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I stood on the spot with the shovel we had found earlier, staring at the ground where Jane told me to dig. My heart pounded in my chest, and I considered whether this was a good idea. “If a body is here, it might have been buried a hundred years ago. People do die and are buried. It could be sacrilegious to uproot somebody. There are laws about doing things like that.”
Alex sat on the chopping block. She took a deep draw on her cigarette, exhaled the smoke and watched it linger in the still air. “I’m sure whoever it is won’t mind.”
How stupid would it sound to tell anyone I was in the woods with a chain smoking Goth girl and a psychic who could divine the past by touch, digging up a body? If one was buried here, it may lead to a story. The headlines would read: Editor, Goth Girl and Psychic Dig Up Civil War Hero.
I took a deep breath and scooped out the first shovel of dirt, paused and peered in the hole. No body. I dug and tossed a few more spades full. Nothing. I scooped out more earth, finding nothing. My pace became less ginger. Dig. Toss. Dig Toss. Dig. Thud!
Whatever I hit seemed solid. I worked the shovel more carefully, taking smaller bites of dirt. Something pale contrasted against the dark earth. Using the tip of the shovel, I removed more ground until I exposed something long and slender. I’d seen skeletons pictured on anatomy charts at the doctor’s office and more than a few body parts while in Afghanistan, doing a stint in the Army, but I was no expert on bones. “I found a tibia or maybe a femur.”
Alex tossed her cigarette, ran to the hole and stared into it. She knelt and brushed back dirt with her hand. “It’s a root.”
She seized it, and what I had called a bone bent as she tugged on it. I knelt next to her and examined it closer. It sure appeared like a root.
Jane, who had been poking a stick at something in the grass, came over and pointed to a spot about two feet over. “Dig here. Not there.”
I repositioned myself and began digging again, wondering how many more roots I would excavate that resembled bones.
The air grew heavy and my clothing damp as I dug. The sounds of the forest became distant, and all I heard was the shovel striking the ground and my heart beating. The last time I’d worked up a sweat digging a hole was boot camp at Fort Jackson. I didn’t like it then, and my current sentiments were the same. I tossed another shovel full of dirt and spotted something.
Rather than shout for Alex and discover I had found another root, I took it and rubbed the soil away. Definitely, this had to be a bone. Picking through the dirt, I found more bones, like from a chicken.
Alex came over and gazed into the hole. “Phalanges or metacarpals.”
Surprised she’d know the correct names, I stared at her. “Really?”
“I took an anatomy class in college.”
I let Alex pick around in the hole. She found more small bones and sorted them on the ground until they began to form the arrangement of a hand. “I’d say a body is buried there.”
Alex took the shovel and removed dirt from the excavation. She took her time and paused occasionally to peer into the hole. Where I was a bulldozer plowing through the soil, she worked more like a seasoned archeologist on a dig.
As a reporter on the Gazette, I often teetered on the fine line separating legal from criminal. My informants were druggies, boosters and mechanics. I’d done interviews at crack houses, brothels and chop shops. When I came to Maiden Falls, I figured those days were behind me. Things here would be safe, mundane and predictable. Yet, here I was, digging up a dead body.
Alex found more small bones and placed them with the first ones. “Hey, we keep this up we’ll have a complete Mr. Bones in no time.”
A chill passed through me. This was a Frankenstein movie, and we were the grave robbers. We’d take the body parts to the mad scientist and get a bag of coins. Things could not be creepier, and I didn’t want to see a dead body, even if the flesh had already gone to the worms.
We took turns digging, and I worked more cautiously. Alex did the detailed stuff like cleaning the dirt off the bones and arranging them with the others. She named them as she found them. Humerus. Ulna. Clavicle.
“Were you pre-med at college?”
Jane sat in the grass nearby and watched. She seemed indifferent about the body we unearthed, and I speculated about what conditions had molded such a strange being.
I pulled back a tattered shirt and pointed to a broken rib. “Someone shot him.”
Alex looked closer. “Maybe.”
“Do you have a better explanation?”
The trauma of seeing exposed human bones no longer seemed as threatening. I stepped back and let Alex continue the exhumation. I feared the moment when we’d get to the head. The idea of a grinning skull with hollow eyes gave me a chill.
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