The Bone Tender

broken boneWhen Brandon Rowe was eight years old, he hit a squirrel with a rock and broke its back. I know because I was standing on the other side of the fence, watching.

After he went inside, I climbed into his backyard and crouched over the squirrel. I petted it. Its fur was soft and felt like the collar on my mom’s winter coat.

When I carried it home wrapped in my shirt, my mom told me not to touch it, it was dirty and I’d get a bad disease. My sister Rosie, who was in eighth grade, helped me make a bed for it with a shoebox and some rags. When I picked the squirrel up to set it in the box, it looked at me with one shoe-black eye and made a noise like a rusty can opener, but it didn’t move. Rosie showed me how to give it water from a plastic dropper. Then she took me in the bathroom and made me wash my hands.

She said, “It might die tonight, okay? If that happens, don’t be scared. Just come get me.”

I was scared, though. The squirrel was little and soft. The room smelled like Dial soap, and I tried not to cry.

“Oh, Noah, don’t be sad. Things die from shock sometimes, is all.”

I spent all night lying on my floor next to the box and watching the squirrel breathe, putting my hands on its back, feeling the places where the bones didn’t line up. The squirrel twitched and shook. Then it stayed still.

I was seven. What did I know? In the morning, the squirrel was still breathing, and when it climbed out of the box and whisked in circles around my room, I was the only one who wasn’t surprised.

*****

When Brandon was twelve, he broke my best friend Milo’s pinky finger. We were down at the community pool and Brandon pushed Milo off the diving board and jumped in after him, even though Milo was still splashing around like a drowning cat and couldn’t get out of the way.

Brandon crashed down on top of him, and when Milo struggled back up to the surface, the look on his face was all shock and white-lipped pain.

After Milo paddled awkwardly over to the side, we sat on the edge of pool and I studied the damage while Brandon stood over us, calling us a couple of whiny little gaywads for holding hands. I looked for guilt or pity in his face but didn’t see it. His grin was so wide it made me feel uneasy, and like the world was a pretty out-of-control place. Milo’s hand was swelled-up, already turning purple.

“Hold still,” I said, and Milo nodded and squeezed his eyes shut.

“What are you going to do?” he whispered. His face was so pale he looked gray.

“Nothing. Just hold still.”

The hardest part was setting the broken ends back together. Milo kept his eyes closed, swaying a little on the edge of the pool. I held his hand between both of mine and waited for the rush of electricity that would mean it was working.

“What a couple of queermos,” said Brandon, and I tried to tell myself it was because he was secretly sorry, but I didn’t believe it.

*****

When Brandon was fifteen, we had PE together. The class was supposed to be for freshmen, but he’d skipped so many times the year before that he had to take it over.

On the second day, he hit Melody Solomon in the face with the volleyball. He did act sorry that time, but only because she looked like a cheerleader. He wouldn’t have cared if the same thing had happened to one of the fat girls, but Melody had shiny hair, nice legs, and a very good tan.

When he tried to say he was sorry, she twisted away from him, cupping her hands over her face.

“Here, let me see,” I said, reaching for her shoulder. She jumped like I’d startled her, but didn’t recoil the way she had with Brandon.

When she took her hands away from her face, blood was running down over her bottom lip and dripping off her chin.

“Is it okay if I touch it?”

She didn’t look at all sure about that, but she nodded.

I ran my fingers along the bridge of her nose, feeling for the break. It was high up and to one side. When I pressed the cartilage back into place and held it there, Melody winced and tears leaked out of her eyes. She was watching me with this numb, pleading look that reminded me of the squirrel and how it stared at me defenselessly, like it didn’t have a choice. Her eyes were gray, with pale starbursts around the pupils, like tiny metallic suns.

Behind me, Brandon made a thick, disgusted noise. “Oh, gross—don’t let Noah touch you or you’ll get his nasty-ass stink all over you!”

And Melody flinched and pulled away. Her expression was frightened, almost lost, and I could still feel tingling sensation the in my fingertips.

Brandon laughed and pushed me hard between the shoulder blades. “You don’t know where he’s been, Mel. I’ve seen him out on Garner Street, playing with the roadkill.”

And it was one afternoon, hot and dismal, and one panicked shuddering dog, but it didn’t matter. For the rest of the year, everyone called me skunk-boy. Melody’s nose healed straight and perfect, but she never looked me in the face again.

*****

When Brandon was seventeen, he shattered his right ankle in a car accident. He also broke his collarbone and fractured his left femur. It happened the week before soccer started and the accident was pretty much the end of his season—maybe the end of all his seasons.

