It had been difficult to acquire the map. Obtaining it had been dangerous: it had involved a heist, a chase, and more than one tunnel. But they had the map now. That, the captain assured the crew, had been the difficult bit.
"I have here the document, safely out of my vault!" said the captain. She held the map triumphantly for her crew to see. Although contemporary with the company (it had only recently been drawn), the map was stained various shades of brown, because the ship's mate who manned the crow's nest had spilled their tea all over it. That was why the captain had decided to keep the map in her private safe. But now they were here, and the map could come in useful. "We are here!" cried the captain.
"Here on the island!" shouted the crew.
The journey had not been easy. There had been huge waves that almost seemed to pull the ship into the sky and then slap it back down onto the surface of the ocean, the crew's stomachs arriving seconds later with a jolt. There had been enemies. Fellow pirates and naval ensigns and glass-bottomed tourist boats and treasure hunters and bounty hunters and not to discount enemies on the inside too: the threat of mutiny; of low morale; of a lack of citrus fruits. The endless shanties. Acquiring patronage for the ship (the captain's reputation had fallen on hard times) and getting the ship ready to sail and navigating all the way to this island had been challenge after challenge after challenge.
"From now on," said the captain, "our job is simple."
The company stood together and looked off down the beach. The sand was a pale and soft yellow, curving around to a rocky peak at the far edge; there were cliffs and palm trees, a volcano in the middle and the gentle sounds of parrots and monkeys continuing a contented existence. The ship had been anchored off beyond the coral reef while the crew rowed ashore on a smaller boat. Now they were on the beach. The water was blue and the sky was blue and the trees were green and the sand was soft, I mentioned the softness of the sand.
The captain put her hand to her eyes, heroically, to peer into the jungle. "The path is marked clearly on the map," she said. "Our way is clear." And so the company trudged into the forest.
The first mate held the map.
"There's a skeleton pointing the way. Or there should be, it says here there is."
"There it is."
Lying beneath a palm tree was an outstretched skeleton, lying flat with a hand reaching to the left. The company followed it along a muddy path.
The ship's cook peered at the map they were holding. "How many steps was that? Right. Twenty-two more, north-northwesterly."
Lying beneath a palm tree was an outstretched skeleton.
"Not another?" said the ship's doctor.
"This is one morbid island," muttered the first mate.
But the captain went closer to it. "It's got the same markings on the skull," she said. "We've been here before."
The skeleton had an outstretched hand pointing to the left. The crew followed. The path was made of mud and their boots sank into it.
The ship's surgeon pushed vegetation out of the way with her red-and-white striped barber pole, which she was carrying with her to announce her job to anyone they bumped into who may need assistance. But she was too late to provide any care to the skeletons.
"Did you see that?"
They all looked up. Palm trees were flying across the sky in V-formation like a troupe of vacationing geese.
"What's happening?" said the quartermaster.
"Look here," said the captain.
They were in a clearing. Beneath their feet was a great X drawn in red mud.
The captain didn't have the map any more. "Where is the map? I have been keeping a tight hold on it this whole time."
The ship's cook had a spade. The gunner made the first indent into the mud.
"Hard as clay," he said.
The hole got bigger. As the boatswain dug he threw the dirt into a pile that slowly turned into a pyramid.
The first mate had the map. "Wait a minute. It says here the X should be on the other side of the volcano."
Then the volcano was there. It towered over them. It wasn't smoking, apart from the fact that it was smoking, but only slightly.
The ship's doctor kept digging. The dirt pile by the hole was growing smaller.
"The more I dig the further away from the treasure I get!" she said.
"Steady on, now —" said the captain.
"What's happening?" said the cabin boy. "Who has the map?"
"I can hear parrots," said a nearby monkey.
The hole in the ground had vanished. The red clay X remained.
An outstretched skeleton lay beneath a palm tree, its hand pointing towards them.
"Where's the surgeon?" somebody said. "He had the map."
The company split. Half waited by the X; the other half went exploring.
The exploring company moved branches and palm leaves out of the way; they could hear water and headed towards it. The trees moved out of their way, politely. Fish jumped out of the river and landed in the trees, where they swung away on the vines. Parrots watched, having nothing better to do. There was the sound of the ship's whistle on the breeze even though none of the crew were aboard.
The vegetation cleared itself to reveal a tall cliff high up the rocks with an idyllic waterfall. The lake was boiling. The water was falling upwards.
The ship's cannons fired all together. The island tore itself from the coral reef and skidded off course. The dirt fell out of the pile, by the hole, and splattered itself all over the skeletons. The skeletons moved. The treasure chest opened itself to reveal a treasure heart.
"I feel sick," said the captain. "Who has the map?"
"Didn't we agree to set sail without it?" said the coxswain.
"I thought it blew away into the water as soon as we left port?" said someone else.
The treasure was buried under the soft sand on the beach. Crabs were making their homes in the necklaces. The coral reef was made of pearls. The palm trees flew overhead.
The surgeon's spade hit rusted metal. "I've found our ship!" she said. "We can sail home!"
The crew would have cheered; but they were not there.
"Where did you go?" said the captain. Her voice echoed out across the empty cavern. The lake had dried up and the idyllic waterfall was gone. "Is this a mutiny?"
The skeletons answered.
Rose Biggin is based in London, and writes stories and plays. Her published fiction includes "A Game Proposition" in Irregularity, "The Modjeska Waltz" in The Adventures of Moriarty and "The Gunman Who Came In From The Door" in Defenestration Magazine. She has a PhD in immersive theatre and her latest performance piece is BADASS GRAMMAR: A Pole/Guitar Composition in Exploded View.