Errata Literary Magazine

Bucks County Writers Workshop

The Old Men
The Mind is a Terrible Place to Bury Bad Thoughts

by Alan Shils

Finding the office door locked, Dan pounded it with a fist as powerful as a man half his eighty-eight years. "Open up you constipated SOB," he growled. Receiving no immediate response, he pounded harder and all but yelled, "I'm here, you old bastard!"

His fist next connected with air as the door opened and Dan was greeted with, "Back from Hell, again? And right on time. Never stop, do you?"

"Blab, blab, blab. That all you can do now? By the way, you look like hell. Get out of the way." Barging in, Dan grabbed the edge of the door and shoved it closed.

"Every year for... seventy years? Isn't it enough? Dan? Why can't we stop?"

"It's enough; it's not enough; it's this; it's that. Shaddup, Will. It's the principle! It's the bond, Willy. And, you know it you dumb old fart."

Will slumped into the antique easy chair that wouldn't survive another upholstering.

"Dan, it was so long ago. I'll give you ten times the amount to just go away."

"Money's not the point, William. We did something unique. U-neeeek, Willy, so stop blabbing."

"Yes, it was something. How many Dan? Four? Five?"

"Your mind is definitely going. There were six."

"Six... Yeah... Six... Never a word."

"Not one, William, not a peep! They even built an Interstate over that farmer's dump."

"Six is amazing!"

"No, William. Six isn't amazing. What's amazing is how perfect, how special we were. Nobody ever suspected a damn thing. So we meet once a year to keep our bond."

"That is true, Daniel."

"We swap this large but equal amount to symbolically blackmail each other. What matters is, we did it."

"Yes, Daniel. We must keep the bond."

"That's the spirit, Willy."

"They were nice kids Dan. Just kids with bad luck."

"Will, that was the rottenest orphanage ever."

"Wasn't us kids' fault. It was that couple that owned the place."

"Will, those two and their dogs ate real good but we almost starved. If it weren't for that minister who showed up with a church-dinner a couple of times a month, some of us would have starved."

"I always said that if he didn't stick around until we ate, we never would have got that food."

"Remember that cripple boy, maybe seven or eight years old, they were really mean to?"


"The way they'd toss him in the pen as a toy for the pigs and their own amusement."

"Didn't he beg to die?"

"I'd hear him prayin' at night to be taken to Heaven."

"Was he our first, Dan?"

"Maybe. Don't remember exactly. But we did him a favor."

"There was that girl, maybe six or seven. Got the consumption they called it then. Remember her?"

"She the skinny one they wouldn't call a doctor for or feed 'cause they said she was just going to die?"

"I believe so," Will thought aloud.

"She weighed next to nothing when we carried her out there," Dan sighed. He almost winced as he recalled, "And those two running the place were sex-crazy. All the pain and infections they caused us kids. And no help for us. We had to do it, Will. All that suffering."

"And we were all to scared to tell on them," whispered Will. "I just wonder sometimes. Maybe one of them could have become somebody."

"Become what? Serial killers? We were all messed up from that place. Somehow, you and I got out. Even stayed away from crime. Even got rich. But it was tough."

"There was that other girl. Prettiest little face I ever saw. How old do you think she was, Dan?"

"How would I know? I know she would have been forced into prostitution and other crime. She was already one of their sex-slaves and was hatein' herself and everyone else."

"I've been having a dream, Dan. I see her and I wake up shaking and soaked in sweat. It's driving me nuts. How could I dream that after all these years?"

"How do I know? Am I some dream expert? Be careful, Willy, 'cause nobody can get to you except you."

"They didn't want to become livestock feed, Dan."

"Nobody wants bad things to happen to them. And I don't know where you got your nutty idea last year about using our bond as some kind of memorial to those poor kids. Just don't bother me with your problems."

"We took turns smacking them with the shovel, didn't we?"

"Shovel. Axe. Whatever."

"Then we cut them up in the butcher shed and fed the animals, right, Dan?"

"Yes, Will. We ground their bones in that mill and mixed them in with the bone- meal."

"We burned the clothes, didn't we?"

"Nothing left. Except memories."

Will stared blankly into space as his memory remolded like semi-set Jell-O. After several seconds he blinked-awake as Dan spoke.

"Will, here's yours." Dan had withdrawn an envelope from his inside jacket pocket.

Will extracted an envelope from his desk when the door opened. They suddenly faced the short plump woman in her sixties standing in the door frame who, as surprised as they, said, "Oh, Mr. Jamesian! I didn't know you were staying late. And you have a guest! I'm sorry to barge in. I..."

Will interrupted her. "Mrs. Gelber! What... What are you doing back?"

"I'm sorry, really, Mr. Jamesian. I just forgot my Mary's birthday present."

Mrs. Gelber glanced at Dan and explained, "My granddaughter, Mary. It's her fifth birthday, tomorrow, Saturday, and I exchanged her gift today at lunchtime because the chain would be too long and I put it in my desk drawer. The new necklace chain. If I put it on top of my desk, I wouldn't have forgotten it. I am really sorry to disturb you, Mr. Jamesian."

"That's OK, Mrs. Gelber. You didn't disturb us."

"I'll just get my Mary's present and go home. I have so much to do. Be out of your way in a minute."

Dan and Will silently looked at each other, each limply holding an envelope.

