|Some workers should never be disturbed.|
by Tania Walsh
Katya sauntered along the familiar dirt-track, cradling the mathematics school book against her chest. She poised the overweight backpack on her shoulder and nudged at the slipping strap. Keeping her eyes on the path, she tried to avoid stepping onto the grassland coated in dew, in fear she might stain her white knee-length socks. It was bad enough a thin layer of mud coated the sides of her black shoes. A mess she planned to clean upon arriving at school.
A gentle breeze stirred in the park. Tree branches and leaves swayed, occasionally revealing then shrouding the ascending sun. Katya’s eyes squinted with each flash of morning shine. The air smelled of flowers, even though there were none in sight. A lock of brown hair fell over her face. She flicked her head in a backward motion, guiding the strands to the side, almost forcing the glasses off her nose. She hurried her pace around an overgrown shrub with her eyes locked on the path.
Katya heard a rasping voice and raised her head.
“For heaven’s sake girl, where did you come from?”
Surprised by the stranger, it was the black cape fluttering over his shoulders which first caught Katya’s attention. He wore olive slacks and a matching top. A utility belt wrapped around his waist. His thin and pasty neck stretched when he lifted his pointy chin higher. Stubble coated his cheeks, matching his sandy blond hair dangling over his shoulders.
She watched the middle aged man rest both hands atop the handle of his shovel. The bottom half of the tool was submerged inside a ditch.
“How am I meant to get any work done?” A frown creased the man’s broad forehead.
Katya locked eyes with him. “Who are you?” she blurted, knowing all too well her parents’ reaction if they saw her speak with a stranger, but she did so anyway.
“I’ll tell you what girl,” he responded. “I’ll let you in on a little secret.” The man leaned into his shovel’s handle when he spoke.
“Sure,” she breathed out as curiosity won over caution.
The man straightened and inhaled a deep breath. “I am the Shovel Man, on a mission to rid our world of the evil permeating our very lives. With my shovel I strike down crime and then bury it out of sight.”
Katya hiked the strap of the school bag higher on her shoulder. “Odd that I’ve never heard of you before.”
“Then my work is successful,” the shovel man said. “Or there would be an awful lot of questions, and I hate explaining myself.”
“Do you work for the cops?”
“The police.” The man’s nostrils flared when he spoke. “If they knew what wickedness lurked on their doorsteps, most of them would run and hide.”
“So what do you do that’s so different?” she questioned, tightening her grip of the book in her hands.
“Like I already said, I eradicate deviant forces,” the man’s voice deepened.
Katya recoiled. “I should go.”
“But I haven’t shown you my talent,” he pleaded with a soft voice.
Before his last word trailed off, the man drew the shovel out of the soil. He gripped the centre of the handle and twirled the tool with both hands like a parade baton. She recognized the absurdity of the man’s behavior, yet the spectacle held her interest. He hurled the shovel into his right hand, waving the instrument through the air before he thrust the blade directly over his head. In a single movement, he struck the shovel to his right and parried against an invisible foe. The cape glided effortlessly behind the man as he performed his act.
She stood mesmerized by the exhibition.
The man moved closer and without warning, the shovel swung in her direction. The backside of the blade side-swiped her head. Katya’s glasses flipped off her face and she fell backwards, landing with a thud on her back-pack. Vibrations reverberated through her brain and a splitting ache drummed over her skull. With eyes shut tight, she held the side of her head and whimpered in pain.
“I am sorry. I do get carried away with my show, but your timing couldn’t be more perfect.” The man’s words sounded distant.
All Katya could think about was the splitting ache inside her head. Prickling goose bumps glazed over her limbs. She gasped for breath and pushed her torso off the moist lawn. She watched a black blur move about. Her hands trembled when they retrieved the glasses dangling off her ear. Half-kneeling on the ground she hesitated to move.
Her glasses were shattered glasses and her vision was a honeycomb of tiny images. She saw the man take a large, bulgy Hessian sack from behind a bush. Standing at the ditch, he emptied the rucksack and an object, slightly bigger than a basket ball, dropped into the hole. Certain she heard a baby’s cry, she suspected the worse. A decayed smell, with a hint of musk, crept into her senses. Resisting the urge to gag, her nose scrunched.
“What are you doing?” she hollered, she attempted to stand but her head spun.
“How are you feeling there child?” his voice was full of life.
She watched him fill the pit with the loose soil and proceed to stamp his boots over the unmarked grave. His hand dug into the pocket of his pants and retrieved small objects he sprinkled over the freshly turned earth.
“Is this a joke?” Katya’s words quivered.
Her eyes flicked between the shallow grave and the man who held the shovel. She wanted to scream and wake up from the nightmare, but knew better. The terror scraping through her thoughts was real, as were the piercing pangs throbbing in her head.
The man approached with his shovel over his shoulder. “It’s not long now. I know you’ll do me proud.” With his last words, the man broke into a sprint along the trail.
Katya wanted to bolt home, except the guilt of a toddler buried not far from where she sat put a stop to such a thought. “Gotta get that baby out,” she mumbled to herself, not giving any thought to the shovel man’s behavior.
Fear itched along Katya’s skin when she crawled over to the site. Her knees and hands coated with mud. With one motion, she brushed aside the grey stones and started to dig into the soil.
Dirt crammed under her fingernails and caked over her arms. Before long she found a tiny hand and scooped more soil out of the ditch to uncover a small child. Hauling the body onto the lawn, she dusted the earth off its torso.
Unable to hold onto her fear any longer, tears burst forward and blurred her vision. Wiping at the deluge of waterworks, Katya peered back at the child to discover his eyes had opened. Blood red pupils looked at her. Shocked by the sight, she flinched and thudded onto her backside. The child’s head slowly contorted in her direction. In vain, she tried to move or pull her gaze from the child’s. The decayed stench heightened and filled her nostrils.
The shovel man’s voice reached Katya. “Nobody ever listens. That’s why I left you alone to divert the demon’s attention while I finish it off. You didn’t let me down. Right on cue too.”
“Save me,” she cried. “Please, I can’t move my body.”
Katya heard the man’s footsteps approach, and then felt his breath on the side of her face. “If I save you, you will work for me. Understood?”
“Yes,” she blubbered. “Anything.”
The man shifted and stepped into Katya’s vision. “I’ll do you a favor. While the demon tries to draw your life, I’ll take it out. But you need to stop fighting the fiend. Let it inside of you. That’s the only way I can finish it off.”
Everything inside of Katya quivered as if worms slithered beneath her skin. Darkness swarmed over her thoughts and within them she became lost and confused. She wanted out, but couldn’t move. Something else entered her mind, and a deep laugh echoed in her ears. Katya started to scream on the inside.
“Are you ready little girl?” The shovel man said. “And welcome to your new life alongside me.”
For a split second the man moved out of her sight, and then Katya saw the shovel swing at her head. The impact to her face drilled a dull, intense pain through her forehead. Katya felt her body crumble, as did the dark thoughts. With her last vision she saw the man turn his shovel to the baby.
© Copyright 2010 Tania Walsh. All rights reserved.
Tania Walsh has granted Knight Chills non-exclusive rights to display this work.