Chicken Bones

by Tamara Rogers

He no longer counts the days. 

He no longer remembers why he was counting in the first place, the past just an echo in his mind. 

We won’t be long.” 

One hundred and twenty-four items surround him in the sand. Carefully curated, each in their right place; chicken bones, rusted tacks, rotting washers. He counted them three times to make sure that none are missing. Today he will make it one hundred and twenty-five. The number pleases him, nice and round.

Frayed cloth with the ghosts of a garish pattern, decadent luxuries from someone’s past life, provides a modicum of shelter against the hot wind. A swirl of dust still pecks at his bare arms and chest. He toys with piece number one hundred and twenty-five, passing it from one hand to the other, running his fingertips along the edges, rubbing its rough lines and brushing dirt from the grooves with his nails. He pushes it into the sand, next to a spire of metal, retired from a life of grating cheese and now standing tall and proud, a scuffed skyscraper in his city. 

We’ll come back for you, as soon as we can.” 

Piece two hundred and eighty-nine was ready. He presses it to his lips briefly, a parent’s gentle kiss. This piece is special, chicken bones tied together and stretching higher than the rest of his reclaimed empire. This will be the heart, the shining steeple at which his subjects will worship. 

Shreds of his skin, sunburn on sunburn, flake away as he leans forward, shedding papery white flakes like ash or snow. 

The chicken bones take center stage.

Broken tacks and twisted paperclips gather around his church of bones, cast themselves prostrate before it. They worship there, worship him. He is king and God here, now and forever. He laughs into the wind, a hacking sound forced from his mouth, dry and scratched as the earth around him. 

Wait for us, do not forget.” 

A sandstorm gathers, loading the wind with powder that scars everything it touches. Shadows form, lurching forwards, smashing into tins, washers, wires that form the outer reaches of his kingdom. Figures loom towards him, trailing scraps of his empire that they’ve crashed through, faces hidden behind visors that reflect his own in return. Is that his own face? Gaunt, pale, a stranger. 

Their boots smash down and through his city, gloved hands reach towards him. His church lies in ruins, shards of bone pulped into the ground, subjects scattered in horror. Rage fills him until his blood is as hot as the desert, until the sandstorm shapes around him, an extension of his own anger through violently flayed skin. He raises metal and bone, slashing, cutting. Blood runs, a torrent flooding through the streets, staining his empire black. Some fall, others run, before the dust settles. 

Slowly, he rebuilds his empire while his loyal subjects wait for him, his chicken-bone church rising from the foundations of fresh bodies. 

We tried.” 

Tamara writes mainly dark, surreal tales with a touch of science fiction, and her novel Grind Spark was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award 2014. She is interested in all things weird in the world of psychology, artificial intelligence and Armageddon. You can find her on Twitter @tamrogers, or at thedustlounge.com where there’s a strong possibility she’ll be talking about cats.
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