Dry and Cracked as Bone

📅 Published on November 26, 2021

“Dry and Cracked as Bone”

Written by Steve Toase
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 15 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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The whale pod of water tankers flowed past Sophie as she sheltered in the verge of the hard shoulder. A piece of plastic from the ditch propped beside her kept away the worst buffeting of the wind. Vast wheels of the trucks hit the road camber, and rusted hose connectors spasmed seeps of water, calligraphing the motorway’s greyed tarmac.

She had been in the same spot for five hours. On the slip road for over eighteen. Not able to get a lift since the police picked her up for walking the motorway’s hard shoulder. Deposited her in a place with no services and no shelter.

“Can’t you just let it go this once? No one is picking up today. I was just trying to improve my chances.”

The sergeant had looked her up and down, smiled and drove her 22 miles in the wrong direction.

No cars could get near enough to her to stop, even if they wanted to. Water tankers took up the whole of the slow lane, turning it into a segmented pipeline, running from the northern moors, where there was plenty of water, to the southern part of the county where there was none. Twenty-four hours a day, back and forth.

Water would be nice, she thought. The sergeant had poured that into the dust when he searched her bag.

“Smells a bit like alcohol,” he had said, watching it pool for a moment before the dry as bark tarmac absorbed every last drop.

She had thought about calling him out on throwing away water when stand pipes and bowsers were set up in terraced streets in the cities, but she wanted less of his attention, not more.
She pulled her coat tight against the marrow cracking chill. Legs aching and reluctant she pushed herself to her feet, held out her cardboard sign and waited. Hoped one of the cars in the far lanes would see. Hoped one would be sympathetic.

“Can’t take hitchers love. Not insured for passengers.”

More than one tanker driver had shouted that to her. The words sincere, but not comforting. Not getting her any closer to her hometown and to her bedsit. She’d even tried waving tachographs given to her by a trucker on a previous hitch. Though the drivers looked apologetic, even hesitated, none stopped. Rubbing her hands to try and ease the itch of sunburn, she shook her roughly written sign once more.

The tanker was no different from the others, apart from having its hazard warning lights on and being parked twenty meters from her on the verge. A few more moments passed before Sophie realized it was waiting for her.

She walked slowly. It wouldn’t be the first time a driver waited until she got to the door, then drove off. Though those were normally cars full of lads. Truck drivers could be a problem in other ways. She reached into her sleeve and made sure the clasp holding her knife in place was unfastened.

The tanker did not move. She walked alongside, “PY Hydro Haulage” just visible in faded letters under the road dust. Kitbag held over her shoulder with one hand, she banged the metal body of the truck with her other fist. Listened to it echo hollow and dry.

The passenger door swung open. Pink invoices fluttered out to catch in gorse bushes. This was the worst moment. Worse even than sheltering on hard shoulders from blazing sun or bruising rain. Uncertainty of who waited inside the cab.

She ran her hand down the vast hose clipped to the metal body, fabric dry to the touch. Her hand went inside to her knife handle. Not that she had stabbed someone, but she knew how and where to hold the weapon. Often that was enough to persuade someone to pull in. Let her out. If not? The butt was heavy enough to spider windscreens.

The driver did not look around as she came level with the open door. Carried on leaning forward, elbows on the vast steering wheel in front of him. Eyes straight ahead.

“Where you going?” He said. There was no radio on in the cab. The only sound the creak and stretch of metal panels.

“Leeds, but anywhere south of here is good.” At that moment just getting off the damn slip road was an improvement.

“I’ll have to do my run first. Can take you into the city after that,” he said. His eyes were red, skin the color of sun-faded paper.

“That seems fair. Be interesting to see where you guys are going.”

He turned slowly, each movement considered and too much effort.
“Are you going to get in?”

Sophie nodded and climbed up, dragging her kit bag behind, then shutting the door. Now sealed, the temperature in the cab rose. Recycled air and the scent of hot oil evaporating from somewhere under her seat. She fastened her safety belt, and the driver pulled back into the carriageway.

