I worked for a reality show. Okay, it was more like a web series or YouTube channel. We didn’t make much money off it. Our viewership was small but loyal. I don’t know, I guess it was fun. We traveled a lot. We got to drink on set. I even met my boyfriend on the show. And with only three of us, we were a very productive, tight group. Think Bar Rescue without the histrionics and Ghost Adventures without the bullshit. We were Hilda’s Haunted Happy Hour.
We operated on a simple but cool concept. We go to haunted bars, and with the owner’s permission, sit around at three A.M. (the “witching hour”) and drink like fish while trying to capture paranormal shit. Of course, the owner tells us all the legends and stories about the place. But yeah, we’re mostly there to get drunk. After all, the owners can’t complain. They get free exposure and we get free drinks!
The crew consisted of me, our host Hilda, and my boyfriend Jason. We were all three horror enthusiasts. Maybe alcoholics as well… but yeah, I enjoyed getting drunk and scared. Who wouldn’t?
And Jason. What more can I say? For us, it was awkward love at first sight. Two late-20s hipsters in search of our big break into filmmaking. Crew gigs, directing, whatever. We wanted to live and breathe cinema. And hopefully, Hilda was our first step.
At the very least, I loved Jason in all his grungy glory. His cute smile and sense of humor melted me from the start. As did his horrific wardrobe. Ripped jeans, bland hoodies. A beanie that never seemed to leave his long hair. Yeah, he was strange. And destined for directing… just like me.
I didn’t dress any better. And yes, I wore a beanie over my cropped red hair. We both smoked. And drank. We were two neurotic night owls. For months now, we’d been talking about writing our autobiographical dramedy. Made For Mumblecore: How Jason Met Alice. We’d even started setting aside money from our Haunted Happy Hour pay for this microbudget production. I was gonna write and co-direct it with Jason.
The only problem was Hilda. She was simultaneously our biggest champion and detriment. Our shoots were long. And they never ended. Hilda didn’t believe in taking breaks or a hiatus. Then again, she was in her early-forties, so maybe she thought her shot at stardom was shrinking while ours was just getting started.
She was a theatrically trained actress after all. Hilda Harker. I believe she was from New York before migrating to Atlanta. Her IMDb was okay… lots of soaps and commercials. Nothing special. I will say her look was unique though. Like a Hispanic Marlene Dietrich. Her boobs about as fake as her name. But hey, they were eye-grabbing! Just like her screen presence.
To be honest, I was never sure how Hilda had stooped this low to be doing YouTube shit. I mean in the grand scheme of talented actors and actresses (which Hilda was for sure), doing these low-budget shows was maybe one step above prostitution/stripping. And Hilda could be quite charming… I mean she could charm anyone. Both genders, for that matter. And yes, for the record, she did try to seduce me and Jason on separate occasions. And once we’d started dating, she even proposed a threesome. We politely declined. Like I said, Hilda was Dietrich-esque.
For whatever reason, whether it was racism or sexism, Hilda had just never quite made it. And for me and Jason, well, that turned out to be a blessing. After all, without Hilda’s failures, she never would’ve posted that desperate Craigslist ad. And then me and him would’ve never been brought along for this wild ride.
So even with the measly pay we got from Hilda and the show’s revenue, we trooped on. I’m talking multiple shows a week, all across the southeast.
On this tight budget, travel arrangements also sucked. We all had to ride around in Hilda’s tiny Toyota. Yeah, not even a Goddamn bus or van. I wouldn’t say our filmmaking quality was the best either… but hey, we kept it fun. Together, we all had the warm camaraderie of a jovial podcast.
I imagine you’re probably wondering if we ever experienced any true paranormal activity while getting plastered? I mean we did, but it was never anything flashy really. Unlike all the other ghost shows, we never faked anything. Regardless of how much Hilda or some of the bar owners wanted to, my goal was to keep us as authentic as possible. After all, my goal wasn’t to attract idiots. There were plenty of shows that catered to the bored housewives and drunk college kids who loved the silly dramatics and fake spirits.
But we wanted to cater to the sincere paranormal enthusiasts! The real ones. That was my goal for Haunted Happy Hourfrom the start. And as a result, our fanbase only grew and became more loyal with each episode.
All that being said, we did actually capture some honest-to-goodness paranormal footage. You know, like doors slamming. Creepy voices and groans. Glasses falling off the table. Orbs. The cool subtle shit that will still give you chills.
