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General Art The Bonekeepers' Union


Sage of Tales
First chapter of prose of a story I originally attempted as a comic. (For those who remember "Bricklayer" - this is from that). It is about a mysterious city where people honor their dead by incorporating their bones into a wall.

Darn right, it's weird.



The Bonekeepers’ Union

Chapter 1

The dust swirled at his feet as the bus let him off unceremoniously. As soon as he was off the steps, the doors slid shut and it sped away as if the very road it rolled upon was cursed. This was the last stop before the city of Flynn. The passable roads went no further. Anyone seeking the city was required to walk across a stretch of scrubland for close to two miles.

Joe Murrika had never regretted wearing a suit to meet a subject until now. He berated himself mentally for choosing black. His wheeled suitcase rolled gently behind him over the plain. His grip on the pull-handle became slick with sweat in short order. It wasn’t even high-summer in this country, but more of a transitional period between spring and summer. Spring had brought flowers to drape the hills and a sea of weeds. By now the flowers had wilted and the weeds were dry, bristly things prone to snagging every thread of someone’s clothing. They dared the dry-lightning, careless smokers or even the heat in the air itself to set them ablaze.

Supposedly, fire was one of the things that the great outer-wall of Flynn protected it from.

The city was one of a handful that dotted this forsaken landscape. The transports from more “civilized” areas only brought goods, services and people so far. After the war, the people of the Divided States were allowed to live as they wished. For the most part, that freedom resulted in the building of a series of odd little city-states. Towns surrounded by formidable walls were nestled in the hills and over the plains. Of course, the walls were never meant to defend the locals from Murrika’s people. If war ever started up again, a good tank or bombs dropped from the sky could level any offending city.

The walls were mainly a way to mark ownership and a way for the cities to defend against one-another. The “outlier towns” rarely fought, but when they did, their people had limited weaponry. The wasteland cities were built as the people of their original generations wished. Most of them had cultures whereby the people retreated into and re-created lifestyles drawn from the past, only adopting such technology as was necessary to get basic work done. Murrika carried some electronic devices with him, but knew they would be good only for writing and basic work, as there was no signal to connect to his world out here.

Whitefeather, Cold Springs, Peridot… These were all interesting cities, and considered interesting places for the people of the civilized north to “slum” in, but Joe Murrika was interested in none of them for the time being. He was a journalist and a general writer. He was in the “backwater” country to fetch a story – or perhaps even a full-scale non-fiction book out of one walled city: The one that many people dreaded – Flynn.

Flynn was not known as a hostile place. On the contrary, it had been peaceful since its creation (with only a few altercations through the decades with the city of Whitefeather). However, many outsiders were superstitious about it for one reason – the very reason that Murrika was drawn there. Beyond the outer wall, past the fields where the people kept their livestock, was an inner wall that was built and adorned with the bones of Flynn’s dead.

Murrika had heard stories about the bone-wall and the class of people slated to build it. He’d met others who had tried to tell their stories. He never felt that they ever told the whole story. The young man wanted to know the people behind such a job – not in an aloof way, as his predecessors had reported, but in as personal a way as he could achieve. He was not afraid to befriend “uncivilized” persons, if it came to that. He wished to tell a bold, true rare story. He did not wish to be “an anthropologist among apes.”

“I can smell myself,” the would-be recorder of tales complained as he reached one of the four main gates of Flynn. Beads of moisture dribbled off his dark hair and down his face. He blew his straight bangs away from his eyeglasses, which by now had a subtle coating of dust on their lenses.

He startled back as he looked at the gate. Apparently, skeletal décor was not reserved for only the inner wall. There were staves, struck into the ground bearing thin, colorful flags. There was also a pair of staves at either side of the gate with the skulls of large horses lashed to them, painted on the front with triangular symbols.

Mr. Murrika asked the pair of armored people (a man and a woman) for entry and presented the appropriate paperwork. The guards issued a cry to people he could not see. The gates parted and he was let inside. The most important thing was to let the people here know that he was not a threat. It was also important to let them know that he carried money. It happened that most of the cities in the Divided States used the currency issued by the Reunited States. Some of the values assigned to the bills were different, but they were still circulated. It was for convenience, perhaps. Flynn was no exception.

