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Episode 63 is part of the Spring 2018 issue!

Support GlitterShip by picking up your copy here: http://www.glittership.com/buy/

 

 

GRAVEDIGGING

by Sarah Goldman

 

When I woke up, I noticed first that Clarissa was there, because she was always the first thing I noticed.

I noticed three things immediately after that: it was dark, I could feel dirt under my fingers, and my mouth tasted disgusting, like charcoal and rubbing alcohol and cotton.

“What the fuck?” is what I tried to say, except I don’t think the words came out quite right. I started coughing and I couldn’t stop.

“Just give it a second,” Clarissa said, rubbing my back. I got a good look at her once the coughing subsided and my eyes stopped watering, and she looked like she’d been run over by a truck a few times: dark circles, greasy hair, unwashed skin. Clarissa always tried to look as put together as people expected her to be. I’d seen her look this messed up once or twice before, and it never meant anything good.

 

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 63! This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a reprint of “Gravedigging” by Sarah Goldman.

This story is part of the (late) Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. If you’re a Patreon supporter, you should have access to this issue waiting for you when you log in. We also have GlitterShip Year Two available in both ebook and paperback formats to add to your queer science fiction collection.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep.

If you’re looking for an excellent queer book to listen to, check out Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. This book has a ton of cool concepts and really intriguing characters. If you’re a fan of patent-fighting drug pirates or AI characters working out their identities, this is the book for you.

To download Autonomous for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership — or choose another book if you’re in the mood for something else.

 


 

Sarah Goldman grew up near Kansas City and studied sociology at Bryn Mawr College. She is a First Reader at Strange Horizons, and her short fiction has appeared in Cicada and Escape Pod. You can find her online at sarahmgoldman.com, or on Twitter @sarahwhowrites.

“Gravedigging” is narrated by A.J. Fitzwater.

A.J. Fitzwater is a dragon wearing a human meat suit from Christchurch, New Zealand. A graduate of Clarion 2014, she’s had stories published in Shimmer Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and in Paper Road Press’s At The Edge anthology. She also has stories coming soon at Kaleidotrope and PodCastle. As a narrator, her voice has been heard across the Escape Artists Network, on Redstone SF, and Interzone. She tweets under her penname as @AJFitzwater.

 


 

 

GRAVEDIGGING

by Sarah Goldman

 

When I woke up, I noticed first that Clarissa was there, because she was always the first thing I noticed.

I noticed three things immediately after that: it was dark, I could feel dirt under my fingers, and my mouth tasted disgusting, like charcoal and rubbing alcohol and cotton.

“What the fuck?” is what I tried to say, except I don’t think the words came out quite right. I started coughing and I couldn’t stop.

“Just give it a second,” Clarissa said, rubbing my back. I got a good look at her once the coughing subsided and my eyes stopped watering, and she looked like she’d been run over by a truck a few times: dark circles, greasy hair, unwashed skin. Clarissa always tried to look as put together as people expected her to be. I’d seen her look this messed up once or twice before, and it never meant anything good.

“Are you okay?” I asked. I had a little more luck with pronunciation this time. “You look kind of like death warmed over. No offense.”

Clarissa started to laugh, loud and wild enough that it was more scary than comforting. When she stopped, I only had time to open my mouth to ask a question before her eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped over next to me in the dirt.

We were lying on dirt. It was dark. I looked up, and up, and up, and when I saw the edges of the hole we were in, I understood what Clarissa had done.

I clambered up the sides of the grave to get a good look at the headstone. I knew what it would say, but I had to see it.

It told me that May Tenenbaum had died at nineteen years old. If I’d lived another three weeks, I would have been twenty.

I sat back down next to Clarissa, passed out in my grave in the wedge of space she’d carved out next to my coffin. A crowbar lay beside us, where she’d used it to pry off the lid, next to the pile of small stones she’d brought for the spell.

I looked down at my fingernails, which were neat and manicured like they’d never been while I was alive, and I wondered if I should try to wake Clarissa up.

I’d seen her do this before, after she overexerted herself on a spell, and she’d always been all right afterwards. Her pulse, when I checked, was steady, so I stole her phone out of her pocket instead. The last day I remembered had been the fifth of June. My tombstone told me I’d died on the sixth. Today was the seventeenth. I must have been buried for at least a week or so, then. I know my father would’ve wanted me buried quickly, a Jewish funeral.

