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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2037269
Rich Neville examines an old problem for the first time in years...and finds no solution.


J.Robert Kane

    Rich Neville collapsed onto his sofa and popped open a can of beer.  It had been a shitty day; all things considered, it had been a shitty week.  Leaning back into tattered upholstery and broken springs, he dug into the pocket of his blue-jeans and produced a crumpled bank envelope.  Inside, the remainder of his paycheck; today was Wednesday and the folded paper felt depressingly thin.

    Thirty-five dollars… he guessed...there’s got to be at least thirty-five dollars left.

    And that would be just fine- even thirty would finance a walk down to Skipper’s for a few beers and a little conversation with Cheryl and Cindy.

    He opened the envelope, produced two lonely bills- a ten and a five.

    Fifteen bucks?  Oh fuck me…

    Gas.  Of course.  He’d nearly run out of gas on his way to work this morning; had been forced to stop at the nearest station- four dollars and twenty cents a gallon, the fucking bandits…

    Rich considered.  He could still walk down to the corner and put a few on credit.  He was enough of a regular by now, he assumed, to run a small tab.  Still, the only thing he hated worse than the idea of spending the remainder of the evening at home was the thought of starting next week off even deeper in the red than usual. 

    A few moments of consideration and Rich drained his beer.  He’d stay in tonight.  There was still most of a six pack in the fridge, and he did have a motorcycle carburetor on his workbench waiting to be rebuilt….

    Having made up his mind, Rich stood and stretched; grimaced at the resulting cacophony of pops and cracks.  He thought about bending to retrieve his empty beer can, decided against it.

    It was depressing really, the condition of his home, but Rich never seemed to have the time to do much about it.

    After a quick trip to the bathroom and a stop at the fridge for another beer, Rich opened his basement door and waited.  As usual, it was only a matter of seconds before Jed was at his feet, purring up a storm.  For some reason the Tabby loved to watch him tinker with engine parts; had since the day Rich found him, huddled under his car against the rain, sick and malnourished. 

    He squatted down, ignoring the grinding ache in his knees, and gave the purring hairball an affectionate ruffle.  “Come on, old man,” he said as he straightened, “Let’s go put Billy’s carb back together.”

    Rich stopped at the bottom of the stairs and flipped on the overhead fluorescents.  The buzz came instantaneously; the wan, sickly light a few seconds later.

    Jed pawed by and leapt nimbly up onto the workbench.  Rich surveyed the basement with growing dismay; his house had fallen into disrepair.  A stain of mildew, the result of a flood in the bathroom a few months prior, was spreading across the basement ceiling at an alarming rate.  He was going to have to do something about it, and sooner rather than later.

    A plaintive meow from Jed stirred Rich from his reverie.  There was nothing he could do about the moldy, sagging plaster right now- not with fifteen dollars left to his name until Friday.  He resolved instead to take a look at Billy’s carburetor. 

    He’d been working for almost an hour- just about long enough to lose himself in the intricacies of automotive repair and forget all about moldy ceilings and anemic pay-envelopes- when Jed hissed suddenly, viciously.  Rich jumped.

    “Whoa!”  Rich felt his heart pounding against his ribcage; in his ears.  “What’s the matter, old man?”

    The cat didn’t deign to look in his direction.  His eyes remained riveted instead on some point beyond Rich and to his left.

    Rich looked over his shoulder.  He found nothing out of the ordinary- stacked milk crates filled with random engine parts in various states of repair; and old wooden crate overfilled with ancient, yellowing magazines; a thirteen inch black and white television set on the floor in front of the small access panel to the crawl-space…

    Of course.  That had to be it; some rodent had found its way into the crawlspace again, and Jed had heard it scurrying around in there…

    Over the sound of the radio?   

    Sure, Rich figured; why not?  Cats were predators; surely their ears were tuned to pick the sound of potential prey out of background noise.

    Only that didn’t feel quite right either.  Had there been a rodent in the crawlspace Jed would have been right on top of that access panel, eager to strike.  No, Jed wasn’t acting as though he was excited by the prospect of game…he was acting, well...scared.

