The skeleton on the front lawn swayed in the spring breeze.
Up on the second floor of the house, Joshua, and his younger brother Mike, watched the ivory specter. Mike clucked his tongue as he scrolled through some search results.
“Nothing here on how to deal with a real skeleton,” Mike said. “Just a lot of Minecraft strategies.”
Joshua sighed. “Why’d you even bother searching?” he asked.
“I can hit it on the head with a bat,” Mike said. “That’s how you’d kill it, according to the Internet.”
“How do you kill a skeleton if it’s already dead?” Joshua asked.
“Is it dead?” Mike asked.
“That’s a good question,” Joshua said. “Guess it depends on your definition of life.”
“Looks pretty alive to me,” Mike said stifling a yawn.
Mike had shaken his brother awake that morning to point out the milky aberration, but the mortal terror had long ago subsided and transformed into something much more mundane.
“Why’d this have to happen on the long weekend? I just wanted to relax,” Joshua said as he checked his phone. “I’m going to call the police.”
“Like they’ll help,” Mike scoffed. “What’re you going to tell Officer Dale? ‘There’s a skeleton in our front yard and we don’t know how to deal with it’.” He went back to his phone. “They’ll think we’ve gone nuts and call our parents.”
They looked out of the window. The skeleton looked down the deserted street. Everyone tended to run away from the sleepy suburb when a holiday hit.
“They’ll also search the house and find my stash,” Mike said.
“An ounce of weed is not a stash,” Joshua said. “Also mom told me to tell you that’s she disappointed.”
“She’s disappointed about everything,” Mike said.
They looked outside.
“We’ll head out of the back,” Joshua said. “We can go to Donny’s and lay low then come back later on to see if it’s left.”
Mike held his brother’s wrist. “Wait,” he said. “What if it knows we’re not looking and decides to move around.”
Joshua’s brow furled. “It doesn’t have eyes to see us move!”
They ducked when it looked up at them.
“Whatever. We can’t just sit here all day watching it watching us,” Joshua said. “I’ve got shit to get done plus I don’t think it can just walk around. Skeletons need muscles and ligaments to loco mote.”
“If we look out of the front window and it’s not there I’m going to be upset,” Mike said.
The brothers crawled out of the bedroom. They surveyed the first floor then crept over to the large window at the front of the house. The skeleton was immobile as ever.
A pair of morning doves sat on its shoulders.
“Who do you think it was before?” Joshua asked.
“Calcium addict,” Mike said.
“No, I mean who they were,” Joshua repeated. “Skeletons don’t typically walk about without a person wrapped around them.”
“Wrapped around them?” Mike said under his breath. He waved his around his arm in front of his brother’s face. “Hello! Me and these bones are the same hombre. Don’t think my bones are actively looking to stand around inconspicuously without me.”
“His did,” Joshua said. “There’s a body somewhere.” He craned his neck a little further out to see the skeleton. “It’s a man,” he said. “Back in biology, I remember hearing that the major difference between a woman and man skeleton is in their hips.”
“Of course you’d say that,” Mike said. “Sexist.”
Joshua grimaced. “All I’m saying is that we have a male skeleton standing in our front yard acting… passive aggressively. I just want to know who he belongs to.”
“It doesn’t have a tag and collar,” Mike said. “Whoever it belongs to is probably dead… actually that’d mean the skeleton busted out of its casket, which I don’t want to think about.”
“There’s a reason why the boxes come with a latch,” Joshua said darkly.
“Backyard,” Mike hissed as he crawled away.
The brothers crept through the kitchen picking up makeshift weapons along the way. They slid open the door the backyard and looked out. The backyard was the one thing they liked about the house.
It was huge, especially compared to the patch of grass they’d had before. In one corner was their mom’s and dad’s garden, and in the other was the shed filled with tools of all shapes and sizes.
There was a large hedge too, which they’d have to either jump over or push through in order to get through to the other side. Donny’s house was a 10-minute walk away.
“Should we go check to see if it moved?” Joshua asked.
“Heck no,” Mike said. “The last thing I want to do is go around the side of the house to be ambushed by that thing.”
“It’s not like it’s been hostile,” Joshua said as he walked over to the shed. He opened up the door and grabbed up ladder they could use to climb over the hedge.
Mike tapped his foot while cradling his rolling-pin. “Maybe we should check on it,” he mused.
“Right?” Joshua said somewhat excited.
They walked around the side of the house, Joshua now wielding a large shovel. The skeleton stood in its place completely immobile save the slight wind.
“They say when you smile in the mirror, a skeleton is smiling back at you,” Mike said quietly.
“That’s disconcerting,” Joshua said.
“Poke it with the shovel,” Mike said.
Joshua walked up behind the skeleton slow as molasses and started to extend the shovel handle toward it. The tip poked it gently on the pelvis making it sway.
Joshua froze as the skeleton’s head moved to look at the shovel. Its teeth clicked for a moment before grabbing up the handle by its tip.
Joshua stumbled backward as the skeleton moved toward him with the shovel in hand.
Mike’s rolling pin clocked the skeleton on the side, but did little to stop it from moving. It approached, but stopped moving just feet away from them.
