The night that Briony decided to raise her boyfriend from the dead it was raining. Briony wouldn’t have minded the rain, except that it made digging up her boyfriend’s grave one hell of a mess. A little thunder or dramatic lightning could’ve gone a long way, atmosphere-wise, but it was just rain. Rain, rain and more rain. By the time she hit coffin she was soaked through, covered in mud and grass and god-only-knew what else. That was the other thing: no-one talked about how hard it was to dig down six feet in damp soil. Briony was also not one hundred percent sure how she was going to get out again. She had attempted to make footholds in the walls of the grave on the way down, but they were slowly sliding closer to her. Hopefully Arthur would give her a leg up. Once he was awake.
Technically speaking Arthur wasn’t her boyfriend anymore, and not just because he had died in a car accident three weeks ago. Actually, technically, they had broken up a few days before that, but they were always breaking up and then getting back together. Briony was sure that death would have given Arthur wonderful perspective about things. Plus, once she brought him back to life he’d owe her, so.
It was early morning by the time Briony undid the grave screws. They were stiff and her hands were already blistered and hurting. The lid slid up smoothly, and Briony held her breath. Arthur was in a terrible mess, really. The undertakers had neatened him up a bit, sewed up the gashes on his head and so on. Someone had put blush on him, so that he didn’t look so deathly pale. His mother had wanted an open casket, which had given Briony the idea in the first place, really. He’d looked quite peaceful, although not at all like he’d been sleeping. Briony had seen Arthur sleep; it looked nothing like death. One week in the grave hadn’t done him any favours, but this only made Briony even more determined to love him.
Somewhere, in the dark recesses of the internet, she had read that if you caught an eel and let it die out of water; then steeped its body in vinegar and the blood of, for some reason, an eagle; and then placed the whole thing under a dunghill, it would raise anyone from the dead that ate it. Or something. Eels were easy. Briony lived in Fenland, famous for its eels, although there weren’t as many around as there used to be. It took four days to catch one in a trap. The eagle blood she ordered online; it arrived by express post.
Her backpack was ruined. Not only had it got sodden and muddy, but it reeked of dead eel, blood and dung. Briony had put the eel cake (as she thought of it) in a tupperware container, which would definitely have to be thrown away, but the smell had eked out. She prised the lid off the container. The smell got worse. Honestly, she didn’t like eel at the best of times. She couldn’t remember if Arthur liked it; it probably didn’t matter now, anyway. His lips had been stitched shut with thin thread. She had thought of that, though, and fished out her mother’s sewing scissors from her bag and snipped his mouth open. It felt very dry. ‘Don’t think about it, don’t think about it,’ she mumbled to herself under her breath, as she scooped the bloody eel out of the box and pressed it against Arthur’s lips. The eel didn’t want to go in: resistance in the form of Arthur’s teeth met wet fish. Briony forced Arthur’s jaw open and pushed the eel cake forward again. It went in. Briony withdrew her hands with a shudder. She had no idea how long to wait. The sky was getting light above her. She was a bit concerned about dog-walkers. With nothing better to do, she leant against the wet grave wall and took out her phone. She was scrolling through Instagram when it happened. Wet eel flew past her, making her jump. Briony looked slowly at the coffin, where Arthur was sat upright, spitting rank eel out of his mouth.
Arthur was a far better boyfriend dead than he had been alive. There was a wonderful sort of pliance to him now. Even his mother seemed quite pleased with the new-and-improved Arthur. ‘He’s just like he was when he was little,’ she said approvingly, stroking his greasy hair back from his face. ‘He was always such a quiet boy, playing with his trains and aeroplanes.’ Arthur didn’t say anything, but leaned into his mother’s hand, like a dog enjoying its ears being scratched.
The only person who didn’t seem happy with the resuscitated Arthur was his sister, Elaine. She stared grimly at Briony and Arthur with red rimmed eyes, and if Arthur sat next to her or reached towards her she shrank away.
