Softly and Tenderly, Part 1, by Lisa Binion

 Part I: The Beginning

I’ll never forget that morning as long as I live. Never. Daddy, crying for help as he ran down the stairs, woke me out of a deep sleep. “Call an ambulance! Kathie is dead!” he screamed.

Softly and TenderlyMommy? Dead? But I kissed her goodnight last night. She smiled at me and told me how much she loved me. Then she told me to come up after breakfast, and we would work a puzzle together. She would never leave, not after making a play date with me. She never lied.

I can’t remember exactly why, but Granny was living with us at that time. Maybe it was because Mommy was sick. Anyway, I had been sleeping downstairs with her instead of upstairs in my bedroom, which was right across from Mommy’s room.

I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and walked from the bedroom into the kitchen to see what was going on. There was so much noise, so much commotion, that I didn’t understand what was happening. Had I heard wrong?

As soon as I walked into the living room, one of my brothers grabbed hold of me. “Lori, stay here.”

“But I want to see what’s going on! I heard Daddy say that Mommy’s dead! I want to go see her. He’s wrong!” I tried as hard as I could to push Matt away from me, but he held on tight.

My eyes shut as he pressed my face into his shoulder. The red, green, blue, and white flashing lights on the Christmas tree made strange pictures dance around on the inside of my closed eyes.

“No, Lori. He’s not wrong. Mom died in her sleep last night.” As I stared into his reddened eyes, he said, “You don’t need to see her.”

“I don’t believe you! She promised to do a puzzle with me today, right after breakfast! She wouldn’t lie to me! She can’t be dead!”

Then I heard the sirens. These men, wearing blue jackets and carrying a stretcher, knocked on the front door of our house. Daddy directed them up the stairs. They ran up them and were only gone for a moment. Their stretcher was no longer empty when they came back down. As they rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs, the corner of the stretcher hit a music box, and it smashed to the floor. Nothing played though. It must have broken.

Whatever was on the stretcher had a white sheet covering it so completely that what was underneath couldn’t be seen. But the sheet was moving. What it covered appeared to be struggling to get up! I ran toward the stretcher to yank the sheet back, but once again, my brother stopped me. This time he picked me up.

As the men carried the stretcher away, this beetle fell from under the sheet onto the floor. One just like it had gotten caught in my hair last summer. Mommy had patiently made me sit still as she removed it.

The music box that was on the floor began to play “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Matt kicked what had been Mommy’s favorite Christmas decoration across the room. It hit the wall, and with a loud clatter, the music stopped.

“It will be alright, sweetie. We’ll take care of you,” Matt whispered in my ear as I wrapped my arms around his neck. What he said made me feel better, but my eyes were on the beetle crawling across the carpet. It stopped and looked back at me before turning to go up the stairs. The beetle pointed its antennae at me and waved them around. Was it trying to talk to me?

Then I remembered the movement coming from beneath the sheet before the beetle had landed on the floor. “But, Matt, the sheet was moving!”

Once again, my big brother cried. “No, it wasn’t, hon. Mommy won’t be moving anymore.”

******

“Lori, are you about ready?” Granny’s voice floated through the cold still air in my room.

“Just a minute. I have to put my shoes on,” I called back through the door.

I sat on the edge of my bed and picked up my black patent leather shoes, the ones Mommy had picked out for me. That had been during the summer, before the sickness had come. I had to be strong now, no tears. Mommy wouldn’t want me to cry.

I had cried a lot since Mommy got sick, especially once she was no longer able to get out of bed and walk. I used to go up and sit on the bed with her while I did my homework. She tried to help me, but the treatments she had to get at the hospital made her so tired and weak that she could never stay awake for very long.

No longer did she have breakfast ready and waiting for me when I came downstairs in the morning. Roger, my oldest brother, was now the one who took care of that. He did all the things with me that Mommy had done. He was the one who laid out clothes for me to wear to school, and he was the one who braided my long hair each morning or brushed it up into a ponytail. I missed Mommy doing it.

