Copyright © 2013 Meg Benjamin
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Hank Mitchell looked down at his foot, still wedged tight, still unmovable. The rocks in that part of the wall had looked sturdy enough when he’d stepped on them. By the time he’d realized how unsturdy they really were, and how ready they were to crumble under his weight, it was too late to jump back. He’d already tried pulling his foot out of his shoe, but the rocks on either side were squeezed too tightly to get it loose.
Okay, how many times over the years did you tell the interns never to go to a dig alone? Not enough times to drill it into his own thick skull, apparently. Now he stood at the base of a three-foot wall, the possible remains of a Wampanoag settlement, his foot jammed tightly in the midst of some Wampanoag rocks that had crumbled when he’d stepped in the wrong place. He didn’t have the right angle to pry the rocks apart, and he didn’t have any tools that might make it easier.
If he were a superstitious man, he’d say the Wampanoags were having their revenge on him. If so, they were doing a damned good job of it.
He checked around the dig one more time, hoping against hope that something might have changed in the three minutes since he’d last looked and that he’d find some kind of tool he could use to pry himself loose. His notebook and cell phone still sat where he’d left them next to the ladder, thoroughly out of reach, along with his trowel and his pick. He might try lying down full length to see if he could touch them, but he was guessing his knees wouldn’t exactly bend in that direction.
Surely the sisters would miss him at some point. Even if Alice didn’t, surely it would occur to Nadia that he hadn’t been around when he should have been. Surely they’d call the cops to at least check on him. Of course, he didn’t exactly have a regular schedule at Casa Dubrovnik. They might not even notice he hadn’t come home until he’d been missing for a couple of days.
He’d get very hungry in two days, not to mention thirsty. At least the five-foot depth of the excavation would keep him from getting chilled by the wind.
Unless it rained. As it had regularly for the past month.
Hank sighed. He was possibly going to die here. At the very least he was going to get hungry, thirsty and probably wet. And it was all the result of his own idiocy, which made the whole thing that much worse. Alice would probably say she’d told him so, although he was fairly certain even her wide-ranging complaints had never covered this particular situation.
He tensed. For a moment, he could have sworn he’d heard something rustling. Probably a rabbit or something in the underbrush. And he couldn’t think of any way to use a rabbit to rescue himself.
He paused, listening again. The rustling seemed more persistent than a rabbit, and it was coming closer. He ran through a quick list of large animals found in the Massachusetts woods. Bears and moose were possible, but unlikely. Coyotes were more likely but not particularly worrisome unless they decided he was easy pickings. Chances were it was some other kind of animal, though. Maybe a fox or a wild turkey.
By now he was curious enough about the source of the noise to try craning his neck so he could see above the edge of the excavation. Besides, a passing wild turkey would provide a little momentary distraction from his numb foot still wedged in the rocks.
For a moment, he thought he saw someone moving along the trail at the edge of the trees, a flash of color in the darkening underbrush. Hank blinked. The dig was clearly marked with Danger and No Trespassing signs. He’d wanted to put up a fence, but the state authorities had overruled him. Still, nobody was supposed to be back here. Unfortunately.
But if somebody was, they could at least pull him out of this hole. “Hello?” he called. “Anybody there?”
The rustling stopped for a moment, and then began again, coming closer this time. Hank strained to see beyond the top edge of the excavation. “Be careful,” he called. “There’s an excavation back here.”
What he saw next almost convinced him he was hallucinating. The woman was dressed like something out of a movie: a huge bell-shaped skirt covered with ruffles, a wide sash at the waist, a low-cut neckline that stretched across her shoulders and revealed what looked to be more-than-respectable breasts. After a moment, she knelt at the edge, peering down at him, and he saw short, brownish hair and dark eyes. “Hi,” she said.
“Hi.” He took a quick breath, hoping to god she was real and not a particularly bizarre dream. “Could you possibly come down here and give me a hand? I’m stuck.”
Her forehead furrowed slightly. “Possibly. What do you need exactly?”
“My foot’s wedged in here.” He pointed to his foot, still jammed between the two large rocks. “Maybe you could help me pull the rocks apart so I could get loose.”
She frowned, considering. “How about just taking your shoe off?”
He shook his head. “I tried that. It’s too tight. I can’t get my foot out of the shoe.”
“Oh.” She was still frowning. “Okay, just a minute.” She disappeared from the edge, and for a moment he was unreasonably afraid she’d gone. Then he saw the bell-shaped skirt at the top of the ladder. “Hang on. This may take a while,” she said cheerfully. “This skirt isn’t exactly made for climbing up and down ladders.”
