared the coin to the one in my hand. “Oh no! This can’t be real. I thought it was all just a story.”

“What are you going on about?”

“I’m a direct descendant of Meagan O’Braonain. When my grandmother gave me the necklace she told me a story. I didn’t believe her just as she told me she didn’t believe it when her mother told her. Meagan O’Braonain was a pirate that roamed these seas back in the seventeen hundreds. There are many tales and histories as to what happened to her and her crew, but much of that doesn’t line up with what my grandmother told me. She said that this coin on my necklace belonged to Meagan O’Braonain. Meagan was called the Red Plague of the Caribbean for her fiery red hair and harsh treatment of male captives. The story goes on to say that Meagan was raped by five men when she was fourteen. Her parents and society turned their backs on her so she ran away, pledging to live her life free from men and society. She gave birth nine months later to Aine O’Braonain and a year later, she stole her first ship. From that point onward, she slowly became a feared pirate captain.”

“My grandmother said that there was a fierce storm that forced Meagan O’Braonain’s ship into a sheltered cove near here. There they hid their gold but Meagan cursed it. Let’s see if I can remember the words my grandmother said. That no man could… hmmm, that’s not right. As no man will ever touch my body again, no man will ever put a hand on my gold. Any man that touches what is mine will suffer my fate.” Mom paused as she let that sink in. “The story continued in that another pirate band found their disabled ship and crew and slaughtered them all. Meagan O’Braonain was stripped naked, her breasts were cut off, and she was staked at the low tide mark so when the tide came in she would drown slowly. Aine, her daughter, had hid on the island until the pirates left. Eventually she escaped the island and she carried with her one single coin. This coin. The one in your hand is a perfect match. If the curse is real, then you might truly be our Brian.”

“I am Brian. I am. You must believe me.”

“I don’t believe in curses, but I need proof you’re really who you say you are.”

***

Three hours later mom and dad’s heads hung low as did mine. Every little detail of my life I had to recall but slowly they realized I was who they said I was. I was feeling really uncomfortable. My old swimsuit was pinching at my hips, I had to pee, I still had the towel wrapped around me, and my hair was plastered to my head.

“What happens now?”

Everyone sat with befuddled looks on their faces. Surprisingly mom took control of things. “First, we need to get you cleaned up and find you something to wear. Second, we need to find out more about this curse. I have a few ideas, and you’re all going to think I’ve gone bonkers, but I think we need to go to crazy Mary.”

“The psychic?”

“Obviously we’re dealing with something supernatural. The museum I work at has some information on Meagan O’Braonain and maybe we can find something additional there. Third we need to go to a doctor and confirm everything is in order. Fourth, wherever you found the coin, maybe there’s more. I say we divide and conquer.”

Lesia considered this for a moment. “I can go home and find a few spare clothes for Brian. He’s a little taller than me now and shapelier, and has bigger… But maybe he would fit my older sister’s clothes. She was about to get rid of some.”

“That would be wonderful, Lesia. Can you go now?”

“Sure.”

“I think Brian and I can take care of the museum and the doctor. How about Dewain and William go look for more gold.”

My dad piped up about that one. “I’m not touching that gold if this is what it does.”

Dewain eagerly agreed with my dad. “Me either!”

“All right, but we need to find out if there’s more. We also need a story and a name for Brian.”

“I’ve really got to go pee.”

“Take your time and shower up. Hopefully Lesia will be back by the time you’re done. I can help you with your hair if you like.”

Walking into the bathroom I stared at my reflection in the mirror. She’s beautiful, a stranger, and yet she’s me. Dropping the towel and pulling down my swim trunks, I immediately felt better, but every move made my breasts sway. It was a challenge looking to see the space between my legs. I had no experience with girls before. I live on Antigua where seeing women in bikinis is a regular occurrence, but I’d never seen a woman naked before. In a way, I wonder if I’m a normal girl with all the right parts in the right places.

Sitting down on the toilet I had to think about what to do. I knew I needed to pee, but things felt so different. My muscles seemed to be in different places. I struggled until I finally relaxed and pee rushed out of me. It splashed around some and I found that I needed to wipe myself afterwards. That felt very strange.

I spent another ten minutes looking at myself in the mirror and trying to get different glimpses of myself and body. I’d seen other girls in bikinis before, but I’d have to say my new body was as nice if not nicer than most. I had long legs and a really cute butt.

Getting into the shower I immediately noticed how the handles were lower. If what Lesia had suggested was true, then I’d somehow grown close to four inches. “Make sure you use conditioner on your hair, Brian.”

I adjusted the water temperature then pulled the knob to start the shower; shrieking a little at the pressure. I had to turn down the pressure until the water felt nice and relaxing against my new more sensitive skin. I was somewhat detached and clinical to my showering by focusing on one small body part at a time. The whole thing with my breasts swaying back and forth was such a wierd feeling. They feel amazing, but I’ve never had weight there before.

Running my hands over my body I felt like I was cheating or doing something wrong. There’s silkiness to my skin that was invigorating yet I could feel my muscles underneath my skin. Perhaps it was because I was taller now, but I didn’t feel weak like I would have expected. I actually felt stronger.

After washing my hair twice and using mom’s conditioner I dried myself off. The shower had done wonders to lift my spirits some. That was until mom knocked on the door and after wrapping a towel around me let her in that I saw she was carrying girls’ clothes. There was a white dress with frilly lace around the edges, a bra, and panties. When mom held up the dress against me I’m sure my face matched my hair color.

“This should work fine.”

“It’s a dress!”

“Of course it is. It will look really cute with your hair coloring. You can’t wear a towel the rest of your life. Get changed and come to my bedroom. I’ll help you brush out your hair.”

“All right.” I sound like Eor.

With privacy once again I picked at the clothes and stared at myself in the mirror. Try looking at the bright side. I could have drowned but didn’t. The curse could have been that I was turned into a donkey, or a stinking pile of bat guano. I feel good. I’m humiliated, but I feel better than before. Admitting to myself that I hadn’t been happy as me before makes this situation bearable. I’m far better looking, I don’t need glasses, and I’m taller. But a dress?

Sighing I slipped on the panties and felt a secret thrill that I was wearing something forbidden. They actually feel very nice and without my stuff down below it’s comfortable. The bra was a convoluted mess. How do women put these things on? There’s no instruction manual for it. I looked at the label; 34-C. After fiddling with it a bit I finally think I got it on right. It was a pretty good fit if maybe a touch snug. The dress was quick and easy to slip on and I wasn’t going to admit it, but it felt rather nice. With another glance in the mirror I was startled by the pretty girl in the white dress that looked back at me.

Meeting mom in her bedroom she sat me down in front of her mirror and brushed out my hair. It was long, and ended somewhere between my shoulder blades and the small of my back. Mom had a sort of wistful look in her eyes as she brushed my hair and ran her fingers through it.

“I always wanted a daughter. I don’t want that to sound like I didn’t love you or want you just that as a girl growing up I always pictured what it would be like having a daughter. You’re very pretty and now that you’re cleaned up, I seem to recall you look like someone I’ve seen before.”

Mom moved over to the closet and rummaged through some boxes coming back with old photos. “Here. This is a picture of my great grandmother when she was about your age. Her name was Aine, named after Meagan O’Braonain’s daughter. It was said she favored Aine’s looks.”

Holding the picture up to the mirror I glanced back and forth. “I really do look like her.”

“Irish traits run deep.”

With my hair brushed out and dry it looked absolutely gorgeous. It was like polished copper and it shone with a light all of its own. This was a far cry from my hair before that was a dull orange. I forced myself to smile but it wasn’t really forced. We walked back into the living room and another wave of pure embarrassment washed over me. Everyone was staring. Dewain was drooling slightly. Lesia was practically jumping up and down in her seat, and Dad sat there with a blank look on his face.

Sitting down next to Lesia she tapped my exposed knee and whispered. “Cross your legs, Brian. I’m still trying to figure out how this is a curse. Brian’s beautiful.”

Mom was still in charge. “I don’t know. Maybe the curse is up to the individual? We need a story. How do we explain what happened to Brian?”

“Just tell people I’m sick.”

“That will work for a few days, but not long term. You have no identity as a girl and you’ll need more clothes.”

“You make it sound like this is permanent.”

Mom grabbed my hand. “Come on. We’ll go to the thrift store, stop by crazy Mary’s, and see a doctor. Are you coming William?”

My dad looked a little sheepish, but slowly he nodded.

***

At the thrift store my mom found several dresses and a bikini. So few women wore one piece suits in Antigua. “Why not pants or shorts?”

“First, the school has a dress code that all girls need to wear a dress or skirt. Second, it’s hot out there and sooner or later you’ll thank me you’re wearing a dress. They’re far more comfortable in the heat. Besides, we don’t have a lot of money to spend right now and we have to be careful not buying too much.”

The reality of our situation was a good reminder for me. We headed over to see crazy Mary. She was an island native and had gray hair and a cane. Her house was so colorful it was almost hard on the eyes.

“What can I do for you fine folks?”

Stepping forward I offered a hint. “I was swimming and found a gold coin, but when I touched it something strange happened to me.”

“Let me see. Hold out your hands.” She grabbed them with incredible strength. “Hmmm. Very strange indeed. Have you always been a boy trapped in a girl’s body?”

That was enough for mom. “Mary, you know my son, Brian?”

“Yes…” My mom pointed at me with her eyes. Mary’s eyes went wide. “Brian?”

I pulled the coin from a small pocket in my dress and mom pulled out her necklace and a picture of her great grandmother. Mary didn’t touch either of the coins. “It’s true then. Meagan O’Braonain’s curse is real.” Grabbing my hand in hers again she looked pained. “The curse will cause you great pain, Brian.”

Dad got irritated. “It’s bad enough he’s become a girl. Don’t frighten him, I mean her.”

“It’s not my intention to frighten Brian, but the curse is the curse.”

It wasn’t long before we were shuffled into the car and heading to the doctor. The old lady doctor was sworn to secrecy by my mom as she was told to make sure I was a fully functioning girl. The doctor just shrugged and told me to strip down. It was an embarrassing examination but the doctor proclaimed I was indeed completely female to my mom. My dad asked for a paternity test. Mom glared at him but after he explained that it was merely a formality as they would have to have evidence for creating identification.

With that all settled we headed home as the paternity test would take at least a week. It was also getting late and I was getting very tired. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the museum and then we can see if there are more coins where you found that one.”

“I’m still shocked by all of this. Deep down, I feel it’s permanent and that I need to get on with my life. I need a new name. Would either of you be opposed to Aine?”

“We don’t know it’s permanent. Maybe the curse can be broken somehow. In the meantime, Aine is a lovely Irish name with a rich history and since you look like your great, great grandmother, it sort of suits you.”

When we got home I went straight to bed but stared at myself in the mirror for a long time. Sitting on my bed the lights seemed to flicker a moment and then before me stood a ghost. This wasn’t a ghost like you’d see in the movies. She appeared substantial, but she was sort of wispy about her edges. I could see her blue eyes and red hair.

“I felt my curse take hold the moment you touched my coin.”

“I saw your face before. Who are you and why did you do this to me?”

“I’m Meagan O’Braonain and you activated the curse by taking my gold. You remind me of Aine, my daughter.”

“My mom tells me she’s a direct descendant of yours. Why curse me? Why turn me into a girl?”

Meagan walked around my room. I was scared but she didn’t seem to want to hurt me. “If you are indeed from me then the gold rightfully belongs to you, but the curse was against men.” Her face scowled. “Men that raped me and men that raped most of the women of my crew. They are horrible beasts and until they feel what we felt they would never be worthy to hold our spoils.”