******

As soon as we walked out into the cold, a huge flock of black birds flew down onto the road in front of our house. They were cawing loudly at each other and fighting over something, but I couldn’t see what it was. “What are those birds doing, Daddy?”

He turned and glanced at them. “A car ran over a rabbit this morning. The birds are eating it.”

I turned my head and stared over my shoulder at the birds. One of them flew off into the gray sky. The bloody foot of a rabbit hung from its beak.

The moment I climbed into our red Buick, the sky turned dark and the distant rumbling of thunder could be heard. A few drops of rain splattered on the windshield. Daddy grunted in frustration as he buckled himself into the car. “That’s all we need today. Rain.” Then he started the car, and we took off.It didn’t take us long to get to where Mommy was being held. I flung the car door open to go see her, but Daddy grabbed one hand, and Granny grabbed the other one. They led me through the tall doors of the Lights Out Funeral Chapel and Crematorium. Matt and Roger walked quietly behind us while sad music vibrated through the air.

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me,

Not even the sharp, unpleasant voice of the lady singing could cut through the voices and laughter coming from the room ahead of me. Pictures of Jesus smiling and pictures of Jesus hanging on the cross stared at me as they led me into a room filled with people.

When we walked in, everyone hushed. No more talking, no more laughing. People just stared at us. No one moved. Then all at once, just as the flock of birds had descended upon the dead rabbit, everyone in the room converged upon us. My brothers walked toward the people as they approached. Daddy and Granny let go of my hands and left me standing alone as they were pulled away.

Flowers were everywhere. Their sweet, sickening scent filled the room. No matter where I looked, there were violets, lilies, carnations, roses, tulips, lilies of the valley. Mommy had loved all of these flowers. She had loved puttering around in her flower garden until she became so sick she couldn’t get out of bed.

There, in the middle of all the flowers, stood the box of death. My eyes could not look away. It beckoned me forward, but I refused. No way would I get any closer to that thing.

See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.

Pictures of Jesus covered the walls in here as well. What did everyone find so fascinating about this man? Why were there so many pictures of him? They were everywhere. Most of them showed him hanging from a cross. He had nails in his hands and a crown of thorns jammed on his head. His only clothing was a white cloth that wrapped around him like a pair of shorts. I know I wouldn’t want a picture like that of me on anyone’s wall.

They had made me wear my white coat because it was cold out, but it was way too warm in here for it. No one was using any of the seats in the room, so my coat ended up hung over the back of one. I glanced around and attempted to make my itchy dress just a little more comfortable. That proved to be impossible.

All my aunts and uncles were there. All my cousins were there. Then there were some people that weren’t part of my family. They were strangers to me. A gust of cold air blew through the room and caused me to look toward the doors. My piano teacher walked in. She was the first one to notice me just standing there not knowing what to do with myself.

Mrs. Minuet ran to me. Her arms wrapped around me as she leaned over and kissed my cheeks. The overbearing scent of her perfume was all I could smell, and it choked me. “Lori, are you okay?” she spoke right into my ear. The rough sleeves of her coat rubbed against my bare arms until they hurt.

“Yeah, I’m okay.” I backed away from her, but she pulled me close again.

“How could they just leave you alone like this?” She crouched down, put her cold hands on my cheeks, and turned my face toward her. She smiled as her arms wrapped around me once again. The flecks of bright red lipstick dotting her teeth grossed me out, and she really needed a breath mint.

Twisting out of her arms, I put some distance between us. “I’m alright.”

“Have you viewed your mother yet?”

Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home;

View Mommy? She was dead! Why on earth would I want to look at her? I shook my head. “No, no, that’s okay. I know what she looks like. I don’t need to see her again.”

Mrs. Minuet stood and placed her hands on her hips. “Not see her again? Darling, you must say your goodbyes to her! Why do you think they brought you here? You must say goodbye to your sweet mother.”

I thought to myself, “Say bye? Mommy, I know you understand. I love you, but you’re gone. They took you away. You didn’t say goodbye to me. I don’t need to say goodbye to you.” I just stood there, not moving.

