Writing Challenge Winner: Captain Howe by Layla Mendoza

Layla Mendoza is a twelve-year old writer who participated in the 2022 Seafarer’s Writing Challenge in which she wrote a 5,000 word original short story this summer. Layla’s nautical adventure tells the swashbuckling tale of Captain Howe and the spell that changes his life.

Read the full story below!

There really was no explanation as to how Captain Howe’s vessel had ended up in the Pacific Ocean. He could have sworn that they were going to stay in the Atlantic waters, but nooooooo, they just had to end up in the Pacific Ocean, and right by the Ring of Fire, too, if he had read his maps correctly. 

“Uh, Cap’n’?” 

“WHAT?” Captain Howe shouted, banging one pudgy fist down on the wooden table where he was sitting. Maps and books that had been on the edge of the table fell to the floor, and his Cartographer, the one who had spoken, slumped a bit lower in his seat. 

“Uh, um, just that, we- ah- seem to be getting fairly close to some active volcanoes that are part of the Ring of Fire, if I’m right about where we are on the map. We aren’t exactly headed directly towards a volcano, but we might pass by one. But,” he shrugged his shoulders, “If you don’t want to take precautions-” 

“No, no,” Captain Howe said gruffly. “Do take precautions. Try to alter our course so that we don’t have the chance of getting blown up by a volcano.” 

“Okay sir! Also-” 

“Not now, Phil, I need a break from all of this. I’m going to go and count my loot. But before I go, you lis’n up.” Captain Howe straightened and walked over to stand above Phil, hoping to look like a looming mountain, and also appear what the definition of ‘scary’ was. 

“Since there still is the possibility of getting near an active volcano, I need you to get the emergency boats ready.Get the parrots ready as well. Saddle em’ up!” He stood there for a moment, just for added effect, and then headed off to count his loot. 

Over the years, Captain Howe had raided many ships and always told his grandson, “I’ve raided ‘bout 150 ships. Not including small vessels.” when he went to see him on the ninth island of Hawaii that no one seemed to have a clue about. 

Captain Howe was now at the start of the steps that led down below the deck, and, as he started a torch, he grunted acknowledgment to his crew as they passed by doing whatever the crew does during the day. When he had his torch lit, he started down the narrow wooden steps towards the bottom of the ship, where his crew’s quarters and things were, along with the things that they were sailing with, and, of course, the treasure room. 

As Captain Howe dismounted the steps at the bottom, the boat gave a sudden lurch to the right, causing Captain Howe to almost topple over and lose his grip on the torch. Captain Howe thought nothing of it, though, because, after all, he was in the Pacific. 

Captain Howe, having regained his balance, began to weave through the living quarters and then the rows and rows of boxes that were in the space behind the living quarters. Finally, he came to a small door that seemed to be made out of multiple different types of wood, and had a golden octopus on it. Captain Howe first set the torch in a bracket beside the door, and then extracted a bronze key with designs of sea life all over it, and even a Kraken that his father had said was one of the largest of its kind, and inserted it into a keyhole in the door. There was a soft click! and the door swung open with a loud groan, revealing the mounds of gold, jewels, and the occasional tiara on the far end of the room. Everything was illuminated by the lanterns that were always alight. Captain Howe went in, swinging the door shut behind him, and then sat down before the piles of gold and started counting. 

A few hours later, he came out of the treasure room, a smile filling the whole room with light, and back up to the deck where he was stopped by none other than Phil. 

“Cap’n”! You’ve been missing’ for nearly a day! And I have-” But he was interrupted by Captain Howe. “Phil! I have not been gone for a day! Did you ask Pete instead of Coconut or Mango again?” Pete, Coconut, (Coco as they called her) and Mango were their Cuckoo Birds that kept track of time for them. Pete was always off, but Phil seemed to like him better than Coco or Mango. 

“Phil, ya need to stop asking Pete.” Captain Howe said after Phil nodded. “I know he’s your favorite, but he just doesn’t get the time right. Ever.” 

“Aye Cap’n”” Phil said melancholily. 

