Theodore backed away from the bones. They were surrounded by the sealed caskets and vaults of the ancient generals and tribe leaders. Did someone desecrate the tomb? The bones looked too clean to be a recent kill but it was possible the meat was stripped and eaten.
A bone twitched. Theodore jumped. Confused, he leaned closer and saw the bones begin to shake and clatter.
“What is going on?!” Theodore said.
A mass of bones shot across the floor stuck together. They lurched into the air and assembled into a full skeleton standing upright.
“Crap!” The skeleton shrieked in a shrill man’s voice. “A visitor!!” He kicked wildly at the other bones on the floor. “Wake up! WAKE UP! Guys! A human’s here! A human’s come to visit!!”
The other bones fit together with reluctance. A stockier set of bones let out a big yawn.
“I’m up, I’m up…” he said.
The third was tall and was missing half its skull. “This had better be important, Burt!” She said. “I can never get back to sleep once I’ve woke!”
“A human!” Burt thrust both arms at Theodore. “A real live human’s come to visit!”
The short one scratched its hip bone. “So?”
“What do you mean ‘So!?’” Burt clawed at his own skull. “You’re on the welcoming committee! Get to work or you’re going to get fired!!”
The short and tall skeletons muttered complaints as they rattled off into the dark. Their movements were floaty and strange, like marionettes. Theodore squinted at Burt, thinking for a moment he saw spectral tendons operating the bones.
“I am SO sorry!” Burt said. “This doesn’t normally happen, I promise! It’s just so rare that we get any visitors to…” He caught himself. “I mean, we get lots of tourists all the time! This is the hottest place to be in Laien! You’ll want to tell all your human friends about how fun it is here!” He wrung his palms, laughing. “Just wait right there and we’ll get the show ready for you!”
Burt ran off, leaving Theodore baffled.
“They seem nice,” Oboe said.
“Do you understand what’s going on?” Theodore said.
Flames erupted in the air in front of them. They floated in the air, burning green and casting a neon carnival glow down the length of the crypt hall. Theodore adjusted his glasses to examine them.
“You’re supposed to follow the lights!” Shouted a skeleton further in.
This whole situation made Theodore feel like the unwitting accessory to a comedy sketch. They proceeded against his better judgement. Strange noises came from the branching corridors, noises that did not fit the space: Hollowing winds, thunderclaps, wolf howls, and melodramatic cackling.
“Booga, Booga!” The tall skeleton leapt out from around the corner wearing a goblin mask. “Did that frighten you? There’s more to discover here than just chills and thrills.” She did not sound enthused. “We’re also home to many artisan small businesses offering unique gift ideas. You’re sure to find a bargain that’s downright SCARY.”
Theodore stared. “Are you… advertising at me?”
She retreated back down the corridor. The short skeleton leapt out at the next corner draped under a sheet.
“Witness countless historic exhibits celebrating the Great War!” He waved his arms. “One thousand years of culture all in one place!”
“RICHARD!!” Burt yelled from down the hall.
The short skeleton lifted his sheet. “What?”
“You didn’t let the wisps out!”
“I forgot,” Richard said.
“You CAN’T forget! The guests have to have the best experience possible!!”
The third skeleton slouched out in a vampire mask. “Do you want me to do it?”
“NO!!” Burt said. “Mother of Magic! I’ll do it! Both of you just stay on script!”
A flock of Will’O’Wisps swirled out from around the corner They were shimmering balls of light that bobbed and danced around them. Some perched on Richard’s head.
“Pretty!” Oboe said.
“Uh.” Richard tried to remember his line. “Hungry? Don’t forget to sample the local ghast delicacies before you leave. Our restaurants are clean with friendly staff.”
Theodore shooed the wisps away. “Okay, I’ve heard enough. Burt!” He marched ahead. “It’s Burt, isn’t it? BURT!”
Burt emerged from the shadows. He was half way in the middle of wrestling himself into a werewolf costume.
“You can stop whatever this is you’re doing,” Theodore said.
“Now hold on!” Burt was indignant. “This is an official welcome to the Hollows sponsored by the ghast Chamber of Commerce! You can’t just skip it!!”
Sighing, Theodore pointed his badge. “I’m the Ranger Deputy of the Whirlwood. I’m ordering you to terminate this performance.”
“Fine!” Burt dropped his werewolf pants to the floor. “But I hope you know that the tourism board is going to give me hell for this!”