The Collector

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a short story that I entered into a contest a few months ago. The topic was "Underground Railroad" and the genre was fantasy. This was a 48hr writing contest.

This story is dark and twisted. I don't think it fits very well with the Underground Railroad theme, and that may be one reason why I didn't win. But, if you enjoy the strange makings of a very twisted tale, you may enjoy this short story.

Lye’s cold fingers grip the flickering candle tighter. She watches the light bounce around the dark musty walls. Her shadow is jumping and twitching like a living heart, not that she’s ever felt one in her own chest.  But, she has felt one in her hand.

 

 
She takes a breath and releases it slowly, the dusty air swirling around in the hollow space between her ribs. Lye has never felt so fearful. The Bone Collector is the most powerful of all the Collectors, and her dwelling lies deep within a twisting maze under an abandoned cathedral. The blackness surrounding her is thick, enveloping, and smothering. Ordinarily, Lye finds darkness welcoming, but with the Bone Collector so near, she feels her collage of different skins itch with dread. Yet, she has been summoned, so she must press on.

 

 
The tunnel is silent aside from the muffled thud of her footsteps. The dirt is red and thick. It reminds her of blood. If only she were going to the Blood Collector, she would feel less like the end of her time is nearing. As she continues to move, the tunnel becomes narrower, the walls grow black and slick, and the air cooler. Her footsteps begin to click against hard ground. She looks down to find shiny grey tiles lining the floor. A wide black door appears. The black magic holding her skin together begins to buzz. Each stitch and suture burns. Her candle snuffs out in a puff, leaving a dark trail of silky grey smoke. Lye clutches the paper bidding tight in her hand.

 

 
 “Enter, Lye,” the Bone Collector’s voice reverberates against the smooth tile. Even behind the door, her voice is thunderous and daunting. How many Conglomerates had their time ended by that voice?

 

 
Lye slowly opens the black doors and walks into the dark room. The Bone Collector sits atop a perfectly stacked mountain of white polished bones, each one matching the length of the others to create a staircase. The Collector’s dark hair trails down the bones in tendrils, like the black tentacles of an octopus.  Her face holds sharp features, a pointed nose, deep cut cheekbones, black scowling eyes. Absolutely no beauty. Lye holds up the paper to remind herself and the Bone Collector that she has a purpose for coming here. The Collector needs her.
 

 

“You summoned me,” Lye says meekly. If her skin were alive, she would be sweating. She drops her candle to the ground but doesn't move to retrieve it. Lye feels like a fly in a spider’s web.  If she makes a sudden move, her body may be devoured.

 

 
“I did. I need bones from your region.” The Bone Collector’s eyes shine with greed.

 

 
Lye considers this request, but it seems unfitting. She is no skilled bone collector. “From my region? Collector, why did you not choose Mort? He is much more experienced with bone collecting than I am. He would be much better suited for this task.” The Bone Collector chuckles to herself. The skin over Lye’s right arm burns fiercely. She resists shrieking. She has never known such pain.

 

 
“If I wanted Mort, I would have summoned Mort. I chose you because the bones I need are related to the bones under the skin you wear.” She looks down to Lye’s arm. “Is your arm burning? That is because I desire the substance of the genealogy within those bones. If you do not bring me the bones I request, I will take yours instead.”

 

 
Lye looks at her right arm.  The bones are delicate under the patched skin. She tries to imagine the person who once owned these bones and what that person’s family might look like. Lye has never been ordered to murder a family member to one of her appendages.

 

 
“I see you value that arm. Good. Still, your questions to my judgment will cost you. Surely you must know my reputation,” her eyes linger over Lye, reflecting the hunger for her fear. This Collector obviously enjoys disposing of Conglomerates. “You have only twenty-four hours to collect the bones.  However, unlike your previous contracts, this will be an underground task. No living creature must see what you do, and this assignment is not to be known by other Collectors or Conglomerates. I want no interference or delay. I need those bones for my magic and for my existence, and, if I must die, you will die with me. The Collector magic holds your body together. We have built you, and we can tear you apart. You’re sole purpose for existing is to serve us. Do not fail.”

 

 
Lye sucks in another empty breath, the dust bouncing off the mismatched bones hiding under her skin. “I won’t fail,” she replies. The Collector slowly walks down the staircase of bones. She touches Lye’s forehead with a single finger and plants the image of her target into her mind. Lye’s eyes click like a dial, adjusting to the picture until it comes into focus. The prey is a female. Young. Small framed and petite with blonde hair and pale skin. “This is my arm’s sister,” Lye affirms, allowing the knowledge to settle into her body.

 

 
The Bone Collector nods slightly, a sinister grin slithering across her visage. Lye adjusts her eyes to focus on the room. “Remember, no one must see you. You are not collecting hair, blood, or screams. This target will not survive the collection.”

 

 
Lye bows her head in agreement. She knows what needs to be done. This may be her first bone collection, but this is not her first murder.

