Sinclair was distracted. Distraction meant that he couldn’t really focus on the fun he was supposed to be having. There were people all around him, at that house, at that party, socializing, drinking, and generally enjoying themselves. He couldn’t do that; his brother had just died. Not that he had held any great love for that bastard, he never had. But still. Death necessitates a reaction, and as much as he had hated his brother, his lack of a pulse was still a shock. After the call came in, he excused himself to the porch, and to the company of cats (which he preferred to the company of people most of the time). He was thinking about his brother, the fighting, the arguments, and the general contempt that they held for each other that had steadily increased over the past five years. He could clearly remember dreading to come home, knowing his brother would be there with some fresh criticism or bitter remark, while his mother pretended to ignore it.
“Boys will be boys” she always said. How he came to detest that phrase, because it dismissed every insult and argument as “rough housing” and every crude remark became “locker room talk.” In essence, she was allowing his brother to act without consequence. He had been lost in thought, all the while absentmindedly stroking the cat, when suddenly the thing bit him, sinking its teeth into the back of his palm, causing him to cry out in pain. His friend Hazel came outside, startled by the noise.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Wrong, he thought, doesn’t begin to cover it. Wrong implies that there is a way to fix said problem, but there was not a solution to dying.
“This wild beast decided to make an attempt at making me his dinner,” he replied, hold up his bleeding hand. She sighed, shooing the cat away, and went to grab a bandage. While he was being doctored, the mongrel kept rubbing his legs, and he couldn’t help but wonder if he was only making nice so that he could eat his face off later. Oh well, he was an adorable cat, and who can stay mad at that? Cats are supposed to be bastards, and he could forgive it.
He noticed that his friend had also brought out chalk with the bandage. “Are we going to be playing tic tac toe?” he asked, amused.
“No,” she said, shaking her head at him like he was a child. She sat down, and began drawing on the porch. Elaborate flower vines bloomed in chalky pastels from where she sat, legs crossed. While Hazel concentrated, he picked up a piece of chalk, and for a reason unbeknownst to him, drew a pentagram on the metal table. The pastels stood out like ghosts on the flaking deep purple paint that Hazel and her roommate had sprayed on last summer. He felt an irrational and deep sense of satisfaction. Then he drew another, followed by three more on the ground beside him.
Perhaps he drew it to irritate the old Evangelical postman. He couldn’t wait to hear the elderly man say he wouldn’t deliver the mail here because Satanists lived in the house. Hazel saw what he was doing and got some inspiration from it. She added a pentagram to the wild patch of flowing flowers on the porch. It was much more elaborate than his. It covered nearly a third of the porch, and included runes, roman numerals, berries in place of blood and some rubbish placed at the corners.
“Properly witchy, isn’t it?” she said excitedly. He was amused but felt that the it was missing something. So, they enlisted the help of the resident household skeleton, Uncle Morty, who this week was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a flowery button up topped off by a ridiculous looking moustache, making him look like a deceased tourist, or, given the moustache, a porn star on set. He’d arrived for a Halloween party a few years before, and no one had the heart to store him after it was over. They propped him up against a column, at the edge of the pentagram, legs crossed, and even though he was plastic and inanimate, somehow still looking irritated.
Hazel sat back and admired her work, and even took a picture to put on Facebook. He did not, however, because he didn’t have Facebook, or any other social media for that matter, never having the time for it or the inclination. But it was not to last, like most fabulous works of art. After she had posted the picture, her roommate, a practical girl named Anna, said that they should wash it off, so as not to frighten the mailman (although hadn’t this been the whole purpose of this exercise?). He thought it a perfectly good idea to scare off the postman and give those hypocrites at the church something to talk about, but logically getting your mail delivered and not being run out of town by a mob were probably more important, but only just.
“The landlord already hates us,” Anna said. She sighed and flipped a black braid over her shoulder, “God knows we can’t afford to live anywhere else.”
