“You’re not squeamish, are ya Chuck?”
The Bone Collector
“You’re not squeamish, are ya Chuck?” Harley cocked an eyebrow and sneered showing his chipped tooth.
“Who me? No, I’m good," I said. "Let’s just do it and get it over with before somebody sees us.” I hoped my explanation was convincing enough to mask the look of anxiety on my face.
Harley was fourteen, he was a big kid, fat-faced with a butch haircut. I watched him drool as he sliced into the dead dog, starting from under the poodle’s lower jaw, then down the neck and chest. I saw the utter glee in his eyes and his pursed, pudgy lips, as he slid the box cutter along the dog’s belly spilling its guts onto the ground.
“All right, Chuck, hold her good and tight now, while I pull off the skin.”
My courage wavered as I grasped the front legs of the dog. Harley pulled. I heard the sickening sound of tearing flesh as he ripped the skin downward exposing the muscle tissue and bone. I didn’t smell it at first, I guess I was unknowingly holding my breath through the whole thing, but now, with the strain of gripping the dog’s legs, I was forced to take a deep whiff and I caught the rank smell. I was suddenly overcome by a reflexive gag.
“You wuss! You’re not gonna get sick are ya? What a candy-ass!”
I did my best to keep the contents of my stomach from percolating over, but it was no use, the vomit gushed out of my mouth splattering all over Harley’s tennis shoes.
“Geez, you spineless wimp! I'll get you for that!”
Pale and weak-kneed, I got up and ran. I could hear Harley screaming and cussing from behind the dumpster. “I’ll get you, Chuck! I’m gonna get your bones!”
The horrifying thought of Harley actually skinning me alive was more than I could take. I ran. I ran as fast as I could and didn’t stop until I made it back home. I collapsed upon our old white-washed porch, panting for air. Flies buzzed around my pant legs in the hot afternoon sun sensing the sick smell left by the dog’s insides and my lost lunch.
I climbed to my feet and staggered into the flower bed and turned on the old rusty faucet there. Drinking heavily, I let the cool, clean water run over my neck and head. I began to feel better, but still couldn’t get the image of the skinned dog out of my mind; just thinking about it made me sick.
As I shut the water off and turned around, I ran smack-dab into Harley.
“Hey, pansy-ass, why'd you run off? You’re not stupid enough to tell on me, are you?”
Harley held a black garbage bag. I knew what was in it, and the thought made my stomach churn again. “Geez, Harley, you scared the hell out of me.” He grabbed hold of the front of my shirt, stuck his face close to mine; I could see the sweat beading off his scalp and running down his face, leaving clean, clear tracks across his dirty fat cheeks.
“Follow me, sissy, we’ve got some unfinished business to take care of.”
“Sure, Harley, sure.” I was trapped again. Harley knew I’d do anything he said just to keep from getting clobbered, or worse. He was a bad kid, real bad, and in his sick desire to collect bones, I was his number one helper.
Harley kept all kinds of bones: birds, rats, squirrels, a cat, and now a dog. I reluctantly followed him to his house, an old run-down shack he lived in with his uncle -- Uncle Jack, he called him. Harley said his uncle drank all the time and then would beat him for no real reason. Once he even told me his uncle did some other stuff to him too -- real bad stuff. I guess Harley was really screwed up, but I don’t think anybody knew how bad it was except me. I made the mistake of feeling sorry for him. He saw that as a weakness in me and took advantage of it. I became his flunky -- his whipping boy -- his only friend.
He led me out back to where his uncle kept this fifty gallon drum of acid. I don’t know where he got it, or why, but Harley used it to clean the meat from the bones of the dead animals he collected. He dropped the bag and pulled on a pair of over-sized rubber gloves. Popping the lid off the can, he snagged the sack again and dumped the mangled hunk of flesh to the ground.
“Hand me that chain,” he said, pointing to a small pile of chromed links. I snatched the chain up and tossed it to him. He hooked it around what used to be the neck of the small dog, then held the carcass over the drum of acid and slowly lowered it down. The copper colored liquid came to life, bubbling and boiling furiously around the dead animal. Harley put the lid back on and faced me. “And now, it’s your turn, wimp . . .”
“Harley? Where the hell are you? Harley!” There was the sound of heavy thumping and breaking glass as if someone had stumbled and fell. Harley turned as white as a sheet as he stared at the backdoor of the run-down old house. He was no longer the sick bully that tormented every day of my life, but now, like me, he was just a scared fourteen-year-old kid.
A tall man came crashing out of the backdoor knocking it off the top hinge. He carried a whiskey bottle in one hand and a leather strap in the other. “Come here, you little piss ant!”
I saw my chance and ran.
That was two weeks ago.
I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Harley until one night I happened to watch the news report on TV. The camera crews were filming live as the reporter talked about the grizzly goings on inside a local neighborhood house. They were shooting footage in an old garage where a number of skeletons hung from the ceiling. There were bones of birds, rats, and dogs.
Then the camera panned around and caught the full-length skeleton of a human. Hanging around its neck was a small paper sign that read, “Uncle Jack.”