PodCastle 738: The Bones Beneath

Show Notes

Rated PG-13

The Bones Beneath

by Vanessa Fogg


Four years ago, the bones began pushing up from the earth. Fay is now seventeen, and she feels the bones’ movements more strongly each year. It’s the end of winter, but not yet the beginning of spring. Snowmelt has turned the fields to mud, and the grass is dead and brown. The trees still bare, the air still chill. Mist in the morning, or her own breath white as frost.

She wakes in the darkness, dresses, and combs her hair. She puts the tea kettle on the stove, heats bread on the griddle beside it. Her father has already left for his job in the local government’s accounting office. Her mother lies abed late. Like many, Fay’s mother suffers spells of sleeplessness and dizziness at this time of year, and headaches that make her cover her eyes.

Fay leaves a bit of bread on a plate for her little brother when he wakes. She closes the front door behind her.

The bare field is on the outskirts of town, several miles away. But she can still feel it as she walks to school. She feels the movement of buried bones there, the remains of the little creatures of the earth — mice, voles, and moles. Things that once saw light, and things that stayed underground, blind and digging. Hidden things, forgotten things.

Deep underneath, the earth is frozen. But it’s thawing near the surface. Fay feels the twitch and shiver of waking bones in the dirt, like the wingbeats of new birds trying to fly.

The first-hour teacher is new. A young woman straight out of university, arrived from the capital six months ago. The last teacher left after a nervous breakdown. And the one before that . . .

The students don’t speak of it. Just as they don’t speak of their missing peers. The ones fled, disappeared, or worse.

They stand at attention for the morning announcements. A voice over the loudspeaker proclaims the nation’s strength and solidarity, its soaring economy. Snippets of news are read: a new factory is being built in the next province over; schoolchildren are doing good charity works; a teenage boy has saved a child from a river-drowning.

The teacher’s shoes click on the floor as she strides back and forth at the front of the room. She writes equations that fill the chalkboard. She’s gamely doing her part to educate the nation’s young, to prepare them for the future.

At the back of the room, a girl sobs quietly, her head in her arms.

Outside, it begins to rain. Fay listens to the patter on the window. In her mind, she sees the water rushing through the streets and flooding the fields. Mixing with snowmelt, and seeping into the hidden pockets of earth.

Fay thinks of Tess as the rain pours down. Tess who loved the rain, who splashed in puddles and played in the mud. Who loved digging holes in the dirt, looking for worms and beetles to overturn. Tess who climbed trees to peer into birds’ nests, who planted special flowers just for the butterflies, who rescued an injured mouse and kept it as a pet; Tess who loved every animal. Tess who was full of stories, who believed in magic. Who made Fay believe, too.

Tess who is gone, and all the bright colors of the world with her.

She was Fay’s best friend. “Twins,” others called the girls jokingly, for they spent every spare moment together. Close as sisters, close as twins. The only sister Fay has ever known.

The students are permitted to go outside for lunch if they wish. But it’s still raining, the courtyard churned to mud. The first bones have washed up on the cobblestones. A rodent skull here, a snake’s chain of vertebrae there. A whole bird skeleton — a dove’s perhaps? — decorating the doorstep.

Everyone stays inside. All but one fair-haired, angelic-looking boy. He goes into the rain, and he kicks the bird skeleton off the step. He follows to where it fell, and he stomps upon it — once, twice, again and again. Breaking it apart, smashing the fragile bones to bits. He keeps stomping. There is no expression on his face. Five years ago, at the age of thirteen, he was among those who broke into shops and houses, who beat people inside their own homes and in the streets. Or worse.

Someone makes a small, broken sound. It’s the girl who was crying earlier in the day. The girl turns away from the window, visibly shaking. Fay does not move. She keeps watching.

“Watch,” Tess had said. Her face glowed softly, beside the pink azalea bushes. The baby bird lay in her hands, swathed in a scrap of woolen cloth. An abandoned fledgling, which had not lived through the night. Tess insisted that they could still revive it, still bring it back. If they just said the right words. If they followed the right ritual. If they believed with all their hearts.