“Long shifts?” she said, testing the weight of the knife to make sure her opposite hand could reach the handle if needed. Rituals comforted her.

“I haven’t stopped.”

“Since last night? When do you get to finish?”

“When the job is done.”

They were back in the stream of traffic now, each vehicle, with slight variations, the same. The water company had employed most of the water transport across the country. Sat by the road she had seen trucks from Wales, Somerset, and Scotland. Even some across from Northern Ireland, making the best of the (empty) barrel the water company were over to gouge them for excellent overtime rates.

“You local?” she said. There were two types of drivers, the talkative, and the taciturn. For now, her savior seemed to fall into the former group.

“Not from anywhere in particular. Go where the work is. Go where I’m told.”

He glanced at Sophie, as if daring her to ask another question, then stared back out the windscreen.

“You homeless?” He said.

“Not now,” she said, not elaborating any further. “Have my own place. A room. Not much, but it’s there when I get home. The door locks and the window bolts.”

He nodded as if he understood.

“Family?”

“Get on with my Dad. Mum not so much. Don’t see either that often.”

“You should make the effort to ring him. Speak to him. Tell him you’re okay.”

She shrugged and smiled, though the driver’s attention was on the road.

“Phone calls cost money,” she said, wishing it was a lie. They used to do that when they first started hitching, her and her friends. Tell lies to different lifts. A way to pass the time. Reinvent themselves. Now the truth was enough.

The driver reached down the side of his seat and threw something into Sophie’s lap. She stared at the mobile phone, unsure what he expected her to do.

“Call him now. He’ll be glad to hear from you.”

She carried on staring at the phone, with its rubber keys and short, flexible aerial, not knowing how to even turn it on.

“I don’t know his number,” she said, again wishing it was a lie. “And you? Do you have family? Kids?”

He glanced at her once, grabbed the phone from her lap and dropped it out of sight. The journey was going to be in silence after all.

* * * * * *

The silence never came, every meter of travel accompanied by creaks and stretches as if the body of the tanker would tear itself apart. No more words came from the driver. She watched him for a while. Watched him lean down to change gear, arms stiff and locked. Head barely pivoting to glance out of the side mirrors. All the time the steel body sung and screeched with each bump of the road.

Unable to stand the noise anymore, Sophie turned on the radio, slowly easing up the volume. The sound from the speakers crackled. For a moment Sophie thought it was a fault in the wires, until she realized the burning was ground into the music. Barely had the tune started to settle into playing than the driver leaned over and clicked it to silence once more.

“No radio. Don’t know what lingers in the speakers.”

She shrugged and turned to watch the smeared landscape through the window. No matter how much she struggled to stay awake, to stay safe, the dirt and heat of the day lay upon her skin and took the last of her energy. Her head slid against the window glass, and she slept.

* * * * * *

They were still in a convoy of water tankers when Sophie woke, but the road was narrower. Day had gone and trees draped against the top of the cab, branches breaking off to be crushed by the wheels.

Trying not to make it obvious she ran a hand over her clothing.

“I haven’t touched you. Too busy driving.”

She carried on checking. Made sure her jeans and shirt were still fastened. Checked her knife.

Her mouth was dry, and she reached into her kitbag for the bottle of water, before remembering the copper.

“Do you have any water?”

“None,” he said.

“Apart from several thousand liters back there.”

He turned to look at her. His eyes were pressed back in his face, shadowed by tiredness and something else she couldn’t pin down. The tanker in front took a tight bend and sloshed water onto the tarmac.

“None,” he said, pointing at the dash. “There’s a bottle of coke on there. Help yourself.”

The drink was too sweet and too flat. Hot from cooking behind the windscreen, it did nothing to dispel her thirst. Before fastening the cap, she held out the bottle.

“No thanks. Don’t drink.”

“It’s not alcohol is it?” She ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth, checking for any traces of rum or whiskey. Checking the fuzz behind her eyes was the last traces of sun and sleep

“I don’t drink.”

Sophie shrugged and fastened the lid, chucking it back to land against the glass.

