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Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 6: The First Night of Safety

In Chapter 6, Jack and Jill choose their roles, their guardians, and their destiny.

More choices are made here. Real choices, this time, not simply choices over what to have for dinner. Both sisters have clear ideas over what they want, and they prioritise that over everything else.

Come and See the Show

Cory and Clarissa turned. ‘Hey Rhys, hurry up!’ 

Rhys caught up. ‘Hurry up,’ he scoffed. ‘You were the ones who left me.’ 

‘Well, the fortune teller might have got us next,’ said Clarissa with a laugh, flicking back her long blonde hair. ‘I didn’t want her grabbing at my palms and warning me of danger.’

‘Ridiculous,’ said Rhys. ‘The least you could have done was save me from that.’

‘Never mind that,’ said Cory. ‘We gotta find somewhere to eat. I’m starving!’

They walked together down the busy street. Clarissa gestured at the stalls that littered the streets. ‘We could just get something here.’

‘I want to sit down,’ said Cory.

‘You could have sat down with the fortune teller,’ said Rhys. ‘I got a nice rest out of that.’

‘Right, sure,’ said Cory. ‘Is it bad luck if you tell us what she told you?’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ said Rhys. ‘She told me I was going somewhere dangerous, a trap I couldn’t get out of.’

‘What’s that smell?’ asked Clarissa. The boys stopped and sniffed. Indeed, there was a scent of frying, of herbs and oil and meats.

‘Delicious,’ said Cory. ‘Where’s it coming from?’

They turned into an alley. Here there were no stalls, although the buildings looked very similar to those on the main street—beautifully carved wooden doors, colourfully painted, set in dark stone walls. Only one set of doors was open, and people were streaming out.

A thin man with wispy black hair stood near them. ‘You’re coming to see the show?’ he asked. ‘You’re just in time. This will be our last performance.’

‘We came to eat,’ said Cory.

‘Of course, of course,’ said the man. ‘We serve food as well. Food, and tea, and drinks, and you can watch the greatest acrobats and magicians in the city.’

The three exchanged glances.

‘Come, come,’ said the man, and grasped Rhys’s arm. ‘You don’t want to miss out!’

Rhys pulled his arm from the man’s grip. ‘Ok, ok,’ he said. ‘No need to be pushy about it.’

They went through the doors. They weren’t the first ones there. People sat around tables, nibbling at the dumplings and bowls of noodles, drinking tea and beer. These were all being brought to them by girls in white dresses, wielding large trays of the most delicious smelling food.

‘Come on,’ said Clarissa. ‘We might as well have fun while we eat.’

‘And the food smells great,’ said Cory. He made his way to a table near the front, sat down, and instantly a girl came to with a plate of dumplings. Another girl came to put down cups and glasses and fill them with hot tea and cold beer.

Clarissa and Rhys sat down. Cory motioned at the dumplings, chewing. ‘These are great!’ 

‘Is this a common thing?’ Rhys asked Clarissa. She was the only one who had travelled to the city before.

‘Yeah, all over,’ said Clarissa. ‘I’ve seen a couple. They aren’t usually that great, but I mean, you get to eat, so…’

They watched as more people filed in, until every seat was filled. Then the curtains parted and the show began. Smoke began to fill the room, as people lit up cigarettes. ‘Disgusting,’ muttered Rhys. ‘I hate cigarette smoke.’

‘You should be used to it by now,’ murmured Clarissa. ‘You’ve been here a week.’

The first act was a juggler, who began with three sticks, then four, then five. As he juggled five, a young girl brought in a lit torch, holding it out to the man. He lit first one, two, three, four, five, until he was now juggling five torches of fire. He caught all five and bowed to the applause. 

The second act were three acrobats, although contortionists was probably a better word. They twisted themselves into different positions, lifting each other with their toes and other such tricks.

‘I hear they have to train them from five years old to get them that flexible,’ Clarissa murmured. ‘And that those classes pretty much amount to torture.’

