It’s cold and it smells.
Now, I’m fully aware the smelly part is probably me, but it’s not what you think. I didn’t want this. No way! I just didn’t think she had the balls to do it, you know? You see it all the time in movies. Two people fighting, dueling it out with words, until someone finally says, “I wish you would!”
Who knew Kimberly Clevin would actually push me right into an oncoming school bus.
Now I’m six feet deep, freezing in my mahogany-colored coffin, in a dress my mom knew would haunt me for the rest of my buried life. How dare she put me in anything other than Chanel! What makes the situation worse is, I’m going to miss prom.
Prom! The biggest night in a teenage girl’s life and I’m dirt deep, having to listen to the elderly gentleman buried next to me sing “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” for eternity.
The crunching sound above brought Henry the Eighth to a stop. Crunching always means a visitor and everyone seems to get anxious. Well, almost everyone. I hadn’t really heard a peep from the woman to my right in my two weeks underground, but Henry the Eighth said she’s never spoken. In total, there are five people buried around me. There’s one on each side of me, one above, and two below.
When I was first placed underground, I was overwhelmed by the warm welcoming. I could have sworn if we were above ground, there would have been a hall, decorations, and even cake. Since we were underground, there was just a lot of consoling and getting-to-know-you talk.
Henry the Eighth started.
He died at eighty-nine, liver cancer. His wife, whose name was Helen, I believe, never visited his grave. In fact, he often wondered if she was still alive herself. Apart from singing “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am,” Henry knew no other songs. It made one part of me glad and the other nauseous. The song, always on repeat, got annoying fast. Henry isn’t even his real name, it’s Paul! Regardless, Henry the Eighth had turned into a good talking buddy over the past couple weeks. He seemed to know all the gossip from around the cemetery and couldn’t wait to spread it to everyone, including me. I’m not really sure how he got his information, but I figured someone buried to his other side was also a talker.
Below me are The Twins. Jenny and Jinny died at the age of eleven. When I was first introduced, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears for them. Here I was, complaining of being dead at eighteen, and they hadn’t even made it to high school. A product of their mother’s psychosis, the girls had been stabbed and buried in their backyard. And if that wasn’t bad enough, their mother had dressed them in their Easter dresses, matching light blue puffy gowns with lace collars, which they still wore to this day.
They laugh, well, giggle most of the time when they are awake. It seems like they have a lot of fun, although I can’t imagine what they are doing. School yard songs are usually what they sing when Henry the Eighth decides to finally take a snooze. “Ring Around the Rosy”, “Old McDonald, and “One, Two Buckle My Shoe” are their favorites. I haven’t heard those songs in years and now every time they sing, it usually brings a smile to my face.
Above me is Graceland; Grace, for short. Seriously, her name is Graceland. Isn’t that where Elvis lives? She’s forty-two and the product of a jealous boyfriend gone wild. Grace told me her story a few days back. We waited until The Twins fell asleep because although we’re dead, she didn’t want to taint the children. Seriously?
The boyfriend’s name was Rodger and he’s now in jail for life. They had been together for almost four years. Grace said he’d always had a problem with her beauty. He said she was “too pretty,” and that all the other guys in the world “wanted her face.” Strange, right? One night, she came home late from work, and he was still on the sofa waiting for her. She thought it was sweet until she realized he was sitting on their newly purchased couch holding a knife. They had only been living together for three months!
Anyway, he started slicing her face up and then lost control. Grace said the last thing she remembered before waking up underground was him “making love” to her. Gross! I feel extremely bad for her. I can’t imagine all the pain she went through but she said after the first two cuts, she kind of lost feeling. I don’t even want to find out. Could I even find out?
As I said before, my last neighbor doesn’t speak. I wondered if she might have been mute in her life and if that even carries over after you die. I mean, I didn’t think I would be able to think, talk, and well, be alive while I’m dead. It’s all very strange to me and no one seems to be able to explain it. Before I even had the chance to ask Henry the Eighth again, the crunching above my head caught my attention again.
“This is weird. Like, what do I say to it?”
“Say something, anything. I think it will help you cope, honey. Please.”
