Monday, August 18, 2008

the bony-fied express

Everybody inside the post office turned and stared as Harry clattered his way across the well-scuffed wooden floor.

Honestly, they thought, can't a skeleton just for once do a simple thing like walk into a place quietly?

"Help you?" said the postmaster.

"Hear you're looking for Pony Express riders," said Harry.

The postmaster looked Harry up and down. Good teeth, he thought, but a bit on the lean side. "Think you can find your way to Painless Point?"

Harry tapped his head. "Got it all right up here. See?" He bent over and showed the postmaster the dotted map that stretched from one side of his head clear across to the other.

"Looks about right," said the postmaster. "But still ... idn't it ... how do you ... what I mean to say is, ain't your sorta missing something?"

Harry stepped back and looked himself over. "Like what?"

"Like BOOTS! Ain't you got none?"

"Oh, sure," said Harry. "Left them outside. Time to time my feet get a little stiff from riding,"

"Well ... OK, then." The postmaster handed Harry a saddlebag full of letters. "Get these out to Painless Point as fast as you can. They've been waiting like there's no tomorrow."

Harry clattered back outside. "Let's get, Marmalade," he said to his snorting stallion, all burly and black.

And off they galloped, headed for the high hills.

They rode and they rode, all that day and all that night. The next morning they rode straight into a howling blizzard. Snow so fierce that Harry couldn't even see his hand in front of his face.

Staggering to stay upright, Marmalade stepped on a rock buried by the snow, sending the both of them tumbling to the ground.

Harry sat up and tried to clear his head. Nothing broken that he could see. He shook the snow out of one boot, then the other, then went to put them back on and realized he had shaken out all his toes. Every last one of them. He dug all around but couldn't find them anywhere in the drifting white mounds of snow.

He sighed -- those were good toes, too -- picked himself up and started out again. Slowly now, for Marmalade had lost a shoe in the fall.

That afternoon the snow cleared a bit and they came to a small town. Harry left Marmalade at the blacksmith for a new shoe, then limped over to the town doctor.

On the doctor's door were some small painted signs:


and underneath that:


Harry hobbled in. Two hours later he wobbled out and looked down at the piano keys that were where his toes used to be. Carefullly, ever so carefully, he stepped off the porch. BOM-DLEEN! He took another step. BOM-DLEEN! Not so bad, thought Harry, better than having ten fingers on my feet. (I'm going to miss those toes, though.)

Harry BOM-DLEENed back over to get Marmalade. They left town in a sprint. Between Marmalade's hooves and Harry's new toes, the sound RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK, RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK cut through the prairie air.

After a week of riding, Harry and Marmalade came to a rocky cliff high above the ocean. They stopped by a sign at the very edge of the cliff.


Harry leaned over the looked down, waaaaay down, all the way down to the crashing ocean waves. Whoa. He got all dizzy and stepped back.

The wind whistled through his bones, his teeth chattered, his kneecaps knocked and his new toes shievered with a BAH-DAH-KAN-KA-KANG  BAH-DAH-KAN-KA-KANG kind of sound.

"Hey, keep it down over there!" a voice called out.

Harry looked around. He didn't see a soul, just Marmalade there and a bunch of rocks scattered about. He rattled even louder.

The voice called out again. "Didn't your hear? Quiet! Can't you see we're trying to sleep?"

Harry spun this way and that. "Who's there? Wherever you are, mister, I'm just here to deliver the mail."

That voice again. "Mail? Did you say mail? Hey everybody, mail's here!"

The ground quivered just below Harry's feet. Harry jumped out of the way as five bony white fingers wiggled up through the dirt. Then, nearby, another bony hand poked up. And another one over near that one. And then another and another until Harry was surrounding by flapping white hands and wiggling white fingers.

And voices, too.


"Over here!"

"Bet there's mail for me!"

"How's the weather up there?"

Harry sputtered. "G-g-got l-l-letters. For P-P-Painless P-P-Point."

"About time," said a burly voice nearby. "Can't tell you how long we've been waiting. Anything for me? The name's Grout Wheeler."

Harry dug through his saddlebag and much to his surprise found a letter with the name Grout Wheeler on it. "H-h-here you g-go." He handed it down. The fingers snatched the letter and slipped back into the ground.

Now Harry saw that all the rocks scattered about had names painted on them. He tromped back and forth -- BOM-DLEEN, BOM-DLEEN -- around the wiggling fingers.

There was mail for Lorelei Yodeloff, No-Luck Liplock, Junebug O'Boyle, Streudelneck Hackerman, Old Zither McDither and the rest. One by one the hands disappeared with the letters, and rising from the ground, sounds of laughing and crying, hooting and sighing.

A hand came back up. Grout Wheeler's. "Thank you kindly, mister. Can you carry this one back with you? It's to my nephew."

Harry took it and shook hands with the hand, then collected some more letters and headed for his horse.

"Sure you don't want to stay awhile?" called out Grout Wheeler. "You might like it here."

"Better not," said Harry. "Could never stay too still for too long. See you around."

Harry and Marmalade rode away, and the hands of Painless Point all waved as RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK, RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK grew fainter and fainter in the distance.

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