Illustration by Matt Weismantel
Batman | Kim Shaddick
The only bit of the body they ever found was a right hand. Mr. Caden’s dog had proudly presented it to Mr. Caden on a Thursday afternoon in late October. Spring was dancing through the trees and the village was preparing for Halloween. We all assumed Mr. Caden was playing a prank as he ran down Main Street clutching the hand. In fact, it wasn’t until the next day that we discovered it was a real hand and that it belonged to Josh Rogan, village thief and vagabond. It was enough to wipe the empty smile off the plastic jack-o-lanterns squatting on our gateposts and doorsteps.
The last time I saw Josh was two days ago, just before Halloween. Me and Mum had gone into the village to do some shopping. We saw him having a fight with Dave Fletcher, the local butcher. Dave was yelling and waving his fist and Josh was walking away, his face red and shiny, like a tomato.
Afterward Mum told me that Josh stole the charity money box for the Guide Dogs’ Association that sat on the glass counter in the butcher’s shop.
Josh was Dave’s apprentice. His third apprentice in seven months. Mum said she didn’t know why Dave hired Josh, but thinks it must be hard to find apprentices in the butchery business.
When we walked back to the car the grass was crunchy and dry under my feet. It felt like I was stepping on tiny spines.
Mum is on the phone. "I know, right? He thinks he’s eating them or putting them in our sausages."
Mum laughs. I love Mum’s laugh. It’s very loud and makes me smile. She’s talking to one of my Aunties about my older brother, Richie. He thinks Dave is grinding up his apprentices and selling them off as meat.
Gross, I know.
Mum says Richie is a bit bad telling people about Dave eating people. Especially me. I get nightmares.
I am a bit worried about Dave being a cannonball. Mum says cannonballs are a tribe of people who live in the jungle and eat each other. She says they have a really big round pot for cooking people in and that human flesh tastes like chicken.
I know right. Inappropriate.
Mum is often inappropriate. She’s always telling us when she gets her period. Our younger brother, Arlo, calls Mum’s period a monkey bug. Mum thinks it’s so funny. It’s because he can’t talk properly. He was trying to say monthly blood.
Arlo is three but he doesn’t say much. Lately, all he ever talks about is Batman. It’s his favourite word and pretty much all he says. It’s a bit weird because he’s never seen the movies or the cartoons.
I’m decorating the house with cobwebs for Halloween tomorrow. Mum got them from the two-dollar shop in town. Arlo is following me around putting plastic spiders into the webs. The wind from the ceiling fan is making the spiders swing about but they don’t fall out. They are stuck fast.
When the police knocked on Mr. Caden’s door they were accompanied by two dogs and a truck load of suspicion. After all, the hand had Mr. Caden’s fingerprints all over it. An extensive search of Mr. Caden’s property yielded nothing more macabre than the skeleton of a chicken buried long ago underneath a compost bin. The police left a very shaken Mr. Caden with the vestiges of the chicken and a demand to remain available for further questioning.
Meanwhile, the hand, slightly chewed, had a whole shelf to itself in the police station fridge. It lay cold and pale on a baking tray lined with tinfoil, palm side up. The fingers were curled up as if they were holding an invisible ball. The hand had been so neatly severed from its arm that the radius and ulna peered like two smooth white moons in a galaxy of flesh and sinew.
Officer Johnson opened the fridge and sighed. He stared at the hand until the fridge started beeping. He reached for the milk. A headache gnawed at his temple. He needed to pay a visit to Dave Fletcher. He wasn’t looking forward to it. But we’d dealt him the dead man’s hand.
Whenever we go to the butcher with Mum, Dave gives us a free hot dog. He always gives the village kids free hot dogs. Arlo, Mum, and me were at the butchers the day after Dave had the fight with Josh. Dave didn’t have any hot dogs that day. He told us he was waiting on a delivery of sausage casings. But I know this wasn’t true because when I went to the loo out the back there were two unopened boxes labelled “hot dog casings” on the ground next to the toilet.
When I came back from the loo Dave was standing at the register whistling. Mum reckons that when he whistles he’s ripping someone off. She always checks the bill when he whistles.
There was a fly buzzing in the window. Dave pulled out a fly swat from under the counter. It was full of squashed flies. Their legs stuck out from the fly mesh like black antennae. Dave squashed the fly with a smack that startled Arlo’s hand out of Mum’s.
"Batman, Batman," he said, and started to cry.
Dave looked at Arlo in surprise, "Bloody flies son, they’ll lay maggots quicker than you can burn toast."
He turned to me and Mum, "You’ve got to get rid of a pest before it spreads, one quick blow and you’ve stopped the cycle, it’s the only way."
The fly wasn’t quite dead. It’s legs wriggled uselessly in the fly swat.
Mum led Arlo outside to calm him down after that.
