One Page Stories

Zen Digging

The man stood, not moving, for a long moment. He was overcome with the beauty of the scenery – the valley above which he had decided to perform his Zen task. If anyone had asked him six months ago if he would be out in the middle of nowhere, off the side of a deserted road, performing a Zen task, he would have said they were crazy. But things change, and he was glad about it.

The task was to dig a hole and fill it up. Dig a hole and fill it up. When he had heard that Zen teaches to do such a thing to focus the mind and rejuvenate the spirit, he figured it was some kind of elaborate joke. But as soon as he put the shovel in the dirt, he realized it was true.

Dig. Throw the dirt to the side. Dig. Throw the dirt to the side. Dig.

He became instantly sweaty and hot in the midday summer sun, but there was something refreshing and invigorating about this task – something that helped him understand why it was “Zen”. He was able to put more and more energy into the work, until the hole was nearly as deep as he was tall.

Now he needed to fill it in.

Shovel into the pile of dirt. Toss the dirt into the hole. Shovel. Toss. Shovel. Toss.

His arms ached, his back hurt. He was getting a sunburn, he thought. He was thirsty, exhausted. But he wanted to finish. Strangely enough, he felt incredible. He felt strong and peaceful and free.

Most especially he felt free.

He felt so good, in fact, that he regretted not having committed wholly to the task. The point of digging the hole was not to have any particular purpose for doing so. Oh, well. He had gotten so much out of it that he looked forward to doing it again, and when he did, he would just dig the hole – for no purpose at all – and just fill it up. He shook his head in wonder. Who would have thought that such a thankless activity would be … well … Zen? He grinned, wiping dirt and sweat from his face as he looked at his handiwork. The hole was all filled in, and one last time he tamped down the mound with the back of the shovel. He looked out over the valley; it was so beautiful. Even more beautiful now than when he had first seen it and admired it.

He shouldered the shovel and turned back to the road, to his truck parked just at the edge of it. As he stepped away from the mound, he looked down and saw the red high-heeled shoe. Crap, he thought, bending down and picking it up. Well, he was too tired to dig the hole back up today. He’d just have to put it in the next hole.

He’d have to wait for the next next time to dig a hole with no purpose.

Oh, well, he thought. It’s an amazing experience anyway. He was so glad he had done it. So glad.

He climbed into the truck and tossed the shoe under the seat. Looking back once more at his Zen mound, he smiled again, and drove away up the deserted road, back toward town.

One-Page Stories

Right There

“I can’t wait to see them,” Jerry told his mom, referring to his two younger brothers. “I should be home in about … maybe five hours? Tell them to wait up for me!”

“I will, honey,” his mom promised. “Drive carefully, okay?”

“I will,” he said. It wasn’t the first time he had made the drive from college to his hometown; he drove it almost every weekend. He didn’t tell his mother, of course, but he knew the road so well by now that he drove it when he was half-asleep. He put his phone in his bag, and put the bag in the passenger seat, and steered his car onto the road leading south to Emblem. This road went through the middle of nowhere, but it was a shortcut that took half an hour off his drive.

He arrived after a while in Emblem, and, driving past the little farmhouse that sat on the right side of the road, he stopped at the intersection and prepared to turn left. As always, he glanced at the little farmhouse. It didn’t look abandoned or anything – it was actually pretty well-cared for – but he had never seen a single soul coming or going around it. It was in the middle of nowhere, but still, he was surprised that no one was ever sitting on the porch, or parked in front of it, or working in the fields behind. Since the shortcut road was hard to find in the dark, the little farmhouse had become very important to him; it marked the place where he would turn north. Every Sunday evening, he would drive just past the house, and onto the shortcut road …

Wait a minute.

He sat at the intersection, frowning at what he had just realized: the farmhouse was on the right side of the road when he came back north. But it was on the right side of the road now. Wouldn’t it be on the left side coming back?

He thought and thought about all his Sunday evening trips past the house. No, he was sure – he would drive past the house and turn onto the north road, which meant the house was on the right. His frown had become more anxious than puzzled, and he glanced at the little farmhouse. It was decidedly on the right hand side of the road.

But he was always tired on this drive. He was always tired on Friday night from a long week at school, and he was always tired on Sunday night from a long weekend with friends and family. He was always tired from a drive through the mountains in the dusk, and from hours spent on a sparsely driven highway. He was always so tired; it must just be a trick of a tired mind.

He pulled away from the farmhouse and continued on home, arriving just before ten at his parents’ house. He bustled in the front door, hugging his younger brothers and then his father and mother.

“How was your drive?” his dad asked. “No snow yet?”

“Not yet,” he said. He laughed. “I kind of freaked out, though,” he went on sheepishly. “I was at that intersection at Emblem, and I was driving past this house that sits right there, and I felt like it was always on the right – you know, whether I was going north or south. Like it moves or something.”

His dad laughed too. “Oh, I know that house!” he said, nodding his head emphatically. He had gone to that college too, and had made that same commute a hundred times. “Yeah, it sits where it wants to. It changes when it wants to.” He clapped his son on the back, and walked with him into the kitchen, where Jerry’s mom was pouring hot water into mugs of cocoa. “He just realized about the Emblem house,” Jerry’s dad said to her.

“O-o-oh,” Jerry’s mom said, nodding her head. “Yeah, that’s a weird one. But it helps you find the road, so I guess no harm done.” She glanced at Jerry. “I wouldn’t stop there for directions, though,” she added, stirring the cocoa with a spoon.

“No,” Jerry agreed. He didn’t quite know how to handle what they were saying to him; was he dreaming? How tired could he be? “Are – are you guys really telling me that the house moves from one side of the road to the other?” He stared at them incredulously.

His mother handed him one of the mugs. “Well, you saw it for yourself,” she noted. She smiled broadly. “D’you want to watch a movie? We got a good one, I think.” She walked out into the living room.

Jerry looked at his dad, who hugged him around the shoulders. “Don’t worry, son,” he advised. “It’s just a weird thing, you know? There are lots of weird things in the world.”

“Right,” Jerry said, still not sure what to think. “But I think maybe I’ll take the long way back.”