    A raccoon then.  Rich hoped it wasn’t.  The last time a raccoon had found its way into his crawlspace the damned thing had pushed through the access panel and into his basement.  Getting it out had proved one bitch of a job; he’d since installed a deadbolt lock on the access door.

    “Do we have a visitor, Jed?”

    This time the cat spared him a glance before returning his attention to the crawlspace.  Rich looked to the utilitarian clock on the concrete wall and shrugged inwardly.  It was just past midnight- too late to start hunting raccoon. 

    He scooped Jed from the workbench, pet him reassuringly.  “It’s okay, pal; we’ll get him tomorrow.”

    Jed meowed, as though in understanding.  Rich started up the stairs, turned back to flip off the radio.  On his third descending step, Jed stiffened in his arms and hissed.

    “Jed, what’s…owww, damn!”

    Rich’s hands, having reflexively dropped the cat, flew to the deep scratch on his face.  It stung like hell and was bleeding.  In the five years since his hairy little boarder had appeared under his car, Jed had never so much as hissed at him, let alone taken a swipe at him…

    Wiping the blood from his cheek off of his hand and onto his blue-jeans, Rich flipped off the radio and trudged back up the stairs.  He considered having another beer and decided against it; it was going to be a long day at work tomorrow, followed by an evening of raccoon wrangling.

    He didn’t see Jed as he made his way to the bathroom, or afterward during the short walk to his bedroom at the end of the hall.

    Poor guy’s spooked… He thought.  And why not?  Truth be told, Rich was a bit unnerved himself.

    Rich stripped to his boxers, climbed into his unmade bed and thought:

    If there’s any justice in the world I’ll at least dream about Cheryl and Cindy.

    There is, evidently, no justice in the world.  Rich couldn’t remember exactly what it was he’d dreamed of, but  it certainly hadn’t been of his two favorite bimbo-bartenders. 

    He felt he could be fairly sure, as he’d snapped awake in a cold sweat, his heart hammering against his chest.  For the life of him though, he couldn’t remember what had been the subject of his night terror.

    Awake early for the first time in he couldn’t remember how long, Rich showered, dressed, and even thought about straightening up the living room.  He decided against it, electing instead to have a cigarette and catch a bit of the morning news on TV. 


    It was almost six-thirty by the time a bone-tired Rich got home from work, in no mood to corral a possibly rabid raccoon out of his basement crawlspace.  The Elmer and Bugs routine would have to wait for the weekend- it wasn’t as though the critter was going to get into the basement after all, not with the deadbolt lock he’d installed on the access panel.

    He walked to the kitchen and took a beer from the refrigerator;  cracked the can open and noticed Jed sitting statue-still in front of the basement door.

    “Hey old man, where were you last night?”

    Jed regarded him briefly, returned his attention to the door.

    “Still spooked, eh?”  Rich took a hearty pull of  his beer.  “Well, he’ll be gone by Saturday, I promise you that.”

    The tabby studied him, its expression and posture expressing what its meows could not. Saturday?  Today is only Thursday!  It seemed to say.

    “Yeah I know, I know…but I’m spent old man.  I don’t get to lounge around all day and lick myself, like some freeloaders I could mention.”

    Unimpressed, Jed turned back to resume his vigil.

    “Well, Billy’ll be happy, even if you aren’t.”    Rich hadn’t realized until just then that he would spend the remainder of the evening finishing the rebuild on Billy’s carb, but he figured he may as well.  His fifteen dollars was now down to ten, thanks to a cheap lunch from the catering truck that stopped at work.  It wasn’t as though there would be any walk down to the corner tonight.  “Just you and me again, pal.”

    Jed regarded him; Rich’s hand moved reflexively to the red welt on his cheek. 

    “Try to keep the claws to yourself tonight though, ok?”

    Rich walked to the basement door, squatted (snap-pop) and ruffled the fur around Jed’s neck.  “C’mon buddy…” he said; stood and opened the basement door.  No sooner had he turned the knob then Jed tensed visibly.  It wasn’t open halfway when the cat hissed, hackles raised, and bolted for the living room.

