Harman Burgess studies Psychology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. When he's not studying or worrying about studying he enjoys spending time with friends and writing. His previous work has been published in CafeLit online magazine.
“Let the Mourners Come”
Dylan sat next to Lucas on a hard bench waiting for the service to be over. The father and son wore matching blue suits – although – Dylan’s suit was a bit tighter than Lucas’ owing to the boy outgrowing it in his fifteenth year. As might be expected they look rather alike – blue eyes shaggy brown hair, and sharp cheekbones. The only physical difference between them is that Lucas’ face is wet with tears while Dylan’s is completely dry. A priest stood up at his altar as an ebony coffin made its way into the church.
The priest’s voice reverberated through the hall with the sombre affectation of a death knell. “Brothers; sisters; children. We are gathered here today to mark the passing of one Elizabeth Wright. A loving mother and wife she is survived by her son, Dylan, and her husband, Lucas.” He looked down at his notes and coughed “Children! We must remember that as the Lord once asked Abraham for a sacrifice, so too does he ask you for one. We all have our crosses to bear. It is necessary that we –”
Dylan stopped listening. After a while, the priest stopped speaking and beckoned the congregation to rise for a hymn. Lucas held out a song book so Dylan could follow along, but Dylan shook his head and stared straight ahead, not trusting his voice. The coffin tipped back onto a conveyor belt and disappeared. That was it then. The last anybody would ever see of Elizabeth Wright.
Lucas led the way out of the church with Dylan trailing after him.
“Let’s go to that cabin,” said Lucas. “You know, that one I took us all to before the… I want to get away from everything.”
They returned to their apartment and started packing. Dylan walked through rooms in a haze, trying to ignore the oxygen tank lying in the corner. He grabbed clothes and books and things at random, throwing them haphazardly into a beat-up travel bag. Within an hour, they were on the road.
Black asphalt soon turned to hard gravel as they made their way away from civilisation. Dylan buried his head in a Neil Gaiman novel as Lucas steered the car onwards through twilight mists.
“You’re wasting your life with those books, you know,” said Lucas as he turned down the radio. “You need to get out more, live your life. Find a nice girl to settle down with and have a couple of kids. Then you’ll know how difficult you make things for me. After High School, you can follow me into law, you can go to church on Sundays, and then you’ll be happy. I want nothing but the best from you. You’re smart enough after all. Go on then, say something. What do you think?”
Dylan set down his book and stared out at the rows of trees flashing past his window. “I’m not sure I want to follow you into law. And church is boring.”
“What are you going to do then if not law? Stay in your room with your girlfriend, the computer? You need a job to be happy. To be a man. To have a purpose in life, some sort of goal. You can’t stay with me forever; I don’t want to be changing your diaper when you’re 30!”
“I don’t know what I want to do. I know that I don’t want to become some sort of legal busboy like you. A well-compensated Sartre’s waiter. Maybe I’ll do something with words. I could be a literary critic or some sort of journalist.”
The neon lights from a lonely gas station cut through their conversation, and Lucas pulled to a stop next to a bank of petrol pumps.
“Enough of this. Come on, I’ll teach you how to fill up a car. You’ll be old enough to drive soon and you’ll need to be able to do this for yourself.”
Dylan got out of the car and watched Lucas pick up a black fuel nozzle. Lucas unscrewed the fuel cap and pushed the nozzle into the car.
“Alright, son,” Lucas gave the handle a few pulls to make sure that it was in place. “Just watch the display there. You want to put about fifty bucks in.”
Dylan awkwardly manoeuvred around Luca and fumbled taking the nozzle from him. Oil spilled out onto the ground and pooled at their feet.
“That’s ok,” said Lucas through a forced smile. “Try again.”
Dylan put the nozzle into the fuel gage and pressed down on the handle. The thing kicked to life and started filling the tank. Lucas nodded at him and went inside. Dylan filled the tank and got back in the car. Lucas came out of the service station holding two chocolate bars. He handed one to Dylan and guided the car back out onto the road. The twilight gloom solidified into inky darkness, and Dylan drifted off into the realms of dream, holding a half-eaten chocolate bar and a half-read fantasy novel.
Sunlight streamed onto Dylan’s face through the cabin’s opened window. He sat up in bed and saw that Lucas had already unpacked their belongings. Clothes, books, and toiletries where scattered about the cabin. The cabin itself was little more than a room on stilts surrounded by a forest. Two single beds pressed against the back wall. A tiny kitchen was planted near the front door, a small table in the middle of the room. Outside a silvery lake stretched around the cabin. Dylan made himself a bowl of cereal and sat down at the table to wait for Lucas, who had gone off to wherever. He finished his breakfast and picked up his novel.
Lucas entered the cabin proudly brandishing two fishing poles. “Come on, the canoe is still here from last time. We’re going fishing!”
“Alright, let me finish the chapter first though.”
