Eryswyt, 1

Only the silhouetted manor house and a scattering of smaller buildings beyond are visible in the ruddy starlight and there is nothing, no tree or shrub, to mark the distance that the old traveller has covered. He drives his shovel into the soft turf, bracing against its handle and catching his breath as he gazes impassively at the yawning galaxy above. There are no familiar constellations and he cannot come to terms with a sky so ranged in colour, alien stars shining in seams tinted rust and ice across his field of vision. He shakes his head, refusing the uneasy image.

The grass is even in every direction for acres, the land flat and unremarkable. Here is as good as any place so he sets to work with the shovel, marking out a rectangle six feet long, three across. His muscles are long spent, reclaimed by the tidal forces of his wearied body, but his sinews remain, and the sinews remember the work. He sets the shovel aside and takes up his adz, removing neat squares of turf and piling them up like a mayan pyramid, exposing the temperate soil beneath. To dig, motion following motion, is pressed into him as totally as the folds that have pressed into his face over ages; as ancient nebulae surge and churn above in their vast, illimitable passages, so the old man works at the land.

With the soft turf removed there is a shadow doorway into the ground, a vacancy which he attends with pneumatic motions of the shovel. It’s yielding, keen even, and rather than tiring he grows more energized, throwing load after load over his narrow shoulder and falling into the intuitive rhythm adopted decades before. A mound forms behind him as he scrapes away, and soon he is in knee-deep. He beats the vertical edges of the pit with the flat of the shovel and they stay as straight and firm as if they were cut from clay, as if the grave was something he was discovering rather than making. No breeze stirs the air and there is no sound in the darkness other than the obediently crumbling soil and his sharp breaths. When the shovel strikes solid, the shock flares throughout his body and leaves him empty. He falls, suddenly kneeling in the pit, and cups his hands to scoop a little of the soil; sure enough there is metal beneath, stippled with small nozzles and teats to dripfeed nutrition into the artificial earth. He lays down  upon his back, the lip of the grave just deep enough to level with the tip of his nose, and waits.

(As always, detailed feedback would be great. Especially for tone with this one, and what you thought of the payoff.) 


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