1. The shallow hole is dug surprisingly close to the house despite the nearby woods, unlike most places bodies are found, which are marked by several things: soft soil, lots of trees for coverage, abandoned buildings, wildlife to eat remains, and no people for as far as possible. 2. As far as possible, it seems, even the remotest areas have been utilized for violence—one park ranger found a thumb nailed to a tree, another a nude corpse 70 miles from any road—meaning that really, though maybe not plausibly, bodies can be found just about anywhere. 3. Found just about anywhere well-populated, a dead body causes an anxious stir and everyone panics, but out in the country—where rural boogeymen still sing from the trees at night—no one talks about a body too much unless it was a friend or relative. 4. A friend or relative is almost always behind it—just like poisoned candy and deep-set psychological issues—but most of them never get picked up because once the victim is dead, who's to say what happened? 5. What happened here, though, is still being debated: the hole was only half-filled with soil, fingertips still visible, but also seems full to overflowing with something else: delirious ennui, predatory desperation, maybe a former lover's good luck and hope? 6. Good luck and hope never seem to be reliable enough to use as tools to get away with murder, especially now that forensic testing—white lab coats and petri dishes, trace samples and DNA swabs—is the first thing anyone does. 7. The first thing anyone does when they find a body is try to find ways to believe the body isn't really dead—even if it's cold and buried, even if they don't know the victim, have no ties whatsoever to whatever-the-fuck happened. 8. “Whatever the fuck happened depends on your perspective,” the lieutenant keeps saying, but everyone agrees this half-filled hole feels like a crime interrupted, like a gun left by the bed for self-defense used to take out the owners of the house or a sentence so lyrical and winding that halfway through, it simply unravels. 9. Halfway through it simply unravels, most detectives say, the best thread they had, the only one that clearly pointed to a believable killer, that explained what was happening on the night in question or before the gun was pulled out. 10. Before the gun was pulled out, the hole really did seem shallow, barely ankle-deep, but the moon through the clouds glinting off the long barrels made the hole grow so dark, the ground beneath it opening up, deep with shadow. 11. With shadow from cloud-cover blanketing the road, cut through only by headlights on the way to his place outside the suburbs, she had watched the city lights recede in the side mirror and told herself the night had been fun: a quiet date with an old flame from high school, the one who had hopefully grown out of being a little too rough during sex, who was still so handsome and acted so sweet in public. 12. Sweet in public but impatient and unapologetic afterward, some killers sexually assault their victims before yanking them outside, standing them at the edge of a hollow patch of earth stretched open like a ravenous waiting mouth, flashlight aimed at the victim's eyes to disorient. 13. To disorient the police, some killers take the victim's ID and plant false clues, little indicators that lead nowhere to make sure they have time to leave town, to sever ties—one last fuck, a final meal with a buddy—to pack their shit and hotwire a new car so they're as far away as they can manage to be when the body gets discovered, when all their accomplishments and mistakes are suddenly naked before the police. 14. Naked before the police—her arm still over her eyes like when she blocked the flashlight's glare, fell backward as screaming flames burrowed into her chest, her bare back and limbs smacking the dirt heavily—she tries to point the officers' stoic glances in the direction he drove off, to spit his name like she used to when he dumped her in high school, to cover her gaping breasts and the little bit of blood from his bedroom, to tell them her worried mother's phone number, to promise that she's nothing like the girl they must think: another case gone cold in a shallow hole.
Austin Eichelberger is a native Virginian who teaches as much English and writing as he can manage in sunny New Mexico. Over sixty of his stories have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Eclectic Flash and Nanoism. More of his writing lives at austineichelberger.com.