“Now,” Captain Howe said, gesturing for the cartographer to follow him, “What were you going to tell me?” 

“Er. . . well, we seem to be having trouble-” But he didn’t finish because just then, there was a loud THUNK! And the whole ship rocked dangerously to the left, causing the crew to shout in shock and despair as they slid to the left. 

“What in the whole Atlantic-” 

“Pacific,” Phil corrected his captain, even though he looked slightly green. 

“Fine. What in the whole Pacific ocean is THAT?!” Captain Howe asked, looking to where the strange thunking noise had come from. Phil-nor anyone else- answered him though. Because right before their very eyes, was a Kraken. 

His eyes were bright red, and his skin was a sickly, bumpy looking green. He had one long fin protruding from his head, and smaller spikes running all along his back.
“Uh, cap’n?” Phil asked, shaking Captain Howe hard. “What do we do now? I thought we were going to hit the Ring of Fire, not a Kraken! Krakens aren’t real, are they? ARE THEY?” He asked, shaking Howe harder. 

“I’m afraid that they are, Phil, as we are staring one straight in the eyes. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t make a whirlpool around us. Let’s hope.” 

The  Kraken raised its mighty, (and rather bumpy) head and roared a terrible roar that caused the water to swirl, and the crew had to cover their ears with their hands. Then, just as suddenly as it had started roaring, it stopped and looked Captain Howe straight in the eye, and  growled, “I have come all the way from the Atlantic Ocean for Queen Zhari of Atlantis,” (Here, the whole crew gasped) “for Captain Howe. Queen Zhari would like to speak to you about the Knights of the Round Table.” The Kraken said.  “For underwater cities,” he added after a minute’s pause. Then he looked at Captain Howe expectantly, who cleared his throat and said, “Er, why exactly does she want to talk to me about the Knights of the Round Table?” 

“For underwater cities,” The Kraken corrected him rather gently for such a giant beast. “And because she wants to consider you becoming a knight.” 

“Er, yes, but exactly why does she want me to be a Knight? Why now and not in all those other years that I’ve known her?” (Captain Howe had had a few run-ins over the years with the Queen of Atlantis) 

“Well,” the Kraken said, lowering his head into the water so just his eyes and the long spike on his head were visible, but somehow he could still speak “I will admit that she was debating over whether or not to have you as a knight earlier, especially since you saved her pearl necklace from being eaten by a humpback whale. But eventually she decided against it as you have a life beyond Atlantis, so that’s how she- and your crew – lived for the past three years. Separate, and with only the mere memory of last time’s adventure.” The huge beast gave a long sigh, causing the sails to flutter as if they were in the wind, and causing the ship to move ever so slightly. 

Captain Howe turned to his crew and barked, “Lower the anchor lads! We don’t want to drift off to sea while we’re talkin to this ‘ol Kraken!” The crew scurried around for a moment, closing up the sails to prevent any wind catching them, and lowering the anchor into the murky, salty water. 

“Anchor is lowered cap’n!” one of the crewmates yelled. 

“Good,” Captain Howe said, turning back to the Kraken. “Continue.” The Kraken nodded in response and said, “We lived our separate lives for three years until Queen Zhari found out that merpeople are losing their Marinac Powers, the powers that help them with their jobs, and keep them fully mer-person. Without those powers, they turn into humans and are unable to breathe underwater. Luckily, we have prepared chambers just for this occasion, and all of those merpeople that have lost their powers are in those chambers where air and human necessities are available.”

“As prepared as we are,” the Kraken continued, melencoloy, “We don’t have enough chambers for the whole village, and each chamber is only big enough for two people. Queen Zhari thinks that the magic is being stolen by dark magic, but she doesn’t think that this dark magic is underwater. She thinks that it is a force coming from the surface, which is strange. But of course, she could be wrong and it could be the dwarf mermaid s that are always pestering us for lower shipment costs. But enough of jabbering about why Queen Zhari needs you, I need to know if you will come.” 

