Brian Evenson

He took the bucket in his hands and brimmed it with water, sloshing the boy’s face. The water filled the cusps of the eyes and streamed across the forehead to darken the hair. The boy did not come to himself.

The man dashed the bucket down and watched it roll about spitting drops. He entered the house. Frank he found before the mirror, bloody cloth pressed to the thick of one ear.

“He’s killed,” the man said.

“Goddam,” said Frank, regarding himself in the mirrored eye. He took the cloth off the ear and looked the fabric over before raising it again. “That teaches him to mess with me,” he said.

“Not going to teach him a goddam thing,” the man said.

Frank shrugged and carried the cloth to the window. Sliding up the sash, he held the cloth outside with both hands. He wrung it dry of blood and water and spread it over the sill. He stared at his blood-washed palms.

“Where in hell is that water?” Frank said.

“I am getting it,” said the other.

The man went outside and found the bucket where it had rolled, dirt edged up under the curve of it. He took up the bucket and pumped it full past the rivetheads. The boy was still there with eyes waterbeaded, lying on the ground. The man nudged him with his boot and the boy’s head turned, water spilling from his eyes.

The man entered the house and approached the basin, raising the bucket as he came. Frank’s arm stopped him so that he sloshed a little water across the floor and across Frank, too.

“Don’t top it off. Dump the basin first,” Frank said, brushing the beads of water off himself.

The man cracked the bucket down against the floorboards, water spilling over the sides of it to pool around its base. Picking up the basin, he carried it to the window and dumped it, water and scum spattering out down the porchboards. He carried the basin back, watching scum slide down and gather at bottom.

Frank reached in and drew his finger across the metal. He lifted the finger, regarded it.

“Rinse it clean,” he said.

“The hell I will,” said the man.

“Get that dead boy to do it, then,” said Frank.

The man took the basin and went out, clapping the door. He filled the basin at the pump, swished and dumped it. He shook the basin about until the water slid into drops and those slipped out too. Turning the basin up, he saw the sun catch in the metal and run oblong and vicious, and he along with it, and the dead boy too behind.

He went inside. He set the basin atop the table, filling it with water before Frank could act against him.

“Boy would have done it faster,” said Frank. “And better. Even dead.”

The man said nothing except to take the bucket to the door and hurl it out. It arced forth and down, the bottom rim splitting the boy’s forehead bloodlessly.

Frank dipped his brush, the water clouding pale. He lathered the brush along the worn curve of the soapcake and then daubed backward along the jaw. He cocked the razor, began to shave.

He’d only just gotten started when the dead boy stumbled in all waterfaced and bloody, one foot bucket-stuck. His legs gave in the doorway and he fell straddled over the frame.

“Frank?” said the other man.

“What?” asked Frank, squinting up into the glass. “Well,” said Frank to the mirror. “You haen’t dead.”

“Hell, I haen’t,” the boy gurgled from split lips. “I am as dead as they come.”

Frank finished the swath, his hands steady. The dead boy struggled up and moved inside. The other man slunk into the far corner and covered his face. Frank set the razor down unhinged over the edge of the basin. He cupped his hands full with water and splashed his jawline.

“Go be dead outside,” said Frank.

“I will be it in here,” said the boy.

Frank turned. He lashed out and grabbed the boy by the hair. He dragged him forward and cracked his head against the basin, scattering water along the wall. Forcing the boy down to the floor, he stooped down and groped the razor up from where it had fallen, cutting his own fingers across the knucklebacks before cutting open the boy’s own throat.

No blood came. The boy kept struggling.

Frank took the boy around the arms and hauled him out. He spun him off the porch and rushed back in, locking the dead boy out. Then he dragged the other man out from the corner where he was whimpering and stood him up and knocked out a few of his teeth.

Frank left the man lying there. Taking the washcloth off the sill, he wrapped it around his cut knuckles. He dipped his face in the last of the water and came up dripping, the droppets trickling down to stain the plate of his shirt.

Outside, the boy was rubbing some part of himself against the door.

“You hear that?” asked the other man.

“I hear it,” said Frank. “Where’s your pistol?”

The other tapped his coat pocket.

“Give it here,” said Frank. “Go gather mine.”

The man gave, went. When he returned, Frank had dropped a knee to the floor, held his ear pressed to the door.

“Still out there?” said the man.

“Right there,” said Frank, tapping the door.

Frank stood and they together stepped back and shot. The bullets thicked up in the wood and bound there. The pair of them came closer to the door and nudged the guns against the wood and fired again, the flashpowder scorching their knuckles.

Frank bent down, squinting through a warm hole.

“Got him?” said the man.

“Got his eye,” said Frank. “He’s just lying there now.”

They unbolted the door and opened it a crack. They looked at the boy lying there stilled, their holes in him.

They went out and pushed his body around the yard awhile with their boots. It neither spoke nor moved. They came back inside, locked the door.


The man opened a can of beans, chewing them cold off the tip of his knife. Frank came into the room and took his fist to him, knocking him down. He took knife and can from off the floor, wiping them on his pants, and began to chew down beans himself.

The other man stumbled up, rubbing his temple.

“Jesus,” the man said.

