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The Bone Necklace by Katherine Hunter



The wooden sign on the door—Lady Peripeteia: Wise Woman and Spiritual Healer—indicates to Flora that she is at the right place.

The door is open. Tendrils of aromatic smoke reach out of the door and escape on the breeze. She squeezes the hilt of the knife tucked under her coat before she invites herself into the dusky vestibule. The sweet, earthy smell of herbs and essential oils floods her lungs and stings her eyes. Another sign hangs against the wall, scantily covering a patch of mold and peeling paint: This way for readings—best prices in Gorah Valley District! 

The room she enters next is decorated with royal purple and emerald green draperies. There are shelves sagging under leatherbound volumes, jars brimming with spices and liquids, and sneering animal-shaped ornaments carved from wood. Upon other surfaces, candles drip wax into thick white puddles.

A table showcasing a crystal ball stands in the middle of the room.

Of the wise woman, there is no sign.

Flora goes to the crystal ball and strokes her fingers over its surface, but is not surprised when nothing happens. Flora has lived enough years to know it’s all a farce. She bends down and lifts the tablecloth to peek under the table. Again, unsurprisingly, she discovers a lever that can be used to knock on the table from below—there were no spirits knocking here.

“Is there something I can help you with, my dear?” A woman has appeared from a hallway leading deeper into the building. Her face, wrinkled like a discarded apple, sticks out from within a brown wool cloak. She is wearing black earrings that grossly resemble hairy spiders.

So, this is Lady Peripeteia, the infamous magic woman. Flora straightens her coat, then extracts a photo from her pocket.

“I’d like to find out if you recognize this woman.” Flora is certain that Lady Peripeteia knows exactly who the woman in the photo is, but she’d like to see whether the healer will lie.

“Who is she to you?” The healer deflects the question.

“She was my sister, June. She died five weeks ago.”

*

It was a windy Autumn morning when June’s body was found on the cobblestones below the balcony of Gorah Valley District’s public museum.

Flora had been searching for her missing seventeen-year-old sister for ten days already, since the afternoon that June did not return home from school. She’d put up posters, she’d asked nearby neighbors and shop owners if June had been spotted recently, and she’d spent hours wandering the streets, looking. It was only once the police used dental records to identify the girl who’d fallen from the museum balcony that Flora was notified that her sister was no longer missing, but dead.

Flora was June’s guardian, as their parents had died one after the other three years ago. Despite being twenty-four when this happened, Flora felt she was severely unprepared for motherhood, but took on the role when June refused to live with anyone else. When June disappeared, Flora felt she’d let her parents down. Perhaps if someone older and wiser, like their aunt Mary who already had two children, had taken responsibility for the girl, June would still be alive.

The death came to Flora as a complete shock; she’d suspected that perhaps June had run off with her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Heath. It never occurred to her that June could be dead—not her sweet young sister, who still had so much life ahead of her.

According to the police, June had paid the day fee to enter the museum and was spotted by pedestrians half an hour later falling from the balcony. She was dead by the time the ambulance arrived at the scene.

Flora had told the police everything she knew about her sister’s life at the time. “June was constantly having terrible dreams. She’d wake up in the middle of the night, screaming, claiming she was being haunted by evil manifestations. She said they stalked her day and night. But I never saw a thing—nothing under the bed or in her bedroom closet, and nothing following her on the day she went missing either.”

The inspector was puzzled by this information but quickly concluded that June had been ill. “Your sister jumped from the balcony to escape her emotional demons,” he said. “The poor girl belonged in an asylum. This was bound to lead to a tragic end if she continued to live without treatment.” The inspector had given Flora’s hand a light squeeze, offered a sympathetic smile, and closed the case.

Flora had let herself believe the story of June’s mental illness for a few days, but could not ignore the feeling, the knowing, that something more had caused June’s death. The longer she thought about it, the more she realized that her sister had been a normal, happy girl until exactly a fortnight before her death, when she started wearing a strange necklace with a bone for a pendant.

Flora had asked June where the eerie jewelry had come from. “Did Heath give it to you? Are you fighting with him? If he’s the reason for this despair, then tell me. I know men, I can help.” Regardless of how much Flora pressed her sister, June refused to explain the necklace’s origin.

“I can’t help you if you won’t let me, June.” June didn’t respond, sitting silently, observing the shadows behind bookcases, below the dining table, below Flora’s feet. June’s arms were covered in goosepimples, so Flora closed all the windows and made her sister a cup of hot chicken soup.

