Prompt Day #226: Write a piece that illustrates William Clayton’s words of wisdom: “The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they’re going to be when you kill them.”
It wasn’t much of a job, but it was his. Daniel was proud of maintaining the university’s landscaping; mowing, trimming the shrubs, raking up leaves. He even picked up the trash on the sidewalks although that wasn’t his job. It wasn’t his job to take care of the lawns on fraternity row either, but he liked being around those guys the best. He would never go to college or be cool enough to be in a fraternity, here at least, he could imagine as much.
Daniel’s father had held this same job as did his grandfather. At the time his grandfather took the job, Native American’s weren’t allowed in the college. They were hired for the low income jobs but they were given access to the library’s books and to his grandfather that was a good trade. So the decision had been made for all future sons. Daniel didn’t mind. He loved being outdoors.
“How, Danny Tail-feather!” Jake Petras said walking by and knocking Dan’s hat off his head. Jake was the president of Alpha Sigma Pi, the premier party Frat house on the row. Daniel laughed and picked his hat up.
“Ha-ha Jake. My name’s not Tail-feather” He said. He tried to be good natured about their constant picking.
“Ok Kemosabe, don’t scalp me for it.” Jake laughed punching Daniel in the arm hard enough to let him know who was in charge here. “Hey listen, it’s rush week and uh, this yard is looking pretty shitty. I’m gonna need you to go pick up some plants, maybe some mulch, I don’t know, whatever it’s gonna take to get this place looking good.” He gave Daniel a little shove. “Go on now, get busy.”
“Uh, Jake, I got a long list of stuff I gotta do for the university.” Daniel explained “I’m not even paid to come down here, so I don’t think I’m gonna be able to do that for you.” Daniel spoke slowly, he always did. His father and grandfather used to laugh and say Daniel was born with his ancestors’ accent. His low voice added to an overall perception that Daniel was perhaps learning disabled.
“Yeah, that’s right. We let you come down here and take care of the lawn.” Jake said, hands on his hips. “You know we’re the only Fraternity that even puts up with your shitty work. So, if you still want a lawn to stand on and gawk at what real life looks like, you’ll get your ass in gear.”
Daniel nodded. He walked back to his pick up without another word. He’d just cashed his paycheck, he had enough to buy a few bags of mulch and some hostas maybe. He’d like to be there when the new guys got initiated. For once, he was off the hook.
Daniel was putting in the last of the hostas when Jake and one of his cronies came out and sat on the porch, cooler of beer between them. They sat up a card table and laid out photos.
“Hey Tail-Feathers, you want a beer?” The other guy—Hunter, maybe—asked. Daniel looked up. The guy was holding an icy cold looking can of beer.
“Sure, it’s just Daniel, though” he said reaching out.
“Ooh, I just remembered, alcohol kills brain cells” Hunter pulled the beer back “and you, my friend don’t have a single neuron to spare.” The two brothers chuckled and bumped fists. Daniel stood unsure if the joke had ended there or if the comment itself was a joke and they would give him a beer. Jake stared at him and popped open the can. He chugged it and burped. He smiled at Daniel. Daniel dropped his head and went back to work.
“Hey, Jake, maybe we should let Danny Boy pick out our pledges for this year. You know, like how they let turkey pick out who’s gonna win the Super bowl?”
“Dickhead, they let the Turkey shit on a picture. You want him up here shitting all over the place?” Jake said feigning seriousness “Dan! You wanna come shit on the pictures of the guys we should haze?”
“Nothankyou” Daniel responded mumbling. They had already moved on to a new conversation.
“So, man, what are we gonna do with the pledges? I mean it has to be epic.” Jake asked Hunter.
“Dude, I don’t know. I was thinking naked bungee jumping off the bridge but fuckin’ Gamma Tau’s doing it.” Hunter shrugged.
“Fuck man, we cannot let them out-do us.” Jake said.
“I have an idea” Daniel said still working the mulch. He didn’t even look up.
“You have an idea for us?” Hunter laughed
“Well, let’s hear it Einstein” Jake said. Daniel stood up and brushed his hands off. He pointed south at a mountain looming on the horizon.
“There’s a cave at the base of Mt. Dormer. There’s a lot of bones in it, like some human even. And there are small tunnels you have to belly crawl through but you can get out. It dead ends.”
“You’re shittin’ us. There ain’t human bones in there man, that’s an urban legend.” Hunter argued.
“I’ve been in there many times. There are human bones.” Daniel said. He bent back over and spread the mulch.
“You better not be fucking with us Tail-Feathers.” Jake warned him. He highly doubted Daniel Horne would know the difference between a human’s and a chicken’s bone. The kid was an idiot.
“Do you want me to show you?” Daniel asked, still showing no interest. He didn’t want them to think he actually cared if they wanted to go with him or not.
“Let’s go then, let’s see these human remains.” Jake said
“You better be right, Horne. If I waste half a day driving out there for some deer carcass, we’re gonna drag you in there and beat the shit out of your dumb ass.” Hunter said. Daniel had an idea that Hunter was only going along because Jake wanted to. Hunter hated Daniel. That was ok, Daniel wasn’t too fond of him either.
It was dusk when Daniel’s old Ford pulled up to the mouth of the cave. He left his headlights on so that they shone into the darkness. The Frat brothers got out and headed into the darkness.
“Christ, it stinks in here.” Hunter said walking in. The cold humidity inside the cave nibbled at the back of his neck.
“I’m gonna puke” Jake said. He took a few more steps inside. He could see a pile of white reflecting the light just ahead. As he approached it, he was able to see more form to the mound. Yes, there was bone, but it was jutting out of the rotting flesh of a human leg. The leg, upon further investigation was still attached to the body of a man who might have been their age.
“What the fuck?” Hunter said coming up behind a now vomiting Jake. “Dude, that’s a dead body. That ain’t just human bones, you know?” Jake was still heaving but the wet sounds had stopped. He wiped his mouth with the back of his arm.
“Didn’t Daniel say he’d been here a lot?” Jake said.
“No way, man, there is no way that dumb ass did something like this.” Hunter said, but there was panic rising in his voice.
“What do you think?” Daniel yelled into the cave. He was standing just outside the entrance.
“Daniel. There is a dead body in here.” Jake said. He tried to keep his voice calm and even. While he agreed it was unlikely that someone like Daniel could do this, the kid obviously knew about it. Why hadn’t he told anyone?
“No.” Daniel said “There are three.”
Jake and Hunter could only see his outline in the headlights. He walked into the cave and as he passed the entrance, they could see his body grow unbelievably large. Both taller and wider. His head widened and took on an elongated profile. The deep guttural growl that emanated from the beast that once was Daniel echoed in the cave.
His body blocked most of the light. The Frat brothers dropped to the floor of the cave and crawled blindly seeking the small tunnels Daniel had told them about. Jake heard the thing behind him and then a dull thud and a wet splat. His pulse quickened and he flailed his arm out frantically trying to find an escape. It fell on something round and warm and hairy. He palpated it and screamed when his fingers fell into the gaping mouth of his now decapitated friend.
The scream excited the shapeshifter who grabbed the boy with his gigantic paw. His claws pierced the flesh on Jake’s forehead. The mammoth bear turned Jake around to face him. Tendons and bones snapped as they were twisted beyond their limits. Jake was already dead when Daniel/Bear opened his great jaws and bit into the boy’s face. As he chewed he drug the bodies over to his stockpile. He would get to them later, but for now, he needed to get back to the university. He had some shrubbery to tend to in the commons.