There were a few merchants by the gates. Whether they gathered by the wall regularly or were just here in hopeful expectation of visitors from the bus-run, he would find out later. Murrika flashed a pair of bills and was given a large pitcher of water. What he didn’t slam down his sore throat he poured over his sweaty head, heedless of his suit. He regretted it a moment later when he had to take his glasses off to see in blurs slightly less terrible than that produced by wet lenses. An old man gave him a cloth to wipe them on – for an additional bill.

From there, Joe Murrika trekked down a narrow dirt-path past fields of crops and grazing beasts. He came to a part of the inner wall that was unfinished – one of the “stops” where it presently ended. He was tempted to touch it, but stopped out of respect.

“These were people once,” he said to himself. “And I do not know if anyone here has a taboo about touching the thing.”

He looked up when he heard a child’s laugh. He startled as something with large wings jumped right off the end of the wall and landed before him.

“Oh, hi Mister!” the girl said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you!”

Murrika stared at a girl that looked about ten to twelve years old with messy hair and a pair of cardboard wings tied to her arms with twine. The wings looked like they’d been cut from some very large box that had once held some kind of massive household appliance.

“I’m alright,” he responded, smiling sheepishly.

Apparently satisfied, the girl ran off across one of the fallow fields with her “wings” spread out. Mr. Murrika chuckled softly and ran a hand through his still-damp hair. “I never though they’d let kids play on it,” he said. He looked back at the wall to an interesting star-shaped design in the brown-gray concrete. Someone’s skull stared back at him.

Questions were asked and directions are given. The writer found himself walking down the slope of a hill, headed toward an area marked by ominous signs. International symbols for hazards that had stood the test of time warned the un-initiated away.

“Allo!” he shouted out, waving a hand in the air.

A woman in a leather apron looked up from her work at a table. Joe Murrika had tried to steel himself, “knowing what he was getting into,” but what he saw still sent a cold sensation of shock through his system.

There she stood – the person he was meant to contact as the most able and willing to show him around. Her eyes were worn, with faint wrinkles as their edges, her skin was as tan as buck’s hide, her sandy-gray hair was done in the longest ponytail he’d ever seen and her thick apron was spattered in fresh blood. Older, equally dubious stains were worn into it. She gripped a broad-bladed knife. Other knives of various lengths and widths were stuck tip-first into the work table or were hung into a leather belt mounted to its side. What rested upon the table, partially covered with a thick sheet, was something drawn from nightmares.

It looked very much, Murrika decided, like something one would expect to see in a butcher-shop. Flesh and bone, pink and deepening to dark red close to the bone. The longest bones were well-stripped, showing a creamy color under the glisten of fluids.

A pair of smallish, scruffy dogs were gathered near, quiet, but rising up on their haunches, sniffing. The woman laid her knife on the table and seemed to ignore Murrika. She opened her other hand to the begging canines. They sniffed and licked and bit little portions of something off her fingers. Murrika looked back to what was exposed on the slab. Though it resembled an animal carcass, the configuration of bones told him that he was looking at human remains.

The little dogs licked the butcher’s hands clean. Joe Murrika found a convenient bush to wander behind and threw up.

“I wasn’t expecting you this soon,” the woman said, “or thought you would try to meet me here. I hate it when outsiders catch me on the job. Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Murrika answered, regaining his composure. “I apologize for my rudeness.”

“I’m Korrina Crucia,” the woman answered. “So you found the right person. Mr. Mur- Murrika, if I am correct?”

“Yes,” Joe Murrika hastily nodded. “I mean… I had a trek through the desert… and in this heat… Of course my stomach’s going to be a bit off…”

“Nah, this?” Crucia quipped. “You’ll learn to take days hotter than this if you stick around for summer. You don’t need to make excuses. Folks always get sick if they catch me having to do the worst of the work. Lemme get cleaned up. You should find your hotel.”

The woman turned and called out down the slope. “Sparky? I’m trusting you to take ov-”
She marched herself to a chair that held a teenager. She shook his shoulder and he looked up. The scruffy-haired boy reluctantly removed his ear buds and turned off the music-player that rested in his shirt-pocket.

“Sparky,” Crucia said gently. The boy responded with what Murrika could describe only as a “Huh?” look.

“I need your help,” Crucia said. “Can you finish up with Mr. Schlitz?”

“Sure,” the kid answered. “I thought you had the base-work handled.” Sparky looked up. “He’s here already?”

Joe Murrika waved and smiled awkwardly.

