Doris left her mother watching television and sneaked out through the kitchen. The garden had a gate leading to the footpath at the back of the church and thence to the graveyard beyond. She slipped her hand into the pockets of her dress and withdrew the quarter-loaf of bread her mother had thrown out yesterday on account of it being mouldy.
She picked around the blue spots, tossing the mouldy bits into the grass verge; food for birds or hedgehogs or, she allowed herself a thrill of fear, dead people who climbed out of their graves when the graveyard was locked at sundown.
By and by she came to her favourite tomb, an altar covered in lichen, the stone of which years of Wiltshire weather had turned the soft yellow of warm butter. Doris placed her palms on the top and hoisted herself up. There was a book here carved by a long forgotten stonemason from the same yellow limestone. The words on the stone pages had long since weathered away, but it didn’t stop her trying to work out, with eyesight and touch, what it once said.
Footsteps on the gravel path made her drop back to the soft grass and hide as the verger stalked past, black cassock flapping with his forced pace. She heard the creak of the gate hinges and the crack as the iron gate was locked for the night. The verger hurried off.
Doris peered around the edge of tombstone. She was alone among the graves with nothing but the sunset for company. She swallowed her sudden fear and stood. The last rays of the sun rested on the stone book and she couldn’t help but take another look. “Why, I believe I can read it!” She scrambled back up on the tombstone and, doing her best to keep the shadow of her head off the book, traced the words cut into the stone. “Remember my Vigil.”
She was shaken as the tomb began to quiver and rock. She slid back to the grass, just in time for the lid to slide off onto the ground. A smell like her dad’s old socks painted with creosote wafted over the graveyard. Bony fingers appeared over the lip of the tomb.
Doris scrambled backwards. No one had warned her that anything like this could happen from dabbling in the graveyard after sunset. The fingers were joined by the long, thin bones of a pair of forearms and gradually a skeleton climbed into the fading twilight. It looked at Doris, or rather it seemed to and would have done had it a skull. Doris giggled. She didn’t mean to; it just sort of fell out. A headless person would have been scary. A skull-less skeleton was considerable less so.
It turned toward here and wagged a finger at her. “Sorry.” Doris tried to straightened her face, a task made more difficult by the image of a sassy headless skeleton with one hand on its pelvic bone.
“Where’s your head?” Doris pulled herself upright.
The skeleton pantomimed a head on its shoulders, then trying to hold on to it as it was yanked free. It pointed to the town of Laverstone beyond.
Doris followed the direction. “It’s in the town? But we’re stuck. The gates are locked.”
The skeleton held out a hand and with some trepidation, Doris took it. She never held hands with a skeleton before. It wasn’t that bad. A bit like holding her granddad’s hand when he took her to the shops. It led her to the gate and lifted her gently her over then, bone by bone, posted itself through the railings. It led her to town and into the park where the museum stood like a glowering old uncle before the lake.
“In there?” Doris looked left and right but there was no one about. She tried the door. It was locked. The skeleton had a solution for that as well. It broke off one of its own little fingers and crushed it underfoot, withdrawing splinters of bone from the wreckage. It inserted two of the slivers into the keyhole and fiddled until the lock clicked open. It beckoned her inside.
Doris followed her in. It was only a small museum, local history being less popular with residents than television, and they soon found the Cabinet containing a series of skulls discovered in nearby cairns and burial sites. The skeleton pointed to a particularly fine specimen labelled Jennifer Dooley, d.1862. It was a matter of moments for the skeleton to unlock the cabinet and retrieve its head.
Doris clapped. “So your name is Jennifer?”
The skeleton clumped her jaw against the underside of her skull and mimed a curtsy. Doris was glad they’d just learned Morse code at school, because she could understand the chattering teeth. “Yes. Thank you for the help. Now I can rest at last.”
Doris led her back up to the church, shooing her behind bushes and hedges, and once into a graffittied phone box, whenever a car or walker approached. At the bottom of the road she had to hurry Mr Jarvis onward when his terrier took an unhealthy interest in what looked like an old bone under the holly bush, but they got there without revealing Jennifer’s supernatural presence.
There was a police car parked outside the church, its blue lights flickering over the old stonework. Jennifer his moments before a man with the three stripes of a sergeant stopped her. “You can’t go in there, love,” he said. “We’ve had a grave robber. This will be off-limits to the public for a day or two.”
Doris tried not to look past him at Jennifer hiding behind the church noticeboard. Despite the lack of lungs and musculature, the skeletal girl gave the impression of a shrug.
How on earth was she going to sneak a skeleton past her mother?
Rachel Green is a forty-something writer from Derbyshire. She lives with her two partners and three dogs. Although primarily a novelist, she is enraptured by the stage where her work has been performed in London and elsewhere. She also writes poetry, paints and illustrates. When not writing, Rachel walks her three dogs, potters in the garden, drinks copious amounts of tea and stabs people with swords. She twitters a haiku daily. She can also be found on Facebook (Rachel Green) and Twitter (@leatherdykeuk)