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This week’s challenge from Chuck gave us ten randomly chosen words (library, ethereal, storm, dolphin, replay, undertaker, envelope, satellite, chisel, and cube). We were asked to pick five of them to include as elements within the story for a thousand word piece. Here’s “Grave,” featuring library, storm, envelope, undertaker, and satellite, albeit a couple of hours late.

Grave

Lightning crackled across the sky, chasing itself from cloud to cloud as Devlin slung his spade over his shoulder. The storm had been building on the horizon for hours, and the apprentice undertaker had plenty of time to finish his last task, but he’d spent much of his afternoon hiding from his master, Thom. So it was that he found himself crawling out of a newly-dug grave as the first drops of rain began to fall.

Sure, Thom was kind enough on the surface. He’d taken Devlin in several years before, allowing his parents to care for his younger brother and pursue their own careers in archaeology. The old man knew he wasn’t going to be able to carry on his job for more than another year or so, but still, he didn’t have to beat Devlin every time he found him reading. His ears still ached from the boxing they’d been given that afternoon. At least his book hadn’t been thrown away this time.

Digging graves was a bore, always the same dimensions, always the same shovel. The only thing that changed was where in the yard he would be digging. At least the people in the books he read got to escape from their dull lives, off on some adventure. Dev sighed and made his way back to Thom’s cabin at the northern edge of the graveyard. At least the day’s work was done. He called out as he entered the door, the first raindrops hitting the ground as he propped his shovel against the door frame. “Thom? I’m done.”

“Ah, good. I see you managed to beat the storm. Dinner’s nearly ready, if you’ve completed your work.” The senior undertaker stood from a chair near the stove. A fire blazed in the fireplace, lending warmth to the cabin as the temperature dropped outside.

“I did. Mission accomplished, boss.”

“You know it would take you a hell of a lot less time if you didn’t read when you were supposed to be digging.”

“I know.”

“I’m not training you to read all day.”

“I know.”

“Is it going to happen again?” Thom raised his fist.

Devlin sighed. “No, Thom.”

“Good. Glad we talked. Sausage and cabbage soup for dinner. Enjoy. I’m going to bed before the weather gets any worse. Goodnight, Dev.”

“Night, Thom.”

Once the old man had gone to bed, Devlin sat at the table and sipped at a bowl of soup. The week’s mail had come in while he’d been at work and was sitting on the chair beside him, so he picked it up and idly thumbed through the various letters, magazines from coffin makers, and postcards from customers until he spotted a small yellowed envelope with his name on it.

Inside the envelope was a matching piece of paper, a letter in neat handwriting, green ink shining in the firelight.

“Dear Devlin,” it read, “Your father and I are very proud of you. We know that your apprenticeship hasn’t been easy. It’s never easy to have to spend your life doing something you don’t want to do. Still, it’s very important for you to have this opportunity. With the work you’re doing now, you’ll be able to earn a stable living. Who knows? In ten or fifteen years, you might be able to pursue more of your passions.

“You’re very lucky you know. Your brother has to travel to the satellite villages to find work anymore, and no one is about to offer him an apprenticeship. Still, I suppose things could be a lot worse for us right now. Your father and I are busy with our own work, naturally. The excavation of the library is going far better than we’d expected and the scrolls and tomes that we’re finding are in remarkable condition. It amazes me how well the desert manages to preserve artifacts for us.

“We continue to search for the heart of the library. We’ve found a clue that is pointing us even deeper underground. Oh, to have lived at the peak of this civilization! The level of skill it must have taken to be able to create something so massive, a facility of this size, beneath a mountain! Devlin, the words cannot possibly describe the way I feel right now. We’re sorry that you can’t join us. You’d love it here. It’s warm and beautiful, and the chances we have to find something big are growing better by the day. We love you, Dev, and can’t wait to see you. Love, Mum and Dad.

“P.S. Your father is working on some sketches to send when the post goes out again. I hope you like them.”

Devlin set the letter aside. His soup had gone cold, so he poured the remnants out and paced around the dining room. The library. His parents had talked about it for years before leaving for the excavation, and in his childhood he had considered it the stuff of legend. Now here he was, hundreds of miles away, the great desert separating him from them, bound by the terms of his apprenticeship. He longed to join them. There was a sense of finality about the work he did for Thom, with each grave he dug serving as someone’s end. The library was history in the making, each day bringing new discoveries for his parents. Even his brother was finding new things in the satellite villages that surrounded his home.

Dev sighed and sat back down. The terms of his apprenticeship bound him, and Thom was too clever to allow him to sneak off any time soon. As he stretched in the chair, a flash of lightning outside the window illuminated the whole room, throwing his spade into sharp relief. “There is a fresh grave outside,” he glanced at the envelope. “And Thom’s got no family to speak of…” The thunder boomed, rattling the cabin. Devlin sat in thought as the storm raged on and the rain continued to fall. “It is an option…”

6 Comments

  1. Brilliant and creepy, I love the detail you put into your words. I can picture every minute of it.

  2. Wow…killer ending…literally!!! Loved it! 🙂

  3. WOW good friggin job on nothing much to go by! keep it up!


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