The girls sprinkled the bird with drops of brandy. They recited an old children’s rhyme, with just a few key words changed. At dusk, they buried the bird beside the pink azaleas.

It never came back to life. But for weeks, Fay dreamed that it did. That it soared out of the earth — no longer a sick, fuzzy fledgling with tufted feathers, but a bird with sleek and full-grown wings, dark and strong and true.

After school, Fay walks alone through streets of mud and bones. Tiny feet and claws crunch underfoot; tail bones and femurs gleam from the muck. There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for it all; everyone’s heard the government’s official lines. A natural shift in soil conditions combine with the season’s heavy rains to bring up animal carcasses from the past year. No one is to question this further. No one is to wonder at the obvious implausibility. No one is to wonder about the larger carcasses buried under the earth.

Fay walks into a small bakery. She stands before a shelf of tarts and breads until a boy a little older than herself comes out from the back. When she makes her selection, she hands over more bills than is warranted. He packs her a box of custard tarts and something else, too.

She walks out, her heart beating fast. The weight of that second item pulls at the bottom of her bag.

Regular house raids are a thing of the past. In the last year, a number of restrictions have been loosened. Still, one is never quite sure what’s permitted. What you can get away with, what the authorities might let slide.

What your neighbors and townsfolk will allow.

The black-market book sits at the bottom of her bag. She walks swiftly home, eager to read it.

Tess’s apartment was filled with books. Books of history and books from abroad, books of classical literature and poetry. An expensively bound edition of traditional ballads, carried all the way from the South by Tess’s mother while they were fleeing the fighting there. Tess and her mother didn’t have much money — they couldn’t have had — yet they had books.

Fay remembers the hours that she and Tess spent together, reading the latest paperback adventure series from the local bookseller. Looking again at Tess’s hardbound book of fairy tales and myths, at the rich, colored illustrations that were magical in their own right. Swans turning into princesses, a harpist who stilled the sea with his song, an orphan who rode a whale to the moon. “That’s my father,” Tess said once, pointing to a picture of a man kneeling in a forest clearing. A blackbird was perched on one shoulder, and his eyes were closed, yet Fay could tell that he was beautiful. He had sharp features and flowing black hair crowned with leaves, and wore old-fashioned, dark-green clothes. A pile of white bones sat on the ground before him.

“We lost him in the South, but he’ll find us someday,” Tess continued. Fay didn’t know what to say. She’d heard that Tess’s father was a soldier, killed in the war. Not a mythical bone-and-earth-speaker, a fairy-tale creature, a forest-witch. She and Tess had only just met. They were eight years old.

Tess snapped the book shut. Her eyes looked glassy. “Let’s get a snack,” she said.

There wasn’t a clear moment when things changed. In a sense, things never changed. There was fear, and then a brief respite, and then fear again.

There was war, and then the borders of the war shifted. The war was within, the nation’s leaders said. The enemies, the traitors, the insurrectionists — they were living among you; they were hiding among your neighbors, your colleagues, your classmates. The respected professor, with his gray hair and frail bearing. The local bookseller. The owner of your favorite tea shop. The fresh-faced student pouring your tea. They could be anyone.

A colleague who made reference to a historical event which never occurred, to a lie propagated by rebels. A classmate who spent too much time alone, scribbling in a notebook — what was she writing? Even the colors one wore or the flowers one planted could be coded signals. The enemy was cunning, with secret cells that had infiltrated the whole nation.

In the end, even reading old fairy tales and poems was suspect. It meant caring too much for old ways, and not for the modern nation. Clinging to old superstitions and folk beliefs — it signaled sympathies for the old regime, for the loyalists trying to overthrow the new, pure government.

