The day was a gray night. There was no day in it. The morning mist drowned the trail in a sort of dewy twilight, dimmed by the overhanging trees. Civilization, but a few hundred feet away on either side of the little canyon, was unseen and unfelt. Bob Mason enjoyed again the sense of quiet isolation he derived from the short weekly hike to his archaeological dig. As he balanced his way from boulder to boulder across the creek to his site, he used his laden bucket and long-handled shovel as counter-weights. His knapsack straps, as always, threatened to slip from his shoulders. He kept adjusting them, but never seemed to get it right. He lowered his eyes to watch his footing—and to retain the especial privacy the walk had granted him; for here the trees opened out and the sight of distant structures could break the spell. He preferred to pretend as long as possible that he was alone in a primeval forest and not briefly solitary in a small public park.
Mason's hair and beard were as gray as the day. He liked to tell himself that he was handsome and trim for a man of fifty-four. Actually, he had a tendency toward a potbelly and cultivated his beard because he suspected that his chin was weak. His legs were strong, but smoking had decreased his wind. A thankful sigh escaped him as he set his gear down in a shady spot convenient to the square he was working.
There had been a lot of good digging here. Bob was justly proud of the display of artifacts up at the Nature Center. He glanced with satisfaction at the filled-in outlines of the twelve completed squares. Today he would wrap up the thirteenth. He didn't look forward to the spadework involved, but he was an ardent conservationist and believed in leaving a site as close as possible to its natural condition. He noticed that John Parlo's square was, as usual, littered with leaves and debris. No work done there lately. This didn't bother him. He knew that John would be back when the football season was over. A sports enthusiast first, John was only a part-time weekend archaeologist. At present only the two of them were working the site, although in the past there had been as many as six.
Bob's sense of peace was still with him. He hoped that nobody came along for awhile. People seldom came to the park alone anymore. He perched on the edge of his five-by-five foot square and swigged a deep draught from his canteen, swinging his legs against the three-foot sides. Although he enjoyed the walk, it always left him a bit breathless.
“Square 10/D,” he said gleefully, “you're finished! Kaput! Time to bury you!”
He climbed to his feet and set the canteen down next to his knapsack. Grabbing his shovel, he attacked the monstrous pile of dirt next to his square.
Someone behind him giggled.
He froze. Whoever was there was not on the trail, but back among the trees and low bushes.
“Hey, man!”—the words were slurred—“You always talk to holes in the groun'? That'n won't answer you. Ain't nobody in it —yet!”
Bob turned slowly and peered into the undergrowth. There was a thrashing sound and a gaunt, ungainly figure seemed to coalesce from the leaves and branches. He recognized an unkempt Hippie type who had stopped by the site a couple of times, but he couldn't put a name to him. In six months of working by a well-used nature trail there had been a couple of thousand such casual encounters with passers-by. With a gathering sense of unease, Bob recalled that he had never felt comfortable with the man who stumbled towards him, chortling “... No body! ...Ain't got no body...!”
“Good morning,” said Bob, trying to conceal his sudden fear. “Uh... You're up a mite early, aren't you?”
“That's two of us, Man!” the intruder giggled. His pupils were so dilated Bob wondered if he could see. “Couldn't fin' a good pad las' night so I crashed here in the boonies, like... You got any smack, man?
Bob knew the man meant Heroin. “No.” he replied, “I — I don't use it.”
“Ah, c'mon!” We're partners! You can help me! How about some cash” The man lurched a bit closer.
“Bob gripped his shovel tighter so that his trembling hands would not be so obvious. It was harder to control his voice. “What do you mean, 'partners'? We're not partners!” The words came out shrill and thready. Bob despised the weakness he could feel overcoming him.
The threatening figure moved a step closer. “I been helpin' you fill up them holes, man!”
“What ... what do you mean?” Bob asked.
“Like … I need lots of bread for my smack, man. An' if folks ain't nice, I take it anyhow an' put 'em in one of your holes. So I been helpin' you, right? …Got any cash?” Mason's terrified eyes noted a small trail of spittle foaming from the corner of the other's mouth.
“My God!” Bob cried. “How many …?”
The man waved his hand negligently. “Oh, three or four. We got the beginnings of a nice li'l ol' cemetery here.” His other hand suddenly contained a long knife and his face became pinched and intent. “Now! Give me your cash!” He lunged at Mason.
With no time for thought, Bob brought his shovel around fast and connected solidly with his attacker's skull. The bone-splintering vibrations traveled down the long handle and set up a sympathetic shiver in his body.
One blow was enough. The man never made a sound, just seemed to fold in on himself. He fell, knife and all, into the empty square. He was very, very dead.
Mason looked down in horror. “God,” he muttered, “I don't even know his name.!” As if it was important. Then he realized that he didn't want to know. He never wanted to know . . . he just wanted to get away.
He turned to run, but then the full enormity of what he had done and his resulting predicament hit him. His prize site was littered with very modern bodies—and the only man who could prove Bob had nothing to do with putting them there was dead at his feet.
There was only one thing to do.
Taking up his shovel, Bob worked like a maniac, ploughing dirt, stones, leaves, anything into the square, covering the body. He finished in half and hour and leaned on his shovel, panting heavily. After a rest, he raked the square smooth and pulled leaves and small branches across it. He gathered his equipment and left hurriedly. He knew that he would have to come back. He couldn't afford to have any one else dig the site now, unsupervised by himself. He was condemned to return again and again—but not today. He could not stay longer today.
As he walked up the trail the sun was just beginning to shine through the trees. But the gray morning mist had entered his soul. The peace of the trail was broken for Bob Mason and it would never return.
During my time in Headquarters, I lived locally in Arlington, Virginia not far from work which involved continued training and language studies. During that time I got interested in archaeology and took part in local digs, finally taking over a site on a hill above the Potomac river. Lots of different folks went by and some, big and small, stepped in to help out (one of our best diggers was an eager four year old).