Chapter 2-1

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Hole 1: Grave Digger

Chapter 2:  Part 1

Prisoner.[1]

Originally, the way jailers said the word was a reference to slave oarsmen on ancient galleys. Since the slaves mostly toiled on commercial boats, the phrase has continued to be used for grueling work environments. However, in the present where instead of oars, boats are powered by steam engines and paddle wheels, all criminals serving out their sentences are collectively referred to by the term. According to the law, all prisoners without exception were forced to undertake an assigned labor, without exception.

The prisoners had to do such tasks as: butchering animals, disposing of excrement and waste, mining for minerals, and clearing wildernesses. Due to the difficulty and grueling nature of the labor, there were very few people assigned to the tasks that had actually wanted to do them. And in the case of life imprisonment, in particular, prisoners were forced to toil until the end of their lives without the chance of parole.

….The shovel the boy had been provided with was only one pinky’s width shorter than the ones he had used in the past. The shaft was made of extremely dried and hard plain wood, and acid-resistant steel had been used for the blade and the handle. It looked completely new, as if it had been brought here straight from the factory.

It had been three days since the paddy wagon had brought him to the public graveyard. And whenever the boy named “prisoner 5722” wasn’t sleeping, he was using that shovel to continue digging holes.

His living space was the complete opposite of his high quality shovel. As for his bed, he had been provided with some space in the decaying stable at the back of the estate. The straw that had been spread across the floor was stale and although it looked like horses hadn’t been raised there in a very long time, on each of the discolored wall’s wooden posts, the characteristic stench of livestock lingered.

Shortly after the sun appeared, the old man and an old woman turned up. Other than the clothes, the hair, and the hooked nose, which looked like an old witch’s, they looked exactly the same. However, compared to the man who didn’t drop courtesy for the sake of decorum, the woman, with a face that looked like dealing with a horse would be far less objectionable, spat out, “Get up and do your job, you little wretch.”

So the boy put some hard bread and extremely strong, salty soup into his stomach and made his way to the graveyard. And in the midst of the harsh sunlight, he put up with the discomfort and continued to dig graves for somebody’s future corpse.

To tell the truth, from the moment the blindfold had been removed….in other words, the moment he realized he had been taken to this graveyard, the boy had a vague hunch that this same fate would probably happen to him.  At any rate, this hard labor suited him. He was already accustomed to it. That’s because digging holes and trenches was the primary responsibility of the foot soldiers.

…he wondered how many knights had been moved from the front lines of the battlefield and reassigned to be foot soldiers.  As firearms developed after the industrial revolution, knights, pike men and bow soldiers all across the board were deprived of the opportunity to be useful. Since all foot soldiers were armed with firearms as a result of mass production, there was a large demand for some cover to shield their bodies from the hail of bullets. And because it was convenient, the foot soldiers had spread out endlessly…and with shovel in hand they proceeded to dig out large swaths of land. Thus the so called “battleground moles” were born.

Having just dug out a rock the size of his head, the boy cursed the thick tree roots at his feet. At the same time, he offered a silent prayer to the human bones that no one could possibly know. No matter if it’s a wilderness, a level plain, the edge of a forest, or an abandoned wheat field, I pray that my Mole companions, no matter where they are…no matter where they are…I pray they are still digging too.

Back then, he had been glad the military shovel given to him had extended the length of his arm. His body remembered that length. And so for the boy neither the heat rash developing under his collar nor the whorl of hair on the back of his head scorching in the direct sunlight were as unpleasant as the new shovel the old man had given him that was just a pinky’s width too short.

Nevertheless, a big hole like this probably wasn’t required just to bury one person.

He took a breather for a while and looked down at his work. As ordered he had dug the hole, but it seemed big enough to fit a small house.

“If a curled up human corpse were buried here, they probably wouldn’t even need a 10th of the space. Maybe they are planning to use an extremely large coffin,” he muttered to himself.

Or, as fitting a place called “The Mass Grave”, the boy wondered just how many people they planned to bury in this hole.

After a large battle there would be many corpses coming here…was that why he was here?

Well, however they want to use these holes is none of my concern.

There was something else he should be thinking about, something else he should find out.

For the three days since he had arrived, the only thing he thought about as he dug was escape. Strangely, it seemed like at this Mass Grave he was the only prisoner being made to work.

His warden…no, although it looked like he was watching the boy 24 hours a day, if Daribedor happened to do something then there would be no one who would know where the boy was.  If somehow the boy were able to conceal himself, then wouldn’t he be freed from this foolish existence of digging holes? However, if he wasn’t able to get out of there, then for the whole remainder of his life-sentence he would be forced to waste his life doing forced labor as “Prisoner #5772”.

“This is not a joke”, he muttered over and over as he dug.

