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Authors: Simon Clark

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Humpty's Bones

BOOK: Humpty's Bones
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Title Page








Simon Clark

Publisher Information



First published in the UK in 2010 by

Telos Publishing Ltd

17 Pendre Avenue, Prestatyn, Denbighshire, LL19 9SH


Digital edition converted and published by

Andrews UK Limited 2010


Telos Publishing Ltd values feedback. Please e-mail us with any comments you may have about this book to: [email protected]


Cover by Vincent Chong


Humpty’s Bones
© 2010 Simon Clark

Danger Signs
2010 Simon Clark


The moral right of the author has been asserted.



Typesetting by Arnold T Blumberg


British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.


This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.



The author would like to thank James Howe for Latin translations.





For Janet.



Humpty’s Bones And Other Skeletal Fragments



We’re in the graveyard. A cold November day. The ancient tower of St Lawrence’s Church looms over us. Centuries of burials have raised the ground immediately around the church by four feet or so. The soil is dark; so very, very dark. Meandering amongst the tombs, we read inscriptions:
William Tobias Wrelter, drowned at sea in Scarborough Bay, 1863
. That makes for a salty grave I tell myself.
Kathleen Prior, died in her one hundredth year. After much pain there is peace.
And on the back of one headstone, visible from the road, is engraved a mischievous reminder of our mortality:
Until you follow me: Peace be unto you.

My daughter, Helen, then aged seven, is interested in a patch of freshly turned soil where someone has planted pansies.

‘Cornflakes,’ she announces. ‘Why has someone left cornflakes in the graveyard?’

‘Maybe someone lost their breakfast.’


Okay, I admit it. The typically bad Dad joke. Usually, finished off with a tickle, or a playful throttle, to distract the child from a lack of parental wit.

Choking with laughter, Helen cries, ‘The cornflakes! Where do all the cornflakes come from?’

‘Ah... ’ Serious now, I examine the disturbed earth. ‘They aren’t cornflakes, they’re pieces of bone.’

‘Bone. How did bone get here?’

‘It is a graveyard.’

Helen’s too smart to be patronised. So I explain that these grey flakes are the bones of our village’s ancient dead. The church is built on a pagan temple site, so burials here, of some sort or other, stretch back into prehistory. Nothing dramatic happened to the old tombs as far as I know. Nobody dug up the skeletons and smashed them to pieces in a frenzied orgy of post mortem destruction. Instead, down through the centuries, the old, forgotten burial plots were accidentally recycled in what is, after all, a restricted tract of hallowed ground. Old bones got mixed with the soil-fill. Gradually, these, in some semblance of resurrection, worked their way to the surface to rest in the light of that cold November day.

Helen, being inquisitive, immediately picks them up to examine them. The fragments do resemble cornflakes - although a bony, pale grey in colour. And if you’ve just eaten cornflake cereal, or are just about to, I apologise for the comparison. So whatever you do, when you spoon those crunchy morsels into your mouth, don’t think about crispy fragments of human skull. Remember: cornflakes are nice to eat. Pieces of ancient skeleton - though they resemble cornflakes - are not!

The bygone people of my village buried their deceased relatives in the churchyard. Back then, the proper Christian thing to do, of course. They had no idea that subsequent burials would bring the bones of the beloved to the surface.

And here’s the notion that fascinates me, and which neatly nudged me into writing
Humpty’s Bones
: whatever we dispose of by burying underground, it has a habit of returning. Which could be a metaphor for the revenant returning to haunt a house. However, it’s important to appreciate that whatever we bury is not only likely to creep back to the surface, it also returns in an altered stated. When objects are buried - whether corpses, coins, chemicals, or secret stuff we don’t want people to know about - it has this knack of undergoing a transformation.

The cornflake-look-alike skull shards were fleshless after all these centuries. They were also uncannily insubstantial. As if the bone’s density had altered, leaving them as light and as crisp as... well... flakes of toasted corn. In my garden I found a musket ball; salts in the soil have leeched metal from it, too, so it is peculiarly weightless. A Roman cloak pin made of bronze came to my notice a while ago, poking from a flower bed. Again, the earth had sucked some of the ore from it, leaving it almost porous. These artefacts are ghostly versions of their former selves.

