Dancing Bones

He walked for a long time, but he lost count of the hours. Down the old roads he rarely traveled, through the overgrown paths in the forgotten woods, and passed many empty buildings that drew crowds months ago. He didn't know where he was going nor did it matter. All paths led to the same fate. Tired, he looked for a place to rest. He walked up a tall hill onto the parking lot of an abandoned church. Off the side of the building, he saw the cemetery. He visited the graves. Judging by the dates on the tombstones, the cemetery went out of use decades before the church; and as was once common there, he suspected more than one church had occupied the space beside that small cemetery in the last couple of hundred years. Lonely and exhausted, he sat down behind one of the tombstones. He could barely read the name. Nothing else decorated the stone other than "1890". It wasn't clear if that was the year of birth or death as most of what was once there was worn away. He was not uncomfortable sharing his space with the bones below. In a strange way, he found their presence comforting. Though he did not believe in ghosts or an afterlife, he still thought of those bones six feet under as people. There was nothing frightening about them. He considered saying hello to them all, but his mouth was too dry for him to speak. The water was all contaminated, and it was becoming much more difficult to find a clean source. Instead, he whispered to them in his mind. "Hey, you know, I've never believed in anything, but now would be a great time...if there is anyone here...to say something to me." He didn't believe he'd really receive a response, but a small ray of hope existed in him. He wanted a ghost to sit down beside him, a booming voice to shout down at him, or a demon to tempt him on a horrid path. He would welcome any stranger, but the space around him remained quiet. If there was anyone there, they had no interest in speaking to him. The cold air chilled him. He pulled the hood of his coat up and pulled his knees in against his body. He leaned a little closer to the tombstone to shelter himself from the harsh wind. Up ahead, at a steep drop-off, he noticed train tracks. Once, trains must have come through and shook the bones in the graveyard. He imagined the skeletons in their coffins excitedly waiting for a passing train to make them dance and break up the constant stillness underground. "If there were spirits here, I'm sure they'd enjoy it." He wanted to ask them himself, but he knew they wouldn't respond. A morbid thought entered his mind. The cliff with tracks at the bottom, a perfect location for a suicide at the right time of day--and there it was, right beside the graveyard. He wondered how many took their lives at that spot. Trains didn't run anymore, as nothing did, and nothing new was buried here anymore. Weak, he started to drift off. His body ached and his stomach agonized him. Sleep was all that alleviated his pain now, and his hours of dreaming were beginning to outnumber his wandering times. Pulling the hood down more, he lay beside the tombstone and closed his eyes. "At least tonight, I am not alone." No one said anything back. He wondered if he would wake again. Death was something he thought about often since that first day. Initially, he feared dying. As he watched everyone around him die, he cared less. Alone now, spending each day in search of enough to survive on, he began to think of himself like the bones below. He was a reminder of what was, but he was not alive. All that remained was for him to accept what may come. He often wished he were a religious man, as if there were nothing to move on to, he would at least have comfort in his final moments. Hell was better than disappearing. He would never receive confirmation either way until the moment came. When he was just a year younger, he hid himself in a cloak of invincibility to the terror of death. That secure illusion was gone now. He pictured a world of growing trees and children unafraid, playing in fields of every flower he could name. The children grew to adults and fixed the old buildings and the train. The bones danced again, and the young could hold onto fantasies of safety once more. He wanted that world to exist, but he doubted he would live to see it. Sleeping there on the ground, he felt like he was floating under the sea. The world was quiet and empty. He wished for company again. Someone sat down beside him without making a sound. He looked up at that person. They wore black, and their face was shrouded. A black cat sat in the person's arms. "Who are you?" He asked. The figure turned their head. "I am nobody." He noticed the large scythe on the ground beside the person. He sat up and asked, "Am I still dreaming?" The person petted the cat. "Does it matter?" The man lay back down. "I suppose not..." When his head met the earth, he heard no one down below, but the cool feeling of the soil barrier separating them brought him to acceptance. He didn't cry nor did he smile. Beside him, the person hummed a melody. The rhythm matched in time with a train that shouldn't be coming. He watched it pass and took in its power as the ground shook in its presence. He thought of all the bones below, happy to dance once again. The train and the humming, the dancing and the rumbling--everything moved him until the world went black.