Jessica is a writer from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan currently living in Vancouver. She loves horror movies, writing essays and fiction, and perpetually trying to quit smoking. Jessica’s work has appeared in Suspense Magazine and Artist’s Syndicate. Her goal is to create the next great arthouse horror film.


by Jessica Daly


It was strange that the morning wasn’t streaked with gray; the sky above us was blushing with elated crimson pinks and casting us in haloed light. I stared at it for so long that I imagined the whites of my eyes burning, darkening, and soon I would no longer be able to see.

The only other funeral I’d ever attended was that of my aunt, and it was outside, just like this one. The cemetery we’d chosen for her was far more scenic, an appropriate distance from the city to allow for quiet, and lush with rolling knees of green that held wildflowers captivated and preserved. 

This cemetery was small and dark, as though hastily carved into the city in an effort to find somewhere to pile more corpses quickly. My stepmother had chosen it.

We were standing there, perfect, painted images of sorrow against a realistic canvas. Some people assembled are crying, some sobs loud and guttural, others closely silent. I wondered if I should be doing something else—crying harder, grasping at the coffin, wailing. Instead of doing any of those things, I simply stood there and assessed the gaping pit perfectly centralized between all of us, the casket destined for the bottom.

My father had been sick for years. When I was younger and he would sneeze I would pull handfuls of tissues from the box only to sprint them over to him, subscribing to the belief that tissues treated his ailments, and didn’t just clean the symptoms. His sickness, unknown to me had nothing to do with his health, because his doctor would often tell him he had the heart of a twenty five year old man. He was strong. He would lift weights at night in the basement, shoulders square to the mirror, guttural sounds protruding. 

My stepmother would look on, annoyed. He ran in the mornings when the rain wasn’t cutting the sky into millions of pieces and the air was cold, and I’d see him pass by my bedroom window, nothing but a flash of soft grey and muffled concrete sounds. 

It never occurred to us, until it did. He’d been to the doctor and received the same praise as always…that he fit the criteria of a much younger man; that his heart beat healthily and steadily within his chest. There was something new, however, a veil of fog behind his eyes, a prescription folded neatly into his palm. The writing was indecipherable.

My stepmother came into my bedroom that night. She asked if I knew what it was like to feel hopeless. 

Today I watched as she spoke to the pastor. He was standing very still though wind toys with the edges of his hair, running cool fingers along his forehead, the tips of his ears. He looked cold, though he stood motionless. He listened attentively to her as she talked with her hands, her fingers lyrical and defined as they accent her words. I was sure he felt sorrow for her, or pity. He looked haunted, and in those moments, the age was apparent in his features. 

He averted his gaze over to me. I saw nothing in his eyes, only a distinctly blank canvas in the whites, but he did not immediately look away. 

Then he finally looked away, shook my stepmother’s hand, and turned to leave, even though it was apparent she was not done talking.

She was watching me now, her gaze angled over the coffin, away from it, purely to find me. For a moment, we made unbroken eye contact. I wondered what she was thinking about. I spend a lot of time wondering what she’s thinking about.


A few mornings before my father passed, she sat at the edge of my bed, and I wondered why. Neither of us spoke for many moments, and I let her words collapse around me. 

“Hopeless?” I repeated what she told me, perplexed. I had been on the cusp of sleep, counting sheep as they scrambled from the peaks of mountains left unseen, numbering strained sounds as they echoed through walls of solid rock. I thought I’d heard voices floating up to my bedroom like phantoms in the air, arguments, assumptions, accusations all threading through one another to become tension. You could cut it with a knife, but why would they want to? They let it bud evenly and thoroughly; soon it would punch a fist through the earth to bloom.

“Yes,” she said, slowly lowering herself to the edge of my bed. “Like, even if you woke up in the morning, and even if you put everything into your day, every bit of yourself as though you were able to give every compartment of your being, it still wouldn’t be nearly enough?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way,” I said, still confused, “I don’t think I know what that would feel like.” 

She nodded at me, smiling. Her hands came together to twist each other for a moment, and then she reached for a strand of my hair; ran her fingers over it. 

“Right,” she said, “good girl. That’s very good.” 

