Bone Deep | 2 | Company

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Kirin didn’t have a lot of friends. Like most adults in his early 30s who had never left his childhood hometown, he socialized mainly with his coworkers, and a handful of people he’d known since he was in grade school. So when there was a knock at his door, Kirin looked up a bit perplexed.


There was Chinese takeout and a mess of paper mid-grading spread out on his small breakfast nook table. Next to the booth seating, the dog lay in a makeshift bundle of blankets and a thick foam padded dog bed.


“Were you expecting company?” Kirin asked the dog.


There was a flash of mint green eyes but no other acknowledgement to what Kiin had said.


Sticking his chopsticks back into the takeaway carton, Kirin moved to slide out around the table and onto his feet.


There was another knock at the door, and Kirin answered with, “Be right there!”


The dog next to Kirin adjusted his head at the edge of the bed to watch Kirin but didn’t stand.


Opening the door—


Kirin stalled.


“Hey Kirin,”


Joel’s voice was light — but he didn’t look light. He looked — strained. His dark almond eyes looked up through his eyelashes to Kirin. His mop of auburn, curled hair was tempered down under a worn navy beanie.


“Hi,” Kirin stuttered.


It had probably been three years since he’d even seen Joel in passing.


“Can I?” Joel’s eyes darted past the door.


“Oh, of course!” Kirin’s manners kicked in and he stepped back, offering Joel passage through to the kitchen.


“Thanks man,” Joel said as he gave a nod.


“Yeah,” Kirin said as Joel passed. “It’s been a long time.”


Not that Joel was the type to announce his comings and goings, but Kirin was still a bit perplexed at the sudden drop in…


“Oh,” Joel stopped into the entry to the kitchen. “I didn’t know you had a dog.”


“He’s a new addition,” Kirin murmured. “Here,” He motioned to the breakfast nook. “You can sit over here.” Kirin swooped in to gather up an armful of paper stacks and whisked them to the kitchen island.


It was awkward for several minutes as Joel sat down and Kirin got them both a beer, popping the lids off with a metallic ‘klank’ before Kirin sat back down at the table across from Joel.


“Man,” Joel looked around. “Your mom’s house hasn't changed much, has it?”


“Well,” Kirin gave a smile, not sure if Joel was complimenting or insulting him. “It’s my house now.”


“Oh yeah, right.” Joel looked down at the bottle in his hand. “That makes sense with your mom being crazy and everything.”


Okay, that one definitely stung. Not the most tactful way to call out Kirin’s Alzheimer's-addled mother.


“Joel—“ Kirin leaned forward.


“You remember when we were kids?” Joel cut in.


Kirin paused. The tension in the room was suddenly pulled taunt. The dog next to Kirin stirred, raising his head and ears flicked forward, alert for once as he peered over the table at Joel then to Kirin.


Kirin let out a long breath. His past was — it wasn’t pleasant territory for Kirin. “Yeah, Joel. I remember when we were kids.” Was Joel now implying Kirin had Alzheimer’s? He could join the club, right by Kirin’s side. Kirin’s lips pressed into a tight, polite expression.


“I never thought you and Ryker would be how ya are now, ya know?” Joel said further.


“How we are now?” Kirin inquired, head tilted in question.


“I just saw you two, the other day,” Joel sounded almost mournful. “I just, I don’t know, I just saw you two getting food together or some shit and I guess I just realized you two are still friends. I know you're not dating or whatever. You guys just seemed — so familiar with each other.”


Oh. Kirin was unsure the route he should take but being polite was always his first reach so with a smile he nodded. “Yeah, me and Ryker are quite close friends.”


Kirin’s best friend, honestly. And that reason was well — that reason was looking at Kirin across the table. Ryker stayed. When Joel and all of Kirin’s other friends fell away.


“I sometimes,” Joel gave a shy smile. “I miss our old crew ya know. You, me, Ryker and Noah — it was really great to have a group of friends like that.”


It had been. And yet Kirin felt a solid cold lump in his throat.


“I started hanging out with these like out of towners lately,” Joel flopped his crossed arms over the table, “They, man, sometimes they make me think about old times.”