“But I didn’t do that to you. I would never! Now look at me.”

“I’ve never met an honorable man so don’t tell me you didn’t deserve this. You will suffer just like I suffered. You will feel a man violate you.”

She was so angry. I broke down and tears began falling down my cheeks. “I took your daughter’s name to honor her and all you have is hate in your heart. I didn’t ask for this. Was your daughter like you? Was she so full of hate?”

Meagan turned quickly to face me. Her anger visible on her face. “Aine was everything to me. She lived with me and was the only thing in my life that brought me joy. She was warm and loving and kind.”

“Turn me back!”

“I don’t have that power. All I have left in me is the ability to remove the curse on the gold.”

“Then either remove the curse or go away and leave me alone! Your stupid curse has ruined my life!”

Meagan vanished in a flash of light.

“Stupid! I’m so stupid! Meagan, come back. Meagan?”

Nothing. Growling to myself I slipped out of my dress and bra but decided to leave the panties on. My bed felt rough and my breasts and hair seemed to have a life all of their own. In frustration I turned onto my back. How will I get out of this mess? My hands drifted across my body as I tried to think of a way out. My fingertips glided effortlessly across the flat of my stomach and to my hip bones. It all felt so smooth and wonderful. Is this what Lesia does when she goes to bed?

***

The next morning was Sunday and yet I woke knowing that it was Saturday and everything had been a horrible dream. However as I pulled my head off my pillow I could feel my long hair and looking down at my perfect breasts poking out from my chest I sighed. It wasn’t a dream.

Before I even got up mom was telling me through the door to put on my swimsuit and the dress over top of it. We were heading to Prickly Pear Island and Dewain and Lesia were already in the living room waiting for me. On one hand it’s nice they’re being supportive, but on the other this ia all downright frightening.

Walking out into the living room was once again an embarrassing ordeal. Dewain couldn’t peel his eyes off of me and Lesia was giddy. Being the only girl in our little clan I think she was finding the entire thing exceptionally wonderful. She patted the seat next to her. “Let me braid your hair so it doesn’t get all tangled when you swim.”

“I almost drowned the last time I went swimming. Can I even swim like this?”

“Of course, silly. Women swim all the time. Now sit still. Your hair is so long and fine. It’s gorgeous.”

“Maybe I just needed to let mine grow out and it would have looked better.”

“Let’s face it, Aine, you had a scraggly mop before. Your hair was nothing like this.”

Mom and dad came into the living room. Dad took one look at Lesia braiding my hair and shook his head. “I hope we can find another coin and you can turn back into our son.”

“The curse doesn’t work like that, dad.”

“How do you know?”

“Because the ghost of Meagan O’Braonain visited me last night.”

“This is just getting stranger and stranger. You saw Meagan’s ghost and she talked to you?”

“Yes. I asked her to turn me back and she said she couldn’t do that. She said I must be violated before I can become a rightful heir of her gold. I got mad and told her to go away.” They all looked at me incredulously. “Yeah… I know. I was so stupid not to ask her where the rest of the gold is.”

“That’s not it. I can’t believe you saw a ghost.”

“I’ve been turned into a girl and you can’t believe I saw a ghost?”

“I see your point. We’re definitely living in strange times.”

“Try living it from my perspective.” I pouted.

“Let’s get going.”

***

The ride out to the island was much different than the ride I took yesterday. I must admit to myself that I’m feeling more comfortable than I would have ever dreamed possible. It’s sort of nice having Lesia braid my hair and it’s oddly empowering to see Dewain’s glazed eyes when he looks at me. I always sort of thought girls were weak but they have power over people that’s quite astonishing. Even mom is treating me better.

Once we landed on the beach we decided it was best to swim as a group. I pulled the dress over my head and Dewain laughed as the flexible area on my dress under my breasts got caught.

“Put your hands under it and stretch it out as you pull it over your head, sweetheart.”

Did mom just call me sweetheart? Suddenly having breasts and braided hair wasn’t so exciting anymore. It was downright embarrassing again.

I hesitated getting into the water when Lesia took my hand and pulled me in. It’s what I needed and I reminded myself that I loved swimming. However, once we got out over the reefs I started to notice some pretty major differences. It was harder to dive down as I was much more buoyant and every kick made my butt, cute as it was, shake slightly. Then there were my breasts and how they threw off my balance in the water. Sighing, I focused on the task at hand and the four of us swam in a grid pattern over the area I found the coin. Dewain stayed on shore since he hated the water so much.

After several hours we’d not found anything so we headed back to the main island. As my dad guided the boat he mused about the shipwreck. “It doesn’t make sense a pirate ship would have landed there. The island is too small. How the gold coin found its way to the reefs around Prickly Pear Island is a complete mystery. I think we need to continue searching for the island the ship came to rest.”

“We can head to the museum. People have been finding things all around in the waters here and much of it winds up in the museum. We have a computer that logs the locations for every find. If we locate anything that belonged to Meagan we might be able to pinpoint another location to start looking.”

“So we go to the museum, mom. What does that do to help me? Are we looking for gold or are we trying to fix me?” I was tired and frustrated.

“I know you’re upset, sweetheart.” There’s that word again. I should be angry she used it but I’m not. Why am I not upset? “Maybe if we find the ship there may be something we can find to turn you back. Is it that bad?”

“I’m a girl!”

“I don’t want to make light of it, Aine, but I’m a girl too. I lived with it all my life. It’s actually kind of wonderful being a girl. Think of it this way. Over fifty percent of the world’s population is women. You don’t see them complaining do you?”

“No, but they weren’t boys a day ago either. Look at me. I’m missing stuff, I’ve got added stuff, and… and…”

Dad chimed in. “I’m really sorry this happened to you, but you need to focus on the positive side of things.”

“Like you did when you lost your job? You gave up, dad! You said we’d have to move away from here. You didn’t even think to consider a different line of work so we could remain on Antigua.”

“Don’t talk to your father that way.”

“No, it’s all right, Sue. Aine’s right. I gave up. In a way I was sort of felt this could be a new start for us all and I didn’t think to consider everyone’s feelings. I’m going to keep looking for work on the island. Maybe I can find an accounting firm I can go to work at. I’m willing to give it a try. Are you willing, Aine?”

Looking down at my body and how my white dress clung to my damp bikini top I cringed. I can’t admit I’m actually enjoying this new body. “I’ll try.”

“That’s all I want to hear.”

***

The museum was normally closed on Sundays but mom had a key and let us in. Lesia, Dewain, and I roamed the aisles and peered into glass cases while mom and dad checked on log entries on the computer.

Dewain kept looking at me and I finally had enough. “What!” Dewain jumped a little as I stood awaiting a response. My arms were crossed under my breasts and I could feel the weight of them.

“I’m sorry, Aine. I just can’t get over the fact that my best friend has become a red-headed Rebecca DeMornay.”

“Who?” Lesia and I replied simultaneously.

“Didn’t either of you see Risky Business?” Looking at Lesia we both realized neither of us had seen the movie. “Tom Cruise is a high school student and he has the house to himself for a few weeks. He calls a hooker, Rebecca DeMornay.”

“You think I look like a hooker?” I looked around for something to throw at him.

“No!” Dewain backed up some and put his hands in the air. “Rebecca DeMornay didn’t look anything like a normal hooker, she looked like an angel.”

“So you’re saying Aine looks like an angel hooker?” Lesia took a step towards Dewain and he was looking very cornered.

“No. Yes. Listen… I’m sorry this happened to you. What I’m trying to say is that it’s hard for me to understand you’re still Brian. I mean look at you. You’re beautiful. What’s going to happen tomorrow when we have to go to school? Will we still be friends or will you hang out with all the cool kids now?”

That caused me to pause. I’ve not even thought about school tomorrow. “Oh my God. School.” Looking at Dewain what I was seeing was not lust or longing it was loss. He believes he’s lost his best friend and my better looks will solidify that. “Dewain, you’re both still my friends and I would never join the cool kids over either of you. I’m still me. I’m still nerdy Brian.”

His smile grew wide. “This is so awesome!”

“What’s awesome?”

“You’ll be able to tell me what’s happening in the girl’s change room and maybe you can introduce me to Raeni Vea. She’s hot. I mean you’re much prettier than she is, but ewwww, you’re Brian. That’s just all kinds of wrong.” I closed my eyes to settle myself before slugging him in the arm like we used to do. “Hey! What was that for? You’re stronger than Brian was.”

“That’s for…” Something in a large glass case caught my eye. It was a partially restored rusted saber but the metal had a symbol imprinted on it. “Hey, mom!”

Mom and dad came around the corner as I pointed to the saber. “Does that symbol remind you of anything?”

“Yes… Yes it does.” She pulled her gold coin necklace from her purse and held it up near the saber. On the back of the clasp holding the coin was a symbol that looked like a cursive M. “The symbols are the same.” Pulling out a key she carefully opened the glass case and after putting on latex gloves as she lifted the saber from its holder. She flipped it over and read a number on the back before putting the saber away. “Every item in the museum has an identification number. I can look the saber up on the computer to see where it was found.”

We followed her back to the computer as she typed in the number. Information about the when and where it was found appeared on the screen along with a map. The map displayed an island east of Antigua called Guianna Island. Bringing up another program mom scrolled through and zoomed in on a map of Guianna Island. Little dots appeared at different locations but there was a small concentration of dots in a protected bay on the north of the island.

“The saber was found here.” Mom pointed with her finger to a location just south of the protected bay. “All of these items were found in an around the same area.” With a few clicks we heard the printer spewing out paper.

Dad picked up the pages and moved back to the map. “Zoom out a little.” Mom zoomed out as dad looked over the map. “You found the coin here at Prickly Pear Island. If we assume that the saber belonged to Meagan O’Braonain, and it was found on Guianna Island, then it’s clear her ship was likely in these waters. The protected cove might be a good place to weather out a storm and with all these artifacts what if the cove is the final location of her ship?”

“Of the dozen or so artifacts found in the area, nothing is conclusive that the ship was there. We have half a dozen of these objects in the museum. They should be highlighted on the list I printed. Let’s go find them.”

For an hour or so I was happily lost looking for museum pieces as the search distracted me from the way my breasts kept veering one direction when I went another. It wasn’t until some long stray hairs fell in front of my eyes that I felt my full femaleness return with a vengeance. I was staring at a small musket ball as I bent down and my hair fell down. At first I almost absentmindedly slipped it behind my ear but that subtle action caused me to pause. I looked down at my exposed cleavage and felt the air on the back of my bare legs.

Is this the new me then? Will I totally forget I was a boy? Wil my actions become second nature so that I’ll not realize or care what happened to me? Standing up straight I saw my reflection in the glass. I’m so cute. I turned slightly to check out how the dress flowed over my backside. Mom is right. I love the open and airy feeling of a short dress. What if there’s no going back?

“Is it so bad, Aine?”

I hadn’t noticed mom come stand behind me. How long has she been watching me? Looking around to make sure we had some privacy I reached for my mom and hugged her. When was the last time we hugged like this? “I feel so much more comfortable and better about myself in this body, yet my brain is telling me I need to be obstinate and defiantly fight the change. If I admit I’m happy as the new me that I’m somehow gay or I’ve given up. How will dad and everyone perceive me if I just accept I’m a girl?”

“You like it better being a girl?”

“No… Yes… I like how people act around me and I know I’m better looking and taller now. These are good things, but I didn’t want to be a girl. If there’s no going back, I think I’ll be fine, but what happens to Brian? How do we explain his disappearance and my appearance? And what about this whole ‘I’m going to suffer badly and be violated’ part of the curse? Life was so much simpler not having to think about all this.”

