Hunt of Envy
By Steven Jonak
Published By Steven Jonak at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 Steven Jonak
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. This ebook may not be re-sold. Thank you for respecting the work of this author.
Old Paul, as others in the region called him, was on Mark’s porch smoking a cigar as was common during their evening conversations. Mark looked down through the vertical posts supporting the surrounding railing. He focused on the grass near the walkway leading to the front of his Victorian home. He ruminated his wife’s, Liz’s, comments regarding what she referred to as his “unhealthy hobby.” Old Paul was a scrambled, southern-blooded recluse. Mark still wanted his opinion.
He chose his words with care to not noticeably imply he was overly-concerned with his wife’s opinion. He knew this would cause Paul to recite a lengthy monologue, numerating what he believed were the differences between men and women until he concluded that his dad and his dad’s dad would not have been so troubled with their wives’ opinions. After provoking Paul’s thoughts in the style he thought most effective, he sat back and listened between the pauses in the smoke billowing through the old man’s beard that was shadowed beneath his leather hat.
“You know, I don’t see the harm in it. So you wonder what be below your house? You should. The history of your place is goddamned interesting. My grandfather said he knows slaves worked your yard, and with what you showed me the other day, I’d probably like to join you if you stumbled across something else.”
What Mark found in his yard was a covered chalice of sorts. He found it while planting a post and it caught his eye as it shone beneath the inconsiderate southern sun. The chalice’s cover was held closed and sealed by a thin piece of rope and inside were many gold coins, letters written by a man to his mistress, and a few other peculiar yet worthless trinkets. The gold nearly paid for the low price of his home. A few, select lots in the area were purchased for much lower than they should have been, due to the homes’ histories, neighbors and the overall reputation of the area.
This find brought about Mark’s hobby, or as some referred to it his obsession. Under the pretense of building a storm shelter, he began to dig deeper for what his ground might hold secret. Once the hole, which became a cave, became deep and long enough to begin cementing his wife began her questioning of the extended hours he labored nearly a quarter mile from their home. He then said his original intention was to dig for precious metal. This plan was much less practical and caused his wife to question both the truth in his words and his sanity.
“You can’t listen to your wife’s every word,” Paul continued. You need an escape as all us menfolk do. You’re exploring which is admirable in my opinion, regardless of how little fruit your curiosity brings. All our little escapist hobbies become a necessity as we get later into our lives. I know my son has been asking you to go hunting with him for the last year and a half as he’s watched you become bored and shut up in your home too often. That’s an escape with enough tradition to calm your wife, and it is more practical as she says she always wants your tasks to be.”
“I told James hunting is never something that’s been of interest to me. I mean, I can see where others find enjoyment in it, but I’m content with my yard-work. I’m also embarrassed to admit I’ve never killed anything with my own hands before – at least nothing beyond a rodent. The look in their eyes is always too much for me. It’s something innate to me. When an animal, a rodent in my case, begins to widen its eyes and the lids begin to tremble I foolishly think that watching the life go out of their eyes will stick with me. I don’t think I could shoot a deer let alone a group of ducks flying past.”
Paul looked into the distance as Mark imagined he would when he uttered such an unmanly monologue. “Life going out of their eyes? Nothing changes in their eyes, they can often just close as if you put them to a much needed nap. I’m going to do you a favor and not mention this to James. That is the strangest reason not to hunt I’ve ever heard. You really need to go along with him sometime. I didn’t understand his persistence before, but now I realize not only does he need the company, he needs the peace a good hunt can bring.”
Mark never became too anxious from Paul’s judgements, as they were both strange but relatable beings in each other’s eyes. They both wanted to be at relative peace and felt they could mutually assist one another in this aim. Their evening conversations brought a fresh opinion which wasn’t hammered into their beings by either a wife, or son in Paul’s situation.
They continued to talk for nearly an hour before the old neighbor joked that he overstayed his welcome and warned that his son would be visiting to accost him for his peculiar disinclination to hunting. Mark thanked him for his time and as usual, it went unspoken that he appreciated his company.
