I Close my Eyes and Count to Ten…

For Halloween, a slight rewrite of a story I wrote 10 years ago. Inspired, inappropriately, by the title of a Dusty Springfield song.

The spade breaks the sod. The ground is waterlogged where the roots hold the rain. The blade catches a stone and I feel the crunch of the jar in my elbow joint. Immediately it is warm and I know that I have strained a ligament or something.

It will ache later.

I cut the turf into squares so that they can be re-laid afterwards, once I have finished my work. I dig deeper. Spades full of earth pile up to my right. I’m deeper down now and the loam turns to wet clay, sucking at the blade with every cut, every push, resisting as I press down and then sucking at it as I try to dig it out: backbreaking. The water runs into grey pools shot through with red-mud tracings washed from above. I feel sweat running under my collar and down my back. I am over-hot despite the coldness of the air. It is raining.

The going is slow, heavy; exhaustion gnaws at my bones, clawing at my muscles and scratches my eyes. Each gasping breath of air is an agony of dragon breath floating in my vision. Each lungful a cold dagger, but in the rain, the cold, muddy slime and icy rivulets I dig.

The hole I have dug is now deeper than I am tall, so it is the end for me. The water is nearly up to my knees even when I stand upright.

As I pull myself up, white and black spots swim across my vision and the edges of my sight redden.

I know without looking that the man is still there watching behind me, as he has for days. His face indistinct, grey and infinitely sad, eyes dark and empty: I know this, though I do not know how I know. It takes me an age to drag myself from the pit I have excavated. The sides are slick and wet and only by grasping hands full of root can I gain purchase. There is a hungry sound and I realise that my left shoe is still in the mud, held fast.

Wrapped in rags is the wretched bundle that I have to deposit; the sum remains of an existence curtailed, bones now, and knotted with a gold ring, a talisman of lost hope. They weigh nothing; I knot a couple of rocks into the rags, drop them in the water and mud.

Then I pause.

My fatigue is now almost beyond endurance as I start tipping the mud back into the pit, but I know it will please the grey man. The clay falls with splashes and eventually, as the pit fills, with wet slaps. Finally, the task is finished. I mark the spot with a fallen hazel branch and then lean on my spade to regain a semblance of strength as the rain leeches my body heat.

I fancy that I can feel the grey man fading as this business is finally put to rest.

I close my eyes and count to ten and when I open them, he’s still there.

(c) 2009, 2019 Bryan Lea
This entry was posted in Fiction.

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