Chapter 16 The Broken Ride

Everyone felt thinner, squeezing through black and white light, emerging in a wobbly bucket at the top of an enormous Ferris wheel. They could see for miles in every direction. Jeremy knew they were in a movie set, but he couldn’t tell where the stage ended. Even the sky looked false. He realized why; it was nighttime, but there weren’t any stars.

Sissy was alert, scanning the circus below. “I see the giant riding his chariot,” she whispered.

CRACK…BANG

The Ferris wheel shook. The gears were coming apart. The giant stepped out of his chariot and fixed the ride. Soon their bucket descended.

Leaving, they tried to act normal. A Carney eyed them suspiciously.

They walked through the barricades down a busy street covered in sawdust.

On one side, a shop keeper dressed in Middle Eastern garb advertised ropes ascending into heaven.

On the other side, belly dancers contorted their bodies to a tambourine beat.

Jeremy knew they were in the heart of The Black and White Horror Show. He was about to ask his friends if they spotted anything familiar, when he noticed a ticket floating in a puddle of water. It read Eternal Strength to the Victorious. “There’s another one of those playing cards from the Immortal Game,” Jeremy said. He reached down and picked it up from the sidewalk. The ink smeared in his hands.

“Do you see the pavilion where Ignatius took the photographs?” asked Sissy.

“We are somewhere else. I wonder who dropped the card. I still haven’t figured out if we’re in a movie or an amusement park.”

“We can find out if we walk to the other end of the fairgrounds,” said Brandon. “The movie set or stage cannot stretch to infinity. It must have an end.”

They walked up the maze of streets, taking several rights and lefts until they got to the end.

Max looked behind him at the circus town. It glowed in the darkness. Someone could spend their entire life wasting time down there, purchasing curiosities in the shops and riding the rides, he thought.

They barely made it into the woods when Brandon noticed lights between the trees. In less than a dozen steps they reached the other side. Jeremy was shocked to look down into a valley and see the same circus they had left. He wanted to know for sure. “Max can you walk back through the woods and try to signal us from the other side?”

“Don’t you think it’s risky to use a signal?” asked Sissy.

“Yes, but we need to explore The Black and White Horror Show.”

On the other side of the carnival they noticed a feint light. It could’ve belonged to a firefly. It was there and then it was gone. Max rejoined their group before they looked away.

“Did you see it?” he asked. “Yes, and it looks as if we’re not the only ones.”

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Chapter 15 Mineshaft

Meanwhile…

Brandon was starting to get annoyed from having two backseat drivers giving him directions. None of the teenagers stopped to consider if they were actually following Bernie or simply chasing a dust devil. It was pitch black and the ruts in the sand were becoming difficult to see over the glare of the headlights.

“Watch out for those rocks,” warned Jeremy from the passenger seat. The undercarriage scraped against the boulders.

“We’ve been out here for over an hour and still no sign of a vehicle,” complained Max.

“Wait, I see a light in the distance. Quick, turnoff your headlights,” whispered Jeremy. They moved closer to an abandoned pickup truck parked near a steep hill. “Who’s willing to look around?” Jeremy asked. No one said a word.

“Anything could be waiting for us beyond the shadows,” whispered Max, trying not to sound too much like a coward.

“We don’t even know if Bernie is here. The truck could belong to a rancher.” Sissy was the first to open her door and step into the cool night. The desert blew sand drifts in their direction. None of the boys could tolerate a girl being the bravest among them. They all nodded and left the police car at the same time.

Sissy was already at the pickup truck. Jeremy noticed she looked good, even in the dark, filling out her sweat suit in all the right places. She was at the truck, peering through the driver side door. “There’s no one here.”

“Well, someone must be nearby and planning to come back. They wouldn’t abandon their vehicle and leave the lights on,” said Max. He grabbed the door handle and wrenched it open. Steam vaporized from the cab like smoke. Peering inside, he noticed wax pooled on the driver’s seat. “It looks as if a gigantic candle melted in here. Who can make heads or tails of this?”

Jeremy looked inside, knowing something awful happened. Quick, everyone grab a flashlight and fan out. Look for anything unusual.”

Jeremy noticed steam pouring from the hillside.

Walking to the hot spot, he pressed his hand against the earth.

It didn’t feel like dirt. Instead, he grabbed a handful of tarp. It was a curtain. Ripping it aside, Jeremy entered a long corridor. It was an old mine shaft covered in movie posters. There was something flickering at the other end.