Cory shrugged. ‘What can you do?’

Rhys shifted in his seat. ‘I don’t like this place.’

‘You’ve been saying that ever since you got here,’ Clarissa said. ‘Honestly, if I knew how afraid you were of the unfamiliar.’

‘I don’t mean the city,’ said Rhys. ‘This place. I don’t like this place.’

Clarissa turned and frowned at him as on stage, a man stuck a second sword down his throat. ‘Do you want to go?’

‘We shouldn’t miss all of this,’ said Cory, his eyes still on the sword swallower. ‘It’s fun. And I could do with more of those dumplings.’

As if on cue, a girl started walking about with plates of dumplings on a tray. Cory waved her over.’

‘I’ll be ok,’ said Rhys. ‘I’m sure it’ll end soon, right?’

The next act seemed to be some sort of comedy, although they were using the old tongue, so the three could not understand. ‘Husband and wife having a fight, I think,’ Clarissa muttered. The couple exchanged insults that set the room laughing, and then turned to throwing things at each other. One vase missed the woman and came crashing down on a table in front of the stage. The pieces sprayed. 

‘Was that supposed to happen?’ Cory asked. 

‘I don’t think so,’ said Clarissa. ‘Look, some of them are hurt.’

Girls came to clean up the broken pieces. The people at the table didn’t seem to mind the cuts, they wiped themselves off and kept watching the show.

‘I think I’ll wait for you outside,’ said Rhys, standing up. ‘It’s too stuffy in here.’

‘I thought you said you’d be okay,’ said Cory.

‘I thought so, but—’ He broke off as the next act came on. It was the thin man who had invited them in, now in costume. An elaborate headdress and embroidered robes.

‘The magician,’ murmured Clarissa. ‘Always the last act.’

‘It’s nearly over, Rhys.’

‘I’ll wait for you outside,’ he said, and went over to the door.

‘Don’t you think we should go with him?’ Clarissa asked, looking after Rhys with concern.

‘He’ll be fine,’ said Cory, his eyes on the stage. 

The magician was a good one. He declaimed in the old tongue and produced rabbits, held fire in his hands, found coins in his sleeves, in the sleeves of customers and out of thin air. Clarissa was lost figuring out the trick when she hear Rhys’s voice in her ear.

‘Clarissa, I can’t get out.’

She turned. He stood behind, his hand braced on her chair.

‘What do you mean?’

‘The doors are locked. They won’t open them.’ He gestured to the two men standing next to the closed door, almost like guards.

‘And now,’ said the magician, ‘for the finale! We call upon the gods!’

‘We call upon the gods!’ shouted the audience and the servers together.

Cory turned. ‘What the hell?’ Everyone had started chanting in the old tongue, everyone but Clarissa, Cory, and Rhys. Their eyes were fixed on the stage, on the magician, who had raised his hands and was leading the chant. ‘What’s going on?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Clarissa. ‘But I think we should get out of here.’

‘We can’t,’ said Rhys, his voice panicked. ‘I told you, the doors are locked. And there are guards.’

They turned to look as the thin man shouted. Everyone else shouted and stood. Rhys turned pale.

‘Cory,’ said Clarissa urgently, ‘Let’s get up, we need to find a way out.’ She stood and found that Rhys was grasping her arm, putting his weight on her. ‘Cory.’

Cory stood, his square face worried, and tried to help her hold Rhys up. His face was completely white now, his eyes closed, slipping, slipping.

‘The sacrifice,’ said the thin man, in the new tongue, ‘Take up the sacrifice.’

Hands grabbed at Rhys and pulled him away. There were too many to fight, although Cory and Clarissa landed a few blows each.