He missed a lot of school and being the good neighbor she is, my mom volunteered me to get his homework assignments and bring them over to his house.

I hadn’t been in his house since I was a little kid, and the few memories I had of the Rowe place weren’t good memories. When I came into the living room, Brandon was sitting in his rented wheelchair in front of the TV, watching like he wasn’t really seeing it.

I dropped the stack of make-up work on the coffee table and he didn’t look up. I was used to him vicious and laughing, but now he just looked resigned. He looked like he hadn’t been sleeping.

“The project for history is a research paper. Give me your list of books by Thursday and I’ll get them from the library.”

When he still didn’t say anything, I turned and started for the door.

“Are you going to do your crazy-voodoo laying-on of hands thing?” Brandon’s voice was low and flat and when I turned around again, he was still looking at the TV. “I mean, isn’t that what you do?”

I didn’t answer. There were plenty of things I should have said—excuse me? or I don’t know what you’re talking about—but the truth was, I kind of wanted to.

His injuries were bad, worse than anything I’d ever seen—worse than dying squirrels or skinny, shivering best friends or beautiful girls in PE. I was half-crazy to see what would happen if I tried my touch on a really bad break, one that might never heal right, even with pins and screws.

Brandon sat in his chair, looking up at me, and my hands felt hot. My skin was singing with adrenaline, a wild electricity that couldn’t wait to jolt out of my fingers and into bone. I knew, without a doubt, that I could do it—knew with ninety-nine percent certainty. Except.

Except, I didn’t feel pity when I looked at him. Except, I’d spent more than half my life mending bones and now, in the tips of my fingers, something didn’t feel right. My hands were hot.

Brandon watched me without saying anything, and then his face changed. His stare turned hopeless and painful, like he knew there was cruelty sparking off my fingertips, bur
ning in my blood. He could see it on me, before I was even sure that it was there.

“Jesus, Noah,” he whispered, and his voice sounded tired and almost frightened.

“You don’t want me to touch you,” I said. “It wouldn’t work out.”

Photo by mellyjean

67 thoughts on “The Bone Tender

  1. Wow – immovable object meets irresistible force. Destroyer vs. Healer. And a scary conclusion.

  2. This comment will sound shallow, but I swear it isn’t mean to reflect on the story, which is keen.

    I really love the title. โค

  3. Wooow. Very cool. Always two sides of a coin I guess, and it makes sense that there would be the reverse to healing. There could definitely be a larger story to this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I loved this – perfect short story, perfect ending – wish I had something more meaningful to say!

  5. Wicked on all fronts, from the title, the storyline, down to the characters. Loved this! (Hugs)Indigo

  6. I’m soft-hearted, so it was hard to read about the squirrel…. I shouldn’t have worried! Great story!!!!!!

  7. Man Brenna, WOW! I could so see this becoming a full novel. The idea is crazy original and could go in so many directions. And it has that amazing way you detail high school in the simplest ways. I LOVED this! My minds swimming with all sorts of ideas now.

  8. Wonderful. I wanted to know what would happen next from the first line, then I had to know more–but the last line was the best ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Oh I liked this.

    The interaction between the two boys and the realization that he knew all along, but chose to alienate and not acknowledge the ability until he was the one who needed it.

  10. Amazing story! I absolutely love that ending–it turns this otherwise mundane fantasy into something downright chilling. ๐Ÿ˜€

  11. Really really liked this. Glad it didn’t have a cheesy ending where he healed him and they became best friends. You are awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. yeah, chills! It has always amazed me how quickly we take stock in the proclamations of the bully. They so easily shame or discredit the best and most gifted of us to hide their own short comings and ugliness. I have to believe in the end they reap what they sew.

  13. It’s beautiful! I love the ending, that hint of there being something darker to Noah’s abilties and cruel Brandon realizing it even before Noah does – so perfect!

  14. Chills! It’s jackass little boys killing animals, isn’t it? *is traumatized by growing up in neighborhoods populated with squirrel-murderers*

  15. There could definitely be a larger story to this

    It just kept wanting to get bigger and biggerโ€”there’s a whole world in here!

  16. Thanks ๐Ÿ˜€ I never realized it, but wickedness may actually be a subgenre of my primary genre. Which, according to Tess and Maggie, is dysfunction.

  17. No, I’m soft-hearted tooโ€”I never kill the animals! (Characters, on the other hand . . .)

  18. I do think people are really good at recognizing characteristics of themselves in others. (Or . . . maybe I’ve just been watching a lot of Dexter.)

