It was a quiet day in the park. Not a cloud roamed the azure sky, and birds fluttered after each other in the warm sunlight. Trees swayed from side to side, blowing gently in a warm breeze. Chatter slotted into the air, mingling with the birdsong, and the sound of leaves rustling. Small families dotted the grass, people laughing and having picnics, teenagers walking alone, children playing games.
A river ran lazily through the park, twisting in gentle curves as it flowed slowly toward the ocean. Ducks swam near banks, dipping beneath the surface to snatch up tiny pieces of food, or flapping after a stray piece of bread, thrown in by an excited toddler.
Tall buildings rose up behind a mass of trees, looming above the small park like a cat over an unsuspecting mouse. The cold, grey stone seemed out of place next to the vibrant greens of the leaves, and bright blue of the sky.
A glimmer of sunlight bounced off a window, shining down on a particular spot of worn grass. A lone beetle crawled through the blades, making its way slowly toward a distant basket.
The grass in this particular spot was darker than the rest, a deeper green akin to a fur tree's needles. It was patchy, with dusty soil poking out in bare spots among the clumps, but it had survived the daily wear and tear provided by the constant patter of fabric-clad feet. This spot was shaded by a great oak- a tree many centuries old. It had been planted as a marker for a grave, a grave whose inhabitant was not worth naming.
This grave had been dug a great many centuries ago, back when swords were still in common use. It had been dug up once before, but had been refilled after only a month or two.
It had not rained for the past few days- the soil was beginning to crack with the lack of moisture, as summer was in full swing. The cracks in the dusty soil widened ever so slightly, and the ground raised a little, as though it were breathing.
After a few moments, the cracks widened again- this time, a small piece of dry earth falling away from the larger clump, landing near the beetle. It paused for a moment, tapping the ground carefully with one leg, before scurrying off to find cover. The people around this patch of soil, who had noticed the tree's ample shade, took no notice of this sudden moving.
For the third time, the ground was pushed up, and a small patch of grass was uprooted. A small hole appeared in the sheltered nook of the oak tree's root, dust sliding across the ground to fill it in. There was a pause in activity for a minute or two, before more dirt was shifted.
The nearest people- a young couple, sitting beside the small hole- began to take notice of the moving ground. Their conversation subsided, and they looked curiously at the uprooted grass. As they watched, a larger piece was pushed out, and the hole began to widen.
Much to their surprise, and hand began to appear.
They watched in horrified curiosity- only staying to find out exactly what it was that was starting to dig itself out. Whatever it was paused for a moment, hand straight up, as if feeling the gentle summer’s breeze on its cool skin. Then, it continued, pushing up another clump of grass, fumbling to make the hole larger, pushing itself up further. From beneath the ground the couple could now hear grunting, as somebody worked hard to free themselves of their earthy prison. They had begun to back away, as more people had started to gather around, fascinated by what was happening. A small ring had formed around the grave, and more and more people were joining.
Small children pushed to get closer, yelling to their parents and pointing with excitement, as an elbow emerged, and whatever it was rested its forearm on the top of the grave, pointing away from the tree. There was movement beneath the ground, as whatever it was started making space around it, pushing any dirt beneath it, back into the hole it had created. More dirt fell into the space it was occupying, and a second hand joined the first a few moments later.
The hands themselves were brown with mud, caked in the wetter soil from further down, where the sun had not been able to reach to dry. They were cold, and the skin that could be seen was pale and grey- tinged. There was muttering within the ring of people, which was now starting to grow faster and faster, as all people from the nearest vicinity of the grave had come to see what the fuss was about. One single reoccurring question dotted the minds of many- Should they help it? The general answer was no, and the few who were willing were too shy to leave the safety of the circle, too shy to single themselves out and go to help what looked like another person. Whatever, whoever, it was, didn’t seem bothered.
Progress sped up with two hands- more and more earth was being shifted, pushed out of the way. The hole grew, widening to fill the gap between the roots and expanding out further. Dirt still fell into the hole, keeping whoever it was buried beneath a thick layer of loose soil. By this time, both arms were uncovered up to the elbow, and steady work was being done to uncover them further.
After another five minutes or so, the crowd was silent, and the first signs of a head were beginning to appear. Whoever it was in the grave had also started to uncover their coat- a large thing of dark brown leather. They pushed further, and finally the top of their head broke free of the mud. Their hair was short, and covered in dark- coloured mud. The circle of people surrounding the hole was now a small crowd. People pushed to get in closer, determined to see what it was that was causing such a commotion. It was at this point that all birds in the oak tree above flapped away. One particular crow let out a fearful croak, beating its wings furiously in an attempt to fly away as fast as possible.
The tree had never been popular with wildlife- very few birds dared to visit the aged branches, and even fewer chose to make it their home. The tree gave off a sense of death, which drove off any creatures willing to live their. Of course, this sense was lost on any human, and nobody noticed the tree’s lack of inhabitants.
Chatter started up again as the man in the hole leaned back, shaking his head free and opening his eyes, looking up at the sky. There was no expression of joy on his scarred face, there was no sudden gasp for air. Sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves above, hitting the long scars that riddled his face. One particular sliver caught the sunlight, running from his right ear to the corner of his mouth, tugging at the corner and breaking the symmetry of his jaw.
He shut his eyes, opening them again to look at the assembled crowd. A look of confusion replaced the blankness, and he frowned. He didn’t say a word, and the chatter died down again. Nobody moved to help him as he continued to dig himself out, broad shoulders coming next. More and more dirt fell into the hole as he left it, tumbling down into the darkness.
The man gave one final heave, pulling his long legs from the hole and resting one foot on either side, on a tree root. He straightened, brushing the mud from his heavy coat, and putting one hand to the hilt of the sword at his waist. People in the crowd around him looked on in puzzled excitement, as the man stepped onto solid ground, reaching his full, towering height. He turned to look back at the hole, and kicked in some of the loose soil with his crude boots. He pulled his coat closed around his chest, doing up the small metal buttons, before he looked back to the crowd. His face was covered in a mix of dried blood and mud. The blood was black with age, almost blending with the mud. He stopped where he stood, watching the crowd quietly. He looked each person up and down, from head to toe, trying to figure out what exactly was going on.
By this time, most of the people in the park had come over to investigate, with only a few people left on picnic blankets, keeping their own fair distance.
“Who are you?” Came a voice from the crowd, a young man somewhere in the middle.
The man shifted his gaze to the man’s face, locating the source of the voice in an instant. He looked at him for a minute, as the man shrank back into the crowd, cursing himself for speaking out, before deciding to ignore the question. A few indignant cries of protest were yelled out, as he started to walk away. The crowd parted before him, splitting into two parts. The protests were joined by many, as most of the crowd demanded answers from this strange man. He ignored them all, and continued walking at a stride, holding the hilt of his sword where it hung at his waist.
As he strode away, down the riverbank, nobody followed. Not a single person dared follow the man, who had risen from the ground like a corpse, who held a sword at his side.
The man kept walking, certain to find answers.