Part Five of my Latest Free Serial
Breaking Ground is a Darkeningstone novella – it's a standalone book: a bonus story. I'm presenting it here in weekly parts. Each part on this site is tagged ‘breaking ground' so you can find all the published episodes easily. I'll add a link at the end of this episode. I hope you enjoy it.
I pushed the trowel as hard as I could into the cold, hard earth and levered up a small clod of gritty soil. At this rate, I thought, we'll still be here next Christmas.
“Dad,” I moaned, “I told you we should've brought a proper spade.”
He laughed. “We didn't have time to get one,” he said. “You were in such a rush to get going.”
“Huh,” I muttered, “only because I had to pry you away from the TV.”
He laughed again. “I thought that's what Boxing Day was for.” He bent down and picked up the metal detector. “Do you want to try somewhere else?”
I sat back on my haunches and looked around. The Common all looked the same to me: a bleak stretch of straggly heather, dotted with clumps of tough, brown grass. “Not yet,” I said. “I'll dig a bit more. The metal detector beeped so there must be something here.” I bent back to my task, holding the trowel with both hands and stabbing it furiously into the pathetic hole I'd made.
“Maybe you didn't have it adjusted right,” Dad said. He swung the metal detector around and studied the control panel.
“Don't change it,” I said. “It took me ages.”
“All right,” Dad said. Reluctantly, he put the detector back down. “Just trying to help.”
“Well don't.” I changed my grip on the trowel and drove it down into the ground, felt it bite through the earth. Suddenly, the blade hit something hard and came to an abrupt stop. My hands slipped down the handle, and my fingers hit hard against the trowel's top edge. “Bloody hell,” I hissed.
“I beg your pardon,” Dad said.
I smiled up at him. I didn't care that he'd moan at me for swearing. I didn't care that I'd hurt my hand. “Dad,” I said, “I've found something.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yeah, really.” I dug for all I was worth, scraping away the soil, delving into the dense, stony ground. There. The distinct rasping of metal grating on metal. I widened the hole, following the line of this mysterious metal object.
Dad squatted down beside me, peering into the hole. “Go on,” he said, “you're doing really well.”
I grinned to myself, and kept digging. Soon I had a decent-sized hole. At the bottom, under the loose soil and stones that kept sliding back into the hole, I caught a glimpse of rust. This was it. I pressed the tip of the trowel against it, sliding it along the hard edges of my find, tracing out its shape. It was long and thin, narrowing to a rounded point. I gasped, could it be the blade of a short sword? That would be better than gold. I scraped away more soil, poking my tongue out between my lips as I worked.
“Oh,” Dad said. His voice was flat, disappointed.
I stopped digging and looked up at him. “What?” I said.
Dad looked me in the eye. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I know what it looks like…but it isn't.”
“What?” I said. “How do you know?”
Dad sighed. “Well, for a second, I thought it was a sword too, but then…” He pulled the glove from his right hand and reached into the hole, brushing away some soil from the flaky rust. “Then I saw this.” He pointed to where he'd exposed a broader piece of metal that lay at right angles to the long strip.
I stared and searched for the right word. “The hilt?” I said.
Dad shook his head slowly. “I'm afraid not,” he said. “It's a hinge. One of those long ones you get on big shed doors.”
My shoulders slumped. He was right – of course he was. I sat back, looked down at my hands and tried to rub away the ingrained soil. All that effort for nothing.
“Never mind,” Dad said. “We can have another go.”
I didn't look up. I shook my head.
Dad put his hand on my shoulder. “Come on,” he said. “Tell you what – next time, I'll do the digging.”
“And if we don't find anything,” Dad said, “we'll go home, and I'll make you…I know…curried beans on toast.”
I looked up at him and half smiled. “I thought we had to have cold turkey today.”
“Stuff the turkey!” Dad said.
I laughed. “You crazy old man,” I said.
“That's the spirit,” he said. He stood, and reached out his hand to pull me up. “Come on. Let's get going.”
I stopped walking and swung the metal detector slowly back across my path. There. The tone in my headphones rose and fell. Dad stood and looked at me expectantly. I nodded and took the headphones off. “Right there,” I said, pointing.
Dad frowned. “There?” he said. “You're winding me up. It's a bog.”
I sniffed. “It's not that bad,” I said. I stepped forward and felt the ground give a little beneath my feet. Black, peaty water squeezed up onto the surface, threatening to soak into my trainer. When I pulled my foot away, there was an audible squelch.
Dad shook his head. “Let's call it a day. It's probably just more scrap metal.”
I gave him a sharp look. There was no need to remind me about what I'd found so far. “You said you would dig,” I said.
He sighed. “OK, OK,” he said. He squatted down and pointed with the trowel. “Here?”
“Right a bit. There.”
He set to work, muttering, “I don't know – the things you do.”
I pushed my hands into my coat pockets and watched him dig. He didn't want to do it, not really. He's doing it for me, I thought. Sticking to his promise. But maybe I should've let him off this time. I chewed my lip. It would be OK. Dad was warming to his task now, and the ground was soft. The hole was a good size, though I couldn't see the bottom for the dark water draining into it.
I shuffled my feet, imagined the damp seeping in through the soles of my shoes. A shiver ran through me. I turned my face to the wintry sun. Somehow, it made me feel colder. And I was getting hungry too.
“Dad,” I said, “maybe we should give-“
But Dad shot me a look. “My god,” he whispered.
“What? What's the matter?”
“I…I think I've found something.” He pushed his sleeve up his arm and plunged his bare hand into the cold, murky water, his eyes narrowed in concentration.
I held my breath.
“It's round,” he said, “round and flat. Like a disc. But it's stuck in the mud.” He reached farther into the hole, groping blindly in the mud. His sleeve slipped down and dipped into the filthy water, but he didn't notice, didn't care.
I squatted down next to him, craning my neck to see. The bottom of the hole was a mess of peat-black water, thick with churned mud. I couldn't see a thing. “What is it, Dad? Can you pull it out?”
He didn't answer. He shook his head and frowned, still scrabbling furiously in the slippery mud.
“Dad, please,” I said. “Tell me what it is.”
He stopped and looked me in the eye. “No,” he said, “I can do better than that.” And when he lifted his arm out, I saw what we'd found.
Thanks for reading this part of Breaking Ground.
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I'm having fun casting actors to play characters over on Wattpad. I think Colin Firth might make a good job of playing Jake's dad.
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