“Back in the black old days, we called it the Bone Plate. Wasn’t worth your life to touch the Bone Plate. It made men kings, back in the black old days. Mine was a trashcan lid, piled high with gnawed, soot-stained remains, the bones of rats and cats and stray dogs and pigeons. Only the bones of that which you had killed and stripped clean with your own biting, smiling teeth were allowed on your Plate, and whoever had the biggest Plate ruled the windswept world of trash and frost that sprawled beneath the overpasses. I remember jamming more and more bones on top of each other, wrapping them up with wire and twine and whatever else I could find amongst the trash, until mine towered taller than anyone else’s under the ‘pass. It had made me king, and Hania my queen.
Hania and I, we liked to huddle close together and watch things die. It was romantic, knowing that something had to give its life up for us to live. We pulled our ragged layers of clothing tighter and fed the fire, the flames’ warmth holding back winter’s hunger, while dozens of hollow eye-sockets stared out blindly over our domain from the heights of my Bone Plate.
Far as I could remember back there under the ‘pass, there wasn’t anything magical about it, but I knew there was something, something that mattered, something powerful, but, not magic the way people think of magic. Lot of folk thought it was, though. Fools. Sucking brain from a hot rat skull didn’t make me some sort of shaman or give me psychedelic insights. But damn, it scared the locals, and frightened people will do just about anything you tell them. Plus, the eyeballs gave me something to chew on during those long dark nights, when I’d stare at the slivers of sky peeking between the curves of the overpass high overhead, and wonder what had come before the black old days. Wonder where I’d ever learned about it all; the Bone Plate, the rituals, the rules. Those nights when I’d wonder what the hell I was, what I had been before the world had chewed me up, stolen my memories, and spat me out down here amongst the trash and the frost and the wasted souls, where all I had was my pile of bones, and Hania.
Then one night the spooks came for me. I remember the dry scuttle of my bones scattering under someone’s boots, the obligatory cloth wrapped around my face, and the black as it swallowed me whole.”