“Out of towners?” Kirin’s brow rose.


There was something that felt —off. Kirin was thirty two years old. Same as Ryker, and since Joel was in the exact same class as him…. so was Joel. But this conversation didn’t feel like it was between two adults for some reason.


“Yeah they — uh —“ Joel's eyes darted before a broad smile formed and Joel’s eyes focused on Kirin. “You know the old bridge where we used to hang out all the time? Just down the road, Augusta?”


“Yes. I do remember that bridge.” Kirin tread rather carefully. His memory was too sharp, he could feel the biting edge of his last memory at that bridge, of the last time they had all been there together. They’d never been the same after that.


“We went out there, ya know, to the old homestead!” Joel seemed nearly giddy. “We like — it felt like one of our old adventures, you know?”


“You mean the Clarice homestead?” Kirin’s brow furrowed. “Joel, there’s nothing out there, that homestead burned to the ground in the civil war.”


“Yeah,” Joel gestured like Kirin’s statement meant very little. “But there’s all those stories, ya know? Cause like that stupid old black tree just sits all charred and stuff out there. There’s supposed to be treasure out under that tree. If you can get it past the monster livin’ out there.” Joel gave a giddy laugh.


Kirin shook his head. This wasn’t the sort of story he wanted to hear from Joel. “Joel, there’s nothing out there—-“


“We found something!” Joel’s eyes were lit with the confession. He looked like a kid at that moment - like a seventeen year old kid.


“Joel,” Kirin shook his head again, his stomach churning.


Let it go. His mind whispered. Just let all those days go!


“It’s not treasure.” Joel gripped. But he still laughed as he went on. “We were really high and it was like midnight or something so it was super creepy!” He giggled a bit to himself.


There was stirring from the dog on the floor. Ears both forward, the dog was focused and alert, looking up over the table, eyes locked on Joel.


“That’s not a good idea, Joel,” Kirin groaned, in an all too familiar way this felt too real, too close to his memory of Joel's continuous stream of terrible ideas throughout the years.


“It wasn’t even buried very deep,” Joel was smiling, trying to build the suspense. He felt he was onto something, it was obvious.


Kirin just felt like he’d swallowed lead stones. “What did all of you do out there?”


“We found a body.” Joel said grinning like he was some sort of Indiana Jones.


Kirin felt like he’d been doused in cold water, his veins iced over and his limbs froze stiff—till he heard the rumbling growl from the floor next to him. The sound burst warmth in his veins even before he looked down.


Joel, unfazed, kept going. “I think it was a kid or something, really small bones ya know and like--they were perfect! It was like they hadn’t aged at all!”

The dog was up in a flash, standing as his teeth barred.


Breath stalled, Kirin jumped to attention, grasping at the long fur of the dog. “No!” He gave a curt hiss to the dog. But it still chilled in Kirin’s veins. His fingers dug through thick fur, realizing they hadn’t bothered with a collar as of yet.


In the same moment, Joel eyes shot across the table to the dog. He let out a laugh. “Doesn’t like ghost stories?”


Kirin gave his own nervous, mirthless laugh. “Apparently not,” he looked back down to the dog.


This time the dog looked up, and — Kirin was too good at humanizing things. He shook his head at what he swore was an indignant glare up at him.


“Does he need to go out or something?” Joel asked off-hand.


“Oh uh,” Kirin looked up to Joel. Well now that he said it, Kirin realized he’d never had to train for that. “No, he usually just stands by the door then.”


Joel scrunched his nose. “He seems a bit feral.”


“He’s just new to the house.” Kirin pressed his hand to the dog's back and with another glare the dog sat next to him. “Joel, what in the world did you do with a dug up body?”


Joel seemed genuinely perplexed the conversation had swung back around. “What do you mean, what did I do?”


“You dug up a body?” Kirin repeated. “That’s someone’s body.”


There was no answer from across the table.


“You called the cops, right?” Kirin helped along. “A mortuary? Anyone?” His expression was falling. The blood felt like it was draining form his face as it sunk in — the only person Joel told was probably Kirin.