As the home’s owner kicked the dirt of his shoes onto his porch he paused with a feeling of uncertainty as through the door he heard his wife move her chair across the wooden floor of their home. Once he opened the door his wife smiled at him, a new nervous smile she developed during recent months, and asked him for what he was hungry. He said he was not, so she poured him a glass of milk and turned on the stovetop to fry some beef for him. She cared for him and showed pleasure at even the opportunity to satisfy him with a meal he might eventually enjoy. He did not notice this pleasure that night, but he mentally measured his love for the woman who seemed to float before him as she stopped to make eye contact and smile when gliding across their home.
Liz was tall for a woman, over five-and-a half-feet and of a slim but strong build. Her hair was often up so she did not sweat as she kept herself busy. The color of her hair was black and of a thickness which almost caused the old neighbors to question whether or not she were truly Irish as they were brought to believe. She was fortunate to not have any wrinkles near her eyes and maintained a youthful fullness to her face which was rare in such a hot climate. The only sign of the constant sun was two pinched lines which formed above the bridge of her nose when she expressed concern or was affected by a sudden sadness.
She was known in the area, by consensus and gossip, as beautiful. Mark knew how much he should appreciate such a wife and often practiced this appreciation. He would bring her flowers from the yard a couple times a month and was eager to flatter her when he recognized she put more effort into her appearance and energy into her charms.
The smell of the beef and taste of the chilled milk after such a warm day caused Mark to become hungry and he filled his glass with water as his wife told him his food was ready. They sat down together and avoided speaking of how Mark spent his afternoon, as this was a troublesome and depressing topic for the two of them. He spoke of select parts of his and Paul’s conversation and of how persistent James was in regards to going out to hunt. She laughed at this but she continued to flash him the nervous smile which became so frequent during moments of intimacy and candor since his new hobby. He asked if anything was bothering her lately and she gave him a stern but loving “No.”
The two of them talked of the local gossip and the status of their household as was usual for most couples. Neither of them felt like strengthening their stance when it came to their opinion of Mark’s new hobby, nor making any progress in their respective arguments as they were reminded of how much happiness and comfort they could supply each other. He made her feel safe and she made him feel stable and strong, however, since Mark’s new curiosity started to build for what sat beneath them, he questioned his stability and strength, causing him to need her presence all the more. He feared he may dig himself to the black center of the earth and find only madness if her presence did not regulate and soothe his compulsions.
Mark was about three hours into his project the following day. He began after he finished his household duties during the dark morning hours, so he could begin as soon as sunlight reached into his ever-deepening pit. Toiling away helped suppress the thoughts of how many days it had been since he found anything worth mentioning to his wife, and how many weeks his wife troubled over his absence without being concerned with what he may or may not find. He was proud of the sweat which further dampened the ground he walked across with steel-toed boots. The boots were at least a decade old, but thick and heavy enough to keep his ankles from bucking and rolling when the air became thin from the greed of his lungs.
Being underwater is what he associated his digging to as he chipped away at the tougher, clustered soil; knowing that if he stayed in the hole too long he would wake up in an oxygen starved delirium, if he were fortunate. The entrance to the hole was the size of a doorway if one were flat on the ground. He attributed his shortness of breath more to the rate at which he worked than the size of the entrance. Three tools were used to break away the soil: a pick, and both a square and round shovel. A screwdriver from his belt was rarely used to close in when he imagined a gleam from the ground or chopped into substance with a peculiar density. A wheelbarrow waited outside and a sled-like device he crafted himself was lowered in with a rope to drag out ground to either spread through less fertile areas of his yard or to flatten divots he noticed as he tended to his cows.
