The Bone Fairies: A Short Story

The doctor sighed impatiently and checked her phone again. 3:57am. The delivery was late by nearly an hour now. She shivered in the chill autumn air, a sudden breeze making the hair on her arms stand at attention. She glanced down the long driveway and saw headlights swiftly making its way toward her.

Ugh. Finally.

She walked over and opened the garage door. The car came sliding to a halt, tires screeching and brakes groaning in protest. Before the vehicle could come to a complete stop, the driver fell out of the front seat, dropping the duffle bag he carried. He scooped it back up in a panic.

“Wot’r you doin’ woman, get the bloody ‘ell inside!”

His demeanor confused the doctor, momentarily. As he flew inside, it dawned on her what he could be fleeing, and she jumped into action, running to close the garage door behind them. As the door began to shut once more, the rhythm of half a dozen pairs of wings began to draw near. The door closed just in time, as through the small window in the garage door, a pair of bright purple eyes could be seen, glowing with anger.

The doctor froze a moment and bit her lip. Her original objective was temporarily forgotten, and she imagined what discoveries lie with the creatures just outside. She regained herself as the driver pulled her by the elbow.

“C’mon,” he said, his voice quiet but far from calm. “That door won’t ‘old ’em for long. We need to get down to da lab.”

She pulled her elbow from his grasp and took a breath. “Will we be safe down there?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t right know. But I’d pledge money ‘at we’ll be safer in’nat bunker uh yours ‘an we are standin’ ‘ere.”

The doctor nodded sharply. “True enough. Right this way.”

The two of them stepped through the double doors and into the hallway. They opted to take the stairs rather than run the risk of getting caught in the elevator. It’s bad enough getting attacked by a bone fairy with an axe to grind; getting trapped in a small space with no weapons or way of egress while they tear your ribs out one at a time…well, that was just a nonstarter of an idea.

As she hurriedly led the driver down the stairs and through the maze of hallways and examination rooms to the secured room on the other side of the lab, she could not help but think that after tonight, she might be vindicated.

Doctor Francine Steinbeck came from a medical family. Both her parents had been doctors (her father was a surgeon, and her mother was chief of medicine at the highest rated hospital for patient care.) Three of her four grandparents had been teachers in medical school, while her grandfather on her mother’s side had been a medical examiner for the county morgue. So medicine was in fact the family business.

Francine, or “Frankie,” as her family called her, took after her maternal great-grandfather, or so she was told. Apparently, he had been a bit of a loner, and was more interested in experimental medicine. Back in the day, however, it was tough to get cadavers to work on or test subjects to experiment on…legally, that is. He had his medical license revoked, and he supposedly spent his final days on an arctic expedition, looking for some evidence of the next evolution of humankind.

Frankie did not have her medical license revoked. She did, however, enjoy experimental science. Specifically, she was a fan of finding the line between myth and fact. She had rather pleasantly discovered that there was far more truth behind ancient myths and legends. Upon discovering that magic did indeed exist, she attempted to obtain grant money from the board to study it more. What, after all, is science but the understanding of things once considered magical? Lightning used to be a power of the gods, and now, it runs through every home on the globe. What untold mysteries were just waiting to be discovered behind the veil?

The board, however, did not want to take such a financial risk that had no set reward. The good doctor was not researching specific cures or practices, but rather theoretical sciences. No, if she was going to study such things, they suggested she do it on her own dime, and if she discovered anything of value, they would reconsider.

It was then that Doctor Francine Steinbeck decided to build her own medical facility. She bought an old manor, and had it practically torn down to the studs. She made the living space smaller, and filled half the above ground space with a medical library, computers, and a pharmacy. Underground, she practically had her own hospital installed. Double doors with magnetic locks, wide hallways big enough for hospital beds to be moved from room to room, a radiology wing, complete with a CT scanner and xray machine. She even had an on-call room put in, in case she could not take the time to go upstairs to the living quarters overnight.

And, far on the north side of the compound, tucked into the corner of the foundation, sat the two most important rooms of all: the office and the surgical room. It was there that Frankie spent most of her time dissecting and examining formerly living things, some of which would not be considered…natural.

On the walls outside the surgical room were xrays of various magical creatures. She had xrays of elves, dragons, gremlins…she even had an xray of a kitsune. Unfortunately, she had not been allowed to keep the body of the kitsune for further examination, as it is highly illegal to buy and sell these animals. The government of the Auzinine empire (Frankie was told this was another realm adjacent to our own, but she was uninterested in its location) had granted her permission to xray the creature on the basis that she not cut it open and she return the body when the procedure was finished. Even though she had been under strict supervision by the Forest Guard who had brought the magical fox and took it back with them, she had managed to sneak a small sample of the creature’s blood. It proved to be her most prized possession yet.