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, o sinner, come home!

Mrs. Minuet reached down and grabbed my hand. “Come on, dear. Your mother is waiting on you.” I tried not to go, but she dragged me across the room toward the box of death. Wasn’t anyone watching? No. They were all too busy talking and crying and laughing.

She stopped right in front of the cinnamon-brown coffin. Barely tall enough to see over the top, I was still able to see Mommy lying there on a bed of white satin. Not at all comfortable with this, I turned and started to walk away, but Mrs. Minuet’s hand clenched the back of my dress. My eyes closed as she pulled me back to her and turned me around. Pushing me right up to the edge of the death box, she told me to open my eyes and look.

Tears ran down my face as I stared at Mommy. She didn’t look dead, only asleep. So beautiful, not a hair was out of place. She even had makeup and jewelry on. The pearls Daddy had bought her were around her neck. Her favorite pair of clip-on earrings was attached to her ears. As I watched, almost in a trance, a beetle scurried out from under her neck and climbed through her hoop earrings then crawled up into her ear and vanished from sight. Another followed close behind. I shivered and closed my eyes. Mrs. Minuet couldn’t have seen either bug, or she would have screamed.

Who had put the jewelry on her? Her wedding ring and engagement ring sparkled in the dim lights. She was wearing the most beautiful pale blue dress I had ever seen. Why? I didn’t understand. “Why is she all dressed up?” I choked out.

“She is going to meet Jesus, and she wants to look pretty for him,” Mrs. Minuet answered, nodding her head. “She had an appointment with him.”

So that is why she left me! “But she will be coming back when she is done. Right?”

“No, child. She is never coming back. She’s going live with him for the rest of eternity, but one day you will go to her.”

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me?

She was gonna stay with Jesus? Was this the same Jesus that my Uncle Randolph had been screaming about when Mommy took me to his church? He had jumped up and down on the stage and yelled until his face turned red about how we all needed to trust in this Jesus, or we would burn in hell. Dressed in those shorts and nailed to a cross, he wasn’t in any position to help us. He looked like the one who needed some help. And Mommy wanted to live with that loser? I put my arms across my chest and stomped back to the chair where my coat was. Mrs. Minuet let me go this time, but her cruel chilling laughter softly followed me.

Jesus. She had gone to live with Jesus. Goosebumps popped up on my arms, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Someone must be staring at me, so I looked up to see who it was. My eyes were drawn to the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. Tears of blood streamed down his face, but it wasn’t just in the picture. The picture itself was bleeding. Thick crimson tears flowed from his eyes and dripped down the wall onto the floor and sank into the carpet.

But pictures don’t cry. That couldn’t be real. I rubbed my eyes and looked back at it again. The blood was gone. I let out a sigh of relief and leaned back in my chair.

Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, mercies for you and for me?

Daddy finally saw me. He sat down and put his arms around me. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. They wanted to talk with me, and I thought you might like to sit alone for a few minutes.” He wiped the tears off my cheeks. “Are you okay?”

“No, Daddy. I want to go home now.”

“Lori, we can’t leave yet. We need to say goodbye to your mommy.” Daddy stood, picked me up in his strong arms, and held me as he walked to the coffin. I didn’t fight Daddy. He wouldn’t make me look at Mommy again. My face burrowed into his shoulder. His body shook. The sound of him weeping made me cry even harder. She may have left without telling me bye, but I would still miss her. But Daddy? How could she leave him? He loved her so very much. Before now, I had never seen him shed even one tear.

“Lori, it’s your turn to say bye now. You need to tell her that you love her and how much you will miss her.” Daddy put me down next to her coffin and placed his hands on my shoulders. He pushed me so close to her death box that the white satin overlapping to the outside rubbed against my hands. At least it was soft for Mommy. She would be comfortable in there.