A good thing, too. No embalming fluid for Clarissa to deal with.

Performing necromancy on humans was a felony, and it was horrendously, skin-crawlingly terrifying besides. The idea had made me queasy when it happened in books or movies, when TV pundits went on rants. But from this side of things, it wasn’t so bad. My hands were distressingly pale when I looked at them, and my head was in bad shape, but when I checked my face in Clarissa’s phone camera, I honestly looked okay. Like I’d been at a fancy party, had too much champagne, fell down in the dirt outside. Messed up, but not a zombie.

I didn’t feel dead at all.

What I should feel was furious. I should be demanding that Clarissa take it back. But I wasn’t betrayed that someone I loved would do such an awful thing, like the girl in that modern day Frankenstein blockbuster we’d seen last month. I wasn’t thinking about the greater good. I was selfishly and vainly glad, because the girl I would do anything for had done this for me. I’d seen the faces Clarissa made during that stupid movie, and yet: here we both were. Her passed out in a grave she must have spent all night digging up, and me alive when I should be dead.

I ran my fingers through her hair, and after fourteen minutes by the clock on her phone, Clarissa woke up.

She stared at me, and then she sat up too fast and almost fell right back down afterwards. I grabbed her shoulders to steady her.

“It worked,” she said, watching me with wide eyes.

“It did,” I said. “You still look terrible.”

“Shut up,” she said automatically, with no heat behind it. She put her hands against the sides of my face. I wondered, distantly, if my cheeks felt cold, or if my blood had already started to warm them up again.

Very suddenly, Clarissa yanked me into a hug, almost overbalancing the both of us. I hugged her back, and politely ignored the fact that she was crying into the shoulder of my nice dress.

“I’m okay,” I said, because Clarissa probably needed to hear it. “If anyone isn’t okay, I think it’s probably you. Were you supposed to pass out?”

Clarissa snorted, and then shrugged without removing her face from the crook of my neck. “Occupational hazard,” she said, muffled into my shoulder. After a moment, she raised her face, eyes puffy and red. “It happens sometimes, with larger—with anything more substantial.” She’d probably been about to say ‘animals.’ I guess she didn’t think I’d find the comparison flattering. I felt a little sick.

Clarissa wiped her face on her sleeve and shook out her hair, visibly trying to pull herself together. “We need to get out of here. The sun is supposed to rise in—” she fumbled for her phone before I handed it back to her, “—about ten minutes.”

I immediately felt better. Following Clarissa’s plans was something I was used to. Together, we gathered up her things and climbed out of my grave, using her shovel to push the soil back as best we could, and we walked out of the cemetery together, the sun rising at our backs.

 

Clarissa had always known how to make loud and spectacular mistakes.

Even as a kid, she made spellwork look easy. When we were ten, I watched her bring back our class’s pet guinea pig. We all huddled around Clarissa, crouched in the dirt. She held a chunk of gravel in her hands and closed her eyes for a moment, and we were all sure that she was faking, that nothing would happen.

Then the guinea pig got up, and we had to race to catch it.

Afterwards, the other kids ran to show our teacher. I stayed behind with Clarissa. She was on her back, staring up at the sky, tossing the piece of playground gravel that tethered the guinea pig’s life up and down in her hand.

“That was amazing,” I told her.

She shrugged, and coughed. “I missed him. What else was I supposed to do?” Then she looked at me and grinned, smile so bright I could feel it in my own stomach. “It was cool, wasn’t it?”

Clarissa wore that little piece of playground gravel she’d used for the spell on a chain around her wrist, humming with warmth for as long as that guinea pig was still alive. She kept adding to the chain, too, doing stupid things like bringing back songbirds in the park, using chunks of gemstones she kept in her pockets to store their life. They all went out, eventually—necromancy wasn’t a ticket to eternal life—but she did it often enough that there was always something warm on her bracelet, always a little piece of life hanging around her wrist.

When we were nineteen, nine years after she brought that guinea pig back to life and two weeks before I woke up with her in my grave, Clarissa asked me to go with her to a protest.

