Alright, so this is a sorta-kinda-hopefully-creepy story. There are ghosts and skeletons and stuff. I recommend that you listen to this song while you read it (the lyrics don’t fit exactly, but it’s a creepy song and some of the themes do match the short story
yes okay it’s a stretch but still the song is so good aksjd;mskalams) and think about Noah from The Raven Cycle.
THE HOUSE WILL EAT YOUR FLESH AND SPARE YOUR BONES.
This is what the roadside sign reads, painted over whatever message it originally held. The sign creaks as Les walks past it, and he starts. But the moment he looks at the sign again, the message is gone. Now it just says Scelie Town — 3 miles.
The boy’s intrigued by this, but not worried. He continues onward.
The cold is biting, but he doesn’t shiver. Instead, he hums a light and drifting tune, kicking pebbles and watching clouds until he reaches a lone building that looms above all else he can see. It rises over the rubble surrounding it, looking debonair despite the wreckage. It is cream and peach and mahogany, and the top is surrounded by clouds–not because the building is tall enough, but because these clouds have chosen to drift downward to it.
This is the Marbheln House. The outside is normal–welcoming, even–but everyone knows it’s haunted inside.
The boy smiles to himself, and walks in.
The darkness, to him, is comforting and calm. As Les’s eyes adjust, he examines his surroundings.
The tiles are ivory, the carpets lush, the curtains draped elegantly over boarded windows. A coating of dust rests on most surfaces. It is a palatial yet labyrinthine space, composed of faded colors, left alone by the living for most of its years.
The living who do occasionally come to investigate . . . do not stay living for long.
It smells musty, like ancient stories, mixed with a peculiar metallic scent like blood. And there is a ghastly, ever-present howling in the walls.
Les remains unworried, instead noting that the chandelier seems awfully close to falling. The ceiling and walls are cracked, greenery creeping in through the holes and wrapping around the furniture. He moves quickly away, not wanting to be crushed should the light fixture drop, and comes across something else.
There is a skeletal footprint on the stairs.
His hand finds the banister, carved into something intricate and clever, and trails it upward. His shoes leave prints in the dust too, joining the bony prints left from one of the skeletons upstairs. The ones he’s about to visit. The stairs creak with every step, and it seems for a while like they’re infinite, but suddenly he’s at the top.
He can hear the rattling voices before he sees where they’re coming them. They are asking, begging for some flesh and skin. A message writes itself in red in the air in front of Les: THESE SPARED BONES WANT NOTHING MORE THAN A WAY TO MASK THEMSELVES AND LIVE AGAIN.
He blinks, and the message disappears. The skeletons lunge forward in that same moment. Les steps away easily, and they collapse in front of him, a writhing pile of bones that continues to scramble forward, reaching for the flesh he wears, hungry, cold, rattling, desperate–
All they want is to live with the humans again, and that is a feeling the boy knows all too well. He turns away before he can feel even an inkling of guilt, uncaring about the skeletons that follow him. They are magic-less and corporeal, but the specters are really something to be frightened of. They have neither of those disadvantages.-
The boy heads right over to them. He drifts to a window, one without boards covering it up. Clouds float in to greet him, moving softly between his fingers and ruffling his hair affectionately. This is the form the specters take when they haven’t bound themselves to skin and flesh–the clouds that watch from the sky above.
what is it like
being able to live
He looks around, but it’s impossible to tell which ghost is asking. They’ve encircled him, and so he sits himself on the tiled floor and tells his stories.
The skeletons have come to listen too, and some of them rattle as if crying for the life he talks about, although there are no tears. They are depressing creatures, and Les eyes them with distaste as he finishes the tale.
“This is not why I’m here,” Les says once the story is done and the supernatural creatures satisfied. “I’m looking for my brother. Where is he?”
The skeletons are irrelevant now, neither posing a threat nor offering any conversation. Les is glad of this. The clouds swirl around him, silent for a few moments. Then:
you do not want to see him
“Yes, I do,” he insists. “Where is he?”
They still seem hesitant to speak, but the words have to be said. The specters say it slowly, but clearly, and give him time to comprehend. he has betrayed you
The boy blinks, his expression growing increasingly distressed. “What? How? What has he done?”
The silence drags on for an eternity, interrupted only by the howling walls and the creaking house. Les shoves his panic away, not wanting to jump to any conclusions.
The ghosts finally break the silence. you know that he has always been uncomfortable with stealing skins from mortals
Les’s eyes widen and understanding dawns on him, just as the ghosts explain it to him:
he has decided to act and is returning flesh to the bones
He is flooded immediately with anger, his fists clenched. How–HOW–could his dead brother possibly be so foolish? Does he not wish for another life? Does he not care that taking flesh is the only way to get the opportunities that death robbed them of? The clouds hear Les’s thoughts and come closer, as if to comfort him. At the same time, a familiar ghostly voice invades his thoughts:
it’s not right to steal from others just because you had something stolen from you.
Unlike the rest of the ghosts’ drifting voices, which fade into the silence as if they’d never spoken at all, his brother’s voice still retains a human quality to it. Les doesn’t understand how, or why. But hearing his brother’s voice makes him start to sob.
It is a messy, raw sort of crying. The clouds all fade away from him, not wanting the tears to catch on. All of them leave except one, and this is what he says:
i’m sorry, brother, but you cannot wear that flesh any longer.
“You cannot decide that for me!” Les yells, his desperation creeping into his voice.
you’ve taken someone else’s life because you put yours above theirs. don’t you remember, les, that that is the same way we died?
He chokes and sobs and clutches his head with every emotion he has hidden for so long–the fear and the hurt and the numbness and every feeling he didn’t show, every tear he held back, from his murder all the way to now.
His brother does not need to take his flesh away by force. He knows the words that can break Les, the boy who wore his skin so well that no one could tell he was a ghost beneath. The boy who stole a life because a life was stolen from him.
“I’m not ready to let go,” he whispers.
He sighs raggedly, but with finality, and slips out of the human flesh and skin. The skeletons lunge at it, fighting for the chance to go back to the mortal world. They have been trapped within this building because it is all that keeps them alive: one of the few supernatural sites where they can exist. But now, now one of them can truly live again, and Les knows that this does not redeem him for his actions, but he’s a little glad for whoever that skeleton is.
He drifts out the window, soars into the sky, finds a place there to rest and watch the world progress below.
But it rains on Scelie Town for days.
BONUS: I used a short story generator while I was writing this to see if it would help me write at all, and the results were splendiferous. Here are some actual quotes from the story it wrote:
- “deafening, dripping dust”
- “He was a dead, nostalgic, cocoa drinker”
- “rescued an eggy skeleton from a burning building”
- “handsome arms”
- “He said, in hushed tones, ‘I love you and I want flesh.'”
- “They looked at each other with guilty feelings, like two plastic, pleasant pigeons running at a very peculiar funeral, which had piano music playing in the background and two desperate uncles crying to the beat.”