This is the story of … Bloody Bones!
On a Wednesday in October, in the school cafeteria, Carlton said to his friend Bobby, “I wonder what Miss Bird looks like naked?” Bobby replied that he had just been thinking the same thing.
Miss Bird was their 6th grade teacher at Shepherdstown Middle School. She was single, in her mid-twenties, and the boys were in agreement that she was attractive, though perhaps not “a babe”. The word around school was that she had been in love with a minor-league baseball player, a catcher named Filbert.
One day at a game, so the story went, Miss Bird, who religiously attended all the games, had called out Filbert’s name right as a ball was bearing down on him. Filbert was distracted by his lover’s voice, and the ball beaned him in the head. He never came out of the resulting coma but died a lingering death, a mere vegetable withering away beyond recognition. Or so the story went. Miss Bird was never known to date any man after that tragic affair.
Carlton kept the story alive by repeating it to every new kid in school. Carlton was Miss Bird’s problem student. He was an only child, slightly hyperactive, bored stiff with school. He always wore a Batman t-shirt, jeans, and white high-top canvas basketball shoes, and – oh yeah, his breath stank.
His classmates joked about his bad breath. When Carlton spoke in class, he held a book up to his mouth to try to cover his breath. At Christmas time, when the classmates anonymously exchanged presents, Carlton’s gaily-wrapped contribution was a collection of America’s best horror stories, which went to Kendra. In return, he clutched the little package wrapped in candy-cane gift paper from the unnamed donor to his chest and went into the bathroom to open it in private. It was a plastic container of blue mouthwash. On Valentines Day, Carlton was the only child who didn’t receive a single Valentine from any of the other children, until his buddy Bobby, realizing the oversight, hastily executed a card, without signature, and left it on Carlton’s desk when he wasn’t looking.
Carlton was constantly reading, his head buried in a book. During recess he took a book along and read, up on the bleachers, where he could keep an eye on the activity on the soccer field. Even in class, no matter what the subject that was being discussed, Carlton would be distracted, glancing at a concealed paperback in his lap. He preferred stories about exotic lands and creatures with magical powers. After school he would walk the five blocks to the little public library on German Street and spend another hour reading there until closing.
Miss Bird felt that Carlton didn’t belong in the 6th grade. He was advanced beyond the other children in terms of learning ability and mastery of the class material. But she was concerned about his emotional development. He was too antagonistic toward his classmates. His single mother, who was a hardworking receptionist at the car repair shop on Shepherdstown Pike coming into town, was at a loss as to what to do with him. Miss Bird sent him to the school counselor on several occasions, who always told her afterward that he couldn’t get very far with Carlton. And she worried about Carlton’s seeming lack of concern for his personal hygiene.
A few months into the school year, Miss Bird happily took note that one positive spin-off from all of his reading was that Carlton was developing into a natural story teller. His stories always had a tinge of the supernatural. He liked to scare his classmates with his little jewels of horror. The only time that they tolerated his obnoxious demeanor and weird smell was when he was spinning an improvised ghost story of the camp fire variety.
Once he’d gotten used to telling stories to his friends, Carlton would tell ghost stories no matter where he was, on the playground, after school, or at Bobby’s house after dark. That was the best time, when they would sit in Bobbie’s room with the lights off, his friend shivering with fright, pleading with Carlton, “No, no, help, help, don’t let it get me, Mom, save me!” Carlton loved that.
But Carlton had a strict rule. No parents or adults were to hear any of his stories – the tales were only meant for his friends. Adults couldn’t be trusted with such sacred dreams. If any adult came within earshot when Carlton was telling a story, he would immediately clam up. Sometimes when spinning a ghost story, before class in front of the school, if he noticed an adult walking past on Minden Street he’d pause until the offending potential eavesdropper had passed.
Carlton had a crush on a skinny blond girl in class named Melissa. Melissa didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Classmates observed numerous playground incidents where Carlton would lie in wait for her, only to be shunned and hurt when Melissa ran off in the other direction shouting, “Save me, save me!”
Finally Carlton had had enough of her attitude and decided to exact revenge against Melissa in one of his stories.
This is the story of…(long pause)…BLOODY BONES!
One afternoon a little girl named Melissa came home from school to her house on King Street, only to discover that she had forgotten her book bag at school. Her mother asked her what had happened to her books. She confessed that they were at school.
“Well you just go right back and get them.”
“But Mom, it’s gonna rain.”
“I don’t care, I don’t pay so much for all your books so that you can leave them at school. Go on now.”