“There’s no question you’re beautiful and pretty women will always have favor, however, beauty also brings men staring at you and unwelcome advances. We’ll figure out what to do about Brian’s disappearance, but we don’t want to say he’s missing just yet in case the curse can be reversed.”

“So I need to find some male pirate’s gold that’s been cursed to turn me into a boy again. I just don’t see a way to reverse the curse, mom. What am I going to do about school tomorrow?”

“You’ll go, of course.”

“They don’t even know me.”

“Dad’s already taken care of it. He called the principal and told him that you’re visiting from Ireland for a few months and, well, you know how things are on the islands, the principal said that’s fine. No documentation needed. You just show up.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if I skipped school until next year?”

“That’s just wishful thinking, sweetheart. The sooner you normalize your life the better.”

“It’s not like I lost an arm, mom. I became a girl.”

“A fully intact and pretty girl, so it should be easier than losing a body part. I have a feeling you’re going to love everything about being a girl.”

I sighed as dad and the others came in. “Nothing. The items we found could be from anything. I think it’s getting too late to head out to Guianna Island but if we get an early start tomorrow afternoon we can make it there and look around before it gets dark.”

We all headed home and had a late supper. I was heading to bed when mom reminded me to get up extra early to shower. In her words, “It takes more effort to be presentable as a girl.” Just what I want to hear.

***

That night as I lay in bed with my hands absentmindedly roaming over my soft skin Maegan appeared once again.

“I’ve been watching you.”

Not only am I now a girl but I have some dead ancestor stalking me. I’m not happy about it. “Are you amused seeing how you’ve ruined my life?”

“If anything, Aine, I would think you would be well pleased and thankful. My curse freed you from being such a vile creature as a man.”

“Some men are good. Good enough at least to give you descendants.”

Ignoring that Maegan’s ghost sat down on the bed next to me. I swear I felt the bed move. She reached out and I felt a slight chill when her hand brushed my cheek. There were tears in her eyes. “I should have chosen a different life after Aine was born. I missed seeing her grow up because of my hatred. You remind me so much of her that it hurts me to look at you. You’re on the right track. The gold is not where you were today. I lost one coin as my ship collided with the reef there. When I cursed the gold I cursed it all except for the one piece I gave my daughter. I did not expect the curse to really work; it was more of a show of solidarity for the crew. We made a map and you will need that to find the gold.”

“Where can I find the map?”

“A man on the island owns a very old log book. Aine hid the map in the back of the log book but she lost the book when she moved from the island you’re now on and back to Ireland. The book has traded hands many times but now rests not far from here in the house of Bastian.”

“Bastian? You mean Azacca Bastian’s father’s house.” Maegan nodded and vanished. Great. The map is in the Azacca’s house. How am I ever going to get my hands on that that?

***

The next day I woke up at an ungodly hour to get ready for school. Mom helped me with my hair and even had a girl’s school uniform for me to put on. “Where did you get the uniform?”

“It’s Lesia’s sister’s old uniform. It looks nice on you.”

The dark blue skirt, white blouse, and blue blazer did make me look pretty good, but I scowled anyways.

“You shouldn’t scowl, sweetheart. You’ve got such a pretty smile. I bet you’ll be the talk of the school.”

“I think I might prefer anonymity.”

***

“Class, I’d like to introduce you to Aine Dodds. She’s Brian’s cousin from Ireland and will be going to school with us for a while. Aine, how’s Brian feeling?”

Dad had told me he used a story that I’d been bitten by a moray eel and wouldn’t be back to school for a while. “He’s not faring too well. I’m afraid infection might be setting in.”

“It’s just an eel bite. He’ll be fine. Why don’t you sit next to me?”

Turning around I saw Azacca pointing to a desk next to his. I’d told everyone about my nocturnal visit by Maegan and this morning Lesia suggested Azacca’s eye for girls might give me a chance to get into his house. I despised Azacca and inwardly I cringed as I smiled outwardly. “Thank you.” I even added a hint of Irish accent which was easy to do since I inherited some from my mom.

At lunch I sat with Lesia and Dewain under the palm frond umbrella and we discussed the events of the weekend.

Dewain kept laughing. “I can’t get over you wearing the girl’s school uniform. If the other girls only knew you were a male spy they would freak. Have you gone into the girl’s bathroom to check things out yet?”

“Why would I need to be a male spy when I can simply go to any mirror and see the same thing?”

Dewain frowned. “This is so unfair!”

“Do you want to touch my gold coin?”

“No! I guess it’s not so unfair after all.”

“There you are. I was hoping you might sit with us?”

Raeni Vea stood smiling before me with all her perfect dark complexion and white teeth. She never liked our little trio. “Thank you for the offer, but I really enjoy Lesia and Dewain’s company. They’re good friends of Brian so I see them often. You’re more than welcome to sit with us.”

Raeni looked over her shoulder towards the other girls in her clique. She almost looked like she wanted to sit with us. “Perhaps another time then?”

“Maybe we can all come join you?”

“I don’t think… Bye!”

She spun around and left. “That was so cool. Raeni spoke to you. You need to put in a good word for me.”

“Thank you, Aine. You had a chance to hobnob with the rich and famous and yet you chose us.”

“I’ll always choose you guys, Lesia.”

“If I gave you a camera, could you sneak it into the girl’s showers?”

“Dewain!”

Our next visitor was Azacca. “Hello, Aine. What do you think of the school?”

“It’s all fine, except I’m not fond of the uniforms.”

“I think the uniform rule needs to go, but you do look very nice in yours.”

I can’t believe he’s hitting on me. Lesia poked me in the side. “Do you know any good snorkeling places on the island? I love swimming in the ocean but the water is so cold where I’m from.”

“I know all the best places but it’s best to go on the weekend.”

I tried to look disappointed. “I’ve always wanted to find a sunken ship. Maybe I’m just a pirate at heart? Argh!” Is this all I need to do is bat my eyelashes and say trivial things to make a guy fall all over me?

“Listen, my dad has me do chores around the house most afternoons, but perhaps you could come by tomorrow after school. We have quite the collection of nautical antiques and even some old pirate things. We also have a swimming pool.”

“I’d have to ask Brian’s parents first. Maybe I can give you an answer tomorrow?”

“Sure thing.”

“Can I bring Lesia and Dewain as well?”

“I’m sorry, but no. During the school week I can only have one person at the house at a time.”

Lesia poked me again. “I’ll do what I can. I’m a sucker for nautical antiques and pirate stuff.”

“I’ll plan on it then. See you soon.”

Azacca left and I watched him go. Dewain mimicked Azacca. “See you soon. What a moron he is.”

Lesia laughed. “All those good looks and yet he has the personality of a washed ashore jellyfish. You did well Aine. Now you have access to their house.”

“But I’ll be putting myself within reach of ‘hands Azacca’. Doesn’t sound too fun for me.”

“I can’t believe how people are fawning all over you, Aine.”

“I’m still me so the only difference is my looks. It just shows how fickle and shallow they are.”

***

I barely made it through the afternoon without lashing out at Azacca who kept trying to encourage me to come to his place tomorrow. I was focused on other things like how I might gain access to the map. Who knows how hard it will be to find?

Arriving home I changed quickly into my bikini with a sundress and sandals. I had only been a girl for three days and yet I felt better and better about my situation. Do I really want to change back? Even though I knew people were gravitating towards me for my looks, it was nice for a change. Glancing at my old clothes in the corner of my room I felt a tear slip down my cheek as I realized I didn’t want to go back. Brian is gone and hopefully lost forever.

On the boat ride out to Guianna Island mom was interested in how my day at school was. “All the people that ignored me completely before now want to hang out with me all of a sudden.”

Lesia chimed in. “It was so awesome. Aine was invited to sit with Raeni and she turned her down then Azacca asked Aine for a date.”

“A date? Isn’t that rushing things a bit, Aine?”

“It’s not a date, its surveillance. Azacca wants me to come to his house tomorrow after school.”

Dad frowned. “I’m not sure I like the idea of you going into the Bastian’s house on your own. Will Azacca’s parents be around?”

“I don’t know but it’s our best chance at finding the map.”

“I still don’t like it. You shouldn’t be alone with Azacca.”

“I’m not dating him, dad. I don’t even know if I like…” I’ve never thought about this yet. Like Dewain I used to have a bit of a crush on Raeni, but I’m not feeling the same way about her anymore. What if I think about Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey? Oh God… I’m going to be sick.

Everyone was staring at me. I need to change the topic. “So… Mom? If we’re snorkeling in the cove, what should we be looking for? I mean, if we are trying to find an old ship…”

She leaned forward and looked into my eyes. “What’s going on, Aine?”

Tears began falling. “I’ve turned into a girl!”

Lesia laughed. “I thought that was pretty much already established.”

“No! I mean a real girl. A girl that likes guys kind of girl. Oh my God! This is so gay! I mean, Raeni, she’s pretty but I don’t want to kiss her like I did before.”

“Ewwww, Aine. You wanted to kiss Raeni?”

“Of course I did, Lesia. Didn’t everyone? I just don’t want to now but that doesn’t mean I like Azacca. That’s grosse! What happens if we undo the curse? Will I be Brian again and like guys? This is horrible!”

Dewain, who had been sitting quietly, suddenly smiled. “This is awesome!”

Gritting my teeth I closed my fist and considered hitting him. “Why is this awesome?”

“Because now Raeni doesn’t have to choose between the old you and me. My odds just increased astronomically.”

“You do realize that multiples of zero are still zero, right Dewain?” Putting my head in my hands I muttered out loud. “How much more embarrassment can a person take?”

“Aine?” I looked up at mom’s voice. “It’s natural. You’re a girl with female hormones coursing through your body. Does anyone think Aine is gay or that she’s strange because she might start liking boys?” Her voice had a warning edge to it. I’m sure no one will say yes. “See? No one thinks anything different of you.”

“You sure you don’t like Azacca?”

“Dad! No! Azacca’s good looking but he’s the biggest jerk on the island. I feel nothing for him. Zero. Zilch. Nada.”

“All right. You can go tomorrow, but you must be home by six and if Azacca tries anything, you leave immediately.”

“My world’s coming to an end. Why me?”

“This is so cool, Aine. You’ll be like Agent 99.”

“Who’s Agent 99?”

“Don’t you even own a television? Agent 99 is the sexy spy that works with Agent Smart in Get Smart. You’ll be spying on the Bastians just like a covert operative.”

Mom saved me again. “All right. We’re almost at the cove. William and Dewain will search the land while we three ladies will snorkel the cove. On land we’re looking for any signs of old habitation, wells, rocks that seem piled together. In water we’re looking for ballast rocks or straight lines that might suggest a rib or frame of a manmade structure. Everyone clear?”

Dad beached the boat and ‘the men’ started looking on shore while we got our gear on for the water. This time my dress didn’t get hung up on my breasts when I took it off and I was eager to get into the isolation of the water and away from the prying eyes of everyone.

Pausing on the rough sand beach I imagined what could have happened here so long ago. Maegan’s pirate ship, the Retribution, would be beached or anchored in the cove. This could be the very place that Maegan had stood and fought against the other pirates and even left to drown. I shuddered as a chill went down my spine. Although I was becoming less and less angry about the curse and its impact on my life what Maegan must have gone through was terrifying.

“Are you coming, Aine?”

Looking up I saw Lesia and mom in the water already. Nodding I put my mask on and waded out into the clear blue sea.

