A piece of a story I have been working on. It’s kid’s stuff, young boys in a small rural town looking for adventure.

They returned to the field and looked out from the edge by the fence line. No sign of Jackson or the squad car. They trotted quickly, hunched over, to the pit and Davy resumed his excavation of the remaining skull while Billy started pushing some of the removed earth back to the pit. They intended to cover everything back up as best they could. They both figured there were probably even more great bone parts to be found but there just wasn’t time. Ten skulls was a quantity of skulls anybody could be happy with. The trick in life is knowing when to say when. Davy pulled it out and brushed it off and said, oh man look. This one’s got a bullet hole in it! They admired the unnatural opening in the side of the head. Then they went about filling in the hole. It took longer than they wanted.

The entire area had a disturbed and suspicious look to it and they could not imagine anyone passing by without noticing. But what could they do. The pit was filled back in and ground smoothed out as best they could make it. The tenth skull slipped into Billy’s shoulder bag and they took one last look around. It would have to do.

They had to clean up before returning home. This was not a minor detail. They were filthy with mud and it was drying as they walked, pieces of it cracking free from their skin and clothing and falling like filthy snowflakes to the ground. Davy said they could clean up in his garage, there was even clean laundry still hanging out on the line he was pretty sure. Billy was not too worried about getting caught sneaking out. He was sure he would. He could almost see mom and granny sitting up in the parlor ready to fire a barrage of accusations and disapproving looks at him as he slunked in the front door. For no reason his mind’s eye flashed on a picture of his house with the sheriff’s car out front. But maybe they were asleep and hadn’t noticed him missing. Somehow he had a clear notion that was not the case though. He wondered if he hadn’t inherited some of his grandma’s clairvoyance, and knowledge hidden from others could appear to him in little visions, popping in out of nowhere like unscheduled daydreams.

They washed up in the fiberglass utility tub in the garage at Davy’s house. They looked presentable enough after grabbing some T-shirts and bluejeans off the clothesline. Davy said they needed to catch up with Spanky before school the next day and that plan made, they parted for the night. They knocked knuckles and slapped palms twice in a side to side gesture which was tantamount to a solemn oath among the teens and crumb-snatchers in these parts. Neither one knew quite how they needed to proceed but without that money they were in a lousy position to do anything at all. They had found a secure hiding place for the tenth skull in a dusty old box up in the rafters of the garage. It was still damp and glistening from being washed off in the tub. They each took a turn putting a pinky finger in the bullet hole and marveling at the shear awesomeness of their treasure.

When Billy got home the house was dark except for the yellow porch light by the front door. He shimmied up the pipe and crawled in his second floor bedroom window expecting the old folks to be standing there waiting. He looked around in the dark until his eyes adjusted and found the room unoccupied. The thought that he’d dodged the bullet was immediately supplanted by the thought that the bullet was merely postponed. If he had any self respect at all he’d march right down the hall and roust the old folks out of bed and demand to know why they weren’t waiting up, worried sick over their precious little Billy. Get the jump on them. Take some initiative and get the upper hand. Well, that’s just crazy talk now. He must be getting loopy because he was so tired. He had put in a full shift that night, that was for sure. He flopped on the bed and closed his eyes and saw skulls everywhere and was comforted by the vision. His consciousness was quickly sucked down into the blackness where sleepers walk the night away in worlds unknown to the waking.

A. J. had retreated a short way into the wood, among the straight pine and palmetto on a deer trail barely passable. The scant moon crescent barely penetrated the canopy but dappled the undergrowth with silvery splotches of moonlight enough for him to make his way. The laundry bag was heavy as the skull’s cranial cavities were all still packed with mud. They rattled and bumped in there as he moved, their jawless, toothy grins and lifeless eye wells frozen in a sort of stubborn smirk, permanently bemused by the folly of life come death. He stopped, burdened by the weight of the sack and the urgency of having to figure out what to do. He tried to think but nothing happened. He wanted to go home. But something told him he shouldn’t take these things back there. He was still mad about his money too. He sat on a mound of pine needles and rubbed at his scalp. The night air was so sweet and thick you could ice a cake with it. A distant highway put the barely audible drone of traffic in his ears and an owl was out there calling now and again, all sounds belonging to a place, making it feel right to be there. Beneath it all was the silence of the woods, a silence like no other. Soon he laid on his side on the soft forest bed and drifted off to sleep.

He woke before dawn and in the pre-dawn glow filtered by the pine he scratched out a cavity in the forest floor to stash the bag. He hadn’t thought how he would find it again in an expanse of tall trees where one location looked much like any other. He hadn’t thought of that at all. He took care to cover the stash with sprinkles of pine needle, so nobody would notice if they happened by. Then he made his way back out the way he had come, and reentered the trailer park at the back through the break in the chain link that everybody used.