After both parties had a chance to clean themselves up, Ms. Crucia met with Mr. Murrika. She took him to an open-air restaurant. Music from a live-band played. The place was cordoned off with ropes and there was a sign by a ramshackle whitewashed counter depicting a running bull in burnished brass. The tables were simple and, as evening fell, lanterns hung by strings over the area were lit. Strands of tiny, clear, electric lights also decorated the poles where the cordon-ropes were hung.

The place looked fancy, but was a working-person’s eatery in the town of Flynn. Joe Murrika winced at the menu when he saw it. There were lots of weird meats, including animals that people in his country thought of as household pets – and at least one was a household pest.

He ordered a salad with a light cream dressing and proceeded to pick at it uncomfortably with his fork. The lady Crucia, on the other hand ordered a thick steak with accompaniments. Murrika stared and poked at his not-quite dinner while watching her pour a spicy sauce over her hunk of meat and proceed to cut it and enjoy it.

“I don’t mean to sound rude,” he ventured, “but how can you? After..?”

“You get used to certain things in my business,” she said.

“Hmm,” he muttered. “Well, I have read books with the old ‘sandwich at the autopsy table’ thing. It’s just… I’m… pretty hungry, but not hungry…right now.”

“Don’t force yourself for my sake,” Crucia answered. “We’re supposed to get to know each other, anyway. Talking is better than eating for that. You must have some initial questions about me, mine, and what we do.”

Murrika cleared his throat as he rolled a fat little tomato to the side of his plate. “Why don’t you just bury people and dig up their bones later or use some kind of ossuary-system?” he asked.

“We only have a tiny amount of space within the city to do burials,” Crucia answered. “We need every scrap of farmland we can get and within the city is off-limits. We have some fears about using the desert outside our gates. Our soil doesn’t take well to the kind of decay-process we need to incorporate skeletons into the Sacred Wall. We do try to do burials whenever we can. Some families want their deceased incorporated right away. That’s when those of us capable of doing the dirty-work you saw me at are slated to do it.”

“I…lost it when I saw the dogs.”

Crucia noticed his sad eyes and the way he was slumping in his chair.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You shouldn’t have seen that. Most of the soft remains are burned and scattered. What I was doing was not customary.”

Murrika cringed. “Then… why?”

The “Bonekeeper” sighed. “The dogs… I’m actually trying to save their lives. You see… people keep dogs as pets here. The same as in your country, if I am correct.”

“Yes,” the man answered. “We love dogs – generally speaking, of course.”

“The strays, though, well… some here in Flynn have a taste for dog-meat. It is also one of the least expensive kinds of protein you can get here. This very place serves it by request.”

Joe Murrika coughed and sputtered. Yes, he had seen that on the menu. Greens were definitely the right choice, he decided - Flynn might turn him into a vegetarian.

“Relax,” Korrina Crucia soothed. “You got a salad, remember? And you haven’t even touched it.”

“Okay, true enough. I didn’t order any meat to wonder about,” the young man said, catching his breath. “And if I did, well… I’m in a profession where I am supposed to try new things.”

“People are superstitious about the dogs, though,” the woman continued. “If any of them eat human flesh, people take note of that… they take note of the dogs that hang around us Bonekeepers… no one wants to eat them. People feel like they’re cannibals by-proxy if they do. I don’t have the resources to adopt pets, so I help out the strays in my own way. They’re almost-pets. The way I see it, if someone’s demise after-the-fact can help keep other beings alive – why not? I like our city’s wandering dogs.”

Murrika took a tentative bite of lettuce. He not only found that he kept it down without coughing, it enlivened his hunger. He shoveled vegetables into his mouth and tore into the bread upon the table, smearing it with butter from a cream-crock.

Crucia laughed gently. “It is good that you found your appetite again,” she said. “I worried that you might starve to death.”

“This is… actually… pretty good bread.”

“It’s mostly what I eat here,” Crucia confessed. “It is not often I can spend money on a steak, but I felt that today was a special occasion. I might have ordered donkey or horse if I was sure things would work out well.”

“Donkey or horse…” Murrika trailed off. “Those aren’t exactly luxury foods where I come from.”

“You have much to learn about Flynn,” Crucia answered.

“And what’s with the ‘turning out well’ remark? You don’t have confidence in me?”

“Few on the outside ever really ‘got’ us – especially us Bonekeepers. Our own fellow citizens fail to understand us too well. I don’t think we’ve ever been able to tell our story… without someone’s personal agenda getting in the way.”

“I’m here to try to put an end to that.”

