They brought the boat aground on the far side of the island where there was a small cove and a cold, soft beach. Pierre hoisted his supplies over his shoulder and BumBuna O’Brien carried the stone head of Saint Pedro. They made their way into the trees along a footpath worn down by Pierre over time as he came and went. BumBuna O’Brien looked up, and the tops of the trees seemed so very far away to him — the light of day could barely break in as the canopy was so thick.
“How far is it?” he asked Pierre.
“Not far. Is the head heavy? Do you need to rest?”
BumBuna O’Brien lied. “No. He’s just being restless in this bag.”
The path wound on and on, into the deepest parts of the island, and then the trees retreated a bit and the ground opened and that is where BumBuna O’Brien saw the crooked little and gray-washed island hovel, crooked and shiny like ice in the mist.
“I know it doesn’t look like much,” Pierre said as he set the sacks on the porch. “But it’s comfortable enough. Quiet and peaceful, too. That’s the way I like it.”
BumBuna O’Brien stepped onto the porch, but Pierre held him back with his large hand.
“I think you should leave the head outside. I don’t feel good about bringing that thing into my house. It might be bad luck.”
“I’m not bad luck,” Saint Pedro said. “But I would like to be out of this sack. It’s itchy.”
“Where should I put it?”
Pierre pointed to a stump at the edge of the clearing.
“Put him there. I suppose he won’t be able to run off.”
BumBuna O’Brien carried him to the stump, set him free from the sack and set him upon the flat surface.
“I don’t like it here,” Saint Pedro said. “Why can’t I come inside?”
“Not now,” BumBuna O’Brien said. “You heard Pierre. He doesn’t like you too much.”
“What about you? Do you like me?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I guess that’s up to you.”
“You know, I could send you to hell if I wanted to,” Saint Pedro said to him, seriously.
BumBuna O’Brien blinked at him, then his head dipped, and he thought about how derailed his life had become. Even in the midst of trying to be good and peaceful and not stir up trouble, trouble always seemed to find him, get attached to him, like glue or magnets.
“I’m already in hell,” he answered, and then he walked away and went into the house, and there he saw a cozy little place, a bit worn down, but Pierre had made it livable.
The man was busy in the kitchen area, filling cupboards with cans and boxes and little bags by the light of a lantern. There was no electricity, only candles and the lanterns, and there was a wood-burning stove that was already beginning to glow, and now the fire crackled, and the place was getting warmer.
“Do you want some coffee?” Pierre asked as he prepared the pot.
“Yes. And I’m hungry.”
“Well, then come in, sit down. Make yourself comfortable.”
BumBuna O’Brien sat down at a round table in the middle of the room.
“Do you have any carrot cake?” he asked.
“No. But I have something better. Just picked it up fresh today. How do you feel about liverwurst sandwiches?”
“It’s liver sausage. You spread it on bread. I like to refer to it as the poor man’s pate. Here, try it.”
Pierre set down two plates at the table. BumBuna O’Brien stared at the bread, then he peeled the sandwich open to peek inside.
“It looks disgusting,” he said. “Like someone had a nasty blowout in there.”
Pierre laughed out loud, took a big bite of his own sandwich and chewed. “Nonsense. It’s delicious.”
BumBuna O’Brien took a small bite. He nibbled carefully. The taste and texture did not sit with him very well. He set it back down on his plate.
“I can’t eat this. Don’t you have anything else?”
Pierre was somewhat offended. He got up to pour himself a cup of the coffee. “You’re welcome to hunt yourself a fish or a squirrel if you want. Otherwise, it’s liverwurst. I’m sorry, but I have limited options. It’s a peaceful life, but not always easy and convenient. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable back where you came from.”
BumBuna O’Brien sensed that he had hurt Pierre’s feelings and so he got up and walked outside. Saint Pedro whistled for him to come over.
“What do you want?” BumBuna O’Brien asked.
“I just wanted to talk. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m afraid I offended our host by not eating his disgusting sandwich.”
“That wasn’t very nice of you.”
BumBuna O’Brien snapped. “What the hell do you know! You’re just a stone head.”
“I know enough that it’s rude to complain about the food when in someone else’s home. You should apologize.”
BumBuna O’Brien sighed. His stomach grumbled. “I’m just not myself when I’m hungry.”
