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Sapper’s SCREAM

by Mike Voûte

 Them bones

    Sapper's job was spotting the excavator with a shovel- dig a couple of holes here and there in the trench before Jim, the operator, jammed the bucket into the dirt. If the damn machine ever whacked the buried water main next to the culvert they were laying, Sapper would be bowing before Jim all week. But no need to worry- the Mayne road-construction guys told him over and over- the pipe was "way far away" from where they were trenching. Sure. Some guy witched it with a pair of coat hanger wires!

    So now, little red flags marked the 'no-dig zone' that hung like laundry from gnarly little stakes two feet away from the excavation. Two months in the trench. Two months jumping on the shovel like it was some freak'n pogo stick! Sapper was not having the time of his life. Two... long... months... in the sun and the dust and the dirt.

   And the rain. That asshole Jim, in the back-hoe, had actually taken pity on him that week of drenching crap! The mud was up over his boots, his feet stuck fast, and Jim had climbed down from the machine to help Sapper pull one of his boots out of the goo one day. "Nasty," Jim had told him. "Ya got a lousy job, son." Yeah, right--HE was in the machine's nice, dry, cab while Sapper's fingers shriveled and his feet rotted in the sodden safety boots. Asshole...

   Sapper absent mindedly jabbed the shovel some more at a pile of dirt that’d just slid down from one bank. Life sucks, he thought, and he just shrugged an OK up to Jim. Like a hawk on a snake, the huge bucket swooped over Sapper and dived in. There was a loud “thump” as the backhoe bucket went in a little deep- Sapper was sure they'd nailed the pipe. Aw, SHIT... In frustration he threw down his hard hat- he was supposed to warn the machine operator if the bucket came too close to the edge! Jim'd be expecting a free round for a week!

    Oh, yeah... Jim was already smirking through the glass front of the cab--probably hoping Sapper’d fly out of the trench on a geyser from the ruptured pipe. Asshole...

   But minutes passed, and there was no hiss of water or jutting pieces of broken pipe. Sapper mopped his forehead...Phew!  "Just a rock, I guess!" he yelled up the embankment over the machine's idling snarl. Jim did an idiot's salute with a middle finger. Sapper ignored him and poked the shovel into the bucket a few times just to be sure. Then Sapper sucked in his gut in a huge gulp.

   It was no rock. Cut in half, the spine and femur of a skeleton were showing, glistening white, out of the teeth of the bucket. And the other half? Leering at Sapper out of the dirt just below.

   Above him, Jim didn't even blink. The operator powered down the machine and jumped out onto a tread. Hands on hips, he looked down at Sapper and began to smirk. "Looky what we got here..." Then Jim guffawed loudly as he watched Sapper retch at the sight of the aged human bones sticking out over the edge of the steel teeth. "Looks like he didn't quite make it home, Sap," he gibbed. "The Pub is a ten kilometre walk from here!"

   "Have a little respect, would’ya?" Sapper recovered weakly. Backing away, he felt an unease fill the air. "Bury that again."

   "Yeah, sure." Jim became instantly serious. "Huh. Wouldn't want them archaeological guys grindin' the job to a halt. 'Cause, you know what happens after that, dont'cha... layoffs."

   The machine operator and Sapper finally found a common ground on one thing- they could deal with this. The bones had obviously not been buried quite deep enough, and they had the right tools on hand. After that, they’d just continue as if nothing had happened...

   Still, continuing the dig was spooky as hell... especially when yet another skull came up, right at the end of the day. Sapper’d just climbed out of the excavation for the water jug, when he heard Jim call out. "Hey, hey... another one! Check it out, Sap!"

Jim bumped past Sapper from the cab and skiied down  the rubble to have a look. Picking up the grinning death's head, he casually tossed the skull up to Sapper. "Here... catch!"

   "Whoah! We shouldn't be doing that, Jim!" Sapper fumbled the thing badly and the skull bounced off the excavator's treads with a crack, rolling back down to the edge of the hole. "Quit it, will ya?"

   "Aren't you the grumpy one?" Jim puffed out as he crawled back up the embankment. He gave the skull a small boot back into the excavation and acquiesced, "Never mind, I'll plant it good and deep."

   "You got that right!" Sapper exclaimed. "Out of sight, out of mind!"

