Mike stood alone in front of a waterfall of marigolds. Early in the day, the sun cast a shadow over the mourners, but as the day went on, it would bring out the translucent stunning-orange brilliance of the floral display one petal at a time. In the late afternoon the effect would be blinding. Live marigolds surrounded the seating area like a halo, nearly glowing against the blue-grey San Myshuno backdrop.

A number of sims swayed idly as the last stragglers took their seats. Some looked toward Mike, whose stage expertise allowed him to appear poised despite his grief. At last, he spoke.

“Uh, I think that’s everyone. It’s 10 A.M., let’s get this started. We’re going to be hosting a reception afterward with food and drink, so we hope to see you all inside.”

Sim storytellers who look at this picture are in danger of getting a sympathy migraine

The members in the audience who could bear to watch saw Mike take out Claudia’s urn and place it on the table beside him. Next to the urn, someone had set up a recent photograph, and the presence of that photograph made it seem like Claudia was joyfully overseeing her own eulogy.

atención, atención
roll down your windows
turn up your radios
someone please get this reference

“Alright. So. We are gathered here today to honor Claudia Espinosa Castillo. Now, for all of us here, Claudia’s been a central presence in our lives. If I tried to list the number of times she’s brightened someone’s day, the times she’s been a shoulder to cry on, the times we’ve been enriched by her drive and optimism, I’d be up here until the sun sets.” He gestured to the audience. “And I should give someone else a chance to speak.”

“Claudia has lived a full life, and I’m going to try to do it justice. She was born in 1963 in Simpeche to Marcio Espinosa Gutiérrez and Inés Castillo Reyes. Now I’m not sure what happened to Marcio—she never told me—but Inés was as heroic as a mother could get. For years, she raised Claudia alone, never letting it show how tired she was, reminding her daughter that she was always by her side. Every second of her life, Claudia felt love. And it is from Inés she inherited a spirit that could never be broken, no matter what challenges she faced.”

“Unfortunately, Inés’s untimely death would be the first major challenge of Claudia’s life. Finding that she could no longer stay in Simpeche, the home she loved, Claudia restarted her life in Newcrest. As a young adult, Claudia dabbled in gardening, using her home-grown vegetables in the recipes her mother taught her, but her main passion was in fitness. She excelled in bodybuilding, so much so that her dedication and deep anatomical knowledge earned her the title of Miss Universe. If you knew her back then, you probably knew her from the gym. She practically lived there. So it’s no surprise that the next chapter of her life started when she met some jerk at the Movers & Shakers Gym.”

“I’ll save the details for later, but to run things along, we were married 30 years ago in 1988. Our first son, Charles Jeong-Espinosa, arrived not much later in 1990. We have always been very proud of our boy, and miss him very much, even though we have not given up hope on finding him.”

He gestured to Charlie’s portrait, which occupied a front-row seat next to his other siblings. Mike sat on the other side of the aisle, next to Xiyuan—or he would if he weren’t at the podium—and the Jeong-Espinosas sat on the right side, by no prior organizational rule, with the Lius on the left. Mike was the exception.

“Eight years later, we welcomed a second child into the world: Charlie’s sister, Kendra. And then Hector was born five years after that in 2003. Now you might consider parenting to be Claudia’s next big challenge, but Claudia’s children were the light of her life. All the struggles we went through were worth it to raise these three wonderful children.”

“She is also survived by her grandson Jasper Jeong-Espinosa, and, of course, her husband,”—he pointed to himself before deciding to clarify for formality’s sake—“Michael Jeong.”

“But Claudia’s achievements weren’t limited to her family. Whatever path Claudia chose for herself, she would find amazing success. First, as I said, she was recognized as the best female bodybuilder in the world. I know Claudia, and she wasn’t concerned with competition or the title. What she took from that experience was a group of lifelong friends. I know she treasured each and every one of you more than the contests she’d won. After achieving her initial goal, Claudia used her talent as a great chef and mixologist to achieve international recognition for her cooking, and revived interest in Mexican cuisine through the almost-a-dozen cookbooks she’d published.” He flipped to the next index card single-handedly, using his thumb, and stared at the card for an uncomfortably long time. “I’m not going to list them now.”

