Short Stories – Skeletons in the Closet
Sunday, I presented a new story at The Encyclopedia Show in Minneapolis. The theme of the show as Pirates.
Since I’ve been writing short fiction, my typical focus for these shows is to put together a short story. Initially, I’d been thinking about a time travel story involving Blackbeard. But then I decided I’d write about something I knew a little better.
I also drew a tiny bit from a story some friends told me about this attraction. I’m afraid there are no Jungle Book skippers in this one. Literally five people will get that reference so I left it out.
For those who read my stories, thanks! I’m going to try to work back up to once per week (from once per month)!
“Dead men tell no tales!”
The haunting voice repeated these words over and over as Ashley’s boat floated past skeletons dressed in decaying pirate clothing. Fog drifted across the water and wind seemed to whistle through the ghostly sails of a pirate ship helmed by nothing but bleached bones in a pirate hat. They should have called it skeletons of the Caribbean.
She knew they were all special effects. Just fiberglass figures, trick lighting and sound, and a well placed fan to make the fabric move. Whether or not ghostly pirates existed, they certainly were not to be found in the middle of Orlando, Florida. Still, she shuddered just a little and wished her boyfriend hadn’t decided to eat a Dole whip instead of joining her.
“My parents took me on that ride so many times when I was a kid,” he shrugged, “I’m just not into it any more.”
He knew she didn’t like scary rides and assured her it wasn’t scary at all. He’d said the same to trick her into riding Space Mountain. She was beginning to think this relationship wasn’t going to work out.
“Dead men tell no tales!”
The ride vehicle was filled with two dozen others and yet she felt strangely alone. Her hand tightened on the railing as she looked ahead and saw they were approaching pitch blackness. It was space mountain all over again but this time with water and skeletons. As the boat in front of her disappeared, she heard screams from some of the passengers.
“Don’t worry,” a cheerful voice assured her, “it’s just a tiny hill.”
She hadn’t really noticed the boy seated next to her. She’d been too busy being annoyed at her boyfriend for abandoning her for some pineapple flavored ice cream. The boy was about seven and wore a Captain hook outfit perfect in every way save for the fact he was missing his hat.
He smiled at her. “This is my favorite ride.”
The boat entered the darkness and slid down a short waterfall – tiny, as the boy had promised – emerging between a pirate ship and the walls of a fort. Cannon fire rang out and air cannons shot water in the air to make it seem like cannonballs were landing only feet away.
“That’s the Wicked Wench,” the boy told her, pointing at the ship, “most people think it’s the Black Pearl because Captain Barbossa is on it but you can see the name Wicked Wench right on the side of the ship. Besides, it doesn’t even look like the Black Pearl. They are shooting at Puerto Dorado. That’s the town behind the fort.”
His monologue was comforting. This part of the ride wasn’t particularly scary but it was nice to be there with someone. As they drifted around the next turn and into the town square, he kept talking.
“Over there is the mayor. His name is Carlos. They (he pointed at the pirates) are trying to find Jack Sparrow but the mayor won’t tell them where he is. It’s silly because Jack Sparrow is right over there. They added Jack Sparrow to the ride in 2006. I never saw it before but I wish I could have seen it without Jack Sparrow. What do you think?”
He looked at her intently, clearly very interested in her opinion on the matter. She expected he would be disappointed to discover she didn’t have one but decided honesty would be the best choice.
“I don’t know,” she admitted, “this is my first time.”
His eyes widened. “Really? I don’t even remember my first time!”
“Well,” she said, “you are definitely making sure that I’ll remember my first time.”
He pointed at several animatronic women tied up with ropes. The pirate captain was auctioning them off.
“That’s the auction scene,” he said, “you’re lucky you got to see it before it goes away! A lot of people don’t like it. I guess I understand why but I don’t like it when the ride changes because they close the ride and then there is nobody here.”
The boat moved past the auction scene with1A animatronic women being sold to the highest bidder and Ashley was frankly relieved it wouldn’t be around much longer. They passed under a bridge and the young man pointed to something floating in the water on her side.
“My hat,” he cried, “I lost my hat earlier and there it is. Can you reach it?”
“I thought we were supposed to keep our arms inside the boat.”
“We are! But it’s right there! You can get it!”
His expression was so distressed that she felt she couldn’t say no. It was only a foot or so from the bow of the boat so she leaned out to grab it as carefully as she could.
“Be careful,” he warned her, “the water is a lot deeper than you think.”
The hat drifted into her hand and she pulled it from the water just as they moved past three pirates singing “Yo ho yo ho a pirates life for me!”
It was soaking wet and dripping all over the floor but he snatched it from her and put it on his head immediately. Water trickled down his forehead and he wiped it from his eyes.
“Thanks,” he said excitedly.
Around them, warm air blew into the room as light, fans, and pieces of fabric made it look like Puerto Dorado was burning. Robotic pirates sang hearty songs while collecting piles of booty.
His hat firmly in place, the boy started talking again.
“Once, I was in this part of the ride and everything stopped. We bumped into the boat in front of us and I listened to this song for a long time. I learned all of the words. Then I really wanted to see everything so I got out of the boat to look at what was happening to the rest of the town.”
He laughed a little.
“It was silly. I didn’t get that this is all fake. Behind all of this is just a bunch of hallways cast members can use to fix the ride. I got in a lot of trouble. And I lost my hat. Oh! Here comes the dog!”
He was right, of course. Several pirates were trapped in a jail cell trying to convince a dog to bring them the key that would lead to their escape.
“That means the ride is almost over,” the boy said dejectedly, “I don’t like it when the ride is over. But I like the dog!”
Ashley tried to reassure him, “can’t you just ride it again?”
“Oh yes,” he beamed, “I’ll ride it all day long!”
“And your parents don’t mind?”
“I haven’t seen them in a while. They don’t like this ride as much any more.”
He said it so casually. As the ride vehicle slowed to a stop, she waved at the ride operator, who wore the most cheerful smile she could muster when nearing the end of an eight hour day.
“Excuse me? I think this young man has lost his parents!”
This wasn’t the first time the operator had faced such a crisis and she quickly acted to help solve the problem. She asked the other passengers to stay in the boat and came to Ashley’s row, looking at the seat next to her.
“Which young man,” she asked.
Ashley turned to the boy next to her and he held his finger up to his lips.
“Dead men tell no tales,” he warned her.
“Um…never mind. I’m sorry. I don’t know what…”
The ride operator motioned for the rest of the passengers to debark and looked at Ashley with disapproval.
“Miss, we take lost children very seriously.”
“I know. I just…I’m sorry.”
The operator shook her head and let Ashley out of the ride vehicle. She looked back at the little boy with a soaking wet hat that only she could see and he grinned at her.
“Like I said,” he called out though no-one but Ashley could hear, “the water is deeper than you think. But don’t worry! This is my favorite ride!”