Outside, the road split into two. The tankers in front turned left. The driver reached down the side of the steering wheel column, flicked on the indicators and turned right.

“Are you not going to the filling point?”

She’d seen them on the news. Car parks lined with connectors for the tankers to empty gallons and gallons of drinking water into the reservoir, each load not making the slightest impression on the level. Hi-vis jacketed workers directing the endless chain of vehicles into place.

“My destination is somewhere else.”

They drove along without speaking, drystone walls and thick conifer woodland the only landscape visible outside. The roads narrowed until single track, their way barred by a locked gate.

“Wait here,” the driver said.

Leaving the engine running he climbed out, shivering at the evening, though the night air that seeped in through the open door, scented with pine and wild garlic, did not feel cold. When he walked, each movement was stiff, as if unfamiliar. She guessed it probably was, stuck behind the wheel, sleeping in the bed recessed behind her, under the old black and red duvet.

Sophie had done some traveling. Staying in a converted ambulance, and living in a bender of hazel twigs and tarpaulin. Something never quite clicked for her. Liked having bricks and mortar to return to.

The driver’s door opened again and he climbed the steps, hesitating to glance down the length of his vehicle.

“I know we haven’t talked much, but it’s nice to have some company,” he said.

“Don’t you have many passengers?”

“Not who I can talk to.”

The road beyond the gate was more suited to a four by four than the tanker. The driver struggled to keep it upright against the pull of deep ruts and press of undergrowth.

“Do you have any kids?” She asked.

“Not now,” he said.

The trees went on for about a mile then opened up to the reservoir.

Nothing quite prepared Sophie for seeing the water at night. A shrunken mirror that caught the sky. Between them and the water’s edge was nothing but cracked mud and broken buildings.

Most of the walls were hip height, though it was unclear how much lay beneath the silt. She recognized houses and shops. Barns in-between. Something that may have been the church, but it was hard to tell from the cab. The driver killed the engine. The only sound was the distant cascade of water as tanker after tanker tried in vain to raise the reservoir level.

“Wait here,” the driver said, opened his door once more and climb down.

Sophie watched him work.

From somewhere under the chassis he dragged out a bag of wood, in his other hand a large bunch of dried plants. Stacking the timber on the mud he used a Zippo lighter to ignite balled-up newspaper. Once the flames caught he threw on the stalks.

She wound down the window. The smoke smelt of sandalwood and samphire, soon overwhelmed by other pungent, and less pleasant, herbs. The driver stripped to the waist, throwing his shirt back toward the cab, then, dipping his hands in the barely cooled ash, drew symbols across his skin.

In the side mirror, she watched him unhook the hose and drag it out toward the drought cracked edge of the reservoir. Sophie watched for water tumbling out, but none came. The truck was silent, the only sound distant waterfalls.

She didn’t notice the figures when the smoke reached the walls. They were still too pale, but over the next fifteen minutes they developed. Little details that she thought she recognized. Sharp cheekbones under dirty grey skin. Eyelids the same color, half-closed as if from sleep.

Then came the realization that each man, woman and child had lain hidden under the surface of the reservoir, pressed down by thousands of gallons of water. Just waiting. Waiting to go on to somewhere they were promised that did not lie in the gravel and rotting trout of the reservoir bed. Sophie knew about waiting, and she imagined that stretching out to one week, one month. One hundred years trapped in forgotten houses with no lungs to drown anymore. To shout out against the pressure of time and water and abandonment.

Most were caught on stonework, edges of their skin, if it were still skin, blurred by rips and tears. She forced her fingers into her mouth before she screamed for them. Screamed because of them. She did not need to. They had found their voices, screeching out their injuries and their loneliness. No matter how she tried to plug her ears she heard them through her skull and ribs and spine, until she could do nothing but curl up and hope they would stop. They did not.

Sophie did not know what set them off, but guessed this was not the first time the driver had visited here. Maybe they recognized the truck, or the reek of samphire. Maybe the percussion of the pump, turned on by a switch on the side of the tanker. Whichever tiny sign alerted them, they were in distress.