There was a small window of freedom. A moment after the end of war, and before the beginning of a new, more insidious war. Fay is old enough to remember. A time when her mother laughed and even her distant father was warmer. When Southern sweets and candies filled the shops. When people wore bright colors. When the end of winter was marked with fireworks and parties and traditional offerings. When Tess was there.  When two little girls could read whatever they liked, and play whatever games entered their heads. When they could believe in magic.

Fay arrives home and her little brother runs to her. She gives him a tart, and he throws his arms around her waist and hugs tight.

The bones are rising from the earth. No one likes to talk about it.

More bones each year, clogging the streets and yards. Yellowed and splintered,  broken and whole. Where do they come from? How can so much of this exist? All this death, rising from deeper and deeper layers each year. All this animal death, unnoticed until now.

Dinner is quiet. There’s a dish of pickled greens and a pot of bean-and-bread stew, along with the tarts. No one has much appetite for meat at this time of year.

Afterward, Fay retreats to her room and unwraps her book. The fake cover presents it as an authorized biography of the late Great Premier. But when she opens it, she sees the same illustrations as before. The swan princess fleeing her tower. The boy riding a white whale to the moon. The green-robed man in the forest, speaking over a pile of bones.

“It’s not real! None of it is real!”

Fay had yelled this at Tess. She’d wanted to hurt her.

Tess who would not give up her stories. Who would not stop speaking to birds and mice, and claiming that she could hear them speak back. Tess who said she could hear the moles in the earth, and the shifting of soil itself. Tess who kept taking in animals beyond saving, who was forever trying to heal what could not be healed, to resurrect that which could not be given life.

Tess who simply stood still, tears streaming down her cheeks, as Fay yelled.

Tess who betrayed Fay every day with her beliefs. Because all her beliefs and stories were a lie; the Great Premier himself had said so. The usual lessons in math and reading and science had all been dropped at school. Every day now was devoted to lessons on the new nation’s founding, stories of its martyrs and heroes. Sayings and even personal lessons from the Great Premier himself, who had written them out in a book for the nation’s children.

There was no magic in this new world. No stupid stories and superstitions from the past. No faeries or bone-speakers or even songs or picture books about them.

Even the pink azalea bushes in the park were gone — uprooted months ago. They had an unsavory connection to old myths, and were said to serve as a symbol for the rebel movement.

Tess said nothing, even as Fay shouted. She only cried. Fay felt her own heart breaking.

“Here come the twins!” Tess’s mother used to say cheerily. Or perhaps it would be Fay’s mother who said it. The girls would run in and out of each other’s homes, and on her days off Tess’s mother would sometimes have tea at Fay’s, and sometimes the reverse. Fay remembers their mothers laughing together over a kitchen table, heads inclined toward one another, giddy as small children. A plate of almond-orange cookies, or small pastries, before them.

I always wanted a second daughter, Tess’s mother said once, looking at the girls fondly. Fay’s mother smiled.  Me, too, she said.

Fay didn’t have to be told that it was no longer safe to be Tess’s friend. The other children at school made that clear enough.

It wasn’t just Tess’s stories and games, which had once enraptured the class. It was Tess’s family, too. They were from the South, after all, and now anyone from the South was suspect. Many brave fighters of the Great War had come from that region, many noble patriots, but the insurrectionist base was there now, too. And while Tess’s father was said to have died in the Great War, where were the official records of this? It was gossiped that he’d been a spy for the traitorous movement even then taking shape, perhaps even a foreign agent who’d slipped across the Southern border, infiltrated the army, and then returned to his true commanders.

And Tess’s mother. Look at her: she’d come here with nothing, and now she owned her own medicinal herb shop. How could she have worked and saved enough to do that on her own? Surely she wasn’t what she seemed. She must be working with the same rebel group as her husband, getting money from them; she was an enemy spy, and they were using her business as a front.

Tess’s mother no longer came over for tea. Fay’s mother no longer visited there.

