Rattle the Bones by RR Trevino

A raconteur retells a salacious tale to the trucker that picked him up on a lonely Texas highway; by RR Trevino.

A man walkin around with a secret in him, now that's power. Somethin to feel good about when there ain't much else. A good one fills you up, causes you to strut in a way only you would notice. Gives an edge to the dulled damn days. I'm not talkin about knowin miss so-and-so sneaks cigarettes off her back porch then sits in church putting on non-smoker airs. I'm talkin about a secret got the weight to ruin a life, get somebody locked up. Killed even. Cause a woman to lose a puzzle piece to her own heart so it can't ever be put back whole again. A person needs a secret, that kind of power, if all he does is carry it around and never put it to no use. If you don't got one, I'm tellin you, go out and get you one. Get a fella drunk, fill him up with pills, then listen close when the attic door gets pried open. Hell, go out and make your own. Fuck a man's wife. There's an oldie but a goodie. Just you make sure beforehand she understands the value of protectin a secret much as you. Or you might just wake up with your teeth scrapin gainst a barrel. Trust me when I say. And once you get one, don't go tellin it around right off. Spend some time livin with it, carin for it. Only then can you make it like a bomb if you need it to be.

And this boy - let's call him Pepper - had himself a doozy, I tell you what. We met a ways back roughneckin off the Lubbock-Hockley county line. Quiet type, kept his head down on the job. Too intense for that kind of work, really. Type of fella pick a scab till it scars. Took no part smokin and jokin on breaks with them other boys. Catch him alone though, pour a bottle of Beam down his throat and watch how he opens up. When he no-showed the next mornin's shift, I knew what he told me the night before wasn't no bullshit. Said he took the secret off his own mama just before she died. Mara was her name, the mama. She kept the sinful truth about Pepper's real daddy hidden all them years. Said she thought about tellin Pepper when he was still a boy, but had decided not to. Pepper said he thanked her later for that. Both of them knew you got to be grown to hear somethin like that. You got to get to a place where you have more answers than questions and Pepper told me he was the type of youngster used to beat you down with the questions. How come the sky's blue? Where do babies come from? Who's really my daddy?

The raconteur chuckled in the passenger seat of the semi-truck cab. And when he did, the tangles of cheap trinkets hanging from ear piercings that ran the curves of cartilage jingled in sync with the tiny convulsions of his body. The long-haul truck driver, who had picked him up heading south out of Glasscock County, snorted a laugh of his own then pulled his gaze from the lonesome road ahead and put it on his passenger. Below the raconteur's mirrored shades that reflected the landscape, flat and colorless as cardboard, was a rotten grin you couldn't say was coming or going. Harsh spikes of light glinted off dark stones set into rings adorning arthritic fingers as the raconteur drew up a quaking hand and knuckled away spittle from the corner of his mouth. He then turned to the window and continued on with his story.

Was a Tuesday afternoon she let it ride. Pepper must've roped off that moment in his memory because he laid out every detail for me like it was fresh. Waylon on the radio, the early game of a Rangers doubleheader staticky on the bunny-ear TV, all windows of the cluttered singlewide open to the dry West Texas heat. She not only said Pepper's daddy's name, but told her son he came from rape. And that was the last she said before her expiration date came due. Pepper was left standin there, his mama dead, his daddy just another name among countless he had never heard before.

"This some kind of revenge story?" the trucker said, pulling a ballcap low over his eyes, his boots kicking up gravel as they strode from his semi, parked just beyond the reach of lamplight, toward the Love's truckstop, lit brilliant on the dark desert like a bug zapper. The raconteur hobbled a couple of steps behind, jingling with each labored effort. The waning moon stamped into both lenses of the sunglasses that seemed a permanent part of his face. A wind swept down off the mesa and near knocked the trucker's hat off but he quickly wrenched it back into place. The raconteur's hair, long and wiry like guitar strings, seemed undisturbed by the gusts. It laid dead in steel sheets over both shoulders of a faded drummer's vest. "None like you ever heard," the raconteur said. "You can bet on that there." The two crossed beneath the high roof of the filling pump bank into the restaurant half of the main building. Before long they were seated across from each other in a booth near the back, surrounded by bustle general to a late-night diner, a large window cold and clear at their side. There, the raconteur went on.

