Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Dem Bones, Dem Bones

Here's a strange dream I pieced together after I awoke this morning, fleshed out, as it were, into a better narrative form:

A young woman is walking down the street of a metropolitan city, on her way to meet her boyfriend. Passing a pile of garbage, she is startled to notice a human skull nestled in the trash. She points it out to several people, but they all brush her off and ignore her. So she stands there in indecision when suddenly, to her surprise, the skull speaks to her. It explains that its body tripped while taking a walk through the cemetery and it lost its head. It rolled under the gate of the cemetery, where it was deliberately ignored by the living. It was kicked and rolled under their busy feet as they went about their living business until it was quite disorientated. Finally, a street-sweeper knocked it out of the gutter and into the the pile of trash, where it had remained for several days. And, being dead, the body wasn't allowed out of the cemetery to search for its head. The girl was the first living person to pay it any mind, and if she would be so kind, would she please return it to the cemetery.

The girl, disapproving of seeing earthly remains left in the trash, somewhat reluctantly agrees. She gingerly picks it up, mindful of the teeth (just in case), and takes it back to the cemetery, which is several blocks away. She finds the gate locked, but the high walls of the cemetery were suffering from neglect, so she is able to slip through a bit of ramshackle fence that covers a crack in the wall over an eroded drainage culvert. Inside, she discovers that the cemetery is very large, a virtual necropolis in the middle of the city. There are some traditional gravestones and markers near the gate, but most of the cemetery consists of granite tombs, marble mausoleums, and monuments stretching off into the distance. It is all overgrown with dead weeds and dead trees and fallen branches littering the grounds and pathways. It was a sunny day in the city, but in here, it was overcast. She walks a ways into the seemingly abandoned graveyard.

Without warning, she realizes she is surrounded by dead people. Corpses peek out from behind tombs, trees, and bushes. Rather than being freshly dead and, well, juicy, this lot seems to all be fairly well mummified, in various stages of dry, dusty dessication. They are clothed in everything from rags to tattered finery. Their garments and papery skin rustle and their muscles creak like stretched leather as they begin to approach her. The skull in her hands tells her not to be alarmed: his body told them she was coming, and they were curious to see a live person come into the city of the dead. Out of the forming crowd comes a worn-looking, headless skeleton with arms outstretched and cervical vertebrae a-twitch with anticipation. The girl hastily thrusts the skull into its hands. After some clumsy (and comical) misalignments, the body finally gets its head on right, and everybody cheers.

A little unnerved by all the bodies around her, the girl tries to excuse herself, but they all crowd around her to shake her hand. They tell her she can't leave yet, as the mayor is coming to thank her personally for her unprecedented kindness towards the dead, not to mention the giving of gifts. The girl pauses at the mention of gifts, and allows herself to be taken to a large courtyard featuring a fountain clogged with weeds and lily pads. More corpses are arriving by the minute, until the place is packed with hundreds of bodies. The girl had no idea there were this many dead people around.

A very bald (missing his scalp), thin mummy in an ascot introduces himself as the mayor of the cemetery, and he thanks for her good deed and decrees that she be rewarded. Being dead, however, they don't have much to offer but the jewelry they were buried with. They gather around the confused and startled girl and thrust rings on all her fingers and heap necklaces around her neck. Though at first in awe of the jewelry, the girl becomes uncomfortable with the disproportionate reward for her small act.. and is made no less uncomfortable when she realizes that some of the jewelry still has bits of their former owners attached. She tries to decline the gifts in a polite and politic manner, since she didn't want to risk offending the dead people, and certainly didn't want to see the mob grow ugly (or uglier).

The mayor would have none of it, and in fact says that more is called for. He gets an idea, and says that it would be a splendid idea if she stayed, as someone of her character could only be an asset to the community. The crowd cheers in approval with hundreds of dry vocal cords. The girl, with growing alarm, says she doesn't want to stay, and says that she has a life and even a boyfriend waiting for her outside. The mayor says that that's easily fixed, because to stay there she would have to be dead herself (living people aren't allowed to stay in a cemetery, after all), so having a life wouldn't be a problem if she was no longer alive. And as for boyfriend, the mayor eager suggests that she could get married.. perhaps to the skeleton whose head she recovered. The girl, in a panic, asserts that she wants to be neither dead nor married to a skeleton. Refusing to hear her protests, the mayor insists that the skeleton is a fine catch, and even used to be a painter of some renown during life.. although, it was possible that the skeleton was once a woman when alive, but these things hardly matter after you're dead and have no flesh. And, after all, isn't the benefit of marrying a skeleton that you can pretend and imagine whatever handsome form you desire atop the musty bones?

The crowd reacts with fervor to the announcement of a wedding. The girl tries to make a run for it, but she is grasped by dozens of crackling hands and thrust into the air. She is carried on their shoulders as an impromptu parade forms, winding its way through mausoleum-lined streets. The girl shouts that she doesn't want this, but she can't be heard over the cheering masses. The mayor cheerfully calls up to her that there's nothing to fear.. once the marriage is complete, she will be submerged in the magic reflecting pool in the middle of the cemetery. After she is submerged for long enough, she'll find herself quite dead.. it's never failed in the past!

There is a commotion up ahead, as one of the merry-making corpses loses a leg, falls, and trips those behind him. The bodies pile up and the parade comes to an abrupt halt. Taking advantage of the confusion, the girl slips away and tries to lose herself in the maze of monuments. She doesn't wish to be drowned, dead, *or* married. The dead are soon wandering through the cemetery, searching and calling for her. There are too many to slip past unnoticed, so the girl thinks up a ruse. Hoping to capitalize on the dead's lack of eyes and clearly mostly-empty heads, she hastily fashions a crude effigy out of fallen sticks and dresses it in her own clothes. She raises it over the edge of a tomb and calls out that, look, she was already dead, see how skinny she was, and what a fine diet it turned out to be, so there was no need for any celebrations or anything and everyone could return to their graves or coffins or whatever.

