I’ve taken to long walks through the woods recently, and they often lead me to strange and wonderful places. I’ve found sheltered areas with bowing branches that would be perfect for a clandestine romantic meeting. I’ve found little circles of grass where the sunlight hits just right for a lovely bread and wine picnic.
But last week, across a pit bridge of particle board and planks, into an open grassy area that could once have been a field, in the slight shade of a hazel tree, I found it. A pile of dirt and grass and bricks. Like someone had tried to build a hill from scratch.
At first it just looked like a little bump in the ground, but as I got closer I realised that it was taller than me. It was mostly dirt, but tufts of grass sprouted here and there. On the near side were some scattered and partially broken bricks.
I walked around it and saw it was partially concave. The dirt just dropped off after the rise and led into a little trough that was overgrown with grass, weeds and dandelions. Halfway up the mound, just before the drop off, was a leafless tree stalk.
There was no life left here. Nothing of value anyway.
My mind started to drift to what its purpose could possibly be. Was it a den of some animal, now collapsed? Was someone actually trying to build a hill? Or were they trying to hide something? Maybe that’s why the dead tree is here, to mark it if they ever want to find it again.
But what were they hiding? A briefcase full of money? A time capsule of letters and valuables? A body?
If it’s supposed to hide something, they must have forgotten about it, because it would take a lot of time to grow over like this. Or, in the case of a body, I suppose it’s meant to be forgotten about.
I took some photos of it with my phone and went home. I haven’t gotten it out of my head since.
I was drinking with Senan the next day on my porch and decided to show him the photos. He found them unremarkable.
“It’s just a hill, dude,” he said between sips of his beer. “Naturally formed.”
“Naturally formed?” I zoomed in on the scattered fragmented bricks, “These came to be there naturally?”
He shrugged dispassionately, “Well, I dunno, someone didn’t need them and discarded them in the forest or something. It’s not that weird.”
“Something about it bugs me though.”
“Probably the real actual bugs it is no doubt crawling with.”
“It was surprisingly bug free, actually.” I said, to no response. “Not even a caterpillar.”
“Lovely.” He took a long swig of his beer. I followed suit. “Why do you care, anyway?”
“I don’t know. It’s just... weird.”
“So are you.”
I went back to it on my next walk. It was still there. Undisturbed.
I had to show Senan. In person. I called him. He met me at the edge of the woods.
“I still think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“Too big to be a molehill. If anything, it’s a fox den.”
“Jesus Christ, Donnacha.” He shook his head and started walking alongside me, “If it’s a fox den, then mystery solved. Why do you care so much?”
“I don’t actually think it’s a fox den, Senan.”
“What do you actually think it is then? Because it just looks like a hill to me.”
“You have to see it in person.”
We crossed over the particle board and found the mound. Senan walked around it briefly, his expression still skeptical.
“Mm, I see,” he nodded over-dramatically, “it’s a mound of dirt and grass, lightly dusted with bricks.” He swatted at one of the skeletal branches, “Oh, with a lovely dead tree garnish!”
“Doesn’t it look suspicious though?”
“The bricks are a bit weird, but not so weird that I’m worried about them, fuckin’ hell.”
“I’m not worried, it just won’t leave my head.”
Senan walked up to me and put a hand on my shoulder, “Sometimes a pile of dirt is just a pile of dirt. Get some sleep.”
“Yeah. I should.”
I did some research the next day. Between sips of coffee, I researched the forest and any construction projects or violent crimes that happened in the area in the last, oh, hundred years. I trawled through Google and Wikipedia and several nature websites for everything I could find.
I didn’t find much. The forest is a popular walking destination, which occasionally sees tourism due to the small lake at the edge, but otherwise, it’s unremarkable, aside from being quite photogenic.
Even the lake isn’t all that mysterious. It’s not one of those lakes that’s notoriously full of disposed and decomposing mob informants. It’s just a lake. With fish. And seaweed.
And in terms of construction, nothing but some fences put up to keep people from falling into the water. Why the bricks then? And why the little bridge of particle board leading into the area?
I went and looked at the mound again after work. It was still there. Still, there.
I had a dream about it.
I was walking through the woods, but of course it wasn’t actually those woods. It was the platonic ideal of a spooky forest.
It was dark, but there was a certain blueness to the light. The moon was nowhere to be seen
I wandered through in seemingly no specific direction, but I knew where I was going. I was going to the mound.
I found it and started clawing at it with my hands. I didn’t need a shovel. I tore away at the grass and dirt and shoved it into my mouth and spat it out and dug and dug and dug.
A rotting hand sprang out of the dirt and grabbed me by the collar. I woke up with my hands around my throat and the taste of soil on my tongue.
I had to see what was in it. I had to know its purpose. I threw two shovels, two pairs of gloves and a rusted garden shears into the back of my car. I had to know.
I picked up Senan on the way. He continued to insist that I was overreacting. Maybe he was right. Maybe I shouldn’t have come out here. But I had to. I had to know.
We got here just as the sun was starting to set. It is not easy to dig up solid ground but we did it. It took us an hour to make any sort of progress. I was prepared to dig all night, but we didn’t have to.
An hour and a half in, my shovel went through the dirt, and the hill caved in slightly. I let go and pushed away some dirt with gloved hands. It caved in some more.
“See anything?” Senan called from behind me between jagged breaths.
I took a step back and gave it a proper look. Through the hole I could see a little patch of flattened grass but that was it. There was nothing in there. No dead body, no secret cache of valuables, no eldritch monster. Nothing.
“See?” Senan walked up beside me and put a hand on my shoulder as he pointed into the mound with his other hand. “Nothing. There’s nothing there, you fucking lunatic.”
“You’re right. There’s nothing.” I fell to my knees in front of the hole. “Now.”
“There’s nothing here now. But why is it hollow?”
Senan peered at the little patch within. “Hm. There was probably a rock or something there. Or like a big root.”
“Really? That’s your takeaway?”
“What do you want to be here, Donnacha?” He was shouting now, “It doesn’t matter what’s actually here, but what the fuck were you expecting? A dead body?”
“I had considered it, yes.”
“Jesus Christ!” He turned around for a moment, his head in his palm, then he whipped back around to me, “Why does it have to be something sinister? Why can’t it just be a pile of dirt?”
“It can’t be. It can’t be.”
“Fuck this. I’m going home, Donnacha. You should do the same.”
He tore off his gloves and threw them on the ground beside his discarded shovel, then walked away from me, and out of the woods.
I tore away some more of the dirt on the edges of the hole and stared in. I tried to imagine what could possibly have fit into this little crevice. It was too small for a body. At least an adult one. And too oddly shaped. I clawed at the dirt even more until I could fit into the hole I made.
It’s been seven hours. I do not know what to do. I am still sitting in that darkened patch of flattened grass and soil.