Perhaps the ancients got it right. They often buried their dead in womb-like tombs to prepare the deceased for rebirth. Perhaps some race memory acted on me when I wrote
Humpty’s Bones
. I imagined what it would be like to find an ancient burial in a supposedly ordinary garden. Yet it couldn’t just be some inert skeleton, could it? Those buried instincts that I (and you) share with our prehistoric ancestors couldn’t permit a person’s skeleton to be entirely lifeless. Deep down, we suspect that interred bones are merely resting. That they will have a future, and a life of sorts. Yet after so long in the earth an alchemy must have taken place, and they will possess a power to touch our lives in some uncanny way.

So: welcome to my world... a world where there is a pleasant garden. Near the garden wall there are fruit trees. Concealed in their roots, mysterious bones. One by one they are rising to the surface. Now, push aside that bowl of cornflakes (not that you have an appetite for them anyway now); walk into the garden with me. And we’ll recite these words as we go:


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Simon Clark

Yorkshire, 4
December, 2009



Humpty’s Bones



Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses,

And all the king’s men,

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.



So, if they can’t, who can?

l. Monday Afternoon: 3.03



‘The train doesn’t want me to go there.’

She’d murmured the words under her breath. Yet an old man in a turban, dozing in a nearby carriage seat, must have thought she’d intended him to hear.

‘Then you should go back home.’

Slightly flustered by having the stranger talk to her, Eden Page smiled. ‘Pardon?’

‘Go home.’

His dark brown eyes regarded hers...
such wise, old eyes,
she thought. And he sat there with such quiet dignity.

‘I can’t go home,’ she replied. ‘It’s just not possible.’


‘I wish I could.’

‘Then find somewhere else to go. You should always respect omens. If we are sent a warning that we should cease our course of action then we must take heed.’ His accent was pure Yorkshire, yet his Asian ancestry gifted him a melodic way of stressing certain words:
Home... omens... warning...
‘I bought a power saw,’ he continued. ‘It’s so hard to cut wood straight without one. My brother borrowed it before I could use it. “Give me it back, it’s mine,” I told him every time I saw him. He always forgot. This went on for six months. Then I needed the power saw to fit a kitchen worktop. I drove to his house. The car got a puncture. It never stopped raining. My brother wasn’t there when I arrived. I had to wait one hour. When I got the saw home I saw the plug had been smashed. I had to fix that first. So frustrating... so annoying. However! At last I could switch on my expensive power tool and - ’ He held up his deep brown hand. His first finger ended at the second joint. ‘I only went and cut the thing off.’ His face remained impassive. ‘Blood everywhere. Dripping down the walls. Turned the kitchen sink bright red. Eight hours in hospital. Six stitches. Arm in a sling for a month, so... If you see omens.’ He held up the ruined finger. ‘Beware, beware, beware.’ He appeared satisfied he’d offered his advice, because he turned to gaze out at the flat landscape that rolled past the carriage window. The train clickety-clacked along the line. A slow heart-beat of a sound.

For a moment Eden wasn’t sure whether to thank the man for the advice, or elaborate on why she couldn’t go home, or even enquire if his finger still hurt him, but within seconds his eyelids drooped shut as he drifted off to sleep.

The leg space between seats had been judged adequate by a midget. Her knees pressed into the seat in front of her until her toes went numb. The train’s temperature had been regulated by someone with the biology of a reptile. From vents hot air beat into her face. To add to her discomfort a promised one hour train ride had turned into more than two. Torrential rain had flooded the tracks overnight, so the machine could only creep along at a dozen miles an hour. Even then it had to slow to a tortoise crawl when it encountered tracks covered with water. On occasions, it seemed as if Eden’s train was more boat than land vehicle, as it inched its way through entire lagoons that engulfed these flatlands with a pale brown liquid. It seemed more primeval swamp than ploughed cornfields. The branches of trees clutched at thin air, as if desperately trying to prevent themselves from drowning in all that muddy goo.

