Skeleton Man

You dropped hints all year. A milestone birthday came and went, and the cake was pretty good. Your anniversary yielded warm memories that in all likelihood will probably last another year. Then the big one rolls around, Christmas. The day dawns with the promise of just the right sized box and a sideways, knowing smile from your favorite Claus. You are so sure that you’re getting what you wanted that you trade excitement for arrogance. All of a sudden you’re a home-run hitter crowding the plate against a meat ball pitcher, pointing your intention to the fans in the left field bleachers.

The rug comes out approximately seventeen seconds deep into the box. The white filler paper is just another boring day in prison. You’re still smiling, but it takes effort now, and the eyes no longer match the teeth. Strike three.

John closely examined a short length of rope next to one of the trees where one of the three of the coven had been tied.

“Cut. Where did you go my mannequin friend?” he asked.

This is it, the moment of truth. C’mon Roy, you can do this, you can do this.

Roy stepped out of the darkness a bonafide medieval knight of olde. His plastic skin would be his shield, his sword a sturdy branch, embarking on his first crusade on his steed of a heart finally pure.

His wooden sword cut the air with helicopter whooshes, back and forth with every ounce of intention he had to give. John ducked and dodged, stepping backwards like a boxer to avoid a hurricane of blows. Weak and tired, I threw myself on the ground behind him, a human obstacle, a speed bump. I grabbed a handful of his pants behind his knees and John fell backwards onto the ground.

He rolled onto his left shoulder to cushion his impact. I grabbed my pistol from his waistband exposed in the fall. He rebounded quickly, defensively raising his hands low in the air, a motion instinctive to any person who has a gun pointed directly and intentionally at the center of their face.

“Dammit John I’ll kill you I swear to God. Gimme any reason, anything at all!” I yelled.

Roy stopped swinging and dropped his stick to the ground. He stood there, victoriously beaming through a face incapable of showing a hint of emotion. He just stared at me, motioning over and over towards John. I could only assume he wanted me to shoot him.

“No. He has to answer for what he’s done. Don’t you John?” I said mockingly.

Roy stomped his foot on the ground as if insisting, or possibly throwing a childish fit.

“John. That’s funny, John. But you’re not John are you? Are you John?” I accused.

He stepped back, feeling my anger.

“Don’t move, not another muscle John! I did some investigating, imagine that? Your company has no record of you John. Turns out the police have no record of you either John. Did you really think I wouldn’t find out? Huh? John?” I said.

I emphasized his name repeatedly, thinking he would appreciate my homespun version of irony. Irony seemed important to him, the least I could do is let him feel what the hot end of it felt like.

“So why don’t you tell me John? Just who the hell are you anyways?” I demanded.

“I am,” he stopped to think.

“Who? You are who?” I demanded again.

“I am, the one who sets souls free, Philippine,” he said calmly.

“What? What the hell does that even mean?” I yelled.

“Like I was going to do for him, but it’s too late for that now isn’t it my friend?” he said to Roy.

“Like I did for the old woman and John Blake, like I can do for you,” he said.

He started to walk towards me with his hand out. In whatever world he lived in, deep inside his own twisted broken mind he expected me to hand over my gun.

“You’re not going to shoot me Philippine, you can save me, you’re sure of it,” he said.

I steadied my aim at his forehead and squeezed the trigger unapologetically. My reward was nothing more than a hollow click.

“Bullets,” he said.

He hit me hard on the left side of my jaw. The sound from inside was dull and undramatic compared to what I had seen in the movies. I lost control of the gun, dropping it somewhere near where I fell.

I wasn’t out long, coming around sluggishly to the point of blurry vision. From a sideways view with my face on the ground I watched him dragging Roy by his leg towards the fire.

“You let them go didn’t you Roy? But still you managed to exact your revenge. I can respect that, but that’s it for you, I hope you know that. There’s nothing I can do for you now, her either,” he said.

He dropped him next to the fire, still raging from the fuel of the body in the center. Roy gave it a fair shot and tried to fight him, but it was really of no use at all as he was easily manhandled.

“You disappoint me. I was here to help. I could have been your father. We could have learned so much from each other. Death is everything Roy. Without it, there is no life, no love, no sorrow or joy. Everyone has to have it to survive, but they fear it, they don’t really want it. Don’t you see?  You will, now. The vessel of your despair will change with the wind. You told me that my friend, with the Ouija, remember? That is of course unless you are destroyed. You could have lived forever. She gave that to you, and you squandered the opportunity, just like so many of these people squandering their worthless lives, taking, using,” John said.

Without further ceremony he picked him up and threw him headlong into the flames. Roy’s clothes flared as the fire shot skywards. John stepped back away from the heat to watch him burn.

“Now, as for you young lady,” he said.

As he walked towards me, he tossed the bullets he removed from the gun backwards over his shoulder, one at a time. I managed to get up to my hands and knees, hoping against hope to garner enough energy to get away. I noticed my gun laying in the dirt right there in front of me, stark raving empty.

For you Philippine, for everybody!

Roy came out of the fire like he was, well, on fire.

He ran awkwardly, but surprisingly quickly straight at John, thrusting himself onto his back and wrapping his arms around his neck.

