This post is part of an ongoing series.
Part I: The Valley
Book One: Out from Boneville
Chapter VI: Phoney’s Inferno
You are warned, here be spoilers.
This chapter, the conclusion to Book One, pushes in opposite directions in delightful and chilling fashion. On the one hand, the immediate tension of the last few chapters – the rat creatures’ raid on Gran’ma Ben’s farmhouse – is at last relieved. Morning has come, and the farmhouse is a smoking wreck, but Gran’ma Ben is okay, and the rat creatures have left for the moment. Gran’ma Ben, Thorn, and Fone head to Barrelhaven, and all three Bone cousins are at last reunited. At the same time, though, we get an ominous creepiness that, at least for me, far exceeds anything we’ve seen so far.
To back it up a bit: the previous chapter ended with the dragon carrying Fone and Thorn back to the farmhouse, only to see it a smoking wreck. At the start of this chapter, Gran’ma emerges from the wreckage, a bit sooty but unharmed. After the first flush of relief, Thorn introduces the dragon – the Polkaroo curse is broken at last. The dragon and Gran’ma Ben eye each other, the dragon cool and Gran’ma scowling with her hands on her hips.
Gran’ma Ben: Hello, dragon.
Dragon: Hello, Rose. It’s been a while.
Dragon: Well… Looks like everything’s under conrol here. Guess I’ll be goin’.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Meanwhile, in Barrelhaven, Phoney and Smiley continue to plot their cow-race hustle while working at the tavern. It comes out that their enormous, frighteningly tightly-wound boss is named Lucius Down. We also get a scene that creeps the living daylights out of me: We get ten panels in a row of Phoney washing dishes, an open window visible behind his back. In that window, we can see the Hooded One standing outside, moving slightly closer with each panel. He looks like the Grim Reaper – heavily cloaked, with a long scythe in one hand, his head still drooping forward so that his hood covers his face. The Hooded One moves closer and closer – gets closer and closer, I should say; he doesn’t appear to walk. He just is closer in each panel. Finally, his head – still concealed – is actually sticking in the window; he’s just freaking Phoney out with menacing talk of taking the Bone’s soul, when Smiley shows up with another tub of dishes. Phoney is startled, and the Hooded One Vanishes.
This is a scene I’d already read both as a kid and as an adult, and it’s still creepy as all hell. I actually blurted, “Oh, f—,” as I re-read it for this blog post, when I realised that that was this page.
There are strong hints in this chapter that Phoney knows exactly why the Hooded One is after his soul, but no explanations. Gran’ma Ben quizzes Fone about Phoney’s connection with the rat creatures, and the Hooded One himself talks like he and Phoney have “unfinished business”.
Speaking of Fone and the rat creatures, Fone thanks Thorn for sticking up for him when they were cornered, back in the woods. Re-reading that section, I don’t know that Thorn showed any more courage than Fone did. Sure, she shouted “You can’t have him!” and the like, but she didn’t do anything, and I’ve got no sense that she could have. She and Fone were equally helpless. Still, she at least showed brave intent. And here, the next day, there’s less “ideal Disney princess” to her air, and a touch more “adventurer” – her hair is back in a ponytail, and her dress has been replaced by some sort of tunic or tabard and a pair of trousers. And Fone definitely perceives her as heroic – when she says “Of course we stuck together! We’re friends, aren’t we?” and smiles warmly at him, he falls off his riding-cow, head aswirl with hearts.
Lucius, the bar owner, appears to be something of a community leader. When Fone, Thorn, and Gran’ma Ben first arrive in town, they’re stopped by a tree that’s been felled across the road. The affable young man guarding the impromptu roadblock with a rake says, “Lucius had us block th’ road! There was some strange doin’s in th’ woods last nght. The hairy men were out!” As they chat, we can see that the Hooded One is observing from high in a tree.
“So… once again, small one, your friends have come to you……. But make no mistake… …we will complete our transaction… You have been spared…. …for now….. Phoncible P. Bone……..”