There was a squirrel skeleton the morning before it really started. Mandy’s parents were simply in too much of a rush to get to work, and to get to Starbucks on the way to work, and to check their voicemail, and even to eat dinner watching the TV when she tried to tell them that night. They didn’t care about Harold Schmidt bullying her or that every bone from a squirrel’s skeleton had been on the sidewalk in front of their house.
They only cared the next morning, Tuesday, when Mom almost stepped on a cat’s ribcage. This was in front of the stairs leading from their porch. They called the police, but she didn’t care since she still had to go to school. Harold Schmidt gave her three Indian burns at recess.
On Wednesday, it was a dog’s ribcage and some of its spine. It was on their Welcome mat. Mandy almost dumped it into the bushes to save Mom the anxiety, but Mom had been curt with her about lunch money. She paid.
The police were useless, accusing Dad of kidnapping local animals. He couldn’t even watch football without wincing, not that they listened to her. No adult or child listened to Mandy’s theory about what to do on Thursday.
She drank as much water as she could before bed on Wednesday night, and so woke up in the middle of the night to pee. She called this trick ‘The Child’s Alarm Clock,’ and after she rang the toilet, she crept downstairs to check the porch. She saw no animal remains under the moonlight, which meant she was on time. She stole a steak from their freezer, one of the gristly ones Dad always bought just because there was a coupon, and tossed it on their Welcome mat. She locked the door before returning upstairs to bed.
There were no bones on Thursday morning, though the Welcome mat was slightly damp in the shape of a defrosting steak. Her parents guessed the police had caught the psycho animal mutilator. Mandy guessed she would have to spend her lunch money on feeding something else. That day Harold Schmidt pretended to trip during Gym and threw her into a wall. It left an ugly eggplant bruise on her shoulder.
Thursday night, she left a little roast chicken from the Supermart on the Welcome mat. She clipped out Harold Schmidt’s photo from the previous year’s Year Book and tucked it under a wing for safe keeping.
On Friday morning, it left her the bones from a pinky finger. She tossed them in the bushes, then thought better, and hid them under her mattress. She had to sit through an obnoxious assembly on the hard Gym floor, not far from where she’d hit the wall. She rubbed her bruise and smiled through the lectures on not talking to strangers and grief counseling.
It took weekends off. Dad discovered the pork chop she’d left on the Welcome mat and she got a spanking. She almost put his picture in Monday morning’s meal, but that seemed too vindictive. Also, they might check the next time she left food out, if they figured out this pattern. Mandy was stuck not feeding the Bone-Leaver.
That was a bad idea. A human boy’s right arm and hand appeared on their porch Monday morning, arranged as though it was reaching for the door. It was missing its pinky finger. Dad was arrested. The police questioned Mandy for two hours. She told the truth and they let her go.
Mom took them to a motel, afraid the house was unsafe. Mandy hated it there, because it smelled like chlorine and the family one door down was clearly in the middle of a break-up. Mom got drunk and spent half the night rambling about divorce lawyers.
The next morning Mandy woke first, to find Harold Schmidt’s ribcage lying on the floor inside their door. She tossed it in a dumpster to spare Mom’s feelings.
Not sacrificing to the Bone-Leaver was clearly unacceptable. She snuck cash from Mom’s purse to buy assorted meats, planning to feed it something different every school night. Sometimes she added a picture – of Patricia Thompkins after she mocked Mandy for “smelling homeless,” of the district attorney who said they’d hold Dad for months if they had to, you know, just the dispensable people. She kept getting pinky fingers, which made no sense to her. She kept them under her mattress, saving up, wondering if she could bribe a Tooth Fairy into taking care of this for her.
The family one door down never moved out. Every night that Mandy went to leave the Bone-Leaver its offering, she heard them screaming, and once heard some bodypart crack against the exterior wall of their room. She knew the sound of wall-based injuries.
Another night, she learned they had a son. He was two years younger than herself, and sitting on the railing of the motel, eyes clearly searching for anything other than the room that housed his shrieking parents. He saw her leave the lamb chops. She let him see it. There was no way around it.
Giving away meat was an expensive hobby, even if it kept Mom sane and all her own bones intact. She got the idea the next night, when she was about to go out and saw the boy on the railing again, just waiting there for something to see. He looked so hollow. She gave him nothing to see. When his father finally yanked him inside, she crept out and left all her assorted finger bones on the mat in front of their door. She kept the hotdogs in her room, just in case.
It left nothing for her the next day. She ate the hotdogs with black pepper and no buns. They were favorite meat, anyway. She had the best sleep of her life – not that night, but two nights later. That was the night the apartment one door over was quiet.