  19. how quickly we take stock in the proclamations of the bully

    SO true! And so destructive . . .

  20. I do try to avoid the cheese ๐Ÿ˜€ Also, these guys? They are just never going to be best friends. Also-also, I think Brandon might be a sociopath.

  21. I have a really, really hard time with black and white. Even when I think I’m writing a story about polar opposites, it always wants to morph into an epic grayscale!

  22. Oh man, this easily could have gone so much longer! There were just the little matters of time and spaceโ€”as in, Merry Fates isn’t really the forum for a 15,000 word novella, and I do not have the time to sit down and write one, since I am supposed to be revising like a maniac!

  23. I loved this ^_^ when I read your stories it always feels like the atmosphere around me has gone completely still and quiet even if there is a lawn mower massacring weeds outside my window xD. If this ever became a full length novel I’d definitely read it.

  24. (I really shouldn’t comment when I haven’t had my full ration of caffeine.)

    Let me ‘splain. The voice is spot-on for the story and characters. The crafting of the scenes is precise and vivid, and showed the cruelty and humanity of the characters so well. And that gave me chills. Stepping-on-your-grave creepy chills, as well as universe-aligning exciting chills.

    The writing gave me chills. The mean boys were jackasses. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. i love that the good energy can turn to bad energy, depending on the emotions. and i love that the cruel boy recognized it before the gentle one even did. very powerful. also, awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Glad you liked it! (I’m totally fascinated by the idea of a continuum of magic)(also, things that balance each other out.)

  27. Stepping-on-your-grave creepy chills, as well as universe-aligning exciting chills

    This really is the best kind of compliment (I’m very bad at accepting compliments and am almost always compelled to make light of them)!

  28. Karma doesn’t like animal killers. I’ve always hated how bullies leaves a trail of hurt in their wake and don’t even care. I liked how Noah’s power is influenced by pity and how his power has a darker side. Normslly people have darker sides to them and it usually extends to people who aren’t the norm. I’m actually glad Noah didn’t help Brandon because he doesn’t deserve pity or mercy in this situation. This is his atonement for all the people and animals he hurt.

  29. What a fantastic story! The play of polar opposites reminds me of the movie “Unbreakable” – that’s a compliment, ’cause I LOVED that movie.

  30. I’ve been saving this story on my blog reader all week until I had some time to read it, and I’m really glad I didn’t rush through it before.

    The ending actually raised goosebumps on my arms. Very realistic characters, hints of darkness in the good, and boys that heal animals. It’s all wonderful. This one ranks as one of my favorites that I’ve read on here by you.

  31. I love the tone/atmosphere of this. I love the voice. I also love this paragraph:

    Brandon watched me without saying anything, and then his face changed. His stare turned hopeless and painful, like he knew there was cruelty sparking off my fingertips, burning in my blood. He could see it on me, before I was even sure that it was there.

    I wouldn’t mind reading a continuation of this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. Wow I really loved that! I love how he helped all of those that didn’t deserve it. I guess though it wouldn’t of worked out because Brandon didn’t deserve the help.
    Thank you for sharing it Brenna ๐Ÿ˜€

  33. You’re totally right about characters’ dark sidesโ€”I got to the end and there was just no way I could make him help Brandon. If I did a longer version, they might find some kind of peace eventually, but even then, I’m not convinced . . .

  34. I’m all about polar opposites, ever since we learned about foils in the Shakespeare unit in 9th grade!

  35. Aw, thanks ๐Ÿ˜€ (I’m a sucker for boys who are nice to animals, but even the best ones must lose their cool sometimes!)

  36. Yeah, I think there are definite possibilities for expansion on this one. I love it when that happensโ€”how not all my Merry Fates stories deserve a continuation, but sometimes I’ll hit on one that could actually go somewhere!

  37. I have this image of him with the dog and its almost too jesus like to be acceptable but this kid would be so creepy in real life. He looks eerily similar to Issac in my head too, but much much sweeter and less vacant.
    I’m kind of rambling about nothing here but going on about how much I loved it seems pointless. I did though, quite a bit.

  38. Yeah, Noah is definitely that weird kid who’s probably not a bad guy, but something about him still makes you cautious to find out for sure.

    Also, sorry for the flurry of responsesโ€”LJ spotlight week came during the middle of a massive deadline for me, during which I basically ignored the whole internet. Now, I”m emerging into the sunlight, blinking.

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