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The Five Endings of ‘Bones of Saint Dyfrig, How Shall I Die?’

As you can imagine, I’ll be spoiling the ending of my short story ‘Bones of Saint Dyfrig, How Shall I Die?’. If you’d like to read the story before this blog post, head over to Gwyllion Magazine to buy a copy.


On the surface, a folktale seems simple to write. They have a certain structure, a certain style. Characters are archetypes, often without their own names. Instead, the focus is on the almost ritualistic nature of the events unfolding.


When I wrote ‘Bones of Saint Dyfrig, How Shall I Die?’ however, I realised how difficult writing a new folktale can be. What frustrated me the most was coming up with a satisfying ending.


So much so it took me five tries.


First Ending – But Would He Really, Though?

(I changed the saint’s name from William to Dyfrig to foreshadow the ending. Also, it turns out Saint Dyfrig is an actual Welsh saint!)


I wrote the first draft of ‘Bones of Saint Dyfrig’ after telling the story to myself in the shower. At the time it seemed like a tale fully formed. Indeed, the first half hasn’t changed much since the first time I rushed it down onto paper.


The withered hand of a long-dead saint points at the answers to questions asked of it. A king decides to ask how he will die. The hand points at his son, playing by the castle’s well. Fearful of losing his crown, the king pushes his son down said well. After a year of guilt, the king decides to ask the Bones his question again. To his horror, the hand points outside – towards the very well he pushed his son into.


Here’s a transcription of the first ending:


The king rushed outside, across the courtyard, towards the well. The moon’s reflection glowed inside it.

He turned around, gripping the well’s edge. How was this meant to kill him? There was no one around to push him in. He didn’t understand.

Until a wet, cold, small hand grabbed his own.


Ignore the terrible writing for a moment. Ignore how it doesn’t fit the folkloric tone. Ignore the lack of tension or build-up to the king’s just demise. Why would someone willingly rush out to the place where they’re meant to die? Even in the dream-like logic of the folktale it didn’t make much sense. Ending scrapped.


Second Ending – Zooming By

In the second draft, the danger is brought to the king instead of him foolishly rushing to meet it:


Small, puddled footprints led from the well towards the keep. The Lord [I was debating between ‘lord’ and ‘king’ at the time] heard them splashing up the stairs towards the chapel. He ran towards the altar as the door creaked open.

The last thing the lord ever heard was a small, cold, damp voice ask;

“Bones of Saint Dyfrig, who pushed me down the well?”


This ending solved my previous problem but created a few more. Not only was the ending rushed, reducing the tension and therefore the scares, but the ‘small…footprints’ made the twist too obvious. It also didn't make much sense for the 'prince' to ask who killed him; the answer was standing right in front of him.


Time to try again.


Third Ending – Getting Closer...

Although I wasn’t happy with the second version, it did give me an idea to ramp up the tension; having the King attempt to hide from his fate:


Pairs of glimmering puddles led away from the well out of sight. The King asked again, “Bones of Saint Dyfrig, how shall I die?”

It turned its finger towards the chapel doors.

The king ran to hide behind the altar, beneath the Bones of Saint Dyfrig. Despite the cold of the night, sweat drowned his brow.

The chapel door shrieked open. Each step inside was marked by a thousand drips. The King held his breath. The altar was wide and grand, fitting for a relic. He couldn’t be found.

He listened to the drips as they scattered closer up the aisle. After too long, they stopped on the other side of the altar.

Even the King’s heart slowed, lest it be heard. Just a moment more, he told it, then himself. A moment more and the creature will go.

A moment passed. Then another.

“Bones of Saint Dyfrig,” a small, cold, damp voice said. “Who pushed me down the well?”


I got to read this version out at a Halloween event and was strongly encouraged by the trauma I inflicted. Yet I still wasn’t satisfied. Why?


For one thing, it isn't clear what the King is supposed to be hiding from. Yes, there are footprint-like puddles leading from the well, but this didn't seem threatening enough for a grown man to cower behind an altar from.


Another thing; the altar. Although I made sure to stress it was 'wide and grand', the imagery of the King hiding behind it seemed too ridiculous to be believable.


Some of the description is awkward too; 'drips' scattering closer doesn't sound all that intimidating.


Long story short; the ending could be scarier.


But I was getting closer...


Fourth Ending – Woe, Death Upon Ye!


The King’s heart seized with ice. A dark figure stood beside the well, face upturned but unseeable. With long, slow steps, it lurched out of sight.

Death had come for him! In a wild panic, the King ran and hid himself inside a large chest. When he pressed his eye to the keyhole, all he could see were the Bones of Saint Dyfrig.

The chapel doors shrieked open. A sound like rain followed slow, plodding footsteps deeper into the church. Despite the cold of the night, the King’s brow drowned with sweat.

Death’s footsteps stopped and so did the King’s heart. No one would look for a king in a chest. Not even Death could be so absurd.

“Bones of Saint Dyfrig,” a small, cold, damp voice said. “Who pushed me down the well?”

The hand began to move.


The King now has a convenient chest to hide inside. What I liked about the chest was the imagery of the king pressing his eye to the keyhole, without being able to see what has stalked into the chapel after him. It’s also more claustrophobic than hiding behind an altar. If you’ve ever tried hiding in your toy chest as a child, you’ll get the idea.


Instead of footprints, the King believes he sees Death itself, though the reality is far worse. As a potential killer in the flesh, this entity was more threatening than the footprints of before. Any King would want to hide from an assassin.


I was also much happier with my description of the figure entering the church. It's more detailed, more visceral, using only sound to put the reader in the King's head.


In hindsight I could have used this ending. I think what put me off at the time was the description of the figure not matching what actually came out of the well. Hell, there's not much foreshadowing that the figure even came from the well. I wanted everything to feel connected, each element clicking together to lead towards an ending that felt inevitable but shocking.


These are all nitpicks, however. Which meant the perfect ending was just around the corner.


Final Ending – Thinking Further

The moment when your story comes together is never as dramatic as you think it will be.


There’s no swelling orchestra at your back as you run through the streets, towards home and your stationary on the one day you forgot to take notebook and pen out with you. It’s often a casual thought that pops up while you’re doing or thinking about something completely different.


Remember what I said about wanting everything to click together? To achieve that effect, I realised I needed to think further back in the story, even before the scene I’d dissected so many times, in order to build a satisfying ending.


If you want to read that ending for yourself and see if you think it works, you can find it in Issue 7 of Gwyllion Magazine. Shameless self-promotion, I know. But after the five tries it took me to get there, I feel I’ve earnt the right.


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