The following is another example why I should never be asked to be a best man, or to give a eulogy at a funeral. It just won't end well.
“Thank you, Reverend Benton, for that kind introduction on this most somber day. We come together to mourn our friend Brian, whose life came to a tragically short end four days ago. I see his family, his friends gathered here together to mourn. And I see the lawyers hoping to cash in. Thank you all for coming. Well, not the lawyers.
Amanda asked me to eulogize Brian, and I only hope that I can be up to the task. When we think of him, we’re left to mourn the man that he was. People are supposed to die in their old age, not when they’re in the prime of life. Brian was certainly in the prime of life. Happily married, three wonderful kids growing up in the countryside, a good career in real estate. Not a complaint to be heard from him. Brian was the sort of fellow who could just lift the mood, and if he was here now- well, beyond the way that he actually is here now- he might tell a joke, kid around and lighten this gloomy atmosphere.
But he’s not. He’s in that coffin, and we’re out here, trying to make sense of the injustice of it all.
And so we have to take into consideration what happened four days ago.
On that day that changed everything for Amanda and the kids.
And so many other people, for that matter.
Because let’s face it, there are a lot of funerals going on in these parts right now.
It was supposed to be just another day. Brian left the house early, driving in that convertible of his. That was his gift to himself for closing the Midwick estate sale. He was proud of that one- that place had been for sale for five years, and no one could close the deal. Nobody wanted to buy the place. It didn’t help that the house had a reputation for being haunted after Old Man Midwick threw his butler off a balcony. But that’s beside the point.
Brian was driving along, enjoying the day, heading for town, heading for his office. It should have been just another day. But it wasn’t.
We know that the last people to see him alive- well, to talk to him, anyway, because there were witnesses who saw him rush by- were the staff at that pub out at the intersection of Highway Thirteen and Gallows Road. On a related note, what kind of place names itself the Lucky Hangman?
We know he left there- with a fresh cup of coffee in hand. We know he got behind the wheel of his convertible and drove off. Then what happened?
From what the police have been able to put together, Brian was driving with one hand, holding the cup with the other. And it seems the coffee was a bit too hot. For whatever reason, he spilled the coffee, all over his shirt.
That’s how he started to lose control of the car.
Joe MacArdle saw what happened next. He was out on his walk along Highway Thirteen, just like he does every day since he retired. He told the police he heard a car coming up behind, turned, saw it weaving back and forth on the road, coming right at him. That last moment, he saw Brian and Brian saw him. Brian somehow managed to swerve to avoid hitting Joe, and kept going. Joe counted his blessings and wondered why on earth Brian didn’t stop the car.
We’ll never know why. Maybe there was something wrong with the car- that’s something the police haven’t told us yet. Maybe Brian wasn’t thinking straight. You try spilling scalding coffee all over your chest and see how you like it. But that’s beside the point. By this point Brian was racing downhill around hairpin curves. Swerving all over the road. Oncoming cars tried to get out of his way.
Edith Newton was the first fatality of the day.
Yes, that crazy old battleaxe we all knew and hated.
She was driving up Highway Thirteen in that station wagon of hers. Her kids had been trying to get her to stop driving for years on end. Apparently her eye sight and reaction time wasn’t what it once was. But she wouldn’t listen to the concerns of her kids, just like she never paid any attention to anyone else and would routinely scream at people for no reason. And it was still six months until she had to get her license renewed, so she was still driving.
Until that day.
We know that Brian was honking his horn, swerving back and forth. We know that he came into the path of Edith’s station wagon on that stretch of the highway alongside Dead Man’s Canyon. We know he swerved out of the way- but so did she. While he sped past, we know that her car went through the guard rail and out into empty space, a couple hundred metres to the bottom of Dead Man’s Canyon.
Brian kept going. Honking his horn, downhill, unable to stop. He still had ten kilometres to get into town. Out of control, maybe thinking of his wife and his kids and what would happen to them if he didn’t make it home that night.
What happened next nobody could have expected.
Aside from that geologist from the university who published a paper about the slope three years ago.
So there Brian was, speeding downhill past Dead Man’s Mountain. And he inadvertently triggered something that none of us saw coming.
Except for Professor Sedgwick. Are you happy now, James? You got proven right.
Brian’s car sideswiped a rock by the side of the road. That rock turned out to be the lynchpin in holding up what James said was a slope of unstable soils and rocks. The only thing standing between it and disaster.
And he sideswiped it.
Just enough so for it to shift in place.
Not that he would have realized it. He somehow got back on the road and kept on that terrible last ride. I wonder if he might have had a chance to look in the mirror and see thousands of cubic tonnes of soil and rock barrel down the slope, pouring west over the road and down towards the village of Alton.
Well, they’re still busy over in Alton as I speak. Ninety homes buried in rock and soil and landslide. A hundred and thirty seven people dead or missing. And all because Brian sideswiped one boulder.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
No, Brian was finally coming down from the high ground and into town. He must have been panicked by this point. Spill your coffee, lose control of your car, find yourself on an endless careening downhill towards what had to feel like certain death.
And it was.
Brian’s car finally came to a stop.
By colliding with a tanker truck at the Petro Canada at the corner of Highway Thirteen and Aspen Street.
Incidentally, the corner of Highway Thirteen and Aspen doesn’t exist anymore.
Long story short, twenty eight more people were added to the death toll. Brian was one of them. All because of a spilled cup of coffee. Which is why all the lawyers are here- the big question is, will the Lucky Hangman pay a steep price for their too hot coffee?
I hope not. Weird name or not, it’s still my favourite watering hole.
That’s beside the point. One hundred and sixty six people are dead in what’s already being called Black Thursday. Our friend Brian is one of them. He leaves a wife and children who love him, friends who will miss him, and lawyers seeking to cash in on this whole thing one way or another.
We might find ourselves dwelling on the unfairness of it all.
Instead, I might suggest we look for the silver lining in it.
After all, one good thing came out of this.
That crazy old battleaxe Edith Newton is roasting in Hell right now.”