“In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt…” – Isaiah 7:18
There were the flies…so many flies. They, making their annual appearance as black buzzing heralds of the oncoming northern fall. They, small specks of insistence as if some great, enormous beast had been sacrificed in the wilds of Manitoba to prepare for Samhain and, within the slow rotting of its corpse, was birthed the unholy mass to spread a vulture’s circling message that winter’s death was coming and the golden glow of fall was but the glow of a star about to burnout and become cold.
It was the great irony of the waning of the year that, with temperatures coming to rest at near perfection, near equilibrium with that of the human body, one would be driven to venture outside for rest and stillness only to find that such flying vermin would never allow for one to simply stop…to simply be. There was always the maddening itch of small feet scurrying along the surface of one’s leg, or face…a light insect touch upon the upper lip that kept the hands flailing and the heart pumping in agitation and anger. There was no stopping, never, ever.
The seasons seemed to conspire that way – one would become soaked in the spring, burned in the summer, driven mad in the fall and frozen in the winter. The only safe place to become still was within the crypt of one’s own home to ponder nature’s insistence that only men, only women, were to be banned from the world as though they did not belong. “Remain in your caves no matter how you change them” was the unheard voice that hovered everywhere.
Today was not a day to hide from the world however. Today was a digging day. A day to hide another from the world. To hide another within the world out of which she came and in so doing hide all that she was and all that she could be – especially what she could be. It felt strange, somehow that he would have to brave an unfriendly earth so intent upon driving him away. It was as though the earth knew his intent…to force her unceremoniously open and bury his malice into her. It was a rape of sorts he supposed, an act that would be added to an already poisoned conscience rubbed raw by interminable years past; broken open by a single, thoughtless striking hand, an ill-placed shoe of all things, gravity (again the conspiring earth) and the corner of the always perfectly polished living room table now slightly and forever dented. Perhaps he would burn it…but one task at a time.
The plan was straight-forward enough. Into the vast and empty prairie he would go with his now lifeless mother in tow to one of the many ancient Icelandic graveyards that dotted the wild emptiness. Alone and away with nothing but the round horizon to witness as he would plow and sow a poison seed that he knew would never sprout but lay and rot in the company of others long gone.
After an hour of driving he had found the most suitable of places – a larger than average, abandoned necropolis of Gundersons, Sigurdsons, Eriksons and other Nordic forbears long since abandoned by Valhalla and as dead as their pantheon. He pulled off the gravel road and drove unceremoniously across the graves until he was behind a large and overgrown thicket of a bush.
He had never dug a grave before but felt that it could not be that difficult and had brought suitable tools for the job. A shovel and for good measure a pick (though he doubted he would need it in the fertile soil of an ancient, wheat festooned, lake bed).
Never one to overly plan he had simply imagined he would dig for maybe two hours until he felt he was deep enough and then offer up his gift, wrapped without a bow in tarp and twine, to the black maw that would open before him.
Of course things never really progressed as he thought (when had they ever).
Two hours had come and gone and he felt he had barely scratched the surface. The sun was a mockingly hot temperature for the fall day and he was drenched in a vinegar sweat that constantly stung his eyes and teased his dry lips with the promise of a drink he had never thought to bring. It would be several more hours filled with cramps, and broken, blistered callouses before real progress would occur. Several times he thought he would simply tip the old lady into the shallow hole and be done with the toil only to continue for fear a coyote would dig the unripe flesh from its dark home and drag his secret to the road for some passerby to see.
He had laid her, wrapped in blue like some ill-prepared construction site mummy lengthwise next to the grave as a measure of his effort; a measure indeed and one he would just as soon be rid of.
It took him six hours to get six feet deep before he realized he had not thought of how he would get out of the damned dark hole. Of course he had imagined he would simply haul himself out but it was not quite as simple as he thought. His five foot eight inch frame was heavy with middle age and his arms weak from a life behind various bars (that is when he wasn’t in front of them). A life of hoisting pints and shot glasses was not one that built much in the way of muscle.
Eventually, after nearly 45 minutes of exhausting effort he collapsed, hot and angry at the bottom of the pit staring ruefully through brown eyes covered in sodden hair at the instrument of his predicament, his only companion, the shovel. It was then, in a rare, despair-fueled moment of brilliance that he had his salvation idea. He stood and took the shovel to the northern end of the grave and perched the point of the spade into the crack of a large rock protruding from the earth. Then, in awe of his own cleverness, he balanced his feet on either side at the top of the spade and hoisted himself to the surface, needing only the extra 30 or so centimeters to escape.
Once above ground again his joy was short-lived as he realized the rapidly cooling late fall day had brought back swarms of small witnesses to his crime. Flies flew thick in the air, they covered his truck until white was grey and soon they sought to cover him like filth attracted to filth. He swatted them away determined to finish the task at hand but they evaded and seemed frustratingly more attracted to him, as if his waves were welcoming invitations. They began to land on his head and burrow through his wet hair to the scalp beneath. The sensation was maddening as he sought to drive them away, sick at the thought of crushing their unclean guts onto his flesh. They began to get into his ears where they crawled and buzzed in a way that made him nauseous. He opened his mouth to swear but some made their way onto his tongue. He wretched and one found its way between his lower lip and teeth. He closed his mouth into a thin, locked line and breathed through his nose only to have two of the demon bastards get sucked in. One twitched just out of finger’s reach while they other was vacuumed to the back of his throat where he tried in vain to fish it out with his tongue.
It was at this point he began to run as the sky became unnaturally black with flies. He was no longer thinking…he was long past the point of rational thought and was in a place of frightened instinctual flight. Any accidental witness to the event would have seen a man dancing and jumping and screaming in circles, surrounded by a great black fog; a cloud that seemed to move almost with purpose in its inescapable pursuit.
He wanted to make his way to his truck but whenever he opened his eyes to more than squints flies would land on their surface. In the buzzing madness a hissing voice suddenly whispered a single, deliberate word raw and distinctly in his ear from behind –
“N i p a h i s i n!”
He spun, his eyes wide in fear, seeing only the swarm before him having taken the shape of a tall, thin, person – great gaping spaces where eyes would be.
He started and backed away stumbling over the cold, dead offering he had brought and fell into the pit. The sky reeled above – blue and black and then there was a quick flash of pain when his head struck the rock at the bottom of the grave where life leaked out of him in red.
It was eight months and the other side of the snowiest winter the region had ever seen before a body was found at the bottom of a grave in an old Icelandic cemetery far out on the prairie. All it took was a small glint of chrome seen through a dead thicket by a rare passerby who was drawn to a horrifying, puzzling site where a body rest peacefully wrapped in a tarp near an opening in the earth while at the bottom lay an eyeless corpse that had swollen and burst open at some point in the intervening months.
News of murder and God’s just judgement flooded the coffee shops of the nearby towns while some spoke of a curse upon the ground as teenagers began telling stories of strange sights near the place as if it were haunted by a hovering blackness just outside of one’s vision.
No one believed them of course, least of all themselves.