Short Fiction: The Exhumation (6 Min Read)

He stood upon the beach beside the seawall, bent over in the cold, gray light of dawn, laboriously digging that endless pit again. 

His hairless, sinewy fingers were painfully fixed around the smooth, well-worn handle of the old wooden shovel, which felt burdensome and awkward in his grip; each scoop of the dark, wet sand straining his tired, underdeveloped shoulders. 

As he dug, the waves crashed softly upon the shore, rolling and receding fifty paces before him, their sound dampened in the thick salt-laden fog. 

The pace at which he dug the wet sand brought forth large beads of sweat on his forehead that rolled down his temples, onto his cheeks, tickling his tanned face. 

He paused briefly to wipe his brow, anxiously aware that some awful, terrible doom had led him there, to a destiny from which he could not escape; although, from which he could awake – as he did every day following the same dream. 

It was only by coincidence, however, that he began to ponder the dream during his waking hours; for, like most people, he never considered dreams to be anything more than a mystery – a strange phantasm of the mind that required no more probing than ones own inner spirituality; his dreams merely were

That was, until he read about the body of a drowned swimmer found by a jogger in the early morning on a remote stretch of Maine coastline.

He came across the story while reading news at his desk one morning, a habit that ineffectually served to distract him from his work as a systems administrator in a large data center – a job he loathed, for he wanted nothing else but to be a writer. 

Only, he hadn’t any real ideas for stories, as nothing had heretofore captured his mind and compelled him to begin writing – until he came across the news story of the jogger discovering a body on the beach; that day, he decided: he would begin writing his first story. 

Driving home that night, he thought about the plot:

A man dreams repeatedly of digging on the beach in the early morning hours, and thinks nothing of it. Then, years later, he comes across a news story of a body that has just been exhumed from the beach near his house, and, while reading the story, his memories and his guilt return to him. 

What does he do? 

Does he turn himself in? 

Is his DNA found? 

He didn’t have answers but he felt the story burning inside him, demanding to be told. 

And so, that night, he announced to his wife Tara, that he would begin writing at once; his mornings were to be spent alone in his study, looking out his bay windows upon the bright, blue Pacific. 

This routine took. Soon, he had written about the dream, he had written about the news story, but the words stopped there. He was unable to pick the story up where his dream and the news story left off. And yet, he was still consumed with finishing what he started – more than ever. 

So, unable to write for lack of palpable inspiration, he began taking long morning walks along the shore near his home, where, barefoot, he would scout-out remote spots, where he would sit and imagine his character digging on the beach. 

Only, it wasn’t like his dreams: he was not digging, there was no fog. 

He imagined his story a film, needing the scene to be just so, in order that he might get into his character’s head; for the story needed to be understood to be finished – yet the dream had always simply left him digging, listening to the hush of the waves, peering through the fog.

Thus he began checking the NOAA website, keeping abreast of any shift in weather that might give him the right morning conditions.

Two months later, he saw a heavy coastal fog forecast. His shovel lay against the front gate, at the ready. 

He set his alarm for early the next morning; however, due to his excitement, he was unable to sleep – not a wink. All night he lay in bed thinking of the dream, deliciously, excitedly. 

As 5:45 rolled around, he quietly dressed, his wife still asleep when he left home and found himself enveloped in a thick April morning fog. 

The grey misty morning was a comfort to him. In it he felt serene, full of the peace of a man who knowingly follows his destiny. 

Grabbing the shovel on the way out, he trotted gaily toward the shore, like a fisherman headed for high tide. 

Walking quickly along the beach nearest the seawall, he arrived in fifteen minutes and stuck his shovel in the sand, where he was to perform his artistic ritual. Pausing for a moment, he surveyed his dig site, amazed that the foggy, gray dawn matched perfect his dream. 

Then he dug passionately, excitedly, clumsily. 

His progress was at first slow, but his pace increased as he continued. Each shovel-full of sand seemed to invigorate him, and his grip tightened on the smooth wood handle as his unpracticed-heaving grew more burdensome the deeper he dug; the weight of the heavy, wet sand now making his shoulders burn. 

He began to sweat, his clip matching the cadence of the rolling waves, his shovel, – the digging itself – now seeming to make the soft crashing sound he heard emanating from the shoreline ahead of him. 

His head began to itch. He kept shoveling. Sweat beaded and gathered at his hairline; however, he could not stop digging to wipe his brow, as he had in the dream; it was as if he feared waking up now; it was as if he needed to see it through to finish the story. His shoulders burned. His sweat itched. The waves rolled. The fog hung. 

He kept digging, madly now, and did not hear her approach. His bent figure, standing in the large hole he had dug, operated violently yet rhythmically, like an oil derrick pumping for ore. 

When she addressed him, he heard perhaps nothing at first, then his wife’s voice trying to wake him from his foggy dream, trying to steal him away from his destiny. 

Then she yelled, screamed, “Michael!”

He immediately twisted around, the momentum of the shovel driving his body toward her, its blunt steel edge striking her across the head with a dull thwack. 

His eyes widened and he dropped the shovel near in-sync with her body, which had gone limp and fallen to the sand without a sound.

He stretched his aching arms beside him and looked distantly upon his wife’s distorted face, as if in a dream. 

##

Author’s note: 

I am going to be publishing more short stories here, which I could not be happier to do. If you enjoy, please subscribe and share. Thank You – LB

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