“You’ll be meeting the others tomorrow. The Lynch Sisters at the very least. They do some of the finer clean-up… They keep insects and chemicals for the job. They get the bones nice and hard so they might be a part of the wall for eternity. The work is not beautiful, even as we try to create beauty from it. Death is never lovely, but we try to make lovely things from it.”

“That is why I am here,” Murrika said. “I want to see how it is done. I want to see why it is done.”

Crucia gulped down another piece of steak. “Why? You’re as silly as the rest. The reason why is to make what remains in life and memory shine.”


Sage of Tales
The Bonekeepers’ Union

Chapter 2

Joseph Murrika – Log. First Day Post-Arrival:

The wallpaper in my hotel suite had disturbing stains on it. I didn’t choose the highest-end of hotels, but I didn’t choose the cheapest in town, either. I don’t want to know what the rooms in the cheap inns look like. The bed sheets and covers at least looked clean, not that it would have mattered to me in the exhausted state I was in last night.

It must have been the desert that did me in, because I don’t drink. Mrs. Korrina Crucia warned me that we would be meeting a pair of young women who could drink the toughest men in Flynn under the table should I want to take on a challenge.

Meeting the pair today almost made me want to take up drinking, or, alternately, to seek out medical attention for possible damage to my heart.

The door to the out-building opened and Joe Murrika was greeted by a strange, elongated face. He jumped back and his guide laughed. Korrina Crucia slapped him on the back.

“It’s just a mask,” she assured. “The Lynch Sisters wear them to keep from being known.”

“They aren’t some kind of precaution or sanitation thing?” Murrika asked as he entered the warehouse. He saw the twin of the person who’d opened the door, also wearing a whitewashed wooden mask. The masks resembled something equine, but were far too smooth to be real bone. Reverberating throughout the vast room was a sound that made Murrika feel itchy. It was a crawling kind of sound. The floor had doors in it – massive brown-painted metal doors that mounted into a concrete edging. There were handles on the inner sections. The masked sisters demonstrated how they worked.

“The insect-pit,” one of them said. “Jaye, get the poles.”

One of the women grabbed a long stave with a curved metal end. Murrika thought it looked like a spear, but it was blunt enough to make for poor use in combat. She handed another one to her compatriot. Together, they hooked their pikes into the handles on one of the doors and pulled back, sliding the door open on a track. Inside was a sea of beetles experiencing every stage of their lives. There were compact little adults climbing through sawdust and castings and all over one another, little squirming larvae and chaff-like pupa bobbing in among their parents and siblings.

The smell was nearly overpowering to Joe Murrika. That was the smell his nose had caught when he’d first stepped in. There were simple, screened ventilation ducts inside the sides of the pit, which must have, he’d guessed, led out into the divots in floor around it. The open pit, however, let all of its aromas free in full-force. It was an earthy smell, a gummy smell – a unique, otherwise indescribable stench of thousands of insects gathered in a space the size of an average family swimming pool. Ragged ribs stood out from the writhing gray and brown. The ribcage-section was far too large to have originated in a human, unless, of course, the lands around Flynn held giants Murrika had never known about.

“We’ve got a horse in there,” one of the masked women said. “He was a beloved animal and we were requested to work with him.”

“You incorporate animals into the Wall?” Murrika asked.

“Not often,” Crucia answered. “There are several sections ‘round the bend we can show you where the dead choose not to part with their pets or where animals otherwise become a part of the design. My client from yesterday is being handled here. I think he is a bit too buried to see… Ah!”

She pointed to a bit of human radius and ulna visible among the swarm.

“Yeah, I see,” the young writer answered, taking a deep breath. The Lynch Sisters slid the heavy door closed again after taking a reed broom to brush strays back into the pit.

“I don’t think we’ve really had a proper introduction,” Murrika said politely after regaining his breath.

“Meryl,” one of the masked women said, extending a hand from beneath the cloak she wore.

“Jaye,” said the other, shrugging her shoulders.

“And no,” Meryl continued, “You are not going to see our faces. It is not just because you are an outsider, I assure you.”

“No one in Flynn sees our faces,” Jaye interrupted. “No one but our fellow Bonekeepers.”

“Unlike me,” Korrina Crucia elaborated, “These dear sisters care about appearances. I do not mind the way I am seen in town. They enjoy socializing in their off-time. It is difficult for people of our profession to get dates.”