Sawyer! My oh-so-handsome football playing high school boyfriend, along with his mother, Polly. Can this woman not even leave me alone in death? Quarterback for the fourth year in a row, Sawyer was not only a sight for sore eyes but the one player scouts had been eyeing all year. Since I was head cheerleader, they had started looking my way too. Until, well you know, I died.
Was! It hit me like a freight train. I’m no longer the head cheerleader. I wonder who it is now…maybe Sawyer came to tell me.
“Um. Yeah, so my mom says it’s a good idea for me to come talk to you. I don’t know why, it’s just weird. So, yeah.”
My heart leapt with joy. Even though he didn’t say much, he was here visiting me! Butterflies fluttered in my stomach, just as they had the first day I met him, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m sure the pride and love radiated from my coffin because only fifteen minutes after Sawyer and his annoying mother departed, Henry the Eighth burst my bubble.
“This will be the first and the last you’ll hear of him. Believe me. If he hasn’t gotten over you already, he will.”
Well, thanks a lot, old man.
It’s Tuesday. I know it’s Tuesday because The Twins are up early and singing. I yawned, stretched (as much as I could), and said good morning. The Twins were always happy, usually. Their grief only shows once in a while, but since their father comes to visit every Tuesday, nothing can break their mood today.
“What do you think he’ll tell you this week?” I asked, truly intrigued. Their father, I believe his name is Claude, visits every Tuesday because that’s when he gets back into town. He’s a model; a male model. Can you believe it? I’ve seen his face plastered on billboards and even in some of the girls’ lockers at school. When they first told me his name, I almost laughed. But it was true. Their last names matched and I remembered reading the article about his children being murdered.
Never crossed my mind it would be their mother that committed the crime, though. She was a model as well. The girls spoke of some magazines she had been in but I can’t, for the life of me, put a face to the name, which is a good thing. I don’t want to remember that woman at all, but it’s nice to see how they react to their father. I try never to intrude, although I can hear their whole conversation. Well, his one-sided conversation. Although the girls talk about how much they want to say when he arrives; in the end, they spend all their time crying.
Their father always tells them about the places he’s been and where he is going next. I know he leaves them flowers because I can hear the rustle of the plastic they are wrapped in. And then he apologizes. That’s when I have to put my fingers in my ears and sing, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I am” to myself! The first time he came to visit, I hadn’t known what was coming. He said he was sorry, I assumed for missing a day or coming late, but it wasn’t that simple.
He cried, apologized for not being home when they were murdered. I burst into tears at the same time he had. Oh, the pain! I can still feel it deep in my belly. He loved his girls, and not only was he sad but in his voice, you could hear his anger. Their mother was put on death row. Last the girls heard, she was still alive, but we would probably never know for sure. He never talked about her to them, and I hoped he never would.
“Two more days, darling. How are you holding up?” I heard above me. I rolled my eyes upward stupidly; I do it every time! I know Grace can’t see me but I feel it would be rude if I didn’t look in her direction when spoken to.
“I’m not sure. Hearing Sawyer the other day – it really hurt.”
“You’ll be fine! What did I tell you? He’s probably already forgotten all about you.” Henry the Eighth chimed in.
“Oh Henry, stop! Don’t you see she’s just a girl? Things like that take time to understand.”
I heard them bickering back and forth but I tuned it out. Henry the Eighth was right; Sawyer was going to forget about me. Matter of fact, he probably already had a date to the prom. No doubt the product of all the consoling from the other girls in school. I took a deep…breath? No, I don’t breathe anymore. I just closed my eyes and imagined trying to calm down. It didn’t work though because I could still hear them bickering, and now the girls were crying even harder as their father walked away.
Is this it? This is how I’m spending eternity? The crunching sounded again, this time a little closer to home. Someone was here to see me. I shush everyone and wait, listening closely. When I heard the first sob, I knew it was my mother. Oh, mommy.
They say a teenage girl will never get along with her mother; that we’ll go through an “I hate my mom” phase. I never went through it. Matter of fact, me and mom were best friends. We did everything together! Shopping, boy hunting, nail salons, hair salons, tanning salons; everything, I tell you! Of everyone in my life, I miss her the most and I know she misses me too.
“It’s only two days away.”
Geez, not her too!
“I couldn’t -.”
“I couldn’t keep it in the house. You should have it, here with you.”
I heard the unmistakable sound of plastic, and then a zipper. Could it be?
