You, constant reader, know I love flash fiction by now. But, if you don’t know that yet, click on over to the FREE WRITING NOW page and gain both knowledge and free entertainment.
For those of you who are left, read on. This is a short taste–a mere swish through the pallette–of a world which I have had in my head for a few months, put on paper now, and will return to soon. Of steam, broken things and magic.
Not as Good as Bricks
Anima is scared.
She stands small and stiff, a shadow against the twilight and spectral flicker of the town gas lamps. The hissing of the natural gas writhing in the pipes and hoses which snake throughout the town grows louder as the gas lamps are lit, but the burning lessens the stench for which the town is named.
She’d been scared before. The town of Bog is not big, but it has its dangers, and she has run across them scrounging for things in the wrecked buildings and forgotten places. It was part of her job, and part of being the Cobbler’s daughter. So, was this.
Usually she liked delivering Da’s finished work. The smallest cobble-toy, the largest cobble-mech and all the cobble-tink in between would always bring a smile. But tonight, it just wasn’t worth it. “Put it in their hands, ‘Nima,” Dad always says; like she’d just leave it on the doorstep to be snatched by some thieving scav. Today she would. Better than going into the Bone House.
That’s what the kids call it; the Bone House. Growns call it something else, like church, but everyone calls it a bone something. It’s all bones. Anima looks it over for the thousandth time as the lamp-lit shadows make the bones seem to twitch and twist.
The last thing it resembles is a heap of discarded bones. That would be better, Anima thinks. No, these bones are lashed, woven, wound and wired together with purpose. Human bones, dog bones, bird bones, cat bones, and bones she can’t identify all are unified in the creation of a house; a home. Long bones and bent ribs make odd angled walls. Skulls and pelvises fill in gaps and serve as cornices. Finger bones plug holes. Some places are packed so tightly with bones, it’s impossible to see where individual ones separate. Anima has had many thoughts about the house while standing at the foot of the short path to the fabric covered doorway. The absolute worst thought remains; that some of the skulls, sternums, jaw bones or pelvises look like they’ve been put in place purely as decoration. Anima can understand the desire for a warm, dry place; sometimes that raw need will push your limits. But decorating with the bones?
Anima shivers. Must be a troll in there, she thinks again. All the kids say the Bone Woman is a troll. Anima curses herself for standing outside a troll woman’s house until after nightfall.
Anima jumps as gnarled fingers clutch the door flap and brush it aside. Anima is reminded of the time she returned home in triumph, her shirt full of withered apple cores. What a scrounge! Some of the cores had been furred with blue-grey mold. A shriveled up apple core, topped with mold, wrapped in a home-spun blanket. That is what the Bone Woman looks like as she crosses the distance with determination, hips rolling with each step, breath panting louder than the hissing of Bog.
The pair regards each other. Anima stares up into the blanket wrapped darkness, at the pointed nose and chin which burst from the shadows like rocks in a black sea. The woman surveys Anima’s scrounged hat and bandanna which keeps her blonde hair from her face, her too-big boots, handed down from Mum, and the conglomerate of dirt, tatters and pockets in between. Her eyes catch the gas light, lingering on the package. Anima sticks out her chin, reminded of her duty. The Bone Woman nods.
“Well?” she barks.
Anima is shocked to silence.
The Bone Woman scratches at her shoulder, under the blanket. “Well, girl?”
“Is you a troll?” Anima asks.
“Am I a troll, young woman,” the Bone Woman corrects, “There’s no such thing as trolls.”
Anima’s eyes widen in disbelief and the Bone Woman sighs. “Oh, girl. You’ve no idea how the things which you are taught as a child stay with you. I mean, there’s no such things as trolls in Bog. They prefer mountains or cities. The Return changed many things, but I still remember my parents telling me ‘there’s no such thing as…’” Her words trail off. “We’ve lost so much.”
Anima curiosity suddenly ambushes the fear which she had of the old woman. “You was around before the Shock? Before the Bombers? You’re Old World?”
“You were around—you talk such street—The Cobbler is a good man, but he’s neglected your teaching. Yes, I was. Not many years. I was younger than you when the magic fell and the mythic returned. I remember the bombs as well.”
Anima drinks in those words and brims with new questions. The Bone Woman notices her eagerness. “Young woman, we stand in the street and my body grows cold. If you want to listen to an old lady’s stories, we should finish our business and go inside.”
The mention of the Bone House breaks the spell. Anima’s fear returns. She offers the package. The Bone Woman accepts the bundle. Her blanket has slipped back from her face, revealing the rounded cheeks and eyes set in deep lines, like spiders on ancient webs. She nods again. “You don’t want to come in.”
Anima shakes her head.
“You fear the bones.”
Anima gives the smallest of shrugs.
“Well, they’re not as good as bricks, but they’re better than sticks or straw.” The grate of her voice lightens at the end of the sentence, as though joking, but the sound is more like the creak of a rarely used door.
Anima looks back at her, head cocked.
“You don’t know the story. The pigs? The wolf?”
“Well, if you return, that will be the first story I tell.”
Anima watches the Bone Woman until the door flap settles back into place then starts her journey home through the hissing streets of Bog.