DEEP DOWN - MARK JOSEPH KIEWLAK
I could hear him throw the last few shovelfuls of dirt on top. I could hear them arguing. They were cursing at each other. There wasn’t much room to move, but there was enough for me to reach down and cover Jenny’s ears. Her head was on my chest. She was crying. The air was getting stale.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Sorry for what?” I said.
“I’m sorry that my parents are bad people,” Jenny said.
“Whatever they are,” I said, “it’s not your fault.”
She lifted her head and I could feel her eyes looking up at me in the darkness.
“They said it was,” she said. “They said everything was my fault. They’re still saying it.”
I clamped my hands harder over her ears. “Don’t listen,” I said.
The argument was getting heated. They were threatening each other now. Without the girl, there was no one left to blame. I heard a shriek. It was going badly up there.
“Do you think they’ll hurt each other?” Jenny said.
“I don’t know,” I said. But I did know. I could feel the tension seep down through the earth.
“She isn’t mine,” her father said. “Deep down, I always she wasn’t.”
Her mother said something I couldn’t hear. She was crying. Jenny was crying. I thought maybe I should say something to distract her. I couldn’t think of anything. Soon it wouldn’t matter.
“Now I found the bastard she belongs to,” her father said. “Now they’ll rot together.” Then something else I couldn't hear. Then the father said, “You lied to me for the last time, bitch.”
There was a gunshot. Jenny startled and banged her head on the lid. I held her to me. We both heard the body drop. There was an anguished cry then another gunshot. Jenny shuddered as the second body fell. She got very still. I started to worry she was going into shock. I shook her a bit. She began to cry. It was a horrible sound but it was better than nothing. The air would go quickly now.
Whatever he dosed me with was wearing off, but too slowly. The cemetery was near a residential development. Someone must have heard the shots. We’d have to wait. And listen.
“My father works here,” Jenny said.
“He told me later it was practice. That’s what he always said.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Whenever I was bad, he’d put me in here and cover me up. Just till I learned my lesson. The one in our backyard isn’t as nice as this one.”
I tried to imagine it, but couldn’t.
“My mother had cancer,” Jenny said.
“That was my fault, too,” Jenny said.
“She was dying,” Jenny said.
“This one was for her.”
Jenny reached up and felt my face. “Don’t leave me,” she said.
“I won’t,” I said. “I won’t leave.”
“We’re in this together,” Jenny said.
“That we are,” I said.
“My parents are dead,” Jenny said.
“Try to stay calm.”
“They’re up there dead,” Jenny said. “Aren’t they?”
I waited and thought about my answer. Jenny was bright. She was strong but she was just a kid. Honesty had worked so far.
“Probably,” I said. “Probably they are.”
“I’m alone,” Jenny said.
“Just hold on to me,” I said. “Help will be here soon.”
“I’m scared,” Jenny said.
“How’d you know my parents were fighting?” Jenny said. “My mom said never to tell.”
“I have a friend who works for Social Services.”
“It’s a place that watches out for children,” I said. “And other people who can’t watch out for themselves.”
“They protect people?” Jenny said.
“They try,” I said.
“Then why didn’t they protect my parents?”
“From who?” I said.
“From each other,” Jenny said.
We were using up the air fast by talking. I tried to breathe as little as I could and talk as slowly as possible.
“My friend was worried about you and your parents,” I said. “That’s why she asked me to check on you.”
“Why did my dad put you in here?” Jenny said. “Were you bad like me?”
“Your father was confused. He thought I was somebody else,” I said. “He gave me a shot that made me sleepy.”
“Why did he do that?”
“I guess he was upset,” I said. “He didn’t think he was your real dad.”
“That’s silly,” Jenny said.
I didn’t say anything.
“I’m sorry they did this to you,” Jenny said.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said.
“My father was going to put my mother in here,” Jenny said.
“He’d never hurt me,” Jenny said. “Deep down, I think he loved me.”
I didn’t say anything.
“This time isn’t practice,” Jenny said. “Is it?”
“It’ll be okay,” I said.
