I was five years old when I saw my first skeleton. I had accompanied my grandmother to the home of one of her friends named Frances, and asked to use the restroom. I was told not to look under the bathroom sink, so naturally I did look behind the flap of fabric attached with elastic to the white porcelain sink protruding from the glossy black tiled wall. What I saw there was proof that evil exists in the world, in the form of evil spirits trapped inside bottles. A label with a skull, crossbones, and the words “Poison: Strychnine” was fastened to a small, brown opaque glass bottle with a cork stopper, next to a thin, rectangular brass bottle with a plastic cap covering a pointed applicator tip with a picture of a devil with black hair and matching goatee, wearing a solid red leotard with the words “Red Devil’s Lighter Fluid“. The expression on the faces of the skeleton and the devil were frightening. I remember wondering if these two evil spirits could uncap these bottles on their own so that they could escape their manmade prisons to find and curse me. Fortunately I managed to not have to accompany my grandmother to the home of Frances again.
My next encounter with a skeleton occurred a few years later in the office of our family pediatrician just before Halloween. The doctor motioned to a life-size chart of a skeleton on the wall and asked me to indicate the location of my pain as he pointed to various joints on it. I promptly told him that “I don’t have one of those,“ after which he smiled and told me that everyone has a skeleton, and that there is no need for me to feel afraid. The doctor explained that the human skeleton is strong, supportive, and even entertaining, especially when the skeleton is the focus of cartoons and Halloween. With regard to Halloween, I wondered how it was that a skeleton could be both funny and entertaining, as well as scary.
As I fast forward a few decades into the future, I am reminded of one of my eldest grandson’s first experiences with skeletons. As part of our Halloween decor we bought a few battery powered, remotely operated white plastic skeletons that we hung above our front door. The menacing looking two foot tall cadaverous carcasses shook and howled so realistically that my six year-old grandson Tommy was so afraid that he couldn’t bear to look upon these man-made menaces until he became a teenager.
Nowadays Tommy understands the important role of the human skeleton, and no longer believes in unlucky superstitions. As for me, the number 13 is especially lucky. This September 2021 issue of Halfway Down the Stairs marks my 13 years as a contributing author and fiction editor. We hope that you enjoy our “Skeletons“.
Sherri Miller is a fiction editor at Halfway Down the Stairs.
© 2021, Sherri Miller