Bait and Switch
“Come on, Bobby, quit being such a mamma’s boy,” Darryl said as he held the front of the rowboat steady.
Bobby sat wringing his hands, contemplating whether he would get out of the boat and join Darryl on the rocky shoreline, or just like every other time Darryl got a wild hair up his ass, he’d stay behind and listen to Darryl’s embellishments from the adventure on his own.
Against his better judgment, Bobby stood and swallowed his nerves along with any common sense and stumbled toward the front of the boat, reaching for Darryl’s outstretched hand.
Darryl pulled Bobby onto shore and they tied the boat off to a piece of rebar protruding from one of the hunks of concrete making up the shore. “Well, well. Look who’s not being a pussy for once in his life,” Darryl said before delivering a benign punch to Bobby’s shoulder.
Darryl scurried his way up the bank of the island and after a deep breath, Bobby followed. Once on flat ground, the eeriness of Hart Island really settled in. Only a few dilapidated structures remained and the full moon only provided filtered light through the clouds. A stiff breeze blew across the island, carrying a unique and pungent odor with it.
“Come on, Bobby, try to keep up.”
Though Darryl was only 13 months older than Bobby, he had seen things that were well beyond his years. With a single mom at home who didn’t give a shit what her son was up to, Darryl was mostly on his own. Bobby’s mother had tried to be there for Darryl if he needed anything, but that wasn’t enough to keep Darryl out of trouble.
Bobby was a good kid and even though his father split when he was 7, his mom always maintained a solid relationship with him. Bobby knew at some point, he and Darryl would need to go their separate ways in life or they’d both end up either dead or in prison, but since it was Darryl’s fifteenth birthday, he figured he’d go along with him on this little adventure.
Darryl had a creepy obsession with death. Bobby’s mom said it was because he was the one who found his alcoholic, asshole of a dad dead in the basement. He’d gone down there to get hammered after losing another job and passed out on the couch. At some point during the night, he threw up and choked to death on his own vomit. Bobby had heard Darryl’s mom say it was a fitting end and he deserved to go like that. Bobby never understood why, but Darryl really missed his dad. Even though Darryl used to constantly have new bruises from his father, he continually talked about the good times they had, choosing to forget the shitty ones.
Bobby’s dad never put a finger on him that he could remember, but he hated his dad. Hated him for leaving his mom and leaving Bobby to grow up with no father.
“I can’t believe you went through with it, Bobby. I thought for sure you’d chicken shit out on me like usual.”
“Not this time, man,” Bobby said with the crackly voice of a boy just hitting his stride with puberty. “Where’re we going anyway?”
“Just over there,” he said, pointing toward a small clump of trees.
A few minutes later, the teenagers were standing under a group of overgrown trees looking out at a fog-covered field that disappeared into the darkness.
“What are we doing here?” Bobby asked.
Darryl largely ignored the question as he swung his backpack around and set it down at his feet. He unzipped and rifled through the bag before pulling a handful of supplies out and laying them on the ground. Darryl sat and began unraveling a spool of fishing line. “You know what this place is, Bobby?”
Bobby looked around before sitting next to Darryl. “Not really.” Bobby continued looking into the dark when a gust of wind marched through, clearing away a thin layer of fog. As far as Bobby could see, small tombstones jutted from the ground. “A cemetery?”
“Pretty good,” Darryl said. He grabbed a large set of scissors and pointed them at Bobby. “It is a cemetery. The largest burial ground in the world, in fact.” He snipped off a long piece of fishing line. “And do you know what else is here?” he said again, pointing the scissors toward Bobby. His voice had an edge to it that Bobby had never heard before. The tone sent a shiver rippling down his spine.
Bobby squirmed in the dirt before shaking his head and swallowing the lump in his throat.
“I’m gonna show you.” Darryl then pulled a large hunting knife out of his bag.
Bobby jumped to his feet. “Holy shit, Darryl. What’s that for?”
“I’ll show you that too,” Darryl said, grabbing Bobby’s ankle and pulling his foot from under him, causing him to slam back down to the ground. “Just relax, Bobby ol’ pal. This isn’t for you,” he said pointing the knife at him.
Bobby’s pulse hammered in his ears and he froze with fear. Darryl let go of Bobby’s ankle and pulled the front of his shirt up to reveal several old scars and a few fresh wounds. Bobby tried to scramble away but Darryl grabbed his ankle again. “Hang on. You can’t go anywhere yet.”