“It’s not okay,” Jenny said. “They’re dead.”
“Try to stay calm,” I said. “And try to stay still.”
We were quiet for a moment.
“Do you think anyone will find us?” Jenny said.
“They’ll find us,” I said.
“I can’t breathe so good,” Jenny said.
“I know. Try not to think about it.”
My arms were cramping up. I stretched them at my sides. I’d need energy soon. I’d need all the energy I had.
“What’s going to happen?” Jenny said.
“Someone’s going to come,” I said. “And when they do, you have to help me.”
“Okay,” Jenny said. “I’ll help.”
We were silent again.
“My father says that,” Jenny said.
“‘Good girl.’ That’s what he calls me.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Do you have kids?” Jenny said.
I felt my chest tighten like it always did. I pushed from my mind whatever needed pushing.
“Yes,” I said.
“What’re their names?” Jenny said.
I told her.
“What’s your name?” Jenny said.
“John,” I said. “My name is John.”
“I’m really scared now, John,” Jenny said.
“Hold on,” I said. “Just a little bit longer.”
We were quiet then and we waited. We were close enough to the gate for them to find us easily. The bodies up above, at least. Jenny and I would have to take care of the rest.
“You shouldn’t have let them put us in here,” Jenny said.
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
Jenny reached up and felt my face again. “It wasn’t your fault,” she said.
I heard sirens in the distance. I tried to stay calm. My own breathing was the loudest sound I had ever heard. My chest was pounding. Jenny rose up and down with each breath. I kept her still.
“I hear sirens,” Jenny said.
“Shhh,” I said. “We have to listen.”
“I’m sleepy,” Jenny said.
“Try to stay awake,” I said. “Just a little bit longer.”
The sirens came closer. I heard car doors slam. Muffled voices. I was half-conscious now. They’d be cautious. Approach slowly. But then they’d call for help for her parents and there’d be a racket. We had to time it just right. Wait for them to get close. My eyes were closed now. It was so easy to sleep.
“Jenny,” I said. “You’ve got to scream now. Make noise. Bang on the lid. Scream as loud as you can.”
“Is someone there?” Jenny said.
“Yes,” I said. “Now scream.”
And she did. I started banging on the lid with both fists and shouting. I kicked against the sides and slammed my knees and elbows as hard as I could. There was lining and cushioning and it was all working against us. Jenny’s scream was earsplitting. I had to concentrate on the sound and get lost in it otherwise it would’ve shattered my eardrums. Finally, she was exhausted. I kept banging and pounding as hard as I could until I couldn’t feel my arms. I was losing consciousness. Jenny had gone still atop me. I felt for her face and put my hand near her mouth. She was still breathing. But there was nothing left to breathe.
I heard the shovels working. I was in and out. I heard shouting. I thought maybe I was dreaming it. I wanted to shake Jenny but my arms wouldn’t move. I heard shovels scratching the lid. The voices were closer now but I was farther away. We swayed a bit then there was cursing. They’d found the nails. At least a dozen. I’d counted them going in. More shouting. Urgent. I was beyond caring. It was all slipping away. Loud squeaking that I could barely register. Prying the nails. Good luck, I thought. Thanks for trying.
Then something tore loose and all the air in the world rushed in. It was like a splash of cold water in the face. I tried to open my eyes but the light was blinding. I shook Jenny. She stirred. I tried to speak but I had no voice. There were others talking and asking me questions that I couldn’t answer. Someone tried to pull Jenny away from me but I wouldn’t let go. I held onto her as I felt them lift us both and place us on something soft. The others kept talking but Jenny’s voice was all I cared about. I felt her hugging me as hard as she could and then letting go. I felt her reach up and touch my face.
“It’s okay, John,” Jenny said. “We’re going to be okay now.”
BIO: Mark Joseph Kiewlak has been a published author for eighteen years. In recent times his work has appeared in more than thirty magazines, including Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thuglit, The Bitter Oleander, Disenthralled, Clean Sheets, and many others. His story, “The Present,” was nominated for the 2010 Spinetingler Award: Best Short Story on the Web. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2).