I’ve made more CC for this one scene than any other post, so that’s why in some places it looks like someone said fuck it, that’s good enough

“And just like with the title of Miss Universe, Claudia never let the fame get to her head. Those of us lucky enough to know her would be hard-pressed to name any bad qualities she had, and we completely agree on her good qualities. She was a force of nature: loyal, dedicated, inspiring, pleasant, sunny, and above all, full of love.”

“But she was so much more than all of those qualities combined. She was as perfect a wife as anyone could hope for and a true friend. They’ll get a chance to speak later, but I want to acknowledge Claudia’s two best friends outside of her family: Aileen Jensen and Xiyuan Shallot-Liu. I know how happy both of you made Claudia while she was alive, and I hope you’ll continue to carry the influence she had on you.”

“In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who came into contact with Claudia and wasn’t drawn in by her infectious kindness. Claudia was empathetic to everyone she met. In the time I’ve been by her side, I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anyone. No matter how she felt, no matter what happened, her positive spirit won out every time.”

“And she was also genuine. Some people might have turned a blind eye to suffering, but Claudia was always able to maintain her joy in tough times. She was always there when people needed her most. That’s what made Claudia special to me—I hope, to all of us. We think of optimists as the silly idealist type, but Claudia was never ignorant or naïve. It was that she saw pain, and acknowledged it, but nothing was ever enough to dim her brilliance. She was the kind of person you meet and you want to build your whole life around.”

“That’s why so many of us are probably feeling lost after her tragic, accidental death.”

“Liar.”

Mike hadn’t stopped speaking, but Kendra found herself unable to focus after Hector’s outburst. His seething had been distracting her since near the beginning of the monologue. No one seated behind him would notice anything odd, but the clenched fists and teeth were hard to miss if you were next to him or speaking on the podium.

Right now he was staring into space, not bothering to meet his sister’s gaze when she turned to him. “It wasn’t an accident.”

Leaning in closer, with a quick sideways glance to confirm that her father hadn’t noticed the uxoricide accusation and continued to drone on, Kendra asked, “What do you mean?”

“She died of hysteria. He’s a Joke Star. He did it on purpose.”

“What motivation could he have possibly had?”

“I don’t know. But it doesn’t change the fact that he’s responsible.”

“Right.” The sudden change in sharpness snapped both siblings’ attention back to the stage. “I’m going to tell a few more stories and then pass the mic off to someone else.”

With a nod to Aileen, given that Xiyuan seemed to be inconsolable, Mike returned to his seat. Hector hadn’t looked up. He wasn’t going to, after such a performance. The word he spoke to himself during Aileen’s shuffle to the front was too quiet for anyone but Kendra to hear.

Murderer.

The Reaper’s White Elephant (Part I)
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15 thoughts on “The Reaper’s White Elephant (Part I)

  • July 19, 2020 at 11:12 am
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    Whew! Thank heavens for Hector! I was worried that Mike would be able to pull off his gaslighting.

    The portraits added such a chilling effect.

    I didn’t get the reference.

    Reply
      • July 21, 2020 at 10:44 am
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        It’s tragic. That’s his dad. Now what? He’s forced to grow up for sure, while still quite young.

      • July 22, 2020 at 4:16 pm
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        At least he’s aware of Mike’s problems now, so he knows to avoid them.

  • July 19, 2020 at 7:17 pm
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    “And she was also genuine. Some people might have turned a blind eye to suffering, but Claudia was always able to maintain her joy in tough times. She was always there when people needed her most. That’s what made Claudia special to me—I hope, to all of us.”

    Ouch. This is chilling.

