The Boneman digs through the pile of discarded children’s toys (much different than grown up toys) and discarded computers (the electronics, not the people) and discarded instruments (musical, not surgical). He knows the thing is in here somewhere.
He pulls the necklaces of assorted (possibly human) bones around his neck tight and gives them a sharp look that says “I mean business”.
“What the hell am I looking for? I know you know!” They are often vague, however, hard to understand, circular talkers. Sometimes he wishes he had clearer bones, but they are what he has and would have to do until he could find better replacements.
As he digs, his headlamp flashes over the topography of the refuse pile revealing skeletal hands (or old bagpipes) and eyes (belonging to baby dolls) and the shades of the long-dead (computer hardware). He sticks a particularly ripe doll leg into his satchel. The rubble pile parts, headless stuffed animals and snapped clarinets falling to the side, to reveal a rusty ammunition case in reasonably good condition. Is this what he is supposed to look for? Strange to find an ammo can in this part of the dump. He stands still for a moment to listen.
He shakes the bones.
He kisses the bones and feeds them a little juice from his pocket flask.
Nothing? Still nothing.
Damn bones. I’ll need new ones soon.
He pulls the ammo can free of the rest of the garbage and brushes some remaining detritus off it. He tries to open it (what’s inside what’s inside) but finds it locked with an old rusty padlock. Double damn.
He has bolt cutters that would deal with this thing in the shed. Not far to walk. Still on the dump premises. Just down the way.
The Boneman swaddles his precious find in his jacket to protect it from curious eyes watching from the dark and tucks it under his arm. The dump is especially dark tonight. Overcast skies and a new moon means it is even darker than usual (which is damn dark). His path to the shed leads him past the tower of crushed cars, the valley of broken dreams and garden tools, the dune of recycled lives, and finally to the crossroads at the amphitheater of sighs. As he gently sneaks past the amphitheater so he does not wake the sleepers, a pair of headlights pierces the night in the distance.
The bones tremble.
“What, now you’ve got something to say?”
The bones are silent.
The headlights fill the space around the Boneman with light. He panics and dives into the cab of a ruined SUV as the new car pulls into the center of the amphitheater. Settling into the cab, he discovers that he has dropped his package outside. He scrambles after it, pulling it in with him just as two men step out of the new car. He turns his headlamp off before he can be noticed.
Did they see him? No, the Boneman is fast (very fast), yes. They do not see him.
The bones murmur, but are too quiet to make out. Fresher food than his juice will help. Even if the bones don’t want a drink, the Boneman is happy to help himself. Spicy juice. A favorite of wandering spirits and shades. But not the banshees. Those ladies never want juice.
The new car, a Cadillac?, nice, idles surrounded on three sides by a wall of washing machines (dirty) and a wall of lawnmowers (without anyone to push them) and a wall of coffins (occupied). Two big men wander around the stage of the amphitheater in the dust kicked up by their car. The Boneman thinks of steam, but the night is too warm. Then he thinks about TV shows from his childhood and stew and the pretty lady with the big thighs at the soup kitchen. He likes that lady with her missing tooth and frizzy hair. He wonders what her thighs look like under those pants (always loose, always black) she wears. He imagines they are warm to sleep on, like a heated beanbag chair.
“Fuck! Fuck!” one of the men yells.
“Calm down,” says the other.
“This is so fucked!”
“I said calm down. Losing your shit isn’t helping.”
“Fuck! Ok ok ok ok ok. You’re right,” the first man says, and rubs his face. “Fuck!”
“Stop shouting. Could be someone around.”
“Here? Now? It’s the middle of the god damned night in the middle of god damned nowhere,” he says. “Watch.” He raises his hands to his mouth, a crude meat megaphone. “Hey everyone! Gene and Ray here! Waiting for our secret meeting with…”
“Enough, Gene! I get it. No one’s around,” Ray says.
