With but a whisper of air, he left this world and entered the next.
So many decisions to make. So much shit to get done. So many places to be. Why did this have to happen now? Raina didn’t have time for this. As the sole heir, it was her responsibility to deal with everything. Make arrangements for the body. Go through all his stuff. Read the will. Make sure his last wishes were carried out.
All she wanted to do was run screaming into the forest. Or curl into a ball and sleep for days without disturbance. She had neither luxury. She scanned her uncle’s face, searching for answers. Looked at his chest; it did not rise, or fall. She grabbed his hand, still warm to the touch. The room reeked of dried blood and antiseptic. Nausea rose to Raina’s lips, but she contained it, dropping the hand.
She turned, and stripped her gloves and hospital gown off. Threw them in the trash and laundry bins, respectively.
“I’m done,” she told the nurse.
Raina closed her eyes and tipped her head back. Her balance wavered, and she put a hand against the wall to steady herself, opening her eyes. She needed to get out of the hospital. There was paperwork, though. Paperwork that couldn’t wait.
She concentrated on emptying her mind, filling it with a picture of a serene place: the ocean, waves crashing, a soft sea breeze, seagulls wheeling, sea lions honking in the distance, sunning themselves on the rocks. She took a deep breath, coughed at the stringent irritation in her nostrils, and stumbled to the conference room.
A social worker waited for her with a clipboard and a thick stack of papers. The woman stood and pulled out a chair for Raina.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said. “And I’m sorry to bother you with all these questions.”
Raina nodded. Get on with it, lady. She needed some air. The conference room was so stuffy. That horrid smell seemed to follow her into the room. She gave her head a quick shake and tried to listen to the woman’s words.
Raina hadn’t even been that close to her uncle. How was she supposed to make these decisions? What if she made the wrong choices? She exhaled. There was no one who would ever know. She was the last live branch of her family tree. She could make any decision she wanted. She’d been on her own for years, ever since her parents died, but she’d always been in relationships where she felt like she had to walk on eggshells to please the guy. This time, it didn’t matter what she chose. Her uncle certainly wouldn’t care. He was dead.
“I think he wanted to be cremated. Where do I sign?”
The woman finished checking some boxes, spun the papers in Raina’s direction, and pointed to a line at the bottom of the page. “It’s the thirteenth,” she said.
Raina smiled tightly. Of course her uncle had to die on lucky Friday the thirteenth. “Anything else?”
“Fill out where you want the ashes and death certificate delivered.”
A chill shivered down Raina’s spine. “Where?” The woman pushed more papers in her direction, and she automatically filled out her address. “Can I split now? I’m kind of sick of this place, no offense.”
The social worker collected her papers into a pile, shuffled through them scanning for blank boxes or lines, smiled, and nodded. “Again, I’m sorry for your loss.”
Raina stood so abruptly, the office chair she’d been sitting in shot backward and thudded into the wall. She pursed her lips, turned, and ducked out of the room, down the hall to the elevators. She pushed the down button. A few seconds later, she pushed it again. She used the automatic hand sanitizer dispenser and rubbed the foamy mess into her cold hands before jabbing the button a third time. Where was the fucking elevator? She debated taking the stairs, down eleven industrial-sized flights.
Ding! The doors opened and Raina almost walked into a wheelchair occupied by a wrinkled woman in dark clothes, pushed by an orderly. She apologized and stepped aside to let them out, before darting in and tapping out a rhythm with the “L” and “Close Door” buttons.
She knew her uncle had a will. He told her about it a few years ago, told her he kept it in his safe, told her the combination, showed her which painting he hid the safe behind.
Something compelled her to drive to his house instead of her own home. Something more than curiosity. She needed to know what was in that will. Why would he write a will if she was his sole heir? Was he donating his estate to charity or some bullshit like that? He wasn’t the type. He would keep everything in the family, even though they weren’t close. Raina nodded to herself.
Then what was it? She pulled into the driveway. She reached in the backseat for the bag with his personal effects from the hospital. Peering inside, she frowned. She looked out the window and pawed underneath the clothes, feeling a wallet, keys. Her fingers curled around the chilled metal and she approached the front door.
She turned on lights in every room she stepped into. Raina didn’t believe in ghosts. That didn’t mean it wasn’t creepy walking into a dead man’s house at night. She tiptoed into his study, removed the old painting of a big, fiery bird from the wall, spun the dial left, right, left. Taking a deep breath, she pulled down on the handle and the safe clicked. She swung the heavy door open and looked inside. The only thing there was an envelope with her name scrawled on it. She retrieved it and sat at her uncle’s great oak desk. Picking up a red enameled letter opener forged in the shape of a feather, she extracted his last will and testament. She pressed the paper flat and read the short missive three times. Raina’s heart raced. Her hands trembled. She read the letter again, and her gaze darted to the painting propped against the wall—a phoenix in flames, rising from the ashes.
This week’s #FridayFlash (1040 words) is a part of Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: The Cooperative Cliffhanger, Part I. The idea is to write a story that ends on a cliffhanger, and for someone else to pick up where you left off and continue writing the story. I could have left off the last sentence, and it would have been more of a cliffhanger, but I think the piece can really still go a lot of places. (And I had a really clear idea of the direction I wanted the piece to go from the start, and I wanted to convey that clearly, while still leaving it with a cliffhanger.) Thoughts? Better with or without the last sentence? In terms of this exercise? Was the foreshadowing enough beforehand? Thanks for your input!