“I know you won’t be able to wear it, but I hope you know that even though you won’t be there, you are still the prettiest girl at the prom.”
Tears are flooding my eyes by the time she’s done. My mom brought me my prom dress. Then it hit me!
“Huh?” he said, rather grumpy and jumpy.
“Has anyone tried to escape since you’ve been down here?”
There was a long pause. So long, I almost thought he’d fallen back asleep.
“Henry!” I screamed. This time, I heard his head hit the top of his casket.
“Oh, Little Bird, why do you want to know?”
I smile every time Henry calls me Little Bird. It has become a nickname for me. Who knows why, but I like it.
“Because, I’m going to prom!”
“What color is your dress?”
“Did she bring your shoes?”
“What about accessories?”
The questions just kept coming. Since I had said I was going to prom, The Twins and Grace had been bombarding me! Henry the Eighth was not singing, or talking, for that matter. He was grumpy now and concerned. After being forced to tell me about a few escape attempts, he told me in a fatherly way this was a bad idea.
“Henry.” I spoke softly and it turned the girls’ voices off.
“It’s just not safe, Little Bird. What if you get caught, like the others? No telling where they will put you then.”
“But I have to go, don’t you understand?”
Silence. The girls waited all they could but went back to running their mouths about makeup. Good God! I had been buried for nearly a month I had no idea what I looked like anymore. Was I just bones? The thought ran quickly through my mind and I wished I’d paid more attention in biology class.
“Grace?” I blurted out, and she answered just as quickly.
“What would I look like now?
More silence. This time Grace was holding back. I heard Henry moan something but I couldn’t hear it, and The Twins were so quiet you could hear a pin drop in their casket.
“Oh, Little Bird, maybe this isn’t a good idea,” was her response, and I almost died again. This had to be bad. I tried to squeeze my eyes shut and play the “I’ve been in the dark so long I can see trick,” but nothing changed. I pictured skin and bones but after what seemed like an eternity of silence from everyone, I convinced myself I was now probably just bones.
When I woke up the next day, to my surprise Henry the Eighth was singing. I was glad he was in good spirits. After the prom conversation, I was terrified he wouldn’t speak to me again at all, but singing at least would make me feel comforted. I stretched again, hitting the side of my coffin by mistake, and the singing stopped.
“Little Bird? You awake?” Henry asked softly, just in case. I nodded like an idiot before responding with a yes.
“I’ve been thinking about what you want.”
There was silence as I waited for him to finish. I guess he was waiting for me to ask him to continue because we sat in silence for a while before I cleared my throat.
“I have an idea.” he rushed out. I could practically hear his smile crack.
“But I thought you were against this, Henry?”
Grace sounded as shocked as I felt. The girls were still sleeping and had no response. The plan was good and the biology even better. It took at least a month before things like your teeth and hair began to fall out. I still even had fingernails, if Henry could remember correctly. I rubbed my fingers over each other and he was right. If I was going to break out, now was the perfect time.
“I know, but I also know what love is. I loved my wife dearly and I would give anything to spend one more day with her. Little Bird here deserves her chance with true love.”
“Derrick,” Grace whispered in awe.
Derrick? “Excuse me?” I asked, completely lost. Were they still talking about me?
“He comes and sees you constantly. The boy has either good timing or bad. You are usually asleep when he shows up,” Henry responded, sounding smug and sure. “Sings to you too. Plays the guitar, electric.”
Grace coos from up above and I’m still confused. The only Derrick I know who plays a guitar is a Goth dork who sat across from me in homeroom. I’m dumbstruck as I think about it. Holy cow!
“Wait, that isn’t even possible. We hardly ever talked. We used to, like, in kindergarten. Why would he care enough about me to do things like that?”
“Oh, Little Bird, you are so young, so naive. A man doesn’t always show his true emotions,” Grace giggled. Grace, the woman whose boyfriend showed his true emotion all over her face. This is crazy! I couldn’t take advice from her, and although Henry had been married happily for years, how did he know anything about teenagers nowadays.
“If you don’t believe us, try and stay up. He comes almost every other night. Since last night was quiet, I’m sure he’ll be on his way tonight.”
