The clock on the wall read 7:56 when Bob finally squeezed between a fairy and a man in leather armor to grab the last bag of knucklebones from the box on the shelf. They were garish – plastic dice made to look like bones, with tiny company logos in place of the pips – but marketing had come up with it, and what marketing came up with, everyone had to hand out.
Besides, the fairies had gotten much worse than the skeleton crew – their dice were made to look like square acorns, and the company logos sparkled with fairy-dust-inspired glitter. At least the most ridiculous part of Bob's gear was a set of three identical plastic “leg bones” that looked like they'd come off a Halloween display. Even Reece had cracked jokes about those – the latest being that the last skeleton crew member in the door would have to raid the fairies for extra leg bones.
It wasn't a serious threat, but Bob jogged down the long hallway just the same – Reece always came up with something for the last person to arrive. There were only a handful of people still in the hall this close to eight, and they were hurrying as well – Bob passed a werewolf, slowed by his fur as well as the padding issued to everyone with their costume, and was passed in turn by a pair of village merchants before he reached the skeleton crew's meeting room.
Bob opened the door and stopped; the crew was already grouped by location, and the clock read a minute after eight. Reese looked up and pointed him to the below deck group without saying anything.
“Cutting it close,” Janice whispered as Bob took his place beside her. He started to reply, but the door opened again.
“Andy! So glad you've volunteered to be my assistant today,” Reece announced.
“Sorry,” Andy replied. “Someone switched our knucklebones for the fairy dice. Took me forever to find some.”
Reece waved a hand. “Nevermind; we're all here now. Skeleton crew, let's go!” Andy turned and led the way out; being Reece's assistant meant he'd be first in every line except the one for lunch. “Below decks, first up! Everyone else, behind them!”
Bob joined the ragged line jogging behind Andy, patting his pockets as he went. He hadn't looked at the bag he'd pulled out of the knucklebones box – he'd just grabbed it and left, worried about being late. But Andy'd been right behind him – when had the dice gotten switched?
“Stairs,” Janice hissed, and Bob looked up just in time to keep himself from stumbling.
“Thanks,” he whispered back, and they went up single-file, following Andy through the “back door” of a fisherman's hut and across the pier to their ship. Bob finally managed to find the pocket he'd shoved the knucklebones into when they stopped for Andy to open the hatch.
“You're supposed to take the plastic off,” Janice whispered, as Bob stared at the glittery brown cubes in their plastic bag.
“Fairy dice,” Bob hissed back. Janice reached over to take the package, holding them up.
“What are you going to do?”
“He'll have to switch them out,” Reece replied, over their shoulders. Bob jumped, and was gratified to see that Janice looked equally startled. “When I call in to let them know we're in place, I'll ask someone on the shark team to grab a set of knucklebones. Trade places with Casey by the rail – if the sharks get here before the customers do, they can throw them to you. Otherwise you'll have to jump overboard.”
“Thanks,” Bob replied, but Reece was already moving towards the captain's cabin.
“Skeleton crew, final checks, and then we're go! Remember they can hear us before we can see them, so make it look and sound real.”
Bob took his place by the rail and ran through a quick check of all his padding, then double-checked everyone nearby for anything visibly loose. They'd just reached for the skeleton lines – ropes run through enough rigging to look real, although they didn't move anything important – when a cheer went up from the shore and a handful of customers came hurrying into view.
“Skipped the fairy adventure,” someone muttered, and Reece hissed at them before shouting the signal.
“Avast, ye landlubbers!”
Bob drew his sword almost in unison with the rest of the crew, and the below decks skeletons began swarming back up through the hatches. The customers ran to meet them, pounding up the gangplank and swinging their own swords. Bob ducked one and parried another before connecting with one of their padded tunics and hearing the small beep that registered a successful hit.
Splashing from below and a soft mechanical humming indicated the arrival of the sharks, and Bob stepped back, letting another skeleton take his place. More customers were finding their way onto the pier, and Bob noticed the distinctive white shirts of management among them. He stepped forward again, ducked a wild swing, and carefully let the next strike through, right on the thick padding of his arm.
The suit beeped – a normal hit – and Bob stumbled backwards, flailed as artistically as possible, took a deep breath, and toppled over the rail. Management, he hoped, couldn't tell what kind of hit he'd taken from the pier – and they'd been told to do something spectacular every time the suit announced a critical hit. “Make it memorable,” Reece had said.
Bob scrambled to his feet, splashing the waist-high water everywhere, and checked to be sure he still had his sword. Something bumped his leg, and he felt a plastic bag being shoved into his hand.
He looked down to see a metal shark and its occupant, peering at him through thick swim goggles. “Ladder's beside the pier.”
“Thanks,” he whispered back, and started splashing his way over to it. It wasn't far – which was good, since his padding was starting to take on water – and he could see customers clustering around the top of the ladder, probably waiting to be the one to take him out. That was fine with Bob – he'd get to sit in the breakroom until the next round of customers came through. Two, maybe three hits and he could go dry out.
To his surprise, the suit chimed a critical hit for the first customer who swung at him, along with the cracking sound that was apparently the best that the sound department could do for a skeleton's demise.
“That means it's dead,” another customer announced, and Bob solemnly produced the knucklebones and all three leg bones and handed them over.
He was halfway to the breakroom before he remembered he was supposed to have taken the plastic off.