The ghosts could not hold on, though they tried, feather-thin limbs amputated as the hose dragged them free of the houses, their homes, over the cracks in the reservoir, and up into the nozzle. Limbs and faces were left behind, but they soon tumbled free of the snags. Every few minutes the driver walked across to the hose, poking the nozzle with a bent iron rod to free a blockage Sophie could not see. All the time the ghosts screamed.

Now she knew what was behind his eyes. Not some family tragedy, or bereavement, instead the voices of the dead grasping to be left alone.

She lost track of time, and could not count all the figures that the driver dragged free of the drowned village. How many people had died there in the thousand years before the rooms were filled with water? She tried plugging her ears, but the sound pierced even her skin. Her bones amplified voices without words.

At some sign not obvious to her the driver turned off the motor, brushed his torso clean, stamped out the fire, clipped the hose to the tanker’s body and climbed back in.

His hands were grey, though in the poor light it was difficult to tell if it was ash, his own skin or the remnants of the last few dead. Behind them, the screaming continued.

“They never stop, you know,” the driver said. His hands gripped either side of the steering wheel.

“Never?” The noise was in her veins now. She thought the ghosts were under her skin, and her nails began to scratch through her arms to let them go. White gouges edged in blood lined her arms.

“Not until I deliver them. Then they probably continue screaming, but I don’t hear them. Except when I sleep. So I don’t sleep.”

Sophie said nothing. Just waited for him to start the engine. He did not. She realized that the noises on the way had not been the truck flexing and shrinking with the heat of the day. Instead the voices of ghosts trapped in the metal shell. Unable to get out.

Still the driver stared straight ahead.

“I can’t do this again,” he said.

Reaching down the side of his chair he pulled out the mobile phone, flexible aerial flicking as he dragged it out and dialed a number.

“It’s me. Yes, I’m at the reservoir. The next load is onboard, but I need to meet with you.”

Sophie struggled to hear his one-sided conversation over the noise behind her.

“At the collection site. Okay, I’ll wait.”

Finishing his call, the driver put the phone away, holding the wheel to steady himself, and turned to her. His hands shook.

“Some people are coming. You need to leave. Hide. If it goes okay I’ll pick you up on the road, but don’t be here when they arrive.”

“And if doesn’t go okay?”

“There’s a village five miles down the road.” He sat up, took out a wallet, and handed her some money. “Go there and get home.”

She climbed out, dragged her kitbag behind, and walked away from the truck and the screaming and the driver.

Hidden in the undergrowth Sophie counted the notes by the red glow of the tankers rear lights. Enough money glistened in her hand to get her home and pay her bills for the month. She still didn’t leave. From her hiding place, she heard the screeches and cries of the trapped ghosts, but only just. She wasn’t even sure what kept her hidden. Maybe there was worse lurking in the trees.

* * * * * *

The helicopter drowned out the sound of screaming as soon as it appeared at the far side of the reservoir, spumes of water pressed out from the downdraft.

For a moment it hovered over the remains of the village, spotlight glancing off the stone, as if the pilot was sightseeing. Then the vehicle landed beside the tanker, rotors slowing to a standstill.

Five people got out. The first, a man, was short. He wore tweeds far too heavy for the summer night, and hiking boots. Over his shoulder he carried a shooting stick on a leather strap, seat folded away. The other four waited until he approached the cab then followed. While neither the men nor women were dressed in uniform they all wore similar clothes. Black and designed not to be noticed.

The man in tweeds unhooked the shooting stick and tapped on the door. Gentle, as if not wanting to scratch the paint. On the far side the driver opened his door and climbed out, hesitated for a moment, then cut around the front of the tanker.

The man in tweeds widened his arms.

“Simon! So good to see you. I trust you are well? And the family? Your daughter is doing fine. She even has her own room now. Started eating again. You know Papa Yaga always looks after his guests.”

Sophie watched the driver tense, and behind Papa Yaga the men and women in non-descript uniforms shifted their weight. At first Sophie thought it was too subtle for the driver, Simon, to notice, but his shoulders dropped and all the fight went out of him.

