We are a town of dead people.
I don't mean to be too morbid or depressing—although that’s kind of my thing now—but we have the highest concentration of dead people in our state. And we're very proud of that. We have the biggest privately owned cemetery in the country. Which makes the disappearing bodies a bit of a problem. Someone is stealing them.
That or the resurrection happened and we're still here, my dad jokes, as he is looking for his tie.
Hilarious, dad, I say to myself.
Seriously, where is my tie? he says, digging through the pile of clothes on the floor.
High Park is our town. Sounds fancier than it is, which pretty much describes everyone here. The best thing we have going for us is all the dead bodies. People come from miles around to bury their dead.
The cemetery was started in the late 1900s by the Slaughter Family, who owned the famous Slaughter Family Circus but got tired of traveling around and saw a business opportunity in desolate High Park. They wanted a premiere funeral destination. It's definitely premiere. We have all the finest caskets and tombstones and hearses. You can even hire professional mourners.
My father works at the cemetery. He is the director of funeral services and operations. Okay, he's a gravedigger. I mean, he does more than that, but it’s a lot of grave digging with a backhoe. So if you need a funeral plot let me know. We may be able to get you a discount, but we can't promise you anything.
Tell them Axelle sent you. That’s me. My mom really liked Axl Rose, but I turned out to be a girl. My mom had a troubled youth before she settled down to marry a gravedigger and homeschool her three children.
And then died.
Dad is understandably upset about the stolen bodies. The whole town is talking about it. His bosses aren't happy either. It's not good for business. People don't like it when their dead husbands and wives and relatives are stolen. I get it. So far it's only been about ten bodies, which out of the thousands and thousands buried here, not bad. But still not cool.
Did you take my tie? he asks me.
Why would I take your tie?
I don't know, he says.
I'll help you look, I say.
I call my younger sister and brother. Help dad look for his tie, I tell them. Did you take it, Morgan?
No! he says, and runs and jumps on the bed.
Don't jump on the bed, Morgan.
Jessica is deep in her book, ignoring everyone.
Dad only owns one tie. He doesn't like to wear ties generally. He prefers digging in the dirt in his jeans and t-shirt. But he needs it today, because it's the anniversary of mom's death, and we're all going out to the cemetery to pay our respects and put flowers on her grave.
I don't like the word grave. I don't want to go. I don't like the cemetery, the massive cemetery that covers our town. Now with my mom there, I hate it.
Where is my tie?
Dad's shouting, his face red. Little things like this never used to bother him.
Did you look on your tie rack? I say.
I never put it there, he says.
Mom bought him a tie rack one year for Father's Day. Not sure if she was hoping he'd buy more ties or thought it'd be funny to just hang one tie on it.
We have to go, he says. Damnit, he says.
I'm surprised when he swears. He never swears. As a deacon at our church, he holds himself up to a higher standard.
I open the closet door.
His tie is on the tie rack, right next to his one black suit, which looks pressed and cleaned.
Who put this here? he says.
I didn't, I say. Didn't you?
No, he says. Morgan! he yells. I told you to stay out of my closet.
He doesn't want Morgan in his closet because that's where he keeps his guns. They're locked up but still he doesn't want to take any chances.
Morgan, I told you a thousand times to not play in my closet.
I didn't, Morgan says.
That wasn't the only strange thing that happened to our clothes that morning.
My dress was hanging up nicely in my closet. Morgan and Jessica's clothes were hanging, clean and pressed in their rooms too.
I thought it was dad. If not dad probably our Auntie Gracie, my dad's sister, who is now in charge of homeschooling us and trying to keep the house in some kind of order.
Aunt Gracie probably did, I say.
Oh yeah, he says. C'mon, we're late, he says, as he roughly forms the knot for his tie.
On the drive over, I start to sweat. My head gets hot. Last year I couldn't get out of the car. But I'm seeing a therapist now. I focus on my breathing. I count my breaths.
Jessica holds the flowers as we walk to the grave. But we don't put them down. Because when we get there there's only a big hole surrounded by piles of dirt where the plot should be. The tombstone is knocked over. The casket is sitting next to the piles of dirt and the lid is only half on.
Jessica starts to cry.
Dad angrily goes up to the casket and looks in.
She's gone, he says. The bastards took her. I'll kill them, he says. I swear to God I'll kill them.
I make myself look in the casket. I want to see for myself. It's empty.
Why did they take her? Morgan says.
No one answers him as we walk to the operations shed. Morty, dad's assistant, is there. He's been out on the East Grounds this morning preparing for a burial, and didn't see anything. I like Morty. When I was young he used to take me to the Mausoleums, and didn't yell at me to shush or be quiet like the other adults. That was before I was too scared to come here.
The police come. Dad answers their questions. Aunt Grace is here now. She's soothing us, holding us close. Aunt Grace is one of the professional mourners. She always knows what to say, what to do.
We'll find her, she says. It'll be fine. We'll find her, don't worry, my darlings.
I saw her last night, I say. She came into our bedroom. She put her head on my forehead. I saw her.
It was just a dream, Aunt Grace says. It's okay to dream but it's good to know what's real and what's not.
It wasn't a dream, I say. I saw her.