Short Story: The Bones in the Woodshed (1333 words)

This is the last one for a while.

Sitting by the fire, watching the flames chaotically eat up the firewood. It’s a satisfying sight, as satisfying as they come, like solving a difficult Sudoku or finishing the crosswords on a Sunday afternoon.

I like the Sudoku better, numbers come easy to me, words are a matter of pride but they are more difficult to handle. They aren’t as precise, not as sharp. I’ve finished all the material I had with me when I came here, however, so all I can do now is stare at the fire or go out and count the stars and it’s too cold for that.

I cut my hair with a knife the other day. It wasn’t that hard, the knife was sharp. My hair is a bit uneven now, but I like it this short. It used to be in the way all the time. I had hair down to my waist. Someone told me long ago that it was beautiful. Now all I want is to cut that beauty away and let it rest with the stars. Beauty belongs up there, not in the face of a woman like me.

I’m afraid I cut something else too, although it wasn’t intentional. It was a momentary lapse in judgment and he happened to be here. I’m not sure what he was doing here, delivering mail maybe. He has a uniform.

But he looked like someone else. A demon I met a long time ago and in that moment I was sure it was him coming back to fetch me. I did twice as many sudoku’s that evening and hid him amongst the firewood in the back. He’s lying behind it.

My hands were covered in blood and when I realised what I had done I panicked. Now I don’t know what to do. I guess all I can do is sit here and wait. I haven’t been to work in weeks. At first I called, but I’ve stopped doing that. I guess if someone comes knocking I will be done with, because there is a lot of blood still on the front steps.

Sitting by the fire calms me down though, and counting the stars. It’s an impossible task and although I do hate those, there is still ease in it, a quiet calm that sets on the body and contaminates the soul.

One night I heard a sound coming from the floorboards in the bedroom. It was my tell-tale-heart thumping away underneath my floor. I was witless for the entire night. Terrified for my sanity and even more afraid of the heinous thing underneath my floorboards thumping away.

Turned out it was the cat stuck underneath the house. It had been playing hide and seek with the mice and got caught in a wire. I had to cut it out with bolt clippers, while lying flat on my stomach. I couldn’t believe the energy it had, going at it all night and when it got loose it sprang from underneath the house faster than lightning, and straight into the woodshed.

I don’t like her being there, but I was relieved none the less.

So now it’s quiet again, the only thumping heart around here is in my chest and although that can be disturbing too, it’s not as disturbing as having one’s mind thumping at you with things that are not there.

The cat still doesn’t come in.

I named her Sylvia, after the queen. Now I just call her cat. She doesn’t seem to like me much anymore and when they do come knocking, she… it is sitting right there behind them.

My Sylvia, she’s sitting there staring at me and all I can do is open the door when they want to come in and look around. I sit down by the fire and I stare into it. There is such peace in those flames.

When the men have gone through the house they go out back and I feel the thump of my heart as I notice one of them looking over the wood in the shed. It’s easy to see in the bright daylight what’s hidden there. It’s easy to see the blood by the front door too, but I guess they thought the spots on the floor there were something else.

And then they sit down beside me and ask me questions. “Has he been here?” and I ask who and they say a name I don’t recognise and so I shrug my shoulders and they ask if I’m alright and I just nod my head and then they leave.

And that’s when the thumping starts for real. Not underneath my floorboards, but in my head. Because as soon as they leave I run out into the woodshed and if there ever was anything there before, it’s gone now.

The mailman, or whoever he was, isn’t there anymore. But someone is obviously missing and they must have suspected something, although I wasn’t paying attention to their words when they arrived. I was too busy being sure that they would take me away now, lock me up for good. I almost cheered, because then I wouldn’t have to sit here anymore, staring into the fire. I would be free of this horror, this guilt that’s burdening me, that’s weighing on me like Sisyphus’ stone and I’m crumbling beneath it. I am not him. I do not have the strength to push it back where it should be. I am not able to do that every day, like he did.

And so I sit and I stare at the fire. From time to time I go out into the woodshed and I bring some wood in with me to put on the fire. Then one day there is no more wood there. The shed is empty, completely empty and all that’s left is a skeleton.

And so I put it on the fire, but bones don’t burn very well and so I’m left here with no fire to calm myself with and the bones of a mailman in the fireplace. They’re black and when the wind howls and the stars are out I can hear them rattling in there. It sounds almost like the crackle of fire, but it’s not. This sound is much colder somehow and I’m freezing, left out in the cold counting the stars until either they come and get me or the frost has it’s way with me.

Whichever comes first and as my fingers turn blue I take off my shoes and my pants and I start roaming around the woodshed. I want to get in there, but it’s hard and it feels so warm, and so I take off the rest of my clothing and I crawl into the woodshed and I lay down there burrowing into the ground, my teeth chattering for some reason, and that’s when I see him.

The mailman, or whoever he is, he’s standing there wearing his uniform and he has a worried look on his face and I can’t scream as he pulls me out of the shed and gets me into the cabin where his bones are still rattling in the fireplace and he heats up the place and he worries about me and so we begin again, our pathetic cycle of victim and perpetrator. Except I don’t know who is who and I think it’s too late for me now, just as it’s too late for the rattling bones in the fireplace.

And the last thing I see is the fire, crackling nicely. Or is that the northern lights, burning brightly in the starlit sky? I can’t tell, it’s too warm… as if I’m burning in that fire, instead of the bones.

The rattling bones of the mailman that looks so alive standing before me, beside the cat, and as he watches me I can almost see him reaching for me through the steam that arises from my mouth as I take my last breath.

It’s cold, I realise.

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