The envelope was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. John Sebastian. John wondered what was in the fancy envelope. He ripped at the seam to look as he walked from his garage into his kitchen. By the time he reached the kitchen island, he had opened the envelope and began to read the contents.
It looked like a wedding invitation and at first John thought it was just that. But then he began to read the card.
“You are cordially invited to attend the celebration of the passing of Aaron Karply, who passed from our world on Saturday last. The celebration will begin at 7 pm and last until 11 pm on Friday next. The family kindly requests that you attend the celebration. Please R.S.V.P at your earliest convenience. Please plan on attending for the entire evening as Aaron has planned a surprise for us all at the end of the evening.”
“What the hell?” John thought. “Who the hell is Aaron Karply? And did this guy just die?” John reread the odd invitation. “This has to be the strangest thing I have ever read!”
Just then, John’s wife walked into the house through the same entryway as John just walked through a few moments before. “Hi, dear.” John spoke as he leaned over and kissed his wife. “Hey,” she replied as she started to open the refrigerated door and start to rummage through the contents. “I’m starved!” she remarked. “Want something for dinner?”
“Yeah, sure,” he mumbled as he picked up the strange invitation again. “Do you know an Aaron Karply?” he asked his wife. She stopped foraging for a moment and said, “No, doesn’t mean anything to me. Why?”
“Well I got this strange invitation to a, well, I guess it is an invitation to a wake or showing or a funeral or something. Here, read it.” And he handed it to his wife. “Does it mean anything to you?”
“No, it doesn’t. Does this mean you don’t know him?” She asked.
“It sounds familiar, but I’m just not sure.”
“Well, let me know so I can make plans for the weekend. Sure is a weird invitation though. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it.”
“Yea, I’ll look into it,” and with that he put the strange invitation aside.
When John arrived at work the next day, he had a message to call his boss as soon as he could. “Damn it.” John thought. “What the hell could this be?” John picked up his phone and dialed his boss. She picked up on the first ring, “Stafford.”
“Hey Joan, this is John, you wanted to talk to me?”
“John, thanks for getting back to me, say, do you remember Aaron Karply? It seems he passed away a couple of days ago.”
“Wow.” John sighed, “The name sounds familiar, but just can’t put a face to it, Joan. But since you mentioned it, I did get this weird invitation to this, ah, well, I think it is a showing or a wake or something, yesterday in the mail.”
“That’s great, John!”
“That means he remembered you, John. Mr. Karply was a very important customer of our company and since he sent you an invitation, I think you should go and be the company’s representative!”
“His company did a lot of business with us, John. I hope that continues. We need to put in a good showing at his, um…showing, yes, his showing. Can you attend and will you take Nancy?”
“I don’t think I even know this guy and if I don’t, what makes you think Nancy would care to go?”
“As I just said, John, he must have remembered you as he sent you an invitation, so you must go.”
“An invitation? Is that what this is? An invitation to a showing? I never heard of such a thing.”
“Great, thanks John, I am sure you will do the company proud. I will send you Mr. Karply’s file so you will be up to date. Thanks!” And with that, Joan hung up.
“Shit.” John said out loud.
After reading the file Joan sent him, he finally remembered Aaron Karply. He didn’t m like him much, but he remembered him. Karply was the guy that would call up every two weeks and just give his customer number and then give his order. John had dealt with Mr. Karply for over two years before he ever knew his name. It was another two years before anything personal was ever exchanged between them.
“Are you married, Sebastian?”
“Yes, sir, I am”
“Right, so you know what I mean then.”
“Right then. I will take…” and Mr. Karply would place his order. This went on for years and John would never place the name with a face.
And now Mr. Karply was dead and John had to go to his showing and represent his company. And he had to take his wife.
John was in a somber mood when he arrived home that evening. He didn’t want to go to the funeral, but he knew he had to. Joan had ordered him to go. He was slightly sullen when Nancy walked in the door to the kitchen.
