by Dean Moses
The summer of 2043 was notable for its brisk winds punctuating its long days, especially on the season’s last day. On this particular date, a coarse breeze forced its way through rotting wood and chipped paint, allowing it to stroke a sleeping woman’s face.
Annabel awoke. Panting heavily she pawed at her nose, for she could not smell the seasonal scents carried in by the draft. She ran her hands over her head to find a bald cranium. Her appendages felt numb — lifeless, like an amputee’s false limbs. The rocking chair in which she was sitting let out a long, whining creek as she stumbled from it. The blanket draping her upper body unraveled, creating an oversized scarf that trailed behind the woman on her journey to the bathroom. The door swung open, a scream followed.
What the fuck? She thought. God, help me.
The bathroom mirror showed a harrowing image — a skeleton. A paper-thin layer of skin remained, but the ruined flesh did nothing to hide the jagged bones it clung to. The reflection’s dark eyes had almost completely receded into its sockets, with said skin creating a film over them, leaving only two tiny, dead ovals. Annabel winced, revealing five blackened teeth enduring amongst a decaying pallet. The woman backed out of the bathroom, and with that the hairless creature she looked upon diminished from view.
Did I die in my sleep? While the question rattled around her gaunt skull like a loose bone fragment, an alarming realization dawned upon the skeleton: She could not remember anything — about the night prior, or the one before that. Her boney head felt clouded, as if her mind were a burnt film reel. Blurred faces, places, and actions could be seen but the damage made the narrative impossible to follow.
Her dead ovals wandered, passing over everything in sight, searching for a clue as to why she was in this ghastly situation. The all-encompassing studio apartment intimidated Annabel. The wind whistled at the fractured windows. The rocking chair rocked. The windows bore the sun’s rays as spotlights directed at patches of threadbare carpet.
She forced her skeletal frame through the light and into the small kitchen area. She pushed aside a stool and pulled out steel drawers and ripped open cabinets, emptying their contents onto the linoleum below: Wooden spoons, silverware, plates, cups, corkscrew, spatula, whisk, wire mesh colander, ketchup packets, cheese grater, containers of vitamin pills, and a half-emptied box of fiber cereal. Turning to the refrigerator: ice cube trays, an unopened carton of orange juice, almond milk, broccoli, carrots, beets, cabbage, apple sauce, prunes, and frozen fruit packets flowed freely. Over the course of a few minutes Annabel had emptied the kitchen’s innards, its entrails were left piled.
“The food’s fresh,” she heard her raspy voice say, but that’s not all she heard.
A series of short, strident thumps emitted from behind her. Turning, she focused on the apartment’s entrance door. The door jolted forward, sprinkling a cloud of dust into the air. It jerked again, harder, faster. Annabel attempted to conjure up imaginings of what could lay beyond the door, yet she could not think of anything more terrifying than what she had already seen in that bathroom mirror.
The doorknob rattled, rotating vigorously. The female skeleton stepped backwards, foot slipping on the hanging blanket — she fell, crumbling to the carpet in the sun’s spotlight. She felt pain course through her emaciated arm.
The door opened, a shadowy figure emerged — moving swiftly over the runner. Annabel wanted to flee, but the tumble had left her unable to move.
“The fucking door was stuck again. This place is falling apart, I wish we could move,” a voice said from somewhere within the darkness.
The shadow strode into the light, revealing a man holding two plastic bags — a man with a familiar face.
“What are you doing down there?” the man asked, dropping the bags, cans of food rolling from the plastic.
“Who are you?” Annabel asked.
The man rolled his eyes. “Every day with this shit. I can’t step outside for ten minutes, can I?”
The man wrapped his arms around the woman’s slender frame, gently lifting her onto the rocking chair. “That’s better,” he said.
“Who are you?” she asked again.
“It’s me, Davy… your grandson,” he said in a tired tone.
Confusion ravaged Annabel’s mind. “M-my grandson, huh?”
A steady stream of memories trickled into the woman’s mind: A faint image of her smiling mother, the distinct roar of her father, the feeling of a wedding day’s kiss, the birth of a golden haired baby, the wagging tail of a beloved dog, the loving kiss of a grandson, and the distorted picture of a gravestone. Focusing on the grave, she cut away at the fog that obscured it until she could see the inscribed name — Marie.
“Marie,” Annabel repeated, this time aloud.
“I have said this a thousand times and I will say it again: You do this crap every day. It has been over forty years, forty years goddammit, since cancer killed my mother! I wish one day could go by without you reminding me. You better not do this shit when the news crews are here,” Davy said, red-faced.
“You don’t remember that either? The news is coming tomorrow — for your birthday. Hopefully we get some good donations this year, otherwise your medical bills are going to be hard to pay.”
Annabel’s head hurt. More memories, this time they felt like cold water splashing her face. She remembered Davy — she remembered her grandson. She was no living skeleton; she was just old. Davy enveloped his grandmother in her favorite blanket and before long she had fallen back to sleep.
Davy glanced into the kitchen, seeing the mess on the ground he sighed.
Annabel awoke — strangers with cameras and microphones surrounded her, their shimmering eyes fixed in her direction.
“Happy 145th birthday, Miss Green!” a voice said.
“How does it feel to be the oldest human being alive?” another voice asked.
Annabel remained silent, ovals flitting between each face.
“Come on, Grandma,” Davy said, his voice amplified for the cameras, hand resting on the woman’s shoulder, “the world wants to wish you a happy birthday. Say something.”
As the crowd encircled her in anticipation, like a pack of hungry wolves preparing for a kill, she caught sight of her reflection in a camera lens. “My face, what happened to my face? I am skeleton!” Annabel wailed.
The reporters fell silent, the cameramen lowered their cameras, and a reporter dropped her microphone.
Davy clutched Annabel’s withered hand, but she pulled away — “I am a skeleton!” she cried again, reaching out to all the expressionless faces in the room. A laugh broke the air from amongst the crowd. The journalist in question did little to hide his mirth. One by one the blank visage of the news transformed into unbridled smiles, and, just like that, thunderous laughter took hold of the room.
Davy took his grandmother’s hand once more, but even he could not keep a smirk from creeping over his face, or a harsh snicker from spitting out of his mouth. The only person with a straight face was an old woman, wondering why the room was laughing at a skeleton.
Dean Moses is the author of A Stalled Ox, entertainment contributor for the Spring Creek Sun, wordsmith extraordinaire, and hungry vegan.