Bill touched the soil. He was aware of Mrs. Green next to him. Her humid breath caressed his cheek as she leaned over him.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
Bill couldn't answer. The soil told him a story.
"I'm sorry Mommy!" a child's voice.
A woman spoke: "Spoil the rod and spare the child."
"I didn't mean to."
She either didn't hear him or didn't care. Either way, it didn't matter. She raised a shovel.
Bill smelled piss and shit and shame, and above it all, fear.
Bill retched and fought unconsciousness. The donut from that morning did not taste nearly as good on the way out as it did on the way in. He looked down and saw a mess of coffee, wet crumbles, and sprinkles.
"Are you all right?"
Bill looked up and saw Mrs. Green. He flinched and fell down. He scrambled backwards with his feet and hands until he pressed his back against the wood of the barn. Shards of peeling paint pressed against his thin t-shirt. "You had a child?"
Mrs. Green's face matched her name. "What did you say?"
"You had a child!"
Her face grew grim. She crouched down and placed her hands on her knees. "I never had a child. What are you talking about? Who are you, anyway?"
"You had a child. You killed him. He was just a baby."
A firm hand slapped his cheek. "Shut up!" She stood up and walked away. She turned around backwards and spit at Bill. "I never had a child."
Bill looked at his hands. They trembled. Spit poured out one side of his mouth. His tongue swelled. He closed his eyes and tiny hands clenched Bill's hands. He squeezed those tiny hands, trying to comfort this ghost of a child. He opened his eyes and saw he had clenched his fists. Bill fought to unclench his hands. Once they were open wide, he saw they were empty. Yet his hands retained the impression of the soft skin of a child, unblemished and untarnished by this world. Bill noticed a mound in the earth. Grass covered it, but it was still a mound. He looked and saw Mrs. Green heading towards the house. He stood on shaky legs and looked around. There was no shovel, but there was a pitchfork. He grabbed it and began to dig. The earth was dry and hard. Rocks made digging difficult, but he ignored his exertion. The lingering touch of the child's hand pushed him forward.
After removing the first foot of dirt, the digging became easier. Hard-packed earth gave way to rich soil. Bill looked around the side of the barn from time to time to make sure no one was coming, to verify he was alone. He dug.
The hole grew deeper. He wondered what he was doing, what was pushing him on, and for a moment, doubted his touch. He closed his eyes and felt an embrace, the embrace of a child. He opened his eyes and dug harder. He ignored the sickness in his gut, the shaking of his limbs. The pitchfork scraped against occasional rocks. He no longer looked around the side of the barn. His focus intensified on his labor. He had no choice but to dig. Digging was all that mattered now.
The pitchfork scraped against something white. He thought it was another rock. He pushed the pitchfork down and pulled up. The white object came loose from the earth. Bill sat down and looked at the upraised pitchfork in his hands and began to cry.
Looking down on him was a tiny skull. A tine of the pitchfork was jammed in an empty eye socket. The skull looked down on him. Without the lower jaw, the skull was frozen into a perpetual, silent scream.
"What have you done!"
Bill turned around.
Mrs. Green glared at him. A shotgun was in her hands. She held it up with her eye lined down the barrel.
"You killed your own child."
"This is my property. You didn't have no right to be digging here. This wasn't any of your business, asshole. I don't know what you are or who you are, and I really don't care."
There was a loud crack. It echoed across the land. Bill was tossed to the ground and became aware of a dull ache in his shoulder that quickly turned into a sharp pain. He reached up and touched his shoulder and pulled it away wet with blood.
"You killed him."
"You just don't know when to shut up, do you?" She cocked the rifle again. She aimed.
Another crack of sound filled the air.
Bill closed his eyes and winced, but there was no impact.
He opened his eyes and saw that Mrs. Green was on the ground. She yelled and writhed in pain. She held up her hands. Her right hand was missing several fingers. The partial stump gushed blood.
Gloria stood in a powerful stance with her legs far apart. Her pistol shone underneath the hot Florida sun. Benny walked over from behind Gloria and kicked the rifle away from where it lay next to Mrs. Green.
Another man stood to the side. He was a slim man with thinning hair dressed in a jogging outfit. "Radha!" the man yelled and ran over. He kneeled down next to the woman and glared at Gloria. "You shot my wife!"
"Your wife was just about to kill a man. She'll be okay. Gloria's a great shot. If it had been me, she'd probably be dead," Benny said. He had his gun out now and pointed it at the couple. "Now, would you mind telling me whose skull that is?"
The man began to cry and mumbled incoherently.
Gloria put her gun away and pulled out her cell phone. She called an ambulance, hung up, and walked away as she started talking to someone else. Bill thought he heard her say something about a warrant.
Bill looked and saw his shirt was covered in blood. It pooled on the ground.
Lying on its side next to him in the growing pool of blood sat the skull of a child. It continued its silent scream. Bill reached out a bloody hand and touched the skull. "It's okay now." The skull grew silent.
The sun was directly overhead. Bill looked out at the grassy land all around him. Wisps of Spanish moss fluttered with an unfelt breeze. There were mounds everywhere. If he had not been looking for them, he would not have seen them. He wished he had not seen them.
Several dozen screams rose from the earth and Bill felt his body shudder and suddenly grow cold despite the heat. He leaned to his side and fell down. "They're everywhere. They're everywhere. Everywhere," he repeated over and over until he could no longer speak and the world faded.