“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.” ~George Eliot
The ditch was huge, an entire town’s worth of real estate under sea level, testament to what twelve men, a pickax, and five shovels can do under duress. To fall into the ditch was like dropping from a two story building, or like diving into an empty swimming pool, but no one was at the bottom. There was only dirt.
The surrounding area was also barren, devoid of human life as far as the eye could see, if any eyes were indeed around. If someone were to climb out of the ditch she could have seen what amounted to a ghost town, but without any ghosts. Memories floated like dust in the stale air, but they couldn’t attach to anything save for twisted metal and charred wood.
In the distance the sky was a blood orange hue, contrasted against the white, fluffy clouds like Cleopatra rising from the red Egyptian clay to rule an empty world. No noises could be heard, not even the sound of seagulls winging their way to the sea. On silent wings instead were carrion flies thick as mud, the only living creatures for miles, focused on the scent only they could smell.
Dry, stale blood littered the ground in striated patterns, like a Rohrschach test with no discernible meaning except to those who had gone through some kind of traumatic experience. No longer bright red, it was instead a rusty brown, testament to how long it had lain there in the dirt. The flies flocked to it like it was a gourmet meal just served up in a fancy restaurant, still uncommonly silent.
Empty buildings fringed a main street that could have been anywhere, except for the lack of traffic to and from each domicile and business. Apartment buildings, banks, churches, and corner markets all sad facsimiles of how they would have been elsewhere, bustling members of a community. Instead they stood sentinel to the devastation that had left the town a soul-less husk of itself.
The ditch stood like a gaping maw at the end of the street, as if waiting to swallow the town whole, an addition that would have unnerved a newcomer if any were around. But no one was around, and no one would ever see it, not anymore, save for the flies who seemed to multiply like legion with each passing moment. They swarmed the blood, feelers out, cleaning it like nothing else could, obscuring the evidence without realizing what they had been tasked to do.
Then they were gone as dusk came to claim the deserted town as its own, the twisted metal turning shades of purple and gray as it sat beneath the rising moon, white with opalescence. And the rain came in sheets, sudden like a thunderclap exploding across the valley. It began filling the ditch bit by bit, meter by meter, the rain an endless droning that almost simulated activity in town. Almost. It continued to come down in torrents until the ditch turned into mud, until it overflowed and dirty brown water spread across the lower end of the town’s main street.
The twisted metal was washed clean, the remaining blood drowned in the incoming vertical tide, the flies long gone as the assault wiped away the fingerprints of an aggression that had left its echo. From the ditch began to rise bloated corpses that had been buried under the dirt at its bottom, its supposed emptiness just a mirage, a band-aid on the real devastation within. One by one they rose to the surface, those men who had dug the ditch, who had unearthed their own burial sites, returned to the land where they had walked and talked in sheer ignorance before their end came.
As the rain began to peter out, around the enormous hole the bodies lay in judgement of what the town had become. And in the distance the sounds of fire engines laboring in vain could be heard, getting closer by the minute. The buildings waited in a silence so keen it was palpable. They waited for answers. They waited for a second chance that might never come.