Bones at the Door
by John Wiswell
Edited by Brian J. White
There was a squirrel skeleton the morning before it really started. Mandy’s parents were in too much of a rush to get to Starbucks and return texts to notice. Even when she mentioned it that night, they ignored her in favor of Netflix. They didn’t care about Harold Schmidt bullying her, or that every bone from a squirrel’s skeleton lay on the sidewalk.
They cared the next morning, Tuesday, when Mom stepped on a cat’s ribcage. The bones were licked clean, lying on the first stair leading from their stoop. Dad called the police, not that Mandy cared, since she still had to go to school. Harold Schmidt flat-tired her heels three times at recess.
On Wednesday, it was a dog’s ribcage and spine. The vertebrae looked like bad Legos. They lay on their BIENVENUE mat. Mandy almost dumped it into the bushes to save Mom the anxiety, but Mom had been stingy about lunch money. She paid.
The police were useless, accusing Dad of abducting local animals. He couldn’t even watch lacrosse without wincing, not that they listened to Mandy. 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 at 3 to piddle. Like a silent alarm clock. She crept downstairs and checked the stoop. There were no animal remains under the moonlight, which meant there was time. She stole a steak from their freezer, a gristly one Dad only bought because of a Groupon, and dropped it on their BIENVENUE mat. She locked the door before returning upstairs.
There were no bones on Thursday morning, though the mat was damp in the shape of a thawing T-bone. Her parents guessed the police had caught the psycho animal mutilator. Mandy guessed she would have to spend her lunch money on feeding it something else. That day Harold Schmidt pretended to trip during Gym and tackled her into a wall. She got an ugly eggplant bruise on her shoulder, and Patricia Thompkins laughed at her.
Thursday night, she left a Wegman’s chicken wing on the BIENVENUE mat. She clipped out Harold Schmidt’s photo from the school yearbook and tucked it under the wing. Just a suggestion.
On Friday morning, it left her three bones. Mandy compared them to her hand and found they belonged to a pinky finger. She hid them under her mattress.
Mandy had to sit through an obnoxious assembly on the hard gym floor, not far from where she’d been tackled. She rubbed her bruise and smiled through the lectures on not talking to strangers and grief counseling.
It took weekends off. On Saturday, Dad discovered the lamb chop she’d left on the BIENVENUE mat and she got a spanking. She almost put his picture underneath Monday morning’s meal, but that seemed too vindictive. Also if they figured out her pattern, they might interfere the next time she left food out. Mandy was stuck not feeding the Bone-Leaver.
That was bad. The bones from a boy’s right arm and hand appeared on their stoop Monday morning, arranged as though it was reaching for the door. It was missing the pinky finger.
Dad was arrested. The police questioned Mandy for an hour. She told the truth, and they mumbled about nightmares, and let her go.
Mom booked them into a motel, afraid the house was unsafe. The motel smelled like chlorine, and the family next door was clearly in the middle of a break-up. Mom got drunk and spent half the night googling divorce lawyers.
The next morning Mandy woke first, to find Harold Schmidt’s ribcage lying on the mat inside their door. She tossed it in a dumpster to spare her mother the meltdown.
Not feeding 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,” and of the district attorney who said they’d hold Dad for months if they had to. She kept getting pinky fingers. 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 something thump against the exterior wall of their room. She knew the sound of wall-based injuries.
On Thursday, she learned they had a son. He was two years younger than she was, pudgy in denim overalls, sitting on the railing of the motel, eyes clearly searching for anything other than the room that housed his shrieking parents. He might have seen her leave the pork shoulder.
Giving away meat was an expensive hobby, even if it kept 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, waiting there for something to see. He looked so hollow.
Mandy gave him nothing to see. When his father yanked him inside, she crept out and left all her assorted finger bones on the mat in front of their door. Just a suggestion.
In case it didn’t like her suggestion, she kept hotdogs in her room.
It left nothing for her the next day. She ate the hotdogs with black pepper and no buns. They were favorite meat, and she had the best sleep of her life — not that night, but two nights later. That was the night the apartment next door was quiet.
The following morning, as Mom tugged her to the car for Dad’s formal acquittal, she spotted the boy sitting on the railing. He waved as they drove off, and smiled in an empty way. Mandy waved back and tried to remember if she’d ever been photographed for a yearbook.