My skeleton tilted their skull up, stretched their bones wide in the cool, crisp sun. We stood in the sun until they turned to me. Ready for whatever came next I suppose, and so we walked. Little golden leaves clung to most of the trees, but one was completely bare. My skeleton stopped, stared at the tree, then burst out laughing, rattling and shaking their bones. We stood there a full minute, my skeleton knocking about in joy. Occasionally they’d mimic the tree, arms stretched upward, frozen and bare, then they’d rattle about again. They insisted on taking a photo with the tree, one bony arm wrapped around the trunk, the other perched on cocked hip, as if the two of them were old friends.
Down the street we passed a crocodile of children walking hand-in-hand. The children waved to my skeleton who waved back. But the teachers gawked. As we passed the teacher at the rear, my skeleton lurched toward her and chomped their teeth. The teacher yelped, then hurried off shame-faced.
When we came to a wooden footbridge, my skeleton stomped on it, once, twice. The bone striking the wood sounded like a marimba, resonant and round. My skeleton ran back and forth along the bridge, fingers clattering on the wooden posts. Watching from the riverbank, I wondered if they’d ever tire.
We ended up in the cemetery. I don’t know how or why. Maybe my skeleton led us there. I stepped carefully between the graves, but my skeleton was agitated. It bothered me they didn’t walk around the graves, just plunged their bony feet into mounds of dirt. My skeleton started running faster and faster, leaping over headstones, sprinting along the rows, dipping in and out of mausoleums. A pang of fear hit me. My skeleton might leave me. And so I called after them, “Wait! Slow down!” I spotted them turning round one corner, then another, but soon I couldn’t see them. The graves stretched out around me. I tried to calm down, but the panic remained.
My skeleton left me.
They lay on the ground under a large oak, motionless in a way that turned my stomach, but as I approached, they gestured for me to come near. It was an empty bit of earth, not a grave. They beckoned for me, patted the ground beside them. I hesitated, but their eyeless face pleaded. Crossing my ankles, I gingerly lowered myself beside them. I sat stiff as a board, thinking this should be enough, but they reached their bony hand to my shoulder and pulled me to the earth. I nestled into the dead leaves. The wet earth dampened my jeans. My breath quickened. Nerves tingled. My skeleton held my hand. Their solid cool pressed into my fleshy palm.
Blue sky gleamed beyond the tree’s dark limbs. Far above, a yellow leaf fell, swirled down, and landed on my rib cage.
K.A. Nielsen (she/they) is a U.S. writer living in Sweden. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in milk candy review, The Hunger, LandLocked, Fusion Fragment, and elsewhere. They frequent the internet: kanielsen.net and @_kanielsen_.