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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Fiction about a dig

Dem Bones
Jeani Rector

Afterwards, he knew he shouldn’t have stolen the bones.
But of course, that realization came much afterwards, when it was too late.

Still, during the dig, the temptation had been so great that Alex was unable to resist. He had his hand on the skull, and his backpack was sitting on the ground, open. He had been studying Native American anthropology in college, and the thrill of having a real Indian skull in his hand was just too much. So he very quickly stuffed the skull into his backpack and then grabbed what looked like part of a clavicle, a small enough section of bone to allow it to fit into his backpack along with the skull. Then he saw a real find—a bead and shell necklace. Adding the clavicle and the necklace to his backpack, he closed the flap, his eyes darting back and forth to see if anyone had noticed his illegal deed.
Alex was at a University-sponsored dig to remove the Native American bones out of an ancient burial ground, because the piece of land that harbored the remains had been sold. Months of protests by the Indian community had been in vain. A housing development was scheduled to begin construction in three months. That didn’t leave much time to move all the skeletons from one resting place to another.

At one time, anyone could steal Native American remains and not be prosecuted. But the instances of grave robbing had become so prevalent that something needed to be done about it. In 1990, Congress debated several bills dealing with the repatriation of Native American skeletal remains and artifacts. The result was legislation protecting Native American burial sites.
Big deal. Burial grounds could still be sold to make room for housing developments.
That was because before 1990, people bought land above Indian remains. So they were legal owners of the properties and could sell at will.

At one time, no white man or woman paid any attention to Native Americans. The Indians were considered the enemy. It was not until 1870 that the Federal census takers were told to count Native Americans. In 1900 the census asked for person's tribe; tribe of father; tribe of mother; any white blood; year of citizenship if any, and whether a home was fixed or a moveable teepee.
And because of the sudden acknowledgement of Indians in early America, records of Native American burial grounds began to be logged and the files retained by the Federal government.
Alex knew all of this from his studies at the University. He had read about and written essays about Native Americans, but never had he participated in a dig. So all he could think to himself later was that it had simply been an overwhelming desire to actually own the real thing. Hours after he left the dig, Alex justified what he did with that sort of thinking.

In his backpack was a real Native American, or what was left of one. He said goodbye to his fellow University anthropologists at the end of the day and walked to his car.
He put the backpack carefully on the passenger seat. All through the drive home, Alex kept glancing at the backpack in anticipation. He couldn’t wait to get home so he could admire his treasures.
And when Alex got home, that’s exactly what he did. Taking a paintbrush, he carefully swept the bones and necklace free from debris and dust. He couldn’t take his eyes off the incredible Native American artifacts that were carefully placed on his kitchen table. He couldn’t get over the idea that he had the "real thing" right in his own apartment.

Alex spent a good twenty minutes just staring at his treasures. He had a sensation of unreality. And of self-importance. But then he came out of his fascination, because he knew he was dirty and dusty. So it was time to shower. He left the artifacts on the table, but carefully covered them with a light linen cloth.
Alex opened his bathroom door, and then turned on the light.
He saw rats everywhere in the bathroom! Dozens of them.
The rats were startled by the presence of the human. The creatures scrambled to find dark places to once again hide, but not before Alex could see their fat, stubby bodies and the long, scaly tails that trailed behind the rats like whipcords. He could hear the scrabbling of their little claws on the bathroom’s linoleum floor as the rodents scurried, scrambling all over each other in the rush to find concealment.
"Oh my god," Alex cried in disgust. He shut the door. He knew he needed to tell the apartment manager to get an exterminator quickly. But that didn’t help the fact that Alex could not shower and was forced to remain dirty.
"This sucks," he said out loud.
Alex left his apartment and knocked on the manager’s door. He explained about the rats.
"No rats," the manager said.
"Listen," Alex was furious. "I’m telling you that there were rats in my bathroom. Lots of them. I want an exterminator right now, and I won’t pay my rent until those disgusting things are dealt with."
"No rats," the manager insisted, but then said he’d get an exterminator out anyway to check.
"I mean now," Alex said.
"First thing in the morning," the manager said then shut his door in Alex’s face.

By now Alex was really mad. He’d have to sleep without a shower, and he felt dirty and gritty.
When he entered his own apartment, Alex went to the kitchen to check on his relics.
More rats! The kitchen table was covered with them; so many rats that their sheer volume made the table seem to undulate.
"Get out of here!" Alex yelled, running to the table, waving his arms in the air.
But although the rats began leaping off the table, they appeared to move a little slower this time. Maybe they were getting used to a human. Alex hoped not.
He could see their fur, dark and dense. Their bodies were thick and their backs were hunched, making them appear always ready to pounce. Their ears were small but their faces were long, and tapered into sniffing, pointed little noses. Their whiskers moved constantly. Their long, yellow teeth gleamed in the kitchen’s light.
All in all, the multitudes of rats were a hideous sight to see. Alex felt his skin crawl in repulsion. He began waving his arms again and shouting. He opened the back door in the hopes that the repugnant creatures would run outside.
The rats finally scattered out the door, but Alex observed that this time, they seemed sort of reluctant to do so. He stood there staring as the rats jumped from the table to the floor, their whipcord tails balancing their hunched bodies as they leaped.

Were his artifacts okay? When the last rat scurried out the door, Alex was finally able to examine his treasures. Some of the linen had been chewed, but when he lifted it off the skull, clavicle, and necklace, he was relieved to see that everything appeared untouched.
Alex straightened up and gazed around the kitchen. Ugh, he thought, there are rat droppings everywhere. I’ll probably catch some sort of awful disease. Well, if I do, then I’m suing this apartment complex. Sighing, he once again covered his valuables with the chewed linen. He walked to the bedroom, deliberately leaving the kitchen light on. Maybe the rats won’t be so bold in the light, he thought. Hopefully, they’re all outside and can’t get back in.

