Her Own Bones

Reading Time: 3 minutes
(Image created by Sophie Gorjance using Firefly.)

The air was choked with smoke from tightly-clutched cigarettes, and the table was covered in half-full cups of tea—how long had it taken the family to decide to have their housekeeper fetch her?

Gwen examined the table so she didn’t have to meet the impatient eyes of the family members. Had one of these cups of tea held the poison responsible for the corpse lying beside an overturned chair at the head of the table?

“Well?” barked a gruff, whiskered man clutching a pocket watch as if he could force time to obey him. “Who killed my sister-in-law?”

Gwen knelt beside the corpse, wincing as her bones began humming in anticipation. They knew they would gain another companion, as Gwen would gain another set of memories to compete with her own.

She wasn’t sure any more how many of her bones were still those she had been born with.

With an effort, she reminded herself of the fee she’d been promised for this job. Normally she was only asked to exercise this particular skill for people in the village, not the families in the grand manors. But this family’s housekeeper, a local girl who’d grown up in the village and knew its gossip, had gotten the family’s permission to come to fetch Gwen.

Gwen placed her hand on the back of the body’s neck. A channel of sickly gray shadow streamed upward from the corpse, wrenching the left clavicle out from beneath the skin. Gwen cried out in pain as, simultaneously, her own left clavicle detached from her sternum and shoulder and drifted into the corpse. The new clavicle slammed into Gwen’s chest with the familiar sound of grinding bone as it forcibly resized itself to fit her frame. She grit her teeth against the pain radiating through her, bits of bone dust settling along the inside of her chest.

“Positively uncanny,” gasped one of the relatives, covering her mouth with a delicate hand.

“It’s real,” whispered another. “Who would have thought the servants’ gossip so accurate?”

Gwen couldn’t keep herself from gasping, or from leaning closer to look at the corpse’s face, seeking out the true self behind the damage done by poison.

It was Diana.

For the first time since Gwen had discovered this unwilling gift of hers, she experienced a memory that she was nearly certain was hers, and not the product of any of the strangers’ bones which lived under her skin.

Except the memory was doubled in a way she had never experienced before, reflected upon itself as it poured outward from her new clavicle.

…she was so young, they both were, rushing through the forest…

…she’d snuck out when the governess wasn’t watching, gone to see the other little girl, the ones who lived in the cottage the servants whispered about…

…she’d met the girl in the beautiful dress, so much finer than her own, who didn’t call her “witch’s brat” like so many in the village did…

…and they had run, letting the woods hide them from the rest of the world, sharing secrets and comparing lives…

…until time and society did the final, irrevocable work of separating them, for it wasn’t done for the daughter of a fine house and the witch’s brat to be friends…

Outside, a gust of wind caused a crackling of red-leaved branches against the window. Gwen rose and smoothed the front of her skirt. She had never once so quickly felt whole again after an exchange of bone-memories. Almost as though something she had been missing for a long time was now returned to her.

The family shifted impatiently, and a man brandished his obsidian walking stick as if threatening to strike her. “Who did this?” he thundered.

It took barely any effort for Gwen to comprehend the memories seeping out of her newest bone. A bone that came from a woman who, Gwen realized, had kept more secrets from her family than they had ever imagined.

“The one who killed her,” Gwen began, as the family stared back intensely, “was, sadly enough, the person she loved the best out of all of you.”

Ignoring the shouts and shock these words produced, Gwen walked out of the house. In the brisk autumn air, she began to find the rhythm of bones she could, somewhat, call her own.


Edited by a Sophie Gorjance.

Devan Barlow is the author of the Curses & Curtains series of fairy tales-meet-musicals fantasy novels. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in several anthologies and magazines. She can be found at her website devanbarlow.com or on Bluesky @devanbarlow.bsky.social. She reads voraciously, and can often be found hanging out with her dog, drinking tea, and thinking about sea monsters.