Friday, October 28, 2011

TCE 43--The Bone Song

Something completely different this week, and hopefully in keeping with holiday creepiness. The prompt was "She was like a sponge, he mused."


The Bone Songs
The moon shined through the trees and onto our earth in cool shafts of almost-light. This time of year, the branches of even the oldest trees are nearly finished with their die-back. They wear their last leaves like old human women wear jewels, clutching them, rattling them, banging them against one another in a garish attempt to outshow one other. The sound of the rattling only served to cover our breaths, our steps, as we stole through the wood at night. Not that any who need fear us could hear us. We tend to be silent as our namesake.
Our namesake, you see, is Death. We are the Death Wights.

Single file, we wove through the wood as it sloped downward from our barrow. Where the slope ceases, so does the wood, and there shall be a wide pasture, now fallow, shining with frost under the moon’s light. In the middle of that fallow pasture lies a small cottage made of rough logs and sweet-scented thatch. And behind that cottage stands a well, with a bench beside it. There the young woman sits, waiting.

The human singers get it wrong. Sometimes I wonder if it’s done to us on purpose, some trivial way of trying to circumvent our power. But it is futile, and irritating. The bards with their lyres — and their lies — sing great sad stories of the lively might of the humans, the lively might of their gods, and they forget. They forget the great sad stories of how so many of them come to die.
And suddenly we stood in the place of betwixt and between, where the edge of the wood meets the edge of the field, where Wight territory meets Man’s.  The others gathered to my sides in a line stretching from my right to my left. Down a ways, a set of hands, then arms, reached through the windows to pull the heavy wooden shutters of the cottage closed, so that the cottage’s fire light streamed in tight square shapes across the field.  The arms were old. Too old. Too old to be alive. And they belonged to someone who knew we stood near; unnatural, that. But that is neither here nor there, and not even I can renege what must be done. And I am not sure I even would, ever.
“She is there and ready,” said our Eldest, her tiny round skull darting towards the back of the cottage, to where the young woman waits. Eldest is so small that she shall not be with us much longer. So many lives has she absorbed that she’s grown old and back again, and is once more a babe.  Even in the almost light, her face looks like the paintings of cherubim we see in the human’s dreams; pink, shining, grateful.
The Eldest stared at me, hitching her swaddling, so that the loose end wound around her shoulder.
“Yes,” I told her. “We shall go.” And we did.
“But we are as the power that holds you to the spinning earth,” the Eldest said, voice stern, contrite. In all my long, long death I still have not grown accustomed to the manner in which she speaks. It is too solemn for such puffy cheeks.

The old human woman shuffled to her hearth, shifting embers. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I do not think she needed to stoke the flames. No. She was buying time.

“She’s my only kin yet living,” the old woman said, her back hunched away from us.

“That does not matter,” said I. “It is as the Eldest said. We are the power that holds you to the earth; you have bound all your line to us in exchange for the allowance of breath. The breaths that fill those old lungs of yours were bought with hers, a life for a life for a death. That is the way of it. The accord is binding.”

The old human woman turned, stretching her narrow arms out of her cloak. The veins in them were gnarled and blackish through her skin; without tonight’s ceremony she would not have lasted to the next feast day. And she must have felt my thoughts, for just then, her eyes turned up to mine, two deep caverns in the even deeper cave of her hood.

“Yes,” she said finally, dropping her head into its hunch once more. “A life for a life for a death. That is the way of it.” Then she sighed, and our host showed us to the back garden with the well.


These days, funeral processions hold some kind of antiquated revelry that the humans — the peasant humans, at least — seem to love. No old ladies in jewels, but we picked up a string of clattering and rattling flesh and bones, some two thousand souls long, sneaking sips of whisky and humming catches of their favorite songs as we trooped homeward through the trees. Their arms, rattling in tune to our rite, bow and tangle above our heads, separating finally at the top of the barrow. The better for the moonlight to see the flame.

The bonfire was ready.

My hand clamped down upon the young woman’s arm. There was a charm placed upon her tongue; she could not speak, but she turned to me, her eyes bright with the fire, and she even nodded. This graceful human glimpse of a life, she actually nodded at me. I may be King of the Death Wights, soon to be singer of the Bone Song, but some stars shine even brighter than mine.

“Are you ready?” The eldest crawled forward to the fire. Bits of leaves stuck to her hands and knees; she is tired. More tired than I ever wish to be. I can only prey...prey on those who seek life, so that I may quicken my decline into death, and not drag it out so.

