Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 30
Stories
Sojourn for Ephah
by Marina Lostetter
Dragonslayer
by Nathaniel Lee
Write What You Want
by Eric James Stone
Constance's Mask
by Nick T. Chan
The Last God-Killer
by Grá Linnaea & Dave Raines
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
Shaken to the Bone
by David Lubar
Orson Scott Card - Sneak Preview
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Shaken to the Bone
    by David Lubar

Shaken to the Bone
Artwork by Lance Card

Devon kicked and screamed and protested so much on the way to the doctor's office for his annual exam that, by the time he got there, he was too exhausted to do much more than whimper.

"You're being such a baby," his mother said. "You don't even have to get a shot this year. It's just a checkup."

Devon let out a prolonged moan that might have translated into "Don't wanna" or some similar protestation if it had been shortened into recognizable syllables. He crossed his arms and slumped down in his chair.

A moment later, the door between the waiting room and the exam rooms popped open. A smiling nurse in a white dress said, "Devon?"

Devon stood up and glanced back at his mother. "Go ahead," she said. "You're old enough to see the doctor on your own."

Devon followed the nurse down the hall, into a chilly room with a padded exam table and a pair of chairs. He hated the chemical smell of rubbing alcohol and antiseptic soap. As he was getting ready to moan and groan, he caught sight of something he liked a whole lot less.

He pointed at the skeleton in the corner. "Is that real?" he asked the nurse.

"That's what happens to young men who don't eat their vegetables." She smiled, as if to tell him she was joking. Then she patted the table. "Hop up here. Dr. Hanson will be right with you." She stepped out and closed the door.

Devon climbed up on the table, and scrunched back against the wall, putting as much space as possible between himself and the skeleton. He stared at it for a moment, then looked at a poster of the digestive system on the wall above the sink, to try to avoid looking at the skeleton any more.

Rattle.

Devon's gaze shot back toward the skeleton. He could have sworn he heard the sound of rattling bones. He stared and waited, like a deer that just spotted a hunter. Nothing moved. Until he looked away.

The skeleton rattled again.

Maybe I should get out of here right now, Devon thought. The instant he started to slide off the table, the door opened.

Dr. Hanson came in. This was a new doctor for Devon. His old one had retired. "Hello, Devon," the Dr. said. "Ready for your exam?"

Devon wasn't sure what to say. He wanted to tell the doctor about the skeleton, but he knew nobody would ever believe him. So he just nodded.

Dr. Hanson took Devon's temperature, peered into his ears with a scope that felt as large as a traffic cone, and did all the other uncomfortable stuff doctors do to their captives. As he was listening to Devon's heart, the skeleton moved again.

This time, the hand lifted. The index finger pointed right at Devon. The thumb cocked back like a pretend gun.

Devon screamed.

"Easy there," the doctor said.

"Look!" Devon jabbed a shaking finger in the direction of the skeleton. The bony hand dropped just as the doctor turned around.

"What's wrong?" the doctor asked.

"Nothing."

"Take a deep breath," the doctor said, putting the stethoscope back against Devon's chest. Somehow, Devon managed to breathe.

"Good. Your lungs sound fine."

The skeleton shook its head, as if it knew better. No, your lungs are not fine.

But Devon's lungs were fine enough to allow him to expel a major scream.

"It moved!" he shouted as he scrambled to his feet.

The doctor glanced over his shoulder. Then he looked back at Devon. "Easy, there. Don't let your imagination get away from you. The lights in here are tricky."

"It moved!" he said again. "Really!"

Dr. Hansen opened the door that led to the hallway.

"Don't leave me!" Devon shouted.

"I won't," the doctor said. He called down the hall. "Nurse, please get Mrs. Prentiss."

Devon was trembling, now. The doctor told him to calm down, but all he could do was shake.

"You seem very nervous. I'd better check your blood pressure." He wrapped an inflatable cuff around Devon's arm and pressed a button. The cuff swelled with air, squeezing Devon's biceps muscle like a killer anaconda. Behind the Dr., the skeleton's jaw gaped open, then snapped shut.

Devon managed a short scream just as his mom came into the room.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing serious," the doctor said, "as long as we take care of it right away." He pointed to the display on the blood pressure meter. "This is a dangerously high reading. That's very rare in someone so young. Fortunately, I have a medicine especially made for this. You won't even need to go to the pharmacy. I sell it right out front in the office."

He unwrapped the cuff from Devon's arm. Devon kept his eyes riveted on the skeleton. It didn't move again.

After Devon and his mom left, Dr. Hanson reached into a side pocket on his white coat and pressed one of the buttons on the remote control he kept there. The skeleton raised a hand. With another press, it lowered its hand. Then it shook its head.

Dr. Hanson laughed. He loved watching the skeleton in action. And he especially loved selling his special medicine to the parents of his nervous young patients. The elixir was mostly water, with a pinch of quinine to make it bitter. It was harmless, but very profitable. It was also amazingly effective. The patients would usually calm down after the visit, once they were safely away from the skeleton. They might have nightmares for a week or two, but if bad dreams and midnight screams became a long-term problem, he sold a special medicine for that, too.


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