From Book 1: The Skeleton

            The sun rose, filling the house with light and chasing away the blurry jumble of last night. Whatever I had done in the dark I felt alert now and in good spirits. As soon as everyone dressed and swallowed some coffee we went for a walk on the road. It skirted the forest, which looked cool and dark with massive trunks, and it wound around rolling hills where we looked out at seemingly endless fields of sunflowers fringed with scrub and berry bushes. There were no other houses in sight, and not one car or horse carriage passed us. “We really are off by ourselves,” Louis noted while giving me another one of his secretive glances.

            “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Roger gloated.

            Louis asked quietly, “How did you learn about this place, Roger?”

            Roger shrugged and his reply was very casual. “Bernice mentioned it once. It belongs to her father. Big deal!” he added when he noticed how Louis and I were both looking at him. “I went to him to rent it, not to her.” Raising his eyebrows, Louis clamped his hat onto his small head and continued walking. “He’s rich. I knew his house would be perfect for us.”

            “Justine!” Desnos bellowed, and in answer she stuck out her tongue at him from the scrub at the side of the road. “You get out of those bushes right now, young lady, before you get a rash! From the paddling I’m about to give you!” He ran for her and Justine shrieked, caught Génica’s arm and ran laughing into the bushes, dragging Génica with her. They disappeared, and Louis and I grinned at the look of uncertainty on Roger’s face as Desnos plowed in after the women.

            Roger ran to the bushes and parted them, only to stare into more foliage just as thick. “Hey, stick to the road!”

            “Raspberries,” Justine exulted from somewhere in the brambles.

            “Ow!” Génica cried. Leaves rustled, branches parted, and she came limping out to the road all scratched and covered with burrs. Prickly knobs were in her hair and on her sleeves, and they dotted the bodice of her blue dress. Artaud gave her a chiding smile and helped pull them off. As quietly as I could I slipped into the bushes, ducking down low so as not to rattle the tops and give myself away. Burrs caught my hair and jacket, but when I scrambled into the raspberries the foliage gave way to stalks and bare earth. On my hands and knees I could reach up and grab whole clumps of them. I inched toward the spot I’d last heard Justine’s voice, munching raspberries as I went.

            “There are lots,” Justine called, sounding quite far away now; I wheeled about in confusion. “Someone go back for a bucket and I’ll make tarts this afternoon.” When no one answered she yelled, “Did you hear me, Louis? I actually offered to bake something!”

            “Fill your apron,” Louis suggested from the road.

            I heard Justine mutter something about the male half of the species under her breath. “In case you haven’t noticed I’m not wearing an apron, and one does not carry berries that way. They’ll get all smashed,” she yelled back. “It won’t kill some fine, strong man to skip blithely down the road and fetch me a stupid bucket!”

            “If I do it, does that count as me preparing a meal?” Louis asked.

            The leaves thinned ahead of me and I caught sight of Desnos from the back. He was standing very quietly in a small clearing with his head tilted down to examine something in the dirt. Carefully he tapped it with his toe, then shifted position so I saw him in profile. A lock of dark hair fell over his forehead as he put a finger to his lips and looked at the ground. Quietly I drew back and let out a long, low growl from the back of my throat. Desnos’s head jerked upward and the color drained from his face. Pleased with myself, I growled again and he turned very slowly toward me, the hair around his ears standing on end and his eyes even more bugged-out than ever.

“You bastard,” he laughed when he saw me, and my concealing branches became an effective trap as he lunged to grab me by the arm. He tried to yank me out into the open but my foot caught on a root and we both sat down hard. “Damn you. You scared me!” he giggled and I put up my hands against his playful blows. “Look what I found, though. Look.”

            He pointed at a small, white, rounded piece of bone that curved up from the ground. “What is it? A skull?” I asked, standing up. I went over and crouched down for a better look.

            “That’s what I thought. Hey! There’s some kind of skeleton here!” he called out to the others.

            “Oh, sure there is,” Roger answered. “And a mermaid, too.”

            Somewhere behind us the tops of the bushes thrashed. “Where?” yelled Justine’s voice. “I want to see!”

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