Captain Howe was silent. This was a strange case. He wasn’t one to mess with magic, and he certainly didn’t know much about it, but if Queen Zhari needed his help, then he should help her, shouldn’t he? 

His eyes scanned the ship, Phil, and finally, the Kraken that was staring at him. Then, he said, quickly, “Okay, I’ll come.” 

The plan was to have part of Captain Howe’s crew stay on the ship, and part of the crew was to go with Captain Howe, including Phil. “Now, if you are all going to breathe underwater, you’re going to need one of my scales. Unfortunately, I only have five. I wasn’t expecting 12!” Captain Howe looked over his chosen crew members, and then said, “Phil and I will go. The rest of you will stay.” The crew nodded, and hurried back to the ship, looking glad at the thought of not having to dive underwater. “Watch the old girl for us will ya?” Captain Howe asked, but he didn’t get an answer because just then the Kraken threw a necklace over his and Phil’s heads and pulled them under. 

It was surprising how fast water filled Captain Howe’s mouth and then quickly made way for air. Well, that’s what it felt like to Captain Howe at least. What really happened was that the scale released magic into the water which drew out all of the oxygen in the air, and brought it to Captain Howe and Phil so they could breathe. This was all done so fast that there were no gaps in between the magic delivering air to the two pirates who were currently clinging to the end of the Kraken’s tail, screaming out bubbles. 

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of being tugged through the water by clinging to a Kraken’s tail, they came to an abrupt stop, which sent Phil and Howe out into the water and into some seaweed. Spitting out seaweed, the two pirates swam out of the seaweed patch and over to the large Kraken, who was currently talking to what seemed to be a guard. Captain Howe looked around and saw a large gate made out of coral, and behind that, beautiful buildings with stone archways. There were tall ones, stout ones, all decorated by intricate carvings and shells and other sea things worked into the wall.  One building rose above the rest into much lighter waters far above, with spiral turrets, and a round main building. Beautiful merpeople swam around, inbetween, and into the buildings, shiny tails glinting in the light. They were no longer in the Pacific. They were in the Atlantic. 

“You may enter,” the guard that was talking to the Kraken said, apparently finishing their conversation. The Kraken gestured for them to follow him through the large gates that had mysteriously opened, and into the beautiful city of Atlantis. 

“I’m so glad that you decided to join the Knights of the Round table for Underwater Cities!” It was nearly noon, (or at least, that’s what Captain Howe thought,) and Captain Howe, Phil, and the Kraken were outside having lunch by a coral reef that was teeming with colorful tropical fish. “Yeah,” Captain Howe said, not really wanting to say anymore because he wasn’t sure if he could keep his kelp and seaweed sandwich down-kelp and seaweed did not settle very well with him, but he didn’t want to be rude to the Queen.

“It’s becoming very hard to figure out whether the mysterious dark force will strike again or not. It probably will and I keep telling everyone but they won’t believe me because the force hasn’t struck for a week. But I’m not one to trust the length of time. I’m one who watches and waits. And right now, I’m uneasy. This whole thing isn’t right.” She sighed, gazing down at her hands.

 “Well,” Captain Howe said, finally feeling less queasy, “If you tell us what happens when magic is taken away from somebody, then we might be able to get a good idea of what we’re up against.” 

“All right,” the queen said, looking up at him with honey brown eyes, “I’ll tell you. Everytime it happens, a black sort of tiny snake darts through the water towards its victim. Every time the mer-person tries to swim away, the snake always either grows longer and lassoes them, or they just aren’t fast enough. But it seems that every time the snake touches a mer-person, they are immediately transformed into a human. Luckily, we have chambers with air all around the city, they can swim too quickly. They were builts since this has happened before. Most of the victims of the snake have been able to get to shelter in time. None have died. Yet.” She made it sound like it was more of a promise to make sure no one would die than it still has to happen. 

Captain Howe was about to ask how many had lost their magic when all of a sudden there was a scream, “IT’S BACK!” 