Our first-ever Halloween episode had been a rousing success, so naturally, Hilda wasn’t looking to slow down. Not when we had momentum. Over the next few weeks, as we explored other bars without incident, she demanded we do a Thanksgiving episode. The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving to be exact (I told her there was no way me and Jason were missing Black Friday shopping!).
The only problem was finding a nice location. Everyone kept shooting me what-the-fuck responses to my e-mails. Thanksgiving was one of the few times I guess they could close or half-ass it. Needless to say, no one wanted us barging in on their holiday like that.
Just a few days before our planned “Turkey Day event,” I finally got a reply from someone who actually agreed to our ridiculous proposal. Someone as desperate as us, I figured.
The Pirates’ House. Yes, the Pirates’ House was the bar’s name. A famous haunted tavern in Savannah, Georgia. All kinds of legends took place there. Murders, affairs, scandals. And not just pirates either but stories happening throughout The Civil War and Great Depression as well. In Savannah, The Pirates’ House was basically a time capsule of a bar.
And somehow, the owner Ruth Flynn had agreed to it.
That Wednesday, an excited Hilda drove us to Savannah in her reliable Toyota. We got into town pretty late that night. And after checking into a cheap motel, we made our way toward Ruth’s bar. Me with the camcorder, Jason with the boom mic, and Hilda with a huge purse full of ghost-hunting devices.
Not many people were out and about on River Street. They were all spending the heartwarming holiday with their families, I figured. And here we were spending it with ghosts and alcohol.
The cool November air swept through us like we were at sea. Keeping my arms folded against my hoodie, I felt like a shivering pirate.
The Pirates’ House was a small place tucked away on the corner. Barely noticeable amidst the sea of other tourist traps and dive bars. If not for history, you’d think this place would’ve gone under decades, if not centuries ago.
Nothing special was on the outside other than old, moldy bricks and a swinging sign bearing the bar’s name. A sign complete with bold letters and bereft of any cartoony pirates. You know, like the kind of friendly caricatures you’d expect to see at a fucking place called The Pirates’ House. Such a stark design screamed No Tourists Welcome. However, I figured maybe the bar’s modest appearance was the point. There were no pretensions for these kinds of places back in the eighteenth century. People came here to drink, brawl, and fuck. Not “enjoy the atmosphere” like now. Certainly, not for overpriced beer and trivia night.
The front door was open just a crack when we got there. Ruth must’ve been expecting us.
“Should we just walk in?” a nervous Jason asked.
Chuckling, Hilda led the way. “No shit…”
We hadn’t even talked to Ruth on the phone. Hell, we weren’t even sure what she looked like. But Hilda didn’t care. She never did when it came to getting the show done.
The Pirates’ House interior was more of the same ugly rawness. I guess you could call it period detail. To me, it looked more like period cheapness. Like clever owners who used “historical accuracy” as an excuse to let the place go to shit rather than update it. God, I could only imagine the mass profits this place cleaned up from all the tourists and college kids. The money damn sure didn’t go into how the bar looked.
Once we entered, the heavy wooden door slammed shut behind us, startling everyone except Hilda. We were now in a sea of blackness save for a few stray candles and lanterns.
Like a real pirate ship, a fucking draft permeated through the room. It was gonna be hard as Hell to find a cold spot when the entire bar felt like a walk-in freezer. At least I knew the beer would be cold.
Uneasy, I studied the bar. The building was tiny. A couple of bathrooms were near the bar. I saw a curtain in the very back that I figured led to the kitchen.
Tables were scattered about, but space was at a premium. The bar counter dominated most of the main room we were in. Its wood pristine and strong like a ship’s hull. Handcrafted stools lined up all down the counter. And of course, there were alcohol and goblets galore right behind the bar. I’d never seen so much rum in my life…
With each step, the wooden floorboards creaked beneath my feet. Agonizing groans like the painful cries of an anguished old man in the middle of the night.
Considering the abundance of Jolly Roger flags, I could tell this joint took the pirate theme pretty seriously. The tables were positioned on top of treasure chests for Christ’s sake. In the corner, you could even take a picture on a crow’s nest. Surrounding us, sharp swords hung on all the walls.
The Pirates’ House presented us with a grimier, more realistic nautical attraction. A bar with the grittiness of Blackbeard without the flamboyance of Jack Sparrow.
“Looks good,” Hilda said for the camera.
“Ah! Ahoy, there, maties!” a booming voice echoed toward us. The raspy tone felt forced. Too soft and cheerful to be intimidating.
Startled, we all turned to see an older lady emerge from behind the curtain. She looked 60-65. Tall with broad shoulders. But a sweet face. Her big, beaming smile of pearly whites greeted us.
