Christoph didn’t imagine there would be so many horrible-looking things beneath the rocks he turned, one by one. It had been several years since he had felt fit enough to brave the cold outside, the air and wind, people’s stares. It felt cold for him even in the milder months; that was part of dying. A young couple owned the property now—he had no idea when that happened. Harold had been a genuine kind of person. Guarded, and maybe a little hostile, but genuine—he had gotten into trouble with the IRS and sat in prison somewhere, then it had been Guinevere and her children. She was a widower of the old-stock who wore long dresses, floated around the house with a quietly haunting air of reservation and forbearance, and never, ever remarried—would not even consider it for a second. Where she went, Christoph didn’t know but he wished he could have said goodbye, maybe tried some more of the cider her son brought round in crates—and he would bring his guitar too, and they would listen, and draw incrementally closer to each other, he and Guinevere. Well that was over now, he thought. His brother Gabe, behind him, hummed a tune they had together remembered on their drive up and the sound of the acoustic guitar became jumbled and obscured in his head.
“Pity it wasn’t metal,” Gabe called, “then we could’ve used a metal detector.”
“Yes, obviously,” Christoph muttered. He straightened up and pressed at his lower back, kneading with fat, cold fingers that would have done much better as supple, warm women’s fingers. The pain never stopped. Never pretended to slow down or diminish. Never produced anything but the very familiar anxiety of living, of being involved in the same stuff as the plants, the vegetable matter through which they dug and searched—this ridiculous, beloved and very dear tradition. Pain brought him back face-to-face with the kingdom animalia—Germany; Brazil; Des Moines, Iowa. All were a part of him, and he was was becoming a permanent part of them all. His brother hummed louder, swung an invisible metal detector over the woodland floor. A breeze picked up and scattered the leaves around Christoph. The trees arced, susurrated and squeaked—their bones and their limbs squeaked. Christoph felt his heart tremble, drop—blood rushed to his head and he gasped. It wasn’t a heart-attack, or a stroke—he’d had enough of both to know the difference. It was something.
“Agony,” he said, and lowered himself onto the ground. The soil was cold, damp and wonderful beneath his hands. “This is the land of the living.”