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by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam


   “Who’s gonna watch the skeletons?” I ask.

            We’re about to go camping. Cathryn’s undressing before the closet in her garage apartment. I’m trying not to watch, though she wants me to. Instead I peer into her glass terrarium where the skeletons live, three of them: a dwarf T-Rex and two dwarf stegosauruses. The T-Rex stands atop a lonely pile of rocks.

            “I was going to leave them extra food. You think that’s okay?” Cathryn rummages through the clothes pile on the floor, such beautiful chaos. I stare at her reflection in the glass. Her bra, lacey and black, makes me want to glimpse what’s underneath, even though I have before, five times.



Full transcript appears after the cut.

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 20 for January 19, 2016. This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you.

Before we get started with this episode today, I’ve put together a small Listener’s Poll for the first nine months of GlitterShip, covering the stories that we put out in 2015. This is intended to be a low-stress, just-because-I’m-curious poll. I will have the link up in the transcript on, and you can also find it at: The poll will stay open through February 29, and I’ll announce the results in one of the March episodes.

Our story this week is “Skeletons” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, read by guest reader Ranylt Richildis

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named cats–Gimli and Don Quixote. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and curates the annual Art & Words Show in Fort Worth, Texas. Her work has appeared in over 40 magazines and anthologies such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Goblin Fruit. You can visit her on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle or at her website She is represented by Ann Collette at Rees Literary Agency.

Ranylt Richildis is a writer and editor based in Ottawa. Her short story, “Charlemagne and Florent,” was selected for Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. Ranylt is the founding editor of the Aurora-nominated Lackington’s Magazine, an online SFF quarterly devoted to stories told in unusual or poetic language.






by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam




“Who’s gonna watch the skeletons?” I ask.

We’re about to go camping. Cathryn’s undressing before the closet in her garage apartment. I’m trying not to watch, though she wants me to. Instead I peer into her glass terrarium where the skeletons live, three of them: a dwarf T-Rex and two dwarf stegosauruses. The T-Rex stands atop a lonely pile of rocks.

“I was going to leave them extra food. You think that’s okay?” Cathryn rummages through the clothes pile on the floor, such beautiful chaos. I stare at her reflection in the glass. Her bra, lacey and black, makes me want to glimpse what’s underneath, even though I have before, five times.

“I guess so,” I say. I look back at the T-Rex. His name, Cathryn tells me, is Ronald. The steggos are called Thelma and Louise; she thinks she’s being ironic. The T-Rex’s bones are so small I’m sure that if I picked him up I would break him. His eyes are tiny as sequins and suspended in empty sockets. He wails like a cat in heat. “I think something’s wrong,” I say.

“He’s just hungry, Emma. Feed him. Food’s next to the cage.”

I open the yellow bottle of skeleton food; the musty smell makes me cough. The bottle is full of squiggling little worms. I pour some into the terrarium. Ronald clambers down the rocks. He dips his jaw into the worm pile and scoops them into his mouth, swallows. I can see them travel down his throat and into his empty bone stomach where they wriggle inside him.

Cathryn clears her throat. She stands before me with her hands on her hips, wearing tight blue jeans and a bumblebee-striped halter top. She’s dressed for clubbing, not camping, and I realize that the kind of camping we’ll be doing won’t require the hiking shoes or the toilet paper I brought. I tell her she looks great. She does. I look back at the tank. The T-Rex peers up at me.

“Let me free,” he whispers. His voice is like an echo. I can’t. We’re going camping.


In the shallow forest we set up our tent. The land has been cleared for people like us, who want to be in nature but not too far in. Our tent is a miniature house. The box says it will fit twenty people, but we’ve only got five. It has French doors that fold down and collapsible walls to give everyone a sense of privacy, but through the first night I hear Cathryn and Anne, the girlfriend she brought along, their heavy breath and little moans. They make the whole tent sweat.

The site is close to the river, but not too close. At night we cannot hear the current. The bathroom is just around the corner, and there’s a leaky water faucet next to where we parked the car, ten feet from the tent. Our friend Wendi brought a portable mini fridge and a fan; they run on batteries, but the fridge eats two an hour so we have to run to the store once a day and buy at least twelve packages of four. We make a game of it. In some ways the drive is the best part of the trip, mostly because Cathryn is the one with the car, and she’s asked me to go with her each time. We roll the windows down. She talks about the new girl, Anne, how they’ve just met but already spend nearly every night together. Every word she says feels like a secret between us. I don’t want to hear about Anne, but I don’t not want to hear about her either, because I want to know if she’s better than me. I want to know when we’ll share a bed again. I try to deduce the information from the cutesy story of how they met at the campus coffee shop, but I can’t, because Cathryn has always been unpredictable, mysterious. With her unflinching face she reveals nothing. Every time she asks me to get in the car with her, I do.

