To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal...
Joel took a shaking breath and let his gaze slide over the weeping faces around him. Mrs. Tyler dabbed at her eyes, which looked old and tired and fed up with the injustices of the world. When she had spoken to him last, he had told her to read the book of Job, that God tested all His faithful. For a moment she had pinned him with a look of anger, or...accusation?
No. Not that.
He continued reading the passage.
Back in the solitude of his office, Joel finally allowed himself to breathe. He took a black handkerchief from his pocket and mopped at the sweat on his forehead, then loosened his tie. Funerals were always hard, but this...this was a different thing entirely. The coffin lowered into the grave that day had been empty--though no remains had been found, the Tyler girl had been declared deceased after a fruitless sixteen-year search.
Joel was the last person to have seen her. He had cooperated with the police, having nothing to hide, and yet...
His family was waiting for him. He couldn’t stay at the church all night. Stuffing his handkerchief back into his pocket, he began packing up to leave.
Something in the air shifted. He smelled old, musty water, like the inside of a cave. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Joel’s breath caught in his chest. His fingers tightened into a white-knuckle grip on his briefcase. The air around him was cold, so cold, and in his heart there was nothing but sorrow.
Sweat beaded along his brow. He let go of the briefcase, reaching for his letter opener, though he knew it was no good. Whatever this thing was, it followed him relentlessly. If hallowed ground was useless against it, then nothing could protect him.
Joel couldn’t breathe. All the air was being squeezed out of his lungs. Something flickered out of the corner of his eye, near the ceiling, and he looked up. Long tendrils of inky black hair sprang forth from the uppermost corner, stretching across the off-white walls like a fast-spreading mold. Joel wanted to scream, but his voice was trapped in his throat.
The hair gave way to a face, white and bloated with blue lips and stark black eyes.
He stared into the eyes.
The eyes stared back.
Blue lips parted to release the rattle of a dying girl. Black liquid dribbled down its chin. Joel clapped his hands over his ears, squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened them again, the thing was gone.
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