The Mountains’ Bones

by Neil Clark

I was two when my great grandfather coughed a ball of fire on me as we sat in his old recliner chair watching television.

The doctors had to graft cadaver skin onto me, scalp to sole. A thousand skinless corpses have visited my dreams since. They peel what was once theirs back off me, then I wake up inside their coffin, my raw tissue and fat sticking me clean to the lining like a scab to an old bandage.

My first memory is a feeling of waiting. I’m in my hospital bed the night I’m admitted, all wrapped in gauze, my mother, grandmother and great grandmother by my side. I’m expecting my great grandfather to visit, but he doesn’t come. By then, they were sending him away.

I visit my great grandfather’s resting place often. A cave in the north, deep in the mountains – so remote it’s impossible to reach on foot. To this day, the walls remain scorched by his final years’ shameful bellows. On the ground, the skeleton of what he became is still there. Bones of a lonely, tormented dragon.


Not long after I became a dad, my grandfather grew averse to sunlight and started speaking exclusively in Old Norse. Then his beard started to hiss and grow fangs.

Grampa knew what was coming when he saw my father, my uncles, my cousins and me approach with the chains. He’d been on the other end of them enough times. Without fanfare, he handed us his hammer and stomped into the cage we’d readied. His only words to us were Sjaldan er ein báran stök – There is seldom a single wave.


By the time we noticed my father beginning to change, my boy was a teenager – old enough to know we all become monsters.

I gave my son a task. He was to hold the door of the cage open until his grandfather was inside, then close it when I gave the signal. Then he was to walk away without looking back and be with his mother and grandmother while I took care of everything else.

The plan went awry when the chains got broken and the cage door twisted. My son had to be at my aid for the whole ordeal. We both have the bite scars and the thousand-yard stares to show for it.

Afterwards, I was so weary from the struggle that the boy had to drive us all the way back from the mountains, empty cage in tow. The entire time, he wept into the steering wheel, and I couldn’t muster the strength to comfort him.


The first time I held my grandson, only love suppressed the desire in me to crush his tiny body with my bare hands – to punish him for the misstep of being born.

By his first birthday, my hands had grown bigger and the desire inside me harder to quash.

One night, with the baby peacefully asleep between us, my son and I made promises.

I drove away from his house without looking back, then I set fire to the car when I got to the mountains.


Every few years, when I visit my father’s final resting place, I find a letter and some photos left by my son.

His children have grown up now, some with young ones of their own. Each of them smiles how people not tormented by nightmares smile.

I’m taller than the tallest trees now. This appetite to destroy, it barely relents.

Recently, I punched a hole in a mountain. In the walls of the cave that was formed, I arrange the pictures and the letters. These walls give me respite. This cave will be my final resting place.

Soon, my son will drive to these mountains and set fire to the car. Then one day, all that will be left of him and me and the generations before us will be the bones of what we became.

My days here are a waking nightmare, but at night, the skinless corpses no longer visit.

Now, I dream of these mountains. I dream of my son finding this cave and seeing the walls that surround my skeleton. I dream of the children in the pictures. I dream that when they grow old, they’ll have no reason to come here, except to visit our bones.

Neil Clark would be rubbish at closing cage doors too. Find him and his other stuff at or on Twitter @NeilRClark.
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