a long time ago i was in the midst of a serial killer phase. i would read online crime libraries all night long and consistently be baffled, appalled, and intrigued. i couldn’t understand what brought them to do what they’d done. it’s still a mystery how people can be broken down so much, to sometimes something so little, that they lose their sense of self. others have never had a sense of self, and who they are was the criminal they eventually became. their whole lives lead up to that moment when they finally let go. and when they did, they were addicted to being themselves, because they at last felt significant.
others who were spirited dwindled, eaten away with time. and they became who they never thought they could, who they never wanted to.
the following story was written during that phase. it’s about 10 years old, and the writing style of it shows its age. shows my age when i wrote it. there’s no need for me to edit it or adapt it, because i enjoy seeing how my mind used to work.
it was inspired by the werewolf of wysteria, and of course, the supernatural. it’s a long read, and is obviously horror.
THE SKELETON MAN
He was an ugly, headstone-gray old man and anyone who had ever loved him had long since died. He had cobweb spun into the gates of his lashes and boogeyman’s eyes, emerald as goblin lanterns, which bore into darkness like absinthe fire. Funeral, moth-eaten suits were his regular attire, and he’d shamble to and fro like a broken shadow in front of his living room window. On icy evenings, he’d conduct his ghastly hands in such an artful and strange manner one could go believing he might be some kind of maestro for a symphony in the Other World. The blood-red brick of his house was a nice enough looking box fit for the king of mystery in the quiet neighborhood in which he dwelt. Friend to none save for the stray cats he fed, he was gravely ill and had a dearly departed hunch to his withered shoulders and a twitch-twitch to his bony fingers when not tickling invisible ivories. He would grab at the mystery of indigo at night, and at times even toward invisible tufts of cloudy hair or perhaps the faces of the ivy leaves intruding up the stone and obscuring the stagnant blood between the bricks of the tower of London near where he grew up.
He kept to himself mostly, secluded in his old, hideous house doing God knows what all day and all night, and would, in a sediment producing shamble, leaking dust like a mummy, depart his home but once a day to fetch his mail at noon. During twilight for a rotted cakewalk into the dense filigree of the woods, would he as well depart and come back soon afterward. For this, the children began to grow curious about him and his tendency to isolate but do so without a gloom to him, oh that quiet, skinny stranger and his odd, spidery hands, and thus they named him among themselves The Skeleton Man.
Despite all un-pleasantries however, he was remarkably feeble looking, hardly even a threat to a flea, gentle in how he spoke to others, kind, and never was there anything but a good manner about him. There existed scattered rumors of his history among the towns smaller children, such as his once being a lost emissary or aged scholar for the Other World, or perhaps more believably a knight. They would say some great catastrophe had befallen him to mar his colorless features into the shroud white disfigurement which quietly spoke of sadness now, and so about the blades of grass there in his hollow, drooping eyes, there lived underneath it a legend. They would say he was unjustly robbed of normalcy by a brave act involving the hot turmoil of battle and so learned to prefer being alone. How awful for him, they’d whisper, and gather flowers in an effort to make him feel better as if he were a living corpse and the house in which he dwelt was his active grave.
The children would never manage the courage necessary to deliver any of the flowers they had stolen from the neighborhood to his door, and instead the gutters would become the home of all their petals. The Skeleton Man never learned of their kindness, for he would never come out, as fate would have it, until they were cleaned from the gutters in front of his home.
It was also said that he had once had a wife, which he had loved dearly, and that his name was Frances Burnham. This was of course the name on a peculiar tomb in the cemetery, which was often decorated by a wooden sword annually on Halloween. They were together soul mates, he and his raven-haired, ocean-eyed wife and so much so that he’d look to her in the darkness of their room at nighttime and weep, his sensitive soul, at her beauty and her lost perfection.
One day while coming home a strange man had asked him for any loose change he may have in his pockets, reaching out with a trembling, skeletal hand to beg for it that looked like death itself; bare of any flesh was that hand, bone-white, and belonging to the Other World.
Frightened, Mr. Burnham ran from the scene like any sensible man would… and in so refusing he earned the wrath of the specters. A wrath that would seek to steal all things from his life that he adored, and leave him lonely as the ghost was now, to wander from place to place, cursed and alone. They say that after this had happened, the specters whom sought to alleviate Mr. Burnham’s arrogance by passing on their dreadful ghost hex, followed him diligently for weeks until one night they found him alone walking home again and assaulted with vigor, biting into his bones and draining him of most his blood. Underneath the flicker of stars shutting their eyes to the grim reality being forced to Mr. Burnham, the specters offered an end to the suffering they tormented him with, if only he drank of the witch craft in their poison veins.
Mr. Burnham had taken the offer unknowingly to become a shade himself; a monster, a boogeyman, a thing far too ugly to ever return home to that beautiful, beloved wife.
And so, the Skeleton Man had to drink blood and eat flesh in order to stay alive, and if he were ever to stop he would become old and die. This is how the children know him now, they said. Dying because his kind old heart refuses to glut himself any longer on the life of others.