Henry sounded so sure of himself. As skeptical as I was, I hardly doubted anything would come from me staying up late, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like I had to be up early for anything, so I would stay up and prove them both wrong.
I was the only one awake. Henry the Eighth was snoring, rather loudly, The Twins had tired themselves hours earlier with Knock-Knock jokes, and Grace had been trying to stay up, but passed out just hours into our game of twenty questions. How could anyone tell me about a late-night secret admirer when no one could stay up! I closed my eyes. This is dumb. Why would I stay up, only to feel like a tired fool tomorrow?
No one was coming.
As I started to fall back into death, I heard a crunch. My eyes popped back open. You’ve got to be shitting me! The crunch got closer and closer and eventually, I heard a small thump. Someone was sitting right on top of me. How rude! I heard some clicking, then a loud screech, followed by a quick apology.
“Sorry, this portable amp doesn’t always work right. I finished the song I wrote for you.” Derrick, indeed! I couldn’t understand it, a song for me? Why was he here, not just now, but every other night? Derrick and I had class together for almost all four years. In fact, if I remembered correctly, we had a few classes together even before high school. He was always a loner but, as popular as I was, I only gave him some time of the day, if any at all. Maybe it was that; guys like to play hard to get? That had to be it.
I shook my head. This is impossible. Why, of all people, Derrick? My mind was going in a hundred different ways but I tried to pull myself together enough to hear the song. I was sure whatever lyrics were in it, it would help me better understand his feelings.
There was some more tuning of the portable amp, then the guitar itself. I listened to rock music; metal and punk all the time, but never in front of Sawyer, who preferred rap and pop music. Rap, I could tolerate, but I’ll pass on the pop. For the greater good of my high school career, I pretended to like it and all seemed well. Now that Derrick was revving his electric guitar, I couldn’t have been more excited.
The song went on for ages. There weren’t any real lyrics, just the sound of his voice humming over the soft playing guitar. It was enough to sound rock and roll, but with enough romance mixed in to scream ballad. I cried, for forever it seemed. Cried even harder when I heard him leave, and harder still when I heard Henry shuffle awake.
“Little Bird?” he asked, concerned. I actually heard him turn on his side to face the direction of my coffin.
“I don’t understand.” I sniffled, but nothing returned into my nose. I had cried nearly all the remaining liquid out of my body.
“You’re going to dry out faster than you want if you keep that up. Try and relax.”
“Henry. Why does he love me? We’ve never really talked.”
There was a moment of silence before Henry started to speak.
“The first night, when you first came home to us – he came. Sat above you and just cried. I wanted to wake you but your first night underground is always your deepest sleep. The boy poured his heart out, Little Bird. Talked about younger times when yous was almost babies. How you played together and as you two got older, you started to stray but never fully left him. He talked about your classes together, how even when you were with your popular friends, you still smiled at him. Or the birthday texts you would send him. You never really stopped being his friend, you know.”
“Little Bird, the heart feels even when the mind doesn’t. You didn’t spend time with him, sure, but he knew inside you cared for him in your own way and he cared for you. Just a bit deeper.”
I couldn’t feel more like crap. Henry the Eighth was right! Derrick and I had been friends when we were younger and of course as we got older in high school, we drifted. I only spoke to him with classwork questions, but I did always nod or smile. I did send him birthday messages but it was Facebook! I sent those to whoever was at the top right hand corner of the screen on their birthday but it was different to him.
My heart swelled like it never had before. I felt my body gain a certain amount of energy and I laughed. Full-blown hysterical laughter. Henry chimed in as well, until we got so loud the others woke.
“What’s so funny?” Jenny asked, but I was laughing so hard I couldn’t talk.
“It appears she’s just realized she’s been in love all along,” Grace giggled, which turned into laughter as well.
The rest of the day flew by. I told the crew every story I could remember about Derrick and I when we were younger. I explained how he started to change, and I did as well. Henry laughed at the fact that I hadn’t realized my feelings but figured it to be just the way high school kids were. As I went on with the stories, I realized how much I did like Derrick and it boggled my mind how I never thought about it before.
Sawyer had been my full concern and here I was missing out on someone who truly cared. By the time story telling was over, we were all exhausted and I was excited about prom again. Perhaps, even more excited than before. Tomorrow would be the night and I was no longer looking forward to running into Sawyer’s arms and giving him one last kiss. I would be focusing on finding Derrick and finally getting a happy ending to my story. Just as the thought came in, though, it went right back out. This is unfair!
