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A Circle of Bone

A short story for our times by our very own Agent of Wonder, Dr Matthew McFall.

Once a king ruled over an island called Rain. Life was good and life was bad. There were stones in the soil that cut the feet of the people, and flies that laid their eggs in wounds, and moths that drank tears. But still the people loved and laughed. They invented games and riddles. There was food enough for everyone: a rich fungus grew out of the clay, and it nourished the people and made their eyes shine.  

One day the skies darkened. A flock of birds flew overhead, and their song sounded like screams. A laughing stranger appeared before the King. Only the King could see him. ‘Soon everything will die,’ said the stranger. ‘Fire will come from the sky and will burn everything away.’ The stranger pointed his finger at the King and dissolved into the ground. The King was afraid.

Another day the skies were silver. A smiling stranger appeared before the King. Only the King could see her. ‘I have a gift for you,’ she said, ‘a circle of bone to bring you peace. Wear it upon your little finger. When you need comfort and courage, take off the ring and read the magic words that are written inside.’ The strange woman dissolved into the air.

The day came when the skies turned red with fire. Black rain fell. The fungus began to fade and die. There were sounds in the air, like the baying of beasts. Worms crawled out of the ground. Biting flies descended upon the people. All around were cries of terror and regret.

The King looked on in dread. In the midst of his fear he remembered the strange woman’s promise: ‘When you need comfort and courage, take off the ring and read the magic words that are written inside.’ The King removed the circle of bone. There were four simple words scratched into it: ‘This too shall pass’.

The skies flashed and changed from red to orange. Silver rain began to fall. New fungus grew from the earth, shining and delicate, and a sweet smell filled the air. A flock of birds flew overhead. Their song sounded like a song of joy.

Day after day there was much celebrating. The people played games and danced. They feasted upon the rich fungus and drank silver water from cups of clay. The island was alive and life was renewed. New songs were being sung.

The King was enjoying the celebrations. He felt a hand on his shoulder. The strange woman had returned. ‘Now is the time to read again the words in the circle of bone,’ she said, smiling and dissolving in the light.

The King took off the ring. He looked at the people. He saw them dancing and singing and feasting. ‘This too shall pass,’ he read. He heard the silence between the sounds. Warm rain fell upon the island. Birds circled in the air. Fungus bloomed brightly from the clay. The King felt very much alive.

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