It should’ve been raining. Funerals should always be cold and miserable. They should be drab affairs with the weather as an echo for the emotional storm raging inside the attendees. Otherwise, it just felt wrong, that the emotions being felt were hollow in the sun. It was like the whole day was false and would plague her memories as being false. None of this was real, the sun, her emotions, all of it was just a movie playing out around her and she was just a background player watching as people cried around her.
Lizzie felt that way. Something had twisted inside her and now she was a shell. There had to be a living person somewhere deep inside, but she didn’t recognize it. That person was no longer home in her. The ghost that remained was unrecognizable.
The outside world was no better. When she had finally returned to her apartment in the city, it had felt foreign, the objects inside no longer having any meaning to what was left of her life. The moving shapes, cars and busses no longer gave her that sense of security as she watched them drive by and imagined them crashing into cars her friends were driving. Each touch made her jump, the coffee shop’s hissing of froth sounded like screams. All of it was strange and she had never before felt so alone. She now saw the world for the darkness that it was. The torment that existed in the shadows that danced around her. They were swarming around her just waiting for their chance to take her.
The hardest part was that she wanted to join them. Already, she’d lost three friends in the span of a week, why couldn’t she have been with them? Everyone around her seemed to be dying and here they left her to survive in this world.
No, they hadn’t left her. Maybe it would be easier if they had, but they were all three with her now as an ever-present reminder that they were dead, and she was not.
She looked at the priest who was reciting some prayer. Around her, many had their heads bows, shedding tears for Sarah. Next to the priest stood Sarah’s mom, an arm around her from Sarah’s dad. They had both been like second parents to Lizzie while growing up and now they barely acknowledged her.
They blame you. She didn’t know why, and it wasn’t fair. She had called them shortly after returning to the apartment and they had come over to get some of Sarah’s things. When they had arrived, Sarah’s mom had gone into her room while her dad stayed with Lizzie. He’d tried to talk to her but wouldn’t look her in the eye. Joann, Sarah’s mom would, but there was hate there, and neither of them pretended to be polite. They came, took what they wanted, and left, John barely mentioning anything about the funeral until they were out the door. Even then, it was clear they didn’t want her there.
She came anyway, and they had yet to say anything to her, openly avoiding getting near her. She had to talk to them though, make them understand that none of this was her fault.
“And now we lay this blessed soul to rest. She was taken too soon, but we are comforted with knowing that she has joined you Lord, up in the gentle pastors of your heavenly grace.”
The priest was finishing his prayer, and Lizzie felt the hand in her chest tighten. Soon they would ask for people to come up there and speak. Sarah’s parents were sure to say something, and Lizzie had been dreading that they would openly blame her. The accusing finger would point at her, and they would cry out, “Murderer!”
“I can’t believe Rick came.” Sarah said from behind Lizzie.
“Who’s Rick?” Elisabeth said, standing next to her. The side of her face was crushed in, and when she spoke it was hard for her to say it without a lispt, adding a ‘th’ sound. Who’s came out as Who’sth. Next to Elisabeth was Chuck. Since he died, he hadn’t said much to Lizzie or to any of them. He mostly glared at them, blaming them for his death. He would sit and mope when Lizzie went anywhere to eat and at night, he would scream out the window trying to get someone to wake him up from his nightmare.
“He’s my old boyfriend. I dumped him six months ago, but he never took the hint and has been stalking me. I thought he was going to go psycho on me, and they’d find me sliced up out in the woods somewhere. Go figure.”
Lizzie fought against the tears. They wanted to burst from her, but she bit down hard on her lip. She was not about to cry. Not now, not with all the people surrounding her. She felt the wetness touching the corner of her eyes, but she was sure as hell not about to give in.
Why did she fight it? She lost her friend. Sarah had died right in front of her. She had every damned reason to be balling her eyes out. It was logical.
Yeah, but was it logical for my best friend who was dead to be standing there at her own funeral, making jokes about boys she’d dated. Lizzie had a hard time keeping it all together just because she lost her friend. Having her ghost still there was driving her crazy. They were all three always there. They stayed with her, going wherever she went. She had to find a way to get rid of them.
And then there was the tickety-tac man. Her shadow man still came to her, though he was often a thing that tortured her nightmares. She wasn’t sure if he was real anymore or just something that was a part of her dreams. She thought she had seen him out in the woods, but he might have just been the first crack in her sanity.
