Okay, here 'tiz.  I try to do this every Halloween, just to make myself write if for no other reason.  I'd planned on doing another, but laziness had its way with me so that didn't happen.  If I finish it later I'll give it to ya, Halloween or otherwise.

Meanwhile, we have Scribblebones.  A friend of mine (this here fella) heard the title and suggested that my next story be titled "Fluffy Bunny Goes On A Happy-Time Picnic" or something along those lines.  Yeah, it's kind of a cutesy title.  Promise ya it ain't a cute story, though!  I don't always succeed, but I always write horror with intent to harm... I want to fuck up your sleep.   This one's a bit slow to be full-bore-all-out, but plays in the dark and if I did it right it'll mess with you some by the end of it.  The other one I was working on was going to be more flat-out gory/horrific/sick, but this one's a bit more psychological. 

Anyway, I hope it's good.  If it's not, it's nobody's fault but mine.  A friend on Twitter, Bud Smith, generously offered to proof/edit it for me, which is something I didn't take lightly because the guy's a pro, I admire his stuff a lot and I urge you to check it out... but, I procrastinated too long and wanted to get it up by Halloween, so here it is, raw and 11th hour.  Could probably stand to have some of the chrome stripped off, but, eh, I think maybe it'll still work.

If you like it, there's more on this blog.  Here's a little table o' contents of our horror fiction output:

 My stuff:
Long Tall Sally 
Damp Basements of Heaven 
Up The Stairs Where The Windows are Painted Black 

And a great, scary story from multi-talented blog-brother KickerOfElves , who I'm hoping will do more soon:
Men With Knives

 And if you just want more creepiness and would-be-writer babble in general, I did a post recounting nightmares I've had, some of which got turned into stories (or will be someday, slack permitting).  That should be good for Halloween...

 Anyway, on to the furshlugginer story already...



    The rain was so silvery in the sunlight that Tom expected it to jingle when it hit the ground.  It even raised a silvery smell as it steamed off the hot sidewalks, a heavy tang like old tarnish.  Inappropriate tinsel for a solemn occasion.

    Tom had never been to a funeral where it hadn't rained.   Consistently, it was one of the patterns the universe had laid out for his family, always being buried in the rain.

    He didn't remember a lot about his grandfather other than that the old man had always called him "Tomcat" (Tom was forbidden to tell him how much he hated that), but he remembered the rain during his funeral, and so did most of the rest of the town; it had come down so hard that there'd been flooded farms in the far reaches of the county, bad enough to bring a couple more funerals in Granddaddy's wake.  It had cheated him of a graveside service and threatened to float his casket back out of the ground.

    Twenty-some years later, all Grandmama Bess got was this light shower, not enough to stop the graveside service but enough to inspire the preacher - who'd apparently rather have been a stand-up comic - to spend most of it ad-libbing silly remarks about the weather.  The jokes annoyed Tom and, even more than the weak turnout, seemed to highlight the fact that nobody really cared about the passing of a woman who had, for any practical purpose, been dead at least ten years now.  Thanks to Alzheimer's  -- that thief and murderer and zombie-making voodoo witch doctor -- this funeral was a formality.   It was a joke and the rain was, too, a noncommittal devil-beats-his-wife-and-marries-his-daughter shower with the sun shining, a mocking rain-without-the-decency-of-gloom.  So long, Grandmama Bess's body!  Here's some spit from a universe that fulfills its obligations even if it stiffs you when it comes to the good stuff.

    She'd never gotten what she deserved, anyway, so this pfft of a sendoff was no surprise.  There weren't but a half-dozen people here and out of all of them he was the only one who didn't look like he'd be back for his own funeral in a week or so.   Most of grandmama's friends had already died or forgotten her, he supposed, or maybe they just didn't see the point in making the effort.  He'd quit making the drive to come visit her when she'd forgotten who he was (and didn't seem very interested in meeting this new fellow), and he didn't believe in any afterlife she could look down from and appreciate his respects.  So, it was curiosity about seeing the old town again as much as a vague sense of duty that brought him back.

    The preacher -- too young, with a nervous-eater build, an Adam's apple that bobbed like jerking off under a blanket, and an annoying habit of smacking his lips before starting a new paragraph -- finished up his shabby routine without a rimshot and Tom stalked off without shaking the guy's hand or thanking him.  The irreverent reverend tagged along after him for a few yards, maybe wanting to console him, or maybe wanting to be consoled that "looks-like-a-rain-out-in-the-last-inning" knee-slappers were a great way to put the fun in funeral, but Tom power-walked to his car fast enough to discourage him. 

