By: J.J. Cheesman
My sister was my best friend growing up. I didn’t have an older brother or any other siblings, but my big sister Mychael was just as good and even better. Yes, my parents named her Mychael. I always thought it was a fine name, a beautiful name for her. It wasn’t until I was older and in school that I realized that it was normally a boy name. As the story goes, though, my parents were big Michael Jordan fans, she was born in the Eighties, after all. The whole time, my Mother’s doctor thought she was having a boy, so when Mychael was born, they got quite a shock. My parents weren’t prepared with a girl name, and they thought ‘Mychael’ would work just as well and you know what? I agree with them.
My big sister Mychael, she was my hero and everything I idolized. When I couldn’t sleep because I was scared of something on T.V., (though admittedly most of the time it was something she forced me into watching with her, because she was scared to watch it alone) she would comfort me until I passed out. When I was bored, and had no one to play video games with, she jumped in and became my ‘player 2’. Then one day, something awful happened. A day came to pass when my idol and best friend was no longer around anymore. The story of that day, and the events leading up to and after it begin and end, with The Bone Man.
The house I grew up in was out in the country, in a slightly wooded area. We had a huge back yard, with a very tall privacy fence blocking off the view of the woods that lay beyond it. I have so many memories of playing in that yard, and of being on my father’s lap as he mowed the lawn with the rider. It was where I spent most of my young life, playing pretend and imagining all sorts of wild adventures. Sometimes, the boy who lived in the house just down the road from ours would come visit.
His name was Tim, and he was a bit older than me. That being said, he didn’t come over THAT often. I didn’t understand why back then but obviously; I now understand that at his age he wasn’t interested in my boyish games of pretending. But when you live out in the country and you’re REALLY bored you do all kinds of things to amuse yourself. One of the last days I remember Tim coming over was also the first time I ever heard of the ‘Bone Man’.
Tim and I were playing tag in the yard. Running around, using a picnic table that was out year-round along with a basketball hoop as ‘safe spaces’. After a half-hour or so of that, however, Tim got bored. He sat down on the picnic table, staring at the privacy fence.
“What do you want to do now?” I asked him. He sat quietly for a moment, seemingly thinking about something, then he replied.
“Have you ever been back in those trees before?” He asked. I just shook my head. Mom and Dad always said if they caught me anywhere near the woods that they would ‘tan my hide’. I didn’t really know what that meant back then, but I knew I didn’t want to find out.
“Come on.” Tim got stood up and started walking over to the fence.
“No! we aren’t allowed!” I said, following behind him. He looked at me and rolled his eyes.
“Says who?” He asked.
“And do you see your parents out here?”
“No, but what if we get caught?”
“We won’t, you said your Mom is asleep, right? And your dad is at work, it’ll be fine. We’ll just hop the fence and explore a bit, and be back before anyone is around and about to catch us.” Tim explained. I then began to step up on one of the rails of the fence. I wanted to argue, but I didn’t know what to say. I was only ten, Tim was twelve. To my young mind, that meant he had a barrel-full more authority than I did. I nervously looked back at the house, scanning the front porch and windows for any sign of movement and when I looked back, Tim was already hiking one leg up on the last rail.
“Tim wait!” I hissed. But it was too late. He got he hoped over the fence, and I heard a *thud* as his feet hit the dirt on the other side of the fence.
“Come on James! Hurry!” I hesitated, weighing out the punishment I would receive if I were caught, with the possibility of making Tim never want to play with me again.
“Come on, or I’m leaving without you.” He taunted. His words forced me into action, and I put my foot on the bottom rail. As soon as my foot touched the wood, a loud shriek from the direction of the house stopped me in my tracks.
“James what the hell are you doing?!” I turned, startled and surprised to Mychael walking very quickly and angrily toward me. From the other side of the privacy fence, I heard Tim scamper off somewhere into the woods. I stepped down off the rail and walked over to meet Mychael halfway. When I did, she grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me lightly.
“What were you thinking?! You know if Mom or Dad caught you they would be LIVID! Get inside right now!” She pushed me toward the house and was close behind me as I walked sullen and defeated back inside. In the kitchen, I slumped down into a seat at the table and stared down at my shoes. The world was at an end, in my mind at least. I knew I was going to be in big trouble, and I didn’t say a single word as my sister walked in and stood behind my seat.
“Stop sulking, I’m not going to tell Mom or Dad.” I looked up at her, bewildered.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah, just, don’t ever try to go into those woods again, okay?” I nodded, but I couldn’t help but asking,
“Why is it such a big deal anyway? I wouldn’t get lost.” Mychael’s expression became serious and sullen. She knelt down in front of me and she looked me dead in the eyes.
