He'd been digging all day and wanted me see what he'd found. Reaching inside his truck he unfolded a towel and handed me a bone.
It was human.
Nothing quite owns the airy fee of an old human bone. This was one of the two lower bones in your right arm. He took the bone back, wrapped it, placing it in his truck, asking if I wanted to go back to the cliff in the morning.
I spent the night getting everything ready. I'd been digging up old Indian skeletons since I was a boy. Back then, I was always on the front page of our local paper showing off skeletons. Now, that same stuff would throw me in prison; a looter owning no respect for the dead..
When I got to his trailer you could see he was still a kid as he grabbed his certain shovel, the sifter he'd crafted, apples and oranges we'd eat during the day and a backpack that always had everything we needed. I unloaded my gear into his truck and soon we were gone. It was grand to be with my friend and sneaking off to do what we loved.
We drove along the Kentucky River where we'd relic hunted the plowed fields and then turned, going into the mountains, driving up the worst one in the county. The old road ran along the ridges and where the shadows broke you could see darkness for miles. We turned several more times; the road always getting worse, until finally, our turn off ended and we parked. It was near dawn and the woods were silent as we put on our packs and grabbed what we needed before disappearing upwards along an old familiar trail cutting soft, passing by and through an ancient bed of sandstone.
My friend was twelve years older than me, 70. He was still lean and remarkably strong. Not a 70 strong but more of a 30 strong. An incredible person that loved finding what was hidden, the last guy you ever wanted to anger. He owned a fine smile and was the king of Kentucky agate having taught me about the most beautiful rock in the world. In kind, I had paid him back with what I knew about hunting Indian relics; he was such a quick study with an eye.for detail. The cliff we were headed to was one that I had shown him. One that I had first gone to more than 50 years ago having been packed there on the shoulders of men long dead. A half century had vanished. The thought gutted and haunted me.
We climbed down off the trail, going over the mountain, stepping by a bunch of blackberry briers that snuck up from the hollow. A moment later, a few feet away, a grouse flushed; the same bird my friend allowed he'd jumped the day before. We hiked a little farther, watching our step as we hugged a ledge and then stopped getting our cameras.There was something beguiling about the enormous cliff overhang; a mysterious gravity pulling at you, giving your soul a home more than any mansion.
At the dripline, we set down our sifter and shovels, took off our packs, watching the phantom swallows and fat drops of water fall from over a hundred feet directly above, hitting and splashing near our boots where so many chips of colored flint glistened breaking the dull light. Most diggers had given up on this cliff as it had finally played out. But my friend had found new success using smaller wire in his sifter and going below the ash layers down into compacted, golden sand, virginous at first glance. Walking to our right we followed the dripline until we came to a place piled in rocks; the spot where my friend had quit digging; We moved them and I began digging with my bayonet.
This ancient cliff had produced thousands of relics. Everything always dating to Indians having lived there 1,000 to 2,000 years ago; pottery, celts, and unnotched arrowheads. The bear's footprint carved in a boulder was still there but the old hominy holes were chiseled and gone.
About an hour passed when some sand gave way next to a large rock. I put my hand in the hole and began ro feel something round. For a moment I thought it was a pot and then I realized, a skull. l I slowed down and my friend moved closer as I carefully brushed away sand; the skull lay on its side facing east to the rise of each day.
"AHH!" shouted my friend, jerking his hand. Something had poked the middle of his palm.
Sticking up in the sand beside the skull was the tip of a point that I pulled out; A long, narrow spear point with flutes running lengthways down the face of each of its sides. Beside it, was a base section of a deer's skull and antler, polished and drilled, the hole just larger than a quarter.
"That's a Cumberland point," I said. "Seven thousand years old. We've just found the oldest burial ever discovered in Kentucky."
"What's this, a pipe?"
"No. It held your hair back in a ponytail. This skull is a woman. See her smooth features. Going by her teeth and the way all her lines over her skull have joined and smoothed over, she's old. Maybe eighty. Maybe, a hundred."
As I layed on my stomach trying to take good photos, I noticed through my lens that as the skull was drying out it was also crumbling and falling apart. In a few minutes, the face disappeared. The thought that I was the person to watch this paleo woman return back to nature held me spellbound. She and I had dwelled in such different worlds and yet our ends would be the same.
We covered the skeleton and left. Our ride back was full of talk. Nobody had ever dug a human skeleton that old in Kentucky. Even throughout north and south America, such a discovery was extremely rare. If bonifide archaeologists had made the find it would have been on the cover of National Geographic. But for us, it had to remain our secret.
A year went by. My friend's wife called, crying.
He went up the hill to shoot a coyote.
He didn't come back.
I found him.
Feet hung in barbwire.
Hanging upside down.
Gun went off.
No Sweat,I feel like I'm in a a dream.