The house is small but the property is large, and we buy it for a song. For the first year we change nothing but the wallpaper and the name on the mailbox. We dream of building our own artist’s studio surrounded by flowers as vibrant as Georgia O’Keeffe’s. So we begin to dig.
I plunge the shovel into the packed dirt and use my foot for leverage. Plunge, pull and lift, over and over. Then a shout.
“I’ve found something!”
We examine the object, something large and rounded with a dirty golden color. I rub at it with my bandanna and can see my reflection, mottled with etchings of flowers and vines. I suggest it might be something fragile, so she goes to the house and returns with a trowel, a chisel, and several large brushes. Together we unearth a large urn with a spigot sticking out of the side.
The appraiser tells us it is an 18th-century samovar, worth hundreds. It cleans up remarkably well. We set it on the mantel as though it is our protective household deity.
“What are the chances that’s the only thing buried in our yard?” I ask.
“You think we’ll find more?” There’s a diamond sparkle in her eyes.
A metal detector search reveals nothing, but as she points out, not all treasures are metallic. We divide up the property in a grid and dig.
A few friends drop by at first to help, but we worry they’ll take a finders-keepers philosophy, so we decide to keep the search to the two of us. Seven months later we have all but abandoned our social life. At night we soak our tired bodies in the bath and watch the dirt sluice away. We take turns kneading the pain from our backs.
We have one hundred fifty seven holes, and haven’t yet found the rest of the treasure.
The house is small but the property is large, and we buy it for a song. For the first year we change nothing but the shutters and the tire swing that hangs from the ancient oak. We dream of building our own artist’s studio with a garden ripped from one of Monet’s paintings. So we begin to dig.
I push the shovel into the hard ground and press down on it with my heel. Push, press, and dump, over and over. Then a shout.
“I’ve found something!”
I rush to see her discovery. It looks to be a boot, or part of one, buried for years in the cool earth. I suggest we save all the weird old stuff we find, perhaps later display them like museum curios to amuse our future children. I go into the house to find a box for our incipient collection. When I return, she is sitting on the ground, as still as a gravestone.
She points to the boot. A long bone extends from it.
“Let’s call the police,” she says, her voice like an echo without its source.
The police ask too many questions. Why were you digging? What made you dig in that spot? After a few days their questions stop, and a pair of professors drive up from the university.
“The skeleton you found is a young man who died in the late seventeen hundreds,” says a woman with a silk scarf wrapped around her shoulders like a shawl. “There was a bayonet next to him. We suspect he died in a minor Revolutionary War skirmish.”
“We think it’s likely there are remains of more soldiers on the property,” adds the sunburned man in the sweater-vest. “This could be the most important find I’ve seen in my career. If it’s all right with you, we’d love to bring some grad students to excavate—”
“It’s not all right,” I say. “This is our private property.”
They protest until we take away their glasses of lemonade and insist they leave.
“Imagine our house turned into an excavation site,” she says.
In the evening a frigid wind cuts through the muggy August heat, sending magazines flying from the coffee table. We close all the windows, but the wind still rages within the house. It snakes through the antique samovar she inherited from her grandmother and fills the room with a haunting whistle.
The next day we call the university and tell the professors they are free to dig. Half a year later, snow fills the square depressions that mark the excavated graves of the thirteen fallen men discovered so far. The professors tell us they will be back in the spring, and expect they have enough work here to last several years.
The house is small but the property is large, and we buy it for a song. For the first year we change nothing but the French doors and the details of the ghost stories we tell about the Revolutionary War soldiers who reportedly died nearby. We dream of building our own artist’s studio flanked with surrealist sculptures inspired by Salvador Dali. So we begin to dig.
I drop the shovel into the dark soil and scoop the earth in a heap to my left. Drop, scoop, and turn, over and over. Then a shout.
“I’ve found something!”
The voice comes from below me, from the chasm into which my shovel has broken through. Staring up at me is a bewildered man with my face, who has evidently been digging his way to the surface for a long time.
Anna Zumbro lives in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ruthless Peoples Magazine, Fantasy Scroll, Plasma Frequency, and other publications.