This is the start of something I’ve been working on. All comments, criticisms welcome. Thanks!
Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1972
He slowed the pick-up a mile off the state road as he searched for an old logging trail. Finding the gash in the trees, he turned in and doused the headlights, though there hadn’t been another car for miles. Moonlight poked through the canopy of trees. He waited for his eyes to adjust. After several minutes he shifted into first and started up the winding trail. A mile later, the woods opened to an abandoned pasture studded with brambles and woodchuck holes. He maneuvered the truck in reverse, backing onto the sharply sloped field. He parked in the shadow of an ancient oak. Above, a screech owl flexed its talons, distracted from its hunt.
The man stepped into the chill. A thin layer of frost coated the blanket of dead leaves, yet his flannel shirt was glued to his back like a second skin. He removed his woolen jacket, smoothed it, and placed it on the front seat. Moving to the rear of the ’57 Chevy, he unlatched the dented tailgate and eased it down to avoid the squeak. Sound had a way of ping-ponging through the mountains, especially at night. He reached for the shovel. Staying just inside the boundary of shadow, he gripped the well-worn shaft with both hands and stomped his boot against the metal spoon. The earth refused to yield, rock-hard from a year-long drought. He labored for some time, then glanced at his glowing Timex. It was after three. Frustrated, he flung the tool down with a force that bounced it out of sight. He ran his tongue across parched lips. His stomach twisted. Slouched on the stone wall that bordered the meadow, his mind raced. His army training taught him there was always a solution. “Slow down. Think pal.” A moment later, inspiration struck.
He returned to the back of his truck and slid his cargo from its resting place. He hefted the weight over his shoulder and moved toward the wall but stumbled over a tree root. He shuddered as he imagined it reach for his ankles like a vicious tentacle. His left leg ached under the strain. He longed to rub it. At the wall, he lowered his burden to the ground.
One by one, he removed the stones and placed them on top of the shroud. When he was finished, he stood back and observed the tomb. After several adjustments, he was satisfied. No animal could unbury it. He scattered leaves along the base, smiling over his genius. The straight line of the 100-year-old wall became serpentine, as if its builder had grown bored with symmetry. He returned to the truck and eased the tailgate back into position as a new uneasiness gripped him.
“Damn, the shovel. Where is the shovel?”
His eyes darted over the ground. It was gone. He dropped to his knees. White clouds of frozen breath escaped his mouth as he crawled from the truck to the wall and back, his arms arching back and forth like some frantic swimmer. Dawn would break soon. He noticed a low keening and stopped to listen. Startled, he realized it came from within. He tried to slow his panting, but couldn’t.
“Don’t panic. It’s here somewhere.”
The owl trilled. Bare branches grazed each other as the wind rose.
“The tree. I was underneath the tree when the shovel pissed me off.”
Within minutes, he found the tool and stowed it behind the front seat. Sliding behind the wheel, he released the parking brake, stepped on the clutch and shifted into neutral. The pitch of the ground edged the truck forward which picked up momentum as the man steered left and rolled down the trail. Just before he reached the main road, he popped the clutch. As the engine roared to life, he flipped on the headlights and patted the dash, ignoring the ache that filled his chest.