“We gather here today to remember the life of Angela Shepherd. Though this is perhaps the worst circumstances we could ask for in such an occasion. Angela cut her life short, after steeping herself in a lifestyle of sin. Of course, those who live in sin are destined to die in sin. Regardless, we hope that the Lord grants mercy on her soul.”
I couldn’t stand hearing the words of the preacher during the funeral service. Dad was standing off to the side of the pulpit, a solemn look on his face, and I sat in the pews beside Mom while we listened to the service. I glanced over to where the Shepherds were sitting and kept looking at Beth. She had her head down the whole time, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. I didn’t blame her.
It’s not as if I knew Beth’s mom. I don’t know what she was like as a person, or if she really was the way people said she was. But I knew one thing for sure: she didn’t lie like everyone said she did. I’m probably the only one who believes that, aside from Beth herself. I don’t even think her grandparents believe that.
More awful things were said during the service that I didn’t want to hear, so I just blocked out the preacher’s voice and kept watching Beth. I felt so bad for her. From what I knew, which granted wasn’t much, she didn’t have the best relationship with her grandparents. Now that her mom was gone, though, they were all the family she had.
I just wanted to go over there and talk to her. Or maybe not even talk to her. I could just sit with her. That might be enough. But there was no way I could get to her with all these people around, and especially with my parents being ever vigilant. I didn’t know what I should do.
When the service finally ended, people were going up and paying their respects to the Shepherds. Dad took Mom and I to do the same, even though we really didn’t want to. It was a chance to get close to Beth, at least.
Dad gave his condolences to Beth’s grandparents, though they certainly didn’t sound sincere. I hid a scowl by turning my face down, absolutely disgusted with him. When he was finished, he and Mom started to head away toward the door. I followed behind them, but stopped when I was in front of Beth. I looked at her and tried to find the words I so desperately wanted to say to her, but none came to me. I said the only thing I could think to say, given the circumstances.
“I’m sorry, Beth. Sorry for everything.”
I started walking away, and I heard a faint whisper from her. “Me, too.”
We drove home in silence. I could feel a thickness in the air of the car and wanted to roll down a window, but it was too cold out for that, so I had to suffocate quietly. The funeral was truly awful, just as I had predicted it would be, though it wasn’t as bad as it could have gone, either.
As soon as we arrived home, I went straight to my room and closed the door, settling down on my bed. I kicked off the uncomfortable heels I was coerced into wearing and hugged my knees against my chest.
Funerals aren’t meant to be fun or joyous occasions, obviously, but this one was especially dreadful. I felt lower than low after being there. That’s saying nothing for how Beth felt, I’m sure. But all the things they said about her mom. The preacher’s service was terrible, but it was nothing compared to some of the things I heard people saying after the service. I don’t see how people like that can go around saying they’re “right with God”.
I wonder if God even cares. About Angela. About Beth. If he did, then why would he let all this shit happen to them? If not, I wonder if it’s because all the things that those church people say are true, or if it’s because he really doesn’t exist at all. I don’t know what to believe, to be honest. At this point in my life, though, I don’t think it really matters. Everything’s gone to hell, whether or not God exists.
Mom came up a little later and said dinner would be ready soon. I told her I wasn’t hungry, but she said that whether or not I was hungry wasn’t an issue because we were having family dinner like we always did. I sighed and finally changed out of my good black clothes that I wore to the funeral, putting on something more comfortable, then I waited a little while longer before heading down the stairs to sit at the dining table.
That uncomfortable silence that was in the car returned here at the table. I was terribly aware of the sounds of my father eating and trying to breathe at the same time. It was disgusting. Mom didn’t seem to be in much of a mood to eat either, but she made a better effort at it than I did. I just toyed at the food on my plate with a fork, and when Dad finally realized this, he berated me for it.
“Hannah, eat your food.”
“I’m not hungry,” I mumbled.
“That doesn’t matter. Listen to your father and eat your dinner.”
I scowled, keeping my face down so it didn’t look like I was frowning at them. Dad didn’t seem to notice anyway. The silence, and his awful chewing, continued. Eventually I stabbed a green bean with my fork and slowly put it into my mouth. It tasted like ash. I couldn’t eat anymore. My stomach was turning enough at the sound of my father’s grunting and snorting as he ate, like some sort of animal.
At school the next day, Beth still wasn’t there. People were still talking about her mother’s suicide. This time they were talking about how she did it. Apparently she jumped off a roof and hit the pavement below. Some people were saying how there was blood everywhere because her skull cracked open on impact and her brains were leaking out. Others even claimed to be present when it happened. I feel like most of them were just making it up to sound more exciting.
School ended and I headed out of the last class of the day. I was just climbing down the stairs and then stopped. I looked up the stairway and saw that it went upward and I decided to climb them all the way to the top. At the top of the stairs was a single, heavy door. I pushed on it, thinking it would be locked, but it wasn’t.
The door led out onto the roof of the school. It was really windy up there, and even a little hard to breathe, especially with the stinging cold blowing into my face. Despite that fact, I didn’t go back inside. I walked further out onto the roof, just wanting to see the view.
I crouched down a little ways from the edge and watched as people spilled out through the doors of the school on their way home. I decided to keep back far enough so no one would notice me, which was easy enough seeing how most people don’t bother to look up anyway. I sat there and I watched, and I waited until everyone had gone.
I settled down and gazed up at the sky. The clouds were drifting lazily along, merging with the white sky so it was hard to tell what was cloud and what wasn’t. A dreary day. In some ways I wished it would just rain. That way the weather would match the mood of the rest of the world. But no, it was just going to stay like this forever, it seemed.
I thought about just staying up there. Not going home at all. Perhaps to see if anyone would notice I was gone, if anyone would come looking for me, if anyone would actually find me. To see what sort of reaction I’d get to being away for however long it took them to realize I was missing. Then I could throw it back in their face when they scream at me. That wouldn’t end well, I’m sure.
Regardless, I stayed there. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to move, and the chilling wind was making it easier for me to remain immobile. I just closed my eyes and breathed in the cold air. The back of my throat started to feel dry and I coughed.
Finally I decided I was too cold up here and I should just give up and go home. I was being ridiculous. I pushed myself to my feet and headed back to the door to the stairs, then I stopped and stood stalk still. There was a shadow in the doorway, watching me. It wasn’t a flat shadow on the ground or the wall. It was like a man who was pure black, slightly transparent and shimmering, with glowing white eyes.
I blinked a few times to make sure I wasn’t just imagining things, but when I looked again he was starting to move toward me. He wasn’t moving naturally, either. It was like he was moving in slow motion, and the sight of it made my heart jump. And suddenly he was right in front of me. I screamed and stumbled backward.
I was closer to the edge than I realized, because when I stepped back, I slipped and fell over the edge of the roof. The shadow man continued to stare at me as I fell.