by Tony Daly
A sensation, almost like tingling, was the first thing he felt. It started in his chest and intensified, working its way outward until it reached his fingertips. That’s when the light came flooding in, like water into an empty ravine, but there was no pain.
He stared up at the sun, feeling pressure from the earth piled around him, but not warmth, nor cold.
Raising his hand, he saw only sun bleached bone peeking through a casing of mud. A violet tinted light shimmered through the joints, and he could see nothing else holding them together, except for his pinky finger. That was a calcified claw, eternally curled. He’d broken that when he was still young. He couldn’t remember how, just that he was supposed to lose it, but it fused together instead. He did remember his mother screaming, “John!” So, that must be his name.
A tarnished bronze bangle slid down the bones of his forearm and rattled against the stones entombing him. John wondered where he’d gotten the bracelets, but had no time for his muddled consciousness to work out an answer. That’s when he heard his first sound: a yell, a woman’s scream, a battle cry. It was war. That he knew, but he did not know how.
His bones rose of their own volition. He did not try to stop them. They pulled him from the ground. Rocks, dirt, flowers, worms, torn fabric, and more fell away as he pulled free from the soil’s embrace. His foot caught on something, a rock or a root maybe, but his leg pulled free. He expected excruciating pain, but felt nothing.
He jerked along with a limp, his right foot left behind in the grave. The world moved past at an awkward angle. John did not remember how he broken his neck. When he reached up to right his skull, he found his jaw was missing, as well.
That scream again, and this time it was followed by the clash of metal on metal. A new feeling took him: blood lust. He thirsted for it, or rather, his bones did. They wanted to be swimming in crimson, to feel alive again, reborn in blood. His pace quickened, but it only seemed a fast limp.
When John burst through the overgrowth, he saw hundreds of skeletons swarming up an isolated ridge. At the top were three warriors: two men, and a woman who stood taller than all, with hair the color of flame. She mesmerized him, screaming her battle cry, and swinging her two handed axe. If the two men yelled, John didn’t notice.
“She looks so much like my Brienne,” he thought, as an image of a smiling little girl struck his consciousness. It made him want to feel again. His bones reacted as though they understood that need and pushed forward with more eagerness.
“No, not her,” he thought, feeling the lust of his bones, wanting to fill their marrow. He wanted the warmth of her hand in his and the feel of her hair in his fingers, to absorb her, but not physically. He tried to make his bones stop, but they continued.
He saw her shattering skeleton after skeleton with her broad axe. He watched her companions die. One with a severed skull biting through the soft flesh of his neck. The other skewered with a bone from a broken forearm. Two attackers jumped at her, and she laid them low with a single blow, drawing forth an image of his daughter practicing with his wood axe.
He slowly became aware that the number of skeletons was dwindling. Soon he’d be the only one left. He had no doubt that Brienne would survive the others. “She’s become a strong warrior,” John proudly thought. However, he couldn’t help but wonder if she could survive the bloodlust of his bones.
He found himself creeping up the ridge behind Brienne, like some wolf stalking its prey. He felt the excitement of his bones but couldn’t stop them. He rose behind her, as she shattered the skull of what she must have thought to be the final skeleton and stumbled with exhaustion, catching herself by planting her axe in the ground, leaving herself open, vulnerable.
He tried to yell her name, but nothing came out.
He felt the weight of a dagger in his hand, but could not stay it.
His hand thrust out suddenly to the small of her back and she turned, wide-eyed, surprised, shocked. She looked down and grabbed his wrist. Pulling his hand up, she brought her broad axe through his chest, shattering his bones.
He fell, watching her hold up his bangle, his daughter’s bangle.
She looked at him quizzical before dropping the bracelet and stumbling away.
John watched the surviving warrior cross the ridge before remembering that his Brienne was a brunette. The red he remembered was her hair aflame, screaming and cursing his name, shaking her mother’s severed head.
She was a witch.
He had to do it, but that didn’t mean he had loved her any less. The pain of guilt didn’t stop in death.
This must be the curse she’d placed on him as she burned in their family home.
Tony Daly is a federal Writer/Editor in the Washington DC Metro Area. He is an Associate Editor of fiction and nonfiction with Military Experience and the Arts (http://militaryexperience.org), and has most recently been published in The Horror Zine, The Rat’s Ass Review, and the Ekphrastic Review. Visit his website: https://aldaly13.wixsite.com/website