An eyeball rolled right into her foot. It had come out of nowhere, seemingly, and yet Victoria didn’t so much as shriek or gasp as pick the body part up and examine it. No one seemed to have noticed it, and it was a miracle that it hadn’t been squished flat by the barrage of dead and undead patrons in the chapel.
There were corpses all around, upheld by some dark magic that Victoria couldn’t hope to understand in this life or the next. None of it phased her anymore, and it was easy to ignore the boundary being crossed while her beating heart ached within her oppressed chest.
She tried to sigh, caught in a battle of wills when it came to staring at the shifting pupil of the eye in her hand, but was so restricted by the corset laced around her waist that she gave up quickly. Victoria stood hidden, across from one of the last pews in the very back of her town’s church. She was without a tear to shed while her former betrothed stood heartbeat-less as everyone fought to congratulate him and his new corpse bride at once. She had only known him for less than three days, but the mousey, isolated girl had dreamt of being deeply in love and married all her life.
Being as quiet as she was, Victoria had gone wanting all her life through financial troubles and from the luckless position of being born a girl, and she had had her hopes that this marriage to Victor – sweet, soft-spoken, and just as sheltered as she – would succeed. Yet it had failed before they’d even begun.
“‘Scuse me, doll. That’s mine.” A distinct voice, lively and sharp, came from very near her, and Victoria looked up to see a lanky skeleton ‘staring’ at her.
He wasn’t dressed in any attire, formal or otherwise, but for the bowler hat set upon his skull.
“Oh. I beg your pardon, Mr…” Victoria held the eye out and let it drop into the creature’s open palm. It was extremely impolite to stare (openly), but she watched as he slipped the eyeball into one socket and heard as it clicked into position inside. How he’d found her cooped up in a tight squeeze behind a large, white pillar while in a besmirched white gown and veil was far beyond the privileged woman.
“Call me Bonejangles.” The large-jawed skeleton eyed her. “Mr. Bojangles was my father.”
“Oh, yes. I remember you now.” She spoke out of turn, but went on despite herself.
“I distinctly remember,” Victoria lifted a finger to the heavens, as though she were experiencing a true eureka moment. “You chasing after my mother’s aunt’s cousin’s youngest sister Margaret during… during the reception prior to this one.”
Though she had had to take a breath before finishing her sentence, Victoria didn’t find the admittance that she’d married the horrid murderer Lord Barkis as overwhelming as she did the brash explanation of her relationship to Margaret. The mouthful of a family lineage was, as she considered it after a moment, more embarrassing than having had a monster for a husband. At least, that marriage had subsided, with Victoria being right back to where she’d been at the beginning: penniless, vulnerable, and alone but for the dreary namesake Everglot, and all that that wrought.
Then again, she had technically been abandoned to the point of estrangement in her sham of marriage, and her husband was technically dead, thus making Victoria a widow… perhaps this grand caper of an inter-state-of-being wedding had taken even that name from her.
Victoria couldn’t honestly say she minded, all things considered.
“Oh yeah! What a dame.” The skeleton jollied, heedless of Victoria’s inner contemplations. “Couldn’t catch ‘er, name or ‘er gams!”
His unusual, nasally laughter brought the spellbound woman back down from her immersive troubles, and brought a jolt to her spine. It was either that – that laugh and that voice that had no business coming from someone or something that had no vocal chords or tongue to make them – or the way that the be-hatted character constantly moved.
Victoria realized that they were turning in circles after a time; he was circling her like a carrion bird while he spoke, and she, accustomed to being as polite as possible, spun around where she stood to meet his gaze – the eyeball perched in his open socket.
“I don’ think she was much of a hopper, sad ta say.” The eye rolled from one corner of his skull to the other. “But you’s been ‘round for two parties in one night! Thought it was strange though, you still bein’ a sad lil’ bunny ‘n all.”
The living woman blinked, shocked for the first time in a while. She understood the sense of what she was being talked at about, but some of this strange, dead creature’s words were difficult to decipher. And Victoria’s mind was already sluggish after everything that happened in only two days’ time.
He kept circling, but his expression changed… somehow. Or perhaps it hadn’t at all, because he had no brow nor lips, but Victoria believed he switched from jovial to concerned, perhaps even dejected, before her eyes. That is, if she could believe her own eyes.
“So I figured I’d swing yer way.” He finished, shifting on his bony feet. If Victoria could have believed her own ears, she’d almost believe that the skeleton man was trying his best to act courtly toward her.
“Do you know how improper it is to circle a lady, sir?” She asked, slipping back into the lessons she’d been taught since she’d rested in a crib, in her room that lay at the end of the hallway from her parents’ rooms. “It makes one feel very hurried and does not, for a suitable first meeting, make.”
Her words stopped the creature dead. Victoria could not detect a trace of anger, offense, or shock at her sharp tongue, nevertheless. He simply stopped to look at her intently.
“Apologies, ma’am.” The bowler that he’d been sporting came off and was held between his skeletal fingers. “I know prim and proper types don’ go for billboards like me, but I ain’t so bad. You should see ‘em regulars underground! They come in colorless and go out floorflushers after one number!”
“Number?” Victoria blinked, hands folded against her bodice. “You sing?”
“Sing! Dance! Scattin’ ‘n more!” He opened his gaunt arms in emphasis. “My band ‘n I make heads roll! You should come down and see us sometime!”
The young woman, still a maid as it were, felt like her feet were moving of their own accord. She was caught in a tide, unprecedented as tides usually were, and being pulled out to sea – Victoria never would’ve suspected yesterday morning that she would be led to the side of a dead man.
“Would you show it to me now, Mr. Bojangles?” She held her hand out in gesture, but left it out there when she panicked over how forward it was of her. Oh, dead or not, her parents would surely join the dearly departed as well if they saw her asking a strange, unapproved suitor out to the Maker knew where.
The blithe posture and tone of Bonejangles returned without a second spared.
“Jeepers creepers!” The skeleton tilted his bowler in her direction, as a proper gentleman would. “I’d be glad to, doll! Ah, I mean, Miss –”
Her mouth twitched, but the widow didn’t refrain when her lips formed a tiny, timid smile. “Victoria. It’s Victoria.”
She couldn’t see it entirely, but she was sure that Bonejangles was all smiles himself in that instant. He practically hopped toward her and offered his arm, and Victoria was relieved that he didn’t object over her tentative tracing against his Ulna up to his Humerus before accepting his offer.
They sauntered into the wood not long after, with a giggle bubbling from deep within Victoria as they jaunted from side to side as if they were dancing amid the moonlight. It was very unlike an Everglot to be so bold or careless, but an Everglot she was not.