Dry earth, fresh earth. Clinging like life to memory. Water is what I need; there’s water in the whiskey. Stumbling back into my earthen stumped chair, I reach for my jug. The second swig is better than the first and the third better yet. Neither of the three can loosen my mind’s grip on the brown dirt fixed upon my shovels edge. Brown dirt, fresh earth, too fresh to be a coincidence and dark enough to be true. Jumping up I headed for the tree line with a shovel in hand. First to the left and then the right; with a short supposed distance to go I let the shovel drag behind my heavy steps.
Is it there?
What if it is?
As sure as I can be, I’m quickly on the spot where a newly piled mound of upturned earth rests silently in the fading light. How can this possibly be? It was all a dream; a figment of my drunken subconscious. How can this mound be here? Right here where it shouldn’t be but sitting there nonetheless. Feebly I rake the edge of the shovel across the top of the heap of the clumped dirt hoping with all my energy nothing lies beneath the mound.
Vagueness drifted through his mind as he tried to collect his memories. A wanted question was tugging at him from the far reaches of his awareness. How much longer could he keep up this charade? It had been nearly ten years since he had learned of the man’s ultimate fate. He wished he could go back and change everything about that day. A day that edged him into this life he now called his hell. With too many directions facing him at once, he decided that he must confront the doer of the deed that kept one man searching and another decaying in the depths of the forest.
A tired mind will beat itself up at every chance given. Confrontation is what he needs in this moment of indecisiveness. The dreams are becoming more and more inviting. The curtain between reality and its opposite has begun to get pulled back. What will happen when two worlds collide? What will happen when two souls merge? Some may say the unity is either heaven, or it is hell. What do the moments of non-unity mean to those neither residing in heaven nor hell? Purgatory wraps its warmth around my thoughts.
The digging had begun. First one small layer and then another. Little by little the mound grows smaller, and a hole begins to appear in its place. Nothing! The weight of a thousand days had just been wishfully lifted off my tightened shoulders. I stabbed the pit with the tip of the shovel and let it stand on its own. Why had this empty grave been right here where it was in my dream? The world began to spin once again and down I went as if gravity had tripled its pull. I awoke at some point later, and all was dark save for the very edge of the western sky still warm with a blood red hue. I couldn’t have been out for long, yet I can’t be too sure. From behind me, I heard that the dogs had returned, and I noticed that my shovel had fallen from its graceful upright pose. Setting up I brushed my sleeves and reached out for the shovel to help me stand. Looking down once again at the empty grave, I could not help but wonder.
Making my way back towards the gates of hell I brought the flames to life and added more fuel to bring them to a dancing trance. Feeling more than a little confused, I pulled out my pipe and took that first flavorful puff. A few sips of 88 and all seemed to be well. Well, well enough to focus my attention on the here and now as opposed to the then and gone. As the orange-tipped tongues of the flames snapped at the blackened air, I tried to retrace my steps from last night until now. I remember falling asleep in my chair within the cabin with my father’s hat resting softly on my lap. Then the dream ended with my thoughts swirling in my head as if whiskey in a jug and my father’s hat still firmly planted on my lap. Or was it? I’m nearly completely sure it was yet part of me thinks it was resting on the side table. Did I get up in the middle of the night and place it there? If so, where did I go? Could this have been the time frame in which I dug the now empty grave? But why? Has someone been in my yard and creeping into my dreams?
Nonsense! The ghost of Levi Meed doesn’t haunt these parts or any for that matter because I do not believe there even truly is a Levi Meed. But if it wasn’t me who dug that blasted hole then who did? Too many questions and not enough answers to our spread around.
Just then, I heard some scraping coming from the direction of my mystery grave. I jump up quickly and grab one of my lanterns from the cabin and set it to blaze and hurrying quicker and quieter than I thought possible of myself I’m up on the scene in no time. The recently opened grave is now filled, and Top is sitting proudly on top of it.
With the light of the lantern, casting its warm glow across Top’s coat, I stand there amazed and bewildered. His eyes are glowing in the casted shadows and his paws smothered in fresh dirt he blinks once as he gazes at me.
What’s going through his mind at this very moment? What are his actions supposed to communicate to me?
