The Cat's Maw
The Cat's Maw
Of Boys and Bones
BILLY BRAHM WAS HAVING A NIGHTMARE.
Now, there's nothing the least bit peculiar about a ten-year-old boy having a bad dream. Be it fanged beasts, or exploding volcanoes, or having to go up in front of the entire school to give a speech in your underwear, there isn't much call for alarm.
Just remember that you're dreaming. Run away as fast and as far as you can. And then wake yourself up .
But this boy's dream was different. It was different because there was no way to escape from it. It was different because he was already wide-awake.
Elizabeth and Stanley Brahm stood over their adopted son with masks of concern and frustration on their weary faces. For years, Billy's mother had scolded him for being accident-prone, causing them so much unnecessary worry (not to mention the implied expense).
"You could trip on a whisker, or cut yourself in a rubber room, " his mother would say, removing her glasses with a heavy sigh and furrowed brow.
Stanley Brahm would nod in agreement, keeping the fragile peace. As his mother continued to scold, Billy would watch his father turn and inch quietly from the room. The bald patch on top of his head would bob out the back door and gleam its way across the lawn, disappearing behind the doors of his workshop.
Billy couldn't argue with his mother. He may have been a smart boy - frighteningly smart, according to the standardized tests they gave at his school each year - but no amount of brain could dispute the boy's storied history of profound clumsiness.
When Billy was three he fell down the stairs with a double-scoop strawberry cone. Shag carpet softened the blows and absorbed the ice cream and blood, limiting the boy's suffering to two chipped teeth, a fat lip, and the ridicule of his three foster siblings.
When Billy was four he ran out of daycare, tripped on his untied shoes, and met the shale-and-gravel driveway face-first. At the doctor's, he shrieked as the little man with the lazy eye slid a needle and thread four times through his upper lip. The boy's siblings (down to two now) were no less cruel with their laughter.
When Billy was five, a hulking sixth grader - lunging to avoid a dodgeball throw of vicious intent - slammed him into a tetherball pole. Six weeks in a sling, and a broken collarbone to add to his 'scorecard'.
Billy's sole sibling at the time - a shy blonde girl with a love for stuffed bears and a tendency to cry - asked him in all seriousness if he was cursed , or just had really bad luck. Three weeks later, Billy watched from the kitchen window as the girl was packed neatly with her bear into a long grey car that would whisk her away to another home.
As he waved goodbye to her and remembered her words, he began to wonder the same thing.
A jolt of pain brought him back to the present. Back to the living room and the squeaky, lump-infested cot. Back to the plaster cast on his leg, and the reason he was trapped.
His mother unfolded a newspaper, sat down beside the bed, and began clipping a piece from a page near the front. For a minute Billy forgot his pain, hoping she had found a coupon for ice cream, or for the movies. His mother loved coupons as much as Billy loved ice cream, and movies, and dreams. Probably more.
"Do you have any idea how lucky you are?" his mother asked, though she wasn't really asking. She waved the strip of paper in front of his face. "You could've been killed! People must think we're awful parents."
The news story was titled: 'SUMMER RUINED FOR LOCAL BOY ' . That's all he could make out, aside from his school photo. The unflattering picture showcased his prominent overbite, bulging brown eyes, and a lopsided mop of chestnut hair. Billy never saw himself as a handsome boy before and now, after the accident, even less so.
The throbbing in his leg made it hard t