Day 121: The Legend of the Ever-Burning Skeleton

You’ve heard of the legend of the ever-burning skeleton, right? No? Geez, man. It’s like this.

There was this guy once, right. Super pious dude, always went to church, said his prayers, alla that. This guy, he was the help-old-ladies-cross-the-street type. Like, he didn’t just go to church–he read the Bible and practiced its teachings.

See, the problem is, when you’re that guy everyone trusts to be good, to do the right thing, well, what happens? People go to him for advice. So here’s this normal guy, just happens to live a moral life, and suddenly everyone’s all WWJD on his ass. (His name was James.) And that’s cool for James, except there’s all these problems that aren’t his problems, right, and he’s expected to solve them in his typically pious, moral way.

Only James learns that piousness is easy when you’ve got an easy life. James, he’s this upper-middle-class white dude–he’s never had any real problems. His “problems” are whether to help that old lady across the street in this icy weather or stay in his warm-ass car. See, James figures there’s a “right” and a “wrong” when he comes across something like that. Not even for lady-helping, but for things like whether to get McDonalds for lunch or settle for carrot sticks. Dude goes for the sticks. It’s the “right” decision. It’s not as hard for him as it is for normal people.

Anyway, so these people start asking him things, and he’s suddenly like this medieval king, right, mediating all these peasant-type issues. “Yes, you should help your brother overcome his addiction,” “No, you shouldn’t sleep with that chick just because your wife is irritating sometimes.” That kinda thing, eh.

Only he gets some not-so-easy questions, too. Pay for your daughter’s glasses so she can see, or use that money to feed her? Not everyone has opportunities, not everyone has help. No families, no friends. Just this guy. James.

And what does James do? Man, he’s all conflicted. How can he go on living so easy when all these folks have so many problems? Shouldn’t he help them? Wouldn’t that be the “right” thing to do?

Sure, sure. Except you can’t help everyone, right? You can’t. But advice is help at least, right? Even if he chooses not to lend anyone money, or donate his stuff to people who need it more, or go over to their places in the ugly parts of town to help repair their appliances. Man, who’s got time for that? Right?  At least he’s giving them advice.

James, though–he’s a paragon. He’s a beacon. Or so people think. Man, nobody expects him to save them. But James, he’s got this moral code, y’know. Always do the right thing.

I’m getting to the skeleton, okay?

Right, well basically James wrestles with himself about what he’s gonna do, how he’s gonna help, if he even should help… And, like James always does, he polarizes it. Two choices. One, devote his life, wholly, to helping people, because that’s how everyone should devote their lives, really, or two, shut himself away and let people follow their own paths, leave him out of it, because hell, he ain’t Christ.

The first choice. That’s the “right” thing to do. But James pictures his life giving and giving, until he wears himself to nothing. Man, you can’t live like that. There’s too much shit in the world. It’ll bury you, man. James knows it. So for the first time, James picks the wrong choice. He shuts his doors. Doesn’t answer his phone. Man, he doesn’t even go to church anymore. No more old ladies helped across the street. Nothing. People bangin’ on his door. Nothing. People desperate, scared. People need help. People James has always been there for–and they’re turned away without a word. Stone cold.

So everyone’s asking him why. Why, James? What happened, bud? And he ain’t answering. He locks himself away tighter and tighter. He can’t help anyone anymore. He’s done with that. He won’t be filed away until he’s nothing. He’s earned his place in Heaven.

No one really knows what happened after that. But something filed James away–filed him down to the bone. When they finally pounded down his door, demanding answers, demanding advice, all they found was a skeleton. A burning skeleton.

Skeletons don’t really burn, right? They blacken and that’s about it. They’re not made of wood, and even if they were, they’d eventually burn out. James, or his skeleton, never did. He just kept burning. Like someone was trying to tell the world something about a guy who gives up on piousness and goodness and helping the world because he’s afraid and overwhelmed. To remind us of hell. If you turn your back on the world and your fellow man, well, you’ve got a long time to sizzle and think about it.

I don’t care if you think it’s a dumb story. And yes, it is a legend! My grandma used to tell it to me. One of those morality tales. She said it happened, I dunno, somewhere in the States. It’s not a Bible story.

Man, I don’t even know how we got onto this topic….



Today’s three random writing prompt categories were, “A spooky skeleton,” “Setting fire,” and, “Legend.”

This honestly sounds like a story my friend’s grandma would tell. She was a real scare-’em-straight type.

– H.


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