To Dig a Grave

It’s one thing to kill a man.

Murder, is hot and cold. Done quickly with maximum damage. Bloody and bruised. Powerful force causing another to disappear from eyes and from the world.

It’s another thing to bury him.

George is forced to bury the man he killed.

It’s a warm day. The sun sucks the water out of the ground and causes it to hover in the air. It is thick and humid. The heat drives men crazy. Crazy men do things like murder. George never intended to commit murder today. It was a Wednesday, a hot Wednesday. Nothing ever happens on a Wednesday. Everyone is sleepy and just trying to convince themselves that the weekend is closer than it is.

George had been with his friends all day. Cigarettes and beer cans were the only evidence they’d been there. If it wasn’t for the humidity the trees around them would have set alight in a bright blaze. The four of them sat in the small woods that stood by the roadside just past the sign saying Welcome to Spitsburgh. The place where the locals spit on the ground cursing it. They’d also come up here since they were skinned-kneed kids.

The four of them.  George, a thin lanky boy who had stretched up with puberty but hadn’t filled out so looked like a skinny tree in the breeze. Dylan sat with smoke pouring out of his lips that were misshapen by being split by fists. He had thick, dark hair cut short and a nose that showed how he liked fights and how he often lost, it had been broken many times and never set completely straight. It didn’t matter, it was going to be broken again. Johnny sat working through another bottle beer, tracks dripped from his lips as he drank greedily. Johnny had light brown eyes that never seemed to have any light in them, as though someone had gone around and turned off the light inside him. If eyes were the window to the soul, then Johnny had no immortal soul. He often made folks nervous, they couldn’t put a finger on him. Neither could George when he thought about it. He shook the thought from his mind. He instead turned to look at Paul. Paul’s dad had walked out when Paul was ten years old but not before he’d put Paul’s head through the window. Paul hadn’t smiled as much after that, he was a little slower, quieter. He also had a scar on his temple that disappeared into the mop of reddish hair that sat on top of his head.

Paul was sitting looking at the gun he grasped in his hands. The dry sun glinted off it as the dull rays hit the metal. Paul was a good shot. George knew how to shoot but hadn’t practiced much because he didn’t have the need. Dylan couldn’t stand guns, he had his itch in his fists. He was also a poor shot. George had never seen Johnny with a gun. Johnny seemed like the kind of guy who wouldn’t ever need to use a gun. Even if he wanted a man dead.

Paul carried a gun because he didn’t want anyone to lay a hand on him. He carried it like a child carries a toy, for comfort. Paul was a good guy, he didn’t use it for crimes. He could have cleared through every store register if he’d wanted to but he didn’t.

“If I ever see my old man again, I’ll unload three bullets into him.” Paul said as he assembled and disassembled his gun. They all believed him.

“If I ever see the fella that broke my nose, I’ll like to unload a couple rounds into him after beating him to a pulp so he’s begging for it.” Dylan said angrily. No one knew Dylan was talking about. Half of the town had probably broken his nose.

“I’d kill the man who wrecked my car.” Johnny said. Johnny had had a red and white ’76 Cutlass. He loved the car. He liked to drive around in it, like a peacock likes to walk around showing his feathers. Johnny had won the money to buy in over the course of one night down at the poker. He cared more for the car than the rest of his family, not they were the best of the bunch. A dad that was an old drunk, who was always mumbling to himself. An older brother serving time for multiple rapes. A mother who had fallen apart under stress and just always seemed to be crying.

They didn’t know who’d totalled Johnny’s car. Johnny had searched for months to trying to find out who. They bet he knew and that he was waiting for revenge. A silence had fallen. The heat was causing their thoughts to simmer and cook. Like tender flesh in an oven. Ideas could become mouth wateringly tempting.

“Who would you kill?” Johnny said, pulling George from his heat filled mind. George frowned.

“Yeah, who would you kill George?” Dylan asked. George struggled to find an answer. Sure he had people who didn’t like him, and who he didn’t like. No one was a knife against his nerves.

“I don’t know. I don’t have anyone I’d want to kill.” George confessed. They all stared at him.

“Wuss.” Paul muttered quietly. George ignored him. Paul needed a fight like a smoker needs a cig. Johnny carefully studied George, whilst Paul just shrugged.

“Maybe you don’t want to kill someone, but you might.” Johnny stated in such a way that you would think that he was telling the truth as though he knew first hand. They sat around smoking and drinking and talking for a couple hours. More of the first two, it was too hot to do much talking.

“I don’t feel well George” Paul said to George quietly. George looked at him, there was something wrong but he didn’t know what.

“You fucking punk, I’m gonna kill you kid!” A shout came through the woods. They all froze apart from Johnny who smiled at stood up.

“I’m gonna wring your skinny neck you fucker!” The shout grew closer.

“You wrecked my mustang I’m gonna have you for this jackass!” The shouts continued. They all looked at Johnny. They knew he’d get his revenge for his car, but they didn’t know it would be soon and since Johnny had promised to kill him.

The man stumbled into the clearing, blind drunk on red rage. He was wielding a gun. Paul upon seeing the gun raised his own aiming it at the guy who was still spitting threats as he shook his gun.

“Shoot him.” Johnny said like how the wind whispers. Paul heard it so quiet, that he could mistake it for his own mind talking.

Paul shot the man. Red in his gut. He fell hard, hitting the dry ground with a sickening thumb. Dylan had curses streaming out of his dirty mouth, like a river in flash flood.