Fay’s father only spoke of it once. He was a reserved man, who’d never spoken easily to his daughter. A quiet man, who’d served in the war and then come home to spend long days at work for the nation, adding up sums in the local government’s budget office. He and Fay were alone in the house. She was sitting at the kitchen table, writing out the Great Premier’s wise sayings for school. Her father stood by her chair, coughed a little. “Your friend, Tess,” he said. He stopped. And then, quickly — “It would be good if you didn’t spend too much time with her.” He didn’t look her in the face. She didn’t look at his. She said nothing.

It’s cold tonight, but Fay opens her window. She leans out, her forearms resting on the windowsill. The wind brushes her face, tangles her hair. She feels her heart beating. Above her own heartbeats she hears the movements in the earth. Those small scraping sounds, growing steadily louder with each day. She looks into the darkness, out toward the bare field at the edge of town. In her mind, she sees the single large tree rising from that field. She sees and hears the bones beneath it.

“We’re sisters,” Tess had said. They knelt together in Tess’s room. Tess held up the little paring knife, and light flashed off its blade. Fay closed her eyes. Tess was always the braver one.

Tess nicked the heels of their palms, the lightest of cuts. Fay hissed, and they pressed their bleeding hands together. “Sisters,” Fay repeated. Sisters by oath and choice, sisters by blood. Just like in the old tales, the stories that would soon be banned. They were ten years old.

Flowers appear on the streets, as they always do at this time of year. Pink bouquets left on the doorsteps of shops and businesses that once burned. Pink and white bouquets on the doorsteps of homes. Single flowers scattered on the sidewalks, in public courtyards, on street corners. Flowers wet in the mist and rain.

Eventually, cleanup crews will come and sweep up the flowers along with the bones. Angry shop owners will toss the bouquets — meant for someone else, for the stores’ previous owners — into the mud.

The flowers are like the tide of bones: an annual reminder of what cannot be remembered. A commemoration of something which never officially occurred. But they come back each year, and this time there seem to be more of them.

Fay walks to school amid the bones and mud and among the pale pink flowers. She passes the small bakery shop with its custard tarts. She passes the medicinal herb shop which Tess’s mother once ran.

Pink petals are pressed under her feet.

Five years ago, the purges were in full swing. Half her father’s department was under investigation for seditious sympathies. People disappeared. Fay’s favorite teachers were demoted, dismissed, arrested, vanished. One had been reported by a student for supposedly rolling his eyes during the government’s daily morning announcements. Another was accused of defacing a picture of the Great Premier, of deliberately spilling tea on the front page of that day’s newspaper, which had run, as always, a photo of the great leader.

Tess wasn’t in school. They said she was ill.

Fay ran to Tess’s apartment and she knocked and knocked until Tess finally opened the door and let her in; there she was, finally, Fay hadn’t seen her for days and she looked sick after all, her face pale and drawn, dark smudges under her eyes, dressed in a nightgown during full daylight and her hair a tangled and matted mess. I’m sorry, Fay said, again and again. She didn’t believe Tess’s stories; she didn’t believe that Tess or her father were bone-speakers, but she was sorry that she’d said it; she was sorry that she’d hurt her friend, her heart’s twin, her sister, her other half. Fay just wanted to make everything between them okay again. She just wanted everything to be okay, like it had been even a year ago.

Come back to school, Fay had said. If Tess didn’t come back soon, surely the school’s student leaders would report her absence to the Youth Patriotic Education Committee, and she’d be in even worse trouble than now. Tess just had to keep quiet, keep her head down, follow the rules, that was all. Fay would be with her. Fay would vouch for her, protect her. It would be okay.

Tess laughed a little, a low, bruised sound. “It won’t,” she said.

She pointed to her front door, to the paper taped against it, the large, bold type indicating a household under official investigation. There was a similar notice taped to the front of her mother’s shop, she told Fay. And even before this, business at the shop had been falling off.

“There’s nothing we can do.” Tess’s lip trembled. “There’s nowhere we can go.”