It was nearing the familiar point in Mark’s excavating when he acutely sensed the fog which lingered in the darkness present in the edge of his vision. He knew this was his brain either signaling dehydration or a shortage of oxygen. He planned to pull the sled out when he continued again and began walking back to his house. As his eyes winced in from the brightness of the day he made out a figure now far past his home. It was a dark shadow which floated erect from the ground like a post gliding, limbs split from it only to be retracted back into the figure in quickening intervals. It was a person, looking as if they were coming from his land, so being the natural protector his wife knew him to be, he stood still, hoping his eyes adjusted before the being made it to the woods beyond his home.
Mark conceded to the weakness of his senses and quickened his pace in hopes the roof of his porch would allow his eyes to adjust to the figure. Details distinguished themselves slowly: a thin-brimmed hat cut into the landscape and hair was evident along the pale neck of the man. This man also began moving faster and his inhuman floating became choppy steps. The figure turned around to look between his destination and Mark, and it was James. The son of Mark’s friend who sat on the same porch he was on now, a night prior. His groomed, dense, black beard revealed relatively white teeth which were pressed together within a nervous yet smug smile.
The vision confused him. He could not claim the figure was anything but a hallucination, which would be a common result of such a grueling task. “Could a hallucination have such a troublesome expression while resembling an acquaintance?” he asked himself as he entered his home in a daze. He sat down and watched his wife reading next to an empty glass whose condensation glistened beneath the chandelier centered above their table. The book was new and he questioned his wife of its newness. She loudly told him it was borrowed to her by James with an abruptness that shook both her wrists and more subtly, Mark’s being. He did not think that man would dare enter his home while he was away. He was a confident husband, but James had always worried him. His obsession with hunting, his ambiguous impetus along with his notorious and uncharacteristic temper was a combination he feared with reason. He did not speak of himself before Mark. He was not vain, was educated and from all who knew him, declared he valued his solitude and the vacancy of the surrounding forest above all else their simple town and surrounding but distant suburbs could grant.
Silence followed Liz’s outburst and Mark told himself he needed to calm and recover before going further with her. Eventually he asked what book, and it was a work of fiction over one-hundred years old which involved an old man writing to a young woman from squalid quarters. The idea of such a book being borrowed from he who was unconsciously a daily enemy of his caused silence to revisit. During the quiet his wife got up from her chair leaving the book on the table as an implication of trust. He accepted and read the synopsis, only to be further confused. It was not of a typical breed of book. The story was to seemingly be a warped, irregular version of a growing romance between two characters, but with a looming yet endearing cloud of futility. None the less, it interested him and he asked Liz to let him know what she thought of it, as to not express jealousy that was not overwhelming him as much as an unshakable dread. He knew from life experience and learned from his father that jealousy was a clever vermin. Regardless of how passionately you shooed and displayed the simple human indicators of hostility it found its way into your hearth’s cupboard and ate you bread.
Many of these thoughts he forced to the back of his mind to enjoy this time with Liz. She recognized when he flipped his temperament for a more inviting variety to accept it warmly as a beneficial exercise, or an attempt at peace. He asked her how she slept the night before and opined how enjoyable he thought the brisk breeze into their upstairs bedroom was this year’s summer. She partially agreed and said in jest that she wished she did not feel guilty for being tempted to stay under covers until noon. He laughed and started speaking about how healthy he was beginning to feel as he arose in the morning after such constant labor. They both knew the aggression with which he worked would accumulate more eventual damage than strength, however, he still felt well because he slept like a bull hit by a train as he laid next to her at night. Endless worlds of dreams spun in his mind after such exertion and the tone was never to be predicted. One night he would dream of digging while he was being drenched in a relieving rain. The next night he would dream of milking and cleaning up after his cows, a banal dream that was probably induced by the lack of effort he put towards his dwindling herd.
