Saturday, October 3, 2015

Crossed Off: Your Funeral (Part XIII)

The day after someone dies, their family goes through this death ritual called Familiar Mourning. Those close enough to the family, and close enough geographically speaking, sit around a dimly lit room and hold conversations. In the strictest of traditions, this part of the ceremony must be performed in a temple, or otherwise on holy ground, but modern times had changed things. They were often performed at home, and the majority of morgues had been expanded to include accommodating rooms. Family and friends gather around candles to express their gratitude towards the deceased, and to tell stories of their life in small groups. Quiet was the watchword during these ceremonies. Quiet and darkness.
Starla’s parents and Alec were in attendance at the morgue, of course. But Tristan and Kathleen jumped in the car and raced down so that they could be there too. Denton and his new team were having trouble getting back into the country since they were in the middle of some special research project in Texas. And Sendoa was just swamped with his new job with the man who could clone himself. Tons of people from school she never considered to be her friends showed up. Kind of tacky. And they kept acting like they had experienced some kind of profoundly influential moment with her. Much of what they said about their interactions were simply made up. Starla only listened to the beginnings of their conversations with each other. Knowing now that ghosts were real sent shivers throughout her body. How many of her relatives had she seen move on? What had she said about them while under the impression that these ceremonies were nothing but carryovers from a time of superstition and misinformation. At some point, she gravitated towards Alec who was standing alone in the corner, having no interest in participating. She tried to get his attention, but it was hopeless. She knew of only one person who could see ghosts—though there were probably more. Hopefully Don would carve out some time and scrounge up some money to come stateside for the funeral. She had no way of finding out, for her ability to jump to bodies had been removed from her during her murder.
On the following day, the funeral ceremony is performed, and a wake is often held. These are semi-private occasions, and are late enough after the passing to allow people from out of town to make travel arrangements. In cases of so-called natural deaths, this is when the body is laid to rest. But when the body must remain intact and unchanged in order to support an ongoing investigation, the funeral is skipped altogether, while the wake usually continues as planned. Having honored an obligation to the dark and quiet during Familiar Mourning, the wake is a time for loudness and joy. It’s less of a ritual, and more of a party. Though, the reason the ritual came to be was so that the deceased could move on to the afterlife with—what did the texts say—sunshine in their hearts and harmony in their souls. So the rowdy nature of these get-togethers was not completely unfounded.
Even though Starla’s body could not be displayed on a viewing altar since it was part of evidence, her family decided to go ahead with a funeral, and make an attempt to tone down the level of intensity of the wake. That was more Starla’s style, so she was appreciative of their decision. To her surprise, everyone showed up. Every single one of her confidants had booked tickets from far away lands. All of the people with special abilities were there as well. Those she had met in person like Magnus Shapiro and Therasia Jarvi crossed national borders. Those she had only met while in someone else’s body like Máire and Quang had dropped their busy lives for a few days. Even people she never met at all like Ling and Alonso flew in. René came in with a huge group of strangers, and she never really found out who they were, but she assumed them to have powers. People came with families of their own. Some were there with no obvious connection to anyone who knew Starla.
“I had no idea that she was so popular,” Starla’s mother remarked.
“Her life touched a lot of people, Mrs. Dawkins,” Alec replied. “That international pen pal program she founded grew larger than she thought it would.”
Her mother started tearing up. “I feel like I didn’t even know her.”
Alec wrapped his arm around her shoulders and joined her in a cry. “You knew everything about her.”
“Who did this to her? Who were those men? Did they have something to do with the pen pal network?”
He kissed the top of her head. “I don’t know who they were, but I know they had nothing to do with that.”
Spirit-walker, Spyridon Colonomos waited for Starla to finish eavesdropping before summoning her to a narrow hallway off of the chapel.
“I must say, it’s nice to have someone to talk to.”
“I can imagine. Which is why you can imagine that I always do my very best to stay away from ghosts.”
“Thank you for making an exception.”
“Can you tell me what happened? On the night of your death?”
“I could,” she said. “I won’t.”
“Why not?”
“The men who did this to me are no longer a problem. They’re already in custody. One is chained to a hospital bed, and another to a padded cell. And I’m over it. I’m moving on. There’s an...undeniable feeling of freedom once you die, Mr. Colonomos. You will experience this one day. All those things you thought you cared about stop serving a purpose. And the only things that ever truly mattered were the connection you made to others.”
“You have the opportunity to communicate with the living. Very few people are given this gift.”
She smiled and sort of ignored what he said. “Those connections can’t be broken. My soul can still feel their souls.” She shook her head politely. “I don’t need to speak with them. They can hear me.”
They left it at that.
On the last full day after a death, those closest to the dead are expected to step into their loved one’s shoes by participating in their favorite activity. This could be playing a favorite sport, or eating ice cream, or just reading a good book. For Starla, it was petting feral horses on Cumberland Island. Alec had spent the last couple of days on the phone with the people in charge, requesting an exception to their strict protocols. It took the entire time, but he was able to secure a reservation for a dozen people. Starla’s parents wondered why this would be her favorite thing seeing as that she hadn’t stepped one foot on the island in her entire life. Alec simply said that it was a dream of hers. The three of them enjoyed the tour with Starla’s eight worldwide confidants, who were for the first time breathing the same air as each other. They even got lucky and met a little baby. Starla was thrilled. Alec couldn’t really explain why those eight people were with them, but assured Starla’s parents that they really did qualify for closest loved ones.
At the end of the next day, Starla said goodbye to everyone, even though they could not hear her. The seconds were dropping. She was aware of exactly when her clock was going to run out. Don popped in real quick to see her off. They opened their mouths towards each other a few times, but ultimately exchanged no further words. Death was about as much of an end as anyone gets. There was nothing more to say. Exactly four days to the minute after her death, Starla’s new ghost body collapsed, and she died for a second time. She felt herself being blissfully pulled upwards, though there was no real sense of direction. Colors flew past her one by one until she reached gray, and then she stopped.
A woman she did not know, but who felt painfully familiar to her, greeted her on the other side. “Hello.” She stepped off to reveal a crowd of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people. “Welcome to...The Aggregate.” She looked pretty pleased with herself.
Starla stood for a few moments and watched as the crowd of familiar strangers attempted to greet her and bring her into the fold. But she just smiled at them. She had claimed to Don that she was done with life, but she was wrong. She wasn’t ready yet. Perhaps she never would be. “No, thanks.” She pointed her thumb behind her. “I think I’ll go back.”
“You can’t go back,” the woman argued.
“Yet, I feel like I can, and actually that I should.”
“It is true that you are one of the few of us who does not have to remain her, but there will be consequences.”
“Like what?”
“I do not have that information.”
Despite the warning, Starla left the afterlife and returned home; to her planet, that is...or plane of existence—or whatever it was. The woman had been right about the consequences, but it was more horrific than she could have imagined. All eight of her confidants, along with more than a hundred other innocent people, were killed in a plane crash. Normally, one would not attribute such a thing to a single act of resurrection, but this was different. They had all died on The Day of No Death, which should not have been possible. It really was her fault.

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