I decided to speak out loud this time. Maybe no one else would bring me back up here again if my goodbyes could be heard. “Mommy,” I began but then started crying so hard I couldn’t talk. Daddy rubbed my shoulders until my tears stopped, and I was able to speak again. “Mommy, I love you. I don’t want you to leave me. Please come back. No one, especially this Jesus, is worth leaving me over.”

I opened my eyes and looked at her. She hadn’t moved since Mrs. Minuet had dragged me up here. But then her eyes opened, and she stared at me. She was staring at me! I sucked my breath in. My legs grew weak as my head began to spin. With one hand, I grabbed the edge of the coffin. The other hand grabbed hold of Daddy’s arm.

“Daddy! Daddy! Mommy’s not dead! She looked at me!” Screaming, I jumped up and down. “She was still alive when they took her out of the house! I told Matt she was trying to get out from under the sheet!” I pulled on his arm and shook it. “Please, Daddy. You’ve got to save her.”

Daddy sounded mad. He picked me up and held me overtop of Mommy. “Maybe if you give her a goodbye kiss you’ll understand she’s dead. Maybe you’ll finally believe me when I tell you she isn’t coming back.” He held me so close to Mommy’s cheek that I could see the makeup beginning to cake in her pores. No warmth came from her body, only icy coldness.

Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home;

“Kiss her!” Daddy yelled as he shook me.

Leaning down, I placed my warm lips on her cold flesh. Just as they touched the cheek that no longer felt human, a beetle crawled out of her ear and stopped beneath my mouth. I tried to jerk away, but my lips were forced apart. Sharp little legs scurried between them and back into my mouth. Then they got still. I raised up and placed my hands over my face. A beetle had crawled in my mouth. Yuck!

“Lori, honey, you’re just seeing things. There is no way your mom can be alive. All the blood has been drained from her body. They wouldn’t do that unless they were sure she was gone. Your mommy’s not coming back.” Now instead of trying to back away from her coffin, I pulled towards it as he dragged me back to my chair. “Sit here a few minutes and calm down, honey. I promise you she is dead.”

“Daddy, she opened her eyes! You know I don’t imagine things. Why don’t you believe me? Mommy’s sick! She needs your help!”

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!

Sobs overtook Daddy before he sat down by me. “She’s not sick anymore, baby. Jesus made her all better, but now she has to live with him. She’s gone on to a better place, and she’s happy now.”

“Why is she so happy when she left us behind? I’m not happy about her leaving! She wouldn’t do such a thing! She loves me!” Ignoring his pleas for me to stay there, I got up and ran out of the room before anyone could get hold of me. They were all making me sick. Why couldn’t they see that Mommy wasn’t dead?

I ran to the bathroom and flung the door open. Its cold gray walls stared back at me. I wasn’t sick and didn’t have to use the restroom, but this was the only place that allowed me to escape from everyone. Leaning against the wall and pressing my back into it, I slid down until my bottom hit the cool floor. It is doubtful Mommy would have allowed me to sit with my knees up like this while wearing a dress. She would have told me it wasn’t proper, but it was comfortable.

Silence. It was cold in here, but it was silent. No laughing, no talking, no crying. Nothing except for wonderful silence. And there was no one to make me go and look at Mommy again. Not sure whether to laugh or cry, my eyes fluttered closed as I leaned over and laid my head on my knees.

That’s when the water started dripping. Drip, drip, drip, drip. No more silence. No more peace. Someone hadn’t turned the water off good. I walked over and twisted it off before leaning back against the wall.

Before I had slid down far enough for my bottom hit the floor, it started dripping again. Maybe I hadn’t turned the faucet off hard enough. I twisted the handle again as hard as I could, but it would only turn a little. I stayed and watched it for a minute, just in case it needed more convincing. Nothing happened.

The vent in the ceiling shot a blast of warm air into the chilly gray room. Breaking glass echoed all around me. I raised my head and looked toward the mirror. A reflection of yet another picture of this Jesus guy appeared. The glass over it shattered into a bazillion pieces that looked like tiny icicles. The sharp little pieces were dancing all over the floor.