    He drove around the town a while, trying to find anything familiar, but there wasn't much left.  Maybe that's how Grandmama Bess's Alzheimer's had felt, that I-know-I-spent-a-lot-of-time-here-but-damn-if-I-can-recognize-much-of-it confusion.  The candy store he used to walk to to buy comics was gone entirely and an ugly brick law office was built on the spot.  Mr. Hamilton's -- a probably-dead-by-now friendly guy with a pen full of dogs Tom had liked -- had been remodeled and added-onto so much that there was nothing familiar about it anymore.   The dogpen was long gone, replaced by an above-ground pool.  Leaving town he looked for the lake where Granddaddy'd tried to take him fishing once (until he lost patience because "Tomcat" didn't instantly fall in love with it), but even that wasn't where he thought it was.  You can't just lose a whole lake, can you?  Maybe, in a town like this.

    He was feeling his grandmother's loss more now than he'd thought he would.  The funeral had made ten years or so of loss seem immediate, and she was worth mourning.  She'd always been especially kind to him, often more so than his parents. 

    Especially when it came to the whole Scribblebones thing.

    From a period between around age four and eight, Tom had been obsessed with an imaginary friend named Scribblebones.  He couldn't remember much about Scribblebones now, but at the time it had been so all-consuming that it scared his parents, and there'd been talk of putting him in therapy  when he wouldn't give up and admit that Scribblebones didn't exist.  It seemed silly now, but at the time, Scribblebones had seemed very real to him.  Christians all agree to believe in Jesus so their beliefs are supposed to be respected, Tom thought, but being the only Scribblebones disciple stacked the statistics against him and meant he was "crazy."

    His friend had been vague, a jagged skeleton-like shape (you could still see Tom's drawings of him in the backgrounds of childhood photos), and he'd had weird dreams and they'd played strange games.  Scribblebones had even taught him a song; he couldn't remember any of it but the lines "he's got skinny where he should have fat, makes his bones go this way and that way and that" -- something-something-something. 

    He'd been an imaginative kid, he supposed, although he didn't feel like an especially imaginative adult.  Boring, really.  He managed an industrial laundry and hated to admit that office work was probably a good fit for him.  Nothing as freaktacular as Scribblebones ever again entered his life.  Now the best he could do was make a helluva spreadsheet.  His parents were even more boring, and the abberative imagination had spooked them.

    Grandmama Bess had tirelessly argued that Tom was just creative, it was normal, and there was no need to stigmatize him by sticking a "therapy" tag on him.  He'd always be grateful for that, not making the weirdness official by putting it on record.  For a stretch Grandmama Bess had been the only one on his (and Scribblebones's) side, against parents who were suddenly the enemy.

    Thinking about it, he was happy he'd shown up for the funeral, even if it didn't mean anything to anyone.  His parents hadn't made the trip because they'd retired to France, putting an ocean between them and their old life.  His mother had given up on her mother a long time ago; it was too painful for her to watch the decline.  It seemed cold, but Tom couldn't blame her much.

    His old neighborhood was only a twenty-minute drive so he decided to take it, although he knew it probably wouldn't look any more familiar than Grandmama's town had.  At least maybe there'd be a tree or two he'd climbed.

    As he turned down his street he decided the neighborhood had gone upscale.  Time should have run it down, but everything was nice-looking, well-tended.  And mostly unfamiliar.  Houses that had been big enough for the 80's had been expanded and remodeled.  Trees he remembered were gone, and new trees had sprung up where none had been before.  A vacant lot where he and his friends had played (mostly kickball -- it was a kickball neighborhood) had turned into a forest, which was now being cut down to finally put a house up.  The few familiar things he could find (including one neighbor's ugly, massive sundial) looked out of place now, stolen goods.

    He was out of place, too, but decided to park the car and take a walk.  It'd be a long drive back to Birmingham and he might never make it here again, now that all ties to the place were untied.  He pulled over in front of the forested area, got out, and started walking back toward his house.   The road was dry here and the clouds were gone, so the universe was officially out of the funeral business for a while. 

    Nostalgia wouldn't come to him.  The road twisted the same, but it was going through a different neighborhood.   This was hardly worthwhile.