He realized quite suddenly that he felt more anguish watching Anna hose off his work of art than he did thinking about his brother. He should probably be mourning or something at this point, crying hysterically and ripping his hair out or whatever, but he really wasn’t feeling it. He felt nothing actually, except a strong feeling that he should feel something, more disturbing than what he expected grief to feel like or even the mere anger he’d always hoped would accompany his brother’s demise. Death had never really scared him like it does most people, after all it was only a natural part of life, but as much as he had mentally prepared for the death of his mother and grandmother (he didn’t plan on going to his father’s funeral, and unless the man dropped dead on his front doorstep, wouldn’t see his corpse at all) , he had never anticipated anyone else’s death to any great extent, and hadn’t really given it much thought, so he guessed that was where the shock of this nothing came from.
He prided himself on being highly logical and rational; however, he thought briefly about whether the universe might have a reason for killing off his brother, but of course there wasn’t one. It was pleasant to think that some power behind the façade had taken note of what a terrible person his brother was and acted accordingly. But he’d always found the universe without reason. Like most people who have horrible relationships with members of their family, he’s sometimes wished he could’ve reconciled with him, sort of. That would have required his brother to become entirely another person. And his brother was a fundamentally flawed human being, and was hateful to him for most of his life. His brother was horrid to his wife, putting her in the hospital twice. Once when he found out she was having sex with the gardener, and once when he’d caught up to her in a parking lot after leaving him to be with her lover, a man much more attractive than his brother, and much less likely to be violent. The couple had left the state and he hadn’t seen his sister-in-law since.
He was snapped out of this reverie by a splash on the back of his neck. Anna laughed and coiled up the hose. Hazel sighed as the elaborate twining of vines and pentagrams ran off the side of the porch in pastel dribbles. They both went back into the house, he to wait for the party to end. Hazel left to fawn over her ridiculous boyfriend, Jimmy or John or something equally unimpressive and forgettable. He’d never approved of Hazel’s taste in men. He sat in a chair, floating through the rest of the party, not really seeing or hearing anyone, until everyone had left or passed out in some unseen alcove. Why Hazel, an altogether intelligent person, allowed near-strangers to sleep like that in the house, he would never understand.
Hazel, getting ready to walk upstairs yawned and stretched,then noticed him sitting in the chair behind the fan palm.
“You goofball,” she said, “Is this how you party? C’mon out. The moon is full.”
She yanked him out of his chair, and together, they walked back to the porch. Sinclair stopped in their tracks by what they saw. The skeleton was gone. For a moment it startled him.
“Someone must have taken him,” he said with a shrug, “Weird.”
“What?” Hazel said, “Somebody stole Morty! Good God! Who can you trust!”
The funeral happened a couple of days later, a traditional burial, as though his asshole of a brother was like anyone else, deserving of grief. A viewing of the body, and a casket lowered into the ground while morose onlookers……onlooked. He’d been embalmed, frozen into near human form. Sinclair stood over the body for some time, puzzling at its peaceful expression, hands without menace. The corpse contained nothing of the entity he knew as his brother, he thought.
Sinclair’s mother cried, his father might have cried, but he didn’t want to ruin a perfect deadbeat dad record, and hadn’t showed, so nobody really knew the answer to that question, and nobody really cared. Sinclair’s father, Carl, wouldn’t have been welcome anyway, as he was one of the most unpopular people in the town, it was more of a relief than anything that he was missin. His mother had adored his brother, so she asked for the casket to be sealed at the gravesite, a request she’d paid dearly for, just to see him one last time before he was lowered to the ground.
Sinclair did not want to see this thing again, this thing that was and was not his brother. He was looking at the clear blue sky and emerald green grass, divided by a velvet rope of dark cedar. He was trying to focus on a crow sitting on a gravestone against the summer backdrop, preening its black feathers, wondering what it would be like to fly up, up and out of that graveyard at a moment’s notice. Because of this, he was lost in his head, so he didn’t really see the attendants open the casket. He didn’t take in the quick intake of breath that rattled his mother, didn’t see her put her hand on the black, thin polyester shirt that covered her heart.