Frank raised his fist, then saw that the man was Jesusing not him but the kitchen window and the dead boy who was framed there and tapping the glass with a fingertip peeled back to bone.

Frank approached the window dragging the other man along, the man struggling to free himself until Frank broke the fellow’s nose. The boy caught suspicion of them in the eye that had not been shot through, and waved.

“What do you think he wants?” said Frank.

“Don’t know,” the other man said, squirming in Frank’s grasp.

“What you want?” Frank yelled.

The boy pressed his face against the window, smearing the glass in blood and water.

Inside, he mouthed.

“Don’t let him in,” said the man.

“I am not stupid,” said Frank.

“Want to kill you, Frank!” cried the boy through the glass.

Frank tugged the curtain across the dead boy’s face. He dragged the other man out of the kitchen and into the main room, closing the door behind them so as to scarce hear the boy’s tapping. They sat down on the floor, squared their backs against the door.

“Where’s that flask?” said Frank.

“He got to it,” said the other. “Emptied it. When he was alive. Thought you knew.”

Frank shook his head. “Had I known, I would have killed him worse,” he said. “Go dig up a bottle,” he said.

“Haen’t nearly ready yet.”

Frank raised his fist. The man scuttled off to the bedroom.

He pushed the beds against the far wall. He stepped on the end of a center floorboard and watched it rise up until he could catch the edge of it with his hand and lift it away to set against the wall. He lifted a second board, a third.

He peered into the dark beneath the house. He crouched down beside the hole and slipped his hand in.

He could not find the bottles. He spread himself flat and felt further.

His hand tendered upon something soft and filamented. He pulled upon it and found it uneasy to raise but struggled it up until it caught against the floor joists. He braced his legs and pulled hard with both hands, feeling it tear slowly free.

Lifting his hand from the darkness, he found it filled with strands of coarse, dark hair. He looked down into the hole to see the boy’s pale face. He cried out, and so did the dead boy.

He threw the boards over the hole and fumbled a brick and some nails out of a box and tacked the boards down, the boy all the time calling to him to let him in.

He stumbled to the other room, shaken.

“Where’s that bottle?” asked Frank.

The man just pointed. Through the open door came the sound of the boy’s tattoo under the floorboards. They heard the slow sound of the boy crawling beneath the house, threading between the supports, brushing under the floorboards beneath them, calling to them.

They listened. They got on their knees and crawled free of the range of the boy’s scraping. They turned circles, starting forward and back, until the scraping stopped.

They threw themselves flat, pressing their ears to the floor, listening. They were lying there still when they heard something above ground, at the outside corner of the house. The roof creaked in the corner, then further up, toward the peak.

“Dead boy on the roof,” said Frank.

The other man began to whimper. The noise came above them and passed over. It grew louder, stopped.

The dead boy tumbled down the chimney, splitting the fore of his face open against the grate. He struggled face up and lay glaze-eyed and all bent in the legs, ash clouding around him and darkening him too.

“Goddam dead boy,” said Frank.

He stood and dragged the other man to the fireplace and put the man’s hands on the dead boy’s legs and his own hands there too. The boy tried to speak, the flap of his open throat hissing and fluttering, but there seemed no words left to him. They dragged on his legs, he clinging to the grate and not letting go. They took to prying his fingers back but could not make all the fingers give of a piece. Frank broke his skull a little, but he would not let go.

They took the legs again and heaved, stumbling over one another, the dead boy spluttering out of the throat and holding on.

Frank let go. The other man let go. He looked around and stepped away. The dead boy started getting up, still holding to the grate. Frank knocked him back down, lifted him, cramming his legs first up the chimney until all they could see was from the waist up.

The dead boy would not let go.

“Got an axe?” said Frank, shattering the boy’s elbow with his bootheel.

The other man shook his head.

“Throw me the razor,” said Frank. “And go get the matches.”

The man kicked him the razor and Frank squatted to pick it up, with one shoulder holding the boy up the chimney.

The man entered the bedroom, looked through the box, found no matches of any type. He went into the kitchen, looked on the stove, in the cupboard beside, found only a flake of flint and a striking steel.

He returned to find Frank had hacked away the skin around the boy’s elbow and was cutting and stripping the flesh beneath. The boy did not seem to mind.

“No matches,” said the man, holding forth the flint and steel.

The razorblade broke, splitting off into the flesh. Frank scuttled the rest of the razor along the floor and dragged the boy down onto the grate.

“I can take a hint,” the dead boy said. “I am not wanted.”

Frank pinned the boy to the grate by his shoulders, the arm twisting out of its socket to one side, the boy holding on. He took up a jar beside the chimney, smeared the boy with pitch.

“Light him,” said Frank.

The other man struck sparks over the dead boy, his hands shaking. He could not distinguish the stone from his hands and kept gashing himself, flicking blood down on the boy and on Frank, the latter trying to fan the sparks alive.

The man kept striking, splitting his fingers closer to the bone. The floorboards seemed licked with pale fire. The pitch dripping off a wall caught flame. He struck sparks into Frank’s hair and when they caught watched Frank run around, his head blazing.

The dead boy let go of the grate and smiled, both with his mouth and with the gap in his throat.

The man stood watching, still striking the stone, watching the flames rise around him.