    Rich looked after him a moment, eyes narrowed.  What had gotten into the animal?

    He descended the stairs and paused before flipping on the lights.  If this were a horror movie, he thought stupidly, this would be the part where the lights would flicker on briefly and then inexplicably go out; or perhaps they wouldn’t go on at all…

    This wasn’t a horror movie, though, and the lights flickered to life a handful of heartbeats after the buzzing started; as usual. 

    You’re being ridiculous… he thought, and spent the next hour and a quarter rebuilding a carburetor his buddy was anxious to drop onto a 1978 Triumph Bonneville. 

    He’d half expected Jed to come creeping tentatively down the stairs at some point during his work; perhaps even resume his usual place on the workbench, but the he never did.

    At twelve-forty Rich tightened the last fastener on the rebuild and leaned back to admire his work.  Satisfied, he flipped off the radio.  Creedence Clearwater Revival gave way to the monotonous buzzing of the overhead fluorescents.

    He paused a moment, hoping to get an earful of whatever had riled Jed so; he heard nothing.

    That night Rich did dream of one of his favorite bimbo-bartenders, though not in the way he’d hoped to the previous evening.

    The dream had started off promisingly enough.  Cheryl had come to him in his bedroom, a cold bottle of imported beer in her hand.  She’d been wearing a half-top and those hip-hugging jeans Rich liked so much, the ones that offered scintillating glimpses of perfectly-tanned ass-crack whenever she leaned forward.

    She’d urged him out of bed and he’d followed eagerly enough.  Part of him registered being embarrassed by the condition of his home; another part- the part that realized he was dreaming, perhaps- knew that it didn’t really matter.

    He’d found himself lost in the mesmerizing sway of dream-Cheryl’s hips as she led him to the basement door.  His dream-self asked where she was leading him but she didn’t answer;  only descended the stairs and motioned for him to be silent and follow.

    And follow he had. 

    Once downstairs she’d led him where he knew that she would; across the small cellar, past the cluttered workbench and straight to the access panel to the crawlspace.  She’d bent forward at the waist, her shapely rear sketching a beautiful heart-shape which she thrust into the air. 

    Distracted, dream-Rich hadn’t realized what Cheryl was doing until it was too late; she’d slid the lock back and opened the access panel.  Almost before she could scrabble backwards and out of the way, a nightmare erupted from the small storage area.

    A snarling tangle of teeth and claws, the creature’s eyes blazed with a radiant malice.  It may or may not have once been a raccoon, or a large cat or a small dog, but Rich wouldn’t have sworn to it.  It was shaking its head viciously from side to side, tearing at some unfortunate thing Rich could not immediately identify. 

    Dream-Cheryl was screaming and cowering in the far corner.  Rich caught the gleam of intent in the monster’s eyes and knew it was too late.  The thing leapt, snarling, in the process it dropped what had been in its mouth.  Rich had recognized it with horror.

    My God, it’s Jed… Rich thought, and then he’d come awake with a start; his sheets so soaked through that for an embarrassing handful of seconds he wondered if he’d pissed his bed.

    Breathing heavily and wiping cold sweat from his brow, Rich noticed Jed perched at the foot of the bed. The cat was eyeing him intently.

    “Jed…come here old man…”  He made the sticky-kissing sound no cat can seem to resist, and the tabby traced a careful path up the comforter.  “What’s going on here, pal?”  He asked and ran his index finger under the cat’s neck, the way it liked.  “Do you know something I don’t?”

    The cat cocked its head. Don’t be an asshole, the gesture seemed to say.

    Rich spared a glance at the clock on the end-table.  It read four-twenty in the morning; great…just fucking great.  There would be no going back to sleep tonight.  Fumbling in the dark for his crumpled pack of cigarettes, he stood and walked to the kitchen; lit one off of the stove.  He inhaled deeply and stood a moment looking at his basement door.  As he watched, Jed crept into the room and took up his new usual spot, standing sentry.

