Writing prompt: A man is digging in his backyard when his shovel strikes something hard. What is it?
The treasure that lies beneath
Three more pine trees to go and Atticus would be free of his neighbor’s prying eyes. Or binoculars, he thought with a sneer as he caught the glint of one from the next ranch over. He’d been subject to his old neighbor’s annoying curiosity for three years, and he had finally had enough. He’d been driving home after a sweaty day at work, contemplating selling his house when he spotted the rows of pine trees for sale, and the brilliant idea had struck him.
Now he only had three more to go, with nine out of the dozen already planted, fertilized and watered. More than half of his small home was covered already, the trees providing him the privacy he’d been craving for the past three years. Triumph sang through his blood even as fatigue slowed him down.
He struck the shovel, cursed when he hit something hard.
Damn those rocks, he thought as he crouched to pry it loose.
Ah, but it was worth it, even if he had to work half the night, only to get up a few hours later to go to work.
He rolled the rock aside, stood, and just to annoy the old bat he was certain was watching, scratched his backside rudely.
Chuckling to himself, he resumed shoveling, widening the hole he’d need to place the six feet tree into, pausing only to dig up the rocks and drink from the canteen he had brought with him so he wouldn’t need to track dirt into his home.
The moon was full, the night was still, no breeze, no calls from the night animals. The only sound was of the shovel meeting dirt and the occasional chink when it met some hard rock.
When he hit something hard again, pain zinged all the way to his shoulders.
Muttering under his breath, he reached into the hole, searching for the edge of the rock, unable to find it. Undeterred, Atticus stood, moved back to the pile of random accessories he had brought with him. He found the lantern at once, exactly where he knew he would find, then crouched to look into the hole. Seeing no lumps that indicated something large and hard, he reached into the hole again, brushed his callused fingers over the soil. There was something hard there, and with a sinking feeling he wondered if the rock was larger than the hole he had dug. He picked up a hammer, struck the rock with a hard thump.
It reverberated with an oddly metallic sound. Not a rock, he realized. Adrenaline making his heart pump wildly, Atticus picked up the shovel and began widening the hole, excitement making him forget all about his fatigue, his prying neighbor.
When the hole was wide enough, he crouched, began brushing the damp soil away until he found the edge, contoured around it.
Something square, he thought as images of hidden treasure trunks popped in his mind.
Because of all the dirt, Atticus didn’t see the symbols carved into it, or the fact that the light gave it an eerie reflection.
Impatient now, he searched with both his hands for a latch, smiled when he found it. He struck it with the hammer, once, twice, breaking it in half.
Breath held, heart pumping, hands unsteady, Atticus pulled the top open, straining with the weight.
And stared into a dark, obsidian hole.
The faraway scent of something damp, metallic and citrusy drifted upward, and with a still shaking hand, Atticus raised the lantern.
A crude ladder was carved on the side of what Atticus could only call a tunnel, but as far as he could see, there was nothing but darkness below.
Not stopping to reconsider, Atticus slung the lantern over his neck and slowly, carefully descended the rotten steps. It wasn’t far before he reached the bottom, but there was nothing down there but a small chamber. The walls were rough, hard earth, the ground rocky and damp.
A Darker shadow on the far wall caught his attention, and Atticus moved forward, the metallic, citrusy scent more pronounced here.
He entered a small tunnel that barely fitted his broad shoulders and moved into it, pausing a few minutes later when he realized he was in an unknown underground tunnel and could die of asphyxiation without even realizing it before it was too late.
Digging into his pocket with his dirty hand he took out the lighter he had kept as a memento after throwing away his last pack of cigarettes and lit a healthy, orange flame. Satisfied, he continued forward, stopping now and again to light up the lighter to make sure he still had oxygen to go.
Suddenly the ground opened up and Atticus was airborne. He felt an instant of indescribable terror before he began sliding down, hitting his elbow on something hard, his head on something pointy. He fell for what felt like ages before he came to a hault, the world spinning madly around him. He thought he saw something orange, something blue, something white, but those could have been the stars spinning around his head, trying to peck, or stab his eyes out.
Atticus stood slowly, painfully, recalling with a sick feeling his cell phone lying beside the canteen back by the hole. He picked up the lantern, shook it once, but it didn’t work. He glanced up suddenly, ignoring the painful spikes digging in his head as he realized that it was no longer pitch dark.
Up ahead stood another tunnel, a faint light beckoning him. The scent of the citrus took up form, like verbena, only stronger.
Without any other options, Atticus moved into the tunnel, his mind curiously blank. Either he’d been in there all night long or… what?
He emerged into a green, luscious land, like nothing he’d ever seen before. The foliage was thick, the trees gnarled, old things that stood tall and proud, with the bark cracked, the branches long, entwined in an intimate embrace with the branches of the neighboring trees. The leaves were thick and fringy. Thick ropes dangled from the trees, strange colored animals with spiked heads moved between them, trilling a mellifluous song. To the side was a picturesque stream, and Atticus followed the peacefully gurgling water, like a landmark he could follow back, until he reached the river where the stream dispensed.
What he saw then struck him dumb.
An entire civilization moved about on the other side, dressed in shimmering clothes, their feet bare, their children running around, tagging each other, some after two headed animals. The structures were small, complex buildings made of stones that glowed under the orange sun, asymmetrically pointing upward like magician hats. Up in the sky birds the size of a house played with one another, and with an incredulous sense of amazement Atticus realized they were dragons, the scales on their lizard like bodies glowing with a variety of colors he’d never seen before.
A strange, white bird the size of a Saint Bernard suddenly appeared right beside Atikus, shocking him into immediate paralysis. It tilted its head upward and sideways in a reptilian-like gesture, silver feathers the size of Atticus’s finger crowning its head. It met Atticus’s eyes and held, the intelligence in the aqua blue like nothing Atticus ever saw before. It measured him up and down, its small beak clicking open and shut, and then, with an indifferent toss of its head, it spread its wings wide, showcasing a breath stopping view of magnificent indigo feathers.
It cawed once, then jumped into the air and flew away, joining the dragons in their play.
Heart light with the peacefulness of the land, Atticus decided to move along the river’s bank and find a safer crossing place when a rough hand appeared out of nowhere and slapped him.
Jolting, Atikus turned and … stared at the wrinkled face of his curious neighbor, feeling disoriented. Up above the sky was beginning to brighten, an indigo that reminded him of the beautiful, intelligent bird. Beside him the hole lay empty, no signs of the trap door he’d climbed down anywhere he could see.
A dream, he thought with twin feelings of relief and a sense of loss.
Just a dream. He stood up, gathered his things and went inside to wash up for work.
Behind him his neighbor frowned at the closed door, then down at the white feather with the indigo tip he held in his hand.