“Ugh, my mom says I have to be back by six.”
The swing groans underneath my weight, although I don’t believe myself to be heavy. Perhaps it's that thirteen is too old for a kid’s playpark, and the four of us should be somewhere else. Perhaps we should be swearing, blasting rap music dripping with slurs, scribbling inappropriate graffiti onto the zipline and the picnic table in an array of colors. I feel as if my age label – thirteen – does not resemble who I am, who I want to be.
“Same,” I mumble in reply. My friends don’t seem to take any notice of me and Elsey pats Hanna on the back in mock sympathy, but I didn’t really speak that loudly, so I can’t expect much. Hanna continues to give the text alight on her phone a dirty look, as if the numbers may morph and she would be allowed to go home later. It’s 5:46, I gather as I glance over her shoulder and read the figures on the screen, as Hanna sits next to me on the swing to my right. Fourteen minutes.
Casey speaks next. Six words. “We can head back then, too.” Casey’s a copy and paste of Elsey, so I’m actually not sure who says that, and who continues to stand beside Hanna, silently teasing her. The one who says that speaks again, a satisfying twenty words exactly. “I hate the graveyard at night, and of course it has to be right next door to the local park.”
They were right. Stone-brick cottages sat cozy and plump in front of me, smoke billowing casually from chimneys jutting into the cool night air, but I knew all too well what I’d see if I’d just glance behind me. A whole field entirely designated to rotting, dead corpses – I’d never liked the fact that people treated it like a pretty weekend venue. The corpses themselves may not be visible and only represented by a gravestone each, yet it still seemed like madman’s work to me.
I get up, and the swing bounces a little. My three friends exchange an inquisitive look, and Hanna gives a shrug. “Wind,” is the one word she utters to them, and the twins nod in reply.
I tell them I’m going to wait here a minute, and that they can go on without me. That I’m just going to send a message to my mom, as she asked where I was. They’re already at the gate, and Hanna tugs at it. It swings open. They probably didn’t hear me, but it doesn’t matter. I bury my face in my phone screen, fingers dancing jitterily on the keyboard. My mom hadn’t asked where I was, but if I told my friends that I was choosing not to worry her and let her know I was heading back, they’d tease me for being weak, or something.
I finish typing eight words. Just heading home, will be back in ten! The message doesn’t send through immediately, yet I decide to start walking rather than wait, as I might connect to data when I arrive closer to home. I stuff my hands in my pockets and begin to pad dully along my three friend’s line of footsteps. Twenty-four each to get to the gate, twelve on each foot.
I stop on the tenth.
One, two, three seconds pass. Then a scream. Not one in fear, but in deep, crushing sadness. My peripheral tells me that a closely knitted huddle of six huddle around a grave, and the sound of heavy sobs choke my ears. Heavier than how I seemed on the swing.
“Peyton!” is the one word that shapes the wail that comes eleven seconds after the scream. Two seconds after that: “Oh, Peyton, why so young?” Sobs of different pitches drown the rest out. I’m already bolting for the gate, forgetting to count my steps. A different voice, calmer, but still shaky with tears. “Seven months ago. We should be over this.” Bolting still. Now I’m in the graveyard, and I’m approaching the huddle of six. “Over this? We’ll never be over this!” someone snaps back, “How dare you…” I believe the flood of tears that attacks them after saying this is what prevents them from unreasonably choking the person who spoke before.
“Peyton…” that’s the third time I’ve heard it now. It’s angering me, forcing my limbs to twitch. They sound so sad.
“Peyton’s alive,” I announce numbly, but loudly. They, too, seem not to hear me. Frustration takes a grip, and I part the group perfectly in half. Three on my left; three on my right. “Peyton’s alive! Can’t you hear me? Stop crying!” Fifth time I’ve heard it now, twice because of my own vocal cords.
The huddle’s eyes darted in all directions, utter confusion and terror behind them. A misunderstanding, surely, and it’ll all be over. But my gaze falls upon the grave. The name etched in stone in block letters, a silent kill. My two knees buckle and I fall onto the stone, dread causing my vision to flicker like a dying light bulb. It flickers two, four, six – eight times before it goes black. The people around me begin to wail again one second after that. Seventeen seconds and then my hearing goes two, and my head falls with a soft crack against the gravestone.
One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine…
Ten. On ten my consciousness begins to return to me, and my heart flutters about my ribcage. It was all a bad dream, and thank the trillions of particles of being that that was the case. I keep my eyes squeezed shut for a good five minutes exactly. I count each second slowly, on beat to the tapping of my fingertips on my bedframe. I take in the familiar coolness of my room and the strange mix of compression from my weighted duvet. On the three hundredth second – five minutes on the dot – I open my eyes to a solid wall of earth which tumbles into my sockets and squashes the eyeballs in milliseconds. The amount of dirt is uncountable, and I loathe that passionately.
Only after eighteen seconds of no eyeballs do I realise where I am: the murderous darkness – the deathly weight that squashes my abdomen. I try to scream; however, I achieve nothing but a large inhalation thick with dry earth. If I feel – I think – I utter sounds – then how can I possibly be the one… dead?