Breath & Shadow
Summer 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 2
"The First Ride of The Skeleton Queen"
Happiness is the summer air sticky on your skin and pricking at your scabby knees. It is your sister--she is still here with you, at least for now--rocking the floor lamp back and forth with one foot.
It is also the flicker of relief you feel when you switch on your bedroom light and find that there is not a skeleton in your bed. And the next flicker of relief that comes when you close the closet door, trapping the marionettes made of human skin inside.
It is the buzz of a text message arriving in your back pocket, telling you that your sister is safe and happy--but so far away.
Happiness is the way that curiosity overcomes your terror on the day when you switch the bedroom light on and the skeleton is there, lounging amidst your sheets and blankets, legs crossed at the ankle, reading the book you left on your nightstand.
This is the sum of the conversation you then have with the skeleton: it tells you that you are now the Skeleton Queen, and shows you the skeletal horse standing absolutely still on the dark lawn below. The skeleton's eyes twinkle--how does that work, exactly?--when you ask it if Skeleton Queens can beat up marionettes made of human skin.
Happiness is definitely the squeals the marionettes utter when they see you and your skeleton vizier at the closet door, and the moans uttered when you haul the evil spirit--you are pretty sure it's just a poltergeist--from under your bed. You drop the spirit, which is a little like molasses, down the toilet. Hopefully your parents will figure out what to do with the possessed toilet.
Delight, therefore, is the awkwardness of scrambling up the ladder of your skeleton horse's ribs and settling into the bicycle seat you've strapped to its back, while your skeleton vizier watches from the porch.
Joy is the clicking of bones as you ride down the highway, becoming a thunderous roar as the skeleton hordes fall in behind you. You encounter only one car, which swerves
violently onto the shoulder to avoid a collision with your army. It is cloudy, but a Skeleton Queen doesn't need headlights any more than her skeleton vizier needs eyeballs.
It is the shock of cold air as your skeleton horse pounds through the surf of the Atlantic Ocean and then, with a grinding of its joints, heaves itself up so that it is running above the water. It still crashes through the tallest waves, but the cold salt water soaking into your jeans does not bother you because Skeleton Queens don't care about the cold.
The hours mean nothing on your transatlantic ride, and you never get sore or tired--but you do get hungry, so you eat the granola bars you thoughtfully brought with you.
Happiness is the welcome sight of the island you are sure must be Guernsey, and the rattle as your skeleton horse corrects its course to continue through the English Channel. From here you have no idea where to go, but your skeleton horse seems to
know the way. It takes you further north and further east, making landfall on the German coast. You are hopeless enough at American roads and could never navigate German ones, but Skeleton Queens don't need to worry about roads.
Happiness is even your consciousness of how everyone stops to stare in silent awe at you and your skeleton horse and your skeleton army, here in this other country. You and your mass of skeletons plunge and flow across the country, bones white and yellow and brown in the afternoon light.
Delight, once more, is the surprising smoothness with which your skeleton horse draws up before the building where your sister is living.
It must somehow be found in the recognition that twists her face when she opens the door, and the confusion, the skepticism when you tell her that you're a Skeleton Queen
now. Then, as was inevitable, she sees your skeleton army. You walk away from the slammed door and sit down on the grass, cross-legged. You are confident that she will open the door again. There's a lot for a Skeleton Queen and her sister--and her skeleton horse--to do in Germany.
Your skeleton horse nuzzles at your shoulder with its spiky snout as you wait for your sister in the warm twilight. Dee-do, dee-do, wail the sirens in the distance. Dee-do, dee-
do. Delight, delight.
T. B. Jeremiah lives with an AI researcher and a lot of plants near some old mountains, where she writes sad stories and draws silly pictures of monsters. Previously she has been a janitor, history instructor, nonprofit marketing drone, and freelance illustrator and designer. Her other short fiction has been published in Amazing Stories and Bourbon Penn.