I loved this story, though there was one part that really didn’t sit well with me. Mr. Harris’ wife asking him to tell her what’s bothering him with the words “Tell mama” made me very uncomfortable. That’s what I get for being a psych major.
I suppose this really shouldn’t be the most unsettling thing in this story, but I’m a veteran of horror. Freudian relationships are a different kind of unsettling when compared to the rest of the story.
Anyway, Mr. Harris is a hypochondriac who seems to be having unusual and inexplicable aches in his bones. His doctor thinks it’s all psychosomatic, basically, and that it’ll go away with time and rest. Harris decides instead to visit a “bone specialist.” Probably not a great idea to do so when you’re already aware that he has no degree or other qualification, but hey, good horror stories are founded on the stupidity of their characters. After his visit, Harris becomes obsessed with his skeleton and convinced that there is some battle being waged between “himself” — his flesh, mind, and organs — and his skeleton.
There haven’t been many examples of horror so far in this collection, not pure horror anyway; a lot of the horror-like stories and moments I’ve encountered thus far have been mixed in with science fiction. But I’d say this story falls squarely in the horror category. Harris’ growing obsession is an excellent way to build tension and propel the story, and while the “twist’ ending was fairly predictable, at least to me, it was timed out perfectly and worked very well. And, it should be noted, I actually had a moment where I thought the twist, as it was happening, was going to go in a different direction from the one I’d initially (and rightly) expected. Bradbury exemplifies the most common horror advice of not actually describing all the details of the scary thing. The things in this story that have the potential to be truly horrifying are not vividly described, which, as veteran horror writers and readers know, is actually better. The human mind left to its own devices is far more powerful than any written word could ever be.
Interestingly I noticed a moment, in the early stages of Harris’ obsession, where he reminds me quite powerfully of Guy Montag, from Fahrenheit 451. Harris has more self-control, however; he has a moment where he wants to overturn a table and rage at his wife’s guests, but he stops himself. I assume that most people who would be reading this have already read Fahrenheit 451 and that it’s no spoiler to say Montag does not stop himself from following such impulses. At any rate, I thought the parallel between the two characters was worth noting.
This would be a pretty great story to pull out around Halloween, especially in recent years when the Internet, Tumblr especially, has been obsessed with skeletons and “The Skeleton War,” for whatever reason. I don’t pretend to understand where all this came from, but I love Halloween and horror and skeletons, and this trend has led to my seeing a lot of hilarious GIFs around the Halloween season, so I’ll just roll with it. And recommend this story as essential reading for warriors in the Skeleton War.