Some Quiet Rest

By Robert Starr

The wind was circling the trailer, shaking the sides like a spoiled child trying to guess at the gift in a wrapped box and bashing itself maniacally against the only window. Tall skinny trees swayed outside like gaunt fingers clawing free from the earth and then.. a spot of muggy silence before the rain came, and the sky reached down with its own bony digits of white lightening.

And the wind always conducted.

It sounded like it came from everywhere at once: the valleys in the west and the icecaps in the north, down from the sky and up from the ground and, most of all, from just outside the window where the earth curved away into the night.

And that's how the dream always came to John Kuijak: buffeted by the screaming wind sliding through the cracks in the trailer walls to deliver his nightmare while he slept.

He was sitting in a clearing and the tops of the trees were like black fossils against the night sky. It was perfectly silent. Something moved from between the trees across from him, a shadowy figure caught the moonlight in its hair as it walked.

When it stooped down and started a fire, he could see her beige face looking at him in the light and he stood on legs that seemed monstrously large and unsure and walked toward her. The wind came slowly, leisurely, through the trees, like an invisible fog rolling into a harbour.

She was kneeling, resting on the flats of her hands and staring at the fire; he stood over her and looked at her hair that was the colour of rich oil, the dress cut so he could see the tiny bumps down her spine, and the way her thighs flowered out on the ground. He knelt beside her and she sat down and wriggled free from her dress; he noticed with resigned alarm the familiar patch of beige fabric with black lines forming a crisscrossing border was still missing, and she reached forward to help him with his shirt.

He never saw what was in her hand until the knife was in him. Its frigid steel knocked his breath out and glanced off a bone in his leg as she pried it sideways. His hands, the grass, and his pants were wet and sticky and exhaustion with the sudden blood loss emptied him like a child's toy punching clown losing air.

Kuijak toppled over in the grass and looked up at the stars, recognizing them suddenly as the same ones he'd seen as a boy. They were calling him to a million unseen adventures and it would soon be time to go inside for his bath, but he knew if he was quiet and still he could steal a few more moments out here in his parent's backyard and...

She grabbed his legs with cold hands and pulled toward the fire. He screamed but was horrified when he realized he couldn't make a sound, that he was struggling and yelling but pinned down with the invisible weight of panic on his chest. He looked up as his back jerked over the sticky grass and saw something new to the left of the crackling and hissing fire.a shiny black body bag.

John Kuijak woke up in his trailer with orange sunlight grating through the blinds and someone banging at the aluminium door. There had been an accident and he'd better come quick, the worker said. His face the colour of the chalk they used to mark their finds and the man kneaded his hands together and looked at the camper floor when he talked. Kuijak ran down the road behind his trailer, through the clearing, and up the hill to the side of the dig.

The excavation site was the length of a football field and two stories deep. Wooden platforms had been hung like balconies under the rim to hold the archeologists in Kuijak's charge and their assistants while they worked; one of the balconies had given way and a summer intern had fallen into the pit below. Two workers like the one who had come to Kuijak's trailer were pulling ropes attached to a stretcher up toward the side of the rim when he approached.

The boy was dead, one said to him, looking away quickly as though these `boys' had no business here and Kuijak was to blame. When they finally pulled the metal stretcher up and over the side and it clumped down in the dirt, he reeled at what he saw:

The workers had zipped the body into one of the water proof black bags used to ship their finds.

He saw alone in his trailer later that night, thinking about this boy, this pride of some Italian family named Antenucci. Now, with the darkness sealing him into his trailer and cutting him off from everyone else except young Antenucci, Kuijak realized with a sinking feeling the boy was probably full of the same idealistic nonsense he suffered from in school. Hoping to be the next Anson Carter, he thought sadly.

Kuijak got up from his desk where he'd been trying to write the boy's family and opened the trailer door to look outside. He stood looking into the night, directly to the spot where the rim of the excavation started. He was pondering his life's work, about digging through the earth with precise tools looking for something she might be willing to let go of: a chip of masonry from an old pot, a tiny bone fragment.

A piece of beige fabric from a quiet rest better left undisturbed, he thought with a shudder.

He shut the trailer door and sat at his desk, but, before he started to write the Antenucci's about their son, he opened the middle drawer and looked to see if it was still there. He picked it up and ran his thumb over the black criss-crossing border; amazed how the beige fabric hadn't aged at all in the ten years he'd had it. Kuijak put the fabric back in the drawer and started to type:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Antenucci:

Antenucci, he thought. Father: Baker. Mother: lives for the family, for her dead son. Kuijak readied his hands, holding his crooked fingers over the keys and staring at the wall behind his desk. The pride of the Antenucci's is lying in front of this trailer with a dent in his head like a dropped piece of fruit on the grocery store floor, he thought.

