Bone Welder - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Bone Welder

The Baltimore Post-Examiner is pleased to present an excerpt from Greg Kishbaugh’s Ray Bradbury Award Winning novel, Bone Welder.  Bone Welder is available locally; at Amazon, and Barns and Noble.

 

THE MAN.

THE GREAT SHIP MADE ITS WAY toward the frozen heart of the North Pole.

From the bow of the Nostromo, Jonas Burke watched as its thundering steel hull shattered the patchwork puzzle of the ice, bursting and splintering it into a thousand lifeless shards that would recongeal and become one again after the ship had passed.

They had been at sea for three weeks now, and Jonas could no longer remember how it felt to have solid ground beneath his feet. The crew whiled away the lonely hours below deck drinking and gambling; Jonas preferred the silence of the deck, with only the shrill banshee clarion of the wind as his companion.

He watched the ice. Transfixed.

A place of breathtaking beauty. Nature both elegant and cruel, beautiful and vicious.

Silk-blue glaciers drifted atop steel-cold waters.

Bone WelderSky and sea were one, indistinguishable from one another. Life sparse. Air brittle. The land untenable and ephemeral for it was not land at all. And at any moment it could slough off into the sea and disappear, lost to time and memory.

As Jonas looked out into the frigid eternity, his eyes weakened by the sun’s constant glare, he imagined he could see the entire history of the earth written in the ice.

The wars, the triumphs, the famines, the celebrations.

Each generation of man in the eternal parade of history scrawled across the canvas of white.

Time, forever frozen.

And out there somewhere, hidden away in the frozen crevices, tucked into the stark blue shadows of the ice, Jonas knew there lurked a killer. A beast. And the reason Jonas Burke had journeyed to this frigid, desolate place.

To track the most maligned creature known to mankind—a beast who filled the pages of innumerable books, whose ghastly visage rampaged across countless flickering screens and haunted the dreams of young and old alike.

Jonas Burke had seen horrors blacker than any midnight. Had felt pain more searing than flame, more intense than death itself.

Now, there was nowhere else he could turn. No other option left.

No one else who could help him.

And so he traveled through waters as cold as the moon’s heart to look into the eyes of a monster.

Jonas knew it was out there.

In the ice.

Waiting.

 

THE MONSTER.

SOMEONE WAS COMING. He could feel it. Sense it. Like a whisper carried along the Arctic winds.

He had come to this land of ice and snow and unrelenting cold to escape the eyes of man.

They had hunted and hounded him, mercilessly battered him with clubs, pitchforks and torches as if he were no better than an animal.

So he had come here. Many, many years ago.

But he knew someday they would return. He could turn his back on mankind, but he could not expect mankind to do the same.

The cold nipped at him, even through the dense coat he had fashioned from polar bear fur. He turned his head into the crying wind.

It would not be long.

He wondered if the stories they told about him remained the same. It was all a pack of lies, but men never seemed to tire of the tale.

Created from the limbs of corpses. Brought to life by a mad scientist. That much may have been true, but what about the rest?

That he had killed his creator’s young brother. And then framed the maid for the horrid crime. And murdered the scientist’s best friend. It was one absurdity after another.

But they all chose to believe the imaginings of a nineteen year-old girl instead of listen to the truth.

So be it.

It did not matter now.

Someday perhaps the truth would be known. Perhaps not. He could not weigh down his mind with thoughts of that now.

He must remain focused. Clear in his thinking. For the hands of man were reaching out for him again. Coming to reclaim him. He was sure of it.

And if man was seeking him yet again, it could be for no other reason than to resume the hunt. To finish what had begun so many years prior.

The air was so cold it burned.

Yes. Someone was coming.

Soon.

And he would be ready for him.

 

LANDFALL.

HE ARRIVED IN THE INUIT VILLAGE, weak-kneed from the long journey and ashen-faced from a withdrawn bout of seasickness. The villagers would not speak to him. They averted their eyes, shuffling past Jonas as if he were a spectre. And when he whispered the name Aningan into the frigid gray air, the villagers shuffled past even faster.

Afraid.

“They think you are crazy,” Jonas heard a strong voice say behind him. Captain Owen Stacey slapped him on the back. Hard.