The surgical room, however, was important for another reason. Not only did she have a current experiment laid out on the slab tonight, but it would also be the safest place for them to hide out away from the bone fairies. You see, the surgical room was built into the foundation of the building, and was also reinforced with titanium. Outside the titanium was a layer of lead strong enough to withstand a nuclear blast directly above the house. If the fairies could break through that, they deserved the revenge they sought.

The doctor slid into the surgical room, followed immediately by the driver, and the two of them slammed the heavy door shut. Frankie hit the magnetic lock, and bolted all three deadbolts just to be sure. She closed her eyes and thanked her lucky stars that she was a paranoid control freak in times like this. This was not the first time her overthinking had come in handy when dealing with magical folk.

“Jesus, Ryder, what the hell happened,” she asked the driver.

“My timing was just a little off, you know,” he replied breathlessly. “I thought I could get into the morgue and get da bones before da bonies showed up to collect. I was, uh, mistaken, as it were.”

The doctor narrowed her eyes at Ryder. “I’ll say. Tell me you still have the bag.”

Wordlessly, Ryder lifted the duffle bag and shook it. HE sighed, looked around, and set it down on an empty gurney. He sniffed and looked around the room, freezing in place.

“Blimey…” he said, “is ‘at wot I t’ink it is?”

The doctor nodded slowly.

Ryder looked at her and chuckled, then back to the gurney that had caught his eye.

“So it’s true, den. You really do live up to the family legacy.”

“There’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing. The world of magic is largely untapped and frankly unknown to modern humans. If magic can heal and extend lives indefinitely, who’s to say it can’t bring people back from the dead.”

Ryder’s eyes stayed fixed on the gurney.

“Lass, wot you’re doin’ goes beyond raisin’ the dead. This ‘ere is necromancy. And I’ve personally seen necromancy go terribly wrong. This isn’t experimentation or study. ‘Iss ‘ere is dark shite. I would call the Gatekeepers if I were you. Get a little supervision and help from the experts, as it were.”

The doctor’s face turned red, and her brow furrowed.

“I don’t need their help. I’m doing just fine on my own. You get the parts, I assemble them, and we document what works. It’s purely scientific. No need to bring the special forces of magic into this.”

“Aye, fair. But say it does get up one of deez nights. And say it gets outta hand. Say you can’t get the door open fast enough. Or say the bonies come back unexpectedly and I’m not ‘ere to warn ya? Wot then?”

Frankie sniffed.

“I seem to remember you being the reason the bone fairies showed up in the first place. As for the rest, that’s the risk I must take in the name of medicine.”

“If you say so…”

Before the conversation could continue, the giant door blasted inward and tumbled end over end into the back wall of the surgical room. Immediately, three winged creatures floated into the room. They had large, leathery wings, and their bodies were thin, but still somehow muscular. Upon their heads they wore circlets of silver and diamond. Their purple eyes seethed with barely contained fury, each of them resting a hand on the hilt of a sheathed sword. Their sharp fangs protruded ever so slightly from underneath their lips. The three folded their wings and set foot on the ground. They stepped aside in lockstep formation, clearing the way for someone else to enter the room.

The room seemed to dim momentarily as the imposing figure entered. He was slightly taller than average human height, and he wore a tall, pointed crown that forced him to dip his head slightly as he walked through the doorframe. He had a long white beard that was neatly groomed, and he wore silvery grey robes. Once inside, he pulled himself to his full height, his broad shoulders betraying just how imposing he must have been when he was young. He carried no weapons that the doctor could see, but somehow she knew he would not need any should he find himself in danger.

Behind him, the other three bone fairies stood watch outside the door. The three inside folded their arms and stared silently at the humans.

Ryder let out a ragged breath.

“Blimey…” he muttered, and dropped to one knee. “Bow, you blithering idiot!” he whispered harshly to the doctor. “‘At’s the lord of death ‘imself.”

Recognition rung through Frankie’s brain like a bell, and she was so stunner, she could not bow at first. No one had seen Lord Hades in over a thousand years, not since his injury had forced him to hand over the role of Lord of the Dead to his wife. Her knees shook, and then buckled, and she bowed her head in fear.

“Come, now, and rise, children. If I came with war in mind, I would have brought a larger army,” the old man chuckled.

Frankie and Ryder stood warily, both silent, unsure of what to say or do. Luckily, Lord Hades answered their questions without them asking.

“Now, you know who I am, and rest assured, I know who you are. I know what you are doing, and have not come here to stop you. If you wish to study necromancy, the King of the Dead is the last person to tell you to stop. I believe it goes without saying, but I will say anyway, that I do not make house calls very often, Doctor. The ‘spare parts,’ as you call them, that your friend has gathered today are not typical.

“Under normal circumstances, I would be content to let this game go unchecked. If you found a way to obtain these body parts and outwit my collectors, you deserve the win. However, today…I am afraid I must recollect those bones from you, as they belonged to a friend of mine. Or rather, they belonged to a friend of my wife’s, and she wishes very much for the bone fairies to perform their ritual. You see, when a tooth fairy collects a tooth, they leave behind a bit of money. When a bone fairy collects a bone, they leave behind a boon. A boon for a bone, if you will.

