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Authors: Mark Wheaton

Bones Omnibus

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BONES

OMNIBUS

Mark Wheaton

Southbound Films – 2013

Table of Contents
Introduction

T
he Littlest Hobo was an asshole. Every week the wandering canine star of this Canadian TV show would trot into the life of some needy young child, befriend them, help them overcome their problems, then promptly fuck off out of their life. We never saw what became of the kids after their furry benefactor disappeared, but it's fair to say they learned an important lesson about the fleeting nature of relationships in that moment.

Bones, the canine star of Mark Wheaton's indescribable literary saga, is a lot like The Littlest Hobo. He's not Canadian, but he's a lot more honest about his assholery. He too wanders the country, passing from human to human, but when Bones moves on it's usually because the person in question is dead, killed by the zombie-like victims of a giant mutant sea anemone, devoured by rabid rats in a post-earthquake Los Angeles or murdered by a New York thug under the influence of a demonic Bull Mastiff.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Trying to explain the Bones saga in a sound bite is all but impossible. Break it down into its constituent parts, and you'll end up with a soup of seemingly incompatible ingredients. Urban crime drama. Backwoods horror. Epic disaster thriller. Post-apocalyptic tragedy. Zombies. Mutants. Ghosts. Witches. Bigfoot. Put these elements in the hands of most writers and ask them to come up with something and you'll get a pungent mess, a lumpy broth that defies digestion. Like the sushi chef who knows how to serve the blowfish without poisoning his customer, you need a chef like Wheaton to make these flavors work.

And work they do. The Bones saga thrills in a way very few horror series can: by surprising the reader. It's a sad truth that most genre fiction ends up being, by its nature, generic. Bones is anything but. I've read all nine Bones stories – from the twisted early horror yarns, through the chilling apocalypse trilogy, and on to the head-spinning Bigfoot coda – and couldn't even begin to predict where the tale would go from one story to the next.

Even within the boundaries of each story, Bones chews up the rule book and leaves it shredded and slobbery. Freed from the predictable rhythms of narrative by his mute and reactionary lead character, Wheaton can introduce us to someone, immerse us in their life in a few deft paragraphs, let us follow them enough to share in their hopes and dreams, then destroy them utterly without pause or remorse. Through the impassive eyes of Bones, friend or foe alike, we're all just animals waiting to be hunted.

It's a ruthless world, and Wheaton doesn't soften its edges with cutesy-poo anthropomorphism. Bones has no interior monologue, only instinct. He's heroic only in that he does what he's been trained for. He'll bond with you, help you, but, hey, if your eye gets torn out of its socket by a rabid seagull, you'd better believe he's going to gobble it up. There's an emotional distance in these stories that would be nihilistic if it weren't grounded in the animal kingdom. Forget Simba – this is the real circle of life.

I spent most of 2011 and 2012 researching my book,
Tooth and Claw: A Field Guide to Animal Attack Horror Movies
, which meant 24 months of watching people being mauled, eaten and otherwise finished off by rats, snakes, sharks, bears and – yes – dogs. I'd foolishly challenged myself to try and watch every “natural horror” movie ever made, from the heights of
Jaws
and
The Birds
to the lows of the creakiest killer ant TV movie. I watched literally hundreds of the things, and saw what I assumed was every conceivable way animals could be used in a horror story.

Wheaton draws from the same well as those movies but his prose has a pace and pulse that, I can conclusively say, is utterly unique. That's not something you can say very often when talking about horror fiction. Indeed, the worst thing about this book is that its finality means that the saga is at a pretty definitive end. If you've never encountered Bones before, you're in for one hell of a treat. Keep a tight hold on the leash and don't let go.

Dan Whitehead

England, 2013

THE EARLY
YEARS
BITCH

T
he banshee cry of the midnight freight to Buffalo pierced the summer night. As the quaking of the railroad tracks sent most wildlife scurrying for the thicket, the horn was almost unnecessary. Still, a crossing was a crossing and federal law required a certain number of horn blasts when the train drew close.

The crossing wasn’t much. A pair of steel ramps were propped on either side of the tracks, with a thick rectangle of rubber placed over the ties to keep vehicles from getting stuck or scraping their chassis on the rails. The rural western Pennsylvania lane serviced by the junction was called Bucks County Road even though Bucks County was on the other side of the state. Spurred off Route 36, on the north side of the tracks, Bucks County Road became a gravel track a hundred yards up from the crossing.

There were no houses down that way and a single hunter or forestry services truck might bump over the tracks a few times a week. But this mattered little to the train drivers who passed through the area every day. A dashboard alert signaling the need for the sounding of the horn (two long blasts followed by a short one and then a third long blast) was one of the few actions that still required a manual response from the driver when it closed to within a hundred yards.

A few minutes later, and the halo of the engine’s forward headlight would ghost through the thick woods, illuminating sycamores, pines, and ash. Whatever moon or starlight managed to pierce the tree canopy would be eclipsed by the 300,000-candlepower lamp.

This night, the only other light emerged from a tiny wooden shack fifty feet from the south edge of the crossing. A sad structure that sagged with age, a passerby could be excused for assuming it long abandoned. Its roof and walls had endured decades of miserable weather without so much as a new coat of paint. Water damage had caused a part of the porch to crumble away, leaving a pile of broken planks in a heap alongside the building.

