Don’t Look – Alexandra Ivy

Eyes aren’t the windows to the soul, funerals are. They reveal precisely how the deceased lived their lives, and how those who remain behind want them to be remembered. Some are glorious celebrations of a generous heart. Some are garish displays of wealth and power. Some are small, intimate gatherings that are too painful to be shared with others. This one was . bleak. There was no other way to describe it. Standing next to the open grave that had to be chiseled into the frozen ground, Kir Jansen cast a restless glance around the smattering of guests. Pike, Wisconsin, was a small, rural town in the heart of dairy country where neighbors were closely acquainted with one another, but Rudolf ’s last eighteen years had been a downward spiral into the dark chasm of alcoholism. He wasn’t surprised that there weren’t many who were willing to brave the bitter January weather. His attention moved to the preacher, who was reciting a prayer in a monotone voice. Pastor Ron Bradshaw was a scrawny man in his late twenties with pasty white skin and dark hair that looked as if it’d been trimmed with a pair of dull scissors.

He’d kept the service blessedly short, merely mentioning the deep loss that would be felt by Rudolf Jansen’s family and community at his death. Kir didn’t mind that there hadn’t been any mention of the positive aspects of his father’s life. Although there had been plenty of things to make a man proud. Rudolf had once been a highly respected sheriff in Pike with a wife and son he adored. It wasn’t until he’d been attempting to arrest a petty drug dealer that his life had gone in the crapper. The shootout had left the criminal dead and Rudolf with a bullet in his brain that had forced an early retirement. Without the job that had been at the core of his self-worth, nothing had been the same. Shuffling through the old memories to happier times had felt like ripping open ancient wounds to Kir as he’d prepared to attend the funeral. He’d tucked away his life in Pike the day he’d packed his bags to head to college in Boston. And he’d never looked back. Being forced to recall the childhood days when he’d been a part of a loving, secure family had only emphasized what he’d lost. With a last plea for Rudolf ’s salvation, Pastor Bradshaw motioned that the funeral was over and Kir turned to greet the mourners with grim determination.

It was the least he could do after they’d braved the brutal weather to pay their respects. First up was a distant cousin, Dirk Jansen. He was a large, gruff man in his late sixties who had visited Rudolf the last Sunday of every month. He called it his family duty to try and make Rudolf repent his evil ways. Kir’s father had called it a pain in his ass. Now Kir politely shook the man’s hand even as he blocked out the droning lecture on the damaging effects of alcohol. The idiot had no idea he was far more a pariah in this small community than Rudolf had ever been. A perpetual drunk was an annoyance, but there was nothing worse than a pompous blowhard. Dirk at last moved on to allow the clutch of elderly women to surge forward en masse. Kir assumed they attended every funeral in the area, regardless if they personally knew the deceased or not.

He accepted their sympathies with a distracted nod and barely noticed as they scurried toward their waiting cars. Instead his focus was locked on the young woman who was holding out a slender hand. Kir experienced a strange sensation as he reached to squeeze her fingers that were covered in a leather glove and skimmed a quick glance down her slender body. Dr. Lynne Gale was a tiny woman with light brown hair she kept pulled into a messy ponytail. Her skin was pale and smooth with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her slender nose, making her look like a teenager although he knew she was just a couple grades behind him in school. Which meant she had to be at least thirty. Her eyes were dark and penetrating and surrounded by long lashes he suspected were real. He’d never seen this woman wearing makeup when they were younger, or later when they crossed paths during his infrequent trips to visit his dad. To combat the bitter cold, she was wearing a sensible parka that fell to her knees and a pair of heavy snow boots.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Kir.” There was a gentle sympathy in her voice that threatened to bring the tears to his eyes that had been lacking during the preacher’s sermon. His father had always admired Lynne. He called her a traditional small-town girl with a big heart. It was true she had a big heart, but there was nothing traditional about her. From a young age she’d been blunt and opinionated, and ruthless when it came to protecting the vulnerable. Especially if they happened to be furry. It hadn’t always made her a favorite with the other kids, including himself. Now that he was older, it was a trait he truly admired. You always knew where you stood with Lynne Gale.