Original artwork by Layla detailing the Kraken bringing Captain Howe to Atlantis

Captain Howe whirled around towards the city to see a horrific sight. A huge black snake that seemed to be made entirely out of shadows darted through the water towards one mermaid with pale pink hair, dark brown skin, and a shiny blue tail. “EEEEPPP!” she screeched, trying to swim away once she noticed that the snake was coming after her. Onlookers tried to help her by either throwing themselves or something else in the snake’s path, but it was no use, the snake was too fast for her. It caught her, wrapping its long body around her. After a flash of light and a screech from its victim it disappeared, leaving the once mermaid a human in the water with a long pink dress on and flailing around in a panic for air. Two guards hurriedly came to her aid, towing her into a chamber that was at the bottom of what seemed to be a court building, 

“Oh dear,” Queen Zhari said, causing Captain Howe to tear his gaze from the town, and back to Queen Zhari. “That’s not good. Twenty-two merpeople have turned into humans now. No, that’s not good at all. We must get down to business.” She rose, flapping her tail fin to keep her in one place, and then said, “Okay Captain Howe of The Lonely Pirate, I need you to go to neighboring cities and see if you can spot anything suspicious. But first, you’re going to have to look more like an intelligent sea creature. Here,” she said, waving her hands and conjuring up two small vials. One with a black substance, and one with some sparkly blue stuff. “Take one of these and drink it. One will turn you into a mermaid- temporarily of course- and the other will turn you into-” But she didn’t finish her sentence, because just then, another shriek ripped through the waters, 

“Queen Zhari! Watch out!” A guard screamed, but it was too late. The black snake had snuck behind the Queen, not visible to the Captain or the Queen, and now attacked Queen Zhari, wrapping long black and silver skin around the Queen, who screamed until the snake’s body wrapped around her face, muffling her screams. Captain Howe darted from his perch on a rock, and grabbed the vial closest to him- the black one- and drank it. Instantly, he was swarmed by a school of tiny golden fish, and less than a minute later, they disappeared, leaving a large yellow giant squid in Captain Howe’s place. Captain Howe was momentarily surprised, but pushed his surprise away and tried to get the snake off of Queen Zhari. 

Wrapping his tentacles around the snake’s body, (surprised to find blue on the back of his tentacles, and the fact that the snake was even touchable) he tried to pull him off of the Queen, but found only got a searing pain in his tentacles in return. “AHHHHHGGG!” He screamed, releasing his grip from the snake. He was just about to try again, (because, really, who cares if your tentacles burn off?) when the snake raised its head, glared at Octopus Howe with red, beady eyes, before disappearing into thin water, leaving Queen Zhari flailing in a panic, red dress billowing around her like she was dancing. Captain Howe quickly wrapped his tentacles around her and hurried her to the nearest guard. The guard, having seen the whole thing unfold, showed Captain Howe to the nearest chamber, and Captain Howe put her through a sort of barrier that acted like a door and a shield, keeping water out of the room. The Queen landed in a heap inside, brown hair falling around her shoulders like some sort of brown waterfall, gasping for air. Captain Howe was told that she would be fine, and as he left, he threw a glance over his shoulder, glimpsed the Queen writing letters in gold with her finger in the air. 

A couple of hours later, after Captain Howe had talked with the Atlantis council, Captain Howe set off for the nearest town, a town called Etymo. The guards had told him this was the place that the Queen had wanted him to go first.  The residents of that town were dwarf mermaids. They were still mermaids, but smaller than a full grown mermaid. They were about half the size of an adult Aquanic mermaid, which was the type that you probably hear about. Captain Howe was just nearing the current that would take him to Etymo when a guard called, “Wait!” Captain Howe turned around and asked, “What?” 

“I should warn you, dwarf mermaids can be quite vicious at times, especially when inspecting newcomers. Be careful. And here,” the guard swam closer, holding out what looked like a small bottle. “This is a message bottle. If we have anything to say to you, we’ll write down what we want to tell you on a piece of seaweed, and then put it in the bottle. It should end up in your bottle within 15 minutes. If you want to tell us something, do just that. One of us will have it with them at all times.” Captain Howe took the gift, nodded in appreciation, and then swam into the current. 