I glanced back into the mirror and saw wounds appear on his face, his neck, and his chest. It was as though the breaking glass had injured him. Blood poured out of them, and tears rolled down his face. Flies flew in through a hole in the broken window and landed in the blood dripping onto the floor. His hand stretched out of the picture toward me.

“Oh, shit,” I softly muttered.

“Lori Beth!” Mommy’s voice cut through the cold, dismal bathroom. “I’ve told you to never use bad words!”

I jumped back and looked around, making sure to dodge that hand. Mommy wasn’t in here. She was in the other room, lying in that casket. Even though I knew better, they assured me she was dead.

I turned and ran. At least in the other room, there were people: Daddy, Granny, my brothers. I ran as fast as I could to get back to them. If I had to be around bleeding pictures, I at least wanted to be surrounded by my family.

After running down a hallway that seemed to never end, I made it back to the room where Mommy was. Everyone was now seated except for this one man whose shiny bald head almost touched the ceiling. Dressed in black, he stood next to the box of death. His ginormous hand was wrapped around a black Bible that looked teeny in his huge fist. “Come in,” he said. “We’ve been waiting on you so we could begin.”

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me?

Everything inside of me said to run, but instead, I obediently walked over and sat down by Daddy. He had kept a seat open, and my brothers sat on the other side of me. The tall strange man nodded at me, and then he began. His deep, somber voice echoed throughout the room while the piercing voice of the singer continued with her song.

Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, mercies for you and for me?

“When Christ died, he destroyed our death. When Christ rose, he restored our life.”

I scooted back in my chair, glad to at least be in the same room with my family again. Little pokes inside my mouth caused me to sit up straighter. Damn! How could I have forgotten about the beetle? Its sharp little legs hurt my tongue and the tender skin on the inside of my cheeks as it moved around.

“Soon he will come again in glory. In the here and now, dear friends, we are God’s children. We belong to him; we are his for all eternity.”

No one was watching me. My mouth opened a bit, and my fingers went inside so I could grab onto the beetle’s legs and yank out that disgusting creature.

Daddy’s hand seized my arm and brought it back down to my lap. “Lori!” he yelled in a whisper. “Behave yourself!” Then he faced the preacher man again.

The beetle continued to squiggle frantically inside my mouth. As soon as Daddy was no longer watching me out of the sides of his eyes, my fingers went fishing for it. I grabbed hold of the legs of this insect no one else besides me seemed to see and yanked it out as quickly and quietly as possible. Daddy went on watching the preacher. I glared at the creature in disgust, threw it down on the floor, and squashed it beneath the heel of my shoe. “Jelly,” I mumbled in a voice that only I could hear, and stuck my tongue out as one last farewell to the vile bug.

Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home; earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, o sinner, come home!

“What we shall become, what we shall be transformed into has not been revealed, but it shall be glorious.”

What did he mean by transformed? I finally looked at the man speaking. Instead of the man though, my eyes focused on the picture of Jesus directly behind him. Tears of blood flowed down his cheeks. More of this life-giving fluid drained from where the crown of thorns was jammed onto his head and streaked his face. It streamed down his body and dripped off the ends of his toes. The carpet that had been pure white a minute earlier was now drenched in red.

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, passing from you and from me; shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me.

I squirmed in my seat and turned to look at everyone around me. They were all staring at the man speaking. Couldn’t they see what was happening, the blood? Why was no one reacting? Daddy grabbed hold of me. “Turn back around now,“ he said. “Show some respect for your mother.”

The preacher’s voice grew louder, and he slammed his fist onto the pulpit, demanding our attention. “But we know when he appears we shall be just like him, for we shall see him as the wonderful spotless lamb that he is.”

Spotless? The blood had formed a puddle on the otherwise pristine white carpet and was slowly making its way towards my seat. My eyes were drawn back to Mommy’s casket. More beetles, hundreds of them, were crawling over the side and running toward the blood soaking into the carpet. They crawled around in it, they bathed in it, and they stopped to drink it.