 

 
The Collector pulls the contract out from her vest and holds it out for Lye to sign. Her decrepit index finger traces the letters of her name for her signature to complete the task, and the Bone Collector’s magic swirls in a thick torrent against her back in response. “Your countdown begins the moment you leave this room. If I don’t have my bones by this time tomorrow, your body will fall apart, and I will collect what I need from you.”
 

 

The magic begins to nip at Lye’s heels.  She sprints from the room into the darkness of the cathedral tunnel, feeling pulled by the fiery hum radiating through her arm. The thick darkness once again cloaks her body, but she has no time to consider if it is now a pleasure. She feels the Bone Collector’s magic trailing behind her, waiting for her to fail, waiting to consume her body. It breathes hot breath on her neck like a rabid animal.

 

 
*****
Once Lye reaches the opening of the cathedral doors, she is more grateful than she ever thought she could be to see sunlight, even if it is fading into night. She looks out to the graveyard surrounding the abandoned church. Jagged gravestones jut out from the grass resembling weathered teeth waiting to swallow the cemetery and its occupants. The buried bodies here might one day be used to create Conglomerates like her, and they too will serve Collectors or be forced back into the ground. Lye feels the reality of her slavery weigh on her hollow chest. She has never had free will, never known choice. Since the day she opened her unnatural eyes, she has been summoned instantaneously by Collectors to do their bidding. She wouldn't know how to behave if she were ever able to have her own time, if the clock in her eyes didn't count down until the moment the Collector could punish her. A strange feeling begins to bump around in her ribs, expanding slowly into her limbs.

 

 
Lye wants to find an escape. She wants liberation.
 

 

She has never known a Conglomerate to have this desire, this hope. And yet, she has never known a Conglomerate to have a piece of themselves that even a Collector would desire. There is something special about her arm, and maybe, somehow, the arm will be the key to her freedom. Lye looks down to her prized appendage and notices raised lines that developed on her skin in the darkness. She traces the marks with her finger going down her forearm and up to her shoulder. The lines intersect to create large X’s.

 

 
It’s a map.

 

 
Her fingers twitch with excitement as she traces the pathways on her arm. This could be a map to her target, but it could also be a secret map to her freedom. This could be her Underground Railroad. She feels a notch tick away in her eye, meaning that she only has twenty-three more hours to find her freedom.
 

 

*****
The first X leads Lye to an empty warehouse. Her arm continues to pulsate until she reaches a tiny jewelry box wrapped in a moldy cloth. She lifts the box and opens the latch to find a pile of finger nail clippings. She stares at the treasure, stunned and confused. How will this help her find her target or gain her freedom? She knows there must be a reason she found these clippings, so Lye places them in a pouch hanging from her cloak. Then, instantly, the line that led her to the warehouse disappears from the skin on her arm. Somehow, they are connected.

 

 
Lye continues to follow her map for hours, hiding in holes, dipping between shadows, silently sliding past unknowing eyes. Mark after mark leads her to more fingernail clippings, and then the path on her arm disappears. These routes were planned for her by someone. With each box of clippings added to her collection, she feels strange sensations dancing across her skin and into the strings that are her hair. It is as if her freedom is beckoning her to continue. This secret path is waking her dead body, and according to the last trail on her arm, she is nearing her target. Lye feels another notch click away in her eyes. Five hours left.

 

 
*****
The last mark leads her to an old Victorian styled house on the outskirts of her region. Her arm throbs in intense waves as she glides into the darkness of dusk underneath the trees and bushes. She looks to the windows to search out her target. Another notch clicks. Two hours left. The Bone Collector’s hovering magic causes dread to bounce around in her body like a pinball machine.

 

 
Lye grips her knife tightly forcing the skin around her knuckles to pull taut. A sweep of blond hair moves past an upstairs window. There is no time to wait for nightfall for the human to sleep, but Lye needs to catch her off guard. This girl must not call for help.

 

 
The sun sets. The shadows stretch further, and Lye scrambles up a tree to watch the second story of the house. The girl stands, walks out of the room, and appears in the window of the kitchen downstairs. Recognizing her time to move, Lye crawls across the tree branch and slips through the unlocked window. She then tiptoes across the carpet and hides behind a door she assumes is a closet.  When the girl returns and her back is turned, Lye will use her knife to carve out her bones.

 

 
Lye settles into the closet against the clothes but feels a cool draft brush against her back. She pushes further beyond the clothes and realizes that there is a door. Heat begins to crawl up her arm in throbbing waves. The fingernail clippings in her pouch begin to squirm in rhythm to her pulsating arm. Is this what her map was leading her to?

 

 
Lye opens the door to find a room lit with blue light, empty aside from a single wooden crate sitting in the center. She moves forward to examine the contents when her feet crunch on the gravel spread across the floor.
 

 

But the floor isn't covered in gravel. It’s covered in teeth.

 

 
There are thousands of teeth of all kinds littering the room. Shark teeth. Dog teeth. Human teeth. Lye feels the new black magic swirling around the room begin to surge over her skin. This target isn't a human. She is a Collector.

 

 
A giggle erupts behind her. “Did Bones send you for me?”
 