I really hope that the Queen is okay. Captain Howe thought as he flew along the current quickly. Then he remembered what she had been doing right before he had left. I wonder what she was doing. Was she contacting someone? If she was, who was it? Who was she talking to? Captain Howe wished he could think about it more, but fortunately and unfortunately for him, he was at Etymo. He swam out of the current, and towards what looked like a collection of large caves covered in shells, seaweed, and debri that had fallen from the surface. Small mermaids and mermen with tails more like fish than the mermaids he had ever seen before. Captain Howe swam to the tall gates that were made of what looked like twisted black coral, and quickly told the guard outside his cover story: That he was here to buy the famous donuts that the dwarf mermaids made. The guard nodded and opened the gate, letting Captain Howe inside. Captain Howe decided that he might as well try these donuts since all he was going to do was scout. So, swimming among the different caves, he found his way to a bakery that had a picture of pastries on the window. Only, they were pastries made out of sea things. Captain Howe went in, bought a donut and ordered a coffee, and then sat down at a table to wait. 

The cafe was in a large cave with tables made out of large boulders that were smoothed out on the top so that you could place your food, drink, and other items on it. Most of the room was full of water, but Captain Howe saw a few rooms that didn’t have any water, where sea life such as crabs were dining. He also saw from a sign that there was another floor for creatures that lived underwater, but breathed air. Just then, a dwarf mermaid  with a shiny silver and black tail zoomed through the water holding a tray made out of wood and stone that had his coffee on it. “Here you go, Sir. One large cinnamon dolce cream coffee.” She set the coffee down on the table, and just as she was about to leave, out of curiosity, Captain Howe asked, “How do you get the cinnamon and cream?” The dwarf mermaid  whirled around and gazed at him with red, beady eyes. “No one needs to know that except us dwarf mermaids.” And with one more glare at him, she zoomed off back into the kitchens. 

Captain Howe was surprised by her tone, and drank his coffee rather absentmindedly, trying to guess how they had got it in the first place. He had just figured out an idea, well, was just about to get his hands on one that had been whispering at the corners of his mind for a while, when he heard something that sent shivers up his tentacles. 

“I hear that the Queen got Atlantis’s ruler this morning. Surprise attack they say.” Captain Howe overheard. He picked up a menu and started scanning the room over the top of it until he found two mermen playing cards. One had short black hair, and one had long blond hair done up in a ponytail. They were  in the corner near Captain Howe under a dull light. Typical. Captain Howe thought. Always the people playing cards. But he thought no more because a new voice-the one that hadn’t spoken before- said, “Yes, Queen Zhari of Atlantis did a good job of fooling that man that she said was a pirate. Said he was turned into an octopus.” 

“How do you know?” The other one asked, the one with the black hair. 

“I was spying through a palace window, and saw that she used Aria Scrivere to write to the Queen. The only way that I knew it was her was that she signed her name at the end of the message.” 

“What did the message say?” The man with the black hair asked, lowering his voice and completely forgetting about the game. 

“She said to be on the lookout for an octopus-that the pirate had drunk one of her magic potions and turned into one, and come to spy on us to see if we knew anything about the disappearing-” but just then, he saw Captain Howe. Quickly, Captain Howe averted his eyes from the two men, and tried to look like he was just a friendly guy drinking his coffee and eating a donut, but the two saw right through him. “THERE’S AN ENEMY IN OUR MIDST!” The merman with the blond hair cried, pointing at Captain Howe. Immediately, all heads swiveled to face him. 

“Oh, you are going down.” Said the waiter who had served him, who had been starting back for the kitchens after serving another group. Captain Howe was in a lot of trouble. 

The things that happened next happened so fast that Captain Howe didn’t have time to react to anything. The waiter sprouted green hair, fangs, wings, and her eyes turned red, the two men that were sitting in the corner turned into swordfish, and everyone else drew some sort of weapon. Captain Howe had no idea what to do. But then he remembered that he was an octopus with eight arms and the ability to squirt ink. Quickly, he turned his back to them, and squirted as much ink as he could, (Phew! It worked!!) and then swam for it.

