The Map Beneath by Michael Grant Smith

Clad only in oil-stained mechanic’s trousers and work boots, Dobrosky attacked the ground outside his single-story apartment. Two, three, four scoops before metal squealed on something hard. This was not in his plan. He dropped the shovel and let it clatter on the sidewalk.

With his fingers he cleared dirt from a toy dump truck. Rust bloomed through remnants of yellow paint. A rough edge tore his thumb but he ignored the muddy blood. He hefted the truck and launched it over a section of privacy fence. His stubbled scalp creased in concentration; the damned toy must have been buried during his last stretch in lockup. Nevin, the whiny little shit who used to live next door in #6. When Dobrosky got out two months ago, Nevin and the brat’s skank mother had vanished.

“Nevin!” Dobrosky screeched, mimicking Mommy. He re-planted the shovel. “Nevin, get in here before I make your ass glow in the dark!”

“Good morning, Mr. Dobrosky!”

He froze. Mrs. van de Poele, his neighbor from #2. The humpbacked woman dithered with a grocery bag in one hand and key ring in the other. She smiled with too-red lips.

“It’s wonderful to see you outside enjoying the nice weather,” she said. “We’re planting flowers today?”

Dobrosky glanced upward at the daylight moon. A luminous toenail, shining upon evidence, affixed to a blue shell of sky. From an old song, or was he writing new lyrics?

“Fuck off, Mrs. V.”

No spectators, no cheerleaders. She wouldn’t dare to call their scumbag landlord — as long as rent money was paid, the bastard didn’t care about jack shit. Keys jingled and a door slammed shut.

Within three scoops, Dobrosky forgot about the old lady. He mounded clods on a cardboard box panel scavenged from the dumpster. Separately, he’d piled the bed’s bleached-out mulch. He wouldn’t leave clues. Nearby, potted marigolds waited to be planted.

Topsoil gave way to clay and rocks. He gleamed with sweat. The tattoos on his bare back and arms jiggled like printed shirts rippling on a clothesline. Breathing was difficult. Until she kicked him out last year, Ruby loved to remind him he’d let himself go. He lit a smoke and continued to dig. When he slammed against the next obstruction, the jolt seemed to send electrical shocks through his wrists.

Dobrosky fetched the crowbar he kept handy for whatever. He flicked away his cigarette and lay flat. Mulch, earth, and bugs crusted his belly. Prodding and prying won the object’s release.

On the sidewalk he knelt before a shoebox-sized metal container, hoisted the crowbar, and stabbed. His arms jangled worse than before but he continued to strike until he caught the joint perfectly. The box split open.

“Jesus on a Harley,” he whispered.

A sealed plastic bag. Within it, and mostly untouched by mildew: an unmarked envelope containing fifteen one-hundred dollar bills. He fanned them out, verified the count, noted the most recent Treasury issue date was 1977.

Dobrosky sneezed twice in quick succession. He unscrewed his stainless steel thermos bottle and stuffed the found money into it, alongside the eight thousand bucks already in there he’d stolen from his shop manager’s office. Soon he’d load his pickup and head south. Georgia or Florida, he didn’t care. Buy new drums, play music again. No more turning wrenches for assholes.

Moans escaped from his gut. Wiping his hands on greasy pants, he decided to take an early lunch break. He tucked the thermos under one arm and went inside.

Minutes later Dobrosky parked his butt on the door stoop and mauled a cold bologna sandwich. Between bites he puffed on a cigarette and stared at his excavation.

“Buried treasure. Life punches your ballsack and gives you keys to a new Cadillac. Nothing makes sense.”

Licking mustard from filthy fingers, he lurched onto his feet. The truck and box proved things left too close to the surface didn’t stay hidden. Sunday was burning away; by tomorrow morning, his boss would miss the money. They’d come question Dobrosky, poke their cop snouts up his ex-con ass, toss his place, search his truck. No one would find anything and his neighbors were too scared to rat him out.

His muscles strained and popped but he found a rhythm and kept going. #4’s door opened and a young junkie who crashed there stepped outside. The kid’s lips moved as he counted silently to three. He avoided eye-contact with Dobrosky and moseyed along the sidewalk without saying a word.

“Hey, I seen you hanging around every day!” Dobrosky yelled. “Don’t get ideas about messing with my stuff, you piece of shit goddamned basket case!”

