This piece of flash fiction by Lotte van der Krol was inspired by her slightly horrified fascination with the endless cycle of death and growth. Illustration by Olga Zalite.
Soil is an absolute marvel.
I plunge my shovel into the forest floor, the smell of rot climbing up to me.
Soil is nature’s magic. Nature’s recycling bin. Nature’s way of living a waste-free life, something we could all learn from in this day and age.
I dig deeper, through the thick layer of leaves of years past, not yet decayed but well on their way, till I hit the harder ground. All that comes from the earth will eventually return to it.
Worms eat dead plant matter and digest it back into soil, from which new life can sprout, and so on. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Rinse and repeat.
The shovel dives in and reemerges from the ground in a steady rhythm, the pile of earth next to me growing bigger as I dislodge it from its rightful place. I disturb a big, pink worm, and carefully put it out of harm’s way.
We humans have even managed to harness this magical process for our own benefit.
We build compost heaps in our gardens, turn yard waste and food scraps into rich, nutritious soil. With this godly substance, we grow better, more delicious food.
In a way, we feed ourselves with the essence of dead things. A few roots are in the way, tough and white from lack of sun. I cut them with the shovel, digging hard. They give way eventually.
It’s not only plants, though. Insects, foxes, bears, even us, eventually. Leftover bodies from the meal of life, to be absorbed again by whatever thing wishes to grow now. Taking turns to eat or feed. Nothing goes to waste in nature.
Slowly but surely, the hole gets bigger.
We try to resist it as much as possible with our coffins and polyester burial clothes, non-biodegradable packaging just so we don’t have to deal with it. I get it. It is uncomfortable.
But it also means we’re not doing our share. What would the world be without soil?
There’d be no life at all. We’re all dependent on something else’s death. In turn, everything that comes after us depends on us dying, rotting, decomposing.
We should take comfort in the knowledge that our deaths have such a beautiful purpose.
Imagine how many flowers could feed on a pair of legs, how many blackberry bushes could take root in a ribcage. The hole seems deep enough now. I climb out and put my shovel down.
I take a moment to look the body over one last time, for anything that could identify him. I grab his ankles and drag him into the hole. It fits perfectly.
No life without death. In the end, we all have to take our turn, we all have to go back to that sweet, dark earth.
It’s only fair. I pick up the shovel and start putting the earth back into its place.
This piece appeared in the Earth Issue of Popshot Quarterly.
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