Authors notes: This is set in a post-apocolyptic world where all society has collapsed. This short story has branched into a novel, which I may or may not release, depending on wether or not I finish it. Its 87 pages and counting.

As I dug I glanced casually at the sky. Grey clouds loomed overhead. Somehow they seemed more threatening than usual, they hung just along the horizon, stretching out to the trees. Faint glimmers of light shone through in places, but the sky remained dark and promised silently to me that rain was coming. One could never escape the rain that came at the end of life. I scolded myself for the waste of time and returned to my digging. I enjoyed the hard work. It gave my body some pain to match my internal suffering. The difference was this would not leave scars on my body, my mind was marked for life.

The funeral was a sombre one. I had dug a quite deep hole, not as deep as I would have liked, but as much as time would allow. It was too dangerous to be hanging around in these parts. I had at first planned to dig two separate holes but something about it seemed wrong. They had spent their lives together, should they not spend death together? I realised the foolishness of this concept as they were both no longer present in their former shells, but still it comforted me. I think Casey found some peace in it too. Seeing them lying there side by side, silently gazing up at the heavens with empty stares put me at rest. "This is how they would have wanted it" whispered in Casey's ear as I held her. She was only 11 years old but in that one day she seemed to age far more than a days worth. Somehow she had lost her youthful spirit which had kept our family together for so many years. I sighed and thought to myself, now more than ever we need you Casey. I will be strong for you, but I need your vitality and optimism to keep us going. I knew it would be hopeless to expect optimism from a 11 year old who had just watched her parents slaughtered. Still I secretly hoped that with time she would return to her normal self, even if she did have a whole new level of maturity to her enthusiasm. I think that each of us would have stood there until dusk if we could have. As the sun started to lower in the sky I rubbed Casey's shoulder and asked her, "Are you ready". She looked up at me and new tears began to roll down her cheeks and she pushed her face back into my shoulder, sobbing once more. As she did so she tried to nod to me. I knew it was a hard thing to ask of her but I didn't want to do it without her approval, whether it was born of obligation or not. I picked up the shovel and prepared to throw the first pile of dirt onto my parents. Something seemed to retract my arms for me. Deep down something kept telling me that this wasn't right. Then with a start I realised what was missing. As I turned to my younger sister I blinked back the tears and said, "Do you want to say something first." I'm not sure what I should say but wanted to give her an opportunity to say farewell.

She looked up at me, her eyes not even focussed as she said, "Will you play the violin for me, for them?" I opened my mouth to decline, but stopped myself. Once more images raced through my head of the days before the invasion. Both Mum and Dad hadn't been huge violin fans, but they still had loved to listen to me play. Casey would often come and watch me as I practised. Through the music we had made a connection that cannot be described in words. I gently nodded in agreement and hurried off to fetch my magical possession.

When I returned I approached quietly and noticed Casey kneeling before the grave. Between her sobs she whispered "I'm sorry Mum. I'm sorry Dad." She muttered something else but it was unintelligible due to her tears. Her crying had taken a completely different form; it seemed to pulse with a sense of utter despair. I knew then that she had lost hope and the worst part was I felt the exact same way. This would be my darkest secret from this point on. I knew I had to keep it to myself in order for Casey's sake. I pushed the thought out of my mind, willing it to fade with the sun and noisily approached the grave, giving her just enough time to rise without her knowing I had seen her. Without even looking at her I raised the violin to my chin and slowly started stroking the bow across the strings. I hadn't needed to stop to think of what to play, I knew without thinking what the occasion called for. It was a sweet love song, filled with joy but also great sorrow. I began to quickly sweep the bow across the lower strings, the violin moaning with my pain, the sound more human than speech. The gentle throbbing of the violin seemed to reach out and touch Casey. She never looked at me but as usual we made a connection. She could feel my pain, but also I hoped she would feel the passion and love which made this song so beautiful. I sweetly climbed the stave but inevitably tumbled to a deep and endless testimony, one of acceptance and pain that is a required undertaking in any love. The patient despair and aimless longing yielded to a final bout of the pure happiness and passion of love, the ultimate reason each of us stood here. As I reached the last couple of notes, high on the E string I let the tears come forward. The tears I had been holding back all day poured forth, streaming down my face in a relieving manner. I hadn't wanted to cry in front of Casey, she needed someone to be strong for her. I angrily wiped away the salty water and scolded myself for allowing the emotion to sweep me up. Although the song had said all we needed to say I made a clumsy attempt to put it all into words. I opened my mouth and left my jaw hanging there for a second then I said in a voice barely audible, "I love you. Thank you for being there." Satisfied with this endeavour I turned to Casey giving her silent support. I thought she should say something, it would give her some sense of closure.