A loud speaker penetrated the silence.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I GIVE YOU A FILM UNEARTHED IN ANCIENT EGYPT AND DEDICATED TO THE FOUNDER OF THIS THEATER, IGNATIUS SPECTER.”

Jeremy knew he’d heard those words before, but the voice was different. It wasn’t Bernie’s. It was the voice of someone who rarely spoke. It sounded resurrected, like it had been dead for centuries.

Jeremy pulled a broken mirror out of his pocket, using it to peer around the corner.

Black and white light sprinkled the room. A semicircle of seats filled a deep amphitheater as a crackling projector played a film behind a purple curtain. A pair of uniformed trousers paced back and forth on the other side, as if they were waiting for something. 

“That must be Detective Straitface,” whispered Jeremy. “But where’s Bernie.” Everyone scanned the empty theater. Brandon counted the seats, beginning with four hundred and fifty one and working his way backward. The amphitheater sunk into shadows. 

“Something moved down there,” whispered Sissy. Max shined his flashlight into the darkness. A man was bound and gagged in Seat 13. His eyes were open, watching the show, unable to look away. 

“We must stop it before something happens.” Jeremy wondered what possessed the detective to kidnap the theater owner. “I say we rush Straitface on three. Bernie will be okay once we stop The Black and White Horror Show.”

ONE…TWO…THREE

The teenagers charged the feet behind the curtain, tackling empty space. A sinister voice taunted them.

“I’M OVER HERE.”

They looked at the movie screen as a tall shadow reached toward Seat 13, grabbing Bernie by the arm, pulling him into The Black and White Horror Show. Jeremy rushed to the chair where Bernie had sat. He noticed something stuck between the seat cushions. Reaching down, Jeremy grabbed a silver ticket. It read Eternal Strength to the Victorious. Baffled by the card, Jeremy looked for The Immortal Game, but couldn’t find it. 

 “Well, what do we do now?” asked Sissy through clenched lips. It was rare for her to ask a question. Usually she knew what to do.

Before anyone had an idea, a Ferris wheel erupted from the black and white movie screen, scooping them into its enormous bucket, and sucking them inside.

Part I: The Stuff in the Attic

Mr. Glass leaned against his faded yellow house, looking at his next-door-neighbor.

Stewart Swanson was mowing his lawn, just like he did every Saturday.

Perfect Lines, Perfect Lawn, Perfect House, Perfect Wife, and Perfect Car

Glass struck a match, lighting his pipe. The wrinkles in his face shifted.

Steward noticed Mr. Glass standing there.

Then the old man walked towards him. Glass’ features couldn’t hide their amusement.

Stewart cut the engine. “Can I help you sir?”

“Yeah, I’ve lived three houses down from you and haven’t introduced myself, the name’s Glass.”

“Nice to meet you Sir, my name’s Stewart.”

“Stewart… I had a possum named Stewart in prison, but that was a long time ago.”

The neighbor gave him a startled stare, but Glass didn’t notice.

“I’ve got some boxes to move in the attic. How’s your time? Can you give me a hand?”

“Awe… well I do need to take my wife to the garden show this afternoon…”

“Don’t worry about that, my boxes will only take a minute.”

Before Stewart could refuse, Glass turned and walked in the direction of his house.

His neighbor hesitated and followed after him. It was 99 degrees.

How could the man wear a 3-piece suit, Stewart thought?

“Come inside,” Glass said. “The house is a mess. I’ve called the maid, but she won’t be here til tomorrow.”

They walked up a narrow staircase. At the top, Glass pulled at a ladder leading to the attic.

“When we’re done, I’ll buy you an ice-cream,” Glass said.

Stewart almost replied, but thought it best to get it over with.

There were paintings everywhere. “Got those in Europe,” Glass said. “Help me with this box.”

It was heavy and hard to lift, despite the squats Stewart had been doing in the gym. His sweat was staining the front of his blue checkered polo shirt.

Glass looked unperturbed, like the heat didn’t matter. He didn’t sweat a drop.

“Easy…” The bottom ripped out of his box.

Cash flooded the rafters.

“See, I can pay you.” Glass laughed.

“I need to be going,” Stewart suggested.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. There are five more boxes and then you’ll be done. I’ve got some plastic bags and zip ties hanging on the wall.

Stewart did as he was told. He didn’t dare refuse. They hauled the stuff into the back of Glass’ 1959 Cadillac Hearse.