So Melissa walked back to school, past the Post Office, past the Presbyterian Church, down the remaining two blocks to the school grounds. As she arrived, the sky clouded over, everything turning dark. It began to thunder and lightning just as she went up to the locked school door. She stood between the towering white pillars, hesitating, droplets of rain beginning to strike her face.
Melissa pounded on the door, even though it was dark inside, so that she’d be able to tell her Mom that she’d at least tried to get her books back. To her surprise, the door suddenly opened. In the shadows she could barely make out a human-like figure. There was an ugly smell of decaying flesh.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Bloody Bones,” came the answer in a strange raspy breath.
“Well pardon the intrusion Mr. Bones, but I left my book bag here, and my Mom said to come back and get it. Could you get it for me please?”
“I’ll get it for you, but you must promise never to reveal who gave it to you, or else something horrible will happen to you.”
Melissa hesitated a second, but then realized that this guy didn’t even know where she lived, how could anything bad happen to her?
“Okay, it’s a deal.”
In a moment her book bag was handed out to her. A flash of lightning revealed an emaciated hand that looked more like a skeleton than flesh. And looking down, she caught a glimpse of white basketball shoes, dripping with blood. Without looking up, Melissa grabbed the bag and ran off. She was soaking wet by the time she got home.
Melissa’s Mom asked her how she had gotten her books.
“Oh, Mr. Bloody Bones gave them to me, a very nice guy,” Melissa replied nonchalantly.
“Well that was nice of him.”
Later that night, as the storm continued, and she and her Mom had gone to sleep, Melissa was awakened by the sound of the front door opening. Melissa’s room was on the second floor. She knew by heart the 13 steps leading upstairs to her room.
She heard the same peculiar raspy breathing that she had heard earlier that afternoon at school. And then that horrible voice seemed to fill the whole house as it whispered,
“Here comes Bloody Bones.”
Melissa pulled her covers tightly around her trembling body. The voice approached.
“I’m at your first step; I’m at your second step; I’m at your third step;
Coming up the stairs, ever nearer,
“I’m at your fourth step;
With each step, Melissa ducked further under the covers, her heart galloping out of control.
“I’m at your thirteenth step…”
That was a serious number, the thirteenth step.
“I’m in your hallway…I’m at your bathroom door…I’m at the closet door…I’m at your Mom’s room..”
Melissa was all balled up under the blankets, shivering and praying that this was only a dream, and promising that she would start going to Sunday school again if she only came out of this alive.
“I’m at your door…I’m in your room…”
That same putrid smell filled her whole room now, and the horrible rasping breath was coming nearer.
“I’m at your dresser…I’m at your desk…I’m at your bed…”
Carlton would always scream out the word “Gotcha” with such tremendous vigor that his listeners would jump into the air shrieking. The way the story ended, Melissa was nowhere to be found the next day. There were only strange bloody tracks going up the stairs and leading into her room. And that was the last that she was ever seen.
BLOODY BONES became Carlton’s favorite story. He was proud that it was his own original story. He never tired of telling it. Every time he told it he got more excited and his technique got better. But when Melissa heard it, she thought it was stupid.
It was almost as if Carlton believed in the story himself. When kids would say, “That story’s not true!” he would insist, “Oh yes it is!” Carlton became so obsessed with the story, he actually felt like he could make his bloody creature come to life and do his bidding.
One day Miss Bird overheard him telling the story to a group of classmates. She stood quietly in the hallway, listening around the corner from the classroom so that she could hear the whole dramatic arch and denouement. She thought it was delightful, even if a bit macabre. A few days later she ran into Carlton’ mother on German Street coming out of Betty’s Diner and she shared the story with her. Carlton’s mom was so pleased. Imagine, her son, able to charm his classmates with such cute little stories. Maybe he wasn’t a total social misfit after all.
The next weekend, when Aunt Helga was down visiting from Philly, Carlton’s mom said at the dinner table, “Carlton, after dinner why don’t you tell your Aunt Helga that nice Bloody Bones story?”
Carlton was mortified. “What? Who told you about it?”
“Why, Miss Bird of course, I ran into her at Betty’s.”
Carlton’s face reddened. He clenched his fists around his knife and fork.
“No, I won’t tell it.”
“Carlton, don’t be silly, of course you’ll tell it. Aunt Helga wants to hear about this Bloody Bones guy.”
Carlton cringed. It was a sacrilege for an adult to utter the name of Bloody Bones.
“I won’t, I don’t want to. And don’t ever say that name!”
“Carlton, this is ridiculous. Either you tell Aunt Helga the Bloody Bones story, or you can go to your room without any dessert and stay there.”