    This is too fucking weird

    Rich dragged once more at the stub of his cigarette, crushed it out in the petri-dish that had begun life as his kitchen sink.  He wouldn’t be able to go to work today, he decided, not until he got to the bottom of this.

    Resolutely, he walked to the basement door and turned the knob.  Jed was making tracks for the living room by the time the door was opened.

    “Thanks a lot, partner…”  He called after the departing animal.

    He walked the stairs and flipped on the lights (bzzzzz) and walked to the workbench.  He paused long enough to retrieve a flashlight from the milk-crate he used as a toolbox.  A moment later he was crouched beside the access panel, flashlight in hand.  With his free hand he unlocked the latch, took a deep breath and swung it open.

    When no animal- ravenous or otherwise- sprang snarling from the small opening, Rich actually laughed once- a harsh forced sound.

    What were you expecting?

    He wasn’t sure, really.  Certainly not the creature from his nightmare.  Still, there was no denying the flood of relief he experienced as he shone the light inside and peered inside the nearly empty crawlspace.

    It had been years, he realized, since he’d examined the contents of the storage area.  Memories flooded his mind as his eyes fell upon each item in turn: an old Commodore 64 he’d always planned on rebuilding; a box of videotapes, most filled with eighties porn; a rusted candelabra that had once served as a prop in a no-budget schlock-horror film he and his college roommate had produced…

    Wow; now that unleashed a torrent of memories- memories tainted with the bitter tang of resentment and failure. 

    It had been years since Rich had allowed himself to think about The Deadly Cure.  Once upon a time the project had been the focal point of his life; his dreams and aspirations made celluloid.  He’d never expected the film to win any Oscars, but he’d allowed himself to hope that it would prove a launching point for a distinguished (or at least moderately respectable) career in film. 

    He’d written the script with his roommate Conner, and even now, on his hands and knees on the cellar floor, considering the smoldering wreck that had once been his life’s dream, he had to concede that it had been a pretty good script.

    Between script and production though, something had gone terribly wrong.  Neither he nor Conner, it turned out, had been capable of relinquishing control over even the tiniest aspect of the project.  They’d clashed often and loudly, and instead of the suspense driven “Halloween”- like film they’d envisioned, the result had been a mediocre B-movie at very best; so many more feet of celluloid schlock.   

    The Deadly Cure had destroyed the roommates’ friendship as surely as it had their respective careers in film.  Rich missed Conner once in a while, but not often. 

      Whenever Rich thought of Connor, he thought of that one Sunday morning during the production of Cure- the morning Conner had appeared on his front stoop carrying a long package wrapped in a blanket.  He’d been smiling like he'd had a third hand down his pants, and  Rich had been only mildly surprised to find that his buddy had liberated a human skeleton from the university biology lab. 

      Rich had hemmed and hawed about using the remains, but mostly for form’s sake.  He actually thought it was sort of cool- macabre, but cool.  The sort of thing that might one day end leak out and lend his film a sort of grizzly credibility.  And it wasn’t as though Conner had killed the guy, after all.

    The entire darkly romantic point had been rendered moot when the film proved a critical and popular nonentity.  Connor had disappeared for a time, lost in depression and self-pity, leaving Rich to pick up the pieces.

    Two hundred six of which had once held up a human being.

    For a long time Rich had been troubled over how to dispose of the bones.  It wasn’t as though he could just bag them and put them out with the garbage; and returning them to the university seemed impractical to say the least, perhaps criminal at worst.

    Rich reached into the crawlspace, pushed the candelabra and porn box aside.  Beyond them, layered in a thick film of dust, sat an old trunk whose lock had been broken lifetimes ago.  He reached out and traced a line in the dust on it's lid.  Those damned bones; would he ever be rid of them?

    He closed and locked the access panel; he didn’t need this now- didn’t want to think about it.  And anyway, it was almost time to leave for work.

    The shop was busier than usual that day, which was just fine by Rich.  The busier he was the less time he had to consider human skeletons and disgruntled kitties. 