He was disgusted that he had to go to bed dirty. But he removed his clothes and threw them into the corner. He would wash them tomorrow, when he didn’t feel so incredibly tired. He got a clean pair of underwear, put it on, and went to bed.
He was so tired that he was asleep within minutes.
What seemed like only moments later, Alex was awakened by a sound. He tried to get up, but realized that something was holding him down. He tried to move his arms, but suddenly understood that he was literally tied to the bedposts with rope. He then tried to move his legs, but realized that his feet were bound, too.
What on earth? he thought. Am I being robbed? How could someone break into my house and tie me up without waking me?
Alex heard chanting, sounding far away. The chanting was not in English. But he heard something different in his mind, and the voice in his mind sounded very close. In his mind, he could understand what was being said.
'I am a medicine man. I was a shaman among my people, when I was alive. I have come to take back my bones. The necklace contains big magic. It is mine, too'.
"Where are you?" Alex spoke, his voice trembling with fright. "What are you going to do to me? How did you tie me up?"
'The rats do my bidding', the voice in Alex’s mind said. 'I’m leaving now. But the rats will stay'.
"No!" cried Alex. "Where are you? Talk to me!"
There was no response.
"Come back!" Alex shouted. "Don’t leave me tied up here in the dark!"
Again, nothing. No more chanting, no more voice in his head. Just complete silence.
Alex tried to see in the darkness. There was no light of any kind; no moonlight peeking through any window curtains. It was completely and totally dark—as dark as a tomb; as dark as death.
Alex tried to rub the rope against the bedposts, moving his wrists up and down, hoping against hope that he could fray the rope apart and escape.
Suddenly he stopped to listen. He could swear he had heard a sound, but when he strained his ears to listen again, there was nothing. There! Alex heard the slight sound again. He could hear a faint rustling, and the fine hairs on his arms prickled as goosebumps caused them to rise.
Then Alex froze, because suddenly he knew. He was sure he knew what made the slight rustling sound.
There were rats in the bedroom.

Alex sucked in his breath. Visions of vermin crawling over his kitchen table and scrambling for cover in his bathroom haunted him. He pictured the rats coming at him in the darkness, getting closer, and crouching in their approach. Were the rats hungry? Hungry enough to bite a man who was unable to defend himself because his hands and feet were bound?
Frantically Alex went back to rubbing his ropes against the bedposts. He had to get free. He could hear the rats coming closer, as if they were getting used to his presence and were becoming braver because of it.
My God in Heaven! he thought as he could feel a tickling at his ankle. It was too dark to see, but Alex could feel the rodent’s whiskers as the rat sniffed his flesh.
He realized he wasn’t making much progress with the ropes on his hands, so he raised his knees and tried to pull the ropes off his legs. He pulled and pulled his legs, trying to work the ropes free from his ankles.
During his struggles, the bedcovers had slipped off of him, exposing his body. Again he pulled up his legs, straining against the ropes that bound his ankles.
It worked! The ropes binding his ankles to the bottom bed posts untied. His legs were free!
A moan escaped him, because once again, he felt a rat sniffing at his ankles. Alex lifted both legs together as a unit and swung as hard as he could against where he had felt the rat. He heard a startled squeal, and took satisfaction that he must have hit his target.
But Alex knew that his margin of safety wouldn’t last because the rats would recoup. They would approach him again, and soon. Alex methodically resumed rubbing the ropes that bound his hands against the bedposts. He had to get free. He tried to keep his ears finely tuned to any sounds that would indicate the rats would try to stalk him again.
Minutes passed. It seemed no use, because he just couldn’t get his hands free.
Then he heard the rats approach again. This time it sounded like more than one. He could hear their little nails scrabbling on the bed. He could hear a faint rustling and an occasional squeak.
"Shoo!" Alex shouted, and the rats quieted, but only for a minute. They seemed to sense that he could not defend himself. The rats were getting bolder.
Again he felt the whiskers against his legs. He tried to kick, but a rat unexpectedly leapt on his stomach. The rat landed on bare skin.
With a cry, Alex arched his back and squirmed around the bed, trying to shake off the rat that clung to his stomach. But the rat managed to hang on. The next thing that Alex knew, dozens and dozens of rats began swarming over his entire body.

The next day, the manager knocked on Alex’s apartment door. The manager was accompanied by an exterminator from Davis Pest Control. There was no answer.
Annoyed, the manager used his master key and entered the apartment. It was very quiet inside.
The apartment seemed clean enough. Apparently his tenant was a very good housekeeper. There was no sign of debris anywhere.
They walked into the kitchen, looking around. The kitchen was very clean also, and the floor appeared recently scrubbed. Nothing appeared amiss. The kitchen table was bare, not even containing a salt shaker.
"Good housekeeper," commented the exterminator. "You know, I don’t see any signs of rats. No signs at all."
"I told him that there are no rats," the manager said.
"Let’s look in the bedroom," said the exterminator.
Together they entered the bedroom.
"I’ll call the police," the manager said quickly, right before he fled from the room.
The exterminator remained in the bedroom. He stared with morbid fascination at the body in the bed. Or, what was left of it, anyway. The exterminator thought, 'Well, there’s sure been rats here, all right. Though I’ve never seen anything like this before. This guy must’ve been eaten alive. Well, he sure isn’t alive any more. There’s practically nothing left of him but bones'.
© Jeani Rector May 2005

Jeani's novel can be viewed at

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