By James Turner
In the middle of this scorched valley, the bag of bones lay in a dusty heap. Sand whips on all sides, while cactus prick and vultures watch. The bones move, ripped toes twitch, and they draw some strength, while the earth blurs in the twitching air. The lines of separation lost as everything spills into something else. And beside the bones, feral intestines lie unfurled across the dirt.
Slowly the bones arrange themselves upright against the horizon and a dark overcoat hangs heavy, scratched eyeballs peer through shards of hair. A dusty flicker on eyelash and moustache, as a bloody discharge is expelled by cracked lips onto the dirt. Bare feet drag across the stale earth toward an orange sun, that bleeds beyond the sky. Brittle hands hang limp from shoulders, sand trailing, and round a yellow corner as a bag of blood appears.
The bag is spilt, a clotted puddle across the yellow sand. Its feet are bare, but for a pair of black socks, which the bone man removes for his own charred feet. One stitched red with “Pedro”, while a white “Stanley” adorns the other. He tugs them up his shins and continues, the bright valley reaching into the warped air ahead. Any sign of life waiting for death, its own or some other.
The bones feel warmth in their feet, not the searing burn of the sun, but some other life. It rises up the legs and through the body like a shock of adrenaline. The limbs begin to walk on their own, leading him faster across the ground. He tries to stop, grabbing at his knees, but soon the arms are gone too and he opens his mouth to scream. But there is no voice, just the pain across his shredded throat.
– Relax cabrón.
– Don’t fight it, man. We’ll get you out of this.
The bone man looks down at the socks, as his body lurches out into the open desert.
– It’s time for revenge pendejo.
– It’s your lucky day.
The bag of bones fall numb, nervous system fried, the soothing rhythm of limbs swinging across the land. Eyes closed it ascends to the clouds, the wind in its hair, it reaches for a door to heaven.
Black pupils flash and a bloody smell fills the air, while three drained bodies hang from a tree. The ground is slick with red and with the faces removed the white bone of skull dries in the sun. Bloody bone hands wipe themselves down and throw three pairs of boots in a sack.
– You missed the best bit.
– That big one cried like a little bitch.
– That felt good. But we ain’t finished with you yet.
He dreams of being in the clouds again, but the path goes on and on. Skin wearing loose, limbs ready to fall but still they continue. Finally, the bones stop at an outcrop of rocks. The socks climb up, one at a time, till they reach the peak. On the other side, a black pit is full of shapes, blacks and browns, metal edges and studs. Closer still they form boots, hundreds and hundreds of leather boots. The bone man reaches in the sack and holds up a black boot, blood dripping down its side. Chopped above the ankle the foot remains within, safe in its tough exterior. The smell returns, having waited in the sun for nostrils to arrive.
– Boots are evil. Don’t forget that.
– A good sock is all you need.
With the boots flung to the pile, they come down from the rocks and continue towards the darkening sun. They keep going for some time, the bone man’s head rolling on its shoulders, trying to avoid the blistering light all around when he feels something again. An itch on his right foot. Dull at first, barely there and disconnected from his eyes, but it burrows deeper into the skin. The bag of bones tries to concentrate on his arm, to make it his own again, but there is no reaction and he lets out a wail.
– What’s the matter now?
– Shut up gringo, we’re nearly there.
It’s my foot, I need to scratch it.
– Quit your whining. It won’t fall off.
But the bone man won’t give up. Eyes close tight he begins to feel a heat in his chest and something at his fingertips.
– Don’t fight us, man. You seen what we can do.
Eyes open he looks down at his bone fist in all its glory. Now if he can get the arm as well. The fire spreads through his body, ravaged limbs battling against each other and finally they all end back in a heap on the red earth.
A blast of water brings the bones back to life. The skin seared across his cheeks. Eyes open, a bag of nerves stands over him, hands clung to a flask.
‘I’m back boss.’
‘Where am I?’
‘You passed out. I went to get water.’
The bone man’s eyes lower to his boots on the man’s shaking feet.
‘Are those mine?’
The bag of bones stands tall, his limbs loosening and again his own. He grabs the water and it burns his throat.
‘Yes boss, I had to borrow them. I came back for you.’
A bone hand reaches for his nervous collar.
– You know what to do pendejo.
James has been writing for about twenty years, uncovering the absurd in the everyday. His stories have previously been published by Molotov Cocktail, Octavius Magazine, and Ellipsis, among others. He is currently busy on his first novel and can be found @jturner27 and bloodbonesbricks.wordpress.com.