Reza waited on the sidewalk, smushed up with the rest of the neighborhood, in front of the yellow Victorian house. They spilled out into the street, and a few parents played sheep dog, herding the children back into the scrum on the sidewalk.
Why was so much of life about waiting? It made zero sense, Reza thought. He was always waiting: waiting for dinner, waiting for his mom to get home, waiting for his birthday. His parents didn’t seem to mind waiting at all. No, they reveled in it. Waiting was their favorite. Da loved telling Reza to “Be patient, little bear.”
“Did it start yet?” Ash asked, tugging on her mom's fleece sleeve. Ash lived down the street from Reza, near the cement staircase. They were okay-ish friends.
At least I’m not the only one who's bored, Reza thought.
“Soon, honey. You'll know when it starts. Remember from last year?"
Reza was done waiting. Ash's mom offered no solace. Reza slipped his hand out of his mother’s and crept up the steps to the yellow house's blue door. Before anyone noticed him, Reza knocked three times on the door and shouted.
“Hey! Is anyone alive in there? I’m ready now!”
Something clicked behind the doorway, then started thrumming, like an electrical circuit coming to life. Reza pulled back his hand from the door. He hoped he hadn't broken anything, somehow.
“I hear something! But where are they? Where are the pirates?”
That was Breen asking.
Breen lived near the playground. Breen and Reza and Ash used to play on a soccer team together, before the boys and girls were split into separate teams. Now they just saw each other at the burrito place or the library. They didn't even go the same school, even though they all lived nearby, which was weird to Reza.
Reza raised his arm to knock on the door again when a cannon burst across the street. Everyone spun to look up as a skeleton emerged from the smoke on the rooftop. It wore a black tricorn cap and an eyepatch above its toothy grin. The skeleton raised a cutlass into the gloaming.
“Ya-har! A-hoy!” The skeleton cackled with glee. Reza felt a shiver down his back. ”Bluebriar dares show his bones to me…. Patty O’Gnashes. Well, my hearties, Patty O’Gnashes never forgets a skull!”
The bay window of the yellow Victorian opened and another skeleton appeared.
“You’re a frog-bellied coward, Patty! These are Bluebriar's seas! I'll destroy you, once and for all!"
Everyone cheered from the sidewalk. The skeleton pirate battle had begun.
No one knew the man who lived at this house. But everyone had a theory. He was a Disney Imagineer. He worked at Lucasarts. He was a former magician at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. He was Merlin. Whatever the real story was, the only thing that really mattered to Reza and everyone else was this Halloween pirate battle.
Reza went to rejoin his parents but stumbled on the top step. When he saw his feet, he screamed. When he saw his hands, he couldn't utter a sound.
In place of Reza's legs were cobwebbed bones in loose leather booties. His hands -- his hands were all bones, twenty-seven in each. His fingers wore gold rings he'd never seen before.
"Frog in your throat, boy?"
Bluebriar the skeleton pirate was looking directly at Reza.
“Well, don't just stand there. Make yourself useful, ship's boy, or I'll send ya where I'm sending Patty O'Gnashes!”
Bluebriar laughed. In his yellowed smile was a bright sapphire front tooth, flashing in the dim streetlights.
“Last chance, you fool! Help me reset this cannon!”
Reza nodded dumbly. He climbed up onto the window box and crawled into the Victorian house alongside Bluebriar. Reza found the gunpowder keg and helped Bluebriar fire the cannon across the street.
Smoke filled the street. More skeletons appeared. Patty had brought along backup. Reza lost sight of his parents and Ash and Breen. No, he forgot about them entirely. He was now one of Bluebriar's crew, fixed in timeless battle with his captain's greatest enemy.
When the smoke cleared from the street, Patty O'Gnashes was gone. Fled, the frog-bellied coward, thought Reza. Reza turned towards his captain and cried out. Bluebriar had been hit. Badly, too. The captain's ribs were shattered and lay in pieces on the deck.
"Well done, my boy," said Bluebriar. "We nearly had her, didn't we?"
Reza held back a sniffle.
"What can I do to help, Cap?"
"Hand me my cutlass, will you?"
Reza nodded. Bluebriar wanted to go into the afterlife -- what was the afterlife for a skeleton? -- as a warrior, sword in hand.
Bluebriar took the curved blade from Reza and lifted it, despite his obvious pain.
"This is not your time, boy."
Bluebriar stabbed Reza in the heart.
Reza woke up. He opened his eyes and grabbed his forearms. Plump. Fleshy. Skin. Blood. Reza was alive. He was not a skeleton anymore.
He ran downstairs, ignored his Da’s greeting, and grabbed his bicycle from the hallway. Reza raced down the street, swerving around the EaglePrime delivery trucks, until he reached the yellow Victorian house. A fire truck and an ambulance were parked in the street. Smoke billowed from the roof of house and it smelled like a campfire.
“What happened?” Reza asked one of the police officers.
“We’re not sure, son.”
“Is Bluebriar — I mean, is the guy who lives here okay?”
“I can't answer that, this is an active crime scene investigation... now scram, kid. Go home to your parents, okay?”
The officer turned to chat with someone else, and Reza slipped under the police tape. He ran up the steps and through the open blue door of the yellow Victorian.
In the green sitting chair of the living room was a dead man with a sapphire tooth. It twinkled in the shade of the morning light.