Daniel slid off his stool as they entered the Diner, Nine right behind them, still carrying Jeron’s father.
“Should I be worried?” he motioned to Nine, not yet showing any sign of concern.
Sylus turned to find the eye-less creature standing with its head bowed.
“Not at all,” Sylus smiled.
With a shrug, that settled slowly, Daniel noticed the body wrapped in Nine’s tendrils. “I-is that…”
Jeron looked away.
“Jeron…” Daniel breathed, “Dad… What happened?”
“Henley.” Was all either of them could say.
“I knew he was bad… I just never thought…”
Shaking his head, Jeron made his way into a supply cabinet in the kitchen.
“Let’s get this over with,” he growled, handing Sylus and Daniel shovels.
After Daniel’s rather unphased reaction to Nine and a somber recapping of the morning’s events, they all proceeded to do what had to be done.
Everyone took a shovel as they moved to the dirt hill behind the Diner.
Nine rested Jeron’s father on the ground under a bed sheet shroud as he did his part in digging the grave.
Jeron had chosen a spot next to an existing stone monument. A small, arch of a headstone with only the words: “Jarrika Miles Wife Mother”.
“He always said,” Jeron huffed as he threw a load of dirt aside, “‘Put me next to your mother. I don’t care where I die, but I want to be with my wife when He returns.”
“He?” Sylus leaned on his shovel.
“Ah,” Jeron took another dig, “Jesus…”
“Oh…” Sylus felt like an ass for asking.
“Yeah…” Jeron tossed his dirt aside, “Dad… I… I’m not sure he really believed it…”
“Wasn’t he in the clergy?” Sylus moved a bit more dirt.
“Mmm, yeah…” Jeron grunted, “Didn’t stay long, though.”
“Would it be inappropriate if I asked why?” Sylus leaned on his shovel once more.
Jeron leaned on his own, while Nine and Daniel kept digging. Nine was using his forepaws to scoop at the dirt and his back tendrils to sweep it out like the blades of a windmill. It was honestly bizarre and mildly upsetting, but Jeron wasn’t going to turn down the help.
“It’s… complicated… He tried to blow whistles, but instead of the lifeguard coming, the police came. Who got in trouble? Not the fuckers sinning in the eyes of God, but my fucking father trying to call them out for their blaspheming hypocrisy…” Jeron threw dirt aside in his welling rage, “Tried to arrest him!” Jeron spat on the ground, “That was the day I stepped away from the church. Dad lingered. He really wanted to believe… And I think… I think he really did… I think it’s mankind who he lost faith in…”
Sylus gazed at the love of his life as tears welled in his soft, hazel eyes. Rounding the hole they’d dug, he brought Jeron into his arms.
“I lost them both, Sy…” he slowly turned in Sylus’ arms, “I lost both my parents…” his voice shook terribly, “What good am I?” the tears finally burst forth. Leaning down into Sylus’ shoulder, Jeron Miles broke down.
“You didn’t lose them, Jeron… Neither of their deaths were your fault…” Sylus whispered, running his hand along the back of Jeron’s neck.
“Oh bullshit,” Jeron pushed him away, “I damn well did! My negligence got them both killed!”
“No! No! I don’t deserve sympathy! If I was HALF the son I should have been, NEITHER of them would be dead! But no… NO!” He slammed the back of his shovel onto the ground, startling Daniel and Nine. “I FAILED!”
“I failed them… I failed them both…” Jeron dropped to his knees, his voice trailing off with exhaustion. “What good am I if I can’t protect the ones I love…”
“That thought crosses my mind every day,” Sylus replied, his gaze drifting into the depth of the grave. Jeron turned to him, staring with watery eyes. “I have to think that all we can do is our best. Sometimes situations are beyond our ability, but as long as we do everything we can…” Sylus turned to Daniel, “We can’t do more than that…” he retreated to his side of the hole and began digging once more.
Jeron remained in silent contemplation for a moment longer, before driving his shovel into the soft earth once more.
No one was sure how deep they’d dug, but the second they hit stone, they knew they could go no further. Daniel and Nine stepped back while Jeron stood over his father’s body. He didn’t say a word, only stared. Approaching him, Sylus put a hand on his shoulder.
“You didn’t fail anyone,” he whispered.
Jeron scoffed, shaking his head in remorse.
Sylus and Jeron attempted to lift the body, but as they struggled to merely pick it up, they knew putting it gracefully in the grave would be impossible.
“Nine?” Sylus breathed. The creature looked up to him with its eyeless face. “Can you place Mr. Miles’ body in the hole we dug? Gently and evenly?”
With a nod, Nine wove his free tendrils into something that vaguely resembled a stretcher. Lowing it beside the body, it turned to Sylus.
Please place on.
“Please?” Sylus smiled, “Of course. Jeron?”
“Hm? Yeah?” Jeron was falling into despondence.
“Help me move your dad onto Nine’s tendrils?”
Jeron sighed, “This is all so wrong and fucked up, Sy…”
“Everything about this…” he turned to Nine, “I don’t even know what you are or what you want but here I am trusting you to handle my father’s body… What the hell is going on here, Sy?”
“Good. A friend. Whatever… Sylus… It’s a fucking alien animal!”
Nine withdrew his tendrils, cowering away from them.
“Oh and now I suppose I’m supposed to feel bad?” Jeron barked, “My FATHER is DEAD!” Kicking his shovel into the hole, he stormed into the Diner.
Sylus stood a moment, frozen in a void of emotions. He didn’t know how to help, Jeron. He didn’t know what would be best… Leaving him alone or…
“You should go after him…” Daniel sighed, sitting down beside Nine’s cowering form.