Necromancy unsettled people, but it wasn’t really as uncommon as everyone thought it was. Clarissa had explained it to me once. It was just healing, in the end, and there were plenty of people who could do that. Except putting enough force behind the spell to draw someone back from death required more ability than almost anyone had.

Back when she was ten, people laughed, and told her that soon, she would know better than to do frivolous things like resurrect dead class pets. Telling Clarissa she couldn’t do something was never a good idea; I could have told them that. When we got older, no one thought it was cute anymore. She scared people. Historically, necromancers didn’t turn out well, if you looked at Rasputin or van Hohenheim or Countess Bathory. Healers were dicey enough, if you asked the kind of people who campaigned against them working in hospitals or making vaccines.

The day I died, I was with Clarissa at a protest against a local bill that would prevent the teaching of magic in schools. I wasn’t really into politics, honestly, but Clarissa was spitting mad.

“What do they think is going to happen?” she’d said, pacing back in forth in my apartment kitchen. “Magic is so dangerous, right? Well, if they don’t teach kids anything then of course they’re going to screw up, of course there’s going to be accidents—you know my cousin, the one who can light fires? Can you imagine if he had no formal training?”

I sat at the kitchen table and nodded.

“There’s a protest on 39th and Blackwood tomorrow night. Think of it as an early birthday present for me?” She didn’t have to ask me if I would go with her, and I didn’t have to tell her that I was coming. It was understood. That was who I was: I did what Clarissa asked.

My dad didn’t want me to go, but I was nineteen, so I didn’t have to sneak out my window, the way I always used to whenever Clarissa had a bad idea.

“Be careful, May,” was all my father said as I left, right after I gave him instructions on reheating his dinner.

And once we got there, I was careful, up until some asshole from the other side of the picket pushed Clarissa, and she pushed him back, teeth bared. Then, suddenly I wasn’t anymore.

Clarissa was dangerous when she got mad, and she shrugged me off when I tried to drag her back. She started yelling at the man who’d pushed her, and there were people all around us, and Clarissa wasn’t listening to anything that I was saying in her ear.

“I know you,” the man said to Clarissa. That wasn’t very surprising; most people around here knew about Clarissa. He pushed her a second time, harder, and she would have fallen if I wasn’t in her way.

“Clarissa, leave it.” I steadied the both of us and rubbed at the bruises forming on my arm where she’d run into me.

She ignored me. “You got something to say?” she asked the man.

He didn’t. What he did have was a mean right hook but terrible aim, and what I had was no self-preservation: I shoved my way in front of Clarissa, and I went down hard.

He was a bit like Clarissa, I think—he didn’t know when to stop. The last thing I remember was his boot in my face, and a sudden, terrible fear that he was going to break my nose.

Touching it now, I didn’t think he did. I could feel the place in the back of my skull, under my hair, where he’d got me instead.

 

We got some odd looks at the diner Clarissa took us to. That made sense—we both had dirt in our hair and smudged on our faces, and beyond that we didn’t look much like we belonged together. I was wearing what I thought of as my synagogue dress, complete with pearls around my neck, but also a beanie I’d pulled from Clarissa’s bag. Clarissa was dressed like she expected to be going grave-digging, in baggy jeans and boots, her hair pulled back into a bun. She still looked like she might pass out at any moment. It was obvious she’d been crying.

It was six in the morning at a twenty-four hour diner, though, so mostly everyone just ignored us.

Clarissa ordered coffee and eggs. I ordered tea, matzah ball soup, and a slice of banana cream pie. Even exhausted, Clarissa raised an eyebrow at me. I ignored her. We had more important things to worry about.

“Clarissa, what the hell are we going to do? I can’t exactly go home.” If my dad had any sense, which I happened to know that he did, he would call the cops in two seconds. Clarissa’s family would certainly do the same. We didn’t have anywhere to go.

An awful feeling crept into my stomach. There was no way this was going to work.

When my food came, the soup gave me pause: matzah ball soup was my dad’s favorite. But I couldn’t go home. I would never make it for him again.

When I looked up, Clarissa was watching me. “It’s better when you make it, right?” she asked.

I laughed and went back to eating. Clarissa picked at her eggs, and I ended up finishing half of them for her.

“Do we have somewhere to sleep, at least?” I asked. Clarissa looked like she was about to fall over again.

“I’m fine,” she said, swaying a bit, which was so very her that I couldn’t help but smile.

“Of course you are. I could use a nap, though.”

She sighed. “Alright. There’s a motel nearby. We can rest there and then we can do whatever you want.”

“Me?” I’m not exactly the planning type.

“What, there’s nothing you want to do? No last requests?”

I stared at my hands, clutched tight around my tea. I didn’t want to get caught, or for Clarissa to go to jail, or to never see my father again.

I wanted things to go back to the way they had always been. I wanted to be alive again, and what Clarissa had done was close to that. But not quite.

“I just want to spend time with you,” was what I settled on.

She put her hands over mine, and tilted her head until I had to look her in the eyes. “Okay,” she said, reassuring, like she’d heard all the things I hadn’t said. “It’s gonna be fine, May.” Her voice was certain and steady like the stones wrapped around her wrist, and just then, I believed her.

 

Clarissa took the first shower, and was out like a light the minute her head hit the pillow. I grinned, and wasn’t even bothered when I discovered that she’d used up all the hot water. At least that was normal.

After I dried my hair, I lay back on the other bed, not particularly tired. I couldn’t help but think that if I fell asleep, the spell would snap, like a wire drawn too taut, and I’d never wake up again. That wasn’t how this worked: anything Clarissa brought back would live out its natural lifespan. That guinea pig had lived to a very respectable age. I still couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes.

So I sat cross-legged on the scratchy motel comforter and turned on the news, volume off and closed captioning on. Clarissa slept like a log once she was out, but if she woke up she’d probably refuse to sleep again.

I knew what I was going to see on the TV screen, but I still couldn’t help but wince, seeing my grainy prom photo on display.

Somebody had noticed that the dirt on my grave wasn’t quite how they’d left it, or that Clarissa had broken the lock on the gate, or maybe they’d just checked the damn CCTV, and so of course it was all over the news. Necromancy scandals were rare, because most necromancers didn’t have enough power to do what Clarissa had done, and all the ones that did had enough sense not to.

I flipped through the channels for a while. There was coverage about the protest where I’d died, suddenly relevant again two weeks later. The police were looking for us, of course. There wasn’t any doubt in anybody’s mind what had happened—Clarissa was locally well known.

We were on the national news, too. I watched Megyn Kelly’s mouth move silently as the subtitles talked about how this was just another example of the need for greater laws monitoring necromancers—scratch that, all magic. I turned the TV off before she could start talking about Jesus and I put my head in my hands.

After a while, Clarissa sat down beside me on the bed and put her hand on my back. She was very warm. Her hand was shaking a little, and I wondered if she was crying. I wanted to turn and hug her, bury my face in her neck, tell her what a goddamn idiot she was being.

Still, I couldn’t help but treasure the thought that she was doing all these stupid, ridiculous things for me, just like I’d always wanted her to.

“May?” she asked, hesitantly, when I didn’t move. “Is everything okay?”

I looked up at her and smiled as brightly as I could. “Of course,” I said, as if the answer was obvious. She wasn’t crying like I’d thought. Her hands just weren’t very steady. “Let’s go. We really shouldn’t stay here, Clarissa.”

Clarissa stood. I helped her pack up our stuff. Her stuff, mostly. Everything fit into a single backpack, which I shouldered, glaring at Clarissa when she tried to take it. I followed her out the door.

 

We checked out of the motel, but we didn’t make it to the train station, although it was only a few blocks away. There were two problems: people kept looking at us, speculatively, as if they were sure they’d seen our faces somewhere, and after about five minutes of walking Clarissa nearly collapsed, because between one step and the next it seemed that her legs couldn’t hold her.

I grabbed her just before she went down, so we both stumbled but didn’t quite fall.

“Clarissa?” I tried to get my arm under hers so that I could hold her up.

“I’m fine,” she said, and it was less endearing this time around.

“No, you’re not.” I dragged her into the nearest store, an ice cream shop. I dumped Clarissa in a booth in the corner, grabbed her wallet out of her pocket, and went to buy something, both because it would look suspicious not to, and also because we could probably use it.

When the girl at the counter handed me my cup of ice cream, she also handed me a wad of napkins. “For your friend,” she said, sympathetic.

I looked back at Clarissa, confused. She had her fingers pressed above her mouth, and her nose was bleeding. I winced.

“There’s a free clinic a couple blocks over,” the girl at the counter offered. “I think they have a few healers around at this time of day.”

I thanked her, and took the ice cream and napkins back to the table. I handed Clarissa the napkins and sat down across from her as she pressed them to her face where her fingers had been.

“Thanks,” she said, a little bit muffled.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on now?”

She closed her eyes and tipped her head back against the vinyl seat, napkins still pressed to her nose. “It’s just a reaction to the spell,” she said. “I’ll be okay in a little while.”

“A reaction is you sick with a cold for a week,” I said, a little harsher than I intended. Clarissa opened her eyes. “This is different. I’m not stupid. It’s never been this bad before.”

“Well, why do you think that is, May?” Clarissa snapped. “I’ve never done something like this before. I knew this might happen, so don’t worry about it, okay? I have it under control.”

A thin stream of blood was leaking out from under the napkins. I grabbed another one off the table and leaned in to wipe it off for her. “Clearly,” I said, and she glared at me.

“You’re going back to bed,” I decided, and Clarissa sat forward so fast she probably made her nosebleed worse.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “You were right. We have to leave.”

I looked at her, sitting across the table and trembling. I didn’t think she noticed she was doing it. I wanted to reach out to her and hold her. “We can stay for another night,” I said. “There’s something I need to get before we go, anyway. I can sneak into my apartment and grab it tonight, and you can rest, and we can leave in the morning. Okay?”

She nodded, and didn’t even ask what it was I needed so badly. It felt like there was a stone sinking in my gut. Clarissa was always asking questions, demanding answers.

I wasn’t used to being the one who had to protect her and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I took her arm and led her out of the shop, so we could find another place to stay for the night, and Clarissa let herself be led.

 

I left Clarissa at the new motel and I walked home. The apartment wasn’t far, but it was hot, and I was still wearing Clarissa’s beanie and my velvet dress.

When I got there, I went up the fire escape and climbed in my window, like I’d done so many times when I was younger. I hadn’t seen my dad’s car in the lot, and it was the middle of the day, so I had to hope that he wasn’t home.

My bedroom hadn’t been touched. I grabbed some clothes and some money, shoving them into my backpack, and I didn’t let myself spend too much time looking around.

I’d left the book that I’d come for on the bookcase in the living room, although I had no way of knowing if it was still there. It was supposed to be my birthday present for Clarissa. She was always complaining about the lack of materials on necromancy, because almost all of them were rare or illegal or both, so I’d stalked eBay for a few months to get an old book for her. I didn’t understand half of the information in it, but surely there was something in there that could help her. I had to at least look.

When I walked into the living room, I heard a crash from the kitchen before I’d taken two steps. For a moment I thought my heart had stopped again, but it kept beating, much faster and louder than I liked. I pressed back against the wall the living room shared with the kitchen and prayed that whoever was home didn’t walk in here.

God, I shouldn’t have come. Of all the stupid things I’d ever done for Clarissa, the one she didn’t even ask for was what was finally going to screw us over.

There was another clang from the kitchen. This one was the telltale sound of my father knocking over a pan while he was cooking. By reflex, I almost offered to help him, but I clamped my hand over my mouth and kept quiet. I shouldn’t have bothered. I knew exactly what was going to happen next: my dad would curse, and throw the pan in the sink, and go to find a hand towel from the linen closet. Which was in the living room, of course, where I stood.

I tried to step back into my bedroom before my father walked in, but there wasn’t any time. I dropped my hand and bit my lip and desperately tried to think of what in the world I was going to tell him.

The moment my father caught sight of me, I knew. The change in his face was immediate.

I wanted to speak first, head off whatever he was going to say, but the words stuck in my throat like dirt. I choked and I said nothing.

It felt like I’d been here before, and it took me a moment to realize why. My frozen feet and the sick feeling in my stomach and the words trapped in my throat, the thought that if I moved or spoke or did anything that he would hate me—I had done this before. I’d been thirteen when I’d come out. But back then, I’d known, deep down, that he wouldn’t care. This time I knew that he would.

“So it’s true,” he said. He folded and unfolded his arms, uncomfortable as I’d ever seen him.

I wondered if he would stop me if I tried to leave. I couldn’t make my legs move. “Dad.”

He took off his glasses and rubbed at his nose, and I closed my eyes against the tears fighting to escape.

I didn’t think I’d ever see him do that again.

When I was thirteen, my father had opened his arms wide and hugged me, letting me hide my face in his chest. Now we stood apart, the few feet between us impassable.

There was nothing stopping me from stepping forward and closing the gap.

But I couldn’t do it. If I did, he might step back.

“I knew that girl was trouble,” he said, looking not quite at me but at the space above my left shoulder. It was a trick he’d taught me for public speaking, a long time ago.

I looked him in the eyes. “She’s not,” I said, and at least this conversation was familiar. We’d spoken this way about Clarissa hundreds of times.

It’s awful, to have to admit that your parents were right. It didn’t matter that Clarissa was trouble. It didn’t matter that she’d made a mistake, was always making mistakes. She was still my friend.

“I miss you,” he said, and on the last word his voice broke.

I wondered what it was like to have something you loved in front of you, wanting it with all your heart, and still knowing that you couldn’t keep it.

Then again, maybe I didn’t have to wonder.

“I’m right here, Dad,” I said. “I’m the same as I was two weeks ago.”

He shook his head. “You’re not. If you are, I’m going to have to bury you twice.”

I couldn’t help it. I was stung. Who was I, if I wasn’t me? I turned my face away, looking at the book sitting where I had left it on the mantle, and I said, “I miss you too.”

Dad looked at the book when I picked it up. “For Clarissa,” he said, barely a question. I nodded.

“Please don’t call anyone,” I said. “Clarissa was just—she’s my friend. They’ll never let her go.”

His jaw worked. “And you?”

I did my best to smile. “I’ll be fine. She’ll take care of me.”

In the end, he nodded, and the last thing my father said to me was, “Goodbye.”

And I suppose that’s more than most people get.

I left the way I’d come, book clutched close to my chest.

 

I went back to the motel and settled on the rickety chair in the corner. Clarissa was still asleep, and I looked down at her present, sitting in my lap. The book was old and faded, pages falling out of its leather cover.

I flipped through it. I’d spent a lot of time imagining the face Clarissa would make when I gave it to her.

I tried to imagine Clarissa’s expression if I told her that I’d gone home just to get a book on the off-chance that it might be able to help her, and I had to stop myself from laughing.

I wished I hadn’t seen my father. I’d known that I couldn’t go back, but seeing him threw everything into sharp relief: my father would never hug me again, never smile at me, never tell me that everything would be all right. Clarissa had brought me back, and I meant what I’d said to him. I was still me. But except for her, my life was gone.

Once, I would have thought that Clarissa would be enough. But now, I couldn’t stop thinking of my father’s face, of all the things he’d never say again.

I looked down the book, opened it to the first page, and started to read.

 

Clarissa was still asleep when I finished. I curled up next to her on the blanket and closed my eyes and listened to her breathe.

Her breathing wasn’t very steady. She was shaking a little, even in her sleep, and her skin was so pale you’d think that she was the dead one.

I was so stupid, thinking for even a minute that this could work, and so was Clarissa.

I lay there for hours, fighting off sleep and watching her shake, until her eyes fluttered open and she looked straight at me.

“Hey,” she said, a little muzzily.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted to kiss her or hit her, so I asked her how she was feeling instead.

“Fine,” Clarissa said, struggling to sit up. I sat up too and put my face in my hands. “Did you find what you wanted?” she asked, sliding an arm around my shoulders, like I was the one who needed comforting. But she was warm, and I couldn’t bring myself to shake her off.

“Not really,” I said, thinking of what I’d found in that book of hers. “Clarissa, what exactly are you hoping to get out of this, really?” We hadn’t spoken about it, exactly, but it hung suspended between us: my existence was an abomination and a disgrace, and Clarissa was the same for making it happen. There was no place for us anywhere anymore.

And there was another thing we hadn’t talked about. I took a deep breath, and forced the words out: “Clarissa, this is killing you.”