Briony walked around the school holding Arthur’s hand proudly. He did, admittedly, sometimes smell of fish and something else Briony couldn’t quite put her finger on: a clean plastic smell, like a new piece of technology being slid out of its cellophane. By and large though, Arthur was perfect. He sat and listened to her talk about what Matilda had said in English and what Briony had thought of that without rolling his eyes or picking his ears; he pulled out a chair for her in the canteen and let her eat his chips without complaint; he always waited for her after class and whenever his old friends asked him if he wanted to go for a joyride or get pissed in the playground he looked at them vacantly and said, in his gravelly new voice that Briony loved, that he had plans with his girlfriend, instead.
Every morning Briony went over to Arthur’s house and gave him a little more eel cake for breakfast. She wasn’t sure how long lasting the effects were, and she didn’t want to risk anything. Besides, Arthur didn’t seem to mind. Fishing for eels took up a lot of Briony’s evenings, but now Arthur was content to spend time with her, pulling the muddy traps up from the dirty waters. In the mornings she and Arthur’s mother would also put makeup on Arthur so that he didn’t look as pallid. A dab of foundation, a dusting of blush. Briony sometimes lined his lips with a shy pink and kissed them gently. She was beginning to come round to the taste of eel. ‘My handsome boy,’ sighed Arthur’s mum, cradling him to her chest. ‘My sweet baby.’
Matilda was having a sleepover. ‘Just us girls, yeah?’ She flicked her hair over her shoulder. Briony could see a slight crust of blood around Matilda’s new nose piercing. Matilda had never invited her to one of her sleepovers before, which were infamous. Usually someone had to get their stomach pumped or gained some kind of infection. Once all the girls had come down with pink eye from bathing (naked, went the rumours) in Matilda’s home jacuzzi. Briony promised to come, and bring some drink from her parents’ liquor cabinet – which was less of a cabinet and more just a little table that all the syrupy drinks they were given or bought at Christmastime lived for the rest of the year after being opened and used once. They wouldn’t notice if a couple disappeared, and would probably be grateful if they did.
‘Great!’ Matilda smiled and dimpled in the general direction of Arthur, who was standing loyally by Briony’s side. ‘See you then. Bye Arthur!’
Arthur didn’t say anything.
‘He seems, like, obsessed with you,’ a girl Briony had never spoken to before was waxing lyrical about Arthur. She was twisting her hair around her finger like a fat bandage. ‘It’s so romantic.’
Briony picked at her pyjamas. ‘Yeah, he loves me, I guess.’ The sleepover was pretty tame so far. Matilda had put on Mean Girls but everyone had seen it a thousand times before so it was playing meekly in the background. They had drunk some sweet alcohol and vodka – the taste of which they masked with cola. Matilda had then led everyone into her mum’s bedroom and showed them her mother’s collection of sex toys; all tucked neatly away under tissue paper in the bottom drawer of her dresser. Briony felt a bit sad looking at them, lovingly wrapped like that. She hadn’t had sex with Arthur since she’d brought him back – she wasn’t sure whether or not it would still work.
‘He follows you around like a little lost puppy!’ The girl threw herself back on her sleeping bag. ‘I wish Joe would look at me like that.’ The rest of the girls all tittered.
Matilda watched Briony with sharp eyes. ‘We’re all dying to know how you did it,’ she said softly.
‘Well, maybe if you die you’ll find out,’ Briony joked. No-one laughed.
‘Seriously,’ Matilda crawled closer to her. ‘How did you do it?’
Briony shifted uncomfortably. They were all watching her like hungry wolves. ‘It was online.’ They all moved closer to her, until she was surrounded. ‘I mean, why do you want to know?’
‘Well,’ Matilda shrugged one shoulder casually, like she’d practised it beforehand, ‘doesn’t every girl want a boyfriend who adores her?’
Briony’s stomach turned sour. ‘You have Ben, though.’
Matilda hummed. The room was lit with just lamps and it was hard to read the expression on her face. She was quite beautiful but, Briony thought, frightening too. ‘Ben’s eye has a tendency to wander.’