Apart from the old man and herself there was only a middle aged couple in the carriage. They sat at the other end and improvised sandwiches from a loaf and packet of crisps. Eden caught sight of her reflection in the glass. Short dark hair framed an uncharacteristic, for her, weary face. Normally her blue eyes twinkled with youthful verve. She worked as a university accommodation officer in Manchester: that required boundless energy to rush up and down stairs at apartment blocks and deal with the students’ domestic problems. And at twenty-five years of age that personal vigour was something she was proud of. Eden fought for her students’ tenant rights and personal safety like a lioness. When a teenager, living away from home, locked their room door they must feel secure. They had to know that gas heaters wouldn’t poison them; nor would light switches electrocute. Eden Page: their untiring guardian. She always delivered - relentless, energetic, dedicated, never saying ‘die’. But this journey had turned hellish. The heat inside the carriage drained the strength right out of her.

The train slowly rumbled through unchanging landscape. Dead flat fields divided by overflowing dykes. Intermittent lagoons of murky floodwater. A completely level horizon that amputated cool green-brown earth from a darkening sky.
The train doesn’t want me to go there.
The notion came back to haunt her along with the man’s words.
‘You should always respect omens... beware, beware, beware... ’

Eden opened her eyes with a start. Everyone in the carriage had gone. She must have fallen asleep soon after the conversation with the man across the aisle, not even noticing when the train had pulled into stations.

The machine trundled across the same monotonous landscape. Fields, flooded dykes. No houses, no trees to speak of.
Have I missed my stop?
The threat of having to ride the train back the way she’d already painfully come brought her fully awake.
Where’s the conductor? I’ll feel such an idiot for having to ask if I’ve missed the station. And how long will it take to get back? Probably hours, considering the speed of this train. It’s almost at a standstill.

She rubbed gritty eyes. The heat had dried her lips to the point they felt shrivelled. The train’s crawl became a groaning inch-by-inch judder. Then, at long, long last, a platform appeared alongside her. Painfully, the train oozed into a desolate looking station. She read the heavily weathered sign.
Dog Lands. At last... at long suffering last...

Eden Page hefted her over-stuffed hold-all out through the carriage doors onto the wet platform. It still hadn’t quite stopped raining. Heavy drops tapped the top of her head like the flick of a finger. As the train groaned its way out of the station into the embrace of endless farmland, she plonked the bag onto a bench, then tugged her phone from her coat pocket. Eden had last been here as a child. It hadn’t changed much. The unmanned station, consisting of a pair of barren platforms, stood between fields of potatoes. A lane connected it with the main road about two hundred yards away. Another hundred yards along that stood the village of Dog Lands. Even when she was a girl the name Dog Lands had seemed peculiar. A peculiarity that extended to the village, too. Often, old English villages nestle in valleys, or shelter in a snug swathe of trees. The houses of Dog Lands stood proud of the flat Yorkshire landscape as if striving hard not to be part of it, like family members trying to distance themselves from that troublesome, eccentric uncle at a wedding. Once, as a ten year old, she’d counted the houses when she waited with her mother for the train.
‘Look, Mum, there are thirteen houses,’
she’d declared brightly.

As she waited for the phone to find a signal, she counted the box-shaped houses again, and once more she found herself whispering, ‘Look, Mum, there are thirteen houses.’ A tongue-in-cheek homage to the quiet, bookish child she once was. She took a deep breath. After the heat of the train at least she found Dog Lands coolly refreshing.

Eventually, she had bars on her phone screen. Eden tried making the call five times straight. Each time, after ten rings, she only reached voicemail. ‘Oh come on... you promised.’ A gust of wind brought a rattle of raindrops against the platform. She thumbed the call button again. ‘Be in, be in,’ she urged under her breath. ‘Please be in.’ After five minutes of trying she decided to walk. Even though it had been many years since her last visit here she remembered the shortcut path to her aunt’s house. It ran on where the station’s access lane ended. So, after hauling the hold-all strap over one shoulder, she exited the platform for the half mile trudge to the house, which lay in the other direction, standing well apart from the village. Even in this grey gloom of a damp spring afternoon she could make out its hard cube shape standing tall on the open landscape.

