© H.C. Bentley 2022. All rights reserved.
In a clearing nestled in the woods in rural Mississippi, the ominous sound of a shovel scraping dirt filled the air.
"They don't learn." The man, sweating and covered in dust, grunted as he jabbed the spade back into the earth. "I try to teach them, to prepare them, and they just don't learn." Gripping the wooden handle, he sent dirt flying as he swung the shovel to the side. “Every time it’s the same. Whine, cry, beg, plead. But still don’t learn a damn thing.”
He climbed out of the hole, one not very deep despite his efforts, and, with all of his anger behind the motion, stabbed the shovel into the ground so it stood on its own. Bracing his hands on his hips, he stood and took in his surroundings while he caught his breath. Noticing the rapid rate the sun was sinking beyond the horizon, he looked at the body laying on a dry patch of grass.
She was young, maybe sixteen, and pretty. Or, at least, she had been. Three days of captivity had her dishwater blonde hair, still in its haphazard ponytail, matted with dirt and sweat. Her skin held a fine coat of dust, from the top of her head to the tips of her bare toes. The clothes she wore, a t-shirt and running shorts, were no longer pristine. Her face, once made-up and fresh, showed signs of her distress and fear in the tear tracks through the dirt on her cheeks. Her mouth still held the strip of fabric between her teeth, the gag still knotted below her ponytail. Lengths of rope still bound her wrists and ankles. And the jagged purple and red line, stretching from ear to ear along her throat, stood out in stark contrast to her pale skin.
The line she’d earned when she’d proven there was no further point in trying to teach her, forcing him to end it all.
Now she just lay-bound, still, and blank eyes staring-her body waiting for him to finish his plans for her.
“Things could’ve been different if you had just listened.” He shook his head with a sigh, leaned down, and grabbed her by her ankles. Her cooling skin didn’t phase him as he dragged her to the hole and rolled her into it. “But you’re just like the rest.”
He made quick work of filling the hole, carelessly leaving the poor girl in an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere. After all, she’d failed him, leaving him with nothing but a quick and fleeting sense of disappointment. Once he’d finished his task, he returned the shovel to the ramshackle shed and checked his watch.
“Just in time,” he murmured with satisfaction before catching sight of his hands.
The wide-palmed hands were dirty, covered in sweat and dirt. Their long fingers were tipped in neatly rounded nails, each now caked with dirt underneath them. Earth had also settled into the lines of his knuckles, between his fingers.
The sight of it disgusted him. He considered himself a fastidious man, one who needed to be clean at all times.
His father had been a farmer and had often come home after a day of work covered in dirt and smelling of sweat and livestock. The older man had often joked that it was the smell of hard work and dedication.
The son just thought it was disgusting and beneath him. And from that young age, the son had vowed never to work in a job that had him coming home filthy and stinking.
Deciding he needed to be clean again, especially before going home, he snatched up the jug of water he kept tucked into the corner of the shed. He set it at his feet as he pulled a short pocketknife from his trousers, using it to clean out from under his nails. Then, carefully so as not to splash water on his clothes, he ran water over each of his hands, rubbed them together to loosen the grime before rinsing them again. He watched the water droplets fly as he shook his hands dry before placing the jug back in the shed. As he was reaching for the door, he looked down and noticed the dirt smudging his pants legs.
“Damn it.” Stepping back, he searched the small space for anything resembling a clean rag. Spotting one, he made quick work of dusting as much of the dirt from his pants as possible before finally closing up the shed and heading back to his house.
It was a bit of a hike, but then again, he couldn’t have his family finding out about what he considered his mission. The duty he felt he needed to undertake.
After all, it was none of their business.
His wife would never question him about where he’d been or what he’d been doing. After nearly ten years of marriage, she knew better. She’d become the quiet, subservient wife she should be and deferred to her husband in all matters. Just as he preferred it. But lately, he was finding her boring. Even borderline annoying. Constantly going on about things with the church or at work, rattling on about all the tedious things having to do with the kids. Doctor’s appointments, grades, play dates, parent-teacher conferences. She could, and sometimes seemed to, go on for days about those boys.
His sons-and thank God they’d had boys-would just watch him in wide-eyed silence when he got home. While he appreciated this (children should be seen and not heard, after all), he was starting to find them soft and weak. Probably due to spending much of their time in the company of their mother. She doted on them, allowed them to do things that caused their brains and bodies to become less than what they should be. Instead of putting them into sports, she encouraged things like art and books. And while he approved of educating them, he felt the boys needed to do the things that boys do. Tackling on the football field or battling it on the basketball court. At the ages of six and eight, they should be well on their way to becoming top athletes.
He knew he'd have to take things in hand, toughen those young male bodies up to be strong men. Otherwise, they were going to grow up to be pathetic, inadequate adults.
He reached the treeline, saw his house off in the distance. The lights were glowing in the kitchen where he knew his wife would be at work cooking dinner at the stove so it would be ready, or nearly so, when he got there. The boys would be sitting at the kitchen table, their owlish eyes darting from the homework they were completing to the door as he crossed the threshold. None of them would say a word until they gauged his mood and, even then, they were more than likely to say nothing.
As he walked, he planned his evening. A quick shower to wash off the sweat and dirt from the latest phase of his mission, followed by the cursory dinner with his family. After all, it was important to spend time with them even when their company annoyed him. Once the meal was over, he’d leave the cleanup to his wife as, to his mind, it was her job. As was the routine of getting the children bathed and ready for bed. While she did what she was supposed to, he’d retire to his study to finish some work before deciding on his next target and planning the next phase.
After all, the mission was never done. And wouldn’t be, until they all learned what he was trying to teach them. No matter how long it took.
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