“That’s okay. Take your time. Don’t hurt yourself.” He leaned back slightly against the side of the excavation. He still wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t hallucinating, but at least it was more entertaining than standing there wondering if he could amputate his own foot with his pocketknife.
He watched the huge green skirt floating slowly down the ladder. Given the half of the girl he could see from the waist up, he assumed there were legs and a rear end under there somewhere, but there was no telling from what he could see currently. She looked a little like one of those dolls that had only a cone underneath the costume. He’d given one of those to his niece for Christmas a couple of years ago.
Focus, Mitchell. Not the time to let your mind go wandering. Maybe he really was hallucinating after all.
The girl in the green dress reached the bottom of the ladder, lifting up her skirt to step free. She was wearing white running shoes, he noted. Good thing, too. She probably couldn’t have gotten down that ladder if she’d had to worry about her shoes along with her skirt.
She gave him a bright smile, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. “Now what?”
“My foot’s sort of wedged in here at the base of the wall. Maybe you could push the rocks on one side and I could lead over to push on the other. I don’t have enough leverage to do it all myself.” In point of fact, he didn’t have any leverage at all since he could barely reach the rocks as it was.
The girl frowned again. “Let me give it a try.” She bent down at his feet, giving him a great view of her cleavage.
Jesus, Mitchell, she’s trying to help you. Do not ogle her.
He tried to bend down too, dodging to avoid her when she raised her head suddenly.
“Look, just stay standing up, okay? There’s not really room for you to bend down here too.” She gave him a quick smile, then ducked her head again. “Am I right that you’d rather not have me do anything that would pull the wall down as we get your foot out?”
Hank closed his eyes for a moment. Two years of work gone in a jumble of stone. “That would be a big yes.”
“Okay then, just relax. I should have this done in…” She leaned over further, doing something mysterious with the rocks that involved a lot of pushing. The neckline of her dress dipped dangerously. Hank forced himself to study the clouds.
“What is this place anyway?” she asked in a muffled voice.
“It’s an ancient village. Fourteenth or fifteenth century.”
“And the people who lived here built the wall?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. It’s not entirely clear if the wall was part of the settlement or if it came later. Some of the caves around here were used for root cellars, and they may have been used for other purposes earlier than…”
“Got it!” she cried, and Hank staggered backward as the pressure on his foot was suddenly released.
“Whoa.” She jumped to her feet, grabbing him by the arms to keep him from collapsing entirely.
“It’s all right. I’m all right. Thank you.” He started to step back again as she let go, but when he put his weight on the foot that had just been freed, the sudden surge of agony sent him to his knees. He repeated most of his extensive collection of obscenities before looking up to see her watching him with a faintly quizzical expression.
“I gather it hurts.”
He nodded, drawing in a deep breath.
“Let me see. You might have broken it.” She bent down to look at his foot, as if she could see the bone structure through his shoe. Maybe she had X-ray vision.
Hank shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think it’s just bruised. Or maybe sprained. Anyway, I don’t think I can put much weight on it.” He glanced at the ladder. The extremely short ladder that he sometimes avoided altogether, jumping down into the excavation without bothering to climb. All of a sudden it looked way too tall.
The girl followed his glance. Then she looked back at him, forehead furrowed.
“It’s okay,” Hank soothed. “I can make it.” He started to push himself up again, trying not to put any weight on his foot. He didn’t seem to be making much progress overall.
The girl wiped her hands on her gauzy green skirt, leaving a couple of dirty streaks. “All right, here’s what we’ll do. You start up the ladder first and I’ll come along behind you. I should be able to push you up in front of me so you won’t have to use your bad foot.”
Hank considered the relative positions of their bodies in the particular maneuver she was suggesting. Could be interesting. On the other hand, given the very real possibility that he’d fall off the ladder and land on her, copping a feel was probably not high on either of their lists at the moment. He sighed. “Okay. Let’s try it.”
He put a hand on her shoulder so that she could help him to the bottom of the ladder, then rested his good foot on the lowest rung. “Ready?”
“Oh yeah.” She grinned up at him.
He started to turn away, then turned back. “Wait, one question. What’s your name?”
She paused for a moment, as if she had to think about it. “Greta Brewster.” She stuck out a hand. “And you are?”
He shook her hand. “Hank Mitchell. Thanks for getting me out of the hole.”
She grinned again. Very nice grin. Gave her a sort of pixie look with her short hair, now somewhat mussed from the whole foot-freeing business.
“I haven’t gotten you all the way out yet,” she said. “Thank me when we get the top of the hole.”
“Right.” He sighed, turning back to the ladder again. He figured there were worse things than having a strange woman’s hands on his ass.