“I’ve got to make a deposit,” Glass said. “We’ll get your ice-cream on the way.

Stewart almost walked away, but Glass’ eyes compelled him like gravity. They were menacing and confident at the same time.

You won’t find great thinkers in the halls of education

You find them in bowling allies

brothels

and beer halls

These men are amongst the unemployed

The forgotten

They have experienced

REAL loss

REAL suffering

and REAL lonliness

If a man tries to redeem himself

he can

and he does this through reason

We are not noble for the rules we follow,

but for the rules we break

Doing good in life is not about following the rules

It is about doing good.

Chapter 14 Mad Camera Man

Walking out the double doors, Jeremy pushed a trolley cart, breathing in the warm evening air. Turning a street corner, he noticed his friends. “I was wondering when you guys would show up. I’m headed for Sally’s Drug Store if you want to help me load supplies.”

They walked in silence for some time until they neared the store. “We need to buy a lighter so we can burn the black and white photograph,” Jeremy whispered.

Sally eyed them suspiciously after they bought her entire stock of candy bars and soda; not to mention a package of lighters. “You boys don’t smoke, do you?” she asked.

“No; most of the lighting in The Pharaoh is at least a century old. We have another showing this evening and many more candles to light.”

Sally seemed satisfied, but hesitated when handing lighters to three teenage boys.

After leaving the store, they pushed their mound of groceries up the sidewalk. It took every ounce of their strength to do it. Turning a corner, they saw a crowd. Excited movie goers ignoring crosswalks, flooding across Specter Street.

Bernie cued The Black and White Horror Show in the projector room and soon the teenagers were selling tickets and concessions in the lobby. Sissy wrapped caution tape around Seat 13 and left a Spill Sign in plain sight.

Bernie tripped the reels and The Black and White Horror Show rolled. Immediately, the old man realized something was wrong. The screen went blank. I wonder if the film was erased, he pondered. Then he heard a feint sound; circus tunes invaded his mind. A procession walked down the center aisle of the theater, emerging on the silver screen. The audience gasped as a lion, giant, and a Ferris wheel cascaded through them, joining the other characters in the film. Foreboding tunes grew louder when the giant stopped the Ferris wheel from falling-apart once again.

Jeremy held the black and white photograph in his sweaty palm, waiting for Ignatius to take center stage. His other hand grasped the lighter, his fingers pressed down on the striker.

 Suddenly the theater flashed with light, like a night club during disco hour. The strobe clicked faster and faster as sections of the audience disappeared.

Jeremy knew Ignatius was in the audience, but he couldn’t see him. All he saw were empty seats where people had been.

Turning around, he looked at the projector room, noticing Bernie holding the flash camera close to his face.

HE WAS THE ONE TAKING PICTURES, Jeremy realized.

He pulled out his pocket lighter, grinding the flint, igniting a flame, but the photograph wouldn’t burn.

The screaming diminished as most of the crowd was captured in black and white film.

The teenagers pressed themselves against the wall, hiding between the curtains.

Leaping for the door, Detective Straitface moved up the hall, entering a circular corridor. He was as silent as a cat, preparing to pounce.

Straitface needed protection from the camera. Walking to the projector door, he noticed his reflection in a mirror; He carefully removed it, brandishing it like a shield.  Turning the knob, Straitface entered the room.

SNAP

Bernie was camera crazy with an itchy trigger finger.

The detective held the mirror in front of his body, charging forward.

CRASH

It shattered, shooting shards in every direction. Black and white photos flew across the floor with captured audience members staring into oblivion.

Bernie was knocked out, spread eagle on the floor.

The detective grabbed the camera, holding it like a bomb. He fumbled with the dial, zooming the lenses. Looking through the peephole, Straitface pinpointed his target. “What kind of evil is this,” he whispered. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, he swiveled around, focusing the instrument on four teenagers. “State your business!” he demanded.

“We know Bernie…” said Jeremy in a shaky voice.

“I’m afraid he’s unconscious and won’t be returning to reality for some time—knocked him out, you see…not intentionally, but he was trying to capture me in black and white film.”

“We need Bernie’s cigarette lighter. Will you search his pockets?” whispered Sissy.

“That would be illegal. Why do you need it anyway?” asked Straitface.

“It may be the only tool capable of stopping the madness. Forget detaining him; if we have his lighter, we can destroy the black and white photographs, releasing the spirits inside.” Sissy said practically. 