Angry mortal… angry angry… Nine sat up a bit, But also sad… very very sad… Like last master used to be…
“You two stay here,” Sylus sighed before following Jeron inside.
Gently closing the swinging door behind him, Sylus found Jeron sitting at the counter, back heaving as he sobbed into his hands. Sylus moved to his side, with little sound. Sitting beside him, he wrapped his arms around his shuddering frame once more.
“Jeron…” he breathed into his ear, “Jeron… None of this was your fault… None of it.”
“Every… time…” Jeron sobbed, “Every time I DARE do something for me… Someone dies… Someone I love dies…” He gasped, “Why… Why can’t I just… Stop existing…” he ran his hands down his face, eyes reddening with tears. “Not die. Just…” his gaze drifted to the fluorescent lights that hung above the counter, “Stop caring about myself and what I want…” His gaze settled, vacantly staring into the kitchen. “People die when I think about myself… Ugh… How… How selfish could I be…” he clasped his hands back over his face.
Sylus’ grip on his shoulders tightened. “I need you to listen to me, Jeron. Please…”
“You know,” Jeron turned to him, ferocity in his eyes, “If you hadn’t come along, I’d have never left him alone! I wouldn’t have been tempted away from my duties! I would have been there for him! I… I… I…”
Sylus pulled away in an instant. “J-Jeron… I…”
Jeron shook his head.
“L-look,” Sylus laughed, “Let Daniel and I help finish this up… Th-then we’ll leave you alone, I promise.”
The fury in Jeron’s gaze subsided. Covering his face once more, he screamed into his hands.
“Jeron…” Sylus reached out to him, unsure if making contact was the right thing to do.
“No… NO. NO!” Jeron screamed at the top of his lungs, “It’s my own DAMN fault! All of it! Every fucking time! I-I am the one responsible for my actions. I CHOSE to take a nap… I CHOSE to leave her alone… I CHOSE to go into town with you… I CHOSE not to stay by his bedside until he woke up… I CHOSE not…” he gasped, “NOT… Not… not…” he trailed off, “I chose not to be the son I should have been…”
“Please… Sylus… Just…” he sighed from the deepest part of his soul, “Please… Help me… Help me… End this… I-I can’t…” Lunging out of his stool, he took Sylus in his arms, “I can’t do this alone…” He sobbed uncontrollably.
“You don’t have to, Jer… You’ll never have to go alone… I’m here…”
After the sobs subsided, Jeron leaned away. “I-I’m sorry I said those things… They… They weren’t true…”
“Including the bits about yourself?” Sylus raised a brow.
“I-I… I don’t know…” Jeron sagged onto his stool, “I… I really do feel… Like I failed them both…”
“You didn’t, Jeron… You really, truly didn’t…”
Staring into Sylus’ eyes, a smile crept across Jeron’s lips. “I shouldn’t be smiling with my pop lying dead outside… But I am…” he laughed, “How horrendous is that?”
Sylus rested a hand on Jeron’s tear-stained cheek, “It makes you human.”
Once Jeron’s raging heart had settled, they rejoined Daniel and Nine outside.
Master is returned.
Daniel stood up to face them. “H-hey… A-are you guys… Okay?”
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Jeron sniffed, with a smiling nod.
“Oh good…” Daniel leaned on his shovel, “I’m not sure this is the time, but I learned a thing…”
“Oh?” Sylus tried to keep the situation light before the inherent sobriety of the overarching event returned.
“I can hear the dog talking.”
Jeron threw his hands in the air, “So I’m the only one who can’t?”
“I pet him a few times and then BOOM I could hear him… It was wierd… Bet it was something like when Qaitax talks to you, Dad?”
Sylus laughed, “Pretty close!”
“Anyway, we talked about stuff…. and things…” Daniel turned to the creature, “He’s got a lot to say.”
Like talking to listeners!
Sylus smiled. He turned to find Jeron standing over his father’s shrouded corpse.
“I need to finish this…” he knelt down, trying to take the body into his arms.
“We.” Sylus interrupted, motioning for Nine to assist them once more.
The creature wove itself into another bed of tendrils. With a heavy sigh, Jeron invited Sylus over to help him move his father.
They watched in silence as Nine slowly lowered the body into the grave. Jeron could think nothing of the bizarre nature of the situation. He couldn’t really think at all. Sylus stood beside him. Noticing Jeron’s vacant stare, he took hold of his hand and squeezed it tightly. He could barely hear Jeron saying something under his breath.
“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die…”
He repeated the phrase over and over, nodding with every completion.
Sylus squeezed his hand even tighter.
Once the body was settled at the bottom of the earthen hole, the tendrils gently withdrew. Nine stepped back as Jeron approached with a handful of dirt. They all watched as he sprinkled it into the hole. Taking their own share of loose soil, they did the same. Nine unfurled mandible like tendrils that scooped up a tiny pinch of dirt, tossing it into the grave. Jeron smiled.
“Lord, have mercy on us,” he breathed, shaking as he took his shovel into his hands once more.
Sylus and Daniel picked up their shovels. Nine pushed dirt in with his snout.
“Our Father, who art in heaven,” Jeron’s voice began to shake, “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” he trailed off, losing the words that should have been ingrained in him to the heart-shattering grief that took hold.
The silence of the night was broken only by the moving of earth.
A low hum came from Jeron. A song. Sylus paused a moment to see if he could figure out what it was. It only took a few moments before he was humming along.
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it beThe Beatles – Let It Be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be