“Thank you all for coming. There’s a gathering at the house. Most of you are welcome to stop by and offer your condolences.” Sarah’s dad was saying. As he did, he looked directly at Lizzie, and she knew who the ‘most’ being welcome referred to and she wasn’t one of them. It was written on his face.
How could she explain it to them? She had a flower basket in her car. She figured after the memorial, she would give it to them, offer her words and wrap her arms around them. The Jones had been like family to her. She had grown up there just as much as her own home and with Sarah vice versa.
“Um, I don’t like how my dad keeps giving you the stink-eye. Maybe we shouldn’t have come?” Sarah said, looking at her dad as he finished his remarks. For a brief moment Lizzie thought he was going to come at her, but he turned away, taking his wife in his arms as they walked towards the line of cars parked along the narrow service road.
“I don’t know about Lizzie, but I remember you were saying how much you thought it would be cool to see your own funeral.” Elisabeth said, fighting to talk through the lisp.
“Hey, this isn’t easy for me being dead.”
“You’re not the only one. Hello.” Chuck made a sound behind Elisabeth as they both stared at the other dead woman. “At least you get to go to your funeral. I doubt Lizzie will go to ours and we don’t even know when it is.”
It wasn’t easy to ignore her dead followers. They were always there now, no one else able to see them and always fraying at the edge of what Lizzie believed was her sanity.
As the progression of mourners left to their cars parked along the path, Lizzie turned to go the other way. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see the others. She did, even though she knew they didn’t want to see her. There were at least a few she would have like to talk to, Jess especially, but Lizzie’s parents were buried nearby, and she wanted to say hello. It’d been a while since she had visited them. Being there amongst the dead that stayed buried, she realized that it had been longer than she had ever intended.
It took her a few missed attempts at finding their gravestone, but she finally found it. The large slab of marble was more than they should have had on the grave, and she hadn’t thought about it before as he never came to the funeral, but it had to have been bought by her uncle.
She wondered just how much he had been in her life without her ever knowing it. What did he even know about her? Why did he leave most of his money to her, and not split it evenly with her brother? It was a raw deal that just because her brother was disabled, he’d get less. Did her uncle think he wouldn’t need it, or did he just not care?
Though it didn’t matter now. She looked down at the beautiful tombstone, the nice plot that had her parents next to each other as it topped a hill. It was elegant, and of course had their names and lifespans etched on the front. Below it was stated simply, “Loved by son and daughter.”
She didn’t stop the tears this time as they rolled down her face, looking at the graves.
“Who’s this?” Elisabeth said.
Elisabeth and Sarah came up behind her, and she could feel them standing there without turning. She often tried not to look at them anymore. They were all bloody messes. Sarah, she understood, but Chuck and Elisabeth had both just shown up hours after their deaths. Lizzie had just finished talking to the EMTs and the police and had finally given the okay to leave. She was driving down the road, Sarah hanging out in the passenger seat, riding shotgun like she had so often done while alive, when Elisabeth and Chuck both just showed up in the back seat.
They had been as surprised as she had been.
They were just there, both of them screaming and causing Lizzie to drive off the road, barely able to keep control of the car.
“I’m sure they’re in heaven. They won’t be stuck down her like whatever we are.” Sarah said, putting her arm around Lizzie’s shoulder. She wasn’t sure if she really felt it but thought there was a chill to where the dead friend touched her. They had already discovered that the dead couldn’t walk through objects for some reason, but if Lizzie tried to close a door on them and keep them from following her, they just appeared next to her. She had no control over it and according to them, neither did they.
Though, since they were probably figments of her imagination and she was slowing driving down the crazy train on a short trip to hell, did it really have to make any logical sense about what the dead could and could not do? She didn’t think so. Soon they would be the only ones she talked to as they locked her away in some white room with padded walls. The day was coming, she just didn’t know how much longer until it did.
Lizzie sat down. It wasn’t planned and was more of a fall then a chosen action of sitting, but the earth was soft, and she landed without hurting herself too much. If she wasn’t sore from being chased by a murderer who the cops say was already dead, she might not have hurt at all from the fall. As it was, the bruises still hadn’t faded completely and caused her to wince.
Behind her, she heard the two dead girls whispering. She could barely hear more than snippets of what they were saying.
“parents…killed…” was enough for her to know that Sarah was filling Elisabeth in on the whole parents being killed in a car wreck much like their own. Lizzie was sure that Elisabeth was noting the similarities as well, because it was true, death was all around Lizzie. It was like a black cloud that hung over her, following her wherever she went.