“No,” Joel said with an expression of bewilderment. “It was just an old skeleton and it was super creepy.”


“What?” Kirin gasped out. “Joel, that's somebody’s body!” He repeated.


“You know you’ve always been like this,” Joel shot back. “Like who the fuck cares, it’s so old there’s nothing they can do now!”


“Joel, you just left it out there?” Kirin connected the dots. Not that Kirin had any room to talk considering what was in his own closets…


“It was gross! What were we supposed to do, give it a eulogy?”


“You’re supposed to at least give it over to someone equipped to do something.” Kirin sighed. “The police come to mind?”


“And have Toby breathing down my neck over it?” Joel sounded affronted. “As if!” Joel sat back a bit uncomfortable. “Especially not with my friends — Like they’re —“ He trailed off.


Kirin stilled. Looking across the table he realized suddenly how Joel had made these so-called friends.


There was another rumble of growls. Kirin looked down, This time those minty eyes were gazing up at him.


“They left town.” Joel suddenly said moodily.


Kirin let out a long sigh. He could relate to that feeling. He too had felt left behind, stranded while people left one after another to live a life Kirin didn’t even let himself think about.


“I’m sorry Joel.” Kirin said, sincere.


Joel still just looked down at the table top, shifting his jaw restlessly like he was trying to think what to say.


“They said they were going to Boston.” Joel commented.


Boston — where Noah had gone. Kirin nodded but didn’t comment.


“We should report that body, Joel —“


“What?” Joel looked up incredulously. “Are you seriously stuck on that?”


“You found a body?” Kirin laughed out of disbelief. “A decaying human, that’s what you found.”


“It’s just some old bones!”


There was a visceral snarl at that.


Kirin’s gaze jerked down and he shifted on the bench to reach down to the dog. This time as the dog looked up there was a change, his head cocking as he looked up at Kirin.


“You’re alright,” Kirin tried to comfort him.


“Where the hell did you even get that thing?” Joel asked.


Closing his eyes, Kirin knew the answer wasn’t going to assure Joel at all. “He was a stray.” Kirin still answered honestly, but not saying he literally picked the dog up from the side of the road.


Joel wrinkled his nose at the dog in a sour look.


Kirin wasn’t going to read into that anymore than necessary.


“It’s just —“ Joel paused, as if considering if he should continue.


Kirin looked up. Joel's almond shaped dark eyes met his.


They both knew what Joel was about to ask. Kirin had known probably since he’d opened the door.


“I just need to get to Boston, ya know.” Joel quirked a hopeful smile.


Kirin was already shaking his head.


“Like I don’t need much,” Joel kept going.


But as they stared across the table — they both knew Kirin wasn’t going to give Joel a dime. Kirin shifted, elbows on his knees, he distracted himself by running his hands through soft dark chocolate fur.


“And when you get there?” Kirin asked with a distant sigh. “And when will ‘your friends’ move on again?”


The dark look that earned Kirin wasn’t completely unexpected.


There was another rumbling low growl, as the dog gave a defiant glare in return. Those mint eyes even narrowed, as if critical of Joel from across the table.


Joel gave a snort. “I don't think he likes me.”


Kirin let out his own not-quite-a-laugh. “I don’t know if he even likes me all that much.” The comment was meant to lighten the mood but there didn’t seem to be much of a result.


"I should probably go," Joel commented. His tone was no longer light. His almond shaped eyes didn’t meet Kirin’s. “Too much here hasn’t changed at all.”


With a frown, Kirin felt he had to ask. “What do you mean by that?”


Joel jerked his jacket on as he gave a gesture to Kirin and the dog seated next to him. “It’s always been like this. You always just cater even when you’re literally protecting a psychopath.”


That comment had roots. Kirin blinked a couple of times, processing Joel’s bitter line.


“I’m sorry, Joel.” Kirin ended up saying. “I don’t think going to Boston is going to help you.”


“Well staying here isn’t doing a whole helluva lot of good.” Joel slid out from the booth bench and stood, his eyes averting Kirin’s. “I should have known, You always take someone else’s side.”


