Susan knew she had to keep moving or the depression would set in again. More than anything else, she hated the pity, the overwhelming sense of pity that everyone felt for her and she knew she could not let this become a habit. She knew she was not the first pregnant woman to lose a husband before the baby was born, and she knew that she would have to be a single mother before she had become a mother, but most of all, she knew she was going to have to start putting some distance between her, and Betty, Jon’s mother. The woman had not left their house since Jon died, and Susan was beginning to wonder how she was going to ask her to leave, and when. The funeral would be tomorrow, and the police had finally released the body.
Susan hefted her body up and decided as soon as the funeral was over and done with she was going on a road trip, alone, just her and The Lump, and if Betty didn’t like it that was going to be too bad. Jon had put a lot of effort into being independent from his folks, and Susan had never been close to her family, at least not to the point of moving in with anyone, and she would be fine, really. Barbara, her friend from college was doing well in Nashville, and Susan knew she could not afford to immerse herself in grief. The baby could not afford to swim in that stuff for another five months. She had to get out of this house, and she had to get away from Betty, and she was going to get away, just as soon as she got her husband’s ashes safely committed to the winds.
Some of Jon’s old friends had already started to filter in, and she had already met most of them, but she really wanted to meet Riley Starr. He was a legend in Jon’s family and everyone had their favorite Riley story to tell. Jon had actually brought up naming the child Riley but Susan and Betty both had been against it. Riley’s antic may have made him popular with those who liked to relive the past, but Susan was dead set against someone who drank for a living being an influence in her child’s life. Riley was fun, but she wasn’t going to have him hanging around once he came back from Paris, or Egypt or wherever he was at the time. Riley had been jailed in Thailand for a year or so, and no one had heard from him since then, but … Susan was shaken out of her thought by the sound of the doorbell.
“Hi! Susan?” A man at the door asked. “I’m Minford Mullis, I was a friend of Jon’s. We were in the Army together for a while, I was the one who…”
“…sold him that damn Ford truck, yes, I remember the story, please come in.” Susan was surprised that she almost laughed. The truck story, so many stories, and all of them ended now.
Susan made coffee and listened to what now seemed to be an almost rehearsed script of grief and sorrow. Good, she thought to herself, you’re getting sick of it, you’re getting mad about it, you’re moving on and that’s good because you have a baby to think of now.
“Have you met Riley?” Mullis asked.
“Not yet’ Susan said and Mullis said it with her. Susan stared at the man. Minfod Mullis accepted the coffee and sat down. He looked a little older than Jon, a little more worn than he should have been by age, and he looked very tired.
“Riley Starr doesn’t exist, Susan, and he never did.” Mullis said.
“What?” Susan had an odd feeling, as if she had misunderstood something important along the way. “But everyone knows him.”
“No,” Mullis said, “not everyone knows him. Jon knew him, Betty March and her husband knew him, Jon’s older brother Willis…”
“I never got a chance to meet Willis” Susan interrupted. “But if all of these people knew Riley then how can you say he never existed.”
“Riley was Jon’s invisible friend when Jon was a kid.” Mullis said. “Jon told me that when he was a four or five he met Riley and they became inseparable. Willis seemed to like him, and eventually the whole family got on board that Riley was real. They started making up stories about this person named Riley, but no one actually existed.”
“That’s just plain weird.” Susan managed to say. “I’ve heard too many stories about Riley…”
“But never first hand stories from anyone other than Jon and Betty.” Mullis said. “Everything you’ve heard has been something Jon or Betty told someone, or something Willis said, or something Jon’s father said, but never anyone outside the family.
“How can this be?” Susan asked. “Why would they do this?”
“I don’t know.” Mullis said. “But I do know that Betty Winters isn’t going to allow you to cremate Jon’s body. These people are as weird as it comes when death is concerned. Ask Betty what you think you ought to do instead of cremation, and mark the level of detail she has already planned out.”
“Come with me, Susan.” Mullis stood up. “Skip out on the funeral and get the hell away from these people while you can. I’ve known them for years and I can tell you there isn’t anything you can do to change whatever they think should happen.”
“Go with you where?”
“My wife and I live three hours from here. Come back in a few weeks, a month, but let everything that is happening now, happen, and deal with the aftermath in time.”
“No, I’ll stay, thank you.” Susan stood up. “I would thank you to leave, Mr. Mullis, you are scaring me.”
Susan held little Jon in her arms and smiled as the photographer took their picture. In the other room she could hear Betty telling someone the story of how Riley had pushed Jon off the barn roof and Jon fell on top of a cow, which then had proceeded to run away as fast as possible with Jon on top, screaming. Everyone in the room laughed, and the photographer smiled.
“Funny story?” he asked.
“Oh, they’re talking about Riley,” Susan said, “it’s a shame you’re not staying for a couple of days, he should show up soon.”
“So you’re telling me the whole family was possessed by one demon, or were they all possessed by different demons?” she asked. “Is it possible for a demon to control more than one person at a time? Is that what this is about?”
“You asked about a specific person and I told you about that person.” He replied.
“Anytime you aren’t clear about what you mean you’re trying to tell me something.” She stormed out of the room and locked the door behind her.
“Any time you are afraid to learn more you run.” He replied, knowing every word was recorded.