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The Mysterious Digger

by William Metcalfe


Bill, the farmer

For many decades, Metcalfe’s penmanship and prose stagnated as he raised three children, worked full-time as a picture framer and hobbied as an artistic photographer. With his first computer, he realized that he could type his stories. Magically, they would become legible and shareable. After spending a grueling night ripping through a thesaurus for the one word which would add wonder to his tale, Metcalfe could now return to the secret corner of his iMac where an interesting program awaited his desire. By pushing a few buttons, he could even find a voice that would read aloud his most recent story. If the tale could survive that, he would consider it complete.

Seven of his stories were published in six magazines— Country  Magazine, Work Literary Magazine, Clever, Bird's Thumb, Unhinged and Drunk Monkeys. 

            On one of the most beautiful days of last week, I stood near a window and regarded our backyard with a proprietor's eyes. A subversive wish passed through my mind that, if the canopy of leaves above were dollar bills, I could build my goldfish a more exciting pond. One with multiple water fountains and large lily pads so they could escape the hot, summer sun. Maybe a frog. Or several for harmony’s sake. My eyes drifted upward to focus on the bewildering array of pure white, fluffy clouds. I was certain that someone had said: The clouds seemed to be clean, cotton swabs that could lift away the ills and evils of this world.” How wonderful it would be to drift off with those clouds.

             My contemplation was disrupted by a hurried movement caught in my peripheral vision. A stranger was in our yard. Before I could decide if I was looking at one who had a right to be there or not—burglars abound— the intruder began to behave in an odd manner. His eyes fastened onto the ground, as if the tangle of grass at his feet revealed a secret meaning in an unknown script? His shuffling feet betrayed his indecision. But it soon became obvious that they were leading him out of a rough circle into a smooth spiral. His head bobbed up and down, as if in agreement with his progress. His eyes never left the ground, but shifted from right to left and back again. I could have been watching a hung-over gent searching for the wallet he had dropped on the ground the previous night. Suddenly, his feet stopped moving and his head hovered over an innocuous patch of yellow-green grass.

             Then, without a warning, he lowered his head and began to vigorously scrap the ground. Several minutes later, he took a break and raised his head to scan the yard. But before long, he was frantically digging again. The next time he raised his head, he swung his body around until he faced the opposite direction. He continued to work in this manner for many minutes. He always rotated clockwise. I was so fascinated that I lost track of time. Before me was a local, swirling dervish. This interloper’s rhythmic movements could only have come from an ancient dance to coax life into bursting free from the constraint of dry seeds. Once, he stopped and held something up to his eyes. It could have been a large seed—an acorn, a walnut—or a nugget of gold, covered in dirt. After he set it down, he commenced digging.

           When a worker makes a hole, he addresses it firmly. His eyes focus into its depth. Any roots, rocks or even ribs that thwart him are addressed with suitable four letter words and a powerful thrust of his shovel. If his purpose is planting or burial, he will often glance at the object for the measurement. Like Sisyphus and his rock; so the digger and his hole. Is it round enough? Deep enough? Should he cut through that tough vine which crossed the hole?

         When the reason for entering the earth is either a search for treasure or a surreptitious burial, the digger is more cautious about being observed. His eyes diligently scanned in 5 directions for potential spies. For fear of moles, he searched alone? Thus it was with our little interloper.

         When my phone rang, I moved away from the window. When I returned, the digger was gone. He could have heard the noise and fled. I hurried outside, but I was too late. No sign of him. Not even a hair, as they say.

         When I examined the hole, I was surprised how small it was for the time and effort that creature had expended. My palm was wider. My little finger could scrap its bottom. With a teaspoon, I could have dug a hole ten times as large. My neighbor’s terrier would have created a crater in half this trespasser’s time.

         Later, when I walked to our vegetable garden at the back of the yard, I could see what the little thief had stolen. On the ground was the visible evidence. His sharp teeth had gnawed into the heart of a ripe, red tomato. Then he discarded the rest. Again!

         Was that thieving squirrel’s purpose, with his tirelessly digging in that hole, to bore me into sleep so that he could invade our garden again?

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