***

We had limited success with our venture to Guianna Island. Mom spotted some ballast stones which was a good indication that a ship had sunk there or at least dropped ballast and Dewain had found some rocky outcroppings slightly southwest of the cove that could have been a structure at some point. It was enough to continue investigating but we found no ‘x’ that marked the spot for the gold. I guess that would be too easy.

Our trip solidified in me that I was connected to Maegan O’Braonain and somehow become entwined in this age-old vendetta of hers. Its fine to read about history and stories from the past, but it’s another thing altogether to find out the reality of the history in a very personal way. I would never have dreamed that I was the ancestor of a swashbuckling pirate, be transformed by touching a piece of cursed gold, or on the hunt for lost treasure. Seeing the cove that likely was the place Maegan breathed her last brought home the harshness of the times in which she lived. I feel sad for Maegan and somehow wish I could help ease her pain.

We returned from Guianna Island and after supper mom decided it was time for a little chat.

“That was quite the revelation on the boat this afternoon, Aine. How are you coping?”

“I’m doing fine physically. It’s the emotional questioning that is taking its toll on me.”

“So the curse really did transform you completely.” It was a contemplative statement that made my mom pause a moment before continuing. “Do you know how the female body works?”

I’m trapped in some kind of family show from the sixties. “You’re not going to tell me about the birds and the bees are you?”

She nodded and continued anyways even though I rolled my eyes at her. “It’s a lot different being a man, Aine. They aren’t the ones getting pregnant. They have no monthly cycles. Soon you may have your first menstrual bleeding and you need to know what that means for you.”

“Mom! I know about women’s stuff and where babies come from.”

“If you’re so smart, then when can you most likely become pregnant?”

“I can’t believe we’re talking about this. That would be anytime a guy sticks his… in my…” This is so embarrassing.

Mom smiled in that knowing sort of way that drives me nuts. “There are days within your menstrual cycle that you’re much more likely to become pregnant. Most cycles are twenty-eight days in length. That’s that start of your bleeding to the start of your next bleeding. You’re most likely to conceive in the six days prior leading up to ovulation which usually happens two weeks after your cycle starts. Either side of that window and the chances are very slim that you would get pregnant.”

“I didn’t know that but it’s not like I have to worry because it’ll likely never happen.”

“As a girl that likes boys… at some point…” Mom waggled her eyebrows insinuating that I would one day do the deed with some guy. I shuddered at the thought.

“Are we done? I was sort of hoping to get some sleep.”

“All right, but our next talk will be about feminine hygiene. Good night, sweetheart.”

Is there no end to it all?

At some point mom found a nightgown and gave it to me. I sat on my bed and glared at it. I was both intrigued and ashamed. I wanted to wear the sheer white sexy silky garment and yet it was one more step towards final acceptance. You don’t want to go back to being Brian so accept who you are and move on. You know you want to wear it.

Talking to myself wasn’t helping so I simply shrugged and slipped the sexy little thing on and then stared at myself in the mirror. I’m so pretty.

I snuggled into bed and was just dozing off when Maegan appeared. Her hand automatically moved towards my face and once again I felt the chill of her touch. She was silent but I spoke for us both. “You loved your daughter, Aine, so much. You would’ve been a wonderful mother. I believe I understand why you did what you felt you had to do. As a girl now, I feel vulnerable. The thought of a man physically forcing himself upon me scares me beyond any nightmare I’ve ever had. I’m so sorry that was done to you and even though I’m now a young woman, I used to be male and on behalf of all men I ask your forgiveness for what was done to you and most of your crew.” I couldn’t hold back my own tears.

Maegan was clearly crying but she said nothing. She stayed a long while staring at me and trying to stroke my hair before vanishing into the night.

***

School wasn’t very fun today as Azacca stayed very close all day. He strutted around like he owned me and the world after I told him I could come over.

“Make sure you bring your swimsuit.” These were his last words to me before I headed home so I could change. I was having second thoughts. Between mom telling me about menstrual cycles and my anger and fear about what happened to Maegan and the rest of the curse, I thought about cancelling many times. I didn’t even care about the gold or reversing the curse anymore with one exception; that if we found the gold we would be set for life. We would never have to worry about moving or jobs again.

So it was with some fear and trepidation that I stood in front of Azacca’s front door. The house was a massive mansion made of white walls and soaring rooftops. The guest house had a three-car garage but the main house had a four-car garage. Who needs that many cars on a small island? The solid wood double front doors had stained glass in them and I could hear the waves breaking on the rocky beach the house backed onto. I wore my bikini underneath my white, flowered sundress and white sandals and thought perhaps I was showing too much skin. I started to turn around when Azacca opened the door.

“Aine! Glad you could make it. Come in.”

I hesitated as I thumbed the gold coin in my dress pocket. I brought it with me all the time. I wasn’t afraid it would get stolen; rather I was afraid what would happen if someone else accidently touched it.

“Are your parents home?”

“Not for a while. It’s just you and me. Come on. Let me show you around. You said you like pirate stuff, right?”

We need this. “Sure.”

He grabbed my hand and pulled me inside. It felt strange feeling his larger, stronger hand in mine. Some part of me wanted this but not with Azacca. I pushed the thought away trying hard to think how any normal girl would react.

“Welcome to my home.”

The floors were shining white marble and the ceiling looked to be so high off the ground. This place is huge. Azacca led me around the house.

“This is my dad’s den.”

I stared in disbelief at the rich wooden walls and thick leather chairs. There were bookcases lined with old books, shelves of antique muskets and sabers. Slipping my hand from Azacca’s I slowly walked around the room and touched what I could. I was fascinated by the collection but I was feigning interest as I looked for the log book. It wasn’t until I found a glass case in the corner that I found it. An old leather-bound log book open to a ledger of treasures.

“That’s my dad’s pride and joy. That log book lists the treasure on some famous pirate ship. It’s the captain’s own log.”

“It’s amazing.”

“Let’s go out to the pool.”

Maybe I can sneak back to the bathroom and gain access to the book later. “Okay.”

“You know you’re not anything like Brian Dodds. Except for the red hair I would never believe you’re related.”

The outdoor space was stunning with an infinity pool that looked over the ocean beyond. Huge glass sliding panels separated the living area from the pool. It was spectacular. I stood in awe as I took it all in.

“Aine?”

“Sorry. This place is so beautiful.”

“Do you have your suit on?”

“Yes. Underneath my dress.”

“Good.” With a suddenness that was frightening Azacca grabbed me around my waist, lifted me off the ground, and launched us both into the pool.

I came up sputtering. “Why did you do that?”

He was swimming around me like a shark and his eyes definitely had a look of lust in them.

“You know you wanted me to.”

Time to go! “No, I didn’t. I should go.” I started swimming to the ladder but the dress hindered my movements allowing Azacca to grab my ankle and pull me back.

“We’re not done here yet.”

I kicked at him and spun away choosing to put my energy into movement rather than speech. This is horrible! I should have never come! Swim! Swim!

My hand grabbed the ladder and I pulled myself out. I ran towards the house just as Azacca tackled me onto a double-sized padded chaise lounge. “Get off of me!” My fists pounded against his solid body. I’m done for! “Help!”

“You know you want it.”

He groped my breasts as I fought him off. My knee came up into his groin. With a grunt he let go but I was still under him and couldn’t get away. His face turned back towards mine; now his eyes were filled with lust, anger, and pain. He grabbed my dress and pulled back quickly, shredding it as it tore from my body. I heard the metallic pinging of my gold coin as it clattered against the stone floor.

He forced his lips onto mine and held down my wrists. Spitting at him I tried to bite him but he was much larger than me and I was far weaker in comparison. This is it. The curse has fully come to fruition. I’m going to be raped.

Suddenly a cold strong wind swirled around us sending chills down my back. “Don’t touch her!” It was Maegan’s voice! Azacca’s eyes went wide as he looked in the direction of the pool where the voice came from. Maegan floated above the water with her saber pointing towards Azacca’s heart; her hair whipping in the wind. “Aine belongs to me and mine!” She was shouting and Azacca fell off of me and away from Maegan. Watching him scramble on his hands and knees until his hand fell on my gold coin I took a shaky breath.

There was a flash of light, Maegan vanished, and Azacca screamed out; his body twisting on the stone patio. I knew what was coming and I felt no sympathy. This is your chance! Get out! Rolling off the chaise I grabbed for the remains of my dress just as Azacca yelled out once more in pain. The coin rolled from his hand towards me. Picking up the coin I stared at Azacca. “You brought this on yourself! Remember that!”

Running into the house I paused as I looked into the den and back to Azacca’z writhing body. Run! Get out! Forget the stupid book and map! Hesitating briefly I ran into the den and pulled the glass off the stand, grabbed the book, and ran outside. When I got to the street I tried putting on my dress with shaking hands but it was a tattered ruin. Thankfully I still had my swimsuit on but I felt so exposed. I ran three blocks home and crashed through the door into the living room. There I collapsed on the floor, curling myself in a ball and wept.

Mom was there in an instant wrapping her arms around me and holding me tightly. “Aine! Are you hurt? Did Azacca attack you? I’m calling the police.”

“No!” My voice was rough and squeaky. “He… He tried to rape me… Maegan came and stopped it but Azacca touched the coin… He’s transforming… I… I stole the book… No police!”

“Shhh… You’re home now. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”

It was at least a half an hour before I stopped shaking and mom was able to get me cleaned up. We found a robe that I could cover myself up with and I sat on the couch with my arms holding my knees to my chest. It wasn’t long until dad, Lesia, and Dewain arrived and I burst into tears all over again.

I’ve never seen my dad so angry after he heard what happened. He grabbed my baseball bat and headed to the door when I called to him. “Dad… Please no. Enough is enough. I just want to go and leave here. Forget about the gold. Forget about the Bastians. Enough pain has been caused.”

His eyes softened as he sat down next to me on the couch. His strong arms wrapped around me and while I felt vulnerable I also felt safe. “Maybe you’re right, sweetheart.”

Lesia looked very concerned for me and Dewain sat in the corner in silence. Mom had been carefully scrolling through the pages of the log book when she came to the last page. Her fingers slid over the back cover as she sighed. “Nothing. There’s no map in here.” She moved to toss the book aside when she stopped and looked at it again. She turned to the front cover examining it closely and then back to the rear cover. “There’s something different about the back cover.” She went into the kitchen and came back with a knife. I saw her put the knife to the back cover.

“Mom! No! That’s a valuable piece of history.”

It was too late as she cut a square on the back cover revealing a hidden page; a map. She smiled as she carefully held it up. “That’s not something you find every day.”

“What good will it do us, mom? Let’s say it leads to the gold. It’s still cursed.”

“The curse is no more.”

We all turned to see Maegan standing there. This time there was no shimmer to her. She seemed complete and real. “Maegan!”

Forgetting she was a ghost I ran into her arms and felt them wrap around me; her tears fell onto my cheek as she held me.

“I’m sorry, Aine.” She looked at everyone in the room that could only stand with their mouths open wide. “You are blood of my blood and seeing you being attacked… I couldn’t allow it.”

“You saved me.” I’m hugging a dead pirate.

“I was wrong, Aine. Forgiveness is the better path. I lost my chance with the only thing in my life that made my life special. The curse kept me here and kept me from going on to be with my daughter. It is gone. I removed the curse on the gold. I’ve forgiven the men that raped me and protecting you has finally released me from my bondage to this world.”

“But I’m still a girl.”

“Aye. I am sorry for the pain it has brought you. There is no going back to who you were. Follow the map and beware the traps. It is your gold now and might help you all recover and live in peace. My Aine calls to me from beyond. I must go to her now.” She looked down at me and stroked my hair, smiled, and vanished.

