Web Site: Liz R. Newman's Short Story of The Month
Eerie Old Man Finnerty sends a Har Har Har. Enjoy this spooky little Halloween treat, kiddies, if you dare.
It all began with the dead crow lying on the pavement. Early that morning, old man Finnerty made his usual rounds, maneuvering a push broom up and down the sidewalks of the street with one hand. He walked with a shuffling gait, and one viewing him from their car might glance over and think “That poor guy must have cerebral palsy. At least he’s upright.’ Finnerty was also missing an arm. Finnerty might turn to face the car, pushing his broom dutifully forward as the driver looked aghast at the eye missing from his face, with only a gaping hole that looked like there was a tiny sliver of glazed ham stuffed into it.
We'd just moved into our new home, and I rode my bike around to familiarize myself with the neighborhood, nearly crashing into Mr. Finnerty and his push broom. “Lost in the war,” he proudly proclaimed as he stepped into my path, and pointed to his missing eye. "See that, son?" he said. He stooped closer to me. "Get a good look at it. You see?" I nodded, my stomach turning with disgust. He shook his head. "Take a closer look."
"Um.. yeah, it looks like it's healed up well." I pushed the kick stand back with my heel and started to pedal.
"You're a pint sized little one. You in fourth grade now, kid?" I nodded. "You like guns, boy?"
"Hang on a bit. I'll tell ya a story about automatic weapons. 'Bout my days in the war." He turned and pointed to his missing arm. "Blown to bits! Although I did find the finger with my wedding ring on it. Molded it into a tooth after the Missus passed. That's how she would have wanted it." He grinned to expose a gleaming gold filling. I sighed and stopped my bike to admire the tooth and hear his story. He reminded me of a pirate, and I loved tales of the scurvy bandits sailing the seven seas. “My last week in ‘Nam, before Johnson pulled us out. Just walking along with my troop in the hot jungle when suddenly I heard a ringing in my ear. Palm trees fallin' all over the place, shots firing, looking like those videos of that tsunami without no water around. I was shooting back, pretending like I playing around with a toy gun, and suddenly I couldn't feel the trigger. Need more foam bullets, I thought to myself. I even turned to my buddy and asked him for more foam. They passed out some strong stuff in 'Nam; your ma's bound to get mad at me if I tell you about it, so I'll leave that part out. My partner looked at me like I was missing an eye or something. And I was!
"I’m a lefty, you know, least I was one, but I couldn’t move my left arm, so I put my right hand up to my face and looked down at my fingers and saw all this blood. I turned to my partner and said, 'You hear that ringin’? That's Hell’s Bells!' Then I felt where my left arm should be and found out it gone!” And he laughed the way your big brother might laugh while sitting on your chest and trickling ice cold water on your forehead. "Har har har har."
I stared at him in stunned silence. “Chrissie-boy,” he gestured to me, then pointed at the dead crow lying on the ground. “You know anything about this here dead thing?” He let the broom fall and picked up the dead crow with his bare hand. "When's your birthday, boy? I'll stuff this thing for you. Make it nice and fluffy," he laughed. Something behind his pupils clicked, like a frame changing in the old slideshows my grandfather used put on a big white screen for our family. "It's war, boy! It's war!" Finnerty shouted. "War!" I pedaled away, as his Har har har har noises chasing after me, seeming to increase in volume regardless of the increasing distance between us.
"Such a nice man," my mother said as she glanced out of the kitchen window while unpacking boxes. "And so kind of him to sweep the sidewalks every morning. See if he'd like some of the muffins I made for breakfast."
"No," I said as I applied a temporary tattoo of a jack o' lantern onto my forearm.
"He is a veteran of our country," my mother chastised. "The least we can do to thank him is show him some neighborly kindness. Now I want you to take these muffins to him right now."
Begrudgingly, I threw six muffins into a plastic container and slammed the lid on. I trudged to where he leaned against the mailbox, with the dead crow still in his hand. I offered him the muffins and he held the dead crow out to me. "Hold this for me would ya? Har har har har." He lifted up the broom and opened the mailbox with its handle, placing the dead crow inside. "Hope that one's not yours."
"It's says Finnerty."
"Well, it's about time I got something other than junk mail. Hand me a muffin there, Chrissie boy." He ate every single bite without washing his hands, licking his fingers. "Mmm, taste good. Tell your mother thanks."
