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The moon shone through the cloudy night sky over the woods. I stood on the side of the path with two shovels, waiting for my employer. Slowly and quietly, a black truck drove up along the path, almost invisible against the shadows under the trees.
The driver pulled to a stop in front of me and rolled down the window, but the inside of the vehicle was too dark to see the driver’s face. “Are you Mr. Graves?” I asked politely. The driver almost imperceptibly nodded his head.
“You brought the shovels?” he asked I held the two of them up for him to see. They were old, but they were still good and strong. They would get the job done.
He nodded, and said, “Get the bag out of the back. We’ll have to carry it a ways away from the path.”
I did as I was told. I went around to the back of the truck and hauled the very sinister-shaped bag out of its back. I strictly restrained myself from wondering what was in the bag. I was being paid to keep this quiet – work, do what I was told, no wondering, and no questions.
Mr. Graves came around the side carrying the shovels. He was a tall man dressed in all black, shaggy clothing. He however hadn’t bothered to use anything to cover his face. I figured that that was good, because it meant that he was willing to trust me. I didn’t like the business that the man did, but I needed money, and he was willing to pay quite a bit for the help that I was providing.
We stacked the shovels on top of the bag and each grabbed an end. The bag felt too heavy for its size and seemed to become heavier with each step that we took away from the path.
When we were a good distance away from the truck and the path, we placed our burden upon the moist ground. Then we got to work.
We took the shovels and got started on our work. We dug into the moist forest dirt. We worked for the better part of an hour in silence. When we were about five or so feet down, he asked me, “How did you get mixed up in this kind of thing?”
“I need the money, and this pays, and although I don’t believe in the need for such things, my mouth will be sealed tighter than a concrete block.” I answered truthfully.
The man nodded, and said sadly, leaning up against his shovel, “I never wanted to get mixed up in this kind of business. There’s too much risk involved – you can’t trust anyone else who’s been working for very long. That’s why I chose to hire someone who didn’t have any experience in the market.”
He was silent then. I kept digging, and he just stared off into the distance. He seemed old, very old and tired and perhaps regretful as well. “Do you know what we’re burying, son?” he asked quietly.
I had a very good guess as to what it was, but I didn’t know for sure, so I asked him, “Does it matter? I won’t be telling anyone about this, and you won’t be telling anyone. Really, I don’t care what it is we’re burying.”
He said nothing. Then, abruptly, he picked up his shovel and continued digging. “Not too much further to go now. We just have to reach six feet down and then we’ll be done with the hard part. Though, the most important part is at the end- distributing the soil correctly and covering it so it looks like the spot was never touched. That takes practice and the utmost care.”
I nodded in agreement with him, only half-paying attention to what he said. A barn owl screeched from the trees above our heads as we dug in silence.
“Do you have a family?” Mr. Graves asked suddenly.
I was confused by his sudden question, but answered truthfully as always. I never told a lie. “Yes. I have a wife and two small children, and three brothers and a sister.”
“Good, good.” He mumbled mostly to himself. “A family is always a good thing to have.” Then, he asked, “Do they know what you are doing tonight?”
I shook my head. “No, I told them that I had gotten a job that required secrecy. I could never tell them that I was partaking in business like this.”
“And yet you say that you never tell a lie.” Mr. Graves stated.
This alarmed me. I had never said that out loud around him even though that was my favorite saying. How had he known about that? “It’s not techniquely a lie unless they ask me specifically what I’m doing.” I replied.
Slowly, he nodded. “Keep digging. We’re almost done with this.” He said sharply. Afraid that I had offended him, and wondering how he had known that about me, yet still wanting to do a good enough job to be remembered and get called up for another job, I did as he said.
Another six inches down, he straightened his back, groaning, “I’m getting too old for things like this. Moving all this soil is a terrible strain on my back.” Then, looking at me, he added, “I’m glad that I decided to get such good help. You’re a good digger.”
“Is that so?” I asked cautiously.
“Yes, you work fast and don’t complain or ask any questions.” He replied.
We worked in silence from then on. Finally, when we reached six feet deep, Mr. Graves said that the pit was deep enough. I climbed out of the pit, and then helped him out. It was then that I realized that Mr. Graves must be very old in deed. His hands were dry and wrinkly and shook as I helped him, and he was breathing fast and hard.
“Do you need to sit down and take a break? I asked, and when he didn’t answer me at first, I added, “I can finish up the rest by myself if you’d like.”
“All right, then.” He groaned. “Go and get the bag and put it in the hole.”
I did as I was told without question. I walked over to where the body was a couple feet away, but tripped over my own two feet it was so dark in the woods by then. I got back up on my feet and brushed myself off.
Then I bent over and attempted to heave the bag over my shoulder. It didn’t work; the bag was too heavy. So I grabbed one end of it and tried again.
Just then, I heard a twig snap behind me. The sound was almost completely imperceptible it was so quiet. I turned around, thinking that the old man had caught his breath by now and was coming to help.
It was lucky that I did move at that precise moment, because one of the shovel’s spades whizzed right past my head as I did.
Mr. Graves was practically invisible in his black clothing, but I managed to just barely make out his figure against his black background. He swung at me again with the shovel, but this time I caught it and pulled it from his grasp.
Using the handle, I knocked his feet out from underneath him and he fell to the ground with a snapping sound. “I thought that you said that you weren’t in this business!” the helpless man exclaimed as I raised the shovel over my head.
“Yes, I did say that.” I replied.
“But you said that you never told a lie!” he pleaded.
“And that,” I told him, “Makes me a liar.”
As a new day dawned in the sky covered in gray clouds, I stood next to the path looking at my handiwork. You could never tell that the woods had ever seen a shovel before.
A white car drove down the path and stopped in front of me. My employer looked at me expectantly from inside his car. “Were you successful?” he asked, handing me my paycheck.
I smiled wickedly and replied, “He never even had a chance to beg for mercy.”
Middletown, New Jersey
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