By Karen Pepin
Anne Marie tilted her head back, enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun on her face. She sipped her bitter, black coffee. The gusty wind tossed the aspens’ branches and scattered their yellow leaves across her yard. Their spicy, earthy scent mingled with the rich smell of French roast. Anne Marie loved fall days like this. But, as she sat there, Anne Marie felt a wave of unease travel up her spine, raising the hair on her scalp and arms. She rubbed her neck and looked around, feeling as if the sun had slipped behind a cloud unnoticed and the world had gone cold. Then she saw the shovel leaning against her front gate.
She stared at it and shivered. Anne Marie remembered a day like this one over 15 years ago. She had been sitting on the worn, wooden porch steps with her Gran when she had spotted an old shovel laying on the ground near the blooming flower beds. When she stood to go put it away, her Gran had grabbed her arm hard enough to bruise.
“Anne Marie, don’t you be touching that shovel. It’s Death’s tool.”
“I was just going to put it away.” Anne Marie rubbed her throbbing wrist.
“Some stories can only be written in blood. Even Death needs help sometimes. So, don’t you go near it. If it shows up, just you leave it be. Promise me.”
Anne Marie had made that promise easily. Anything to end the stark terror in her grandmother’s bloodshot eyes. A few weeks later, her Gran had passed on. Time passed and the shovel began appearing at random. Anne Marie would find it leaning casually in the tool shed or brazenly lying across her garden path. Except, she hadn’t put it there. It seemed to move all on its own. Her writer friend, Alan, made jokes about putting a traveling shovel of death in his stories. Anne Marie kept her peace, but she knew the shovel wasn’t just some imaginary plot device; It was real.
This morning, light winked off its silver spade, mocking her. After all the years of it following her around and trying to lure her into picking it up, Anne Marie snapped. It was just a stupid story. Nothing would happen if she picked it up. The low rumble of a truck and the metal squeal of its masher brought a grim smile to her face. Down the street, the garbage truck did its Tuesday collection.
Anne Marie placed her coffee on the bench beside her, stood, and walked down to where the shovel was propped. Nerves made her hands shake, but her resolve wouldn’t let fear win. She was going to get rid of this shovel at last. Anne Marie snatched it up. Its wooden haft felt smooth and warm under her hands. It fit like it was a part of her. Anne Marie yanked open her chain link gate and dropped the shovel in the green trash bin. She waved to her approaching neighbor and then forced herself to walk sedately back to her porch.
As Anne Marie settled back on her bench and sipped her coffee, a particularly strong gust of wind toppled her garbage can. The shovel popped free and rolled across the sidewalk. Unfortunately, Mrs. Johnson, the elderly woman from two houses down, tripped over it while walking her dog. Little Petey pulled his leash from her hand and dashed towards freedom in the street. Right into the path of the garbage truck.
“Petey,” wailed Mrs. Johnson, lying on the ground. Anne Marie finally managed to move. As she helped her crying neighbor up, Anne Marie spied the shovel. She didn’t know if it had just been bad timing which caused the accident, but she decided to get it out of here.
Abandoning Mrs. Johnson, Anne Marie grabbed the shovel and threw it into the back of her car. The garden tool fell between the seats, its silver blade sitting next to her head as she got in. Leaning as far away as she could from the shovel, Anne Marie threw her Civic into gear. She’d throw the damn thing into the river or something.
Unnerved by its presence next to her, she almost missed the red light. Anne Marie slammed on her breaks. A squeal of rubber shrieked from behind her. Before she could even check her mirror, a car slammed into the back of her Civic. The sudden impact threw her and the shovel forward. The shovel blade sliced through the airbag as it was hurled out the front windshield. With the airbag pierced, Anne Marie smashed her forehead on the steering wheel. When she opened her eyes, all she could hear were sirens and screams. Dazed, she raised her head.
The shovel, propelled by the rear ending, had flown through the air and decapitated two business men walking across at the light. Their heads had rolled to rest in the middle of the street. People swarmed out of shops to help the victims and a man headed towards the shovel.
