Will took in her calm, serene expression as he knelt by the coffin. Aware of the crowd behind him in the church, knowing many of their eyes would be drawn, naturally, to the casket here before the chancel, he bowed his head as if in prayer. His eyes, though, remained open, darting about to scout the casket interior. He spotted a place he thought would do, reached into the coffin as if touching old Mrs. Winter in farewell and murmured “Thanks for being such a good sport about this.” The teen leaned back, genuflected and stood, keeping his face expressionless as he moved back to his place with the rest of the mourners.
Behind him, tucked into the folds of satin forming the casket lining, the radio receiver lay hidden from view.
This is going to be excellent!, Will thought, clamping down on his excitement before it showed in his face. There were a few last mourners who wanted to kneel and pay their respects to the widow Winter, and Will worried each time. Just a single person spotting the radio and everything would be undone, but luck was with Will that day. Eventually Father Reeves took his place in the pulpit.
“Good afternoon everyone. It is good to look out and see how many of you have come to help us celebrate the long life of our dear friend, Christine Winter.”
Will glanced down at the cell phone in his hand, thumbed three keys, then hit ‘SEND’. The phrase “Everything’s in place and we’re starting — be ready!”, was selected and sent from a menu of pre-typed text messages Will had saved in the phone. In just a second that message would arrive in Theo’s phone as he sat, waiting, up on The Rock. The Rock was a house-sized boulder sitting on a hilltop about a mile and a half away, but it was the highest point in or around Castleton. The church was on a hill, and was the second-highest spot around. With a nice clear line-of-sight between them, that put the receiver in the casket well within the range of the transmitter Theo had with him up on that rock.
Father Reeves was still speaking, but Will already knew the words; he’d heard the priest rehearsing this speech yesterday, and something the man had said had sparked the idea for what Will and Theo thought might be the best practical joke in history!
“We have gathered together on this special day, the afternoon of Christmas Eve, to say goodbye to a great friend to this church. Christine was a part of this church choir for more than fifty years, longer than I and many people in this room with us have been alive, and was its chief soloist for most of that time. When she fell ill earlier in the year and the doctors told her the prognosis was not good, Christine clung to an idea that kept her going. Her one thought, which she expressed to me on numerous occasions, was to lead the choir in the Christmas caroling as she had every year for three decades. Wild stallions couldn’t have kept her from singing with the choir tonight, but Death is stronger than any stallion. Today, in honor of Christine’s passing, I have asked the choir to perform a short selection of Christmas carols. If she can not sing, at least Christine can hear the music she loved so very much.”
Father Reeves gestured toward the choir lined up behind the rail, and they began to sing Silent Night, one of Christine Winter’s long-established favorites.
Oh, that’s just too good! thought Will as he triggered another message to Theo, this one simply saying “Do it!” Up on The Rock, if everything was going according to plan, Theo was pressing ‘Play’ on his old boom-box style radio. There were quite a few recordings of Mrs. Winter floating around town, it had been easy to get a hold of one of them. Now all Theo had to do was hold that transmitter up to the boom-box, and…
The song came to an end and the choir fell silent, but for one voice. One voice, starting out low but rising in volume, began the carol again. The opening words to Silent Night rang out sweetly, filling the silence that followed the choir’s performance. It was beautifully sung, a solo in a voice that everyone in the church recognized.
And it was coming from the casket.
The murmuring began almost at once, astonished voices repeating “It’s her!”, and “That’s Christine!”, until one voice, Will wasn’t sure who it was, stage-whispered “It’s a miracle!”, and the crowd fell silent.
Oh my God, this is perfect, Will thought, unable to restrain himself from smiling any longer. It didn’t matter; everyone around him was either smiling or simply standing open-mouthed. They all stood, silent and still, listening to the beautiful solo wind down, before the murmuring began again.
“I can’t believe it!”
“That was amazing!”
“It’s a miracle! A Christmas miracle!”
Many of those speaking had tears in their eyes, their faces filled with joyous wonder. Will stood alone in the crowd, shaking with silent laughter at the gullibility of his fellow townsfolk.
There was a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find Theo standing there looking disheveled, a scratch on his cheek. He gaped.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, Dude,” Theo muttered, eying the surrounding crowd. “It was a great idea, man, and I’m really sorry, but I slipped when I was climbing The Rock. I managed to save the boom-box, but my phone didn’t make it.”
He held up pieces of a broken mobile phone.
“The transmitter’s toast too. Sorry to blow your joke, Dude.”
He pointed to the muttering crowd.
“What happened here?”
“But you didn’t…” said Will, wide-eyed. “… you… if you didn’t… then who…?”
Will spun about to stare, open-mouthed, at the casket.