Oden Banks had been many things in his life. Musician. Son. Club owner. Sinner. Lover. Never had he been a grave robber. Though, as he dug the shovel into freshly lain soil, it felt more like a desperate rescue attempt. A way to set things to right.
Oden knew that his Maman was turning in her grave a few plots over. Likely, had been from the moment that he had taken the box of things he had been instructed to assemble down to the abandoned apothecary turned dwelling hovel for a rumored witch doctor. The box held three things. The first, hair from his dead girlfriend Yuri’s hairbrush that his Maman would’ve advised him to burn, for even in death a witch could curse her and like him, his beloved would never know peace. The second, a vial of his own blood, a weapon that could be used against him were he to reveal the secrets of the deep after he resurfaced. Lastly, a bottle of spiced rum, a gift of good faith for the old witch doctor that had so kindly called in a favor with Death so that Oden could resurrect his beloved.
The old man with dark skin like Oden’s own, a rooster feathered bowler cap, and wrinkles that marred his skin like the lines of a map came into Oden’s club on a night where he was strumming his guitar in mourning, like all the nights after Yuri was taken.
Ever since Yuri died, the club stayed full because that blues Oden loved to sing so well finally had the depth of grief.
If only it had been as successful when Yuri was still there to see it. If only he’d had enough money to make ends meet. To keep Yuri from having to dance at a strip club in what had once been the Red-Light District. If only Oden had been able to keep her from the client that had struck her down when he’d discovered the body that he’d worshipped while wound around a pole wasn’t the body that Yuri was born in, she would be alive.
Oden told the old man as much after his set when he’d joined him for a drink. “When you tired of mourning,” the old man told him, “You come to me.”
And so, Oden had. He came with the wooden box full of items the old man demanded and took the gold coin he was given in return. He listened carefully to the witch’s instructions, bought a shovel, strapped on his guitar and drove his truck down to the cemetery.
Now, Oden heard the thud of the shovel in his hand hitting his beloved’s coffin. He swallowed. Tasted bile. He took one calming breath. Two. He tossed the shovel aside, jumped down into the grave, and with trembling hands he lifted the coffin’s lid.
He thanked both the God his Maman raised him up with and the gods the old man spoke of in whiskey laced whispers that he couldn’t make out Yuri’s dead body in the darkness. Better he remembered her how she was. How she would be again.
His hands didn’t still as he opened the corpse’s too cold and unyielding mouth, dug into his pocket and took out the gold coin. He placed the coin on the corpse’s tongue. Tried to focus on when Yuri would be back in his arms, her body warm and her lips soft against his own.
He made sure his guitar was still strapped tight, closed his eyes, and waited. He didn’t have to wait long for the ground to sink beneath him. For his feet to give way to the almost liquid black and for him to drop. Drop. Drop. He held onto his guitar strap, unafraid. Almost laughed with relief even as he fell because the old man had been telling the truth.
When he once again felt solid ground beneath his feet, Oden opened his eyes and was met with darkness. A pitch black that felt unnatural. Not like Maman’s eyes when she laughed or like Yuri’s nails when they trailed gently down his arm. But like something endless, empty, and cold. He couldn’t see his own hands in front of his face, but he could still feel his guitar.
Oden positioned his instrument and began to play. Oden sang in sobs and lyrics. Cries and baritone. He sang even as the mournful howls of unseen beasts responded. Sang even as he heard the answering screams of the dead.
“If you sing, she’ll return to you.” The old man had said. And so, Oden sang until he was hoarse. Until he felt the familiar touch of a hand over his as he strummed his guitar and began to sob anew. He stopped singing. Held the hand so tightly it might’ve broken were it not merely a shadow. A soul.
He didn’t speak but turned away as he was told. Held his guitar with one hand, Yuri with the other. Looked up and began to ascend. He wished that she would speak. Give him a sign. Instead, they floated in dark silence, unsettling nothingness.
Oden felt doubt creep in even as the old man’s words echoed in his head. “Don’t look back. You ain’t gone like what you see. She ain’t gone be what she was before the deep. If you see what she became, she never will be again.”
Oden looked back and found a monster. Hollowed eyes and bare bone, where once was flesh and brown skin. Startled, he lost his grip. When the monster’s mouth opened Yuri’s voice shouted his name and he realized his mistake.
He reached for her, but he was already back on the surface, kneeling at her grave, the coffin buried as if it was never dug up. Wailing, he threw his guitar aside and clawed at the dirt with his hands. Dug until they blistered and bled. The ground never gave way.
Jasmine Griffin currently serves as the Learning and Outreach Manager at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati. She’s previously held the roles with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, the Mercantile Library of Cincinnati, and Carve Magazine. Jasmine was recently published in Vast Chasm Magazine, Eunoia Review, Random Sample Review, Cincinnati Refined, Genre: Urban Arts, and Cleaning up Glitter. She received her MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and has participated in several fellowship and mentorship programs including, Voodoonauts, AWP’s Writer to Writer Mentorship program, and Pitch Wars. Jasmine is currently at work on her first novel, Blackbird at the Crossroads, which is set in New Orleans and steeped in Southern lore.