User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Brother Chuck Keaton’s thick, meaty palms gripped tightly the splintery pulpit. He stared out among the somber faces of his congregation. The wooden cross sculpted onto the front of his pulpit was, in his mind, the ultimate symbol of sacrifice. He loved his flock, but they didn’t understand that sacrifice – they couldn’t! It was the most frustrating aspect of being a man of God; most people just won’t live truly Godly lives. It was like they didn’t really believe it – not deep down. You can preach and preach at them, but laziness, unfortunately, is often incurable. People can’t accept that which is hidden from their sensory experience. 

“I’ll see y’all this evening.” said Brother Keaton, spit spraying from his lips, “Until then, spread the blessed news of Christ wherever you may today go.”

Chuck Keaton, originally from the Florida panhandle, spoke with a lip-smacking, unmannered deep-south accent, which was a bit different than that of the usual Abrian citizen, who hailed from the central Kentucky bluegrass. Finishing his morning sermon, Chuck sat in his regal dark, green-cushioned preacher’s chair, placing his large mitts upon each of the armrests. He was wearing jeans, thick leather work boots, a brown leather belt with a golden nameplate, and a short-sleeved button-up shirt. An opened black ballpoint pen hung from his shirt-pocket, staining black his white shirt. He didn’t need a fancy preacher’s robe – Jesus didn’t care about fancy clothes. Wearing that strange garb made him feel like a pharisee, and he was no pharisee. He was a student of Christ.

Chuck adjusted his thick-rimmed glasses. Sweat beaded on his mostly bald head, collecting in his prickly, peppered moustache. His pits were damp and odorous. Preaching was hard work. 

The congregation rose to sing the closing hymn. Chuck looked to his wife, Catherine, who upon eye-contact revealed a quivering, involuntarily grin. She loved him, he knew that. He looked to his son, Nathan, who appeared antsy. Nathan was ready to leave – wanted out of the church; he was claustrophobic, or agoraphobic, or something – that boy couldn’t be kept still for more than a few minutes. That was Chuck’s cross to bear, he knew. Nathan was difficult, but he was a good kid. Heck, he wasn’t much of a kid, anymore – not really. He was nearly eighteen years old; he would be heading off to college soon. Chuck prayed every day that Nate wouldn’t be corrupted like so many others his age. 

Nathan had brought one of his friends to church this Sunday – Edward Marsh, a kid from down the road. Eddie came from a churchgoing family, but Chuck couldn’t trust them fully. They were too worldly – always doing things for pleasure. Plus, they were Presbyterian – a less trustworthy branch of Protestantism than Chuck’s beloved Southern Baptist Church. Eddie’s dad was also quite the beer guzzler – Chuck couldn’t abide that. Eddie glanced around the sanctuary in anxious discomfort; he and Nate were both ready to get out of there. 

Chuck sang along to the closing hymn – Nothing but the Blood of Jesus, one of his most treasured songs. It was so true, so joyful; such a reminder when his mind – as is every sinner’s habit – strayed southward toward Hell.  

Chuck paced the pews after the service, his heavy step rocking the old, creaking wooden floor. It was his duty to shake hands with the members of his cherished flock. When shaking, he liked to grab the recipient’s singular hand with both of his paws, aggressively wobbling them. They knew that he really meant it, that way. He shook hands with Mr. Livers, a slouching, cane-wielding elderly man who for some reason enjoyed teaching Sunday School. He shook hands with Miss Thompson, the wonderful, plump lady who played the piano with so much passion, so much pride for Jesus. Chuck loved his flock. He had even invited several of them out to his farmhouse for Sunday lunch. They were having fried chicken, fried catfish, fried okra, and beans – all cooked to perfection by Catherine. Mr. Livers was coming, as was Miss Thompson. Nathan was bringing his new friend Eddie – it would be a sustaining feast, and for that Chuck was grateful. God provided blessings for everyone, whether they knew it or not.

*  *  *

Willisburg road rippled back and forth as Chuck’s black Ford F150 sped up and down the endless hills. Catherine sat shotgun next to him. Nate and Eddie sat in the back. An evergreen tree shaped air-freshener hung bouncing from around the rearview mirror. It wasn’t helping the smell much, though – the stench was thick; like a new-car mixed with non maskable body odor. Eddie was beginning to feel dizzy. His palms were sweaty. He was nauseous. He looked out the window – endless cow fields; tramped up dirt and weak, struggling grass. The autumn sun shone brightly through the window. Eddie was feeling carsick; he needed some air, so he rolled down the window.

Crisp autumn bluegrass wind blew into his face, brushing back his lengthy brown hair.

“Roll that back up,” said Chuck from the front seat, “We’ve got the AC on; don’t want to be wasteful.”

Eddie reluctantly rolled up the window. His headache – which had momentarily subsided – returned.  

The truck turned left from Willisburg Road onto White Hall Road, a narrow, one-lane road cutting through the cattle-trampled fields of rural Willisburg, Kentucky – an agriculturally destroyed wasteland amid the otherwise beautiful bluegrass. They passed Camp Calvary – a backwoods bible camp kids from the numerous local Baptist churches attended, where they would play kickball, canoe, roast marshmallows, and sing about Jesus. Not long after that, Chuck pulled the truck onto the steep-slanting gravel driveway of the farmhouse. 

