The Skulls

Skull on the crown of Lord Shiva at Hoyseleswa...
Skull on the crown of Lord Shiva at Hoyseleswara temple, India (Photo credit: Rohit Rath)

Once upon a time there was a carriage rut on a London street.  It wasn’t wide enough to fit new cobblestones, and it was constantly getting filled with water, so it hadn’t been repaired.

It was the ideal place for a boy with a quick wit and quicker hands to idle a day away.  Sometimes carriages would bounce into the hole and nothing would happen, but sometimes things fell off the top or fell out the window.  In that case, a quick lad might grab the thing and be off around the corner before the carriage could stop.  It wasn’t a great living, but it was better than some.

Sammy was the sort of boy who hung around the carriage rut.  He’d won it from another boy in a game of marbles, and now it was his until someone else won it off him.

Today was a good day.  A carriage came rumbling past with way too much luggage piled on top.  It hit the rut, and a black case slid out of the pile.  Sammy caught it on the way down, and it never made a sound.  He was gone around the corner, but from the sound of the carriage it wasn’t even slowing.  This was his lucky day.

Sammy hid back in his alley and opened the case with shaking fingers. Maybe there were clothes he could pawn, or maybe even some jewelry.

The hinge snapped open, and Sammy got a shock.  Inside the case were two human skulls!

Sammy snapped the case lid down quick.  The initials on the outside read C.D.  Probably a madman who carried his victims around in cases after he done them in.  Sammy remembered with a shiver how much luggage had been on top of that carriage.  Was it all victims?

Doing what every good street boy should do, Sammy buried the case under some garbage in the back of the alley and tried to forget about it.  He figured the carriage rut might not be safe, so he took a job as a newspaper boy for a few days.  At the end of the day you kept any papers you didn’t sell, and Sammy used them to line his cubbyhole.  One morning he woke up and read a little advertisement.  “Lost, black case, reward.  C.D. “ and it gave an address.

Sammy tried to ignore the advertisement, but it shook him that C.D. was looking for his case.  How far might such a desperate man go to find his victims?  Wouldn’t it be better to plead ignorance and return the case?

After a sleepless night when every noise sent Sammy to the back of his cubby, Sammy took the next day off and dug up the case.  He hiked his way across London to the address in the advertisement.  It was a great old house, with a long, shadowy lawn and a great dark door with one of those glowering lion’s head knockers.

It looked spooky enough, but Sammy wanted his reward, and he wanted this C.D. character to be off his trail.  So he marched right up to the door and lifted the knocker.  Before he could let it fall the door opened.

A wisp of a fellow, old enough he should have been dead already, stood in the doorway.  He was all in his Sunday best, tie and tails.  “How may I help you?” His voice sounded like a rusty hinge.

“I-I’m here about the case.” Sammy held the case between them as if the old fellow would spring out at him.

“Very good, sir.  Please come in.”

Sammy was having second thoughts about this plan.  Maybe it was better if he dumped the case and scarpered it. But then maybe this C.D. would hunt him down like a rabbit.  Better to stand his ground and have it out.

The old fellow left him in the hall.  Like every smart lad, Sammy saw a door open a crack and went for it.  No telling where a spare piece of jewelry might be lying about.  He creaked open the door and nearly lost it.  Something was staring right at him!  He closed the door right quick and stifled a scream by biting on his knuckles.

An old man came out of the room down the hall.  He walked funny and he had a big old beard that stuck out from his head.  Despite his white hair, he bore down on Sammy pretty quickly.

Sammy stuck the case out before him.  “Here’s your case.” He really wanted to get clear of this house in the worst way.

Great, great.”  The old man laid a heavy hand on Sammy’s shoulder and steered him toward the door where the thing had been staring.  Sammy tried to back pedal away, but the old man had a fierce grip on his shoulder.

“Really, sir, I don’t need a reward.  I’d best be going.”  Sammy tried his best to twist away, but the old man held him fast.

“Nonsense, young man.  Let’s just make sure this is the right case.  Then you’ll get what is coming to you.”

The old man opened the door and Sammy stifled a shriek.  The eyes behind the door belonged to a stuffed monkey.  Inside the room other creatures stared at Sammy from high on the walls.

