The whistling of the wind was getting progressively worse, building with each wave of noise before drifting away again. It forced its way through the holes and chipped corners of the wooden shutters like water through a sieve, rattling them on their hinges before letting them rest again for a few precious seconds.
During those brief moments of calm, a second noise could be heard; the steady regular sound of water hitting something hard and metallic. Drip! Followed shortly by Ping! The howling of the wind built almost rhythmically, drowning out the sound of the water, beginning low and building quickly to a high pitched shriek, coupling itself musically with the rattling of the shutters and the banging of wood on stone.
There was a third noise that came much more sporadically. It rumbled and snorted, and occasionally spluttered before falling silent for minutes at a time. Occasionally it would be followed by a low grown and the sound of wet lips smacking together.
All of this could have been the backdrop for some terrible dream, or some waking nightmare for the boy lying there in the dark. He supposed it was more likely to be the latter of the two. In fact he was quite sure he could live with it being the dreadful introduction to some horrific dream that tore him blissfully from his sanity. At least then he might be waking up to something different, something new, or not at all.
He lay there, uncomfortable and unmoving; listening to the orchestra of noise that, he decided, was a pretty accurate representation of his life. The broken shutters that needed mending continued their rattling and banging again. He lay there as the room paused, waiting for the sound of water leaking from somewhere and hitting a pile of useless junk, followed shortly by the deep rumbling snore of his father as he slept fitfully close by.
He followed the sounds around the room as they cycled through their song sheet in turn and let out a deep and heartfelt sigh.
It was still a long way from dawn, and the room was so utterly black. He could hold his hand in front of his face and barely see its outline. He knew that because he kept doing it, wiggling the fingers. His hands ached badly from work, which was partly the reason for his lack of sleep, the other part being his dread of morning arriving. Being a digger was all about hard work, unless you were the one who was paying for it to be done. All you needed was a shovel, a pick, dusting tools and some smaller trowels to pick away at the ground carefully if the need arose. The rest came from your back, your legs, and your youth. Eventually it broke and bent all of those things.
He had thought some time ago that he was lucky to work with his father, and that he at least had a job to go to. But that was some time ago. What had it been now, ten years or so? He thought back to the first day he had gone to work with his father. He’d been around eight or nine. He listened again to the wind forcing itself against the shutters and shifted uncomfortably on his mattress, trying to get comfortable as his thoughts drifted.
The choices as he had grown up had been few, they were for everyone. Work was generally manual labour, unless you were skilled in something or scholarly in persuasion. He had never considered himself particularly skilled in anything, nor was he overly bright like some. He wasn’t stupid, not by a long way, but books didn’t hold any interest for him.
Some of his friends had obvious skills, ones that were apparent to all and sundry. An image of a young lad called Dale flashed into his mind, with his blonde tufty hair and tanned skin, athletic and strong. He could run for miles, could pick up a stone and throw it at anything and you could be sure he would hit it dead centre! Not exactly important, but it was certainly impressive when you were young. He’d gone on to join the local regiment, where he was no doubt throwing more than stones, and possibly running very quickly whilst doing it.
A girl he’d been friendly with, what was her name…something…with the dark hair and freckles, had been skilled at stitching and sewing. Not something he’d want for himself, but she’d been good at it. She would produce the most marvellous designs on bits of cloth found spare at home. He could still see her delicate fingers working, a slight smile on her lips.
He’d even given her one of his shirts and begged her to stitch something on it, something impressive. It had come back no less than a day later, with a dragon on the shoulder! With wings spread wide and flames pouring from its terrifying mouth, it had instantly become his favourite piece of clothing. He remembered walking sideways for days, sticking his shoulder forward so people could see it clearly.
Veronica! How had he forgotten her name? Oh yes, that was right, because she’d moved on some time later and found a life for herself. He couldn’t remember what, but he was pretty sure it was better than anything he was doing.
Mentally listing the people he’d known when he was growing up and what they were doing now wasn’t helping his mood. They’d all drifted away like ships from a desert island, leaving him stood on the beach holding his coconuts, or more precisely his fathers. His faced screwed up at that thought and he immediately shoved it from his mind. He didn’t need that sort of image at this time of night.
The wind howled again. His father had gone silent. Was he…? No there it was, a sound like someone trying to clear their nose into their throat.
Hope. He’d definitely had hope since then that things would get better. But slowly it had become increasingly obvious that his life wasn’t like that. It reminded him of religion. Hadn’t Danny gone on to be a priest?
As far as he was concerned, religion offered nothing substantial, but endless rewards if you just…kept…at it! No one ever seemed able to confirm these rewards, but you heard things. A guy down in the southern counties had found some sort of silverware from the something-century and he was now lying on his back being fed grapes and drinking wine from the profits. Or a group of diggers had uncovered a lost city and all its riches, complete with deeds of ownership and free drinks all round!
It always happened somewhere far away, to someone else. But it kept people digging, because one day it would happen to them too, right? Wrong!
His father was currently digging a site in a valley a couple of hours walk away from the village where they were staying. A conversation one night in tavern, in another faceless village they’d been digging near had resulted in them moving yet again on the promise of finding something shiny in the ground.
He remembered thinking at the time, what about the current dig? What happened to finding something there? He hadn’t bothered asking though, just packed up his things and followed his excitable father down the road.
Ten years, nearly a decade of his life! He’d dug so many holes in the ground he may as well have been a farmer, or a gravedigger. At least he would have yielded something for his efforts. Ah that was it, he did have a skill; he was skilled at digging holes…
He continued to lay there in the darkness, bored of listening to his own thoughts, until sleep washed over him and took him to a faraway place, where he dreamt of excavating, spades and finding nothing in the ground.