Bones Don't Burn
by Tony Noland
The skeletons rose from their graves in the usual way - slowly, smallest bones first.
They had a hard time of it. Grass grew tall and heavy over the yard, thickly matted roots the last obstacle in their patient rise through the soil. Madeline Andrea Cummins (August 13, 2154 - August 23, 2154) disappeared entirely into the earth, her wispy newborn bones too fragile and half-formed to rise intact through the church's six feet of earth. Her mother, Jennifer Andrea (Wilcox) Cummins (October 9, 2135 - September 19, 2154), came up only half-way, then stopped, as suicides often will. Madeline's father, Carl David Cummins (April 1, 2132 - December ?, 2154) was not buried in the same churchyard. He wasn't buried anywhere, to tell the truth; his bones had long ago been cracked and scattered by the dogs.
The bones of the dogs, of course, don't matter at all.
Jennifer's parents, Alexander Mondrian Wilcox (June 12, 2093 - August 21, 2154) and Elizabeth Andrea (Richter) Wilcox (February 9, 2094 - August 23, 2154) would have come up, but although they had been buried in as much haste as the others who were among the first to die, they had pre-paid for ornate bronze caskets. Side by side, deep and quiet, they did not join in the slow, upward parade. Carl's parents, Carl Brian Cummins (November 3, 2083 - December ?, 2154) and Madeline Julia (Arnold) Cummins (November 26, 2084 - December ?, 2154) had been with him when they died. He wrapped them together in the blue tarpaulin that the three of them had been sleeping under since they'd left the city. Carl Jr. sewed it closed with his spare boot laces. Thus wrapped, he prayed over them and left them by the side of the road.
He ran all day, trying not to hear the barking of dogs behind him and ahead of him.
Along the side of the church, the skull of Henry David Aaronson (January 8, 2071 - September 1, 2154) emerged two springs ago; he lacked only his hips to be complete. Alas for Henry, titanium does not rise in the earth, it sinks. His wife, Patricia Rose (Arnold) Aaronson (July 12, 2093 - September 3, 2154) rested, full and complete, but meshed in the grip of the roots, held away from the sun. Osteoporosis had left her bones almost as splintery as little Madeline's, but Pat had always been a stubborn, willful woman. Against the advice of her sister Madeline, she'd married Henry for his money, thinking him an old man who could not last long.
Those who marry for money, work for it.
Pat and Henry, Alex and Betsy, Jennifer and poor little Madeline - they and all the others stayed safe and secure and quiet, kept from the sun by the ornamental landscaping gone heavy and matted, wild and self-indulgent. A stone wall of moderate height, a simple enough vanity built by the church elders in 2009 and repaired multiple times since, surrounded the churchyard. The wall and the stone flags of the walk kept the fires out and the grasses tall. When the people all got sick and died or went away, this town wasn't long to follow all the others into ruin. Houses would collapse or burn in the lightning-born prairie fires, their propane tanks exploding in enormous fireballs that no one saw or heard. Across the landscape, fire and rain and rust swept away everything but the ugliest concrete overpasses and the most ornate granite churches.
There were no mice to dig and gnaw. No birds to pluck and peck. Nothing with a spinal cord walked or flew, crawled or swam anywhere. For the grasses and flowers, together with the insects and worms, the world had returned to the paradise they had once known, and still remembered.
Lying in the shadow of the church, patiently or impatiently, the bones wait for fire to free them from the grip of the grasses. And when they are free? Will they lie in the sun, uncovered and naked? Will they rejoin with imagined ligaments and dance out their freedom in dry, pale steps across a blackened earth? Will they sprout flesh and take up again the chores of life?
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