“No,” she whispered, hardly able to speak. She tried to get out of the car, but was jerked back by her seat belt. As her fumbling fingers sought to release the latch, the man stepped forward to pick up the shovel, obviously meaning to move it out of the street. Instead he accidentally stepped on the metal blade. The wooden haft swung up and struck him in the face. Staggering back, holding his bleeding, broken nose, the man stepped into the path of the coming ambulance. The ambulance driver swerved to miss him and ran over the shovel, its blade piercing a front tire with an explosive pop. Out of control from the sudden flat and still swerving to miss the man, the ambulance careened into the crowd of bystanders, sending bodies flying everywhere.
Anne Marie screamed. The latch on her seat belt finally gave and she lurched out of her car. The world tilted and rolled as she clung to the hood of her car to remain upright, heedless of the blood dripping down her face from a gash on her forehead. She had to get that shovel. She had to stop this before anyone else was hurt. A couple police cars screeched to a halt at the intersection, along with another ambulance and a fire truck. Anne Marie staggered into the intersection, picked up the shovel, and clutched it to her chest. She had to get out of here.
“Miss? Are you okay?” a police officer asked, peering into her face. He tried to take the shovel from her hands. Anne Marie clutched it more tightly and a tug of war ensued. The officer slipped, pulling her off-balance and forward into him. The blade end of the shovel rammed through his stomach, impaling him like a spear.
Anne Marie watched in horror as blood bubbled from his lips and the life fade from his eyes. She looked down at her white-knuckled hands that were still clenched around the wooden handle. She felt a warmth pulse on her palms, as if the shovel were drinking the man’s blood, and she could feel its sickening glee at all the death and chaos. Anne Marie dropped the shovel and stumbled back away, staring at her hands. They should be red, she thought. Red with blood.
A medic dove past her towards the officer on the ground. Other hands pulled her away. A woman screaming blocked out the words of those around her. Anne Marie didn’t realize the cries came from her until they sedated her in the ambulance and the screaming subsided to a whimper and then blessed silence. Sleep pulled her under.
The doctor checked the sedated woman’s dilated pupils with a pen light. She would be out for a while. Then he checked the restraints on her wrists and ankles. The EMT said that she had become violent at the scene when they were checking her, something about a shovel.
“Doctor? There is an officer here who wants to talk to you.”
“I’ll be right there,” he said, satisfied that she was safely restrained in case the sedation wore off before expected. Shaking his head, he jotted a note on her file to get her a psychiatric consult as he followed the nurse out.
“Doctor Jones? How is she?” a young police officer asked, his hands on his hips, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The pale, stretched-thin look of his face told the doctor that he had probably been on site of the bizarre tragedy that happened today at the intersection of 8th and Garden View Lane.
“Sedated for now. How can I help you, officer?”
“Smith,” he said, gesturing to his tag. “I understand you were in the ER when many of the victims were brought in? One was an officer who had been impaled?”
“Yes. My condolences to his family and to the police force for his loss.”
“My sergeant sent me in to collect the shovel.”
“Evidence,” he said with a grimace.
“Nurse,” Dr. Jones called. She trotted over with perky efficiency. “Can you please assist Officer Smith? He needs the shovel from today’s incident.”
“Of course, doctor. Officer, if you can come with me. We put it aside with the personal effects.”
Doctor Jones nodded and went to see his next patient. And the next. That evening, after his shift had ended, he sat on his couch, nursing a beer, and watching the news. The tragedy at 8th, the news anchor was calling it, had taken seventeen lives and injured fifteen more. A breaking news bulletin interrupted that story. An explosion had occurred at the police station. Dr. Jones’s phone began ringing. The nurse on the line told him to come in as quickly as possible. Thirty-three officers injured and incoming, and nine dead. Dr. Jones left his barely touched beer on the coffee table, grabbed his coat, and rushed out the door to go help.
Days later, once an Internal Review Committee had examined the security footage from the police station, it was decided not to release the story of how the explosion actually occurred. That afternoon police had arrested a wanted drug dealer, El Pala, who was carrying multiple weapons, including a grenade. The officer who placed the weapons in the evidence lockup somehow tripped over a shovel from another case, which then fell onto the box containing the weapons, setting off a gun accidentally. That bullet pierced the grenade next to it and caused the explosion. Only one thing baffled the police. When the rubble of the station was gone through, no shovel was located. They assumed that it burned, but couldn’t even find the blade of the shovel, melted or otherwise. They noted this in the report but let it go. It was just a shovel after all.