Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Outbreak (04/07/11)
TITLE: The Burden of Life
By Kara Dunham
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The gray-cast morning offered a gloomy light for her morbid task. The Monday morning air was fresh from the night of rain, fog still remained hiding the rest of the village from sight. A distant wail of anguish echoed across the hills, but Beth paid no heed to it. There was nothing she, or anyone else could do. There had been nothing for anyone to do for her either. She was left alone with her anguish, her wails silenced days ago.
She hurried to finish so she would be gone before too many others joined with their own tedious work.
Day number seven. Over a week ago her life had reason to fear and worry, now her worry lay dead, her fears a haunting truth.
Today she buried her baby. Yesterday had been her husband and her fifth. The day before that- she couldn’t remember. This week of hell had melded together into one unimaginable nightmare.
Her warm tears flowed anew, clearing the dirt from her face. The grave master had helped her with several of the graves, somehow he had managed to be unharmed from the disease, as did she.
She thrust the shovel hard into the soft mud kicking the head down into the earth. She tossed the new load aside bringing with it the smell of grass and soil. Some of the harder clumps of dirt rolled from the pile trying to settle, coming to rest at the feet of Thomas.
Thomas laid beyond the pile too weak to sit up. Beth wished she could have him home in bed, tending to his fever, but her baby had died in the night and needed to be put to rest. Thomas would have to wait and endure, wait for death to take him soon, as surely it would as it had with all the rest.
The hard black tokens covered his frail little body. The only sign of the life still within him was his eyes following his mother as she toiled.
Beth paused for a breath and looked down the row of graves she had dug over the past week. This was her sixth, Thomas would be the seventh. Overwhelmed with her loss, Beth’s fingers lost the grip of her shovel. Her knees gave in, pulling her to the ground. Banging her fist against the moist grass- against the evil that stole her family from her- she gave in to her pain. She begged and wished that she could join them. How could she have been left alone? Alone to dig their graves.
Her silent sobs heaved at her chest, she could not go on. Minutes passed, the fog gently rolled across the hills offering no clemency. Still life favored her and would not adhere to her pleas for death.
She slowly sat up, Thomas’ eyes were wide with fear. Her moment of self-pity was gone with a renewed sense of burden. Today she would bury her baby, tomorrow she would bury Thomas.
Her arms and back ached from the relentless digging. She wished she could dig both graves today and get it over with, but she dare not leave an empty grave waiting, for fear of someone taking it in the night, too wrought with grief to dig their own.
The small village had rules to minimize the spread of the illness. The only contact she had had was from her own dying family and the lone grave digger who had fallen ill but had somehow cheated death. Or as Beth liked to think of it- death had cheated them.
Her body was thankful but her heart was sore at the size of grave she dug today. Her dirty, blister-covered hands shook as she reached for the small bundle. With great care she placed her sweet little child into her new resting place. A silent prayer was all she could offer, as she began to refill the hole.
Before the village had broke their fast, Beth returned home. Little Thomas strung over her shoulder, his wide eyes staring back at the small graveyard where he would soon be laid to rest.
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