A building inspector would’ve condemned the place and called it a day, but one would have to venture that far into the sticks first. As the shack was a place of business, one that sold food and liquor at that, a health inspector might’ve weighed in as well. But this was just as unlikely. This was how the Bait-N-Booze remained open, catering to the needs of a handful of hunters, adventurous campers, and local backwoodsmen who hadn’t the foresight to pick up supplies at a fourth of the price closer to the big city.

“Hot-shot’s late again,” Ferris scoffed, eyeing the beer company clock his store had been “gifted with” by a distribution rep a few years back. He jiggled an almost empty tallboy of the very brand as he stared out toward the crossing. “Second time this month!”

As Ferris lived alone, his comment was met with silence. He’d been married twice, but both wives were in the grave, one from suicide, one from drink. When he spoke of it, he always said they’d both killed themselves.

“Every chick Hitler stuck his dick in killed themselves, too,” he was fond of saying, delighting in the ensuing looks of shock. “But the big difference between me and Hitler is that I’m fucking insane!”

Ferris Aaron was sixty-two. He only had about half his teeth left, with a couple more ready to fall out as well. He’d been razor-thin his whole life but now just looked like someone had stretched a dead man’s hide over a skeleton. His squint, magnified by thick glasses and amplified by a sharp nose that directed a viewer’s attention back up to it, gave him a rodent’s countenance. That he let his fingernails grow out to sharp points only exaggerated this impression.

Though most who came across Ferris Aaron assumed he was part of the landscape, a lifer who likely had been born within shouting distance of wherever he could be found standing at any given moment, this was their mistake. In point of fact, Ferris had been all over the state as a guest of many of its detention facilities and penitentiaries. His proudest achievement was having been the subject of one of the state’s intense and wide-ranging drug trafficking investigations, a case that landed him in the maximum security facility at Graterford for six years. When folks doubted his claim, he’d whip a crumbling newspaper article from his wallet. A front-page story, albeit from below the fold, it featured his booking photograph with his name in the caption, and highlighted the work of law enforcement in busting this “major criminal.”

“See there? Biggest meth producer in the history of the state.
Boom
.”

Two months after he’d gotten out of Graterford, he was already back at it, building a new lab in a cargo container in the woods half a mile from his shack. In the pen, he’d met a major racketeer named Cuno who claimed to have the biggest problem with supply when it came to methamphetamine, though none with demand. Ferris swore that he’d never have that problem with him. When Cuno got out, he looked up his old cell mate, and they made a deal for the mobster to exclusively distribute Aaron’s product in Pittsburgh. Aaron proved true to his word. Cuno never had a problem with supply again. Three times a month, a beer truck rolled up to the Bait-N-Booze to restock the meager supplies. Ferris handed over everything he’d cooked up since the last pickup and got paid for the previous shipment. Cuno had assured Ferris that the driver was reliable, as he was Cuno’s son, Christopher.

Ferris settled into a quiet life out in the woods, cooking meth, consuming heroic amounts of alcohol, and doing so much of his own product that he sometimes stayed awake for days. Occasionally he indulged in a high-end prostitute he’d arrange through Christopher. The girl and her chaperone would arrive at the Bait-N-Booze thinking they were either lost or, at worst, had been suckered. But then Ferris would flash a smile and the right amount of cash. A moment later, he’d be leading the perplexed, but usually high, working girl back to his cot in the storeroom, where they’d drink, screw, and get fucked up for hours. When he started giving the girls the option to be tipped in cash or drugs, he became a favored client.

It was one of these girls who decided Ferris needed a full-time companion and brought him a tiny Yorkshire terrier on one of her return visits. Ferris hadstared at the Yorkie with its sleek, two-toned coat and thought the animal of just about the most impractical breed he’d ever seen. Out in the woods, a dog like that wouldn’t last a day. Out of deference to his guest, he smiled and thanked her, agreeing to keep and feed her. When she then asked him what he planned to name her, he said he’d name the dog after her so he’d always remember who gave her to him. She seemed to like this, though Ferris had long forgotten her name. When she’d left, he grinned at the Yorkie as if he might bite her.

“Got to keep your head down around here, Bitch,” he joked.

Apparently, the dog understood. She stayed close to the shack and even closer to Ferris. When he remembered to feed her, she ate quickly before any bugs or neighboring varmints came in the screen door to make a play for the Yorkie. She kept out from underfoot. And when hunters came into the store with their dogs off the leash, Bitch went straight for an overturned wooden box in the storeroom that was jammed so tight against the wall by a cabinet that no other animal could get to her. Eventually, Ferris nailed the box to the floor and stuck a blanket inside to give Bitch her own hiding place.

But when they were alone, which was often, Bitch would hop onto the store’s counter and sit with Ferris as he stared blank-faced out the front door in a drug-induced stupor. When customers did come in, she learned to greet them with the same bemused suspicion as her owner.

If at first Ferris only tolerated the animal, he soon communicated with her in much the same way as he did his late wives.

“Wonder if they’re having union trouble again,” Ferris snorted, shooting back the last of his beer as the train drew near.

Bitch was napping in the corner of the store beside the ice machine, which Ferris kept running from spring until Christmas. It could be ten below, but there were still hunters who insisted on keeping their beer and meat on ice.

The sound of the empty tallboy clanking into a trash can woke the Yorkie. She glanced at Ferris and decided he was ready to head to bed. Getting to her feet, Bitch padded past the six recently stocked refrigeration units and hopped onto the counter. But Ferris had something else on his mind. He pointed to a bikini-clad Latina who had been showing her thong-divided ass to the patrons of the Bait-N-Booze from the cover of a low-rider magazine for almost six months.

BOOK: Bones Omnibus
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