Friday 7 September 2012

#FridayFlash - Skeletons

SkeletonChiapaRegMusTuxtla Cate watched a creased paperback jiggle in Daniel's back pocket as she followed him up the stairs. The glare of a Saturday afternoon lay at the top of the stairwell, and she blinked as they left the gloom of the tube station. She hadn't lived in London long enough to know this part of the city, and she trailed behind Daniel through the throng of tourists. She glanced at the back of his neck and wondered yet again if online dating was the best way to meet new people.

"Come on, it's just down here." Daniel turned around, as if finally remembering she was there. He turned off the main street and down a narrower road. Fewer people crowded the pavement, and Cate drew level with Daniel.

"What is it you're taking me to see?"

"Just an exhibition I've wanted to see for a while. Couldn't find anyone to go with me."

So you thought I'd do. Cate pasted a smile on her face but Daniel didn't even look at her.

He stopped outside a narrow building, all pale stone and Classical columns. A banner hung above the front door, obscuring the ornate pediment. A faux-medieval font advertised their latest exhibition.

"You want to go and look at skeletons?" A shiver ran across Cate's skin and she looked at Daniel. He looked back at her as though she were stupid.

"Well, yes."

"I see." Cate looked back at the banner. Fourteen skeletons, each uncovered in various sites around London, all of them purporting to tell "secret tales" of the capital's history. She didn’t really want to spend her afternoon around bones.

“Oh you’re not one of those girls who freaks out about stuff like this, are you?” Daniel fought to keep the sneer from his face, but it still infected his tone.

“No, it’s just…seemed like an odd thing to do on a first date.”

“It’ll be interesting.”

Daniel almost skipped up the three small steps to the door, and disappeared into the cool darkness of the entrance hall beyond. Cate looked back along the street.

Would it be really bad to just leave him here? After all, I don’t want him to know about me and what I can do. Not yet, anyway.

“Come on, Cathy!” Daniel’s voice echoed inside the hall. Cate gritted her teeth.

“It’s Cate,” she replied as she climbed the stairs.

Daniel led her down a maze of narrow corridors towards a large hall. Cate couldn’t have guessed the museum would be so large. Only a handful of people milled around inside the exhibition space, scattered between the glass display cases holding the skeletons. Panels hung from the nearby walls, emblazoned with photographs and maps. Dense text ran alongside to tell the story of each skeleton.

Not that I need the text, thought Cate.

Why am I here? The voice came from behind Cate. She turned and looked at Daniel.

“Excuse me?”

“I didn’t say anything. I was trying to read the board.” Daniel pointed to the text and looked away, mild irritation in his voice. Cate scowled and turned away.

Why are any of us here?

Cate stepped closer to the nearest case. In it lay the bones of a young woman, discovered during an extension to an office building in Clapham. The text said she was just over a century old.

Are you aware of each other then? Cate directed her thought question to the Clapham skeleton.

Yes, we’ve been together a month now. You’re the first person to talk to us.

But I have met one of your kind before. Your grandmother, many many years ago. The skeleton to Cate’s right, a man from Wapping, chipped in to the conversation.

You met my grandmother?

I did. She was a wonderful woman. A talented Bone Talker.

Cate smiled despite herself. Daniel spoke to her but Cate ignored him, his words drowned out by the ponderous musings of the skeletons. The three nearest to her told her their stories, stories which completely contradicted the conclusions drawn by the scientists who tested their bones.

So all of this stuff about you being a child prostitute in Bishopsgate is nonsense? thought Cate. A deep resounding chuckle boomed in her head.

Not at all. I sold meat in Leadenhall Market, died of overwork. We think the men in white coats make things up. They certainly don’t listen to us.

Not like you, dearie, added the Clapham skeleton.

Something shook Cate’s arm. She snapped from her reverie and looked up into the face of a security guard.

“You alright, miss?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure? Only it’s almost closing time. I hate to ask you to leave, but…” The security guard turned the act of looking at the clock into a pantomime gesture.

“That’s ok. I must have lost track of time. They’re fascinating specimens,” said Cate.

“Really? I think the whole thing’s creepy.”

The security guard wandered off and began switching off the lights in the display cases. Cate looked around to find Daniel.