“Why the gloomy Gus look?” she asked. John again picked up the fancy invitation and handed it to Nancy saying, “He was a customer of mine. We have to go Friday. Joan told me we had to go.” Nancy began to get gloomy as well. “What do you mean we?” she asked guardedly. “Was he that good of customer?”
“Evidently, he was. And his business was a family business, so we have to go in order to look good for the company. Plus, we got this invitation, so I must have meant something to him. I’m sorry!”
“Well, I guess we are going then. We shouldn’t feel this way. After all, he is the one who is dead. We should send flowers as well.”
“That’s the spirit, Nancy! Although let’s let the company take care of the flowers. I mean let’s not go overboard. I didn’t really like the guy that much anyway.” John remarked. He was feeling better already. If Nancy was okay with it, then he couldn’t get into trouble with her about it and he would make Joan happy as well. It was turning into a win-win for him. “Well worth the sacrificed Friday night,” he thought.
“Right, so you know what I mean then.” John suddenly heard Karply’s voice in his head. John shook it off and went to turn on the news, just as quickly forgetting about Karply.
When Friday arrived it was a cloudy, gloomy day. John drove toward the church as Nancy was busy putting on the final touches of her makeup on.
“Slow down, John, or I’ll look like Elvira with all this eye shadow!”
“Sorry.” he replied and he took his foot off the pedal just for a moment. “We are almost there, are you about done?” he asked?
“Yep. Thanks.” and she put her makeup away.
They pulled into the parking lot of St. Peter’s and were amazed of the number of cars in the lot.
“I didn’t realize how popular this guy was,” John remarked. They found a spot at the back of the lot and parked over the hopscotch outline painted on the parking lot. It was obvious that it was used for recess during school. “This isn’t a very big church and the school is very small as well. It looks like the showing is in the school! Aaron must have been very important here.”
“It sure looks like that. Look at all of the people.” Nancy remarked, as they were walking toward the school. “It looks like I overdressed. Most of the folks are in jeans. Here I am in a dress and you in a suit!”
“Yeah, I was noticing that as well,” John observed. When they arrived at the door to the auditorium where ever one else seemed to be entering the showing, John held the door for Nancy and she proceeded him into the building. After she went in, he quickly followed. As he went through the door with his head down, he slammed into the back of Nancy who had abruptly stopped. She turned around and gave him one of those glances. “Sorry”, he blurted. He looked ahead of Nancy and saw why she had suddenly stopped. There was a man standing in front of her, dressed in a very fancy white tux.
“May I have your names please?” the man asked in a nasal tone. John moved in front of Nancy to answer the man. “We are John and Nancy Sebastian.” The man in the white tux started to check a clipboard, “Ah, yes. Thank you for joining us tonight. I will take you to your seats. Your usher will then escort you to the stage to pay your respects. May I take your coats and may I say that I hope you enjoy your evening.” The man in the tux led them to a small table in what appeared to be the school cafeteria.
After they were seated and both had surrendered their coats, John and Nancy were only able to look at each other with surprise. Across the room they both could see the stage where a line was slowly snaking over the stage from right to left. As they both began to take in their surroundings, they noticed that music was playing in the background. The lights were pretty low and the place was packed. The crowd seemed to be pretty jovial as well. There wasn’t anyone speaking in hushed tones or any one that they could see that was overly distraught.
Nancy found her voice first. “This has to be the oddest showing that I have ever seen. John, what the hell is going on around here? Is that Led Zeppelin playing? Who is this guy?”
“I am as surprised as you, Nancy. Everyone seems to be having a good time, though.”
Just then a young lady approached the table. She was wearing a black tux and was carrying a tray in one hand and had a towel draped over her other arm. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties. She had a big smile on her face as she announced, “Hi, my name is Suzy!” As she was stating this she placed a yellow card on the table. “This is your pass for a cab tonight. This will also get the cab to come get you in the morning in order to pick up your car. It is only good for one day though. We have a two drink minimum tonight and we do have a full service bar.”