   The operator climbed back up to the cab and revved the machine a few times. In seconds the skull was deep under the dirt and Jim shut the hoe down for the night. A huge silence boomed into the air,while Sapper contemplated the new mound down in the hole. He shook his head; "I suppose we better tell Bruce about it tomorrow. He gets the big bucks to worry about manager-type stuff like this."

   "Yeah, maybe,” Jim grumbled. “Tomorrow. More important things are on... brewski's waiting. I can just taste that cold lager now. Ya goin' to the Pub, son?"

   "Nah... got dinner waiting. See you tomorrow!"

   "Whatever. See ya tomorrow-- early as hell. We'll do some Java in the shack!"

   "Yeah, good stuff, that!" Sapper nodded gleefully. "Pop them eyes wide open..." Both men shuffled away along the raw road-base, another day closer to the weekend.


JEES!! Sapper felt a slow freeze crawl up his legs and he burst out of the trailer door in a cold sweat. For the love of- was he going completely nutso??

He ran headlong away from the shack in panic and tripped over a hose, folding directly into the excavation like a long-jumper with a shoe nailed to the ground. He tumbled down the slope, rolling through the loose dirt until he came to rest against the body of the machine operator. Sapper screamed in panic, and  turning once more to run, saw Bruce lying prone just a little further.

They were all DEAD! Sapper screamed again and ran to the edge of the hole, scrabbling in the loose dirt with his fingers, trying to climb out. He kept sliding back down, now sure that the other's fate was also his... just moments away.


The End

Sapper let out a hot breath of relief. "Oh, MAN! It's... it's OK now. But, Bruce?"

"Damn!! Bruce??" Jim only just now noticed the manager sprawled out on the dirt. He waddled clumsily over and started to pull Bruce roughly to his feet. "How much of that whiskey did you put in, boss?"

"Oww... Hey! Watch the arms, will you?" Bruce jerked awake like Dracula from a coffin. "Ohhh... I shouldn't have used the coffee from yesterday..."

"Ya put the whole bottle in this morning, didn't ya?"

"No... I didn't... really. I heard somewhere..."

"Ahhh, man," Sapper put in with a grimace, "you tried the 'coffee maker still'?? You've been brewing that slop all night, haven't you? And I drank some of it and everything! Serves you right..."

Together, the three men boosted each other up the slope of the hole and with Sapper's support, weaved to the trailer. Sapper was getting just a little annoyed now.

"So let me get this straight. You two've been boozing for the last hour? And me working like a slave! And, very funny, you guys... Ha ha!"

The manager looked at him darkly. "Yeah, well Sap, I've been getting up bleary the last couple of mornings. Why not start with a little jolt to get us through the day, OK?"

"Well, it works like a champ, boss- I'll give you that," Jim added. "But, never mind, Sap... we kept the pot warm for ya."

"No, thanks..."

The men wallowed up the stairs to the construction trailer with Sapper just a little slower to walk in. Through the window, Sapper could see the skeleton, now plainly a plastic mock-up. So, what's with 'Bones' in there? he chided himself softly. He could be such a dupe. Must have been the wake-up juice makin me see things. He entered and stopped in his tracks.

By Mike Voûte, July 2007


At least Sapper's body wasn't shoved into some tiny hole in the dirt of a lonely hill... wasn't that exactly what he'd wanted? Certainly, when the pub chatter ran to one's final days, Sapper Daly had raised his glass high and promised, "No tiny box is goin' to bury Sapper, boys! It'll take more'n that to get rid of the likes of me!"

And so, Sapper spoke Destiny's name.

   "You know what I mean! Artifacts! So if you find more, don't just bury the goddam things again! Get back in here and carefully mark down what you find and where. I've let the local authorities know and they're letting us handle it... for now. But we need to identify everything. The whole project follows the plumber down the manhole if we don't comply with some basic rules here. I want you to work efficiently but carefully."

   Typical managerial gibberish. Bruce’d blow the end-of-job bonus like a popped bag if the schedule got nuked. Jim and Sapper just bobbed amicably back at Bruce and swilled back the last dregs of the coffee. Their stereo "sure, boss," only made Bruce wince and Sapper smile.

    A whack on their backs, an atta-boy, and they were back to work. Within ten minutes they’d found almost an entire spine a bit further down. Sapper shook off Jim's imitation and wagging finger with a hard-to-hold-in snicker... "don't just bury the goddam things."