Pepper got to researchin even before he could pick up his mama's ashes from the county furnace. This was back before you could find it all on the computer so it took Pepper drivin around to a few county seats till he found a library had all the state's newspapers on film. Found his daddy's name in the obituary section of the Floyd County papers. It weren't no flowery write-up like you see sometimes. Just had the man's name and said he was survived by a sister who used a married name and that he was set to be buried in the family's private cemetery somewheres just outside Floydada. Bastard had up and died not even six months earlier. Can you believe all that? Pepper couldn't. Before seein that there obituary, there had been somethin like vengeance in Pepper's heart. Mara was his mama and no Son of Texas would let a man get away with hurtin his mama, even if that man was his own daddy and the boy himself was sprung from that hurt. My guess is that Mara had heard the man had died and that's why she finally told Pepper his name. Now Pepper couldn't go off and kill the man and get his ass locked up for it. Maybe she thought she had that type of son, under all that quiet. Like secretly he dripped of the same kind of devil as his daddy.

"Let me tell you, that boy Pepper did have the devil in him," the raconteur said, his face swimming behind a cloud of smoke "From what he told me he did after that. More devil than most I'd say, but not like the way his mama thought." He tipped his cigarette into an ashtray under the window. The trucker watched him across the table. A platter of runny eggs and burnt toast sat untouched in front of him, getting cold. The raconteur appeared to only have ordered coffee. "Sure you ain't hungry?" the trucker said, and pushed his plate forward a little. "That story gets you a ride and a meal." A hurried waitress topped off the raconteur's mug, the steam from the scalding liquid waltzing with the cigarette smoke, then hustled toward a waving customer a few booths down. "Coffee's all I want, but I thank you," said the raconteur. As the smoke cleared, he took a long drink from the mug as if the nerve endings on his tongue and throat had long since died away, then let his gaze drift to the window. The trucker saw reflected back at him in the old man's sunglasses a young woman get helped into the cab of an idling semi, her cheap heels wobbly on the grated steps, a man's hand glued to an ass cheek half hanging from the bottom of frayed shorts. The raconteur turned from the window and continued his tale, reclaiming the trucker's attention.

He still wanted some kind of revenge though and had half a plan in his head to get it. First thing he done though is he rode south till he found himself in Floydada. You ever dropped a boot in Floyd County? If so, feel sorry for your boots. Ain't nothin there but rusted out pumpjacks and the promise of there's got to be somethin better. If that's the town, you can imagine what an ole family cemetery just outside town looks like. Nothin but an odd patch of wild grass fenced in by rotted boards and sat off an old farm-to-market road. Where that farm or that market disappeared to, nobody could say. Held a number of tombstones, most of em from the old times. Hand-cut, you know? Covered in that green moss or whatever it's called. They tilted every which way out from the ground. There was some windchimes hung off the branches of an oak tree shriveled up in the back corner, but there wasn't no wind that day so they hung there silent. Pepper remembered about the windchimes.

He made his way from his truck down a dirt path till he was inside the gate. This bein a family affair, there was no real rhyme or reason how the dead were laid to rest. The first open spot got fed the next body, that kind of deal. He didn't find his daddy's burial marker until his boot was on it. Just a plain tin plate with the name on it and the years of birth and death. He thought maybe he should spit, but he couldn't work up enough water in his mouth. This bein shadeless country and the sun was on high and so he was parched. No matter. He learnt what he came to learn so he walked back to his truck. Across the street was a old broken-down barnhouse and he made note of that as he drove off.