Nancy blurted almost at once, “WHAT? You are making us buy alcohol, at a showing?”
“Oh, no ma’am.” Suzy gushed, “We are not charging you, and your host would like you to have two drinks at least. I am sorry not to have explained that. Your cab is free as well. It is hoped that you have a fun and wonderful time tonight. It is by Mr. Karply’s request.”
John and Nancy looked at each other in shock. Neither had ever been to such a showing before. Come to think of it, who has? Stunned, John ordered a rum and coke while Nancy requested a glass of red wine.
After the waitress left the table, Nancy sternly looked at John and said, “What the hell is going on here, John?”
“Like I have a clue? This guy ordered stuff from me every two weeks. I didn’t even know him and I thought he was a jerk. But look at all of this. He has hundreds of people at his funeral and he is giving away cab rides and booze. I have no idea what’s going on.”
John began to look around as did his wife. They began to notice their surroundings. Besides the stage with the coffin, there were TV’s placed around the room with videos playing on each one. John guessed that they were playing life moments of Aaron Karply, so he didn’t bother to look at the monitors any closer. There were many folks milling about as well…talking, laughing. No one seemed to be terribly bothered that Mr. Karply had passed.
Suzy arrived with the drinks and set them before the bewildered couple.
“Just let me know when you need a refill! And you are allowed to imbide as much as you like!” Suzy moved on to another table. Again, they looked at each other in surprise.
They had only a few sips of their drinks when another man in a white tux appeared beside their table.
“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Sebastian. I am George Johnson. I would like to thank you on behalf of the Karply family for attending the celebration of the life of Aaron Karply. Once you are comfortable, I will escort you to the stage so that you may pay your respects and talk with the family. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes I do!” blurted John. “This is the strangest thing I have ever seen. Just what is going on here?”
George chuckled softly and then replied, “I take it you did not know Aaron very well.”
“No, I didn’t.” John said, “As a matter of fact, I just sold him plastic parts every couple of weeks. I never even met him face to face before. I am not even sure why I am here.”
Again George laughed and said, “Well, I can understand your confusion. Aaron was a unique individual. He always was very adamant about his funeral and showing. He wanted people to have a good time. He wanted people drinking and laughing and having a party. He wanted those in attendance to celebrate the fact that he was somewhere better. He was this way when he was alive and he wanted to go out the same way.”
“That is very unique!” Nancy remarked. “What a great view on life and death.”
“Well, those were his views, anyway. I am not sure everyone agrees with them, but it was his wish.” George said with a slight tilt of his head toward the stage. “Anyway, Aaron also requests that you stay the entire evening. He also wishes that you say exactly what you think about him. Aaron detested people who made up nice things to say about people who just passed. He couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. I knew Aaron very well. He was very opinionated.” With that, George smiled as if he were remembering a fond memory.
“Anymore questions?” Both of the Sebastian’s shook their head. “Very good. Please let me know when you are ready. Don’t forget to check out the shrimp and scallop pasta at the buffet. Really good stuff!” And with that, George moved on to another table.
Again John and Nancy looked at each other, dumbfounded. After a few moments, John looked at his wife and said, “I guess we are here for the evening, shall we get something to eat?”
“Why not.” Nancy replied.
After they had finished eating and both had ordered their second drink, John looked at Nancy and remarked, “Well, I guess we better go greet the family.” Nancy nodded her head in affirmation.
John saw George moving through the crowd and got up to go get him. As he approached him, George nodded his way.
“Ah, Mr. Sebastian, are you enjoying your evening?”
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Johnson.”
“Please, call me George. Are you ready to say hello to the family?
“Yes we are, George.”
“Very good, allow me to escort you and your wife to the stage.”
John and George made their way back to the table where Nancy awaited them. As she saw them approaching, she arose from her seat. George smiled and nodded slightly.