He cleared his throat, forcing himself to release his grip on her fingers. “Thank you for coming, Lynne.” She shrugged. “My father and Rudolf were friends their entire lives.” A bittersweet sensation tugged at Kir’s heart. Her father had been the local vet, and like Rudolf, his wife had walked out on him, leaving behind a young daughter to raise. “Gavin was one of the few people in this town who stood by my father,” he murmured. “I’ll never be able to repay his loyalty.” “He sends his sympathies.” “I assume he’s still in Florida?” “Yeah.

” Lynne wrinkled her nose, which was pink from the cold. “He hated to miss the funeral, but it’s been hard for him to travel since he fell and broke his hip.” “I’m relieved he didn’t risk the trip,” Kir assured her, glancing toward the thick layer of snow that coated the landscape in white. It was beautiful, but deadly. “This weather isn’t fit for retired veterinarians.” “It’s true that he prefers the warm beaches these days.” “Who wouldn’t?” He glanced back at her. “I can’t believe you stayed here when you could be living in the sunshine.” “It’s home,” she said without hesitation. Kir flinched as her words struck a raw nerve.

Pike had once been home. Until the night his father had been shot. And Boston . Well, it was where he lived. He wasn’t sure that qualified as being his home. “For some.” “I suppose you’ll be returning to Boston?” she asked, as if sensing she’d unwittingly intensified Kir’s feelings of grief. “In a few days. I want to clean out the house and talk to a Realtor about putting it on the market. I hate to have it sitting empty.

” “If you need anything, just give me a call,” she told him. They were the customary words offered at funerals. Pleasant platitudes. But suddenly Kir was hit by an overwhelming desire to see this woman again. He wasn’t sure why, he just knew that he had an urge to connect with someone in Pike before he walked away forever. And there was always the possibility that she might have talked to his father or seen the older man. Kir needed . what? Closure, perhaps. He felt as if his anchor had been cut and he was floating in a sea of regret, guilt, and something perilously close to relief that he would never see his father suffering again. “How about lunch tomorrow?” She blinked, clearly caught off guard.

“I usually eat something in my office at the clinic.” “Good.” His tone left no room for her to politely wiggle out of his invitation. “I’ll bring my famous deconstructed sushi on pain de seigle.” She blinked again. This time in confusion. “Excuse me?” “Tuna fish sandwich on rye bread,” he translated. Her lips quirked in a genuine smile. “Okay. I usually take a break around noon.

” “See you then,” he said. She turned to scurry toward the red truck parked near the road. Kir watched her pull away before he turned to face the man who was stoically waiting near the open grave. “Thank you, Pastor,” he said, forcing himself to move forward, holding out his hand. “I was pleased to be able to help in your father’s time of need.” “I appreciate you stepping in on short notice.” The clergyman lifted his brows at Kir’s words. “It wasn’t.” Kir dropped his hand and stepped back. He didn’t want to stand where he could see the glossy casket that was waiting to be covered by the piles of frozen dirt.

It somehow made his father’s death irrevocable. Stupid, but there it was. “I beg your pardon?” he asked, confused by Bradshaw’s response. “It wasn’t short notice,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t understand.” “Your father asked me if I would officiate his funeral service.” Kir stiffened. When he’d received the call from the sheriff that his father had been found dead at the bottom of the stairs, he’d asked for his body to be sent to the local funeral parlor. Everything had been such a blur since then that he hadn’t questioned why this pastor had been selected to perform the service. He’d assumed it was some sort of package deal that went with the grave plot, the headstone, and the flowers that had been placed on top of the casket.

Now he frowned in confusion. “When did he ask you?” “A couple weeks ago.” “I didn’t realize the two of you were acquainted.” “It’s a small town, so of course, our paths had crossed, but I can’t say that we were acquainted,” Bradshaw admitted. “His request came as something of a surprise, to be honest. It isn’t uncommon for elderly parishioners to contemplate the end of their lives. Many even make arrangements for their funeral. But your father was in the prime of his life and he assured me that he wasn’t ill.” Kir winced. His father’s death had come as a complete shock.

Despite his heavy drinking, he had always maintained robust health. It had taken a fall down the stairs that cracked his skull to kill the stubborn old fool. “No. His liver wasn’t in great shape, but he certainly wasn’t on death’s door,” Kir said. Bradshaw shrugged. “Ah, well. He did say something about being tired. Perhaps he had a premonition. It does happen.” A shiver threaded its way down Kir’s spine.