During these cold, foggy days, these in-between days that are neither winter nor spring, Fay reads. She has a small treasure hoard of books now. They’re not forbidden, exactly — for who knows what is and isn’t forbidden these days? But she keeps them hidden. The not-knowing is part of the fear.

She has the same books of classical literature that Tess’s mother once had. The books of poetry that schools have begun teaching again. She has books from the South that aren’t taught. She has books from abroad. She has volumes of legends and mythical history and magic.

She turns again and again to the chapters about bone-and-earth-speakers. About what it means to summon and speak with the dead.

In the midst of the purges, the mad uncertainty of the time, Fay’s mother became pregnant. A miracle baby, an unexpected gift. Fay has the impression that medicinal herbs from Tess’s mother had something to do with it. She remembers a fresh-baked cake in the kitchen, flowers, and her mother thanking Tess’s mother, clasping her hands. “We tried for so long . . . ” and “Thanks to you . . . ”  She remembers both women laughing and crying a little. It was the last time she saw them together, in person.

Months later, she saw her mother tear up again. The baby had been crying all through the night, for what seemed like endless nights. Her father had told her to stay away from Tess, and her mother no longer went to the medicine shop or Tess’s house. That evening the baby was crying again, thrashing in his mother’s arms, inconsolable. Fay brought in the unmarked package left at their door. Even before she’d completely unwrapped the gift — medicine for the baby’s colic, unasked for and unexpected — Fay’s mother was crying.

It’s been five years. Four since the bones first began rising from the earth.

No one speaks of that other time openly. It’s in the past. Things are better now.

It’s better now. This is the prevailing sentiment, the undercurrent to their days, the explicit message in the daily morning announcements and news. The worst is over; order’s been restored. There were some excesses perpetrated years ago, but it’s been dealt with. The factional infighting resolved. The nation is strong, and moving forward.

Fay stands with her classmates at the memorial rally. All week, the government air waves have been devoted to the martyrs of the Great War. Traditionally, this has always been a week devoted to remembrance and reflection, as well as toward the celebration of the coming spring. The crowd carries a sea of yellow and white blooms, the colors of the nation’s flag. No one would dare carry a pink flower here.

The pink flowers from this morning have all been swept from the streets. Only some of the dead deserve remembrance.

Fay stares ahead as the music swells. As the town leaders deliver their speeches. Her back is straight, her expression solemn; she knows exactly how to behave.

As the rally breaks up, her gaze crosses with that of the boy from the bakery shop. The boy who supplies her with black-market books, and who lost his own loved ones five years ago. The two hold eyes for only scant seconds. Their faces give nothing away.

“We just have to try harder,” Tess said, when the dead bird refused to fly. “We have to find the right words.”

“We can do it,” she said over the body of a small rabbit. “We can bring him back.”

“Listen.” She’d taken Fay out to the field at the edge of town, the kind of wild place that Tess loved. The wind blew through tall grass. “Can you hear it?” Tess said. “Can you hear the voices beneath?”

“The bones remember,” she’d told Fay once. “They always remember.”

Fay had promised to protect Tess. But she didn’t. She didn’t even understand what was happening at the time.

She didn’t understand the fear and hate building all around them. The frenzy of paranoia, the gleeful denunciations, the thrill of righteous violence. She didn’t understand how people — both those at the top and those below — could manipulate all this for personal power.

She was only twelve. She loved the Great Premier. She’d been taught to love the Premier and her nation, and to hate the nation’s enemies. And yet she also feared and hated those carrying out the Great Premier’s orders — the ones who investigated suspect traitors, and terrorized and humiliated and imprisoned people she knew to be innocent, who ruined lives. She feared the more zealous of her classmates.

She didn’t understand how it could get worse.

Fay’s father came home early from work. Fay was already home, playing with the baby as their mother cut vegetables for supper. Tess still hadn’t come back to school. It had been a few days since Fay had met her, and she was thinking of sneaking off to see her again.

Her mother was singing softly in the kitchen. The baby lay on a blanket on the floor and yawned as Fay dangled a soft toy above his head.