    At least his house had been kept up nicely, and added onto.  A young woman was working in a flower garden to the side of the house while a toddler pedaled his hot-rod tricycle around a driveway covered in pink, green, yellow and blue chalk drawings.  Tom stopped for a minute to try to figure out what had been added on, and the woman -- barely more than a girl -- looked up and smiled at him.  She was Latina and very pretty even though slobbed-out for gardening; she had on a man's faded blue shirt that was too big for her, and her dark curls were tied back in a bandanna, pirate style.  "Hi.  Nice day, isn't it?" she said.

    "Looks like it'll turn into one now that the rain's gone," he said, smiling back.

    A little frown only made her cuter.  "Rain?  We didn't get any rain here."  She stood up and stretched, now that this was turning into a conversation.

    "Oh.  It was raining where I was earlier.  My grandmother's funeral."

    "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, face going sad but still very pretty.  She looked sincere, and Tom decided he liked her; she seemed like a genuinely nice person.  It'd still give his uptighty-whitey parents fits, though, knowing Hispanics were living in their house now.  But the hell with his parents.

    "It's okay, she was very old, and had Alzheimer's for years."

    "Ah.  My grandfather was just diagnosed with that.  It's such a sad disease."

    "It is," Tom nodded.  "They have better treatments now, so hopefully your grandfather won't be hit as hard."

    "It's in the early stages.  He seems okay now, but..." she made a who-knows face and shrugged.  "It's so not fair.  He just retired last year, and now he has a grandson.  I hope he's around for a while, because Fernando is a real Grandpa's boy."

    The kid, presumably Fernando, had stopped pedaling and was staring at Tom.  Tom smiled and waved.  Fernando waved back.  He didn't smile, but the mother did, like waving back was the most adorable thing ever.  "Hope so," Tom said, then nodded at the house.  "I love what you've done with the house.  I used to live here when I was about his age."  He nodded toward Fernando.  "Up until I went to college, actually."

    "In our house? Oh, how neat!" she said, tucking her right hand into her left armpit to pull the gardening glove off, then reached out to shake.  "I'm Conchita Ruiz.  We moved here a year or so before Fernando was born... oh, I guess that was four years or so ago now."

    "Tom Ward," he said, shaking her hand.  It felt fragile and small, and he was scared he'd crush it if he returned her grip too much.  "I barely recognize the place.  Somebody added on to it."  Her eyes were tan and he liked the way they caught the light.

    "Wasn't us," she said, tugging off the other glove and pocketing them both.  "We were just barely able to afford the place.  It's big enough for us, though.  No complaints."

    "It seemed big enough to me, too.  My parents probably would've stayed here but they got a crazy idea and moved to France."
    "France?  Wow."

    "Yeah, wow's what I said.  Came out of the blue and has never made any sense to me, but, that's what they did.  I still haven't made the trip to see them."
    "I'd love to go to France," Conchita sighed.

    "Well, if you do, say hi to them for me, because I don't see myself going anytime soon."  She laughed at that.  "This was a good house to grow up in.  How's Fernando liking it?"

    "Oh, he loves it.  A little too much, maybe.  Thanks to him we're going to have to do some repainting.  We're just waiting for him to grow out of drawing on the walls before we do it, though, because we can't seem to stop him."

    "Ah.  Well, if you scrape the paint off the walls, you'll probably find some of my old artwork, too.  I went through that phase pretty hard."   That's how his Scribblebones thing had started, Tom recalled, crayon scribbles of a skeleton on the wall of his bedroom.  He'd gotten a belt-spanking for that one, which was still one of his earliest memories.  He'd only been spanked the first time, though.  After that, just concern, like it was something he wasn't responsible for, some sickness.

    "Well, Fernando's going at it pretty hard, too.  We give him time-outs, took his crayons away, but whenever our backs are turned for a minute, there he goes.  He says a friend is telling him to do it, but since the friend is imaginary, that's hardly an excuse."

    Tom felt a strange chill and looked over at the driveway, at the chalk drawings.  They looked familiar.  Jagged, linear, round head with big square teeth, skinny limbs that went this way and that... "Imaginary friend, huh?" he said absently, distracted by the chalk figures.

    "Yes, he's picked up quite the little imagination," Conchita said, disdainfully.  "I see you looking at the chalk.  We got him that, hoping it'd curtail the drawing-on-the-walls thing.  The rain'll clean that off."  She sighed.  "Unfortunately it hasn't stopped him from attacking the walls, completely.  We give him paper, too.  You should see all the art we have stuck on our refrigerator."