Carlton went to his room without any dessert and stayed there. He pondered what to do about Miss Bird for revenge. He had to come up with a fitting punishment for her betrayal of Bloody Bones to his mom. He considered creating a story about Miss Bird’s baseball catcher boyfriend in order to embarrass her, but something more drastic was called for. He fell asleep angry and fuming about it.
That night was witness to a fierce storm. Across town in her small historic bungalow on High Street, Miss Bird was already in bed by ten o’clock. All the lights downstairs and upstairs were turned off except for her reading light. She drank hot cider and tried to relax in spite of the loud claps of thunder. The cover of the paperback book she was reading depicted a partially-clad Adonis of a man riding a white horse bare-back, his pectoral muscles bulging through the tatters of a white silk shirt as he embraced a curvaceous raven-haired woman in a torn flowing gown.
Suddenly a rush of cold moist air coming from downstairs chilled her. The front door must have somehow sprung open. She was about to get out of bed and go take care of it, when a horrible rasping voice, in an oddly piercing whisper, proclaimed throughout the house, “I’m Bloody Bones.” The sound pinned her to her bed.
“I’m Bloody Bones, and I’ve come to take revenge.”
A long pause, and then, what Miss Bird already knew was coming: “I’m at your first step; I’m at your second step;”
Miss Bird wanted to grab the phone, but she seemed to have lost control over her limbs. As lightning split the air outside, her reading light was suddenly extinguished. She squirmed to break loose from the frightening paralysis that had overcome her, but was helpless.
“I’m at your third step;
A rush of goose bumps consumed her skin.
Always that obscene raspy voice.
She realized that she didn’t know how many steps there were.
She was overcome with terror.
A horrible stench was wafting up the stairs into her room.
Miss Bird knew she was in serious trouble. She pulled the covers over herself, and lay shivering, paralyzed like a bird in front of a huge coiled snake.
“I’m in your hall…I’m at your bathroom door…I’m at your closet door…I’m at your bedroom door…I’m in your bedroom…”
Miss Bird pulled herself into a fetal position, hyper-ventilating, dying of fright. That putrid smell and the sound of raspy breathing flooded her senses. But still, she just had to look. She peeked out from under the covers in spite of her fear. As a tremendous bold of lightning struck outside the window, a horrid gestalt stood illuminated before her. It had the form of a human skeleton, and it seemed to be wearing a catcher’s mask and glove, and white canvas basketball shoes. Miss Bird closed her eyes and screamed as if screaming everything out of her body and soul.
Miss Bird did not report to school the next day. Nor did she call in. After several days of unexplained absence the two Shepherdstown cops searched her house. In her bed was found a messy pile of blood-stained bones and skull and jaw fragments. Tragically, a comparison with dental records proved they were the remains of Miss Bird.
The news made the local TV and papers and the National Enquirer. The school paper’s interview with the cops went viral, circling the globe. Many people thought that the incident had supernatural underpinnings. Miss Bird’s students felt privileged to have been associated with her, now that she had become the victim of such a nightmarish tragedy. They couldn’t help remembering Carlton’s story, but he was maintaining silence on the subject. All joking about Carlton’s bad breath ceased immediately.
Carlton’s mom quietly decided not to force him to tell his stories if he didn’t want to.
A few years later, a week after high school graduation, Carlton and Melissa were married. Shortly thereafter Carlton’s book, THE REAL STORY OF BLOODY BONES became a runaway best-seller. The movie rights were optioned and Carlton was hired to do the screenplay. Melissa did a silk-screen design for a Bloody Bones t-shirt, which became the leading fashion statement for six months. Soon a new brand of Bloody Bones cereal could be found on every kid’s breakfast table. Bloody Bones toothpaste was marketed, and Carlton even used it himself. His new-found riches allowed him to afford orthodontic surgery. And the story of Bloody Bones was featured on the reality TV series, Phantoms of Shepherdstown.
Reruns of the television series MR. BONES can still be seen on late-night TV.
This story originally appeared in Ghost Stories of Shepherdstown.
Edited by Tochukwu Okafor
Jonathan Worlde’s neo-noir mystery novel Latex Monkey with Banana was winner of the Hollywood Discovery Award (available on Amazon). Recent short fiction appears in Antietam Review, The Raven Review, the 2020 anthology Ghost Stories of Shepherdstown, in Cirque Journal, Ab Terra Voices, Everyday Fiction, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Sirens Call, and Stupefying Stories. Jonathan is also a traditional country blues performer under the stage name Paul the Resonator, whose CD is Soul of a Man.