This is chapter three of the fantasy adventure ‘Monster Hunters of the Undermire’, which is officially ‘coming soon’. Chapter one is here. Chapter two is here. Needless to say, you should read those first.
Chapter three: The Bog Body
Robbie trudged after his father down the grassy slope towards the dig. A series of pits and trenches lay open to the elements while others had been covered with tarpaulins.
The work across most of the site had halted. The students, the archeologists, the helpers, volunteers and hangers-on had clustered around a particular trench, huddled together, peering at the ground.
Abi waved to them and brushed light blonde hair out of her face. Abi was younger than Robbie’s dad. Younger than his mum. Much younger.
She ignored Robbie as they approached, but beamed her best smile for his dad and threw her arms around his neck. A diamond flashed in the afternoon sunshine. An engagement ring. Dad hadn’t said anything. When did this happen? Did they hope he wouldn’t notice? Did they think he wouldn’t care?
Dad was still married to Mum. They’d have to get that sorted first. Should he report his own father for bigamy? He could go to the police.
But what about Mum? She deserved to know. She’d pretend she didn’t care, but that was an act. His parents were too weird for words.
But the ring must be new, or he’d have noticed before. And she was wearing it on the dig, showing it off to let everyone see. When did it happen? Last night? Today?
Robbie’s father took the bag of tools from him and issued instructions to his diggers, his students and volunteers. Robbie wormed his way through the crowd until he could peer down into the pit, where two young women knelt in the mud brushing at the dirt.
Even from this distance, in the gloom of the hole, Robbie realised his father had, for once, been right. Shrivelled and twisted, the mummified corpse still had skin on its head, neck and arms, tanned a dark brown as if soaked in tea. Its face was clear, the features preserved, but they seemed tortured as if he’d died in terrible pain.
It might even look cool, once they got it out of the mud. But it would be whisked away to some dark room, or locked in a cabinet. What was the point? Might as well leave it in the ground.
The work redoubled as his father shouted orders, urging the teams to get the pits and trenches covered before the storm came. But not the one with the body. Work would go on, into the dark, to excavate as much as possible before the rains arrived.
There was nothing here for Robbie to do. But there were still some hours of daylight. Why waste them? He went to his father who crouched beside the diggers.
“Can I go up to the moor, see the horses? Take photos?”
His father glared at him. “You won’t go near the water, or the tomb. Don’t go back there.”
“No, of course not.”
“I’ll be watching.”
“I’m taking photographs. All right?” He held up his iPhone. It was all he had for taking pictures, and it was of little use up here. Everything was too far away. He’d asked for a proper camera but they fobbed him off, every time. If he was good, they would say. One day, if he stayed out of trouble – but there was little chance of that.
He slipped off, heading away from the black mire. Once out of sight, Robbie ran towards the higher moor where the grass had been chewed short, the ground sodden and wet under his feet. He edged towards the ponies that lived wild up here but they jittered, becoming watchful and alert.
He skirted a withered tree, bent and twisted by high winds. The ponies shuffled as he moved closer, their heads down, still eating the coarse grass, but aware of this boy acting strangely. He should move slowly but he itched to get closer. He crouched low. The pony closest to him was listening, ready to run. It shook its head, shaggy hair on its neck whipping from side to side. The other ponies scampered further off then settled down once more. This time Robbie took long, sneaky strides but as he crept forward they took fright and bolted. The ponies ran as a herd, heading uphill.
Robbie swore to himself and tucked the phone in his pocket. It must be the wind in the wrong direction. Or something had alarmed them: a fox maybe, or a dog, the scent caught on the breeze.
He turned and headed towards a copse of trees. He’d found a badger set, weeks before, and even sneaked out one night to lie in wait and get a photo in the dark. But they never came. Either they had moved on, or his presence had disturbed them. He found fresh diggings, earth scattered and droppings. The badgers were here, but they wouldn’t come out in daylight. He could wait for dusk but his father would be fuming by then.
As he left the copse a buzzard swooped overhead and landed on the ground. It pecked at something then took off. It must have caught a rodent, a rabbit maybe? He ran ahead to look but the bird was long gone and its prey with it.
He turned in a circle, examining the moorland. There was nothing here, nothing to do. There was wildlife and animals he’d never see at home, but he couldn’t find them or get close enough to take a decent snapshot.
Out to sea, black clouds gathered. The temperature was dropping, with rain in the air. Robbie turned towards the dig, shoulders hunched. He needed something to do to fill the last days of summer and make him feel alive.
As he approached the site the archeologists were packing up, laying out tarpaulins and putting away their tools. The wind had picked up. The storm clouds rushed in across the Bristol Channel, heading for the coast. His dad was barking orders at anyone who would listen.
They’d be an hour at least. Robbie could sit in the car and wait. Or he could help. Or he could sneak away once more. Could he get away with it? Would he get in trouble? Worth it, for another look at that face, at those eyes under the water. He had to know – was it real?
He sauntered towards the edge of the dig site but he didn’t get far. A voice boomed from behind him. His dad, angry. Again. Robbie stopped, looked back.
“Where are you’re going? Get back here.”
He shouldn’t have to take orders. He wasn’t a baby.
“I told you to stay out of trouble. Can’t you, just for once, for me?”
Robbie slunk back towards his father. “I was only…”
“Don’t leave my sight again. If you go missing, I swear, I’ll…”
He would what? He couldn’t do anything.
“Sit over there, where Abi can see you. And don’t move.”
Robbie mumbled and threw himself down onto the damp grass. He took out his iPhone and stared at it. No signal. No WiFi. No nothing.
He should have taken a photo of the water but he thought of it only now when it was too late. A chance might come to try again, if he could slip away, go back to the mire, look into the dark water.
He had to know – who was that girl, looking back at him with eyes on fire?