“How do you know you won’t destroy their souls, along with the photographs?” the detective asked—considering the implication of hellfire and burnt plastic.

“We know it’s risky, but it must be done; empty his pockets before he regains consciousness,” whispered Jeremy.

“Being an officer of the law, I will decide when and how a suspect will be searched. Bernie will be questioned at the police station and read his rights when he wakes up. I’ll confiscate his camera and lock it in the evidence room. It’ll be properly marked and handled as a dangerous object. Today’s events will make The Pharaoh infamous, but it’s doubtful anyone other than the audience will believe what happened here.” Straitface handcuffed Bernie. “I can hear a panic outside, which means the media has already arrived. Is there a rear exit?”

“Behind the stage,” suggested Jeremy.

“Excellent! This may be the first and only chance you get to drive a police car. He handed his keys to the wide-eyed teenager. “My Charger is parked out front. You can bring it around back.”

Exiting the lobby was like entering a new dimension. TV cameras pointed at the mob, fueling unrest. Parents called for their children as reporters interviewed one terror stricken child after another, pushing recorders at them, hoping to drain a good story.

The feeding frenzy was more disturbing than The Black and White Horror Show. Jeremy spotted a police car at the opposite end of the street.

His friends tried to blend into the edges of the crowd—shuffling to the side, doing their best to avoid the cameras.

Eventually they made it to the car without attracting reporters or television news anchors.

Jeremy clicked the electronic key and the Charger roared to life. “Everyone, get inside!” Suddenly the mob noticed them. Before they were surrounded, Jeremy gunned the accelerator, parting the crowd like the Red Sea. They got away just in time as the hysteria only got worse.

 “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND,” someone shouted. “HE TOOK MY FRIEND’S PICTURE AND SHE VANISHED.”

The streets were congested, like an artery waiting to burst.

“I wonder what the crowd would do if they realized we have their suspect in custody,” commented Max.

“They’d probably trample us,” replied Brandon half-seriously. “The vanishing audience can only be explained by magic and people are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

Everyone jumped out and walked inside The Pharaoh. It was like reentering a tomb.

The atmosphere was dark. Ideas flashed across Jeremy’s mind. He wasn’t even sure he should burn the black and white photos or destroy the film. What if he unwittingly harmed the people inside? He didn’t have much time to think. Straitface and Bernie were missing. “Where could they have gone?” He threw up his hands. “We were supposed to bring the car around.” He realized something was wrong. A horrible feeling in his stomach ruptured as he ran up to the projector room. 

THE FILM WAS GONE.

Straitface had the gold lighter, The Black and White Horror Show, and the silver camera.

Jeremy knew he had to find them fast. Lost in thought, he bumbled his way into the lobby. “I’m afraid The Black and White Horror Show is gone.”

“That’s not the only thing that’s been stolen,” replied Sissy. “The Sarcophagus is missing.”

Jeremy couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed the faded yellow wallpaper where the Sarcophagus usually stood. The outline glowed in stark contrast with the emerald paper on the walls. “How can we possibly find them; we haven’t any idea which direction they’ve gone.”

“Actually, we do.” Brandon said.

“How do you know?” asked Max. His black hair stretched even taller; his follicles were like extensions of his brain trying to reach the answer.

“Every street is blocked except the rear entrance. We might still be able to catch them.”

“How would you like to test the governor on the police car?” Jeremy asked.

Brandon was behind the wheel before he could finish his sentence. Inserting the ignition key, the V8 engine roared to life. Soon they ripped across the backstreets of Old Hollywood, moving down the interstate.

“GPS says there isn’t an exit for 25 miles,” yelled Max over the engine. The police car picked up speed, breaking 100 miles per hour. Reaching the first freeway turnoff, everyone checked to see if there was any dust.

“We need to keep going, encouraged Sissy. “There’s a traffic jam ahead; any ideas?”

Brandon reached over the dashboard, flipping a red switch, and a siren howled like a banshee. A wave of metal flashed into view. A semi-truck was horizontal across the roadway. There wasn’t enough time to slow down. Brandon controlled the car like an Indi driver, aiming for the high spot in the truck’s suspension.

CRASH

The police cruiser became a convertible.

“Is everyone alright?” Jeremy asked.

Then Brandon slammed on the breaks, skidding to a halt.

“DUST…” he whispered.

