I recently submitted a story that was accepted to be a part of the Writing is Art gallery at the Cottonwood Center in Colorado Springs. It was a unique contest in which writers went to the gallery, found a painting or other piece of art that spoke to them, then wrote a story or poem associated with the paintings. Tonight was the opening Gala, where the paintings and stories were displayed side by side. For those that can’t get to the gallery, here is the story that I submitted. The photo is the painting that I wrote the story on. Enjoy!!!

COW SKULLS

In that moment, as she gazed upon him, understanding washed over her. Then it was gone, born away on the breeze. The dead eyed child just stared at her.

A cow skull sat in his lap, bleached white from the sun. Minute black cracks spiderwebbing across its surface. He rolled it back and forth between his slender hands. Something rolled within the empty space within. Maybe a rock. Maybe a bead. Something. Rolling back and forth, back and forth, bouncing against the walls of the skull with a faint rattling. The child stared down at it now, transfixed by the sound. He’d forgotten her again.

The red checked blanket underneath him was bright against the dead brown grass that stretched out through the field. She remembered vast herds tearing up the tender growth. Yet now all that existed was the skull sitting in the child’s lap.

Amelia tried to smile, swallowing a little, willing some moisture to fill her parched mouth so she could speak. But all that came out was this odd clicking sound, like an insect in the black of night. She closed her lips tightly. She coughed, loudly.

The child swung his eyes up to meet her. The round black orbs filled his face, the whites almost gone. Pale white skin stretched out over sharp cheekbones. The slender nose that seemed more like a predator’s beak than anything that would belong upon a human. The thin line of his lips. The shock of straight black hair, cut neat and sharp so it didn’t fall past his ears. The little black suit, complete with tie. He stared at her. Studying her. No emotion in his face.

For a second a look flashed though his features, almost a look of pity, a look of question, before solidifying once more into the stern little statue that he had adopted. He looked back down at his lap, resuming his play with the cow skull. Back and forth. Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

No bird sang in the bare branches of the trees. No insects hummed their sad autumn tunes. No geese honking and crying as they flew overhead. No leaves rustling in the wind. Just this boy and this skull, rolling back and forth. Back and forth. A metronome to the world. To life. To this place.

She tried to smile again, but it was weak and collapsed quickly. Fences sagged in the distance, too broken to hold their own weight anymore. Knocked down by the wind or heavy snow during some storm past. In the distance, crows called as they strutted back and forth on the old corncrib roof, the shingles missing and torn, the paint long ago faded and scrubbed off by the relentless sun and rain to reveal the gray weathered wood slowly cracking and splintering under the weight of Time. The farmhouse stood no better, the bricks covered with decades of dead vines. A tree grew out of the chimney. The glass frosted by grime, where they hadn’t been broken out by the pigeons.

Yet here was the boy on his bright red blanket. A round, succulent orange sitting beside him, waiting to be devoured. From the basket beside him. As if brought to her attention, the scents of fried chicken and fresh baked pie crust suddenly drifted into her nose, tickling at her stomach and waking it up with a growl. Food. Real food.

Her mouth started watering and for a moment she fought her reason as the primal animal within her took over. Willing her to tear it apart and devour it. Her Hunger gnawed at her, keening wildly to be sated. She fought against it desperately, clinging to any remnant of her humanness like a life preserver in a storm-tossed sea.

The boy’s eyes were on the skull, oblivious to her struggles.

“Do you think it is happier now?” The voice was low. Solemn. Weighted. He picked up the skull, bringing it up to his eye, staring into the enormous holes where the eyes had once lived.

Amelia finally got enough saliva in her mouth to oil it for the words to come out. “I doubt it feels much of anything right now. Why don’t you put it down before it ruins this nice meal we have?”

The boy acted like he didn’t hear her, still staring at the skull. “Do you think the Spring will come again?”

A pained feeling stabbed at her heart. She wanted to give the boy words of comfort, but her lips refused to form the lie. Quickly she tricked her mind into a half lie, grasping at it and throwing the weight of her belief behind it, as if believing it strongly enough would make it the truth. Make it palatable for her soul to say it aloud. “Spring must always come. The seasons do not stop. The Spring must always come again. It will always renew the world.”

Again, the boy did not acknowledge her, just stared at the skull in his lap. The orange was forgotten, although it seemed odd that the skin was not as bright as it once had been. Nor did the chicken smell as strong, the pie as sweet. Getting cold, she thought glumly, still wishing she could forget her manners and steal the boy’s food.

“I don’t think Spring has been here for quite some time.” He said glumly, a half whisper barely audibly beyond a few inches of his lips. A single tear rolled down his cheek unchecked, falling to the blanket, the rusty brown colors fading into the grass.

Wait. Brown?

The skull lay abandoned in the boy’s lap, his shoulders hunched with a weariness that belonged to one much older than he. And for a moment he flickered. An old man sitting where the boy had been. Wisps of white floating in a halo about his head. Wrinkles etched upon his face as he stared down at the skull. The suit now gray, torn and tattered. He smiled sadly down at it. “Oh, how you loved it here. I always said you brought the Spring with you.”

He turned his face upward, eyes closed. Leaning back against the smooth gray stone that jutted out of the ground. Blue veins traced upon the translucent skin of his hands as he stroked the skull like one would a cherished pet. “I’m sorry I let you down.”

A smile crept across the old man’s face as he stared up at her. Seeing her. “Will you ever forgive me?”

Forgive him? What was there to forgive? He had made her so happy. He had tried so hard.

He was gone. The cow skull rolling across the blanket. It was silent now, for the ring had fallen out of it, the stone sparkling fitfully in the weak sun. A golden band with a single small diamond. All they could afford. But everything they needed.

He was gone, but the stone was not. She looked at it now, the gray weathered granite cracked and broken by time. Forgotten. Words etched across the stone, almost faded but she could still read them. Amelia Bates. Beloved Mother and wife.

The dead eyed child stared up at her, the skull on his lap. And once more she understood.