Was it possible his father had some sense that the end was near? No. His rational mind fiercely dismissed the ridiculous explanation. If his father had reached out, there was a logical reason. “Why you? I mean . ” Kir paused as he tried to imagine his father seeking out a pastor. Rudolf rarely left his house unless it was to go to the neighborhood bar. “He didn’t attend your church, did he?” “No. To be honest, I’m not sure why he chose me. I was returning to the church after spending the morning at the local thrift shop and your father suddenly pulled his truck into the parking lot and jumped out, waving his hands to get my attention. I thought at first there must be some sort of emergency.

” Kir frowned. Had his father been drunk? Perhaps delusional? “What did he say?” “He introduced himself and we spoke for a couple minutes. Then he asked if I would arrange his funeral.” Bradshaw glanced toward the leaden sky as if trying to remember the encounter. “I asked him to come inside and discuss why he’d sought me out and if perhaps there was something I could do to assist him in his time of need, but he refused. He insisted he had to get home. When I read in the paper that Rudolf had passed, I contacted the funeral director to inform him of your father’s request.” “How . ” Kir’s words faded. It was simply impossible to imagine his father appearing on a church doorstep with the sole purpose of asking a complete stranger to officiate his funeral.

“Weird?” Bradshaw offered. “Yeah.” “‘It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things,’” the pastor quoted from the Bible. “I suppose.” Kir wasn’t in the mood to discuss theology. He wanted to know what was in his father’s mind. “Did he say anything else?” “Not really.” Ron’s eyes abruptly widened. “Oh. Wait.

I almost forgot.” He dug into the pocket of his heavy jacket, pulling out a folded piece of paper. “Here.” Kir allowed the man to shove the paper in his hand. Was it a bill? Maybe he expected to get paid on the spot. “What’s this?” Kir demanded, even as he mentally calculated how much cash was in his wallet. “I don’t know.” Ron shrugged. “Your father handed it to me before he left the church and asked me to give it to you after the funeral. I assume it’s a personal note he wanted you to have once he died.

” The vague sense of unreality was laced with a strange prickle of fear as Kir stuffed the paper into the pocket of his coat. “You really didn’t know my dad,” he muttered, suddenly needing to get away from the snowsmothered cemetery and the pastor who was regarding him with a sympathetic smile. “Thanks again.” “The doors to the church are always open,” Ron called out as Kir turned to hurry down the narrow path to his waiting SUV. “Rest in peace, Dad,” he prayed as he drove away. Dear Rudolf, I’m sorry to say you had a shitty funeral. The attendance was sparse and the few who were there hurried away as soon as the preacher said amen. I did warn you that I was the only one who truly cared about you. Why did you threaten to betray me? Now you’re gone and my lust is no longer leashed. It’s exploding out of me as if a dam has burst.

And I’ve already chosen my first . hmm, should I call her a victim? She’s not innocent. She spread my most private treasures across the snow as if they were trash. She gutted me to reveal my innards to the entire world. And then she laughed. The harsh braying laugh of a donkey. No, she’s not innocent. This time I will be the one laughing as I watch her crimson blood stain the pure white snow. Life spills from warm to frozen. The pain is gone.

Don’t look. Revenge is mine…. Sherry Higgins sat on a high stool in the small office building overlooking the Pike Trailer Park. She was a large woman with a square head and a matching square body she currently had stuffed in a velvet jogging suit. Her father had spent her childhood calling her a worthless blockhead—only one of the reasons she’d spit on his grave. The only decent thing he’d ever done was die when she was a young woman, giving her sole ownership of the park. It wasn’t a great living, but the rent from the trailers, plus utilities, provided enough to scrape by. On the other side of the counter a young man with a haggard face and messy red hair was glaring at her with bloodshot eyes. “You . ” Spittle formed at the edge of his mouth.

“Bitch.” She rolled her eyes, returning her gaze to the television set on the corner of the counter. The idiot had stormed into the office when she was watching her favorite reality show. “Your job is to throw families out of their homes in the middle of winter?” “Wanna stay warm? Pay your rent,” she told him. “I’m going to. I have a new job I’m starting on Monday.” “That’s what you said last month.” “Yeah, but—” She waved a silencing hand in his direction. “I don’t want to hear it. Pay or get out.