I thought the conversation is over, but she made no move to leave. She was still smiling, and I got the feeling she knew something I didn’t.

“That’s really good,” she repeated, and her voice was clearer now. “Your father—he feels that way because he lets himself. He feels that way, because he is.” 

Her tone was flat. She left a few moments later, and I lay there and considered what she’d told me. 

Finding no answers, I got up and walked down the stairs. I poured a steaming cup of coffee from the glass pot. My stepmother made it every morning, an early riser. She was always up before him, watching him weave from our doorway with distaste, cloaked in grey to become a fragment of sky that began to run away from it. Her coffee made the house smell like home, and whenever the smell found me in public, I’d be reminded of the sweetness of familiarity. I drank it now, heavy with cream, while I ascended the stairs once more to finish getting ready.

I glanced in the upstairs bathroom. My father was shaving his face, looking steadily into the bathroom mirror. It was so obvious when he concentrated; his face became drawn and severe, his gaze sharp, nearly unblinking. I walked by the first time, saw him delicately holding a razor to his cheek, ready to gently draw it down. 

My father was different than he was before, though rooted in the same place. The concentration had abandoned his eyes, and I saw nothing within them, though they stared unblinkingly, fixated, focused in another way. The razor was pressed against his neck, the hair already removed beneath it. I watched as he put pressure on the silver blade, gently breaking the pale flesh beneath. It bled profusely, and for some reason, I simply stood there and watched.


After that morning in the bathroom, I started to become more observant. My observations came in both expected and unexpected moments, new ones cropping up here and there to form jagged pieces of a larger picture that I was anticipating the formation of. 

My father would often sleep very late, the sun opening its eye to him, only for him to neglect its light and draw curtains the color of night across his windows. He always wanted it to be midnight, always wanted time to succumb and either fall short or increase in its dragging speed; anything to find him suspended in darkness. 

In this darkness, I somehow knew that he was awake—slumber for my father seemed to be for the day when the heightening demands of voices and conversation became a sea in which he would drown. At night he could relish in silence, or so I imagined, his motionless torso seeping into bed sheets the color of newly white washed walls. His own asylum; he would be walled in forever.

His work began to suffer. A writer by trade, his office spent weeks, then months unoccupied. My stepmother urged the housekeeper not to clean within the four confined walls where the ghost of him possibly sat, typing black text upon a starkly white page. She said it was fine if it all just collected dust. He seemed to be fine with collecting dust.

Men and women would call the house, asking for him by name. Their voices were often loud and tinged with importance, and they weren’t used to him saying no, or evading them at all. Upon every decline to pick up the phone, they adopted even more urgency within their tones. The backgrounds of the phone calls were walls of noise, symphonies of typing and the sharp ringing of the telephone, someone reaching out. 

“I really need to talk to him,” one woman said to me curtly. I imagined her mouth to be a gash of red lipstick, her expression pointed, annoyed. I would breathe softly into the receiver, unsure of what to say. I wondered if he could hear all the people calling out for him. 

One day, my stepmother ripped the telephone from the wall, and everything came out with a burst of wires and white powder.

“We just need our cell phones,” she told me when I stared, examining the hole where something used to be. It was jagged and uneven, and though it represented something ceasing to exist, it became the most noticeable thing in the room.


At the cemetery, I wasn’t going to speak to anyone; avoiding eye contact as expressions of sympathy were cast my way, and obeying instructions sweetly whispered by my stepmother. Paranoia was a haunted weight on my chest that nearly dragged me down to the ground next to my father, and yet I had been instructed to convey normalcy.

Somehow I got through the graveside services, and I was so numb that I barely remember going back to our house for the funeral reception. It felt as though I awoke from a dream in my own living room, surrounded by people; some I knew, but most I didn’t.

I was standing by the refreshments trying to pretend I was okay when a woman I had never seen before approached me and the tea I was steeping, the color of the water turning within its painted dish, darkly brown and simmering from the inside out. 

“Kate?” she said, and I was surprised by the earnest nature of her tone. I imagined she was here to offer her own unique strain of condolences, her pity served to me upon a silver platter. I study her face for a moment, trying to place it through the sudden cadence of alarm bells within my head—she wasn’t family or any friend that I recognized, yet she knew me by name.