    Billy dropped in at lunch to pick up his carburetor; he’d been thrilled.  Had, in fact, thrown Rich an extra forty dollars for getting the job done so quickly.  By quitting time- time to do the Freddy, the guys would say, sometimes extending their arms and mimicking Mr. Flintstone’s daily slide down his brontosauruses' tail- Rich was feeling considerably better.

    Rich walked (staggered a time or two, but mostly walked) home from Skipper's shortly after midnight.  After a long piss he walked into the kitchen and took a can of cat food from the cabinet.  He looked around for Jed and wasn’t at all surprised to see him in his new usual spot, standing sentry before the cellar door.  He was a bit surprised at the spark of anger he felt toward the animal.

    “Sorry ol’ man…’m not in any mood for your bullshit tonight.”

    Jed appraised him. Right back at you, he said with his cat’s eyes.

    Rich opened the can and plopped the contents into Jed’s bowl.  He squatted, feeling every snap and crackle in his knees, and placed the bowl in its usual place on the floor.  “Sorry dinner’s late pal.”

    If Jed cared, he didn’t say as much.  He abandoned his post and started on his meal. 

    Rich didn’t even think about going to his bedroom; it seemed like a whole lot of work in his condition.  Instead he collapsed onto the sofa and fell almost instantly into a deep and mercifully dreamless sleep.

    He awoke at around five am needing very badly to use the bathroom.  That accomplished, he plodded barefoot across the kitchen floor on his way back to the living room...

    And stopped.  The basement door was ajar.

    Blinking against vision blurred by sleep, Rich tried in vain to remember if he’d opened the door himself for some reason.  He was pretty sure he hadn't, but then he had been a little drunk.  OK, maybe a little more than a little- but he could remember everything else he'd done when he got home last night…

    Maybe I’m dreaming.

    Except he knew that wasn't the case, though; he didn't know how he knew, but he did.

    Wanting very badly to just push the door closed and grab another hour on the couch before work, Rich reached out and pulled the door open all the way.  He descended.

    “Jed?” he called into the darkness.  He didn’t actually believe that his cat had managed to open the basement door, but what else did he have to go on at this point?

    At the bottom of the stairs he paused and flipped the light switch.  The buzz came immediately, as usual- this time the light did not follow.

    You’ve got to be fucking kidding me

    He tried the switch again with the same results; walked into the darkened cellar.  He’d almost made it to the workbench when he stumbled over something in his path and nearly fell.  He caught himself on the edge of the workbench.

    Straightening, Rich reached into the milk-crate toolbox on the workbench and retrieved a flashlight.  He flipped it on and illuminated a nightmare.

    Wherever he shone the pale beam of light he found a bone- or bones; they were strewn all about the cellar floor.

    Rich could feel the blood drain from his face; his stomach sank.

    Who would do this? He thought.

    Panic fell on him like a physical thing, clutched at his stomach with icy hands.  Whoever had done this must have known about the skeleton; known where he'd kept it even.

    Ok, relax- there has to be an explanation for this…there has to be…

    An animal!  Of course; he’d suspected a raccoon or a squirrel when Jed had first started showing interest in the access panel.  Wasn't it possible he’d been right all along?  Had the animal hidden in fright when he’d examined the crawlspace yesterday?

    Sure, and then he opened the lock from the inside.  And then, he managed to open a trunk and disassemble a partially articulated human skeleton.  Any other brilliant theories?

    Ok, not an animal, then.  Rich walked back across the cellar, toeing random human bones out of his path as he did.  He walked upstairs.  This was all just too much; he felt as though he might throw up.  It was always fucking something, it seemed. 

    He ran the last two or three steps to the bathroom,  bent at the waist and wretched.  Nothing came out.  He dry-heaved for a moment or two, wiped sweat from his brow with a rolled up piece of toilet paper.

    Feeling no better, but at least  relatively certain he wasn’t going to throw up, Rich picked up the cordless handset and did something he hadn’t in over ten years- he dialed work and took a sick day.

    He placed the phone back on its charger and for a good while he sat in his unkempt kitchen, his face in his hands.  The urge to cry was almost overwhelming; he tried to remember the last time he’d cried.  It had been when his father died, he decided.

