Stephen Langlois’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Glimmer Train, Weave Magazine, Gigantic Sequins, Necessary Fiction, BULL, Burrow Press Review, and Big Lucks, among other places.
The people grow dizzy with the pain. Some black out, then come to again. They feel tendon unraveling from bone, bone shifting from flesh. When it is done their skeletons stand across from them nonchalantly, as though division of body were a common occurrence.
The people find themselves envying the skeletons. They have no brains nor nerves, yet possess life just the same. When the people lumber off to work or to school or to church, the skeletons rattle along behind them, grateful for the simple fact of animation. When the skeletons pass one another, they click their jaws in greeting. At night they fold upon themselves, content now to be still. They are hard, white things, existing in perfect angles and curves. The people are mere muscle and skin, shapeless and imprecise. The skeletons seem more real than they.
Despondent, they throw their bulk upon the skeletons, trying in this way to force them back within the confines of flesh. Always the skeletons clatter free, skulls clacking gleefully, as if a harmless joke was at play. Desperate, the people descend upon their skeletons in the night and disassemble them with clumsy, amorphous hands. The bones that once gave them form they hide in secret corners of homes or bury in the ground. By morning, the skeletons have pieced themselves back together again.
A meeting is called. The skeletons wait outside the locked doors of the hall. Impassioned speeches are given, though the people, toothless, have difficulty making themselves understood. Bodies droop from chairs. Finally, a consensus is reached: The skeletons will be banished. The thought of it sends a shudder of excitement through their mass. They lead the skeletons out of town to a clearing in the forest, then shamble away. The skeletons watch, empty-socketed.
A long year passes. The people do their best to forget, but thoughts of their other halves return unbidden. Bone is a nagging, half-remembered reverie. Bone is a gem clutched briefly in dream. As though awakening, the people find themselves at the clearing once more. There the skeletons have erected a town of their own, assembled from what could be found in the forest. It is little more than a frame to be sure, but then skeletons have no use for doors, or windows, or walls. They feel neither heat nor cold and they have no need for privacy. In fact, they seem more jubilant than ever, rattling around and chattering away wordlessly.
The people, looking on from the edge of the clearing, envy them anew. Their own town has fallen into disrepair and there is so little they can do with their soft, nebulous selves that most days they do nothing at all. Look: There is a hall much like their own, built of branches. There is a school, with logs for desks. And there is a church, with pews of stone. The people peer at it, trying to imagine the solid, inflexible deity that has brought the skeletons into being. Some imagine themselves, kneeling before this god of bones, praying to be free of flesh as well. Rid us, they whisper, of exactly what we are.