Dewain shook his head. “You don’t see that every day.”

Mom wrapped her arms around me. “Are you all right, Aine? She said there was no going back.”

“I doubt I’ll be alone with a guy again for a long time, but I know I’ll be all right, mom.”

We all hugged each other and I moved back to the couch. “What happens now?”

Mom looked at dad before she spoke. “It’s up to you, Aine.”

“We have homes that we have to sell for a loss and dad is losing his job. I say we use what time we have to find the gold.”

Everyone nodded. “All right then. Let’s have a look at that map.”

***

Several hours later we were interrupted by a knock on the door. Dad opened it to find a disheveled girl with a sheet wrapped around her. Her wide eyes betrayed her fear as she peered around dad towards me. “Aine! You must help me!”

I stared at the girl and it finally dawned on me. A mixture of loathing washed over my body in a wave of heat. I almost lashed out before Maegan’s words sounded loudly in my mind. Forgiveness is the better path. I looked down at myself and recalled how hard this transition had been. Azacca was no longer a threat and he had just paid the ultimate price for his attack on me.

“Azacca?” She nodded. “Dad, let her in.”

Azacca snuck past dad to stand in the living room. She was shorter than me and slightly on the heavy side but still cute. She was shaking in fear. “What did you do to me? I’m sorry I attacked you! Turn me back.”

“It wasn’t me that did it. It was this.” I held out the gold coin. “Four days ago I found this coin near Prickly Pear Island while snorkeling. When I touched it I transformed from Brian Dodds into who you see now. The coin belonged to Maegan O’Braonain and she cursed her gold.”

“You’re… you’re Brian? You lie. You did this to me.”

Lesia stepped between Azacca and me and looked her over with a slight look of disdain. “I was there when Brian found the gold coin and I watched his transformation. You’re a girl now, Azacca. Is it so hard to believe what happened to you could have also have happened to Brian?”

Azacca needs more of the story. “It was Maegan’s ghost that frightened you and in your haste to get away from her you put your hand on this coin. That’s when you transformed just like I did. Inside I’m Brian, the same person you despised, bullied, pulled my red hair, and made fun of every day at school.”

“That was no ghost. She was real. Turn me back.”

“If I had the power to undo the curse I would have done that a long time ago. Actually, if I had that kind of power I would have made myself a handsome boy rather than the weasel-like kid I was. Why are you here?”

“My parents don’t believe I’m Azacca. They think I’m a thief. Is that the log book? Did you steal the log book?”

“I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version of the story. Meagan O’Braonain was a successful pirate that sailed the seas around here. She was shipwrecked in a storm and hid her gold; however, because she herself and most of the women of her crew had been raped by men, she cursed the gold before she hid it; that any man that touches their gold would suffer the way they had suffered. Another band of pirates found them and slaughtered them all except Maegan’s daughter, Aine, whom I look very much like. When I found her coin I was transformed and ever since then we’ve been visited by Maegan’s ghost. She told us that the map to the gold was hidden in a log book that was in your home. So, yes, I did steal the book.”

“You little thief!”

“Unless you forgot already, you invited me to your house then you tried to rape me! Your dad can have his book back, we got what we need.”

Her voice softened and sounded hopeful. “So you need the map to reverse the curse?”

“We thought that by finding the gold we might find a way to reverse the curse along the way but that’s not the case. We know now that nothing can reverse what’s been done to us. After your transformation Maegan’s ghost removed the curse so you should at least be thankful that you won’t be raped as part of the curse like you tried to do to me.”

Azacca started to shake and sat down. “This can’t be true. I can’t be a girl. What am I going to do?”

“Does your house have security cameras?” That was a good question from my dad.

“Yes, but I turned them off before Aine arrived. I…”

“You little…” I had to take a breath and Dewain held me back. “You knew what you were going to do to me so you turned off the cameras! I’m having a very hard time being sympathetic right now. Take my coin and the log book and go home. Tell them your life’s history if you have to. Explain about the coin and the curse. Certainly if your dad likes pirate stuff he will have heard of Maegan and the curse. Go to Crazy Mary and have her confirm who you are.”

“You don’t know my dad.”

“Your father is the same person that foreclosed on our house and took away my dad’s job. I think we know him quite well. You take after him with your bullying and higher than mighty attitude.”

Azacca began sobbing. “I was a jerk! I admit it! What you don’t know is that my dad always told me I would never amount to anything and I picked on you because you were smart. In his eyes I could never be good enough, smart enough, or manly enough. That’s why I was going to show him how manly I was by bedding the prettiest girl in the school.”

Out of everything he just said I could only focus on one thing. “You thought I was pretty?”

“Every guy in school is drooling over you.”

Shaking my head I sat down on the couch. My empathy had kicked up a notch and I was fighting hard to stay mad at Azacca. “If you could be yourself again and still with your parents, would you?”

“Yes. No. I never wanted to be a girl but I wanted out of my house and away from my family. As soon as I was able I was planning on moving out to be away from that dysfunction. My dad’s an unloving, lying, deceitful , and abusive man.”

Dewain had the same glassy-eyed look that he had with me after I changed. “Then maybe you have a fresh start at your life.” Azacca shook his head and looked at Dewain oddly. It’s hard to explain what Azacca is thinking. Guilt? Anger? Resignation?

“If we could convince your parents of who you are maybe things would be different now that you’re a girl.”

“The only way to even come close to them believing is if they saw the map and coin and I can guarantee you that my dad will forget all about me and steal the gold right out from underneath you. He probably already has the police looking for me; not the old me, the new me. I doubt he would even care the old me is missing. All he cares about is money and his things.”

I looked at mom and dad. “What do we do now?”

“She needs a place to stay. You could stay with us tonight, but perhaps Lesia’s parents have a room now that her sister is moving out. I can take the log book, glue the back cover back into place, and put it in the museum as an anonymous donation. We get those all the time.”

I looked over Azacca. “I bet with a shower, hairstyle, and clothes you’ll look different enough that the police would pass you right by. I don’t have any spare clothes since I only have one dress left. What about school?”

Lesia sat down next to Azacca. “You can stay with me tonight. My sister is away and you could wear her old clothes. We even have another uniform for school.”

“I can’t go to school looking like this.”

“Please… Don’t give me I can’t do this because I’m a girl thing. I’ve been living as a girl and going to school for days now. It’s not that hard and you just need to get on with your new life.” Mom gave me a slight smile like all the words she had spoken over the past days had finally sunk in.

Dad thought this over. “When this happened to Aine I called the principal and told them Brian was ill and we had his cousin staying with us. What if Lesia’s parents could do the same for Azacca? They could call the principal and tell them they have a guest for a few months.”

Lesia thought that over a bit. “I’ve already told my parents about the treasure hunt for Maegan’s gold. They laughed and said to have fun but to be safe. With my sister moving out they had considered taking in an exchange student anyways to add to their income a little. Of course they would need to understand more of the story.”

Mom looked at me. “Will you be all right if I take Azacca and Lesia over to Lesia’s place and fill them in?”

“I’ll be fine, mom.”

Dewain smiled. “This is just like the Goonies! We’re going on a treasure hunt!” He glanced furtively at Azacca. “What are we going to call you? Azacca doesn’t sound right anymore.”

Everyone started tossing out names.

“Eysan.”

“Morena.”

“Vanja.”

“Sonya.”

“Karizma.”

Azacca looked like she was about to start crying again. She glanced at me and took a deep breath. “If there’s no going back then the only way to go is forward. Haime. I’ve always liked that name.”

Lesia smiled and hugged Azacca which seemed to startle her. “Haime Johnson it is.”

I walked over to Haime and extended my hand. “Welcome to our little group of misfits, Haime. You’ll get used to Lesia. Just wait until she starts braiding your hair.”

Haime stood up and held the sheet tightly around her. “I don’t deserve your friendship.”

“In a week’s time you may have your own group of new friends, but a wise person told me the importance of not hanging onto their anger. What you did was wrong. I suffered for years under your bullying. You tried to rape me. Our choices in the present have lasting impact on our lives. I’ll not make Maegan’s mistake and be trapped by my anger and unforgiveness over what you’ve done to me. I…” I struggled forming the words. “I forgive you.” I felt my anger lift from my shoulders like a tangible weight.

Haime’s eyes teared up as she reached out her hand and took mine. “Thank you. Maybe we can call each other friends one day.”

I’ve had more hugs in the last few days than I could ever recall in the previous years. There’s something about this female body that forces me to act out of my heart more than my brain. Sighing inwardly I pulled Haime into a hug. “No one in the world knows what we’re going through like each other. Let’s start out as friends.”

Haime sniffed and slowly pulled away as if she was hesitant to let go.

Mom rounded everyone up and checked the clock. It was nearly eight at night. “We best get going if we’re going to tell this long story and reach the principal yet tonight.”

Soon it was just dad and me in the living room. “Are you hungry, Aine? All this stuff about ghosts, curses, and treasure makes me hungry for ice cream.”

I smiled. “Ice cream sounds good right about now.”

***

“Everyone, this is Haime Johnson. This seems to be the week cousins are coming for extended visits. Haime is Lesia’s cousin. Please welcome her.”

Haime had indeed cleaned up. The sheet had covered her well last night hiding her figure. The school uniform now exposed her shape much better. She was not at Raeini’s level of prettiness but she was definitely cute. Her dark skin and hair made her wide eyes and teeth stand out. She wasn’t thin but neither was she heavy. I looked at Dewain and found him glassy-eyed once again.

Dewain raised his hand. “I have an empty seat next to me, Haime.”

I was surprised when Haime smiled and took her seat next to Dewain.

When lunch time came Haime rushed over to me and grabbed my hand to pull me aside. I’ve seen girls chat like this before and as a boy I would never have considered taking another boy’s hand to go have a chat, but this felt normal to me now.

“You look great, Haime. How are you doing?”

She smiled. “Thank you. I need to ask you about your transformation. Did it make you start liking boys?”

“A couple of days ago I realized my preferences had changed. It was hard for me to admit to everyone. It was like the final straw as I yielded to the changes.”

“I’m so glad you said that because I was starting to feel like I was gay.” She looked around to make sure we were alone. “Lesia is nice and I’m so grateful they took me in, but she’s not experienced what we’ve experienced and I can’t confide in her like I feel I can with you. I feel wonderful and free for the first time in my life. I’m free of my parents. I’m free of having to be the tough guy. I woke up this morning and realized I can be anyone and anything I want. Do you feel the same way?”

“I fought my transformation more out of pride and the thought perhaps the curse could be lifted. I had my mom and dad that I felt I needed to show outwardly that I was upset. At first I was upset, but slowly I began to love who I now am. I never want to go back to being Brian. I love being a girl and wearing dresses and the feel of my body.”

Haime hugged me suddenly and grabbed my arm in hers. “Let’s go meet Dewain and Lesia for lunch!”

Arriving at the palm frond shade table Dewain quickly stood. “You can take my spot, Haime. Aine also needs shade.” I’m just an also now? Something is going on with Dewain.

“We can all squeeze under.” Lesia was smiling.

“What are you smiling about?”

“I used to be the only girl in our group and now we’re three. We can talk about boys now instead of the two of you drooling over Raeni.”

Dewain puffed himself up. “I’m not interested in Raeni.”

Clearly Dewain had been taken over by aliens as he was acting strangely; even for him. “Lesia, how did your family take the news of everything?”

“I was stunned, Aine. They rolled out the red carpet for Haime. They struggled with the whole transformation thing, but like most on the island they’ve heard about Maegan’s cursed gold. With the coin and the map they finally began to believe. We emailed my sister and she had another box of clothes stored away that Haime could use.”