`It is with great regret." He stopped typing. `It is my sad duty to inform you." He stopped again, realizing he couldn't write a letter like that; it would probably end with: ` he was a good boy and we all loved him. Take heart, he didn't die in vain.'

He got up and walked to the trailer window, looking for the spot where the earth fell away into the site. He stood there for a long while. Then, he sat back down and wrote:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Antenucci:

Your son has been killed in a terrible accident: he fell of a platform into

a pit. The doctors say he didn't suffer at all. All day we wrestle with the earth

so she might pry her fingers open and we can look into our past. It was good work for your son.

Satisfied, he put the letter into an envelope and sealed it. It sat on his cot and he looked at it for some time before he decided he wanted it out of his trailer. He went and opened the door, sitting down on the wooden steps, listening to the leaves blowing in the wind and whispering in imagined conspiratorial tones: "It's him.It's the one who really killed the boy."

Kuijak glanced quickly at the bag the workers had dumped accusingly at the foot of the steps: it was black and slippery looking with the light from inside shining off it. Of course, there was really nowhere else to put it until it could be picked up in the morning - this was the logicalspot, but Kuijak felt there was something more. He felt it was only fitting.

He looked at the indentation in the tightly stretched material where young Antenuci had crushed his head and wondered, after all the quiet rests he had ordered disturbed, why a body bag hadn't shown up at his door before this.

He'd been so young when all this had started, so drunk with the first job right out of school and so deceived at hoe easily he had seemed to win at the game of life; he'd been so naïve with vainglory about the prospect of rewriting history, he willingly ordered the dirty orange backhoe to gasp its diesel black-smoke-breath and dig up the first quiet resting place. Everything had been sanctioned legally; the graveyard was so old, none of its residents could possible have living immediate family and a precautionary check found no living bloodlines at all.

So, it was decided b the governments historical branch the residents of the century old graveyard would break their silence and yield up, once again, to the air and the sun and the wind of the living, all in the hopes those who still drew breath might better understand themselves.

Now, with the mosquitoes flying in crazy little circles around the light from inside, Kuijak sat down on the steps of the trailer and looked to the point where the earth curved away into the night. But he saw a long ago early morning summer sun promising heat coming in the still air, and he heard the roar of the backhoe engine gearing up just before the shovel overshot its mark and flipped the first coffin up and over a grey worn tombstone.

He slapped at a mosquito on the side of his face and remembered the snapping of splintering wood and the crack of brittle bones; he saw the halved skeleton grinning and hanging from the teeth of the shovel again, its gold pocket watch dangling from a grey, clay stained coat. He'd been sure he heard a collective moan from under his feet next, so sure he'd turned to his colleagues with a shocked glance looking for confirmation.

If anyone else had heard what Kuijak did, they didn't let on.

Standing out in that first graveyard, a peculiar thing happened next: a horse fly bit his neck. There, in the place undisturbed by people and their beasts for one hundred years, he felt the sharp sting of its attack on his flesh. He'd looked up at the sunlight coming through the maples in slivers and suddenly felt the queer weight of a plough behind a musky oxen. The animal was proud and determined to be taming this new frontier despite the insects biting at its back.

Kuijak had looked at the graves then, and realizing all their pride and determination, he was overcome with shame these quiet rests had been disturbed. The next day he had his trailer moved outside the perimeter fence and placed on the concession road.

But it was only after he took the fabric she came to him in his dreams.

It was during the construction of a new bank on Inuit ground he found it in the bucket of one of the idle backhoes; he'd found himself strangely frightened and embarrassed by it and quickly shoved the cloth into his pocket where no one could see it. It went back to the trailer where he hid it in his desk; vaguely alarmed the crisscrossing black border might somehow have a message of his complicity woven into it.

He told no one about the dreams of the young girl and he'd certainly said nothing of how she'd grown more violent with each job he's been on. No one heard how he'd learned to ignore her visits and the strange empathy at the first gravesite.

But now, and he looked down at the black bag winking at him in the light, now he wasn't so sure he was doing the right thing, ignoring these dreams.

That night he went to bed with a new determination and a plan: he shut the lights out but left the door open just enough to see the moonlight high lightning the black bag. The wind had picked up: he heard leaves crinkle past the stoop like wrapping paper being blown by and he lay down staring at the blackness above his head. He thought about the girl and tried to relax; he wanted to welcome the dream this time and he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, waiting for sleep.

