SUNDAY, MAY 18, 1:17 P.M.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, COLORADO
A black-winged bird swooped past Kit's left shoulder, and he shied away from it, crouching down low, half losing his balance. The heavy bundle he carried fell from his arms, landing on the leaf-strewn path with a soft thud. This seemed to him another ill omen, and he quickly and silently apologized to the canvas-wrapped form. He cowered there for a moment, cringing as the raven circled back -- but the bird flew higher this time and soon was gone from sight. He waited in vain for his fear to follow it.
What did it mean, a raven coming so close to him?
Make sense, he warned himself. Don't think crazy thoughts about birds.
But fear proved tenacious, and his mind caromed through a maze of remembered terrors. He began shaking.
He made a determined effort to steer his thoughts toward the logical. The raven was a bird, not a supernatural creature. The raven had been attracted to the burden Kit carried into the woods.
You are not a boy, he told himself. You are a twenty-six-year-old man. Don't act like a child.
He told himself it was the chill of the autumn air that made him feel cold -- not his dread, not his superstition. Not that he had dreamed the digging dream just last night.
A beetle moved over the canvas, and he brushed it away, then gently lifted the bundle again. "I'm sorry," he said once more and continued into the woods.
When he was first deciding on a place for the burial, Kit had thought of one with a view. But no one knew better than he did that killers often buried their victims in such places, and so he had searched for a location only he could find again, where the markers would not be so obvious to anyone else.
When he came to the chosen site, he carefully set the bundle aside and steeled himself for the next chore.
The ground was not as hard here as in other places in the woods, but he found this task so difficult to begin, he nearly decided to choose some other way. A glance at the canvas bundle brought back his resolve -- the other choices were not fitting.
Inside his leather gloves, his hands were slick with perspiration. He took hold of the small spade. The grating ring of its first stab into the earth made him dizzy, but again he took himself to task. He looked at the hard muscles of his arms, his large hands, his booted feet. He fitted his strength into a harness of remembered movement -- thrust and step and lift and swing, thrust and step and lift and swing -- settling into a rhythm divorced from thought, a familiar cadence that lulled him into the mindless completion of his work.
Still, he was weeping by the time he settled the small body into its resting place, and wept as he covered it. He placed a layer of stones within the grave when it was half-filled, to discourage scavengers. This he covered with soil. When he finished, he gathered leaves and spread them over the surface, so that it blended in with its surroundings. He stood back and looked at the grave from several different angles. When he felt confident that it was unlikely to be found, even by someone who was looking for it, he packed the spade away.
He had a kind of expertise in burial.
As he reached the ridge, he saw smoke coming from the cabin's chimney. He began running.
Spooky had found the matches.
Copyright © 2002 by Jan Burke