“James, you can’t go behind the fence. I love you and I don’t want you to get hurt.” She said, very directly.
“I wouldn’t get hurt! I’m not stupid.” I said. She sighed, but she never broke her intense stare.
“I’m not worried about you hurting yourself. I’m worried about something hurting you.”
“What’s going to hurt me?”
Mychael considered a long moment before answering. Looking back, I know she didn’t want to scare me, but she must have decided that scaring me was better than me running off into the woods.
“The Bone Man.” My eyes grew wide.
“Who is the Bone Man?” I asked in both fear and wonderment. She squeezed my shoulders very tight.
“Someone you never ever want to meet. Don’t ask me about him anymore okay? He’s just… a very bad person and he will hurt you if you go in those woods, understand? Never go in there, no matter what.” She said and I nodded. My mind immediately went to Tim. I was worried, what if Tim ran into the Bone Man? It occurred to me to tell Mychael that Tim ran into the woods, but I didn’t want to get Tim in trouble. Mychael stood up, and her expression softened as she gestured toward the living room.
“Come on, Josh is coming over so set up one of your games, you know he’ll want to play with you.”
Josh was Mychael’s boyfriend of three years at that point. They had been together ever since Mychael was fourteen. Whenever he came over, he and Mychael would often sit and watch me play video games and Josh would often join in himself. He was a really nice guy, and he was, in a way, part of the family. So, I excitedly ran into the living room, and I forgot all about Tim.
Later that night while I was in bed, my thoughts returned to Tim, and to the Bone Man. I was up all night, worried about what might have happened to Tim. When I awoke in the morning, I looked out of my window toward the direction of the privacy fence. I decided that it was most likely that Tim ran home after Mychael came out yelling, and I was worried over nothing.
Life continued as normal for a week or so. It was the middle of summer, so I didn’t have school. As such, I spent most of it playing video games and playing out in the back yard. I hardly thought any more of the Bone Man. I figured it was just one of Mychael’s efforts to try to scare me. She liked to do that. She was my hero, but she was my older sister after all. I was deathly afraid of dolls when I was that age, and I recall a time when my sister had lured me into the bathroom, only to slam the door and lock me in when I realized she had set one of her Indian dolls on the sink. You don’t really think rationally when it comes to irrational fears, that’s why they’re called that. I pounded on the bathroom door and pleaded for her to let me out, tears streaming down my face. Eventually, she did, and she comforted me while I cried in her arms. Yes, my sister could be brutal, but you know what the great thing about being a kid was? I almost instantly forgave her. I dearly loved my older sister.
It was another day in the outside, another day of fending off pretend monsters that tried to invade the kingdom of my back yard. I remember it was a little overcast that day, but it was bright. There was a light breeze, and thick, white clouds danced around and kissed the sunlight, casting shadows all around the back yard. It was a perfect day for defending a kingdom. It was when I was standing on top of the picnic table, arms outstretched and declaring victory over the invading army, that I saw it.
Between the pickets of the fence, there was movement. The gap between the wood was too small for me to see what it was, but I was certain someone or something was shifting just behind the fence. I dropped my arms and jumped down from the table. Walking cautiously, I moved to the fence, pressing my face against it and peering into the woods. All I could see were tall trees with branches full of lush, green leaves. Then, there was a shift of movement, and for a moment I could only see darkness. My sight adjusted, and I realized I was staring directly into a single green eyeball.
Shouting in surprise, I recoiled and took several steps back. I considered running toward the house, as thoughts of The Bone Man crept into my mind and was spreading a fear that was like ice through my veins at a rapid rate. But then, I heard a familiar voice.
“James!” Tim’s voice came as a hiss, and a wave of relief washed over me.
“Tim!” I called.
“You scared me! How did you get back there?”
“I walked around dummy. Come over here, there’s a bunch of cool spots in the woods to play in, and there’s enough fallen branches and logs, I bet we could even make our own fort!” Tim said, excitement oozing in his voice. My heart was racing; I was scared to go. I wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble, but I was afraid of…
“Tim, get out of there! Mychael said there was a bad man in there!” A long silence followed my shout, and there was no shift in movement behind the wooden slats of the fence. Then Tim spoke up.
“Your sister is dumb, there is no one back here but me, now come on or I’m never playing with you again!” For some reason in that moment, I felt compelled by Tim’s words. As if the authority I felt he held over me for being older had somehow increased tenfold. I took a step forward, but I swear I was unwilling to. It was as if my body was being compelled to move by Tim’s voice alone. Even as an adult I find it hard to describe, but I fought it. I tried to stand firm, but it was no use, I took another step toward the fence.
