Thursday, September 10, 2009
Another Excerpt from "Thirteen Bones"
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Baiteke yelped, but didn’t move. He was lying on his back under a small ren tree. Keaki didn’t move either, but curiosity finally impelled him to speak.
“What’s the problem, Brains-in-your-butt?”
“I’m lying on something that hurts my back.”
“I’m too tired.”
It was the middle of the second day of work in the former kanawa grove. They had helped the men heave on the cable dragging the first two logs – for the canoe and the flagpole – down the slipway; they had not exactly gone “whoosh.” The men had tied them together in a sort of raft, and then Temou and Abera had begun the long, laborious paddle up to the village, hauling the rafted logs behind. Kirata and Takena were resting and smoking on the lagoon shore, and had sent the boys back to the grove to finish trimming the remaining logs. This seemed grossly unfair to them both, and after half an hour of work they had grown weary and collapsed on heaps of leaves and branches. The sun blazed down on the new clearing, which seemed to shimmer in the heat.
Keaki lifted his hands in mock prayer to the sky. “Please, God, save my friend Baiteke from his torment. Cause him to roll over before his back breaks in two.”
“You torment me,” Baiteke grumbled, rolling onto his side. “What is this thing?”
“This thing I was lying on – well, crab shit, it’s a box!”
“You’ve been lying on a box all this time and....”
“It was under all these leaves and twigs; I thought they’d be nice to lie on.”
“Let me see.” Keaki rolled over, folded into a crouch to see what Baiteke was pulling out of the deadfall.
It was certainly a box, made of wood, with a hinged top. Rather a nice box, something over a foot on each side, half a foot deep.
“Pretty box,” Keaki said admiringly. “What’s in it?”
“I don’t know. How am I supposed to know?”
“Try opening it.”
“Yeah, all right.” Baiteke didn’t move. “Do you think it is all right?”
Well, Keaki thought, that was a good question. Not far from where they’d found the skull, and here was a box. What might be in it? More to the point, what might come out of it?
“Maybe not. Maybe you should.....”
“Oh, well, what can it hurt? Here’s a catch....”
Baiteke threw back the lid, wrinkled up his forehead. “Bunch of paper.”
“Yeah, but all brittle; look, it falls apart when I touch it.”
Keaki stood up and looked over Baiteke’s shoulder. The box, he saw, had a lot of pieces of paper in it, with handwriting on them, but they were crumbling away right before his eyes. Some of the writing was gray, like pencil lead, some of it was red and smudgy.
“I wonder what the words say. Can you…..?”
“I don’t know, but nobody can read them if they can’t even pick them up. Look...” He held up a piece of the paper, crumbled it in his fingers.
“I wonder if there’s anything else.” Baiteke held the box upside down and the fragments of paper fell out, blew away in the wind.
There was nothing else inside.