When they opened the time capsule, there was a body inside.
Simon dropped his shovel in the red clay and fell to his knees. Kate shrieked, muffling it with her hand. Beside her, Ryan let out the response they had all thought but been unable to voice.
“Goddamn,” he gasped, “who is that? Who the hell is that?”
The body was a milk-fair girl in her teens. Her skin was so clear and white it almost seemed like her irises were visible behind her lids. Her hair was white blonde. Simon struggled to place her with any of the faces he’d ever seen in highschool, but his mind was a panicked blank.
Terry shook his head as he backed away from the hole. “We need to call the cops.”
Becky grabbed his elbow. “Are you nuts? We’re not even supposed to be out here.”
“I think the little matter of trespassing is kind of insignificant now, Beck,” Ryan said, looping an arm around Kate. “She wasn’t there when we buried the time capsule, was she?”
“No,” Kate blurted, “and that means someone dug our capsule up and re-buried it with her in it.”
Terry rolled his eyes. “No they didn’t. Disturbing packed earth would leave too much of a mound.”
“Really? That sounds like bullshit.”
“Really? Then I’m looking it up.” Kate brought out her smartphone.
Terry hit it down. “No.”
“What the f—you fucking psycho!”
Ryan got physically in-between the two. “Look, it’s not important right now. We need to call the cops sooner rather than later, it’ll make it look worse if we don’t.”
“Oh, and who’s calling them? This asshole?” Kate thumbed at Terry. “He’ll probably get into an argument with the cops about whether they’re allowed to pat us down.”
“The constitution says—”
“Fuck it!” Ryan held up his hands. “I’m going to the school, find somebody. I’ll say we’re old friends, we wanted to meet somewhere nostalgic, we stumbled on a body.”
“Oh yeah, and how will you explain the shovels?” Becky asked.
“I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Ryan said smoothly. “Look, I want everybody to stay cool while I’m gone, okay?”
Simon shot him a feeble thumbs-up. The others mumbled vaguely agreeing noises. Ryan set off over the field to their old high school, dodging chattering sprinklers.
“Look at her,” Becky mumbled reverently, “she’s so young.”
Becky had filled out a bit since high school, her hair chopped to jaw-level and dyed a bright red. In her high school ID, which nestled just above the girl’s shoulder, Becky smiled awkwardly at the camera in glasses and a forest of dark brown hair that sprouted from her head like sargassum.
The girl wore a plain white dress that bore no recognizable style. It could easily have been made in the 1980’s or the 1880’s. Though she was a few feet from his face, Simon was having trouble believing she was actually real. He could touch her, that might prove things conclusively, but he felt like the oil from his fingertips would stain her.
“Notice anything?” Kate asked. “She doesn’t smell.”
Simon dared to lean forward and flare his nostrils. That was right. All he could smell was the astringent odor of packed earth.
Becky frowned. “That’s…weird. People who had been dead even a little while should smell.”
“Who says she’s dead?”
Both women looked at Terry silently and then back to the hole.
“Holy hell, the ground was packed when we started digging,” Kate said, getting in close to the hole, “she would have had to be in there for a while at least.”
“Well, hermetically sealed—”
Kate stuck her hand back at Terry and made a quacking motion with it. “The ground was hard when you dug into it, wasn’t it?”
Simon realized he was being put on the spot. “Um, yeah.”
Becky sidled away from the hole it was getting harder and harder not to call a grave, rubbing her upper arms as if she was cold. “This is all really weird.”
Terry crouched beside Becky. “How’d they fit her in there, anyway? Did they take stuff out?”
Kate frowned. “They better not have taken out my judo trophy, I will be majorly fucking pissed.”
“Your trophy? That’s what you’re worried about?”
“Oh sorry, am I supposed to get gooshy over a letter my tenth grade boyfriend wrote me?” Kate snapped. “He was gay anyway.”
Becky arched her brows. “Does Ryan know you two slept together?”
