August 2023 Newsletter
IN A BADGER WAY
Charlie had assumed that the pew her Aunt Bernice had told her about would be in the back somewhere. Hidden from the disgusted eyes of the rest of the MacKilligan family. But it wasn’t in the back. It was the third pew from the front, which meant that they had to sit close to the main family. Something that confused Charlie.
“Stop it,” Max whispered next to her.
Trying to get comfortable on the wooden pew, Charlie asked, “Stop what?”
“Scowling. You look like you’re about to open fire.”
Charlie let out a sigh, but she still had to ask, “Why do you think they have us so close?”
“To the dead body?” Max shrugged. “No idea. Maybe they’re worried he’ll come back to life and they hope he’ll come after us first.”
“That’s stupid, Max,” Charlie snapped. “If he comes back as a zombie, he’s going to start on those toddlers in the front row. You know . . . young brains. Much tastier.”
“Like an appetizer.”
“Exactly. And if he’s reborn, like, into some god, he won’t be interested in us anyway.”
Berg, who sat on the other side of Max, leaned forward and asked, “What are you two talking about?”
“Zombie attacks,” they said in unison.
Berg’s mouth opened as if he was about to respond, but then he shook his head and sat back again.
After a few minutes, Charlie glanced at her watch and wondered how long this service was going to be. She was already bored and they’d just arrived. And sadly she was not good at hiding her expressions. When she was bored, it showed on her face. When she was angry . . . same. Happy . . . same. It was a flaw that, thankfully, made many people trust her when she needed them to, but also revealed when she really disliked someone.
She simply couldn’t hide it. She’d learned early in life that she would make a terrible con artist.
Charlie studied the area, expecting to see a gas leak somewhere. But she quickly discovered that her cousin Kenzie MacKilligan was trying to get her attention from the front pew.
She frowned and mouthed, What?
Behind you, Kenzie mouthed back.
Charlie looked over her shoulder and she was positive her heart stopped.
With no regard to the priest who’d just begun the service, Charlie screamed out, “Oh, my God!”
Max was reaching under her jacket for the Glock she had holstered to the back of her black skirt but she froze and gawked too.
“What the fuck is he doing here?” she finally demanded in a furious whisper.
“I can’t believe it.” Charlie forced herself to face forward, ignoring the priest glaring at her from the pulpit. “He can’t be that stupid,” she chanted. “He can’t be that stupid. He can’t be that stupid.”
“We both know he’s that stupid,” Max snarled.
And Max was right. They both knew he was that stupid.
Berg leaned forward so he could see Charlie’s face. “What’s going on?”
“It’s Dad,” she spit out between clenched teeth, her anxiety spiking so high Charlie was sure she’d blow out a blood pressure machine.
“Oh . . . no.”
“What are we going to do?” Max asked, sounding shockingly panicked. “What are we going to do?”
Charlie heard a sharp gasp and realized that her baby sister had finally seen their father.
“Exactly,” Max muttered.
Now Stevie leaned forward and whispered, “What are we going to do?”
Freddy MacKilligan reached their pew and stopped. He gazed down at her, and Charlie wondered what he could possibly say at this moment to—
Charlie blinked and felt Max tense next to her.
“What?” she had to ask.
“Move,” he said again. As if she was supposed to follow his orders without comment.
Charlie took a moment to let that sink in before she reacted in the only way she could think of. She released her fangs and hissed at her father like he was a pushy lion male at an African watering hole.
“Oh, come on!” he snapped.
Max joined in, the pair hissing at him simultaneously.
“Just move,” Freddy ordered, as if he had any real power when it came to his daughters. “I’m not leaving. So you might as well move the fuck over.”
That’s when Berg slowly got to his feet, facing Freddy MacKilligan, whose gaze moved up and up as Berg rose and rose.
Finally, when he was at his full height, Berg easily leaned over until he was eye to eye with Freddy.
The grizzly panted. Great puffs of air hit the older badger right in the face. Then he gave several short warning growls, and still Freddy was too hardheaded to simply walk away and find another seat.
That’s when Berg’s grizzly hump suddenly grew under his jacket, and he released a roar so loud that the church’s stained glass vibrated.
“All right now. That’s it!” the Irish priest snapped from the front of the church. “We’ll have none of that grizzly shit in this holy house of my Lord. And you, badger, find a seat somewhere else.” When Freddy didn’t move, the tiger priest warned, “Don’t make me tear that puny head from your shoulders, my good lad. Because we both know I will, now don’t we?”
“Ungrateful,” Freddy snapped at his daughters. “Goddamn ungrateful!”
Charlie decided in that moment that it was in everyone’s best interest if she just killed her father here and now. Sure. She’d go to prison for a few decades, but wouldn’t having Freddy MacKilligan out of all their lives for good be worth that sacrifice?
