Long and long time the there was a village on the edge of the world. The montain was its beginning, the river was its border and the deep forrest shawled it from the rest of the world. There was no road from the village and to the village and folks lived there for so long that no one even remembered from where people had actually come from.

There was absolutely nothing to do: all forests explored, all houses built, all fields sowed for such a long time that nothing but turnip could grow in there. People just woke up, ate turnip, went to work and then came home to start everything from the beginning. Their houses were old and bleached and the fences around were crooked and never fixed. The last carpenter in village died long time ago and the housepainter even earlier. All the rest alive were digging graves for each other. That was very prestigious but not very entertaining, one must admit. Everybody was bored and asked oneself each day: “When will it all finally end?”

Only one woman there was never bored: she lived at the foot of the mountain and had the hugest garden in the village and one grandson whose parents passed away. She taught him how to take care of the garden and the late granddad mastered the boy how to cut the wood and how to do the carpenter’s job. Everybody who wanted not only turnip for dinner came to their house for fruit in summer and for firewood in winter because no one remembered how to grow the fruit and how to cut the wood because digging graves took all their time.

Once a man was digging a grave so deep that he reached the Underworld. A disturbed demon came out of the flaming crack and said: “One who shatters the calm of the dead never comes back. You will stay at the Kingdom of Death, man.”

“Thank God!” – the man answered. He had a grouchy wife and three stupid kids at home. So staying at the Underworld for him was kind of relief.

“Wait, man!” – the demon said. “To take you to our kingdom at first I should learn your name.”

“Pfff… Oh, that’s simple! Bob Gravedigger is my name. Can we go now?”

“Stop, doesn’t it mean that you dig the graves for life?”

“Yes, that’s true. All the people in my village do the same.”

“Digging graves is the most noble of the callings. But we already have too many grave diggers. They dig so much that they’ve already reached the core of Earth and now they are digging in the opposite direction. That’s why your turnip sinks into the earth sometimes. Maybe there’s somebody in your village that can do something else?”

“There is a woman living on the mountain. She is a gardener. Her name is Florence Bloom.”

“Oh, that’s perfect!” – the demon said. “I’ll take her instead of you. Enjoy your life, man!”

“No! Don’t leave, mister demon!”

“Say hello to your family, man.” – said the demon and flew to the woman’s house.

The woman was occupied with her usual routine: scratched the ground with the rake. The boy went to the forest for brushwood.

“Florence Bloom?” – the demon whispered behind her shoulder.

“Yes…” – she replied and turned back. Hardly had she made the silent shriek then the demon dragged her away to the Dead Kingdom leaving the huge crack in the earth and a strong smell of sulfur.

When the boy came and saw no grandmother, he suspected something unkind because she never left the garden without a reason. And a huge steaming crack in the middle of the garden provoked some thoughts, of course. The boy came to the village to find out what happened and all the people pointed out Bob Gravedigger, who occasionally summoned the demon and came home very unhappy because the demon didn’t take him to the Hell.

“Where did you leave the entrance to the Underworld?”- the boy asked.

“There, in the cemetery, I’ll show you. If you’re going to rescue your grandma, you can take my sons with you. They are dull but strong so somehow they can be useful.”

They came to the cemetery and went down into the grave that Bob had dug out.

“Ok boy, here it is, the demon came just out of here.”-  the man said.

And they all four, the boy and three sons of Bob went through the smoking crack and landed in the huge dark dungeon. As far they were walking through the tunnel, the more they heard the sounds of shovels and picks drumming the stones. Sooner they saw a group of diggers crushing desperately a huge stone that was blocking the way. The kids wanted to help poor diggers and the boy told the brothers to dig a bit under the stone and when they finished, they put one shovel under this. The boy pulled the lever and others pulled the stone and soon it yielded and rolled away a bit, so everybody managed to pass further to the tunnel.

“Oh, that was dashing!” – told one of the dead diggers. “I was such strong only when I was alive! You kids are not here for a long time, hah?”

And they started to walk through the tunnel that was becoming wider and wider till they saw a huge city with the castle on the top of the rock. The city seemed vast and prosperous; people were passing through the beautiful buildings with the fences straight and painted. Everybody seemed happy and occupied but a bit silent and the Core of the Earth was shining them instead of The Sun.

“Where can I find Florence Bloom?” – the boy asked an old man that was fixing his porch.

“Oh, the Lord’s new gardener! She’s right near the castle now planting flowers. She’s made our town even lovelier that it used to be. Look at the trees in the streets! We haven’t even known that they can grow under the earth!”

The kids came to the castle and found the Lord of the Underworld which appeared to be a short grey haired old man with a big crooked nose and a long-long beard.

“What are you children doing here, you’re not dead as I can smell. Why did you come to my house?”- said the old man.

“We came for my grandmother, Florence Bloom. We need her back.” – the boy replied.

“My best gardener? No, never. Besides, she seems to be happy here; the whole city was waiting for her including your granddad. They are now together again.”

“But what should we do, we have no gardener in our village now. There’s just me and the whole village of grave diggers that can do nothing instead of shoveling the dirt.”

“But aren’t you a gardener yourself? Florence said she taught you everything she knew. That’s enough for one small village. You can teach others to work in the garden. Shoveling dirt for graves, shoveling soil for plants, there’s no so much difference.”

“But they are dumb as trees.” – the boy said. The brothers were silently shrugging their shoulders.

“You also were like these, but Florence is a really patient woman, I must say. That’s why you’re who you are now. But you seem too arrogant to understand this. Just because your grandma helped us so much, I’ll tell you something. There’s one old cave on the mountain just near your house. It’s blocked with stones and dirt but if you put some effort to remove this you’ll see something that can save your village. You can use this or you may not.”

When the boy and the brothers came home, they asked all the people who had the shovels to go to that cave and dig as good as they can. They were working hard and in unison and soon they dug out the tunnel to the other side of the mountain that was considered to be the edge of the world.

There was a village, big and crowded where everybody had a fine house with a garden and a fence freshly painted. No one there ever had in mind to dig graves for life.

 

Ekaterina Shiianova

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