My Late Brother

(800 words)

I stood at the front of my local Spiritualist Church, an honoured guest. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you about my brother, Justin, and how he’s come back from the spirit world to give us all a message of hope.” There was a polite hush. “But before Justin speaks, I’d like to say a little bit about him.” Thirty pairs of eyes looked up at me with eager anticipation.
My brother Justin had spent his whole life leaving everything to the last minute, and causing much grief in the process. Me and John, my husband would do our best to chivvy him along, get him to interviews on time, try to get him looking presentable. But he’d lose jobs, friends, even a dog called Sam who Justin would ‘forget’ to feed and who ended up at an animal rescue centre with a straggly flea-ridden coat and prominent ribs.
Then one day, Justin astonished us all by announcing he’d got a job as a sales assistant at Burnett’s, in soft furnishings of all places. It seemed like he’d decided to pull himself together, or so he said, and he surprised us further by getting a fashionable haircut, and dressing in a smart grey suit with a cream shirt and silver tie. He was almost unrecognisable – in the best possible way – and we began to believe he really had changed.
Then he spoiled it all by getting into an argument with a customer, forgetting – or likely not knowing – the dictum ‘The customer is always right.’ Still annoyed at the confrontation, he’d gone to the pub after work, got drunk and walked out into the road, getting hit by a speeding motorcycle. It threw him across the street into the path of a truck which finished him off, if he wasn’t dead already.
Six months later, I’d just put yellow roses in a pot at Justin’s grave and stood back to look at his stone. Justin Smith, 1977–2020. Resting in Peace. What a waste, I was thinking, when I heard a voice in my ear. “Thanks for the flowers, sis, but you know I just didn’t dig yellow. White or red, but never yellow!”
I jumped. The voice sounded just like Justin’s. I scouted around the graveyard but there was no one, no prankster hiding behind the huge brown-ribbed yews, no hidden loudspeakers, that I could find anyway. I went back to the grave. “Justin, is that you?”
I rearranged the roses then turned to go, thinking I’d imagined it all, when, “It sure is, sis, and I didn’t mean to be mean about the flowers, I just don’t like yellow!”
Well, it was true he hadn’t liked yellow, but now he was dead, or sort of, I hadn’t really thought about it. Yellow was my favourite colour and that’s all that had been in my mind. I decided to play along. “Sorry bro’, so how’s Heaven?”
The voice came again, from somewhere close but outside me. “I ain’t in Heaven, sis, there’s this red guy with horns who keeps prodding me with a pitchfork, and it ain’t half hot!”
“You mean Hell? That’s awful!”
“Only kiddin’ sis! There’s just folks who’ve died here, Aunty Sal and Uncle Max, they send their best wishes, say to get your rear tyre on the right looked at, and there are some others, kinda haughty types, who get us to look back over our lives and see where we went wrong.”
“Guess that’s why they’re still at it six months later,” I quipped.
“… and so, Justin visits me at home and sometimes I even see him, as a kind of transparent outline, but he’s always smiling.”
Polite laughter.
“And now, I’d like to ask Justin to speak to you all.”
We waited in hushed anticipation for the disembodied voice.
I coughed. “Justin, are you there? Justin? … Justin? … Justin!”
After a couple of embarrassing minutes, the chairperson stood up. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Justin couldn’t come for good reason. It happens.” There was a murmur of sympathy. “And now, let us sing hymn number thirty-six …”
As I left, I could imagine Justin sitting on a cloud or wherever, chortling with laughter at making me look like a right idiot. My face began to grow red again, this time from anger. How dare he set me up in front of all those people, then pull the rug out from under my feet! I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Suddenly I was aware of something in my hand. I looked down at a perfectly-formed miniature red rose and knew Justin was sorry. I wiped away the tears and smiled. Death hadn’t changed the old rascal but he was still my brother and I still loved him.

Featured in the book, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural

4 thoughts on “My Late Brother

  1. Well done, Simon. In the beginning, I was starting to feel as if you were beginning to lay the groundwork that this was a true story ie that the protagonist was , indeed, your brother. But that feeling wore off soon enough. Only to be replaced with those brought about by becoming immersed in a wonderfully captivating story.Standing just to the side as the various characters lived out their version of same. …. Well done .. as I stated in the beginning ….

    1. Ha ha. My brother would probably think the story was about me! I did used to be like that I admit, but a very long time ago. He once described me as ‘a waste of time and space,’ which wasn’t very nice! But the story was more-or-less total fiction, inspired by a story I was listening to on audiobook but got fed up of, The Afterlife of Billy Fingers. I guess I should go back to it sometime; a number of friends think it’s great. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting, Peter, and nice to see you here!

  2. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my sister-in-law who is late for everything. Knowing her, she’ll be late for her own funeral! It’s truly infuriating when I think of all the time I spend waiting for someone to get ready, waiting in line at the store, waiting for a reply email. What a waste of time and something we all experience. This story made me LOL a few times (especially your description of the accident) and well up a bit toward the end. A well-written tale and great fun to read! You never cease to entertain!

    1. Yes, I guess we all know someone like that, Nancy. You try to help them and it blows up in your face. Actually it might be interesting to write a story about someone being late for their own funeral. I’m not sure how that would work out, but still …. Anyway, thanks, as always, for reading and commenting, and glad you enjoyed this particular tale!

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