‘What the fuck!’ Cory tried to follow, but the crowd blocked him. They took him up to the stage and laid him before the magician. The magician held his hands over the still form and began shouting short staccato words, barked out. A gesture, and a white-dressed girl came up with a knife. There was a gasp from Clarissa, a muttered curse from Cory. They pushed through the crowd, bulled through it to the stage—

—but they were too late. Rhys lay in a pool of blood. They couldn’t see where it was coming from.

‘The sacrifice is accepted,’ said the magician. ‘The show is over. Good show, huh?’

Cory pulled himself onto the stage in a fury. ‘You—’ He broke off. The magician had gone. ‘Where’d he go?’ He looked down at Clarissa, now standing alone. She turned slowly around.

‘They just vanished.’

A soft groan pulled their attention back to Rhys. His eyelids flickered and opened. ‘What on Earth?’

‘Rhys!’ Cory knelt down, tried to mop up the blood, find out where the wound was. ‘We thought you were dead.’

‘What happened?’ asked Rhys. ‘Last I remember, I was sitting down for that awful fortune teller, and then—how did I get here?’

‘Sit up,’ said Cory, and helped him to a sitting position. ‘Are you hurt?’

‘I think the blood might be fake,’ said Clarissa, slowly. 

‘What?’ asked Rhys, and then started. ‘The fuck? Where’s all this blood from?’

‘We thought it was yours,’ said Clarissa. 

‘Isn’t it?’ said Cory. ‘They were holding that knife.’

Rhys ran his hands over his face, his neck, his body. ‘I don’t feel anything,’ he said. ‘Must be fake.’ He stood up. ‘I’m fine, I swear.’

They all looked down at the bloodstains on the stage. Later, much, much, later, Cory and Clarissa would remember these stains, as best they could, and compare it to the stains left by Rhys’s body after the car crash, and they would wonder. But for now, they only thought how odd it was that none of the blood had marked his clothes.

‘I’m starving,’ said Rhys. ‘Shouldn’t we go eat?’

‘Yeah,’ said Clarissa. ‘As long as we don’t have to watch a show.’

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 5: The Roles We Choose Ourselves

In Chapter 5, we are given a proper introduction to the Moors, and dine with the people in power.

Despite the chapter title, neither Jack nor Jill are given a real choice in this chapter, not yet. Their new nicknames were given to them. They get to choose their food, but don’t get to see what it is until after the choice is made. Instead, it is the Master and Dr. Bleak who talk about choosing.

What they can choose is what they pay attention to, and how they interpret what they see. Over and over again, we are given the differences in the way Jack and Jill process the situation and react to it. Jack watches the windows; Jill watches the Master. Jack pulls away; Jill follows close. Jack trusts Mary; Jill does not.

So what we have here is Jack and Jill in the in-between. They don’t get to choose through actions, but they do get to choose what they think and how they see things. There is choice in perception. What we choose to see shows who we are, and what Jack and Jill choose to see shows how different they are from each other.

With these differences we get more hints that we should sympathise with Jack over Jill. Jack is the one who takes in more, and who has opinions the reader is more likely to agree with. She’s the one who picks up on things like the three day limit the Master puts on their safety. Jill, on the other hand, trusts the obvious vampire and is more interested in the food than what’s going on around her.

Now let’s look at the adults in the situation. Both the Master and Dr. Bleak seem to have chosen the roles they are in, or at the very least, they don’t chafe at them the way Jack and Jill have been chafing at theirs. They are set up in opposition to one another, the same way Jack and Jill have been set up in opposition with one another. They are also set up to be foils for the twins, or who the twins could be. The Master is first described to us as handsome as a movie star, someone who could be sculpted—someone designed for beauty, as Serena wants Jack to be. Dr. Bleak, however, is described as being practically dressed, as well as ‘sturdy and strong and aching to burn’—strong and ready to act, something Chester desires for Jill. In their own way, they represent the paths their parents wanted, but because of that, they also represent what the other twin desires. Jill yearns to be the beautiful one, the one loved (or looked up to, at least) by others; that’s why she trusts the Master. Jack gravitates towards Dr. Bleak because he represents the freedom she does not have. The dichotomy of the men represents the dichotomy of the twins.