For a moment I saw my stepmother’s face in the mirror that morning, twisting her own expression into gruesome formation to rehearse her exaggerated sobs. She had pushed me in front of the mirror, too, urging me to do the same. My expression had looked so foreign, wrongly contorted like that.

“Thanks for coming,” was my automatic response—an autopilot script. 

“Of course. Your father…well. He meant a lot to me.” She studied me for a moment, gauging my reaction. I remained stoic.

Apparently not getting the reaction that the woman hoped for, she continued, “He meant a lot to everyone, of course, but he was a dear friend of mine. I’ve known him for years.”

She paused once more, awaiting the natural give and take of conversation. I said nothing. My heart pounded relentlessly within my chest, solid, a hammer against cloth when I told her, “I’m not sure if he’s ever mentioned you to me before.” I tried not to notice her eyes scanning the perimeter then, watchful, seeking something. Seeking someone. 

Then she looked at me as though she was trying to look through me. My nerves got the better of me and I blurted, “Sorry, what was your name again?” I asked to buy myself a moment to collect myself, the panic budding and threatening its anxious takeover.

I began to search the crowd for my stepmother, who had coached me for these interactions. She hadn’t prepared me for this level of intimacy with a stranger. I was afraid of going off-script, of failing to obey her instructions, disappointing her—being found out. The woman watched me search for my stepmother among other blonde heads clad in darkened funeral clothing, and it occurred to me we may both be watching for the same person.

“It’s Veronica. Listen, Kate,” she stepped closer to me, closing the space between us to allow for the lowering of her voice. I looked beyond her to a gaggle of women, all watching, attentive, their expressions knowledgeable. Were they friends of hers? Could they see through me?

Kate stepped even closer and I felt as though I could faint. “I came over here because I wanted to tell you how sorry I am,” she spoke in almost a whisper. “Really and truly sorry. You’ve been on my mind every day. I imagine you’re experiencing an unbelievable amount of pain and grief right now, most likely like never before.”

I lifted the teacup to my mouth, simply for something to do. The porcelain clattered against my teeth, and I knew Kate could see how much I was shaking, and she said, “I also wanted to discuss something else.”

Discuss? There was no pit for me to sink into, no refuge for my fear—she had me cornered against the table, and the ridge dug sharply into the curve of my back. 

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I found myself saying, my experience almost out of body as I felt as though I could see myself speaking; I could watch my own mistakes. I watched myself inspire more and more suspicion as I refrained from looking her in the eyes. Without realizing it, I took a step back.      

“Look, your father—”

“Is everything okay over here? Kate?” My stepmother’s voice was sharp as it interjected, the syllables fatal as they cut into one another. I felt the weight of her tone; it jarred Veronica and I apart, creating worlds of space between us. For a moment, no one spoke.

“Everything’s fine,” Veronica finally said, her voice cold. She looked to me for confirmation and I saw the plea in her eyes, and beyond it, something else. 

“Well,” my stepmother said, eyeing us both with doubt, “Kate needs to be with me now.” She continued with a tone of cool blues, “You know, for her nerves. So, if you’ll excuse us, Veronica.”

My heart skipped at the bitter notes of her voice. Veronica said nothing as she watched us go. I saw something stewing behind her eyes; storm clouds building to become masses of grey against skies so desperately choked with wind. Her friends, still encircled nearby, looked to her for what seemed like direction. 

I look at my stepmother. Her teeth were so tightly clenched that her jaw was taut and severe. Her hand, hooked in my elbow, propelled me to the front of the room. When I looked at her, I saw a carefully arranged smile; her expression practiced and relaxed; the seething happening below.

“What did I tell you? Why are you talking to her? Is this some fine strain of self-depreciation, or guilt? You’re wanting to be caught?” Her eyes were wild, emboldened with rage, yet that smile composed of white teeth remained. I saw someone look over to us with a smile contrived of sympathy painted on; admiring what appears to be her comforting me amid the sullen crowd. 

“No,” I whispered back, the shame burning all the way down, lighting crimson fire to my cheeks. “I don’t know who she is.” I tried to integrate the sincerity into my voice but the warm swell of tears welled behind my eyes, creating a storm of pressure in my aching skull. A headache began to ebb from the fire set to my temples and threatened to blind me with pain, my teeth clenched and grating against each other. Soon I imagined I would reduce the teeth to dust and they would crumble away, and I along with them.

