Free Fiction: A Handful Of Bones by Anita Dénes

Bird bones, bird bones, rattling in my hand. Small and brittle. I listen to the soft clicking sounds they make as I shake them, cast them like dice on the worn carpet to tell me answers.

They’re not really the bones of a bird, though, they belong to a child or used to. A child with black curls and a quick smile. I’m holding her finger bones, or maybe a part of her foot.

Does that frighten you? Then you’re in the wrong place, love. And anyway, I lied. They’re squirrel bones, you can see a rib, can’t you, and children don’t have ribs that small.

Well, not once they’re born, anyway. Maybe these are child bones, after all, dug up from a worse place than the wet earth.

You decide what they are and what I am, if what I tell you is a lie or a truth. They called me Lügner, back in the old days – it means ‘liar’. Amazing how much a truth can sound like a filthy lie if you decide you don’t like what you’re hearing.

So what do you want to know? Your future? Someone else’s? Do you want to hear how to stop a treacherous heart without being discovered, or give life to a dry womb?

No. You wouldn’t have journeyed this far for that. Mother Lügner’s home is hidden in the whistling reeds, the capricious swamp, and it takes a brave one or a fool to find it. Or someone who has burned every single bridge, even the one she’s walking on.

Tell me, love, or I can’t help you.

You’re so young and lovely like I never was even when my hair was still dark and I had all my teeth. I should hate you for that. But how could I hate you when you sit there crying?

Don’t waste water like that. We don’t have much of it. Wipe your eyes, now, quiet down, and tell me what you want.

The creatures from the mountains, yes, of course, I know them. If you want to know how to avoid them, you need more than my words, I have no power over something that is not human anymore.

You… want to become one?

Oh, I haven’t had a laugh like that since the ash began falling from the sky. Tell me what you really want, and I will grant it to you just for cheering me like that.

Oh.

You were not joking.

You want to cast away your humanity, all you have left in these black days. You want to become mindless, a slave to hunger and cold and nothing else. A beast preying on the few of us that are left, your own family, maybe. You are running from something, but why do you want to run that far?

What have you done?

Ah. So that is why you went so pale when I said I was holding a child’s bones. Hard times beget harder measures, and hunger is the lord of us all.

Did you hold your brother’s bones when your stomach was full?

Don’t run away, love. You will drown in the swamp if you stumble around sobbing like that. I couldn’t care less about what happens to you, but I don’t want the carrion birds near my house. Or your… friends.

Yes, I will help you, if only just to get you out of here. Let us hear what the bones have to say.

Click-click-click, the sound of your future. A handful of bones finding you the road to damnation.

What is that little smile I see on your lips? Are you that eager to throw away all that you are, just to forget?

I cast the bones from my hand. Let us see.

That rib pointing at your foot, that is the direction you will have to go in once you leave my house. Through swamp and wood and snow, follow the line even if the path curves away from under you. Don’t lose it! Straight on until you run into this little vertebra, see? That will be a hill.

You will need to go into that hill, down in its hollowed-out stomach. Just follow the staircase, long ago laid bare by storms more vicious than you have lived to see. You will find a doorway at the bottom of the stairs, the door ripped off its hinges before you were born.

That is where those things came from. The first they feasted on were the people who made them.

You will find the cache in the secret room, untouched inside the hill. Untouched because no one in their right mind would open one of those crates, but you are not in your right mind anymore, are you, love?

They will look like little bottles of clean, cool water, but make no mistake. They are what you need. Open one and drink from it.

It will hurt.

Five of those bottles emptied into a city’s water tank were enough to wipe out thousands of men, women, and children. Drink only enough to moisten your mouth. Even I don’t know what will happen if you drink more.

No one can tell what you will look like once the agony passes. Eight limbs, maybe, eyes all over your skin, or a snout to crush a skull with. All of those at once, even. The tumors will kill you in a few years, of course, but for those few years, you will be free to roam and forget.

You are smiling once again. You disturb me, love, and few things disturb Mother Lügner these days.

You have not told me everything.

Oh. Oh.

That taste of flesh… You cried because you hated it.

And you smile now because you crave it.

Get out.

Get out!

My old heart races so. She will go where I said, no doubt, and destroy herself.

Man on the cross, forgive me. I should have lied to her.

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Anita Dénes grew up in Transylvania as an avid reader, and later writer of strange stories, both in English and Hungarian. She published her first short story in a Hungarian magazine at the age of 20. Now, at 23, she is an aspiring author dreaming of publishing a full-length book one day and working on mysterious and macabre tales in the meantime.

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