“Those who have this hope purify themselves as Christ is pure, as we shall be made pure by his blood.” I scooted back as far in my seat as I could. The river of blood gained speed as it ran toward me. A crimson stream coated the floor beneath the casket and beneath where the man was speaking, but he took no notice of it. Where the blood flowed, the beetles followed. Was he blind or something?

Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home; earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, o sinner, come home!

The man’s voice thundered from the walls and the seats. My chair vibrated under me. I grabbed onto the sides of it to keep from falling into the vile redness surrounding me.

“Jesus said that he is the Resurrection and the Life. Those who put their trust in him, even though they die, yet shall they live. Whoever lives and believes in him shall never die. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. He died, but now he lives forevermore and holds the keys to hell and death. Because he lives, you shall also live.

“Let us pray now. Let us pray for forgiveness that we might live.

“O God, you give us life. You are more than ready to hear us pray. Thank you for waiting on us. Thank you for being patient with us. You know our needs before we ask, and you know our stupidity. Give us your grace.”

Mrs. Minuet was the first to stand and shout. “Glory be to God!” she cried out. Her hands flew up in the air as her voice echoed throughout the room. “Praise your most holy name, O God most high. Let everything we do bring praise and honor to your name and your name alone.”

“Yes! Shout praises to our God!” the preacher bellowed as he banged on his pulpit.

Oh, for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me!

Everyone else stood, raised their hands high into the air, and began shouting. This was not cool. This was scary. People were dancing around. Their feet made squooshing noises in the blood-soaked carpet, and no one acted like anything was wrong! As though their craziness had been well rehearsed, they all stopped dancing and shouting at the same time and sat down in total silence.

The preacher man continued. “We shrink before the mystery of death. How little of it we understand. But without dying, we cannot see the light of eternity. Without dying, we will never see the full glory of your grace.

“Speak to us your solemn message of life and death that we might gain understanding and wisdom. Let us be prepared to die at any given moment. We long to live with you for all of eternity.

“When we die, we give up our lives willingly because our life is in you. There is nothing that can separate us from your great love. Our mothers and fathers can’t keep us away from you. Our husbands and wives can’t sever our relationship with you. Our sons and daughters, no matter how much they want to hang onto us, can’t take away our love or our desire to live with you instead.”

Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me.

The eyes of everyone—my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my grandmother, my brothers, my father, the preacher—turned to me. Their stares penetrated my skin and bore deep inside. I wanted to shrivel up and disappear. I began to shake and tried to put my coat over my body to hide from their unrelenting gaze.

“No one, no event, no thing will ever be able to keep us from you.”

I couldn’t listen to any more of this. Ignoring the blood crawling with beetles that surrounded my seat, I stood to my feet and shouted at the man who had been preaching. “Mommy wouldn’t leave me without a fight! She loved me! She had a date with me, not with him!” Angrily, I pointed to the picture of the man whose head was crowned with thorns.

The preacher’s long finger raised and pointed at me. “Be careful, child. Your words will be the death of you.”

“Didn’t you hear me? She wouldn’t leave me! She can’t be dead!”

“Why don’t you ask her?” He turned his long finger from me to her casket.

Mommy sat up and slowly turned to face me. Deathly silence fell across the room. Stretching out her hand, she spoke only to me. Her mouth spread into a wide grin. More bugs crawled through her parted lips. “Come to me, Lori.”

Her voice was different. It was cold. It didn’t sound like her at all. I was right! Mommy was still alive. But why was she here? What was she doing? I waded through the blood that covered the floor of the room and the no longer white carpet toward her box of death.

Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home; earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, o sinner, come home!

Reaching out, I took her hand. The warm, loving, gentle hand I had held so often felt different. The hand that had dried my tears and caressed my cheek so many times was cold. No, it wasn’t cold. It was downright icy, as though it had been out in the middle of a blizzard without a glove on. I tried to pull my hand loose from her grasp, but she wouldn’t let go. The beetles crawling down her arm were crossing over onto mine.