What shook him was the screaming. High pitched, keening, straight out of a horror flick. It could have literally woken the dead, which would have made for a much more entertaining affair, but sadly the rest of the deceased stayed put six feet below ground in their respective plots, probably grumbling about all the noise. The casket was empty, devoid of the corpse, his mother was hysterical. The crowd stood up and people were milling about, panicked and trying to see what was going on. Someone knocked over the empty casket, splintering it and nearly pinning his mother under it. If they had known where the body was, perhaps it would have been comical, hysterical even, to see his mother in her kitten heels and Sunday suit collapsing over the chairs and barely avoiding a flailing casket. She, of course, would not share this point of view.
After the melee, after he’d helped his mother up, and calmed the crowd, he discovered the police were there, along with a confused and supremely apologetic funeral director. They both gave their statements to the police, who were launching a full investigation into the disappearance of the body and then he’d corralled his weeping mother into his car and taken her home. One of his aunts arrived with a small brown bottle full of pills and he excused himself.
What do you do on a fine summer’s day when your brother’s corpse has gone missing? Drink tea, read? He went for a run. And ran. And ran. He ran for a full two hours, and by that time it was dark, and he was at least twelve miles from his home. He lived, not in the country, but close to it. There were no sidewalks, but at this hour he didn’t have to worry about many cars on the road. He considered calling Hazel to pick him up, but decided he could make do with the remaining twilight if he thought through his route carefully.
He rounded a corner by the abandoned house where he turned onto his own street. It always gave him a creepy feeling and tonight, in the fading twilight, the sagging roof and bleached porch boards looked especially menacing. The tall grass out front rustled in the breeze and…wait a minute. There was no breeze. He turned around to scurry home and instead felt a bony hand on his shoulder. The plastic skeleton that was most definitely not alive and not standing upright when he had last seen it. It was still wearing the Bermuda shorts and floral-patterned shirt that they had put him in, and by all accounts seemed agreeable, hands on its hip bones, and what appeared to be smile.
“You made the summoning, yes?” He frowned, and backed up, “No, she did. Hazel, I mean. I just scribbled on the table. Maybe you should go ask her.” Was he dreaming? Had he taken a few of those pills meant for his mom.
It made a raspy laugh, “Well, for whatever reason it, well, I latched onto you. Although, why you chose to put me in this…….container, I don’t know.”
The thing was apparently quite vain and seemed insulted by the pedestrian ensemble he was being forced to tolerate. With the same annoyed, but overall agreeable tone, it said, “I ate your brother, in case you’re wondering.”
“WHAT?!” Sinclair blurted out, “You what? Why? What in the…”
The creature, for lack of a better word, grinned, apparently satisfied by his distress, and said, “Well of course I ate him! It was either him or your friend, and the dead body, I supposed, was preferable to the live one, which would have caused more of a ruckus and to be honest indigestion. The living are tastier, but I’ve never managed one without regrets of a digestive nature afterwards. You’re very welcome for my excessive restraint.”
Sinclair frowned at the sarcasm, now was definitely not the time or place. “But I didn’t ask you to eat him! For heaven’s sakes!”
The thing made a semblance of cocking it’s eyebrow and placed its hands on its hips, having already thought this over. “Ah, but had you known that it was an option, you would have asked me to eat him.”
Perplexed by this backward logic, and unable to come up with a suitable retort he simply said, “Skeleton, what do I call you?”
It grinned again, and with a sweeping bow uttered a name so convoluted and multisyllabic that he did not even try to commit it to memory.
“Morty it is, then,” Sinclair said. He was obviously dreaming and he’d had enough. Ignoring the creature’s outrage and threats to eat him is he ever called him that again, he replaced his headphones and started back towards home, all the while thinking, what the fuck just happened?