That night he went to bed much later than was usual after reading a couple chapters of a bland agricultural book he began months before his digs, and it was a welcomed distraction to the idea of reading the gift from James. Laying down beside his wife his mind was engulfed with a soothing blackness. After a moment of immeasurable time that is only present outside of conscious living, he saw James looking at him eye to eye, feeling his breath and watching his beard shift, expressing undecipherable judgments. The blanketed gestures of his chin where contrasted by the alertness and undeterrable expression of his locked stare. His eyes were black in his dream, being Mark could not recall the color of his eyes. Two black beads slipped and rotated with an effective slightness. Eye to eye they tried to understand the other; the stare progressed to a form of communication as successful as speaking with an articulateness possessed by neither man. Both would not resign their fascination with the other. Mark sensed he would lose all if he looked away and was in a panic as the darkly-framed features slipped back, blending away from his mind’s focus. The dream seemed to claim his entire night of rest and was followed by a late, sweaty sunrise and an empty bed.
Days became more routine and comfortable as weeks passed. Mark found a few accumulative ounces of gold deep beneath, to his embarrassment, the mouth of his underground tunnel. The signs of gold were sparse in the nuggets and melted down to even less than expected. More came after and it was an incremental income which justified his digs. This caused him to be less determined to resume his work underground, the opposite of what his wife predicted when he began to find the precious metal. Mark, throughout his life, as most young children, became enamored by the freshness of his findings and experience, only to be dissatisfied with the reality and the stripped tediousness which resulted from such wild endeavors. He felt his digs were a now emptied compulsion with only a declaration of conclusion to be found.
After a long day of nothing new, besides the expansion of his underground lair, he saw old Paul was sitting on his porch with a glass of milk his wife would often offer him. He did not wear his usual careless, weathered mask of a face. He was sweating as most in the area were that day and milk sat on his moustache. His eyes were squinted as if he they were for days, and they wandered as if they were searching to find an escape from the clench of his facial muscles. He was stressed and did not slowly roll into conversation as Mark was accustomed.
“God damnit. I can’t tell which way’s up with the boy. Reading his books that are mailed from who knows where and sneaking around in the dark. He’s become a damned neurotic – never standing still and never eating. I feel guilty saying this, but it feels good to get out of our home. He takes a toll on my own nerves some of these days.”
His outburst called for Mark to tell him about seeing the son wandering across his yard and the book that he borrowed to his wife, which went missing before this conversation, but he had the clarity not to further trouble the old man.
“I’ve never spent much time with him, Paul. He wants me to hunt with him, as you know. I’ve enjoyed the few words we’ve shared – they’ve been even fewer lately though, I’ll admit that. I figured he took offense to my not wanting to go hunting with him. It wouldn’t have been that bad, maybe I should have. Maybe some company would do him some good, we all know that’s probably been said about me too much lately.”
Paul forced a laugh after Mark’s attempt at twisting the worry from the son to himself. But the laughing stopped with a quick, seemingly involuntary clench of his jaw. They were both comfortable and felt as if they were conversing with a slightly modified version of themselves during past colloquies and healthy, cathartic sessions of doing nothing more than watching the sun recolor their expanse of land, but that day felt different to them both.
“James might just need freshness to his life. We all have those days when the repetition of being awoken by the sun and tucked to bed by the moon loses its mystique. If we don’t change we either gave up or quit learning, and with the latter being more common, who the hell can look at our landscape and us who walk on two legs without the pleasure of imagining their foundations or origins are otherwise than they were birthed to accept. No man, not even one as disposed to solitude as James can stay sane without evolving their views and readjusting the focus of their wonder, whether this evolution coming in a burst or with a slow trickle is healthier seems to be the question James will show us.”
“I could not tell you what’s going on with him. We weren’t like this growing up. At least I don’t remember ever changing as he is. His mother had something similar to his strangeness in her youth and I knew I didn’t need to tell him since her genes couldn’t be ignored. They ended her early and I don’t think I could survive watching them overtaking him at my age. I know he’d feel ashamed if I ever spoke such a thing to him, but god damn, Mark, I’d do anything for the boy if I knew what he needed. I’ve never been good with people who stray too far from normalcy.”
