We planted Jae deep enough so, when the time came, the new him would have no issue crawling out of this temporary burial place. The adults of our town wouldn’t notice his disappearance. Rarely did they pay attention to what we teenagers were up to. If they had, they’d notice we are different now than from when we were first born.
Jae had always insisted he be buried with his other selves when it was time. We always honored his wish and carried him to his backyard. The backyard doubled as his mom’s garden. For as long as I could remember they called his family’s land blessed due to the healing herbs and refreshing fruit that grew abundantly even in wintertime. It’s from this garden my mother received a bundle of lavender. I carried some with me wherever I went because she believed it’d keep me safe.
With Jae’s body, we left all the journals he’d been collecting his memories in. The journals were old with browned pages that often shed when he waved them around. Once, I did the same, but my mother found the journals and made the mistake of giving them to the town elders. In that old church, the elders strung me up as everything burned hot. When it was over, I crawled out scarred earth, and charred meat peeled to reveal my familiar rich brown skin. My mother had no memory of ever sending me to an early grave. She had told me that the church had been burnt down for years.
That church could be seen easily from Jae’s backyard. From anywhere else in town, it was hidden by a thick crowd of trees that bent all nasty and angry-like. In middle school, Jae climbed the church’s roof. Once at the top, he stretched his hand towards the sun. He lost his footing. He fell and broke his arm in three places. But he didn’t cry. He never cried in front of me.
When he broke his arm, I gave him lavender, and said, “It will keep you safe,” Just like my mom did for me. I gave some to Jae two weeks before he died so that when the new Jae sprouted, he’d remember us as we are. Not as we had been.
Izaak and I didn’t know how he died. Milly wouldn’t tell us.
“Should we like pray or something?” Milly shifted from one foot to the other. She sent a glance behind her then stepped closer to the grave. I followed her gaze, seeing nothing but Jae’s empty patio. She held tightly onto the hem of her sweater which was once Jae’s. The sweater was too big on her. Jae always left big holes no one could fill. Not even himself.
I stepped back from the grave just as Izaak spoke, “Did Jae even believe in God?”
“Isn’t that like the only rule in living here?”
I shrugged at Milly’s question. “We have so many rules here. It’s hard to remember them all.”
Izaak placed the last heap of dirt in the pile after letting a fat worm settle itself in the center. “Jae mentioned something about the worms,” he mumbled, offering new further info on what Jae had told him.
I wanted our Jae to come out of the ground, teasing us with a laugh. I wanted our Jae to say, I gotcha didn’t I? But our Jae was dead. He was food for the worms. He was compost for his mom’s garden. A new one would grow out of his leftover skeleton, and we’d have to open his head and stuff him with the memories we could spare.
Memories didn’t make a person. Their hearts did, but Jae said his heart was taken before he knew about the resurrection rules. I imagined his mom mistaking his heart for an odd, shaped strawberry, cutting it up, and adding it to a freshly baked shortcake. Or under a microscope somewhere, surrounded by the town elders as they tried to make sense of a thing they did not have. Or the very first Jae hid it away as a cruel joke.
Izaak grabbed my hand then Milly’s, squeezing until I felt my fingers ache.
Then, quietly, Milly said, “We have to leave now Jae. I’m sorry.”
The sun was starting to bloom. Before the grave was out of sight, I prayed.
Theodore Ebana is a 21-year-old author who favors writing horror and magical realism, and they are currently a junior at Central Connecticut State University.
Header image courtesy of Unsplash.