It never started with those two island boys. Not really. The only part they ever played was coming over to Boston on their Spring Break and getting mowed down by that SUV outside James Hayes Park. Freak accident, most said. The street being usually so quiet and the truck killing both of them at once; one outright and the other on arrival.
No. It never started with them. The idea had been in Mike Cleary’s sick head for some time. Embryonic. But conceived.
All Jason knew, when they met outside Mike’s father’s funeral home, was that what Mike had to say had something to do with Sarah McLachlan. And that subject had never failed to perk their shared interest.
Sarah had been the most gorgeous girl at High School, by a clear mile, and she’d had more than one flirtation with Mike and Jason during their senior years. Nineteen now, both of them wanted her, each of them trying often to trick the other into thinking, maybe, Sarah had gone just that little bit further than flirtation.
Problem was she hadn’t. And Mike was way passed the point of only getting pissed at Jason’s bullshit. Now he was starting to get pissed at his own too.
Another thing, though, was Sarah still came onto them. Both of them. Sometimes making one feel better than the other, for awhile, but never agreeing to go steady with any one guy.
“I’m hot for you both.” She’d said once, placing a hand on Jason’s knee, “I’m just spoiled for choice.”
Spoiled for choice. Those words had crept into Mike’s brain and set up shop. Something had to be done to make Sarah decide.
“Shit, dude, I hate this place.” Jason remarked, his eyes roving over the bleak decor in the basement room of Mike’s family mortuary. “Can we get this over with?”
“Cool. No point hanging around.” Mike said, “you know what these are?”
Mike struck the two coffins that his old man had just that evening stacked against the wall. There was a red stamp attached to each of them. Jason shuffled over; reading the words on the caskets.
“That mean anything to you?” Mike smiled.
There was a pause.
“Holy shit, man!” Jason pointed, “these are those guys! The guys that got nailed outside the park last week.”
“Yahtzee,” Mike grinned, “but they’re also the way we’re gonna decide who dates Sarah McLachlan. Like definitively.”
“Bullshit.” Jason half-laughed.
“I’m making you a proposal, Jason” Mike eyed his old buddy. “A wager. Something that’ll leave us with one loser and one winner. The loser backs off from Sarah. The winner gets to take her out. It’s that simple.”
“Nothing’s that simple with you, Mike. Spill it.”
What Mike said after that made Jason laugh. It made him laugh until he couldn’t laugh anymore. Then it made him terrified when he realised Mike wasn’t laughing.
“You can’t be serious!” He looked at Mike with morbid curiosity.
“Let me say it again,” Mike was taking pride in being the only calm and collected man in the basement, “these caskets have all the paperwork to ensure they’re transported back to Nantucket tomorrow morning. What I suggest is we make a switch. We take the bodies out and place them in two other coffins. We then get into the coffins ourselves and take a leisurely jaunt to the island…”
“Inside a goddamn coffin!” Jason couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“The loser is the guy who starts banging on the lid first,” Mike clarified, “the guy who begs to get out. There’ll be about thirty couriers between here and Nantucket. Plenty of chance to turn chicken.”
Jason stared at the floor. No way could he do this. No goddamn way. Then he thought about Sarah.
“How do we know the other guy’s in the coffin?” He tried to sound nonchalant. Like maybe taking trips in other guys’ caskets was a regular occurrence for him.
“Easy,” Mike said, “Every five minutes. On the dot. The guy on top knocks three times on the floor on his coffin to let the guy below know he’s still there.”
“The guy below?” Jason wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
Mike took a dollar from his jeans.
“Heads or tails?”
“Tails. No, what?”
Mike flicked the coin; catching it on the back of his hand.
“Hey, I didn’t call properly,” Jason protested, “you hustled me!”
“Relax,” Mike smiled. “Look. It’s tails. You won!”
He showed Jason the coin just to reassure him.
“Looks like you’ve got the top bunk.”
Mike didn’t have a hard time convincing Jason to go along with the bet after that. Not now he was the one having to suffer the extra weight on top of him all the way to Nantucket. Truth be told, lying there in the pitch black of a dead guys coffin, waiting for the pickup at 7:20, Mike began to pray Jason would freak out as soon as the movers arrived.
The silence was cold and eerie. What with just the tapping, every five minutes, on the dot, of Jason’s fingers on the wood above him.
The tapping continued with frequent loyalty as they left the mortuary at 7:20.
It continued in the truck that took them to Harwich and it continued on the ferry that was set to reach Nantucket sometime after 10:00.
Though, about an hour into their crossing, Mike could’ve sworn he heard the lid slide off of the coffin above. He lightly tapped at his own side. Not wanting to lose the bet but needing to know that Jason was still above him. He tapped again. Waiting. Straining his hearing in the suffocating darkness.
The tapping was returned.
Mike relaxed. Jason was bound to freak out soon.
Again the tapping.
What the fuck, thought Mike.
Again, and again, and again. The tapping growing fiercer; more insistent on the coffin floor.
Mike screamed, trying to get out, flailing his limbs hard against the unbreakable wood, as the tapping became a rushing roar above his head.
And as that which had been tapping rushed into the coffin. Swallowing him whole.
The cold, ferocious waters of Nantucket Sound.
©2012 B.T. Joy
B.T. Joy is a Scottish writer living in Glasgow. He has recently qualified as a High School English teacher and has also been, in various previous lifetimes, an administrator, a writing mentor, a farm labourer and a salesman; in his hometown, in London and in the USA.