    Also:

    me: took a figurative shot every time Dolly compared Claudia to the sun
    me: is figuratively drunk now

    Reply
    • July 20, 2020 at 4:44 pm
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      Claudia has also been taking shots every time I compared her to the sun.

      Not intentionally, but still.

      Reply
  • July 20, 2020 at 6:41 pm
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    Aileen actually bought into this? Why isn’t Mike in jail yet? Idk. I think I’m still hung up that Claudia almost made it. This all could’ve not happened. Hector could’ve pursued justice with Claudia still alive.

    Yeah I’m in denial.

    Reply
    • July 21, 2020 at 12:47 am
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      Yeah, it’s hard to prosecute crimes in this universe. Even if there were police, Mike’s social interactions aren’t the only thing that contributed to Claudia’s Hysterical moodlet and she stayed of her own volition—why wouldn’t they believe that it was an accidental death?

      Hector’s a bit clueless (especially in Al Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara), which is why he didn’t pick up on this. Not anymore! Boom.

      And yeah, we haven’t heard from one of the witnesses. Aileen’s take is… interesting.

      Reply
  • July 29, 2020 at 11:01 pm
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    My stream of consciousness thoughts while reading this chapter:

    WOW. That funeral scene. I was feeling your pain. Getting that many sims into chairs? And have them do something besides awkwardly sway with half-smiles on their faces? The number of teleporters that must’ve been used…sigh.

    ARE YOU QUOTING MY BABY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA? DID YOU MAKE AN IN THE HEIGHTS REFERENCE? THIS IS CHEF’S KISS! Alright, I’ll calm down with the caps. I’m sorry.

    God, this should have been number one, but Fuck Mike. He can’t give someone else a chance to speak. That would involve thinking of someone else. Also, good on him for talking about how strong his dead wife’s spirit was as he actively took a pick-ax to it every second of every day. Asshole.

    It was gutting to read about all the things her mother taught her. I just kept thinking about how mothers teach their daughters to continue the cycles of abuse.

    Bernard comforting his husband, the only good and true thing in this world. My lord, those POSES. YES.

    MIKE IS USING INDEX CARDS. SON OF A–

    MIKE IS A MURDERER. I mean…I only considered it indirectly but what a goddamn fool I am. Oh wow.

    Wow.

    Goddamn, I love a twist that is so deliciously laid out that I don’t even see it coming.

    Reply
    • July 30, 2020 at 12:19 pm
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      YES YES YES YES—I mean, I have a disease where if someone says a word that appears in ‘In the Heights’ or ‘Hamilton,’ or anything by Sondheim… or many other musicals… I have to sing the song to completion. My friends can’t say “breathe” or “champagne” anymore. (Also, if someone says “it’s been a long time,” *clearly* they want someone to follow up with “long time, shouldn’t’ve left you, left you without a dope beat to step to…” It’s compulsive. RIP Aaliyah.) So THANK YOU.

      Man, this chapter was way more tense for everyone than I intended. It’s the dramatic irony of everyone screaming “OH COME ON, MIKE” at the screen while the mourners are like “oh yes, this is sad and that is her husband.” But no one here is having it—no one thinks this humanizes Mike, no one’s wondering if maybe he’s changed after all. Perfect. Break that cycle!

      Speaking of the mourners, yep, there are 23 dumbasses to herd here. I didn’t know that going into Buy Mode breaks all the poses. I learned that the hard way. Some people (Gen and Shu… grrr) don’t get the camera on them because I posed them with the wrong emotion or made the pose from scratch, tested it twice, and CBA to test it a third time. (Thanks for reminding me; I should credit SimmerBerlin and track down the creator of the other pack I used.) You know how it is.

      “Bernard comforting his husband, the only good and true thing in this world.” << Had to sneak that one OTP screenshot in, yesss.

      Ohhh, we're not done with the twists yet.

      Reply
      • July 30, 2020 at 4:43 pm
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        OH GOD THE BUY MODE RESET. It’s the worst. I have been burned by that before and it sucks. Kudos to you though. I know when you set it up, you can see every mistake, but the visual effect of the funeral was stunning.