"Yes, sir." I snapped the cover back on the plastic and placed the container of muffins in the mailbox next to the dead crow. "Special delivery," I joked.
Mr. Finnerty laughed. "You're my kind of kid. Just don't go losing any limbs." He resumed his toils of pushing the broom up and down the sidewalk.
The neighbor next door, a spinster named Miss Greer, ambled over to us in a fuzzy pink bathrobe and slippers. "Something came for you," Mr. Finnerty said. "Mailman put it in my box by mistake." He winked at me with his good eye.
"Oh, I do hope it's my sweepstakes entry," she said as she reached into Finnerty's mailbox. Her fingers brushed the dead crow and she jumped back and shrieked. "Now you George Finnerty, you rascal!"
"Think your dog might've got to that one?" Mr. Finnerty asked, a smile plastered over his face. "Found it on the sidewalk by Chris' house."
“Not one of mine,” she said, shaking her head. “If my little doggy took something this big down, you bet it would be on my doorstep.” Miss Greer looked about a hundred years old and had never been married. “Who needs a man?” she’d cackled to my mother one afternoon when she brought over some purple knitted doilies as a welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift. “I have a rat terrier!”
“Reminds me of those Toltec people,” Finnerty mused. “You study those Toltec Indians, Chris? The ones who made sacrifices out of little kids, just about your age. Har har har har."
“Do you mean the Mayans, sir?”
“Yep, they’re the ones.”
“Strange,” said Miss Greer, as she leaned forward to examine the black bird carcass. “No bite marks, no blood.” Her thick skin seemed to fold before my very eyes, like the texture of crushed wax paper that the grease had soaked through.
“Looks like we got ourselves a Halloween monster in our midst. Best keep an eye on that new baby brother of yours, or he might get snatched up in the night!” Miss Greer cackled like a witch and shook her head as I walked back home.
As the sun went down I thought about what my dad had said to me, the night they brought home Jack. “Baby Jacky’s a part of our family now. Our responsibility. As a big brother, you must do everything you can to keep him safe."
Jacky had opened the door yesterday night, all by himself, and ran right out onto the street, in bare feet and a soggy diaper, before Mom discovered he was missing, and swept him up into her arms before he reached the sidewalk. The thought of some spooky monster lurching out of the darkness and gobbling up my baby brother, or worse, merely touching him with its cold, deathly fingers and leaving him eerily still on the front porch made me shudder. I decided that evening to make a sacrifice.
Stealthily, I snuck into the pantry as Mom and Dad were putting Jacky to bed, stood up on a chair and placed a handful of Halloween candy onto a plate. I opened the door and shoved the plate out onto the front steps, closing it quickly and watching my quick breaths fog the window. As I stared out the plate glass windows, I could have sworn I heard a high-pitched howl. “Just the wind,” I told myself. “Just the wind.”
That Monday, school was closed for Parent Teacher conferences. A pink notice from the county was stuffed under our door. Dear Residents of Majestic Oaks Drive, New Slurry Seal will be laid on the block today. We ask all residents to avoid using their driveways between nine in the morning and four in the afternoon, to give the tar plenty of time to dry. My father rushed around, tearing open moving boxes in search of a tie to wear to the office. My mother bounced my little brother up and down as he squealed and cried, squealed and cried, with crackers crumbs strewn all over his face. I showed my father the note. The clock chimed the hour of nine in the morning. He peered outside. Municipal vehicles churned and beeped somewhere off of our street. "I'm going to make a run for it, Chris. I have a meeting. Remember, only daddies break the rules," he said, as he jumped into his car and sped off onto the wet tar. I heard the jingle of his phone and watched him from our front window. His tires stuck in the slurry seal, making deep marks on the street. Pulling onto Old Man Finnerty's property, he continued taking a business call. I cringed as I saw the black marks on the white cement of Finnerty's driveway.
Mr. Finnerty charged out of his open garage, bellowing like a bull, with his broom in hand. Dad shot the one eyed, one armed man a look of panic, and slammed on the gas pedal of his black Jaguar, screeching away and leaving a trail of black tire tracks in his wake. "Oh, no," my mother said as she balanced my little brother Jack on her hip and watched from the window, "you'd better take Mr. Finnerty some chocolate chip cookies. Probably best not to tell him that was your father. He'll tell Mr. Finnerty himself. Eventually."