“She’ll ruin you,” my stepmother told me, gently forcing me into my seat. No one else was sitting yet. I watched as she surveyed the crowd for a moment, making sure no one was watching too intently. Today was intended to go better, smoothly. I felt myself begin to spiral. “She’ll ruin us. She’s been curious.” I was desperate for her loving tone once more. I would do anything to hear it.

“Oh, god,” I said, my voice ragged and foreign, even to me. “What if she knows?”

I turned around with so much force that I upset my chair. I was searching for her as if finding her could eradicate her thoughts, as if mere eye contact could be an affirmation to her that proved my innocence beyond a doubt. Was walking away from her the right choice? I considered the knowing eyes of her friends; the way she scanned the crowd for my stepmother impatiently while she spoke. She hadn’t wanted her to know we stood there, heads bent together. What if she knew everything? 

“If she knows, would you be blameless?” my stepmother asked, her smile haunted as she gazed at me with expectancy. “Look at you. You aren’t holding it together.” Her expression was one of disgust. I saw other attendees watching us with sympathetic, pitying gazes. We appeared to be a family unit of strength, put on display for all. My stepmother appeared to be consoling me, a single arm wound tightly around my frame so I couldn’t move if I tried.            

“Just remember how important our secret is.” I nodded before she was even finished speaking. She placed her hand gently atop my head and patted the hair there as though I were a small child.        

The pastor came over and pulled up a folding chair in front of us. “He is with God,” he said, looking to me for a moment to take in the panic in my features. He watched me for a few short seconds that didn’t last before he once again stood. The pastor walked to the staircase that placed in him the front of the crowd, a hush falling over the once humming group of mourners as he took his place to stand in front of everyone. He began to speak but I felt separate from it all, a sick onlooker that stumbled upon the service and dared to linger and watch. 

“In the dark we can find light, unbeknown to the black,” he began, and I heard sobbing in the rows beyond. I feared the irregular sounds of my breathing; the cavity of my chest ragged with broken oxygen and prepared to give me away. 

“For the black rises to meet us, and will always be our cloaked greeter,” he continued, seemingly unaware of my spiraling. I thought of my father then, deep inside the cold earth. For my father, it would certainly be black indeed. “He who tries to evade it can expect to stumble.”

I felt horrified as my delusions of my father were of him vividly pushing open his casket, trying to evade his prison. I began to imagine my father slowly rising, digging through the earth with bloody hands. Gone were the shackles of death as he pulled himself up from the hole. My mind saw him crawling out of his grave to search for me. 

“I know what you did,” my father’s dreamlike voice cried out to me in my horrific fantasy. It seemed to echo through my body now void of blood and bone and meaning. I’d been carved out, hollow. His accusing gaze penetrated me as I sat, ready for arrest, limp in the face of accusations. It’s me. It’s me.

I wanted my father to crawl back into his grave; to lay back down for his eternal rest, to go away indefinitely. I rubbed my eyes hard, smearing the black mascara into the grey bags beneath, weighing me down so heavily I could have fallen asleep into empty dreams. I hadn’t been sleeping, after all—he’d been in my dreams every night. I pressed my knuckles into my eyes with such force I saw the starry blankets of nightmares, trying to command myself back to sanity.

When I did finally open my eyes, it was real. My father was slowly coming through the front door, stumbling into the room. Dirt cascaded from his wrinkled funeral suit, raining onto the carpet. The front of his once-white shirt had slipped down, and I could see the very top of the Y incision on his chest.

He reached me and my stepmother, standing in front of our chairs, judging us. His skin was pasty white and his eyes were sunken into his now-prominent skull. I was more shocked that no one else seemed to notice him than I was that he was there at all.

He began to caress the face of my stepmother, the nails on his bony fingers long and yellow, and she didn’t flinch at his touch because she didn’t notice him at all. Nothing changed in the maintenance of her falsely devastated expression.

