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His Father's Son - A Short Story
His Father’s Son
The sandy soil was treacherous, but there was no money for temporary shoring, although it was a government project. The political bosses were either trying to save money or were pocketing the savings. Corruption was everywhere.
The ditch was over seven feet deep, two miles long, and descending slightly to the west and the dry river bed. Its purpose was to drain the flood waters from the infrequent storms out of the city. The first mile was already lined with flagstones from the quarry, and quite stable, but the section where the crew was now working was constantly suffering from small cave-ins. There had been no major calamities, but Ben had plenty of experience, and he knew this was a bad one. And then, there was David.
David was Ben’s son, and he was thrilled to be on his father’s construction crew. He had served as a water boy for a year, but this was the first time his father had allowed him to work alongside the others, and he was determined to pull his own weight. The initial good natured ribbing from the crew gradually gave way to a well earned respect, and David was finally accepted as one of the men.
David’s partner Paul was a grizzled, older bear of a man, and he took David under his wing. He showed him how to pull a string to lay out a straight wall, and how to mix mortar. Then he showed him how to lay a solid and straight brick wall. The crew was made up of masons, and digging the ditch was part of their trade, because it would later be lined with stone.
“Look here, boy. See how the soil is dry and crumbly in this area? Stay on your toes, because it could collapse at any time.”
David nodded. “I see it. I wonder if we should…”
The horn sounded for dinner, and the crew climbed the ladders to go sit in the shade and eat. Paul and David were out and on the surface when David slapped his partner on the back and grinned.
“I was in such a hurry to eat that I forgot my dinner bucket. I’ll have to go back down and fetch it.”
Paul nodded, and headed for the shade and the rest of the crew.
David was at the bottom of the ladder and reaching for his dinner bucket when he heard the soft whisper of moving soil. He glanced to his left just in time to see the area Paul had pointed out suddenly give way, and as he watched in horror, the entire wall began collapsing in his direction. He turned to his right and ran.
He almost made it, but the wall in front of him also collapsed. He ran part way up the mound before something slapped him in the back and he fell face down in the dirt. He remembered to cross his arms in front of him and put his face into the hole it made before the last two feet of earth buried him. He could not move at all, and the air he had trapped by crossing his arms was limited. It was now in the hands of the crew.
For a moment, no one moved, and then the entire crew was on their feet and running to the ditch. What they found was terrifying. Nearly a hundred feet of the ditch had collapsed and there was no sigh of David. Frantically, big Paul shoved his way to the front.
“Here! Here’s the top of the ladder, and his dinner bucket was right at the bottom. Dig here! Quickly!”
Four men manned shovels, and the rest formed two bucket lines to take the dirt away from the ditch. There was no sense in piling it up where they might have to dig again if David was not found.
Ten minutes later they were at the bottom, but there was no sign of David. The crew looked at a distraught Ben with a question in their eyes.
“Dig two feet in each direction, but be careful. He is my son, but he is probably dead by now, so don’t risk your own lives.” He turned away, but not before they saw the tears. They began digging again.
The shouting had attracted a crew of carpenters working on a nearby house, and all but one were offering to help in any way they could. The remaining man was standing some fifteen feet away, looking down at another part of the collapse. Then he stepped on top of the dirt and began to dig with his bare hands.
Someone tapped Ben on the shoulder and pointed. “What the hell is he doing?”
“I don’t know.” He glanced down at his crew, digging frantically on each side of the ladder. Then he looked again at the lone man digging silently with his bare hands. He began to walk toward him.
“What are you doing?”
The man was tall, even on his knees, and he looked up at Ben as his hands kept digging.
“He is here. He is alive, and he is only a couple of feet down. Will you help me?”
He had such an air of absolute certainty that Ben hesitated only for a moment before stepping into the dirt, facing the other man. He too began digging, and less than a minute later, his frantic hands uncovered cloth that he recognized as the same as his son was wearing that morning, and he let out a shout.
David was terrified at first, but then, a strange peace came over him, and he stopped his fruitless struggling. If this was to be the way he died, it wasn’t all that bad. He would simply run out of air, and that would be that. He realized that he was not where they would think he should be, so rescue was unlikely. He had resigned himself to death when he felt a hand on his back, and the warmth of sunshine.
His father tried to get David to lie down in the shade, but he insisted that he was fine, so he found some shade, sat down, and grinned up at the crew. Paul shook his great head sadly, and grinned back at his young partner.
“Is there anything you worthless young pups won’t do to get out of a little work?”
The crew laughed, and Ben wiped at his eyes, even as he smiled. Then he remembered.
“Where did that carpenter go? I want to thank him.”
One of the crew pointed at a house. “He’s working over there.”
The tall carpenter listened to Ben as he expressed his gratitude, nodding now and then and smiling.
“I guess you saw where he ran, and knew where he was all along. Without you, he would have certainly died. I am forever grateful to you. Is there any way I can repay you?”
“It is not necessary. A father always loves his son and worries about him. I am happy that your son is well. That is enough.”
“I don’t even know your name or where you live. You are not from around here?”
“No, I am not from Jerusalem. I live in Nazareth, a small town some distance from here, and I am called Jesus.”