 

Another notch ticks away. One hour left. Lye is at a loss for words and frozen in place by panic. Not only is her target much more powerful than she presumed, she has also been seen, which is a direct violation to the Bone Collector.
 

 

“Slave, I asked you a question,” the Teeth Collector commands.

 

 
Lye clenches her jaw, locking the collage of molars in her mouth in place for fear they will be ripped out.
The Collector laughs at her defiance. “You don’t have to answer corpse. I know she wants me out of the way so that she can have what’s in my box, but she won’t get it. I've been keeping her supply low for a reason.  I’m going to take her out just like I did my sister. I will be the most formidable Collector.”
 

 

The Bone Collector’s magic begins to tear at Lye’s skin. Her time is ending. She is going to die. In a last effort, she thrusts the knife at the Teeth Collector’s throat, but the Collector is too nimble. She heaves Lye’s body into the air. Lye lands with a thump, crunching on the scattered teeth, and sliding into the crate in the middle of the floor. The skin on her leg is beginning to unravel and shrivel. She tries to use her weight against the box to stand but only turns its contents onto the floor.

 

 
“Idiot!” the Teeth Collector shrieks.

 

 
Lye’s arm ignites, and she is sure the skin has pulled away until she sees that it is not only intact, but the patched skin has become whole and alive. The contents of the crate are pulling to her arm like a magnet and have restored the dead limb. Lye stares in astonishment as the bones from the crate slide to her arm one by one. This is the body this arm belonged to. The fingernail clippings in her pouch vibrate a rapid cadence in response. Lye pours them into her hand, and it too becomes whole. The Teeth Collector runs to her and slaps her face, slinging the bones back into the crate.

 

 
But it’s too late. Lye now understands why her arm is so important, and why the fingernails will give her freedom. She has the arm of a Collector. A Fingernail Collector. She allows the clippings in her hand to absorb into her body, smoothing her skin, realigning and adjusting her bones, and transforming her into the Collector this arm knew in a previous life.
 

 

“No,” the Teeth Collector whispers. “You’re a Conglomerate. You’re no Collector.” Her eyes focus on Lye, and Lye sees her body transforming in the reflection of the Teeth Collector’s pupils. Her hair is growing out blond, her body is growing in height, and her skin is developing flushes of pink as the blood begins to flow through. The Teeth Collector cannot hide her terror. “Sister? How did you do this? How did you come back to life? How d-did you find m-me?”

 

 
Lye smiles, exposing her new perfectly straight teeth. Her memories are flooding in as if they never left. “You didn't keep all my body. The Collectors built me into a Conglomerate, and my arm led me down the path to the clippings I hid. I followed my Underground Railroad to freedom, and I am a slave no more.” She lifts up her hand, expending the black magic that once controlled her, and crushes the teeth all along the ground.  The Teeth Collector begins to choke and clamber for the powdered teeth. Her body is graying with the loss of power. 

 

 
“If you’re going to kill me, don’t let them make me into a Conglomerate.I thought by keeping your body, I at least saved you from that fate. But, they must have stolen your arm anyway,” the Teeth Collector wheezes, her blond hair turning white.

 

 
Lye feels her new heart race with this information. “All Conglomerates have Collector parts?” The Teeth Collector nods in affirmation, sinking to the ground in defeat. “So, the Collectors were killed and then built into another form and enslaved.” Lye shakes her head in disgust. “Well, no more. I am going to help them find the routes back to their bodies and to the parts they used to harness magic. I will lead them to their freedom. No more will the Collectors have slaves. From this day forward, they must do their own collecting.”

 

 
 
The Teeth Collector looks up to her sister with a sly grin sliding across her face, her defiance evident. Lye bends down and grips her chin tightly in her hand. “If you choose to continue creating and enslaving Conglomerates, I will kill you myself and burn every piece of you until there is nothing to reassemble.” The Teeth Collector’s eyes widen in fear. “If I must,” Lye says tightening her grip, “I will become a Collector of the Collectors. They will all burn into dust. I will let nothing get in the way of the Conglomerates routes to freedom. Nothing.”

 


Submitted: November 23, 2013

© Copyright 2023 LakinWooliver. All rights reserved.

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Comments

PatienceIsAVirtue

Great job! :)

Wed, November 27th, 2013 8:40am

Author
Reply

Thank you!

Wed, November 27th, 2013 6:25am

angellynn

Very very well written. Your descriptions are remarkable, and the story itself could possible be a great novel. Loved it!

Angellynn

Wed, November 27th, 2013 7:25pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much! I appreciate the time you took to read it! I thought about extending this story into a novel. :) Thank you!

Wed, November 27th, 2013 11:26am

marie3425

I saw you entered this in PatienceIsAVirtue's contest.
You're gonna get ATLEAST 2nd place

Fri, November 29th, 2013 10:13pm

Author
Reply

Thank you! I appreciate that! I hope this story wins something! I entered a contest before with this story for an "Underground Railroad" themed prompt but didn't win. Thank you so much!

Fri, November 29th, 2013 5:51pm

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