‘I just looked it up online. How to raise the dead, you know. It was stupid. I didn’t even think it would work!’
‘But it did work,’ a girl called Samantha put in. ‘Didn’t it?’
‘It worked really well, I’d say,’ said Matilda. Briony felt hot and uncomfortable. Her pyjamas were turning damp with sweat. She wished she’d stayed home with Arthur or her brother and sister. They were going order Chinese food and play videogames. She nervously eyed her backpack, where the eel cake she had already made up for Arthur in the morning sat. ‘Of course, it’s such a shame about Arthur’s scars. I wouldn’t want my boyfriend to look like that…’
‘They add character,’ Briony said quietly.
‘Come on,’ Matilda crooned, ‘tell us. We’re all friends here.’
Briony escaped to the kitchen for a glass of water. Matilda’s house was neat and sparse. Modern, her mum would’ve called it. All the mod cons. Matilda’s mum worked as some fancy upper-end solicitor, which meant she could afford a nice, big house for her daughter, but never had much time to see it. On the counter there was a sleek coffee machine, a matching enamel kettle. There was a large cream coloured fridge humming gently to itself. Briony thought about calling Arthur and getting him to come pick her up, but it was late, and she was kind of frightened of him driving by himself. A tin of something caught Briony’s eye on the otherwise clear kitchen side. She picked it up gingerly. It was red and said PEST EXPERT in capitals across the front. There was a picture of a rat on its back on the label. Its little pink hands and feet were curled up. She put it down again hurriedly. Maybe she would call Arthur. The night was clear and cold; she could see the moon through the kitchen blinds. Something touched her on the shoulder and she jumped. It was only Samantha.
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘we’re playing truth or dare.’
The girl Briony had been speaking to – Imogen, it transpired, was her name – dared Samantha to pierce her nipple. Samantha requested a needle, a piece of apple and an ice cube and then set to it. Blood went everywhere. Samantha then asked Imogen to tell the truth about how many guys she’d “done it with” (three) and Matilda dared Imogen to streak across her front lawn. Briony could feel herself relaxing into it. Samantha dared Briony to drink the rest of the vodka, straight; and she did, letting it slip down her throat into her stomach where it burned like a lit hearth. Matilda was dared to send a picture of herself, in just her underwear, to their maths teacher’s email address. Briony laughed with the rest of them when his standard reply came back: “I’m out of office at the moment, but if this is a mathematical emergency please contact one of my colleagues on…”
‘Ok,’ said Matilda, ‘Briony, truth or dare?’
Briony knew, in the pit of her stomach what would happen if she said truth. She said it anyway.
‘How did you bring Arthur back from the dead?’
Briony lay back on the carpet. ‘It was raining,’ she began.
The girls pulled the lid back on the tupperware box. A disgusting smell filled the room.
‘Grim,’ commented Imogen.
‘And you feed him some every morning?’ Matilda asked. Briony nodded. ‘Where did you get the blood?’
Briony waved her hand about expansively. ‘The internet.’
Matilda picked up a piece of the eel cake and sniffed it. ‘Doesn’t seem so bad,’ she said.
‘It’s not. I don’t think Arthur minds.’
‘Pretty easy way to get a boyfriend who adores you,’ said Imogen.
Briony frowned. ‘He did die.’
Matilda tossed her hair back with an impatient shake of her head. ‘Small price to pay,’ she said, ‘isn’t it girls?’ Her friends all laughed.
Just then the doorbell rang. It made Briony jump. Matilda’s eyes lit up and she shoved the eel cake box under a cushion.
‘Oh,’ she said brightly, standing up and heading towards the kitchen. ‘That’ll be Ben now. Open the door, someone. I’m just going to fix my boyfriend,’ her eyes settled on Briony; she could’ve sworn Matilda winked, ‘a drink.’
Catherine Mitchell is a writer from Norfolk. She currently works in a university library. More of her writing can be found at The Rumpus and LossLit magazine. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching comedy shows and texting all her friends whenever she sees a cat. Find her on Twitter @caffrinem. Her website is catherinemitchell.co.uk