Devon wondered what made a person so heavy when she was dead. He glanced at the corpse that dragged behind him. Her hair appeared more like the train on a wedding veil, especially with the thin sprinkle of snow coating it. It left a streaked trail in the snow.
He intended to set her body adrift on the pond. A boat was there, though he wasn’t sure to whom it belonged.
He was mature for his age. He grew faster and heavier than the other boys in his grade. It was a constant cause of ridicule, but sometimes the weight served his purposes. Like now. He grunted as he hefted her body from the shoreline and onto the waiting boat. It reminded him of his uncle’s nets after an afternoon of fishing—like those nets, the body smacked uncomfortably down into the base of the boat. The thud of her head against the boards made him step back and collect himself. He wanted to retch.
No sentiment was attached to this ritual. He was taught everyone deserved a proper funeral, and he was giving her one. Like most people, he felt empathy when another human died, especially one to whom he’d been so emotionally attached. But he maintained a level of forced detachment, at least for now. He had to funeralize her. He would weep later.
He was hard pressed to find flowers in winter. He decided to improvise and collected dry leaves, dead branches and moss. He rested it on her chest. It was nice-looking in an odd way, definitely not flowers, but she wouldn’t know the difference, she was dead after all.
His chest tightened. It was odd when someone so young died, and being young himself he didn’t fully understand. Death was when one got too old to live, when shriveled lungs could no longer take oxygen, or when someone was sick. Death wasn’t for the young and vivacious.
Tomorrow she would laugh at him for being so worried. They would meet here in the woods—yes, like they always did.
He had waited for three days for tomorrow.
He blinked back the moisture in his eyes, stood on the shore and cleared his throat.
When he was younger, some days he would sit in the pews when his father officiated over a funeral. Devon never got used to sitting on those hard benches. He would shift and fidget and kick his feet while his mother shot him a warning look.
His sister was always afraid, but sometimes Devon would take a peek at the body in the coffin. What he saw was different variants of the same thing: a pasty-faced older man or woman whose eyes were closed as if they were asleep. From what he could tell, it didn’t look as though the person was in pain or suffering, or even aware of their surroundings.
He would stare at the gathered mourners and wonder why they carried on. Maybe he’d missed something?
Now he was finally beginning to understand.
Today, Devon delivered the eulogy with the expertise that only came from being the son of a chaplain.
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…
His words rang out through the woods. They echoed over falling snow and downed trees. Just a small voice in the wilderness.
His voice trembled a little when he got to the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ part, but he did just fine otherwise. She would have liked it if she were alive.
An audience of forest animals made their way to the clearing. Their wide-blinking eyes stared.
He never felt crazy before. Was he crazy now? Before he loosened the rope that tied boat to land, he took one last look at her face.
It had shrunken in a bit and had little indentations. Whether those marks were the result of natural putrefaction or the insects, he didn’t know. Her skin was pale and flaky, and her eyes were still open. How was that even possible? She stared at him directly, almost as if she knew what he was doing.
He took a fistful of snow and covered her eyes. At least she wouldn’t be looking at him anymore. He was doing her a favor after all.
Distracted by untying the rope, he didn’t hear the footsteps.
When the man arrived, Devon had been slow to respond, much too slow to stop him.
Devon turned his lips parted, ready to shout… and then there was darkness.
How long had he lain there in the snow? It felt like hours. Crushed bits of ice coated his face. His eyes opened and he observed the woods around him. A light sprinkle of snow coated the trees. The air cut sharply into his lungs, cold and bitter. He coughed, struggling to sit upright. His skull felt as though it was on fire. He ran a hand over his head and stared at his gloves. Clumps of blood mixed with strands of hair and ice in his palm.
He had to get home.
He started up slowly and paused as he stood. The ground under him felt like it was moving, even the trees shifted wildly back and forth.
He blinked. A figure ran across his field of vision.
Had he seen something?
Devon discovered he was still by the pond. The boat was gone. She was gone.
He felt a wave of panic. Something happened. Someone had stolen the body. The same person who smashed him in the head. He wandered around aimlessly. His vision faded from obscure to clear and back again. He stopped to lean against a tree. What should he do next? Go home? He fought the dizziness that threatened to overtake him.
A putrid smell lingered in the air, as though an animal’s guts burst open. Devon wondered what it was. A creature must have died here. But it wouldn’t smell so strongly in the winter, not with snow and ice to slow decay.
Something else was in the air. Smoke.
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