“We suspect some of the establishments would turn us away, as well,” Jaye said.

“The stigma of being a Bonekepeer can be pretty sharp,” Crucia explained as the Lynches took Murrika to another part of the warehouse, the place where they kept their chemicals and patinas to harden and color bones. “It is a job only for those who can do nothing else – something that only the poorest of us do, usually. Some of us are pushed into it by our families. A few of us choose it for our own reasons.”

“Hmmm,” Murrika muttered, clearing his throat.

Meryl pointed to stacks of bones of various kinds – stacked femurs, a large earthen bowl with skulls. They all had tags affixed to them, carefully catalogued. “These are those that did not have requests to be incorporated right away. We keep a careful record of all of their names, birthdates, death-dates and various other information.

“It is a bit shocking,” the writer admitted. He took down a few notes in a pad he’d carried in with him.

Jaye spoke up. “It is better than what was done in some of the historical catacombs and churches in other parts of the world – the record-keeping, I mean. The oldest section of the wall isn’t on record.” - She went to a desk holding an enormous book. She opened it, scattering dust in the wake of its heavy pages. It reminded Joe Murrika of a wedding-guest registry.

“We keep records here,” she continued, “and on the tags. We treat our clients like some might treat a scientific collection. “There are other projects around the world very like our Sacred Wall and born from similar problems… Overflowing graveyards needing excavation and so forth. Our wall was begun after the last great war as a way to honor the unburied dead and our forebears just continued on with it. Our predecessors could not keep a record of the war-dead, but since then, the Bonekeepers have kept everyone’s names.”

“So, how deep does the stigma go?” Murrika asked innocently.

“Oh, quite a bit,” Crucia said sadly. “It’s not just that it is job that pays a minimum, it is a job that bars us from taking on any other jobs. Our work with the dead – though it is considered important – is also considered to be corrupting.”


“In a spiritual sense,” Crucia explained. “We’re on one end honored for being the people who take care of the dead and their memory. On the other end, the very… gritty… work we do to upkeep the aesthetics of the Wall lead us to be feared.”

“I have to admit,” Murrika muttered, “You did look frightening when I came upon you… with the knives and the apron.”

“We’re considered tainted,” Jaye said. “We are seen as a people of poor luck. No one wants to risk having children with a Bonekeeper, because the future is almost always written for the offspring. Our leader, Ms. Tara Stone, is a third-generation Bonekeeper. People think of us as ‘bringing the specter of death’ with us wherever we go.”

“Some of the others don’t think we even have souls,” Meryl groused.

“Really?” Murrika asked, appalled.

“According to our local legends,” Crucia explained, “those of us who handle the dead and build the Wall are barred from the Heavens. We are, by default, slated to encounter a less pleasant form of an afterlife. We don’t exactly believe in a place of torment like in the older legends, but the Darklands are not favored among believers who live in Flynn.”

“We are,” Jaye added, “tainted… and no tainted thing can enter a realm of purity.”

“At least the Darklands are mostly ‘merely dull,” Meryl said. “It is said that they are gray, with cracked, dry ground where unworthy souls wander forever. Some think the place has rivers of blood and castles of bone, too. I’d say it suits us Bonekeepers just fine.”

“Personally, I look forward to such a place,” Crucia said. “If all of the people who think they are better than us end up in the Heavens, I’d rather wander in the gray than share another life with them, even in the nicest of settings.”

“Well, you will know where you’re headed to when you see the bony kitties,” Jaye mused.

“Bony kitties?” Murrika asked as he exited the warehouse with the women and walked along the dirt cart-trail that lead between it and the Sacred Wall.

“The Seraphilines,” Crucia began with a small nod, “They are guides for the dead. They are only supposed to be seen by the dying. According to deathbed stories, they look like the skeletons of cats with wings and feathered tails.”

“Sounds pretty spooky to me,” Murrika mused. “No offense.”

“None taken,” his guide assured. “They are supposed to be spooky. All of us who are keepers of death are spooky. The Seraphilines supposedly take people to both the Darklands and the Heavens, by the way. Of course, there is an additional tale about a full-fleshed, full-furred normal-looking black and white cat that acts as a sarcastic companion to earthbound ghosts. I don’t know too many people other than children who believe in her, though.”

“Interesting,” Joe Murrika said, scribbling in his notebook, refraining to speak of how all of these folk-beliefs sounded far-fetched to him. He inwardly reminded himself that he was an outsider and that some of the common beliefs and other things that were given casual nods in his own culture would surely seem far-fetched or silly to the people here. He smiled, thinking; Why not companions in the moment of death? Why not?

