A Serious Undertaking

“Tell me if you’re game,” challenged Bill. He stood in the doorway of the inn, squinting out at the never-ending drizzle. His grizzled white beard held flecks of that morning’s breakfast and his hand shuddered as he lifted his coffee cup to his mouth.

A voice answered softly from somewhere in the shadows behind him.

“Aye, I’m game.”

Joe was more soft-spoken and agreeable than Bill. His voice had a sandpapery quality to it, the kind of voice that made you clear your own throat. Bill could feel his friend’s eyes on his back and wondered what he was thinking. Was he just going along with the plan because Bill was persuasive or was he really in? Deciding it didn’t matter in the end, as long as he had Joe’s help and discretion, Bill nodded, set down his empty cup and headed out into the sodden world.

Joe didn’t move to follow him. He remained sitting in the shadows, watching Bill pick his way across the field, hunched against the rain. He shook his head ruefully; he suspected that this was another of Bill’s ill-conceived ideas.

A few minutes later, Bill found himself standing alone on the bright green field facing the offending orange digger. He turned back toward the gaping door of the inn.

No Joe. Nothing stirred.

With Michael gone, the inn had closed, almost immediately. Only Bill and Joe were left to clean things up and get the place ready for sale.

“This here digger will have to be moved,” Bill grunted to himself, turning back to face the metal monster sitting atop the chewed up ground. And there was the small matter of burying Michael.

Water dripped from the end of Bill’s nose. He sniffed and took a step toward the digger. The cab smelled of diesel, old, damp grass and something reminiscent of Michael.

“Might as well use it before we move it,” he mumbled.

The machine coughed to life, much the way Bill had earlier that day. As he set to work, he tried not to wonder whether all remnants of the accident had been washed away in the rain.

With the hole dug, Bill steered the digger out between the gateposts and parked it on the road. It was time to fetch Joe or, more to the point, Michael.

The body lay upon the dining table where it had been left the night before during the wake. It was wrapped in a sheet and smelled distinctly of smoke and whiskey.

“Up and at ’em,” coaxed Joe shyly as he and Bill lifted the body.

“Jaysus, Joe, don’t be talking to him!” huffed Bill. “Now, there’s no one out there just now, so we need to do this quickly, avoid questions.”

Joe nodded.

They hoisted the body awkwardly into a wooden coffin that sat on the floor and covered it with the lid.

“Ready?” asked Bill, looking up at Joe who hadn’t taken hold of his end.

They moved slowly, teetering every now and then as though on a ship at sea. The distance to the hole seemed to stretch elusively. Both men were lost in their own personal struggles – physical and metaphysical – when a resounding thump shook them back to reality. Bill stumbled backward, arms flailing. Down came the coffin. The lid, shaken loose, slipped sideways and out tumbled Michael.

They stuffed him back in hurriedly and continued on their way.

Joe was just about to mention that he thought his fingers were slipping, when his end of the coffin fell with a thud onto the soft ground, jostling the lid open again.

Shaking his head, Joe said, “some undertakers, wha?”

“This isn’t funny.”

“I was jest…nah, of course it’s not.”

Stumbling toward the hole, they dropped the coffin at the edge and once again had to replace its contents.

Joe gaped at the hole. “Do you think you made it big enough?” he spluttered.

“We can’t have anyone findin’ it,” Bill explained impatiently.

Lowering the coffin into the hole involved a trip back to the inn for ropes, another spill and an awkward moment during which Michael was almost buried beside, rather than inside, his coffin.

When they were finally done, the two men stood looking down onto the box at the bottom of the hole. The lid was askew.

“Michael would have liked us doin’ this for him,” Joe admitted fondly, ignoring the peculiarity of the situation and its lack of decorum.

“If he ever forgave us.”

Word count: 748

This story was written for the Speakeasy #160 at Yeah Write. The prompts this week were the above picture of an orange excavator and the line, “Tell me if you’re game,” which had to be the first line of the submission.


13 thoughts on “A Serious Undertaking

  1. I like the interchange between Bill and Joe, and the comedy of mishaps as poor Michael kept getting dropped. This was good, but I have questions!

    • I did try to suggest possibilities while still leaving things open. I wanted you to have questions! I’m glad you saw the humour in the piece. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  2. I feel kind of sick to have chuckled at their mishaps and ‘spills’. Geez, I wouldn’t want these guys taking me to my final resting place 🙂

    • I’m glad you DID chuckle, though. As I was writing it, I thought “I don’t really do funny” but the story just came to me (inspired by something an Irish friend once told me) when I saw the picture. Thanks for the comment!

  3. This is fabulous! I love the naturalness of the interaction between Joe and Bill. And the mishaps with the coffin were delightful (and very Irish!) – I particularly liked that the lid managed to be askew when they finally got it in the hole. I also love all your descriptions, especially of Bill’s voice and the sound of it making you clear your own throat. Awesome work! 🙂

    • Thanks, Suzanne. You definitely picked up on all the little elements that I hoped I had captured, but wasn’t sure I had. An Irish friend told me a similar story whose details I’ve now forgotten but its remnants inspired me the moment I saw the picture.

  4. Brilliant stuff! I would say you definitely do ‘funny’. You brought these two characters to life, made it easy to see the action, which made the humour all the more prominent in the piece. The last line was a classic, and seemed to sum everything up.

  5. I love the constant drops by these imperfect undertakers. The way everything seemed to go off-kilter all the time lended a certain believability to the story. I could just see it all happening.

    • Thank you! I’m glad it came through as realistic. The image in my head was clear, and had me laughing, so I’m glad that I could convey all that through the piece.

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