My bones feel infected by something beautiful.

Writing by Ivy Jones
Art by Motel Gemini


Poker hurts my eyes; I pick at the hem of my shirt. The stitches are loose from wear, double marches of thread tying flannel together. The acrid smell of smoke circulates around the dim room, trapped inside our den. I can see myself, theoretically. Not in the mirror shrouded by the smoke and the sheen of tears in my eyes. My pinkish water lines, hooded lids, the big brown doe eye I used to hate, and the selenite sphere I still do.

My partner, Henry, can do tricks. He can make cards wobble and shimmer and change in front of our eyes. Mine and Henry’s that is. I try not to get too involved, but sometimes I like to stand behind him and watch. His daddy called him moon-blessed and kicked him out of the house as soon as his son started turning the tablecloth colors. What Henry does is cheating, but it’s honest. We need money, probably more than these regulars with their silver cufflinks and curly mustaches. I told Henry once to grow his out, blend in more, but he refuses on principle– we’re sore thumbs of the underground dens, winning just enough, moving on to other homesteads.

I rub my human eye with the knuckle of my thumb as it starts stinging again and lean my cheek at Henry’s hairline, cupping the front of his ear as I speak,“Going back up for a sec,” I murmur before pulling back and starting towards the exit. I feel his nod.

“Cheaters,” scoffed a man with a scar tracing his jaw like an anatomical note, “he’s got a magic eye. I’ve seen ‘im looking through my cards.”

“If only you were so lucky,” I blow a curt kiss as I weave around the table, head towards the stairs.

The sounds of the den silence as the door closes behind me– insulated by rubber, just in case. The hallway at the top of the stairwell is dark but for lanterns and sparsely populated by whores and junkies taking breaks from the gambling. They chat close to one another, don’t alert as I walk by– not their business.

Up some more stairs, and the outside door. I flip the cowl of my shawl over my head, keeping my eyes down from the ever-looming moon. She’s never caused me trouble before, but that might as well be the stone. Selenite, safe and tight, always will survive the night. My mother lost custody of me early on.

Nobody is out, I shouldn’t be either, really. I blink a few times in the cool, desert air before walking to the makeshift stables, somewhere inside for our horses to stay– “inside” being tin roof, no walls. Cherrytree is sleeping on her feet, great ginger piebald thing, tied to a tall stake. I run my fingers along her spine, a bit knobby as of late, and brush her hair out of her eyes. She whinnies, shifts her weight a bit, and then spooks.

“Whoa,” I quickly backpedal so as to not get hurt. The other horses begin to make alarmed noises, stomping in their makeshift stalls. A sudden wind blows dust across the horizon; I shield my eyes, grabbing at my hem again, the familiar feeling calming. And when it’s over, when the horses are completely silent, and I can hear my own breath under the mask, I open my eyes to see a silvery light across the stables from me. I try to reach for my pistol, but there’s something about the now-forming figure that keeps me still, calm. The moon is looming behind them, a different angle than earlier, and nearly the size of the speckled sky.

The marrow in my jaw rattles, stings– I can’t open my mouth– my bones feel infected by something beautiful. I’m sepsis and paralysis, my hands are no longer hands but instruments. Then, the figure’s long, lithe fingers touch my jugular– I feel them despite no part of their milky form actually moving. They pull down my lip, view my bottom row of teeth, blunted and irregular from years of grinding. Press against my tongue, roll the slab through its grip, stroke the roof of my mouth.

My body shudders. I’m in their grip completely, this soft, alien thing. And when they pluck the selenite from my socket with two, nimble fingers and lay it in my mouth, I feel no pain. They shut my mouth by the chin, pet down my throat until I swallow, then touch my cheekbone under the new pit. My deflated eyelid is a fluttering insect, nothing there to hold it in shape– and then that is it– that is it– I fall into a crouch and hold myself like I’m a child again. The moon has shifted back to her perch, and despite everything, there is no blood.

I can’t feel the stone in my gut, it’ll likely come back out in a few days’ time, show itself again. I can put it back in. But, something in my chest stops the thought; I want to cry for some stupid reason, wail until I throw up, tears welling in my ducts like little eddies. But now I am cratered. The horses that surround me are swishing their tails arythmically, batting dust and flies around, and except for them, I am alone on the surface.

What I’ll do is this: I’ll wait here until Henry comes looking, however long that takes. He’ll have coin from his wins and I’ll have figured out an explanation. For now, though, I press my face into my knees; I tuck my shirt into my pants.

About The Author

architecture door entrance exit

Ivy Jones is a storyteller from Atlanta, GA. Previously published in places such as Moss Puppy Magazine and dadakuku, Ivy writes and enjoys anything fabulist and weird. Ivy can be found at ivy.twines on Instagram and @ivyintheroad on Twitter.

About The Artist

Motel Gemini is mysterious, but you’ll get to know them throughout this Wild West issue as they ride with us from start to finish.

glowing neon light on street with parked cars at night

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