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Last Respects

Tom is at the funeral of his cousin, he knows something about Edward’s death. Something he cannot face.

The coffin was passing, polished and carrying its small cargo. Edward had been barely twelve, the balloons still semi inflated at home congratulating him in various dark colours, wrinkling now and forgotten. It was still a mystery what had exactly happened to him.

Narrated version here

Tom really felt out of place in the house of God. The stone walls echoing the sentiments of the father who did not really know the boy in the box but intoned various superlatives about who he was and what he was like. Relatives and friends shed tears, an ocean of sadness for one taken so young. Tom still felt increasingly uncomfortable.

He imagined the body of the boy he once knew. He was struck with a thought of the inside the wooden box. He was struck with the thought of the boy in the box not being dead. Being alive and scratching at the inside of the lid. Pounding with fists only he could hear, the rhythmic tapping of panic and frenetic activity grew louder in his mind as the box approached. The glints of candles reflected and the warping faces of the mourners in the wood peering back. Staring manically at Tom.

The scratching was getting louder. People craned their necks to see the pall bearers, now a step behind the pew at which sat the young teen. Looking as if they were staring at him, predatory, accusing and worst of all silent. Tom had been there, well been the only one there at the end of the lifetime. The one who had. He could not say, did not want to say.

It was still a mystery as to what happened, at least to those who had not seen. Tom began to feel panic rise, the guilty knowledge not leaving him for even a seconds respite. Tom’s heart pounded as adrenaline flooded his body. He remembered the last moments of Edward’s life. The cold drip  of fear flooded into his being.

It had only been a few days before, was it longer? He was not entirely sure anymore. It hounded his memory, making the days blur into one long stretch of time, not delineated with the usual circadian patterns of  night and day.

“Shut up you miserable faggot.” Words that were designed only to hurt filled the space of the bathroom. A smaller boy looked nervously from the urinal and slowly edged away; memories of being told by his mother to always wash his hands forgotten; the drive for survival kicking in. One look at the speaker made him know that telling a teacher was not an option.

He scuttled away, hoping that he would be too insignificant to be noticed, he willed himself to disappear into the painted wall behind him, a little eleven-year-old chameleon. For now, it worked. He stumbled through the door hearing the end of a sentence, “you little shit, or else!” Echoed. He half walked half ran back to his lesson, not wanting to be told off.

The sound of something heavy hitting meat resonated. Each smack accompanied by the whine of a creature in pain. “Twat!” the noise of heavy suffering, a cry then repeated. The boy’s body was wracked with pain, his mind an emotional mess. Not one person believed him. Even his parents did not believe him. His own cousin would not behave that way. A chorus of liar accompanied his complaints. His cousin is… now was not like that.

Well Tom stared at the box that housed his cousin, boring into it. It had gone too far, the guilt was obvious on his face. If only it had stopped with the screaming. He knew why the coffin was closed and why no one had visited the chapel of rest. He remembered the bathroom, what he had done and allowed to happen. The devil that had been inside of him unleashed and the violence that he had thought was not possible.

Even in the shadow it looked to be smiling, how can that be possible to see through the veneer of a shadow?

One person knew what he had done in the large, tiled room. They stared through him, into him, seeing and looking. He could feel the waves of guilt from her. His eyes streamed with tears and that was taken by everyone around him to be genuine sadness. This was not that, this was fear.

Tom imagined that it had become manifest in the shadows again. He thought he could see a flicker of movement in the gloom, flitting between grey and black. The small shadow and outline of a girl with long hair. Even in the shadow it looked to be smiling, how can that be possible to see through the veneer of a shadow?

“No, no, no!” He wailed in conjunction with the box moving past him. He panicked. His mother went to put a comforting arm around him. She thought this was his first encounter with real death, they had not even had a pet with which to prepare him for this. There had been nothing. He had reacted in no way to anything since the death of Edward. He had been hollow.

She knew there was something wrong. She knew he had found his cousin in that awful bathroom, the one now closed and boarded up. She had had to throw away the clothes he came home from school in. He had said nothing but rocked in the shower. He had even thrown his watch away, spattered as it was. The stuff had dried on his forearms, looking like rivulets of freeze dried coffee. She cursed at the school and paramedics for leaving him covered like a roast that was packed in plastic ready to be picked up and cooked.

Still, through all the shock he had rocked but never cried, she had suspected the tears would come now. Her own had come and had from the phone call that made her hand feel numb.

“It’s okay,” she crooned through the sorrow.

“Get the fuck away from me,” he spat and stood up, banging and clattering, acting as if claustrophobic. He dashed out of the ornate pew into the coffin,  nearly sending it spinning slightly down the aisle. He ran to the exit escaping into the air and the light and vomited over a headstone. Panting.

Rage trumped his mother’s own despair. She did not know what to do and looked haggardly at her sister and mouthed an unseen apology and prayed she would melt through the floor.

Thomas regretted all the times he and his cousin were in that bathroom, in their own houses the name calling and the abuse. The punching and the hitting and the growing hatred. He wished it had all been different, turned out differently. His hate had called something, something that changed and shifted but always had the long claws and the animalistic way of moving.

The scars it left on Edward transcended the physical. His soul was marred and marked.

It had shredded his cousin, left him in tatters. If he hadn’t hated Edward so much, had not been bullied by him he would not have freed this being, called it to him. Now it would follow, he was a beacon for things that were unexplained. Never the be left alone again. Over time he would accept them. For now all he could do was whimper and wish to be someone else.

In the shade of the headstone, reeking with bile, long and dangerous fingers traced the stonework, leaving fine veins in the dead monolith, careful to avoid the light.

By magpiestories

An English teacher by trade, an author at heart, it only took a global pandemic for me to start writing my first novel. Along the way, I found a love for creating shorter fiction which I share on this site along with some updates and (hopefully) useful writing tips.

I hope you have a... pleasant time reading.

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