The pill bottle sounded like a pin from a million miles way as it dropped from her hand. She moaned and leaned back and watched the stars blur into terrible magnificence as the poison did its work. It wasn’t the usual downers. Not what Carl used to bring.

“Everything is burning.”

Curt snorted.

“Ain’t it always.”

She rolled towards him and flopped across his lap like a beached fish.

“You’re soooo sqqqqqquishy.”

“Hell. Pax. Pax get your ass over here. What the fuck did you give her?”

“Calm down, man, you think I’d spike your girl.”

“She’s ‘spiked’ with something. The hell are these things?”

The woman sniffed the man with wonderment, eyes saucer-wide, moist and unblinking.

“S’alright, man. I always have someone try before I buy. They ain’t cut with shit.”

“They fucking better not be. She’s licking me now. Pax. She’s licking me.”

“You’re the first man I ever met to complain about too much female attention.”

“Its not funny, man.”

Pax raised his hands in entreaty.

“Like I said. It’s perfectly safe, just gets you loose is all, here, I’ll try one, see, perfectly fine,” He gave a shudder and inhaled and exhaled sharply as the change came into his system.

“Where’d you get this shit?”

“I… got… um… off’a… Karst.”

“Karst? Everic Karst?”

“Yeeeah. And?”

“And he’s a fucking psycho. Have you heard what he did to Damion Strake?”

“Nooope.”

“Slit his fucking throat is what he did.”

Pax snicked and kicked some dirt into the outer darkness beyond the dumpyard.

“Its not funny.”

“You seen it go down or is this just another one of those old wives tales Carla likes to whisper in your ear before she fills your mouth with cunny juice?”

“Fuck off. I’m serious.”

Pax rolled his eyes as Carla sprang up, suddenly intense.

“They’re not ‘old wives tales’ Paaaaax.”

“That shit is really fucking you up, isn’t it?”

“No. I’m fiiine. But The Bone Man isn’t a old wives tale.”

The Bone Man?”

Carla dropped to a knee and looked left to what had once been the parking lot of the old coal breaker and then right to Curt’s half empty beer.

She grabbed it and took a swig and leaned against Curt as Pax set himself down to the fine gravel before them, the light of the bonfire illuminating their youthful faces in darting, amber arcs.

“I saw him once.”

“Who—the bone man?'” Pax queried with a oafish grin.

She nodded emphatically.

“Where’d you see him?”

“Here.”

“Uh huh. And what did he look like?”

“Like a normal person. Like you… only handsomer.”

Curt laughed as Pax frowned and drew his own beer to his lips.

“Doubt that…. Why do they call him the bone man?”

“Because he collects bones, stupid. Carries um. In a little bag on his belt. And… if he sees you… that’s where you wind up.”

Pax laughed again, “Oooh, spoooooky,” he intoned cartoonishly, wriggling his fingers as if weaving a spell.

“Can’t believe you’d never heard this one before,” Curt replied as he pried his beer from Carla’s hands, “Used to be all the kids would tell it.”

“We ain’t kids.”

Curt rose and stretched.

“I gotta take a piss. Be right back.”

“K.”

When Curt left off into the settled dark, Pax moved to sit next to Carla who smiled and sipped at her boyfriend’s beer.

“Your man is pretty dull, C.”

“What? Why?”

“He’s a goody two-shoes. Always worrying. No sense of humor.”

“Nuh uh.”

“Yeah huh.”

“You’re so mean sometimes.”

“Isn’t that one of the things you like about me?”

She giggled stupidly as Pax looked keenly over his shoulder. Curt hadn’t come back.

“No. I like you when you’re sweet.”

“Oh yeah? How sweet?”

“Like honey.”

“You know what you gotta do with honey, right?”

She starred a moment and then issued forth a stacatto laugh and slapped his arm.

“Stop it.”

“Don’t want me when I’m mean, don’t want me when I’m sweet. Just can’t win with you.”

“Its not like that.”

“Whats it like?”

“Its like Curt.”

“Well, Curt ain’t here right now.”

“But he will be.”

“Goody Two-Shoes must have gotten lost.”

“Now you’re just trying to scare me.”

