Rebirth

Evening raindrops clung to a broken spider web, and fallen leaves held water like tiny crumbling cups. Silence draped across the forest; the animals fled at sunset when the sky shed its first tear. Even the carrion birds flew away, and the rodents scampered deep down into their holes.

The animals knew.

Like a drumbeat, the chill rain pummeled the forest earth, slapping a copper stench into the wind. The air glided with the taste of elder blood, careening, coating the tumbling raindrops as they soaked back within the dirt. The greedy soil drank of the tainted water, as it once drank the soup of decaying flesh, and the trees rattled as bones.

Somewhere, came a moan.

Beyond the eventual and gentle hush, the rain ceased, but the sky stayed black. No moon graced the shrouded firmament, and no starry luminosity scattered the inky air swallowing the trees. A fog crept like silky spiders, thick and velvet over the ground, obscuring earth and flora. Grey met black and swirled, mingling, melding in a darkling kiss.

And the night waited.

It waited in stillness, the breath of air grave and expectant with longing. It waited cold and cavernous, as if time gave this occasion pause. And then… past the midnight hour it stirred. A faint noise from beneath the onyx soil. Scrabbling, scratching, a shiver sound of creatures crawling, of fingernails groping through the dirt.

Digging upward.

The ground trembled, softly, gently, as if a lover’s touch caressed it. The wind sighed, dancing among the trees and twirling with the hoary mist. Slowly, slowly, the earth gave way, in splinters and snaps and clefts of soft loam. The soil parted, cracked, and a bony hand burrowed out from beneath the world. A sallow, deformed hand smeared in grime and filth, its reaching skeletal fingers smelling of long rotted meat and crumbled skin. Strange grunts followed, and a heaving of dirt as a shoulder bone, and then a skull, pushed from under the tomb of earth into the interim of night. It crawled forward on jointed bones, hollow eyes somehow seeing, a throat void of words somehow screaming. It dragged and squirmed and writhed, this awakened remnant of what once was human, fumbling out of the dirt and standing upright. One step, then two, a stumbling walk through the woods, towing leaf and bark along its path until it escaped the confines of the forest.

There it stopped. There it shrieked.

Loud and strident, an articulation grotesque, yet wrenching in its suffering. A ballyhoo of noise to clatter the trees and jangle the ground. To echo past all the desolate unholy, far into the dark depths of the forest and beyond.

It gave voice to its eternal pain.

A single, howling voice, offered to the night…

To be answered by a thousand snarling cries.

By a thousand sounds of scrabbling and scratching.

By a thousand things digging upward.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

A Quick Breather

Alright guys, grab a quick breather and take fifteen!

I barely hear my foreman’s voice come through the radio clipped to the left side of my safety vest. Lowering my bulldozer’s blade to the ground, I shut the machine down. Almost immediately, I miss the roar of the engine.

A breeze blows a rising dirt cloud away from the cab as I make way down to the ground and remove my cigarettes. I shake one out of the package into my hand.

Looking up, most of the guys are standing around in a circle. Mike, I believe that’s his name, waves for me to join them but I shake my head ‘no thanks’ and light my cigarette.

I don’t want camaraderie doing this fucking job.

The drag is long but exhaled quickly. I don’t even taste these things anymore. I do it for a sense of normalcy in days that are no longer normal.

As I circle around to the front of the dozer, my fingers gently run along the chipped and worn yellow paint until they reach the blade. After almost twenty years of operating a dozer I used to love the sound of the blade scraping along the ground.

It was a sound of power and production.

Not anymore.

A few meters away, two excavators sit idly beside a freshly dug pit, roughly the size of the foundation for a small house. The overburden sits on the far side of it as a silent witness.

Actually it’s not a pit.

It’s a mass grave for the enormous pile of bodies in front of my dozer.

They are the bodies of the formerly living dead; bodies that were once living people. Despite various stages of decay, I no longer notice the thick stench of death. I toss my cigarette away, no longer wanting it.

To clear my mind, I glance at a large section of land we finished clear cutting yesterday. A thick tree line remains around the site concealing our actual job from the public eye.

Somewhere within the trees a gunshot rings out, followed by cheers; looks like our armed escorts got another one for the pile. My eyes find their way back to the dead, imagining who they were at one time. Limbs of different sizes stick out of the pile like a grotesque form of art.

The small limbs are the ones that get me the most.

If I stare long and hard at them, I can almost make out which ones belong to—

Stop it!

My legs give out. Slumping to the ground with my back against the blade,  I press my face into my palms. I don’t know how much time passes when my radio crackles to life.

Alright, boys, let’s get back to it. Lucas, whenever you’re ready, go ahead and push those fuckers into the pit.

My arm is heavy as I reach up to grasp my mic. “You got it, boss.”

I get to my feet, climb back up to the cab and start the engine. Manipulating the controls, I raise the blade a few inches off the ground before inching the bulldozer forward.

The worst part is the blade making contact with the pile. There’s a slight shudder of resistance before the bulldozer pushes through and bodies start to roll toward the pit like a wave approaching a beach.

I feel a few of the smaller bodies slip underneath the blade, getting stuck bellow it.

Shit.

I’ll have to make another pass.

This isn’t the first pile I’ve had to push into a mass grave.

Nor will it be the last.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved