Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Pollyanne Saint Clair’s right fibula swept down the mouth of Basketwood Brook. It crumbled and clinked against rocks, brushing through curtains of waterweed. The bone laid in the infamously dense Indiana Basketwood Forest for eight years, separated from the rest of its skeleton by a young buck who hurled it into the nearby water.
Juno stood overlooking Basketwood Brook in the quiet woods. She had been to the Indiana Basketwood Forest several times; it was only a few minutes north of Severance University where she studied geology. Often she walked to the center and sat under the towering cedars; the air was ancient and clean and magical here.
She saw a pinecone bobbing through the water before she saw the bones. It reminded her of the big brown duck that waddled through her yard. Her feathers shimmered in the wind as she rummaged through the bushes and walked down the driveway. Juno wondered if the duck ever reached water in the dry plains of Indiana. Her eyes trained the buckeye before the cracked bone lazily drifted down the brook.
At first, she thought it was another rock-- maybe quartz or feldspar. The sun was slowly sinking past the horizon, and the clear water looked like a stew of orange and yellow.
Juno knelt to the first floor and reached down to grab the bone. Her sneakers muddied as the water and earth melted together on the brook bed she stuck her hand into the water. It burned her hand; September was too warm and Juno expected the water to cool in the sun’s waning rays. She felt the crumbling surface of the long, skinny bone as she fished it out of the water. The bone crumbled in Juno’s tight grip. She peered at the tattered dull white; the brook had washed the bone clean of any dirt or spit from the buck’s mouth.
Juno walked back to the base of a cedar tree, bone in hand. She had known Pollyanne back in Daisytown, where they both grew up. Pollyanne had been sullen. She usually sat alone on the bench outside the playground during recess and seldom spoke unless the conversation topic changed to television. Then, her eyes would open past their half-closed, sleepy state, and she would quip a remark, and everyone would stare for half a second before moving on.
Pollyanne and Juno were friends for two reasons: Juno’s house was cold, and Pollyanne’s house had junk food. They knew each other for three years until Pollyanne died, her body rotting in the heart of Basketwood Forest, surrounded by birds and wildflowers and sweeping cedars and deer to keep her body company.
Juno drew the bone closer to her eye. She could barely see its detailing and mottled white under the blackened night and curtain of trees that blocked the bright moonlight. She wondered if it was the bone of a deer that died years ago, if it drowned in the lake that fed into Basketwood Brook. Maybe this was the bone of an ancient human; was its skeleton fossilized in the unchanged deep forest floor for thousands of years? Juno imagined the lone person huddling in the Indiana trees, covered in glacial snow or tight, sharp winds. She traced her thumb across the bone’s surface, reclining against the sturdy tree and closing her eyes.
Pollyanne was twelve when she disappeared from Daisytown. It was February 19th; Juno remembered the snow piling around the roads and the flakes whipping on the windows. Pollyanne was missing from school, and her mother was frantic. Twelve was too young to be a runaway. The police interviewed everyone in school; Juno had been questioned to the point of tears. Apparently, a boy at school had seen her talking to an old guy in an alley the night before her vanishing act. Her body was found the next August by some squirrel hunters, rotting in the months that passed and latent in the quiet thick summer air.
Juno woke up the next morning, still reclined under the cedar with the pale robin sky stretching through the forest. The grass was moist with dew, and Juno shivered in the chilled air. Pollyanne’s right femur lay on the ground next to her, half-hidden in a pile of dry cedar leaves and glistening with dew. Juno remembered the months after Pollyanne disappeared, how she kept her eyes open wide at night and whispered prayers to her friend in the early mornings. They never found out who killed Pollyanne; the police gave up after a few months of trying. Daisytown was shrouded in a mist that smelled like winter. Juno ached for Pollyanne; no one else knew how to just listen as she did.
Juno decided the bone was too sacred to move; it was synced with the ebb and flow of Basketwood Forest. She stretched her legs and picked up the bone, bringing it to the edge of the brook. The water flowed like molasses, innocent and new. Juno dipped Pollyanne’s right femur back into the water. She watched as it moseyed down the stream, tossing and breaking with every rock and waterweed, before disappearing past the cedars.