Mr. Bones, I presume

When I was about 11 or so, a couple of my best friends and I were poking around the back of the school as kids are wont to do and came across a rather large box stuck haphazardly in the trash.  It was about five feet long, eighteen inches across and six inches deep.  It was sealed but, when shaken, it had a very interesting rattle.

Mailing labels told us that it was at one time destined for the science department which immediately whetted our curiosity.  All sorts of bizarre guesses as to the contents flew around until one of us thought it might just be best to open it and see what made the noise.  At that, I whipped out my jackknife (nowadays, this item would have set off the metal alarms at the school entrances) and cut carefully across the tape holding the lid.  With great care, we all lifted the lid and peered inside.

“Well, holy cow!” exclaimed Ben.  “It’s a do-it-yourself person!”

Sure enough, inside was a collection of (hopefully) plastic bones which, when joined, would create a skeleton. Cackling gleefully, we resealed the lid and carted off this magnificent treasure to our clubhouse.

For the moment, our clubhouse was under the back porch of my house.  Two sides were paneled in diamond shaped lath while the other two sides were simple cinder blocks forming the kitchen and living room walls.  We had hinged one part of the lath so we could open it.  Our furnishings left a lot to be desired, but it was home to us.

Laying out a large plastic sheet we had found (my mom would periodically ask us if we had seen the kitchen tablecloth) we dumped the contents of the box onto it and began sorting the ‘bones’.  We were soon overwhelmed by the complexity so, after taking care to wrap it back up, we adjourned for sodas all around.

“Man, we’ll never get that back together” opined Cecil.

“Well, I dunno, Cecil.  Maybe if we had a book or a diagram we could figger it out,” I replied.  “I’ll see if I can find something at the school library tomorrow.”

Since it was getting late and time for dinner we broke and I went upstairs.  My mom was just putting the finishing touches on our dinner which, according to my nose, would include a couple of items not in my food group.  Specifically: Brussels sprouts.  To my way of thinking, Brussels sprouts were a food that was grown to specifically to torture kids.  They had no food value I could see, tasted as bad as they smelled, and, if you could manage to choke down a bite or two, they tended to stay with you all night; coming up every once in a while to check and see how fast your gag reflex was.

Over the next few days we managed to wire together most of the bones into a recognizable shape – that of a human being.  Now, if humans were four feet six inches tall, had rounded shoulders, no knees or elbows, then this would be what we looked like inside.

Ben was the first to come up with the name ‘Stoop’.  Stoop it became.  Now that we had Stoop, we turned to the question of what to do with him.  Everyone had an opinion so we began to write them down.  Since we all had younger sisters the list was beginning to take on a decided bent towards letting Stoop scare the beejeebers out of them.  How to do this was kicked around until I thought of the old ironing board mechanism that my dad had taken out of the hall closet.  It was a pantograph sort of thing that sprung out from the board when you touched a button and then you could rotate it flat.  We all agreed this would be perfect.

My dad had a real problem with my and my friends using his tools down in the basement.  He’d get a nervous tic in his cheek every time he heard we had been down there so, in order to spare him from this, we told each other that we would be really careful and not mess with anything we didn’t really need.

The reason my dad had replaced the ironing board was that the spring had broken so we first needed to replace it.  Nothing could be found that was strong enough to actuate the mechanism.  We were stumped until Ben came up with the idea of using a spring we had found out in the woods.  It was about two feet long and very hard to stretch out.  With difficulty we managed to tack each end to the lever system.  Finally, we arrived at the crucial first trial run.  Since the whole lash-up looked a bit strange, we ended up drawing straws for the honor of pushing the button.

“You get the honor of hitting the button Ben,” Cecil said, as he slid to one side and partially behind the furnace.

“Yeah,” I added from the precautionary position behind my dad’s bookcase.

“Oh, come on guys.  This can’t be all tha — AAAAIIIEEEEEEEEH!” as he punched the button.

The flat part which would normally hold the ironing board shot out and pasted Ben smartly against the wall and, once he stopped moving, forced the workbench backward about six inches.  He looked like a fly caught under a huge flyswatter.  All we could see was his head, two arms, and two legs.  The rest was pressed against the wall.

“MAUGH!  PEES HELF MEEEEEEE!” wailed Ben through clenched teeth.

It took the both of us to restrain the spring and lock it back under the latch.

“Mebbe we’d better back off on that spring a bit, eh?” I asked.

“I think that … might be a … good idea” panted Ben, still trying to catch his breath which had rushed out all at once when the board hit him.

We tinkered with the spring, latch, and release mechanism all afternoon until we had it working like we wanted it: enough to make it spring out, but not enough to pin our victim to the wall.  With a little effort, we wired Stoop to a frame where the board would normally be.  It was time to put Stoop into action.  We figured that this would only work once because of the communications network between sisters so we again drew straws.  I won this time.

As we were leaving the basement I happened to spot a can of paint that my dad had used to paint luminous eyes on our Felix the Cat wall clock which hung in the hall outside my brother’s and my bedroom.  Perfect!  I thought and called the guys back.

“Let’s make Stoop glow in the dark!  That should add a little to the surprise.”

We industriously painted all the bones with a ghostly white paint that did indeed glow when we turned off the basement lights.

“Very cool,” we all exclaimed together.

We struggled upstairs with the device and, when the coast was clear, installed Stoop at the back of my sister’s closet.  She keeps all her stuffed animals there on shelves but there was an open area just next to her hanging clothes.  With a little adjusting and rigging a string to the hook on the back of her closet door, we were ready.

All evening after dinner and a short bit of television I wondered when she would open her closet door.  I was dying to know how it would work.  What I didn’t know was that she already had most of her stuffed animals already on her bed and didn’t need to get more from the closet.  I also didn’t know that from time to time she would wake up in the middle of the night to refresh her supply of animals.

I think it was sometime around two in the morning that the still summer air was shattered by a rising-scale shriek that never seemed to end.  All my hair rushed to attention at the noise even as my sleep-fogged brain realized she had finally opened the door.  The cat, who was slumbering peacefully on my chest, arose to the height of around eighteen inches, rotated in a circle, and lit out for the door without touching down once.

“AiiiiEEHHHHahhhhh!” she screamed.  “Oh, hoozit come from da closettttttt”

About that time, my mom had pulled her fingernails from the ceiling and started down the hall followed closely by my dad.  For some reason though, my dad had returned and stopped right in front of MY room while he waited for the verdict from my mom.

“Woo!  What the hell is that?” she yelled from down the hall.  “Get him in here right now!”

With downcast eyes I was propelled down the hall and into my sister’s room.  What greeted me was not really what I had expected.  Apparently, Stoop had managed to open the partially closed door and spring out from his hiding place without any help.  Further, we hadn’t fastened him very securely to the frame.  This meant he was free to catapult across the room and land directly on her bed.  My sister was sitting on the top of her headboard staring with eyes the size of large eggs at the collection of bones lying across the blanket and quivering.

Punctuated by slaps on the butt with The Paddle, I cleaned up the bones, drug the contraption outside, disposed of Stoop’s rather messy remains, and crawled back into bed.

And that is how my sister developed a nervous tick of her own.

T.O.M.

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