F   I   C   T   I   O   N 

Dear Dead Fred

I was too early for Fred's viewing and memorial that sunny afternoon and I was trying to kill time by walking around part of the cemetery. Some of the headstones were mildly interesting, but then I got impatient and thought the hell with it and went into the chapel. As I entered I saw Fred's open casket in the distance and standing next to it was a little girl. And she seemed to be talking. I was at the rear of the long hall and I could barely hear what she was saying, but as I listened more intently I discerned that it was a two-way conversation.

"They're going to come. Don't worry," I heard the little girl say.

"Hope it's soon," a faint voice from the casket answered. It was Fred's.

"It's uncomfortable here."

My foot made a scraping noise as I stood there and the little girl turned to look at me. She smiled, then turned back to Fred.

"See? I told you they'd come. Here's Uncle Harry."

"I - I can't see him."

Was I imagining this whole freaky scenario? How the little girl knew my name was an added mystery to this whole weird situation since I really wasn't an uncle, just a friend. Oddly enough I wasn't scared. My instinct to run screaming out of the chapel just wasn't there. Instead, I found myself walking slowly toward the girl and Fred's body.

"Hi," the little girl said, "I'm Lacey."

Lacey. I remembered the name. Wasn't she Fred's younger daughter? The one who died a few years before Fred and I knew each other? 

"Hello, Harry."

Fred was speaking to me from the coffin in an all too relaxed manner, and although his eyes were looking at me, his lips never moved. Neither did Lacey's for that matter.

"This is a trick, isn't it?" I didn't know what to think. "Y-you're not really dead, are you? You always were a prankster, Fred, but this, this is ridiculous! Your family and friends are going to get the shock of their lives. Is that what you want? To piss them off like that?"

"I'm tired," answered Fred through unmoving lips.

"You shouldn't talk like that to Daddy, Uncle Harry!"

"Well, it's a mean and unfunny prank. Pretty soon everybody's going to arrive and they won't appreciate this, even if they discover you're not dead after all."

"I really don't care."

By now, faint organ music had welled up in the background as the soft murmur of people outside drew closer and they slowly entered the chapel. Black-clad family members old and young, friends and acquaintances somberly walked up the aisles and took their seats. Some wiped tears from their eyes as they witnessed Fred in his coffin.

"Hey, everybody!" I shouted. "This is all a sham! Fred's alive! Come and look!"

No one paid any attention. Didn't they see me?

"Lacey! Please say something! Let them know!" I implored.

I ran up to the lectern and hoped the microphone would help me, but all I heard was my trembling and unamplified voice. These people were in no mood for fun and games, and I could understand that all right, but they'd soon find out that Fred wasn't dead and that he'd made fools of them all. 

"Come on, Uncle Harry."

Lacey took my hand and led me to a couple of seats off to the side as the reverend came to the lectern.

The memorial was heartfelt and sad, but Lacey next to me showed no emotion save for a slight smile on her unmoving lips. As the ceremony ended, the reverend called for six family members to come forward and wheel the casket out to the gravesite. He then went over to the casket and began to slowly close the lid, and as he did so I noticed that Lacey - who had her hand in mine - was beginning to disappear! In fact, both of us were fading from the light, just like Fred.

"Finally." I heard Fred whisper.

The burial ceremony was uneventful.