Mark was quieted by such a revelation of the old man’s thoughts on people. He felt pity that he could not earnestly feel for the son.
“He’ll be ok. We’ve all been through tough times. Look at me. My wife probably thinks I hit my head since I’ve been digging through our ground. I’ll tell you, Paul, I’ve been wondering why I’ve been so fascinated with my new task, and I concluded it’s the freshness of my discoveries – it feels like youth, when we weren’t so biased and men from my and your son’s generation weren’t constantly running from the hungry, grasping misery we imagine that comes with age. We’re both fighting worries this irrational and can’t come to terms with aging and finishing up this life as we are now.”
The men ended their conversation in a different mood than that which they were accustomed. They went to bed but not to sleep, sweating and planning how tomorrow they were to make the concept of normalcy Paul spoke of tangible in their daily lives. They were not certain where they would begin but they both fought to piece together old fragments of life in their minds which they imagined to edge upon this normalcy.
When the next day had come Mark had some success. He and his wife’s relationship felt to him to be on the mend. They spoke to each other with an unguarded, playful innocence and sincerity which he attributed to the earlier years of their companionship. They would go about their routine missing each other and reconvene in the kitchen of their home smiling warmly and pleased to have company. They were both often reminded of and fretted for James and Paul, but they needed to repair their own home before offering them a bed.
A few days after their hearts warmed to the other’s again Mark was digging the deepest section of his tunnel with fervor. He felt as if a new man and now thought of this routine as enjoyment and less of an obsession after assessing his moment of honestly with Paul. It was an hour past when he usually finished when he was disconcerted by the feel of the soil at the end of his shovel. He stood still and twisted the shovel lightly and the soil vibrated its handle. Slowly he deduced what sounded to be a steady, muffled roar closing in on him. He decided it must have been a light earthquake and did not relate the shaking to the roar as would a rational, less consumed mind.
Darkness pounded his being to the floor of the cave. Nothing could be made out around him and his mind stopped working as he abandoned his tools and sprinted in the direction of what by instinct he thought was the mouth of the cave. He slipped in a small pool of mud and began to scream. He knew the opening of his tunnel collapsed and blamed his greed for his pitiful position. He spun in frantic fear as he knew the importance of finding or nearing his escape. Collapsing in resignation he toppled to his back and began to try and catch his breath. Letting out loud gasps he felt the cool darkness on his eyeballs. As he regulated his breathing he shifted his head and hair on the damp soil trying to spot any sign of light or direction. Eventually he began to see ripples of faint light in the blackness he was within and saw a glimmer atop a small pile of soil. It was a pipe which paralleled the floor of the cave which made its way in as the cave collapsed. Air seemed to flow through it and he could hear an ambiguous, unearthly commotion moving away from his position.
Deciding he was not strong enough to continue struggling to escape, he thought it was most rational to wait to be saved. He tried to sleep next to the pipe which fed him air and hoped those in his area would save him as night fell. He fought to sleep and it was not found. He let out occasional screams of frustration which sunk into the earth around him. After what he knew were only hours which felt to be days he started to near a sleep-like state. Unsure if he were truly sleeping or not being in such a degree of darkness, the ripples across his recently acquired sky created shapes, forms and he even started to hear noise. The noises were small, nocturnal creatures scuttling across the floor, and burrowing and escaping the walls. The ripples danced and twisted amongst themselves, creating what one would have to imagine the darkest expanse of the ocean would look like if there were no moon. The awe delivered to Mark by these shapes and his comparisons eventually granted him brief rest and he found himself awaking with one of his legs in a puddle of water and the pipe leading into his tunnel now many feet away. The light coming through the tunnel horrified him. This signified no one came to find him although it were probably a new day.
Mark then knew he could be there until he died. Everyone in the vicinity would know he was trapped in the tunnel and all he could think of is how strange it was that he was stuck beneath the earth, so hopeless in an environment he yearned to revisit. James troubled him the most and he until this moment could not allow himself to consider his involvement. He knew his days were limited and James would not miss him. His father was too worried for James’s mental stability to consider rescuing him if James took over his household by force.
