I’m looking through my Fiction Writing folder to find a suitable writing sample to present to a professor. I’d like to take his course this term, and he’d like to see a writing sample. That is fairly standard procedure, I’ve been told, so I’m flipping through old documents to find something good. Yeah, yeah, “keep lookin’.” Funny. I did find this, and don’t think I’ll use it, but decided, “what the heck, I’ll slap it on Metropollywog and see who groans.
It is the beginning of a story I’ve tentatively titled, “The Big Hole”, which is about a big hole.
Rudolf stood near the hole, looking at it. A step or two behind him the farmer Alias leaned on his spade, chin resting on crossed hands. Behind the farmer stood a boy of ten, maybe eleven, chewing an apple. One of Alias’ sons, must be. A bird call made all three glance at the tree line, some dozen paces towards the east. Alias shifted nervously and brought his back straight, hand moving down the spade’s handle in case he had to suddenly hit something with it. Rudolf looked back at the hole.
“You didn’t dig it,” Rudolf said.
“No, like I told you,” said Alias, “I was gonna dig it but found it, first thing.”
“Why would you dig a hole this big?”
“I wouldn’t,” said the farmer, “but here was this great big hole where I only wanted a little hole.”
“Right,” said Rudolf, quietly. “You didn’t dig it.”
Rudolf had known Alias since the farmer had married into the village, ten or so years ago. About as long ago as the boy was old. He’d known Alias’ wife since she was born, knew both her parents. Hard working and hard drinking Alias had fallen into a few scrapes and caused some trouble in the past, but nothing major. Nothing that ever required the master’s attention. Rudolf also knew Alias wasn’t a liar. He looked back at the hole.
Two paces wide, he guessed, fairly circular, piles of dirt thrown up all around its circumference. Rudolf walked up the nearest pile, swinging his arms as he plodded up the pile. Alias knew better than to laugh at the bailiff, so he simply watched Rudolf’s round form jiggle like pudding as the he struggled up the mound,. Atop the pile Rudolf swept his hand over his thinning hair, rearranging the long swoop that covered his bald spot. Looking into the hole he couldn’t see the bottom. More of a pit than a hole, he thought. Did the amount of dirt surrounding the hole equal the amount not in it? He didn’t know. Possibly. He was better at guessing weights of grain in reed baskets and how many hands high a calf was than estimating piles of dirt. Leaning forward, as far forward as he dared, he still couldn’t see the bottom. He wiped his hands together, turned around and walked back down the pile with another graceless maneuver. Alias stifled a second round of laughter.
Rudolf either didn’t notice Alias’ suppressed glee or decided not to respond. He looked at his leather shoes covered with fresh dirt before telling Alias to stay at the hole until he returned.
“Why,” asked the farmer, worry creasing his brow. “This isn’t my fault.”
“I know it’s not your fault, Alias. I want you to stay here in case something comes out.”
“Something comes out,” exclaimed Alias in shocking disbelieve. “And what then? What if something does come out,” said Alias.
“Scream as loud as you can and hit it with that shovel, as hard as you can.”
“It’s a spade,” said Alias.
“Spade. Shovel. What’s the difference. Just hit anything that . . . ”
“Difference is that a spade is for digging holes and a shovel is for moving loose material.”
“But I didn’t dig that hole,” Alias reminded the bailiff. “If I’m staying here, where are you going?”
The place that I most don’t want to, thought Rudolf and walked off without answering.
The village was only a short distance from the pea fields. Rudolf guessed that the entire time he’d been inspecting Alias’ hole he’d never been out of view. A single dirt road ran through the center of the village, with most of the houses lining the side of the road. It split at the north end, running seemingly into the small stone church that divided the road like a boulder parting a stream. To the east lay the next village, after skirting a bog and a bandit-infested forest, and to the west sat the master’s manor. Rudolf’s house was on the west fork not that far from the church, before the small copse of woods that separate the master from his villeins. He couldn’t see the masters’ manor from his porch, thanks God for small blessings. He walked through the village, nodding to women sweeping their stoops or hanging their laundry, and took a left at the church. He considered stopping home before continuing. Maybe Frida’s breakfast still sat on the table where he had abandoned it when Alias’ son had arrived earlier that morning. He didn’t stop.
A quarter of a mile past his house, along a road steadily rising up a gentle climb, he heard the masons and carpenters. Ten minutes later, stepping out of the sparse woods, he saw them, moving stone and building scaffolding, halfway through building the stone wall that the master had decided to surround his manor with. Two hours past sunrise and the work day was in full swing. Rudolf still didn’t understand where the gate was supposed to go, for it looked like the masons were making a complete, uninterrupted circuit. Standing in the yard supervising the craftsmen, the lead mason Grifo saw Rudolf approaching and waved. The muscular builder stepped away from his desk, an unfinished wood plank propped up on sawhorses, and walked to meet the bailiff.
“God’s grace upon you,” said Grifo, extending his hand.
“And to you,” Rudolf accepted the builders hand and the vigorous pumping that came with the handshake. “How’s the wall coming?”
Grifo flinched, as if Rudolf had just asked him where he’d buried the body and hidden the stolen loot. The mason rose to his tiptoes and looked around. No one behind Rudolf, no one especially near. Hesitantly, almost forcing his mouth into a grin, Grifo said, “Fine.”
“Good,” said Rudolf, who could care less about the wall. “I’m not here about the wall.” Grifo noticeably relaxed. The mason had some black mark against him in the guild books, Rudolf couldn’t remember the exact nature of the builder’s wrong, but he did recall that the master had a difficult time finding a builder and eventually decided on using Grifo . Decided or settled; Rudolf guessed the latter. The bailiff didn’t care. He wasn’t in charge of the manor house, he told himself, Nordbert was. Nordbert was the steward and Rudolf was the bailiff. They had separate duties and separate concerns, even though they both worked for the master and lived on the his property.
“Where is Nordbert,” Rudolf asked. Grifo pointed to the left side of the manor house, the servant’s entrance, and with a smile and a pat on the back – more of a push than a pat – propelled Rudolf in Nordbert’s direction. Rudolf glanced over his shoulder to see Grifo glancing over his own shoulder, back at the bailiff, as the mason strode deliberately back to his makeshift desk. Could the master hire any odder a worker, thought Rudolf?