Eden had barely covered the first hundred yards of the path when she realised it would be tough going. Her route followed a narrow canal between yet more featureless fields. The path consisted of nothing more than compacted red shale that had turned into a rust-coloured glue that tried to stick her feet to it as she trudged, slopped, slithered along. There was no-one else in sight. No vehicles. Square fields either pushed potato, sugar beet or turnip out of their moist, earthen bodies. In one field, a solitary cow watched her walk by. Clearly it didn’t like what it saw, because it lumbered in the other direction. As she plodded the slimy track she used the phone again only to be rewarded by her aunt’s invitation to leave a message at the tone.

The path got worse. Pools of water extended over it. Eden had to either make giant, gusset-wrenching strides, or tip-toe along the edge where the water didn’t reach. By the time the path ran through a clump of bushes it had assumed the guise of a stream. As she picked her way forward, her jaw set in a determined way, she heard an animal growl. Clearly a dog, but an unseen dog. A breeze gave the bushes a shake, making them hiss loudly. The dog snarled again. Eden stooped a little to see if it lay under the branches. Hardly any light made it through the foliage; the area beneath the bushes lay in deep gloom. No dog. At least none she could see. She leapt to a bump in the ground that formed a tiny island. The dog growled loudly. A rumbling note of warning. ‘Great,’ she murmured, ‘the cow turned its back on me - now the local dogs have taken exception to me.’ She repositioned the hold-all strap across her shoulder. ‘But you’re not going to turn me back. I’m going forward.’

She managed a step in the right direction. One that would take her along the only shortcut to her aunt’s home. However, that single step brought another growl from the undergrowth. This changed in tone. The first growls had been the ‘mouth closed’ kind of muted growl, this had become a ‘jaws open’ snarl. She pictured an upper canine lip curling back to expose gleaming fangs. Another step along her chosen path brought a louder snarl, with an even greater emphasis on the warning note.

A feral dog? It’s possible in a place like this
But I’m not going to walk the long way round. I’m pushing on.
A sudden movement in the shadows made her jump. ‘Damn.’ Immediately she felt a stab of annoyance at the way she’d flinched.
I’m not the timid sort. I bite back.
The snarls grew more menacing with every step she took. And still she hadn’t seen so much as a canine ear or a pooch whisker.
What if it’s a bitch with a new litter of puppies under there? She’d only be protecting her babies.
Eden recalled the way she upbraided landlords for renting rooms to students that had windows repaired with cardboard, or were so damp that fungus grew on bedroom walls. The notion of a bitch protecting vulnerable newborns made her pause. She felt a pang in her stomach that was a sense of affinity.
If I disturb the mother then she might abandon her puppies. Or am I finding a reason for not going on - and for not admitting I’m scared?

Another loud snarl erupted from the bushes - most definitely the open mouth kind, with sharp teeth savagely glinting no doubt (although Eden hadn’t so much as glimpsed the animal). ‘Okay, okay, you win,’ she breathed. A moment later, she retraced her steps. ‘I suppose I have to take the long way to the house,’ she told herself with a sigh. On passing the station she noticed the sign again. ‘Dog Lands. After being turned back by a bad-tempered mutt, don’t you love the irony?’ She shook her head. ‘And the name of the house where you will be staying? Now, what do they call that, Miss Eden Page?’ A grim smile tugged her mouth. ‘Why, Miss Page, they call that house Dog Star.’ She hefted the heavy bag as its strap bit into her shoulder. ‘Dog Lands. Dog Star. A wild dog. It doesn’t get any better than this, does it?’ From those words, uttered half-humorously, to knowing that she had to take the longer road route to Dog Star House was only a hop and a skip to recollecting what the man on the train had said.
‘You should always respect omens... beware, beware, beware... ’
Eden was normally so level-headed and rational, yet all of a sudden the man’s words had all the resonance of a warning. One directed at her intention to throw herself on the mercy of a family member she hadn’t met in years.

BOOK: Humpty's Bones
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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