Slab

In order to understand what has happened to Trevor Simcock we’re going to have to take things a step at a time, moving backward as we go. It’s not just the spider-web crack in the windshield or the thin sliver of blood that crosses his forehead; it’s not the whites of his eyes or the slow unfurling of his fingers; not the sigh of his lungs decompressing to match the brisk morning air. It’s old stone, and old words, and then caution.

As his head hit the roof of the JCB Fastrak, causing severe impact compression to several of his upper vertebrae, Trevor Simcock had occasion to wonder precisely what the noise had been. It had sounded like words, but also grinding dust or avalanche growl. It was only another part of a second later that the second noise, an unnerving cracking, alerted Simcock to the fact that something was seriously wrong with his neck. Then the fall. Wedged between the wheel and the pit of the cabin, in an appalling combination of limbs, he was horrified to find that he didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. In fact, he didn’t feel much of anything. Trapped there like that, all he was able to do was read and re-read the warning label to the right of the steering wheel mount. Caution, insistent in black and yellow. Then a shadow fell over him.

The engine made an awful howl of and the machine bucked forward. Idling the motor, Trevor stood in the seat and looked back to see if the slab had shifted or if the chain had just slipped. He couldn’t quite make it out, but the ground had definitely been churned up, but he could see a small cluster of birds had settled around it. He put the tractor into reverse and backed back toward the area where the slab was. He could make it out now, a crack dividing the stone into two irregular triangles. What was worse, there seemed to have been something under the stone, as he could see a dark space. God, he hoped that it wasn’t anything interesting. He needed the field. That was when he heard the sound, and the moment that the windshield split. A noise like ancient gears turning, or words that shouldn’t exist, and the sudden flowering of broken glass. Then the tractor lurched.

Well this just wouldn’t do, he thought to himself. The slab was right where he wanted to plough, and there was no getting around the fact that it was going to have to be moved. He was glad that he’d been too lazy to take the chains out of the back of the cab after Ben Wells had needed the carcass of one of his cows hauled out of a gully. There might be a little skin and dried blood there, but who’s that going to hurt. Trevor clambered back into the cab and got his chains. Not so dirty, really. Back at the stone, he brushed the dirt away, looking for an edge. It went back further than he thought and the stone was strange to the touch, oddly warm for such a cold day, but he found a corner soon enough and dug down, fixing the chain under it so that he could drag it out from under the earth. After that he’d have an idea of what he’d have to deal with. Then again, it looked like it was decent bit of stone – maybe there would be a use for it.

Trevor whirled the tractor about the filed, looking to churn up any loose rocks or rubbish. Last year he had found a bike buried in the river field. Where that’d come from he’d never know. He felt the wheel skid against something smooth and hit the brake. Leaning out of the cab, Trevor could see that the was some sort of a stone under the tractor’s tires. He backed the machine up and got out of the cab, stepping down on to the churned earth. It was a stone alright. A big one, too, by the looks of things. Trevor was surprised that they hadn’t come across this two years ago, but then, they hadn’t had the rains of the spring and summer to contend with. A lot of the hillside soil had been washed downward by the volume of water, and even a fallow field can lose a couple of inches that way. He walked over to take a better look.

He left the farmhouse and walked toward the tractor. It was time to get the top field ready, he supposed. It was always best to scout the damn thing out before the serious work of ploughing began, to get rid of anything that might damage the blades later on. He’d learnt that one the hard way. Getting into the cab he noticed the junk behind the seat. Time enough to sort through that later. He didn’t quite fancy it this soon after breakfast, not without a pair of gloves anyway. On the hood of the tractor a black and white bird eyed him, it’s head turning one way, and then the other. Good morning Mr Magpie, said Trevor without thinking, How’s you wife and family? The bird didn’t say anything. Embarrassed by the prase from his childhood, Trevor hit the ignition and the bird flurried away. Trevor turned the wheel and headed into the lane, moving up the hill toward the top field.

Pulling back the curtains, he was struck by the cold light of the early sun. It looked as though it’s going to be a good day, he thought to himself. Down the stairs, one at a time, and into the kitchen to make the same breakfast that he always had. He was surprised, sometimes, by how easy it all was. His dad had lied to him, telling him stories about the horrible hours and the terrible dangers. You just had to be careful, to exercise a little caution. The only damage he’d seen was to machinery and livestock. He’d been fine, always. That was just like his father though. Always with the drama. Always with the superstitions. Saluting birds and avoiding ladders, never counting thirteen aloud. He had let fields run wild for years, claiming they were the land’s prize, the land’s price for letting them farm there. In just three years Trevor had taken the farm from the brink of bankruptcy to being the most profitable it had ever been. Science, and government grants. Not superstition. He finished eating the same breakfast that he always had and headed toward the door.

Of course, there is more to find if we go further back, but for the moment, this will have to do. And the sound, the words? They sounded something like losian eard, but that might have only been part of it, or all of it, or nothing at all. After everything that happened, there would still be magpies come the next spring.

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Douglas Noble was born in Scotland and grew up all wrong. Don't blame his parents though, they tried their best.

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