“Help me with the package.” The mention of a package pulls the Boneman from his daydream about electric blankets and king sized beds and all the Sysco soup he can eat.
The bones shiver and he listens. A little louder than before, but still too quiet to understand. Maybe this is what he is supposed to be looking for? The car? No. The bones don’t care for machines (metal or otherwise). Not enough spirit, not enough anima, in them. Must be the two men or one of the two men or both of the two men. They must possess something the bones need. Dinner for the bones? New bones for the bones?
Or do the bones want the men? It has been known to happen.
Taking two grown men, even men as soft and fat and horrible as these two, would be hard for the Boneman’s frail body. But he is crafty. And he is mean. He has taken down more dangerous prey before.
The Boneman digs through his satchel for a tool, a gift?, no, a surprise to help him deal with tracksuit Gene and baseball cap Ray. He knows he must remain quiet or the men might see him, and that would ruin the element of surprise. They are big men. Soft. Disgusting. Flabby. But big. And the Boneman is keenly aware that even the softest big man can still do some damage. Carrying all that weight around requires a lot of muscle, even if those two pieces of trash wouldn’t know how to use it if their lives depended on it (they do).
He holds his breath and consults the bones.
They whisper, THE SHED THE SHED THE SHED.
What is in the shed (besides everything)? What isn’t in the shed. The shed is his treasure trove. So many wonderful things and tools and devices. A thousand different ways to do a thousand different things reside in the shed.
The one who is Ray yells at the one who is Gene. They are loud and if they are not careful they will wake the sleepers in the coffin wall. That is their problem, though. The Boneman bites his nails and remembers his ammo case and gives it a little shake. That’s right. It needs to be opened. The soft men can entertain themselves. Time to move. They can keep their package to themselves.
The Boneman delicately exits the ruined SUV, pats his goblin friend on the head, and scurries away from the amphitheater of sighs.
In the shed’s envelope of safety (can’t touch him here), the Boneman flicks his headlamp back to life, greets the woman with ash eyes, and starts rummaging through his treasures. Rusty wrenches and screwdrivers (philips and standard) and green glass ash trays and disembodied Barbie legs and bottle caps from a hundred countries and used zip ties and pen caps and knife handles (no blades) and precious stones and eagle feathers and manticore whiskers and a whale’s nightmares and a morning’s excitement. A cache of wonders and a collection of nothings.
What is he looking for again?
A snack? There is always a can of chickpeas somewhere. It is a law of the universe.
He spins around the room, shining the beam of his headlamp over his bed (a cot) and his TV (that only receives stations from the 1950s) and his bags filled with mail (other people’s) and his photos (also other people’s) and his altar (to juice) and his fridge (still running). He brings his hand to his mouth to think and drops the ammo can on his foot (ouch).
Right. Yes. The ammo can.
He crawls under his bed to fetch his tools, but stops when he hears a faint noise in the distance. He lays still for a moment, bird legs sticking out from beneath the bed, unsure of what he heard.
Another noise, a scream, this one more desperate, coming from the direction of the two men tempting fate in the amphitheater of sighs.
A third scream. Not one of the two soft guys.
His interest is piqued.
He stashes the ammo can next to his tools beneath the bed and reenters the night.
Crows circle the amphitheater, just on the edge of the light cast by the car’s headlights. The Boneman is familiar with these crows (nosy bastards). Any time anything exciting happens, these jerks show up to stick their beaks into business that isn’t theirs.
The Boneman sees that Gene and Ray have brought a friend with them. Another man. Not a big one, this third man. Not a child. Not an old man. A young man. A youth? A youth.
The youth turns his face toward where the Boneman is hiding in his trusty ruined SUV. The bones grow loud. THIS ONE THIS ONE THIS ONE.
Too loud! The Boneman shakes them to shut them up. He can’t let Gene and Ray hear. Shut up, stupid bones. Shshshshshshshsh.
