It was not healthy to be up at this hour of the night. With the moon and stars obscured by a thick blanket of cloud, one dim torch-beam was of very little use. The contours of the lawn caused long, shifting shadows like sunken eye sockets to fall across the garden, receding into the holly bush and geraniums a few metres away. But the torch could do almost nothing to light the open mouth at the garden’s centre, seven foot long and two foot wide, which was periodically spitting out spade-loads of dirt.
Catch leant on his wheelbarrow, taking a pause from his labour for breath. He pulled out a cigarette and balanced it between his teeth. He no longer remembered why they called him Catch, but it was certainly not his birth name. It must have caught on sometime during his schooldays, but whatever event catalysed the nickname was lost now. Memory was a murky place indeed. He put his lighter away and continued shovelling away his soil backlog into the wheelbarrow.
‘How deep you plannin’ to go?’
There was no reply, only a brief pause in the scratching sound, a few heavy breaths, and then a return to the routine. Catch picked up the torch and poked the beam down into the hole. It was neat, artificial: the corners were exactly ninety degrees, the sides were planar. Catch was about to ask again, when the resigned words he was waiting for came back.
‘Seven foot long, two foot wide, six foot deep.’
‘Looks pretty deep already. Must be ‘bout six, right?’
‘Only four and a half.’ The reply was matter-of-fact, both a statement of depth and an order to continue. Heavy was not a man who spoke at length about anything.
Heavy’s nickname was also shrouded in mystery. It bore no relation to his size, to his strength, or to any other particularly weighty aspect of his personality – at least as far as Catch could remember. Perhaps Heavy himself knew the origin, but that was doubtful. Nicknames were an accepted truth, like the existence of radio waves or the internet; no questions asked, and no factual explanation needed.
‘What you even diggin’ for? What’s down there?’
Catch did not expect any reply to this particular question, but it was comforting to speak aloud. The darkness was obliterating, and it was nice to remind himself that he still existed every now and again. He scooped some more of the soil Heavy was tossing up into the wheelbarrow, and trundled it over to the heap, where he emptied it and returned. What time had they started digging at? It must have been daylight, surely, because Heavy must’ve measured the dimensions for the hole. But neither man had a watch because neither had thought it important, and so the work had begun without a beginning.
‘What?’ Catch said.
‘A beginning. You asked what I’m digging for. There’s a beginning down here somewhere, an origin. I’m looking for the thing that started all of this. For something to hold onto.’
Nothing more was said, partly because it had all been said before, but also in part because Heavy distressed Catch when he spoke that way. Why would he be searching for a ‘beginning’? And a beginning to what? There couldn’t be a beginning without an end, and Catch didn’t see an end to the task they had begun. Heavy could dig to the centre of the earth, and there would be no more of a beginning there than there was on the garden lawn, or above those solid clouds overhead.
‘I know what you’re thinking Catch. Just trust me.’
‘I know you know what I’m thinkin’. Just tell me why we’re doin’ this, Hev.’
The torch batteries had been running out for hours, and what faint brightness the bulb now emitted could barely keep the edges of the hole visible, so Catch went for spare cells. Heavy could dig in the darkness; he probably wouldn’t even notice the difference.
The house was about fifty metres away. Catch reached the glass conservatory, stubbed his cigarette out on the patio, shimmied past the potted plants, and reached through a small open window. Feeling a key-ring between his fingers he brought his hand out, shimmied back around to the door, unlocked it, and slipped silently inside. He dared not flick the light on, so he used the remaining battery life of the flashlight to guide himself to a workbench covered with spanners, screwdrivers, nails, hammers. He quietly slid open some of the drawers, searching for a pack of AAA’s. This all seemed so ridiculous when he stopped to think about it. What was he doing this for? The silence which greeted that question was worrying, so Catch kept his mind on the task at hand. Ah! Batteries – and unopened. Perfect.
There was a click, the naked bulb overhead burst on, Catch spun around, and after a second his eyes adjusted to see an elderly man in a dressing gown carrying a kitchen knife. Catch gripped the torch defensively in one hand, and pocketed three batteries with the other.
‘Who are you and what are you doing in my house?’ the old man said.
‘I came to get some batteries.’
‘Did you break in?’
‘You should remember to close your windows at night.’ The old man lowered his knife slightly.
‘Take your batteries, and get out of my house.’ Catch was only too happy to oblige, and backed out of the glass door, closing it politely behind him. He put the batteries into the torch, but walked all the way to the excavation site without turning it on. When he arrived there was a lull in the scratching noises.
‘Hev, he caught me in the back room.’
‘Did he recognise you?’
‘Nah, he don’t know my voice. And you know he’s blind as a bat.’
‘Hev, why are we diggin’ up your uncle’s garden?’
‘It had to be here. I told you, I’m looking for a beginning. I think I’ve found it. Put the torch on.’
Heavy tapped something solid at the bottom of the hole. Catch was wary for the first time since they’d come out. It was pitch black.
‘Is that a coffin?’
‘I think so. I hope so. But it feels like stone, not wood. I need that torchlight.’
‘I don’t know if this is a good idea –’
‘Pass me the fucking torch then.’
There was something disturbing in Heavy’s tone. Catch hesitated before feeling his way to the edge of the abyss and handing the torch down to his accomplice. There was a click, and the grave lit up like a lamp. Looking down the hole, he could see Heavy crouching, inspecting the surface below him which appeared to be not coffin, but concrete. Heavy had never been a big man, but now perhaps because of the harsh light he looked abnormally pale, and his eye sockets and cheekbones jutted out more strongly than usual when he looked back up at Catch.
‘This isn’t a coffin. This is a foundation.’ There was a repressed desperation in his voice. ‘This whole garden is only six foot deep.’
‘What’s it matter Hev? Let’s get outta here before someone spots the light.’
‘No. Get the shovel. I threw it out when I finished digging.’
‘You can’t go any deeper, it’s concrete.’
‘I’m not going deeper. This hole needs filling.’
‘Okay, well come out then and we’ll use the wheelbarrow –’
‘I’m not coming out, Catch. You’re going to bury me.’
Catch stopped. He did not laugh because it was not funny, and because it was not a joke – that much was obvious. He simply sat on the grass where he was, and looked down into the dark eyes below him.
‘Get the shovel, Catch.’
The statement had become a command so, instinctively, Catch leaned sideways and picked up one of the shovels, which he held lightly between his hands. A pale forearm thrust itself out of the grave, and dropped a folded piece of paper into his lap.
‘There’s my will. I’ve got two cyanide pills here, when I’m almost buried I’ll pop them both so I don’t die of suffocation.’ He paused. ‘What are you waiting for?’
‘Why d’you want me to bury you?’
‘What the fuck do you need reasons for? What do you care about reasons?’
‘I’ve spent all night shifting earth for you, without no explanation. Now I’m tired,’ Catch passed the shovel down to Heavy, ‘You can bury yourself.’
Catch stood up and walked away from the grave towards the gap in the fence they had made. He didn’t really have any problem with burying Heavy. On the one hand, it was what he wanted. But on the other hand, Catch was exhausted and did not want to spend another six hours shovelling soil back into the spot they’d just dug it out of. He did not much care for Heavy’s reasoning: reasons were over-rated. He knew that Heavy would be out of the hole in a while, and by the time the morning came they would have forgotten why they’d done the whole fucking thing in the first place.
As per usual, any and all feedback is really useful and will definitely be taken seriously. Thank you for taking the time to read some of my work, I hope you enjoyed it, and there is plenty more on the blog if you go to the Creative Writing page, or follow the ‘Fiction’ tag at the top right of this post.