The two brothers decided to kill Bernie because they were tired of him. He was a pest. Always knocking on the door Saturday mornings, wanting to know if they could come out.
They didn’t want to play with Bernie. Nobody did. But the looks their mother gave them! It was easier to go out and play than to fall under the lash of her tongue. Bernie was a nice boy. Bernie was new to the neighborhood. Bernie needed help fitting in. Bernie this. Bernie that. Bernie Bernie Bernie.
They planned to lure him into their father’s mint condition, ’55 Chevy two-door, the one they weren’t supposed to touch. Ever. They would play The Game. One person stayed inside the car while the others crouched outside, jumping up like jack-in-the boxes. If the spotter had his back to you when you jumped, you got a point. If not, he got the point. First to eleven wins.
Once they got Bernie inside, they would flip the external door locks and keep him in there until the air ran out.
“Do you think he’ll go for it?” said Sean, the nine-year-old.
“Does the Pope shit in the woods?” said Michael, the eleven-year-old.
“Does he?” asked Sean, his brow furrowed.
“Shut up, you moron,” said Michael, “and give me a cig.”
Saturday dawned, and Michael and Sean gathered their tools. Hammer? Check. Duct tape? Check. Lighter fluid? Check. Matches? Check. Pop Tarts?
“Pop Tarts?” said Michael. “What the hell? And are we feeding him too?”
“I get hungry!” said Sean. “You know I get hungry.” Michael looked at him.
“Eat this,” he said, punching him in the arm. But not very hard. He was saving his strength.
Bernie did not have to ring the bell that day. Sean and Michael were waiting for him on the front stoop, waved to him as he came by, told him to come on up, and sniggered as he jiggered up the driveway.
Just to show they were good sports, Sean and Michael took their turns inside the car. They let Bernie win both games. Then it was Bernie’s turn. In he went and they slammed the door behind him.
Sean and Michael flipped the locks and taped up the door seams. They scooted around the car, jumping up and down. But the worst that happened was that Bernie got red-faced and sweaty. Then he rolled down a window.
The two brothers stood off at a distance.
“It’s not working,” Sean said. “Pass me the hammer.” Sean peeled the tape and opened the door and handed Bernie a Pop Tart, which he munched gratefully. “Bernie?” said Sean. He turned, his face innocent and round, and Sean swung the hammer against his temple. The sound was like an orange being mashed by a baseball bat. Bernie crumpled onto his side in the back seat.
Sean unscrewed the lighter fluid and poured it over Bernie and onto the seat. He dropped a match. Flames whooshed up along Bernie’s face and clothes, melting his hair, spreading to the upholstery. Sean slammed the door shut.
But not before he rolled up the window, pushed off the parking brake, and put the car in neutral. The car sat perched at the top of the driveway, just at the incline, smoking and popping. Sean put his shoulder against the front bumper and pushed.
“Jesus,” said Michael, agog as the car rolled backwards down the driveway. “Jesus Christ.” The car picked up speed and bounced crazily into the street, the interior roaring with orange flames. Willy Anglin, who always rode his bike on Saturdays, saw the car coming and at the last second slammed on his brakes.
The car rolled over him, dragging him and his twisted bike across the street, where it crashed into the apartment building, pinning Willy against the stairs. Willy screamed and screamed until the fire ignited the leaking gas tank, blowing out the car windows and the doors and popping the hood. The car disappeared amid roiling tongues of fire like a dinosaur being consumed by lava.
“Jesus Christ Almighty,” Michael said. He turned to his brother. “You’re crazy. We weren’t supposed to really do it.”
“Go on,” said Sean. “Now you tell me.” The brothers gawked as the drama unfolded, the adults running about and yelling helplessly across the blazing wreck. The air hung heavy with the stench of burning rubber and plastic and—what was that?—flesh. In the distance wailed sirens, coming closer.
“Too bad about Willy,” said Michael. Sean shrugged.
“I never did like him much, neither,” he answered. Two crows flew by overhead. Sean held something white out to his brother. “Pop Tart?”
"Bye Bye Bernie"
Copyright: © 2010 Robert Meade
Copyright: © 2010 Robert Meade
Robert Meade is a transplanted Bostonian now firmly rooted in Mohegan Lake, in Westchester County, NY, with his wife and three children. He teaches at Loyola School in Manhattan. He won the Wordweaving Award for Excellence for his book, Daily Bread: Seven Days to a Healthier Soul. A published author of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, his recent work has appeared in Angels on Earth magazine and online at Guideposts and Apollo’s Lyre.