    Yeah, maybe I should Tom wanted to blurt out, but settled for stepping closer to the driveway to get a better look at the chalking.  There were a few dogs and flowers and trucks mixed in, but the prevailing figure was that jagged, bony thing over and over.  Yes, Tom knew him well.  But how in the hell did Fernando?  He looked at the kid, and the kid gave him a slight smile, friendly but cautious.  He had a Moe-Howard mop of black hair that'd probably look nice when combed, and dark, intelligent eyes.  Tom squatted down near him and pointed to one of the skeletal figures.  "These are nice.  Did you draw them?" he asked.

    Fernando nodded.

    "That's supposed to be his friend," Conchita said.  "His name's Scribabo.  Or something like that."

    Yeah, something like that, Tom thought, feeling a wave of chill.  He couldn't believe this.

    "I'm afraid we speak English and Spanish so Fernando's having a little difficulty sorting them out, getting two words for everything.  We're not sure if he's trying to say something in English or Spanish."

    It's neither, really, Tom wanted to say, but there was no way to do it without freaking Conchita out.

    "Scribabo, huh?" Tom said to Fernando.

    "Scribba-bons!" Fernando said emphatically.

    "Scribblebones?" Tom said.

    Fernando smiled big and nodded.  Finally he'd made himself understood!  He chattered something else that Tom couldn't understand.

    "What was that?  Scribble-bones?" Conchita asked.

    "That's what it sounded like to me," Tom said.

    "I bet that's it!  We thought it looked like a skeleton.  Kind of a skull... and those look like ribs."  She toed a chalk drawing.  "And he's scribbly, for sure."

    "Yep," Tom said, with a feeling of dread.  "More so than the rest of his artwork.  Look at the dog, and the stem on that flower.  Straight, clean lines.  But this bony guy here... the lines go all over the place."  This way and that way and that.  He's got skinny where he should have fat.

    "Yes, it does!" Conchita said, staring at the drawings.  "He's scribbled on purpose!  Scribblebones."  She smiled at Tom.  "You've solved a big mystery for us!"

    Tom forced a smile and tipped an imaginary hat.  "Shucks, ma'am, it's what I do.  Wandering the world, interpreting refrigerator art."  He was trying to keep it light, but this scared him more than anything had ever scared him.  Scribblebones was his imaginary friend.  How did Fernando meet him?  It was impossible.

    Unless, somehow, Scribblebones wasn't imaginary. 

    And that was too disturbing to contemplate.  For a fantasy figure he was great.  For a real one, he was terrifying.

    Conchita laughed and brought her hands together with a clap.  "I can't wait to tell Joe about this!  Hey, would you like to come in, see the house?  I bet you'd like to see it after twenty-some years, huh?"

    "Yes, desperately," he said.  "I was hoping you'd ask.  I didn't want to seem creepy so I wasn't going to bring it up, but, yes, I'd very much like to see it again."

    "Oh, you're not creepy."  She laughed.  "And anyway, my husband's home and he's bigger than you."

    "Well, then," Tom laughed, and Conchita patted his arm so he'd know she was teasing.  She put her hand on Fernando's head and said, "Come inside, Fernando, let's go get some cookies."

    The boy abandoned the tricycle and ran into the house, Conchita and Tom right behind.  The door opened into the kitchen and Tom immediately saw a refrigerator buried in art.  Like the marks on the sidewalk, there was some variation, but mostly it was jagged lightning-bolt skeletons, all over.  Conchita saw him looking and said, "Too much, you think?"  She handed him one of the lemon cookies she’d gotten for her son.

    "One can never have too much refrigerator art," Tom said, staring at the figures, feeling forgotten things from his past waking up and pulling at him, ghosts stirring in locked mental rooms.   These could have been some of his own old drawings.  He recognized some of the same poses, even, Scribblebones handing out black flowers, Scribblebones surrounded by little animals that could be puppies or might be rats.  They looked like neither, really, but Tom remembered them as rats.  Some line from the song, he thought, "His bones were all crooked and all-not-nice, all chewed up by rats and mice," something like that. 

    He could understand his parents' concern a little better now; viewed from an adult perspective, Scribblebones wasn't exactly a nice playmate.

    "Joe?" Conchita called.  "Where are you?  We have company."

    "In here." They stepped into the living room.  A short-but-stocky dark-skinned guy who looked very much like Fernando in twenty years, more pudge, and a better haircut stood up from the couch and shook Tom's hand.  "Hi, Joe Ruiz," he said, then gestured to a chair.