This situation is definitely not a joke. I’ve got to escape from this place. This gloomy, depressing place…

Compared to the usual shackles and prison bars he had during his trial, the lax restraints at the Mass Grave were a good opportunity. First he would somehow sneak away from this place. Then he would go by a new name, become a different person, and start over in a place where groups like the military or the police couldn’t reach…

As the boy toiled, thinking only of escape, his third day of work became night. The graveyard in the wake of the sun’s disappearance was eerier than ever. In the decaying stable, wind blew in through the cracks, making it excessively chilly. He doubted the idea of him needing something like a lamp or candle had crossed anyone’s mind at that estate. So, whenever the clouds covered the moon and the stars, his stable was completely enveloped in darkness. It was the exact same condition as when he was blindfolded. He had no choice but to pull up his blanket. Hell, even falling asleep on the first night had been difficult, and if he had to confess….scary.

There are no such things as ghosts. In his mind he understood that.

However, in the midst of the total darkness where there was no one but himself, with the old hinges creaking and the creepy, ominous sound of the wind blowing into the stable through the cracks, he couldn’t help but think someone was approaching.

Of course if he jumped up and strained his eyes he’d be able to confirm that there was no one there. Still, as this feeling came back again and again, he started to doubt whether or not he truly didn’t believe in things like ghosts or spirits slipping out of their corpses.

Well, at the very least this place wouldn’t be troubled by corpses holding onto regrets.

Although he had been frightened, for two days his fears proved to be nothing but a waste of time.

Fortunately, (well whether it was fortunate or not he didn’t know, but) on this third night there was not a single cloud, and the moon was bright. It was so bright he could clearly see the tip of his toes, making it an ideal night to take a walk.

The boy rose out of his bed of straw and sheets. As he stood, the black dog, which as usual was sprawled across the ground at the entrance of the stable, looked his way.

“I’m just taking a piss. You probably don’t go in your own bed right?” The boy said, lightly waving his hand. The dog then exited the stable with the boy following closely behind.

It’s a courteous, albeit scary looking dog, but it does seem to understand what I say.

This reminded him of the two big problems he had regarding his escape.

The collar around his neck and also…this dog.

No matter what the boy did, the black dog named “Dephen” was always watching. And even if the boy wasn’t directly in the dog’s sights, he felt like he was always within the dog’s area of perception. So if the boy tried going anywhere, eventually “Dephen” would be at his back, following.

“By no means should you think about escaping,” Daribedor had said to him on the first day. “Dephen here is an excellent grave keeper. At the same time, he is also an unparalleled hunting dog. His sense of smell and his fangs make him worthy of being a jailer second to none.”

A dog as my jailer? At first the boy was only half convinced but…

For the three days he had been under watch, this dog had performed its task to a high standard of excellence. In the distant past, humans had often fought directly with hounds and it had been difficult to win those struggles without suffering any injuries. Even though the boy didn’t really know what would happen if he could succeed in a surprise strike against the dog with his shovel, it didn’t matter because the dog never came into a suitable striking range.

It would have been good if Dephen lost its vigilance when it was feeding. Nevertheless, even though only a few scraps of bread had been thrown at the boy, that dog would certainly still be able to locate him by the lingering scent.

After relieving himself, the boy didn’t directly return to the stable. Instead, he aimlessly walked by the mansion’s side fence.  He was reluctant to head towards the graveyard. Even the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind made him feel uncomfortable.

But…obviously nothing was going to come out in the night, right? Nothing like a legless guy, or something like that.

Well, even if he decided to postpone his escape, it was necessary to know something about what the graveyard looked like without the sunlight. In case he escaped in the middle of the night, he would have to cut through the unknown dark forest no matter which direction he went in ….and that would probably be suicide. Yet, even provided he could walk the distance, he didn’t know if he would be able to actually reach the nearest town. Even if he were able to find some tire tracks, and that was being optimistic, he would still need to follow a roadway. And in order to go down a roadway he would have to leave the graveyard.

That’s alright. There are no such things as ghosts. Besides, wasn’t I far more terrified back when that gun turret was pointed at me?

After that thought passed through his head, the boy used the same cautious stride as when he was blindfolded and stepped into the graveyard. The innumerable gravestones bathed in the moonlight, creating a blue shine that stood out in the middle of the darkness. But at the same time, the actual color of the weathered stones made him think of bones.

He had planned to learn the ins and outs of the mass cemetery, but since his vision couldn’t penetrate the deep darkness, he instead started to feel that the graveyard was far too vast. No matter which direction he faced, he saw the same gravestones scattered about with the thick black forest in the distance. And since he’d been lead in various directions when blindfolded, the boy was sure he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to the stable. Still, strange as it was, the fact that the unsympathetic black dog was always following behind him was actually reassuring.

“Prisoner, whether or not you’re relieved about your jailer leaving, rest assured this jail hound will accompany you.”