She continued to press June for answers all weekend, but by Sunday night, Flora decided that all she could do was wait until June was ready to speak.

The next day, June left for school and ended up dead in the morgue.

Flora went to see the body—it hadn’t felt right to let June lie there in that sterile, unfamiliar place all alone. She’d stroked her sister’s pale cheek, trying to ignore the chemical smell replacing June’s gentle herbal scent, trying to remind herself that this broken body on the table—barely recognizable owing to the blunt force trauma that had bashed June’s skull in—still belonged to June, despite its lack of blushing cheeks and comforting warmth. When the coroner handed Flora June’s belongings, she noticed that the bone necklace, which she had seen her sister wearing the morning June disappeared, was missing.

“Excuse me, Sir,” she said to the coroner. “When her body was brought in, was she wearing a necklace?”

The coroner shook his head. “She had a school backpack and her clothing, Miss. That’s all.”

The nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong drove Flora to search June’s room for anything that might lead to an answer. It was then that she found, in the drawer of June’s bedside table, tucked between two books, the business card for a Lady Peripeteia: Wise Woman and Spiritual Healer.

*

Lady Peripeteia motions for Flora to have a seat at the table with the crystal ball.

“Your sister did come to visit me, this is true.”

“What did she want?” Flora always knew, of the two sisters, June was the more spiritual sibling; when their parents died, June spent hours praying for them at their graves, while Flora believed that all that could be done for them, had already been done in life. She didn’t expect June’s spirituality to manifest in the form of fortune tellers and crystal balls.

“She wanted a love spell. There is a boy, some rich man’s son, whom she wanted to marry, but apparently, he had fallen in love with someone else.” Lady Peripeteia pushes a flyer towards Flora. Love spells, from only 1500 silvers. Guaranteed results!

“You can’t be serious. One thousand five hundred silvers? For a parlor trick?”

“It’s no trick, my dear. Guaranteed results. It says it right there.”

“Where would June have found such a ridiculous amount of money? She was practically still a child.” Oh June, Flora thought, Heath had broken your heart after all.

Lady Peripeteia clicks her teeth together a few times. “That was the problem, my dear. I did the spell. I gave her the pendant to make the spell work. I did my part, but she didn’t pay me.” The healer raises a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “It is only fair she paid her price…”

“What do you mean?” Flora thought of the ‘shadows’ stalking June before her death. “Did you send thugs out to kill her because she didn’t pay you for a silly love spell? Magic isn’t even real!” Flora hears her voice rise shrilly, her anger bouncing off the walls of the small room. “This crystal ball is a joke! I saw the lever below your table. I’ve seen dozens of parlor tricks, you snake!”

Lady Peripeteia cackles. “Why, this crystal ball is only for those who want a quick show. People enjoy magic shows even though they know it’s not real, don’t they?” She raises her eyebrows. “The real magic is in the spells. In the bones.” She runs her hand along her neck, caressing a necklace that isn’t there. “As for your sister, I didn’t touch her.” She smiles, flashing a row of yellowing teeth. “I only scared her a little, that’s all.”

Flora reaches for the knife within her coat. “Did you threaten her?”

“It is only fair she paid her price.” Lady Peripeteia’s smile broadens.

June’s death was no accident—Flora is certain now.

“She was a child!” Flora screeches. Rage blinds her senses, compelling her to pull the knife out. “She was a child! A child!” She plunges the blade into the smiling woman’s neck.

She watches the life drain from the healer’s eyes, the face paralyzed wearing that skull grimace. “She was just a child,” Flora whimpers. The body sags and slides down into a bleeding heap on the floor.

Flora stands frozen, her hand still reaching forward where she released the knife.

After some time, she sits down and observes the body of the woman who murdered her sister. A feeling of lightness rises inside her, bubbling out of her mouth in a terrible, wicked spell of laughter. She laughs until she feels dizzy, until her throat hurts and darkness begins to dim the room.

When she finally turns to leave, another feeling—cold and vulgar like an untimely death—creeps over her.

Her throat constricts suddenly, as if a hand is tightening around her neck.

When she reaches up, her fingers close around a small, smooth bone hanging from a chain above her collarbone.

She looks in terror to where she left the body of Lady Peripeteia, but it is gone.

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