Less intimidating than her tone was the ridiculous costume she wore. Even in the dim lighting, it looked silly. The puffy shirt. The red vest. The tall black hat. The sword attached to her belt. And yes… the fake parrot on her shoulder.
For a second, I considered walking out. With that wide smile, Captain Ruth looked like an escaped inmate who’d had too much fun at the costume shop.
Displaying her fake smile, Hilda approached Ruth. “Hello. You must be Ruth.”
Ruth stuck out a hand. “Ruth Flynn.”
Even from where I stood, I could see the calluses and scars on Ruth’s craggy hand. Either battle-scarred from manning a pirate ship or a bar.
Hilda completed the exchange, her groomed hand the polar opposite of Ruth’s.
“Oh yes,” Hilda said to Ruth. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Like a showman, Ruth motioned around the bar. “Welcome to The Pirates’ House, scoundrels!” she barked in that awful pirate impersonation.
“Nice!” Jason quipped. “Is that your usual voice for this?”
Ruth chuckled. “I only use it for the introductions,” she said in a kind tone. Her natural voice, I assumed. Like a sociable Southern Belle.
She waved at her costume. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years now! The kids love it.”
“I bet,” Hilda said.
Holding the camera, I secured a close-up of Ruth. And the parrot. “Does everyone here dress like that?” I asked, curious.
Ruth nodded. “All my employees do.”
“Ouch!” Jason chuckled.
“I don’t mind it,” Ruth said. Gleeful, she caressed the fake parrot. Her smile never left her lips. “I like to think it’s more fun than wearing a uniform.”
I was almost disappointed she had no gold teeth.
“I quite like it,” Hilda said, faking a laugh that’d make daytime anchors cringe. “But how long has this bar been running now?”
“Well, I’d say about twenty years,” Ruth answered.
“Oh wow!” Hilda exclaimed.
“Yes. All the previous owners didn’t seem to care much about the history here. I mean The Pirates’ House has been in Savannah since the Revolutionary War! There’s so much culture. And I just wanted to make it so much more authentic. That’s why we wear the pirate outfits! We make it feel like a real treasure island.”
“Well, you certainly did that,” Hilda said to Ruth.
I pointed Ruth over toward the swords. “So did you do all this yourself?”
Excited, Ruth looked over at all the weapons. I saw reverence in her eyes.
“Oh yes!” Ruth answered. She faced me. “I just had to inject the history here!” Her Southern accent was like a methodical melody. Very pretty yet slow. Even melodramatic. She had strength in those AARP lungs. “We need pride here at The Pirates’ House.” She waved a hand toward the swords. “I had Bradley help me put them up.”
“Bradley?” Hilda asked. “Is he here right now?”
Giggling, Ruth caressed Hilda’s shoulder. “Oh no, he’s my son. He helps out when he can.” She looked at the camera. “Of course, he can’t really help with the drinks.” Like Hilda, she had screen presence. Only rather than possessing Hilda’s glamorous sex bomb appeal, Ruth had aged good looks and Southern charm. Like a Scarlett O’Hara who wore her age with pride. “But the boy loves pirates. I even gave him a costume to wear.”
I chuckled. “That’s cute.”
Hilda motioned Ruth toward the bar. “Shall we start the show?”
And like that, we carried on with Hilda’s Haunted Happy Hour. There we were at the bar. Hilda and Ruth behind the counter. Me and Jason on the stools.
Given the candles and lanterns, this was an intimate setting for our show. Jason and I didn’t even need to “manufacture” any atmosphere. No need for our strobe lights or fog machines. The swords and pirate shit made it creepy enough. Much less Ruth’s outfit.
And all the while, we were riveted by Ruth’s every word. She was a natural-born Southern storyteller. Her tales of The Pirates’ House’s legendary past captivated us. Everyone from Blackbeard to Stonewall Jackson had had a drink here. Maybe it was bullshit… I don’t know. But I’ll be damned if Ruth’s sincerity didn’t sell it.
Her pirate outfit made it all the more surreal too. I felt either like a kid listening to a pirate mascot at an amusement park… or like I really was on a pirate ship. A ship where I’d been captured and forced to listen to the grave tales of the most grizzled pirate on board. A tough female pirate at that.
Out of all the legends and myths though, the one Ruth harped on the most was also the most terrifying. Not Blackbeard or Captain Kidd. He was a man I’d never heard of. “A tall, brooding scoundrel” as Ruth had said in that cheesy pirate voice.
