Read The Bone Artists Online

Authors: Madeleine Roux

The Bone Artists


“Man's main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is.”


“Calamities are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to others.”



hese w
ere the rules as they were first put down:

First, that the Artist should choose an Object dear to the deceased.

Second, that the Artist feel neither guilt nor remorse in the taking.

Third, and most important, that the Object would not hold power until blooded. And that the more innocent the blood for the blooding, the more powerful the result.

is friend's voice was frantic on the other end of the line.

Oliver had only heard him that upset one other time, when they had climbed a nasty old chain-link fence in Bywater and Micah had sliced his palm open on a jagged link at the top. The cut clearly needed stitches—there had been blood soaking Micah's clothes, all down the front of his new Saints T-shirt. The blood was on Oliver, too, but somehow he remained calm, got Micah to pedal on his bike back through the neighborhood toward home. Then came Micah's grandmother and a trip to the hospital, and it was all fixed.

Oliver wasn't so sure any phone call or hospital could fix this. He could hear something sizzling and popping in the background, and his friend could barely breathe as he wheezed into the cell phone.

“Ollie? Ollie, oh shit, I'm so sorry,” he said. “I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry. . . .”

Four Days Earlier

liver splashed his face with ice-cold water, reaching blindly for the hand towel he knew would be hanging just to the right of the mirror. He didn't bother with a shave, since he was growing attached to the wiry scruff of a goatee he had managed to grow. Hey, at seventeen that was a badge of honor. It wasn't nearly as full or legit as Micah's, but that kid was descended from swamp people, and from the pictures Oliver had seen at Micah's house, even the youngish cousins all seemed to have giant shag beards, messy as birds' nests, by twenty.

And anyway there wasn't time to shave. He had to pick up his girlfriend, Sabrina, and Micah from karate or judo or whatever they were teaching at the dojo where they worked.

Oliver dried his face, smirking, patting down the wisp of a mustache over his upper lip, trying to hide the scar that subtly deformed the skin there. A surgery for cleft palate as a kid had left him up one scar and his family down a significant load of cash. He hated hospitals. What was the point of insurance if they could still gouge the hell out of you for stuff like surgeries? On a kid? It was all backward.

That was one of many reasons he daydreamed about hauling ass to Canada one day. Things were different there. Oliver could get far, far away from his family's shop and do something, maybe open a garage. Tinkering with cars for the rest of his life would be just fine, especially if Micah and Sabrina came along. Was Vancouver nice? Or Ottawa? He'd have to look it up. They could try Montreal, even though only Micah spoke a lick of French, and his was the muddled Creole kind.

But Oliver was getting ahead of himself. He had news. Awesome news. Sabrina and Micah needed to know ASAP because Oliver was bursting out of his skin trying to keep it to himself. He hurried out of the small bathroom, avoiding the creaky old door that never shut properly anyway. Katrina had done a number on the building, and the lingering damage had left the doorways, floors, and ceilings warped. Most of the doors in the house had to be shouldered shut because of misshapen wood frames. Without the cash to make the repairs, Oliver's family had seen only to what was most crucial—the active leaks, the windows broken by looting, the mold, the water-damaged furniture. . . .

He winced, thinking about all the small fixes he would do if he had the time. Or hell, the money. That would change, he decided. Not right away. Not with the minimal cash flow he managed between working hours at the family antique shop and the Part-Time Job.

That's how he referred to it in his head. It was easier to pretend it wasn't shady—wasn't
—if he gave it a nice, safe nickname.

That Part-Time Job would be taking up most of his Monday evening, but for now he had that news to deliver and breakfast
to snag on his way out the door. Spring break was a godsend. Prime tourist time, it meant his father was busy almost nonstop in the shop—knickknacks of the vintage variety were always big with visitors to the Big Easy, and the flow of tourism seemed to get better and better every year. It had been scary there for a while in the recovery years, but now things felt almost back to normal. That thrilled his father, and it thrilled Oliver, too, since it meant he could pick up as many hours as he wanted now and also feel better about leaving his dad later.

Because he was definitely leaving. Finally, the University of Texas had gotten back to him. Missing the early decision deadline had stressed him out big-time, but now he had his answer and the answer was: yes, Oliver could attend the school's mechanical engineering program. Hell, maybe if things went his way he wouldn't just tinker with cars for a living, he would
them. Austin was close enough that Oliver could zip home for any holidays or family emergencies, and it was far away enough to escape the long, long shadow cast by Berkley & Daughters.

The family business. Oliver could hear said business booming next door. The Berkleys liked to keep work and home close together, their second-story suite of apartments just one door and two dozen steps away from the shop.

Correction—Nick Berkley liked to mingle business and family. Oliver wasn't in love with the shop the way his dad was.

“That's what I told your granddaddy, too,”
Oliver muttered under his breath. His father had informed him as much the last time they'd had the same old dinner conversation about Oliver's future. It always ushered in a tense silence. Forks and knives were never so loud screaming across plates.

Oliver opened the closet, grabbed a light canvas coat, and pulled it on, patting the pockets to make sure the acceptance letter from UT was still there. Its reassuring bulk on the left breast gave him a smile. Dad didn't know yet, and frankly, Oliver wasn't eager for that confrontation. But screw it. Today was about feeling good. It was about spring break.

The closet was wallpapered in news clippings, magazine pages, and posters, some glossy, some faded. It was like a living timeline of his life and interests—flaking LEGO ads taped over with Catherine Zeta-Jones posters taped over with cheesy fantasy dragon illustrations taped over with muscle cars taped over with Saints pennants. An odd little time capsule to hold his simple wardrobe.

The corridor leading from his attic-like bedroom down the hall to the kitchen was narrow and dark. Nobody smart had designed the layout of the apartment—the halls all turned out pokey and far, far away from any natural light. On the kitchen counter, the last two bananas were about to go bad, so Oliver took them both, peeling one and pocketing the other as he grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge.

Coffee would come soon, but not until he had Sabrina and Micah with him. Then he could push the crisp, white paper across a café table to them and sit back to sip his morning brew with everything just a bit righter in his world.

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