YARD WORK


By John Bruni



All my life, I've wanted a house with a pool, not because I liked to swim, although I did. No, I wanted what a pool represented. A modicum of wealth. Leisure time. And lots of friends and family, because you can't just enjoy a pool on your own, right?

Well, I made a decent living. Nothing extravagant, mind you, but I got along enough to buy a nice house. Then, after years of saving up, I finally had enough to get a pool installed, but I'm cheap. I decided to do the job myself.

For someone like me, used to working in an office every day, it was a wake up call. After just a few minutes of work, mostly digging, my entire body ached. I panted like a dog. Sweat poured into every one of my cracks and crevices. By the time I called it quits and retired to a lawn chair and a can of Pabst, I thought it might be a good idea to get some professionals in here. Yet something stubborn in my mind prevented me from doing this. Pride? Probably.

It took a while, but I got used to the physical nature of my labor. I started building up some good muscle tone. Kelly — she's my wife — thought it was pretty sexy.

It's funny. Thinking back on it now, my first thought about finding the time capsule should have been to call her over to look at it.

No. When I found it three feet down, I knew only wonder. I couldn't tell what the pill-shaped container was, not until I pulled it out of the ground and turned it over, brushing rich crumbs of soil from a word plate. Two years were inscribed there with a few words between them. "1950 — Do not open until 2050."

I remembered when I was a kid, our teachers made us each surrender something to a class time capsule. I forgot what my contribution was — forgot even when we were supposed to unearth it — but looking at this one, from thirty years before I was born, my only thought was for what cool stuff sat inside, waiting to be rediscovered.

I took the time capsule to my garage, to my work bench, and tried to figure out how to open the damned thing. It didn't bother me that 2050 was about forty years away. I just wanted to see the buried nostalgia treasure.

After some experimentation, I pried it open with a crowbar. The capsule cracked, and each end rolled away from the other. Objects fell out, trinkets, and a notebook of yellowed paper.

I moved this last out of the way so I could see the other things. One was a rusty knife, a bit on the big side and dull beyond age. The other things were small sculptures made from what looked like ivory. The last was a human skull. Child-sized.

I held it up to the light, squinting. Could this thing be real? It certainly looked it. For the moment, I set it aside and turned to the notebook, an old spiral-bound deal. On the cover, I read, "The Diary of Henry James Feder." The writing inside screamed and scrawled across every page, never sticking to the wide-ruled lines. It filled the book cover to cover. It looked like a lot of reading, so I put it away and finished doing my work for the day.

Later, after a shower and some food, I went to my den with the notebook, cracked open a bottle of scotch, and started to read about Feder's life. I didn't know what to expect, but what I got wasn't it, despite the skull.

Turns out, the skull is real. And the sculptures were carved from bone. Human bone. The rusty knife had done the job.

I won't reproduce the diary here. Besides, Feder can speak for himself. You'll find his notebook bundled next to mine, anyway. Read it for yourself. I will go over several important points, though.

First of all, Feder was the first inhabitant of this house in 1945. I did some homework and found out he moved out in 1951, to an old folks home, where he died in 1953.

During most of his life, he murdered a lot of people. He couldn't remember how many, but at his best guesstimate, it was 150. Twenty of them happened in what is now my basement. Almost all of his victims were children. Some were young women. He mentioned two teenaged boys from when he was a younger man, but he said he didn't enjoy them quite as much as the others.

Why did he do all of this? He didn't say. From what I can gather, he really just liked to do it. I tried researching his past but came up with nothing aside from a stint overseas during World War I. He never mentioned his service and whether or not he killed anyone for Uncle Sam. He didn't mention his parents or youth, either.

No, this was a straight-up confession. Near the end, he started losing his marbles and wanted to get his deeds down on paper before he forgot them.

Why did he want no one to find his account until 2050? For the same reason Mark Twain demanded a hundred years to pass before his autobiography came out; Feder wanted to be sure everyone who knew him was dead. He knew the details of his life would be sensationalized. He didn't want anyone around who remembered him.