“Please follow me.” He said.
“What is playing on the monitors, George? John asked as they slowly wound their way across the cafeteria.
“They are playing some of Aaron’s favorite movies. That one is “Spaceballs”. There is also “Animal House” playing on one along with “Caddyshack” Aaron loved to have a good time.”
John couldn’t believe all of this. This was the cold voiced man that called him every two weeks with an order for a few tons of plastic pipes and parts? John had no idea that Aaron Karply was a well loved man with a sense of humor and obviously had warm feelings toward his friends. Again, John was hit with a sense of the oddness that now involved him.
George must have sensed his confusion. “You see, Mr. Sebastian, we are not always what we seem.”
“You got that right.” John muttered.
George eventually led them to the receiving line.
“The family is just up the stairs of the stage,” remarked George. “And Mr. Sebastian, after you pay your respects, do not be afraid to find me if you have any further questions.”
“You must have been a very good friend, George.” John said.
George only smiled and waved them on. Nancy held onto John’s arm as they slowly made their way toward the family. There were only three people standing in the line greeting the other folks in the line. Two middle aged men and an older woman. As each visitor greeted them, they all seemed to have a good laugh and a hearty handshake. Nothing like one would see at a normal showing.
And then, it was John and Nancy’s turn to meet the folks. The two men looked to be almost identical. Both were rotund, short and had graying hair on a head that was threatening to go bald. Both were also dressed in sweaters, jeans and had loafers on their feet. They also both wore a huge smile.
The older woman was a petite. She was elegant in her white hair that was simply cut to fit her regal head. She was also dressed casually and wore a smile. The difference in her smile was that it was a sad smile, but a smile none the less.
As they came to the two men, John introduced himself and his wife to the trio.
“How very nice to meet you both, thank you for coming. Aaron would be happy to see you here.” She went on, “These are my sons, Joseph and Jacob. I am Betty.”
Both of the sons greeted the Sebastian’s warmly.
“I have to be honest with you all,” John spoke, “I barely knew your husband. I only took orders from him over the phone. I am not really sure why we are here.”
Both the sons and the mother laughed. “Sounds like Dad!” one of the sons remarked.
Betty continued, “You see, Aaron was a good judge of character. He must have judged your character correctly since you were honest with us from the start. It is a shame you did not get to know him outside of his company. You may have been good friends. Please stay for the event, no one wants to miss that.”
John started to ask what the event was, but the family was already on to the next people in line. John and Nancy had no choice now but to continue in the line to view the body lying in the ornate casket.
As they approached the casket, they could see the body of Aaron Karply. He was rotund, just like his sons. His head had gone to full baldness. He also was dressed in a sweater. John could guess that jeans adorned his lower body, but the casket lid did not permit confirmation of that fact.
When they were directly in front of the body, Nancy let out an audible gasp, grabbed John by the arm and harshly whispered into his ear, “John. He is smiling. Why is he smiling?” John looked down and there was Aaron Karply with a grin from ear to ear.
“I do not know, Nancy. This is all so surreal.”
With that, they left the stage and headed back to their table. Once there, they both took a long pull on their beverages. John looked for the server so that they could place another order. She was quickly found and they soon had another fresh drink.
After awhile, George found them again.
“Are you both enjoying your evening?” George asked.
“I have to admit that I am a little creeped out here, George.” John said.
Nancy followed with, “George, Mr. Karply had a huge smile on his face. Is that some kind of sick joke?”
“I don’t know for sure, Mrs. Sebastian, but if I had to guess, yes, it is Aaron’s sense of humor showing through. I think it is his way of saying that he is having a last laugh at our expense.”
“Kind of macabre, don’t you think?”
George merely shrugged his shoulders.
At that moment, the lights went down and a bright light lit the stage.
“Excuse me,” George said, “This is the big moment. I must be off.” And with that, he headed up to the stage.