The nearest trash can is two whole miles from our site, so we’re forced to rough it in that regard at least, dumping our food scraps into a plastic bag. Most of what we brought is food. Peanut butter, bread, baked beans in a can and hot dogs with mustard, two bottles of cheap red wine and a plastic handle of rum. Our broke friend Mike does the cooking. It’s his way of paying us back. He also does the majority of the drinking. He’s brought his set of oils, and his paint-stained hands dye whatever he touches. Each hot dog bun has a blue handprint, and by the time dinner’s finished the rum bottle is covered in fingerprints.

The second night Wendi builds a fire and we sit around the flames. The smoke follows Cathryn. No matter where she sits, the wind moves in her direction. Finally she settles in one spot, lights a cigarette, and lets the smoke clog her eyes. We play a drinking game, Never Have I Ever.

“Never have I ever been to Disneyworld,” I say. Cathryn and Wendi put down a finger; they went there once together.

“Never have I ever done acid,” Wendi says. The rest of us admit defeat.

“Never have I ever been in love,” Cathryn says. No one puts down a finger; no one is sure enough to commit to that. We all four of us look at Cathryn through the smoke. Her hair is up, the skin of her neck glistening with sweat. That we all want her is common knowledge; we can’t help ourselves. This is what holds our friendships together, the flame to which we are helpless as moths.

That night, as we sleep, trees rustle, and the fallen branches on the ground crack like knuckles. When I leave the tent early in the morning to walk to the restroom, I find the contents of our trash bag scattered, the bottom ripped. By the river I spot a leopard, its white fur stretched so tight the bones poke through. In the disappearing moonlight I nearly see the heart pumping in its chest. It’s looking right at me, and I stand and stare until the sun creeps up and the leopard, its fur no longer see-through, bounds into the brush.

Back at the campsite a crowd is gathered around the dying embers of last night’s fire. A dodo skeleton hops around the fire pit. One of the bones from its foot is missing. Without the feathers it looks just like any other bird. We only know it’s a dodo from its fat chest, its dodo beak. Plus it tells us what it is when we ask it.

Cathryn shoos the bird. “Go, fly away.”

“Dodos don’t fly,” it says, lifting a bone wing. The invisible joints crack. “I’m stuck.”

It hangs around until we change into our swimsuits and leave for the swimming hole. It’s only a couple of miles away, so we walk. Cathryn and Anne hold hands. The rest of us walk behind them. We talk about the dodo. Mike had never seen one. “I’m going to paint it,” he says.

Wendi huffs. “I was gonna paint it.”

“In my painting, he’ll be wearing a tie and drinking a martini.” Mike laughs, and Cathryn turns around and gives him an eye. She knows that laugh. Since high school she’s known it.

“How much have you had?” she says. “I swear to god, Mike, if that handle is gone.”

“Excuse me,” he says. “Excuse me if I like to have a little fun.”

Once Cathryn turns back around, Wendi reaches into the pocket of her swimming trunks and pulls out her flask. She and Mike take turns.

“In my painting, he’ll be flying,” I say.

“You don’t paint,” everyone says at once, except Anne, of course, who doesn’t know the first thing about me. Anne’s ass hangs out of her suit, and her walk is too sure, like she thinks she has this down, this Cathryn thing, like she’s permanent here, the most recent fixture. Wendi and Mike and I gulp and giggle.

“Two more weeks, tops,” Mike whispers. His guesses are usually the most accurate. He’s known her the longest. My skin tingles all of a sudden, part rum, part the image that flashes in my memory; her clothes a pile on the floor, the scratch of Ronald’s gimpy paws on the glass, the stale smoke smell, and the feel of that skin, soft in my palm. Two weeks.

At the swimming hole we rush the water. It laps our thighs as we sink our way in, getting used to the shock of cool. Submerging my whole body, I forget to hold my breath and rise up coughing. Mike grabs my legs, and I go down again. I open my eyes under the water. Bones litter the lake floor under our feet, many of them ground to form a second layer of sand. We walk all along them without noticing. I let the water carry my legs instead. I swim. When I come up for breath I’m at the far bank, where Wendi sits atop a rock with her feet skimming the water surface. Her face is red and wet, though her hair is dry.

“You okay?” I ask. A brittle fishbone snaps under my weight.

“I’m okay,” she says, shaking her head. “I think I’m in love with her.”

Yeah, well, I want to say but don’t. I feign surprise. “You’re straight, though, right?”

Wendi shrugs. “Does it matter? I hate seeing her like this.”

“Happy?” Me too. “Well, if you really loved her, you’d want her happy.”

I remember the first time I knew Cathryn wanted it. Wendi, Mike, and me in the car, driving down streets with no names for no reason. Cigarette ash blowing back in through the windows and staining our clothes with the stench. “You’re on her list.” Mike grinned. “She told me so.” Then it was a party at my place and we snuck into my bedroom and stuffed a chair under the doorknob. The curtains were attached by flimsy little clips and had fallen down, so we put them back up but you could still see through little holes where the fabric was worn, and we did it, aware and uncaring, while partygoer’s faces appeared and disappeared like apparitions at each hole in the window, trying to see in.