“I didn’t do nothing,” replied the addict, who began to half-jog, half-stumble until he veered into the ally.

“You thief, I’ll put you right here in this hole!”

Strangled hacking coughs interrupted Dobrosky. He doubled over and spat. His breathing caught up and he grinned. The strung-out punk could be any bass player he’d ever known.

“Dig. Throw in the money. Cover it,” he muttered. If he ran now, he’d be pursued. Better to chill out for a week before slipping away. Simplicity had made his plan attractive. Now he was an hour behind schedule.

“I’m a dog burying my bone in a graveyard.”

Nearly there. Dobrosky’s fingers buzzed with numbness except for his cut thumb, which throbbed like a bitch. With both hands he thrust downward and his shovel’s handle splintered above the blade.

“You’re fucking kidding me! Why can’t I just hit dirt?”

He’d reached his goal of digging the hole crotch-deep, but the latest obstacle made him nervous. He didn’t have the time or strength to try a different location. His bowels twisted and he wondered if lunch had been a bad idea.

The barrier was as smooth as cast metal or polished stone, in which he glimpsed stippled blue, green, and brown. Blotchy shapes; fine lines set in a grid. Rubbing with his boot sole revealed words: The Aleutian Islands. His 8th grade geography teacher had mocked him for pronouncing it “A-loo-ti-yen.” Punching the douchebag put an end to Dobrosky’s formal education.

Dobrosky’s thermos tipped sideways in the middle of Amaknak Island and he watched it roll away. On a second attempt the cylinder rotated towards him. Not a flat map, but curved — a massive globe, unknown miles across, buried in his apartment’s yard. Maybe his stolen money or even the found fifteen hundred bucks didn’t matter. Anticipation and uncertainty flushed blood from his veins and replaced it with liquor.

He gripped his broken shovel blade and jabbed the globe, which made a hollow clonking sound. One small flake popped out and left a gritty depression; a chipped porcelain bowl. That was the end of Unalaska Island.

“Sorry, losers!”

Dobrosky thumped with his boot heel. Again, the resonance. He bent his knees, jumped, and landed square. Fractures crackled and spread; fragments disappeared, swallowed by darkness. His thermos tumbled and slipped through a gap.

He heard wind or possibly an ocean; faraway birds shrilled; a music of voices but he couldn’t understand the words. Charm bracelet galaxies or cities twinkled in the lower night. Scents bloomed and then fled past him: dead fish, diesel fuel, garlic, forest fires, and freshly mown grass. Lightning flickered from below and the Bering Sea gave way. Dobrosky flailed into the void of the world beneath his world. His cries landed somewhere between the unintelligible chorus and ascending air currents.

 

Michael Grant Smith

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

6 thoughts on “The Map Beneath by Michael Grant Smith

  1. Kinda crazy to follow at times, but perhaps that’s intentional as we’re put into Dobrosky’s mind. Does he find money in the hole, or is he putting money in there? Or both? I’m wondering why he even starts digging, he might as well head away in his pickup with the eight thousand. Anyway, he’s very confused himself, perhaps that’s the point. His mind isn’t working right. That comes across in the ending as well, when liquor is mentioned. The fact he’s a drummer says quite a lot. Those guys (almost always guys) are notorious for their self destruction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s one about the drummer who locked his keys in the car and his girlfriend had to bring the spare set in order to let him out.

      Yep, burying money and finding money all in one day. What are the odds?

      Thanks for reading, Harrison, I appreciate your comments!

      MGS

      Like

  2. Hi Michael,
    This had an interesting mix within.
    The MC was abrasive and the plot touched into fantasy.
    Weirdly we were just discussing when a story changes from the readers initial perception and how so many writers get this completely wrong.
    You didn’t, you gave us a very visible and interesting character and put him into an imaginative plot with ease.
    I have said on many occasions what a great storyteller Dave Henson is, but I think you are giving him a run for his money.
    All the very best my friend.
    Hugh

    Like

    • Hi Hugh,

      As always, your comments are very kind. I’m happy to contribute to Literally Stories and hope to send more work soon. In regard to comparisons to Mr. Henson, that is flattery indeed; to me at least. DH is an accomplished writer whose stories I enjoy very much, plus he is a fine gentleman.

      MGS

      Like

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