As he attempts to shake silence into the bones, he realizes that the inside of his hiding place is bright. Too bright? Too bright. The headlamp. Shit. He rips it off and shoves it under a seat and gingerly pokes his head up to see the troublesome twosome looking in his direction.
“Check that out,” baseball cap Ray says.
Tracksuit Gene pulls a gun (loaded, probably) from his waistband and begins his approach to the Boneman’s blind.
BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD, the bones rattle.
“You’re telling me, bones.” The Boneman creeps out of the car corpse and sneaks around the back of the wall of coffins, careful not to wake the sleepers (gently, gently, let them sleep). He scurries up the wall to hide.
Gene opens the SUV’s door and shoves the barrel of his pistol in. “Nothing!” he yells back at Ray.
“Got to be something.”
“Nothing in here… wait a sec,” and Gene pulls the still lit headlamp from beneath the seat.
“Fuck,” Ray says and pulls his gun (bigger than Gene’s) out. “Hey! Who’s out there?” he asks the night.
“We don’t want to hurt you.”
“Come on out, let’s talk about this.”
LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES LIES.
The Boneman already knows that. He considers for the briefest moment waking the sleepers, but that is far too harsh a method for dealing with these two dopes. From his vantage point atop the high wall of the amphitheater, he throws a bottle at one of the washing machines (an old top-loader).
“Over there,” Ray says and turns his baseball cap backwards, ready for action.
THE YOUTH THE YOUTH THE YOUTH.
“What about him?” the Boneman whispers. “He seems like he’ll be fine.”
The young man works the gag from his mouth and begins shouting for help, for anyone, that they’re going to kill him, please please help. Ray walks over, kicks the boy in the gut, puts the gag back into place, and kicks him once more for emphasis.
“Maybe he won’t be fine,” the Boneman whispers to the bones.
“I think he’s gone,” Gene calls back to Ray from the washing machines.
“I doubt it. But we have other things we need to worry about. Like, where the hell is Manny and what are we going to do with this guy?” Ray motions to the youth with his gun.
Atop the wall, the Boneman grows brave as the crows grow loud. They see something that excites them, but he doesn’t understand their language. They’re probably just listening to the bones, too (stupid nosy crows).
SAVE THE YOUTH SAVE HIM.
“I got this handled,” the Boneman whispers. He searches around the top of the washing machine wall for something, anything, weapon-like. He finds an old mop, complete with filthy mop head, and decides that will do. He imagines the looks on those idiots’ faces when they realize they brought guns to a filthy old mop fight.
He sneaks around the top of the bowl to the wall of lawnmowers and then down toward the ground. He lands just outside the light cast by the car’s headlights, invisible to Jumpsuit and Baseball Cap. He tightens his grip on his mop and stalks toward his prey.
The bones rattle and catch the attention of the youth, which, in turn, catches the attention of Gene and Ray.
Oh well. Plan B.
The Boneman chokes up on his staff, raises it above his head, and charges Ray. He catches the Boneman by the throat, stopping every ounce of his 142 pound mass dead in its tracks. He slams the Boneman to the ground. The lights go out.
The Boneman comes to with his arms tied behind his back, shoved up next to the youth. His plan hadn’t worked. He struggles against his bonds, drawing Ray’s attention.
“Oh, it speaks! Good morning, you skeleton looking twig motherfucker,” Ray says, his baseball cap now reoriented to the bill-forward option.
“What are you guys doing in my dump? This is my dump! You get out of here!” the Boneman yells.
“Oh we will, we will,” Ray says, “just got to deal with you two first.”
The Boneman growls and continues to struggle, but he’s not strong enough to break through the paracord (strong knots) holding his hands back.
A cell phone rings and Gene pulls it out of his jumpsuit pocket. “Oh shit,” he says and answers.
“Is it…?” Ray asks.
Gene holds up his finger to say “wait a damn moment”. He proceeds to “yeah” and “I’m sorry” and “we will” the phone repeatedly, his body language increasingly suggesting a chewing out. “Fuck,” he says. “We have to go.”
