Renaissance Online Magazine Fiction

FEBRUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 2



FICTION

CURRENT FICTION

ALSO BY KASHDAN
Success Story [August 1998]

RECENT FICTION
AIDS courses through Thailand and strikes a lonely heart | Kenneth A. Champeon

FICTION ARCHIVE

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Moonlight on Lake Lotsahoochi | Sharon LaFrenz



GEORGE KASHDAN, a former writer of "children's entertainment" including comic scripts for Superman, Batman and Star Trek, is from West New York, NJ. He is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. His work has appeared in My Legacy, Dogwoood Tales and Murderous Intent.


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AND THEY DIED HAPPILY EVER AFTER
[ 1, 2 ]

At last! The American authorities have finally allowed Changra's remains to come home for the traditional rites. What strange customs these westerners have, imprisoning their dead in a cold morgue. Poor Changra. How his soul must be suffering.

As the plane takes off, Wilma finally relaxes. The past weeks have been hectic. That detective obviously didn't believe a word she said. Neither did her lawyer, probably. So what? she figures. Once Changra's will is settled, she'll take a nice, long vacation -- give them plenty of time to forget her. What a pain, though, having to transport Changra's body. He insisted on it -- even specified it in his will. These Indians with their strange customs!

How good of Changra's American widow to accompany him home. She must have loved him deeply, to travel this great distance. Not all the foreign wives of our villagers return with their late husbands. Yet that is as it should be -- for according to our traditions, a funeral without the wife is only half a funeral.

The delegation awaiting Wilma at the airport greets her with great respect, almost worship. After loading Changra's coffin into a hearse, they escort her to a limousine, all the while chanting words of reverence for Changra.

"Not bad," Wilma thinks. "With this kind of treatment, I could almost enjoy living out here."

But the journey that ensues quickly changes her mind. Approaching the countryside, they switch from limousines to bumpy land rovers. Deeper in, the only means of travel is elephants. Her bones start to ache, and her skin is raw with mosquito bites.

Changra's widow is clearly discomfited. But who can blame her? She is unused to our harsh land. Patience, dear woman. It is written in our scriptures: for each moment of hardship you endure, an infinite moment of joy awaits you.

"Now?" Wilma exclaims as they enter the village. "The funeral is right now?" She can no longer hide her revulsion. "Don't I get time to rest up?"

"Already too much time has elapsed," the village priest explains. "Once dead, the corpse must be dispatched swiftly. It is the only way to free the imprisoned soul."

Wilma shrugs. "Well -- why not?" she says, thinking, "The sooner the better."

Two women take her gently by the arms and lead her away. The widow, one of them explains, must be clad appropriately.

They usher her into a hut, where they help her to undress. Then they garb her in silken strips of cloth, reciting a prayer as they unfold each layer. Wilma studies herself in a mirror. "How much would an outfit like this cost me in Neiman?" she wonders. "Maybe they'll let me keep it after the funeral."

Outside, the villagers have lined up for a procession. Changra's prone body, draped in identical silken garb, rises high above them, held aloft by four bare-chested, muscular mourners. Amid low chanting, the cortege moves deep into the forest.

Ahead is a glow, growing larger and larger as they approach. Wilma soon sees a pit in which a fire rages, and she remembers hearing somewhere that cremation is the custom of these people.

The chanting grows louder as the body is carried to the edge of the pit. A final word from the priest, and the chants turn to a cheer. Then the cheer becomes a song as the corpse is hurtled into the flames.

Wilma gags, turns away. "What the hell are they so happy about?" she wonders.

Suddenly she is gripped by the four corpse carriers and lifted aloft. The singing villagers writhe in ecstasy, throwing kisses, waving goodbye. And it finally dawns on Wilma why they are overjoyed.

"No! Wait!" she cries, but too late. Screaming, she hurtles into the pit where, a moment later, there is only the sound of crackling flames.

Now they are together, seeking new forms into which they will reincarnate. But why was she unhappy? Did Changra not tell her of the everlasting happiness that awaits them? Perhaps not. Perhaps with good reason.

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