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Gather Your Bones

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles. She is the author of the Above World middle-grade adventure series from Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. She is one-fourth of the Alphabet Quartet, whose series of flash stories first appeared at Daily Science Fiction, and are still available there for further reading. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.
You were expecting a dank cave, spiders and bats and water sliding down dark rock, or else a yurt, or a thatched hut with chicken legs and the smell of your childhood inside. I'm sorry to disappoint. The sofa is from Pottery Barn, not even on sale, with upgraded fabric. "Sea mist." Who wouldn't pay more for a color with that name? I make no apologies for being good at what I do. You want a witch in a hovel, try Craigslist.
First, gather your sticks, your kindle, the detritus of your love. The little things upon which we'll build the working. She gave you a birthday card, but didn't print "love" above her name? Yes. More. The sweater in colors you hate, a souvenir bought hastily in the airport on the way home from a long trip. A coffee mug stained with her lips from the visits to your apartment that always ended before dawn.
Gather your sticks, and to them we will add wood. Did she cheat? A lot of men over the years? Good. Bring me her underwear, her earrings, the mirror she stares into when she hates herself. Oh, she's getting married next weekend? Excellent! Steal the scarf she wore to impress him when they first met, red-cheeked, at the cafe. If they fight, bring tears. Or blood. Or something precious shattered against the wall.
How long were you together? I see. You met in college. That's not really an answer, is it? No, I don't think "together" is a confusing word. You want her to pay, then you must bring me what I ask. You must gather your bones. The memory of your first kiss, your hand under her bra, her fingers, eager, reaching for your jeans. Never? I see.
You have emails, hundreds, about her projects at work, about why she wants to be an architect, about the time her boss stared at her legs and you threatened to break his nose. Good. Excellent. We can use this. She never asked about you, I gather. Never cared about your job and your life, about the two cats you rescued from the trash pile behind your building. She fed off you, sucked you dry, left you nothing for yourself.
Not exactly? She planned a surprise party for your 30th, with all your friends invited, even the ones she didn't like, even the one that grabbed her and called her names when she wouldn't give him what he wanted. There were cat toys passed across the small table at happy hour the week after she noticed the scratch on your arm and the bag of cat food nestled with your groceries. A slick leather briefcase when you got a promotion that must have eaten up half her salary that month.
And yet nothing more than that. You poured years into her, countless hours, thousands of lunches, and she gave you nothing more.
Yes, I see. I see quite well. Bring these items to me. I have the perfect working in mind. We'll make sure she gets what she deserves, won't we? And that you do, too. I'll even do this job for free, because your story has moved me so much. The new ottoman can wait; it's on backorder anyway. You'll be quite surprised, I think, when you see what this old crone has in mind. Let's call it a little wedding present. Yes, laugh. I'm laughing, too.
Gather your bones, boy.
Oh... and leave out extra food for your cats.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

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