He quit trying to track days and only waited for Paul or his wife to get help, or James to block the pipe. Asking himself, who planted the pipe and how did he not see this coming, did not relieve his duress. He knew the answers but could not accept them if he were to hope to survive, however, accepting this lack of acceptance he was determined to dig his way out. Too worried of getting lost in the small cavern to find his tools, he dug with his hands along the pipe which led to the light above. For hours he did so and his fingers cramped and twitched from being used as tools for such a period. Earth did not fall from above him at the rate he hoped because of the slow descent into his tunnel.
Digging upwards through the dense ground in desperation, he knew he would need to resign as his hands began to quit. It felt as if his hands were replaced with bloody, inanimate claws. For hours his shoulders spun in miniature circles and his arms numbed throughout as they remained aimed upward, losing their blood to his overclocked heart. With his breaths came sounds unheard by his ears along with personally unprecedented silence. His noises were monotonous but he could not ignore their crudeness. These noises were foreign to him and he feared they would be detrimental to his survival, or as if his body were fighting to survive while draining the last of its resources. These worries, the deadness of his limbs and the transformation of his hands caused him to decide to rest.
For the first time, laying on the cool soil in this darkness was a relief. He put his hands before his face by habit to try and see how they endured the abuse. When he tried to see his hands, there was the barely perceptible, metallic smell of blood beneath the dirt imbedded in his flesh. He knew his hands would not last another day, or at least not the day after. He remembered there were tools in the tunnel and would now risk getting lost finding them, since after his attempt to escape there was at least enough room to leverage a small tool at the remaining soil blocking the entrance.
He knew getting lost in the hole could result in death, or cause what little sanity he was gripping onto to be lost, and he thought it best to aim one arm at the entrance of the tunnel and wave the other near the walls as he dug his heels for traction toward the deepest and farthest recesses of the cave. His body never moved like this before, as one can find themselves resorting to new measures when their day may be one of their last. He concentrated all his energy into sensing any aberration from the varieties of soil his searching hand grazed. He knew not how far he traveled since such movements’ rates have not been gauged in the light. But eventually, he wondered if he only spun in circles, telling himself he swears he did not remember digging at such a depth. Too panicked to remain in this form of movement, he decided he would face the entrance of the tunnel and swing both arms as if he were making a vertical snow angel while hoping to swing a limb into a tool. Doing this reminded him of winter and he wondered what condition he would be in if he were to make it to winter in this environment. He knew it was improbable for him to survive weeks, but surviving without escaping scared him more than dying.
His socks became wet and he stopped moving, and along with his halting movement he noticed the soil at his feet did not make such a steady grinding noise as did the rest of the dirt he moved through. He was in a delicate state so his first thoughts were of the walls of the cave collapsing in like some kind of contained mudslide. Then he wondered if he found water if it could be sipped without bringing sickness. Answers to his questions might bring some solace, so he decided to move his foot around more, closing his eyes he tried to visualize the shape of the moisture with the heel of his boot, moving it and listening for changes in sound and resistance to his movements. There was depth to the water and he felt it spill down the back of his boots.
The discovery of water was something unexpected to him, and being surprises are often forced distractions, and distractions are often welcomed in trying times, he focused on finding an area from which to try and drink. He figured this puddle would descend farther back into the cave and be bordered by the slope of its man-made walls. He cupped his damaged, now calloused hands and scooped at the water. Dirt separated the water from his hands so he first scrubbed most the dirt off with the first handful. Scrubbing his hands brought on pain, but he sipped at his second handful after letting some of it filter between his fingers. It did not taste well, so he did not over-indulge. He drank enough to dampen the inside of his mouth and alleviate the reoccurring, but resisted dizziness that occasionally met his consciousness.
