The Bones Left by the Storm
John A. Frachio
After the great and terrible storm passed by, young Maria came down from the Village to walk the length of the beach and look for treasures and other mysterious droppings left behind.
She sifted through the sand with her bare feet as she walked. She had soft features and long golden hair and wore a bright flowered sundress that stopped several inches above her knees. Unlike other girls her age, she was absolutely not interested in cooking, sewing, baking, weaving or proudly flaunting her feminine charms of which she had ample supply.
Maria was the teenage daughter of a high officer in the Village Warrior Guild. She was known to be somewhat of a rebel heart and for frequently getting herself into trouble. To the chagrin of her Father, she lived her life on the edge of scandal and exile. She often slipped away during important events to secret places or the mountains or the long beach.
“You’ll be the death of me, daughter of contrary,” her Father told her frequently.
The Wise Women of the Village said she had magic in her, since she could soften hearts and turn minds. She laughed at their charge, since she could never turn her Father from administering the punishments she rightly deserved—at least according to her Father. Perhaps, however, the reprimands may have been a bit more lenient than they might otherwise have been.
Her Mother, who died when Maria was barely ten, made sure Father knew the importance of proper punishment. And yet Maria remembered her Mother as the gentlest person she knew.
“Why can’t I be more like my Mother?” she asked after getting grounded once again.
Her Father shook his head and said, “You’re more like your Mother than you imagine.”
“No, no. She was much nicer to people than I am. She was a gentle spirit, a soft zephyr among the strong winds of storms.”
But her Father only chuckled. “More than you can imagine.”
Earlier that day Maria had watched the terrible storm—the fiercest she had ever seen—from the safe caves in the mountains with the other Villagers, wondering what devastation was being inflicted upon her home. Later she helped with the extensive cleanup in her village, anxious to finish her assigned tasks so that she could begin her adventure.
Now the adventure began.
It wasn’t long before she noticed something quite large far down the beach. She wondered if a ship had been tossed ashore by the powerful storm, smashed into pieces by the violent winds as though it were a child’s toy boat.
She giggled and twirled, drilling a hole in the sand. Who would go out to sea with such a monstrous storm coming? No sane person indeed!
Maria continued her treasure hunt.
She noticed small bleached white bone fragments scattered all over the sand, becoming more and more numerous as she moved further down the beach. At first she thought they were broken seashells until she examined them more closely. Some of the fragments were quite large. She wondered what sort of creatures these bones once held together. Suddenly fearing they might be the bones of her ancestors or of angry Sea Gods, she dropped them quickly. Her Father would not be pleased she had even touched them.
Why did that thought suddenly make her laugh?
No, she should not laugh. She did respect her Father. Truly, she loved her Father.
Her mind wandered.
She remembered a line from a poem her Mother had read to her once. “What varied being peoples every star?” Then her Mother would tell her about all the strange creatures that inhabited their world near and far. How many were real and how many mere legend was never clear.
She continued down the beach, focusing primarily downward at the growing number of monotonous debris, hoping to find something unique and glorious, shining brilliantly in the afternoon sun: gold, silver or pearl white. When at last she looked up, the distant object looked more clearly like a wrecked ship. It was stripped down to bare crossbeams and supports, a skeleton of its former glory. Had the bone fragments belonged to its lost crew?
As she drew nearer to the ship, she slowed down and looked up at its full height. It was a huge vessel, twice as large as any she had ever seen before, or had heard about in fantastic sea tales. She paused beneath its shadow.
She felt something move beneath her and looked down.
The sand shifted around her feet and the ground began to shake. Unsteady, she dropped to her knees. The ship shuddered and creaked as though battered by a strong wind. But there was no wind. Gradually, as though in pain, it lifted itself up on its haunches and roared, angry perhaps at the storm which had carried it so far from its home.
Maria covered her face and bowed down to the sand.
It roared again, a deafening roar that hurt her ears. Then it grew silent.
A long minute passed. Maria slowly lifted her head, brushing sand from her face and hair. The strange skeletal beast remained in a sitting position a hundred feet from her, rising high above her, curiously looking around. The creature seemed not to notice her, or didn’t care much about her, considering her perhaps nothing more than a bug.
It turned from side to side, looking over its surroundings, the long, debris cluttered stretch of beach, the trees and mountains inland, and the sea from which it came.
Where was its home? she wondered. How far had it travelled?
Now was the time to get up and run as fast as she could away from it, into the shelter of the nearby trees. But she remained motionless, afraid any movement might attract its undesired attention.
What would it do with a puny creature like Maria anyway?
Perhaps it was hungry for tasty snacks just about her size. But the creature was not a living creature at all. It was a mere skeleton of a creature. It surely would not need to eat when there was no body to feed, no flesh and blood, no organs, no muscles. How was it alive at all? Dark forces were clearly at work here!
She shuddered. At the same time a thrill passed through her. This was the adventure she had always craved! Wasn’t it?
She waited for the impossible creature to make the next move. Amazingly, it moved about quite easily, considering its bulky frame which creaked noisily with every move. It rocked back and forth as it gazed longingly out to sea. Then it began to moan, deep mournful moans like those of a child separated from its mother.
Maria rose to her feet. The creature stopped moving. Maria froze. It turned its ugly, oversized head toward her. It looked straight down at her. Maria felt very small.
The beast tilted its head and moved a little closer toward Maria. It tried to sniff her, but quickly became frustrated. Then it lifted one of its massive forelegs and held it out. It instantly recoiled in horror. It began stomping both forelegs savagely as it let out a loud, mournful howl.
Maria covered her ears.
She stumbled backwards and felt a rush of fear and excitement as the creature thrashed about. Fragments of broken bones pelted her, sticking to her hair and clothing. She couldn’t shake them loose.