“I don’t like it here,” Saint Pedro whispered. “I don’t trust him. I say we take his boat in the middle of the night and leave this place.”
“We can’t do that. He’d be marooned.”
“Would you really care? Face it, you’re not the nicest animal in the world.”
“Why did you call me an animal? Do I look like an animal to you?”
“Every man is an animal. You’re savages. Pigs. The world has fallen because of you — you human animals.”
“You used to be human,” BumBuna O’Brien pointed out.
“I rose above it,” Saint Pedro answered. “Wait. Be quiet now. He’s coming.”
They saw Pierre Moose moving toward them. He was walking softly and carrying a big spear.
“What’s going on out here?” he asked.
“We’re just talking,” BumBuna O’Brien said. “What’s the spear for?”
Pierre clicked his teeth and rubbed at his sandpaper face.
“Self-preservation mostly,” Pierre answered. “But I feel bad about you going hungry — thought I’d try to bag you some fish for supper.”
“You don’t have to do that. I’ll eat the sandwich.”
“I already finished it for you. Besides, I feel like doing a little fishing. Why don’t you get the fire pit going while I’m gone?”
Pierre looked at him differently. His cold eyes were suspicious now.
“I won’t be too long,” Pierre said, and then he went off down the path and soon he vanished.
“I don’t like this,” Saint Pedro said. “I don’t like this at all. He’s up to no good. I can feel it. We need to get out of here.”
“That’s not an option right now. If we went off in the boat at night, who knows where we’d end up. We’d probably drown.”
“I think he’s crazy.”
“What sane man lives alone on an island in the middle of nowhere?”
“Maybe he’s sane and the rest of us are crazy.”
“He’s upset. A lone man who gets upset is never a good thing. You should have eaten that damn sandwich!”
“Pipe down, Pedro. I’m going to do what he says and build the fire.”
“Well, then at least set me over on that log so I can watch you and not have to be alone.”
“Fine,” BumBuna O’Brien said, and he took the stone head of Saint Pedro and set it on the log. “Now just stay here while I get some firewood.”
BumBuna O’Brien went into the trees and gathered sticks and logs and branches. He dragged it all back to the circular fire ring little by little until there was a substantial pile. He went to work breaking down branches and piling the sticks. He put together a bundle of kindling and put it at the base.
“I don’t have any matches,” he said to Saint Pedro.
“Look in the house. He’s got to have matches in there.”
He went into the house, dug around and found an old coffee can stuffed with matchbooks. Then he thought he heard a terrible scream. He ran outside but saw nothing. He lit the fire and soon it was roaring. The day was fading as Pierre emerged in the clearing. He was dragging something large along the ground behind him.
BumBuna O’Brien looked up at the man who had seemed to have grown larger and sterner.
“Come here and help me with this,” Pierre ordered.
BumBuna O’Brien went over, but when he saw what Pierre had, he jumped back.
“What the hell is that!”
“A trespasser,” Pierre grinned.
“You speared him? Why in the world would you do that?”
“I told you, he was a trespasser. This is private property. I have a right to defend my island.”
“So, you just killed a complete stranger? Why didn’t you just tell him to leave for crying out loud?”
“I don’t have to defend my actions to you. My God, I’ve done nothing but help you! I’ve welcomed you here, to my home, and all you ever do is complain. Now, are you going to help me with this or not!?”
“What are you planning on doing with him?”
“He’s going to eat him!” Saint Pedro cried out.
“I am not!” Pierre yelled. “I don’t ever eat them.”
“Them,” BumBuna O’Brien wondered.
There was silence. Pierre looked at them. His eyes were wide with madness. “I don’t ever eat them,” he repeated.
“Then what in the hell do you do?” BumBuna O’Brien demanded to know.
Pierre’s head drooped. “I collect them,” he answered.
“I told you he was crazy!” Pedro yelled out from the log.
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Pierre said. “It’s like a hobby, really. I give dignity to them. I honor their memory by preserving their bodies.”
“I would like to leave,” BumBuna O’Brien requested. “Please take me back. I won’t ever say anything to anyone.”
Pierre slapped a hand to his forehead. “No! You can’t just leave. Not yet. Please. You must understand. It gets very lonely here. Let me just show you, both of you, and then you’ll get it, and then in the morning I’ll row you to wherever you’d like.”
