by Ron Riekki
Everyone wanted to bury me because of my name. They said you don’t bury a Sarah. You don’t bury a Ken. You want to bury a Doug. They also told me I was the only one insane enough to do it. I didn’t like that term—insane. I had a family member institutionalized and it didn’t feel right, to label someone with something so harsh. One man’s sanity is another person’s insanity. It’s all relative.
I’m telling you this all in pitch black. My brother and all of his Muay Thai kickboxing buddies will be digging me up in a few moments. They told me that when I saw sky again, cheerleaders would circle it. They said Kate would be there. It’s no secret that I’d marry her in a heartbeat.
My heartbeat right now, I’m noticing, is fast. I think it’s the lack of air. My heart’s trying to pump the blood through my body as fast as it can, to perfuse. The body has to do this when oxygen-deprived. My brother said this would only be seconds though, and the coffin, according to him, held at least twenty minutes of air. He told me that I could hold my breath for up to a minute in the community pool, and he’d have me dug up and out in less time than that. The girls had called and said they were less than a few minutes from the cemetery.
A few minutes had already passed.
The worst part was the dust. I felt like I was breathing beach.
My brother said that if you want to attract girls, you have to give them some emotions during the date. He said that studies have actually proven that girls who go on dates and feel nothing over the course of the night are 90% less likely to go on another date. But the same study claimed that girls who report feeling any emotion—even negative emotions—quadruple their likelihood of a second date. The study showed that horror movies in particular were effective because the girls had multiple moments of emotional reaction and equated the boy as the person who “saved them” and “helped them” get through the traumas seen in the film.
He said that once Kate realized I wasn’t a corpse, she’d be all over me.
It seemed worth a try. Kate hadn’t seemed to realize I was alive, so I thought I’d have her at least realize I wasn’t dead.
My brother, though, wasn’t particularly trustworthy.
I could feel it in my lungs, the dizzying feel of lack of oxygen. I should have taken a cell phone with me, but they seemed worried their phones could get broken in the process.
The signal probably wouldn’t work anyway.
I figured I’d hear them before anything.
I heard my leg move.
I heard my breathing.
I heard that before you suffocate to death, you fall asleep. You plummet asleep. You nosedive into the deepest sleep you can possibly sleep. That didn’t scare me. That felt reassuring.
I listened for my brother’s voice.
He talked me into doing a witchcraft ritual once. There was an argument that it wasn’t witchcraft, that it was Satanic. A further argument that it wasn’t either, that it was just fairy tales. Another argument about how much they were sick of arguing. (My brother hangs around with a bunch of boys who believe all of the lies of masculinity. It’s all cheap shots and alcoholism and flunking grades. The view is almost as if being male means failing. One of them got put in jail for a weekend and he bragged like he’d just gotten married. Some people want to wed the court system.) The ritual failed. The circles dug in the ground got stomped out. The rhymes faded into the night, husbands to nothing. We put the candles back in the garage, near the spare gas tank. We slept. The next day my brother said that the ritual wasn’t completed though. There was more to do. I told him good luck with gathering everybody like that again. There’s a reason why covens rarely exist. Who can get thirteen people to do anything these days?
The silence meant cyanosis. Even the air had turned blue-black. Darkness is day not being able to breathe.
And heard, faintly, what I swore could only be digging. It was faint.
And I thought I would faint. Faint seemed to be the most important word of the moment. Night had succumbed to faint.
I tried to close my eyes, but I realized they were already closed. The darkness was so thick that nothing could change it. It would eat through a flashlight. It would destroy a lamp. The darkness of coffins is made for the dead. I should have been above all of this, looking down at the slowly revealing coffin, Kate at my side.
I didn’t have the strength to move my arms anymore. I just lay there, waiting, listening, relieved that the sounds came closer.
The muffled digging.
I listened so intently that I wondered if my imagination created the sounds.
But they were nearing. My imagination wasn’t good enough to do that.
I expected laughter woven in. None existed.
My whole inner compass seemed thrown off. I couldn’t tell up from down. Except I knew this: I was buried face up. They buried me so that I saw the sky before they closed the lid. There wasn’t enough room for me to turn around. So I was definitely looking up. Except the sound seemed to come from below.
I’m sure the tricks of acoustics created the audio illusion. Without sight, your hearing supposedly intensifies, but perhaps it also distorts.
My world was digging. Or, more correctly, being dug. Nothing else could be done but listening to the shovels, wondering if they might go right by me, miss me. Were they even more drunk by now?
But the sound seemed to go straight to the heart of the coffin. Definitely from below. The earth was being torn. Something wanted me now. The coffin quaked a bit from the nearest of the . . . shovels?
The world underneath lightened.
There seemed a hint of heat below my back.
The madness of the feeling that I could sink down forever, for a million miles, into a nothingness we never knew even existed just below our feet.
Ron Riekki’s books include U.P. and The Way North (selected by the Library of Michigan as a 2014 Michigan Notable Book). He has books upcoming with Arbutus Press, Finishing Line Press, and Michigan State University Press. He also hopes one day he can be a full-time writer, but he’s not holding his breath. Doug is.