The front door opened and shut. Something in the way it closed — not a slam, but almost. Her father’s quick steps across the room. His face was pale. “Turn on the radio,” he said, and then did so himself.

The radio announcer’s voice was shaking. It was moments before Fay understood. There had been a coup attempt, the newscaster said. An attempt on the life of the Great Premier. But the coup had failed; the Premier was safe.

Fay’s mother walked into the room, wide-eyed. She covered her mouth with a hand.

Oher voices on the radio spoke. They repeated the same words in different ways. They said that the Premier’s closest allies, some of the highest ministers in the land, were behind the attempted coup. People whom the public had seen as heroes of the Great War and founders of the new nation. But they were actually traitors in league with the insurrectionist movement, and now they were dead. Justice was served.

In the room, only Fay’s baby brother moved, happily waving his arms and legs.

And then the Great Premier himself was speaking, assuring the nation that he was alive and well, that nothing could take him down. His voice was deep and strong, yet vibrating with passion. The nation was strong, he said, but to stay strong it had to be vigilant, and he called on all citizens to be vigilant, to root out the insurrectionist evil from every corner, every hiding place; to burn it to ashes. To destroy it utterly in  cleansing fire. His voice rose and rang through the speakers.

The speech ended. The national anthem played: beat of drums and stirring call of horns.

The light in the room had darkened as Fay’s family listened. Fay sat on the floor beside her brother, and she looked from one parent to the other, trying to read their faces in the growing dusk.

Her father walked back to the front door and locked it, fastening the chain. “Stay inside tonight,” he said.

The killings started that night.

Years later, Fay would wonder how much had been pre-meditated, pre-arranged. The militias and youth brigades already mobilized, the lists with targeted names already printed out. And how much of what happened was truly spontaneous fury and fear.

Later, she would hear the rumors of the massacres in other cities, other towns. How violence spread even to remote villages. How different groups were scapegoated in different regions.

She would hear pieces of how it happened in her own home town. The first stones thrown through glass, the first fires set. The checkpoints established on roads leading out of town, the men demanding citizen IDs and papers. Passersby grabbed off the street. The squads that went door to door. Neighbors joining in the beating and murder of neighbors.

That evening, Fay and her family sat together in the living room while the radio played, repeating again and again the Great Premier’s speech, patriotic music, and a recap of the day’s news with little new detail.

It was hours past full dark when the knocking came at their door: hard, frantic. They all jumped in their seats.

Fay’s father walked to the door. She couldn’t breathe as she watched him. He opened it slowly, only a few inches, for as far as the door chain would allow.

A voice she knew, rushed and strained with fear, addressing her father with the most formal terms of address for a gentleman. “Please,” Tess’s mother was saying. “Just for the night. All the shops in South-town are burning, and we’re afraid to stay home. I couldn’t think of anywhere else — ”

“Tess!” Fay leaped from her chair.

“Fay!” It was Fay’s mother who called, not Tess, a terrible note of warning in her voice. Fay froze. Her mother glared furiously at her from her seat, the baby nursing in her arms.

“I’m sorry,” Fay’s father said. He began closing the door.

Tess’s mother shoved her hand into the gap, blocking him. “Please,” she said. “Take Tess, at least. They won’t come for you; you’re a government worker, your record is clean . . . ”

He hesitated. In the door gap, Fay could see only a slice of the woman’s face: a large, dark eye, the hood pulled over her head, the spill of dark hair from the edges of the hood. Was that Tess standing behind her mother?

“Please,” Tess’s mother said. And she called out the name of Fay’s mother.

“I’m sorry,” Fay’s father said again. His voice was choked. He shoved her roughly back and slammed the door.

Fay remembers turning to her mother in that moment. Her mother’s face stricken, tears streaking her cheeks. But her jaw set, a look of determination — a look that even then Fay understood meant there would be no help forthcoming from her. It was a look that spoke of a mother’s determination to protect her own children, above all and at all costs. She clutched her new baby to her chest, and looked her daughter in the eye.

