The cue cards were stained with the dew of Skunk’s nervous hands. His wife immediately offered to drive when she saw the quivering state of his fingers.
“You’re going to do just fine, Skunkie,” she reassured him. Her words didn’t comfort Skunk any, but her presence did hamper the perspiration to his palms. Thus was the reason he’d stopped on his way to the funeral to pick her up: moral support.
“I thought this was suppose to be a private funeral,” Skunk said when he saw the network of cars surrounding the funeral home.
“Belleville is a small town, Dear. People don’t know the meaning of private.” Mink’s statement made Skunk chuckle.
“Whatever would I do without you,” he responded.
The benevolent curly-haired man from the visitation politely greeted the two of them and ushered them to the chapel, where they sat in a wooden pew reserved for speakers. The sound of a recorded harp strummed beneath the chatter and shuffling. Skunk focused on the music and tried to relax. He had to diffuse the flashing memories of death and concentrate on the words he would speak to comfort Spine Less’ family.
Just as he was beginning to feel the melody of the harp penetrate his mind, the music cut out, the crowd hushed, and silence consumed the chapel. The wooden pews creaked as peopled turned to watch the procession of Spine Less’s family following his ornate casket. Like a mast at the front of a pirate ship, Terence stood at the front of the casket. His eery figure seemed to float over it like a dark spirit. His electric blue eyes shocking everyone stiff in their seats. The man was so like Skunk’s father―eyes devoid of emotion and absent of any human presence. He was like a shark swimming through blood and enjoying every minute of it. Skunk felt ill in his presence.
Terence felt ill. As he dropped his head to bow before Spine Less’ casket, his stomach dropped too. Miss Fairweather, who had been pushing the casket from behind, exited in step with him down the middle of the pews to the door. Terence felt every stray eye comb him over from head to toe. The stares were insufferable. They were like the prick of a dozen mosquitoes swarming his body. Resisting the urge to claw at his skin, he hid himself away in a corner at the back of the chapel while Miss Fairweather closed the chapel doors. He would stay to watch over the mourners and ensure the service went as planned.
Voices broke with emotion as countless eulogies were delivered. One man, Spine Less’ brother, spoke with the constant interruption of his own sobs. After the deflated man was dragged from the podium, the mayor stood to speak.
“The artist was lost the moment his paintings were,” the mayor began. Small and rather shaky, he appeared uncomfortable behind the microphone. His nerves, however, seemed to have no effect on the quality of his speech. “His talent brought our community together, and for that, we will truly miss him.” The velvety words smoothed the hearts of the audience. They sat with their hands to their chests dabbing their eyes and sighing contently. Terence was untouched. From what he’d gathered, Spine Less cared more for his reputation as an artist than his community. Terence knew the man would take his own life. He saw it when he shook Spine Less’ hand. The artist cared desperately about what others thought of his work. Terence had told him not to care so much―not to put so much pressure on himself. But in the end, none of it mattered. Death was unavoidable.
A draft emanated from the seam of the chapel doors. Terence shivered and rubbed his hands together. The mayor made eye contact with him briefly before taking his seat. It was almost as if he blamed Terence for Spine Less’ suicide. Grieving people were always looking for someone to blame. More often than not, that person was Terence.
The congregation stood then for a singing of ‘Going Home.’ Terence sounded the music and watched as its soothing melody entranced the crowd. No one noticed the bloated speck tumble from under the lid of Spine Less’ casket.
“Going home, going home,
I’m just going home..”
They sang in blissful ignorance as the maggots spilled to the carpet. Terence choked on his own breath. The worms writhed over each other like a slimy tumbleweed.
“Quiet- like, slip away-
I’m just going home…”
Why did no one notice? The disgusting creatures piled closer and closer to Terence. He was cold and sweating. Tremors wracked his body like an earthquake.
“Work all done, laid aside,
Fear and grief no more…”
The song faded in Terence’s ears. People moved their lips, but no sound could be heard. Then the people were gone altogether―replaced by wisps of colour. The larvae mounted his body, entering his nose and mouth. Terence was so cold he was paralyzed. Visions congested his head. Submerged in an icy torrent, he felt his lungs ache with the insects as he fought for air. He saw himself float atop an inky blanket, his skin like a fish belly, cold and blue. An indescribably horrid stench felt as though it was liquefying his brains. The smell made him vomit. Bits of maggots bubbled in his bile. He was dead. The numbers blinded him with their horrifying brilliance. He had two weeks left…
“Terence? Can you hear me?” Faces floated over him. “I think he’s just had a seizure. Someone call for an ambulance!” The voice was distinctly Jaune’s. Terence propped himself upwards.
“Forget the ambulance, call a fumigator!” he gasped. He gagged slightly upon tasting the remnants of vomit in his mouth. With Jaune’s support, he stood unsteadily. “Didn’t you see them?!” he asked.
“See what?” Jaune eyed Terence curiously.
“The maggots!” he exclaimed. Jaune appeared startled.
“Maggots?” She shook her head, her hair following the movement. “You collapsed through those chapel doors, barfed your guts out and then started seizing like an epileptic! You’re lucky I was here to stand in front of you so no one saw.” She took Terence by the arm, steering him to the first chair in sight. His feet felt like they were made of lead and his head felt even heavier.
“Sit here. I’ll get you some water,” she said. As soon as she disappeared up the stairs, Terence slouched in the chair and cascaded his head into his palms. Twice he’d foreseen his own death. Maybe he was just insane. Maybe his visions were just hallucinations. Jaune returned with a tall glass of water in hand. The bags under her eyes seemed to bulge with concern.
“Terry,” she said, tenderly, “you need to see a doctor.” Terence sipped the water slowly. Part of him wanted the visions to be nothing more than his own imagination―but in order for him to know for sure, he would have to consult a psychiatrist.
“Bob never took a break,” Jaune went on. “ I told him to slow down and he died! I can’t lose you too, Terry. Take the rest of the day off and next week while you’re at it!”
Terence agreed. There was no point in arguing with the woman. Terence had a desperate need to tell someone―anyone―the truth about his condition. Perhaps there was a logical medical explanation for his visions. If it was as he feared and the vision was like all the others he’d experienced, no amount of medical expertise could save him. He’d be dead on a slab in a matter of weeks.