Shovel Talk—C. C. Rayne

Charlotte was always going to kill us. Summer had barely begun when she went to her parents and asked them for money to buy bouquets of flowers.

It’s for the graveyard, she chirped. I’m going to decorate. It’s an act of kindness! It could even count towards my community service hours.

Her parents’ hearts melted. Whose wouldn’t? Unsurprisingly, they gave her the money. And unsurprisingly, the money didn’t go towards flowers. Instead, it went towards three steel spades and two pairs of rubber gardening gloves.

Charlotte smiled at the grocery-store clerk as he bagged her purchases. It was the same fake smile she’d used on her parents – the same smile she’d worn when she came to my house that morning and said Tori, I need your help. All teeth and no eyes, that was the way she smiled. Like a sweet little kid; like a cruel crocodile.

That final day, Max and I biked down the road at Charlotte’s side. We exchanged murderous looks over her head whenever we could. Max was Charlotte’s best friend. I was Charlotte’s other best friend, a point of sore contention. The slot was a coveted one. Neither he nor I could endure competitors. We lived in a tense state of truce at all times.

Charlotte glided idly along, not bothering to look at either of us. She held a small red notebook open on her bike’s handlebars. She flipped through its pages as cars streaked past, faster and brighter than shooting stars.

Words were scrawled all over the notebook’s pages in dark, oily ink. The more I stole glances, the more the letters seemed to be moving – I told myself it was a trick of the eye, or the hypnotic blur of the early-morning headlights.

It was easy to deny the truth, if it was for Charlotte. It was easy to wave away the warning signs, to downplay the casual cruelty she showed us both. After all, the rewards were worth it. Though I never studied, my grades were only improving. Max was somehow scoring dozens more goals in his basketball practices. Both of us were treated better at school, no longer mocked in class or bullied at recess.

Even the upperclassmen parted to make way for us in the hallways. I could hear the thoughts that bounced in their brains as we walked by. Look, there they go! Those are Charlotte’s friends, Charlotte’s very best friends. She’s chosen them for something. 

We pulled into the graveyard, a small collection of stones behind the high school. The sun shone strong in the sky, white-bright and relentless. Sweat trickled down my spine. Beer cans littered the gravel, the sins of a hundred stupid kids beneath the eyes of mausoleum angels.

Charlotte parked her bike politely at the gates. With a flick of her wrist, she invited us inside. Max and I padded behind her, frowning at each other, jostling for space. Charlotte’s coat swished softly around her ankles as she walked. She always seemed cold, even though it was the start of June.

You’re her second choice, Max whispered jealously.

No, you’re the spare, I snapped back. You’ll always be the spare.

Oh, go to hell.

I’m the one she needs, not you!

Keep telling yourself that.

Quiet, Charlotte said. I need you both.

And we fell quiet, silent as the nearby graves. I couldn’t tell if the lull was real or if she’d done something to us. Something unnatural.

But did it matter, really?

If Charlotte said jump, we’d bounce to the moon.

We stopped at the back of the graveyard. It was an empty stretch of land, dead grass without a single sign of headstones. Charlotte knelt and pressed her hands to the ground, her eyes closed. The hem of her coat dragged in the mud. I felt an irresistible urge to clean it, to protect her from any harm or pain or blemish. Beside me, Max’s fingers twitched with the same impulse.

Here’s where you dig, Charlotte said, and walked away.

There was no need to question what she meant. We put on our gloves and quickly set to work.

Six feet isn’t hard to unearth – not when the center of your world is watching, her eyes cruel and bright like dying stars. Max and I sweated and strove as the hours slipped by and the sun fell low. We tossed soil into one another’s faces, fighting desperately for Charlotte’s love, for her attention.

As evening arrived, I uncovered the first coffin. Max unearthed the second one a few minutes later. The boxes lay side by side, inches apart. Their lids were warped wood planks, rotten and moldy. The hinges were easy to break.

We shoved the lids to one side and looked up at Charlotte. She stood at the edge of the new hole, the inky notebook open in her hands. Dead red evening light bled through the sky. Charlotte’s smile seemed real, for the very first time. Deep void-pools of living darkness swam in her eyes.

Climb in, she said. This is an act of kindness.

Without a word, Max and I obeyed. We lay on our backs in our coffins, our arms at our sides. We listened dutifully as Charlotte recited strange, supernatural spells. We stayed quiet as she put down the book, picked up the spade, and shoveled dirt into our grave.  

Perhaps Charlotte was raising a spirit, or starting a war, or prolonging her life. We’d never know. We didn’t need to know. It was enough to be special – her subjects, her sacrifices, the objects of her attention for those last few precious hours. If they ever found our bodies, they’d put up headstones that didn’t need our names. These were Charlotte’s friends. Charlotte’s very best friends. She chose them once, and that is all that matters.

C. C. Rayne is a writer, actor, and musician based on the East Coast of the USA. A lover of all things weird and discontented, C.C.’s work seeks to blend the magical with the mundane. You can find more of C.C.’s work (current and upcoming) in Grim & GildedWyldblood Press, Sublunary Review, Tales from the Moonlit Path, Soft Star Magazine, Eye to the Telescope, and Word West Revue.

photo by Rusty Watson (via unsplash)