    "Tom Ward," Tom said, not sitting yet.

    "Tom lived in this house as a kid, and I thought he might like to see it again," Conchita said.

    "Sure, sure," Joe said, nodding.  "Used to live here, eh?"  His smile was nice, bookended by deep dimples.  It put even more Fernando into his face.

    "Yep, some twenty years back or so.  You've improved things a lot.  This is really nice."   It was, too, much classier than it had been when Tom grew up in it.  The furniture didn't look expensive, and he could see a few inevitable toddler-in-the-house spots on it and the carpet, but it was still a big improvement in homey-ness.  Maybe the Ruiz's were just better housekeepers or had a better sense of style.  The living room was arranged completely differently from the one Tom had grown up in, but he liked this better.  He decided he'd been raised in a furniture-arrangement mistake.  "You've done great things with this."

    "Well, Cheeta's got an interior design degree and I work for a contractor who remodels houses, so we've done a few things here, there.  Of course, Hurricane Fernando's been hard at work trying to undo them."  He scooped Fernando up and lay him across his knee and did a little bongo-roll on his butt as a fake spanking.  Fernando laughed, in a way that made Tom feel certain he'd never gotten a real one.

    "Tom figured out what Fernando's been saying.  You know, the name of his imaginary friend?" Conchita said.

    "Ol' Screwball or Skeeball or whatever?"  Joe craned his neck back and laughed as Fernando tried to stick his fingers into his mouth.

    "Yeah.  You ready for this?  Scribblebones."

    Joe frowned at the air and grinned.  "Yeah, that's probably it.  It makes sense.  How'd you figure it out?"

    Tom shrugged.  "That's just what it sounded like.  And it fit the pictures."

    "Yeah, the pictures," Joe sighed.  "Man, oh man, the pictures.  I just painted this place and about the time the fumes faded out 'Nando went to work.  You should see that, man, oh man."   He swatted him lightly on the butt again and Fernando grabbed his father's hand and wrestled with it, grinning.

    "He probably shouldn't, because it's awful, but I'm going to show him anyway.  C'mon,"  Conchita said, and Tom followed her through the house.  Tom's old room was their bedroom now, the old guest bedroom was Fernando's room, and his parents' room had become a study with a computer and a worktable piled with catalogs, fabric samples, and other interior-design paraphernalia.  Conchita apologized for the messiness of it, but for a work space it really wasn’t bad.

    Fernando’s crayon frescoes were mostly in his room, but he’d also snuck one -- drawn with a ball-point pen -- onto the wall of his parents’ bedroom.  Scribblebones looked especially spidery in that one, long-limbed, his head oblong and thin.  It looked like a toddler’s portrait of a crippled man wasting with disease.

    The one that bothered Tom the most, though, depicted Scribblebones with a big-toothed grimace (he guessed it was supposed to be a smile, but God it looked grim) holding hands with a smaller skeletal figure.  Conchita pointed at it. “That’s supposed to be Fernando, he says.  See the flowers? On the day he drew that he came in with a bunch of daisies.  Don’t know where he got them because I don’t think anybody around here has them in their yard, and we certainly don’t let him go wandering around.  We keep a pretty tight eye on him.  Not enough to spare the walls, though, I guess.  Anyway, that one kind of, I don’t know, gives me the creeps a little.”

    “I can see as it would,” Tom said.  He felt cold and heavy, looking at it.  His past was shaking the bars of its cage and he wanted it to stop.

    “I still wonder where he got the flowers.  I grow lots of them, but no daisies.”  She gnawed at one of her fingers and frowned at the picture.  “Also, I hate thinking he sees himself that way.”

    “It’s probably just how he draws people,” Tom said.  “Maybe everybody looks like a skeleton.”

    “He doesn’t draw Joe or me that way.  Or himself, usually.”

    “It’s pretty amazing a kid his age draws at all.  Usually they just scribble.”

    “He’s bright,” Conchita said.  “Very bright.  Almost scary.”

    Tom nodded.  He, too, had been a gifted child, and now he was wondering if he’d had an extra teacher.  Something very strange was going on in this house, and he felt like he should tell them about it.  If he had any proof, he would, but without proof they’d just think they’d let some raving lunatic into their house and throw him out or call the cops.  He tried to think of a way to prove things, but he was drawing a blank.  Looking at the picture, he was remembering more things, and he could feel a presence he hadn’t felt since he was very small.  Scribblebones was here.  And remembered him.