On one day particularly grey, the Skeleton Man emerged from his mausoleum of a deteriorating house to traipse to the woodlands for his nightly walk.
He came upon a house he did not recognize in the woods. How was this possible? He’d strolled this pathway every day of his long, lonely life for the past 50 years. The question became so heavy and bright in his mind that it made his eyes squint past the tall, slender black legs of the trees and to the mysterious face of this odd little cabin. It gave him pause to realize it seemed abandoned; this he assumed by a punched out eye of one of its few windows that wept glass shards onto the forest floor in parting lines, like the trails of slugs. As well something about it made his slow heart quicken, palpitate like smoke running away to serve the crescent scepter of the moon, and he knew then he must pursue it. Anything that makes our hearts leap in fear or enlightenment is meant to be pursued, of this he knew now for certain in his great many years to be absolutely true.
The house was a stout, dirty pigs blood brick, the shape and accompanying color of a cube of sold butchered meat. In every place it may have once had a certain fairy tale like charm, indigo mulch and rotten ashes of neglect replaced those wiles and smudged its corners, ruined panes, and clawed ugly little face with mold. Thus, as he cautiously drew nearer though stooping in the manner a wary hare might as it scouts the potential of a burrow for the unseen wolf it feels but cannot see, the decay became even more evident than it had been from far away. It was as if by his approach the place collected 10 pounds more of mystery dust and the living debris of an intruder’s breath. With equal portions of fear and wonder seizing his curiosity with shortness of breath, he proceeded accepting numbly that should he perish for his pioneers ambition to uncover what secrets lay within the grotesque walls of this hovel, he had already lived a long and uneventful enough life to hardly care. He minded not the quiet comfort of the grave that may claim him, but rather somewhat found himself morbidly compelled by the idea of it. Whereas others entering such a place of twisted imagination would tremble at the notion of the unknown lurking not far behind, in a way, Mr. Burnham welcomed it. He was not even alarmed by the weighty, familiarly malodorous musk that seeped thru all the damp walls of this strange place.
The wooden, zombie-colored front door, sulphurous green with envy for the living man hugging its splotched doorknob with his warm shaky hand and heating its dead-flesh with the awe in his wide eyes, groaned open. It seemed, as the rusted hinges failed to stay put, hypnotized by the bedside visitor. The door lost the grace of its spine and fell against the wall like a thrown corpse; like its color. And Mr. Burnham clutched his collarbone with a gasp that tasted like goblin spit.
Whether it be his failing vision for years of staring contests interchangeably with the sun and moon, the grounds within as he entered more surely seemed covered in a gloomy fog. Shattered glass triangles and shapes unknown lay on the cemetery grounds of the hardwood floor. Scratches clawed the wall in a far off corner to his right, where one could assume a smaller creature must have accomplished the woeful decoration, as they were not much taller than about 4 feet. The floral printed curtains haunted in and out, soiled on a bad-breath breeze and charred at the ends with hole-bites and witch tatters. There seemed nothing in here but loss and a land long ago left behind for the potential of something better. Mr. Burnham was content to leave.
That was, until he saw the figure of the little girl watching him from a threshold not far off from where he stood dazzled.
However, as he narrowed his eyes at the little figure, in its little fancy purple dress and handsome black shoes, he noted many strange things about her, which gave him a need not to call out to her and ask for her name. First, her dress was torn in many places it ought not be; a rip of purple velvet dripping from her stomach showed a ghastly pale patch of rotten flesh. The white, frilled socks she wore with her black shoes were what one could assume a former bright color but now seemed an unhealthy and hideous gray. There were many wounds and scratches on her arms and knees, she did not seem to breath, and at this point he had lost count on how many things were off with her… because with one step closer, an icy ballet pirouetted between the blades of his shoulders and swelled in his heathen’s chest. He noticed that she had not a face like a regular child, but rather that her head seemed awkwardly turned backwards so that he was supervising the back of it instead of meeting her eyes. Her hands were innocently laced together at the fingers before her and motionless as the rest of her, yet still in this predicament she seemed to be watching him. Curls tenderly cradled bits of gleaming glass and the suicidal leaves of autumn, blown softly by wind invading the suddenly more so unheard of and horrifying territory. The nuclear silence between them elongated into miniature eternities; he dared not even breathe.
Sometimes, our instinct while clambering up the ladder of flight or fight with our heartbeats chasing us up each wrung is naturally to flee; we mostly always choose flight. Today having been so very different from all of his other exact days perhaps was the motivation for Mr. Burnham not to flee, but rather to fight. To give chance to the small figure standing transfixed in the doorway as if a projected image from another world entirely. No thought other than to see the face for himself that, or to confirm this obvious illusion for fact or fiction, shoved his old boots into a cacophony of stirred bark, bugs, and all things busted on the ground beneath the smash of them in pursuit of her. She ran only when he had all but reached his destination, and he gave chase once again.
This game went on for some moments until he realized he might try a new tactic to fool the apparition; he would run along side of her, but weave a new trail in front of where she’d rush away in an effort to catch even the silhouette of her elusive face. When he commandeered this plan flawlessly it had worked, but to his fright he discovered that any time he came upon the front, or the back of the young girl, the head was always positioned backwards. It was with barely a breath to right his hammering heart that he understood he must have been dreaming, that or his eyes were playing foul and devilish tricks on him.
