The digging

‘The digging?’  Weldon’s voice cracked with surprise.  He seemed more alert than he let on.

‘It’s ok,’ Peter said.   ‘He’s family.’

‘Where to start…’ Weldon said.  ‘Well, yer grandfather was plum mad.’  Weldon breathed loud, laboring breaths.  His eyes clouded, remembering a distant place he could never return to.  ‘Jefferson buried everything.  Before he got too sick.  After your grandma died.’

‘Buried?’ I said.

‘Yeah buried,’ Weldon said.  ‘Back in the 70’s, I don’t remember when exactly.  Just got so mad and buried everything.  He called me up and said we was having an exorcism, and I should come over.  So I came over and Jefferson was half-naked: just his work pants and some heavy boots.  Jefferson said to me, he says “Get me whiskey,” and I did.  Drove into town.  Came back and found him digging a hole in the driveway.  He’d been quick at it, too, cause I was only gone a bit and the hole was good sized.  He was a strong man.  Past sixty then, and still he could whip a man half his age.  Could outwork any man I ever saw.  I asked him what he was about and he took the whiskey and drank straight from the bottle and told me to mind my business and get a shovel and start digging before he hided me, and I did.  You shoulda seen him.  Crazy.  He was plum crazy.  Was at it for three weeks, burying half the things he owned.  Some made some sense to bury, if you was trying to protect them and not see them anymore—your grandma’s wedding dress, photographs. He never could handle life too well after she passed away.  But some a the things he buried, some were just crazy.  Things he’d had about the house since he was a kid, old toys and pictures from off the walls and clothes that didn’t fit no more.  Folks in town said spooks got ‘em, said he was straight outta hell.  People said it was ol Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Calvert, Jefferson’s great granddaddy.  Wesley Calvert served under Nathan Bedford Forrest and got gut-shot at Brice’s Crossroads and died three months later in an awful way.  They said old Colonel Calvert was making Jefferson go looking for his grave, all that diggin’, and they said, when Jeff found ‘em, he’d become Colonel Calvert outright and there wouldn’t be no more of Sheriff Jefferson Calvert but only Colonel Wesley Calvert, and he’d come get us all, kill us outright, eat our brains, ‘cause he was sore over getting gutshot and spending so long in dying.  There’s nothing brings the dead back quite like slow dying.  But people always said Jefferson was crazy, even when he wasn’t burying things.’

Weldon slumped back in his chair.  The telling had taken a toll.  His eyes fluttered and I thought he might fall asleep.

‘Why’d they say that?’ I said.  ‘Always saying he was crazy even when he wasn’t? What made them say he was crazy?’

Weldon raised a withered hand and in slow-motion batted at the air.

‘Folks always said that.  ‘Cause your grandfather, he knew—he knew some times you got to be cruel to keep the peace.  He knew it and they were scared, plum scared of the man.  But none of that mattered when it came election time.  They feared him and thought he was nuts but they still gave Jeff the vote.  Hell, they even gave him the vote after the digging, even though he’d got sick and gone mad.’

‘Do you know why?’ I said.  ‘Why he’d bury these things?’

Weldon shook his head.  I saw Peter watching me with a neutral expression.

‘Sometimes,’ Weldon said.  ‘Sometimes I wonder if he did find Colonel Calvert’s grave.  That’s what made him all sick.’  Weldon Lamb grinned.  ‘Bet you want to find out where he buried his things, don’t you son?’  I leaned toward him.

‘Yeah I’d be curious.’ I tried to shield the understatement.

‘Well you’re in luck,’ Weldon said.  ‘Jefferson, he gave me maps to all the diggings right before he went.  I got ‘em.  Reckon you want them, now.  Yeah, Jefferson said one of his boys’d want ‘em, and he said I should give ‘em to you when you asked.  But only when you asked.’

‘I’d be most obliged,’ I said.  ‘If I could take a look.’

With bony fingers Peter dug into the inner pocket of his beige jacket and came away with a photocopy of a folded sheet of paper, which he handed to me without a word.  I unfolded the map and saw a crude drawing of my aunt’s house surrounded by a few recognizable landmarks: the well out back, the driveway, the thick pines that ran from the house down to the road.

‘Can I have this?’ I said.

‘Weldon asked me to copy it for you,’ Peter said.  Weldon nodded in agreement.

‘You can have it,’ he said.  ‘But you gotta come by from time to time, keep an old man company.  I must say it’s a real pleasure meeting you, Jackson.  You look just like him.  Just like your papa, and a lot like Jeff too.’  I tried to hide my discomfort, folding the map and tucking it into my pocket.  I stood to go.

‘Oh and one thing,’ Weldon said as I was leaving.  ‘I almost forgot.  There’s one chest, the red chest, that one you be careful with what’s inside.’

‘OK, I’ll do what I can. And thanks for your time.  I’m most curious to see what I can dig up.  Oh, by the way, did my grandfather ever mention someone by the name of Clyde King?’

I thought I saw a flicker of something in Weldon’s gray eyes—the same comprehension and intelligence that had lay submerged under a senile veneer throughout our conversation.  But even as I spotted it the gray eyes sank back into oblivion.

‘Who?’ Weldon said.

‘Clyde King,’ I said again.  The name left my mouth with a strange volume, the two syllables echoing through the quiet apartment.

‘I don’t recall any such fella,’ Weldon said.

‘Alright,’ I said, suspicious as hell.  I said goodbye to Weldon and went looking for a shovel, but not before referencing the article I’d clipped from a back issue of the Jackson Clarion Ledger.  Weldon Lamb should have known the name Clyde King, just like he shold have known Sam Bowers and Vernon Dahmer.

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