Fresh dirt ironically smells clean—raw and untouched. If it didn't stain, dirt could almost be considered sterile. Except for the worms. I dug my fingers into the floor I lay on, attempting to push myself up. A sharp pain squeezed around my ankle and grounded me.
"Help!" My plea was met with a mouthful of damp loam. Maybe even a worm. Another pile of soil showered over my head. "Stop!" I screeched. I didn't dare turn my face up for fear of getting dirt in my eyes.
"Sam? Sam are you all right? I'm so sorry, I didn't know there was a hole—"
"It's a grave, Ashley! A freakin' grave!"
Ashley leaned over the edge stretching out her arm. "Grab my hand, Sam." Another clump of damp loam tumbled over the back of my shoulders, a rock hitting my head.
"Ouch! Ashley, don't move. Every time you get near the edge, more dirt falls in. I'm afraid I'm going to be buried alive! Besides, I think I've twisted my ankle. You can't possibly pull me out."
"What can I do?"
A flat drop of water splashed my cheek, followed by by a couple more. Unbelievable! I was living the cliché horror movie. The thunderstorm…the power flickering out…the sixteen year old babysitting for some strangers at a remote house on the outskirts of civilization... All I needed was the—
A loud clap of thunder rearranged my internal organs. In my reverie I pictured the doorbell ringing with a slasher-dude in a hockey mask waiting on the other side, but a flash of lightning zigzagging across the sky with an ear-piercing crack at the end was definitely worse. Now I could just sit in this hole and wait for either the sides to slither away and cover me in mud, or water to fill up my earthen bathtub until I drowned.
Ashley lowered a shovel handle. "Here, hold on to this."
I wrapped my cold fingers around the rough wood and struggled to get on my knees but my leg wouldn't cooperate. "I can't!" I cried out, feeling my hands slip down the shaft, a splinter slicing the delicate skin on the end of my index finger.
Ashley bent over the side of the grave, pushing a small landslide my direction. "Damn! I'm sorry, Sam! I'm going to get help. Don't move!"
Real funny. Another clap of thunder sent me cowering in a slimy corner. "Ashley? Ashley! Don't leave me!"
"Sam, I have to. I can't get you out. I promise I'll be right back."
She peered over the side, her hair hanging like wet spaghetti over a strainer. "What?"
"Tell me the truth. Were you there the night of Kevin's accident? Were you in the middle of the road?"
Ashley sat on the side of the hole, her mud-covered legs pulled tight to her chest. "Sam, I didn't know it was Kevin. Jason was supposed to meet me at a party, but he texted me and told me to go to hell. He was going to talk to you and didn't want to see me anymore. I smoked some pot with a group of people out by the pool. Of course I spilled my guts to some guy, tried to make out with him, but he pushed me away. Another rejection."
More raindrops started falling and Ashley stood. I panicked, trying one last time to get to my knees, but landed with a splash.
"Sam, I got really messed up at the party. I texted Jason to come get me, or I thought it was Jason. I told him where to get me and I stood in the road. I wanted to teach him a lesson for hurting me. When the car came around the bend, it was your car and I thought 'how fitting' that you and he would be together to play the ultimate dare game. But it wasn't you…or Jason. It was Kevin. He didn't know how to play the game. I froze, Sam. I couldn't jump out of the way in time. He swerved—the wrong way. He didn't go into the parking lot…"
"…He went over the edge," I finished. "Ashley, was Kevin the guy who rejected you at the party?" She nodded, her arms folding tight across her. I could see her shoulders shake with the sobs.
"He must have punched his number in my phone before…he must have got the text…"
My heart sank. I'd taken the keys to Kevin's car when Jason picked me up, but left mine behind without thinking. Of course his number would have been the last one in Ashley's phone when she texted…he would have come to her rescue. Kevin was like that."
She dropped to her knees. "I didn't sleep with Jason either. I lied. I've been so hurt, so lost and scared. Jason was all I had left and he chose you. Maybe that's why I thought your brother's death was the trade off. Sick, I know."
A stolen soul for a broken heart.
She jumped to her feet. "I'm going to get help. Keep yelling out, in case someone comes into the cemetery. I'll be back, I promise."
Another crack of thunder split the heavens open. I yelled after Ashley, but my cry came back to me, flat…unheard. Enough water had pooled in my muddy hole to cover my feet. I shouted for help several times, but no answer.
What if Ashley left me here on purpose? Maybe she dug the grave herself…lured me to gaping hole hoping to bury me? She knew where to find a shovel.