Kate and Terry flushed. “Whatever. That was years ago! We don’t need to dig up the past.”
“Dig up the past,” Simon said, “ha.”
It was amazing how they could still fight over these things when they had the mystery of the century at their feet. But hadn’t that been the way, even from the beginning? The time capsule had no real significance, Kate had learned about the bicentennial capsule in the next town over and bent Ryan’s ear until he convinced the rest of them. Even now, in this heat that made everything seem slightly unreal, Simon could not even be sure of their friendship. Did he truly know these people? One of them could have been easily replaced by a stranger who had done their homework and he’d be none the wiser. None of them looked like they had in highschool, not really.
Simon looked down at the girl, puzzling. Yes he had known a truly pale blonde in high school, Becky had gone around calling her an albino until the girl crushed her in dodgeball. But she had been plumper and nearly six feet tall. This girl was a whisp, a perfectly formed doll that would have barely come up to Simon’s shoulder if she stood. The soles of her feet were perfect and clean, as they had never touched the ground.
Ryan legged it back over the soccer field shimmering with heat.
“No one’s around,” he said, leaning on his knees. Kate got to her feet and hewed to his side, giving insistent little murmurs.
“Well, that’s not a shock.” Terry stood and dusted off his pants, not looking at Ryan. “We chose this day because no one would be here.”
“So what do we do?” Becky asked, “do we…do we just call them?”
Ryan held up his hands. “Look, I have an idea and it may not be the best thing…we re-bury it.”
Shoulders of the whole group relaxed.
“But the body,” Terry protested, not very hard.
Ryan shook his head. “It’s beyond us, guys.”
Kate hunched her shoulders. “But what about the time capsule? Can we take it out?”
Ryan threw an arm around her shoulders. “Can’t, babe. That would leave a cavity. We re-bury it as is and the groundskeeper thinks some dog was screwing around up here.”
“Or burying beer,” Becky joked. They were all resetting to the people they had been before the hole. Simon felt that he was the only one stuck. He could not wrench his mind from the girl in the hole, so he faked it like he always did.
“Guess I’ll go first,” he joked thinly, grabbing up the shovel.
The first shovel-load fell like blasphemy. Simon watched the earth rattle down on the girl’s white dress and wondered if it would stain. He looked back at the group and saw them eagerly looking at him.
He kept shoveling.
The girl’s face was the last to be covered, it shone out like the bone of some extinct creature exposed by the very elements that would wear it away. Simon winced as dirt fell on her eyes. Finally there was nothing for it, and he gently laid dirt across the last remaining piece of the girl. Kate sighed behind him. They were sliding back into place like building blocks, taking shapes that were familiar and easy. Could he have gone against it? Planted his feet and refused to let it lie?
No, Simon thought, this was his place. The gap left by the four of them fitting in with each other.
They took turns stepping on the soil, pressing it out flat. The tension brought on by the girl had evaporated in the sun.
Becky almost danced out to the cars, linking arms with Kate and trying to run in step. Terry joked with Ryan as if nothing had ever been amiss. And Simon reverted to his natural place at the back of the group.
Becky hopped into her Jeep without so much as a wave. Terry took his sweet time getting into his Miata, he even sat as if it was part of a ritual. Kate had already squeezed into the passenger side of the Escape and Ryan was standing at the open driver’s door. It was now or never.
“Tell me,” Simon murmured, bending close, “you didn’t look for anyone, did you?”
Ryan looked surprised for a minute, then laughed. His laugh was infectious.
“Ya got me. Sometimes you have to bend the truth for people’s own good, you know?”
Simon glanced past him at Kate, who was busy scrolling through her phone.
“I hear that,” he said. Ryan slapped him on the back.
“Going to Paddy’s later,” Ryan said as he eased himself in, “see you there?”
Simon smiled tightlipped.
“Got work,” he lied, “I have to go clean up now anyway.”
Ryan did not press him, just threw the car into reverse and sped away. Simon was left holding the shovel, gripping it tightly.