“What about them?”
“Leave them for now. They’re tied up. It’s Friday night. No one is coming. We can deal with Manny and then come back.”
“This plan sucks.”
The big soft men drag the youth and the Boneman to the far side of the amphitheater, toward the wall of coffins. “Don’t drag us to that side. You’ll wake the sleepers,” the Boneman says.
“Shut the fuck up, old man. We’ll be back for you.”
With the captives stashed, Gene and Ray get back into their car (definitely a Cadillac) and drive off, filling the air with dust and robbing the captives of the benefit of the headlights. The darkness crowds. The youth beings to gently weep, his soft sobs further muffled by the gag in his mouth.
“Do I have to?”
WAKE THEM WAKE THEM WAKE THEM.
“Fine, fine,” the Boneman says. He turns to the youth, “Hey, kid, the bones want me to wake the sleepers up so I’m going to start screaming now. Don’t worry too much. A little bit. But not too much.” Without even a slight pause, the Boneman starts screaming at the tops of his lungs. He screams and screams and screams. The volume and violence of the screaming stokes the fear smoldering inside the youth. His only outlet is to start screaming too.
Without letting up, the Boneman turns to the youth and nods, as if to say, “Yes! That’s the spirit!”
WAKE THEM WAKE THEM WAKE THE SLEEPERS.
A soft blue light begins to glow from the wall of coffins. Enough to illuminate to pair of wailing captives. The bones rattle louder and louder and louder as the light gets brighter and brighter. As suddenly as he began screaming, the Boneman stops.
The youth keeps on with his muffled screams for a moment longer until he realizes that he is screaming in a choir of one. He too quiets down.
“Just one of you? After all that racket?” the Boneman asks. “Untie me.”
The sleeper effortlessly lifts the restrained youth into the air, causing him to start screaming again. The boy cannot see who is lifting him. He struggles but is held firm by an eldritch strength.
THE YOUTH THE YOUTH THE YOUTH THE YOUTH.
“Shush. He’s fine. You’re fine, right? He’s fine.”
The sleeper drops the youth on the floor of the shed.
“Tell your friends I expect them to show up next time,” the Boneman says to the sleeper as it exits the shed. “Unbelievable, those guys.” He pulls the gag from the youth’s mouth as the sleeper’s glow fades.
“WHAT THE FUCK!” the youth yells.
“Language. Who are you, boy?”
“I didn’t ask your name. Who are you, boy? Why do the bones care so much about you?” He flails the necklace in the youth’s face.
“I don’t… are those finger bones?”
HE BEARS THE ROD OF ASCLEPIUS.
“Are they supposed to be femurs, boy? Too big! Too heavy! You’re a doctor, right? Supposed to know these things!”
“How did you know….”
WE MUST SPEAK TO THE YOUTH.
“You want to talk this idiot?” the Boneman asks the bones.
The youth’s eyes go wide. “Who are you…” but before he can get the question out, the Boneman slaps him (hard) across the face.
“Should I let this punk talk to the bones?” the Boneman asks the woman with ash eyes sitting on the other wise of the shed. She is silent.
“You’ve convinced me,” he says and places the bones around the youth’s neck.
The Boneman stirs his room-temperature can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and stares at Mark. “How long are they going to be in there?” he asks the room (it doesn’t answer). “What the hell are they talking about?”
The chickpeas need salt, but he ignores that. His patience nearly at its limit, he considers kicking the kid in the gut. Or punching him in his stupid, selfish face. Or maybe pulling out a couple teeth for fun. He has plenty of tools available to do it. It would be so easy. Pop his mouth open, grab a pair of pliers, and—boom—tooth mountain.
But what would he do with the teeth? He already has so many.
Would the bones be upset with him for the extraction (no anesthesia)? They are insufferable when upset.
He throws the can of beans at the youth, hitting him square in the chest. Mark does not move. The beans land in his lap spilling all over his crotch.
