Friday, June 26, 2020

Skeleton in the Cellar by Alexander Richardson

A jilted lover visits a bucolic cabin with a talking skeleton in the cellar; by Alexander Richardson.

Lou Sanders swung the axe again, and the tree splintered. Several more strikes and it was down. He spat and looked back at the cabin.

"Goddammit."

He chopped up the wood and carried the first stack to the open cellar. Stepping within, he dropped it with a yelp; in front of him was a skeleton, dressed in a red turtleneck and beret, sitting before an easel, brush in one hand, palette in the other. The skeleton turned and shrieked, dropping its instruments and stumbling off the stool.

"The hell's this?"

The skeleton pointed at Lou. "What in the grave are you doing here?"

Lou picked up a log and, holding it like the baseball player holds a bat, advanced on the skeleton. The skeleton put up its hands and retreated to the wall.

"Wait! You don't have to do this. If it's money you want, I - well, I don't have any. Haven't for a long time. But I'm sure I can give you something."

Lou continued his advance.

The skeleton dropped to its knees and clasped its hands together. "Stop! Have you no soul?"

Lou stopped. "What kind a monster drops to its knees and begs?"

The skeleton cocked its head to the side.

"I haven't the foggiest. Is that a riddle?"

Lou lowered his log. "You got any idea you're dead?"

"That's a bit tactless." The skeleton unclasped its hands. "But to answer your question, yes. I know. I've been less alive for many years."

"This don't make no sense."

The skeleton raised a forefinger. "This doesn't make any sense."

Lou lifted the log, and the skeleton squealed.

"Okay! Violence won't solve a thing, Mister..."

Lou lowered his log again. "Sanders. My name's Lou Sanders."

The skeleton straightened. "I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Sanders. Assuming you don't bash me to bits. I," it said, twirling its hand with some flourish, "am the skeleton in the cellar. But you may call me Robin. That was my living name, anyway."

Lou squinted. "The skeleton in the cellar?"

"Sure." It laughed. "We're not all in closets and attics, you know." Its tone sobered. "But don't look in the attic here. I haven't checked it yet."

"And you just, uh, live down here? Painting?"

"Not all the time." Robin took off the beret and beat the hat against its knee joint. "I visit other cellars, too, and I'm not always painting. Sometimes I knit or play solitaire. Rolled marbles until I lost my set. I've been thinking of learning to sculpt."

It put on the beret. "Usually my cellars and their attached dwellings don't have people, though. What are you doing here?"

Lou stiffened. "Me an' Jess rented it. Supposed to be our honeymoon, but..."

His gaze lowered to his unadorned left hand. Robin's followed.

"Oh. Love." Robin looked up to Lou's face. "Listen, Mr. Sanders. Love comes and goes and beats down the will of meat bags, but then you die. Your flesh rots away and you become a skeleton, and bugs crawl between your toes if you're not extra hygienic."

Lou stared at the skeleton. A cricket chirped outside.

"Well," Robin said, "I should probably get back to my painting."

"Ayuh."

Lou started to walk out of the cellar, and stopped. He turned back to Robin.

"Y'know, you could come upstairs. I'll be here several days. Ain't no reason not to have some comp'ny."

Robin crossed its arms. "I'm a male skeleton."

"Okay."

"And I don't have a tongue anymore."

"That ain't where I'm going with this."

"Oh." Robin gestured to his stuff. "Might you help me with this, then? I miss having muscles."



Lou hauled Robin's stuff - a chest on wheels, filled with art supplies, playing cards, and extra turtlenecks - to the cabin. The following days were spent outside; they caught fish, gathered berries, and even spent one afternoon painting stills of the wildlife. They swam in the lake, and Lou had to pull Robin out every time ("Skin really helps with the whole floating thing," he would say, as water dripped from his eye sockets).

Their evenings consisted of sitting in front of the fire, where they regaled each other with stories of their lives (and in Robin's case, beyond). They roasted marshmallows and drank red wine (Robin stained his ribcage). Lou talked about Jess in great detail the first night and the second, but not so much the third. By the fourth, he spoke little; instead, he wrapped himself around Robin's every word.

On the fifth night, Robin told a lengthy tale about a cellar he'd shared with two other skeletons in Minnesota for a winter ("That's when I started wearing turtlenecks!"). One of the other skeletons, a particularly wide-boned gal named Gail, had tried lighting a fire one night.

"In the cellar itself," Robin said, shaking his head and slapping his knee joint. "Smoke started filling the place and Neil - the other one - was screaming I can't breathe, I can't breathe, and I thought, right, Neil, but since when does that matter? Gail tried stomping it out, but she just caused the fire to spread. End of story, we had to run for it. The whole place burned down."

He folded his arms.

"Skeletons aren't any good when it comes to fire."

Lou stood, pouring himself another glass of wine. "I like the way you talk, Robin. It's settlin'."

Robin lifted his glass. "To further friendship."

They clinked, and continued chatting the night away.



The next morning, the lamp in the living room went out with a pop. Lou unscrewed it and checked the cabinet for a new bulb.

Look in the attic.

He frowned. As of yet, Lou had stayed out of there. Hadn't thought much about it since Robin's warning, really. Maybe there were one or two bulbs, or even a whole box. Robin was outside chasing butterflies. Lou started for the door.

There's no reason to bother the skull.

His frown deepened. There wasn't a reason to get Robin. He was perfectly capable of going up himself. He'd never thought of Robin as the skull, though.

Odd.

Lou climbed into the attic and immediately gagged as a noxious odor consumed him, sour and strong. He pulled the collar of his shirt over his nose. Light filtered from the room below, faint up here. Lou fumbled around until he found a switch and flipped it, but the attic remained dark.