“You’re right,” Wendi says, wetting a toe. “What the fuck is wrong with me?”

A school of skeleton fish passes over my feet. Their bone-hard bodies make my hair stand on end. When I stick my head under the water and my eyes adjust, they are already far away, but bringing up their rear is a phantom shiner with the last vestige of its transparent orange scales intact.

“Huh,” I say when I bring my head again above water. “I thought those had fully skeletoned a while ago.”

“This water freaks me out.” Wendi stands and turns, and we both see the leopard this time, its body stretched across a rock in the sun, its rib bones now visible. Wendi’s closer to it than me, and I wish we could trade places as she steps toward it until she is so close she can touch it if she wants. She reaches her hand out. She pulls it back. She helps me out of the water. Together we run back to camp.


When the gang returns from the swimming hole, Mike has a saber-tooth skeleton at his side, around its neck a collar he has made from the drawstring of his swimming trunks, which now hang below his navel. To keep them on he walks bow-legged, and once he arrives at the fire he hands Wendi the end of the string and disappears into the tent to change.

Wendi and I have been silent, passing a notebook of portable haikus back and forth, each of us writing one page. It’s a game we all used to play. The haikus are nonsensical, the language of ridiculousness. When Mike comes back out we put the notebook away.

“This is Tegan,” he says. “I’m gonna take her home with me.”

“Another pet?” Wendi asks. A whole wall of Mike’s room is covered in aquariums already. “Dude, you can’t breathe in your room as is.”

“I hate that name,” the saber says. “Give me another one.”

“Okay, your name is Nimrod.”

“Another one.”

“Tilly?” Mike says.

The saber shrugs.


The saber snaps Mike’s hand. Its teeth draw blood. He slaps its head. The bones rattle. He marches to a tree and ties the saber up, then wraps a dishcloth around his hand. As we eat peanut butter sandwiches and take shots of wine, the saber shouts insults. “Morons,” it says, “you don’t know shit about life. You think you know everything, but you’re fucking clueless.”

Mike hits it over the head with an unburnt log. No one screams; it happens too fast. The saber’s body falls. Mike unties it and carries it to the river. I follow him, try to tell him to stop, but my voice catches. He tosses the bones in the river and wipes the dirt from his jeans; on top of the dried paint, the stain looks like a skewed portrait, blue eyes and lips and all the rest dirt.

After walking back in silence, we find Cathryn holding the lucky girl, visibly shaken.

“Fucking thing was reminding me of my parents,” Mike says.

Cathryn doesn’t even bother to shoot Mike the eye. She takes Anne by the hand and leads her to the tent, and when we hear the click of the lock on the tent doors, Mike grabs hold of the wine, opens his throat, and guzzles. I sit beside Wendi and the fire and we don’t say a word. The bottle empty, Mike drops into the dirt and rolls back and forth, moving his arms in angel shapes. “I’m sorry,” he says again and again. Wendi and I don’t comfort him. The firewood crumbles like the bones and we just look on. I’m used to looking and not touching, staying out of the way until it’s my turn. I know that Anne won’t want us after this, won’t want to be a part of this, and somehow it doesn’t seem to matter. Two weeks tops, Mike said. He was wrong. It’ll go back to normal before that. We’ll forget it ever happened, starting tomorrow when we’re back in the concrete world.

We sleep the way we are.


On the way out the next morning we drive across the bridge over the river. In the backseat I stare out the window, and from the water’s edge the leopard stares at me. As it pads to shore I notice its legs, all skeleton now. I imagine its claws, invisible but deadly.

The whole ride no one says a word.

When Cathryn and I get back to her place, the skeletons are still in the tank. The T-Rex claws at the glass. His bones creak. “Let me free,” he says. I knock on the glass, and Thelma and Louise scurry to the back. Ronald doesn’t move, static in his pleading.

Cathryn disappears into the bathroom. I look around her room, at the mess she’s left of clothes scattered over the ground. It’s hard to see the floor. I groan as I tiptoe over the piles. I reach my hand into the tank and pick the skeleton up by his shoulders. He falls apart in my hands. I carry his bones outside and look across her big backyard, which we only enter to smoke brief cigarettes at night when we need the air. In the back of the yard is an abandoned raised bed, one we all built together when we had nothing but time on our hands then forgot about, and I lay him down amongst the dead tomato plants, their thin spines snapped so that they seem to bow as we approach. His bones scatter in the dirt. I shake a plant. Its brittle leaves fall from the branches and bury him.





“Skeletons” was originally published in the Geek Girls issue of Room, 37.3 in Fall 2014 and was reprinted in Heiresses of Russ 2015.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll be back on February 2nd with “Her Last Breath Before Waking” by A. C. Wise.