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[April 2010 Vignette] Mournin' Mess

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Date: April 4th, 2008 (Friday). Afternoon.

Place: Alexandria, Virginia

Rain fell softly at Mt. Comfort Cemetery, as it often did during funerals.

The funeral itself had ended an hour ago, and the body of Joanna Lee was well interred. Three friends, all high school seniors, gathered around, their extreme grief serving as a good mask for their gnawing guilt.

"We… we didn’t know… couldn’t have known," Chris, a doughy redheaded boy sobbed, "how could we have known?!"

"Pull it together, man," Ben, a less doughy boy with obvious Manahoac Indian heritage, snapped. "It’s not our fault she didn’t tell us! But if you keep talking like that, someone’ll suspect we did!"

"But why didn’t she?," Kelly, the lone living girl around, sobbed out. She was half the size of either Chris or Ben, but she as more the ‘leader’ of their little group than any other. "Why would she hide that from me- from us? And what else was she hiding?"

"She weren’t hidin’ anythin’," a tall, lean figure said; all three turned to look. It approached from the south, hands in the pockets of its long duster, face obscured by the shadows of a wide-brimmed hat, though the three could make out an eerie green glow from under it. "An’ she didn’t tell y’all because she didn’t wanna ruin th’ moment."

"Shove off, man, this is a private affair," Ben snapped while taking a step forward.

The figure stopped, "Don’t mean no disrespect, Benji. I’m jes passin’ through, an’ passin’ on a message."

"... what’d you call me?," Ben said, guarded. Chris and Kelly took a step up, so they presented a unified front.

"’Benji’," the figure repeated, “that’s what she said to call ya. She said you other two, Chris an’ Kelly, don’t have no nicknames, but-“

“’She’? She who?,” Kelly demanded.

“Yer friend Joanna, of course,” the figure replied in an exasperated “you should know this already” tone. "An’ she wanted t’pass on word that she don’t blame you three for her death. Yeah, th’ trick y’all pulled with th’ bungee cord, makin’ her think it weren’t attached when she pushed off, gave her a fatal heart attack, but the chemo therapy she’d been on for her renal cancer – which she hadn’t told anyone about, not even her closest friends – was what made her heart so weak in th’ first place."

“That’s not true!,” Chris spat. He was almost shaking with rage at the stranger’s word, “she never would’ve kept something like that from us! We’ve all been friends since elementary school! Who the hell do you think you are telling us this?”

"She didn’t tell y’all because she didn’t want to worry y’all. She knows yer her friends, an’ would want t’be there for her, but she also knows y’all just started college, an’ didn’t wanna distract y’all from yer studies with news of her illness. She’d hoped the chemo would take care of it, but... well, at her last visit the docs said the chemo wasn’t helping an’ she had less than a few months, an’ that’s why she’d been pushin’ yall so much to do all those activities, the raftin’ and the mountain climbin’, and the bungee jumpin’. But she had no idea about that stunt y’all were gonna pull. I’m sorry y’all won’t be able to see her anymore, fer now, at least, but take comfort in knowin’ she don’t blame y’all, an’ she wants y’all to continue on with yer lives, yer dreams.” While the stranger had been speaking, the light rain stopped and the clouds began to part, allowing the sun to shine through.

Chris had fallen to his knees, sobbing. Ben continued to glare at the stranger, and now he was shaking with rage. Kelly glared, too, but her demeanor was all ice. "Who the hell are you?" she demanded.

The stranger was said nothing, but started walking again, north.

"She asked you a question, you f-" Ben exclaimed as he moved to block the stranger, then pushed him back. The jolt knocked the figure’s hat off, revealing a hideously cadaverous face frozen in a rictus grin. Its eyes burned with emerald flame, and its long white hair flowed like the ephemeral tail of a ghost.

"I’m someone who’ll speak for the dead," it said, picking its hat up off the ground. It put it back on, then continued to head north, leaving three very scared and confused teens at the grave of their friend.

[ Inspired in part by this video ]

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