    “Fernando has a couple of Halloween books and toys.  I guess that’s where he got the skeleton idea.”

    “Yeah, kids love that stuff.  Especially boys.  Creepy stuff is the coolest.  He’s a little young for it, but, like you said, he’s ahead of the curve.”

    “I suppose so.  I just wish he wasn’t so obsessed with it, drawing it all the time, playing games with somebody we can’t see.”

    “Oh, I did the same thing,” Tom said, wishing he could go into details.  “My parents worried about me a lot, I was so imaginative.”   And now I’m worried that I wasn’t really all that imaginative after all.

    “I suppose it’s normal.  Harmless.”

    Tom nodded.  And maybe it was.   He was a relatively normal adult, and he’d been friends with this Scribblebones thing.  Scribblebones had never harmed him.

    Maybe.  But what about Paul Winstead, though?

    He’d forgotten about Paul Winstead, or maybe blacked him out of his memory, until now.  It seemed like the Paul Winstead thing was what made them want to put him into therapy.

    Tom couldn’t remember all of it, but he’d apparently gotten into a “he is too real!” argument with Paul, who was five or six years older than him, old enough that he’d seemed like a grownup.  Paul was a bully to begin with, and a little kid insistent on an imaginary friend was bait he couldn’t resist, so he’d pushed Tom around, held him down, and fed him grass.  “Why don’t you get Scrambled Eggs to come save you?” Paul had said, slapping him upside the head; Tom remembered how clever Paul had thought he was, renaming Scribblebones like that.  He’d finally let Tom up and Tom spat out grass and yelled “Scribblebones is too real and he’s going to GET you!” and then ran home.

    Two or three weeks later, they’d found Paul in some woods at the back of the neighborhood, beaten to death.  Apparently some maniac had gone over him with a hammer or something, spent some time at it and really did it ugly.  They never figured out who did it, to Tom’s knowledge -- it could have been a lot of people, because Paul was an asshole who made lots of enemies.  Speculation ran to Paul’s mean drunk of a father, but he’d had an alibi so the case went nowhere.  Others thought Paul’s smart mouth might have gotten him in trouble with some high school hoods, but again, there was no proof.

    Tom had claimed it was Scribblebones.  Of course, that was impossible because Scribblebones was imaginary (right?), and it wasn’t Tom having some schizophrenic episode because he was only five or six at the time, incapable of taking on a borderline-teenager like Paul.  The grazing episode had proven what a hopeless theory that was.  But even wanting his imaginary friend to be responsible for such a hideous act had disturbed his parents.

    And now it disturbed Tom, because he wondered if it might be true.  With this evidence that Scribblebones wasn’t just something he’d invented, was anything out of the realm of possibility? 

    He looked at the grim smile in Fernando’s drawing, the empty black eyes staring back at him with a “where ya been? I’ve been waiting” patience in them, even though they weren’t much more than scribble.  He must’ve been making a face, because Conchita said, “It’s kind of impressive art for a three-year old, isn’t it?  I mean, it has an expression.  Like a mood."

    “Yeah... yeah, I was just thinking that.”

    “Maybe he’ll be an artist when he gets older.”

    “Wouldn’t surprise me.  You can tell he’s making up stories, too, telling them with his pictures.  Maybe he’ll work in comic books.”

    “I’ve got a cousin who does that.  Nobody big, just some independent things, but... there’s a precedent.”

    Oh, there’s a precedent all right, Tom thought, wondering again how he could prove it.  “Maybe it runs in the family,” he said, looking over the other drawings in the room.  They weren’t all drawn on the walls; there were bits of paper, and a chalkboard with Scribblebones scrawled over a few layers of other badly-erased Scribblebones.  On one wall was a rusty smear where something had been rubbed out.

    Conchita pointed at it.  “That one really bothered me.  I washed it off.  Fernando drew his friend up there in blood.   He gets bloody noses, so it naturally made good paint, but that looked so horrible...”

    “I can imagine,” Tom said, remembering he’d done something similar.  Standing in this room, he felt watched.

    “I hope he won’t become a graffiti artist.”

    “Oh, he’ll grow out of the drawing on walls thing.  I did.”

    Conchita laughed.  “Sounds like this house has been the site of a lot of childhood vandalism.”

    “Second generation now,” Tom said, wondering if the family who’d lived here before the Ruiz’s had had a kid with a Scribblebones friend.  “It’s all art!”