"Of course." I drew the young woman foward with me. Close to the Eldest. Close to the old human woman. Close to moonlight and flame. 
Together I, the Old Woman, the Young Woman, and the Eldest stood at the grave pit; the humans on the one side, Eldest and I on the other. The pit poured openly away fro our feet, its walls lined with timber, deep into the heart of the barrow. But there was no bottom, and the world of our underearth home is quite different than the world of nonlight which stretched between us. We stood,  hands outstretched, even Eldest, her clumsy infant hands spreading defiantly, at its perimeter, and the chanting began.

From somewhere behind me, my Queen brought forth the blood bones of the Old Woman's kin, piling them rhtymically atop one another at the fifth spot of our inner circle. They were moon bleached,  pretty to behold in the flickers of moon and flame. They called to me. But not near as strongly as they called to Eldest.

When the blood bones were placed, my Queen stepped back and joined the outer circle. I glanced at the dark shine of the young woman's eyes, tongue still enchanted into silence. I almost wished she would speak. What words would she choose, if she understood what boon she was giving? Perhaps she would chose to misunderstand, thinking her life more fair than one of ours. Or perhaps she already knew, and asked her tongue to be bound, lest she say some misfortunate phrase. Humans can be strange about such things.

It is good I am not the human's king, for I would never know how to rule them.

There, a smile. She smiled. Again. The blood bones raised themselves, filling the fifth point of our inner circle. They danced, somehow one body, one skeleton and yet all the bloodline at once, back and back, the old's woman's kin for the last 600 years. Give or take. Their bodies flickered in and out of themselves, the flesh struggling to form. Her kin, her descendents, took to speak the hallowed words.

I heard them but I could not listen. My head was full of the pounding blood, the song of flesh, of bones, of breath, of life and death. The Old Woman stepped forward, scooped up Eldest. The stood there, tiny dimpled arms wrapping around her sagging, foul-scented neck.  The Young Woman stepped towards me; I admit  I never expected her to ... again, humans are strange creatures. But the thought passed quickly from me, for soon she was in my embrace. The skin on her limbs as she folded herself around me was softer than any I ever laid my cheek against. And when my arms tightened about her waist, and the Eldest and Old Woman tightened their own embrace, and the Bone Kin's fated words turned to hallowed song--

The flash burst outward.


You must understand. There are no flesh eaters creeping through the night; no blood drinkers or skin shifters. There is only us.

With us, with my people, is the song of life and death. The long, lonely, bone song. When it is sung, the old become young again. Beautiful; radiant; renewed. It is a "gift," our power. By our enchantment, by our songs, we soak up life, so that we may finally have death, for without it we only age, and never die. One pledge, that is all that is required; one pledge of a human's bloodline, and that creature who pledges is guaranteed youth, breath and viatality as long as the bloodline continues. And with each blood and bone bond sacrificed, one of usages no more. That  one of us grows younger, and younger, and younger, falling backwards down the cycle of conception. It is saved for the eldest of our people, for only then may we pass on, and leave our wight bones behind to fertilze the barrow.  

And now, Eldest has passed.

I move my arms and the new blood bones, far from their womanly  fall clattering to my feet, rolling, slipping, falling finally down into the grave pit. The Bone Kin bows deeply, and follows suit. Once over the edge, we hear no more of them. They are the last of the bloodline. The bold old woman, now young again, pulls her muffler tight, turns, steps away from me, the only creature left living in the inner circle. And I haven't felt this good, this young in years. Centuries.

Who know how much longer I must go, how many more blood bones I must seek. The outer circle parts; she is gone into the forest now. I tip back my head, to sing the song that will hold our power until the Bone Kin rises again.  


  1. Whoa..your barrow-wights are even creepier than Tolkien's barrow-wights, I think. Quite appropriate for the season. :)

  2. Is there a story teller in the house? The voice in this was excellent, I thoroughly enjoyed it; could hear it being told by an omnipotent voice perhaps. The story was wonderful too, spooky but calming at the same time. Beautifully presented. Very well done.

  3. Thanks Michael! Can't help but feel all festive this time of year (though I think these creepers were a FaR cry from Tolkien's!).

    I thought about writing a slasher something-or-other, and this is what I got instead. Glad you enjoyed it, S P!

    Needs edited something fierce though; all I can see are the typos and things I forgot. *scowl*