As he thought about Daribedor’s words, a bitter smile involuntarily leaked out.

Look, it’s alright.  This place may have a touch of those ghostly superstitions, but in the end ghosts are things that only come out in stories.

As the wind blew, he walked through the graveyard, his spirit somehow invigorated.

Of course he was aware that this was a bluff. The nape of his neck beneath his collar, and even his two muscular arms had Goosebumps. This is far enough for today…I should continue tomorrow… with each step these gentle thoughts crossed his mind.

Suddenly he noticed he was standing in front of the hole he had dug earlier that day. From his position it looked like some sort of cellar could be constructed within the massive hole. The moonlight didn’t reach the bottom and the darkness seemed to be like a liquid, pooling at the bottom… there was also no inscription on the gravestone. It was a grave that didn’t belong to anyone.

During the day he had wondered who would be buried in the hole.

And now, questions about what would happen to him after he died welled up in his chest.

If he had broken one of the rules within the confines of the detention camp, he would have been informed in detail of the penal code.  But no one had told him what would happen if he died here.  For example, if his escape was unsuccessful and he died from having his windpipe gnawed by the black dog, would his body be buried in this graveyard afterwards?

To the boy it seemed pointless, since there was no one who would grieve for him. Plus, before at the trial it was decided that the boy’s name, the name his father had given him, would be revoked. So there probably wouldn’t be a name on his tombstone, anyway.

The gravedigger has no grave of his own.

That sarcastic thought once again made him smile bitterly. But he didn’t know whether he should feel sad or frustrated by the situation. The feeling was vague and left him feeling empty. In fact, the emptiness resembled the darkness within the deep grave.

While he listened to the sound of the sudden wind, he thought he heard something else. It sounded like rustling clothes…like something was moving.

Twisting his head at the sound, the boy noticed that the dog had disappeared without him knowing.

Cold sweat ran down the back of his neck.

Finally left alone, the boy remembered just what kind of place he was in. And so like a person with a guilty conscience, he hastily checked his surroundings.

The group of tombstones surrounding him…

The giant hole at his feet…

The rustling dark forest…

The slightly, waning large moon…

And also, just barely in his field of vision…

There was something there.

Other than me, what could possibly be in this remote graveyard in the middle of the night?

………. His mind went blank.

Whatever it was, it was about the size of a human wearing a nearly black, dark, navy hood. Its overcoat reached down to its feet and fluttered in the wind.

Wraith[2]. Wight[3]. Shade [4]…the eerie fables of ghosts that the adults had thoroughly indoctrinated into him when he was small raced within his head.

The hood created a shadow, preventing the boy from seeing the person’s face. However, he was certain it was at the very least aware of him. After all, it was coming right towards him.

Should…I….run?

It was difficult to breathe. He didn’t run, but only because his body completely didn’t hear his mind urging it to flee. His fear took over, causing him to panic, his mind completely blotted out. His legs were frozen, as if he was a soldier in front of a thrown grenade. He felt violently dizzy, shaking in that spot. Maybe it was some benevolence or mercy from the heavens that his bladder was empty.

Swaying slowly side to side, the approaching person’s pace was actually quite slow, but the boy could by no means sense that.

Am I… passing out…

It was a strange sensation. He must run. It was the only thing the boy thought about. He must run. From that ghost…from this graveyard. Even though his legs felt like they were rooted into the ground, he poured all his remaining energy into the limbs and urged them to move.

But the next moment the power drained from his knees and with a jerk he fell. As he tumbled downwards, for some reason he felt the distance to the ground was farther than it should have been.

Nothing good happened after all.

In the middle of the graveyard, in the middle of the night, the boy lost consciousness.

…but a slight moment before all faded to black, within the hood of that creature, he thought he saw a white face.

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[1] Oriddo

[2] 死霊 with レイス Furigana.  A Wraith is a visible spirit

[3] 悪魂機鬼 with ワイト Furigana.  A wight is an archaic term to refer to a supernatural being.

[4] 影魔 with シエード Furigana.  A shade is a specter or ghost.

 


 

2 thoughts on “Chapter 2-1

  1. >> As such, for the boy, not the heat rash developing under his collar nor the whorl of hair on the back of his head scorching in the direct sunlight were as unpleasant as the new shovel the old man had given him that was just a pinky’s width too short.

    As such, for the boy, neither the heat rash developing under his collar nor the whorl of hair on the back of his head scorching in the direct sunlight were as unpleasant as the new shovel, which the old man had given him, that was just a pinky’s width too short.

    >> this dog had understood its task with a high dress of excellence.

    this dog had performed its task to a high standard of excellence.

    >> guilty conscious

    guilty conscience

    • Good catches. Right now I’ve been doing the final edits, getting rid of small typos and rearranging phrases so that they sound less Japanese. I’ll definitely use some of your suggestions in the final.

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