When the boy’s father began to behave erratically at the phone company and he was terminated, he and his father and mother had gone to live with her sister and her husband and kids in hopes that the boy’s daddy would soon find another job and get the family back on its feet, financially. The house that they all lived in, four adults and six kids of varying ages had actually been built and used as a barn about a hundred years prior: the exact barn where Hack Henderson and Isaiah Juke Johnson had cooked and distilled their illegal brew.
It was an airy old place, difficult to heat in the winter. The planking in the floor was roughhewn originally and had been boarded over with sheets of plywood and then out of date linoleum and then finally... more out of date linoleum and large area rugs, the oblong kind, with layers of different colors. The loft had been converted into a second floor with two bedrooms and it creaked when it squeaked under just about any foot that touched it. And it was on that second floor that the boy and his mother and father had been domiciled by his aunt and uncle.
So the boy was looking downward out the opened window after he heard the crackle and the snap and rose from his bed to go see what he could see. It was just after midnight and everybody else in the house was asleep. Only he and his dog had been awakened.
Those bones, as much as possible reconstituted and a fuller frame, rose from that burn barrel, blazing fire, and with flames where hands should’ve been, lifted itself out and began to walk back on tufts of conflagration where feet were not, to the occult and restless resting place from hence it had been desecrated.
The boy ran back to bed and jumped in and pulled the covers over his face.
Hector whined a little, knowing that something was wrong, not understanding what, skootched himself up under to the boy’s chin and attempted to lick him across the mouth.
“What is it?” the boy’s mother said standing at the door to his bedroom. They were sturdy women, her and her sister; not fat but big boned as they said back in the day. She was the prettier of the two- fair skinned and dark hair and eyes. Her sister, the boy’s aunt, had married a man whom many in town considered to be out of her league in the ‘looks’ department.
Tru Henderson was a good looking man by most accounts, who had married beneath himself- as far as physical beauty went. She must have been a good cook or- something- it sure wasn’t for money. The boy’s mother’s family had none- they were dirt poor. And Esther had, what some folks back then called, a “horse face”. On top of that, her right eye focused ever so slightly to the right. She somehow looked like one of those people in the old timey, black and white photographs; trapped forever somewhere backward in time.
Concern gripped the boy’s mother’s near beautiful face.
“He was on fire.” The boy said.
“Who was on fire?” the boy’s father said stepping up behind his wife, who certainly he did not equal in the ‘looks’ department- and all that. He was not an ugly man by any stretch of the imagination but JT was certainly not a handsome man either, like his brother-in-law, Tru. And there was something about JT that seemed, to a lot of folks- was just- ever so slightly... off.
“The man in the barrel.” The boy said. “His bones came back together and he was a skeleton on fire and he walked back to the hole.”
“What’s he talking about?” Vera, the boy’s mother asked.
“It was one of your dreams.” JT said.
“No...” the boy said. “You can smell it from the window.”
“That’s the smell left over from the trash we burned today.”
“I wasn’t asleep.”
“It was one of those waking dream things.” JT said.
He was not quite a ‘big’ man- just at six feet tall and one hundred and eighty five pounds, which was a healthy enough size but certainly not huge. He’d carried the nickname “Big John” through high school because he’d reached his full stature in tenth grade. But then he didn’t grow more after that, and since his surname was Thomas, became JT.
They’d spoken with their pastor, he and Vera, and a child psychologist about their son’s dreams: they were so vivid and he frequently woke screaming from them. He had, on occasion risen from his bed and left the bedroom, and even the house once. They had heard of nightmares, of course, everybody had heard of nightmares. But the child psychologist, a childhood family friend, of Vera’s actually, who had become a doctor and then a psychiatrist, called the boy’s nightmares ‘parasomnias’ and ‘night terrors’ because of a thing called REM Sleep Behavior Disorder and said that it was not so rare that children his age experienced them and that they usually grew out of them... just like he would probably grow out of the asthma.
“I was awake.” The boy insisted.
“Do you want to go down there?” JT said.
“No!” the boy said more terrified at the thought of going down to look for the fiery skeleton than he had been at seeing it resurrect itself from the burn barrel. “I don’t want to go down there.”
“I think we should.” JT said. “That way you will know it’s not him.”
“It was him.” the boy said.
“Who?” the boy’s mother said a bit frustrated at being ignored and becoming perturbed that there was something going on that she had not been told about.
“We found some bones,” the boy’s father said. “Tru and me when we were digging holes for fencepost...”
“Juke Jackson!” the boy blurted out.
“Juke Jackson?” Vera said, taken aback.
“We’re not even sure they were human.” JT said.
“They ground ’em up and burned ’em in the burn barrel.” the boy said.
“Why didn’t you call the Sherriff?”
“You know why.”
“Why does he even know about Juke Jackson?” Vera said. “He’s too young in the first place and the story is terrifying on its own, especially for a boy his age who has night terrors half the time without any provocation or reason.”
“C’mon...” his father said, taking the boy by the hand.
“I don’t want to!” He complained as he pulled back weakly.
“But you need to... to see that there’s no burning skeleton and no bones at all so you can go back to sleep and not dream about it again.”