“Is that what you think?”

Jonas turned, and found comfort in the captain’s familiar smile. “You tell me. In eleven years as Captain of this ship, you are my first stowaway. Not many men would risk what you have for a trip to the North Pole.”

Owen Stacey was a large man, thick-fisted and round as a tire. After Jonas had been discovered in one of the darkened cargo bays below decks, the captain had listened to his mad story, and while Jonas was certain he believed nothing that he said, he was at least willing to show great compassion.

“The Inuit will feed, clothe and shelter you until we return,” the Captain said.

“Why?”

“Because I have asked them to. I have spent half my life up here, Jonas, and I have made friends.”

“There is nothing I can say to express my gratitude. Your kindness . . .”

Jonas felt the words trail away, half-formed, a pinch of guilt forming in his gut for the gentle subterfuge he had so far engaged in. For the fact that he was no true stowaway, and that Captain Stacey would never be privy to the entire truth as to how Jonas had gotten this far.

But Jonas realized that had the Nostromo been helmed by a lesser man than Owen Stacey, his journey would surely have been much different. Filled with accusations and bluster and legal threats.

Instead, Captain Stacey had arranged for his safe care, and had agreed to return for him in six days when the Nostromo crept slowly back from gathering ice core samples farther north, deeper into the frozen heart of the world.

Jonas Burke vowed that some day he would repay this man for his kindness.

A fierce wind sprang suddenly from off the frozen ocean, raking the southeast coast of Ellesmere Island with deadly cold. The Nostromo had traveled north through the Nares Strait, the channel separating Ellesmere from Greenland, before ferrying Jonas across the frozen ice to the Inuit village, the northernmost human settlement on the globe.

Just 800 kilometers from the North Pole, it was a desolate and unearthly land, thought Jonas. A land cut off from time and space.

The Inuit had a name for this frozen wasteland: Aujuittuq. The place that never thaws.

“I’m afraid this search of yours . . . ,” the Captain struggled to find the right words. “I hope it doesn’t lead to disappointment.”

“I have no choice other than to believe he exists. I will find him or I won’t. I have done all I can. Either way, I will be ready to go when you return.”

“Six days is a long time out on this ice. It will seem an eternity.”

“I have been through worse.” Jonas extended a gloved hand. Stacey’s huge hand swallowed his and they shook.

“You never answered my question,” Jonas said, as the

Captain walked slump-shouldered into a rising wind.

The Captain turned.

“Do you think I’m crazy?”

The Captain smiled, warm and hearty. “Good luck, Jonas,” he said, before turning away again. “I hope you find what you are searching for.”

Jonas stood quietly, the wind howling in his ears, watching as the sleds raced back to the Nostromo. A thundering crash rang out as the ship, a gleaming silver leviathan in the waning light of day, broke free from the ice’s grip and journeyed northward.

To Jonas, the shattering ice brought to mind the sound of breaking bones.

 

FITFUL.

THE SETTLEMENT was a tightly scattered amalgam of wooden houses, perched upon stilts, elevating them above the permafrost. The homes could not be built directly upon the ground or risk the softening of the earth during the summer months swallowing the tidy buildings in small, terrifying gulps.

Despite the small homes, with generators and snowmobiles perched in the back of each, the Inuit still lived lives not much separated from those of their ancestors centuries before. They still survived entirely from the hunt—seal, polar bear, walrus, musk ox, beluga, narwhale and fish and whatever else Mother Nature would yield in this unforgiving stretch of the world. And while on the hunt, they sought shelter as their people had done for a millennia. They erected igloos.

As Jonas roused slowly from a deep and fitful sleep, he marveled at the warmth the domed ice shelter provided. A mat of caribou hides spread out beneath him, velvet soft.

Many of the permanent shelters on Ellesmere had additional rooms. Empty, warm and inviting. But none of the Inuit would open their doors for Jonas. A generous people by nature, they were nonetheless unwilling to allow this stranger into their homes. This dark-eyed man from the south who asked about Aningan.

And, so, Jonas had no other option than to settle into the igloo. And welcome the sleep that came over him.

Cloaked him.

But only for a short time. Dark dreams soon tugged him awake.

