Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: An ossuary is a box or building made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. Write a poem or a story about, or set within, an ossuary.

The Ossuary

By Caroline Stevenson

We love everyone here. Except maybe Elon Musk.

Evening, all. Hope you’re all keeping warm in this chilly season. We certainly don’t have a problem with that here, we’re all snuggled up tight.

I, Pedro, am thrilled and honoured to accept your invitation as a speaker at the annual Intelligence Squared Debate. Nice to see how you’re always pushing the boundaries of inclusivity.

I’m the one second from the top right, giving you a sly wink. Just kidding, obviously. But one advantage of hosting my inmates and myself is that you don’t need to worry about your screen having frozen when you’re talking to us. Immobility is our general state. Most of the time.

We are here to debate the best symbol of love, and we’ve had some fascinating contributions so far, which I for one am grateful for since I am forced to endure all debate contributions. I am here to argue that the most love-filled place on Earth is – yep, you guessed it – right here, in the ossuary.


Speaking of hearing, and whilst I know I’ve definitely still got your attention, here’s a fun fact: your hearing is aided by three bones in your inner ear: the hammer, anvil and stirrup. They tend to crumble in our arrangement, but make fantastic necklaces for your loved-ones. And fantastic inspiration for communist flags. We keep saying that bones are named after human tools, but what if it’s the other way round? Skeletons have been around much longer than hand-fashioned tools. Where do you think those first tool makers got their inspiration from?

The Romans named bones and sockets after various everyday items. Your shoulder blade – scapula – is a shovel. Your round hip socket – the acetabula – is named after a little vinegar bowl. Once you know about the everydayness of their names, the components of a skeleton come across as far less gruesome. All the innards you guys are still carting around are way more revolting. Your intestines are about the length of a double decker bus when laid out end to end. Not all of us are lucky enough to enjoy lunch, so don’t go throwing yours back up, Vanessa at the back. Christ, you fleshlings are such sissies sometimes. I know you’re all trying to keep your faces as neutral as possible in the interests of objective debate, but I’ve got one word for you: eyebrows. They’re wonderfully mobile things and reveal more than their owners ever realise. Cherish them, while you still can.

Anyway, I digress.

What makes an ossuary the most loving place on Earth?

Well for a start, the dead far outnumber the living. If all you living folk held hands and stood in a line, you would stretch out for a thousand miles or something measly. Ok probably a hundred thousand miles, but still – measly. Our remains have pushed our predecessors so far down into the earth that they have joined the earth’s molten core and perhaps have been spewed back up on occasion, but I reckon if you stretched all expired humans out end-to-end, then it is feasible that we would reach the sun.

And in turn, mass graves far outnumber individual graves. Having an individual grave is comparable to glamping – an upgrade to the common experience. The whole tradition of granting a deceased person a burial plot all to themselves is a relatively modern occurrence within the history of the human race, and even then, only generally bestowed upon the most high-status members of society. Getting an individual grave dug to human dimensions requires some serious luck – the fortune of not having been swept out by the tide, or being eaten by a wild boar after a spear hunt gone wrong, or being born before the advent of hand-held tools. Or being alive during a time when a plague or nasty pestilence is sweeping its way through the population. I sense from that sharp collective intake of breath that I just hit a raw nerve. Let’s move on.

I know I told you earlier that we are generally frozen here, but there is the odd exception. Some rattle or disturbance which can’t be fully explained by loose foundations or general wear and tear. There is the odd burst of kinetic energy, sort of comparable to two tectonic plates sliding alongside one another and causing an earthquake. Gathered potential energy which has to escape somewhere sooner or later. In our column, the last outburst came from Martha Carlton, further down to the left. She’s easily identifiable because a pendant with her name on wrapped itself around her collar bone and refused to budge. She lived on the same street as me, back in our mortal days, and was the renowned Racist in Residence. Always managing to pick the term for anyone of non-white origin and use it in a loud voice with the kind of sneering tone which removed all doubt that she simply wasn’t keeping up to speed with the PC-lingo in her advancing years. Any grievance was because of “them foreigners” and woe betide anyone who placed the blame anywhere else. That Martha feels a right ninny now, let me tell you. Before more came to join our column and sealed us all in tight, her section rattled the most. Quite a bit of commotion down her end. If I had to make a wild guess as to the explanation, I’d say it was because she made the realisation that so much mortal energy was pent up hating people who, turns out, had a humerus which was entirely indistinguishable from hers, neither inferior nor superior. What was it all for? What was the point?

Generally speaking though, remains are laid to rest incognito and no judgements are made about you based on your previous mortal existence, no matter how saintly or sinful you were. It’s a tabula rasa for all cohabitants. Ex-husbands and wives could well be piled atop of one another here. Still under each other’s thumbs, you might say. Although it’s more likely to be femurs in this arrangement. Incidentally, did you ever wonder how they manage to create this circular formation out of such a plethora of shapes and sizes? Always keep one edge of a femur on the outside, that’s the secret. That way you can have as much variety in spacing on the inside as you like because the vast ranges of leg-length aren’t visible. We have a nice spiral staircase formation in the centre of our column.

What I will say to any younger members of the congregation here is that it’s definitely worth keeping your calcium levels up. You don’t want to risk a tumble here either. Our Barry’s skull toppled down the spiral staircase the other night and when he was on his descent, he was playing the femurs much like a xylophone. How. We. Laughed. Or I suppose chattered would be a better word. It’s funny how you keep clinging on to all that fleshling terminology. Bruce Willis may have died hard, or made a point of not doing that on multiple occasions, but old habits die even harder.

Death is really the most loving entity of all – no one will be left behind. There isn’t a soul He forgets to embrace. The only group excluded from the ossuary is the rich. The one percent. And that’s not because they aren’t invited, they simply refrain from joining us. I pity them really. All alone in their splendid urns, which only look splendid on the outside, in their sterile chambers. It’s not as if their inhabitant gets to enjoy any aesthetic stimulation.

What’s that? I’ve got to wrap it up now because it’s time for the coffee break? Alright for some. I can enjoy the aroma without it giving me a full bladder.

So to sum up, the digital generation lauds itself for being the most advanced and best informed, and likes to convince itself that an online post which garners enough attention is a genuine substitute for love, but it’s too far removed from the foundations of reality for its own good and unwilling to look it in the face. For instance, just stop to ponder on the origin of the word “digital”, why don’t you? It all comes back to the basics. To us. The nuts and bolts. The building blocks. Helping to prop up the ground beneath your feet.

There is one definite drawback to ossuary life though. No pets. I look forward to Buster’s contribution after the coffee break. Hopefully we can discuss how to bridge this injustice and make the ossuary an even more loving place than it already is.

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