    “Yeah, try telling Joe that.  He got so mad when he saw that wall.  He yelled, Fernando cried, Joe felt bad and then had to make Fernando laugh.  So, he’s probably confused about whether he did bad or good.  Joe just can’t be mean to him, though.  Big softie.”

    “He seems like a nice guy.”

    “He is.  He’ll grumble like a bear while he repaints the room, though.  Hopefully by then Fernando will be old enough not to draw on the walls anymore.  Or, even better, have given up the whole Scribblebones thing.”

    “Yeah, that’d be good,” Tom said, wondering what it would take.  An exorcist?   How had he given it up?  He couldn’t remember, but he thought he just outgrew it.  Or Scribblebones had gotten tired of him and left.  Maybe whatever he -- it -- was only liked small children.  Maybe grown-ups were too much of a challenge.

    He felt a strong urge to warn them, though, because knowing what he now knew, this all seemed highly dangerous.  Little Fernando was playing with some weird supernatural thing, and how could Tom, as a responsible adult, stand by and let that go on?  But without proof there was nothing he could do. 

    “Well, I better be hitting the road,” he sighed, feeling helpless.  “Thank you for letting me get another look at the old homestead.  You’ve been very kind, and I’m glad the house is in such good hands.”

    “Bring back any old memories?”

    “Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” he said, taking a last look at a picture he might have drawn himself, thirty years or so ago.  Somewhere under the paint there might still be such drawings, but they’d think he was crazy if he tried scraping through to them.

    They walked back to the living room and he shook hands with Joe and Fernando, thanked them again, told them it was nice meeting them all, then left.

    He felt numb on his ride home, almost too distracted to be driving.  All he could think about was the absurdity of the whole thing.  It was impossible. Impossible.   And yet, there it was.

    And he was remembering darker sides to it.  Nightmares, with such weird images they didn’t seem to come from inside his own head, things a child shouldn’t have been capable of picturing.  He remembered his mother talking to psychiatrists about them, and that’s when he’d stopped telling her about his dreams.  Scribblebones, he remembered, had told him not to.

    He couldn’t remember seeing Scribblebones, exactly; he’d seemed like a regular imaginary friend, but then there were snippets of images, vague memories, things he couldn’t reach anymore.  Much of his childhood was locked away from him, he realized.  The details were faded, shut away in the dark.

    Had he invented this thing, believed it so hard that he’d given some kind of life to it and now Fernando had found it?  Or was it something that had been around before him, something that found and befriended him, as it may have befriended others previously?  Where'd the damn thing come from?

    Scribblebones had seemed very real at the time.  Now he seemed real again.  Tom remembered that Kurt Cobain’s suicide note had been addressed to his childhood imaginary friend, Boddah.  Some things never fully left.

    His head hurt and his nerves were shaking when he pulled into his driveway.  He told himself it was none of his concern, now, but he didn’t buy that.  He was the only one who knew.  It was a responsibility.

    But he had an idea.  He went to the closet where the family photo albums were stored, pulled them out, and carried them to the couch.  After poring over them and yanking pictures as he went, he soon had his evidence; over two dozen pictures with Scribblebones art visible in the background, all obviously taken around 1980, with a recognizable Tom in all of them.   One was even of him painting a Scribblebones picture with poster paint; he’d gotten it all over him (including a near-perfect Hitler mustache in blue where he'd wiped his nose) and his dad had found that funny enough to want a photo of it.  Other pictures were of birthday parties, Christmases... one was a shot of his room that they’d taken so he wouldn’t get too homesick at camp, and the Scribblebones pictures were all over the place in that one.  The styles were a little different, but he and Fernando had obviously been drawing the same subject.  The Ruiz's would see that.  What they could do about it was a different matter, but at least he’d be able to prove this situation was real.

    Tom gathered up the photos, stuffed them into an envelope, and went to bed, planning to call in sick and drive back to the Ruiz’s in the morning.  But he was too disturbed to sleep much, and when he did nod off he had a horrible - yet somehow familiar - dream in which the shadow of a thin, crooked figure was cast in the light from doorways of rooms he knew were empty.   He heard a scratchy little whisper that he hadn’t heard in decades, and woke in a cold sweat.

    Checking the clock and seeing it was a little past 4 a.m., he decided to go ahead and make the drive.  He’d wait and catch them before they headed off to work.  He got his keys and the envelope of pictures, locked up his apartment, and started the drive again.

