Flash Fiction Challenge: The Dig

Photo by K.S. Brooks

It was our first dig as archaeological students. The terrain looked promising, and the three of us set to work under the close supervision of Professor Hamilton.

He was a bit of an odd duck, the professor. A lot of students had dropped his class. Behind those thick lenses, his eyes had a strangeness about them.

We had been digging for three days before we found a skull. We called the professor over as we examined it. Strangely, it was not fossilized. In fact, it didn’t seem to be very old at all. The right upper bicuspid was a gold crown.

It reminded me of the gold tooth Brendan Harper had. He was the archaeological student who disappeared three years ago on a dig. As I saw Professor Hamilton’s shadow looming over me, I felt a sudden chill…

In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

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9 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Dig”

  1. “Curious,” Professor Hamilton said. “Homo Sapiens were not indigenous to this area.” He climbed into the hole with me and held out his hand. “May I examine your find?”

    I stepped out of his way. Should I tell the others? Should I call the police? Calm down, I kept telling myself that this might not be what it looks like.

    “What are your thoughts on this Mr. Williams?” There was an edge to his voice. I had to dance around it carefully or it would cut me, cut me deep.

    “It appears to be a recent skeleton sir. At least within the past few years.”

    “Perhaps you are right,” he said. “Think back to our literature. Can you recall any of the legends from this area?”

    We find a skeleton from a former student and he chooses now to test me? This is crazy. I need to get away. I don’t want to be his next victim. “This area is believed to have held a Sioux burial ground. Through the years there have been sightings of unexplained figures.”

    “Quite right, quite right,” he said. “It is also rumored that People have died here unexpectedly.”

    His voice, was he accusing me? I could hear it in his tone. I didn’t do it. “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!” The shovel marked my emphasis. It smacked against flesh and bone with each syllable.

    I buried him with the others. This time in a new area away from the dig site.

  2. Children love to dig. Each time a truckload of dirt appeared in my yard we raided family silverware drawers for spoons. Spoon in hand we were ready to dig tunnels, caves, hunt for treasure or dig for gold.

    “I know what we can do!” Doyle proclaimed. “We’re gonna to dig to China.”

    “Why China?”

    “Because teacher said it was on the other side of the world from us and pictures in my ‘jography book shows ‘em standing upside down with their feet still on the ground. I want to know how they do that.”

    After a week of digging we figured we were about halfway. “We need to dig at an angle ‘cause soon we’ll come to a fire and brimstone lake. When we are on the other side of it can go back to diggin’ straight.”

    Good thing we angled the tunnel cause the hole collapsed in on Doyle. Man-oh-man! You never saw such a commotion. Police cars, a fire truck, ambulance and the biggest shovel I ever saw in my six-year life. In one or two chomps the entire top of our dirt pile disappeared.

    Doyle had all the fun. He got to ride in the ambulance. First thing we wanted to know when he got home if he’d seen China.

    “Not ‘zactully. Seems some invisible force keeps them from falling up. Now all we’ve gotta do is figure how to walk upside down with our feet on the ground.

    Doyle became an astrophysicist.

  3. “Professor we have something here that is unusual. I think we might need to contact the Sheriff.”

    He gestured for me to move to the side and knelt down to examine my find. I felt like someone had stepped on my grave and shuffled back as far away from him as I could in the confined space. “Interesting,” he looked up at me, the sun glinting off his lenses and nearly blinding me. “I think you might be right. Hand me your cell phone, child.”

    With trembling fingers I pulled it from my pouch and passed it to him. As his fingers brushed against mine I got a flash from that sometimes ability I had. A saw a bend in the river and a dark stand near the bank. I did my best to hide my gasp but I think I failed. I was sure when I opened my eyes and he shook his head.

    “You forgot to charge this, Emily. How many times do I have to remind you students to fully charge your equipment before heading out to a dig?” He turned and gestured for Jerry to hand him his and stepped out of the hole. A few muffled words later he handed the phone back to Jerry and then told us to head back to camp. He would stay here and wait for the sheriff. I scrambled ahead of the others, glad to be away from the professor. If I was lucky I could get away….

  4. “Freeze!”

    A gravelly voice barked its ominous warning from behind me and echoed through the depths of the cave.

    I raised my hands in surrender. “What’s the matter, Professor Hamilton? Are you going to kill me now that I know your murderous secret?”

    His shadow grew longer as he inched closer. “Don’t move.”

    My classmates remained silent.

    I’m sure I sounded calmer than I felt. “How did you do it? The police have been looking for Brendan—and here he is, very dead, with a hole in his skull.”

    “He died quickly. And you’re about to join him.”

    “Why?”

    “You haven’t paid attention to details.”

    “I’m a lousy student—that’s your reason for killing me?”

    Someone hissed, “Shut up and keep still.”

    At that moment, I wished I had rearview mirrors on my glasses.

    I cursed; then I focused on the professor’s voice.

    He spoke in a somber tone. “Mr. Wilson, look down—very slowly.”

    I complied.

    “What do you think that device might be?—Now look up.”

    My knees trembled. What has he done? Is he going to kill us all?

    Suspended from the roof of the cave was a series of spikes, poised to impale anyone who activated the trip mechanism at my feet.

    I could detect the smile in his voice. “If you had taken one more step, you’d be dead. Did you really think I’d murder Mr. Harper and then lead the class to his body? Unlike you, he was one of my best archaeological students.”