Mrs. Gelber kept yapping while retrieving her package. "...the bus was so crowded today. I couldn't get a seat at all." Glancing up, she continued, "Oh, good, the window is closed. This morning a really nasty looking man got on the bus and he was..."

The men, still looking at each other, let their eyes communicate.

She moved from her desk to the door, still chattering when her employer interrupted: "Mrs. Gelber..." She turned.

"Yes, Mr. Jamesian?"

"I want to show you something."

"Oh, dear! Mr. Jamesian, did I make a mistake in the new account? I'll fix it first thing Monday. Right now I really have to..."

"No, no, Mrs. Gelber. No problem. I want to show you something across the way. Come over here, would you please?"

"The street? What is there...?"

"It's just across there, Mrs. Gelber." Mustering a patronizing tone, Will verbally eased her to the window where he and Dan had slowly moved to and they appeared to glance out at something. As she approached, the men parted in a gesture of profane courtesy.

"I don't see anything."

"Over there. Across the alley. By that window," said her boss, smoothly.


"The window is so dirty, William. Let's open it to see better." Dan was startled that he had a sudden, brief and disturbing thought that this babbling-bowel of bread-pudding was slightly attractive.

"Oh, Mrs. Gelber! I'm sorry! What happened to my manners? I never introduced you! This is my old friend, Mr. Blethen. Daniel, this is Mrs. Gelber, my secretary."

Mrs. Gelber's mouth started immediately running in new direction. "Why Mr. Blethen, I'm so pleased to meet you. You resemble an uncle I had. He died in the Seventies. When I was little he used to take me to the zoo and we would..."

Will had to cut her off or she might ramble all weekend. Amazingly, she was quiet at her desk and her work was excellent. "Excuse me, Mrs. Gelber, but it is late and we just wanted to show you something."

Dan answered his own question: "Yes, William, let's open this so Mrs. Gelber can more easily see."

They lifted the sash about five feet. The seasoned office building had grand floor to ceiling windows. Both men led Mrs. Gelber closer to the edge of the frame. They pretended to hold her arms for safety-sake while Will pointed at nothing with his free hand saying, "It's right across the way... In that window one floor below us. On the ledge. On the left. See it?"

As Mrs. Gelber strained to see what wasn't there they swiftly and easily tilted her mass and flung her through the ninth floor opening. Startled, she never made a sound while gaining speed head-first towards the dark alley while clutching the small gift-wrapped box.

Dan and Will looked at each other silently. Feelings of righteousness, satisfaction, and pride were still sharp after all the decades. But they sensed a strange intruder. This murder generated a new emotion that quickly fled to the deepest twisted roots of their brains. They could neither understand nor voice this disturbance but a shard of the vapor reversed and propelled itself to their consciousness: There is no-way to get caught. Except by yourselves. They buried their new fears. Or thought they had.

"Terrific," whispered Will.

"William," Dan whispered back, "that was so perfect I'll tell you what."


"Let this be the end, Will. A perfect note to end it. What do you think?" "Couldn't agree more, Daniel," smiled William.

"No more swapping payments, Will. We can't beat tonight. And, after all, we are getting older. Hey, I'm hungry. Where's a good restaurant?"

"Know the perfect place, Danny."

~ ~

They quietly sipped wine in Will's Rolls as they cruised North a few parkways to his Westchester seclusion. Past the Henry Hudson Bridge, Will could not contain his question any longer.

"Dan, do you think she heard us?"


"Mrs. Gelber! We just killed her, fer-Chris'-sake! You talk about my mind going!"

"Doesn't matter now."

"No. It doesn't." The passenger portion of the Rolls was sealed from the chauffeur.

After several minutes of silence, Dan's stomach loudly rumbled. "Hey, Willy, where the hell do you live? The last time I ate was that lousy airplane-lunch."

"Few more minutes, Dan."

Shortly, they arrived at Will's secluded, ivy-covered stone mansion well stocked with gourmet food and drink.

~ ~

Deeper in the night, in the alley, a drunk dimly pondered that he stubbed his toe on another bum. A few hours later, a prostitute tripped over the body as she hurried from a 'trick' who awakened to find her stealing his cash and cards. He punched her face purple before she hit the fire-escape empty-handed, but she got Mrs. Gelber's last fifteen dollars and a small gift-wrapped box. At dawn, police were un-impressed by a body with most of its head crushed. Quickly, their negligible investigation concluded, and it was 'verified' by her employer, that she was working late and must have fallen from the window while trying to close it.

~ ~

In the future, the two old men would continue paying dues for their deeds, but not to each other.

As William slept, the little girl's face was appearing more frequently and more beautifully as a thin cloud hovering over his face. But his sweet dream shattered when he awoke clutching his chest in fear as his pretty ghost had smiled, showed rotten teeth and its lips turned greenish-black and flaked down into his mouth.

Dan's sleep suffered a vision of a large, half-smiling, nude Mrs. Gelber climbing in his window and crawling towards him with half of her head missing.

~ ~

Mr. Daniel Blethen returned to California on Tuesday, the day that, Mr. William Jamesian, another respected businessman, brought a small present to Mrs. Gelber's funeral because he had heard her say it was Mary's birthday. After all, why should a child needlessly suffer?

Bucks County Writers Workshop