But not even her hammy tone could mar the terror of Bruce Joad. He was a pirate who terrorized the Georgia coast. Specifically Tybee Island. I had no idea if Ruth was being honest about the decapitations, treachery, and cannibalism of this man’s lore. Maybe Joad’s eyepatch and peg leg were all part of the sensationalism… I don’t know. I sure hoped it was.
Instead, all I knew was that Joad and his crew sailed the Georgia coast around the 1780s. He tormented all those they found on stray boats or on shore in a bloody reign of terror that went on for far too long.
While the dark-haired Joad killed man and woman… he saved his worst for the children. See, Joad wasn’t one for Enlightenment thinking. Too him, immortal youth was possible. But only by consuming it. He took you are what you eatliterally. And so he beheaded and ate every child he captured.
No, this wasn’t walking the plank. Or a sword fight. Or any other romanticized visual of pirate swashbuckling. This was fucking brutal cannibalism. And even in Ruth’s gentle Southern accent, I was beyond horrified by the account. She didn’t spare us any of the details either… Joad and his men dismembered the children after decapitating them. And they ate them down to the bone. Sometimes raw. Sometimes cooked. It didn’t matter. Babies, infants, preteens. The only cut off point seemed to be at around eighteen…
I was glad to hear when Bruce Joad got his comeuppance in Savannah. I was less than enthused though when Ruth told us it was in this very bar. During a card game gone awry, a barfight had erupted. And Bruce Joad got his throat slit ear to ear.
I could only imagine Joad suffering his fate right where I sat at that very moment. The fact that Ruth said Bruce Joad still haunts The Pirates’ House to this very day only unsettled me even further. And judging by Jason’s lack of jokes, it freaked him the fuck out too. For once, even Hilda stayed out of the way. She just let Ruth Flynn take over… and by God, she did.
Of course, during the horror stories, we drank a shitload of booze. Lots and lots of booze served to us in glorious pirate-era goblets.
Ruth made us her most famous concoctions. Not just bloody Marys either. I mean all kinds of bizarre mixes. And a shit ton of rum.
Even I gave the rum a try… and yeah, it was too strong. I felt nauseous just sniffing it. At least, Ruth was kind enough to offer me a few Bud Lights.
Around two A.M., we started getting into the bar’s modern history.
Jason shivered next to me. I wrapped my arm around him… both out of affection and to keep us warm.
“Well, so how do you and Bradley deal with these hauntings?” Hilda asked, her hands flying around in drunken excitement. “I mean with such a horrible history, God. I can only imagine how scared you two must be running this place.”
“Yes,” Ruth said. Solemn spirits replacing her enthusiasm, she swirled the rum around in her goblet. “Bradley died two years ago.”
“Oh my God…” Hilda said.
Stunned into silence, me and James watched Ruth. The mood of the entire bar shifted from campfire chills to sympathetic sadness.
Struggling to restrain her emotions, Ruth confronted us. The smile was gone. Even her pirate outfit had lost its goofy luster. The flamboyant costume may as well have been a black funeral garb. “Bradley helped me all those years, you know.” A weak smile crossed her lips. “I even made him wear the costume. He hated it at first, but over time, the boy loved it. Oh, he did.”
Lost in the nostalgia, Ruth gestured all around her own costume. “The eyepatch. The hat.” She let out a brief chuckle. “And a red vest like me. He looked so swell in it too. He really did.” She choked up for a moment. Her quick sip of rum comforted the nerves.
“I bet he did,” the sympathetic Hilda said.
Memories overflowing her, Ruth motioned toward her leg. “I even gave him a cane. His grandma’s old cane. Pure maple wood it was. I told him to use it as a peg leg, and he did! I could always hear Bradley stumbling around in the kitchen with it.” Her warm laugh brought a welcome end to the tension.
All of us joined in on the laughter.
“I had him scare the rowdier customers,” Ruth went on. “You see, everyone knew how haunted The Pirates’ House was. And everyone knew about Bruce Joad! They was all so scared of his evil spirit. So around closing time when we had some stragglers and drunks all getting rowdy, well, I had Bradley stay in the shadows.”
Grinning, Hilda raised her glass. “Oh, I get it!”
Hilda took a long swig.
“Bradley would scare the bejesus out of those boys and girls!” Ruth went on. “He’d scare them so bad, they’d never come back!” Letting out an amused cackle, she pointed toward the curtain. “They’d hear that peg leg coming from in there and they’d run the Hell out before I could even tell them to go!”
Ruth’s accent sounded stronger than ever. The genteel Southern tone had become more confident. More boisterous. Then again, maybe the rum was talking.