“These boons vary, depending on the size of the bone, the number of bones collected, and the person to whom they belonged. In this case, the entire skeleton of my wife’s friend is to be collected, and the bone fairies are under orders to assemble it, coat it in undying gemstones, and display.”

Against her better judgement, Frankie raised her hand. Hades lifted his eyebrows, signaling for her to speak.

“My apologies, sir, but my curiosity will be the death of me. I need to know, however. Where will they display the skeleton? Why do they do that? Do they display all skeletons? And…whose limbs do I have in a duffle bag right now?”

Hades smiled gently. He sighed.

“You ask a lot of questions for someone who just stole from the Lord of the Underworld. I shall answer two of them, as time is still of the essence. The bone fairies will display this man’s gemstone encrusted body in their Hall of the Dead. Not all skeletons are on display here, but many of them are stored here. It is a ritual that goes back to the days when I was young and uninterested in such things. The fairies were not always as you see them today…”

Hades’ eyes drifted as he remembered, but only for a moment. HE shook himself and returned to his story.

“They were once lively and vibrant, much like their cousins in your world. They would remove the dead from the halls of their kin, and as they took the bodies away, they would bless the families. Fairykind are all symopathetic creatures. Willothewisps, tooth fairies, and sleep fairies are all exceptionally aware of the struggles of the living, and only hope to alleviate the pain and struggle for a time. In taking away the bones of the dead, they slowly remove the memory. You see, it is the memory, not the death, that stings. And upon leaving, they would bless the house with long life or children or something that would bring joy in the place of the loss.

“When I was given dominion over the realm of the dead, the bone fairies bade their kin goodbye, and entered the Underworld with me. There, they changed, as my domain leaves no being untouched. Now, their magic was limited in the realm of the living. Instead of passing on blessings to the living, they must bless an item, something that can bind the magic to your world once they depart.”

The king of the dead sighed.

“Now, I truly must request that you hand over the bones of my friend, that my wife’s wishes may be fulfilled.”

Ryder, dumbstruck, handed over the duffle bag. One of the Bone fairies ripped open the bag and pulled out the limbs. It looked to its peers and nodded, and suddenly bared a single fang, longer than all the others. The fae split the meat with surgical precision, and withdrew the bones inside. It delicately placed the arm and the leg on the nearest table, and for the first time since flying through the door, it smiled.

Hades nodded his thanks.

“Now, I am no thief. You beat my collectors to the punch, and therefore I believe some sort of deal is in order. I am tempted to say you, Doctor, would make quite the team with the bone fairies, if given the chance. They could round up bodies for your work, and in return, you could offer them the unused parts. They would complete their rituals, and you would complete your work.”

Ryder cleared his throat.

“Not to be a stick in da mud, m’lord, but ‘at deal sorta puts me out of uh job, dunnit?”

Hades shook his head. “Not in the slightest, dear boy. Instead of performing ordinary, run-of-the-mill jobs, you could be freed up to lift the bodies that would require a bit more finesse to retrieve. The bone fairies would do the bulk work, and you would do the expertise jobs, as it were.”

Returning his attention to Doctor Steinbeck, he arched an ancient bushy eyebrow.

“Do we have an accord?”

Frankie bit her lip. She smiled, and stuck out her hand.

“Deal.”

Hades ignored her handshake, and turned to is posse.

“My friends, three of you must now return with the last of the bones to the queen. the others, I believe the deal put forth is beneficial and accommodating enough, yes?”

The fairies uncrossed their arms and bowed their heads.

Hades smiled. Wordlessly, he nodded goodbye, and disappeared into the dark with the bone fairies.

The next night, Doctor Francine Steinbeck and Miles Ryder stood just outside of town, next to a tree with an old tire swing. In the tree above them, three bone fairies watched the lights in the city slowly blink out, waiting for their moment.

“A man died today,” Frankie mentioned to Ryder, almost off hand. “Word on the street is that he was the kind of person no one would miss.”

Ryder nodded.

“I’d say it wos a shame, but ‘at wouldn’t quite be true, would it?”

Frankie shook her head.

“No, in fact, it’s very much the opposite. But now we give him new life. In death, he can atone for his sins by sacrificing his body to science. We need a pair of eyes, and, as it turns out, his were in wonderfully working order.”

Pulling away from the city hospital, a hearse made its way towards the local funeral parlor. Frankie looked up into the tree.

“Go. I need the eys; the rest is yours.”

The fairies launched themselves from the leaves like so many bats into the night. The fairies would reach the hearse before it reached the parlor. The drivers would be confused, but assuredly, the undertaker would smooth things over for them.

Ryder spit, and lit up a cigarette.

“Do you think we should warn Aaron?”

Frankie grinned.

“Nah. Let him be surprised. We’ll apologize later.”

The doctor and the driver turned away and walked back towards the manor, and the rising mists hid their retreat as they disappeared into the night.

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