After reading his gory descriptions, I don't blame him. I'll spare you the details, but they were ugly. Some of the nastiest things a human can do to another human were in Feder's notebook.

Now the big question is, why didn't I turn this stuff over to the authorities? Why did I not once mention this to Kelly? It's hard to say without sounding like a creep.

Feder's story fascinated me. Here was a man who probably seemed like a regular guy to everyone else. I found a picture of him with his obituary, and he looked like my grandfather. Could he have seemed like anything other than a kindly old neighbor? Yet he spent most of his evenings vivisecting living children in his basement.

Sometimes I went down there and tried to imagine how things had gone down. The work bench where Feder had done his cutting was long gone, perhaps removed by a subsequent owner, but the crawl space was still there.

If I dug around in there, what would I find?

Once I brought the skull and bone carvings down there, marveling that they'd once been parts of a human being. Did their spectres swirl about me? And did they recognize the parts that once comprised them?

Perhaps Feder's ghost swam the ether among them.

No, this isn't a ghost story. Nor did Feder's account inspire me to...do anything. I was just fascinated, that's all.

Although I once went down there with the knife and tried to feel Feder's aura emanating from the handle. I tried to imagine the blade in its younger incarnation, plunging into reluctant flesh, separating life from human clay.

One time, my wife caught me. She came down to the basement to do a load of laundry, and she found me sitting in the dark, reading Feder's diary for the umpteenth time and rubbing a bone sculpture between my thumb and forefinger.

"What are you reading, hon?" she asked.

I almost told her. But for some reason, my heart beat a little too fast. My face felt a little too hot, and I wondered if I looked a little too red. Why did I feel like I'd been caught doing something wrong? This guilt drove me to lie.

"Just some old thing I found," I said.

"Old's right. It looks like it's held together with nothing but prayer. Who's..." She squinted to see the cover. "Who's Henry James Feder?"

"A...a guy my old man knew." I figured such a lie was safe. My dad died a decade ago, so he couldn't tell Kelly anything to the contrary.

"Oh. What's it about?"

"It's a school notebook. Something for English class."

"Ah!" She laughed dismissively and walked away. Being a teacher herself, she knew how awful student notebooks could be. I'd turned her off like she was a switch.

It was then I realized how wrong I was to be interested in Feder. I seemed off by keeping his secrets. I resolved then and there to turn everything over to the police tomorrow.

But the following day, something held me back. I just couldn't do it. Why?

I did some more research. Feder's grandson was still alive. Having been born in 1942, he might just have fond memories of the old man. What right did I have to ruin such memories? 1951 wasn't so long ago that everyone he knew was dead. Maybe a friend or two still kicked around. All it would do was cause people hurt. And it wasn't like such information could bring closure to cold cases.

No. Instead, I'm going to put everything back in the time capsule and bury it in the backyard, along with this account. No more pool for me. Somehow, I've lost my taste for it.

I don't really think we'll stay in this place, anyway. Kelly's a month pregnant, so moving her now would be a bit counterproductive. Yet at the same time, I can't help but think about that crawlspace and what might be buried there.

So Feder, your secret will be safe until 2050 after all. But I'm not reburying everything. I'm keeping the hyena carved from the femur of an eight-year-old. I will probably spend the rest of my life rubbing it in contemplation, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it used to be part of a living person.

2050's not that far off. Maybe I'll still be alive. Until then, Mr. Feder, your secret's safe with me.


JOHN BRUNI's work has appeared most notably in SHROUD, MORPHEUS TALES, PRODUCT OF SOCIETY, CTHULHU SEX MAGAZINE, TRAIL OF INDISCRETION, AOIFE'S KISS, TALES OF THE TALISMAN, THE BRACELET CHARM, HOURSE OF BIZARRO, and a number of other magazines including anthologies from Pill Hill Press (A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE), Comet Press (the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS), and Nightblade (LOST INNOCENCE). Bruni was the poetry editor of MIDDLEWESTERN VOICE, and the editor of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. He lives in Elmhurst, IL.


Copyright 2012 John Bruni. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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