The Bone Collector

Anna collects bones, tidying up after people who die quietly and unnoticed. She stumbles upon a body where it shouldn't be, and finds herself trying to hide from the killers.

When the wind blows, it sounds like the statue is crying.  It stands at the entrance to the catacombs, towering over visitors, with its arm raised to support the massive stone roof.  Visitors don't see it at first as they walk in between its legs, so the echoing sobs of misery that the wind creates first attracts their attention.  Then they turn, in little groups of one or two, no-one willing to appear scared in front of the rest of the tour-group, and they see the mighty caryatid at the doorway.  Everyone sees something different in the statue's face, but they all perceive some form of sorrow, misery or pity.

Anna only sees blank indifference.

It's two hour after sunset and she has slipped through the hidden gap in the steel fence around the lichyard and let herself to the catacombs using her key.  She locked the door behind her, and is now padding barefoot along the subterranean corridors.  The wind is high, and the statue's sobs are frequent and loud, like those of a baby left alone in the next room by tired parents.  The air in the catacombs is being stirred as well, and dry, mouldy odours are swirling around her; it's a little like breathing dusty air.  Something is drying out her mouth, making it feel as though it's been coated, like the aftermath of a hangover, and now and then, usually at corners, she can taste tin.  She ignores it, concentrating on watching the signs on the shelves, illuminated by the torch she's carrying in her hand.  In her other hand.

Her right hand holds two bones tied together with butcher's string.  There are long grooves running down each bone from the knife that cut them out of the arm, and there's some chips at one end of one of the bones where it was pulled up and wrenched.  The bones rattle gently as she carries them, and in these narrow, claustrophobic corridors where only her torch lights the way and the statue cries for attention, it's not hard for her mind to play tricks on her.  Shadows seem to move of their own accord, even though she knows that it's her torch-hand shaking; now and then it sounds like there are footsteps behind her, sometimes faster, sometimes keeping step with her.  And when the rats scurry, their feet scraping over dry bones and dislodging decaying rock she wants to stop, turn around and run back to the door.

She reads the number off the shelf to her right: 741.  She turns at the next crossroads, going left into another long, narrow, low-ceiling aisle.  The recesses and shelves here are shallower, newer.  They'll be dug deeper as they're needed, though she dreads that task and hopes it'll fall to someone else.  The bones can't be moved once they're placed, not without special dispensation, so the digger will have to lean over the bones and scrape at the rock with a trowel, patiently eroding it away and carrying the dust and rock scraps back out with them when they leave.  They dig the new shelves deeper every year, and they still have to keep going back and digging them out deeper still.

At last she can stop, she's found the shelf she's looking for.  The skulls are all piled up at the beginning on the shelf in a little pyramid, hollow sockets staring blindly out at her when she points her torch at them.  They don't need light to see any more; they observe the catacombs and the rats and the occasional tourist with the stoicism of the dead.  Eternally patient.  After the skulls come the big bones, the femurs and fibias and tibias, all the legs commingled on one wide shelf.  If the Rapture arrives, then the natomies down here may miss it, while they sort out what belongs to who so they can walk back up to the surface.  After the legs are the arms, where her bones will go; and after that the smaller bones: fingers, toes, and chunks of spine.  After that, on a shelf that is still new, is a body.

Anna places the arms bones on their shelf, and then permits herself a little, stifled scream; her hand placed firmly over her mouth and the torch pointing down at the floor.  When she feels she can control herself again she lifts it up, pointing its beam forward, and sees that the body is still there.  Protruding from its throat like a narrow metal tongue, is a crucifix knife: a slender tapered blade with a short lateral guard and an equally short handle that could serve as a crucifix in an emergency.  It's hard to use, because the handle is too short to grip and bring any real force to bear with it, but the throat is a soft target.

Blood drips from the shelf and splatters on the stone floor.  Something in the further darkness rustles.


The End

4 comments about this story Feed