Crack Your Bones
By Tabatha Wood
“Miss Henderson? Sephie will see you now.”
The waiting room is uncomfortably warm and the backs of my legs are slick with sweat. My skin makes a rude noise as I rise and peel myself away from the cheap plastic chair.
“Mrs., actually,” I correct the receptionist.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Henderson,” she continues, emphasising the honorific. “Down the hall, first door on your right.”
I reach to the floor to pick up my handbag and wince as a pain shoots down my back and shoulder. I set my jaw and try not to cry out.
“Are you all right, Mrs. Henderson?” The receptionist peers over the top of her desk, part obscured by a pot-bound aspidistra.
“I’m fine, thanks. Sorry.” I grab my bag and straighten my back. I flash her a grin as broad as I can, aware that it probably looks more like a grimace, and wonder why I felt the need to apologise. I shuffle down the corridor, moving like a woman twenty years older than I am. A dark-haired girl, slim and pretty, who looks barely out of her late teens, is waiting by an open door.
“Becky?” She asks me with a bright smile. I nod and wince again. “Hi, I’m Sephie. Come on in.” She guides me into a windowless office. It is furnished with a computer desk pushed close to the wall, with a therapeutic table in the middle. A plastic chair is pushed next to the desk, and a yoga ball sits in front of it. Sephie motions to the chair.
“Sit down, Becky. Let’s get you sorted out.” She lowers herself in a deep squat onto the yoga ball and balances, posture perfect, as she taps on the keyboard. I do as she asks with a groan. Sephie consults some notes on the screen before she turns to me and gives a sympathetic nod. “So, you’ve been in the wars a bit, Becky?” I catch myself before I nod again, and instead reply with a simple, “Yes.”
“My notes say you were in a car crash, is that right?”
“Sort of. I was rear-ended while waiting at some traffic lights. A courier van hit me and pushed me across the junction. Then another car hit me from the side.”
Sephie pulls a face. “Ouch, Becky. That must have hurt a lot?”
More than you know, I think. What a silly question. The accident was months ago, I’d only recently been able to walk again. Seeing Sephie was part of my rehabilitation; physiotherapy to hopefully take away the pain. My doctor had flat out refused to give me any more opiates, he’d said I was running a risk of becoming addicted. Different painkillers didn’t work or upset my stomach. My other herbal option worked quite well but was sadly not legal. Warm baths helped. As did a TENS unit, but my mobility was limited and my ability to work was severely affected.
A friend of a friend had suggested seeing Sephie. He said his life had changed completely since his first appointment, that she had “miracle hands”. Denzil was a roofer who had fallen from a two-story building and shattered his hip. After multiple operations, finally cumulating in a fitted prosthetic implant, he was still left in constant pain. Sephie had helped him walk properly again, and without any pain at all. I had been skeptical, but also, I was running out of useful things to try.
“So, Becky, what I’m going to ask you to do is hop up on the table here and lie on your stomach, and I’m going to have a little feel of your shoulders and back. Is that okay?” I tell her that it is and rise awkwardly to my feet. I hobble to the table and Sephie asks me to pause a moment while she lowers it closer to the floor.
“I don’t want you hurting yourself, Becky,” she says. “Just sit down carefully and I’ll help you slide onto your side.” I do as she asks, and she holds my shoulders carefully but firmly as she guides me down onto the table. “Okay, now I’m going to lift your legs up to join you and then you should be able to roll onto your tummy. How does that sound?” Fucking impossible for me, I think. Although for slim, toned, athletic Sephie, I bet it’s a piece of cake. Not that she would ever eat cake. She lifts my legs gently and eases all of me onto the table. I chastise myself for being so mean.
I lower my face into the round hole made for such purpose in the table. My cheeks bulge out and my chin is smushed. I feel ridiculous. From beneath I must resemble an oversized pug dog.
“Okay, Becky, just relax.” Quite easy for her to say. Extremely difficult for me to do. I feel myself tense involuntarily as her hands touch the middle of my back. “I’m just going to have a bit of a feel around. Let me know if it hurts too much, okay?” I try to reply, but what comes out is a wordless mumble, my lips are too constricted to speak.
She moves her fingers up and down my spine, counting each vertebra as she goes. She sweeps her palms across my shoulder blades and presses down firmly on the wide bones. I groan. She pushes harder. Is this right? I wonder. It doesn’t really hurt, but I feel pressured. It feels like she is leaning her whole weight on me. My chest is tight, it’s hard to breathe, I need to move, to push her off me, but I am pinned. She holds me there for what seems like minutes, until finally she releases me, and I inhale with a frightened gasp. I try to rise, to turn my head to see her, but she pushes me back down again and rests a hand on the back of my neck.