He propped himself up on one elbow, and stared into the short tunnel that served as entryway to the igloo, a flap of sealskin rustling in the wind. Was he really out there,

Jonas wondered? Wandering the ice, a spectre out of time?

Jonas knew that when the Inuit snuck fleeting glimpses into his haunted eyes they must surely have wondered what could have driven a man to such lengths. How could a sane man make sense of any of this? But Jonas Burke knew that rationale thought was the luxury of the content and satisfied, of the downright lucky. When life turned black, when normal day-to-day existence became a somber, morbid struggle, sane men became noticeably less stable, the ground beneath their feet crumbling to nothing more substantial than sand.

No one knew this better than Jonas Burke.

He had once been certain, like everyone else, that the Frankenstein Monster was but a figment of a teenaged girl’s feverish imagination. But when Jillian became ill—grew too tired and weak to even smile when he said he loved her—he began to grasp at anything, no matter how perverse or beyond reason, to prevent himself from slipping further into a helpless despair. That is when he began to visit musty occult bookstores and frequent the darkened libraries of academia. And that is when, after pouring over arcane texts left untouched on shelves for decades, day after day, month after month, a concept began to crystallize; Mary Shelley was creative, for certain, but the tale of Frankenstein’s Monster had not sprung solely from her imagination.

She had derived her tale from a true incident. A young doctor who discovered the secret of death, who welded lifeless flesh and bone into a walking, thinking being.

Victor Frankenstein had found a way to cheat death, to outwit the Grim Reaper himself. He had discovered a formula for re-animating the dead.

And as Jillian’s breath became shallow and stale, Jonas knew what he had to do. But Jonas Burke could never anticipate the pain his decision would bring, to himself and his beautiful daughter. And now, after all he had been through, there was only one creature on earth he could turn to, a beast believed to be a cold-blooded murderer, a brute with the strength to tear a man’s still beating heart from his chest. This was his only remaining hope.

The last the Western world had heard of the Monster, it had smuggled its way onto a freighter bound for the North Pole (just as Jonas had seemingly done) and, after struggling with the anger and disillusionment of being abandoned by his creator—his father—the Monster killed Victor Frankenstein. Strangled him. And then it receded into a life of isolation amongst the ice. The Monster could not age, could not die, because it was composed of flesh that had already been buried. He was already dead. So Jonas deduced he must still be here, in the North Pole. Shuffling among the glaciers, waiting for eternity to end.

Jonas laid his head back down upon the silken softness of the caribou skins. Closed his eyes. Prayed for the sleep he knew would not return. Instead his darkened mind filled with wavering images of his wife, his daughter. Like heat mirages. His life as it had been. Before the darkness had settled into it forever.

And then something else. A figure. Brutish, lumbering, more shadow than man, more monster than human.

Jonas had seen the term Aningan for the first time while reading the journals of a French explorer named Luc Montclaire. Montclaire had traveled to the North Pole just after the turn of the century and had written of a legend that he said consumed the Inuit people. They had festivals to honor this being. They prayed to him before the hunt and they blessed their children by his name. The legend of Aningan. The Dead Who Walks.

Jonas held his eyes tightly closed, as if trying to will himself to sleep. Outside the wind screamed like an ice-white demon.

In the morning, he would find someone in the Intuit village to answer his questions. If not, he would venture out on his own.

Images of the beast reeled through his mind all through the black night. Stitches holding together dead flesh. A terrible creature more dead than alive.

And in Jonas’s fitful, tormented dreams, it was not he who was tracking the Monster, but the other way around.

Coming for him. Shambling hump-shouldered through sheets of snow, hands outstretched, cold fingers eager to settle into the soft flesh of Jonas’s neck


About the author

Greg Kishbaugh

Greg Kishbaugh has been an editor/publisher for 25 years. He won the the Ray Bradbury Fiction Writing Award and his work has appeared in several anthologies, as well as renowned horror magazine Cemetery Dance. He is a Consulting Editor for Evileye Books, overseeing manuscript development of new series and standalone books for the publisher, which specializes in horror and speculative fiction. He is also the editor of the Burning Maiden anthology series produced by Evileye. Contact the author.
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