“I can’t do it,” I muttered.
Grace was the only one still half-awake and she mumbled, “Huh?”
“Grace, it’s not fair to him. He’s already lost me once, I can’t have him lose me twice.”
“Sleep on it. Tomorrow, you make your decision.”
It was the fastest night had ever come. It was Friday, prom night, and the night Derrick would come to sing to me. My heart felt heavy, but I chatted with the girls about the dress and the dance as much as I could. Henry the Eighth had been quiet most of the day. I had a feeling he was worried but didn’t want to add any more pressure than I already felt. As the day flew by, we all started to get anxious. The ground grew colder when night was coming. It was our way of telling the time of day. When it got its coldest, we knew darkness had fallen and it was time.
“Push hard and don’t stop,” Henry instructed. I nodded and pushed the top of my casket with both my arms and legs. I was surprised how strong I still was, considering, but Henry said in time I would lose some of it. Dirt began to pour into the casket and I almost panicked, but I pushed on and on, until I felt a breeze touch my face.
“Steady. Steady,” Henry continued, until I could see moonlight.
“It’s beautiful,” I announced as I pushed the rest of the dirt off the casket hood and could see out completely. A small rain shower must have softened the dirt and luckily for me, my patch was still fairly fresh. Climbing out was harder than expected, but I made it and searched for the bag with my dress in it. The rainstorm had pooled right through the bag and the gown was drenched.
I slouched down on Grace’s grave and explained the damage. She was sympathetic but told me it would look just wonderful anyway. Looking down at the horrid dress my mom had thrown me in for my funeral, I noticed my legs and then my arms. My hands, my feet in a pair of glittery flats; everything about me was a nightmare. My skin was peeling and grey, the veins on my hands were almost chalky-looking, while some were jet black. I am a monster!
Losing my nerve was almost as quick as pushing open my casket. I threw the dress into my hole and quickly began to climb back in when I realized we hadn’t thought of the getting back in plan. How was I supposed to cover the casket with dirt again? Who was going to lock me back in? This is bad! The whole plan was a wreck and then I heard it.
I turned my head slowly to face him. He was dressed in a tux and looked handsome. His hair was slicked back, his shirt tucked in. I even had to commend him on black eyeliner well done. Yup, he was a sight for my sore eyes.
“Don’t!” I urged. “I’m a monster, please. Stay away from me.”
“Was it the song?”
What? Was this kid for real? I’m dead, and walking, and he’s asking about his stupid song?
“What?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.
“My song, did it wake you up?” He kept walking closer, making me nervous. The darkness and the moonlight probably don’t hurt when it comes to being dead; it hides your grossness pretty well, but someone coming too close wouldn’t. Turning to face another direction, I heard him now, in a trot, coming over. Before I knew it, he was in front of me on his knees, a corsage in hand.
“I came to bring you to prom.” He chuckled and I realized for the first time how handsome his smile was. “Well, I came to sit with you during the time prom was happening.”
I couldn’t help but smile. He held his hands out, holding the bright pink flower until I put my arm out to meet his. There was no hesitation as he pulled the wrist band apart and placed it on my wrist. If I’d had any liquid left in my body, I would have cried, but I didn’t, and standing upright was making me feel extremely tired.
“I’m sorry – I never knew how you felt until now.” I looked down at the flower as I spoke, but I knew he was looking only at me. Self-conscious couldn’t even begin to describe me.
“I’m sorry I never told you.”
“I’m sorry it’s too late,” I continued, feeling like this could go on forever.
“It’s never too late,” he whispered. And then he kissed me, shocking me completely! My body was on high alert and, for the first time since I was clinically alive after death, I actually felt ALIVE! I could hear the clapping from the graveyard crew, and I swelled with love. When his lips pulled away, I felt a pang of disappointment. My fairytale was ending.
“I’m going to stay with you forever,” Derrick whispered, and I slowly shook my head.
With a big smile on his face, he pulled an envelope and a gun out of his tux pocket. “Oh really?”
Copyright © 2019 by Elly. V All rights reserved. This story and featured image or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author.