It occurred to him with the refreshment that the water brought his body that remembering the location of this water might be as important as remembering the direction of the entrance. The anxiety brought on by the possibility of either losing the location of the water or entrance caused him to try and get some rest where he finished drinking. He stretched out on his back against the cool ground to sleep, struggling to do so without the luxuries to which he was accustomed: a pillow, blankets and warmth.
He shifted across the dirt as he tried to fall asleep, haunted by both the idea of being locked beneath the earth and losing his sense of direction. Scurrying was heard toward the back of the cave as he drifted in and out of sleep. He was not sure whether he was imagining these noises, but they became louder and found their way into his reality. Claws scratched at the ground and shifted the bodies of whatever may be using them as practical devices. After hours of this noise startling him in his near-sleep and fading away, it became almost unbearably loud. It was then evident that there were at least two of the creatures which he surmised were moles given the environment.
Rapid scurrying was heard from the same direction, but closer, and Mark began to perceive the creatures’ forms within the blackness. They were snarling at one another and threatening each other with their movements. The older, darker mole was being backed up into the depths of the tunnel by the lighter, more aggressive and healthier of the two. This repetition of circles leading to the eventual retreat of the darker mole continued until it quit giving way to the other. The lighter mole snarled face-to-face with the other, frustrated with the other’s decision of not conceding to his display of power. The darker mole froze in silence and then made a quick movement, its head disappearing behind the more aggressive mole. The previously controlled mole’s head reappeared and the others legs lost their deftness in the dirt. The dark mole now chewed on a hairy piece of the flesh from the other’s neck. The damaged instigator began tearing at his prey with the powers left to him. They tore away at each other’s flesh, rolling into the back of the cave. All that was left were screams incongruous to their small, unthreatening bodies. Mark was too weary to distinguish their bodies any longer and the vision was lost as he was lullabied by the noise of primitive and bloodthirsty squealing.
A day later Mark stood vertically, almost completely erect beneath the entrance of his tunnel. He worked with a small, narrow shovel now to dig up the pipe which was guiltily slid into the entrance by whomever trapped him. His mind was revitalized as he planned to be back atop the earth which now surrounded him. He thought of his wife and her role, and possible consent to all of this, and of her safety. He thought of the ravaged, bloodstained heap of hair which sat in the darkness on the way to his tools. Intentionally, he thought more on the animals’ battle than on his soon to be confrontation with his wife and imprisoner. He knew the latter was unavoidable and what he may discover may ruin him. Thoughts of beings living in the darkness, naturally driven to destroy one another left him enough questions to occupy his mind as he finished his escape.
After several, immeasurable hours of digging Mark felt less resistance as he scooped from the earth. His arms could not handle more resistance and he knew it was likely neither his hand nor his arms would be fully-operational for a week if he escaped. After another hour of more cautious digging, being aware the thinned ceiling that covered the entrance could collapse, Mark focused on his reuniting with his home and his wife. He envisioned himself rushing to his home in the light and the look on his wife’s face when he would enter.
A spill of soil covered Mark’s boots and he forgot the thinned ceiling and numbed limbs and dug with ferocity. Light had shone down the pipe which he surmised was placed by his imprisoner and he tilted his head back to take a deep breath of abundant oxygen for the first time in days. He smelled grass and felt the air around him shift. Clasping his less damaged hand to the pipe, he lunged upward and swung his other arm onto the ground. His head now extruded from the ground and he winced, closing his eyes with rapidity as they were assaulted by the sunlight.
He pulled the bent pipe from the ground and needed to drop to his knees to assess what caused his entrance to be covered. The imprints of tire tread were seen around his escape and he knew what caused his entrapment. Limping up to the house, he unconsciously carried the angled pipe toward his home, considering it to be a defensive tool. As he walked up the steps and across the porch to enter his home he turned his ears to the door. Nothing was heard besides buzzing from his ears being reintroduced to moving air and the rustling of plants. He opened the unlocked door slowly and saw his wife sitting at the kitchen table. She turned her head toward him with a tired, defeated expression and moved her hands to the top of the table as if she were bracing herself. Mark dropped his pipe and moved toward his wife. The noise of the pipe hitting the wood floor echoed through the home. Mark placed his bloodied hand on the shoulder of his wife’s blue dress and noticed his hands were not sensing such fine contours.