It wasn’t an exit or even a dirt road, but an old cattle trail. Brandon steered into the tumbleweeds.

Meanwhile…

The detective had Bernie gagged and bound in the passenger seat of a rusty pickup truck he’d hotwired. The sun set over a sunken volcanic crater. It was sultry inside the cab. Bernie wanted to pass out. He was not in his right mind when he turned the camera on his audience, but now he was returning back to normal. It felt strange being under the influence of the film. He wondered why it affected him so much.

Bernie tried to contort his body to get another look at Straitface. He wasn’t sure if it was the bumpy road or his imagination, but something odd was happening to the detective. His face was melting.

Straitface reached with a finger to scratch an itch on his crooked chin, clawing at his flesh. His face looked like a distorted mask, dripping wax onto his uniform.

If Bernie wasn’t gagged, he would’ve screamed. He realized the heat in the cab wasn’t coming from outside, but from his kidnapper.

The sun set behind the desert dunes of Old Hollywood. Bernie could see their silhouette on the horizon.

Suddenly, Straitface slammed on the brakes, grinding the pickup to a complete stop. He wrenched open the door. 

SLAM…

The driver’s seat was soaked in wax. Terror did not come close to describing how Bernie felt. When Straitface walked in front of the headlights, Bernie felt his heart jump. The detective was missing his skin and his new flesh looked familiar. It was Ignatius Specter. Bernie’s fear intensified, along with his bewilderment. Ignatius vanished in the Black and White Horror Show. How could he possibly be alive?  His door opened and a pair of hands grabbed him by the collar, pulling him out of the truck.

THUMP

            Bernie landed in the sand and didn’t have time to rest as Straitface dragged him to the back of the pickup truck. He could only hear what was going on. His hands and feet were tied. It was getting difficult to breathe and he started to lose consciousness. 

            Bernie worried that Ignatius planned to do experiments on him. Seemingly, Ignatius read his mind, pulling a sarcophagus from underneath a tarp and setting it on a medical gurney. The torso was missing and something shiny occupied its insides. It was the flash camera.

Ignatius’ uniform was soaked in wax, steaming like a hot oven. Bernie knew he was in the presence of evil, but he cast his worries aside and thought of a way to escape.

Ignatius looked at Bernie with piercing eyes. “It’s at least thirty miles to the nearest interstate. I’m the only one who can keep you alive.” He said this while burning the ropes holding Bernie’s feet together. “Stand up and walk!” Bernie didn’t dare disobey.

Chapter 13 The Show Must Go On!

The sight of it gave everyone chills except Bernie who didn’t notice their reactions, showing off his find.

 “You aren’t planning to show a movie this afternoon, are you?” asked Brandon

“Of course I will. The Black and White Horror Show must go on,” said Bernie enthusiastically.

Jeremy didn’t know what to say, feeling helpless. He motioned for the others to join him in the lobby. When they were alone, he told them what happened. “Bernie found the camera underneath the stage, but I think I’ve found something more important.” Not speaking, he pulled the black and white photograph out of his pocket, holding it above his head like Indian Poker.

“IGNATIUS SPECTER!” everyone gasped.

“Precisely; Ignatius snapped his own photograph by accident, losing his camera when he disappeared. We can humor Bernie this evening by playing his motion picture, but when Ignatius comes onto the screen we must burn his photograph. If I’ve thought about it correctly, he should disappear.”

Growing impatient, Max blurted out, “We must destroy The Black and White Horror Show now!”

 “I’m not sure it can be destroyed, but we can try,” said Jeremy, offering some hope. “The film, like all of Bernie’s motion pictures is made of nitrate. We’ll need to steal it from the projector room, but it won’t be easy to lug it down the stairs and out of the theater undetected.”

“Why can’t we burn it in the projector room?” asked Max.

“Are you kidding?” laughed Brandon. That film will explode faster than a firebomb, incinerating Bernie’s entire film collection, blowing the theater sky-high.”

 “So what is your plan?” asked Sissy somewhat putout that no one included her in the conversation.”

“First, we must block Seat 13 with caution tape; we can make-up any excuse,” offered Jeremy. “Then we must reproduce the results of our first showing. Bernie can’t suspect we plan to eliminate the star of his picture.”

After careful deliberation the mutinous teenagers went their separate ways.

Brandon and Max passed out flyers across every inch of town.