“Damn waste of good chickpeas, you little shit.”
As if called from a dream, the young man turns his head toward the Boneman and blinks for the first time in nearly an hour.
“Oh, there you are. Give me those,” the Boneman says and yanks the bones from the youth’s neck, replacing them on his own. Mark opens his mouth as if to speak, but says nothing. He looks around, seeing the contents of the shed for the first time.
His eyes come to rest on the woman with ash eyes who is staring at him from the void beyond death and he faints.
“You scared him, Ashley!” The Boneman picks the youth up and raises his hand in preparation to administer the slap of life (patent pending, illegal in 30 states), when the shed is lit up by an unnatural light from outside. He drops Mark, knocking the kid’s head hard on the floor, waking him up.
The Boneman peers through the window to see who is outside (he already knows), but only ends up blinding himself. He leans back blinking the fireworks from his eyes when a car horn fills the room.
“Hey, weirdo!” a voice calls from outside, “We know you’re in there and we need that other guy back.”
“Ray and Gene,” Mark says.
“He ain’t in here!” the Boneman yells back.
“He sure as hell wasn’t back by the trash pile where we left the two of you,” responds Ray.
“Maybe you should just come out here and we can talk a little,” says Gene.
“I don’t think you should go out there,” Mark whispers.
The Boneman dashes across the room and dives under his cot. He pushes the ammo can out of the way, pulls a loose floorboard up, and emerges with a five foot long sword, rusty and chipped and mean-looking. “You get down and stay in the back,” he says to the youth. “What did the bones say to you?”
“Nevermind. Get back there.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Nope.” The Boneman kicks his front door open and steps out with his sword held out in front of him, a dousing rod for violence.
Ray and Gene are hidden from sight behind the blinding glare of the headlights, but he can hear them start to laugh.
“You two aren’t welcome here!” the Boneman calls. He waves the sword in the direction of the laughing. In response, the laughter grows louder, more emphatic. The Boneman raises the sword above his head and charges the car.
A gunshot cracks the night and a board on the front of the shed explodes, sending splinters and dust flying.
The laughter stops.
“The next one of those is going in your chest, old man,” Ray says.
The Boneman drops the sword to his side. He tromps back into the shed dragging the tip of the sword in the dirt behind him. “Are you hurt?” Mark asks.
“You got to go out there.”
“What?! They’ll kill me!”
“Not my problem anymore, kid. I tried everything and I got nothing left.”
“You’re kidding…” The Boneman raises the sword at the youth. “Holy shit holy shit holy shit…” Mark says as he gets to his feet.
He stumbles to the front door, but before stepping all the way out, the Boneman leans in and whispers, “Make lots of noise and let them put you in the trunk.” He kicks the youth hard in the ass from behind, sending him sprawling into the dirt.
“Here he is!” the Boneman yells at Gene and Ray still hidden behind the headlights. “Take him! And get off my junkyard!”
Gene nods to Ray to go fetch the youth. Ray pulls the kid off the ground with little effort and walks him back to the car.
“Don’t put me back in the trunk! Please! I’ll do anything!”
“Shut the fuck up,” Ray says and pops the trunk. He ties Mark’s hands and shoves him in, despite his protests.
As soon as the clasp on the trunk shuts, the Boneman pulls out an airhorn and lays into it. “The fuck is he doing? Go shut him up, Gene.”
Holding his hands to his ears, Gene storms up to the Boneman and whips him in the jaw with the butt of his pistol. The Boneman collapses into a pile. Ray starts the car. Gene opens the passenger side door and the airhorn starts blaring again.
“Fuck it, Gene! Let’s just get out of here.”
“What an asshole,” Gene says as he pulls the car door shut.
Ray throws the car into drive, pulls forward a yard, and the car dies. He tries starting the car again. Nothing.
The Boneman yells, “Oh ho ho! The car won’t start?” but it sounds like “Oh oh oh dhh cahh wonee ssahhh?” through his broken jaw.