Fay ran to the window. Her father moved to hold her back. She had only a glimpse of Tess’s back in the light of a streetlamp, as she and her mother hurried away. She screamed Tess’s name. Tess turned and raised her head — the pale blur of her face, the dark holes of her eyes. Too distant to make out her expression. Then Fay’s father pulled her away, and Tess and her mother were gone.

It’s the last night of a traditional week of remembrance, and the night before spring. The fifth anniversary of something no one speaks of.

Fay clutches a bouquet of pink flowers in her hands. She kneels in the field.

It was a long walk, and cold. She thinks of how Tess and her mother, and others, made this same journey in the back of a truck. She feels the bones moving beneath her.

An older boy from school, one of the worst of the youth brigade leaders, bragged about that night for weeks afterward. She heard him with his friends. “That little bone-witch,” he’d sneered. “She said her father would save her. She said not to touch her or her mom. She said we’d bring a curse on ourselves, spilling the blood of a bone-speaker and her kin.

“So we didn’t spill her blood.” He laughed. “That little liar. We hung her and her mom from the tree.”

Fay’s fingers clench on her bouquet, remembering.

That boy is gone now, off to university and a bright future. Many of his friends are still in town. Most of the men from that night are still around.

Move on. That’s what the town, the nation, says. Even some survivors of that dreadful night, survivors who saw family killed. It’s past. Move on.

The Great Premier is dead. Of a heart attack, it’s reported — of natural causes. His successor is a more tolerant man. The purges and show trials are over. Harsh restrictions have been loosened. The economy is booming. The worst times are past.

Move on.

But Fay can’t. Part of her is still stuck in that terrible night, screaming her friend’s name. She can’t forget, or pretend to forget, like others. Others who never speak of it, but grow pale and shaky at this time each year. Like both her mother and father.

And the littler ones, like her baby brother, know nothing.

Fay thinks sometimes that she would choose to forget if she could. But the bones, and the earth, will not let her. The imagined song of the fledgling bird that never flew. The sound of Tess’s laughter. Her hand in hers. Her fearlessness, her smile brighter than the sun. All those days, those years, spent together — eating tarts and spilling crumbs, laughing, reading, talking, dreaming, fighting and making up again. The beating of Fay’s traitorous heart.

For a long time, Fay didn’t know what she believed. But she does now.

She kneels beneath the tree where her friend once hung. And the woman she thought of as a second mother. She sets her flowers gently down. She lifts up a little paring knife.

She’ll have to cut deeper this time, deeper than Tess did. She’s read and she’s studied. She knows what to do.

There are things that can’t be resurrected. Once gone, life is gone forever. But what remains sometimes wants to speak. It’s not just Tess and her mother. Fay will let all the bones from that night speak, all the bones that move beneath her now.

She’s a bone-speaker’s kin, after all. Tess’s sister. They’d pressed their bleeding hands together, and their blood flows as one.

It’s the edge of dawn. Fay presses her knife to the heel of her palm, and cuts deep. She hisses involuntarily with the pain.

As her blood soaks the earth, the first buds of spring open in the branches above.

The little bones are done rising for the season. It’s time for the larger ones to start.


About the Author

Vanessa Fogg

Vanessa Fogg dreams of selkies, dragons, and gritty cyberpunk futures from her home in western Michigan. She spent years as a research scientist in molecular cell biology and now works as a freelance medical writer. Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, GigaNotoSaurus, Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 4, and more. She is fueled by green tea. For a complete bibliography and more, visit her website at www.vanessafogg.com. She is active on Twitter at @FoggWriter

Find more by Vanessa Fogg


About the Narrator

Tatiana Grey

Tatiana Grey is a critically acclaimed actress of stage, screen, and the audio booth. She has been nominated for dozens of fancy awards but hasn’t won a single damned thing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. See more about Tatiana at www.tatianagrey.com

Find more by Tatiana Grey