Her movements clumsy with drunkenness, Hilda leaned in closer toward Ruth. “But you’ve actually seen things here, right? Like real spirits?”
Ruth gave us a confident smirk.
“That’s what we all wanna know,” Jason added.
“Oh yes,” Ruth said. “Many spirits.”
“Like Bruce Joad?” Hilda inquired.
Ruth nodded. She raised the goblet to her lips. “Among many others.” She took a quick sip of the precious booze.
I could tell her eyes were alive with passion. The rum had awakened many emotions within her. Fiery emotions.
“So Bruce Joad’s ghost does haunt this bar?” Hilda said.
The thought freaked me out. Scared, I felt like my hands were frozen to the fucking camera.
“Yes,” Ruth answered. “Every single night.”
“Wow!” Hilda responded. She stood up and got ready to go toward the back curtain. “Maybe you can give us a tour of the back-”
With startling quickness, Ruth snatched Hilda’s wrist. “No!” Ruth replied. Her tone had lost its warmth. Instead, it sounded harsh. Hellbent even.
Uneasy, Hilda tried to pull away from Ruth’s tight grasp. For someone so old, Hilda had strength. What kinda muscles was the costume hiding?
“Well, it’s just part of the show,” Hilda stammered. “You give us a tour-”
Ruth’s grip tightened, making Hilda cringe with pain.
“I want my son,” Ruth demanded.
With those cold words, several candle flames flickered out. As if Ruth’s harsh accent had quashed them. Now we were in an even darker pirate ship.’
“He comes to see me at night,” Ruth continued. “He comes here at night!”
Terrified, all three of us stared at her. Even Hilda was fucking speechless.
“He died here,” Ruth said, anguished. “My Bradley died in this bar. And he’s never left… he comes to see me. He talks to me.”
Hilda stared at her, uneasy. “Ruth, I don’t understand.”
“Bradley comes back!” Ruth yelled. Her eyes had a sharp focus. Just like her voice. “He comes to see me!”
“Holy shit…” I heard Jason say.
Ruth snatched Hilda’s shoulder. “I know he’ll show with y’all here. He likes guests! He always does!”
Me and Hilda exchanged uneasy eye contact. Hilda was used to being the one pushing for ghosts. Now we were in uncharted territory.
“I just want y’all to stay here with me!” Ruth went on. “Until Bradley comes here.”
Silent, Hilda looked right into her desperate eyes.
“Please!” Ruth begged. “Please stay with me!”
Before Hilda could say anything, I leaned in a little closer.
“But what about Bruce Joad?” I asked, doing my best to keep my voice steady. “What if he shows up instead?”
Ruth turned her focused gaze toward me. “Sometimes he does.” Letting go of Hilda, she looked at the host. “But I don’t want to be alone if he does.”
We gave in to Ruth’s demands. We stayed in the bar and drank but there wasn’t much talk… Soon, 2:30 turned to 2:45. Three A.M. got closer and closer. According to Ruth, three A.M. was usually closing time. And it was usually when The Pirates’ House’s spirits came alive.
During the wait, me and Hilda had fiddled with some of her equipment. The heat thermometer didn’t really matter. How do you get chill spots when the entire bar is freezing? We saw nothing on the infrared camera either. All in all, we just had Ruth’s word that the place was haunted. But I was convinced…
I drank more beer while everyone else downed more rum. Our eyes strayed up to a pirate clock. Suspense mounted with each passing second. Finally, three A.M. was upon us. We’d hit the witching hour.
Hilda finished her rum like a pro. “Well, it’s time, boys and girls.”
Confident, Ruth gave us a smug smile. “Yes, it is.”
I felt a breeze whip through the room. Even with the windows all closed, the breeze felt like it was coming off the ocean. The sheer force sent me shivers.
And soon, the breeze sent all the candles out in one quick burst. Now our ship had gotten darker.
“Oh fuck!” Jason yelled.
“Just remain calm,” Hilda said.
“Fuck that!” Jason retorted.
Ruth’s adamant shush silenced them both.
Intense, Ruth pointed us toward the curtain. “Do you hear that!”
We listened. And instantly, I wish I hadn’t. But then again, I’d have heard that chilling noise at some point.
Echoing from the back room was a slow, steady pounding on the wooden floor. Like an incessant rhythm, the hits sounded louder. Closer. More ferocious with each hit. And they were steadier than a ticking clock. Stronger than the thud of a heavy foot… or a wooden foot. Stronger than a peg leg.
“Jesus Christ…” Hilda muttered.
“Listen!” Ruth commanded us.