“Don’t listen to him!” Pedro called out. “It’s a lie. He has no intention of ever letting us go.”
Pierre grew angry. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! You damn head!”
BumBuna O’Brien tried to soothe the tension. “All right, Pierre. Just settle down. You can show us. I understand.”
Pierre looked at him. “You do?”
“Of course. Loneliness is a terrible thing.”
“What are you doing?” Pedro demanded to know.
“Just give him a chance to show us,” BumBuna O’Brien snapped back. “If you don’t stop making things worse, you’ll go back in the sack.”
They followed him by torchlight as he dragged the body to an outbuilding behind the house. They heard the body hit the ground as he released his grip so he could fumble with the lock. They heard a chain rattle, then slide. A heavy door was moved to one side and the metal material made a loud clanging noise. Pierre disappeared into the darkness.
“Wait here,” he said.
Then one by one, lamps were lit, and an orange glow began to blossom forth from the blackness. And soon the reality of Pierre’s madness came to light as the bodies became visible. There was an entire group of them, nearly two dozen — men, women, children, even dogs — and they were stitched up neatly, clothed, with grotesque upturned smiles and shiny lake stones for eyes. Some were positioned in chairs, others left standing. Some were made to look as if they were engaged in conversation with each other. Some simply stared out into space.
Pierre came back to the entrance and pulled the body up and into the building. He let it drop to the floor near a large table.
“Come in,” he insisted. “Take a look around.”
BumBuna O’Brien stepped over the threshold with Pedro clutched tightly in his hands.
“Well,” Pierre wondered. “What do you think?”
“It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Saint Pedro said, and BumBuna O’Brien quickly clamped a hand over his cold stone mouth.
“Go on,” Pierre encouraged. “Take a closer look.”
They moved forward, and then the metal door boomed closed behind them.
“I don’t want any wild animals getting in here and destroying my work,” Pierre said.
BumBuna O’Brien looked down at Saint Pedro. The stone head’s eyes were wide with fear. He kept his hand pressed hard over the mouth.
“That’s quite a collection of people you have there,” BumBuna O’Brien said.
“Thank you. Come here. Closer. I want you to meet my best friend in the world. He was the first.”
Pierre guided them to a tall man in the very front. He was dressed in fishing clothes and had a round hat atop his head. The face was full of fear despite the fact Pierre had stitched the corners of the mouth up.
“His name is Rick,” Pierre said proudly. “Go ahead, say hello. Don’t be rude.”
BumBuna O’Brien looked up at the frightening face and tried to smile. “Hello there, Rick. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
There was no reply.
“Ahh, he never says too much,” Pierre said. “He’s the quiet type. Actually, they’re all the quiet type.”
And then he came forth with an insane, seething snicker that sent shivers up and down BumBuna O’Brien’s entire being. Saint Pedro’s head slipped out of his hands and dropped to the floor with a thud.
“You fool!” the head cried out. “You could have cracked me in half!”
Pierre suddenly reached down and scooped Pedro up. He held him before his face and studied him.
“Put me down you lunatic! Put me down!”
“You know,” Pierre began. “You really, really grind my gears. I don’t like that. You’re starting to upset my friends here as well, and I’m afraid I can’t allow that.”
Pierre quickly walked across the outbuilding to the door. He slid it open, tossed Pedro into the darkness, and slid the door shut again with a bang. Then BumBuna O’Brien thought he heard him pick something up. Then Pierre was walking toward him, slowly, calculating. BumBuna O’Brien was more afraid than he had ever been in his life.
And then it came, a searing pain right in his guts, the inability to breathe, and finally complete darkness.
Pierre sat in a chair in the outbuilding. He was eating a liverwurst sandwich and drinking a glass of milk as he admired the newest member of his clan. It was BumBuna O’Brien’s body, but in place of his own head was the stone head of Saint Pedro. The mouth was completely chiseled away now so that he didn’t have to listen to the incessant talking.
“Oh, my yes,” Pierre said. “You’re much more agreeable to my nerves when you don’t speak, my stone headed friend.”
The mouth didn’t move of course, but the eyes did, and they frantically darted from side to side as if Saint Pedro BumBuna O’Brien was screaming some never-ending scream.