The little group of the woman with the long ponytail, the journalist and the two masked bone-cleaners came up toward a small group of people gathered around a kitchen table in the middle of a dusty, dry-grass field.

“Tone down the mythology!” one young man complained to another, older man. They were both standing up.

A woman with short hair and gold-colored dangly earrings was seated at the table, scrawling with a pencil on some large sheets of paper, weighted down by her other hand and a ruler. The young man with the exasperated complaint was rather strange-looking in Murrika’s opinion. He had long hair, maroon in color, and was wearing a headband that had a deer-antler sticking up from it. he was an adult, but boyish, and Murrika did not know how he had correctly guessed his gender, as he would be informed of later. The man being complained to was significantly older, had darkish skin and was holding papers in his hands – a written speech.

“What else am I to say?” the speechwriter replied. “His family is one with a desire after Heaven. I know them. These words are a comfort.”

“Suppose someone is in doubt,” the young man with the antler said. “If even one of them isn’t feeling so sure, your ‘comfort’ may just hurt them more. You should just focus on the life he lived that is known to all of us.”

“I do wish to give hope to those who have requested it.”

“You know how I feel about false hope.”

Crucia turned to Murrika. “The older gentleman is our John Guile. He does some of the design-work on the wall and what he’s doing now is practice for a ceremony.”

“A funeral?” he asked, in turn.

“Not entirely,” Crucia answered. “People do their own private funerals. We just do something extra when bones are incorporated, particularly when the request is registered. Our ceremony functions as a kind of second-funeral.”

“The young stag seems a little upset.”

“Oh, not really,” she replied. “Those two just like to argue. You see, Mr. Guile is the most devout of us regarding our temple and is the best-educated in its matters. Axxel Hatcher there is the one among us ‘devout’ in a stance of non-belief.”

“So, they fight often,” Joe Murrika concluded. “It is that way in my country.”

“On the contrary!” Crucia said brightly, “They are the best of friends.”


“They are almost always together, even without work to be done. They disagree on some things, but are rarely unfriendly. They share a love of justice that surpasses the details.”

“Ah, ha,” Murrika said, clearing his throat.

John Guile laughed. “Alright, alright,” he said to his acquaintance, “The speech does seem a little pushy. It doubt Mr. Schlitz is greatly concerned about his place in the next level. He probably would want us sticking with the known. However, if any of the relatives wish to speak with me privately, I will be free with them about what I hope in.”

“Fair enough,” the young man with the odd hair sighed.

Crucia urged Murrika forward to speak with the woman at the inexplicable table. She rose from her seat and shook his hand.

“Hello,” she said. “Tara Stone, Project Head. Pleased to meet you.”

“Joseph Murrika, Outlier Chronicle. I hope that I wasn’t interrupting anything important. I’ve met Miss Crucia and the Lynches, and got to see… um… first-hand… what they do.”

“Oh, come walk,” Stone beckoned, motioning for Crucia to join them. They left the two men to fuss and bother over the finer details of the ceremonial speech and the Lynches to take a rest at the table. Joe Murrika, Korrina Crucia and Tara Stone descended a soft hill until they found themselves standing before the imposing tallness of a section of Flynn’s infamous inner wall. “The construction-sections are over there,” she said, pointing down the arc to a distant unfinished area. I was drawing some plans with Guile. That’s most of what we do,” she nodded to Murrika, “Flynn is a relatively small city and we don’t have a particularly high death-rate. The elderly here are tough old birds and we don’t often have outbreaks of violence.”

“Good to know,” Murrika muttered.

“We get some thefts sometimes,” Crucia said, walking beside him as Stone took the lead along the foot-path of dead and dying grass running at the wall’s edge. Murrika looked down, noticing how much it resembled a game trail. “Murder is rare, but it has happened. The same with accidents.”

“My little sister is a part of the wall over yonder,” Stone said sadly, pointing to a portion of the wall where the incorporations were not able to be seen. A shadow was cast by the curve. “The victim of an accident. Everyone else had to take care of her for me.”

“We did a burial for a year first, and then the Lynchs’ bugs,” Crucia explained. “As little space as we have for it in good ground, we Bonekeepers are allowed that much for our own and our families for the sake of distancing ourselves with salve of time. Our line of work has made us all lose our minds a bit, so we try not to press it when we can.”

