Chapter 18: SAVED AND DOOMED
Jimmy could only watch as the skeletons ascended the steps from the hull to the deck of the ship. They bumbled up, making so much noise, with their bones rattling together, their teeth chattering, the wind that seemed like breath emanating up their throats. Jimmy felt for sure the two guardsman, Ethan and Aidan, would hear them, that they would notice them in time to get clear of them. It wasn’t as if the skeletons were of a particular great speed. They seemed to move so slowly that it was no worry, that once seen, the guards would be able to amble away as well. But, the guards were talking to each other as if they hadn’t heard the skeletons, and so Jimmy kept his ears tuned to the happenings outside, hoping to hear surprised shouts from Ethan and Aidan. But, he could only hear the seagulls outside, squawking away annoyingly, and he could hear the wind, and he could hear the ocean. He could hear all the other things that might make the guards unaware of the impending danger.
If the skeletons could see Jimmy, they didn’t let on about it. He watched them pass by him on their way to the deck, and once he figured he knew everything he needed to about the situation, he floated past them to the deck himself. They, very absent-mindedly, proceeded forth, only finding direction in the voices of the men. Outside in the sunlight, Jimmy could see more details about them, the fact that they had no eyes, but rather sunken saucers where it looked like eyes had previously rested. Their teeth were all not complete sets. Many of them were missing, fallen who knows where. Most of the skeletons were not clothed, their bones out for all the world to see, and their bones, once looking black as night from the shadows of the ship, remained black as night when out in the sun. They were not the typical bleached bones Jimmy would see in the witch doctor’s possession, but rather it was almost as if whatever flesh remained on them had been scorched by the sun, and then stained the bones. Some were lighter than others, a dark, soot gray, but all of them could hide in the shadows if they had ever thought of hiding at all.
As Jimmy noticed before, it seemed the breeze would get trapped within the rib cages of the skeleton, and swirl about there. From the ribs, if their mouths were to open, the wind would work itself up the front of the spine, and out of the jaws, carrying with it a sort of sigh, or gasp, or seething. The force of the wind would also carry with it chunks of flesh or whatever the skeleton had in its teeth. It was truly a gruesome sight, and Jimmy knew that if he still had any of his senses other than sound and sight, he would be smelling something most foul as he walked with this group of animated bones.
The horde, for as evil as it seemed, what with them being undead and all, and a more ghastly sight than Jimmy’s transparent self, were also holding in their hands weapons. Not all of them, it seemed, could find any and Jimmy wondered how they found anything at all with just eye sockets and not eyes, but some of the skeletons did carry with them anything they found that was either sharp or could be used as a blunt instrument. Knives, shards of woods, broken bottles of jagged glass were the typical weapons, but he did see one skeleton with a hammer, and another with a lead pipe. Their muscle-less, tendon-less hands grasped around the handles, not letting go with an undead grip, as if the foreign object was now a part of them.
Without muscles, Jimmy wondered how effective a strike from the skeleton would be, but they were obviously powered by something else, something far more powerful than just what appeared before him. The skeletons moved with all of the grace of an elderly person, which could seem like a non-threatening thing, except for the fact they were moving like that without any organs, or skin, or brains, or hearts. There was no signal from their head to their knees to bend and move to create their steps. However it was happening was utterly terrifying to the ghost who could float up into the air if he wished. He was learning more and more that the laws of nature were very different than what he thought when he was alive.
On the deck of the boat, the skeletons moved in a flock-like pattern toward the starboard side where, Jimmy knew, the rope was that carried him up onto the boat and the sailors down off of it when they crashed last night. Down on those rocks is where the guards had found Jimmy. It’s where they currently were, doing their best to find all of him. The plan was to collect all the bones, and bury them somewhere in Springborough, finally putting him to rest. As it stood now, though, he seemed like he was about to obtain two new friends in the spirit world, two friends who would also have their bodies decay on the rocks, who would have their bones shine through and then fall sporadically about the shore into the waves. Or, Jimmy wondered, if you were killed by one of these skeletons, did you become a skeleton yourself? Eventually? What were the rules to this evil magic?
How was it decided which skeletons in the land were reanimated? And which ones were to remain dead? There had to be some law of nature about that, Jimmy thought. There had to be some rules to this.
But, that was a thought for later. For now, Jimmy listened to the conversation below as the skeletons got closer and closer to the railing.
“I have his complete right arm to his elbow, including his hand bones,” Ethan said.