Dave must’ve felt bad for scaring Arlo.
"Hey Richie Rich, what does a skeleton order when he goes out for dinner?"
Dave held up a row of beef ribs, the plastic parsley hung off the side.
"Spare ribs!" He laughed. He looked disappointed when I didn’t, but the muscles in my face hadn’t worked.
That’s when Dave told me about how he could make a human body disappear. I was waiting for Mum and Arlo to come back when Dave leaned over the counter and asked me if I wanted to see where he chopped up the animal carcasses.
Dave led me out the back and pointed to a meat bandsaw squatting on a stainless-steel bench.
"See that," he said, "that saw can chop through your femur. It’s your leg bone. It’s the thickest bone in the human body."
He turned his gaze to the meat processor.
"And Bertha here," he continued, patting the huge machine, "she could grind up anything. I could turn a whole body into sausage meat in an hour." He winked at me. "But I might keep some of the rump for steaks. I do like me a piece of ass."
I wanted to run away but my feet were stuck to the floor. I felt like the fly in the swat. I felt like the plastic spiders in Jute’s web.
The door tinkled and Mum came in with Arlo. Arlo was eating a strawberry. His mouth was red. The juice dripped onto his chin. Drops of pink juice splashed to the white tiled floor.
After we left I told Mum what Dave said.
"Oh Richie, he’s having a laugh," she said. "It’s Halloween!" And she wouldn’t hear anything more about it.
When Mum came home from work the next day, she bought us all a hot dog.
"I guess he got his casings in," she smiled.
Arlo didn’t eat his. He threw it in the bin and walked off saying, "Batman, Batman."
Mr Caden found a hand. It used to be attached to Josh Rogan. I wonder if it was a politician that chopped it off. Mum says we should beware of politicians, especially ones like Tony Abbott. Whenever we are naughty she says Tony Abbott will come and get us. He’s a very scary man. Richie told me that he eats kids, and I know it’s true. He told me that the lady next door used to have three children, but now she only has one because they were naughty and Tony Abbott ate them.
She is always crying and shouting, the lady next door. I hear her a lot. It’s because of how Tony Abbott ate her children.
Mum says Josh Rogan is with the angels. Even though Mum is generally anti-angel, she’s an atheist. She says that the only Angels she believes in are a band and that if God were real there wouldn’t be any nasty politicians. She also says if God were real, he’d show himself and tell us all to stop trashing the planet.
She gets quite excited about politicians and the planet.
Officer Johnson arrived at the butcher shop on the night of Halloween. He waited until old Mrs Carrie limped out with two pork chops and her bag of dog mince. Mrs Carrie’s dog died some time ago, but she could never remember this.
Dave turned the sign hanging on the door around to "Closed" when Officer Johnson knocked. Officer Johnson was sweating and, not for the first time, wished his uniform allowed shorts.
Later, while Josh was being questioned, a squadron of police went over the butcher’s shop with all the paraphernalia and fuss of a team of make-up artists at French Fashion Week. The shop was dressed in blue and white police tape that fluttered in the warm wind.
We hadn’t paid too much attention at the time. After all, the same mob had been through Mr. Caden’s property the day before. And really, no one was particularly despondent about the untimely demise of Josh Rogan. Josh had blown into town with the Autumn winds some months ago. Troubled and arcane, he befriended few and ostracised many. We were all surprised when Dave offered him a job. But Dave had always taken in the drifters and the wayward. They always seemed to move on pretty quickly. It was hard to find good apprentices in the butchery business.
They never found anything in Dave’s shop. Or in his house. The police tape was taken down. Dave returned to work the day after he was taken into custody. Officer Johnson told Mum it had all been a big mistake.
"Josh was in trouble with a lot of bad people," he said.
"People who would chop your hand off for thieving," he added.
"A shady bunch of misfits and no goods," he called them.
"A right bunch of fuckwits and bastards," he mumbled.
Mum told Officer Johnson it was, “the dead weight of the past,” and they laughed.
Mum says Josh is probably walking around with one hand. She says he could dress up as Captain Hook for Halloween.
Dave invited the whole village to his Halloween BBQ.
Arlo and I watched as everyone laughed and ate sausage sandwiches. Mr Caden was licking tomato sauce from his fingers. Mrs Carrie was filling her bag with sausages.
"She’s taking them for the dog," said Jute. "She’s totally bonkers."
Dave was standing at the BBQ while he turned the sausages. The fat sizzled on the hot plate. Dave was whistling.
Arlo held my hand tight. I looked at him.
"Yes Arlo, I know," I said, looking down at his face. "Batman."
"Badman," said Arlo, staring at Dave.
Tiny Jack-o-lanterns grinned from the tables.
"Bad man." Arlo’s fingernails bit into my hand and the breeze whipped the smell of sausages into the air. They smelled like chicken.