“I can’t do this again Papa Yaga. I haven’t slept in over a fortnight.”

Papa Yaga shook his head, opened his shooting stick, pierced the ground with the point, and leaned back on the seat.

“Well, that’s just reckless. Bad for your own mental health, and you could cause an accident on the road. You might kill someone.”

Simon shook his head again. Not once did he look up at Papa Yaga, keeping his eyes fixed on a point before his feet.

“I can’t stop hearing them, but at least when I’m awake I don’t see them too.”

Papa Yaga stood and walked forward, sliding his arm around Simon’s shoulders.

“And I can’t persuade you? Even while young Rachel is staying with me?”

“Please. I’ll find the money some other way. All the work I’ve done for you I can’t have much more to pay off.”

“Simon, that’s just not how we work.”

In one fluid motion Papa Yaga dragged the shooting stick from the ground and smashed it into the side of the driver’s head. Much heavier than it appeared, the thin metal bar shattered away the driver’s jawbone, then cheeks, skull softening with each precise blow. Papa Yaga carried on until nothing was left above the driver’s collar apart from a curve of vertebrae held in place by gristle and severed nerves. The body finally fell to the ground, landing in the sherds of skull and mud softened by blood and evacuations. Sophie realized she had vomited, the taste of flat coke and stomach acid coating her tongue. She bit the inside of her mouth until she tasted to blood to stop herself crying out.

Papa Yaga turned to his nearest companion.

“Bring me my mask.”

The woman nodded and returned to the helicopter, reappearing a few moments later with a silver box. Sophie watched Papa Yaga take it from her, nod his thanks and open it.

Inside was a mask like those used to give oxygen to the dying and the sick, except the port for taking a pipe was far larger than anything Sophie had seen before.

While Papa Yaga fitted the device over his face, adjusting the thick rubber straps, his companions dragged the hose around from the tanker, and with a nod from their boss attached the nozzle to the mask. Once he was satisfied the fitting was tight he gave an exaggerated thumbs-up. On the other side of the tanker, one of his attendants reversed the pump.

The ghosts did not scream as Papa Yaga consumed them. They did not have time. As soon as they started flowing into his mouth he inhaled and did not stop. Even though his teeth were hidden she heard chewing as he tore each one apart, eyes closed in pleasure as he consumed one spirit after another. Pausing once he removed the mask, he clamped the aperture with his palm and turned around the semi-circle of people.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a taste? They’re a lot fresher than I’m used to, but very invigorating for that.”

The men and women smiled politely, and went about their tasks, as if they had drilled for many months for just this event.

It took an hour for Papa Yaga to inhale all the spirits of the dead. When finished, he waited while the hose was returned and his mask packed away.

One of his companions stood beside him and nodded toward the now still remains of the driver.

“Shall we put him in one of the buildings?”

Papa Yaga shook his head.

“No. That might poison the water supply when the reservoir eventually reaches its normal levels. Bring the bone saw.”

For the rest of the night, Sophie hid in the undergrowth while less than ten feet away Papa Yaga and his companions ate the raw corpse of the driver. One of his arms they cut free, sawing through the joint and filling the air with the friction scent of burnt hair. Mostly they just gnawed the meat from the body, sharing out the organs so each got a share of heart, liver and lungs. Papa Yaga took the largest portion of each.

After cracking the ribs to suck loose the marrow they cleared away the last traces of the driver, like he was nothing more than a roadside picnic, wrapping the splinters of bones in the old red and black duvet.

Papa Yaga climbed back into the helicopter, followed by three of his retinue. The fourth, a woman, wiped grease from her hands into her jeans and climbed into the water tanker. Sophie stayed hidden until they left, and then an hour more.

When she walked through the woods, no longer fearful of what lurked amongst the roots, the water tankers were still running in a chain to the drop site, and back North. None of them stopped for her. She did not care. She knew their insurance wouldn’t allow it.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Steve Toase
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Steve Toase


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

More Stories from Author Steve Toase:

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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