The foot squeezing my rib cage kept me pinned to the ground. A soil spattered edge of the shovel pressed against my trembling throat. My Adam’s apple struggled to gulp repeatedly, stopped each time by cold steel. The man standing above me in a jet blue suit stared into my soul with squirming pupils. He pulled the spade away, releasing me. My body convulsed with involuntary coughing and wheezing.
“Do we understand each other then?”
“Yes.” I wiped away tears with a hand caked in dirt.
“Get diggin’ then.”
I reached for the shovel, but the well dressed man pivoted it out of my grasp. He gave me a disapproving look with empty eyes.
“Your hands. Use them.”
I nodded obediently, then I rolled onto my knees and sunk my nails below the withering grass of the forest floor. Tearing into the earth’s crumbly flesh. Buried rocks and roots cracked against my knuckles, insects wriggled from out their furtive burrows. Occasionally I looked back at the man. He leaned casually against his shovel, tapping his foot impatiently.
“You done yet?”
The pit was barely a foot deep. My spine racked nervously.
“We got all day.”
I dug til the clouds bled orange and purple. The evening breeze whistled its way between the twisting pines. I was sure to take it all in. Memories of the most mundane variety were increasingly precious to me.
“Stop.” The voice boomed, echoing through my core.
The man fiddled his fingers playfully. A wicked smile revealed his festering teeth. The blade of his shovel scraped a trail as he walked toward the pit. I stepped out to face him. I had resigned myself to die, but my fists disagreed. They squeezed around the sharpest pebbles I could find. The man met me at the edge of the hole. He had swung the shovel over his shoulder. His wrist twitched with anticipation. There was not a moment to lose.
“Thanks for your-“
I threw the rocks with the force of a coal train. They clattered harmlessly off his surprised expression. All I needed was an opening. I sprung low to the ground, tackling the man off his feet. A pained exhale exploded from his chest as he slammed to the ground. I took advantage of his shock and wrested the shovel from his grip. He laid there, breathing heavily as I rose to stand. I used the shovel to finish the job.
Thinking back, I should’ve called the police. Instead I buried the mutilated corpse. And stuck the shovel into the ground. It was all I knew about him. I thought it a fitting headstone.