The girls behind me are screaming, throwing their iced-down sodas at my back. Cubes spatter the back of my head; sticky, sweet liquid splashes in my ear. My hair carries it, wrapping around my face. It tastes sweet like Dr. Pepper, like cherries.
There is no choice but to keep moving forward, keep breathing. To look back would incur more scorn, more ridicule, and that I can’t take. Not from her. Not from Jennifer.
I try not to think of the freckles across her brow, the way her red hair spilled around her face when she was on top of me. Her brown eyes, how she looked at me, how soft she was. Cushioned, not hard like a boy. Not awkward. Just soft. Soft kisses, soft touches.
Is that her yelling at me? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. If it is, I’m blocking it out.
The graveyard gates are cold in my already shaking fingers. The tights and my cheerleader uniform does little to combat the chill of the November air. But that isn’t what makes me tremble. The heat of my shame makes my skin burn. Ice cubes don’t stand a chance.
It takes a couple of hard pulls on the cemetery gate before I realize that they are chained together. I look back, questioning, but I can’t see anything except the headlights and the shadows of the girls, still shouting.
They keep back from the gates. From where they stand, they can’t reach me, can’t touch me. But that is the only way back. Now that I’m on this journey, I have no choice but to move forward.
There is just enough of a gap for me to squeeze through. Thin me, bony me. Girl at the top of the pyramid because she’s the lightest me. Girl most likely to land on her ass when the other girls don’t feel like catching me me. I hate me, my skinny legs, bony knuckles, mousy brown hair.
Highlighted now. Highlighted because mom was so proud. She was so proud that I made the squad. I think it’s the first time she’d spoken to me in a year.
I squeeze my way through the bars and the girls go silent, like now that I’m on the other side they think I’m going to be sucked up into the earth.
I’m nervous about that, too, but not because I’m ignorant like them. Not because I think there’s some sort of reckoning for homosexuality. I’m nervous because this is an old cemetery and wood rots. Because gasses below can cause sinkholes. Because it’s pitch black beyond that copse of trees and I already can’t see shit.
That is Jennifer. I know it’s her and I don’t think she called me bitch. But she’s not stopping them. She sounds scared. I hope she is. Her voice, her betrayal, it sends me deeper into the cemetery, feeling my way along, touching bent and broken gravestones. Hopefully I’m on a path, not walking over anyone’s grave.
She’s screaming now, and I know that means they can’t see me. Good. Because I can’t face Jennifer’s betrayal right now. I can’t see her face and not want to smash it.
Tripping over a thick root, I catch myself, and I’m panting, clinging to an old, scarred tree. I slide my fingers over the strange dips in the trunk, fingers coming up sticky from some deep wound.
I close my eyes and see lightning, feel burning searing from my shoulder straight down to my belly button. I back away, screaming, and trip over another root. I take the fall and lay there, twitching from the strange electrical shock. The air is cool on my breast, too cool, and when I feel for my uniform, my hand comes away with fabric.
Lying there, I finger the wound, but it isn’t deep. It tingles, but it isn’t sore, not the way burns normally sting. I touch my sticky fingers to it and think about the tree, about the lightning strike, how it would rip through its body, the smell of burning wood. Me, I don’t smell anything: no burning flesh, no polyester stench, nothing.
But I hear screaming. Shouts. Wailing. Jennifer, she’s calling my name; she’s rattling the gate, but it’s muffled, like she’s coming from centuries away.
There’s a crack like thunder that’s so powerful it shakes the ground. The trees and bushes whisper of the coming storm, and all I can do is smile.
Above me, I see light. Pure white light in a corona around the tree’s silhouette. It’s twisted and ugly, reaching up to the starry sky with gnarled branches like claws. Like a giant hand, old, true, tested. And all around it is light, bright, blinding. When I close my eyes, the image is still there.
I smell ozone, and my body tenses, ready for the rain. It slices at me like broken glass: sharp and cold, streaking my legs, scratching my face.
And Jennifer, I can’t hear her anymore. Just the echoing peal of her final shriek before there’s the sound of a car speeding off on gravel, leaving me here. Alone.
When I open my eyes again, it’s dark. Something scuttles by my head. Twigs break, but I can’t see what caused it. Between the after burn and the loss of the distant light the lone car afforded, opening my eyes makes little difference.
Even the sky is gone, leaving me with only the wet wood smell and the feel of damp leaves. But the tree, I know she’s there, I know she’s waiting.
I shrug out of the top of my uniform. The chill air prickles my skin, and I shiver as much from the cold as from awe. I let my skirt fall. My panties, my shoes, they all fall away because I don’t need them.
Closing my eyes, I reach out with my hands, fumbling blindly, knowing she’s there and knowing that I will never see her, not with my eyes. But I can taste her, and she tastes like fresh soil, like rain on pavement. She feels like a lone flower growing from the cracks in asphalt. She is strong. I have never been held so tightly, but I can feel nothing. No skin, no lips, no soft breasts on my own.
Yet she is all around me. When I inhale, she is inside of me, growing like moss in my chest, crushing me, filling me. Still I wander forward, feeling nothing but broken twigs beneath my feet and a slow sense of suffocation.
* * * * *
Mary slammed the locker door. “Who cares what happened to her, Jen? She was a pervert watching us all showering. She probably tried to finger us in the pyramid. Gross.”
Mary’s pinched face grew even tighter, stonier.
Jennifer frowned, drawing her fingers lightly over her books. “She was on the top; her hands didn’t go anywhere.”
“Whatever.” Mary spun around, heading down the hallway, her bleached blond pony tail waving like she was saying goodbye.
