The Bone Carver
By: Lynne Phillips

Nobody was surprised when Milton Baxter disappeared.

"He was sure to have come to a bad end. He was an obnoxious little twerp," the postmaster said.

"Yeah, from the time he was born he was always where he shouldn't be, doing things he shouldn't," agreed Mrs Fallon as she passed over the money for a stamp.

Milton Baxter was often where he shouldn't be.

"I'm still sure he killed Miss Getty's cat. He insisted it wasn't him, but everyone knew he hated that cat and used every opportunity to taunt it," Mr Jacob added.

People found it hard to believe that a ten-year-old would deliberately kill a cat, but the accusation stuck because he was once seen pulling its tail.

"He could have been the one who stole my champion chicken, though it could have been that nuisance tramp who often camps near the river or those gypsies that turn up now and again," said the postmaster.

As Mrs Fallon left the post office, she was still thinking about Milton Webster. It wasn't his fault he was backward. postmaster He never really had a cha. Hence born with foetal alcoholic syndrome. He was small for his age, wizen little face, not growing to the expected size of his ten years. In fact, from a distance you would think he was only about five. Milton was feral, always filthy, dressed in rags, snotty nosed, and he still couldn't speak clearly. It was doubtful whether the local church school would take him back in the new term. He was so much trouble.

Mrs Fallon felt her conscious was clear. She was part of the group that tried to intervene, but even when washed, fed, and placed in foster care, he soon reverted to the feral life. He was always running wild.

Then one day he just simply disappeared.

Little Wenford Minor was a sleepy little village in the English countryside. Nothing exciting ever happened there. People didn't just disappear, yet Milton had. His disappearance was investigated by the local constabulary but there were no clues. Normally he would be seen skulking around the countryside. Nobody could remember when they had last seen him. His parents were on a bender and weren't making any sense. They hadn't really missed him. It was only the old spinster who lived next door who reported his disappearance to the police. They

"I haven't seen him for over a week," she told Constable McCreedy. "He usually comes in for a drink of Milo every day. I think that's all he has for dinner. Sad really." she added with a sigh.

If Milton had been a child of a prominent person, more effort would have gone into the investigation, but he was just Milton, the child of no-hoper parents, soon forgotten. It was assumed he had gone feral for a while and would just turn up one day as if nothing had happened.

After a while Milton Baxter was just another name on the country's missing person list and life went on as usual in the sleepy little village.

***

If people had been really vigilant, which they usually aren't, they would have noticed there were other disappearances too. The tinker man who visited the village at least once every three months hadn't been seen for over a year. Old Mrs Mason commented on it because she was hoping to buy a new saucepan next time he visited.

"He probably died or just moved on to another area," her friends said.

"No loss anyway. Things always went missing whenever he was around. This village doesn't need the likes of him."

Mrs Mason felt they were being very unfair. She actually liked the tinker man and loved listening to stories about his travels. He was a good source of gossip, and Mrs Mason loved gossip.

The tramp who camped down by the river under the bridge suddenly disappeared too. One day he was seen sitting near a tree, fishing, the next day he was gone. After a week, his camp was dismantled by the council and a sign was put up: No Camping Allowed by order of the Mayor.

Various animals had disappeared from the village too; Miss Benson's bulldog, Farmer Cowan's prized pig and one of the landed gentry's fine deer. Each time the police attributed the disappearances to tramps, tinkers, gypsies, poachers or locally known petty criminals. All the disappearances were one-offs, not worth a lot of money, and didn't happen often enough to attract too much attention.

***

The people in Little Wenford Minor didn't want to know about anything bad happening in their village. They just liked to live a quiet peaceful life during the week and sell their handmade wares at the weekend.

Little Wenford Minor was known for its market days. People from far away flocked to the village in the hope of finding something special. It specialised in arts and crafts. A sign on the edge of town proclaimed:

Little Wenford Minor—Unique Crafts—Worth a Visit! Market days, Saturday, and Sunday.

They came every weekend; thousands of them, each hoping to find something special, beautifully carved wooden bowls, cleverly crafted pottery, small delicate pieces of jewellery and home-made jams and pickles. Most of all they came for the tiny, exquisite bone animals that Mr Pratchett created. He was old and wrinkled with long bony fingers sometimes stroking one of the small figures he had carved. He lived in a thatched cottage on the edge of town. Each weekend he set his tiny carvings lovingly out on his stall then sat quietly carving his next creation as people raved about his wares. They were beautifully carved small animals.

"They look so real," someone exclaimed.

"I feel like this cat will purr any minute," said another. "How does he get them so life like?"

Ben Sommerville brought his new girlfriend, Freyja, to Little Wenford Minor to visit the markets. Ben had been going to the markets with his mother for years since he was a small child. He wanted to show Freyja what a pretty little village Little Wenford Minor was and perhaps impress her by buying her something from the bone carver. He knew she would be enchanted by the miniature animal sculptures. They wandered hand in hand looking at all the wares until they arrived at the bone carver's stall. It was covered with row after row of the most exquisite figures carved from bone, none bigger than five centimetres, each delicately carved in the shape of a small animal.

Freyja exclaimed, "Oh Ben, they're so beautiful, just as you told me. Let's buy some." Then with a puzzled look she spied three small figures sitting to one side. "I didn't know he did people too."

Ben didn't remember the old man carving people before. It was always cats, dogs in various poses, fat pigs, delicate fine boned deer, but never people. Ben picked up one of the small figures and turned it in his hand. Like the animals it was intrinsically carved in great detail, but it felt strange. There was a weird vibe that ran up his arm as he picked it up. The figure was of a young boy with a face stretched in grimace, not at all attractive. Ben quickly put it back on the table. He picked up a small dog instead. It felt okay.

"I think I'll have this one," he said. Freyja chose a tiny cat curled into a ball. The old man in the stall wrapped the tiny figures in tissue paper and Freyja popped them into her purse.

"Thank you, Ben, they are lovely, I'll treasure them always."

***

When the gypsies arrived and set up camp in the vacant field on the edge of town, everyone was outraged. Gypsies meant trouble. The village didn't want them. The Mayor went to see them.

"We don't want any trouble," the gypsies told him. "One of our horses is lame, we just want the farrier to have a look at him and then we'll move on."

But there was trouble for the gypsies.

A small girl with flashing dark eyes and long brown ringlets disappeared from the gypsy camp. The gypsies searched everywhere. The police and the villagers helped search, because they wanted the gypsies to move on, but no trace of her could be found. A rumour went around that the gypsies had probably sold her.

Eventually the gypsies, broken hearted, moved on without the little girl and she was added to the missing person's list

***

The bone carver worked late into the night. He wanted to finish his latest carving. It would be one of his favourites.

He talked softly and soothingly to the bone, "Now my lovely, I think you should be an angel."

The weekend, old man gently turned the piece of bone in his hand as he delicately carved the figure of a little girl with ringlets. He was so engrossed in what he was doing that he was completely impervious to the screams emanating from the bone.

The following weekend, the tiny figure of a little girl was placed on the stall next to the figures of the boy, the tinker, and the tramp.

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