The night my life burst into flames, I admit, I set the fire.
One minute I was curled on the futon, watching The Golden Girls as I stuffed my face with rainbow popcorn. Next thing I knew, I was dressed like a Charlie’s Angel, digging up a grave in the Harbor Village Cemetery.
“It’s gonna stink, isn’t it? C’mon, Scar--you know I don’t do smells!”
“It’s a dead body, think of it as his hobby, Aidan. Now zip your lip--and keep digging!”
My best friend and I were knee-deep in this hole, with no witnesses but the moonlight, our shamelessness, and the man whose grave we were looting. I used that shovel like a runaway prisoner.
Into the ground.
Over my shoulder.
Into the ground.
Over my shoulder.
I thought it would never end...
It all started earlier that night, when my roommate stormed into the apartment, wringing his hands as he shouted about how his boss was gonna murder him in the morning.
“Hey, buddy--can we maybe save this for the commercial break?”
“This is serious, Scar! Tell me you understand! Nicholias is going to kill me! FU-CKING! KILL! ME!”
“Sorry, ladies. Until we meet again--at 11.” I sighed, grabbing the remote and clicking off the television. “Alright, dummy. Explain.”
There was no one else he would come to in a crisis. From day one, I’d been digging Aidan Waite out of scrapes left and right. We met three years ago, first day of junior year. I had snuck into a supply closet with the intention of getting high before first period. Instead, I walked in on Aidan– blowing O’s from the quarterback. Best friends ever since.
By the time we graduated Harbor Village High, we were conjoined at the hip–and I had thousands of posts, gifs, and memes to prove it. Those who knew us knew that Aidan and I were close, while those who didn’t, assumed we were dating. It was the one and only stereotype I never had a problem with.
“Yeah-cheers-thanks-a-lot. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this, Scar.”
“Hey, bub, I said I had an idea. I never clarified it as a good one.”
Beside me, Aidan swung his flashlight back and forth, sweeping the path for any serial killers or stray zombies... or Dixons. Six months ago, Aidan came home with the news that he had been accepted for a clerical position at Dixon Industries. I wasn’t exactly thrilled. The Dixons were a wealthy family, the most notorious in the Village. Their lifestyle was glossy like a pair of Jimmy Choos, but their reputation–not so sparkly.
Even more than their wealth and opulence, the Dixons were known for rubbing elbows with the Village’s finest. No one spoke out against the family’s cutthroat business techniques, or supposed connections to the Mafia. You were better off doing what the police did–nothing. Aidan never should have accepted that job, but we needed the money.
I fled my parent’s house after graduation, taking refuge with Aidan and his perfectly imperfect family. Within a few months, we had our own apartment and twin jobs at the local grocery. Scholarships kept us in college, but book funds and toke habits forced us to take on second jobs: I sold exams, Aidan put in for a job at Dixon Industries.
As personal assistant to the CEO’s son, Aidan created schedules, organized files, and screened his boss’ ex-girlfriends. He quickly learned his real job consisted of nothing more than keeping Nicholias Dixon happy, and sober.
That evening, Nicholias had sent Aidan home with the task of polishing his ring for an upcoming event. Supremely pretentious heirlooms, every male had one, each ring inscribed with the family crest. And somehow, someway, between the moment Nicholias left it in his care, and the car-ride home, Aidan had lost the damn thing.
The house keys were one thing. My cell phone was another. I even forgave him the time he forgot to pick me up from the hospital after my tonsillectomy because he was too busy getting dome from Jake Snowberry in the backseat. But this time, Aidan had really screwed up–
and desperate times called for desperate measures...
If every male in the Dixon family wound up with a tacky old ring, maybe they were buried with said tacky old rings. It was simple. All we had to do was find a grave, dig it up, steal from a dead person, go home, and wash tonight down with a cheap bottle of vodka.
Voila. Problem solved.
Aidan and I crept from one winding trail to the next, his dad’s shovels slung by our necks like soldiers. We used flashlights to search the names on the headstones, speaking in low, cautious voices should one of their residents rise to scold us. The further we walked, the older the graves became, some dating as far back as the 17th century.
“Score, Aid--I think I found one.”
We had traveled all the way to the western edge of the cemetery and down the other side of the hill. Several yards away was a chain-link fence, beyond which lay a short stretch of wooded area, and then the parking lot. Once we had wrapped up our little misadventure, it would save time if we hopped the fence and took the shortcut. Aidan and I were lucky to have such expertise getting in and out of things we shouldn’t.
“Well, hello there, Mr. Luther Dixon...” He’d scored himself a plot with elbow room, and a massive grey headstone with an apathetically dry epitaph. “Lovely to meet you. Tell me, how is the sediment these days?”
“You’re awful, you know that?” Aidan had this boy-next-door charm complimented by utter adorableness. He was in the process of growing out his crew-cut–ash-brown hair a few shades darker than his soft tawny gaze. Taller than me, but only by a hair, Aidan’s frame was more slight than some boys. But his chin, shoulders, and handshake were strong-and that’s really all that mattered.
“Hmm...” I frowned, shining the flashlight between my maroon Doc Martins. This grave was in a perfect location–a discreet area, away from prying eyes, upwind–but it didn’t seem right. Something was off. I jabbed my shovel into the earth, surprised at how easily the dirt gave way. “The ground is funny here.”
Aidan shrugged. “I admit, I’m a little high, so I don’t care. Shall we?”
It took two hours to hit coffin. By the time the grave was cleared, we were caked in the dirt and sweat of triumph. The ground was unbelievably spongy. The more we dug the more trouble I had shaking the feeling that something was off about this particular grave. Regardless, I shoveled pile after pile, until my arms burned and my back was sore and my neck was stiff from looking downward.
"Holy-shit... We did it...” Aidan panted from the effort, wiping his brow as he leaned on his shovel like a dirty old man.
We stood on the edge of a rectangular pit, staring into the hole like the coffin was some dark and terrible gift from the underworld. Normally it wasn’t my nature to steal cookies from the jar and then bite my nails afterward. But this time around things were different. This wasn’t a party we had crashed, it was someone’s final resting place. We were going to hell.
“Well, Luther, make some room, buddy. Aidan, you’re up.” I let the shovel drop, wiping my palms down the sides of my jeans.
But my best friend just stood there with his eyebrows arched, like I had just asked him to take on the candidate program and become an astronaut tomorrow. Aidan blinked. “Wait. You want me to open it?”
“Hell yeah I want you to open it. You lost the ring.”
“But this was your idea. Hey, if you open it, I’ll do dishes for a month--and the toilet too.”
“Deal. Asshole.” I dropped to a crouch, easing my way gingerly over the grave’s edge. The earth was rough velvet between my fingers, crumbling like a moist chocolate cake. I tried not to think so much about the many-legged, squirmy things that were probably crawling inside it. It was easier thinking about jail. Aidan was careful to keep the light steady, guiding my way as I found the coffin’s hinges.
One. Two. Three!
I turned my face to the side, and lifted–holding my breath against the tiny mushroom cloud of micro bacteria I imagined unleashed.
“Oh-h-h-h, shit.” The terrified awe in Aidan’s voice–it was like that time we watched his little sister fall from the tree house and break her leg, only worse. It prompted me to open my eyes and gape, aghast, at the coffin. Our pal Luther already had company...