“Stay still, Becky. Relax.” I feel her fingers on my spine once more, kneading at the bones. She pinches and pokes each one in turn. Her hands feel strange, like she has too many digits. She flexes the one at the back of my neck, and her fingers curl around my throat. How is that possible? Her fingers would be massive. Nobody’s hands can be that big. She squeezes and I freeze in fear. This isn’t right. This can’t be right. It’s like she’s trying to strangle me.
“Becky, this is going to feel a little strange, okay? Just breathe deeply and try not to move.” She’s talking stupid, yet again, as she knows damn well I can’t move. The hand on my back drifts to my tailbone then moves back upwards to rest in the hollow of my lumbar curve. Ten years ago, I had an epidural in that spot, an anaesthetic designed to help me through an assisted birth. The event was traumatic, but I don’t remember much after the pinch of the needle and the cold liquid entered the epidural space around my spinal cord. That place on my back, though, is often sensitive. If I think too hard about it, I can almost imagine that the needle is still there.
She lifts the hem of my blouse and moves the band of my skirt and presses a single finger on my skin. It hurts. A lot. I flinch and groan and the hand around my neck squeezes tighter.
“No, Becky. Stay still.” She presses harder, harder, and my skin feels red hot. Like a sharp, metal poker is spearing into me from above. I can’t bear it, it’s excruciating, I want to scream and run away. But her grip has rendered me immobile and the pain is so bad I can’t think. The pressure builds so high my muscles throb with tension, and I feel my skin split as she tears a wound in my back. Next comes an electric jolt of agony as she pushes her hand deep inside. My brain cannot comprehend the horror. My skin bathes in a layer of sweat, but my body feels deathly cold. I am dimly aware that I am experiencing shock.
“Becky, I’m going to move things around a bit. It won’t take a moment, okay?”
And she’s there, inside my body, adjusting my bones, twisting my muscles and manoeuvring my internal organs. It hurts so badly, and yet, somehow it doesn’t. Each spark of pain precedes a feeling of relief, of letting go. Like dislodging a piece of stubborn meat that was stuck between your teeth or teasing a splinter from your foot.
Whatever is moving inside me cannot be a human hand. There are way too many fingers, prodding and probing and easing things loose. It is like a hundred eager, teasing tendrils. A squid-like parasite invading all of my personal space. Busy tentacles adhere themselves to my insides with powerful suckers. Things shift and slide, they bulge and pop. I feel squirming in my rib cage, I feel her moving in my groin. She fills me completely from my throat to my toes. She takes and gives and takes some more. I am smothered in bliss. I am euphoric.
I feel a hand on my shoulder, shaking me gently. “Becky? Wake up Becky, we’re done.” I groan and lift my head out of the hole.
“I think you dozed off a little there. That’s okay, that happens sometimes.” She flashes her perfect, pearl-toothed grin. “So, you might feel a little sore for the rest of today, I’ve realigned your spine and pelvis, and administered a deep tissue massage, but you should start noticing a lot less pain in the next few days. I’ll see you again next week, okay?”
I rise slowly, noticing immediately that my body feels more agile. Pain-free. I put a hand to my back, the skin feels normal. Smooth and undamaged, not even slightly sensitive to the touch.
“Oh,” I begin, unsure what to say. “Thank you?”
“That’s quite alright, Becky. Thank you.” She hands me my handbag and opens the door. “If you go and see Emma at the front desk, she can make you another appointment and sort out your account. See you next time, Becky.” I leave her office feeling dazed, I turn, and she gives me a small wave. Her hand blurs.
Too many fingers, I think, and a wave of unexpected panic washes over me. Then she’s gone, and the receptionist is calling for me. The weird feeling subsides. I smile to myself, and swing my handbag over my shoulder with ease.
I glide smoothly down the corridor, moving like a woman twenty years younger than I am.
Tabatha Wood lives in Wellington, New Zealand. A former English teacher and school library manager, her first published books are non-fiction guides aimed at teachers and others who work in education. She now teaches from home, while writing in her spare time.
Born in Whitby, North Yorkshire, Tabatha has always had a passion for weaving strange, unusual, and often gothic tales, entwined with her deep love for the land and sea. She strongly encourages the use of writing and creativity for positive mental health, and runs a group which supports women who write for wellness. She also hosts writing workshops, often gets involved in cosplay charity events, and enjoys knitting and making jewellery.
Her short story collection, ‘Dark Winds Over Wellington: Chilling Tales of the Weird & the Strange’ was a passion project, and is the first time she has published her fiction.