“Stop,” Joshua said holding Mike back. “It’s not moving!”
The skeleton stood holding the shovel.
“Holy shit,” Mike said breathlessly. “Think I’m going to have a heart attack.”
“I think we can communicate with it,” Joshua said. “Its mouth clacked when it saw the shovel.”
“It’s a skeleton! It can’t talk! It doesn’t have lungs!” Mike yelled. “We’ve got to go!”
“Hold on,” Joshua said.
He approached the skeletal figure with his arms held out to his sides. There was nothing holding it up. No muscles to make it rigid, no cartilage, nothing to help it stand. The impossible nature of its existence washed over Joshua.
“Hello?” Joshua said. “Can you understand me?”
The skeleton stood frozen in place. Joshua grabbed Mike’s rolling pin and offered it up. The skeleton stared at it.
“Huh,” Joshua said.
“Maybe he was a grave-digger in his fleshy days,” Mike said. “Can we go now?”
“No,” Joshua said. “There’s got to be a way to make contact. I mean, it came to us and we gave it a shovel, so we have to take some kind of responsibility.”
“Responsibility for what?” Mike wailed. “We don’t owe it anything!”
“We have to do something,” Joshua said.
“Don’t give it a—”
“We should give it a name,” Joshua said.
“Nooo,” Mike said with a heavy sigh.
“Arnold,” Joshua said. “Arnold the Skeleton.”
Mike looked at the skeleton and then to his brother who he slapped in the face.
“I see your point,” Joshua said holding his cheek. “Sorry, I kind of lost it back there.”
“You did,” Mike said.
They turned back to the skeleton who stood somewhat eagerly holding the shovel. The brothers spent some time looking it over carefully seeing if there were any markings they could use to identify who it once was. On the whole, it was a pretty clean specimen save the dirt that was now between its toes. They tried to command it, but the only thing they could get it to do was dig with the shovel.
“There’s the ravine,” Joshua said. “We could just bury him.”
“That seems kind of fitting,” Mike said. “But also really sad.”
“I know,” Joshua said. “I’m really starting to like having this guy around despite, you know, defying everything we know about nature.”
Today was full of pregnant pauses.
“It’s kind of weird thinking that this is what we look like on the inside,” Mike said. “I also didn’t think that it could continue to exist outside of our body.”
“I really wouldn’t call this existence,” Joshua said. “I mean it’s just a skeleton. It doesn’t have eyes, so it can’t actually see. It doesn’t have ears, so it can’t hear. It doesn’t have a stomach, so it can’t eat. It doesn’t have genitals, so it can’t reproduce.”
“It can move,” Mike said. “It could probably get around on its own if it really tried,” he said. He looked the skeleton over. “Maybe it’s just playing the long con knowing that someday all of humanity will be like it and then they’ll have a big party.”
The brothers paused.
“Make sure they cremate me,” Joshua said.
“Same here,” Mike said.
The skeleton followed them as they walked to the ravine at a brisk pace. They’d thrown a coat over it just in case a car passed by, though it did little to hide its boney legs.
During the spring, the ravine teemed with gentle life. Water trickled down the small stream, light filtered through the young leaves, and birds chirped as they foraged for their young. During the summer, the ravine was flush with nasty bugs, so this was really the only good time to hang around.
Joshua commanded the skeleton to dig and it did creating a hole just large enough for it to lie down in and deep enough for it to be covered with earth.
The skeleton lay down in the hole.
“I think he’s happy,” Joshua said as he dumped some dirt over its legs.
“Yeah, he literally cannot stop smiling about this,” Mike scoffed.
“You know what I mean,” Joshua said as he piled on more earth.
“I really don’t,” Mike said.
An hour later, the skeleton was completely covered. Mike patted down the earth with the shovel.
“I’m really glad you didn’t call Officer Dale,” Mike said. “Who knows what they would have done if they found skelebro. They could have taken him away to do experiments on him.”
“Maybe they could have found out why he was like this,” Joshua said. “Maybe there’s a reason why he came back to life and wanted to see what we were up to.”
“Or found out why and used their newly acquired knowledge for evil,” Mike replied. “The last thing we need is someone trying to create an army of skeletons.”
“Probably best that we dealt with it here,” Joshua said looking up into the trees.
They sat down on a nearby log.
“Do you think we knew him?” Joshua asked. “Back when he was a person, I mean. Is there a chance he’s a relative of ours? Uncle Ted died back, what, four years ago? It could be him trying to spend more time with us.”
“I dunno,” Mike said. “This isn’t television where we could go check his dental records. Even if we could, I don’t think I’d want to know. What if he was uncle Ted or someone else’s uncle? To see him like this now would be… just depressing. Kind of like remembering Uncle Ted for how fun he was when he was alive.”
“A shadow of his former self,” Joshua said.
“Who can stand, look around, and hold a shovel,” Mike said. “He dug that hole pretty fast, though.”
“He did,” Joshua said.
Joshua slapped his brother on the knee as he stood. “Come on,” he said. “We can still go see Donny, but let’s agree to keep this our secret.”
“A literal skeleton in our closet,” Mike said.
The ravine teemed with all kinds of new life at this time of year.