"And what's that exactly?" the trucker said. "That he learnt?" They were walking from the diner back to his parked semi, moving in and out of the parallelograms of shadow thrown down by lamplight hitting the trailers. The moonlight set the edges of the darkness beyond shimmering, the whole of night thrumming with the music of insect tymbals. The occasional flash and whoosh of a car passing on the highway. "That his daddy's grave wasn't like the others, old and beat up as those tombstones was," the raconteur said, with his permanent partial grin. "A man can't get no love even from his family after his passin, there's a bad man." He dropped a butt to the gravel and ground it down with his boot heel. "Pepper knew he'd have to change that to do what he was thinkin of doin." The trucker looked on perplexed, but his gaze drifted to a small lounge of lot lizards gathered in the dim around a picnic table, the embers of their cigarettes making odd calligraphy in the dark as they smoked and talked. The trucker's right hand went instinctively for the wedding band on his left. He twirled it, and eyed the women hungrily. "You got some business to take care of, this is a good a spot as any for me to find another ride," the raconteur said. The trucker swung his gaze back to him. "What's Pepper do?" the trucker asked. "How's it end?" "There's a way to tell this story short and still do it justice, I ain't figured it out yet," the raconteur said. A moment of hesitation before the man's hands dropped to his side. "Get in," he said, then vanished on the other side of the trailer. Both men loaded up, the engine rumbled to life and the semi pulled out of the parking lot and onto the feeder road.

For the next few months Pepper didn't do a thing but think. He let the weight of that secret carry him through the days. From his trailer to work and back again. Said he started to feel bigger on the inside than he looked on the outside. Pepper wasn't born in books, but the boy was smart. Told me when a man got to feelin bigger on the inside than on the outside, that's when he's cut from herd and becomes distinct in the world.

As the days passed the plan started to fit itself together in his head. He figured only way to take revenge on a man dead was to hurt the lovin living, but since his daddy didn't seem to accumulate much love durin his life, Pepper'd have to change that first. The hardest part was findin out where the sister up and went to after she got married. Her name wasn't nowhere to be found in the tri-county phonebook so Pepper had to expand his search to the entire state.

He eventually tracked her down to a house north of Houston. The husband out of the picture now from what he could tell. He took off work and drove clear cross the state till he found himself parked out front the lady's house. The dark had took hold by then but the windows were lit up and to Pepper, that was his invitation. He had the story mostly worked out but knew there'd be times he'd have to change this detail or that dependin on where and how things went. Before he could make his move another car pulled into the driveway. It was a younger woman stepped out and so did two little towheaded boys each about the same age. The boys were hittin and rasslin with each like a little tornado as they moved past the woman up the steps to the front door. Even in the dark Pepper could see the tired look of the woman, like she just about had it as a mother. He knew that look from his own mama's face growin up. The boys got to poundin on the door till it opened and there she was, his daddy's sister. Big woman, Pepper said. Leaned heavy on a walker. But she wore a smile and an apron dirtied up with bits of whatever she'd been cookin for dinner. Had a little perm done up on her head like a helmet made of coral. Pepper could be funny like that when he drank.

The boys said somethin to their grandma then started to shove into the house and their mama each gave them a solid swat on the ass before they passed out of Pepper's view. The old woman gave her daughter a hard look as if to say they's just bein boys, and Pepper thought that good because maybe the old woman was the forgivin type and forgiveness was central to his plan. Course none of that plan mattered if he got the door slammed in his face soon as he mentioned his daddy's name. If the man did to Mara what he did, he couldn't imagine the types of things he could've done as a boy to a sister growin up in the same house. That type of evil shows itself early, they say. Pepper waited another half hour, pulled a silver cross necklace from the glove compartment and hung it round his neck, and stepped out of the truck.

It was the daughter answered the door. He could make out a slight resemblance to himself in his half-cousin's face but maybe that's because he was lookin for one. He had grown his beard even longer over the months and he has his mama's eyes so he hoped they wouldn't notice too. There wasn't any kind of recognition in her eyes but there was somethin else there when she looked him over and Pepper thought then that he could work the daughter into his plan somehow too. He stood there polite as all hell and told her he had come regardin a family matter and was surprised when he wasn't asked to say more before he was let in and led through a narrow hallway. He counted three crosses hung up just in that short walk to the kitchen and Pepper knew that was a good sign.

