The Bones Beneath My Skin

By: TJ Klune

You won’t understand. At least not right away. And that’s okay. You may even think I’m a liar, and that’s okay too. All I ask is that you listen until the very end before passing judgment. I have a story to tell you. Of a place under a Mountain. Of the minds of men. Of what it means to be human, to make a home out of a place where one should not exist. And of what the future holds. For you. For me. For all of us.

chapter one

HE SANG along with the radio.

Something about taking a sad song and making it better.

After, he laughed until he could barely breathe.

HE CROSSED into Douglas County just before another song ended. There was a news break at the top of the hour, every hour.

A singer named Selena had been shot at a hotel in Texas. He’d never heard of her before.

TAROM Flight 371, leaving Bucharest and heading for Brussels, crashed shortly after takeoff. All sixty people on board died. An investigation was underway. Terrorism was not suspected at the moment.

The comet discovered last year, Markham-Tripp, was getting closer. Already it could be seen if you knew where to look, but no worries, folks. It’s going to swing right by us before heading back out into the great beyond.

And there was still no official word on the helicopter that went down outside of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Northern California last week. The cause was still under investigation, though it was implied it was related to that big storm that blew through the area. Officials weren’t saying if there were any fatalities.

And now for the weather. It’s gonna be a beautiful day, would you look at all that sunshine, can you just believe it?

It was March 31, 1995.

He continued south.

THE AIR outside grew cooler the farther he went into the mountains. The sun warmed the hand he hung out the window. The blue sky stretched on and on. There were clouds, but only a few.

Nice day, he thought. Of course it is. That’s the way things go.

He hit the town in late afternoon. There was a sign, old and faded. It’d been there since he was a kid and his parents had taken him up to the cabin for a few weeks during the summer. It said:

Roseland, Oregon

Pop. 827 Established 1851

Elevation 2345 ft.

Gateway to the Cascades!

He passed by a diner. A church. Shops on either side. Some of them were open. The town wouldn’t hit tourist season for another month or two, but they’d be ready. People driving up from the bigger cities looking for an escape from the heat and grind would spend their money, take their photos, and then disappear back from where they came.

The air was filled with the scents of pine needles and earth. It was like he was ten years old again and his mom and dad were still in love, love, love. They would laugh and sing along with the radio. They would play road games. I Spy. Twenty questions. The license plate game where you’d try and get all fifty states. He’d learned early on that that was impossible. The most he’d ever gotten was seven. That had been a good day. One had been Maine, an impossibly faraway place.

He saw the sign for the gas station before the gas station itself. It spun lazily, but not before he caught the words BIG EDDIE’S GAS AND CONVENIENCE. He breathed a sigh of relief. It was good to see that some things remained the same. Even after everything.

He pulled in, the tires of the truck hitting the thin black cord. A bell dinged somewhere inside the station as he stopped next to the pump. He turned off the truck, listening as the engine ticked.

He ran a hand over his face before opening the door, setting his feet on the ground. He stretched his back, hearing it pop. He was only twenty-seven years old, but gone were the days when he could sit in a car for hours without a problem. His muscles pulled. It felt good.

The glass door to the gas station swung open and a large man walked out, wiping his hands on a rag. If it wasn’t for the smile on his face, the man would have been alarming. He’d never seen anyone that size anywhere else. Must have been the mountain air.

“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” Big Eddie Green said, his voice a deep timbre. “Nate Cartwright, as I live and breathe.”

Nate forced a smile onto his face. “Big Eddie. Good to see you’re still running this dump.”

“You watch your mouth,” Big Eddie said, but he was still smiling, his teeth a little crooked but endearingly so. He held out a large hand streaked with a bit of oil. Nate didn’t mind. He held out his own. Big Eddie’s grip was firm, but he wasn’t trying to be an asshole about it. He wasn’t like that, at least not that Nate knew. He hadn’t seen Big Eddie since he’d turned twenty-one, the last time he’d been up to the cabin. And it wasn’t like they were friends, though Big Eddie could make friends with just about anybody he set his mind to. There was something about the way he smiled that put Nate at ease. It was familiar, this. Heartbreakingly so.