The Charred Tree

The Funeral

“No, I should be home by 2:30. Just a graveside service with the family.  Sure, I can stop by the store on the way home. Mmhmmm. Anything besides milk and sugar? OK, Honey. See you in a bit.”

Lloyd Kirkland replaced the receiver on the rotary phone at the corner of his desk at Faith River Covenant Assembly. He jotted a few words on a sticky-note—milk, sugar, butter, vanilla extract—before placing it inside the well-worn cover of his Bible. The Regulator clock on the wall began to chime. 1:15pm. Almost time, he thought. Brother Hanckel and the bereaved would arrive shortly. Despite the warmth radiating from the blue and yellow window Lloyd tightened his tie and donned his suit coat. He took a moment to check his appearance in the full-length mirror before exiting the church through the stain-glass dappled sanctuary. It was just as well the funeral would be graveside; the cemetery was shaded while the church building was little more than a crude oven standing in the sun. This congregation was rural and poor enough that open windows and box fans were the best cooling to be had. All but the most committed found other things to do on Sunday mornings during the summer months.

Lloyd squinted into the bright sunlight that beat against the front of the church. Heat blasted into him from every direction in the still air and sweat soaked his shirt. The constant scree-scree-screeeeeee of the cicadas assaulted his ears. Typical of a mid-July afternoon. The Channel 8 news out of Greenville had forecast clear skies, high humidity, and triple-digit highs this afternoon. He pulled the heavy door shut and mopped the moisture from his brow with a handkerchief while descending the steps. Weatherman Ronnie got it right when he said it would be sweltering.

At the rear of the gravel parking area Lloyd opened the arched cast iron gate. Large oaks shaded the cemetery. No breeze stirred the Spanish moss but the boughs offered a cooler sanctuary from the blazing sun. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath—the air was redolent with moisture and loam. He had always enjoyed the smell of turned soil and it brought a smile to his face until he remembered the reason. The pile of dirt from the open grave was visible near the back of the burial ground through the lane of trees. So peaceful in here. Sad, but peaceful.

Lloyd turned as tires crunched on gravel. The hearse lead a short procession of cars toward the gate. Lloyd raised a hand in greeting when he recognized Claude Hanckel behind the wheel of the lead vehicle. The funeral director waved back as the long car entered the shade. Lloyd turned and walked along the edge of the lane toward the grave as the remaining cars drove by. The impassive faces behind the glass stared at him without recognition. Not surprising—the last of Mrs. Breton’s kin had moved away several decades before. The eldest members of the church barely remembered the deceased lady or her husband buried near the far end of the cemetery.

Lloyd greeted the mourners as they emerged from their cars and offered his condolences. Mr. Hanckel directed four of the younger men in carrying the casket from the hearse to the grave while his wife, Harriet, brought the flower arrangements from the hearse and put them at either end of the casket. The Breton clan assembled to one side of the casket and stood fanning themselves. Everyone felt more than heard a faint rumble.

Claude leaned forward and whispered in Lloyd’s ear from behind, “So’nds lak a stawm kickin’ up, Pastuh Kirkland. Bettah git dis done and da hole filled in b’fo’e it gits heah.”

Lloyd nodded and stood at the head of the casket. “Friends—for we are indeed friends in Christ even if we’ve only just met—we gather here today to bid farewell to your mother and grandmother and our sister in faith, Clarice Breton. Although Sister Clarice left this congregation many years ago when she moved away, we welcome her that she may await the Resurrection of the Saints with her dear husband, Horace, who passed while serving this congregation as pastor some forty-seven years ago.” He felt another tremor and noticed a trickle of the mounded dirt slip into the hole beneath the casket. The cicadas had stopped their screeeeee-ing and everything was silent.

“Uh, yes. While preparing for this service I asked if there was anyone who would like to give the eulogy. Though it was left to me to choose the right words to speak on this occasion, I’m told that Sister Clarice took great comfort in the scriptures during recent years and that she requested this passage be read at her funeral. I can think of none better for such an occasion.” Lloyd opened his Bible to the marked page and began reading the 23rd Psalm. He knew the passage by heart—had, in fact, learned it at his grandmother’s knee—but he read it anyway to make sure he spoke it correctly; the last thing a pastor needed was to misquote scripture, especially at a funeral.

“…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” The earth roared. The moss above their heads swayed in the sultry air. Confusion filled every staring face of those opposite Lloyd. They saw his eyes grow large with surprise.

“Mah Gawd! Was dat a quake?” Hanckel asked.

A crash like the report of a cannon boomed beneath their feet. Soil flew through the air along with the casket. Those gathered screamed and ran for their cars. Lloyd did not hear the cacophony or feel the dirt stick to his sweat-slicked skin. He stared into the thousand black eyes filling the hole that had so recently been a grave. In the end he knew their efforts to escape would be futile and all would perish in the shadow of Kar’Wick, the Spider-God.

Author’s Note: This week’s story is sort of a Reese’s of writing…I got Flash Pulp in my InMon! I got InMon in my FlashPulp!  When I read the prompts for this week’s InMon, “Funeral cut short” jumped out at me. Little did I know at that first reading that the little guy in charge of creativity in my brain was whispering, “What better interruption than the rise of Kar’Wick?!”

Special thanks to JRD Skinner at Flash Pulp for letting me play in his sandbox. I highly recommend Flash Pulp to anyone enjoying good stories.

This story is in response to an InMon prompt at BeKindRewrite! Thank you for providing inspiration and motivation on a weekly basis.

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10 thoughts on “The Funeral

  1. Ha! You’ve spun a fun yarn here, sir.

  2. Hmm, gonna need to find out more about this Kar’Wick spider god fella. You got me going there.

  3. I love the unexpected absurdity. There’s a kind of hilarious poetry to it.

  4. Pingback: Inspiration Monday: the books conspired against us « BeKindRewrite

  5. A good story and a good “twist” story for me because you build a solid, somber story that reads well enough that you keep at it – but you suspect (I did at least) from the first hint of rumbling that something would disrupt the funeral or some such. The excellent part of course being that you took that expectation (which was nicely created by the way) and not only turned it on it’s head, but took a turn into the bizarre and completely unexpected that just made it brilliant in that my first thought was, “dammit! now what next!?!”
    Cheers.

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