Making the floorboard groan upon impact, the thuds got closer and closer to the curtain. Then they stopped. Silence engulfed the darkness.
We were alone at the bar. Too scared to say anything. Almost too scared to breathe.
Jason glared at Ruth. “If this is some kind of joke-”
My Bud Light exploded! Not in a spontaneous explosion but with the force of someone squeezing it in a burst of rage.
Shattered glass flew everywhere. Beer flowed all down the counter like flowing blood.
Frightened, everyone staggered back. I heard Jason drop the boom mic as his stool scraped across the floor in a most agonizing screech.
Scared, I looked over at Ruth. “What the Hell was that!”
“It’s Bradley,” Ruth said in her soft Southern accent. She gave us a sly smile. “He’s coming.”
I could see how calm Ruth was. She was used to this… activity. She even looked happy. Like a kid hearing the ice cream truck coming back after a long delay.
Then we heard the thuds once more. The consistent bangs of a peg leg on to the wooden floor forced more booming creaks.
Me, Hilda, and Jason faced the curtain in fear. The thuds were coming from right behind it.
Ruth flashed a beaming grin. “I know that’s my boy!”
A harsh wind brushed against the curtain.
Even in the cold bar, I felt beads of sweat slide down my head. I could feel myself tremble. I felt nothing but fear.
“It’s Bradley!” Ruth proclaimed.
Hilda looked at Ruth. “How do you know?”
A guttural groan echoed toward us. A groan of anger. Of wrath.
To our horror, we turned to see a tall man emerge through the curtain. In lumbering steps, he made his way toward the bar. All the while, the steady thuds smashed into the floorboards.
I heard Jason yell in fright.
Amdist the darkness, the figure approached us. He was propped up by a wooden leg. His black hair masked by a tall black hat.
“Bradley!” Ruth cried.
I looked at Ruth and saw her calm, comforted expression. Her warm eyes looked right at the mysterious man. She wasn’t scared in the slightest. She was relieved.
“Bradley, baby,” Ruth went on.
The man stood about ten feet away. He leaned on his wooden leg. In the darkness, one of his arms looked long and slender like a tree branch sticking out. But I knew better. The glistening silver in the light made it clear he was holding a long sword. A long, sharp antique sword. One fitting for the most fearsome pirates of the seven seas.
Excited, Ruth stepped toward the armed man. “Come here to mama, Bradley.”
“Ruth!” Hilda yelled.
Turning, Ruth smiled at us. “It’s okay. It’s just Bradley!”
I watched the man raise the sword. I couldn’t let the sweet old lady run to him… the equivalent of letting an innocent puppy run straight into an oncoming semi.
Panicking, I ran toward her. “Ruth!”
“No!” I heard Jason scream. “Alice!”
I heard Jason and Hilda’s scared footsteps crush the creaking floorboard as they followed me all the way to Ruth.
Ruth caressed the man’s face. “Hey there, Bradley.”
“That’s not Bradley!” I yelled at Ruth.
Going off adrenaline, I pushed her away from the tall man. “Get away from him! That’s Bruce Joad!”
Up closer, I could make out the man’s features. The eyepatch. The old blood stains on the sword. The red vest. His costume was cartoony like Ruth’s… all it was missing was that fakeass parrot.
The man’s face was pale and blank. He looked young. Innocent except for that harsh glowering eye. The Joad eye.
“What are you talking about!” Ruth yelled at me.
I faced her. Ruth’s face was irate. All her Southern manners decimated by Southern anger. She looked like the pissed-off mama she was.
“Leave my son alone!” she hurled at me.
Jason grabbed Ruth’s arm. “That’s not a little boy, lady!”
Outraged, Ruth yanked her arm back. “What are you talking about! That’s my Bradley!”
My eyes gazed down to the man’s peg leg.
Ruth cackled with maniacal glee. “Don’t you think I know my own son!”
Hilda stopped right behind me. “Come on, let’s go!”
As she followed my gaze, Hilda’s terrified voice died in an instant.
“That’s Goddamn Bruce Joad!” I heard Jason yell at Ruth.
But he was wrong. And Ruth was right. Bruce Joad had a real peg leg. He wouldn’t be leaning on a wooden cane. Not the cane Ruth gave to her son many years ago.
Horror latched itself onto me. Even wearing what I now realized was a skin-tight costume, Bradley wasn’t a little boy any longer. He was a living, breathing grown man. And he’d been in this bar the whole Goddamn time.
“Hey, lady, come on!” the oblivious Jason continued with Ruth.
Turning, I made eye contact with Ruth.
