Here’s my piece for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: One-Word Titles.
Ossuary by Wil Redd
“A room,” said a bulky man with a five-o-clock shadow.
“It’s a room?” Jose replied from across the commuter train table.
“A room, just a room,” the man responded dragging the word “room” like he was trying to make them sound like far away waves.
“I don’t get it,” Jose knew this man; he sat across him almost every day during his daily evening commute.
“Come to think about it, do I even know this guy’s name? I’ve only started commuting a month ago. He could be having an episode or something,” he thought.
Jose waited for the man to respond. Instead, the man pushed the book he was reading towards Jose, turned it, and pointed at a word in the middle of the page. The thin tome looked unremarkable and worn at first glance, but after staring at it for more than a second it gave him goosebumps.
A little girl walked by them with an Easter bunny plush toy and started to cry. Her mother came running to grab her. At that point, her daughter was wailing at the book. The woman, red faced and sweating, started to pronounce the word “sorry.” However, the whole word never came out of her mouth, because something about the book made her gasp instead. She walked away, glaring at them until she was out of sight.
“What is this?” said Jose, darting his eyes between the man and the book. “Page 235,640,916? What the hell?” He didn’t touch the book, but the book touched him.
Jose felt a force shocking him and pulling him towards the edges of reality. The book itself pulled him to those seemingly black contours on the edge of the page. Jose looked away, momentarily distracted by a long row of cypress trees and a makeshift shack full of camping equipment. “I’ve never noticed that before,” he thought.
The ephemeral break only made the unfolding events more difficult to comprehend. When he blinked, everything around him disappeared except the man and the book. The book floated in front of him, and spewed something resembling ink. When it stopped, the book rested on an antique table. When the book fell on the wooden surface with a muffled thud Jose noticed he was in some kind of cave.
“A room. Well, maybe not just a room,” the man said, turning on a gas light above them.
It took Jose a minute to adjust. The experience clouded his short term memory. “How? When? How long have I been sitting on this table in the dark?” When he identified what he saw on the walls, he began to hyperventilate.
“What the fuck? Who are you? Where am I? Why?” Jose screamed as he hesitated to touch the walls made of human bones. “Are theses real? Holy fuck he’s a fucking necromancer or something.”
“It’s an ossuary. You asked what ‘ossuary’ meant. I guess technically it could be a chest, box, building, a well –“ said the man closing the book just before Jose interrupted him by letting out an exasperated scream.
The man shoved the book in his jacket pocket and extended his arms towards Jose to calm him down. When Jose opened his eyes, they were on the train again. The table between them seemed out of place to him now.
“Come on now, don’t you like magic? I thought you said you moved closer to the city to learn magic?” said the man while patting his jacket. “My name is Jack, I’m a magical scribe.”
“What the fuck? I asked you, not really expecting an answer, if you knew what an ossuary was because I –“ Jose hesitated, stuttered, and then lost his voice. He’d indeed moved closer to the city to experience the recently uncovered magical underworld, but today was his first real contact with it.
“You seemed cool enough, and I can tell you’re not a bigot. I figured; why not give him the whole show,” Jack said, changing his demeanor from jovial to anxious in a split second after seeing Jose’s reaction.
“Holy shit, I’m sorry. You’re a what? I’m sorry. Look, I –“ Jose struggled to form coherent sentences. “Maybe next time you do this to someone, give them a little warning.”
“They never believe me,” Jack replied.
“What if I’d ask for the meaning of ‘galaxy’ or’ black hole’ or ‘red dwarf star’?” Jose relaxed and both of them chuckled.
“I don’t know, let’s find out.”