Momentarily confused, the dead mill around, conversing in hushed voices. Then a corpse notices the girl hiding behind the tomb and points her out, and the crowd regathers. The mayor congratulates the girl on her joke, and insists that more than ever she should stay, as the cemetery is a rather morbid and unfunny place and could use more humor. He says, however, that being in her underwear won't do, not for a marriage, and that he's thought of something appropriate. The girl is dragged to a nearby mausoleum, protesting and embarrassed to be seen half naked by so many pairs of eye sockets. Inside, a coffin is opened, revealing the long-dead body of a woman who was buried in her wedding dress. A few people undress the stiff body, noting that she won't miss it, at least not until until she decides to wake up, which might not be for decades. The girl is thrust into the dusty, stained, and tattered dress. Unhappily for her, it is a perfect fit. The crowd cheers with renewed vigor as she is brought out into the open.

As the parade progresses towards the center of the cemetery, the girl tearfully wonders if she should just resign herself to being dead. She is already wearing a dead woman's clothes and sporting grave-jewelry. Maybe it would just be easier to give up. Death always wins in the end, anyway. She doesn't relish the thought of being drowned, though.

The procession ends at the pool, which turns out to be the size of a large pond, its surface as smooth as glass, reflecting the heavy clouds above. A distance out, in hip-deep water, stands a skeleton that the girl can only assume is the one whose head she recovered (they all look very much the same to her) and a very dead priest. The skeleton--skull just slightly askew--is holding a bouquet of weeds and dead roses. The mayor places her hand on his ropey, dusty arm, saying he'd be honored to give her away, and half-pulls the hesitant and morose girl into the pool.

The skeleton bride/groom hands the bouquet to the girl once is brought out to the deep water. The water is up to the girl's waist and is very cold, and the train of the gown floats around her. As the dead priest begins to read his sacraments, though, the skeleton interrupts. It says that although being among the dead for so long has somewhat dulled its ability to read expressions, it can't help but notice that the girl doesn't seem very happy with this arrangement. The girl bursts into tears and insists that she doesn't wish to be dead or to be married to a heap of bones. The skeleton looks disappointed (or as disappointed as a fleshless, toothsome skull can look), but calls the wedding off. The crowd slowly disperses, subdued but, being dead, used to taking things as they come. The mayor protests in frustration that if the girl didn't want all this, then why didn't she just say so. When angrily told by the girl that she did in fact say so, the mayor irritably comments that she would have to speak up louder: his hearing was never that good when he was alive, and that being dead for thirty years certainly hadn't improved upon that.

The skeleton locates the girl's belongings and leads her out to the edge of the cemetery, where it says a quiet goodbye and wanders off back among the weeds and tombs. The girl can't help but feel sorry for it, but knows that this is for the best. A live girl and a rattling (female?) skeleton can't get married, ex-painter or not. She calls her boyfriend on her cellphone and begs him to come and pick her up. She waits for him on a marble bridge near the entrance of the cemetery. When he arrives, he refuses to believe anything he's told of what went on that afternoon, but he is certainly perplexed and appalled at the dress she is wearing and insists she take it off. The girl had gotten so used to being with the dead that she forgot she was wearing the coffin-found wedding gown.

As she begins to lift up the skirts, her boyfriend exclaims in horror. Looking down, the girl is shocked to see that, from the waist down, her body was dead. Her legs, dessicated and mummified, resembled those of the long-dead female corpse from which the gown was taken. The reflecting pool must have been magic, after all, and had transformed her, at least partly, as she had stood in its waters. Strangely, perhaps from everything that had transpired, or from some lingering effect of the pool itself, she can't get as upset by the transformation as perhaps she normally should have. Everything still felt the same, after all. Still, she is upset enough, and takes a step towards her boyfriend, seeking solace. Her boyfriend recoils in disgust. Heartbroken, she insists that she is still the same person, but her boyfriend is having none of it. He turns to flee, and in his mindless panic, he tumbles over the bridge's railing and falls to his death on the cemetery flagstones below. The girl runs down the steps to his broken body and weeps. But not for long.

Knowing now that dying is not necessarily the end of social life, the girl seeks out the mayor and tells him, loudly, to wake her beloved boyfriend back up. The mayor says that there is a process to these things, and that the girl's boyfriend will be up and about eventually, and there is nothing she can do to hasten it.

Days pass, and the girl has to try to get used to her new condition. The skeleton brings her dead flowers it has found on graves, and tries to comfort her, but the girl's thoughts are only on her boyfriend. She waits by his tomb, along with the ghastly welcoming committee, for the time when he wakes up. Finally, the day comes, and her boyfriend exits his tomb, looking somewhat worse for wear. The girl happily runs to embrace him, and surely he will forgive her having a less-than-perfect body now that he was dead. To her surprise, he rejects her again, this time because he is repelled by the half of her that is living.

Twice-heartbroken, the girl runs away in tears. For weeks she sits on the bridge still wearing her tattered wedding gown and jewelry, depressed, contemplating her future as a half-dead, half-living girl. She is no longer welcome in the city outside of the cemetery, where only the regular, live people are allowed. The live people only ignore her or make fun of her, and the police order back into the cemetery where she belongs.

Still, the skeleton continues to bring her flowers it collects from graves. It's certainly more attentive than her boyfriend ever was. And the clean lines of its bones, she finds, as the weeks pass, certainly are striking. She begins to wonder that perhaps being married to a skeleton wouldn't be such a bad thing, after all...

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