” “Where are we supposed to go?” the man whined. It was the same conversation Sherry had endured a thousand times over the past twenty years. Boo hoo, I lost my job, my kid is sick, my car broke down . blah, blah, blah. Everyone had an excuse why they couldn’t fulfill their obligations. “I run a trailer park, not a charity,” she told him. “Call the government, they’re always handing out money to lowlifes who can’t keep a job. People who work never get nothing but the bill.” “At least give me a few days to find someplace we can stay,” he pleaded. “We have a baby.

” “Not my problem. You have . ” Sherry glanced toward the large clock attached to the cheap paneling that lined the outer office. “One hour left to pay the rent or I’ll turn off the electricity and water. Ticktock, ticktock.” Without warning the man slammed his hand down on the counter. “Someday you’re going to get what’s coming to you.” Sherry leaned forward, glowering at the intruder. “There’s a camera right there.” She stabbed a sausage-shaped finger toward the ceiling where a small hole was drilled.

There wasn’t anything there —she was too cheap to actually buy security equipment—but the threat was usually enough. “You say another word and I’ll have you charged with harassment.” The man’s face turned a beet red, but he turned and stomped across the floor. “I hope you rot in hell,” he yelled as he slammed shut the door behind him. Sherry snorted. “I’ve been rotting in hell for years,” she muttered. With a shake of her head she returned her attention to the television. She was far more interested in what was happening with the naked people trying to survive in the wilderness than the people who rented her trailers. Bunch of losers. Darkness thickened outside, the sound of the wind whistling through the windows.

It was past five, but Sherry made no move to go and check if the delinquent tenants had made their exit from the park. If they were there in the morning, she’d have the sheriff kick their asses out. It was too damned cold to do anything tonight. Flicking off the television, she stood and moved to lock the front door. Her own trailer was at the end of the park, which meant she didn’t have to face the icy roads to get home. Still, she wasn’t excited by the thought of the frigid walk through the dark. Not for the first time she considered moving closer to the office. She wouldn’t have the yard that currently surrounded her mobile home, or a view of the lake, but she could avoid the trudging back and forth. Heading out through the back-storage room, she didn’t bother to turn on the lights. It was easy enough to follow the narrow path between stacked boxes and old, broken furniture.

She could do it with her eyes closed. It wasn’t until she heard the unmistakable tread of a footstep that she regretted the thick darkness that made it impossible to see. Her heart thudded, the pizza she had for lunch churning uneasily in her stomach. “Hello? Who’s there?” Reaching out her hand, she tried to find something she could use as a weapon. There was nothing. “How the hell did you get in here?” “I’m sorry, Sherry.” A portion of her terror lessened. There was something familiar about the voice. Was it one of her tenants? “You better be sorry,” she told the intruder, reaching into the pocket of her jogging suit to pull out her phone. “This is breaking and entering.

Don’t think I won’t call the sheriff.” There was a sound like someone clicking their tongue. “You brought this on yourself.” “Bullshit. If you needed something, you should have come through the front door during normal business hours.” Sherry hit the flashlight on her phone and swung it toward the intruder. The idiot was too far away to make out more than the fact that he or she was bundled in a heavy coat with a stocking cap on their head and something clutched in their hand. A gun? Shit. “You never change,” the intruder drawled. “All that squawking in an effort to disguise just how weak you are.

” “Weak? I’m not weak,” she tried to bluff, cautiously inching backward. If she could get into her office, she could lock the door and call the sheriff. “Just ask anyone.” “Terrorizing helpless victims doesn’t make you strong. Most cowards are bullies.” The arm lifted, pointing the gun straight toward the middle of her chest. “Laugh for me, Sherry.” Her mouth was so dry she could barely speak. “What?” “Laugh.” “I can’t—” “Do it.

” The words were low . almost gentle . but they sent a blast of terror through Sherry. This wasn’t some weird-ass joke. The intruder was going to shoot her if she didn’t find some way to get out of there. Parting her lips, she forced a hoarse laugh past the lump jammed in her throat. It echoed through the room, sounding unnaturally loud in the silence. “Just like a donkey.” There was disgust in the voice. Sherry flinched.

Her father used to say that. You bray just like an ass. She slid her thumb to the corner on the screen of her phone and pressed. That was emergency service, wasn’t it? Then, praying that someone was on the way to save her, she tried to distract the intruder. “What did I ever do to you?” He stepped forward. “You didn’t see.” “See what?”

.

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