Skeleton Boy and Skeleton Girl
3. Skeleton Boy and Skeleton Girl
"Come on, Evelyn, you cowardy-custard!" Adam called from the river's edge. "Come help me launch the ship!"
"I'm not a cowardy-custard," Evelyn replied in a small, hurt voice. She clutched her doll a bit closer and looked down at him from her perch on a flat rock embedded in the riverbank.
Evelyn didn't like playing so near the river. The rushing current made her nervous, as did the shadowy places under the bridge. But her brother, obsessed with boats and seafaring thanks to their retired sailor father, loved it. And as she was one year and three months older than her brother, it was her job to mind him. Particularly now, in springtime, when the usually calm little river was swollen with the melted ice and snow. Their father always told them to take extra care around the river in the springtime.
"Be careful," she warned her brother, Father's warnings in her head, but he paid her no heed as he sloshed barefoot along the river's edge, looking for the best spot to set down his toy boat. Annoyed, Evelyn shook her head. Adam was unmanageable sometimes, he truly was. But he was enjoying himself, and in the fresh air. Evelyn appreciated the fresh air herself. Sometimes, especially in spring, it could be very stuffy inside the village walls.
The sound of an approaching carriage made her look up. An ornate carriage pulled by a pair of horses was crossing the little stone bridge, heading toward the village gates. Evelyn watched the horses, handsome brown ones, and then the massive wheels of the carriage. The little curtains were pulled over the carriage windows, but the Everglot crest was plain on the door. For the moment Evelyn was distracted from worrying about her brother and the river.
Evelyn was fascinated by the Everglots. Their title, their ancestry, their enormous mansion, the dresses Lady Everglot wore and the parties that they threw. Often Evelyn would hang back in the square when on errands with her mother, and just stare at that imposing front door, wondering about the life that went on behind it. She always imagined jewels and fancy hats, lovely dresses and servants in livery.
Her mother said that the stork was due at the Everglots' soon. The entire village was talking about it. Most of the villagers, Evelyn's mother and father included, were certain the stork would bring a boy to be the next Lord Everglot. But Evelyn disagreed. Secretly, she hoped that Lord and Lady Everglot would have a daughter, and perhaps she and Evelyn could be friends someday. Little Miss Everglot would be much younger, of course, but that was all right. They could teach other things.
When the carriage disappeared through the gates, Evelyn turned her attention back to her doll. Soon enough she was lost in a daydream as she arranged the doll's hair and dress, imagining flounces and curls and preparing for a costume ball at the Everglots'...
"No!" Adam suddenly wailed from down the bank. Evelyn looked up, panicked by his tone, to see that his sailboat had been caught up in the current and was making its swift way downstream. She panicked even more when Adam began to wade into the river.
"Adam, don't! Stop!" she cried, tossing her doll aside and sliding down the bank. "You can't swim!"
"I want my boat!" he told her, and took another step, water rushing up along his knees and then up to his waist. The boat spun and tipped in the frothy water, seemingly a hundred miles away downriver. There was no way they would catch it, not now.
"Adam, come back here this instant!" Evelyn shouted, trying to catch up with him. She lost her footing on a slippery rock, and stumbled into the icy water. Chilled and dripping in knee-high water, she watched as her brother took another step away from her.
And, just like that, he was gone. Sucked under the surface without a trace. Too shocked and frightened even to scream, Evelyn gasped and pressed both hands to her mouth. For a moment she stood, frozen, the water tugging at her. She could cry for help, but no one would hear her. The town crier, usually on hand whenever anything out of the ordinary happened, as if by magic, was nowhere to be seen. There was no one to help. She couldn't waste any more time.
Evelyn made her choice, and dove into the rushing water after her brother.
Soaking wet and cold but otherwise unharmed, Evelyn and Adam walked hand in hand along the narrow street that led to their house. Mother would be furious. They'd ruined their clothes, lost their toys, and it was dark. Evelyn, older and supposed to be her brother's keeper, would be in especial trouble.
"I'm sorry," Adam said eventually, snuffling a bit. It was as though he'd read her mind. "Evvie? I said I'm sorry. That I lost the boat and fell in the water."
Evelyn ignored him. She wasn't speaking to him at the moment. She just tugged him along, wondering why there were strings of lights strung between windows. And why the lamplight coming from a few of the windows along the street was green. And why the cobblestone lane seemed so awfully long. She decided it was probably just because she was tired from all the excitement, and the exertion of splashing about in the cold water. Her eyes were playing tricks.
But when the two of them reached the end of their lane, Evelyn knew something was wrong. She let go of her brother's hand and took a few cautious steps forward, glancing around all the while. Something was very wrong indeed.
"Where is our house?" Adam asked, again seeming to read her mind.
