An Early Grave by Richard Dickson

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SUMMARY: Entry for the May 2009 Flash Fiction Contest

Garrow spat and glared into the bright sky. Next to him, Hemket's gnarled hands worked a crude spade. "How much deeper do we have to dig this bloody thing?" Garrow asked of one of the impossibly bright figures watching over them.

"Until it is deep enough," it answered in a flat, emotionless voice that seemed to come from everywhere at once.

"It would go faster if you stopped asking so many questions," the other said, his tone just as bereft of feeling.

"I still don't see why you can't do this yourselves," Garrow said bitterly as his own spade bit deep into the earth.

"It was you who made the mistake of rebelling," the first figure said.

"No," Garrow said, "we made the mistake of losing."

"And thus in no position to complain over your treatment."

Garrow's eyes narrowed, but he bit back his retort. He did make sure his next throw of dirt landed closer to his overseers than it needed to, though.

"You see, Ulariel?" one of the shimmering beings said. "Laid low, toiling in defeat, and still not a scrap of penitence in them."

"I'm sorry," Hemket said softly.

"Sorrow and penitence are not one and the same," Ulariel answered. "You are sorry to be defeated, to be punished, but not truly penitent for what you did to come to this end."

His companion nodded. "Father was wise to banish them."

Garrow laughed. "But not wise enough to see it coming, was he, Abalim?"

"Garrow!" Hemket hissed. "Bad enough they've got us doing this! Don't make it worse!"

Abalim's brow furrowed. "I do not understand your bitterness. We expected you would be grateful for this time away from your exile."

"Yes," Garrow said with mock sincerity, "this brief glimpse of freedom will be so comforting once we go back the abyss your master prepared for us."

"Your master as well," Ulariel scolded, his wings twitching.

"No!" Garrow shouted, throwing his spade down. "If he didn't stop being our master when we took up arms against him, he surely stopped when he cast us out!"

Hemket leaned in close. "What are you doing?"

"Really, Garrow?" Abalim said. "Surely one rebellion was enough."

"We shall not be weak and miserable for your amusement," Garrow said evenly. "Ever to do ill shall be our sole delight."

"THAT IS ENOUGH!" Hemket shrieked and fell to the ground as Ulariel's voice crashed down around them like a thousand thunders. "You will not profane our presence with his words!"

"Or you'll do what?" Garrow roared back, unbowed. "Throw us down again? Not much further we can go!"

Whimpering, Hemket gathered himself and began furiously digging. "I never wanted this," he sobbed. "I only followed because he made me believe, because he made so much sense."

"He lied," Abalim said. "But the choice was still yours as to whom to follow, and you could not have chosen more wrongly."

"Leave him alone," Garrow snarled. "You know full well not everyone was equal in what we did, but that didn't matter to him, did it?"

"This impertinence grows tiring," Ulariel said, "and this hole grows no deeper."

"Garrow," Hemket pleaded, "please.

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