“Wouldn’t dare. Bone Man can’t scare you, how can I?” He brought his arm about her shoulder and took the beer and sipped it. It tasted of aluminum, hops and lipstick. “Say, uh, is he really handsomer than me?”

She rolled her head against the man’s ample chest, smiled and craned her head towards his ear. Whispering.

“Nah. I never seen him. I was just saying that… to see if you got jealous.”

Pax smiled and kissed her full on the lips. Scent of jasmine and booze. Potpourri and sweat. Saliva and ash. She went nearly limp and faintly gasped and then suddenly pulled away, messy hair falling about soft, rouged cheeks and short, furrowed brows.

“That’s mean, Pax.”

“Thought I was being sweet. Thought you liked me when I was sweet?”

The woman made a strange half-growling noise and then closed her eyes and leaned back against the man with a strangled sigh as the fire faded in the pit not ten feet away.

“If Curt seen that… he’d be angry.”

“Ain’t no reason to be. I’m plenty happy to share.” With that he brought his hand behind the woman’s head and kissed her again, his free hand snaking down the arc’d tumulus of her spine towards the warmth of her thighs.

She pulled away abruptly again. Glaring and then frowning. Worried.

“Shouldn’t Curt have been back by now?”

“Maybe.” Pax replied, pawing her left thigh, his right moving up her love-handles to just below her moon-lit breasts.

“If he went in the coal breaker… and got lost…”

“He’ll be fine.” Pax declared firmly kissing her cheek and smiling.

“We should go look for him.”

Pax rolled his eyes and straightened, gasping at what stood behind her.

“What is i-”

“I don’t suppose your friend would be very pleased, were he able to see what you two are getting up to in his absence.”

Carla turned to behold a tall man of indeterminate age, standing just beyond the dancing light of the bonfire. He appeared to be wearing jeans and a flannel work shirt and driving gloves and leather boots of some peculiar make beyond her reckoning.

Pax rose. Tense.

“Were you… watching us?”

“There’s wind between the trees ain’t there?”

“You high or something?”

“There is no substitute for the exhilaration of a man that’s seen a naked soul, distended in the abscess of its failing flesh.”

All was silent for a moment, save for the faint crackling of the fire.

“You live around here,” Carla queried meekly from where she kneeled, meerkat-like upon the ground.

The man turned towards her. His eyes like lanterns in the night. For a moment there was nothing in all the world but those effulgent spheres. The fleeing shadows unmasked a face bloodless as the white-bone of the moon, which loomed above them like the archaic egg of some unimaginable beast and flesh filled with fear at the possibility of its hatching.

A cry of terror cut up the night as wooden avians took to flight and turned in widening gyres against the settling dark.

*

Curt awoke to bird-song and a pulsing pain in his head. He cursed and felt the back of his skull. Wet. Hair stiff and spongy. He looked at his palm and saw blood. He moaned and rolled up off the debris-laden floor of the old coal breaker as the night’s events slowly slithered back into the shadow-shorn wheel-work of his slow-churning mind.

“I tripped and hit my head like some damned old fool. Dad was right. Just wasn’t meant for sports,” He muttered under his breath as he regained his equilibrium before stretching against pane-filtered sunbeams, full-up with the ancient motes of numberless insectal skins. The man took a deep breath and then remembered his friends and sighed. Pax had been alone with Carla the whole night. They’d probably fucked. Probably thought he wouldn’t much care. They probably wouldn’t care even if he said he did. They never seemed to care about much of anything, except when the next pill train was coming and how cold or hot it was outside.

When he arrived back at the campsite, however, neither Pax nor Carla was too be seen.

He tried their cell phones.

Nothing.

Some crows cawed in the far off reaches of the fetid wood beyond the breaker and as they did, the man noticed something in the ashes of the campfire.

Bones.

Animalian and multivariate. Eft and grouse. Vole and shrew. All meticulously arranged in a wide circle, symmetrical beyond all comprehension, and in the center of it, Carla and Pax’s beer can, cut up and folded into two diminutive, metallic figurines.

A man and a woman.

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3 Replies to “Lanterns In The Night”

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