Taking the case from Sammy, the old man clicked it open.  He turned to Sammy slowly with a wide smile and froze Sammy’s bones.  “These are my skulls!  This one is a Neanderthal  and this one is a Cro-magnon.  Still in excellent condition.  Thank you lad.  Here’s a crown for your reward.  Charles Darwin always remembers his friends.” Sammy bowed, a bit in awe,  to the old naturalist.


Once Upon A Time: The Old Man

Once upon a time there was a rider in a wood. He was a well-dressed man, riding a good pace, but not in a hurry. If you looked at him in profile you would see a gentleman, complete with top hat. He seemed to be of middling years, and had a smug expression on his face.

Equestrian Portrait of a Gentleman
Equestrian Portrait of a Gentleman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The smug expression arose from the man’s expectance that he would soon be wed to a woman of good family and great fortune. Already the man’s mind was full of expansive dinners in London, a costly flat, and a full wardrobe. He gave not a thought to his wife, who he intended to leave at home to manage his estate.

Then the man’s horse threw a shoe. For those not aware of how horse’s worked in the old days, they had iron shoes that were nailed into the hooves, which are like the fingernails of a person.  The shoes didn’t hurt them and protected their feet from cobblestones.  When they threw a shoe, it left them lame, like getting a flat tire.

So the man got off his horse, swore a great deal, tried to put the shoe back on, and got bumped by the horse for his trouble.  Then he took off at a walk for the estate.

It was late afternoon, but the man wasn’t worried.  He was fuming that he’d miss dinner, but they’d likely send a carriage out to look for him by nightfall.  Then he heard rustling in the bushes.

To say that the man was a coward would not have been a stretch.  To say he was brave would be to ignore the fact that he immediately hid behind his horse and determined to leave the beast at the first sign of danger.  He rightly figured that wolves would prefer a lame horse to a running man, but ignored the reality that no wolves had been seen in that part of the country for perhaps three hundred years.

It wasn’t a wolf, it was an old man dressed in rags.  The old man was carrying a half-full burlap sack and humming to himself in a tuneless sort of way.

Once the gentleman had determined that the old man was not armed, he came out from behind the horse.

“Halloo!” said the old man.  “What happened?”

“My horse threw a shoe.” Replied the gentleman.

“Terrible, just terrible.  A long way to walk.” Said the old man.  It put the gentleman at ease and was quite funny as the old man had likely never owned a horse, and was walking himself.

“Yes, well, one does what one must.”  Said the gentleman.

They walked together for a time, then the gentleman inquired as to what the old man had in the sack.

“Mushrooms.” cackled the old man, showing a few left-over teeth.  “Best thing in the world.  My old lady loves them fierce.  Gonna make her dance with joy.”

The gentleman had a disturbing image of an old woman cavorting.  “How do you prepare them?”

“Put ’em on a stick and roast ’em over the fire.”  The old man smacked his lips.  “The juices just drip off ’em and sizzle in the fire.  Then you pop them in hot and let them crunch and squish in your mouth.”

The gentleman thought momentarily that the mushrooms sounded good.  He had a fleeting thought that he’d like to try that.

They crested a long hill and at the bottom viewed the most decrepid of shacks.  An old woman chased a goat around the yard.  “That’s my castle and my wife.”  Cackled the old man.  “I love that woman more than spit.

Jim Norris and wife, homesteaders, Pie Town, N...
Jim Norris and wife, homesteaders, Pie Town, New Mexico (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

You married?”

“I hope to be so soon,” replied the gentleman.

“Yes, a fine gentleman like yourself will be married out here, but spend all your time in the city.”  The old man smiled his grin.  “Never even see your wife.”

“I don’t believe that’s so.”  Said the gentleman.

“Oh, I’ve seen it.” Said the old man.  “The gentlemen leave and none of the children look anything like them.  Then when they die their own wives look happier.”

“I beg your pardon.”  Said the gentleman.  “Watch your tongue, sir.”

“Begging your pardon,”  said the old man.  “Best to get down to my wife.”

When the old man and the old woman met it was as if they had not seen each other in days.  And the bag of mushrooms was the finest bag of mushrooms in the world.

The gentleman watched the old man’s homecoming and crossed silently on the other side of the road.  He felt a pang as he saw the decrepid old couple embracing.  Some part of him thought:  I want that.

So the next day, after dinner.  The gentleman proposed and was accepted.  Then he stood and asked the pleasant young woman to walk with him.  He told her that there were many reasons that they made a good match, but that he wanted something more.  He told her about the old man and said:  “I want to have a marriage like that.”  And they did.