    This was no time to break down.  He had to figure out what in hell was happening.

    At a loss as to how to proceed, Rich mentally reviewed the events of the past few days.  On Wednesday night Jed had been agitated and eerily transfixed on the access panel to the crawlspace.  From then on, the cat had taken to standing vigil at the cellar door, listening intently for who knows what.  He'd checked the crawlspace for animals and had found none…

    Why are you doing this?

    He stood and went to the kitchen sink; splashed cold water on his face and neck.  A thought occurred to him then, and he gave himself a mental kick for not having considered it earlier.  He could see from where he was in the kitchen, though,  that the front door was locked and dead-bolted.  All the same he crossed the room and gave the knob an experimental turn.  Nothing.  Still locked up tight.

    He returned to the kitchen, checked the back (or rather side, but he always thought of it as the back) door.  It too was locked from the inside.

    The coffee pot was still half-full of day old mud; he emptied the syrupy residue it into the stainless steel reservoir that masqueraded as his kitchen sink.  He reloaded Mr. Coffee and flipped the switch; sat and considered as the yellowing machine hissed and sputtered to life.

    If whoever had strewn the bones across his cellar hadn’t needed to break in, well…that narrowed the suspect list considerably.  Narrowed it right down to two, actually…one of whom had no opposable thumbs and a brain the size of a golf ball.

    And the other, well…

    But I didn’t do it.

    Rich rose and poured a cup of black coffee.  He stepped out the back (side) door and lit a smoke; inhaled deeply and sighed a thick stream of greyish-blue smoke.

    Could it have been him?  The thought was troubling, to say the least.  Why would he do such a thing?

    The bones, old man…dem bones dem bones…

    Rich dropped the cigarette and crushed it with the toe of his slipper.  He walked back into the kitchen, examining an old problem for the first time in years.  Namely, just how does one dispose of a human skeleton without inviting a shit-storm into one’s life?

    This was not new territory for him; he’d examined the problem from every angle imaginable and come up with exactly nothing. 

    His first instinct had always been- was again now- to call the police and explain the whole situation.  But how would that play out?  Likely not as neatly and cleanly as he’d like.

    For one thing he’d been in possession of the skeleton for years now…decades actually.  Surely they’d ask why he’d waited so long to return the university’s property- this wasn’t a library book, after all.  And of course they would ask how it had come into his possession.  Would the authorities see the whole affair for what it was- a college prank of sorts?  Or would they dig into his life a little, just to be thorough?

    This idea depressed Rich to no end.  He knew all too well that his hardscrabble lifestyle and the condition of his home would raise flags in the mind of any detective worth his salt.  His home didn’t exactly scream “Buffalo Bill” but it could probably have earned him a spin on  a slow week of “Hoarders.”

      There was another reason he’d always balked on calling the police- he simply couldn’t bear the thought of becoming the neighborhood ghoul.  The children on the block already steered clear of him, and he could imagine what their parents told them.  “Stay away from the man who lives in the shabby house. He’s…odd.”

    On some nights, when he was very depressed, it was all too easy to imagine the neighborhood mommies and daddies turning him from the “odd man” into the neighborhood “bogeyman.” 

    Finish your carrots little Susie, or you won’t have the strength to outrun the odd man from the shabby house when he comes for you

    If word got out among Rich's neighbors that he’d gone to the police in order to return a human skeleton, well…that would about seal the deal, and Rich would just have to shoot himself in the face. 

    No, there had to be another way.  Only that was the problem…if there was another way he was damned if he could find it.

    Again, he considered mixing the bones with the regular garbage and putting it out for collection, but that had its own pitfalls.  What if an animal should get into his cans and tear the bags apart?  What if a bag should rip as the garbage-man was tossing it up into his truck?  Unlikely, yes, but all too possible.

      Also, Rich had serious compunctions about tossing part of what had once been a living, breathing human being into the garbage.  It just seemed wrong.