The bastard’s gone and left me here, she thought.

If it’s any consolation, you’re better off without ‘im. He was sayin’ some awful things while you was talkin’ to us, replied the Clapham skeleton.


Yes. Real rotter, that one.

Oh…well I have to go now. It’s been wonderful to speak to you.

You too. Come back, won’t you?

Cate left the room and trudged down the darkened corridor towards the entrance. Drizzle coated the pavement outside, and she walked back towards the busy London street. People hurried to and fro, heads bent to avoid the rain – or maybe just eye contact. Cate cast a longing look back at the museum before plunging into the crowd. They carried her towards the warmth and stale air of the tube station. A single thought occupied her mind as she reached the stairs.

Are any of these people Bone Talkers? Will I ever meet anyone like me?

She heard a single 'yes'.


Helen A. Howell said...

Ooh a bone whisperer! Nice story.

John Wiswell said...

We're all hung up on internal monologues this week. I don't know if I would "come back," though I don't think it's entirely in their control. Creepy bones.

Unknown said...

I Like how you let us look inside the characters mind Very skilfully done

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Nice job of melding an obscure talent with the universal "Will I ever meet anyone like me?"

Peter Newman said...

Enjoyed this, I was pulled along by the narrative. I find myself imagining you in a museum seeing stories around all the old skeletons that don't match the descriptions.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Helen - I got the idea watching a programme about a biological anthropologist!

John - I think they'd move on if they could.

Charlotte - Thanks!

Tim - It's an eternal question.

Peter - I actually went to an exhibition very similar to this at the Wellcome museum in London, near Euston! I'm assuming their descriptions were correct. And no, I didn't go on a date there.

Anonymous said...

A Bone Talker! What a fun concept. Though, Cate's luck with online dating seems to be pretty shabby. Guy was a tool. I think I'd have faked being a Bone Talker just to make him go away. Very well written piece.

Carrie Clevenger said...

This was killer, Icy. Loved it.

Anonymous said...

Glad she got rid of scummy Daniel, even if it wasn't her own doing. Surely she's found an idea mate in discovering another bone talker. Excellent story Icy!

Tony Noland said...

Great story, Icy. The forensic anthropologist who can "make the bones talk" is such a staple of science shows these days - it's nice to meet someone who can really talk to them.

Steve Green said...

What a brilliant concept, I know you say you don't usually do follow-ons, but there would be so much mileage that could be gleaned from these skeletons' stories, their lives, deaths etc...

Love the last line too. :-)

Anonymous said...

Very creative Icy -- liked the Clapham skeleton's voice with the colloquialism. The hope in that ending was good too - glad she dodged the online dating bullet.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Aaron - Sadly there are a lot of utter tools to be found when dating online!

Carrie - Thank you!

Deanna - We'll just have to hope the other Bone Talker isn't an idiot like Daniel...

Tony - I do love making things literal!

Steve - Oh it's possible I might revisit it, but not right now...after all, what could Cate learn from a mummy?

Brinda - Yeah, I needed to do a happy ending for once!

Unknown said...

Nice turnarounds. She considers abandoning him earlier on, but sticks with him, unfortunately for her he's not as understanding. Or perhaps, fortunately since he didn't seem like the best guy for her. Also, she didn't like the idea of spending time around bones, but looks like she's been a be doing a little bit more of that.

Cat Russell said...

This looks like the beginning of a series! Once I realized her talent, it seemed a bit too coincidental that he took her there on their first date. I keep wondering if he set her up somehow.:)

Anonymous said...

Love it. I actually pictured you as I was reading it! I'd love to know what my bones might say... probably "Come on United!"

Katherine Hajer said...

You know it's a dud date when the people who have been dead for more than a century are more interesting than the person who brought you to them... I found this to be an unfortunately accurate and sensitive depiction of a lot of on-line dating. Which is to say, nice job! But ow. But great story! But ow.

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy -- I loved that tart "I see".

Meh, she was better off without that loser and the bones were much more entertaining, anyway.

I guess that last talker could be dead, could be living, or could be bones in the living.


Sonya said...

What a great concept!

Anonymous said...

Love the delicious irony of the bones being able to tell their story while the scienticians have it so wrong :)
Adam B @revhappiness

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