The mountain is as cold and grey as your arms. I carry your coyote-gnawed vertebra. It pulses in my pocket, an ossified heartbeat.
The wind kisses my neck, and I shiver.
Six years of bone-hunting, and every time you’re hidden better than the last. Each bonescrap brings you back for a few precious minutes.
The landmarks bristle with memory. Here’s the embankment edge I spilled down the mountainside. The thicket I landed in, leg broken. The brush you vanished into, looking for help. Beyond that, your unmarked grave, everywhere and nowhere.
Search and rescue found me, but they never found you.
Beside me, pine needles twitch. Your vertebra hums like a dowsing rod as I chase your ghost deeper into the forest. You hint me onward, crackling sticks, scattering leaves until there you are, in an abandoned foxhole: your left mandible, yellowed, meatless.
I smile, vision blurring. “Found you.”
You murmur behind me, snowfall-soft, “Found you first.”
I lean into your foggy arms and whisper, “Did you meet any clever foxes?”
You’re only empty air, but I know you smiled. “Only you.” You pause. “That’s the last one, babe.”
I hug your jawbone. If I wait until nightfall, I might become a ghost in your arms. It wouldn’t be the worst fate.
“Let’s go home.” You wind-kiss my neck again. “Before it gets dark. You can tell me what we’ll do when we get there.”
We walk home together, and your fingertips feel like the sky just before it rains.
Taylor Rae is a professional cave troll, hidden away in the mountains of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She likes avoiding her neighbors, playing ukulele, and longboarding. Most of her stories involve spaceships and/or magic. She is the winner of the 2021 NYC Midnight Short Story Contest, and her work appears with Flash Fiction Online, PsuedoPod, and Fit for the Gods from Vintage Books. More at www.mostlytaylor.com.
photo by Ta Z and Annie Sprat (via unsplash)