Maybe that was why she stayed away from her brother so much? She knew it wasn’t true, but she had no better explanation for it. It wasn’t his fault he was sick, but just because he was, didn’t mean she always had to be around. He had doctors and caregivers who took care of him, she wasn’t needed. Something more she told herself to keep him away.
But who are you really kidding?
She crawled across the ground and sat on her parent’s graves, leaning back against them. The tears continued, the sobs coming in waves as she allowed herself to think of more things she had done wrong in her life, more people she felt responsible for ruining their lives. You know, when you want to, you can make yourself responsible for anything when you try hard enough, and she was trying incredibly hard to make herself the destroyer of the universe.
Lizzie had stopped paying attention to her dead friends, so she didn’t see when Chuck had been walking around the graves. She hadn’t seen when he had bent down on the back side of her parent’s graves, and then had stood up to motion the rest of them over. They left her alone to cry there as they went around, and she cried even harder as now she even chasing away her dead friends. Everyone was leaving her, and it was all her part.
“Liz, you should see this.”
Lizzie ignored them, wiping away one set of tears only to feel that another wave, this one accompanying a headache was coming.
“Who would have done that?” Elisabeth was asking.
“I don’t know but they really scratched the hell out of it.”
This is marble. They’d have to have some serious tools to etch that in” Chuck said.
“I mean, I’m not an expert, but that’s hard rock. Have you ever taken a knife to anything solid? It might scratch it, but nothing like how deep that is.”
“So, you’re saying someone came out here with power tools?”
“No, just someone put a lot of work into it, I’m surprised no one noticed it or hadn’t said anything.”
Lizzie glanced up as Sarah came around from behind her, having just saw what the other two had been talking about. She lowered herself to Lizzie, her eyes sorrowful. Lizzie forced herself to hold back the next round of tears, trying to wipe and hide them away now that someone had noticed her.
“I think you should see this.”
“What is it?” She tried to say, unsure of what her friend actually heard. Sarah nodded though and acted as she understood. That’s what lifelong friendship was, being able to know what someone meant, even if the words came out unclear.
“You should see it.”
It took her a little bit of effort to get up. The soft earth made her limbs unsteady, and her soreness fought against her. She wasn’t sure of her legs and had to use the solid tombstone to help her stand. Even then her knees wobbled and more than once she saw Sarah reach out to try and help her only to pull her hands back.
Lizzie understood why. While her dead friends weren’t substantial enough to move objects, there was something else entirely that happened when they touched one another. Sarah had reached out for her once before and they had both had a sudden sickness overtake them, their stomachs threatening to relieve themselves and their heads exploding in pain. Lizzie wasn’t exactly sure what it meant or what it was, but they had learned that they weren’t meant to touch.
So, Sarah could only watch as Lizzie struggled to get strength back in her legs as she eased her way to what they were looking at.
On the back of the tombstone was etched deep in the marble the words, “I’m Sorry Johnny Boy.” and underneath, probably was meant to be a signature, the initials of her uncle. He had at some point, come to visit her parents and had felt the need to forcefully etch in the stone his apology. What was he sorry for? Lizzie would never know.
Lizzie’s knees gave out, her legs collapsing under her, and she barely missed the headstone as she fell to the ground.
“Lizzie!” She heard from a familiar voice, but not from the dead friends around her. This was one she hadn’t heard without the hiss of a cell static in over a week, and she couldn’t help but wonder how she was hearing it.
Did it matter. She had just fallen, she was on the ground, bound down to this marble altar of her parent’s death.
“Lizzie!” the voice called again.
“Ah shit, It’s Jess. I love her and all, but she really does have the worst timing.”
“Who’s Jess.” Elisabeth asked, looking from Sarah to Chuck and then back.
“A friend of ours. She was supposed to be out there with us. If she had, maybe I’d still be alive, though I’m not bitter or anything.” By her tone, it was hard not to notice that Sarah was indeed still bitter and had she been able to touch the woman who was quickly approaching, she would probably try choke her.
Lizzie didn’t look up as they talked. She had noticed something on the marble. It was something else scratched there, but this wasn’t as deep and hidden lower on the base where the grass nearly covered it. She eased closer and pushed aside the blades of grass.
Her uncle had etched this without the care or the tools and somehow, she had known that it had been there just for her. She did’t know how she knew but could see him. She watched as he had tossed aside his etching tools, took a long pull from some bottle. He was wavering back and forth so he must have been drunk as he pulled out the screwdriver and dropped down to the ground, lying there just as she was. He reached out and painstakingly scratched the stone to read, “Beware the dead” and below it, “stay in the house.”