I followed you into the dead lands. Into the bone forests. Just because you asked me to that night.
‘Walk with me.’ That was all it took and we stepped out. ‘Stepping out’. Like in my grandparents’ day. Only it wasn’t and we weren’t walking hand-in-hand. There was no honour in us, at least none that I could see. Still, I followed you.
‘Walk with me.’ Without you. Outside you. But never with you. That was the condition of us. Were we even a ‘we’? Stepping out, like my grandparents, in honour of the question.
Still, I walked with you and you spun me tales. Tales of lust. Tales of a living land where we could build something solid. And so I followed you.
‘Walk with me.’ To a house. A house in a forest. A forest was a home. It was made of bone. Our bone. Blood of my blood. Flesh of my flesh. Building. Growing a thing in me that was you and wasn’t you. That was within me and outside you. That was you, in a way, but you with honour. I hoped for honour. Hope followed you.
‘Walk with me.’ I could see the bones. Trunks. I navigated them without a bone map but I knew that they were dead things. I held a growing thing and kept it safe from their touch. You had fallen silent and I had no space to write the tales to spin the net to catch you before you fell. Falling. You became an echo. A solid thing. A soiled thing. Your body disembodied. As I was more than a body. Less than two. My body a bone cage for a cage of bones that held a tale that hadn’t formed its own echo but that echoed you. It would not follow you.
‘Walk with me.’ I didn’t need to say it out loud. I was more than one. I lost you but you were less than a whole. You gave me a piece of you and I carried it. It kicked me. Kicked so hard it kicked itself out and became its own tale spinning away. It became she. She became it. She was a part of you. You were apart. I could not follow you.
‘Walk with me.’ It was the time of longing. I walked with the hole that wasn’t you. It had shed your bones to the forest. The echo filled it with silence. Silence was loud. I shouted the words into the silence. Come back through the bones. Step out with me. Hand-in-hand. Her hand in my hand. Tiny. Trusting. Flesh of my flesh. I couldn’t let her follow you.
‘Walk with me.’ There was a bone map etched on my heart. She couldn’t live in the dead lands. In the bone forest. I took her trusting hand. I wove a tale to bring us home. To carry her safe through the bone forest. Through the dead lands. To where the solid things were. We collected bones as we walked, filling the echo space with a skeleton. I wrapped the skeleton in memories. Memories that held the shape of you. She recognised herself in them. Her hand in my hand. Tiny. The silence broken by a bone that broke. Snapped. I watched it fall from her as she became less solid. One foot in the echo space. I spun tales until my fingers bled, spinning the net to catch her as she fell. Trunk by trunk. Bone by bone. It was a net of echoes. Woven. I had the bone map. I could keep her safe. She just needed to follow me.
‘Walk with me.’
‘With me me me.’
‘Me me me.’
You tried to catch her bones with an echo. To break the net of tales. To make her yours. I spun as fast as your echo cut the threads of tales. All the time. Her tiny hand in my hand. Warm. Trusting. As we ran through the bone trees to the edge of the dead land. We stood at the margin, she and I and my net of tales holding the bones in. Before I turned my back on the echo, I shouted into the darkness.
‘You will not follow.’
She followed me out of the dead lands. Out of the bone forests. Just because I asked her to that night. The tale was told.
Claire Kotecki is an emerging writer currently studying for her MA in Creative Writing at the Open University. She writes fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. Her interests lie at exploration around the boundaries of genre. When she isn’t writing, she is a Lecturer in Biology and distance education specialist.