Kuijak was outside and felt a sudden pressure tugging on his arm from behind; he spun around and saw the trailer, soft and white in the moonlight, and he walked toward it. He stopped at the stoop and looked down to his right mechanically, as though his head was being moved on strings for him, and he saw the canvas bag was gone.. a hollow indentation left in its place.

He heard a scratching as the bag was dragged over the gravel behind him, dropped, then pulled some more. He turned around and followed the grooved trial to the lip of the excavation site where it disappeared. Kuijak walked to the edge of the crater wondering why he could hear his own anxious breathing so clearly in his dream, and he stood and composed himself for a second before he looked down over the edge into the dark bowl.

Her fire was burning at the bottom of the pit; he could see the flames curling around the bag in the middle with white smoke billowing from the top. He stood watching, feeling the spectacle was for his eyes and he too was being watched.

She was suddenly standing behind him and he turned wondering how she'd gotten close enough for him to see her black eyes by the moonlight. She stabbed him in the stomach with the knife; he felt the rusty, warm- tasting blood seep into his mouth and the air hammered from his lungs before he could express regret for his life's work. When he started to gasp and struggle for breath, he woke up.

He was covered in sweat and the sensation of the knife: hollow, cold, and sharp, hadn't left. He rolled toward the door and watched a fly buzz and land at the head of the bag. It skipped with several spasmodic jerks over what he imagined was the Antenucci boy's nose and flew away.

That's when he realized what had to be done.

Kuijak raised himself up on his elbows; the sun cutting through his window had never been so bright, and he hoped the dead, musty cold in his stomach would soon be gone. He dressed, took something from his desk drawer, and put it in his pocket.

He pulled up on one of the boards on the stoop, used it to pry open the door to his trailer, and then grabbed the black bag, already hot in the morning sun, and dragged it inside. The rest of the paper he'd used to write the condolence letter was crumpled into pieces and carefully placed around the inside of the trailer and under the sides of the bag. With that done, Kuijak took some matches from the desk and began to light the pieces. After the fire caught, he went down the road for the last time.

She was all around and excited at the clearing. Of course, he was awake and couldn't see her physically, but he knew she was rushing him from behind, only to run and hide when he spun around. In fact, Kuijak could tell they were all around and his vision shook with a vibrating shudder like a heat wave from a fire. Then he felt everything through their long dead eyes.

He heard the cries of a young mother stuck alone in a sweltering log house with her child dead from influenza, knowing all her promise and hope had washed away in the round unblinking eyes. He could feel the weight of the guilt in the Victorian soul for the hatred the young bride felt for the husband ploughing the field, and he could fell uncertainty creeping like a dark animal as the overwhelming forest crowded the young man.

Kuijak came to the edge of the clearing and, looking across, he knew what she felt, and he sensed the despair of a people whose world ends shortly after the boats arrive.

He walked around, moving parallel with the excavation site and coming around to the point furthest away from the trailer. They were all standing at the ridge at the top of the site, silhouetted from behind by the sunlight. When he reached the back of the rise and started slowly for the top, the shadows broke apart like black glass and the pieces were whisked away by the wind.

At the top, he looked into the pit.

All his employees were working in platforms, chiselling away like diligent ants; oblivious to the Pandora's box they were opening. Kuijak looked straight down the steep side he was standing on, ashamed and feeling he should yell at the men to stop, to treat it all with more respect, more ceremony, but the wind broke his thought and tugged playfully at his pant leg.

He looked up at the wind's beckoning, noticing the smoke billowing from the trailer on the other side; he saw the worker who'd come to the trailer to tell him of the boy's death dragging the smouldering bag away from the inferno toward the edge of the site. Kuijak leaned forward, squinting to get a better look.

The wind came around from behind and slapped him with dust and hot air in the chest and mouth. All right..All right, he thought straightening up. He took a deep breath, reached into his pocket, and threw the piece of fabric down into the excavation site; he stood watching the crisscrossing black border disappear, wondering if she might finally might be able to forgive him.

Then he turned and started down the hill and away from the site, hoping his small offering might grant him some quiet rest of his own.

The End

Copyright © 2002 by Robert Starr

Bio:Robert Starr obtained a degree in journalism in Toronto in the 1980's.After a brief stint in the field, he left to work in non related fields but continues his writing at night. He currently has a novel nearing completion and is searching for a publisher for a collection of his short stories.

His previous contributions to Aphelion include Little Ed which appeared in April and Indian Rubber Balls in the June issue.



Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story.

Return to the Aphelion main page.