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Black Dog - Chapter 2

Imogen Lockwood is anxious as she attends her own funeral.

Great soft snowdrifts of white roses filled the church. It looked more like a wedding than a funeral, made worse by the fact that on the morning of the big day, Imogen had found her clothes transformed into a wedding dress without her consent. She could only guess it stemmed from some embarrassing corner of her subconscious, and she grumbled to herself as she talked back and forth between the pews, peeling off the long lace gloves with disdain. How ridiculous I must look, in a wedding dress at my age! A real Miss Havisham. The wind whipped the drizzling rain against the stained glass windows as she watched the young vicar running through the final preparations. He looked somewhat different since she'd last seen him and she didn't know what to make of it. She wondered if anybody else would look so different now.

The vicar glanced in her direction, seeming for a moment to look right at her, instead of looking through her, as everyone else had done in the days following her death. A look of such pity - but then it was gone. Of course he didn't see her.

Alone, undisturbed, she went up to where the coffin took pride of place. She ran one insubstantial finger along the glossy walnut lid, then bent to inspect the brass fixings more closely. She decided it was all tasteful enough for her liking, and avoided thinking about the contents. She hadn't liked seeing her own dead body crumpled on the kitchen floor, hadn't liked the indignity of it. She sniffed the flowers, unsure if the scent of them was real or only her imagination, though they didn't look artificial. She wished she knew who had ordered them.

Reverend Milton went out to greet the first few relatives at the door. Imogen followed, scanning the growing crowd for a face she half hoped to see, half dreaded. She was disappointed. There were people there she didn't even recognise (a bottle blonde in particular stood out) but she hadn't caught a glimpse of Olivia yet. She swept through the tightly-packed crowd huddled against the spit of rain, and out into the churchyard.

The village church of St Peter's stood on the slope of a green hill, with a cosy little vicarage and a well-maintained rose garden in its lee. Beyond the neat borders of the vicarage garden, the churchyard grew wilder. The blustering wind whipped the long grass into a restless green sea, and further up the hill, a line of dark pines rose like ancient guardians. Imogen's ancestors had been interring their dead here since before St Peter's had been built, and the churchyard boasted one of the oldest yew trees in England. Over the centuries, the gravestones had been piled in with little regard to order, but Imogen threaded her way through them with the careless ease of long familiarity. She noted with relief that her clothes had reverted to the dress and cardigan that she'd died in. Probably for the best not to think about the wedding dress, or the white roses. Besides, she had more immediate concerns.

In the middle of the churchyard two wide gravel paths crossed, and somebody had once tried to make a feature out of the crossroads. They'd planted flowerbeds, now as overgrown as the grass, and positioned two wooden benches perfectly for watching as the skies changed above the village in the valley below. On one of the benches sat a girl, with a scuffed and tatty notebook on her knees. She'd been crying recently - her eyes still glistened and her nose was red - but now she was fully immersed in her writing, heedless of the autumn chill and the wind whipping her hair into a flyaway mess. Tall and well-rounded, too serious in her expression to ever be pretty, she wore a shapeless black dress, and Imogen would have berated her for her posture, if she'd thought for one moment that she could be heard. This was Imogen's great-niece Olivia, the girl who would inherit all that had been Imogen's, like it or not. At the thought, Imogen turned her gaze wistfully towards the house that stood in solitude near the crest of the hill, just a stone's throw away from the churchyard. She'd fully expected the rest of the family to squabble over the house like a mob of crows fighting for scraps, but those attending the funeral had so far acted with uncharacteristic decorum. Nevertheless, Olivia had been keeping well out of their way ever since arriving at the church with her suitcases. She wouldn't take her place in the church until the last minute. Imogen feared that, with the girl being just nineteen and rather shy, she might well lack the strength of character to take on the house all by herself. But perhaps it wasn't too late to salvage the situation.

 

 

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