They were the three of them seated at a cramped banquette in the kitchen and that's where Pepper laid the story out, the one he'd been writin in his head since his mama died. He was lucky to get past even the mention of the old woman's brother's name because soon as he said it, the old woman's face turned to stone. It's a good thing the daughter was there. She kept Pepper's story goin with questions and had her hand rested on the old woman's arm as he spoke, comfortin like. Pepper talked about how his father, a man he named Wally, drank heavy and how he would beat on his mama and him near every night when Pepper was just a boy knee-high. One time even pistolwhipped his mama and made her promise to lie to the doctors before he dropped her at the hospital to get her head sewed back up. Wally swore he'd kill her she told the truth. It was only because of the old woman's brother that they ever got out of that bad situation. Pepper told how mama met him waitressin and they got a thing goin on the side, and the brother took it upon himself to get rid of that bastard Wally. Run him over with his truck and put him in body cast and warned him to never come around again and he never did. Pepper went on that even though his mama's relationship with the old woman's brother didn't last much longer after that, it was her dyin wish for Pepper to make sure the family knew that he was the only reason she was able to get away from that abuser and live as long as she did. At the end Pepper pinched the cross around his neck and looked the old woman in the eye and said it was important she knew her brother wasn't bad all the way through. That he knew of the lord's power and had at least once in his life reached for heaven.

"And she believed all that?" the trucker said. The semi coasted along the main street of a dusty hamlet, its headlight beams flashing the dark shapes of squat business buildings that looked like they closed shop in the fifties and never got around to reopening. "Wasn't no reason not to," the raconteur said. "See, Pepper understood the line of a lie needs to weave in and out of the line of truth for it to be believable. So make him a bastard in a way that helped others once." The semi squealed to stop as the only traffic light in town turned red. They seemed to idle there forever, despite being the only vehicle on the road at this late hour. In that pulsing silence, the raconteur's eyes caught notice of a piece of a woman's panties hanging out of the locked door of an overhead compartment. The trucker, noticing him notice, quickly reached up, opened the compartment, stuffed the panties fully inside, then shut it again. But the compartment door was held open just long enough for the raconteur to glimpse a mound made up of different panties. "The wife likes when I take a piece of her on the road with me," the trucker said, sheepish, avoiding eye contact. "All the temptation that's out there." "Woman's a torch to guide men through the dark," said the raconteur. "Or lead them deeper into it," he added with a devilish dip of his chin, then went on with his story.

Pepper knew, at the end of what he told the old woman, that his words had the weight he needed. There was tears built up at the edges of her eyes. He could be a son-of-a-gun, she said to him finally, but I thank you for this. Pepper stood from his chair and asked to use the restroom before leavin, and got pointed toward another hallway. He passed an openin that looked into the livin room and saw the two boys and they saw him. The oldest flipped him off and both boys had a mean look on their faces. Pepper responded in kind and after a few seconds, both boys chuckled then turned back to the TV. Pepper laughed himself as he went on down the hall.

Later both women walked him to the door, again thanked him for makin the trip and tellin them all that he did. The daughter got the idea that Pepper should stay with them for the night, sleep on the couch, before makin the drive back west again in the mornin. The old woman didn't look so keen on the idea of a near stranger sleepin in her house, but before she could object, Pepper refused the offer. Said he was all set up at the Travelodge down the road. Had a room right by the vendin machines and that would do just fine. Then he tipped his hat to both ladies and walked out of there.

Pepper was laid back on the bed still dressed when the knock on the door came. It was past one in the mornin but she still came earlier than he expected. The name of the motel and the vendin machine clue might as well have been a map led straight to his room. She was leaned up against the jamb when he opened the door. All kinds of make-up she didn't have earlier slapped on and she was holdin up a sixpack of cans by the yoke. He could barely say a word or grab the beer before she was shootin her hands and lips forward, tanglin him up and draggin him off to the bed.

Fuckin your half-cousin can't be no great sin because we all come from Adam and Eve and now we cover the all the world. Not that it would've changed Pepper's mind if it was one. After, him layin there with her tucked up under his arm and his cock crusted over with the dried wet of what they did, he couldn't help feelin a little dirty. He slid out of bed and started up the shower but could barely get a lather goin before she slipped in next to him and the two started goin at it again. Wasn't no more than two, three words said between them and not a single beer cracked opened by the time she was pullin on her clothes to leave. She kissed him a last time on her way out the door but didn't bother sayin bye.

The next few days was just Pepper waitin to see if his gamble paid off. He felt he did enough to put things into motion, though he didn't have a solid timeframe how long it would take for the old woman to decide to visit her brother's grave and pay the proper respects she never got around to after he died. Pepper knew, and got lucky, that she was too godly a woman to keep her heart black to her dead brother after learnin what Pepper had to say.

