10 January 2017 - 5:56 pm

Fiction: No more burying friends

I decided to have a go at one of the recent writing sparks

You are so tired of burying your friends. It’s time to make a change.

My brain took it in a special direction, and I got to play with second person and present tense, neither of which I use very often in my writing. I had fun, and hope you enjoy the result! 


Digging holes is hard work. The earth is harder than it looks, and it hides rocks for the shovel to crash into, sending shock-waves up to punish your already weary arms and shoulders. Your back hurts, more on one side than the other, so you try switching the shovel to the other side, as if that might help. All that happens is that new muscles start complaining. The hole gets deeper.

Bodies, they’re hard work, too. They’re heavier than you might think, particularly when they’re limp and useless. There’s no good way to carry them, and the dangly parts easily get caught on things as you pass, forcing you to stop and untangle them. It’s awkward work, but you’ve learned that it’s best to wait until the rigidity has eased before moving them.

After all, they must be dealt with. The holes must be dug. The bodies must be dragged out, heels scoring divots in your freshly-piled earth. The space closest to your home is full now, which means you have to drag them further and further away each time to reach your newly-dug hole. It only gets harder.

Luckily, gravity takes them down into their new home, though they don’t lie peacefully when they come to rest. You want to hop down there and arrange them in a more appropriate way, but your arms feel like lead and your legs shake with the weight of it all.

You’re honestly not sure if you could climb out again, should you go down there.

It’s easier to fill a hole than it is to dig it, but the shovel feels heavier now when you pick it up. Perhaps it is the drain of the day’s work so far, of digging and digging to make a hole big enough, because bodies require a startling amount of space to lie in, and it seems wrong to force them to fold up just so you can dig a smaller hole. They died, and they meant something to you, so you try to do right by them.

Plus you have to make it deep. Deep enough that you won’t smell the bodies turning into food for the earth; deep enough that the animals won’t smell the bodies turning into food for them. You only want to bury them once, so best to do it right the first time. Only a fool cuts corners and makes more work for themselves.

Or perhaps the shovel is heavier now because of the strain of carrying the body from there to here, so you could put them to rest. Dragging their cold shell with its clinging memories. Sometimes laughter, sometimes shared sadness, always connections. Some way in which lives intersected and forged a bridge. They made you like them, which made you care when they stopped.

You feel that weight in every shovelful of earth you pour down on them. Memories slide off the shovel’s blade and pepper down into the hole. The moment they smiled at you honestly for once. A packet of shared chips. A pat on the back that was almost a slap. You shovel and shovel, and the earth hisses as it goes down and settles, and your muscles burn with the effort of it.

When you finally tamp it down into place with the back of the shovel, your whole body trembles with fatigue. You try to brush the dirt off your clothes, but it clings and stains. You wash your face and hands, but more seems like so much effort. You drink like you’re dying, and eat because you have to, even though it seems like yet more work for your body to do. Finally, finally you fall down into the deep, dark hole of sleep with a relieved sigh.

Burying friends is exhausting work. When the next one turns up, you start to wonder if you’re doing the right thing.

Building a bonfire, you discover, is much more pleasing work. You get to walk through the woods and enjoy the freshness of the air. You don’t have to listen to the crack and slide of the shovel or the rasp of your own breathing; now, the sprinkle of birdsong lights your day, and faraway animals call to each other. Small things living their small lives.

You move about freely, selecting pieces of fallen wood as you please. When you have an armful, you wander back to where you started. A pile begins to grow. Every now and then, you drag a large branch back, and notice that you’re getting better at dragging heavy, unwieldy objects. They’re not as heavy as a body, so you start to feel good about your skills. You’re probably starting to put muscle on, too.

Sometimes, all you need to bring back is a sackful of dry leaves and twigs for kindling. That’s like carrying air. You organise the branches in a circle, throw some of the smaller ones on top, and drizzle the kindling around the base. You maybe get a little artistic with the arrangement. There’s no harm in having fun with it, right?

You arrange a lawn chair and a cooler nearby, upwind and close enough that you should be able to feel its heat, once it’s lit. There’s nothing more pleasing and restful than sitting out under the stars with a roaring fire and a drink in hand.

The sun begins to set, painting the trees in red and gold, like the promise of the flames to come. It is time to add the final piece. Setting up the bonfire was not quick or effortless work, but it was still better than digging a hole.

Dragging the body out is still a heavy, tricky process, and heaving it up onto the centre of the pyre is surprisingly difficult. You wonder if it’s possible for them to help at all, come at least part of the way before they expire, but that would be somewhat unfair to ask of them. At least you’re getting better at manipulating the prone forms with their wayward limbs, and this time you’re able to fold the arms over the chest with a modicum of respect and consideration. Your friend looks almost peaceful. That’s much better than being twisted at the bottom of a hole.

You light the kindling and watch it catch. The conditions are dry enough that the flames crackle and latch onto the larger branches quickly. Light drains from the sky and pools in your bonfire that rises and rises, and throws sparks up as if to complete the cycle. For a while, there is a friend-shaped shadow in the fire; then it, too, is turned to light.

You sit and watch and sip your drink. Perhaps murmur a few words over your fallen friend and wish them well on their way to the next place. Happiness and sadness and all the other memories that bound you to them rise away with the smoke.

Before you head to your much-loved bed, you rake and poke the glowing embers, folding them over into a concentrated heap. Bones are hard to burn but you hope perseverence and pressure will do it. By morning, the wind will have scattered the ashes.

Yes, fire is a much better way to deal with a dead friend than digging a hole. You feel good once you know this, because progress and improvement are worthy things.

It doesn’t occur to you that perhaps you should stop killing your friends when they call by.

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  1. Kylie Thompson says:

    Oooh, I loved this!

    January 10th, 2017 at 7:44 pm

  2. Mel says:

    Thanks! 😀

    January 10th, 2017 at 9:09 pm