Charlie thought so, which was why she unleashed her claws. But before she could gut the bastard in front of God and the MacKilligans, another badger rammed into Freddy from the side, wrapping big arms around his chest. Well . . . he was more part of the badger family than an actual badger. Because he was a wolverine.
“Freddy!” Dutch crowed. “I’m so happy to see you!”
Dutch lifted Freddy off the ground and while their father loudly protested, Dutch carried the idiot to the front pew with Aunt Bernice and her family.
“Well, we don’t want him!” Bernice snapped.
“Aw, come on. Isn’t it wonderful to see your brother? I’m sure you guys have missed him so much!”
Dutch dropped Freddy and pushed him into a spot that opened up when one of Bernice’s daughters moved out of the way.
When Freddy started to stand up again, Dutch pushed him back down and warned, “Try and move from this spot, and I’ll tear your arms off and eat them.”
Dutch leaned forward and snapped his jaw shut, his strong wolverine teeth clacking together. Freddy’s head jerked back to avoid contact.
But Freddy kept his seat after that, so Dutch nodded at the priest and said, “Sorry, Father,” before returning to the sisters’ pew and wiggling his way in by forcing Charlie to move over.
The priest continued with the service and Dutch whispered to Charlie, “Aren’t you glad I’m here to bring joy into your life?”
Max barely caught Charlie’s arm before she could ram her still-unleashed claws into Dutch’s belly, completely ending his presence in her life too.
Again, decades in prison might be totally worth all of it.
When Berg suddenly roared, Stevie grabbed Shen’s hand and held on tight. He looked at her and saw that she was panting hard, staring at the hymn books tucked into the back of the pew in front of them.
Without really thinking about it, he released her hand and lifted her up, sliding over and placing her between himself and Kyle so she had a little distance from Berg.
“Just breathe,” he said. “Everything’s fine. Just breathe.”
She nodded but she had her hands clasped together, twisting them hard.
It wasn’t just Berg and his grizzly ways that were freaking Stevie out, though. It was everything. Her father. Her Uncle Will. Her cousin Mairi. Even the bruises that were still on her sister’s neck had Stevie tense and panic prone. Knowing she wouldn’t leave the church without her sisters, Shen instead grabbed her left hand and held it between both of his.
“You’re doing great,” he told her.
“What does that mean?”
“I have no idea.”
That made her laugh a little and he immediately felt less concern. When Stevie was truly freaking out, she never laughed.
“Do you need me to do anything?” he asked.
“The noises from your stomach are starting to freak out my family . . . and honey badgers do not freak out, Shen. Eat something.”
Shen looked around but didn’t see what Stevie was talking about until his stomach grumbled again and the badgers in the two pews in front of them turned around to glare.
Shen reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a pack. To a full-human it would look like a pack of cigarettes. But Shen didn’t smoke.
He released Stevie’s hand so he could take the cellophane off the pack, fold the foil at the top back, and tapped the bottom against his hand until one of the bamboo stalks popped up. He gripped the shortened stalk between his lips and pulled it out. Then, as the priest spoke in Latin, Shen took a bite . . . and the sound cracked around the church, echoing off the walls.
He tried to chew, but stopped at each cracking sound. He did it three or four times, cringing every time he made noise. Finally, an older, Scottish She-badger in the pew right in front of them looked at him over her shoulder and snarled, “Just eat the damn things, would ya? Anything’s better than hearing that stomach of yours!”
Moving quickly, Shen ate several stalks, one after the other, until he knew he’d quieted his stomach at least for the next ten to twenty minutes.
“Thank you,” Stevie whispered.
“You’re welcome.” He took her hand in his again.
Smiling, Stevie moved in closer to him and rested her head against his arm.
“You keep holding my hand,” she whispered. “Are you doing that because you’re still worried I’m going to freak out?”
“I was,” he admitted. “But now I just like it.”
The service seemed to go on forever, but Stevie didn’t mind. Because she was holding Shen’s hand and it was the nicest thing. His hand was warm and dry and soothing.
Using her free hand, she opened up the program to find out what was next. She was relieved to see they were on the last speaker of the day. After that, her great-uncle’s sons and the older grandsons would carry his casket to the hearse.
Great-Uncle Pete’s oldest son finished speaking and, as he was thanking everyone for coming, he casually asked if anyone wanted to say anything else about his father. A few people stood up and did add a little. Old friends who wanted to express how much they would miss Pete. One of his brothers letting Pete’s adult sons and grandchildren know that he was there for them if any of them had a need for “some old man advice,” which got a mood-breaking laugh. Then his eldest son let everyone know that after the burial, the family would be going to a pub in New Jersey for one last drink in honor of their father.
Thinking it was over, Stevie started to reach for the black leather backpack she’d pulled out just for the occasion. A Gucci bag that looked fancy and could still hold several of her notebooks and a wallet, but would hopefully not lead to anyone muttering, “I can’t believe she brought a backpack. It’s a funeral not a hike.”
Before she could pick it up off the floor, though, she heard, “I have something to say.”
