October 30, 2020: “Weary Bones” by Sonora Taylor

Hey her hello there, Story366!

Today our family took our yearly sojourn to Party City to pick out our kids’ Halloween costumes. We went pretty early, comparatively, as we got there before noon on October 30—we’ve been there on Halloween afternoon before, which is kind of a bloodbath. Party City has a gazillion costumes and accessories, laid out brilliantly on a wall, each costume pictured with an accompanying number. That number is given to an associate, which is then relayed to someone in the stock room, and boom, your costumes show up on a table thirty seconds later. They’ve Ray Krocasized costume purchasing, so the whole process is smooth and easy, even at this point in the game.

Again this year, we were a little disappointed to be resorting to Party City. The kids don’t mind—they get the costumes they want—and since this is a particularly hard part of the year in a very hard year, it’s so much easier. But as creative people, the Karen and I always have designs on big ideas. We’ll be driving along in June or July and someone we’ll say, Hey, why don’t we go as _______ for Halloween this year! And then we plan it out, talk about how we can make it happen, especially with stuff we already have around our house. The ideas sometimes include the four of us in some kind of theme—we’ve been the Justice League before, as well as Star Wars characters—and sometimes the kids just want to do their own thing. But those plans, come the middle of a semester, rarely seem to formulate. We suddenly can’t find the materials. The kids change their minds. Most often, we just don’t have the time and it’s too late before we get our act together. So, Party City.

Regardless, the real Halloween fun is trick or treating, getting out and seeing everyone in their costumes, and of course, the candy haul. I’ll write more about that tomorrow, on the actual day, so stay tuned.

I wanted to do a Halloween-themed book this year (I covered a freaky story by Neil Gaman back in 2016), just because there are some of those out there. I actually found two. One I’ll save for tomorrow, but for today, let’s talk about Little Paranoias, Sonora Taylor‘s 2019 self-published collection. Taylor has amassed a good following with her books, especially as a horror writer, which is what drew me to her here today.

Little Paranoias is a collection of Taylor’s stories, short-shorts, and the occasional poem. I read a couple of the longer stories, including “Weary Bones.” This one’s about a future reality (Olivia Benon’s great-granddaughter is the main detective on Law & Order: SVU) where a serum has been invented, a serum that will bring people back from the dead for a second life. Sounds like a miracle of science.

There’s a catch: When the people die, they don’t come back like they used to be. Instead, they come back as skeletons. So, this world, post-serum, is filled with skeletons, people’s dead relatives walking around, recognizing their loved ones, but unable to do much in the way of communication besides the occasional gesture. They can move about, they can nod, they can shrug. But it’s certainly not much of an existence.

Taylor writes a nice paragraph describing what happens to a regular human body when it dies, if that person has ingested this serum. The skin and organs and blood just seem to melt, in a gory, disgusting manner, as if someone had taken a blowtorch and pointed it until there was nothing left but white bone. The skeleton then gets up and … is a skeleton.

Taylor follows several characters throughout the story, including a lab worker who has to tend to the test rats during the serum’s inception. We get a few other people who encounter these skeletons, which is how Taylor lets us know that the serum is a failure, how nobody seems happy with the results (the FDA must have disbanded at this point). Eventually, people stop taking it, but it’ll be a while before it’s grandfathered out, until everyone who’s infused dies and moves on.

The person we follow somewhat consistently is Brandon, who at the start of all this is a kid when his grandfather dies. He watches that scene where his grandfather melts away, which horrifies his parents. Afterward, however, Brandon kind of likes hanging around with skeleton grandpa, who sits and watches TV with him, alive just enough to be a companion, almost like a creepy pet.

More people are like Brandon’s parents, though, unsettled by these skeletons traipsing around the house. Eventually, special cemeteries are set up where people can move their skeleton family members, fenced-in areas where the skeletons just kind of hang out. They wave at people when they walk by, seemingly cheerful, but all they do is exist in this half-cemetery-like place.

When Brandon’s in high school, he walks by one of these cemeteries and sees a help wanted sign. Considering the bond he’s had with his grandfather, how ununsettled he is by the mostly dead, he signs on. Before long, skeleton caretaker becomes Brandon’s full-time job, perhaps even his obsession. When a coworker seems interested in him romantically, asks him on a date, Brandon declines, opting to stay in the cemetery—even during his off hours—with the dead.

Taylor has the instinct to bring this all to a hilt, but I won’t reveal that here. I enjoyed reading “Weary Bones,” creative and fun, but also touching on some serious emotional territory as well.

Another longer story, “Quadrapocalypse,” is set in DC amidst some torrential downpours. We start the story with Morgan, on the tube, her train caught in that part of the ride directly under the Potomac, surrounded by enough concrete—she hopes—to keep the water at bay. From there, Taylor cuts the narrative into fourths, each covering a different quadrant—Northeast, Southwest, etc.—of the DC grid. For each quadrant, we get a different plague coming down to wipe everyone out, be it rat-infused water that’s so acidic, it melts whatever it touches, or creeping vines that crawl from the ground and strangle all in its wake. Eventually we get back to Morgan and her traveling companions, who are stuck in the middle of it all, the entire train receiving the entire world-ending buffet in a horrific fit of glory.

Taylor includes a lot of flashes here, too, stories that are eclectic in their theme and intent. “A Part of You” is about twin boys who murder their mother, only to see her revenge come upon them, gruesomely and quickly. “Crust” is about a woman’s obsession with her mother’s pie recipe, one that drives her past distraction. “Snowfall” is about a girl who’s walking alone through a forest at night and … well, you can guess where that goes.

Sonora Taylor has a vivid imagination and a macabre sense of the world, which made Little Paranoias fun to read, especially with pumpkins and candles and things that go bump in the night afoot. I don’t read a lot of horror, but Story366 offers such opportunities, part of what makes it so rewarding.