She gave me a cold, knowing smile. “Get them, son!” she commanded Bradley. “Get these scoundrels now!”
“Oh fuck!” Jason cried.
Jason looked right into my fearful eyes. Then he saw the cane the man had. Bradley’s cane.
“Kill ’em all!” Ruth hollered with sadistic satisfaction.
With the quickness of youth, Bradley raised the sword. His movements so swift and fast.
Terrified, I faced Ruth’s son. He was pulsating with life. No blood stains were on him. No wounds. He was alive. A twenty-something monster.
“Alice!” Hilda cried.
Bradley lowered the blade straight toward my vulnerable skull.
I felt a strong shove push me into Hilda’s worried arms.
The crushing sound of blade striking flesh disturbed me. Like the sound of a crushed skull or the unsettling final gasp of someone’s dying breath.
Me and Hilda looked on at the sword sticking out the top of Jason’s head. The same Jason who’d been so chickenshit the whole night. Yet this same man was the boyfriend who’d just saved me by sacrificing himself.
The sword stuck out of Jason’s head like a grotesqute antenna. Blood flowed down all his face and body. Thankfully, he was too weak with fleeting life to turn around. I didn’t wanna look into his fading eyes… I couldn’t.
“Finish them, boy!” Ruth yelled at Bradley. She reached over and slapped him. “Punish the vermin! Do it for us! For The Pirates’ House!”
Petrified in fear, I stared on at Jason as he still stood upright.
Bradley’s exposed eye marked me like his sword’s blade.
Tears slid down my face. “No…” I said.
One harsh yank and Bradley pulled the sword straight out of Jason’s skull.
Blood shot out the top of Jason’s head like a gruesome volcano.
“It’s our family business!” Ruth reminded Bradley. “Protect it!”
Jason’s corpse hit the hard floor. The floorboards let out a vicious creak upon impact. Like spilled drinks, red blood poured from Jason’s fatal wound in a thick river.
“I’m sorry!” Hilda told me. “Alice, let’s go, please!”
I felt her tug my arm. But I couldn’t move. To this day, I still don’t know how I held onto the camera. I felt life fleeing me without so much suffering a cut or a bruise. Without enduring the wrath of Bradley’s sword.
“Pillage them!” Ruth screamed.
At his mama’s command, Bradley raised the long sword and marched toward us.
His cane splashed all through Jason’s blood. But not even the red puddle could stop the thuds from torturing us like a suffocating soundtrack.
All the while, Bradley just got closer and closer. His steps more determined and frenetic than ever.
“Goddammit, Alice, run!” I heard Hilda yell into my ear.
And then using all her might, Hilda pulled me toward The Pirates’ House’s front door. She pulled hard. Like a panicking horse dragging an empty stagecoach.
Snapping out of my melancholy, I turned and saw Hilda lead us closer to the door. I then matched her intense speed. And panic.
“Loot them!” I heard Ruth scream.
Right as Hilda shoved the door open, I turned and stole a look back.
Now Bradley was running! Saddled by a cane and a child’s costume, he was still fucking fast. He wasn’t feigning the peg leg any longer either. He had no reason to play Bruce Joad. He was Bradley Flynn. Madman at his mama’s command.
I could hear his intense breathing echo through the cold room. And I damn sure saw that glowering eye focus on me.
Bradley let out a vicious cry. Not an “Aargh.” Just that same guttural groan he unleashed earlier. The growl of a disturbed pirate.
Terrified, me and Hilda rushed out into the November night. Even in sub-50-degree weather, it felt like a Summer day compared to the drafty pirate ship we’d just abandoned.
The sidewalks were empty. Right now was a dead time for tourists. Three A.M., Thanksgiving morning. Just our luck…
Bradley’s cries erupted through the silent streets. The deafening tap of his cane now smashed onto concrete rather than wooden floorboards.
Trembling with fear, I turned to see him rush after us.
“Go!” Hilda screamed at me. “Run!”
Clinging to my hand, she led us past all the closed bars and gift shops. I’d never seen Hilda run so fast before. Then again, she stayed in good shape for the camera.
Bradley’s yells and taps began to fade off into the distance.
I glanced back one last time. Bradley remained right outside The Pirates’ House’s front entrance. Like a deranged pirate mascot brought to horrifying life. Apparently, he didn’t wanna leave his mama all by herself.
The further me and Hilda got from The Pirates’ House, the more this horrifying reality set in. How long had Ruth been keeping her supposedly dead son back there? Why had she lied to us about him? And why did she make him keep wearing that fucking costume?
