The earth is dark, burnt up on the cairn, cold with long-dead ash and the wind that beats down on the rock. There is nothing here, nothing but the dancing grass and unremembered dead, encased in the ground below by hands time had forgotten.
Fifty miles east lay the small village of Craig Hefan, prized into the marsh. In the early evening, the yellow lights flickered on the horizon like a funeral wake torch. This wasn’t a place for the living.
The land rover choked across the rough ground, thudding over the heather with an unpleasant force. The men in the back were half asleep, their pale faces sullen in the fading light. Their mouths resembled caves, swallowing in the air as their minds delved into brighter places. It had begun to rain, the thud of the storm beating off the windscreen like a drum, the pace building to a crescendo, blinding Stephen from the road. A dark shape clouded the road suddenly, and he swerved sharply. The car reared off the road into the ditch, forcing the sleeping men into reality. He swore loudly after a short silence, secretly relieved at having avoided a worse accident.
“Sorry,” He muttered into the mirror. “Deer up here aren’t used to seeing humans.” The men grunted, and they reversed up back to the road. “No idea why you’d want to dig in this weather, lads. Hasn’t rained like this in months.”
“We only got permission for the weekend in the end, Steve.” One of the men said, disinterestedly. “Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had to work in a flood. Remember Ely Cathedral?” The other man pulled a face and rolled his eyes.
“What are you looking for, anyway?”
“Stone age burial ground. Dodesteade is from the Norse for dead place. Bit of a no-brainer.”
“Don’t you have any worries about-”
“Nowt.” The man answered in a voice that suggested he had heard the question a thousand times. “Ghosts are for storytellers and old women. I deal with carbon isotopes and shovels, not elves and goblins.”
The car lapsed into silence again. Slowly, the stone piles appeared into view, bulging out of the grass like ugly wounds. “Stop here, Steve,” one of the men said monotonously. “We can walk.”
They stumbled over the grass, the rain grating against their skin. As they did so, the mist grew thicker around the cairns, obscuring them from sight. “We should get a move on, try and get as much done before this storm closes in.” One of the men said, peering back at the black swarm in the East. “That’s not a little shower coming on.”
“Bloody Scotland.” The other one said softly, and they both laughed. It seemed strange to hear laughter up here, in this desolate place. The marsh was thick here, wet, trapping each foot with a strength that surprised those who had not encountered it.
They began to dig about four foot away from the stones, careful to follow to geophysical examinations carried out the previous summer. They worked with few words, three, four, five feet into the ground, peering down in the mist, aware of the futility of their efforts. Eventually, they hit something hard, smooth in the mud. Grappling at it with red, worn hands, they attempted to pull up the top of the stone, but it was too heavy. Scraping away the mud around it, they stood back in silence, the wind sweeping up the grass.
“That’s recent, lad,” One of the men said eventually. “You could get a gravestone like that today.”
“It must be a practical joke.”
“Who buries a bloody modern gravestone on top of a cairn?” The men shivered, staring down at the blank slab of granite. “Maybe we should tell the police. There’s no record of graves up here.” He rubbed his neck, anxiously. “Well, not recent ones, anyway. Could be foul play or summat.”
The older man nodded, gesturing back to the direction of the car. They stumbled awkwardly back over the marsh, their clothes clinging onto them in the rain. The further they walked, the more the fog seemed to thicken. Eventually, they caught sight of the road.
“Bloody Scots!” The older man exhaled, kicking at the turf. “He’s left us here. That bastard has left us in the middle of bloody nowhere!” He turned back to his colleague, who was staring pale-faced to the East. His eyes were dark with fear.
“Stephen hasn’t gone anywhere.”
“That’s impossible.” His voice was almost as silent as the wind in the grass, low with terror. The older man peered out on his gaze. An old land rover, covered in moss and grass, lay abandoned by the side of the road, empty, glass shattered.
They stood in silence, until the older man burst out into a shrill laugh.“That’s just some abandoned old car, you prat,” he said, slapping him on the shoulder. “I think I saw it on the way up here, anyhow.” He put his arm around the silent young man, in a way he hoped was reassuring. “Let’s go back to the top of the cairn, get some signal and call a ride. Get out of this rain.” He shivered, looking around wildly in the mist. “This bloody fog plays tricks on ye.”
They trudged back to the top of the cairn, the rain becoming heavier until it soaked their clothes. The older man flipped open his phone, rolling his eyes. “No signal,” He said, quietly. “Just our luck!”
“John-” The younger man said, softly. “Do you remember there being a memorial at the edge of the cairn?” They stared down at the digging sight below.
A granite monument stood clean in the rain, hard against the rough grass. With his mouth dry, the older man stared out at the abandoned car, now more visible than in the mist below.
Four skeletons sat dripping in the rusting hulk in the mist, moss covering each rib with a hunger for decay.