Chapter no 60

The Teacher



Or at least it used to be a pumpkin patch—many years ago, back when Nathaniel was a child. Now the sign proclaiming pumpkins are available for picking is overgrown with weeds and covered with a healthy layer of dirt and grime. I don’t know when the last time was that anyone picked a pumpkin here, but it’s been many, many years.

Nate parked his Honda about half a mile away, where the road became too difficult to drive on. He popped the trunk, and he handed over two shovels for me to carry, then he heaved his wife’s body into his arms. He’s been carrying her for the last fifteen minutes, which makes me wonder if dead bodies are heavier or lighter than alive bodies.

I imagine this patch might have once contained lots of plump orange pumpkins, but now any remaining pumpkins are smashed and rotting— partially eaten by animals. My sneaker squishes right into the innards of one of the pumpkins, and I wince. When I get home, I’m going to have to figure out a way to clean my sneakers, because right now, they are covered in dirt and pumpkin goo and probably some of Mrs. Bennett’s blood.

“How about over here?” Nathaniel kicks at a patch of dirt.

Because of the impending winter, the ground has hardened, but it feels slightly softer here. Maybe.

Without waiting for an answer, Nathaniel deposits his wife’s body in the dirt. He holds out his hand, and I give him one of the two shovels. He digs the blade of the shovel into the soil and grunts slightly, and then it gives way. After scooping out three shovelfuls of dirt, he looks up at me.

“What are you waiting for?” he asks. “I brought two shovels for a reason.”

I look doubtfully at the shovel in my hand. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to dig a grave for my math teacher. I just want to go home. Why didn’t I just stay home tonight? I could be cozy in my bed, reading a book of poetry.

“I’m cold,” I say, because it seems like as good an excuse as any.

“So digging will warm you up.” He pulls off his own black beanie to demonstrate how toasty warm he is. “Come on. I don’t want to be here all night.”

He is staring at me like I don’t have a choice. I pick up the shovel and stick the spade into the earth. Not surprisingly, it feels like I’m digging into a rock. The dirt barely crumbles. But Nathaniel is still watching me, so I try again. The second time, I am more successful, and the third even more so. When I scoop out the dirt and throw it on the side, I’m careful to avoid the body wrapped in the navy sheet.

“There you go,” he says. “Now let’s do this quickly. We don’t want to still be digging when the sun comes up.”

I don’t know when the sun comes up exactly, but it’s barely after midnight. The idea that we could be digging for the next six or seven hours is nothing short of horrifying. It’s enough to quicken my pace.

We dig mostly in silence for the next ninety minutes or so. Once we get through the first layer of soil, it’s a lot easier and we start making good progress. Soon enough, we have a hole in the earth about six feet long by two feet wide and now about two feet deep. We both climbed into the hole when we hit the one-foot mark, and it feels a bit like we’re digging our own graves.

Nathaniel pauses and wipes some sweat from his forehead. Despite the freezing temperature, we both took off our coats about an hour ago. “Okay,” he says. “Lie down.”

I stare at him like he has lost his mind. “What?”

“We need to make sure the hole is the right size,” he says impatiently. “So you need to lie down so we can measure. You’re about the same size as she is.”

“I don’t want to do that,” I say in a tiny voice.

Nathaniel throws his shovel on the ground. “Do I have to fight with you to get you to do every part of this?”

There’s a dark look in his eyes that is unfamiliar to me. I thought I understood him better than anyone in the world. I thought I was his soulmate. But it’s beginning to be clear to me that there’s a side to Nathaniel that I don’t know.

“What were those red marks on her neck?” I ask him for the second time. But now with more urgency.

“What?” he says.

A gust of wind whistles past my ears and I shiver. “Those red marks on her neck. I’m sure they weren’t there before. They almost looked like fingers…”

Nathaniel stares at me, his body rigid. “What are you saying?” “Nothing. I just…”

He blinks at me. “Are you suggesting that I am responsible for the marks on her neck?”

I open my mouth, but the only sound that comes out is a tiny squeak.

“Are you suggesting,” he continues, “that she wasn’t actually dead when you left the room?” His voice drops several notches. “And that she woke up while you were upstairs and threatened to ruin me?” His voice drops even lower, until it’s almost a hiss. “So I had no choice but to strangle her to death…with my bare hands?”

I can’t even breathe as he gazes at me, his usually mild brown eyes very dark in the dim moonlight illuminating the inside of the grave. We stare at each other through the haze of the frigid pumpkin patch for what feels like an eternity and a half. The way he said those words sends a horrible chill down my spine. I had no choice but to strangle her to death with my bare hands. It sounds so real—like he means it.

And then another terrible thought occurs to me.

If Nathaniel did kill his wife, I am the only other person who knows exactly what happened tonight. He is now counting on a teenage girl not to blab to the police. And we drove out here together in his car, and I texted my mother half an hour ago that I was about to go to sleep and all was well. Nobody knows I’m here with him.

In many ways, killing me right now would be the smart thing for him to


“Nate,” I whisper. “Please…”

His eyes look like black holes. “Please what?”

I imagine his fingers closing around his wife’s neck, cutting off her air.

“Please don’t…”

My knees wobble, and I’m scared they might give way. I’m scared to breathe. Actually, I’m even more scared I might pee in my pants. But then just when I can’t stand it another millisecond, Nate shakes his head and steps into a slice of moonlight, which makes his eyes look normal again.

“Stop being ridiculous, Addie,” he says. “You know I didn’t kill her. You did.”

I swallow. “Oh. Right.”

“Jesus, stop letting your imagination run wild.” “Sorry,” I mumble.

As my thudding heart slowly returns to a normal pace, I try to tell myself he’s right. I’m definitely imagining things. Nathaniel wouldn’t strangle his wife to death. He wouldn’t.

And if he did—if those finger marks belonged to him—he totally had a good reason. If he did it, it was to protect me. To protect us. I trust him.

I think I do, at least.

He stares down at the dirt, as if contemplating his next move. I don’t want to lie down in this grave—I really, really don’t. Finally, he lifts one of his shoulders. “Okay. I’m sure the hole is big enough.”

Oh, thank God.

“Hey, listen,” he says. “I just remembered that I never grabbed her purse from the trunk. It would probably be better if we threw that in here with her. We can power down her phone.”


He glances at his watch. “Let me go grab it. I’ll be right back.” “I’ll go with you.”

Nathaniel gives me a look like I’m stupid. “Addie, you have to keep digging. We’ve got to get this done. I told you—I’ll be right back.”

I don’t want to be left here alone in this stupid pumpkin graveyard. But it’s clear from Nathaniel’s expression that he is not going to let me tag along with him. And he does have a point. I need to keep digging.

“Hurry back,” I say.

“I promise I will.” He gives me a long look. “Remember, whatever else happens: deny everything.”

With those words of wisdom, he climbs out of the hole. He retrieves his coat from where he abandoned it in the dirt, and he slides it back on over his shoulders. I watch him walk away until the sound of his boots crunching on the leaves vanishes into the wind.

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