After the Funeral
After the Funeral was first published in my short story and poetry collection, Juniper. It takes place just after Moira Finnegan's funeral. Jonathan is in bed, asleep. Kat, Jim & Roger, all babies, are finally resting in their cribs. Hank & Mrs. Corboy keep watch outside Jonathan's bedroom, listening to the night pass, and remembering perhaps more than they should....
Note: This story takes place 16 years before the events in Path of Needles
Hank Allesander sat on the edge of his best friend’s bed. The sleeves of his ill-fitting suit were rolled up to his elbows, revealing scarred muscles and rough workman’s hands. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, catching it in gray stubble. Behind him, Jonathan turned over and moaned. The sleeping pill Hank had given him over an hour ago had finally taken effect. Judging by the expression on his face, it had done nothing to ease Jonathan’s dreams.
The funeral had been long and exhausting. Jonathan, insensible over his wife’s sudden, violent death, had done little more than to slump in the pulpit and stare. Meanwhile, Hank had been left to arrange everything, from the service, to the burial, to seeing that both the magical and mundane guests were managed with tact and respect. He still had a few of the more ostentatious gifts in his pocket. Castor and Pollux had given him a mourning sphere: a small metal ball that shone with pure star light.
“I can’t give this to Jonathan,” he’d said.
The star twins knew Jonathan had no memory of his Fey past. Pollux sneered, but Castor, always the more tactful of the two, curled Hank’s fingers around the sphere. “It’s not for him,” Castor said, a kind smile on his face. “Please, take it.”
Hank had nodded and slipped the ball into his pocket before turning to the next guest.
Easiest, oddly enough, had been Jonathan and Moira’s twins, barely a year old. They’d slept through the service in a bassinet next to their father. Hank wondered if they’d even registered their mother was gone.
Moira’s death hit him like a punch in the gut. It had been so violent, so quick. And after everything he’d done to try and keep Jonathan safe and happy…. After almost a thousand years of running, the sense of failure almost overwhelmed his grief.
Hank slipped his hand into his pocket and found the mourning sphere. He brought it out, letting the soft starlight spill into the room. It played across Jonathan’s sleeping face, danced against the walls, and turned the world into a quieter, colder place.
Before the cataclysm destroyed 90 percent of the world’s Fey, items such as this mourning sphere had been very common. Given to those who had experienced loss, they helped the holder look into their past, to think about what had happened, and heal. But he could not give it to Jonathan—Jonathan, human yet immortal, whose memory was erased every thirty years and had no memory of a life beyond his current, human one. Hank closed his hand back around the ball, and slipped it into his pocket once more. Perhaps he could use it. Perhaps it would help him to remember. Perhaps…
The starlight pulsed, washing over his face.
What am I?
It is a question I ask myself daily. Am I man? Am I wolf? For the last thousand years, I have lived as a man, loved as a man, watched human children grow, and kept my prince safe. I live in New York, the greatest city of men. I wear their clothes. I eat their food.
But now the dark stirs. And again I remember what I was—am. The Great Wolf. Memory falls. I feel fur on my skin, the snow turns to ice that crumbles beneath my paws… once, I was a wolf. Once they called me Wanderer…
Cold wind bites into my face. My breath fogs before me. Every step takes me farther. I am powerful, young, invulnerable. My youth is my armor, and with it comes feral joy in the run. This is a country later humans would call Siberia, and I call home. The wind smells like pine and ice and cold abandon, and it is wonderful. I push harder. I run faster, I am totally free—
Cold, again, but no joy in it. I am starving, each rib stark against shivered skin and fur that has lost its luster. I am inside my cave, surrounded by rock and piles of grass and bones. On the ground before me is a female woman. I found her wandering in the woods, beaten, almost dead, and instead of killing her, I dragged her to my den. She does not sleep, as some animals do. Instead, she stares at me with wide, dark eyes, a defiant look I had only seen in others of my kind. I sit across from her on the stony floor and watch her watch me. She shakes with the cold, and I wonder how long it will take her to die—this curious creature, soft, like prey, but intelligent, despite the lack of magic on her skin. The night passes. It is dawn before she stops shaking, and though she is dead, her eyes are still open, and staring, staring, staring. I should eat her. Instead, I paw at her long hair, at the filthy skins wrapped around her. Later, I learn that this creature is called “human,” and “girl,” and “brave.”
The starlight suddenly faded. Hank opened his eyes, the ball gripped tight in his hand, and took in Jonathan’s sleeping form. Shaking his head, he put the small metal ball back in his pocket. Then he stood, bones creaking, and quietly made his way out of Jonathan’s bedroom.
“How are the kids?” Hank whispered, as he walked over to where Marilyn Corboy, tall and skeletal-thin, was sitting cross-legged on the edge of a couch. The funeral had taken its toll on her as well. Her long black hair was limp, her dark eyes tired. She wore a black pants suit and a gold watch, and had an unlit cigarette in her mouth. She was staring at her hands with a blank expression on her face. “Marilyn? The kids?”
She looked up, eyes dull. “They’re fine. Passed out like the babies they are—Jim too,” she added, naming her own child, the same age as Jonathan’s twins. “You don’t have to whisper, you know,” she added in her normal, raspy voice, and waved a hand. For a second the doors around them crackled with blue light. Grunting at the unspoken question in his eyes, she added, “We can hear them, Hank. Just not the other way around.”
He nodded and collapsed into the armchair across from her. “Did you find anything?” he asked, staring at a painting on the art-saturated walls.
Marilyn shook her head. “No, nothing. Not a trace of magic. You?”
Hank shook his head. “All I smelled was blood and dirt. I thought…”
Marilyn chewed harder on the end of her cigarette. “Me too, Hank. But it’s too early. The Rose Queen won’t wake up for at least another decade. I think this was just shitty luck.”
Hank shook his head, his gnarled hands gripping the arms of his chair tight enough the wood creaked in protest. “It would have been easier if it was one of us.” Hank grunted. “I could have hunted one of us.”
“I would have helped.” Marilyn’s voice was cold steel. “He got away too easy.”
Moira Finnegan had been walking home alone in the middle of the afternoon. She’d been cornered by a man with a gun who the police assumed had been attempting to rob her. Something happened—the man spooked or Moira resisted—and he shot her twice in the chest. An officer down the road had heard the gunshots, come running, and when the killer turned the gun on him, had taken him down.
(“It was strange,” the cop would later report. “He was begging me to help him, even as he tried to shoot me. He said something had him. He was begging for help…”)
“I would have torn him to pieces,” Hank said, still staring at the far wall. He slipped his hand back into his pocket and felt the soothing light of the memory sphere wash over his skin. He pulled it out, letting the light spill into the air. “I would have made him suffer. I would have…”