My tears fell onto the beetles as they crawled up my arm. “Mommy, your fingers are so cold. They’re hurting me!”

She laughed. “Sweetheart, you’re the one who wanted me to live. I am no longer alive, but I can take you with me. We will be together for all of eternity!”

She pulled me into the coffin and clasped me against her freezing chest as she blew her fetid breath upon me. I felt myself spiraling down, down, down, forever in the grip of those icy fingers as I screamed. Shaking and scared about where she could be taking me, I lost all consciousness.

******

“Lori, Lori, wake up!” My cheeks stung. When my eyes opened, my brother’s hand was raised as though he were going to smack me again. I scooted back.

“What’s going on? Why are you slapping me?” I demanded to know.

“You passed out. What happened in there? We were worried sick about you!”

“I don’t know. I guess all this was just too much for me.”

“I was afraid of that.” Matt leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “I told Dad not to bring you, but he insisted. Oh, well. Come on, sis. Let’s go home now.” He picked me up, and I buried my face in his shoulder.

******

Later that night as I snuggled underneath my blankets, everything that had happened at the funeral home ran through my mind. Mommy was dead and gone. I would have to accept it and go on. Just like Mrs. Minuet had told me, just like my brother had assured me, just like Daddy had said, Mommy wouldn’t be coming back. She had left me for another life with Jesus.

“Jesus, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, one day I will find you, and I will hurt you for taking my mommy away from me. I promise you that.” The blood, the bugs, all of the strange stuff I had seen still haunted me. Why hadn’t anyone else noticed? Why was I the only one?

I buried my face in my pillow and tried not to think about Mommy. Life would not be the same without her around. Something tickled my leg, so I reached down and scratched. Sighing, I wrapped my arms around Poochie, my stuffed dog, the one Mommy had snuggled with while I was at school. Her sweet fragrance still covered his cloth body.

Another itch, but this time it was on both legs. I reached under the covers and scratched again, but it wouldn’t stop this time. How frustrating! My hand searched the wall until it landed on the light switch and turned it on before throwing back the covers. My hands clasped over my mouth, and I screamed. My legs were covered completely with beetles, just like the beetles that had been crawling out of Mommy. I hopped out of bed and jumped all over my bedroom floor, knocking those nasty creatures off my skin.

At least there were no pictures of Jesus in my room. But where had the beetles come from? Mommy’s corpse wasn’t anywhere around here. Her body was gone and buried in the cold, hard ground.

Then my light turned off. It wasn’t me that shut it off; it just went out. I stood still and waited to see what would happen. After the weird stuff that had happened at the Lights Out Funeral Chapel and Crematorium this afternoon, I was afraid to move, scared to breathe.

A soft light filled the corner of my room over by the closet. Ever so slowly, a mist filled the light. A shape began to form, and I recognized Mommy. She was perfect. She was beautiful. Dressed in her favorite robe, the deep purple one with light orchid stripes down the middle, she was enveloped by the soft light.

“Oh, Lori. I’m so sorry I scared you earlier today. I promise not to do it again. I miss you too, sweetheart. I want to take you with me now.”

She must have sensed the terror rising up inside of me. “I’m not going to scare you again. I know death is ugly, but there are things that happen to a human body when it dies that I can’t change. I want to take you away from all of that. I don’t ever want you to experience the terror of death. Come with me now, and let me save you. Jesus is waiting for both of us.”

She stretched her hands out for me. Long black gloves covered them and they reached all the way up to her elbows.

That made me uneasy. I took a step back from her and bumped into my closed door. “Why are you wearing gloves?”

“My cold hands earlier frightened you. I told you, I’m not going to scare you like that again.” Her fingers motioned me toward her.

I didn’t move though. Something wasn’t right. I swallowed hard then looked whoever this was in the eye. “I’ve decided that I would rather stay with Daddy.”

She sighed. “If that’s what you would rather do, that’s fine. I won’t bother you again.” She sat down on the edge of my bed. “Come here, Lori. Give me a hug bye.”

I didn’t move.

