Everything and everyone he'd seen lately had been obsessed with the act of flight. Eyes were drawn upward as the next mechanical beast of the sky floated, flipped, skipped, or zipped by. And why not? Victory over gravity had only been achieved a short time earlier and manufacturers of all sorts of products rushed to capture the newly growing market. All the young men had aspirations of operating a zeppelin, becoming a fighter pilot, or working as a mechanic at an airstrip. Only one boy's eyes stared down while everyone else's peered up. Everyone thought the treasure was in the skies, he knew it was under their feet.
He'd had a lot of history and tradition buried under the soil. He father had worked in the mines, his grandfather had worked in what everyone in their family referred to as 'prospective digging.' and what the law called treasure hunting.
His grandfather had found only enough to scrape by for many years and was absent from home for long periods of time. It was not a romantic life as one would imagine, rather it was dirty, cold, lonely, and dangerous. If the job was particularly taxing, his grandfather would bring one of his buddies to help dig, but never more than a single man. More than that and the profit whatever he dug up and sold on the black market would be split more ways than it would be worth.
On one dig no different than any other before it or after, his perseverance finally paid off. His grandfather was working alone. To his surprise after a dozen feet his shovel blade thudded against something at a much lower depth than such obstacles were usually found. He dug furiously around the object until he uncovered... something. He never told anyone, not even his family what he had found. Whatever it was though, he garnered a handsome finder's fee from the Royal Society who was willing to overlook his lack of license and documentation in their thirst to gain control of the site. His grandfather's family had lived comfortably after the discovery and with the extra the old relic hunter had even afforded a fine set of new mining tools for his son, the boy's father.
But along with that set of tools his father was also given that shovel that broke the earth of his great find. His father had worn out the new tools and many others as he slowly advanced up the increasingly endangered professional mining ranks. But one tool always stayed in fine condition, his grandfather's shovel.
And so when the boy was eight, his father handed him the finely worn wooden handle of the shovel and made him run his fingertips along the rim of the blade.
His father told him warmly, "Son, aeronautics is advancing and people will tell you that the freedom and treasure are in the sky, but they ain't. Trust an old mine hand, everything you'll ever want or need can be found or attained through what you'll find underneath your feet. If life becomes tough or if you grow disillusioned with where you're at, just take this shovel and start digging."
And so he did, for when ever he would have a tough day, a lost object, or frustration with schoolwork, he'd go and dig a hole with that shovel.
Where? That didn't really matter, sometimes in his backyard, sometimes in parks. Sometimes in places he was allowed, sometimes in places he wasn't. He would just dig and dig, blade in, an upward lift of his arms and a twist of his hips, and then a toss of the dirt over his shoulder. In this way, he would continue until the edge of the hole was over his head. Then he would clamber out using a small ladder he would take with him and cast and object into the depths of the hole. Occasionally it was just a rock or a leaf, but usually it was something more human, a coin of money, a picture, or a page torn out of a book. He would then fill up the hole completely and pat the earth flat with the blade of the shovel. He'd then go home and shower, launder his clothing, finish his night's schoolwork and chores, then climb into his bed and fall asleep.
Some nights he would blow off his school soccer matches, or outings at the drive in, or dates with pretty girls, and just walk out the door, shovel scraping on the ground. His mother had either known not to question this, or she kept her complaints sequestered to his father. But then one day, for seemingly no reason at all, he stopped going out and his shovel found its way to a dark niche nestled in the back of his closet.
And with the absence of the shovel so too left his passion for the earth and what lay in it. He threw himself into what his school had labeled its 'Mechanics, aero-engineering and advanced mathematics program.' He gradually phased out courses of the world below from his schedule, and by his final year of prepatory school he had no courses in grammar, foreign languages, or history. He had no courses in art or drama. No courses in debate or philosophy. No courses in psychology or creative writing. Just math. And science. And lots of both.
By the time it came to choose a university, he knew he wasn't in the top of his class, or probably even near the top. By his reckoning, he was near the very middle of the road, but in those days even middle of the road students could find a place in a university and later a career. Especially those who showed such a single minded dedication to a popular discipline.
He'd packed his whole life in a few bags, that shovel resting at the bottom of a duffel bag, purely for the memories he told himself. But 'just for the memories' wouldn't be a completely truthful answer, for the location of the university he'd selected was coincidentally only a few miles away from one of the countries largest coal mines. Designing new aircraft was his plan, a profession which would allow him to pull in a fairly wealthy living without actually having to go up in the air.
And going up in the air was the last thing he wanted to do. You were too powerless, at the mercy of gravity, the weather, a mechanical failure. Nature holds too many weapons over man to give her such a ripe stage to utilize them, he thought. He had never flown himself, though his classmates who'd been lucky enough to do so had raved about the experience. This was just another difference between him and everyone else he thought.
So no, he couldn't fly. But he could build. Yes, he could build. For all that he hated their purpose the boy gave begrudging respect to the multitude of factors that allowed man to achieve flight. He also welcomed the virginity of the field, so much technique and innovation was left to be unearthed that he could make a name for himself even in his college years.
He found a certain solitude in crafting things, a trait that would seem to have passed through the patriarchs of his bloodline. His father and grandfather were both very hands on men, often creating what they needed rather then buying the overpriced counterparts from the local stores or markets. His father had forced him to take part in his construction projects, even when the boy's friends were requesting for him to play. The boy didn't always like it, the long hours of wedging into an uncomfortable cranny of the house to fix a problem, holding nails steady for his father's hammer, the endless carrying of materials and supplies, the noise of his father's small workshop. But the satisfaction with building something of your own, the mathematical precision, the creative solutions to problems; all this he found joy in.
The college was up on a plateau, surrounded by mountainous terrain and plenty of coniferous forestry. But He never got outside much that first semester. His grades and knowledge visibly crept up and up the very public "Chart of academics", that was posted outside of the cafeteria doors, but as he did so his health began to suffer. As his knowledge grew more expansive, his body became more emaciated. He was rarely seen outside of classes or his dorm. And in this way the boy who would once have to disrupt a busy social schedule to go and dig a hole or two, had nearly no social life at all.
Different equations and numbers flew around his head, his life walked along the clouds. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he was receiving invitations to federally funded projects at nearby airfields. He'd done minor things at first, strengthening the pressure resistance of the cockpit windows by a few PSI, made a few more cubic inches of space for the pilots legs. But his youth got him noticed. And as his reputation grew, his mind crumbled.
The mind needs balance between life's spheres. One can't survive on praise alone, one also needs love and he was receiving none of the latter. He hadn't been home to see his family in a year, he'd spent breaks on work sites or with professors, and he had no true friends. People would come to him for tutoring or job offers, but never party invites or sporting events.
He stopped taking food in the cafeteria and brought it up to his dorm room instead. By now, he was tops in the class. Or at the bottom of the class. It depended on what question was being asked.
He made it through one more year at the university becoming more intelligent and twice as haggard. He accepted several more internship style grant projects, and then, at the end of the school year, he disappeared.
Author's note: Well, what do you think so far?