The Asphalt Sea sweated under the glare of the gigantic red sun. Occasional dry husks of buildings baked in the heat. The endless parking lot sported few cars and fewer places of refuge.
The squeak of small wheels interrupted the lone sound of the wind. A man with a grizzled beard and an eyepatch squatted in the basket of a shopping cart. A plastic bag sail caught the gusts and moved the cart along the hot, hot ground. The man grinned as he spied a dark form on the horizon. He drew a rusty blade from his brown paper scabbard. “Ahoy!”
The wind heeded his call and pushed with all its might. The shopping cart picked up speed, vibrating on the asphalt.
The man squinted into the sun, trying to ascertain what the shadow might be. He hummed a chanty as the cart continued to trundle. The rusty blade sat across his knees.
The shadow resolved into the form of a poor dandelion farmer harvesting his meager crop. But beyond him – a dogteam pulling a sled. Above the sled flew the flag of the Jolly Regina – skull and crossed lipstick tubes. And the dogs came into focus – mega-Chihuahuas.
“Arr,” the man mumbled to himself. He fingered his blade. He knew of only one mega-Chihuahua sled team on the Asphalt Sea, and he had crossed blades with their captain once before. She owed him an eye.
She reached the dandelion farmer first. She leaped from her sled, cutlass raised, cape of kitty fur flowing from her shoulders. “Like, hand over your stuff, squalorsir!” The dogs yipped in their basso voices behind her.
The man trembled in his rags. “But it’s all I have to live on!”
“Oh. Well then.” She put her sword back into a kitten-leather scabbard. “I wouldn’t want you to suffer. Carry on, good man.” She gave one staccato nod.
Finally the shopping cart arrived! The man jumped from his crouch, landing between the woman and the dandelion farmer. “What ho! Yoinks! Leave this innocent man alone!”
The cutlass returned to her hand. “Whoa! The Shopping Cart Pirate!”
“Aye, and I’ve arrived just in time to end your reign of terror! No more will men shrink when they hear of the Blond Buccaneer!” He swung his trusty blade in a high arc, slicing for her beautiful head.
She answered steel for steel and gritted her teeth. “The only terror here is yours, pirate! Plus, you stink!”
“I prefer privateer, if you please,” spat out her opponent.
A flurry of dodges, parries, thrusts, reposts, and not a few stunning retorts flung between the two of them. Sweat stung the pirate’s eye. The dogs continued their frenzied barking. The dandelion farmer fled. The asphalt burned their feet even through their tough leather boots.
“I stabbed you in the eye last time, and it was totally gross. Don’t make me do it again!” The Blond Buccaneer swung her blade and nearly took off some of the pirate’s mustache.
“Last time I was distracted by your victims! What ho!” The Shopping Cart Pirate deftly cut a golden button from the front of his opponent’s vest.
“I bought that on sale, creep!” She roared in rage and redoubled her efforts.
The ground trembled. Both combatants froze. Color drained from the pirate’s face. He uttered the most feared word of all the Asphalt Sea: “Subway.”
The ground in front of them exploded as the great silver wyrm burst from its tunnel. The cars arched overhead. The lead car growled, flashing its terrible teeth.
The Blond Buccaneer fled. She raced to her dogsled. The mega-Chihuahuas whined at the great beast that faced them. Its shadow loomed over them as it began to crash down.
The Shopping Cart Pirate cleared his throat. He would be nothing if not gallant. “Avast, beast! You’ve met your match this day!” He leaped into his shopping cart, bringing the plastic sail around with a crackle. “Ramming speed!”
The Blond Buccaneer stumbled into the sled and shouted, “Cheese it!” to her loyal dogs. They scurried just in time. The subway crashed down into the asphalt where her sled had been just seconds before. The cars followed one after another.
The mega-Chihuahuas charted a course due west.
“No!” he cried out. “Turn south! You’ll fall right into its maw!”
The Blond Buccaneer turned north. “Good. Don’t trust me. Just like I’d planned.”
The Shopping Cart Pirate steered his own vessel south where the ground trembled again. Asphalt exploded as the beast broke the surface again. The shopping cart rammed the subway’s head just as it slithered out of its cave. The pirate jolted to a stop, spun, and held on for dear life. He had to time this just right –
Yes! He made the jump between cars, finding safety in the crack between the monster’s head and its body. All he had to do was pull the connecting pin, and the thing would be dead in the water.
No! The connecting cables – he’d have to cut them. There was no pin holding the whole thing together!
The cars trembled as the subway tunneled underground again. Asphalt squeezed in against the pirate’s body. He held his breath. Nothing worse than sucking in a lungful of blacktop. He had to wait until the great metal monster surfaced again.
Black chunks poured into his ears, his nostrils, every pore in his body sucking in tar. He counted the seconds, trying to ignore the roar of the passing earth.
He swung his blade down, hard, on the connecting cables. Again. Again. Quickly!
Ignore the sound of screaming. Was it his? The Blond Buccaneers? A dandelion farmer’s? It didn’t matter! Just sever those cables! Cut! Cut, you fool!
Sparks flew as the blade bit through the first, and then the second. The third proved hardier than the first set. The last cord. The last thing standing between the Shopping Cart Pirate and infamy! Who had ever slain a subway on the Asphalt Sea?
The front car started burrowing again; you could tell by the change in the rumble. Come on! Come on! Step lively!
The cars behind dropped dead. The creature groaned once, a great pneumatic howl, and lay silent.
The Shopping Cart Pirate wheezed for breath. It was done! He sat panting in the space between cars.
Someone stepped around the corner. “You killed a subway.”
“Like, a whole subway.”
“You are the cutest thing! Well, you would be if you weren’t so gross right now. If you took a shower, I might kiss you.”
“Wench! You took my eye!”
The Blond Buccaneer grinned at him. “And you gave me my life, and the life of my crew.” Not too far off, mega-Chihuahuas yipped. “I’d say I owe you, mister. What say we travel together for a bit?”
The Shopping Cart Pirate glared at her. “I want my eye back.”
“Slimy Louise told me there’s a doc in Barrelbottom that does eye replacements. I can get you there if you want.” She grinned.
The grin looked good under all that blond hair.
The pirate nodded.
And so began the adventures of the Shopping Cart Pirate and his greatest enemy and friend, the Blond Buccaneer.
This is a Barrelbottom Tale.
The Shopping Cart Pirate returns in The Shopping Cart Pirate Strikes Back!