Stevie froze. No. No, no, no, no, nooooo.
Sitting up straight, she watched in horror as her father stood.
Her father wanted to say something. He wanted to say something!
She leaned forward to check on her sisters. Max already had her face buried in both her hands while Charlie was sitting so bone straight and absolutely still that Stevie was terrified what her eldest sister might do. Because when Charlie had you in her sights, there was no escaping. No avoiding. No making it out alive.
Freddy faced the shocked faces of his extended family, foolishly unconcerned that nearly everyone in the room hated him. He was the reason a good chunk of them were currently cash poor. And the fact that he hadn’t even benefitted from that money only made them angrier. Because he was just so stupid. And yet . . . he was talking.
Freddy placed his hand over his heart and lowered his chin to his chest.
“What is happening?” Shen asked.
Stevie tapped Shen’s arm and motioned him closer. He leaned down a bit and she brought her mouth close to his ear. “You and the Dunns need to be ready.”
“To take down your father?”
“No. Charlie. She’ll have no qualms about killing him in front of witnesses. I’m not too worried about the family, but the church people could be a problem.”
Shen nodded and leaned over to whisper in Britta’s ear, allowing Stevie to—unfortunately—listen to whatever ridiculous bullshit was coming out of her father’s mouth.
Oh, and it was bullshit.
“It breaks my heart,” he said, tears beginning to run down his cheeks, “that we’ve lost such a great man. The mighty Peter MacKilligan. Loyal. Amazing. Good to his family. Always so generous.”
Stevie rolled her eyes. Her father was angling for money. From the people he’d stolen from.
Freddy took in a deep breath, wiped some of the wetness from his face. “But you know what made Pete MacKilligan truly wealthy? It wasn’t his money. It wasn’t houses and cars and property in the Caribbean. No. It was the legacy he left. The legacy of his sons. There is nothing greater in this world than for a man to have sons. Loyal, protective sons. Willing to do anything for their father and to carry on the family name. Sons are the most important thing in the world. Nothing else can compete.”
It was then that Stevie heard bodies turning in the pews, felt the eyes on her and her sisters. Everyone was staring at them now, because they all knew . . . the idiot had forgotten he had daughters.
Daughters sitting in the same room where he was making this men’s rights–like speech.
Embarrassed, mortified, and wishing she was back in Switzerland immersed in science and math and the future of the universe, Stevie looked up. She expected to see the rest of the family laughing at Freddy’s pitiful daughters. But they weren’t. They all felt bad for Stevie and her sisters. She could see it on their faces. Feel it in the room. For once, honey badgers felt pity.
“Does he remember you guys are in the room?” Shen asked her.
“Wow,” Kyle said from her other side. “I thought telling my kindergarten teacher I was an only child and an orphan was bad . . . I was wrong.”
Stevie sighed. “But you were in kindergarten, Kyle. Not a grown man.”
“I still don’t know what’s happening,” Shen muttered. “But I do want to call my dad and tell him I love him.”
“And you should also thank him for not being an asshole.”
“Oh, I will.”
“Sons,” her father went on . . . still oblivious, “give a man something that no woman—related or not—can ever give him. An empire.”
“I guess all those royal daughters in the middle ages who married to solidify power were meaningless,” Stevie said with a head shake.
“Pete was truly blessed to have as many sons as he did,” Freddy went on, ignoring Bernice as she tried to stop him or, at the very least, remind him that he had daughters sitting in the room, “Because sons are so important. They’re the most important thing a man can have in his life. Sons are everything. I know this because, unlike Uncle Pete, I was never blessed with sons. Imagine . . . going through life childless.”
“Oh!” Stevie gasped in surprise, “he just forgot he had daughters . . . altogether. How nice for him.”
Freddy stared at the sons and grandsons of Pete MacKilligan. The confused men and boys gawked back . . . their sisters, wives, and daughters beside them.
The silence went on for a very uncomfortable amount of time . . . until laughter rang out in the church. Hysterical, unstoppable laughter.
Stevie felt those eyes on her again but the family soon understood it wasn’t her. The crazy one. Nope. It wasn’t Stevie. It was Charlie.
Charlie was laughing so hard, she was the one crying now. She had her arms around her stomach and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop. It got so bad, she finally stood and waved at the priest.
“Sorry . . .” she managed between the wheezing. “I have to . . . I have . . . go . . . bye!”
Now coughing, wheezing, and laughing, Charlie made the long walk down the aisle of the church to the exit.
“I’ll . . . uh . . . I’ll go with her,” Max said before jumping up and running after her.
After the pair disappeared out the big double doors, Freddy shook his head in disgust and said, “Well . . . that was inappropriate.”
That’s when Stevie lost it too. She slapped her hand over her mouth to stop the laughter but it wasn’t helping.
With tears filling her eyes, she stood and followed her sisters. Desperate to get out. Desperate to not be the one laughing at a funeral.
But come on! What else did anyone expect?