Deserved by Randall Drum
Arthur hated funerals almost as much as he hated his mother.
He shoved his gloved fists deep into his coat pockets. His eyes watered against the late January wind, cold enough to freeze. The muscles in his legs ached as he struggled to stand still. The compulsion to kick the chromed winch lever, sending the bitch to the bottom of her hole, was nearly irresistible.
There had been no viewing at the funeral home, given the circumstances. Only a few mourners braved the snowfall and crowded beneath the canopy sheltering the grave. Arthur hoped it would shorten the service. People usually didn’t want to be out in this kind of weather. Still, there would be time for each of the grieving to perform their show for each other. Jockeying to shake a hand, pat a shoulder, utter “she will be missed.”
Genevieve Sarah Monroe would not be missed.
Worried, Arthur glanced at the faces of the others. Could they see the contempt lurking behind his eyes? Did his relief somehow creep into the corners of his mouth, drawing them up instead of down? Did anyone notice him biting his cheek when the pastor declared that his mother now rested with the Lord? Would they even wonder if she deserved to be there?
Arthur imagined his mother inside the coffin. Wrapped in her favorite green dress, second-hand and ill-fitting. Her skin blackened and peeled.
The pastor shook the hands of mourners as they passed.
Arthur did not.
The pastor thanked everyone for their attendance and wished them safe travels in the heavy snow.
Arthur did not.
He had nothing to say and wanted nothing to do with them. He stood silent as they all stepped off the faux grass carpet and trudged through the snow to their cars, which were now just a line of white lumps at the bottom of the hill.
The pastor gave Arthur a nod before tapping the lever. They stood together, shivering against the wind, as the coffin slowly descended. Then the pastor adjusted his scarf, and Arthur watched him make his way down the hill before turning his attention back to the bright silver box. He willed it to move faster, but it was useless. He wanted the hole to be deeper, and he needed her deep and away. Hidden and forgotten. Unable to touch him again.
The winch came to a halt when the coffin reached the floor of the grave. Arthur stood there for what seemed to be hours. How long would it take for the gravedigger to return and finish the job? His muscles had ceased their tremors, and the ache in his bones had faded away. Sound collapsed around him, leaving only the sighing shhh of the snow and the steady thrum of his heart. It teased his ears, threatening to become a pounding drone if he didn’t lower his high blood pressure. His sole inheritance from the woman in the hole.
A thick layer of snow swallowed the carpet and folding chairs which lined the graveside. Bursts of snow swirled up and around the legs of the canopy. It reminded Arthur of the night a week ago when he watched the fire wrap itself around the pillars of his mother’s house after it burst through the windows and spilled onto the porch. A smile, finally free to show itself, crept across his face.
He turned to look out to the rest of the cemetery. He could no longer see the driveway or his car at the bottom of the hill, only heaving waves of white—a rolling sea that drowned marble headstones and statues. The trees and neatly trimmed hedges that hid the cemetery from the world were nearly indistinguishable from the white sky.
Arthur picked at the ice that laced his face and neck. He struggled to keep his eyes open against the brilliance of the white and the wind, which blurred everything around him. The wind roared. His heartbeat was a train, wheels spinning wildly, buzzing his eardrums. He felt dizzy and reached for a chair to sit on, but his hand found only empty space.
Gone were the chairs.
Gone was the canopy.
Gone was the carpet.
Only the grave, that black void, with its ragged edge remained. It regarded him. Welcomed his gaze as it invited Arthur to come closer. Asking him to lean in and listen to a tale of fire and flesh. Of smoke and rot.
Arthur looked down but could not see where he met the ground. His legs disappeared into the snow that swelled around him. The din that flooded his ears and buzzed through his veins only moments ago ceased to exist. His coat was heavy with snow and ice. His body, numbed, was no longer Arthur’s to control. There was something in that quiet moment, though, that caught his attention. The scent of kerosene, burning wood, and ash filled his nose. Bile crept up his throat. Then a sound—gentle, persistent—rose from the darkness. Crunching snow and the fresh soil falling on metal.
Arthur, desperate to close his eyes and shut out the world, stared on as Genevieve Sarah Monroe’s fingers curled around the edge of the grave. The sleeves of her green dress fell back, exposing seared muscle and charred bone as she strained to pull herself over the edge.Arthur’s heart boiled with fury. Wrath pulsed hard in his veins beneath his frozen skin. She was gone! She wasaway! Ice glazed his eyes as the green and black shape staggered toward him. He felt her hands on his face. They were warm and smelled of earth and char. She lay her head on his shoulder and wrapped her arms around him, stroking his back gently as she pulled him closer to the waiting grave.
Randall Drum is a former stand-up comic who grew up with a love for dark and speculative fiction. Raised in the US Midwest, he has a variety of life experiences from janitor, science communicator, cook, and IT project manager. Randall enjoys spending time with his family, a fresh notebook and pen, and the occasional single malt. Randall can be found on Twitter.