“Are you sure you want to be here?” I asked the widow. She was the only one who had shown up the funeral. I could see the grave diggers rapidly heading for the cemeteries gates along with several straggling visitors. Funerals were always such somber occasions. The widow let out a long sigh before responding.
“Yeah, with no kids in the house it’ll be rather empty. I’d like to give Cliff the option of sticking around should he want. Lord knows I could use the company,” she said. Looking at her, I could see the bone weariness etched into her features. She probably wouldn’t last much longer than her husband I thought to myself. I personally hoped that her husband would decide to stick around with her, more for her sake than my own. I was used to a crowded house.
I rotely performed the final rites for her husband, quoting only as much scripture as was necessary. Funerals had always been more for the departed than those that survived them. I then began the arduous process of shoveling the dirt back into the whole the cemetery workers had emptied. After tamping down the final shovel’s worth of dirt, I leaned on the handle of the shovel to catch my breath. Father Marcus was right, I needed to start casting out for a potential apprentice sooner rather than later.
“I…I don’t see him,” the widow said, stirring me out of my reverie. Her voice sounded concerned. Her eyebrows were knit together and she looked at me for guidance.
“Not everyone returns,” I said, “And of those that do, there’s not a specific timeline that they follow. Some appear during their last rites. Others may not make themselves known until a week or so has passed.” I pulled my handkerchief from my back pocket and mopped some of the sweat from my brow.
“How long until he for certain has passed over?” She asked as I began to lead her to the cemetery’s exit. I squinted a bit as I thought about her question. We paused at the gate while I ran a comb of thought through the tangled mess that was my memory.
“The longest one I remember personally coming back to me would have been three months. While I was in the seminary though, I remember reading a document about one that turned up about a year down the line. That was an extreme circumstance though. Some jokers decided to perform the funeral in a hedge maze.” That last bit elicited a small chuckle from her and I smiled myself. “Most spouses usually show up by the end of a week though.”
I continued talking with the widow, answering more of her questions about the spectral and the mundane before she felt comfortable enough to leave. I locked up the gate behind her and made my way up to the two sites that still needed my attention this afternoon.
“What are the odds of a new member of the family, you think?” I heard from beside me. I gave the spectral bookie a disinterested glance before starting into my work.
“Come on man, gotta have some odds to give the spooks back up at the house…” he said.
“Not very likely,” I finally said, pausing between shifting dirt into the graves, “Veil seems thick today. Could be a surprise though. You never know.”
“Thanks for the tip, Father, you want in on the action?”
I just shook my head and continued the funerals.
Apropos of: This Prompt