5-Minute Fiction: Dead Things

Alana turned over a spadeful of earth.

In the process, the blade of her shovel sliced an earthworm in two.

She tossed the still writhing segments of its glistening body and spilling guts into the pile beside her where they were quickly buried by the next shovelful of dirt.

The earth was dark and damp, the scent of it suggesting life. It was filled with nourishment for the flowering plants beside her, trapped in their plastic containers. Dark pink petals fluttered in the breeze. She couldn’t wait another moment to get them into the ground where they belonged.

“Alana, what are you doing?” Her husband’s voice was rough with sleep, perturbed, and so loud it might be heard across the street.


“Coffee’s stale. It smells like something died in there again.”

“I’ll make a fresh pot in a few minutes.”

Suddenly, he was beside her, his shadow falling across the hole she’d dug. “Not a few minutes. Now. Why did you let it sit on the burner all this time?”

“You slept late.”

“I bust my ass all week. Don’t accuse me of oversleeping in that tone.”

“I didn’t say…I don’t have a tone.”

“I need coffee. You know that.”

“I just want to finish…”

“Your first responsibility is to me. Remember? A little thing called wedding vows? Not flowers that’ll look like shit after the next frost. You do know another frost is almost guaranteed, right?”

“I wanted…”

“Now.” He turned and went into the house.

She sat back on her heels and pulled the glove off her left hand. She turned the glove upside down, shaking out the grit that had found its way inside.

He hadn’t slept late because of all that ass-busting he liked to talk about. He’d slept late because of the two bottles of wine, of which she’d had a glass and a half. He’d slept late because of the two shots of vodka required for a nightcap. She smiled.

She glanced quickly toward the sidewalk. She didn’t want someone walking by and seeing her smiling at no one. She’d look like a madwoman.


She shoved the spade into the dirt, making the hole deeper. She sliced it down the side, peeling off a thin layer of hard-packed dirt that fell away like the skin of an onion. The shovel had a rather sharp point, and the metal was beveled at the sides, not much different from a knife. It couldn’t kill a person, of course, it wasn’t that sharp, but it could definitely do some damage. That’s why it was important to wear gloves.

The hole was just about ready for the first plant.

She rapped the edge of the spade on the plastic container, loosening the soil and roots packed inside. She turned it upside down and let the plant with its paper-thin blossoms fall into her hands. Dirt spilled around the diamonds on her finger. Oh well, it didn’t matter that she’d forgotten to put on the glove again, she wasn’t digging.

Knuckles rapped on the kitchen window. He wouldn’t wait much longer, but she’d planned all week to get the flowers into the ground this morning. She’d made his coffee before coming out here, and then he’d gone and slept late, as if to spite her.

Coffee didn’t smell like something dead. She laughed, then clamped the sound back in her throat, looking up again. It had only been sitting there for an hour or two. The things that came out of his mouth…

She shoved the spade into the dirt and tossed one last shovelful onto the mound beside her. The worm was definitely put out of its misery by now.

Holding the plant with her right hand, she worked the fingers of her ungloved hand through the soil and roots to loosen them, making them more amenable to taking root in the hard-packed ground of her yard. She lowered the plant into the hole. It wasn’t quite large enough. She wasn’t sure how she’d misjudged it. She placed the plant on the pile of loose dirt and picked up the spade.

She spread her left hand out to get a rough measurement of the size of the plant. She placed her left hand in the hole to estimate how much more space was needed.

As she drove the spade into the ground, the dirt came away from the side more easily than she’d expected. The point of the spade sliced into the end of her index finger, cutting it clean away.

The spade fell out of her hand. Blood poured into the dirt, red swallowed by dark earth. She was too startled to scream. She felt nothing. Shock at what she’d done, maybe.

She stared at the tip of her finger, nestled white in the dirt, already turning a strange color.

The bellowing of her name came from far away, inside the house. She stared into the hole and considered the dead thing resting there.

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