“Come ON!” Tim yelled. I was nearly about to climb up on the rail when a hand gently touched my shoulder. I looked back and up to see the face of my sister, stern and fierce, staring at the spot where Tim was waiting behind the fence. The feeling crushing authority had dissipated now, and a strange feeling that was akin to regret washed over me. “Tim!” She called. “You know very well that James isn’t allowed back there! Now you run home to your parents, do ya hear!?” I looked back to where Tim was standing, and between the slats, I could see that he hadn’t moved, he just stood there, all quiet for a long while. Mychael didn’t say anything either, she just kept her gaze on the wooden slats. Finally, there was a sound of footsteps on grass, as Tim began walking away. I looked back to my sister.
“What if the Bone Man gets him Mychael?” I asked her, tears welling in my eyes. She tore her gaze from the fence and knelt down in front of me, staring into my eyes once again. This time her eyes were softer though, and her expression was solemn.
“There is no such thing as the Bone Man.” She said with a forced smile.
“I just told you that so you’d stay out of those woods, it is very dangerous back there. Now please, promise me you will not go back there. Ever. No matter what happens, you can never go into those woods. Please, please, please promise me James.” There were tears welling up in my sister’s eyes, and the sight of that made my own eyes well with water.
“I promise Mychael.” I sniffed.
Later that night, our family sat around the kitchen table talking over dinner. I remember my Dad stopping the conversation and asking me directly a question I thought was so strange that I didn’t answer immediately.
“James, you haven’t seen that neighbor boy around lately, have you?” He asked. I froze, I didn’t want to get Tim in trouble, and I turned to look at Mychael who was looking directly at me. She shook her head no, it was slight, and I barely noticed it, but I saw her do it.
“No Dad, not for a while.” I said, turning back to him. He sighed, and turned to my Mother, who wore a concerned look. I was afraid that somehow they found out that Tim went into the woods. I turned back to my Sister for some clue as to what the question was for, but she had he eyes at her plate, absent-mindedly playing with her food. I was confused, and I was scared. But after that night, I never saw Tim, ever again.
I generally refrained from playing outside for a long time after Tim had tried to get me to play in the woods for the second time. I spent most of my time inside, doodling and playing video games with Mychael, and of course Josh, whenever he was over.
The day of my Eleventh birthday came to pass, and the only thing I remember from that day is the gift Mychael gave me, and what she told me when she did.
“Why did you give me a book, I don’t read.” I groaned and she laughed.
“It’s not a book silly. It’s a Journal, so you can write down anything important in your life. I think everyone should have one. I keep one of my own.” I opened it up and flipped through the blank pages.
“But there’s nothing that I ever do that is important.” I said. That’s when she punched me in the arm.
“Hey!” I yelled, rubbing the spot where she punched.
“Hey nothing, You’re MY little brother. Everything you do is important.” To this very day, I don’t recall ever smiling as big as the day she told me that. Call it corny, but to me, it was the coolest thing she could have ever said.
A storm blew in that night, a big one. I remember lying awake on Mychael’s floor because I was scared of the storm, listening to the lightning crack overhead, and the thunder rumble across the sky. In the morning, we awoke to my Dad cursing up a storm. My Sister and I both walked into the kitchen where Dad was staring out of the kitchen window. “What’s wrong dad?” Mychael asked.
“That damn storm last night blew a tree over and took out part of that fence, and I’m not going to have time to get to it this weekend.” I went to stand by him and looked out into the yard. Sure enough, at the end of the yard, a small tree had fallen and damaged the corner of the fence. The damage really didn’t look all that bad, the top rail took most of the damage. The tree was only big enough to take out a few of the pickets around where it had fallen. Dad turned to me and pointed a finger.
“Don’t you dare even think about going anywhere near that fence, ya hear?” He said.
“Okay Dad.” I promised, and I meant it. I didn’t care to ever go out there again. I was angry that Tim never came back to play, and a part of me blamed those woods for it. I just stayed inside and played games all day. At one point, as I sit in front of the T.V. running through the latest game I was addicted to, Mychael sat down next to me. “Will you sleep on the floor in my room again tonight?” She asked.
“Why?” I mumbled, not looking away from the screen.
“I just like spending time with my little brother okay? Will you please just make sure you stay with me tonight?” She snapped.
“Yeah, fine, whatever. As long as you play.” I threw her the second controller and looked up over at her. She smiled.
“I’d love to.” Mychael and I played until around Noon, and then she took me out to get burgers with Josh. Josh paid and said it was for my birthday, and then we all went out for ice cream after that. Of all my memories of my sister, that day is the most prevalent in my mind. Whatever darkness I face in life, it is that memory that I cling to when I need something to light the way.
