I couldn’t finish digging her grave.
Everything was sore: hands, legs, and my arms trembling from an adrenaline crash and the damp, rich, heavy soil.
I couldn’t stop crying, and my face was a mass of unpleasant liquids.
I couldn’t stop apologizing either, though she was already gone.
There’d be no cairn, for the land seemed devoid of stones, yet I would not leave her to the scavengers.
You don’t have to stay. The voice in my mind sounded muffled and far away, as if her spirit spoke through a thick veil.
“If I don’t stay,” I replied, “you don’t rest.”
I don’t want to rest.
That piqued my curiosity. “What do you want?”
For us to change places.
“You want me to die?
So I might live.
“You’re the one who got sick on the journey.”
Yes, but you’re the reason. I traveled to look for you.
“To kill me?”
Yes. You shouldn’t have left me.
“You knew I wasn’t staying, Alisyn. You know I couldn’t.”
She said nothing for a while; she lay there, just looking up at me with those sightless eyes. I thought for sure I’d closed them, but I couldn’t honestly remember.
I tried to start covering her again, but the soil was so heavy. I couldn’t lift it to throw dirt on her face, to cover her eyes.
“I could still use my hands.” Scooping some soil, I began walking toward the top of the grave, and stumbled, as if something had pushed me from behind. The dirt flew, landing on her stomach, covering her hands.
Come rest with me.
“I don’t need rest.” I stayed on my knees, my hands resting on my thighs. “I need sleep.”
Come, then, and sleep.
“Not of that kind. You’re dead.”
Because of you.
“Stop saying that!”
She whispered it. Because of you. Come rest with me.
Something tugged at my sleeve. I snatched my arm away and swung at nothing, getting to my feet.
I tried to look away, and when I couldn’t, to walk away. I could do neither.
Rest. Rest, and start again.
“That’s not what you mean. You mean to have me in there with you!”
It’s peaceful here. When you leave, no one else will ever come here. You once said you loved me. Come here, if you do.
“You said you loved me too. If that were true, you wouldn’t ask me to do that.”
But that is why I’m asking. I want you with me forever.
Something shoved me from behind. I turned and wildly struck at nothing again, but the shove knocked me off balance; I was right at the edge of the grave, and reflexes made me lean the other way to regain my balance, which I did just in time.
What a willful man you are. A selfish man. I never knew.
“You did, Alisyn. You did, but you couldn’t accept it. It’s why…why I left.”
And now you’re here. I forgive you.
“I did nothing wrong. I didn’t ask you to come after me .” I was on the very edge of patience.
But you knew I would. You knew, but you couldn’t accept it. You can’t accept it even now.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for sarcasm: “And now you’re here.”
Sitting on the edge of the grave, I dangled my feet inside, over her body; I looked unafraid at the unseeing eyes that looked right through me.
I loved you. I love you still. Come, rest beside me.
I felt hands begin to rub my calves, finger spreading, massaging; as they moved, small wakes of pulsing light outlined them, leaving pieces of soil behind.
If I tried to stand, they would seize me; tears flowed afresh, and I didn’t bother trying to stop them.
“No. I want to live.”
What is life alone?
“Mine, to live as I please.”
Where’s the good in that? What’s the legacy of that?
The unseen hands moved to my shoulder; the ripples of light pulsed a bit slower, and dimmer. I closed my eyes as they spread a pleasant warmth through me.
“I know what you’re trying to do, Alisyn. Stop it.”
She laughed. You stop me.
Another surge of adrenaline came, and I slid back, fighting the languor that turned my bones to lead; I managed to make it to all fours, then fell on my side fighting for breath.
The hands took advantage, and rolled me, with no effort, into the grave to land on top of her.
Panicked, my eyes wide and darting, looking anywhere but into hers, I tried to find a purchase to stand up and climb out, but only managed to wriggle like a worm in the deadly fingers of a ten- year old.
“Alisyn, let me go.”
No, you selfish, willful man; I can’t trade life with you, but for once, I will be selfish and demanding:
You will stay with me.
As my vision darkened, I looked one last time into her face.
Her eyes were closed, and her dirt covered hands slipped into mine.
I couldn’t finish digging her grave.