This is bad Oct21


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This is bad

Nowhere was it written that Shackers had to come up to us that Saturday and complain about life in the hole. This was not a rule; it wasn’t even an expectation, but he ordered a trench ladder nonetheless, lay it against the side and climbed up, rung by rung, patient and dogged. We watched the top of his head which was shaped like an almond. His hair was matted into one rigid tress and levitated out horizontally from the nape of his neck so that the whole assemblage resembled a comet. He stepped out of the hole and pulled the ladder up slowly, evenly, as if there were tripwires on either side of an invisible conduit. He had a measured way about him that made me suspect he had incipient talent and flair for something as yet untapped. He was one to watch and I wondered if there was a timeline involved, if something or other was inevitable.

“We’re sunk,” he said flatly looking straight at Gross for a second or two then at me.

“What do you mean ‘sunk’?” Gross asked.

“Sunk, like I just said.”

“What’s the problem exactly?” I put in.

“Problem is the hole is too deep; we’ve been excavating since Valentine’s or so, working like we knew what we were doing and now, nothing. Nothing there.” He turned his head to spit.

“How deep is it?”

“It’s three hundred feet deep, give or take. It’s deep enough to hide the Ark, though maybe not enough to take the whole deluge with it.”

I wondered about Shackers. I hadn’t thought he was literate; maybe there was some oral tradition or something in his village or wherever he came from. Nobody seemed to know much about him or at any rate said much that shed any light. I suspected the diggers feared him. But they worked like dogs under him; it was as if he carried a myth around him that was impenetrable and gloriously vague.

“What are you looking for?” Gross said, trying to sound authoritative.

“What am I looking for? What are you looking for?” he asked, pointing between Gross’s eyes with his thumb.

“You’re the contractor,” Gross shot back with just the wrong measure of unsupportable guile.

Shackers looked at him flat and there was an audible exhalation from somewhere.

“Why don’t you come here?” Shackers gestured toward the edge of the hole. “Why don’t you come over here. Take a look down. See if you can understand my problem.”

Gross shot a look at me in the brief space available when Shackers moved, stepping backwards over the ladder without looking at it. Gross went and I followed. He was at the edge looking down when I heard him gasp as if he’d witnessed a cruelty too raw for consciousness. I saw him raise his hand and cover his mouth with it. I drew up beside him and looked first at him and then at what drew his eyes downward. We were met with a scene so singularly brutish that I suspect neither of us could quite contend with it. Shackers stood looking over the hill. He lit a filthy, crimped cigarette.

“This is bad,” Gross said superfluously.

Shackers smoked without the use of his hands and exhaled twin plumes through his nostrils like a broken dragon. Still looking at the hill and still inhaling the cigarette he adjusted his loincloth. It was somehow a very suggestive gesture though of what I can’t say for sure.

“We’re not there yet,” was all he said. “We’re not nearly there yet gentlemen.”