She abruptly broke my hold on her and wandered casually over the garden. She crouched down and rested her elbows on her knees, her eyes scanning the destroyed greenery. As if by some hidden force she brushed a branch aside revealing a half opened rose from Mum's plentiful collection. She broke it from the trunk and then returned to the foot of the grave. She raised the flower to her lips holding it there briefly then gave it a tender kiss. As she threw it down into the earth I heard her whisper to herself once more, "I'm sorry."

I hurried over to hold her once more and said repeatedly, "Its not your fault." Her eyes never left that rose that lay almost perfectly by each of their shoulders.

Then once more I moved to shovel dirt into the hole. Yet again something pulled my arm back, but this time it was a real force. Casey had taken my arm and said to me, "We can't put dirt on their faces Josie, we just can't." I agreed with her but I wasn't quite sure what to do. We could not get a death certificate anymore, let alone a coffin. She seemed to sense my dilemma and suggested putting a sheet over each of them. That's what they do in the movies she added, trying to be helpful.

"Do you want to pick one?" I asked, sensing she wanted to be of more use. She grunted an agreement then soberly went back inside. I glanced at the sky once more. The sun was getting lower in the sky, we would have to pick up the pace a little. I reminded myself we could rush the departure, but this was something each of us needed to be right. If we left this undone then we would never regain our footing in this world.

Casey obviously took her responsibility quite seriously because she took some time in returning. When she did she carried in her arms one of my parents' silk sheets which they had received for 25th wedding anniversary present. They had been using them for almost two years now. She held it up hopefully, seeking my approval. I flashed her a fake smile, but found it too hard to maintain. I allowed the corners of my mouth to droop once more and settled on a nod. Together we draped it over the grave and allowed it to fall to the bottom leaving only faint silhouettes. When I raised the shovelful of dirt for the third time I half expected something else to stop me, I almost hoped for it. Somehow this made it all seem so final. Once this was over we would leave them there, under several metres of dirt. This was the point which proved to each of us there was no coming back. As I allowed the dirt to fall a tiny sob escaped my lips and I nervously glanced at Casey hoping she had not heard this sign of weakness. If she had she showed me the courtesy not to recognise it. I reached the spade back taking another load of the earth towards the grave. This time it was easier. With each spadeful of the dirt I felt a small piece of my dying. The tears were now streaming from my eyes and occasionally fell to the grave marking small spots of darkness in the light dry earth.

When the last few loads of dirt were packed down I took two planks of wood from the woodpile and put two nails through them making a slightly crooked cross. I planted at the head of the grave and slammed it in with the back of the shovel. Each blow to the wood took a blow to me. I felt it shudder through my body, reminding me of what lay before this marker. There was no way to engrave the wood. Instead I took one of my Dad's vivid markers and Wrote simply on the wood, "Mum and Dad" with a heart at each end. I wasn't sure how long the writing would last but guessed it would last until someone came and took the wood to burn for heat. That would probably occur tonight. I don't think Casey realised this, but I was unwilling to point that out to her. She didn't need to know, I allowed her this one blessing, to think that her parents were resting in peace.

We did not stay long by the grave after the headstone was in place. They were gone now, they were not coming back and the lonely cross reminded us of that. Simultaneously we turned our backs on the old wooden marker which we would probably never see again. That did not worry me. The only thought running through my head was, "I'll never see them again." I was not in the mood to count my blessings, or blessing. I was happy that Casey had been allowed to live but every time I looked at her I saw my mother. Today that was not something I desired to be reminded of. I tried to remind myself that later on I would be happy to see my mothers spirit live on but somehow it did not console me. I could not bring myself to be grateful for anything on this damned awful hunk of dirt, floating out in the vastness of space. For a second I realised how insignificant all this was, in the grand scheme of things. The universe would probably not even notice the loss of these two fine individuals. But I will I added to myself and so will Casey.

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