“I’m glad it all worked out. My parents said they aren’t able to go to Guianna Island this afternoon. We need to find the starting point of the map. Can we get a boat this afternoon?”

“We don’t need a boat. We can swim across the narrows. It’s only a few hundred feet. From there we can walk the island looking for clues.”

“Wait, Dewain. You don’t swim.”

Dewain pleaded with me with his sad eyes. He kept flicking them towards Haime. No! No Way!

“I swim, I just don’t like the water.”

“If Dewain says we can do it then I think we should give it a try.” Haime’s voice was overly supportive of Dewain. No. There’s no way!

Glancing at Lesia her eyes were darting back and forth between Haime and Dewain. I shook my head trying to get the picture that had formed out of there. “Okay. We’ll meet you there at three-thirty.”

***

I arrived at the narrows at three-fifteen. My boy’s bicycle didn’t seem overly appropriate anymore but I used it anyways. I learned why girl’s seats are a little wider and more comfortable and it was difficult riding in a dress with a tall bar. Still I managed to arrive in one piece.

Lesia and Haime arrived a few minutes later and finally Dewain showed up sporting a new swimsuit and a backpack. “Everybody ready?”

I slipped out of my dress and sandals and waded out into the water behind everyone else. Somehow Dewain got to the far side first. I swam slowly holding my dress and sandals in my hands up and out of the water. I really have to get more clothes.

Lesia scampered out and Dewain offered a hand for Haime who graciously accepted. I struggled with my feet on the sharp rocks but Dewain never offered me help. Go figure. Dewain rummaged through his pack and pulled out a small towel. “Did you want to dry up a bit?” I groaned as he handed the towel to Haime. Deep down I wanted someone to dote on my like Dewain was over Haime.

Slipping my dress over my wet skin wasn’t fun. Lesia came over and whispered in my ear. “What’s going on with those two?”

“I don’t know but it’s sort of creepy.”

Lesia giggled and moved ahead as Haime dropped behind with me. “I can’t believe how wonderful this is. I love the way my breasts move and the effect I have on people. Everyone is so sweet towards me.”

“Especially Dewain.”

“What do you think of Dewain? He’s kind of cute and chivalrous. I never really saw him that way before.”

“Is Azacca still inside there?”

“I know it looks bad, but I’m a new person and I just love the attention he’s giving me.”

“You better not be fooling with him or I’ll rip your braid right off your head.”

“I’m sorry, Aine. I didn’t think you liked him.”

“He’s my best friend and not my boyfriend. He’s a great guy with a huge heart and I don’t want to see him toyed with or hurt.”

“Last night I had all these powerful dreams of being a woman and eventually a mother. If you told me I would be a girl a week ago and that I would be interested in Dewain I would have slugged you, but maybe it’s all part of the magic of the curse. I wouldn’t dream of hurting Dewain. You don’t think about these things or have dreams?”

“I have those dreams every night but when I wake up I get caught up in just trying to be the new me. I can see myself having a boyfriend and getting married one day. I want that. I even want kids. How strange is that?”

“Obviously not too strange since I feel the same way.”

“You’ve adapted far quicker than I did.”

“I hated my life, Aine. I’ve never felt such release. Speaking of release have you…?”

“Have I what?”

“Have you found out what it’s like to really be a woman?”

I frowned. “No…”

“If you don’t come to school tomorrow with a permanent smile on your face I’ll know you never did it. Oh my God, it’s mind blowing! Way better than as a guy. Way, way better, and there’s no waiting period for the next time.”

“That’s probably a little too much information and if I’m honest, I’m still pretty shaken up over last night.”

“That seems like a lifetime ago. I’m really sorry, Aine. I can’t image the terror you felt.” Without missing a beat she smiled. “So you’ll tell me what you think tomorrow morning at school?”

I blushed as just thinking about it made me feel a little guilty. I decided a change of topic was in order. “You told us how bad it was with your dad. What’s it like with your mom?”

“That’s the only loss I feel. While mom never stands up to dad, she’s always been supportive of me. I feel guilty about how she might be more than a little frantic thinking the old me has drowned somewhere.”

“Is there a way we can get word to her? Maybe a letter or note saying you’re fine. Perhaps we can even arrange a meeting and try harder to explain things.”

“The letter is a great idea. You’re the best, Aine!” She hugged me tightly.

“What happens if we find the gold, Haime? Do you know enough about your father’s plans? Could we stop the sale of our houses?”

“You need to know I was never a party to the kinds of things my dad was doing.”

“I never thought that.”

“Good. I just don’t want his legacy following me my entire life. This is what I know. Each house needs to have the final documents prepared, the sale agreements, and there is a ton of banking stuff that goes on. To close on a house could take weeks and most likely between four and six weeks.”

“So if we found the gold and paid off the remaining balances on what we owe, then does that block the takeover?”

“Only if a contract hasn’t been signed by both parties.”

“We need to make sure no one signs then. If your father can’t take our homes, what does that do to his resort project?”

“There are two outcomes. First is that he needs to renegotiate the sale prices of the houses. At that point all of you could hold out for much more money. Second option is that the entire project collapses.”

“What would either of those do to your dad?”

“Dad lives the big life, but he’s financially strapped. He rents or leases almost everything he owns. I doubt he would have the ability to come up with the extra cash and the money he’s invested into the project could be wiped out. I suspect if this project fails then he’ll be bankrupt.”

“How would that make you feel?”

Her smile was infectious. “I’d love to see that happen but I’m afraid of what it would do to mom.”

“If we find the gold, then you’ll be able to provide for her.”

“Then let’s make sure we find the gold.”

***

Starting at the cove we sat down with the map and read the clues. “The finger points the way. What does that even mean?”

Dewain held out his hand. “Obviously it means something that looks like a hand or finger.”

Reviewing the map didn’t suggest a starting point. “Picture yourself in Maegan’s shoes. Assuming she and her crew landed here what would you choose to guide you to a starting point?”

Lesia looked around. “What about a tree?”

“I don’t think I’d use a tree. They were just shipwrecked by a terrible storm. Storms uproot trees and damage them. She would know it could be years before she could get another ship and the gold would have to stay hidden. It would need to be something more permanent.”

Haime pointed over to the far edge of the cove. “Rocks. The rocks of the island don’t change much.”

“So we’re looking for a rock that looks like a hand and finger or maybe there’s something carved onto a rock.”

Lesia pouted. “There are rocks everywhere. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. What’s the second clue?”

“Through the depths the entrance will be marked. That’s it. The rest is all about after you find the entrance.”

Dewain tore his eyes away from Haime long enough to look out into the ocean. “It says, through the depths. Depths can only mean water and the water around the island is shallow. To get water deeper than ten feet you need to be east of the island.”

Haime stood next to Dewain and I swear I saw her brush her hand up against his. “I think Dewain is right. We need to look for a finger or rock pointing into deeper waters.”

“I guess it’s as good as any idea. Let’s go to the east end of the island.”

***

Standing on the coarse sandy beach of Grape Bay we looked out to endless sea. “Guys I’m not seeing any fingers and beyond a few hundred feet there’s nothing but deep ocean. What if the finger eroded away? Maybe we’re not thinking about this from the right perspective?”

“I think you and I have great perspectives, Aine. We’ve been both boys and now we’re girls. We get both perspectives.”

Everyone laughed. “I can’t believe we can all laugh about that. What I meant was that maybe the finger was a metaphor of some kind.”

“No… I don’t think so, Aine.”

“What do you mean, Lesia?”

“Let’s assume there’s been erosion. Maybe something used to be more pronounced in the past. You said we need a new perspective. How about up?”

Dewain laughed. “That’s stupid. How will looking up help us?”

“Not looking up you dimwit. We go up to look down.”

“Dewain’s not a dimwit!” Haime scowled at Lesia.

“Everyone settle down. If it were easy to find the gold someone would have done so years ago. It’s getting late. Let’s go home before it gets dark. Maybe Lesia is right. We can check the maps online.”

***

We all sat around my kitchen table looking at a laptop screen. Google maps gave a great aerial view of Guianna Island. At first we didn’t see anything except the long thin arm of the island that angled northeast. It wasn’t until we switched to satellite view and zoomed in that we saw it.

“There. Will you look at that? That looks like a hand with a finger pointing into the ocean.”

“Granted it looks like a hand and finger from this view, but would it from the ground?”

“The question, Dewain, would be did it look the same two hundred years ago. I could easily see the finger being longer and having eroded some.”

“It’s our best shot. We go out again tomorrow?”

“I’m game. I can bring my snorkel gear.”

The team all went their separate ways and I was left with mom and dad as we mulled over the treasure map, the coin, and the aerial maps on the laptop.

“Haime and I talked this afternoon. Have you signed anything on the house sale yet?”

“No. I heard from Wayne Bastian this morning. They hope to have the final documents to all of us by Monday.”

“That gives us through the weekend then.”

“Through the weekend for what?”

“If we find the gold we can buy the house outright. Haime says his father would either have to pay much more for the house or the resort project dies. Either way he might wind up bankrupt.”

We were interrupted by a knock at the door. I opened the door and Haime’s father stood there. “Hello. I’m Wayne Bastian. You must be Aine.”

“I am.”

“I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Azacca is missing.”

I can’t let him know what’s going on. He pushed his way inside and started looking around. “I wasn’t aware of that.”

“Azacca told me he had a date with you the day he went missing.”

“It’s true. I came to your house, stayed a few minutes, and left.”

Mom closed the laptop and stood in front of the table blocking his view of the coin and map; a move that certainly didn’t go unnoticed. Wayne looked around the room again and glared at dad a moment as if sizing him up. “Something was stolen from me. Do you know anything about that?”

Dad opened the door wide. “We’ve not seen Azacca and we know nothing about what was taken from you. Isn’t it bad enough you’re stealing my job and home from me? I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“This isn’t over William. I’ll get what’s coming to me.”

He turned and stormed out. “Was it just me or did he not seem to care about Azacca’s disappearance?”

“He’s a bad man, Aine. It’s best we stay out of his way.”

***

“You did it! There’s no mistaking that smile or the red that’s rising in your cheeks.”

Haime was right about a lot of things and last night as I went to bed I realized just how right she was. For the first time I truly explored my new body and I found more than gold or jewels. I actually found it twice and I was afraid I would wake the neighbors with my moans and screams of pure ecstasy that I muffled with my pillow. It was so wonderful that I took an extra few minutes in the shower this morning.

“Did what?”

Haime pulled me to the side. “It’s better than as a guy, right?”

I almost melted remembering my experiences. “Much better.”

Haime giggled. “I knew it! You must tell me the truth now. Did you fantasize about being with a boy?”

My face answered for me. Taking a deep breath I calmed myself. “Your father visited us last night. He claimed to be looking for you and somewhat insinuated that I had something to do with your disappearance and the theft.”

“I did tell him I had a date with you. He’s up to no good. You can trust me on that. I hope you don’t mind, but in my letter to my mom I asked her to come alone to your house tonight. I said I would be there.”

“Let’s hope your mom doesn’t share the contents with your dad.”

“She knows how bad it is between him and me. I asked her not to.”

“Let’s hope so.”

***

We met out at Guianna Island again at three-thirty and as before we swam across the narrows. Once again no one offered to help me from the water but Dewain was there for Haime. They even lingered together with their hands held. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

Once we reached the northeast point of the island and we were standing on the finger we could say for certain it did look like a finger. Dewain and Haime decided to stay ashore while Lesia and I snorkeled out into the waters.

