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Grave Digger MAG
It was like it used to be when the sun came out. The high coal fires licked the underbelly of the clouds, illuminating the world in a way the sun had never thought possible. The orange glow came from all around and no shadows loomed. Ruins scattered the ground like snowflakes in winter and the man wondered if a winter would ever come again.
Now was the winter of his discontent made glorious summer by the giant flames. Stones made up the wreckage, and behind these a giant pile of wooden boards stood. Where the ground was not buried by bodies or ruins, crosses in row upon row stretched out as far as the man could see. It reminded him of the poem he had read where red flowers had covered the ground where the dead lay, but now, nothing grew anymore.
The fire burned on and the man came back to his senses. With muscles rippling through his shirt from years of hard labor, he picked up the shovel and started digging. Six feet deep, two feet wide. It was more than enough for the crusted flesh that stuck to a small set of bones. He knew he could bury the bodies quicker if he used mass graves, but out of respect he dug an individual hole for each one.
He did not know if he was the only one left in the world. All he knew was that the death toll was thousands. When God had brought down the final devastation, the empire of the human race had crumbled. Half-melted bodies stained the roadways. They couldn't leave the road. Everything else was on fire.
The man could not remember the devastation; he only remembered back to the time when he first opened his eyes and saw chaos. Born from a blood-soaked sponge of a place, spit out like a newborn covered in the vital fluids of the human race, he was formed by the great creator to provide some peace in a world that had ruined itself long ago.
The hole was dug now, and the man looked back at his work, not pleased but indifferent. He supposed it would be a triumph to any normal person that they had dug this hole in record time, but for the man, it was a habit and a necessity. He looked around for a body.
He spotted the charred remains of a child crushed under a large rock. He lifted the rock and carried what he could of the child over to the hole, climbed down, and placed it inside. He then began to refill the hole. Dirt fell over the child's face, never to be uncovered.
This was the only part of the day he allowed himself to feel pleasure in what he did. A small smile played across his face at the thought that in 100 years, no one would remember the child and if it was God's will, it would peacefully return to the earth. The hole was filled then, and he placed one of his pre-made cross markers at the top of the grave. Thousands of markers spotted the land. These are the dead. We are the dead.
The man had discovered his purpose by speaking to the great creator. He came to him in a dream and spoke to him. Respect had been long forgotten in the world of the Olds, and this would be the last stand of humans. He had woken from the dream and started walking to find the supplies he needed. He found a shovel in three days and wood in two hours. Bodies, he had no shortage of – it seemed the earth spit out more each day.
He had practiced digging and now, years later, he was a seasoned professional. Digging was all the man knew, and it was all he found happiness in. To provide the last act of loving care to a person who had suffered the ultimate price.
Sometimes in his travels he would come across books of the Olds. He had learned from them. The Olds had been called Humans. He had learned many things about them. The ways of the Olds were strange and disrespectful toward the earth, and so the earth sought atonement with the blood of millions soaked into its soil.
The man looked at the grave of the child. It was early morning and it had not taken him an hour. He had become amazing at digging. The slave of God, he had a skill pressed on him that allowed him to bow to God's will. He stared at the gravesite and wondered how he had known that this small thing was called a child and what a child even meant to him. Blessed with words without meanings, he often found himself wondering what could be beyond. A strange slave, he yearned for knowledge and release through questions and answers that would never come.
He wondered what age meant to him. He did not know his own. All he knew was that his back hurt more, and it was becoming more difficult to labor. He slept more and grew shorter. Shiny hairs were starting to grow on his head, and when he awoke to find one of these where he slept, he became frightened. He wondered if God was punishing him as he had punished the Old ones.
The child's age meant nothing to him and clearly age had meant nothing to the child. He was certain that when the child was alive, it had not cared for age and that, like any child, it had lived in the moment, dwelling on good experiences and learning from mistakes.
Nighttime was particularly unnerving. He had read in a book about a strange action called death. He had known what it meant and shaped the idea in his mind. These people he buried fell asleep and never woke up. He lay awake at night staring at the flames rising from the horizons and wondered if he would wake up the next morning. Sometimes he wondered if he had pleased his master today, or of another way to dig graves faster and more efficiently. This often led to him becoming so fatigued that he eventually drifted off to sleep. When he awoke, he never opened his eyes right away for fear or hope that something had changed, but when he opened the windows to his brain, he was lying in the same spot as the day before.
Sometimes he counted seconds as if they were a commodity to be bought or sold. Sometimes he wondered why he counted them or what seconds meant. He could tell by the graying of his hair that time meant something, but sometimes he wondered if time and age were related, as though time was a distant cousin of age and therefore affected age. If relative time were to stop, would he stop aging indefinitely? He could never tell, and often scared himself with these thoughts and usually returned to his work.
By the end of the day, the man had finished 14 graves. He returned to his sheltered ruins to fall asleep and saw something sticking out from under a rock. He saw many things that the Olds had left, but this seemed special, seemed to call him over to place it into his brain.
He picked up the thin piece of glossy paper. It had been well preserved, and when he turned it over, a picture caught his eye. It was someone like him. The person's features were softer than his, and the body was shaped differently. He stared for a long time and felt something stir in him to protect this picture as it would protect him some day. He carried it back to the ruins and placed it by his bed. He had read about this thing before. The Olds had called it love. He lay it by his pillow and fell asleep.
He awoke to the light of the flames reaching the sky. Indifferently and stiffly he got up and reaching for his shovel, caught sight of the picture. His mind flickered and he felt the feeling he had the night before. He tucked the picture in his clothes and went to work.
The graves had been dug, and the man returned home. As he walked, he took the picture out and looked at it. The hot breeze from the flames tickled him under his loose clothing and made him feel warm. He clutched the picture tightly, not wanting to let it go. He smiled and turned the picture over in his hands. He touched it with his fingers and brought it up to his face. He didn't know anything, but he knew what he felt. He knew what he knew. He brought the picture to his lips and pressed them against it. He smiled. It had been the first time.
A strong, hot breeze rolled up behind him and in a moment of love, he let go of the picture and it drifted off in the wind. As fast as he could, he ran after it. He didn't notice his surroundings or what was underfoot. All he knew was that the picture made him feel a way he never knew could exist.
The picture flew over a ledge. He needed to reach it. And he fell to reach the picture. He lay on the ground below the ledge staring up at the flames. The picture floated down onto his chest. He clutched it lovingly. And as his eyes shut at last and he drew his last breath, he knew what he had done was right. The man had committed the last act of love the world would ever know.