“No Time for that.” He grabbed the book and threw it down on Dylan’s bed. “There’ll be time to read when you’re dead. Now’s the time to be alive!”
Dylan followed Lucas out of the cabin and into the canoe. Lucas pushed off and they paddled out onto the middle of the lake. Sunlight refracted against the deep blue sending beams of light shooting across the sides of the boat. Lucas cast one line and handed it to Dylan; then he cast another for himself. They sat in silence for a moment, taking in the crisp morning air.
“She’s with god now. I can feel it,” said Lucas. “You know, Dante had his Beatrice. If I ever wander off the path, I’d like to think that Lizzy would send a poet or someone to show me the way. Maybe Tolstoy in his later years, after he saw the light and gave up those pesky copyrights.”
“I thought that Tolstoy hated his wife. Didn’t he die trying to get away from her in a snowstorm?”
“You know son. I talked to the priest after the funeral and he said that everything happens for a reason. God has a plan for us all. Maybe God’s plan for Tolstoy was to have him die in a snowstorm so he could guide me through the afterlife,” Lucas laughed as if he had just told a very funny joke.
“I don’t care much for your God. He hasn’t done anything except cause pain and misery. Wiping out all human life in a flood, bone cancer in children, and not to mention all the people starving in Africa. No, this is all absurd. Nothing happens for any sort of reason, and then we die. That’s something we have to accept.”
Throughout Dylan’s outburst Lucas had been getting more and more agitated. “Son, God is love. If you don’t believe that, you go to hell. And be thrown into the burning furnace, where there will be weeping and much gnashing of the teeth.”
“Don’t quote the bible at me. That’s all bullshit,” Lucas flinched but Dylan continued on, “I’d rather go to hell than believe in any sort of heaven that monster dreamt up. And you know that mum felt so too, she didn’t want that religious crap at her funeral –”
Lucas slapped Dylan across the face. Dylan dropped the fishing pole into the lake and shrunk back into his seat, a bruise smartening on his cheek. Lucas took several deep breaths and gripped onto the boat to steady himself. “I think that we better go back now.”
The boat touched down on solid earth and its occupants went their separate ways. Lucas into the forest for a walk and Dylan into his book for an escape.
Lucas entered the cabin and saw that Dylan had fallen asleep. Then he saw a – now cold – plate of scrambled eggs and he smiled. Maybe there was still some hope for the boy. Maybe it wasn’t too late. He put the eggs in the microwave then sat down and dug in. As he ate, he picked up his son’s book and glanced through the first few pages. Something about a snake and an angel being Queens. No wonder the boy acted the way he did. Perhaps he should get him some Hemingway for his birthday.
“On the mount of the lord it shall be provided,” Lucas muttered as he walked to his bed and picked up a pillow. He shoved all his doubts and fear deep, deep down inside his chest and trusted in the grace of the Lord. Lucas pressed the pillow down onto Dylan’s face. Hard. He felt the outline of a face under the stuffing and wrapped his fingers around it. Dylan started kicking and jerking about under his bedsheets, but Lucas kept the pressure up. After a while, Dylan stopped moving.
Lucas dragged the body through the woods. He had left the light of the cabin far behind him and was now navigating by the stars. Lucas came to the pit and threw the body into it. He stared down at the empty visage of his child, and it stared back at him with glassy eyes. Lucas shovelled a handful of dirt into the hole and then paused. Thoughts of suicide drifted through his mind. Maybe he should cut life’s cord and drift away into eternity. That might be nice. He could see his Lizzy again. Lucas shook his head. A proper burial should be conducted and then he could kill himself. He started shovelling dirt onto the body with renewed vigour. With any luck, this bit of earth would be indistinguishable from any other by morning.
Lucas sat, alone, in yet another empty room, surrounded by the belongings of yet another absent family member. They would be coming for him soon. He had a job, friends, obligations, responsibilities and if you have those, they don’t let you be alone. He couldn’t kill himself. After all, they might think that Dylan had done him in and run off. That would be improper. He picked up the novel and walked outside. At least he’d get a head start before they came for him. He threw the book as hard as he could into the lake. Then he got in his car and sped away from the cabin.
Lucas pulled into the gas station and went through the motions of filling the tank. He went inside to pay. At the counter, while he was fumbling with his wallet, he saw his empty car out of the corner of his eye.
“Actually, I might grab a pack of JPS. Oh, and a lighter too,” he said.
The cashier grabbed a small rectangular packet from the cabinet behind him and handed it to Lucas. “Ok, just $50 for the fuel and $30 for the smokes.”
“$30! Holy cow!”
“Yeah, it’s these conservative cunts in the government banging on about the sanctity of life. They think if they raise the price of tobacco, it’ll magically stop us from enjoying it.”
“What’s the world coming too?” asked Lucas as he pocketed the cigarettes. He turned to walk away.
“Hey,” said the cashier, “wasn’t there a kid with you when you were here the other day.”
“Yes, my son, Dylan, was with me. But he’s with his mother now.”