Behind him, he could hear everyone coughing and exclaiming in surprise. After he got out of the shop, he swam towards the building that was clearly the castle since it wasn’t a cave, but was suddenly jerked back by one of his tentacles. He was turned around to see the waiter, green hair waving gently in the water. “Not so fast, mate. No spy can come here and live.” She pulled him closer, so that he could smell her seaweed breath. “But I can’t decide if you live, only the queen can.” She grabbed all of his tentacles, tied them together with a piece of rope, and then dragged him with her to the palace. 

“So, this is the one who is associated with Queen Zhari, correct?” Captain Howe had been dragged to the palace, and then dragged to the throne room by a guard, though the waiter followed along closely. “Yes, your majesty,” The waiter said, but didn’t look at her. 

“Good. I will see to it that he is punished. But first, why not give him what he came for in the first place?” Captain Howe looked up as best he could from his place on the floor, just in time to see a snake made of shadows come out of her pearl necklace. It stayed by her for a moment, listening to her talk, and then darted forward so suddenly that it startled Captain Howe. “Oh, surprised, are we?” The Queen asked as the snake wrapped its long black body around Captain Howe. “Surprised about the snake? Surprised about your Queen being allies with me? Oh, that’s just sad.” The snake wound its body around Captain Howe’s eye’s, blocking out the light. “Poor little Captain Howe. So sad. Betrayed, taken away from his crew- yes I know who you are. But no one will know who you are.” Captain Howe would have jolted upright, but the snake’s heavy body kept him down. “You see, my snake can turn mer-people into humans- take away their magic. Cause them to panic in a world of water. But my snake can do more than just turn mer-people into humans and take away their magic. It can hide. It can make one forgotten. It can turn something that isn’t life-long, permanent.” Captain Howe went cold. “Which is what it is doing to you at this very moment. From now on, you, Captain Howe, will no longer set sail across the seven seas. You will live down here, as an octopus, wishing that someone would remember.” She smiled a smile so wicked that it made the waters still and go ice cold. But Captain Howe could not see her, for the snake was covering his eyes. For a moment, he let the snake just squeeze him, suck all of the confidence out of him. But then, he thought of something  a friend of his used to say, “Never give up, for there is always a way to finish or do something,” And then, just as he finished thinking that very thought, and started to push against the rope, and the snake, a bright light filled the room, evaporating the snake, breaking the rope, and tying the Queen up in a lasso of light. “What are you doing?!” She shrieked, trying to break free, “Let me GO!” But Captain Howe didn’t, instead, he swam up to her, grabbed the pearl necklace off of her neck, and broke it with one swipe of golden light. “NO!!!” Screamed the Queen, and fell limp in the golden lasso. Captain Howe turned to the others in the room, who had watched the whole thing with open mouths, and said, “NEVER try to do anything to me again. Or else I’ll send you to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and believe me, there are some very unfriendly Krakens living there.” And with that, he dropped the Queen, and swam out. 

The only mystery was the magic, as he tried it again on the way home, but it didn’t work. He shrugged this off though, thinking of more important matters. But he didn’t notice a faint light coming from the anchor necklace that he always wore around his neck. A necklace given to him by the friend that had told him “Never give up, for there is always a way to finish or do something,” 

Original artwork by Layla

A few Days later, all of the mer-people that had been turned into humans had been turned back to mer-people, Queen Zhari was in prison, a new Queen was on the throne, and Captain Howe and Phil were going back home. They mounted the Kraken, and right before they left, Captain Howe told the new Queen, “If you ever need me, just send this Kraken here. I’m always up for an adventure. After all, I’m a pirate.” And with that, they left for The Lonely Pirate. 


Alyssa Larue

Author: Alyssa Larue

I am the teen librarian at DPL and the epitome of a book nerd. When I'm not producing our teen or tween short films or getting glue everywhere while making a teen zine, I can usually be found with my nose in a classic, historical fiction, or fantasy read!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *