Becca climbed out her bedroom window, grabbed a shovel, and ran to the graveyard. Becca’s mother had ordered her grandma buried in Becca’s favorite pair of shoes, and homecoming was approaching fast.
Becca figured she’d take the jewelry, too, while she was there. Her grandmother would have wanted her to have it. She didn’t let herself hope for anything more.
The full moon illuminated the graveyard well enough for her to dig without any other light. The soil was loose, but she still worked up a sweat in the heavy late-summer air. She’d never done much digging before. Her arms burned and her back ached. She wished she’d thought to borrow a backhoe. She wished she knew how to use a backhoe. She wished that her mother wasn’t so horrible, and that her grandmother was still alive.
After what felt like an eternity, her shovel thunked into the hardwood casket. She removed enough dirt to clear the top half of the lid, then she jerked it open. A thin stream of dirt cascaded down the side of her hole, onto her grandmother’s waxy face.
The stink hit Becca like a bag of hammers, and her stomach lurched. She managed to turn enough to throw up on her own shoes instead of on her dead grandmother’s carefully arranged gray curls.
She scowled down at her already-filthy canvas sneakers. They were going to be a total loss. But the shoes might have been a lost cause anyway, and it would have been wrong to throw up on her grandmother. Aside from the puffiness, she looked almost normal. And Becca had loved her grandmother.
That, more than homecoming, was why she wanted the shoes back.
She covered her mouth with her shirt and took a few slow breaths. She could do this. She reached in for the necklace, and her fingers brushed her grandmother’s neck. The flesh was the same cool temperature as the dirt and too soft–like a foam mattress.
Her grandmother’s eyes snapped open, she grabbed Becca’s wrist. Her swollen fingers felt like refrigerated sausages. Becca yelped and tried to step back, but her feet slipped, and she fell to her knees. “What are you doing, Rebecca?” Her grandmother’s voice was wet and distorted, but recognizable.
Becca’s terror eased. Her grandmother wasn’t mindless–she remembered who she was. The hope that Becca hadn’t let herself feel spread in her chest, and she grinned. Even dead, her grandmother wouldn’t hurt her.
“I’m here for the shoes,” Becca said. “It’s nice to hear your voice again, too.”
Her grandmother blinked at her. “Which shoes?”
“The red pumps.”
“I gave those to you,” her grandmother said. “Why would I be buried in them?”
Becca shrugged. “Mom decided. I don’t think she wanted me to have them. She always hates–hated it when you gave me things.”
Her grandmother sniffed. “I raised her better than that.” She released Becca’s wrist and started wriggling around. She placed one red pump, then a second, on top of the casket. “Since you’re here, you should take the jewelry, too.”
She tried to pull off her rings, but they were trapped on her swollen fingers. She couldn’t work the necklace clasp, either. “This whole dead thing is quite frustrating,” she said.
Becca reached in and unfastened the necklace. The smell hardly bothered her at all now. “I can imagine.” Becca put the necklace on and picked up the shoes. “Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.
Her grandmother shrugged. “I can’t think of anything. I don’t really need much. I’m dead, after all.”
Becca blinked back her tears. She’d already cried for her grandmother. “Okay. I love you.”
“I love you, too, dear. It would be nice if you’d come and visit.”
“And don’t worry too much about your mother. Things will get better. Eventually.”
“I–I’ll try not to let it get to me.”
Becca reached for the lid. “Grandma?”
“What’s it like?” Becca asked.
“What’s what like?”
“It’s not bad. But it’s not great either. It’s certainly not something you should rush into.”
“Right. Thanks Grandma. I’ll remember.”
“You do that.”
Becca closed the lid. It took less time to fill the hole back in. She left her vomit-covered shoes next to the headstone and walked home in the red pumps.
Her mother noticed when she wore the shoes to homecoming, but neither of them mentioned it.
Jamie Lackey has attended James Gunn’s Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction in 2010. Her work has appeared in The Living Dead 2 and Stories from the Heart: Heartwarming Tales of Appalachia. Another of her stories is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction. Jamie Lacky is also a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine.
What a deliciously offbeat tale. Thanks for publishing it.