Jeremy and Sissy kept a wary eye on Bernie as he removed an antique engine from the stage closet. Clearing out the Sarcophagus, he assembled a machine. The efficiency of his work was enough for Jeremy to wonder if Bernie had done it before, but that was impossible.

Bernie held an enormous gear between his thumb and forefinger, gently fitting it into position. A skeletal arm was strategically attached, guaranteeing maximum leverage. Cogs and springs were assembled without second guesses. Bernie’s brain was like an owner’s manual as he put the contraption together from disorganized components. He worked even faster, becoming more precise after each adjustment.

“Magic is at work in the old man,” whispered Jeremy. “Perhaps The Black and White Horror Show awoke something inside.”

Sissy nodded, worrying that another show could unleash more magic. They watched Bernie arranging a tent; then placing his camera on a tripod.

Jeremy cleaned the hall carpets while Sissy made popcorn in the concession stand.

DONG…DONG…DONG…DONG…DONG…DONG

The grandfather clock struck six times.

“We should expect our audience at any moment,” announced Bernie cheerfully.

Jeremy nodded, “Why don’t I run down to Sally’s Drug Store to pick up some soda and candy bars? We can sell them for four times what their worth.”

“An excellent idea and grab me a Mars Bar while you’re at it,” suggested Bernie. He handed Jeremy a sweaty wad of cash. “I think this should be enough for a sold out crowd, what do you think?”

“I think it’s enough,” Jeremy said.

Chapter 12 Flash Camera

Nearing the object, Jeremy realized what it was. “It’s a camera and I’ve seen it before. It’s the same flash camera Ignatius used in The Black and White Horror Show!”

Bernie picked it up, looking through the lenses, wondering if there was undeveloped film inside.

“Sir, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to touch something so dangerous.”

“Nonsense; I doubt there’s anything special about this prop. Our journey under the stage has taught us Ignatius was a master of tricks, not a real magician.”

How can you believe that when the horror show already captured an audience member?” demanded Jeremy.

“Coincidences and tricks of cinematography—Ignatius was a genius of illusion, nothing more.”

Was Bernie trying to deceive him? Jeremy wondered.

“We have what we came for. This camera will make an excellent curiosity in the front lobby.”

Jeremy was silently horrified. “Should we make our way to the trapdoor?” he asked.

“An excellent idea!” replied Bernie, hugging his old-fashioned camera even tighter.

Turning to follow, Jeremy noticed something glossy stuck between the floorboards. Reaching down, he picked up a flimsy black and white photograph. He couldn’t make out the picture, but he pocketed it all the same.

Sissy was the first to hear them. In two seconds a rickety ladder was lowered into the trapdoor. Not a moment later, Bernie’s head emerged, followed by the antique camera.

The problem with writing poetry after work is my mind is still focused on work things, work people, and the work way of living. I’ve been told that a person can have it all, work your 9 to 5 job, be a writer, a husband and a father, climb the corporate ladder, buy a house with a morgage, get the new car, put the children in private school…

but this is not true. It is the big lie that we are sold.

Existence is better when we minimize things, people, unnecessary conversations

Existence is better when we embrace chaos and don’t contribute to it.

Existence is better when we minimize distractions and know what we are about.

Only when you know this can you commit to your purpose. If you entertain other possibilities, then it is not likely to happen.

This focus lets you know when you are investing your time and energy on the most important thing and when you aren’t.

Money becomes a tool to buy time for your purpose.

Only with this time can you make the right decisions. They won’t be the decisions of others and they will lead to your freedom.

It is frightening to commit to things, but this is the only way you can have meaning.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, know that nobody is for you, but you. Slaves envy a free man or woman, especially one who has been a slave. You are responsible for the messages you believe. You are responsible for the things you do and don’t do. Do you want a retirement party after 40 years of service? Selfishness is a virtue. Do not serve anybody but yourself.

At the end of your life, you must account for it. Will you worry about the time you wasted or will you feel inner relief, knowing that you tested your flesh? It was all you were given. Did you use it?

Black Robe’s Orders

The Admiral of the pirate fleet had a name feared above all others.

 “Black Robe, what are your orders?” asked Lieutenant Jives.  

“Kill the wounded, but give those fit to sail the chance to join us. If they consent, they may keep their spoils of war and avoid a painful death. Do what you like with those who deny my service. You may run them through or hang them from the rigging. After you carry out my orders, send a signal flag to the rest of the fleet. Our five ships will intercept the schooner off the larboard bow.”

