I’ll have a larger update on Friday, full of thrills, chills, and sadly unrealized potential, but in celebration of Halloween, I wanted to share a small, somewhat spooky snippet from See These Bones. No context… no backstory… just a simple case of boy meets girl that isn’t so simple at all. As always, feedback is welcome!
[snippet from See These Bones, Chapter 44. Edited to remove spoilers and one expletive.]
That day in the clearing wasn’t the start of the downward spiral, but it was a breaking point. We had only a few weeks left until summer break, but I remember lying awake in the small hours of the night, surrounded by the silent, demanding dead, wondering how I could possibly make it that long. I did what I could to soldier on, but the greater the number of ghosts crowding in around me, the harder it was to look past them to the reality that lay underneath. I remember stopping on one of the long, winding paths through campus to yell at a pair of ghosts who seemed intent upon barreling into me. It was only when they both shied away, with muttered words and wary glances, that I realized they hadn’t been ghosts at all, but students. Normals, I’m guessing. First-years or second-years would’ve gone straight to Bard.
After that, things get a little incoherent. I remember conversations that couldn’t have happened and encounters that were almost definitely dreams. Somewhere in there, I must have gotten food at the cafeteria, but I can’t recall doing so, and none of the staff copped to ever seeing me come in. I don’t remember leaving the dorm room at all, even once, but somehow, I found myself back in that clearing on the west edge of campus. It was night, but I could still see, the world around me lit with the harsh light of the dead.
I tore my eyes from the ghosts rushing in from the tree line to find a sky full of stars that were not stars but spirits, drifting down out of the darkness like spiders on invisible threads of silk. I turned my eyes to the ocean, and found it disgorging waves of glowing forms onto the shoreline, miles away, forms that slithered their way towards me as if distance was just an abstract concept. As they neared, I realized they too were ghosts, many of them bloated and misshapen, swaying forward on staggering spectral limbs.
Where once there had been a single ghost, then two, then a few dozen, now there were hundreds. Maybe thousands. The silent, skin-crawling buzz filled me, drowning out every last shred of the world around me. I felt the rings of ghosts around me tighten. I felt the last remnants of space between me and that very first and smallest circle shrink until there was nothing left, until the air was not air, but the forms of the dead, and my lungs began to seize from the lack of oxygen.
And then I felt something new.
The endless, soundless hum stuttered, then stopped. The ranks of ghosts furthest from me shivered and broke apart, that pattern repeated again and again as a path slowly opened to where I huddled. Down that path came a woman, taking small, mincing steps forward as a thousand ghosts made way before her with reverent haste.
She was wearing a simple black dress straight out of old-time vids; little black buttons from the ankle-length hem all the way up the long column of her neck, every one of them securely fastened. Hair as dark as the dress was pulled back into a bun that added a decade to her appearance, but her pale face was young and unlined. A doll’s mouth curved insouciantly below a button nose, and high cheekbones made her look fancy rather than just underfed.
It wasn’t until she was within arm’s reach, when the last ring of ghosts had scattered rather than stand in her way, that I saw her eyes. Mud brown and empty, like freshly dug graves, they were eyes that every person in the country would have recognized and feared.
“Hello there,” she finally said, with a quiet smile that died somewhere in the abyss of those eyes, “My name is Sally.”