I lay on Mychael’s floor that night wide awake. For some reason, I was unable to sleep. On my back, I stared up at the ceiling, which was full of glow-in-the-dark stick-on stars. It seemed Mychael had gone a little overboard putting those up, and I remember wondering for a brief moment if my sister had a fear of the dark. Some time passed before my mouth grew dry, and I got up to get a drink of water. I sat up, looking over at Mychael who was snoring loudly and mostly covered by her thick blanket, with one arm tucked under her head. Slowly rising to my feet, I slipped quietly out of the room, opening up the door just a crack so that the hinges didn’t squeak and I slipped out, looking back once to make sure my Sister was still sleeping soundly.
I made my way into the kitchen, the only light coming from the one above the stove. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and put it under the tap. Once the glass was half full, I downed it in two gulps and wiped my mouth with my arm. In that moment, through the window above the sink, my eye caught movement in the back yard. There was a light attached to the garage to the side of the house that cast its glow across the most of the property, but it ended just short of the area of the privacy fence that was broken. The area where I thought I saw something moving.
I peered hard into shadows, trying to make out exactly what it was. Then I saw him, clear as day. Dad must have moved the tree that fell on the fence, either before he went to, or when he came back from work. Either way it was gone, and I was able to see that Tim was standing just behind the broken pickets. He had his arm out to me, gesturing and urging me to come out. I shook my head no. There was that feeling of heavy authority coming back to me again. I didn’t want to go, but I found myself searching the kitchen to make sure I was alone. I looked back to where Tim was standing, he was still gesturing, beckoning me to join him. I once again became compelled to do as Tim was asking. Without any input from my own brain, I turned and walked to the back door. I slipped on my shoes that Mom always yelled at me for leaving there, then I slowly turned the deadbolt until it clicked. I opened the door in the same way I had when leaving my Sister’s room and walked out onto the porch. Tim was no longer gesturing, he just stood smiling a rather goofy smile. He jerked his head back as if to say ‘come on’ and I stepped down into the grass, making my way to the corner of the yard.
“Tim!” I hissed, “What are you doing?! Where have you been!?” I asked.
“I ran away from home; my Dad was being mean and hurting me.” Tim said flatly.
“What?” I was surprised but it made sense. That’s why Mom and Dad looked worried when they asked me about him.
“It’s not a big deal, just come on, I want to show you something, I’ll help you climb over.” He said. I nodded, and I put my foot on the bottom rail. Tim outstretched his hand, and I grabbed it. That’s when I knew I had made a terrible mistake. Tim smiled, and for the first time I saw his teeth. His razor sharp and pointed teeth.
His skin began to split and crack, as his form grew and twisted before my very eyes into a monstrous creature. Black, slimy skin covered its body, and its eyes were pure white with no sign of any pupils. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. This was him, this was The Bone man. He killed Tim, and took his body, and now he was going to take mine. It was over. Tears ran down my face as the creature began to pull me the rest of the way into the fence. I closed my eyes, and I braced myself for the pain.
Then, all of a sudden, I felt myself fall, and I hit the ground on my back. I opened my eyes and looked up in confusion. Mychael, my sister Mychael was on top of the creature’s back. She had something in her hand, and she was digging it into the creature’s flesh. The monster did not scream out, but instead, he let out a breathy sound that was similar to a laugh. Mychael was thrown to the ground as The Bone man reached up and swatted her forward. She was just behind the gap in the fence, we were only inches apart. The railing of the fence was the only divider between us, and when Mychael lifted her head, not even bothering to get up, I saw her face clearly.
My Sister, the strongest person I have ever known, in the face of her own death, did not cry. She looked up at me through the fence, and she smiled. Jesus Christ that smile haunts me in my dreams. “What are you crying for little brother? You’re okay.” Mychael said as the lumbering beast let out another breathy laugh behind her.
“Whatever happens, no matter what you do, you cannot let anyone come into these woods looking for me, understand? No one will believe you, and they’ll only get hurt. You have to protect Mom and Dad little Brother.” My vision blurred, my eyes became fountains as water fell freely from my cheeks. This couldn’t be happening.
“I’m so sorry Mychael!” I blubbered. Through the haze my tears had caused, I saw her expression grow somehow brighter. “Don’t be sorry silly. I love you, little brother.”
I screamed as the creature stepped on her back, immediately crushing her spine and flattening her to the ground. There was then a sickening *squelch* as it dug its hands into the flesh on her back, opening her up. He then, somehow, impossibly, crawled inside her skin. I then watched in paralyzed horror as my Sister stood from her spot on the ground, smiling with pointed teeth. I stood up as quickly as I could and ran into the house, shutting and locking the door behind me. I really wanted to wake my parents, I really wanted to let them know, but I couldn’t.
