It’s rather gloomy out today, you suppose. How fitting. A glooming peace this morning with it brings. Some shall be punished indeed.
The cars pulled up some time ago, one by one into the parking lot, startling the grey morning quiet with the thudding of the doors, the performative scrape of high heels on asphalt. Strained voices, quiet words. Brief hugs, dry handshakes.
Even if you didn’t already know perfectly well, you’d still be able to clock who is actually meant to be here by what they hold in their hands. Some thoughtful individuals bear the tell-tale foil-covered platter that promises homemade goods. The sweet neighbour lady has surely brought brownies, judging by the shallow glass container that she grasps in one pale hand. Others dance on the line of “Not sure if I was supposed to bring anything? So, anyway, here’s this—” and clutch grocery store plastic vegetable trays or sweaty little handfuls of carnations. Well-meaning, all of them. Just as well are those with nothing at all. You regard them with appreciation as they climb the steps and pass through the heavy doors.
But then—ah. There they are, all but shouting their betrayals with those carefully selected floral arrangements. Impressive and elegant, in heavy enamelled vases. Each one exactly large enough to resemble a great heartfelt gesture, and each one also exactly forty-five dollars. The lilies are the attention-seekers, but a careful eye notes that even these bouquets are filled out with the cheapest options: baby’s breath, freesia, white carnations.
The parking lot butts up against the edge of a tree farm, and this is where you wait. Just behind the tree line, just out of sight. The mulchy ground is wet from last night’s rain, not that it matters a bit. The parking lot still bears the uneven grey shadows of drying puddles. The painted arrow in the driveway needs a serious retouching. The church itself looks like something out of the first fifteen minutes of a Stephen King adaptation—ugly, colourless, and only visible to those who already know it’s there. A feeble breeze disturbs a lost invitation, which flops over into a puddle. Copy store card-stock and toner—really? Not even colour ink?—disintegrate on the spot.
This—this pathetic, wilted scene, this—is all you get? The organizers, those cockroaches with their mid-range flower arrangements picked up ready-made from a corner store florist, they sure didn’t strain anything throwing this together. You thought that, if not for you, they’d at least make it nice for your mother. Loving son, and all that. Or, bless her, your fiancée. Does she not deserve it? Don’t you?
Perhaps the inside is a different story. Maybe that’s where they spent the budget. Expensive flowers—peonies, lilies of the valley. Catered hors d’oeuvres. A choir. Pyrotechnics.
It’s musings such as these that distract you. When you at last think to move, the parking lot is long-since quiet. Hushed sounds escape the cracked church door.
You step free of the trees, grateful for your new imperviousness to sticky sap, and drift across the parking lot to the church steps.
The door is just barely ajar, and you’re in no state to push it open. Fortunately, this will not be a problem.
You check the time. Perfect. As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late.
You make no sound as you enter the church. Predictably, your friends, family, neighbours, coworkers, and assorted people who may or may not have gone to your high school sit in little clusters in the pews, while a pastor you’ve never met describes your many virtuous qualities, interrupted only by the occasional sound of a nose blowing into a tissue. Everyone is disengaged enough not to notice you as you pass by, silent, until you come to stand at the pastor’s side. He drones on, unnoticing.
The floral arrangements up here catch your eye.
“Carnations,” you say. “Figures.”
A few dozen heads snap up to look upon you, and the pastor promptly reaches for his bible.
Your mother’s mouth is open comically wide. The thin, old-lady skin of her neck trembles as she gapes.
Someone whispers a stunned expletive.
“Hello, all,” you say with a wry smile. Perhaps they could all use a moment to take it in, yes? You make idle conversation with the silent room. “Fitting weather for a funeral, is it not? Lovely of you all to come. Mrs Gardner, were those your brownies I saw in the hall?”
Mrs Gardner, white as your corpse in the rented casket behind you, loses consciousness.
“Sorry,” you murmur. The casket, in the corner of your eye, is very plain. Oak, most likely, not that it matters, as your boxed cremation is scheduled for the following day. Your embalmed face looks truly ghastly. Why anyone would ever choose to embalm a loved one baffles you. And what work it must have been, what with the state your body was in. Has your mouth always looked that pursed, or is it just the wires clamping your jaw shut?
Finally, someone thinks to scream. Then another, and a handful more. All lovely people unfortunately, those you’d hoped not to disturb too terribly much by your arrival.
“No need to be frightened,” you soothe them. “Just a regular old ghost, nothing special. I shan’t haunt you.” You allow your spectral gaze to assess the crowd of mourners. “That is, so long as you’ve done nothing to deserve my wrath—ha!” You chuckle, allow them to calm at your supposed humour from behond the grave.
In the crowd, seated strategically near the middle, four faces go completely bloodless.
You can all but hear their thoughts. This is it. We’re fucked.
It is, and they are, but you’ve only just begun. Why spoil the fun so soon? No—that part is best saved for Phase Two.
Looking on their faces here, in dim church lighting, dressed in their finest black garments, hair tastefully done, all you can see are those same faces twisted with malice. Those men and women from college, your friends for decades, peering down while your vision swam, your heart slowed. Can they still hear the crack of your skull? Did they burn the clothes they’d worn, sprayed with your blood?
Your fiancée lets out a tremendous sob, clutching her mouth. You send her a placating smile.
“Hello, darling,” you tell her. “I hope you haven’t suffered too terribly.”
You love her—you really do—but oh, this is such fun. “Say, have they solved my murder yet?”
Well, that won’t do.
You turn on the pastor, muttering rapidly to himself. “You must know, surely. Have they caught my killer?”
Wide-eyed, the pastor shakes his head.
You clap your transparent hands together. “Grand. I should like to lend my account to the proceedings. As you might imagine, it was frightfully unpleasant, being murdered, and I intend to see the guilty parties thoroughly punished.”
One of those very parties vomits discreetly into her handbag. Charming.
With Phase One complete, you extend a spectral hand to your weeping fiancée. “Come now, darling,” you beckon her. “I’d rather be at home, wouldn’t you?”
She stares at your hand for a long, uncomfortable minute, before rising on wobbling legs and traipsing silently to your side. You can’t help but notice that she doesn’t look particularly thrilled to see you. No matter—she’ll come around.
She follows as if in a trance as you leave the way you came, straight down the aisle toward the doors.
“I suppose I’ll have to call up the police department, yes? Surely there are procedures to adhere to.” This room is populated solely with people who know you, and yet not one of them steps up to engage in your repartee. How disappointing. “I expect you’ll hear all about it when the news breaks. It’s quite the story.”
Heads turn, robotically, to watch you as you pass by. One of your murderers stares at the ceiling, as though he is resigning himself to his doomed fate. Yes, you were close, weren’t you? you think. Shame to have it all ruined like this. You know what else is a shame? Being murdered.
What a week they’re all in for. You’ll relish every minute.
You lead your catatonic fiancée out of that tasteless funeral and into the bland, grey daylight. Her foot lands on the decomposing invitation. Your feet don’t touch the ground at all.