| The rock hit the water and bounced once, twice, three, four, five times.
“That be a good one. You almost edged out a sixth one but your stick-like arms weren’t up to the task. Now it be my turn! Your very near future depends on five being enough to keep your dinghy afloat.” The voice sounded like waves crashing on the surf.
Chester nodded as moonlight reflected dully off his companion’s skull. The salt-scented, warm wind caressed his cheeks with promises of a supernatural adventure. Oddly, he couldn’t even remember falling asleep.
Hours earlier, Chester had hoped for adventure and excitement, but the night had been a bust. As the night wore on, he found himself on a lonely midnight, moonlight stroll along the Biloxi beach while collecting rocks in an old discarded bucket. He chucked a stone into the oddly calm waters of the Gulf and shattered the reflected full moon into wavy shards. As he watched the watery moon replica slowly recuperate, Chester wondered if this was all life had to offer, repetitive boredom on top of dreary obligations. Where were the adventures, the surprises and the ecstasies life owed him?
The stretch of beach around the spot where he had settled into the sand with his rusty bucket of rocks had been deserted and soaking in moonlight. He skipped a rock across the water, counting eight skips. As Chester searched the bucket for his next selection, a reddish, perfectly oval rock glinting moonlight won his attention. Its weight and feel were perfect.
He had cocked his arm back, trying to position it perfectly parallel to the beach, and whipped his arm toward the horizon. He flicked his wrist and the rock sailed over the water. It bounced once, twice – and on the third time something broke from the water’s surface and snatched the stone from the air. Chester watched as a bony fist clutching his stone continued rising and moving closer inland, slowly revealing a skeletal figure dressed in a tattered waistcoat, worn breeches, and a musketeer’s hat.
A pirate skeleton had stridden ashore. Fear seized Chester for only a moment, and then he instantly decided he had fallen asleep on the beach and was in the midst of an incredibly vivid dream.
“Evening, boy. I’ve not much time, so don’t go trying to run – that wouldn’t go good for you, trust me. Everything is perfect, magic licks at fortune’s teat, and your young, desirous soul beckoned me,” the pirate skeleton had said.
The thought of running never occured to Chester. Dreams couldn’t hurt you. The bony pirate lifted the captured flat, reddish, oval stone and held it before his dark, empty eye socket.
“Once the part of something greater, but worn down and broken by the ravages of earth’s anger,” the skeleton had said. “A witness to time’s passage, neither judging nor commenting as events unfold. Ah, if’n they could talk and unleash their hoarded secrets to the living, their influence on man’s path would erupt into irrevocable chaos. Instead, they are resigned to wait for the perfect moment to exert their subtle sway on the mundane endeavors of the living and dead.”
The rock, perched between the bony finger and thumb, had emitted dark vapors, coursing between Chester and the skeleton. An electric crispness charged the air, bristling the tiny hairs on the young man’s exposed skin. The reddish rock disintegrated to ash and the pirate’s dark, depthless eye socket devoured it in a swirling vortex of sooty blackness.
Words had formed on Chester’s lips and disappeared almost in the same moment. The skeleton had seemed to smile but it was impossible to tell if this was actually true.
“You’re certainly not much of a talker, but that be good. Let’s have a high-stakes game of water skipping. If’n I win – I shall be allowed use of your body for the remainder of the night. If’n you win, I’ll reward you with a magnificent gold and pearl earring. We have a deal?”
There was no rush for the dream to end. Chester never even considered declining the challenge. Who would pass up a chance at rock skipping against a pirate skeleton? It was a win-win situation for Chester. If he lost, he would experience an incredible dream of hitting the town as a long dead pirate. If he won, then for a short time, until he awoke, he would be the owner of an antique pirate earring. Losing seemed the better option.
Chester had taken his time selecting the rock before casting it at the at water’s surface. His rock had hit the water and bounced for a five count.
“That be a good one. You almost edged out a sixth one but your stick-like arms weren’t up to the task. Now it be my turn! Your very near future depends on five being enough to keep your dinghy afloat.”
The skeleton pointed a bony index finger at Chester. The dead pirate faced the water, whipped his hand backward, and snapped it toward the water. An object flew through the air, hit the surface of the water and bounced once, twice, three, four, five six times.
As the skull face turned to Chester, maggots and worms crawled through gaps in his teeth and a slender, slimy eel oozed from his left nostril hole. Pinpricks of sparkling red flames smoldered in the dark, depthless eye sockets. Chester now wanted the dream to end. The pirate’s skeletal hand, now missing the tip of his index finger, gestured to Chester and darkness consumed him.
Sunlight filtered through the planks of the boardwalk, blinding Chester as he opened his eyes. He felt horrible, his stomach churning and his mouth dry. A massive headache throbbed against his skull and a dull ache pulsated in his right ear. Empty rum bottles littered the area and a half naked, battered woman moaned a few feet away. Sitting in his lap was a Smith and Wesson revolver with six empty casings in the cylinder.
He touched his hand to his ear pain first and felt an object dangling from his earlobe. Gingerly, he removed it and Chester gazed through bloodshot eyes at a magnificent pearl earring. Sirens sounded in the distance. As wind gusted off the water, an invisible bony hand crushed Chester’s head into the sand, and a rank, hot breath whispered into Chester’s bleeding ear, “Now your adventure begins, matey.”