Diggin’ In The Dirt
“Bosworth, pass the pickax, s’il vous plait?”
“Oui-oui, mon sewer,” Bosworth sniggered. He wiped a grime encrusted hand across his brow, flicking droplets of dirty sweat across Mrs. Katherine Thiswhistle’s less than pristine tombstone. The moon’s refracted light was in full display, the threatening clouds still a way off. Bosworth could make out the old lady’s name as well as the inscription that hadn’t eroded: “Just put your lips together and blow.”
He had no idea what that meant.
“Here, Alf. I hope we’re done soon. This god-awful heat and humidity are wiping me out. Can’t afford that, y’know. Daphne is waiting for me, y’know.”
Alfie accepted the pickax, taking it with a jerk out of Bosworth’s outstretched hands. He kept his tongue in check, letting his instincts to berate the youth pass. “Not worth a hell of a mountain of beans,” he muttered under his breath. In the long run, Bosworth wouldn’t have heard him: when Alfie brought the pickax swinging down a large clang rang out, filling the three-foot depth they had already made.
Pain shot through Alfie’s fingers up to his shoulders. A hard swing and a hard hit. His hands were ablaze. Alfie leaned the tool against the moist earthen wall and shook his hands out, flexing his fingers. He let out a short string of curse words; Bosworth heard them and began laughing.
He peeked over the edge of the broken ground. “What’d ya hit, Alf? Sounded a lot harder than wood on its way to rot.
“Well, get your ass down here and help me find out!”
Alfie’s filth covered face accentuated the blazing whites of his eyes as he stared up at Bosworth. He heard the gulp, as he expected, and knew a point had been understood. Finally. He reached up, grabbed a double handful of pants leg fabric, and pulled.
Bosworth’s “HEY!” ended as he landed onto the grave dirt, just missing the hard object.
“Quiet, you. We need to go quieter now. The last thing we need is Old Gal Dink to wake from her Scotch dreams. Then she’d be…”
“I know. I know. ‘… She’d be screaming her blamed head off that the Ghoulies was eating her babies.” Bosworth got off the ground, wiping his hands on his pant legs, wincing a bit when he touched where Alf had grabbed him.
“Need your arms and back, not your mouth, boy. Not your mouth. Let’s see what we have here.”
Bosworth started to say something, but he realized it would be pointless. Alfie ignored him, probing the disturbed ground with the tip of the pickax. He made a display of running the tip in a circular outline, a perfect “O,” or so he told Bosworth. He instructed the boy to take up the shovel that he had abandoned earlier. “Let’s find the depth of this thing. Gently, s’il vous plait.”
Bosworth sighed, sick of the faux French, but did as he was told. The dirt moved under their probing, filling in as soon as one or the other moved it around. The bottom edge wasn’t too deep, about two manhole covers thick; Bosworth took Alf’s word for that. He was tired, pissed, and wanted to be gone.
The light was dim, or disappearing completely, with the speed of the clouds now passing overhead. Trial and error ensued, but as they used their separate tools edges their purchase points discovered. Alf grunted approval; Bosworth smiled, hoping this would bring this night’s work to an end.
“On three?” he asked.
A cloud scooted by, enough for Bosworth to see Alf nod.
“OK,” Bosworth began, “one, two…”
And he almost fell, again, as Alfie jumped the count. Alf’s side jutted up, knocking into the spade which went into his right leg. The whole thing sent him off kilter.
“What the hell, Alf. We said three. What happened to three?”
To get the shovel off of his leg, instinctively Bosworth dug down. He pushed, levered up, and evened out.
“Lift it, B. Lift it. Now!”
Taking the order, Bosworth’s teeth clenched, sharing the weight running through his arms, shoulders, and back. As they lifted, the dirt sloughed off, leaving an opaque circle etched and ridged. It became clearer as the clouds moved off, leaving the reflective rays from the moon shine at their fullest.
Bosworth’s attention was riveted on the disc in his hands, so much so that he hadn’t realized that he was now carrying the majority of the bulk. Alfie did have hold of it, but he pushed at an angle, the face of the disc towards Bosworth.
The circle became radiant. It soaked up the diffused light, going bright and ultra-violet. Bosworth’s eyes erased in an instant. He did not see that the etches and ridges shone as distinct runic figures and symbols. He did not feel the heat sear into his blistering skin. The sting of a million light particles meant nothing to him; he did not feel the bones in his fingers crack and shatter, nor his humerus, radius, ulna, and on and on. They broke. He was gone.
Alfie had already jumped back, his eyes tightly shut, face pressed into the damp earth wall. He felt the painful sensations as they ran across his back, but he still smiled even as he howled. The disc made a distinctive thump as it hit the dirt, taking the light with it.
Alfie did a backwards duck walk to free himself. He was digging the dirt out of his nose and ears while he spat out the bits that wormed their way into his mouth. Once clear, he called out for Bosworth, but knew he’d get no answer. He stood, leaned both hands on the top of the grave, and said a quick prayer.
He was unsteady for a few moments: same as it ever was. Alfie cleared any remaining muck from around his eyes and opened them.
Alfie looked down, waited, and then sighed deeply. Nothing moved except for his antsy feet.
“Well, Katherine, summer help, eh? Next time. I’ll choose better next time.”