By on Oct 28, 2012 in Fiction

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Collage of photos from Halstatt

After dug-up bones were bleached in the sun, mourners painted symbolic decorations like laurel for valor and roses for love upon each skull, along with a name, date of birth, and date of death. Megan imagined pink roses for her mother and her unborn baby. The fetus had a beating heart in its tiny chest, and a developing brain inside its soft, forming skull, and a nourishing cord attached to her. Was there a soul? The Church said so.

Like the Nocturnal House at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo with its scary snakes, some of them gigantic, reading about Hallstatt’s macabre resting place fixated Megan. In the Nocturnal House, living creatures — a ten-foot boa constrictor, for one — wriggled and blinked at onlookers. It was hot and humid. Plexiglass walls protected viewers and occupants alike. A claustrophobic, dimly-lit aisle wended its way through the exhibits. She would brace herself to go in. The kids on her field trips jostled and giggled and sometimes blocked her way. Feeling like she might hyperventilate, Megan would push through them, moving toward an exit. Not noticing it was their teacher, the first graders yelled things like, “Hey, watch out!” At the end, she inspected discarded shells and skins in display cases, waiting for the children to finish their explorations. In her classroom, she taught reading, suggesting answers to endless questions, letting them come to personal conclusions. Each year, on each field trip, she chose once again to go in the Nocturnal House.

* * *

After her mother died from ovarian cancer, nuns and her parish priest looked out for Megan. These people of the Church gave treats of chocolate, praise for high grades, and encouragement when, after promising differently, her father never showed up for plays and programs attended by everyone else’s parents. Their administrations helped, even though often she was so filled up with tears that Megan feared the dam would crack and humiliate her. Like most little Catholic girls, she contemplated becoming a nun until boys started paying her the attention she craved more. Megan had an abortion at seventeen. Soon, she was to leave for college. She went alone to the procedure, not sure of the baby’s father, but certain that she couldn’t continue to be chained to her own father.

* * *

After several more minutes, with a sigh of regret, she decided to leave the churchyard. Megan glanced toward the path, but chose the stairway. It would be easier going down. About ten steps into her descent, she heard someone clumping around a curve. Another chance! If this was a visitor to the Charnel House, she would go in, too. She saw his brown hair, and a moment later, his dear face. Alex had come to find her. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She held out her roughened hand to him.

“That was quite a hike,” he said.

“On your poor, sore feet.”

“I got worried. Don’t want anybody to abduct my sweetie.”

“There’s another easier way.”

“We got some more exercise.” His mouth lifted in a crooked grin.

“I’ve seen everything… except for the Charnel House.”

“That’s why you climbed up here.” Earlier, he’d asked, “What’s the fascination with a bunch of old bones?” To which, shrugging, she had no answer.

“Will you go in there with me?”

“Sure. I’ll save you from hobgoblins.”

Alex paid the three euros to the guardian lady, who said in heavily accented English, “He’s here, heh?” She didn’t look the least bit scary up close, rather like a tired housekeeper. With his hand at her waist, Megan and Alex crossed over the Charnel House’s threshold.

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Kathleen Glassburn earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband, three male dogs, several wandering cats, and a 45-year-old female turtle. When not writing or reading or editing, she plays the piano — jamming with friends — or rides horses. Her work has been published in Cicatrix, Cairn, Crucible, ep;phany, Lullwater Review, Marco Polo Quarterly, RiverSedge, SLAB, The Talon Mag, The Writer's Workshop Review, and several other journals. Her story, "Picnics," was a finalist in Glimmer Train'sBest Start contest. She is managing editor of The Writer's Workshop Review. Check out her website,, for more information.

One Comment

  1. Kathy, I wor