The chase ceased when he could not take another step and required a rest of his tired bones. It was then the figure, in its entire still silent and young, hideously victorious glory, fell soundlessly into a purple velvet heap upon the floor by a hollowed out staircase. A staircase impossible now to ascend, but somehow with the strangled posture and askew angles the body lying at the foot of it took on in its rest from the games, one might have had a mind to believe it had fallen down that filthy case of stairs and died alone. Instead of having been playing a game with a withered and mesmerized fogey like Mr. Burham. Was this the same child he was chasing?
Mr. Burnham wondered, as any man or woman in his breathless and intrigued, terrified mind might, that if he were to approach now that the poppet had laid itself to seeming rest, would he be able to view its face? He could already pencil the pallid outline of its jaw with the chalk of his pupils’ into instant long-term memory. He could already almost see her even from this distance, which lay like stagnant water between them as it had before he’d pursued her.
And so, proceeding with wariness lacing the grime of his charred boots, his ribcage snake rattling and his teeth testing their endurance with the tightest press together of his dismal life, he came upon the corpse. Was she not familiar, with her primrose mouth and milk-stain face? Black lashes caging bluebird eyes? About the neck she spoke of bruises having come upon it by way of big hands, yes, he noted that the marks were definitely accomplished by hands. She had been strangled. Not only this, but with the ice-white realization piercing his back like a scythe, he knew he did indeed recognize the face and it was not his imagination. This young lady had gone missing long ago in the neighborhood, and her parents had never recovered the body. He would have to contact them, alert them to let them know what he had found here in this curious house that had sprang from out of nowhere. The endeavor inspired his heels with a new found vigor replacing his anxiety, as if all the scares he’d experienced were happening only to form him into a hero.
But, if it were that easy to uncover the mysteries of the spirit world, we would all know them by heart.
As Mr. Burnham had turned to leave, another figure appeared in the threshold of his exit. He appeared the type of lad wrapped in poverty and comforted only by the luxury of adventure with his companions, and occasional piece of bread to fill his tiny belly. This young boy wore clothes that were more normal, not too rotted as the girls, and everything down to the arsenic-white of his clenched hands balled into fists, may have appeared normal. If not all together, did he appear far too pale and hollow to be one of the living of this world.
He ran, vanished, and Mr. Burnham did not give chase, but noted that he too, was one of the children that had gone missing in the neighborhood.
All the way home, The Skeleton Man wondered why he of all people would be given this vision of death and dismay, and the horrible and tragic responsibility of informing the parents of these two innocent young children of their untimely demise and perpetual haunt of a strange place in the barren woods. Perhaps it was the only way their disquieted souls could rest.
Overcome with shyness and shame at what he’d seen, The Skeleton Man took to composing two letters for each of the parents detailing every thing that he’d seen and experienced in the haunted house that trapped their children. He poured out each description easily and without restraint, feeling as if the more precise he managed to come across, the less guilty he would look for his knowledge. When both the letters were complete, he folded them neatly into a sandy envelope and put the parent’s full names in fancy cursive so that he’d recall whom they belonged to when he woke up in the morning. For first thing in the morning, after a full nights rest as all these atrocious discoveries and visions had been exhausting to the trampled old man, was when he planned on delivering them.
That night at the exact moment he had almost sunk into a deep and meaningful slumber, an indistinguishable whisper conjured his eyes to open. And there at the foot of his bed, stood the tiny figure of the little boy he had seen run off at the eerie house and disappear, with his wide slaughtered tea-stain eyes and angry mouth, staring. Staring with the hate and inscrutable bitterness of a forgotten vendetta.
“The secret.” the little boy oozed, each chilling syllable an echoing lilt, as he pointed to the closet.
Mr. Burnham turned to the standing closet in his room he had not opened in several years, only because it had rotted inside and could no longer hold his belongings without further damaging its inwards. Why he had kept it so long and not disposed of it, well, perhaps because it had slipped his mind and now, now with a ghostly reminder of its existence before him like a luminous tapestry embroidered with directions and hand delivered from the spirit world, he reckoned he best get to opening it. Post haste.
Unable to refrain his bony limbs from shaking all the while, he opened the door with a swift pull to get it over with.
Inside, there laid two small skeletons and a mirror. A mirror that caused his reflection to stare back at him in such a penetrating and surprising manner, that Mr. Burnham instantly received his last gift for the night; a fast and painless heart attack.
Later, it was discovered that he had murdered the two children and ate every bit of their flesh, until all that was left to hide of his disgusting deeds were the bones.
Within the two letters that Mr. Burnham genuinely believed he’d written kindly and heartsick words to notify both the parents of the children he recognized in the woods, he actually had with ghastly detail explained both of the murders and the proceeding feasts.
In his mind, The Skeleton Man had died innocently.
He never knew that he was him.
words = samantha lucero 2016 ©
image = not mine.