Evelyn did not reply, but this time it was because she was frightened and confused. At the end of the twisty little lane there should be a little house. With a basket on one side of the door, and a little pot of flowers on the top step. There should be a lamp in the narrow front window.
None of that was here. There was just a wall. A dead end. At the same time, the two of them turned to look at each other. And as one, they gasped.
"Adam, you...you're blue!" Evelyn cried.
"So are you!" Adam cried in return.
After that, there didn't seem to be much to say. Deeply worried and deeply scared, Evelyn held out her blue hand. Adam, frowning and looking near tears, took it in his own. With nothing else to do, they turned and walked back the way they had come.
Now that she was aware that something was different, was wrong, everything seemed different and wrong about the village. Everywhere there were crooked walls and twisted bits of iron. There were stairs in places that didn't make sense. The buildings were not in orderly rows like they should be. Feeling a very deep dread, Evelyn stepped a bit closer to her brother and held his hand more tightly as they walked.
What shall we do? Evelyn fretted. Whatever shall we do...?
Eventually they came to the square. At least that was the same as at home—all roads in the village led to the town square. To people. To adults who could, perhaps, tell them what was happening. Who could fix things and make them right again. Helpless, Evelyn and Adam stopped next to the statue in the center of the square, wondering what to do next.
"Look, it's a skellington horse," Adam remarked, pointing up at the statue. Evelyn looked up and saw that he was right. A skeleton horse. A dead horse.
"And look, there are more," he added, pointing again, this time at the front steps of a building across the way. "But they're people skellingtons. Skellingtons in clothes."
"Skeletons," Evelyn corrected. When she looked over, she saw that the skeletons standing on the steps, one in trousers and one in a tattered dress, were looking back at her. The one in trousers gave a little wave, which Adam returned.
"Adam," she said slowly, beginning to edge away from the statue and pulling him along with her, "We're in a town of dead people."
"You're right, little girl," came a man's voice, kind and deep, from behind her. Turning, Evelyn saw the skeleton who had waved to them. Next to it (him?) stood the skeleton in the dress. "And you both are dead people, too, now."
"Now really, Harry, you could have been a bit more gentle than that!" said the lady skeleton, and she gave him a little swat with a moth-eaten handbag. Looking down at Evelyn and Adam she added in a sweeter tone, "You must excuse him, he can be terribly blunt. But he is correct, dear. I'm afraid you both are...well, downstairs now."
For a moment Evelyn felt a wave of dread and sadness so keen that she was sure she would explode with the force of it. Somewhere deep down, some little traitor part of her knew that the skeletons were right. She and Adam were not alive any longer. It was all so clear, so obvious, now that she let herself consider it. No more heartbeat, no more rumbling stomach, no more breathing in and out, no more being able to feel the wet dress she had on that even now dripped on the cobblestones.
But still Evelyn shook her head. "No," she said firmly, fighting back the sadness. "I am not dead, I am seven."
"Being dead is for old people," Adam agreed, sounding very sure. "Not for children."
Even though the skeletons didn't have faces, it was clear that the look they exchanged was a pitying one. After a pause the man skeleton crouched down so that he was at socket level with them.
"That's very true," he said simply. "Say, though, as you're here...would you like to have something to drink? Or listen to a spot of music, perhaps?"
Unsure, though not feeling scared or threatened, Evelyn did not reply. Going somewhere with skeletons she'd only just met, and bringing her little brother along, was not something a responsible older sister would do. Mother and Father wouldn't approve, not at all.
Mother and Father aren't here, Evelyn told herself, still trying to get used to the idea. We won't see them again...
"There's a place here with a lovely piano," added the woman skeleton. She spoke quickly, as though sensing what Evelyn was thinking about. "It's just over there. The Ball and Socket Pub, it's called. A very nice French man's head operates it. I'm quite sure he won't mind if we bring in our newest arrivals."
Adam, his expression hopeful, looked at Evelyn. Adam did so love to listen to music, just the same as she did. Perhaps that was just what she needed, what they both needed, to help them feel a little better. To help them get used to things. This new place.
"Yes, thank you," she said, trying to smile. The man skeleton stood and held out his bony hand. Evelyn, after only a moment's hesitation, took it. The woman skeleton did the same for Adam. Linked thus in a row, the four of them made their way across the square.
As they strolled, taking their time, the grown-up skeletons chatted over the childrens' heads about nothing much in particular. Every once in a while they would ask Evelyn and Adam a question—their names, of course, and what games they liked, those questions that grown-ups always asked children. Evelyn let Adam answer, for the most part. She didn't feel much like talking, not even to very kind skeletons like these.
She was seven. She wasn't supposed to be dead. But at least she had her brother. And Adam had her. Always.
Evelyn squeezed Adam's little blue hand tightly, reassuringly. They shared a brave little smile as the skeleton couple guided them both into the bright, colorful, welcoming little pub.