Just hold on…

John struggled to shed him. Within moments both men were drenched in fire. Roy held on as long as he could as John thrashed about. Burning globs of burning plastic sprinkled the area like water spraying off a dog’s wagging tail.

It’s funny how a good solid crack to the jaw can be the wind that blows the clouds out of a person’s head. In this case, I pictured myself walking away from my poor stuck car and tucking extra loaded clips into my back pants pocket. I guess between the cold water in the well and generally just being on my ass most of the night, I didn’t feel them digging-in anymore. It took only seconds to extract the spent clip, drop in another and chamber a fresh round.

I rose to my knees and did my level best to aim through the black toxic smoke pouring off Roy’s burning body. I fired over and over until the only thing that could be heard was clicks.

I couldn’t be sure I hit him. So thick was the smoke that for all I knew he was still standing there. Roy on the other hand laid sideways in such a way that he appeared to be looking right at me. I watched as pieces of his body melted away revealing the smoking dark hollow space inside.

Somehow managing to still be mentally culpable, with the nub of what was left of his hand he scribbled something in the sand. At that moment, a flash of light unlike anything I could accurately describe beamed out of the burned holes in his body. A light that without question came from within. His arm just as suddenly went limp and for all practical purposes, he appeared to be gone.

I got back to my feet as quickly as I could and fumbled for the other spare clip.  I staggered around Roy, around the other side of the black smoke. Among the burning islands of leaves was a decent amount of splattered blood. What’s a decent amount? The answer is, enough to make you wonder how the guy lived, but not enough to lead you to a body. John, or whoever the hell he was, was gone.

I dropped to my knees. I wanted to believe with all my hopes and dreams on the line that this whole show was officially over, that the curtain had fallen. The fire was starting to get out of control and there wasn’t a damn thing in the world I was going to be able to do about it. All I could do was get out of there.

I found a stick, about as tall as a man and wide as a bottle cap and put it to work as a crutch. I bid the body Roy had inhabited one final farewell. There, in the dirt next to him he wrote very simply, “I am Roy.”

The sun was well on its way up before I got back to the parking area. The waking forest cast ever-changing shadows amongst the trees, constantly tricking the eye. Blue Jays sounded the alarm of my arrival and squirrels retreated to their leafy nests, comfortably safe in their anonymity.

Ahead, on the trail, as we grew closer to the cars, a dark silhouette forced my stomach to turn. It was that feeling you get when you go over the first drop on a roller coaster, except your hands aren’t waving in the air and you sure as hell aren’t screaming for the fun of it.

The person moved slowly and away, never having seen me. He was hunched over, appearing more like a moving mass at times than a human being. If it was him, I owed it to the world to finish it once and for all.

I came at him quickly, keeping my focus on subtle body movements. If he turned to his left I’d duck off the trail to my right, likewise the other way. If he looked over his right shoulder, I would exit stage left. He was now officially the hunted. Once I was close enough, I could clearly see the anomaly was made up of more than one person. There were in fact, three.

“Hey! Hey you there!” I yelled.

Considering the gravity of the moment, I wished I knew their names.

“It’s me, Philippine, Philippine Maximine,” I told them.

“Philippine? Oh my God! Oh my God!” she yelled.

“Tempest? But I thought you? I saw you,” I stammered.

We met halfway in the middle of an embrace reserved for sisters who had been through a war together. Tempest did her best to explain through sobs and tears.

“Becky, it was Becky, my friend Becky. She was already gone. The bastard cut off her ears and watched her bleed to death. I, I watched her bleed to death Philippine, me. We had to, he would have come after me, I know he would. He thought it was me, that I did something, but I, I…” she cried.

She pulled away and looked into my eyes.

“It was him, Roy. He cut me loose, cut all of us loose. He burned me. He burned my face, so I’d scream but then he cut us loose. He sacrificed himself. He saved us Philippine, he saved us,” Tempest bawled.

“He sure as hell did. Who woulda thought he had it in him?” I said.

I helped them into Tempest’s car. She knew the quickest route to the hospital. I stayed behind to wait for the authorities. After they drove off, I made my way down the road to my car. I had forgotten all about being stuck as I collapsed on the hood.

“Shit.”

I laughed out loud at what it might mean to have a little handmade voodoo doll tucked under the driver’s side windshield wiper, soaked in blood. I wasn’t sure of the message he was trying to send me, but I knew people that would, back home, where I was a little girl once. I was flattered that he took the time before getting in that shitty old truck and undoubtedly getting away forever. He didn’t seem to me to be the kind of guy who gets caught.

He was flat on his back when he woke with his arms crossed over his chest. It was all dark besides a sliver of light above him, outlining his prone position, the shape of which was undeniable. He could move, but space was limited. He tried to sit up but banged his forehead almost immediately. He could not recall a time when he was more afraid. The sound of footsteps approached him.

“Mommy, Mommy, let’s set him up!” a little girl said.

Someone opened the lid and he found himself staring face to face with what appeared to be a normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill, extremely excited sixish year old girl.

“Hey there Skeleton Man! Happy Halloween!” she said.

Halloween?

As he sat upright in the coffin and turned to look at her, the little girl released a blood curdling scream, the kind of scream that even the dead can hear.

Skeleton Man huh? Kinda has a nice ring to it.

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