Friday, August 10, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Bones at the Door


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.

The next morning, as Mom tugged her to the car for school, she saw that boy sitting on the railing. He waved to her as she drove off, and kind of smiled in a thankful/empty way. She waved back and tried to remember if there were any photos of herself out there.

30 comments:

  1. Oh. Wow. This is most excellent. Thank you.

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    1. A splendid first reaction to get so soon after posting the story. Thank you, EC!

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  2. Ha ha this was very entertaining John. I was completely absorbed in the story. I loved how she fed the bone collector and even though there was a touch of the macabre in this, it also made me laugh out loud.

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    1. So it felt more like a comedy than a dark story to you, Helen? I'm very interested in folks who saw it as one side or the other.

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  3. your tweet trail said YA but this had more of the feel of a dark fairy story to me (and therefore all the better for it!)
    "Just the dispensable people" - loved that line

    marc nash

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    1. Can't fairy tales be for young adults, Marc? Or do you feel they're intrinsically separate?

      I admit some cognitive bias after YA authors yelled at me that it's fiction about young adults rather than for them.

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  4. I totally agree with Helen. I was captivated wanting to know more all the way through!

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  5. YA, yes. Very dark YA. Very very dark. Great story, and I'm glad I didn't have that thing following me around. There would have been a lot of ribcages to dispose of. Far too many.

    Mandy should know there are pictures of her in the yearbook. I figured that's where she got the pics of the other kids.

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    1. That is definitely one of the places she'd be vulnerable. The question, then, is if the kid goes to her school or could get his hands on it, if things went south.

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  6. I loved this. There's a deft, light touch to it that veers close to black comedy, but it maintains that child's logic about revenge all the way through. I'm sure we've all known people we'd have 'disposed of'.

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    1. I would have abused the heck out of such a critter when I was a child. I also probably would have gotten caught and/or de-boned. Mandy is most certainly craftier than I was at the age.

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  7. I agree- captivating this is! This is one of those that I wish there were more of. I know you don't "normally" do series FFs John, but if you get an itch I'd love to know the next chapter of this one.

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    1. I have run very few series in the history of the BMs. I am considering expanding it to a short story, as I'm not in love with ending it on buck-passing, even though it does hit a beat for me. What about for you?

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  8. There's a lot in here and deserves a re-reading. A very engaging tale whatever it's category. A good journey.

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    1. Thank you for the glowing words, Alison. If you do return to re-read it some time, I'd be keen after whatever stands out or changes for you.

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  9. I think she may be wondering if she has just done a very smart thing, or a very stupid thing. (I'm not sure either)

    Whatever is out there is very unnerving.

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    1. So you'd be more worried about what's out there than what's in here, Steve?

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  10. Definitely dark—the darkest I've seen from you; definitely humorous—the same Wiswell wit I've come to know and enjoy. What's this "YA" talk? I think trying to pigeonhole work into a contrived demographic genre is a bunch of hooey—especially since many of the fans of "YA fiction" that I know fall outside that demographic range. In the world of book marketing, I'm an old fart, but I thoroughly enjoyed this; I've no doubt, however, that any number of grim-minded whippersnappers out there would enjoy the dark humor just as much. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go kick them off my lawn and send them your way.

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    1. Funny thing was, I sat down to write something lighterhearted than usual. It just played out this way, as you and others have said, unusually dark for me. I'm glad the humor still clicked; it certainly adapted to the macabre strains.

      As far as the YA comments - I'm not really marketing this, or forcing it into a niche. I'm not much of a fan of YA and have gotten in many arguments and joke-fests with other writers about the meta-genre. Since this was rooted in a child's psychology, I thought it funny to present it as "as close to YA as I get." Even though I have actually written flashes that were much more traditionally mainstream YA than this, somewhere.

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  11. I loved this. I tend to love stories where children get revenge anyhow, but this was a great example of such a tale. It reminds me a little bit of the infamous werewolf short story "Boobs".

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    1. What stood out among the revenge elements here? Did you think they overtook the rest of the story, or served as its backbone?

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  12. The fear of her own pet monster was deftly written. The dark fairy tale is a good genre for you, John.

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  13. Really absorbing, John - even though I'm not exactly sure what was going on! I'm pretty tired, though.

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  14. Who or what is the boy? I don't read YA fiction , but I understand it needs to be less gruesome or deep perhaps. But I think I prefer it when you look right down into the depths of the human condition which you do so well. Still, I recognise a good story in this.

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  15. This was really, REALLY creepy, but I can't help wondering what started it all? How did the little girl know to leave the bones? I think I understand what happened at the end, though it was a bit enigmatic. Nice tension builder. Did I mention it was creepy? :D

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  16. This is terrific! I love this kind of creepy kids story because when I was a kid I thought they were a better reflection of how kids see the world, rather than the sweet Disney version of the world. But then I read a lot of Bradbury and similar stuff. ;)

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  17. Superb writing John! Absolutely loved it.

    Your story had me absorbed in it right at the first line. It's just one of those pieces you wish kept going. The pace was perfect, it was truly dark and very scary. I am re-reading it for sure.

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  18. Hi there John -- great story. How could you not read to the end to find out what was going on? And while you don't quite find out (or at least I didn't quite work it out), it's an interesting ride regardless. Leave an accidental pig haunch out there and god knows what'd happen. Mandy's finger bone collection is really taking off... :) St.

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