Author: Gwynfryn Thomas

Shena’s fingernail glistened under the afternoon sun. This one didn’t hurt when it came off – it fell like a mere petal onto the dusty ground. A breeze stung the exposed skin. Wrapping his tongue around the sore finger, he kicked a spiral of dust into the air, almost tripping into the hole. He’d been digging again, against his grandmother’s advice.

Stories of the old world teetered on the cusp of extinction and his grandmother knew them all. By her telling, their land once homed an unfathomable number of people. They’d named the place London in the old language and it was the crossroads of that world, in a time of great fatness. People would come from lands now long-barren – from Yorup and Amer and Frica and all the places Shena dreamed of after his grandmother had spun another tale of far-flung, far-gone adventure. In this London, there were so many people together they had to pile up huts so high the inhabitants would rest with birds at night.

Shena couldn’t imagine what so many people might have looked like. He’d only ever met maybe thirty, and that was at a profound event: the celebration when his mother moved away to start a new village.

He couldn’t imagine the time of fatness his grandmother spoke of, nor just how many grandmothers’ grandmothers ago that must have been. So he dug, knowing that stories were buried not only in memories.

Once, there existed people whose only task was to dig. That was the way of things, he’d heard – one person was digger, one person was fixer, one was builder, one was protector, and they all shared what they’d dug or fixed or built. Everyone knew their one task well. Shena had too many tasks: listener, fetcher, cleaner, and soon—now that the first wisps of a beard had sprouted—husband. That was the way of things now, in their land.

So he dug, hopeful it was not only stories buried here.

His grandmother warned of terrible things buried across their land. But she insisted Shena wasn’t old enough for those stories yet, not before marriage. The dangers hidden under the earth might bring great destruction once again and once he has children of his own, Shena can learn of them to keep their village safe.

So he dug, to learn for himself. To save himself not from the past but from the dangers of the future.

After many days in this desolate spot, he heard a dull tink. Scratching at the dust, he uncovered something flat. A cold, hard material he’d never touched before.

It was a red triangle. He looked at the black symbols daubed on its surface: wavy lines and a bolt of lightning through a skull. He stared at the painted face, the terrible laughter of it. Shena laughed back.

Another of his fingernails fell to the ground. He grew tired. It must be all that digging. Shena lay in the dust under the afternoon sun, hoping to dream of tall huts and flocks of birds. Or maybe to dream of his mother. It should be just/only a quick sleep. He still had plenty to do.