We swam out in a straight line from the finger and past a small island on our right. The water was still shallow at this point but once past the little rocky island the water quickly became deeper and rougher as we approached a second island until we were in about thirty feet of water on the eastern edge of the island.

We stayed on the surface as we looked for any sign of an opening, marking, treasure chest, or anything. After almost an hour I finally spotted something. Stopping I signaled to Lesia and we both dove down. At about ten feet of depth a rocky wall opened up underneath into a tunnel. At the bottom of the ocean ballast rocks were strewn haphazardly about, but at one time they looked to be organized like am ‘m’.

We both surfaced simultaneously. “That’s got to be it!”

“It certainly looks promising. Do you think the cave tunnel goes deeper into the island? What if it’s all underwater?”

“We have to assume it’s not all underwater as Maegan’s crew wouldn’t have had scuba gear and the additional clues talked about traps to avoid.”

“I’ve always been a little scared of swimming into caves, especially if we don’t know if there is air in them.”

“Stay here and take note of the island and any other markers so we can find out way back. I’ll dive back down and go into the cave a little ways.”

“Be careful!”

Taking several deep breaths I dove down feeling a little like a mermaid with my new body parts. As I entered the cave I immediately felt claustrophobic. The cave angled up steeply at first, and then it started sloping less and less. My lungs were starting to burn so I quickly turned around and headed for the surface. I was grateful for the air when I burst from the water.

“What did you see, Aine?”

“Nothing we can get to today. Let’s go back to shore.”

Scrambling up onto the rocks we were met with a frightening sight. Dewain was kissing Haime. “Really? We’re out looking for treasure and you two are making out.”

Haime smiled sheepishly as Dewain suggested it was Haime’s fault. Azacca was never so mean to Dewain before so I guess it’s not so hard for Dewain to see Haime as someone new and exciting.

“Did you find anything?”

Lesia looked around to make sure no one was near but no one ever came out this way. “It’s the coolest thing. We found an underwater cave and a mark on the ocean floor that sort of resembles an ‘m’. Aine went inside the cave a ways.”

“The cave goes in and up quite a ways but it was starting to level out and I knew I must be getting close to the surface. If we came at low tide I’m sure I could go much further and I suspect I’ll find air inside. So we come back tomorrow?”

“If you need lowest tide that would be in the morning. We may have to come back Saturday when we don’t have school.”

I sighed. “Maybe we can get some scuba gear and come out with my parents?”

Haime frowned. “Azacca was certified for scuba but now I don’t even have any identification.”

“Me either. We’ll figure it out but we’re closer than anyone ever has been before to Maegan’s gold.”

“We should head back, Aine. My mom hopefully will come over to your place in a couple of hours.”

Dewain and Haime held each other’s hands all the way back. Lesia had dropped back with me. I didn’t realize I was staring. “I know it’s strange, but you should be happy for them, Aine.”

“Sorry, I didn’t realize I was so obvious in my thinking.”

“Do you think it’s part of the curse that they gravitate towards each other?”

“It must be. I see them happy together and I’m jealous.”

“You’re jealous of Dewain with Haime?”

“Not like that. Dewain is a great friend but I keep having these dreams and feelings like I’m supposed to be with someone. My heart is yearning for that type of relationship and I wonder if it will ever happen for me. I wonder what Haime’s got that I don’t.”

“Oh please, Aine. You’re gorgeous. Your blue eyes, full red lips, long luscious red hair and perfect creamy skin will catch anyone’s eyes. Your body is killer. I wish I could look half as good in a bikini.” Looking down past my breasts to my flat stomach and lean legs I knew she was right. I’m gorgeous. “Just give it a little time and soon you’ll have guys lined up at your door.”

I smiled as we continued to walk across the island towards home.

***

When we got home I told my parents what we found and they were very excited. We made plans for Saturday and dad arranged for a boat with some scuba gear. Even though I was certified as Brian, dad felt we could easily use the gear and not get into trouble. It was worth the risk.

“I got something for you today, Aine.” Mom dragged me back to my room and on the bed were several more dresses. One was white and beautiful and looked to be rather short. I’m sure it would look stunning and I drooled at the chance to try it on. I’ve come so far and now want to wear dresses.

Hugging my mom tightly I expressed my gratitude and concern. “Thank you! I thought we were tight on money?”

“We are tight, but knowing you’re this way forever you can’t keep wearing your one sun dress. Besides, I have to wash it sometimes. There was a neighbor down the street that selling them and they weren’t too expensive. I hope you like them.”

“I love them!”

“You should shower up. Your hair is all crusted with salt.”

“I was just heading there.”

***

I chose to wear one of the new sundresses mom had bought instead of the more elegant white dress. I was pleased by the reaction of mom, dad, and Haime who had arrived while I was showering.

“Do you think she’ll show up, Haime?”

“I sure hope so. I miss seeing her and I’m sure she wants answers.”

“I just hope the answers she gets are ones she can accept.”

There was a knock at the door. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Opening the door Haine’s mother looked drained. “Mrs. Bastian. Please come in.”

She stepped inside and looked around the room. Haime sat nervously on the couch and mom and dad came into the living room and greeted her. She glanced at Haime. “You’re the one from the other night. Where’s my son?”

My mom guided her to a chair. “Mrs. Bastian, please have a seat. This past week has been very challenging on all of us. I’m not sure if you are aware, but Brian Dodds, our son is also missing.”

“Your son is missing also?”

I grabbed the gold coin from the coffee table and handed it to her. “Do you know what this is, Mrs. Bastian?”

Taking the coin she looked at it carefully. “Please, call me Ellen. This appears to be a gold coin. What has this got to do with anything?”

Mom handed her gold coin necklace. “It’s a match for this coin. A coin handed down through the generations. It belonged to Meagan O’Braonain. The loose coin was found by our son near Prickly Pear Island on Saturday. That’s the day he went missing.”

“You’re saying the gold coin is the reason for Brian and Azacca’s disappearances?”

I sat across from Ellen. “You’ve heard of the curse of O’Braonain’s gold?”

“Everyone on the island knows of the story of Meagan O’Braonain and her cursed gold. It’s a myth.”

Taking the coin from her hand I looked into her tired eyes. “The curse was that no man could ever touch Meagan’s gold until they lived through the pain and suffering she and her crewmates lived through. When I found and touched the coin the curse was unleashed upon me.”

“What are you saying?”

“The reason Brian Dodds is missing is because the curse turned me into a girl. You see I could never be violated like Meagan O’Braonain without first being female.”

“I came here to see Azacca and you sit here and tell me lies about some curse?”

She started to get up when my mom put her hand on Ellen’s shoulder. “Ellen, before you leave you need to pause to consider what reason we would have to lie to you.”

“Mom, it’s me, Azacca. They’re telling the truth.”

Ellen was getting angry. “I heard your story the other night. You’re the thief that stole our log book.”

“No, mom. Please listen to me. I didn’t share everything Tuesday night because I thought there might be a way of undoing what has happened to me. Have you thought about why the security cameras were offline? It’s because I was planning on attacking Aine. I wanted to prove to dad that I was a man by taking advantage of a girl. Little did I know that I was fulfilling Meagan’s curse on Brian. I was planning on raping her and very nearly did when I was frightened by Meagan’s ghost and in my haste to get away I touched the gold coin that had fallen from Aine’s torn dress.”

“I’m not going to listen to these lies about ghosts and curses.” She rose from her seat. “I have half a mind to call the police on all of you.” Turning she took a step towards the door when Meagan appeared with a flash of light. Ellen nearly passed out.

“It pains me to be here but I have seen the damage my curse has done and I no longer can stand by to see another mother separated from her own. They speak the truth. This girl is your daughter, once your son, just as Aine used to be Brian. Do not make the mistake of leaving before reconciling for you might never have another chance.” Meagan turned to me and reached out her hand to touch my face. “Low tide Aine. Trust you can make it.” With that she vanished.

Ellen slumped into the chair. “That was…”

“Meagan O’Braonain’s ghost and creator of the curse; a curse that she has now removed but that can’t undo what has already happened to me and Azacca.”

“You really were Brian? And you? You’re Azacca?” Haime nodded and reached for his mom who pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry, Azacca. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you. Are you all right?”

Before Azacca could respond the door burst open and Wayne Bastian and two goons stepped inside holding guns. Wayne looked disdainfully at Ellen.

“I’m so glad you’re all here. It makes this so much easier.”

Ellen was angry. “Wayne! Put those guns away. These are good people. This is your son, Azacca!”

“I suspected as much when he first shared his pitiful story about O’Braonain’s cursed gold. He never did make a good man so this is fitting for him.” Turning to the rest of us he pointed a finger at me. “Give me the map and the coin.”

I was about to argue when the goons raised their guns and dad stepped in front of me. “It’s all right, Aine. Let them have it.”

“But, Dad!”

“It’s not worth our lives. Nothing is.”

Silently I picked up the map and coin and handed it to one of the goons noting Wayne didn’t want to touch either of them. “How long does the curse take?” The goon looked frightened.

“The curse has been removed but Azacca and I are stuck like this.”

Grabbing the coin and map from the goon’s hand Wayne smiled. “Thank you.” He looked at Ellen. “I expect you gone from the house tomorrow.” With that he turned and left.

Everyone stood in stunned silence. “I had no idea Wayne was capable…” Ellen started crying. “My poor Azacca!”

“It’s all right, mom. I’m fine. You might be surprised to know I feel free. Free of having to live up to dad’s expectations and free from being the old me. Meagan’s gold was cursed and yet I feel like it has been a blessing to me.”

“Is that really true?”

“It’s true for me too, Mrs. Bastian. Don’t get me wrong as when Azacca attacked me I was so frightened I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over the feeling of being so vulnerable, but I’ve come to love the new me.”

My mom interjected. “This has been a crazy night and it’s getting late. Haime and Ellen, you’re welcome to stay here tonight. I’m sure you have a lot to talk about. We should call Lesia and let her know what happened as well.”

“I’ll call Lesia.”

Ellen looked confused. “Who’s Haime?”

Leaving Haime and Ellen in the living room we decided it was best to let the two of them be. I called to Lesia but I had more to tell her than what happened tonight.

***

The next morning I slipped my bikini on underneath my school uniform. Haime and I left early to stop by Lesia’s house and once we left there Dewain joined us.

“You sure this is safe, Aine?”

Grabbing Dewain’s arm I pulled up his watch and checked the time. “We have two hours until low tide. Haime’s father doesn’t know what we know which means we can get the gold first. Did you get the boat, Dewain?”

“Yes, but it’s on the north side and it will take a little extra time to get to Guianna Island.”

“Then let’s go.”

***

We tied off the little boat on the east side of the rocky island where the underwater tunnel was. Dewain had managed to get some snorkeling gear for two people as well as underwater flashlights. We determined that Haime and I should try to get into the tunnel leaving Lesia and Dewain on the island to keep watch.

Bobbing up in down in the waves I looked at Haime. “You ready?”

She nodded and we both took deep breaths and dove down into the depths. Knowing I was about to head into a dark underwater tunnel made my mind scream for air. I paused at the entrance momentarily as I heard the words in my mind. “You can do it.”

Swimming into the dark tunnel I immediately felt claustrophobic once again. The walls closed in and as the angle of the tunnel decreased the darkness enveloped us. I passed the point of no return and was about to turn on my light when a slight glow appeared in the water ahead. Pushing faster and faster towards the light I felt my heart was about to explode when I burst through the surface of the water and took a deep breath of air. Haime popped up right behind me.

“That was frightening, Aine.”