“I do need to know all of the methods,” Murrika said. He looked up at the portions of wall they were passing. There were full skeletons here and there, some capering with the bones of animals, some dancing together. There were areas where separated bones had been arranged in patterns, stars, circles, and various abstract designs – the remains of several different bodies. There were designs etched into the wall and made into bass-relief to accentuate the hardened bones and skulls.

“Okay, so some go in as full skeletons and others are all done up at your discretion?”

“Indeed,” Stone replied, nodding her head and adjusting her eyeglasses. “Not all people request in their wills or are requested by their families to ‘take the spotlight,’ as it were. Some would rather mingle with their neighbors, family and assorted ancestors. We are allowed freedom in creating art. We do our best to give dignity to all.”

“I’ll say!” Murrika said, looking up at intricate work with skulls and femurs interspersed with relief-artwork of laurels and swirls representing wind. “It’s… creepy… I won’t lie… but it is beautiful.”

Korrina Crucia patted him on the shoulder. “So, you wouldn’t mind this kind of thing being done with you?”

“Not at all. My father probably would, but I wouldn’t mind. It actually seems like a better fate than to be put into the ground and forgotten.”

“Oh, they are still forgotten,” Crucia said sardonically. “No one living knows the names of the jumbled war-dead in the oldest part of the wall. Those that have come after them are only remembered so long as their families, friends and associates are able to. In the end, they all become pretty – but anonymous – bones.”

“Still!” Joe Murrika insisted, “They are art!”

“That they are,” Crucia replied with a smile. Ms. Stone was smiling, too. The chain on her eyeglasses swayed slightly, as did her dangly earrings.

They came to a highly-decorated pillar. The top of it jutted up from the edge of the wall. On their side of it was a single skeleton. Some of the bronze-colored bones protruded slightly from wall’s mortar. The skull looked skyward, the arms were out and the legs were posed in a lift-off position. Over the pillars were what looked like the wing-bones of birds, treated the same as remains of the man. (The narrow pelvis told Joe Murrika that the subject was a male – he knew at least that much about human anatomy). In relief around the wing-bones were sculpted feathers, and beyond those feathers, relief that resembled symbolic flames.

Murrika marveled at it, but he had one question. “The wings…. Those are highly irregular. Where did you get those?”

“Korrina hunts birds sometimes,” Tara Stone explained. “She sometimes brings down large geese with a bow and arrow.”

“It’s… supplemental food… for when the stipend we get from the city doesn’t quite cover everything we need. Every once in a while, I hit something big enough that we can play around with sculpting around it. I saved those wings for a long while…. This incorporation is… special.”

Murrika noticed the sadness that laced her voice. He ventured, cautiously. “Someone you know?”

“The big pillars are former Bonekeepers,” Stone explained. “This man was the last of us that we said goodbye to. If you had come to see us two years ago, you would have been able to meet him.” Stone stood by the pillar and gave a little courtesy, making a flourish-gesture with her arm and hand. “Mr. Joe Murrika, meet our dear, departed Anthony Stake.”

The writer bowed his head in respect.

“He was a fellow design-head,” Crucia explained. “He worked closely with Tara here.”

“I am sorry.”

“It is alright,” she answered. “We all still miss him, but time has a way of healing.”

“He’s done up like a myth,” Murrika observed. “Are the rest of your predecessors portrayed as angels?”

“No, just him,” Tara Stone said. “Stake was a man of lofty ideals and strong emotions. We all found him to be ‘touched by fire’ to coin a phrase. We also think that he would have liked this set-up.”

“Was he young?” Murrika asked. “Something about the bones looks… young.”

“His birthday was three years before mine,” Stone said. “Our job and our life here got to him.”

“Hmm?” Murrika grunted in nervous way. “Oh, I didn’t mean to reopen any old wounds.”

“Nah, people should know,” Stone said. “Your investigation of us Bonekeepers would be incomplete without his spirit, with it still being as much a part of us as it is. He was a hero once, too… but it did not save him.”

Murrika walked up to the pillar and gently ran his fingers over one of the skeleton’s feet.

“I’ll tell you the story of how I got my little silver tabby cat that I have at home,” Stone began.

“A story about how you got your cat?” Murrika asked.

“He belonged to Tony as a kitten before he became mine. I can think of no better way to deliver a sad story than to have it delivered by a cat.”

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