    Jed leapt nimbly onto the kitchen table, stirring Rich from his reverie.  He reached out and ruffled the fur under the fluffy cat's ear. 

    “Where ya been old man?”

    The cat cocked his head, as though reminding him for the umpteenth time that he didn’t speak human.

    Rich pushed his coffee off to the side and stood.  Before he could do anything else, he had to get those bones off of his basement floor.

    He pet Jed once more and walked to the cellar door.  “Nothing to it but to do it, right old man?”  He reached for the doorknob and turned, watched Jed tense visibly.  He swung the door open and the cat’s back was up; it hissed viciously.

    Jed sighed.  “You know you aren’t making this any easier pal.”

    On a whim he walked over and scooped Jed into his arms.  He was jumpy enough this morning without the cat’s help.  He walked to the front door, Jed tensing in his arms as they passed the cellar.

    He opened the door a sliver, bent and ushered Jed out with the toe of one slipper.  The cat meowed, obviously not pleased.

    “Sorry, pal.”  He said. “Just for a little while, ok?”

    Then Rich went down to the basement and got about the business of collecting bones.

    On his hands and aching knees, reaching for scattered skeletal remains, a sobering realization dawned on Rich.

    I am a ghoul.  He thought.

    The dirty, bone-littered concrete floor blurred as Rich blinked against an unexpected flood of tears.

    I am already the neighborhood bogeyman

    He cried then; really cried, for the first time in years.  It felt terrible and terrific at the same time and that frightened him more than the scattered bones did.  He remained on the floor for what seemed like hours,  but was in reality only about thirty minutes.  He was brought back to the here and now by the unmistakable sound of a car jumping on its brakes and skidding.


    And it was Jed, he was sure of it.  Why on earth wouldn't it be?

    Oh please don’t let it be Jed…

    He took the stairs two at a time, swiping the remaining tears from his face.  He opened the door and squinted into the early morning sunlight.  A big sedan- a Buick, he thought- was stopped in front of his house.  He saw no sign of his cat, though.  Maybe he’d been wrong…

    The Buick’s driver- a mousey girl of about eighteen- got out of the car and met Rich at the curb.  She was crying. 

    “I didn’t see it…was it yours?”  She said around sobs.

    Puzzled, Rich looked past her and again scanned the street in front of the sedan.  He saw nothing.  He took a few steps closer to the front of the parked car and felt his breath catch in his throat.

    It had been Jed.  His furry little friend was half-limping/half-dragging his way to the far curb, in obvious pain.  A thin trail of blood marked the animal's slow progress across the blacktop. 

    Jed was a goner.

    Ignoring the crying girl who was babbling about being so so sorry, Rich walked over and lifted his friend gingerly from the pavement.  Jed yelped- a raspy and beaten sound- and then settled into his arms.

    Rich walked past the driver without stopping; as he passed he heard himself say “It’s ok sweetheart; it was an accident” because it seemed like the right thing to say.  But it was not ok. 

    Nothing at all was ok.

    Rich sat on his front stoop, being careful not to jostle Jed.  The pain in his own knees barely registered.  He stroked his friend gently, tried to ease his suffering as he passed.

    When he goes, Rich thought, I’ll bury him in the flowerbed.

    For the moment he forgot all about bubbly bartenders, three-quarters built bike engines and even the human being scattered around his basement.  When Jed passed, Rich realized- surely only a matter of minutes now- he would be alone in a way he’d never imagined for himself.  Had never even considered...

    Jed died in his arms about twenty minutes later.  That evening Rich buried his friend in the backyard flowerbed, where the tabby had enjoyed many a summer-afternoon nap.  When he’d finished he stood back and said a prayer; lit a cigarette and considered the gathering darkness.

    It had begun to rain, but Rich wasn’t ready to go inside; not just yet.  He thought of his ratty couch, his nearly toxic kitchen.  He thought about sagging plaster and leaking pipes; of bones scattered around his cellar.

    Maybe, he thought, he wouldn’t go back in at all.  Maybe not ever.


                                                                                                                        J Robert Kane

                                                                                                                        East Northport, NY
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