Nodding, I looked around. We were still in a small tunnel and it was clear the little pocket of air we found would be underwater normally. “The light is coming from over there.” We swam through twenty more feet of tunnel before emerging into a larger cavern. Small cracks in the rocks provided just enough light to see. Scrambling up onto a rocky ledge I moved to one of the cracks and yelled out. “Lesia, Dewain!”

“Where are you? We can hear you?”

“We’re in a cave. It looks like it goes further into the island. I’ll slip my fin through this crack. See if there is a way you can open up the hole more.”

“I see your fin! Be careful, you two.”

“Don’t worry, Dewain. I memorized the treasure map clues.” Turning to Haime I hugged her tightly. “You ready to find some gold?”

“More than ready.”

“Aine! There’s no way these rocks will budge. Unless you find another way out you’ll have to leave the way you entered.”

“Thanks, Dewain!” I turned back to Haime. “The first clue was ‘Your weight will be your fate.’”

“In other words be careful where you step. The cave goes deeper into the island this way.”

We just started further into the cave when we heard a scream. “Aine and Haime! Hide! Azacca’s father is here and he’s coming…” Silence.

Looking back at the water I could see bubbles emerging and Wayne Bastian’s head popped up. He was carrying a spear gun. “Run, Haime!”

We bolted further into the cave and could hear Wayne coming after us. Turning a corner I stopped dead in my tracks even as Haime slammed into me. “Look!” I whispered and pointed at a strange section of cave floor. “Careful!” Leaping over the space I turned and helped Haime land just as her father came around the corner. Picking up a large stone by my foot I stepped between Haime and her father and threw the rock. Just as Wayne raised his spear gun we heard a click as the stone came into contact with the floor of the cave. Grabbing Haime’s hand I pulled her to the ground and deeper into the cave as a roar shook the ground.

When the dust had settled we looked back at a huge pile of ballast stone now separating us from Wayne. Haime looked at me a little surprised. “You knew that would happen?”

“I suspected it might. Do you think your dad is all right?”

“He was going to shoot you, Aine. I don’t care if he makes it out.”

One of the rocks shifted at the top of the cave. From the far side we heard a muffled but angry voice. “If you want to see your friends alive you have thirty minutes to retrieve the gold.”

“What if there’s no gold or we’re killed in another booby trap? What if we find the gold but there’s no way out of here?”

“That’s your problem. Twenty-nine minutes and counting. I suggest you get moving.”

Haime pulled me further into the cave. “What’s the next clue?”

“It fixes us to the reef but one wrong move will send you to an early grave. Pick your color wisely.”

“That sounds rather ominous.”

“Just keep your eyes open for anything.”

Turning a corner we saw the next obstacle. It looked like a large pegboard with dowels sticking up. They dowels were different colors and in the dim light it was hard to tell what the pattern used to be.

“It’s too wide to jump across. What do you think it is?”

“These open slots in the cave walls could easily hold more ballast rock. Simple switches… It’s all Meagan and her crew could devise. I think we walk across them. My guess is stepping on the wrong dowels will throw the switch. It’s hard to make out, but do you see those dozen dowels in the middle? Do they look like they’re a different color than the others?”

“I think so. You think we can only step on one color?”

“That’s just a guess. I think it would take three steps to get across. Here, here, and here… they look like groups of faded red dowels. The rest look like some other color.”

Turning to Haime I looked her in the eyes. “Dewain and Lesia are in danger. If I don’t make it I’m sure given time you can make a hole in the ballast rock, squeeze through, and get out.”

“It’s not worth it, Aine. Let’s just go back together.”

“Your dad was going to shoot me. Do you think he’ll stop if we don’t have the gold? I’ve got to do this.”

“Why red? Why step on the red ones and not the others?”

I held up my hair. “Just a hunch.”

Stepping towards the dowels I felt Haime’s hand in mine. “No… You’ve risked so much for all of us. I tried to rape you. Let me go first. Lesia and Dewain need you more than me.”

Before I could say anything Haime turned and put her foot on the reddish dowels. “Haime!”

Ignoring me she carefully balanced her way across the three steps arriving at the far side safe and sound. “Piece of cake.”

“I’m going to smack you when I get over there.”

Gingerly I stepped onto the first dowels. My second step reached the center circle. It was a precarious position but when I looked for my next step several of the red dowels had fallen over. Haime’s eyes followed mine. “You’ve got to jump, Aine. Jump!”

Steadying myself I took a deep breath and jumped forward however as I did so the center dowels fell back causing my distance to drop short. My left foot hit some other dowels and a frightening click followed by a heavy gust of wind sent me sprawling into Haime’s arms.

Haime looked up as I looked down. I was still in one piece. “Oh my God! Look at that.”

Looking back I could see an enormous anchor wedged into the cave wall where I had just stood. “Wow. That must be the Retribution’s anchor. That was close.”

“We need to keep moving.”

Haime pulled me up and we continued into the cave. Slowly a larger room appeared. There was light from several cracks that let us see the rest of the cave. This was it the end of the cave. To the side rested a canon pointing what I assumed to be west and in the middle of the room a large chest rested on some raised rock. Everything was dry inside and the canon and chest looked aged but remarkably well preserved.

“You did it, Aine. You found it. Go ahead. Look inside.”

Kneeling in front of the chest I put my hands on the lid and took a deep breath. This is it. Meagan’s gold. Closing my eyes I let my fingers feel for the latch. Slowly I opened my eyes as I opened the chest. Sunlight fell across the chest from a small crack in the cave ceiling and lit up the gold inside. It was stunning. Thousands of pieces of gold and a few gems littered the edges. It was everyone’s dream and not unlike any treasure movie I’d ever scene.

“It’s amazing, Haime. How do we get it out of here?”

“I suspect that’s why Meagan put the canon in here.”

“No… No way…”

“It’s pointing at what appears to be the wall with the most cracks in it. We can’t go back the way we came. Not easily anyways. It’s loaded and there’s a fuse. I just don’t have a match.”

“We can use the flashlight batteries.”

“Aine.” Turning around we both saw Meagan standing there. “Well done. This gold belongs to you now. I am sure you will use it wisely.”

“Except that outside of this cave a man is holding our friends and says he will kill them if we don’t hand over the gold.”

“Men may change their clothes but pirates are always pirates. Hand me a coin.”

It was strange seeing her wrap her hand around the coin. We watched as she closed her eyes and whispered to herself. When she opened her eyes she handed me back the coin. “I suggest you give him the gold, starting with this piece. Be well, Aine.” With a kiss on my forehead she vanished.

“You do hang out with some interesting people, Aine.”

Holding the coin I hated the idea of giving it to Wayne but we had no choice. “Let’s get out of here.”

***

Having taken apart the flashlight I held a battery and some wire as I prepared to ignite the canon. “Get inside the cave further, Haime. We have no idea what this will do. Ready?”

With a spark the two wires came together and there was a flash and a sizzle as I ran for cover. An enormous explosion ripped through the cavern sending dirt and rock falling all around us. When the dust settled and the ringing in our ears finally silent we stepped back into the cave to find the western wall obliterated. Stepping into the light made us squint but we could see Wayne standing there. His two goons held Lesia and Dewain.

“Here I thought you must have perished.”

“No such luck. We did find another way out as you suggested.”

“The gold?”

Opening my hand I looked at the coin as it glistened in the light. “You promise to let us all go?”

“You’re in no position to negotiate, young lady. However, since I’m a friendly sort, I agree to your terms. Hand me the gold.”

Tossing him the coin I watched as it flashed in the sunlight and land in his outstretched palm. His eyes opened wide at the sight just before he fell to the ground convulsing. “What did you do?” He screamed out. The goons looking terrified ran for their boat.

Wayne writhed in pain as his body slowly transformed before us. His slightly graying hair lengthened and his body shrunk away from his clothing. Lesia and Dewain ran to our sides even as Meagan appeared once again. We watched as she knelt down and extracted the coin from Wayne’s hand.

“If you do not mind, Aine, I think I should take this one. I put the full curse back on it. The rest of the gold is curse free.”

Another woman appeared next to Meagan. She looks so much like me. She reached out and touched my hair. “I’m honored you took my name, Aine.”

Meagan put an arm around her daughter and I felt a deep loss. Tears streamed down my face. “Will I ever see you again?”

“No, Aine. My work here is done. I am free to go and enjoy that which I’ve missed so much.”

Aine and Meagan reached out their hands and pulled me into a hug. They vanished leaving me sad and somewhat cold. Turning around I saw tears in everyone’s faces. Dewain came over and hugged me. “You know no one’s ever going to believe this.”

Looking down at Wayne he had shrunk to half his original size. She looked up at me and I knelt down. Her eyes registered fear. “We’ll take you back to the main island. You do realize the full curse includes being violated by a man?” Her eyes went wide. “You won’t give us any trouble will you?”

“No…”

Turning back to the others I smiled. “Let’s get the gold and go home.”

***

It was several hours later that we walked up to the front door of my house. Mom and dad rushed out along with Ellen, Lesia and Dewain’s parents. “We were worried sick about you. When the school called telling us you were all missing we looked everywhere.”

“I’m sorry. We had some unfinished business.” Haime and Dewain strained as they plopped the chest down on the front step and removed a towel that was covering it.

“Is that?”

I nodded as mom opened the chest and gasped.

“Dad looked around cautiously. What about Wayne and his men?”

“It’s a bit of a long story. We left Wayne at the women’s shelter. Let’s just say he got his gold and then some. She…” I emphasized my last word. “…won’t bother us anymore.”

***

Two weeks had past and things were slowly settling down. It was told that Brian’s infection had become much worse and that he needed to be transferred to the UK for treatment. Azacca had been declared officially missing. The news stories suggested that he took a small boat out to sea and never came back. I didn’t like lying to everyone but they would never believe the real story.

Wayne Bastian’s vanishing wasn’t a surprise after his major project failed. People knew him as being corrupt and felt he likely had taken some money and run. Looking around the classroom I couldn’t repress a smile. I felt amazing. If anyone had ever told me that I would love being a girl so much I would have told them they were crazy. I love every minute of it and the way the students all treated me so much better now.

I watched Dewain pass a secret note to Haime. They were a steady thing and both seemed so happy. Azacca had adapted far easier than me and who would have thought that Dewain was such a romantic? Lesia had become much more popular since our discovery of the cave and artifacts of the Retribution. Of course no one knew about the gold but the anchor and the canon were big hits at the museum. Lesia’s newfound popularity made her much more visible to the local boys and she told me she had her eye on one.

In the meantime I sat back content but not entirely happy. I longed for someone to sweep me off my feet and treat me like Dewain did to Haime. I still hadn’t worn the white dress yet as I promised myself I would wait until my first real date.

Although it had been a challenge, my dad’s financial experience came in handy when converting the gold coins to real money. The treasure was divided equally amongst the four families and there would be more than enough to buy out our homes and live comfortably the rest of our lives.

My fingers slipped into my pocket as I fingered one of the gold coins. I kept it with me always to remind myself of the tragedy of Meagan and her crew. Even though I missed Meagan I knew she was someplace better.

Lost in thought I was startled when our teacher began speaking. “Class. I want you to welcome Steven Harrelson. He just moved here from Australia.”

I looked up at the tall, handsome, blonde-haired young man and felt an immediate need to go check my hair. I watched him scan the room until his eyes locked on mine. A gentle smile formed on his lips. Putting up my hand I surprised myself at my boldness. “You can sit next to me, Steven.”

***

The End

***

Please take a moment to write a review of this story or at the very least, if you liked it, click the kudos button. A story like this takes hundreds of hours to write and knowing you appreciate it makes it worth my while to keep writing. I hope you enjoyed it.

Casey Brooke



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
157 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 25252 words long.