 Lieutenant Jives walked away to bully the midshipmen under his command.

Rucksack knew his plan could just as easily fail as succeed. Standing underneath the main mast, he pulled his wand from inside his cloak, whispering incantations; after lighting a blue fire, the parachute inflated. Soon the empty sock transformed into a balloon, rising above The Majestic.

There was a jolt as the ship ascended into the air. Rucksack didn’t waste time navigating into the wind.

Sarah noticed the ocean turning black, with white caps on every wave. Electrical root systems descended from thunder clouds above.

CRACK…RUMBLE…RUMBLE

It was deafening, much loader than cannon fire.

Barney could see Black Robe’s cloak flying out behind him as the pirate gave orders to kill the King’s crew. The pirate fleet altered course, following The Majestic. It was impossible to catch a flying ship, but a well-placed cannon ball could change things.

 “Don’t aim for the hull, damn you. I said to aim for the balloon. Filling the keel full of holes won’t sink her!” shouted Black Robe.

Rucksack knew they had less to fear from cannon fire and more to worry from the maelstrom that grew stronger. The cumulonimbus clouds rose like burnt marshmallows in the dark sky with thunderheads as flat as pancakes.

The Majestic floated higher.

Mr. Davis’ green ship, the smallest in the fleet, shot a cannon ball strait up at the hot air balloon. The eight pound ball reached a mile into the sky, then plummeted through the deck of the Shamrock, cracking her keel.

With the Shamrock crippled, Black Robe knew he would not be able to direct his ghost ship after the disappearing balloon. Plotting their last direction, he calculated their probable destination, Volcano Island. 

Meanwhile, The Majestic flew over the black pancakes where the air was thin and the oxygen difficult to breath.

“Those pirates won’t give up easily,” choked Rucksack.

After clearing the storm, The Majestic landed into calmer seas.

Rucksack kept his skeleton crew busy with chores like sanding the deck with holystones, checking the ocean depths for hidden reefs, and fishing for sharks. After a few weeks, provisions ran low, forcing Barney and Sarah to wonder if Rucksack plotted their course correctly.

At twilight, Sarah thought she saw the shadow of a ship on the horizon. Everyone went to bed fearing it was the ghost ship. In the morning, she was right. Black Robe was within firing distance.

Rucksack gave the sails an extra dose of wind, but the chase ended before it began; four ships appeared on the horizon in front of them, blocking their escape.

Cannonballs ripped into The Majestic.

“Rather than going to Volcano Island, we will turn south, leading the pirates into the Morasses of Mulansfrog,” shouted Rucksack. “Barney, I need you to get the balloon ready. Sarah, load the cannons. We will blast our way out of the blockade!”

Altering course toward The Shamrock, Rucksack played a naval game of chicken with Captain Bartholomew. “Standby on the guns while I light the blue fire!” shouted Rucksack. “Stead, aim; let them have it!”

The Majestic unloaded her guns as Mean Nancy and the rest of Rucksack’s cannons did their worst. Both ships splintered from an exchange of cannon fire, nearly colliding, but The Majestic pulled into the sky at the last second, finishing off the Shamrock.

It would’ve ascended if the ghost ship hadn’t fired a shot through the balloon. Smoking, it eventually caught fire, leaving Rucksack no alternative, but to cut it loose. The bag rose into the sky like a balloon lost on an ill-fated birthday.

The Majestic plummeted toward the ocean, striking the waves, submerging, but quickly regaining its keel. Rucksack filled the sails with air, navigating his crippled craft into the swamps.

THE END

Chapter 6 Bombardment

A few hours later, Barney and Sarah were awakened by sonic booms. Half asleep, they jumped out of bed, colliding with each other.

“What happened?” yelled Barney. “It sounds like a powder keg exploded!”

Opening their door, they witnessed total destruction. Half of the captain’s quarters were blown away. The ornamental chamber was full of smoke and the bed was on fire. Luckily, Rucksack was an early riser.

At twilight the sky was full of cannon fire. Two armadas shelled each other from five hundred yards away. Payloads delivered rapid reports.

Several balls whizzed over The Majestic, tearing into the rigging. Soon the main sail was littered with holes, leaving a few scraps of material left to catch the wind.

“You’ve been asleep for nearly half the battle,” shouted Rucksack. “I need your help for a tricky maneuver. It may be the only way to avoid capture. Help me secure the parachute.”