Ten minutes later, we finally got to the police. They didn’t take us serious, but what else did they have to do on Thanksgiving morning? I handed them my camera. Then we led them right to that fucking bar.
As soon as we got there, I knew something was off. There was twenty-first century consumerism written all over the place. From the pirate caricatures on the swinging sign to the giant turkey decorating a window. You can’t sell out in less than thirty minutes, I realized. It’s not possible.
And the doors were locked. The police refused to break it down, so we had to call the owner.
She arrived soon enough. Half-asleep and grumpy. But she wasn’t Ruth. Hell, she was half Ruth’s age. And the bitch wasn’t even Southern. A New York transplant just like Hilda. She said she never responded to our e-mail. And she said she damn sure would’ve never let us come on Thanksgiving.
Nonetheless, we convinced the owner to let us inside. And well, things got even weirder. Gone was Hilda’s ghost-hunting equipment. Gone were our drinks. And gone was Jason’s corpse.
In fact, no blood was anywhere. No sign of any crimes. And no sign of the violent mother/son duo we’d just encountered.
Rather than a pirate ship, we were on a spaceship! Speakers, flatscreens, and even a pirate video game were inside. No candles or lanterns. No sword display. Only a few Jolly Rogers. Even the crow’s nest was gone. We were back in 2018 again. We may as well have been in a Buffalo Wild Wings rather than one of the oldest taverns in the southeast.
Needles to say, the police found nothing in the back room. Or in the kitchen. They just said we were too drunk to know what the Hell we were talking about.
Desperate, me and Hilda did all we could to get the police to keep investigating. They said they’d take a look at my footage and that was it. And to this day, I still haven’t heard back from them.
After the cops left, me and Hilda lingered around with the owner. It turns out she wasn’t a bitch like I’d thought. Just not a morning person… She even gave us a couple of drinks on the house. However, we politely declined the rum.
And there in the darkness, at six A.M. on Thanksgiving morning, the three of us chatted like old friends. Without the camera and sound worries, it was kinda nice to just have a normal conversation in a bar. There was no need to press for stories or lore. No need to get scared or hope for a ghost to appear. Just three gals talking in The Pirates’ House. There was something romantic about it all… the talk sort of caught that camaraderie that made Hilda’s Haunted Happy Hour fun in the first place.
Soon, the owner wanted to tell us something in secret. She even leaned in closer to share it in a voice softer than Ruth’s. A notch above a whisper.
There in the darkness, she told us the scariest story we’d heard yet. Not so much a legend as one of Savannah’s many dark secrets. The story of The Pirates’ House’s owners back in the 1940s: a single mother and her young son. Ruth and
Bradley Flynn. They ran the bar themselves. And yes, they both dressed as pirates. And as the boy grew older, Ruth still forced him to wear that outfit. The eyepatch, the wooden cane, everything. Worst of all, rather than just scare away their straggler customers, the mother and son got addicted to killing. And their easiest targets came around closing time. Around three A.M.
Whoever was left at The Pirates’ House during the witching hour was never seen again. That much is true.
“What happened to them?” I asked the owner. My nervous hands gripped my longneck. I shivered in the dark room… and it wasn’t just from the cold beer either. “What happened to the Flynns?”
“They were caught, but the public never knew everything,” the owner told us.
“Tourism.” The owner smiled. “This was the 1940s, you know. Ghost tours weren’t an industry then.”
“And so now we’re never supposed to tell anyone?” an incredulous Hilda asked.
The owner took a shot. “Well. You can.” She slammed the glass down like a gavel. “But who’s gonna believe you?”
Me and Hilda exchanged nervous looks. Helpless looks.
“The police didn’t,” the owner went on, her tone sly yet morbid. “You actually think they’re gonna give you those tapes back?”
And the owner had a point. The booze and her candid comfort were just a temporary distraction from the anguished pain I felt within. The pain I felt over Jason.
I quit the show the very next day. If you wanna call it quitting. Hilda had no interest in continuing either. Nobody would.
And we never got my camera back. The Thanksgiving special never happened. And to this day, our Pirates’ House footage has never been released.
But I still think about Jason. Quite often actually. And every time I do, I bawl like a scared child. He deserved a better fate… and I still refuse to let him die in vain.
That’s why I’m telling you now who his real killers were. And where they can be found. And how if you ever want a drink in Savannah, Georgia, whether you’re a beer drinker like me or someone who likes the harder stuff, avoid The Pirates’ House at all cost. Especially around three A.M. And especially if you’re greeted by a friendly old Southern woman wearing a pirate costume.