“Lori, all I want is one last hug, and I won’t ever bother you again.”

How could I refuse? Swallowing my fear, I walked over and sat on her lap. Tears ran down my cheeks as I wrapped my arms around her neck. I didn’t mind that it felt like I was hugging a block of ice; I had to say bye to her. Her arms wrapped around me. I hugged her back until my blood felt as though it were freezing in my veins. I tried to stand up but couldn’t move. As I began struggling, the beetles that I had shaken off when I first jumped out of bed came back and began to crawl all over me.

The next morning, they found me in the middle of my bedroom floor. I was shivering so violently that they carried me downstairs, put me on a mattress next to the heater, and threw warm blankets on me. No one ever asked me what had happened.

******

Five years have passed, and Mommy kept her word. She never came back to visit me again. Last night, Granny died in her sleep. We’re supposed to go back to Lights Out Funeral Chapel and Crematorium tomorrow. When I woke up this morning, there was a beetle on Poochie. It stared at me for a moment before turning and crawling away. No more funerals for me.

 

If you liked my story, would you please leave a review for this part of it on Amazon? It would be greatly appreciated.

The full version of Softly and Tenderly has been published and is available for purchase. I have provided links to Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

The latest review on my book is below:

The author takes us into a world I’m not sure how to describe–is it a dream, a horror story, sci-fi (that element enters in for me near the end) or is it metaphysical (the beetles could imply transformation)? I put a question mark after all of these. What I do know is that it is a story dealing with death. Lori at a young age loses her mother and encounters her first experience of a funeral home. The story is told through her eyes. Then five years later she deals with her grandmother’s death. And, she has never really come to terms with her mother’s death. What has been buried or pushed aside, reemerges.

Then the story takes an entirely different twist. Clues were given; however, I don’t think anyone could have seen this coming. It was as if Stephen King were writing a Twilight Zone episode.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R195DACDN9UI8V/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B01B6ROV1Y

Amazon Link: Softly and Tenderly

Smashwords Link: Softly and Tenderly

Barnes & Noble Link: Softly and Tenderly

Kobo Link: Softly and Tenderly

If you happen to me a member of Scribd, you can read my book from that site.

Scribd Link: Softly and Tenderly

 

 

  6 comments for “Softly and Tenderly, Part 1, by Lisa Binion

  1. June 24, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Great story! I can hardly wait to read the rest!

    • Virginia (Jenny) Boggs
      July 4, 2015 at 9:51 am

      Very good. Writing great! Very moving. I am still tearful. Jenny Stallard Boggs, author

      • July 9, 2015 at 2:07 pm

        Thank you, Jenny. This first part of the story is based on my mother’s death the day after Christmas when I was nine years old. It was a very traumatic time for me, but it would have been even more traumatic if there had actually been beetles involved.

  2. robyn
    January 19, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Love it.

  3. January 20, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Children will often run off a laundry list of fears when you ask them “What are your biggest fears?” Losing a parent or loved one often tops that list. For Lori, reality is far worse than her fears. She lost her precious mother one night while she slept. When Lori experiences frightening images no one else can see, her family becomes understandably concerned. Could she be hallucinating or is what she experienced at the Lights Out Funeral Chapel and Crematorium be a manifestation of intense grief? Poor little Lori. She doesn’t understand. Her relatives believe she is too young to understand, and they ignore her concerns.
    Musical lyrics interspersed throughout the story, and a bizarre preacher add an eerie element. To make matters worse, Lori sees beetles crawling around her mom’s body and the entire Funeral Chapel. Why doesn’t anyone else see them?
    As Lori grows, the frightening events in her life increase until she begins to realize life is not what she expects. Or is she losing her mind? The psychological drama is thick around Lori. I found this story to be riveting and a page turner. Lisa Binion is an excellent writer. She pulls you into the story and doesn’t let go until the last page.
    You might need the lights on for this one, but don’t let that stop you from grabbing it. I loved it and am hoping that Lisa will be writing more soon. I would rate this story 5 stars.

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