GRAVE CONCERNS • by Oscar Windsor-Smith

George likes playing hide and seek. Running with the children of the village through meadow grass, among the mounds and hillocks, chasing along the timeworn runs of fox and rabbit through the ruins. Donna is his best friend now. So many years, so many generations since he first arose, a victim hidden without blessing, a boy of twelve forever —

A document appears in a plastic sleeve pinned to the wooden stump that once supported a lych-gate. It sets out formal notice of development, affordable housing for local families. The planning notice says archaeologists must investigate the ancient site before construction work begins. Soon the children see a motley crew arrive in assorted vehicles. The new arrivals set up camp with tents and boards, wheelbarrows and spades amid much chatter and laughter.

“What are you doing?” asks Donna.

“Digging up the past,” says a smiling archaeologist.

“You mean like Time Team?”

“Yes, young lady, but without a TV crew and with no more time.”

Alongside piles of fresh-dug soil, fragments of stone and china appear separated out in plastic trays. Men with metal detectors sweep the spoil and place the odd coin, button and buckle in plastic bags, tagged and logged. Some trenches yield broken coffins and old graves. The archaeologists set up special white tents and lift the human remains with care and dignity.

“Where are you taking them?”

“To a place where they can rest in peace.”

“Will they be blessed?”

“Well — ” he hesitates. “We always say prayers in our hearts, but we don’t know what these people believed. This is an ancient burial ground.”

“George and I will bless them too.”

The archaeologist looks around and then back at Donna. He shakes his head and smiles a puzzled smile.

Twilight on the final day and most trenches are back filled, vans are loaded and equipment stashed away.

Only one small trench remains, a bending figure troweling rapidly within. Most children hurry home for tea, but in the lengthening shadows Donna waits.

“Look, here!” an urgent cry. The whole team gathers around the trench.

“A ritual sacrifice?”

“No, it’s too recent, perhaps two hundred years.”

“Could it be murder?”

After moments of examination, excited discussion, the bleep of a detector and more muted cries, Donna appears among the group.

“Is that the knife, the one that killed him?”

All eyes turn on Donna.

“How did you know it was a boy?”

“I just do, that’s all. May I see him?”

“I think you’re too young — ”

“Donna, my name is Donna, and I must see him.”

The circle parts and Donna kneels beside the curled-up bones. She kisses her fingertips, reaches out and touches the forehead of the skull.

“Goodbye,” she whispers.

The police forensic team has come and gone, the sun has set and the archaeologists are dropping Donna home.

“Goodbye, Donna, it’s been good to meet you,” says the smiling archaeologist climbing back into his car.

“Goodbye,” Donna waves.

He leans out from his driving window. “Donna, where’s your friend — George?”

Donna smiles. “Oh, he’ll be home safe now.”

Oscar Windsor-Smith was born on the Wirral, UK — that’s the sticky-out bit below Liverpool and above Wales — but drifted to various points of the compass and finally settled in rural Hertfordshire where he lives with one wife, three cats and a Volvo 480. He has had non-fiction articles published, had a novel long-listed for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook centenary novel competition and has accumulated various short and flash fiction competition credits.

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