I stepped over a pile of Technicolor puke that looked like plastic mixed with melted salt water taffy, right where the dead crow had lain, on my way to Finnerty's driveway with a basket of cookies. Finnerty chuckled as I walked my bike from the garage. “Looks like you forgot to take the wrappers off your sacrifice." My cheeks burned red. “Bet that beast is real mad now. He's gonna get youuuu," Finnerty sang. "Har har har har.” He turned a hose on and began to whistle a tune as he sprayed the foul stream into the gutter.
That night, slowly and carefully, I unwrapped each piece of candy and placed them in a tall pile on a plate. I tossed another two handfuls worth of unwrapped candy before placing the plate outside. Then I jumped into bed and waited. Sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke to an eerie howling. I pulled my pillow over my ears and scooted down lower into the covers, a cold sweat covering my body. The howling became louder. If this kept on, my whole family might wake up and be taken. It was calling me, calling me to be the human sacrifice. “I’m sorry, Jacky. Sorry, Mom and Dad. I failed.” I sniffled as I imagined their wails the next morning when they found me, stiff and cold. I hoped they would know I tried to save them.
I shook as my bare feet touched each stair, feeling like I was hypnotized. The howling continued, right at the front door, where I had placed my useless offering. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and opened the door. The howling suddenly ceased and a warm wet, spiky thing grazed my foot. “AAAARRRGHH!” I screamed. I looked down and expected to find a bloody stump. At my feet was a mangy cat wagging its tail. She licked my bare foot again and sat on it. Then she rolled over and began howling again. Dad came up behind me in his bathrobe to see what all the commotion was about, and we picked the cat up and brought her inside.
“No more candy,” the vet at the emergency clinic warned as he combed out the knots in the cat’s hair. He reached under the cat’s belly. “I strongly recommend you spay this cat. That's why she howls. And remember, no more candy. Here's are some cans of beef hearts and chicken livers." In some twisted way, the Mayans were right.
We turned into our driveway as the light of day touched down upon our home and Finnerty was already out on our front steps, sweeping up what was left of the candy with his broom. He turned and his eye opened wide at the sight of my dad’s black Jaguar, as we waited for the garage door to open. Dad met his eyes, or his eye, I should say, and flinched. As a reflex, Dad stepped on the gas and the car accelerated, almost hitting the back wall of the garage.
“That your car?” Finnerty ambled up as we got out. I cradled the cat in my arms.
“Yes. My name’s Phil Dougherty. I'll pay to have the marks remove from your driveway."
"Just gonna cost you an eye and an arm. Hold on, I'll be right back with a spoon," he said. My father grimaced and scratched his head. "Har har har har har. Payment's already been made in cookies and muffins. Nothing else necessary."
"I hear you're a war hero. My gratitude for what you have done for our country." My dad held out his hand.
"You lose a limb, you get a badge. You lose an eye, you get a medal. If I'd lost both legs I'd get a trip to the White House. Like some kind of pyramid scheme, eh? Aw, hell, it was worth it. I can always turn a blind eye to the things I don't like, and when you're as old as me, you can count those up to the hundreds. Especially when it comes to politics." Mr. Finnerty turned the stump of his arm towards my father, bouncing up and down in an imaginary handshake. "I'm a lefty," he said. "Har har har har har. So, Chrissie, here's your little four legged ghoul, hmm?" Finnerty’s good eye leaned closer and peered at the cat. “Mangy little thing you are.” He reached out to pet the cat. The cat chewed on Finnerty’s fingers. “Grrrr," Finnerty growled back. "You’re a regular little monster, eh? ARF ARF ARF!” Finnerty's one eye lit up with delight. The cat boxed him in the nose with her paw while he laughed. "Here's a little welcome home gift for your new pet." He handed me the stuffed crow.
"Uh, thanks," I said.
“Funny story that Evan told me yesterday," said Mr. Finnerty. "He was golfing at the club down the street, and hit that golf ball straight up in the sky where it bounced right off a bird. Guess that explains your dead crow. Catch ya later, Chrissie.” Then he hunched over and pushed the broom down the driveway.
I named my new cat Maya. And to this day, she's only hurt a fly.
Copyright 2011 by Liz R. Newman, All Rights Reserved
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