“You knew he was coming you fucker! You knew!” Dylan yelled at everyone. Accusing them each of setting this up, but they knew it was just Johnny’s work. Paul just looked at the man lying dead. His pale face full of fear. The gun hanging limp in his hand that had small tremors running through it. George didn’t know where to look. Paul was a wreck, Dylan would take it as a sign of guilt and the blood was beginning to water the dry ground that was desperate to calm its thirst. George looked at Johnny who was still like a statue. Johnny looked at George, a small smile on his lips. George felt his stomach turn. Johnny simply walked into the woods, disappearing between the trees.

George opened his mouth to call out to him but the words had been stolen. Dylan was still cursing. Paul and slumped to his knees, his eyes staring at the body.

“I didn’t mean to…” Paul muttered. George walked over to him and grabbed his shoulder.

“I didn’t want to” George pulled Paul to his feet and took the gun from his hand. Paul was in a trance as though talking to a judge that no one else could see. There was movement.

Another man walked through the trees to become visible. Shorter than George but built like a brick house.  He had small beady eyes. They saw the body. Their hands flew to their waste band and pulled shinny gun that glinted deadly. George shoved Paul to the ground just before the shots rang out. Dylan was cursing faster than a bullet. George looked at the man raised his gun. He’d pulled the trigger before he knew he had. He knew how to shoot, how to aim, how to kill. He’d never had the need to before. He didn’t really need to now.

He watched the man fall down. He heard the heavy thud. The clatter of the gun. The extreme, consuming silence that followed.

“Fuck.” Dylan was the first the speak. The only one left who hadn’t just smeared blood on his hands. He turned and emptied his gut onto the dry ground. Paul just lay on the ground. George wobbled on his weak legs. He killed a man, on a dry, hot Wednesday. It was too hot.

Too hot, so hot the world started swimming and spinning. The trees stabbed the sky they so desperately clung to. The heat washed over him, cleansing him and burning him. His throat went dry, despite all the beers he’d drank. His forehead was drummed on as sweat seeped out of his skin. Dylan’s cursing faded into the distance. He heard Paul moving.

“Drop the gun.” A rough voice cut through the heat’s control on his mind. George turned to the source of the noise. A shotgun barrel met his eyes. He stared at it. The safety was removed, the noise startled him causing him to drop the gun.

“You kill him boy?” The voice asked. George looked at the speaker. An old man with dull eyes under white eyebrows that stared out of a wrinkled face looked at him coldly.

“I shot a man. He pulled a gun on us.” George stated his confession. The old man looked at him for a long momen before his eyes scanned the surroundings. George looked around him, ignoring the gun pointing directly at his chest point blank. Paul and Dylan weren’t around. There was only one body on the ground. The one he had there.

“Was it him?” The man asked.

“Yes.” George’s throat felt as dry as sandpaper.

“Bury him.” The man ordered. George looked confused turning to look at the gun hat watched him like a hawk. His eyes staring the gun, not daring to look away. The man kicked a shovel towards him. It’s dull metal clattering against the dry ground. George looked at it.

“Get digging.” The man ordered. George picked it up. Feeling the weight in his hands.

“Dig.” He spat. George looked at the ground. The shovel hit the hard ground. The heat had baked it. The shovel only slipped a few inches into the ground. The threw what little dirt he had scooped up to the side of him.

And so he began to dig his first grave.

He kept digging, his eyes wondering to the man who didn’t lower his gun. He reached a foot deep. Standing in it the ground the same level as the middle of his shin. This was slow work. The heat caused thoughts to dance through his mind like embers escaping a fire. The manual labour provided nothing but a routine of actions.

He was digging a grave. He had killed a man. He hadn’t meant to but firing a gun at someone is hardly an accident. No one would believe him. Maybe some part of him wanted to kill. The gun, the guy, the heat; it had all just lined up. They say you can and will do anything if the circumstances condict to.

The grave got deeper. The ground didn’t get softer. His hands grew sore and blisters formed on his palms. They burned and burst. He’d stopped to look at them and the man had yelled at him. They were soothed by the drizzle of blood that covered his hands.

If he was lucky he’d have a grave. If he was unlucky, he’d have a grave like this. In the middle of nowhere, by the side of the road, on the ground everyone spits on. The guy he killed must have had a decade on him at least. George wondered if he’d get that long.

He reached 6ft deep. He forehead and hair were visible above the roof of the grave. He looked up as a shadow passed over him. The man was standing looking down at him. His shotgun aimed at him.

A fear passed over George. What if he’d just dug his own grave?

“Get out.” The man grumbled and disappeared from the view. George scrambled up the walls of the grave that crumbled slightly. They were steep and high. When his hand reached the flat plane of land, he dug his dirty fingers into the ground to stop him falling back. He pulled himself out of his grave and lay looking at the sky. The signs of dusk were evident. He’d wasted a day. He wasted a life.

George lay there as the man moved the body quickly. He was strong to be able to move that body only breaking a small sweat.

“Bury him.” The man ordered, and so George buried him. He spent hours going through where the blame lay. Thinking about the gaps and holes the heat had created. As the sun set, sanity returned to the fried ants that lived in Spitsburgh.

When the soil levelled out, it was the dark of the evening where your eyes can still see but the back of your mind twitches. The old man looked at him.

Run home kid.” The old man ordered. So George picked up Paul’s gun and walked in the direction of home. George knew this day had been set up. He didn’t know where the old man came in but he knew that the day was due to Johnny’s plans. Johnny knew how to get a man killed without pulling a trigger. If George ever sees Johnny  again he’d kill him. Wipe the stupid, creepy grin off his face. The heat had played mind games. You can’t unscramble an egg.

George was gonna kill Johnny if he ever saw him again.

And he did, on a hot Wednesday. nothing ever happens on a Wednesday.

If you go past the Welcome to Spitsburgh sign, there’s two bodies in the woods y the side of the road. One of them has a grin on his face and a plan in what’s left of his brain that wasn’t blown to bits with Paul’s gun.