John then noticed that all of the TV monitors had stopped playing their prospective movies and the music had stopped playing. Everyone had quieted down and everybody’s attention was focused on the stage.
On the stage, the family gathered by the casket to the right. Men in white tuxes, including George, gathered on the left. When everybody seemed to be in place, Betty Karply nodded to someone in the back of the hall that John could not see.
With that nod, music started blaring out of speakers that surrounded the casket and that neither John nor Nancy had noticed before. And it wasn’t just any music, it was the song “For Those About To Rock” by ACDC.
The song was so loud, that both John and Nancy had to hold their hands over their ears. But the folks on the stage did not seem to notice. They only looked expectantly toward the casket.
The song ended, but the people on the stage continued to look at the body of Aaron Karply. Nothing happened. Slowly, Betty Karply again turned and nodded to the unseen person in the back of the hall. Immediately, more music screamed from the speakers. This time it was Led Zeppelin singing “Communication Breakdown”
Again, the people on the stage looked at the dead body in the coffin as the song belted out of the sound system.
“I didn’t think this could get any freakier!” Nancy screamed into John’s ear.
When the song ended, the stage people again performed the vigil over Aaron Karply’s body. Again nothing happened. A murmur started to hum through the crowd as Betty again turned her attention toward the music man in the back.
Again another song amplified from the speakers. This time it was “Too Hot To Handle” performed by UFO. Again the macabre spectacle played out on the stage. John did notice that George had moved slightly to the back of the stage and was no longer looking at the dead body. He was shaking his head from side to side.
This song too, came to an end. Again, the family and group of men in white tuxes, except George, looked expectantly at the coffin.
Again, nothing happened.
After what seemed like an eternity, Betty started to sob. She was crying gently at first, but soon evolving into chest heaving sobs. Her sons were soon by her side and gently helped her off the stage.
All of the men in white also exited the stage. That is, all except for George. George stepped to a podium that was placed at the left side of the stage. He put on glasses, pulled a sheet of paper from his coat pocket and slowly unfolded the paper.
He coughed into a balled fist, cleared his throat as he mentioned that the letter was from Aaron and began reading.
“My dear family and friends, if this letter is being read to you, I guess my great experiment has failed and I have truly gone to meet my maker. I know you all must be wondering what the scene that you just witnessed was all about. I will now explain.
You see, when I was a younger man, I wanted to be a rock star. Being young and dumb, I thought the only thing you had to do to reach this goal was play records on the stereo as loud as you could and act like a rock star. We know this not to be true, but that did not stop me. And I played all the rock and roll that I could, as loud as I could, much to the irritation of my mother.
I always thought my mother was the smartest person on the earth, so I believed her when she would constantly turn down the volume on the stereo while yelling at me that the music is loud enough to wake the dead. As we all now can see, she was wrong about this one.
With that being now obviously true, my funeral mass will be at 10 am tomorrow, followed by a reception here at my beloved St. Peter’s Church.
Thank you all for coming.”
George carefully folded up the paper and left the stage.
John was again dumbfounded and by the look on Nancy’s face, so was she. Suzy, the server, appeared next to the table and asked if they wanted another beverage of if she could call a cab for them. John answered no to both and thanked her.
As they were collecting their coats, George approached them.
“It was so very nice to meet you both, please take care.” He said to them.
“Thank you, George.” John responded. “If you wouldn’t mind telling me, just what the hell is all this about?”
George could only shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, if you knew Aaron, you would know that he had a deep sense of humor. I don’t think he really thought he would rise from the dead. I think he just wanted to have one more laugh before he left us.” George paused and then finished by saying, “Right, so you know what I mean then.”
With that, Nancy and John said their goodbyes.
And when they both reached the car, they looked at each other and just started to laugh. They were still laughing as they pulled out of the lot. When they had caught their breath, Nancy looked at John and asked, “So, are we going to the funeral?”
“Hell no!” John quickly replied. And they both broke out in laughter once again.