   "C'mon, man! Get serious," Sapper grumbled in disgust. He began to delicately dig around the area for more bones. There were an aweful lot- and they were in pretty good condition... “Jim, If you bring these to Bruce, I’ll dig around a bit more...” Sapper carefully laid a bunch of them on a shovel and gingerly raised them up to Jim with a shiver. “Here. Take ‘em...”

   "By your command..." Jim intoned mechanically.  Cradling the remains in his arm, he headed back to the construction shack. "      “Back in a flash, Sap. Don't get scared down there, OK?"

   "Yeah, right. Whatever..."

    Sapper continued to jab around half-heartedly for another half-hour, but gradually began to wonder what was taking Jim so long getting back. Probably swilling back a few more cups of the 'good’ stuff'! Asshole! Maybe Sapper’d just have a few himself...

 Inside the trailer, there were two skeletons now. But... where the hell was everyone?? Sapper called out, “OK, joke’s over- c’mon now. Jim? Bruce?”

A rattle from the skeletons snapped Sapper’s head quickly around. Once again, thin arms banged bones together and jaw-bones flapped their slow melodic song. But now there were two. And, the 'mock-up' was certainly not made of plastic. It was... Jim! Jim, dressed in ragged skins and a strange necklace!! And just to the other side of the door was Bruce- minus skin! Oh, God- he's...  The manager's bent frame rattled slightly as bony arms reached out for Sapper's shoulder. Sapper's body went rigid as an iron pin. From the rack, a hissing voice came and it's eyes flashed blue. "One more skeleton now, amongst the bones of the island! You are coming with us to the grave..."

Sapper was locked in place... he couldn’t even inch towards the door. Meanwhile, Bruce's creepy, bony hands were now gripping his shoulder-blade right through his skin. Fighting the fierce pain and rigor, Sapper somehow found a voice.

"No, Bruce! You can't bury me here!!! No... nooooo... you can't put me down there!!!"

"No?” the ‘Bruce’ skeleton snapped. “WE didn’t have a choice, and neither do you.”

“NOOOOOOO! Never! I don’t deserve to die!” Sapper could barely stand, and Bruce began to tow his paralyzed body out of the door. “No, Bruce, you can’t DO this! I’m scared to death of tight places! You can’t entomb me in that hole!!! HELP! Oh, God, HELP ME! ANYBODY? SPIRITS PROTECT ME!!! OHHH...”

At the words, what once had been Bruce jerked as if lightning hit him. His grip faltered and fell away. “You dare to call them? Well, OK, Sap... as you wishhhh. They will help you. But, as it seems, they demand a price."

    There came a great rumbling and heaving as sandstone slabs moved and fell into the sea in the distance. At the same moment, Sapper sank away into the sand outside the shack. His screaming faded into silence but, it would seem, not from sight. For, Sapper’s head and body had became one with the island... but not buried- exactly as Sap had insisted. Even to this day, his face calls out from the rocky point at Campbell Bay, until the tide and the wind finally bring his cries to rest.


  But the next morning, Bruce already seemed to know everything. The smell of strong coffee and whiskey permeated the construction trailer; Sapper and Jim sitting across the table from the manager with heads supported on elbows, steaming mugs at the ready, and all quite amused. The first cup was strong... really strong.

    "OK, look, you guys," the manager began the morning tailboard. "Managers like the common sense approach, see? Everything you find..." Bruce frowned to stave off the snickering from the operator.

  Well, Sapper got to the construction shack and saw no one. In fact, it was quiet as hell. No laughing from inside, not even a snide remark as he stomped up the stairs.

Probably busy studying all the bones... not. Probably passed out from the grog. Sapper reached up to the door and banged it open. No one was inside the trailer... just a skeleton standing, maybe, six feet tall not far from the door. Of course. The boys were playing a little joke on him- he’d have to act suitably ‘afeared’  Except... a flash of fear buried his stomach. The damn spooky arms began banging two bones together in a rhythmic chant; the white skull was looking directly at him with glowing, green eyes!!

 The insanity lasted only a few moments longer.

Sapper suddenly noticed Jim dragging himself up; a zombie, shaking his head. As his eyes focused, the machine operator shook his head vigorously. "Hey, Sap..."

Sapper snapped out of it. "What? What the HELL??"

"Phew, I feel terrible," the ex-zombie staggered over to Sapper. "What did Bruce spike the coffee with today? Jeez, Sap, you look worse than I feel..."