a mountain of bones

March 26, 2020

Through all this horror my cat stalked unperturbed. Once I saw him monstrously perched atop a mountain of bones, and wondered at the secrets that might lie behind his yellow eyes.

H.P. Lovecraft
The Rats in the Walls

face and shadow

Occasionally, I heard the frantic scratches of small, rodent feet upon the stone floor, going about their business. Far away, I thought I could hear the hum of conversation from a group of people – the medical staff perhaps – in their own building. Even further away, the echo of gunfire and explosions reverberated back to me. I couldn’t be sure whether this was real, or just my mind playing tricks on me. Perhaps something terrible had happened to my ears; perhaps I’d always hear the ringing of a bomb blast. And so, when I heard that louder, closer sound, it took me some time to acknowledge it.

Tap, tap, tap.

From where I was lying, it sounded as though somebody was knocking at the front door. I felt the urge to pull the sheet up over my head again but resisted after the embarrassment of being caught like that by Nurse Thomas.

Tap, tap, tap.

This time, the knocking was unmistakeable. My voice rasped as I whispered across at Do-Nowt’s sleeping form: ‘Did you hear that?’ But the poor Yorkie only rattled his remaining leg by way of response. Closer, I heard the rustling from more rodents. I heard them as they passed under my bed. There were quite a large number of them and they all seemed to be moving with a common purpose, as though called by a piper. A quick look over the edge of my bed confirmed that a thin carpet of vermin was swimming across the floor towards a crack in the wall and escape.

Tap, tap, tap.

Why would one of the nurses be knocking at the door? Wouldn’t they just unlock the door and walk in? And surely, none of them expected us to hobble up out of bed and one-leggedly, with flaking, burned skin, answer the door did they?

Tap, tap, tap.

Bullies, they say, only behave in that way because deep down they are insecure. Over the years, I’d laughed at that notion; I hadn’t felt very insecure when I was kicking Tommy in the kidneys had I? But now… Now I felt as though I was completely exposed. Whatever was outside that door could do whatever they wanted with me…Even the rats had deserted.

Before I realised what I was doing, I swung a leg out from under the sheet. Before I understood what was happening, I felt the cold of the stone floor on my feet. Before I could stop myself, I was grasping at the metal bed-head and pushing myself upright. As though in a trance, I walked to the door…

A J Kirby
Bully