  5. “Is that…?” Professor Hamilton breathed. He jumped down into the hole beside me and plucked the trowel from my hand. Working quickly but gently, he cleared away the dirt covering the rest of the skeleton. His shoulders were shaking, and I realized that he was crying.

    “Professor?” I asked, tentatively.

    He tossed down the trowel and climbed out of the hole to grab his mobile from the dig tent. “That’s the body of Brendan Harper,” Professor Hamilton told us. “Don’t touch anything else until the police get here.”

    I climbed out of the hole and backed away with the other two students who were there on the dig. None of us spoke, not sure what to say.

    The police came thirty minutes later. The chief, who seemed to be a friend of the Professor’s, looked down at the body as the forensics team got to work.
    “You’re sure it’s him?” the police chief asked.

    “Look at the tooth,” Professor Hamilton said.

    The police chief spat to one side of the pit. “Looks like it’s him, then.”

    We waited, trying to keep out of the officers’ way as the body was exhumed and evidence gathered.

    Then they found the murder weapon lying under the body, a six inch hunting knife with the initials J.G.B. on the handle.

    “We got him!” the police chief crowed.

    The professor turned to us and said, “Thank you for helping to find my grandson’s body. Now we can put his killer away once and for all.”

  6. “What did you find, John,” Professor Hamilton asked.

    I looked up at him nervously. “A skull!”

    “It looks recent, wouldn’t you say?” he asked.

    I got a chill up my back and neck that gripped at my scalp. I couldn’t help it; I shuddered. “Uh, yeah, I guess.” I checked behind me to see my classmates quietly spying at us.

    “Come on over and see what John found,” the professor shouted with a jovial tone, waving them all over. I watched as they put down their tools and gathered around me. “That skull definitely shouldn’t be here. We probably should call the police.”

    That was when I realized I was holding part of an actual dead person. I froze up.

    After running his finger over his smart phone, Professor Hamilton said, “Well, this is quite strange. I had an excellent signal earlier – but now, nothing. Anyone have a signal?”

    Just then, we heard some snapping sounds behind us. We turned to see skulls and bones popping up out of the ground. “Oh my god!” most of us yelled. Now panicked, we fumbled with our cell phones, only to find that none of us had a signal.

    “Stay calm, everyone. It’s going to be fine. We probably hit some kind of a gas pocket with our tools and these bones are being forced to the surface because they’re on the path of least resistance.” The professor seemed confident. “Or,” he said, putting his finger to his lip… “It sounds kind of like the legend of the Keeley Swamp murderer. Supposedly his spirit comes out just before Halloween each year to claim another victim – they say the static of his aura jams cell phone signals, and pulls the bones of his victims to the surface!”

    I was literally shaking in my shoes. A couple of the girls screamed.

    “Or,” the professor grinned, “I could just be pulling a prank on you with a skeleton from the lab, a cell phone jammer, and some caps. Happy Halloween.”

  7. The look old Hamilton’s face took me by surprise. He took the skull into his hands tenderly. Hamilton sank to his knees as tears streamed down his face. Looking up at us, he managed a very weak sounding, “thank you.” Then he lapsed into a silent rocking motion for several minutes before composing himself enough to raise himself up to his feet. Fishing his cel phone from a pocket, the professor hit a speed dial number and waited. “Sgt Malloy, this is Rick Hamilton. Yes, we found it.” Putting the phone back into his pocket he turned to us and started giving us the instructions concerning expanding the search for remains.

    We focused our efforts in the immediate vicinity of the original find. Before long we had unearthed the complete remains of a young female with the help of a CSI unit sent by Hamilton’s detective friend who showed up with a man in handcuffs. Hamilton and Malloy explained to us that nearly twenty years ago the Professor’s wife had disappeared. The man who Malloy had brought to the scene had been a student at the schoool and considered a suspect in her disappearance. However, without a body, there was no evidence with which to arrest this man. For all these years, the Professor had been using his students to comb this area for clues. Over the years he had become a close friend of the detective who had refused to close the books on the disappearance.

  8. Lush green covered the banks of the river. It would have been beautiful were not for the scull in my hand. Finding bones on an archaeological dig wasn’t unusual, but his one was different. Caucasian, male, one gold tooth, just like Brendan Harper, one of the students who disappeared three years ago.

    The university didn’t seem to notice how many students dropped Professor Hamilton’s classes or simply vanished over the years. And I mean years, as in decades. My boss red flagged the case and I’d spent two years undercover waiting for him to slip up.

    “Are you ready to join your classmates, Miss Van?”

    Icy fingers touched my shoulder and the scull crashed to the ground. It felt as though the temperature dropped fifty degrees. I could feel a tug on my soul, feel my life force drain away even through the protections. Panic closed in. If I didn’t act soon I’d be nothing but a withered corpse for some future victim to find.

    A twist of my wrist slipped the magic dagger into my hand as I spun around. I plunged the weapon deep into the lich’s emaciated chest. His red glowing eyes widened in their dark sockets. Bony hands clenched my neck even as his body disintegrated.

    “You can’t destroy me,” he hissed. “I’ll be back within a week. Your soul will be mine.”

    “Not this time, Lich. I destroyed your phylactery this morning. Oh, and my name isn’t Miss Van. It’s Miss Van Helsing”

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