Rain poured in heavy sheets. I had no idea how long Ashley had been gone. No one knew I'd wandered into the cemetery. No clue was ever found because I had tucked it in my pocket. Ashley could have gone back to the school and if any one questioned my whereabouts, she could simply shrug her delicate shoulders and innocently deny having seen me. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day…or next week, they'd find my shriveled body under a thick blanket of caked mud.
No connection to Ashley would ever be made…just like the night of Kevin's death. The truth would die with me. Not even Jason knew the whole truth…how she wanted to punish him, maybe even me. If Jason had been driving—the thought made my stomach hurt.
Kevin? No answer from beyond either.
I propped my head on a folded arm. Cold water lapped against my cheek and my throat was the only hot part of my body, scorched from yelling. So this would be my fate. I'd shut my eyes and simply go to sleep. No fanfare…no dramatic exit. I'd take all the hallowed secrets from tonight with me. I closed my eyes, the streamlets of water filling my exposed ear…
"Sam? Wake up sleepy head." A light kiss graced each eyelid and warm arms wrapped me tight. "I need to go before your parents find me."
"W-what?" I bolted upright. My bedroom remained shrouded in the lavender shades of early morning. "H-how did I get here?"
Jason sat up, his expression puzzled. "Uh, we ditched the fundraiser and had our own private Halloween Party. Your parents were gone….remember?"
I scrambled out of bed and wrapped in my robe, feeling a slight jolt of pain in my ankle. "Ouch. When did I twist my foot?"
"When we were running from my car to your porch. You slipped on the wet grass. Does it hurt still?"
"A little." Why can't I remember? I whirled around. Bedding covered Jason's lower body and I wondered if the rest of him was as bare as his chest…or me. "Did we?"
Jason dropped his eyes, a ghost of a smile curling his mouth. "Wow, one beer and you don't remember? Maybe I should give you a refresher course—"
Dazed, I was about to ask how I went from muddy hellhole to in bed with my boyfriend, when someone tapped on my window. Startled, I jumped, just as Jamie crawled through. She looked at her twin brother.
"Dude, you better be dressed or stay put until I leave."
"Shhh!" Jason said. "What are you doing here?"
"Thought you guys might want to know the latest. I snuck over to the Gas-N-Go early this morning to meet the chemistry geek, Marcus, for coffee, who you were right, Sam, is not such a geek—"
"Long story shortened, sis?"
"Patience, bro. Anyway, we're sitting in the booth back by the coffee machine and these two cops come in—not anyone who's pulled me over before. They're talking about some girl they found dead in an open grave in Johnstown Cemetery. Guess who?"
Jason and I exchanged a glance waiting. "Who?" I finally asked.
"Ashley. Guess she slipped and fell in somehow. She must have been unconscious because she was face down and sadly, drowned in a puddle."
I felt the room sway. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Marcus's brother is a cop and he verified with him. Last night when it started raining, the party broke up. You two had already split. Me and the 'geek twins' never did get to the cemetery to find the last clue. Maybe if we had, we'd have seen something or heard her. Everyone's going to be freaked out when the news breaks later. Anyway, loverboy, you better get home before Mommy discovers you're gone." Jamie gave a small wave and slipped back out my bedroom window.
"Jason, you sure you didn't talk to Ashley last night? About Ike's party? Kevin's accident?"
Jason pulled on his boxers and jeans. Crap.
"No. Should I have? And why would I talk to Ashey about Kevin's accident? It's not like she was there or anything."
"I thought you two—" Jason looked genuinely bewildered. Had I dreamt everything? The conversation? The scene in the graveyard? The fight between Jason and Ashley?"
"Babe, did you and Ashley ever have sex at Ike's party?"
"No! I went to the party and she was there, but I was too worried about you and didn't stay. Yeah, she tried her usual tricks, but I never even kissed her—I swear. Babe, we already talked about this." Jason tipped my chin, stared in my eyes. "Sam, I know you've had a hard time since Kevin died, but are you all right?"
"Did I disappear last night?"
He kissed me gently. "Only with me." He lifted the window. "Wanna catch a movie tonight?"
He slipped out and I walked into the bathroom and checked myself in the mirror. My hair showed no sign of being caked in mud. My clothes were in a heap at the foot of the bed, also clean. I picked up my jeans. Dry. A piece of paper stuck out of the pocket.
A stolen soul for a broken heart seemed like a fair trade.
But things went wrong, the timing off, the game suddenly changed.
I took my place on the stage waiting for a rescue that never came.
The lights too bright, the edge too close—the faces not the same.
Life is never what it seems and soon everyone will forget
Except for one who holds the clue and keeps the hallowed secret.
I ran the mysterious poem through the shredder next to my desk and picked up my clothes, only to drop them with a sudden prick. I lifted my finger to the sunlight peeking through the blinds and removed a splinter from the tip of my index finger.