And then he turned towards me. My inside froze to ice and I was afraid I would urinate with fear. I tried to blink him away as he slowly moved in my direction, his dry corpse drained of fluid and making the coarse, unnatural sounds of machinery as he approached. I flinched with every movement he took. My stepmother clutched at my arm hard to still me, unknowing of the scene that played out before me. I wanted to scream, to speak, but I feared that if I opened my mouth, nothing would come out. 

“Only you can see me right now because I’m in your mind,” he told me in a raspy voice, the flesh around the edges of his mouth tearing to expose brittle bone. “But I’ll be seeing you for real eventually. Down there.” 

“No,” I said, and I noticed a few heads turn in my direction, heated gazes cast my way. My voice was too loud and sharper than intended. I was truly losing touch with reality. My stepmother looked at me, unaware of the fact that her dead husband had risen from the grave.

“Be quiet,” my stepmother whispered harshly and grasped my arm a little too hard.

My father was still standing before me, his flesh sagging away from his cheekbones. “Look at her,” he said, and I followed his empty eyes to the rows beyond my own, to where Veronica sat among her gaggle of friends.

“She knows,” he promised me, that jarring smile appearing once more. It split his face into pieces. I wanted him to crumble away, the flesh to fall from bleached bone to leave only skeletal remains that could be brushed away by the wind.

The minister completed his speech, and invited everyone to enjoy the refreshments. Veronica looked up to catch my eye, and held my gaze. I become so entranced for a moment I imagined I could hear the syllables of my first and last name, each one coming together to haunt me.

My father turned and stumbled back to the front door. He hesitated for just a moment before he began to fade. He looked at my stepmother and then his final words to me before he disappeared were: “It was her fault. You know what you have to do.” 

Just as I was about to leap from my chair and run into the crowd of people moving towards the refreshments, a voice emerges from the crowd.

“She did it!” 

The crowd became a ripple of movement as we all turned in unison to seek the owner of the voice. It was a woman, whose voice was heightened to penetrate the walls and closed doorways of secrecy. The voice was teeming with familiarity, and to my horror, Veronica rose from the sea of onlookers to claim her declaration. She was pointing deep into the front row, and for a moment, I thought she was gesturing to me. My heart became a pit into which I fell; drowning in seas of guilt, never to be recovered.

My father was dead, and only one family member remained—me, and all the accusatory gazes. But then I realized that it wasn’t me Veronica pointed to…it was my stepmother.

“Please control yourself and stop your hysterics,” my stepmother called out to her. I felt sick. I imagined my father watching us. I wanted him back in the ground, dirt infiltrating his mouth and lungs so he could no longer speak to me, now or in my dreams.

“This is a funeral,” my stepmother continued, fake calm in her tone. I watched the acting she did, noting her expression that twisted to convey manipulative falsities.

And then I realized, She did this to me. She’s the reason for my guilt, my hallucinatory panic. I watched her as she continued to play all these people, loved ones that have gathered just for her. Including me. 

“He called me!” Veronica was screaming now, hysterical. She weaved through carefully arranged aisles, evading the minister who tried to calm her. I wanted him to make her stop, but she pushed the minister aside.

Horrified gasps rose like phantoms in the air; shocked screams and rumors became a wall of sound that cut my sanity into fragments.

“He called me,” she continued, her eyes trained on my stepmother. “He said he was having suspicions that you were poisoning him.”

“Leave this house at once!” my stepmother cried. “I loved my husband. I don’t need this delusional liar in my house!” Everyone felt sorrow for her, sympathy radiating through the touching and crooning of consolation. The minister pushed Veronica out the front door.

Many minutes later, my stepmother calmed down. She whispered to me so low that only I could hear, “Your father wanted to go, Kate. You know he did. We simply helped him get there.”

I couldn’t stop looking at her. She acted so well—had she been acting towards me this whole time? What we did, what I helped her do, I did for her…for her love. I so desperately wanted her to love me. My father had withdrawn from me and I needed to be loved…by anyone, at any price. When we conspired about how to poison my father, I felt my stepmother was all I had. I thought I needed to keep her. And to keep her, I needed to please her.

But I wondered: did she really love me at all? Maybe it was time to please my father instead of my stepmother. After all, my father had just told me, “It was her fault. You know what you have to do.”