“Meeting adjourned.” A hollow voice echoed by three empty cracks of a splitting, dry gavel. It’s raw, unfinished just like the man who sealed everyone’s fate. He scratched his scruffy beard with two knobby fingers, twisted like tree limbs, that ended in two yellowed nails, brittle as the world.
He knocked over the whiteboard on the way out, throwing it off the easel. His hands were like the terrain maps down at the visitors center. Bulging ravines, thinly veiled by cheap paper. Only a sour person would take one last kick at something they already killed.
I was the one who lifted the sign off the floor of the courtroom hall, and rested it back against the flimsy addition to the ancient room. The only item on today’s agenda was the highway. From four lanes on each side to eight for miles and miles. Some of those cut over the town’s oldest cemetery, slicing it in thirds. That, and the enormous pile of cash required to build a road, was the only thing that could rile the town enough to drag that awful man out of his house.
Because he had control of the town, the developers were handing him a big chunk of cash. But the road was made of taxpayer dollars on taxpayer land. And dictatorship be damned, the man had to pretend to listen to us. Good American democracy at its finest.
I sat in the last chair in the meeting hall, fingers laced behind my head, watching my aunts and uncles and friend’s parents beg and plead with the devil to not asphalt over their ancestors. If they’d gotten out of the molded room victorious, it would have been proof of some god.
But, of course, Marley is crying in the corner, wondering about what will happen to her dead mother, and we are all entirely alone in the universe, just like I thought.
I’d have been dragged to the meeting one way or another. Somehow, for only having eighteen years of life, my name has become synonymous with the cemetery. I know death, and I feel the dead. I have since I was eight, the first time I ever walked among the headstones, all the way to the back, to my father’s fresh grave. A mother and a brother followed. But they were never really gone.
When I planted two feet in front of a stone, it’s inhabitant materialized beside me. Some tried to speak to me. Messages for lovers left behind, mothers they’d never thanked, and sisters whose hair they pulled. No one believed me when I’d tell them, being a good, little messenger. You laugh at any eight year old and their blabbering. They’re cute.
But every year someone ages, the smarter they must become. Maybe they’re worth listening to. Then, suddenly, everyone in town is pulling you left and right to send and receive messages for the ungrateful, thankless living, and ghosts that really couln’t be bothered.
Lately, only one thing had come through clearly when I stood in the stone covered clearing: The land was theirs. The townspeople had tried to tell the old chancellor that, but why would he listen? Especially to the crazy, young girl who claims to speak to the beyond.
I slipped out the backdoor before anyone could catch me. I couldn’t let the man and his stupid gavel get too far. “Hey! Sour milk!”
He must have know he was disgusting, or, at least, that we thought so, because he turns like I’d said his name.
“Yes, you. I just wanted to ask one thing. A favor after you’ve built this road.” He raised an eyebrow. I was shocked that the man would entertain this. “I want you and I to be the first to drive over the new lanes of highway. However far in the future that is.” He scratched his patchy chin again. I wondered if he had flees.
“And for me?” Nails on a chalk board.
“I will get them all to stop talking about the road. There will be no complaints, delays, protests. When it comes to the cemetery, they listen to me.”
He shrugged. I can tell that his tweed suit is starting to itch in the summer sun. “I’ll take that deal.”
“Something you know how to do, I’m sure. Enjoy your fat stack of cash and peaceful dreams.” For now, I add silently to myself.
The town was silent till sixth months later when the construction crew rolled into town to level the land for the new road. I had to break up the human chain they’d formed at dawn from one end of the cemetery front to the other. The back two-thirds was safe, but it was filled with long forgotten, well rotted corpses. Everyone we knew was about the get wiped from the spiraling verse of history. At least most people got to keep a stupid stone to mark their insignificant speck in the passage of time.
I sent them all home before the hoards of neon vested construction workers revved their diesel engines. The men surveyed the land for hours, forming a plan, before they ever moved their idling vehicles in a trundle towards the marble tombs and modest stones without discrimination.
With the first hit of a bucket, I heard a scream for my ears only. It cut into my eardrums like an icepick. More trucks set into motion, bowling over tens at a time. The commotion got stronger. Single shouts, moans, and childlike yelps. People fighting against dust.
I don’t know why they attacked me, though. I got pounded, bruised, battered. Tossed to the ground with the force of the anger, the hate, the searing pain. Bleeding from the inside out. No one stopped to help me as I twitched on the ground. They probably couldn’t make up their mind about me. A seizure, an episode? Better to leave her be.
Especially because there was a smile playing on my pearly lips. After few seconds, the ghosts had the power to take me off my feet. Wait till the broil was encased in tar, stomped on, and left to build for years like a stewing volcano.
Three years later, it was ready to blow. I’d moved two states away. Formed a life free from haunted small towns where everyone knew my face, plastered with a label I couldn’t escape. But I’d kept my end of the bargain. The chancellor owed me his.
I wore my white, gauzy gown, cut off at my knees and dripping with fabric. Blood red lips and bear feet. His teeth were still yellow, as were his nails and now his skin. He loved his tweed suit, almost as much as his ancient convertible.
He set the car in drive, straight through the bright, red ribbon. My fingers began to tingle, and I looked out the window as he merged closer and closer to the edge of the road till faces appeared, floating through my vision. Crinkled, sad. The older and mellow, but I didn’t doubt what was coming. Pure rage.
Soon, the yells, chants, and jeers got stronger. Like a timpani beat on my insides. Ares’s army clattered up ahead. Pain and Panic. My tools to strike. I let the hum grow to absolute cacophony, till my body shook with the din, and I positively couldn’t wait any longer.
My boney wrist shot out and latched on to his. Flesh hovering over flesh.
And he screamed. The clamor was in him. The knife in his back. The arrow in my chest. The car began to spin like a top, going too fast to regain control with a driver too paralyzed to try.
Around and Around and Around.
Crack. Metal on century’s old oak. Stronger than the world. The cemetery’s crown jewel. The chancellor howled as loud as the spirits. Crackling, broken commotion. More shrill than my mother, who I could feel breathing, just behind my ear, as my chest connected with the dash. Out the window in a flurry of glass. Beautiful in the dawn and dew. A sparkling jewel, tucking and tumbling onto the smooth, ash road. Rag doll. Gravel embedded through my knees and elbows. Black diamonds in meaty flesh.
Brown from red and brown from dirt covered me as I stood, a miracle, on two feather feet. Heel to toe, heel to toe, I walked back down the road, toward the rising sun. White crystals, tinged bloody crimson, fall from my fingers. A sprinkle of salt. The rage, the weight, the anguish, flying to the sky in my wake like steam. Pure smoke. Clean hope.