As you may or may not know, there is a creative writing course on offer for MA students. I have written the following story for an assignment and decided I would share it here. The task was to come up with a story title (and then, of course, an actual story) to your initials. Mine being C.B., I eventually settled for Casting Bones. Comments, interpretations, and constructive criticism are much encouraged and appreciated! I hope you enjoy reading it.
I fiddled around with my necklace, turning the whitish piece of bone round and round, following every nook and cranny with my fingers. It was my nervous habit. I had been trying to get rid of it for a while, but to no avail; so eventually, I figured: whatever, it’s better than biting your nails. The bone was smooth, polished first by years of rain, then by years of hanging on a leather cord around my neck and functioning as my talisman. Touching the piece of skeleton makes me feel grounded, firmly rooted within myself.
It had been a gift for my eleventh birthday from my weird grand-aunt Hyancintha. My mother had been horrified, of course, and had tried to snatch it away from me, but I’d stood my ground and had been wearing it ever since that day. The rest of my family tends to get a bit squirmy around auntie Cintha, but I’d always liked her dark sense of humor. I actually go and visit her every once in a while. She used to be a biologist of sorts and her whole apartment is stuffed with books on anatomy and sketches of animals. She also owns whole skeletons of rodents and birds. But what I like the most is the artwork she makes out of stray bones and shards. It’s everywhere. Necklaces of bone beads, earrings, charms, wind chimes. My favorites, aside from my necklace, are the dreamcatchers she weaves. They are extremely intricate and ornamental. She uses traditional stuff like feathers and glass beads, but also shards of shells and small bones, probably bird bones. I have a big one in my window and several small ones scattered around my room or attached to various bags. You can never have too many wards against nightmares.
Of course, my bone jewelry – combined with my thin, pale looks – had singled me out at school, but I didn’t really have a problem with being the weird guy. After a while, I had learned to celebrate my weirdness. I stopped trying to tame my unruly dark hair. I wore my necklace openly instead of tucking it under my sweater. Once, one of the girls had told me that I was looking more and more like a wraith: sharp features, prominent cheekbones, dark circles around my eyes. Thin, long fingers. What surprised me was that instead of disgusted she actually looked worried. Weird.
A couple weeks later she started sitting next to me in class. Neither of us ever commented on that. Actually, she never even openly looked at me. Still, sometimes I felt as if eyes were tracing the sharp planes and angles of my face, the bones of my body underneath my plain shirts and ratty old jeans. If it was her, she managed to never get caught staring. Whenever I peeked at her, she seemed to be completely absorbed in her own mind, tracing patterns in her notebook with her old-fashioned fountain pen.
After a few days, she sat down at my table during lunch. First, she clattered around with her plates and bowls of food, but eventually she cleared her throat and asked me what it was that I liked about bones. I stopped nibbling on my bread roll and pondered that for a while.
“I like their rawness,” I finally said. “They wear no masks or try to hide things from you. They show you what someone is made of, and that’s all they are. They don’t pretend to be anything more than that.”
She kept eating, as if chewing on my words for a while, then nodded. “I think I know what you mean, somewhat. Our bones are the blueprint of our bodies. And once we’re gone, they are the remaining record of our existence.”
Show me your bones, and I’ll tell you who you are. We shared a shy smile before going our separate ways.
The next day, we met at the same table. I took a closer look at her for the first time. She had curly, auburn hair that fell way past her shoulders. Her eyes were grey, like a misty November day in the woods. She had a clear complexion, but on a closer look I saw that she had a few freckles spread around her nose. I also noticed that there were dark shadows under her eyes. She kept rubbing her temples, and she was jugging back coffee as if she’d drop dead the minute she took a break.
“Are you having trouble sleeping?” I asked.
She avoided my gaze. “Nightmares,” she mumbled.
I hesitated, looking at my bag on the seat next to me. In it, probably somewhere towards the bottom, there was a small dreamcatcher auntie Cintha had given me when I visited her yesterday. She’d had a knowing look in her eye when she commented that I’d need it, and soon. At my questioning face, she’d just cackled and gone back to knitting tiny pieces of fishbone into a bracelet.
I was indecisive, but then I mentally shrugged. Whatever, she could take it or leave it. Didn’t make much of a difference either way. I rummaged around in the bag until my fingers brushed feathers and thread. I held the tiny dreamcatcher out to her. The outer ring was wrapped in red-brown leather, the thread for the knots and charms was a shade of green that contrasted nicely with it. Strings of beads and feathers were dangling from the ring. Woven into the pattern of thread within the circle was a single piece of bone, right in the center. Part of a finger? Shard of a fox’ ribs? She stared at it, making me feel somewhat awkward.
“My grand-aunt makes them,” I finally said. “They keep the bad dreams out. Maybe it can help you sleep again. You know, so you don’t have to get hammered on coffee anymore.” I was rambling. She smiled. “Thank you.” She carefully plucked the amulet from my hand, trailing her finger over the leather, the ornaments, the centerpiece. “It feels wild… almost alive. It’s stunning.” She fastened it to the zipper of her backpack.
Before I could say another word the bell rang, and we went off to our respective classes. When she walked past a window, the sunlight twinkled on the beads and bone of the dreamcatcher.
Shard of bird’s wing, I decided.