Of course, in this dichotomy Dr Bleak is presented as the better choice, the more trustworthy one. However, they do not leave out the key detail that his head had been cut off at one point. Even Dr Bleak is not free from scars. The narrative and description will not let us forget that this world is a literal horror film. This is not a place for sisterly togetherness. This is not a place to heal the wounds already inflicted on the children. This may be a place where they can be themselves, but it is not a place where they can be safe.

There Is An Eldritch Being At The Bottom Of My Mushroom Bucket

No, really. I’m sure of it.

For some background: I grow mushrooms. Mushrooms are a lot more like people than they are like other plants, as they breathe oxygen and consume stuff like coffee (well, used coffee grounds) and oat bran. They are low-effort to raise, as you can keep them in a sealed bucket and they will eventually poke out mushrooms. However, you do need to top up the coffee, oats and water after every harvest.

Request from a God

We have been here a long time. We don’t remember the beginning, but we were there, in the mix of swirling gases and rock and light. That was us, the light. The energy. The creation.

That is how you should think of us. Think of us like the sun. That ball of heat and light and *power*. That power has to go somewhere, and we put it into shaping the world before us. It started as just another hunk of rock, but we moulded it and added our own touches. Water. Stone. Plants. Animals.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 4: To Market, To Market, To Buy a Fat Hen

This chapter is the first of Part 2: Jill and Jack into the Black, and fittingly, it deals with the crossing of borders. This chapter marks the short space of time where the girls are free—free from their parents’ expectations, and free from the rules that govern the new world they are in.

They also make their first real choice. That’s not quite true, of course. They chose to go through the door. But that was framed as inevitable, the conclusion of the way they were brought up, with no other way out left to them. Here, they have a choice of where to go, and either by instinct or chance, they choose the Moors.

Dream Fragments

I dreamt a floating city froze in time,
I dreamt its brilliance, glory and its shine.
Its glowing stones, its flashing hues so fine,
Yet the city turned to ashes in the light

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 3: They Grow Up So Fast

In Chapter 3, we begin the adventure and enter the Moors.

By the time the girls turned twelve, it was easy for the people met them to form swift, incorrect ideas of who they were as people.

We begin the chapter as we ended the last, by examining the various ways Jacqueline and Jillian are unhappy in the roles that were set for them. We see all over how they act as they ‘should’, not as they wish. Jacqueline reads books she doesn’t enjoy and wrinkles her nose at spiders, even though she actually quite likes them.

Theft of the Tome

The thief entered the bookshop carefully. The place was supposed to be heavily defended, as it stored some of the treasures of the kingdom. But there were no guards. The books simply stood upon the shelves, some of them leaning against each other.

The most precious tomes, the ones of magic, stood on the back shelf. The thief sneered. They weren’t locked up. They weren’t even behind glass. What fools.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 2: Practically Perfect in Virtually No Ways

In Chapter 2, the Wolcotts outsource their parenting and find moulds to fit their children.

By the standards of anyone save for her ruthlessly regimented son, Louise was a disciplined, orderly woman. She liked the world to make sense and follow the rules. By the standards of her son, she was a hopeless dreamer. She thought the world was capable of kindness; she thought people were essentially good and only waiting for an opportunity to show it.

Louise, Chester’s mother, makes both her entrance and her exit in this chapter. She is here to offer another perspective, both for us and for the twins. She provides a way for us to contrast what is happening to what could be. We can see this from her first introduction that the way Chester sees her (soppy and impractical) doesn’t match the way the rest of the world sees her (disciplined and orderly). The contrast is also shown in the stories Chester and Serena tell others about Louise. It is interesting that Serena is aware that she’s not telling the truth. This isn’t just a competing narrative that holds sway because the Wolcotts are in a position of power. This is a narrative they are forcing on the world so they can look better.

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