Chapter 1 - Bone Piles
The early morning breeze wisped grains of sand over an assortment of bone piles, some new, some old. Larger, darker creatures collected around the stacks of bones. This was a special place for the creatures, a low, shady place where hunger was extinguished. With feathers relaxed and beaks poised, they waited patiently for the delivery of their next feast.
The first set of bones seethed with resentment and hatred. Because of rituals performed by the body while alive, the now fleshless bones held hypnotic power. Wicked and unforgiving, they lie hidden inside the hollow of an ancient oak tree. The tree's broad, knarred limbs reached in all directions, stripped and twisted tentacles. Even winds rolling in from ocean storms hardly caused the heavy appendages to stir. In its two hundred and sixty-six years of life, being keeper of the bones had been the worst sixteen of all. An accidental fire that burnt half its young branches two centuries ago didn't compare to the pain of these unwelcome bones.
The aged oak longed for the days when birds would visit and nest on its thick branches. It missed growing leaves and producing acorns. It missed the owl from long ago that once lived where the vile bones now rested. Protecting the bones had rundown the old tree making it appear used up and rotten, barely alive. All trees living nearby grew away from the shadows caused by the decrepit oak. Many that were close, especially the palm trees, had lost branches from the sides facing it. None wanted anything to do with the bones or their unwilling protector.
The circumference of the ancient oak's 30-foot base was beginning to shrink, yet no termites or bugs fed on or lived within its cracked frame. As if taking orders from the bones, the tree's long limbs gradually lost interest in growing. They no longer reached as eagerly for the sun. Roots no longer thirsted for the fresh water of rain. If oak trees had eyes, surely this one would be crying. If it had a mouth, it would be begging for freedom from its cursed occupation as the bone warden.
The malevolent set of bones was not the largest of skeletons, but the strangest. Year after year, they lay disintegrating - old and crumbly, yet not yellow or white as one might expect. These bones appeared different, peculiar, contaminated. Unrecognizable scents and sounds floated within close proximity of its dark containment. The creatures hovering over the other bones never came close to this pile, never came close to the protective tree.
They were right to stay away.