Bobby kicked and screamed, trying to shake Darryl’s grip but the other boy was much stronger and Bobby couldn’t get loose. “Don’t hurt me, man!”
Darryl stabbed the knife into the ground next to Bobby’s leg. “Hurt you? You’re my friend, I wouldn’t hurt you. I just want to show you something. Me and my dad used to do this all the time. It just stings for a minute.”
Bobby stopped struggling and Darryl released his leg before snatching the knife out of the ground. He again lifted his shirt and pressed the blade to his skin. He pinched a fold of skin, pulling it up before slicing off the fatty chunk. Darryl held up the hunk of flesh before reaching into his backpack again. Bobby’s stomach turned on itself and he thought he was going to heave, but he swallowed it down as Darryl shoved a fishing hook through the piece of meat. Darryl then tied one end of the line to the hook and got to his feet.
He gathered the rest of the line, leaving the hook dangling several inches from his hand, and swung the baited hook in circles before releasing it out into the graveyard. A grin crept onto his face and Bobby squeezed his eyes tight, hoping when he opened them, he’d be in his bed and this had all been some crazy dream. When he opened them though, not only was it not a dream, but someone else was standing next to Darryl.
Darryl and a shadowy figure focused intently on the darkness, the fishing line held in Darryl’s fingertips while the ominous stranger held still at his side. “I think we got one, Dad.” Darryl said.
A moment later, Darryl yanked his hand back and a gust of foul wind stormed through the area. Bobby got to his feet and turned to run but something grabbed him by the arm. Bobby tried to shake free but was unable to get out of the invisible grip. Whatever it was that had him, was dragging him back to where Darryl was trying to drag the line in.
“We got one, Bobby. Wait ’til you see this!”
Bobby continued struggling to break free but couldn’t. He was held in place while Darryl hooted and hollered, fighting something that was struggling at the end of the line. Shrieking came from the darkness followed by what sounded like a screaming woman. Bobby was released but found himself captivated by what was happening.
“Almost got it, man. Check it out. Get over here!”
Darryl’s focus was entirely on whatever he was dragging to them. Another gust of wind blew through and Bobby’s brain couldn’t comprehend what his eyes were seeing. At the end of the line, flopping like a fish that had just been pulled from the water and dropped onto the ground, was a horribly decomposed woman’s body.
“Woohoo! Look at this one, Dad!” Darryl yelled as the thing screeched and tried to crawl back into the darkness.
The silhouette next to Darryl floated erratically in the space around Darryl, floating in the sky like a kite in the wind.
Bobby looked back to the thing at the end of the line. Its flesh was mostly gone, and what remained was tattered and torn. Sinew and bone glistened in the sporadic moonlight as clouds drifted overhead, intermittently drowning the full moon’s light.
Once the thing had been brought close enough, Darryl grabbed the hunting knife from its sheath at his waistband and plunged it into what remained of the woman’s skull. Its struggle ended instantly and the figure that Darryl had called Dad settled down next to him, one of its wispy arms settling onto Darryl’s shoulder.
Darryl turned to Bobby with a look of complete satisfaction and elation. “Did you see that? She was a whopper wasn’t she, Bobby?”
Bobby hesitated for a second, studying Darryl’s look of complete joy and for the first time, he saw the face of the figure. He’d only seen Darryl’s dad a few times, but the face was unmistakable. It was twisted into a malevolent yet proud smile. Something inside Bobby made him forget the hideousness of what he just witnessed. The sense of accomplishment on Darryl’s face, the look of pride in Darryl’s dad’s decayed face, it brought something out inside of Bobby that he hadn’t felt since his dad left.
“Whaddya think, man? You wanna give it a try?” Darryl said, wiping the gore from the knife and holding it out to Bobby.
Bobby missed his dad but never realized how much until he saw the happiness at that moment between Darryl and his dead father.
A tear escaped down Bobby’s cheek as he reached out to take the blade from Darryl. An owl hooted in the distance as Darryl’s dad danced around the two boys, filling both boys with a sense of pride.
“Go on, Bobby. Do it,” Darryl said before socking Bobby in the arm again. “Don’t be a pussy.”
Bobby grinned, lifted his shirt, and tucked it under his chin before pinching a good hunk of meat between his fingers. “Screw you, Darryl. You’re the only pussy around here,” he said before slicing off the bit of flesh.
~ Craig McGray
© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.