The loud and familiar blaring of a horn interrupted the chaos. Both Maria and the creature grew still. Both looked toward the West.
Maria recognized the call to battle. The Village Militia was being led by her Father into battle against a threat to the village. She quickly realized what threat they were targeting. As the sound of marching warriors grew louder, she knew they were planning to confront and attack this poor creature which had been stripped to the bone by some evil magic carried by the terrible storm.
Compassion welled up within Maria.
It was something she inherited from her Mother, who always had compassion for helpless creatures, no matter how great or small.
Without thinking, she ran toward the Village Militia.
At that moment a billowing cloud of bones arose from the beach directly in front of the marching warriors, growing into a massive dark storm cloud. The cloud rapidly covered and consumed the militia. Seconds later, the cloud dissipated, leaving nothing behind but piles of twitching bones.
Maria froze in her tracks, eyes widening, arms falling limp at her side.
Behind her she heard the creature move. She turned in time to watch it collapse into a heap, a spray of bone splinters letting loose and bombarding her, again covering her hair and clothing. She clattered like a skeleton when she walked.
A whirling funnel of bones grew up between her and the beast, rising high into the air and forming a tall swirling column. Maria and the beast bowed down before the column of bones, driven to their knees by an irresistible force.
Maria barely discerned the countenance of a beautiful woman hovering near the top of the column of bones. While she gazed in awe, all the bones around them swiftly arose and bowed down before this goddess or demon or bone mistress.
She was not going to subjugate herself to this evil goddess!
She struggled to stand up in sheer defiance.
And again she was slammed down to her knees. More fragments pelted her, a deluge of fragments that stung her face, arms and legs. She bowed down and kissed the sand.
No! She would not bow down! She would not let this goddess have any of her bones!
She lifted her head.
The column of whirling bones wavered back and forth unsteadily.
Maria stared with a fierce intensity at the face of the woman in the tempest of bones. She suddenly knew this was no immortal, no all-powerful goddess. It was just another creature like herself or this poor beast, given a strange magical power over bones.
Maria continued to stare as more bone pieces pummeled her, covering her with many small cuts and gashes.
What is the bone mistress’s weakness?
What held all these bones together, that life might arise from these dry bones? What made them rise up from the ground and move with impossible life? What could unbind these bones from her power, and release them back to their owners?
Struggling against unseen forces, Maria again stood up.
Now she really needed that magic the Wise Women claimed she possessed. She needed a magic powerful enough to face off against this monstrous mistress of bones.
She reached out and wished the bones that covered her body would drop off. She closed her eyes and wished as hard as she could. In her mind she could see them move. But when she opened her eyes, she frowned at the bones that still clung to her body.
Curse those Wise Women! She always knew they were mad. Of course she had no magic in her. How could she have magic as a descendent of commoners, a warrior Father—recently reduced to bones—and a gentle, kind-hearted Mother—long ago reduced to bones?
Maria cried out her Mother’s name and felt a deep calm, a peace that surpassed all understanding, a softening of her heart.
And all the bones around her stood at attention.
The bones quivered and leaned in her direction in an ever-widening circle around her.
Her eyes bulged.
She shouted, “Rise up, all you bones!”
The circle of obedient bones instantly spread out as far as she could see. All bones and bone fragments rose up at her command.
The beautiful face in the column of bones turned down to Maria and grew ugly from its rising anger. A torrent of bones blasted toward Maria, but incredibly none touched her body, fanning out instead around her.
Soon the storm of bones filled the air, so thick that Maria was blinded momentarily. When the storm at last settled down, the bones formed a perfect circle around her. And all were standing and pointing at Maria.
The bone mistress roared at her sudden powerlessness.
Maria simply smiled. It was a soft smile, full of compassion for the bones around her, and full of disdain for the one who would deem herself a goddess of bones.
Maria’s magic of softening hearts turned out to be a most powerful magic. Even the hardest heart of the vilest of evil goddesses grew soft—if even for a moment—in her presence. But that moment was all Maria needed.
In an instant all the scattered bones came together. The bones of the warriors grew sinew and blood vessels, muscle and organs, and were soon fully covered with flesh. The bones of the great beast likewise became whole again. And it turned out to be a terrifying beast with bulging muscles and thick curls of black fur. It roared like thunder when it came back to life.
Other strange creatures large and small scurried to life up and down the beach. Some were brightly colored, some shaped like moons or stars or children’s toys, and others like no animal Maria had ever seen. Some reminded her of the legends and stories her Mother once told.
One odd furry, sponge-like creature actually rolled up to her feet and made a soft purring sound. She wanted to reach down and pet it like a cat. But, having no knowledge of the creature, she wisely pulled her hand back, then watched it roll away. Inside, however, she knew it was a gentle creature.
The evil bone mistress herself was reduced to a small, naked, bony woman, bent over and wavering in her weakness. Only for a moment. But that moment was all the great beast needed to clamp down and consume her in one rapid lunge.
The beast stood up on its haunches, vast and magnificent, fur glistening as black as obsidian in the waning sun, and roared an earth-shattering roar. It was the roar of victory.
Maria’s Father shouted as well. He ran to her and hugged her tightly. Maria trembled in his strong arms. They held onto each other for a long time.
He whispered, “You are so much like your Mother.”
She whispered back, “No way.”
After a while they turned together to gaze up at the great beast that could have easily crushed them underfoot or eaten them in a single clasp of its great jaws. Instead it simply nodded in quiet acknowledgement of Maria’s role in its liberation. Then it turned its massive bulk, stirring up a small squall of sand, and plodded silently and steadily toward the calm and calming sea.