Ray keeps trying the ignition, but the car is dead. The horizon starts to glow blue. Gene notices and checks his watch. “Is it me, or is the sun coming up at two thirty in the morning?” He checks his watch again. “This isn’t right.”
“Yooo muffaghs ahh ih fuhh ih nahh!” (You gentlemen are surely going to have a bad time of things shortly!) He runs back into the shed, slams the door shut, locks all three deadbolts, and peeks up through the window to watch what he knows will surely be one hell of a show.
Ray keeps trying to start the car, but it refuses. It will never start, and soon he will not be able to keep trying.
On the horizon, the blue glow grows. No one would mistake it for the sunrise now. The color is unnatural. Too intense. Too cold. Too wrong.
The Boneman knows those boys are in for it and might feel sorry for them but his jaw hurts like a son of a bitch (big hurt no good) so he starts rooting for the sleepers.
They are his friends. They have an understanding. Namely, he gets to do whatever he wants and they leave him alone as long as he doesn’t make too much noise. Those fellows (not all male, not all gendered) like their rest and they sure hate waking up. It’s a perfect arrangement. All they require is the occasional sacrifice.
Tonight the sleepers are getting two.
Probably a lot of good salvage on that car, the Boneman thinks.
The blue light is blinding now, illuminating the shed much as Ray and Gene’s headlights had earlier.
Time to get away from the windows. The Boneman lays down on his cot and pulls the blanket over him as the screams start.
He starts awake with the sun filling the room. He hates the sun; it drives off all his friends. And what is a man without his friends (living or otherwise)? But he is also willing to allow the sun’s importance. For now.
He reaches into his freezer for the bag of peas he keeps in there. They’re old and they will never be eaten, but they make an excellent cold compress. He places it gently against his throbbing jaw. He ties it into place with a broken extension cord.
MUST CHECK ON THE YOUTH.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m getting there.”
He cracks the door and pokes his head out to survey the wreckage of last night’s action. The car is still where he last saw it, but otherwise the lot is clear. No otherworldly soul-rending terrors still hanging around to make his life harder.
He grabs his sword for sanity’s sake and walks out the door. He leans up to the driver’s side window of the car and shades his eyes from the sun to see inside. As he expected, all that is left of Ray and Gene are their clothes. Those sleepers could be nasty customers when they wanted. Or when whatever code they followed is violated. Or any time.
Nasty customers, those sleepers, all the time.
He tries the door, but it is locked. A desperate, last-ditch act, no doubt. He looks around for a way to break the window, remembers the sword in his hand, and gives it a good swing. All he manages is to make a crack in the window. Car windows don’t break like they do in the movies.
OUT OF THE TRUNK.
“Will you relax? What do you think I’m trying to do?” He gives the window a few more swings with the sword, but makes little progress. He wanders to the side of the shed and grabs a tire iron he keeps there for ironing tires. Surely this will do it. He puts all his meager weight behind the swing and only succeeds in poking a small hole in the top part of the window. Not nearly enough to reach inside.
CHECK THE OTHER DOOR.
“That’s just stupid,” he says as he walks around the front of the car, “I’m sure they locked both…” and opens the passenger side door. “Huh, I guess he only locked his side. What a jerk.”
He picks up Gene’s clothes, examining them for damage. They wouldn’t fit him, but he might be able to use them for something. He folds them up and places the stack on the hood of the car. He leans across the center console and rummages around in Ray’s pockets for the keys, leans in further to reach under the seat, and hits himself in the face with them. He curses the keys and pulls them out.
Around the back of the car, he pops the trunk, waking Mark.
“Still alive, I see. Good for you.”
GOOD FOR US.
The Boneman unties Mark. He looks up at the Boneman and raises his hand to block the midday sun. “What happened? Where are Ray and Gene?”
“We’re going to get to that. But first, I need you to tell me what the bones told you.”