2013 STORGY SHORT STORY COMPETITION SHORTLIST
When I was a child I broke my legs, and now my skeleton hates me.
I’m all healed up and the years have gone by, but it doesn’t matter: skeletons don’t forgive.
I have a recurring dream where my skeleton dances with me. We quickstep and waltz, everything is pleasant. Until my partner lowers his bony hand to my side, and starts tugging at a zip in my flesh. I try to fight him, but he is stronger than me, driven with desperate need and hate. This is all he has ever wanted. He rips and tears at me until I am shreds of skin, discarded on the floor.
The dance, an imitation of civility and acceptance, has ended.
The dreams are warnings.
I look at my hand sometimes, and find it has curled into a fist. I stare at my wife, and see in her panic that I have been shouting.
It isn’t me, it’s the skeleton, but no one listens.
I tell doctors and they don’t know what to say. They suggest that my problems are psychological, but their skeletons smile at me, leer at me, I can see it.
I forgot about my broken legs for years, blocked it out. It was only recently that I began to understand. It was when Judy left me. When she took the kids.
She knew there was a monster inside me. Of course. It hit her, not me.
That was when I knew for sure. Not me. Something inside of me, but what? And then I remembered.
My skeleton. My broken legs.
My grandfather had told me, on one of those nights in the ward. I was ten, my legs were in plaster. Everything was so sterile and cold. He told me stories to keep me from crying. Once, with a smile on his face, he told me how angry my skeleton was with me.
At the time I had thought he was making a little joke. As you do.
But it was a warning. Like the dreams that would one day come, a warning that skeletons don’t forget.
I don’t know what to do. I pace the house. I daren’t go out. I can’t sleep. I can’t shave, I daren’t pick up a knife. It wants to do away with me.
How do you escape your skeleton?
I leave the house only to seek out doctors. They quickly dispatch me to various specialists who give me prescriptions I tear up.
My wife calls me one night. I try to tell her how much I miss her, the warmth of her smile, the love of her eyes. I want to tell her I forgive her for seeing Jim behind my back… (What did they talk about? What did they do? What did they talk about?) …but instead I find myself shouting, it is the skeleton again, my hating, vengeful, skeleton.
I slam the phone down. I pick it up, I try to think of someone I can call. Anyone.
I stand there for hours. Eventually I pick up the phonebook and start calling random numbers. I ask for help. I give them my symptoms and my address, and I wait for mercy.
No one comes.
The next day I venture out, I steal as many anatomy books as I can from the library. I sit in my study, poring over the pages. Looking for clues, looking for answers.
All I see is bone becoming bolder and bolder with each passing chapter. The books are thrown at the wall in disgust.
One day, my brother comes to the door. He looks so concerned, it’s as if he already knows my situation. And yet, when I let him in, talk to him, it’s obvious he’s confused. He can’t understand me. Maybe my lips are framing one set of words, and my teeth are saying another.
It is flesh versus bone.
I scream at my brother. Get out! Get out! He cannot save me, so I at least save him. His own bones must be docile, his skeleton as complicit as his shadow.
Sleepwalkers are victims of their skeletons. The skeletons want freedom, or feeding, and sleep is when they exert their control. This sort of thing happens. I read about it in a dream so it must be true.
I keep a journal, I write my dreams. It is a fever diary of shock and revelation. I am on to something new, I feel. The anger of the skeleton does not seem to have been recorded much. If only I dared go out more, I might find a computer, use the internet for research – then everything would be made clear.
But I can’t go out. It’s raining. My flesh might melt, and then my skeleton could just skip off into the night. It could desert me, and get away with it. Oh, it would like that.
Each night I handcuff myself to the bed, so it can’t escape, each morning I thrash around, trying to knock the key off the bedside cabinet.
The little victories add up and keep me going.
Sitting naked in the bathtub, rocking back and forth, I whisper apologies for cracked bones through cracked lips.
I am so tired. So hungry. So thirsty.
Again, my wife calls. Again, the skeleton makes her cry.
I hate it, now, as much as it hates me.
Why can’t it forgive? What’s wrong with it? It was so long ago.
The end, when it comes to me, seems quite obvious. There’s only one way to strike at your skeleton. If I had acid I would bathe in it, alas. No, there’s only one way out.
On a cold, black, night, after the birds fall silent, and the roads clear of traffic; I drive to the tallest building I know. I take the stairs to the roof, force the door, and emerge to the scene of my own revenge.
I will break more than legs.
I can hear its voice in the back of my head – no – no – no!
I strike at that which would strike me. I protect my family, my friends. I end this life intact.
I remember, when in hospital, I had a complete x-ray done. Though I was a child, I vividly recall the leering skull, the splintered bones.
You could feel the animosity.
Standing on the roof, I hold my hand up to the moon and stare. I can almost see the bone beneath. How it would like to claw at me, shred me from its frame. I hear laughter, and realise it is my own. Soon the skeleton will be broken again, and there’s nothing it can do! Across London, skeletons will be grinding their teeth in fury.
The moon bathes me, it is my second, final, x-ray. For one last moment I am whole.
And then I jump.
And what is not already broken, breaks.
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