The one called Grandpa Corpse wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his wrist. He dared not touch his hands to his face, for they were caked in dirt and lurid honey. He stood up straight--or at least as straight as he could stand those days--and packed the earth flat with his feet. Then he took up his digging stick and cast it into the trees with a curse. He listened to the crack and clatter of it rebounding through the boughs, and waited until the rustling of leaves and underbrush quieted. The susurrations of the nearby river regained its prominence.
He found a rounded stone at its banks with which to scrub, and he did not stop until his hands were rubbed bright and raw. His feet he stamped in the shallows for some time, until the cold creeping into his joints finally forced him to quit, and to decide that he had done all he could. One last time he surveyed the area for any shards of glass or fragments of pottery. Satisfied that he had left nothing remaining of any jar or bottle, the old man took up his old staff. He apologized to the trees of that place as he left, explaining why he had chosen that spot, and promising them that they would not come to much harm from the toxins.
The sun had begun to rise by then. He could hear the fat red and green rooster crowing at his distant post, and the first villagers rousing themselves in reply. He would not return to the village- there was no need to, after they had agreed to take the young men in. He had seen to each of them personally, and the folk of that place trusted his word when he said that they would convalesce before long. They would work to make the riverbank a safer place.
A lone coffin stood nestled against a split tree. He approached it and ran his hands over its weathered surface, brushing some light debris from it and then kissing its face. There came a gentle tapping from within, and so he held his ear to the old wood. Then it knocked, much harder and louder, and he stepped away from it with a chuckle. He offered it teasing platitudes as he reached down and grasped its trailing rope, which he wrapped around one hand several times before giving it a pull. Once it was eased down onto the broad, flattened expanse of his shoulders, he hefted its weight with a soft grunt.
Cautious, halting steps and hard leaning upon his staff gave way to a slow but relaxed pace as he finally left that river north of the mangrove forests.
The sun was still rising, so he decided that he should rise with it. He turned west, toward the hills, and began to walk. He walked over brush, and along the dirt roads of the people. He walked through fields of taro, and along the narrow bridges woven across flooded terraces of deep-rice. He never walked through the shadow of a fruit tree sapling, and he always walked the long way around a den of animals. The walk turned into a climb, and by mid-morning when he could look out across the canopy below and watch the mist as it rose twisting and evaporating in the sunlight, he decided that he had punished himself enough.
He still needed the strength to settle down, after all.