The trees feel as if they’re leaning in to understand what is happening. I catch myself holding my breath as my heart pounds beneath my chest. Thump, thud, thump, thud. Exhaling slightly so as not to disturb the moment I reach my hand out and Top gracefully slips off the mound and into the darkness of the forest. I can still hear his footfalls as I swing the lantern a little closer to the grave and wonder if anything new was now buried there. Willing my mind back towards the fire I fumble my way back out of the trees and onto my open yard where one of Hell’s many doors stands open and welcoming. I begin to see the dancing of eyes around the outer edge of casted light. What are the dogs so nervous about tonight? Keeping their distance and not settling in for a night’s sleep it is as if they’re preparing for something or someone.
Crack! Then silence.
I extinguish my lantern and move in the direction of my front door. With the door already open, I slide through the darkened hole in the wall and grab my pistol out from underneath my bed and hastily head for the front door that is softly lit from the fires glow. Stepping once again through the threshold from in to out and stopping just at the edge of the porch my ears fill with the sounds of silence and the crackling of the fire and simply waiting for the next giveaway.
A rustling along the tree line; the dogs, have caught on to the movement and sounds of something in the distance. The first bark goes out, and the rest follow in unison as the pack emerges from the darkness just long enough to sprint across my yard and on to the trailhead once again disappearing into the night. Merely seconds had passed when I hear Walter’s voice ring out a commanding, “Shut up you damn dogs.”
Feeling a little more at ease with the situation I yell Walter’s name and he in return replied, “Joseph, call off this damn pack of brainless beasts.” With a hint of a grin coming onto my lips, I think to myself how funny it must be to assume I have any control over the dogs. Why does anyone presume they have any control over any animal? Any control over anything for that matter just seems a bit hysterical. The chaos that we slide through everyday reeks of the illusion of pattern and reason. We all fool ourselves into thinking that we have some control over our lives and the situations and creatures that we live among in this world. As Walter grows closer, and I reach for my jug, my smile widens at the thought of control.
With the leaping flames in-between myself and the trailhead I see Walter emerge from the darkness carrying a bag that doesn’t present itself as being too heavy or awkward. He moves with determination towards the fire as the dogs file out of the forest and to the edge of the fires blaze.
“I was hoping you would still be up, kind of figured you would be,” Walter says.
“So what brings you out this far into the dark Walter? Do you come bearing gifts? Another jug of 88”; I know it isn’t just by looking at his burlap bag.
“A gift I can’t say, a package to be sure. I volunteered to bring this out to you and figured I would knock out that task tonight rather than wait till morning. Knowing that you wouldn’t be back in town for a week or so, I promised Elizabeth you would get this as soon as possible.”
Elizabeth? Who is Elizabeth I wonder, and why is she giving me anything at all runs through my now all too clear mind. “Care for a drink?” I ask. “ Who is Elizabeth?”
“You know I don’t drink any more Joseph. And why can’t you get rid of this pack of nuisances that came barreling out of the dark at me?”
“They’re more good than bad Walter. They gave you away quick enough didn’t they?”
“Hmm” is all Walter lets out as he stares at the dancing flames.
After a few moments have passed he circles the blazing ring and hands me a burlap sack that weighs lighter than expected. “What is it?” I ask him.
“Don’t know, a woman comes into my tavern earlier today asking about you wondering where she can find you. Of course, I let her know, but she is leery of making the trip on her own and says she must get this package to you as soon as she can. So, after a few questions of my own to try and get a read on her I tell her that I can get it to you within the next day, and so here I am.”
With my mind becoming even clearer, too clear I pull the cork and down some of Walter’s special brew, reaching out for the burlap bag. I place the bag on the accepting ground beside me and take another swig. “I appreciate the promptness of the delivery,” I tell him and ask about this Elizabeth.
“Oh, nothing special; long brown hair, brown eyes, about five and a half feet tall, and come to think of it she sort of looked a lot like your mother but younger. She carried herself well and didn’t seem too skittish considering her determination in getting you this package in a hurry. I can’t blame her for not wanting to come your way alone, I mean you do sort of have quite the hermits cave so far out here.”
“Where did she come from?” I ask.
“She didn’t say, and I didn’t ask.”
“Is she still in town?”
“She said she would be in town until she knew you had that there package,” Walter replied.
After a few quiet moments, Walter says he must return and that if I wanted to meet Elizabeth, she would be in the tavern first thing in the morning to check on her delivery. I silently give my recognition of the opportunity and nod my head to Walter as he tosses a stick into the fire, says goodbye and turns towards the trailhead. As he does, the dogs all move in unison in the same direction.
“You must do something with these damn dogs.” He says as his silhouette blends back into the darkness of the forests grand divide.
“Yes, something,” I mutter to myself and the flowing flames.