The coffin, he rested against a tree again. His staff, he asked the coffin's occupant to please hold onto, and so leaned it against that.
He then found himself a nice, sturdy stick with one tapering end that he didn't mind getting damaged. With this, he struck the earth. He dug and raked, and then cleared the debris away with his feet, until he'd made himself a clearing. Then he bit deeper into the topsoil, using both hands to twist and wedge the digging stick in and turn up dirt from a single deep hole. He did this several times, each at the edge of the clearing, until he'd completed a ring several paces in diameter.
Back into the trees he moved then, ears trained on the distant sound of trickling water.
It was a fine stream, small but clear, cut deep into the earth with the passage of time as it flowed down from the western hills. It did not take long for him to find the right type of rock at its banks, but it did take him a time to shape it. Until then, the clash of smooth, flat river stone on stone rang out up and down the banks. Eventually, he was satisfied with the edged fragments he held in his hands. The smaller, sharper flake, he tucked into his clothing, while he used the larger axehead on his way back to the clearing.
He whispered apologies and thanks to each flexible sapling as he struck its base with the rock. There was a woody knock, and a sharp rattle of foliage with each. It was a satisfying rhythm to beat out, and it only interrupted the dull roar of wildlife around him for a few moments each. Before long he was dragging several felled saplings with him. He stripped their branches and the more fibrous bark, which he thought would make fine rope later on. The first sapling was driven into one of the holes in the earth at the clearing. The old man mounded earth up around its base and packed it in tightly, and then he reached up to bend its other end down toward the ground.
He was lifted off of his feet before he could bring the other end down into its own opposite hole, which he also filled in.
Several more times he did this, each time tying the middles of the tense saplings together with fibers stripped from the bark. The finished frame was comfortable enough to sit down in, with room for tools and a bed if he was diligent. But for now, the skeleton needed ribs. These, in the form of shorter branches, he lashed in rings around the frame with thin vines once he ran out of softer bark. The lowest two were left open at one end, where he would put the door facing south. The bones needed skin, and so he ventured back out into the brush, confident that the coffin would keep an eye on things for him.
With the stone flake, he harvested the fronds from ferns and other plants along the ground level. And with each frond harvested, he spoke the words due to someone who was having a limb cut off. He took the time to study their leaves and their pinnation, thumbs running over every feathery edge briefly. A bushel was made, and a bushel was peeled apart to arrange tips-downward along the future wall, lashed to the branches with more creeping twine from the bushes. The old man felt a sweat coming on, and winced at the ache in his back from stooping for so long. But he had much more to do before he could rest.
The hours wore on and the sun began to blush dark and flirt with the western hilltops before he had angled the last series of leaves and tied them in place. A roof cap would be able to wait until morning- he expected no rainfall, at least not where he was. Hunger and thirst would not wait for him, however. He could already feel the pangs, and before long they would add to the shake in his hands.
First, he crept back down to the bank and laid down supine before its burbling current. He drank deep with his hands, until his stomach felt cold and swollen. Then he sat back on his bony arms and waited for it all to settle. Someday, he thought. Someday he would allow himself the luxury of a clay cup to drink from. Or perhaps a gourd.
Once it felt as though his insides weren't sloshing around with every step, he rose and moved back onto greener ground, where his digging stick once more became of use. The root vegetable bulbs he found were small and bitter, but if they spent a few hours soaking in the water, they'd be leeched of their toxins. He wouldn't be able to eat them that evening, but they would make for a decent breakfast. A small pile of rocks kept them in place as they laid submerged in the stream.
If they were still there in the morning, he'd eat easy. If an animal found them first, then... well, then nothing. Then that was a lucky animal.
Unlike the considerably less lucky fish which he began to eye next.