Reaching out, he touched a cardboard box. Shoulder height. He moved forward and felt another one next to it. He retched, his knees wobbled, and he grabbed one of the boxes to steady himself.

Something shimmered ahead of him, grabbing Lou's focus with a start. Silvery-blue mist formed in the shape of a slender man with red lights for eyes. Lou's heart thudded, and he backed away.

Come find your light.

Yes, sure - that was the reason he'd come up, right? Looking for lights and now there was light ahead. It was perfect.

Perfect.

Lou took baby steps closer, gagging harder. He needed the light.

Just a few more steps...

"Lou no stop stop!"

Lou jerked around fast, and his knee popped. He collapsed with a yowl and saw Robin at the attic's entrance, lantern illuminated in one hand, butterfly net in the other. The skeleton rushed forward, his gaze set past Lou.

"Leave him alone, monster!"

And Lou heard shuffling behind him. Turning, he saw the red lights rise and heard a scratchy, garbled voice.

"I'll make weapons from your bones, skull."

Lou fell back; Robin rushed past him, swinging the butterfly net. It landed between the red lights with a whap of impact, and Lou heard a distorted, high-pitched howl. The lantern flew from Robin's other hand, crashing against a box and igniting it. The flames rose quickly and spread to another box. And another.

Within moments, the attic was engulfed in fire.

Coughing, eyes burning, Lou crawled back. The floor disappeared and Lou crashed into the hallway, landing on his back. He could hear crashing and shouting from above, and smoke soon billowed from the opening.

"Robin!" he yelled, and grabbed at the ladder. His knee buckled and he fell back again. His stomach turned, and he vomited. Stars danced before his eyes. Lou could see flames spilling from the opening above, billowing smoke heralding its arrival.

Then darkness took him, and he didn't see anything.



"Lou... Lou, come on..."

Lou's forehead throbbed.

"Please be okay."

Something was pushing against his shoulder. Something bony and weak.

"Please."

His back itched.

"Please!"

Lou's eyes snapped open. He was outside, lying on pine needles. The cabin, maybe two hundred feet away, was engulfed in flames.

Something continued to poke his shoulder. He turned, saw Robin, and screamed.

Robin's bones had been burned black. The turtleneck had been destroyed entirely, revealing that several of his ribs and his entire right arm were missing. Chips and breaks peppered his torso. Even his beret was ruined; ripped and burned, it barely stayed on his skull.

He looked ready to fall apart.

"Robin!" Lou tried to push himself up. "Robin, how can I help you?"

Robin laughed. It sounded far away.

"Duct tape is my guess," he said, still poking Lou. "If you're fresh out, maybe some paste."

Lou squeezed Robin's hand; it, too, was brittle.

"I don't get it. I don't get what's happened."

"You know what they say," Robin said. "Skeleton in the cellar, unholy death spirit in the attic."

"Never heard nobody say that."

Robin clicked his teeth. "Well."

They lay like that, man and skeleton, and watched the cabin burn. Shingles fell away, and the outside balcony collapsed.

"I just..." Lou's voice broke. "I came here to build memories. To set the foundation of a life."

"Yeah," Robin said. "I came here to paint flowers."

His grip loosened.

"Robin, how do I help you?"

"I'm beyond that. Even skeletons fall apart."

Lou pulled him close and cried. After a moment, Robin rested his remaining hand on Lou's back.

"Lou."

Lou held him tight. "Yeah?"

"Thank you."

"What for?"

Robin brushed his hand against Lou's beard.

"I was sick of painting."

Lou stared back at him. After a moment, Robin's skull fell back against the pine needles. Lou cried out, and the fire raged on.

19 comments:

  1. Scary stories are usually not my thing but I love this one. It's more lyrical, than scary. An interesting read, well-written and memorable.

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  2. 100/10 would read to my grandma. I love the author’s sense of humor and the relationship/bond he builds between skeleton and human. I genuinely enjoyed reading this and am sending it to all my friends for a quick and entertaining read.

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  3. Not my genre at all, but the author pulled me in with his characters and I enjoyed the story. A fun read!

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  4. Great stuff! Definitely worth reading.

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  5. Humorous, macabre and ultimately poignant. Love the ending.

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  6. Great story! It had wonderful character development and I enjoyed the humor. It was very engaging and entertaining.

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  7. Very nice. Enjoyed the story. Easy flowing dialogue with just the right amount of description added. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  8. Lou was gonna bash the skeleton because he corrected his grammar? Come on, Lou.

    Cool story, I dig it.

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  9. The ended up not how I expect which is a nice twist. I very much enjoyed this. I want more of the skeleton's stories.

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  10. Well done, making the skeleton an 'it' in Lou's mind, then giving it a name, then a gender as Lou and Robin become friends. Loved the humor! Tragic final scene, would love to see Robin in another story, a great character!

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  11. Terrific story, great for the imagination. Keep writing.

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  12. Quite the bonding story. Man loses girl, man meets skeleton. Some funny witty repartee here.

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  13. One of the nicest, most cathartic skeletons I've ever heard of. I enjoyed the style and mild sarcasm of this tale.

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  14. Excellent story Alex! Imaginative, good writing and entertaining! Look forward to your next story!

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  15. Great story. Couldn't stop once I started, which to me is the best thing you can say. Well done.

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  16. I enjoyed the story alot. Very inventive and original. The writer obviously has talent and I look forward to more stories from him.

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  17. Nice pace to the story. You packed a lot in a very short space. The humor and quirkiness was very appealing. Thanks.

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  18. Excellent story Alex.

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