It took about three days of Pepper watchin from down the road before he saw the old woman, the daughter, and the two boys load up into the station wagon with a few suitcases. He knew for certain then where they were headed so he rushed out ahead of them and pushed the speed limit all the way to Floydada. He knew a family travelin with an old lady wouldn't get there till dark and that ain't no time to visit a cemetery with two little boys so Pepper had all the time he needed to put into place the final part of his plan.

He made it back to the cemetery before the sun was full down. He had already bought the spray paint and it rattled in his backpack as he made his way from his truck to the cemetery. He knelt down at his daddy's marker, took the canister out from his backpack, and painted out a single word as many times as he could, on the marker itself and all up and down the grassy plot below. The wind had picked up and those windchimes hung from that tree were goin nuts. He wrote till he ran out of space then stood to admire his handiwork as the sun fell out behind him. Then he drove across the street and parked behind that barn and leaned his seat back and tried to sleep till mornin.

Took a few hours after the sun lifted back up but when Pepper heard tires grindin on gravel he slipped real quiet from his truck and took position inside the barn and looked out on the cemetery from a small openin in the rotten boards. The boys were the first out the station wagon. They went bouncin through the cemetery gates, fightin with each other, spittin on things. The old woman was helped out by the daughter and led off to where her brother was buried. The daughter carried for her mother flowers and a little cross to leave behind.

Pepper's heart sped up, knowing this was the only revenge he'd get. He kept his eyes on the old woman's face as they came on the plot. She looked down on the word RAPIST, painted out a dozen times in bright red. Pepper saw clearly that her face was confused at first. Then it turned to disgust. Then to regret for comin. The old woman wobbled on her feet, but the daughter kept her held up. Pepper savored each turnin on the old woman's face, as a landscape artist would the changin of the seasons, was the way Pepper put it to me. The family headed back for the car and Pepper could see the old woman's eyes were shiny and wet and that the daughter still carried the flowers and the cross. The daughter's face did not seem to change much durin the visit. That is until the end, when she looked across the street at the barn, right at Pepper it seemed, though there was no way she could've seen him or his truck parked round back, and smiled a bit. He was sure of it. Then she got behind the wheel and drove the station wagon away. He watched until it vanished over the horizon, then got into his own truck and drove the other direction, back into his own life. Carryin that new secret with him.

The trucker sat in the silence that followed the story, digesting all that he had heard. He tongued a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. The semi was now moving slowly over a hardpacked dirt road skirted on both sides by pine forest. The dark sky a purple ribbon above, the stars like shattered glass. "You ever think of writin all these stories folks tell you down?" the trucker said finally. "Reckon you could fill up a storybook, all you've heard." "To write down anything is to fuck it up," the raconteur said. "Remember that next time you jot even your own name." The trucker thought on that, then veered off the road and slowed to a stop next to the wall of trees. He opened the door, hopped out, then ducked into a stowage under the cab. The raconteur listened as he rummaged through the compartment until reappearing in the doorway, holding a dirt-crusted shovel. "I'd like to show you somethin," the trucker said. "You seem like the type of fella who'd appreciate it." The raconteur lowered himself from the cab and joined the trucker in front of the semi's hood. "This way," the trucker said, and moved toward an opening to a path that snaked into the thick woods. The raconteur followed without question.

"Don't think I ever caught your name," the trucker said, stepping over a skinny tree laid flat across the path. "Don't think I ever tossed it," the raconteur said. "But most folks like to call me Buddy." The trucker, liking that, grinned, then led them deeper into the night wood until they became natural to it.


  1. Great story, from start to finish. I loved the descriptions of place and characters. You could almost smell the diesel exhaust and greasy food. Perfect "ending."

  2. Great descriptions and language. The ending seemed to come up pretty quick considering the time spent for the rest of the story, and I wasn't really sure what the truck driver was going to reveal, and if it was someone he had killed and buried, not such a good idea. But overall, it was a great read.

  3. Kinda creepy to say the least, the truck driver and his secret a mystery to the ed, but likely not a pleasant one. I liked the narrative style and the character build through dialogue.