The Unmarked Grave | Short Story

By Arpit Mittal
Early Twentieth Century:
In a village in Kushana, Mongolia, there lived a water diviner named Ismail Khan. He had a son named Alkaxyam. The village was surrounded by mountains on one side and the desert on the other. The winter was bitterly cold with high winds, and the desert was, well, dry. Hence, there was hardly any water to survive.

People lived as far from the desert as possible and double-hump camels were their only means of transport.

People ate meat and used the fur of the camels for making warm clothing and keeping their huts warm. There was hardly any agriculture and so they lived largely on meat.

Twice every year, a horse-drawn carriage from the government brought fruits, vegetables, dry fruits and other savouries for the people of the village. That time was celebrated like a festival.

Most of the villagers were hunters. They made excellent weapons, like knives, swords, bows-and-arrows and axes. There were blacksmiths among them whose work was quite well known among villagers nearby. But the people of the village lived a simple life and did not bother anyone.

The problem, however, was that there was no water–the place was at the edge of the Gobi desert. It was particularly bad in the winter. There was water, about thirty kilometres from the village, but it was locked up in a frozen pond. From time to time, enterprising and needy villagers made the arduous journey to the frozen pond and cut away chunks of the ice to bring back to the village. Loading the ice onto their camels, they trudged back to the village. But it was
really tough to bring the water, even for the hardy villagers and their camels. Many times, the villagers had to go weeks without any water to drink.

Ismail, the water diviner, was one of Kushana’s most famous people with that gift. He could locate underground sources of water for the head of the region and receive handsome gifts as rewards. The extreme shortage of water had made Ismail a very useful man. People called him home, treated him well and showered praise on him.

Ismail was not just gifted but he was also very lucky. There were lots of times when he had no idea where water might be underground, but just to save his reputation and sometimes to keep people’s hearts, he would point at a place and say there would be water beneath. And lo and behold, they found water. This gift of Ismail’s had made him lazy, and as a result, he had no other source of income. When he was not water divining he was not doing anything else.

Even though there were other things he could have done to earn himself a living, he just didn’t bother.

But his son, Alkaxyam, had a secret. He not only liked doing what his father did, which was finding water underground, he was actually much better at it. Life was going well until Alkaxyam realised that he could not only find water under the ground, he could actually find gems, pebbles and even gold.

That was a fine thing. But his father did not want it known to the people. For, Alkaxyam was still a child and Ismail wasn’t sure if the boy’s successes were from his gift or plain luck. If it was luck, it would soon run out and his boy would be exposed. If that happened, then even he ran the risk of being exposed.

So Ismail drafted a plan of action. Quietly, he used his son’s special gift to do some underground exploring for rich people far from the village. That way Alkaxyam’s talent would not be known in his own village. The work brought the family riches. And, they started living comfortably, while Ismail continued to do water divining on the side.

But as fate would have it, Alkaxyam’s special gift was not going to leave him alone.

The boy started getting visions of a very huge open area. There were no trees around it. The place seemed very much like the desert nearby. In the corner of the desert there seemed to be a man lying beneath the soil.

The child found it strange and troubling, as so far, he had never seen a man in his visions. He shared the vision with his father who suggested that it could be a grave.

Alkaxyam was quite troubled that he was now seeing graves. Ismail told the boy not be worried. Such visions
came packaged with the gift he had.

Later, Alkaxyam told his father in great detail about the location and dimensions of the grave site that he had been
seeing in his visions. He spoke about its appearance, it being in the corner of the desert, even the location of a single dried
up tree trunk nearby. And of course, the remains of the man inside the grave.

All of a sudden, Ismail remembered something.

The place, its location and detailed description triggered something in his memory.

He seemed to know the place.

It was at least a few hundred kilometres from his village, a place the child had never been to. It confirmed to Ismail that his son really had the gift.


Before Alkaxyam was born, young Ismail had been hired by a group of adventurers and explorers from Europe and
America. They had with them maps and drawings, books and even satellite images.
They were looking for the grave of Genghis Khan in the vast Mongolian desert.

As Ismail was a water diviner, the foreigners had hired his services in the hope that he would also find the unmarked grave. They had heard great stories about his ability but what they did not know was that Ismail himself had no great faith in his own gift. He had just been incredibly lucky, nothing else.

But the money was so good that Ismail agreed to help the foreigners find the grave. Not surprisingly, the search yielded no results. Genghis Khan’s grave wasn’t going to be that easy to find. His loyal guards had taken such pains to conceal it that it was nearly impossible to know its exact location.

The foreigners spent six months trying this and that, in the bargain wasting precious money and time.

But, the lure of finding Genghis Khan’s grave was too great. The one who found it could easily become the new Columbus, rich and famous beyond imagination.

But as all things come to an end, so did the search. Empty handed and disappointed, the foreigners went back home.


Now, when Alkaxyam described the grave and its location to his father, the hair stood up at the back of the old man’s neck. Ismail knew what his son was talking about. That was when he understood that his son was indeed a gifted diviner. And for the first time in his life he realised how close he was to making an insane amount of money.

However, Ismail realised the magnitude of the task that had presented itself to him. Earlier, when he was working for the adventurers, his role was limited to pointing out the place in the earth. The rest would have been done by the foreigners. But now, if he were to go it alone, he would not only have to find the grave, do the digging, secure the remains but also tell the whole world about it. Not just that, he would also have to find a buyer. Even more complicated
would be to negotiate the terms and keep the money. For, he was just a poor man from a tiny Mongolian village.

During his association with the foreigners, Ismail had come to realise one clear thing. Education and knowledge about the world were crucially important for a man. It was knowledge alone that separated the strong from the weak.

Therefore, he decided that if Alkaxyam had to live a life of comfort and luxury, he would first have to study at school and then go to university.

He told his son that he would go look at the site that had been appearing to him in his visions to check and see if a grave actually did exist.

An anxious Ismail did visit the site of the grave.

But he decided not to disturb it. It would be too much for him to handle. He returned a few days later and told his son that there was indeed a grave site like he had described. But it was the burial site of an old village chief, nothing special.


Soon, Alkaxyam stopped getting those visions. Ismail was relieved. The very next week he took his son to a distant relative who was rich and connected to important people in the cities. Ismail begged his cousin to help with Alkaxyam’s education. The cousin agreed readily.

Ismail rode back home alone, his mind at peace, that with education, knowledge and the gift, his son was better off than ever before.

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