• Brent Streeter

The Wake


Photo by KoolShooters from Pexels


I stared out at the overcast sky through frosted windowpanes. Ominous gray clouds hung low over a sunny day. Amusing that the mood of the outside world bent to match the mood in the room, I stood. I felt the awkward touch of fingers on my shoulder, and I tore my gaze from the window. My attention shifted to a man - for the lack of caring, I could not remember his name. He was wearing what was surely his only black suit. Which, thanks to his girth, was almost bursting at the seams.

I remained silent as he floundered about with a rehearsed speech of condolences. My mouth twisted into a pained smile that never reached my eyes. I responded with some semblance of a thank you, and the man sauntered back to the buffet table, his chore done.

My eyes drifted over the crowd that mingled, speaking in low tones and hushed whispers. Thoughts drifted through the empty void of my mind. No one here really cared for her. She had had few friends, of which one or two could be considered truly close to her. That’s why I chose her. She preferred to keep to herself. And now she’s gone.

Another new arrival appeared - another person I did not know. We went through the motions, and then she too was disappearing into the throng. I found my eyes trailing after her and stopped myself. This is not the right time, better to leave the town and move on. Start again somewhere new, where nobody knew me.

My mood darkened, and I couldn’t stop myself from grimacing. This never would have happened if she had just stayed out of my things. She had pried where she ought not have.

Her father caught my eye and noticed my demeanor, peeling himself from the conversation he was in and making his way over. I softened my grimace to a frown. Easier to convince and dissuade suspicions. One is allowed to mourn however one pleases. That’s the beauty of death.

He sidled up beside me and placed - what I could only imagine was meant to be, a comforting hand on my shoulder. While he took a deep swig from the tumbler in his other. I could smell the booze wafting off of the man. I wrinkled my nose in discomfort. I felt the urge to slip out of his grasp, but I fought it down. I need to appear sincere.

After what felt like an endless and agonizing silence, he spoke, “I just can’t believe my little girl is gone...”

He snorted and wiped a tear from his eye. I cringed at the god-awful noise, but I did not interrupt the man. “She... She was always so careful, you know? Never took risks unless she was certain.”

Downing the remainder of his drink, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Peering into the empty glass as if he might find his daughter there.

Fool of a man, I thought. I don’t need him jumping to conclusions. Even if he is drunk. He might draw the wrong attention. I attempted to shift the conversation. “How’s the farm doing, Roger?” I held my breath, waiting for the question to sink through the whiskey haze.

“Hmm?” He looked up, a little confused, from his empty glass to meet my gaze.

I’ve got him, I thought and smiled inwardly. I repeated my question. He moved the hand upon my shoulder and ran it through what was left of his declining hairline.

“Oh... I suppose it’s going alright. It’s almost time to shear the sheep and Beth has me running around like a headless chicken with all the chores...”

I allowed him to prattle on, while my thoughts drifted elsewhere. Nodding in agreement at the correct social cues when he paused for a response. Humans are so easy to convince. All it takes is a soft nudge or slight manipulation, and then you can make them do whatever you wished.

My mood darkened further. When she had come to me with her questions, which led to demands, she had left me little choice. I had to act, I’m not ready to give it all up. My work is far from finished! I noticed that the man had stopped talking, he too lost in his melancholy. I exhaled slowly and unclenched my fists. Get a hold of yourself, goddammit. This is not the time to slip, I berated myself.

Clearing my throat, I said, “If you’d excuse me, Roger. I would like to get some air.” The man barely registered my words, nodding ever so slightly. I detached myself from his side and headed for the outside world. The volume of the room seemed like it had been turned up on the dial. The thoughts inside my head were just as loud. Images flashed before my eyes. Her face, with its eyes vacant of life, staring up at me from the bottom of the staircase. The odd angle of her neck. The crimson pool of blood matting her hair.

STOP! But my silent cry went unheard in the tumultuous cacophony that assaulted me.

I’m used to death.

I relish death.

DEATH IS AN ART FORM AND I AM THE ARTIST!

I tried to fight the image, but it continued playing over and over in my mind like a broken record. Her death plagued me, I finally admitted to myself, anger welling up inside me, rising deep from within. Where I was so accustomed to death in one of its art forms, I reviled this one. Her death was like a stain on my hands that I could not scrub clean. Maddening, I needed some air.

I passed the staircase as I headed for the door. A flicker of movement in the corner of my vision caused me to look up. There she stood. Staring at me accusingly with blank eyes.

This isn’t happening!

I tore my gaze from hers and looked dead ahead at the door as I rushed towards it. I could feel her eyes boring into my back.

I’m losing my mind!

I reached for the door handle, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried again and still nothing. The world spun as my attempt at opening the door intensified. Spun around. She was there still, staring silently. The world seemed to fall away, leaving only the two of us. She continued her silent vigil, and I felt the urge to scream, and so I did. As loud as I could for her to hear me over the noise that had only escalated.

“If you had not found those pictures, then I would not have had to kill you! Please, just leave me be! I’m begging you!”

She smiled warmly, as if that was all that was needed to be said, and vanished. The world flooded back in, and I registered the expressions of shock from the gathered mourners.