“You sure you got all the hand bones? Doc said there are 27 in the hands alone,” Aidan responded.
“Hands and wrist, I got them, for sure. They were all together at this rock here, and it looks like his body was laying this way, so we should be able to collect them all as we go. Just- keeping looking in this area.”
“Oh yeah, I found his left leg here. Check this one out.”
The floppy-haired guard Aidan reached into the water and pulled out Jimmy’s femur. His bones, unlike the army of skeletons over thirty feet in the air above the guards, had a sort of greenish color to them from the moss and algae collecting on them from the water. Ever since he was dead, Jimmy had felt a slight itch on his bicep, and it wasn’t until one of the guards found a collection of zebra muscles on his humerus bone, which connects his elbow to his shoulder, and knocked them off, that Jimmy was given a sense of relief he never experienced before. Obviously he was still somewhat mentally connected to his bones.
And just as that young, excited knight held the humerus up to show the other guard, that was when the horde of bones began to fall off the boat and down onto the rocks below. Jimmy didn’t consider the fact that these were not athletic beings, and the simple fact one had to have some sort of intelligent thought or common dexterity to get from the top of the boat to the bottom was a trait these dead things didn’t have. So, one by one like lemmings, and sometimes two by two, they simply walked up onto the railing, and then over, stepping out into the air, and letting gravity do the rest of the work.
The skeletons went crashing down to the rocks, breaking apart as they hit, and losing pieces of themselves into the splashing water which reflected the sun. This didn’t stop most of them, but certainly alerted the guards to the fact that they were not alone, and they had a good deal more to worry about than just completing their royally assigned task. A skeleton got too close to Aidan for his liking, and so he took Jimmy’s humerus bone and swung with all of his might, sending the skeleton’s skull off into the blue yonder. As the bone made contact with the enemy, Jimmy felt a sting of pain in his own ghostly arm, and hoped that the guards would think about using their swords more than his body parts to go to battle with this undead gang.
Some skeletons lost arms in the fall, others had legs break off or random rib bones. It seemed most lost more teeth, and Jimmy could figure that that is what happened to their current smiles. It seemed if skeletons were going to run into things, they went mouth first. And without the gums to help hold everything in place, teeth were easily falling out and about the rocks (which also presented itself as a challenge to the skeletons as their boney feet slid about their footings without the fleshiness of the skin to grab onto the precarious shoreline.) The skeletons had looked like such a threat in the hull of the boat, an unstoppable force, and now they were looking like a bunch of malnourished, burnt, drunken sailors who could be taken out by a wave at any moment.
“What should we do?” asked Ethan while Aidan dropped the humerus and drew out his sword.
And so they did, each brandishing a sword and cutting through the bones without, what would seem, a problem. They weren’t the best guards in the land, and their skills with their swords were lacking, but the skeletons did not present much of a fight. Blades went through bones with nary a pause, and bones fell to the water to be lost amongst the sand, the rocks, and the current. Jimmy watched the quite impressive sight, his worry burying itself in his gut. These two men were going to be just fine, only suffering a couple scratches at the sharp ends of boney-fingers. Once this little pesky situation was dealt with, they’d go on collecting Jimmy’s bones in the velvet bags they had brought.
Jimmy took in the sun, and the breeze, and the fighting, and the air. He took in the light blue of the skies, complete with wispy white clouds, and the way the sea, still rough from the storm, chopped away at the shoreline. It was such a better day than the one they had just endured yesterday.
It was at that moment, Jimmy felt like he wasn’t as alone as he thought. Sure, there was a gaggle of rotting skeletons doing their best to get at a duo of Springborough guards, failing miserably and being chopped to pieces as they did so, but there was something else at the base of Quakenfalls with them that day. Jimmy looked back at the boat, half expecting to see the two pirates that had gone missing. Or maybe seeing their spirits, smiling and waving that someone had come for them, but they were not there.
Instead, there was a woman, dressed very warmly with a hood, and billowing robes. Jimmy couldn’t see her face, but he could see that he could see right through her. This woman was a ghost, just like him. He wondered how he could have missed her until this point. She couldn’t have been there all along, but if she was just arriving, wasn’t this battle on the rocks more exciting than anything happening out on the water? But there she stood, stoically, keeping her eye trained on the horizon.
So, Jimmy looked.
He saw it, too.
On the horizon, there were hundreds of black dots. Boats.
Carrying who knows what.