Mark rubbed the fabric of his wife’s sleeve, staring in distraction at his number fingers as they seemed to move free of his thought. He turned his hand and slowly moved the palm toward his face. He was lost in what used to be his reality, his habitat. Liz’s hand moved down to clutch each side of her chair’s seat and her body tensed as if to brace herself from her transformed husband’s madness. He became aware of the change in her position and looked at the bloodstained sleeve of her dress. The noises of the moles screaming in the tunnel came to his mind as he saw the blood. He felt his legs tremble and fists clench. A returning reverberation from the floorboards steadied one of his legs and James walked in direction of the table and sat down. Mark did not know from which door he came and only observed Liz’s reaction.
James sat across from Liz and took his long left-hand and patted it twice on the tabletop, above the chair beside him. Mark collapsed into and nearly off the chair, clutching both sides of the table which caused his wife to flinch and James to reach his right hand towards a bag which he carried in with him and set atop the table. He turned in his chair and put his hand on Mark’s wrist and said, “Look at me, Mark. This wasn’t easy for me, and was and will be harder for you. I’m in love with her and you must decide what to do about this.”
Mark remembered the dark eyes from his dream, and his darker beard reminded him of his closeness to his light-bearded father Paul. He was in disbelief of the confidence with which the son now spoke, being he was always known for his reserve.
“Why are you here?” is all Mark managed to utter as his voice sounded foreign to him. It was not a question to which he was certain he wanted to hear answered, but he would.
“You came to the home of she who you love, did you not?” he asked in return. Liz stood and backed away from the table. Mark was not known to be violent, but she knew anyone would have difficulty responding to such rhetoric after being buried alive for days.
“Don’t you say love one more time, James. Why the pipe and how…? I mean, why such measures? Do you not know?”
“I know it takes strength to speak to me now. Speaking to you beforehand would have implied the possibility that we could both meet a mutually agreeable consensus or plan in regards to Liz.”
Hearing his wife’s name spoken with such a way did not bring forth the fury he expected. He now only waited for James to continue.
“My decision to get rid of you was resolute, but I couldn’t come to terms with ending you so effectively, if you understand… so I put the pipe in the hole before I drove my tractor over the entrance. You see, I used to simply admire you, but after your abandonment… I deserve Liz.”
Mark no longer felt the need to talk and only stared in awe of this James, whose existence he never imagined. James dark face stared with determination, directly into Mark’s eyes as he spoke to him and he eventually shifted the bag sitting on the table. It sounded as if were filled with tools as it moved. James, sitting beside Mark, waved his hand as a gesture to ask that he sit across the table from him. Mark did not respond, so James nodded and moved one seat to his right. They both stared at each other like begrudged brothers as their nerves twitched with delight at the prospect of escaping the other for what they saw as their future.
James unzipped the bag quietly as he monitored Mark’s movement. He pulled out heavy objects wrapped in thick cloth, set the bundle on the table and swiped the bag to the floor with his long arms. James pulled the bundle toward himself and slowly unwrapped two pistols. Neither acted with surprise as they both felt the weight and solemnity of their reunion. James signaled Liz to grab the cloth and asked she hold it between them.
“Act if you must, Mark. I will give her love.”
James said this as he held a pistol, knowing Mark did the same. He then only waited to see if Mark would act.
Liz shook as she held the cloth between the men to mask their movements and guns. Mark could not feel the gun, but still knew his finger was moving to fire. He felt his arm buck and James shot out the light above them both. Glass sprayed them all and brought darkness back to Mark, causing him to once again visualize the brutal movements of the moles as his arm bucked five more times. The cloth danced across the table and fell to the floor with his neighbor.