Mychael was right, they would die if they went out there, if they believed me in the first place. I walked, shaking and crying to my Sister’s room, making sure to avoid looking at the kitchen window. I laid down in my dead Sister’s bed, clutching a pillow and I cried myself to sleep.
I awoke to the worst morning of my entire life. When my parents realized Mychael wasn’t in the house the first thing they did was call Josh’s parents so they could talk to him. He of course had no idea where she was. Then after she didn’t show up the first day, the police got involved, as I’m sure they did when Tim went missing. An investigation was conducted, but no one ever thought a seventeen-year-old girl would go into the woods in the middle of the night, so they didn’t find anything. The worst part was knowing. I knew exactly what became of my sister, but there was nothing I could do to give my family closure. I watched my Mother become erratic and depressed, and my Father become distant. My life, became a constant rain cloud. My parents left Mychael’s room as it was, it became hallowed ground, not even I dared to ever set foot in there.
For the longest time, I never looked out into the back yard or those woods, fearing what I might see. Years went by and I never once even glanced in that direction. I tried to block it out, I tried to block everything out. The Bone Man, Mychael’s death, and my own helplessness to do anything about it. But I wasn’t the only one. Mom developed a drinking problem, and she unfortunately passed away shortly after my fifteenth birthday. Dad grew even more distant after that, and our relationship dwindled down to nothing. I didn’t blame him though, I understood how he felt. I felt the same way. We were both too guilty to be happy, to live our lives.
It was around then though, that I became interested in writing, and I found that old journal Mychael had given to me, and I used it to catalogue everything that I’ve told so far. It was when I was writing about my eleventh birthday that I remembered Mychael saying she kept a journal of her own, so I decided I would finally go into her room and look for it, no matter how much it pained me.
Her room was exactly how I remembered it, bed not made, plastic stars all over the ceiling. But then again, who was ever in there to mess with anything anyway? The only new addition to that room was a fine layer of dust that had begun to collect on everything. I found my Sister’s Journal under her bed. It was the first place I looked, because it was where I kept mine. I got a lot of my habits from her, I’ve found.
I flipped through to the last page, and this is what was written:
‘I know that boy was taken by the Bone Man, but I had to tell James he didn’t exist. I don’t want him to get curious like Robin did. I wouldn’t be able to handle it if that thing looked like my brother. I will protect him at all costs.’
Tears began to pool in my eyes as I flipped back a couple entries and found another. ‘Robin is gone. I know she’s just beyond the fence, I can hear her calling. I can hear it calling. No one believes me. The Bone Man took my best friend and no one believes me. I don’t think older people can see him, and they don’t seem to be able to hear him either. I don’t know what to do, I am so scared.’
I shut the journal then, I just couldn’t read anymore. I haven’t to this day. I stood from the bed then, and I made my way into the kitchen. I made my way to the sink, and looked out into the back yard for the first time in four years. Dad never repaired the fence, he didn’t pay much attention to the house anymore. There was still a gap, and I could see clearly through to the other side.
The Bone Man stood there in Mychael’s skin, smiling, as I knew he would be. I made a vow then, to take care of the property, and to repair the fence. I would take on the burden of keeping that thing in those woods for as long as I could. So far, I have done just that.
I am twenty-six now, and I took over ownership of the house when Dad passed. The first thing I did was go out and start repairs that broken fence. According to Mychael’s journal, adults never seemed to be phased by the Bone Man. I thought once I got to a certain age, I wouldn’t see her. That just wasn’t the case.
In the broad day light, Mychael’s doppelganger screamed and pleaded for me to stop and join her in the woods. Like the crushing authority of Tim was heightened when the Bone Man took his form, so was the love for my Sister. But maybe my feelings have made me weak. Either way, before I was able to finish, I had to turn away and go back into the house. I’ve tried to get Dad’s old shotgun, and kill the Bone Man. But it’s no use, every time I get close, Mychael’s pleading wails drive me back into the house. I think because I saw him when I was a child, I can see him now. Or maybe it’s because he’s taken hold of Mychael? I can’t be sure.
So, I can do nothing but spend my life here in this hell. I have thought about moving, about just leaving it all behind. But what sort of monster would I be if I let Mychael’s death be wasted by letting another family suffer the same fate ours did? No, I cannot leave. I can do nothing but night after night hear the wailing cries of my sister, begging me to join her.
Rest assured though, as long as I draw breath, I will always be my sisters’ keeper.