    Darkness rushed to meet his car and he caught himself driving too fast; he'd get there too early even if he stuck to the speed limit, and then he'd have to sit in their driveway like a stalker.  They might think he was crazy, anyway, despite the photos.  Show some kindness to a guy and suddenly he's intruding into your lives, bearing disturbing stories.   He was conscious of the fact that he was in his parents' role now, not Grandmama Bess's.  But Grandmama Bess hadn't known what Scribblebones was, really.

    An impulse urged him to turn back, leave it alone, let Fernando grow out of it like he had.  He hadn't been harmed.

    Paul Winstead had, though.

    "That was a coincidence," he said aloud.  The similarity between his imaginary friend and Fernando's, no, too big to be a coincidence, but the Paul Winstead thing, that was unrelated.  It fit a story -- a really bad story -- but some transient had done that.  Or Winstead's old man.  Alibi be damned, that lousy drunk was capable of it; that's why Paul was such a mean little shit, it was what he'd learned at home.  No jaggedy skeleton-thing had pounded him to death, that was ridiculous.

    Most of the drive was a lonely stretch through deep forest, and that did nothing to help his mood.  The woods were full of mist that crept over the road and fogged his windshield, and there was no other traffic at this hour.  Usually some long-haul trucker would blow past you, but not tonight, he had it all to himself.

    Or, at least he hoped he did.  He'd been feeling a presence all day.  And it was worse now.

    There was even a vague smell, like mildew and old sweat and sick-man's breath.  Something was riding with him, and his skin crawled, fearing its touch.

    In the misty woods, pairs of white-blue lights moved.   Eyes. Deer, moving through the trees like ghosts, entranced by his lights.  Another reason he shouldn't be driving so fast.  To hell with imaginary friends, one real deer jumping in front of him at this speed would finish it all.

    The smell went from vague to a stench.  He heard a rattling breath from the back seat and a chill shook him.   There was something in the car with him.  Dread spiked his heart and he checked the rear-view mirror.  The back seat was all darkness, but then darkness slid on darkness as something moved.

    Crooked fingers reached from the back seat and covered his eyes, and he screamed and tried to pull away, but they gripped his face, cold and damp and bony.   An old friend was singing in his ear in a voice as twisted as the rest of him as he tried to pry the stiffened hands away. 

    Rumble strips hammered at his tires and the car dipped wildly as it dove into the ditch, slamming him around in the seat, and then he felt it go airborne, twist almost lazily and drop him on the ceiling before coming down hard enough to crack his teeth and shock the breath out of him. Then the car rolled and rolled and the world was all flying glass and stabbing limbs and pain and the sky was made of grass and mud and the ground was full of moonlit clouds, over and over until a heavy SLAM shook him into a massive black nothing that washed over like a tide.

    When he woke up again, he opened the one eye he still had and looked around.  The car was tilted crazily against a tree, down a slope, far off the road, and bugs were whirring as a pink and orange dawn was lighting the sky.  He looked down at his body and then looked back up at the sky, almost vomiting.  Bad idea, looking at his body.  He wasn't going to do that again.  He was obviously dead, it was just taking a while to happen.  Nobody could live with that body.  Nobody would want to.   He was scrambled.  Scribbled.

    He listened to his blood dripping and felt the pain trying to force the breath out him.  There probably wasn't a bone in him that wasn't broken.  They were protruding through his limbs like thorns from a rose stem.  His arms and legs were twisted in every direction but the right ones.  Even his hands were ruins that couldn't grip the wheel anymore, and pieces were chopped and torn out of him everywhere, laying around the car.  His breathing tasted like iron-rich mud.  It rattled like scrambling rats in a chest gone all out of form.   The pain was so overwhelming that he had to laugh at it, it was so ridiculous.  He was ridiculous, being alive in that shape.  But he thought he understood now.

    His bones went this way and that way and that. 

    He had skinny where he should have had fat. 

    La da dee dee daaaaaaaah.

    He wouldn't look at it again.   He's spare himself that one last thing.  It was much easier to watch the sky, to watch the dawn which, for him, was the sunset.  

    When it started to rain, he laughed until he coughed.  The universe was filling its contract a little early, but damn if it wasn't coming through.  Soon he couldn't tell what was dripping rain and what was draining blood.

    The dawn sky darkened, and the rain fell heavier and grew cold, but Tom wasn't there to feel it.

    He'd already gone away to play with a friend.


                    THE END

1 comment:

  1. You didn't need somebody to edit it! It's solid as bedrock as it is! Nicely done...