Kirin’s mouth was a grave line as he stood. “It was very different with Ryker.”


“You let him assault me.” Joel said as he gave a pointed look at Kirin.


“Joel —“ Kirin shook his head. “His entire life was upended. His family was throwing him out on the street and your particular comments at the time — warranted a punch in the face.”


“Yeah, well my family has pretty much done the same.” Joel sniped.


“And we’ve never tried to belittle that experience.” Kirin countered.


Joel’s eyes finally lifted enough to shoot a glare in Kirin’s direction.


Kirin huffed. Being told ‘no’ for more money after endless requests was much different than finding yourself homeless the night of high school graduation. Kirin wouldn’t say it though, it was rude.


“I’ll help however I can,” Kirin said in an even tone. “But I don’t think Boston is a good idea for you.”


Regent was already too big of a town for all the trouble Joel found.


Joel rolled his eyes as he turned away. Kirin kept up with his short steps to the front door.


“Do you need a ride home?” Kirin asked.


“No,” Joel didn’t meet Kirin’s eyes again as he pulled the door open—


All three of them stopped as the door swung.


A large black crow was sitting at Kirin’s porch railing, peering through the doorway at them, gleaming black feathers in the moonlight, shifting as it cocked its head at the two men.


Kirin’s expression scrunched into confusion. He’d never seen crows around his house. His thoughts shot to the backyard as his eyes widened. Had they — discovered it?


"What the fuck?” Joel let out. Kirin’s head jerked.


The backyard… his mind whirled and his heart pound. Joel’s eyes flashed, as he looked back at Kirin. He opened his mouth to say something and —


The crow gave an indignant and demanding caw before hopping a few times along the railing, demanding their attention.


It was then the sound of padded feet could be heard before the dog leapt between Kirin and Joel as it let out a great billow at the crow and snapped his teeth.


The crow gave a surprised shriek as it leaped off the railing, pumping its wings to soar into the night sky.


“That dog’s insane.” Joel muttered as he wasted no time striding through the door.


Kirn leaned forward to try and say something further, but without a backwards glance, Joel strode off the porch, no backward glance or farewell as he headed to his small green Prius.

Kirin didn’t argue this time as stepped onto the porch. He looked down at the dog next to him and snuck his fingers into dark umber fur. He wasn’t sure what to say. A few meters away, the sound of Joel's borrowed car fired up and within a few seconds he was gone.


As the house stilled, Kirin turned back away from the door, letting the dog go as he let out a long breath. The floorboards of the old house gave little creaks and groans, even as padded feet pressed in.


Kirin followed as well after the dog.


Sitting back down in the dog bed, those minty eyes watched Kirin trail into the kitchen.


With a sigh, Kirin crouched at the edge of the dog bed, petting his hand through the thick fur at the dog’s neck.


“I haven’t even given you a name.” Kirin murmured. He laughed to himself as he gave in and sat on the floor. His long arm reached up to snag the beer from the table top and he took a long swig. “You’re a pretty old dog though, want to tell me your name?”


Of course, there was no answer. The dark dog just gazed at Kirin, regarding him with a quirk of his head.


Kirin took another swig of beer as he relaxed onto the floor. He didn’t plan on moving for a while till he’d managed to drink enough to not remember his old schoolmates, and he wouldn’t be worried over problems he couldn’t fix.



 


As the light shifted between the shades, Kirin came to a blurry consciousness. He wrinkled his nose as he smelled the scent of beer still clinging to him from the night before. A shower and some coffee would be first on Kirin’s menu.


Glancing around his room, the big dark dog was nowhere to be found. The night before Kirin had sworn the dog had slept on the end of the bed.


Scratching his head, Kirin peered down the hallway.


“Dog?” He called.


There was no answer throughout the old house.


Kirin checked the back door — locked. On hurried footsteps, he went to the front door —


The door pushed open with the turn of the knob.


It was unbidden — but still, the most horrible sinking feeling speared through Kirin. He was gone. Just like how Kirin had found him, in an instant his world had changed again.


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