(A fictionalized history series exploring what may have happened to the 57 Irish railroad workers believed to be buried in 1832 in a mass grave 30 miles west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Past series have explored Polio, the Tunguska Event, the First Use of the Electric Chair, and the X-Ray Martyrs.)
The stars burned like sugary fire in the sky.
He knelt alone at the edge of the stream. The tinkling water drowned the night sounds. Buckets hung slack in his hands as he looked up and pretended, if just for a moment, that he was a world and ocean away.
When warmth welled in his eyes, he turned back to the task. The icy rush pricked his fingers as he filled one container after another in the stream. His feet twisted into mud as he shouldered the weight and climbed the bank.
His straining footsteps crunched leaves and snapped branches through the forest.
He swayed toward the veiled light inside the moldy tent.
When he closed half the distance, the smell hit him again. Horribly more decrepit after the clean night breeze.
Inside, twelve men laid on rough frames of lumber over holes punched into the dirt. Their cloudy streams of diarrhea hit the holes and slowly seeped in. If they had the strength to move, they would probably catch wicked splinters in their bleeding asses.
A big, burly man plucked the water from John bucket by bucket. He was the one from Tyrone who never spoke. The company refused to send a proper physician, and he would not leave the men to the cholera. He hadn’t made a wage for two days already.
When John was picked clean, then man turned away.
One of the sick let loose. Another may have been sobbing.
Back outside, two pairs of withered, leathery eyes stared at the same beautiful sky. At least the company let them keep a shovel.
John started to pry out the shape of a grave.