She didn’t seem surprised, which was the worst part of it, really. She’d known all along what she was doing to herself, and she did it anyway. It was just the stupid sort of thing Clarissa would do, knowing the consequences and not caring. Clarissa never knew when to stop. I loved her so much.

She didn’t say anything. I tipped my head back to stare at the ceiling. “I can’t believe you,” I said thickly. “I don’t want you to die for me.”

“Well, I didn’t want you to die,” Clarissa said. “And you did anyway, and it was because of me. You can’t expect me to just let that happen, not when I could—what’s the point of all this, of all this shit I can do, if I couldn’t help you? What was I supposed to do?” Her eyes were bloodshot and watery and she was trembling still, her hair falling in her face, and she was so, so beautiful.

“Clarissa,” I said. “Look. I just don’t see how you think this is going to end.”

She looked at me, brow furrowed. “We’ll figure something out,” she said. “We’ll catch a train tomorrow, and we’ll keep running, and they’ll have to stop looking eventually, and as long as we stay together, we’ll be fine.”

She believed it, too. She wouldn’t have said it if she didn’t.

We wouldn’t be fine. Even if we never got caught, Clarissa’s hands wouldn’t stop shaking, her nose wouldn’t stop bleeding, her teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. I was killing her every minute I was alive.

And no matter what, neither of us could ever go home.

Clarissa hated being told she couldn’t do something–the fact that I was here at all was proof of that. Sometimes, she just needed someone to stop her, if she wouldn’t stop herself.

I took her face in both my hands and I kissed her.

It was funny. Since I’d met her, I could never remember a time when I didn’t love Clarissa. I don’t know why it never occurred to me, before all this, that she might be as hopeless for me as I was for her.

She kissed me back. Of course she did. She kissed me back, because she’d broken every law of magic, was working herself literally to death, just to keep me with her. I sat beside her on the crappy motel bed, her hands in my hair, and felt her breath against my cheek. I closed my eyes against it and willed myself not to cry.

She settled back on the bed, and I curled up beside her, so we were lying face to face. Clarissa breathed in deep, tucked her nose against the crook of my neck. “I thought I lost you,” she said quietly. “I couldn’t do nothing, May, you know I couldn’t.” I pushed her hair out of her face and kissed her forehead and held her hand, the one that had her bracelet, and I didn’t say anything at all.

Maybe it had all been worth it, for the chance to have this with Clarissa. Even for just a moment.

She fell asleep with my hand running through hair, and I stole her bracelet.

Some of the stones on it were cool, inert, and some were faintly warm, and the uneven chunk of amethyst that I knew had to be me was hot to the touch. The stone was rough; I could see the places on her wrist where it had cut into her skin. I untied the knot on the cord and pulled the amethyst off.

I rummaged through the pile of our things in the corner until I found the crowbar from my grave. At the rickety table, I took out the book and opened it to the right section. I tucked the train ticket I’d bought for Clarissa between the pages and I left the other things I’d taken from my home for her: hair dye, a hat, baggy clothes, sunglasses, five hundred dollars from the emergency fund in my closet. Not much, but it might be enough to keep her free. And maybe Clarissa could have what I couldn’t.

I looked at the book again. I guess I should have known that reversing the spell would be so simple. All I had to do was break the stone, and the connection would sever. Clarissa would be fine.

The crowbar was heavy in my hands. I turned it over a few times before I raised it over my head.

I thought about my father, about all the years of kissing Clarissa I’d missed out on, about how angry and hurt she would be when she woke up.

I thought of how Clarissa wanted so badly to protect everyone else, how desperately I wanted to be the one to save her, how she refused to let me, even when I’d died. Clarissa wanted me to live badly enough to destroy her entire life, and I was so used to wanting what Clarissa wanted. I’d tried to want what she wanted this time.

I couldn’t. I didn’t want this.

Mostly, though, I thought of the scratches the stone that tethered my soul had made on Clarissa’s wrist, of her dying to keep me here.

I looked at the amethyst and smiled, and I brought the crowbar down.

END

 


“Gravedigging” was originally published in Cicada and is © Copyright Sarah Goldman 2017.

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Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a GlitterShip original, “Sabuyashi Flies” by Sebastian Strange.