Looking down, Jennifer swallowed. None of the girls wanted to talk about Anne. She’d just disappeared as far as they were concerned.
Opening her book, Jennifer looked at the love letter that had gotten Anne in trouble. All of their quiet chat, their innuendos, their sleepovers, and Anne had to go and write a fucking letter. Jennifer’s name wasn’t in it, but it didn’t have to be. She knew it was for her, and the other girls on the squad probably knew, too.
But Anne, she was new. They hadn’t grown up with her. She wasn’t part of the tribe. Not really.
Jennifer winced, thinking about the girls yelling at her, forcing her to that old cemetery. What was that going to prove? Grabbing her cross reflexively, she wondered if what the town said was true. Maybe there were Satanists out there sacrificing virgins.
Virgins. Well, Anne wasn’t that. Not really. Jennifer chewed her lip, trying to summon the courage to drive to the cemetery right then. During the day it couldn’t be as scary, could it?
Dave slapped her ass, curling his fingers in to tip her forward. “Come on, gorgeous; you’re going to be late for class.”
She resisted the urge to smack him away. “I don’t think I’m going.”
“Ditching? Awesome. Let’s do it.” He thrust his hips against hers in obvious invitation.
“I’m pretty sure Mary wouldn’t like that.” Jennifer toyed with her hair, playing coy but thinking it might not be a bad idea to have a lineman at her disposal for the search. If she had to suck him off, so be it.
“Probably not. But look, it’s a limited time offer. You want this; you say so now or forever hold your peace.”
She tried not to look as repulsed as she felt. There was a time when an offer like that would have made her cream her panties–not because she wanted him, but because it meant she was accepted. Now being accepted by these people, by these violent aliens, wasn’t so appealing.
Jennifer smiled. “All right. Let’s do it. But on one condition.”
“No anal; I got it.”
“Ew.” She took a breath to control her revulsion. “I want to do it at the old cemetery.”
“Kinky. Let’s go, Morticia.”
* * * * *
I can smell her coming before she’s even in sight. Her lotion, her lipstick, the sharp smell of the cheap powder she uses to keep her face from being shiny.
And behind her, I smell him. Cheap cologne he wears too much of because he thinks it’s cool. Because he thinks it covers the smell of pot. Because he’s young and stupid and has the world laid out before him, ripe with possibilities just because he’s got a dick.
They’re out here together, and the tension rises like the sound of the ocean in my ears. I smell of brine, of earth, and I can taste the leaves and muddy water from where I lay.
When I stand, the air electrifies. Mud runs down my pale legs, cool and soft. I can feel her calling to me before I hear her voice.
He’s behind her, and he isn’t happy. He’s shouting her name, calling her a bitch. He’s chasing her down and shoving her against a tree.
His hand is up her skirt, and she’s wailing, crying no. Crying for me.
My body is electrified; it sizzles and snaps. I see sparks like fireflies out of the corner of my eyes. I feel the surge; it snaps a branch above me and lands right behind him while he’s trying to force down his jeans.
I moan for the tree, for the loss of its limb, but it has given her enough distraction to wriggle away, and she’s running, running, running towards me.
I raise my arms, feeling the wind rustle through my fingers, feeling it catch my hair, and she sees me.
She sees me, and she screams. And recoils.
I can’t speak. I hold my arms out to her, and they sprout branches, leaves, growing like vines, splitting my pale skin.
She screams and screams again, swatting away my limbs even as I engulf her. She’s crying, and I know she’s scared, but she has come for me, and I want her. She doesn’t understand, but she will.
I crush her against my breast, harder and harder until she can’t breathe, until the screaming has ended. My chest splits open, cracking like the sound of wood breaking. Her bones grind, muscles and sinews snap. Her blood, bright blood, courses from her mouth, down the long line of her body.
And I swallow her. I take her in. It is ecstasy.
It leaves just him.
We are very angry with him.
He’s pulled up his pants, and he’s shouting. Red face, steroid pimples, buzz cut. He’s calling us a bitch. He’s swearing he’ll just leave us. Leave us here to rot, to die.
We laugh, and it forces the birds from the trees. Animals scamper. But he, dumber animal that he is, doesn’t notice, doesn’t understand.
We…we are united. We are one. I feel her in here with me, her body against mine, her spirit now complete. And she is happy. We are happy.
We watch him, and he is back in the graveyard, kicking over stones, waiting like he thinks he’s the predator. His fists are balled up, teeth grinding; it’s all so funny that we laugh. We laugh and the ground shakes, and he realizes his fear.
He drops to the ground, holding it tightly. We feel him like he’s on our breast, like he could hear our heart. We let him rest. We feel his pulse race, his body curl up like he’s a baby.
And we think of him. We think of his hot breath on our face. We think of the things he called us as he tried to pull out his little worm to violate us.
The anger cuts us, and we feel the crackle. We feel the burn. It singes our lungs.
We walk out to him, our legs heavy, stiff. Our skin is growing knobby, hard in chunks like bark, and I can feel the cycle is coming to a close. We are together; what more could we want?
But still we move on, each step hard and loud.
He lays there, staring in shock. We are a yard from him when he starts to scramble, but we are deep when we plant ourselves in. We shoot down through the earth, finding hard wood caskets, soft mouldered bodies. We leach the moisture, wick it away so it helps us move, makes us more flexible.
And then up. Up, up, up through the dirt and we feel the soft flesh. So fragile and bursting with warmth and life.
He screams, and our root goes through him, piercing him through the back and up through his heart in a satisfying spray of blood, bright blood. Then more. More roots, more tangled tentacles. We web him in, roots growing shoots as his blood feeds us. His marrow excites us. We pull him down into the earth, down deep below us.
And we feed.