        Um, my story would not exist would SimmerBerlin. I know she is retired but her poses are still the basis of so many of my scenes lol.

        I’m glad you snuck that Bernard shot in. It was my bright spot.

        Also, yessss sondheim. I am singing sweeney todd in my head rn

    • July 30, 2020 at 10:20 pm
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      Ok, I just noticed something about this comment and now I can’t stop laughing.

      “HE WAS USING INDEX CARDS?!?! *And* he killed her?!”

      Reply
  • October 19, 2020 at 5:03 pm
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    Gosh that scene is beautiful. And wow, that’s a lot of people to pose, and all of their poses are meaningful. Kudos.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to a funeral where the spouse of the deceased person was able to give a composed speech, let alone yap for this long. Very telling that Mike is able to do that. I’m kind of surprised he actually *knows* all this stuff about her background, but I suppose 30 years is still 30 years, even for someone like Mike.

    Now, that being said, I do not think Mike planned it like Hector claims. Don’t get me wrong; yes, Mike is to blame here, he did cause Claudia’s death, but I’m not convinced he did it on purpose. He did seem genuinely shocked to me at what was happening at the scene of Claudia’s death. Though I guess I could overanalyse and point out he was covering his mouth, so we did not fully see his expression there, so there is that.

    To be more pragmatic, as Kendra says, what motive would he have to plot to kill her? Mike fed off of their dynamic. It’s not in his “interest” to lose that (probably not the best way to word it, but hopefully you get what I mean).

    The only potential reason could be that he sensed that “this time” she would really go through with it and actually leave him, and he would not let her do that, but I don’t know. It’s possible, sure, but I feel like there’s not enough evidence to support that yet, especially with how fragmented and out of order everything was in the last chapter. It seems like they’ve done that whole dance with her attempting to leave many a time, so why would he know this time was *different*, and indeed, was it truly different? She seemed in pretty deep to me, so who knows if she really would have found the strength to go through with it…

    Not to mention, I feel like acknowledging that Claudia really would leave him seems like something that’s out of the realm of possibility for Mike’s ego, lol.

    But I’m open to being proved wrong, like I said I don’t think there’s conclusive proof one way or another right now. I could definitely be completely off, perhaps Mike had indeed been planning this for ages. Hector seems pretty set on this, so if there is evidence, he might just find it. I guess we get to figure it out along with Kendra.

    Oh, I almost forgot to say, that picture of Charlie was heartbreaking.

    And another thing I almost forgot to say – I know this is a funeral so not the most appropritae, but damn, Kendra looks amazing here.

    Reply
    • October 21, 2020 at 3:57 pm
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      Good point on Mike’s speech—you could also interpret it as the author not really having been to many funerals, lol, but that doesn’t make his delivery any less sketchy.

      And you’re right to be skeptical of Hector’s claim. Your analysis here is spot-on, for what me telling you this is worth. I’m cheering in my seat that someone went back and looked for clues to Mike’s motivation and intentions, and then concluded that they were ambiguous. Especially this early in the chapter!

      I’m standing by to see how your interpretation evolves as we get further into the chapter. Love ambiguity? We’ve got a whole bucket of wrenches ready to throw into the works. Wrench Central. Wrenches flying everywhere. A couple of people decided their job was tossing ’em left and right.

      And thank you! I feel like I lag behind most other authors when it comes to screenshots (which I’ve made peace with, haha), so it’s nice to hear I’m doing okay now from people whose staging/posing I admire.

      Reply
      • October 22, 2020 at 1:22 am
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        I do love ambiguity, so this should be great!

        Aww, I think we all feel that way when it comes to our own screenshots! I was really impressed you took on such a huge number of sims to pose, groups are a pain! To be honest my staging is pretty haphazard, I (mostly) screenshot first and write second to give myself leeway, and I take way too many screenshots so plenty are useless 😆

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