“Let’s eat.” said Chuck, “Delivering the word of God sure works up an appetite in a man!”

“I’ll bet.” said Catherine, getting out of the truck. While stepping down the couple feet from the truck to the slanting driveway, her knee caught at a bit of a sideways, unnatural angle. She grimaced silently but continued forward, limping. Walking inside through the rattling storm door, she began battering the chicken, catfish, and okra and dumping them collectively into a large, almost wok-like skillet, where they sat frying in bubbling unison. She then put the beans on the stove, the cornbread in the oven, and the tea on the kettle. Everything was ready before anyone knew it. 

Eddie was starving. Stressful social situations exhausted him and being exhausted made him hungry. He wolfed down the trio of fried foods, especially enjoying the catfish, which had been caught at the pond just at the bottom of the hill. It tasted mossy, like a pond; Eddie liked that.

“Pretty good, isn’t it there Ed?” said Chuck.

“Yes, sir!” responded Eddie, “Thank you, Mrs. Catherine.”

“You're most welcome, Edward,” she responded.

Standard pleasantries exchanged; Eddie dug back into his food.

Glugging down the last of his iced-tea, Eddie saw in his periphery Nate gesturing for him to come outside to the back porch. 

The porch was an old, moss-stained wood, which backed into a yard shaded by three gigantic yellow-poplar trees, the ancient trio piercing the sky and raining dry leaves upon the yard. That elderly foliage shaded the place completely, creating a bit of a chill. Eddie regretted not bringing his trusted green windbreaker jacket. 

There was a small, cracked-painted, leaning shed at the back of the backyard, nestled against the edge of the barbed wire fence of the adjacent cow-field. 

“Follow me!” said Nate. He led Eddie back to the shed, opening the creaking door and stepping inside the dank, chalky interior. Sunlight sprayed into the room through cracks in the old wooden walls, illuminating floating, dusty particulate matter. 

“Look what I’ve got!” said Nate, yanking a plastic Ziplock baggie from his jeans pocket. 

Eddie wasn’t sure what it was.

“Smell it,” said Nate.

Eddie opened the bag and sniffed. “Smells like sunflower seeds,” he said.

“It does, doesn’t it? It’s shrooms, man! I got us some shrooms!”

“Fucking shrooms?” said Eddie.

“Yeah, dude! Let’s eat them. And don’t say the F-word, my parents will hear you.” 

Nate, snatching the bag back from Eddie, reached his hand inside and removed a couple stems and a large cap. He then reached in his other jeans pocket and pulled out another zip-lock, this one containing a couple slices of white bread. From his back pocket he took out a bottle of Kroger brand orange-juice. 

“What the hell are we supposed to do with that?” said Eddie.

“The bread dulls the taste – apparently these things are like eating garbage. The juice is sort-of for hydration, but mostly for effect. I read that ingesting a lot of vitamin-C amplifies the effects of the shrooms. I guess we’ll find out!”

“Hold on,” said Eddie, but before he could finish his protest, Nate had already scarfed down his handful of shrooms. He chased them with the bread, followed by a healthy glug of the juice. 

“Your turn,” said Nate. 

“I’m not sure if I’m ready for this shit,” said Eddie, “Smoking weed and getting wasted on bourbon is one thing, but this is a different level.”

“You have to!” said Nate, “You can’t just let me trip balls by myself.”

Eddie stood momentarily silent. Nate may be a dumbass, but he was right. It wouldn’t be cool to let him go down this unpredictable rabbit hole alone. Nate had backed Eddie into a corner by scarfing down the mushrooms. Eddie reluctantly finished his half of the bag.

“All right,” said Eddie, “But we’ve got to get the hell out of here, like now.”

“Oh yeah, definitely!” said Nate, “You think I’m going to stay here at my parents Sunday lunch just tripping balls? I’m a preacher’s kid! They’ll disown me. They wouldn’t understand. We’ve got time, anyway – apparently these things take thirty minutes to an hour to set-in. I figured we’d go down the hill to the pond, maybe walk around in the woods – mess with the cows in the field.”
“What about church? Don’t you have another service this evening?”

“Oh, dang,” said Nate, as if having forgotten, “Yeah – that’s true. Well, never mind – the shrooms will probably wear off by then. I’ll be fine at church, as long as you go with me. Might be cool looking at the stained-glass windows and listening to the hymns!”

“Dude,” I said, “I don’t think I’m going to be down for going to fucking church on shrooms. Jesus already creeps me out enough.”

“Don’t think about that!” said Nate, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we need to get away from the house. By my count, we have about twenty more minutes before these things start kicking our butts. We need to get out of here before my mom comes out and stalls us. That would be a major problem.”

Nate was right about that – Eddie couldn’t disagree. 

The two of them began making their way out of the yard. Eddie looked up to those three giant trees. They sat swaying in the wind, now looking somehow more alive – as if glowing and pulsating. Leaves continued to fall from their home in the canopy. A few of them struck Eddie in the face peacefully. He scratched his nose. It felt wonderful. Eddie grabbed a yellow leaf, crumbling it in his hand. It was beautiful, but he felt sadness for the leaf – a living being crumbled into dust. To dust, it had indeed returned.

“We need to move faster,” said Eddie, “I think these things are already kicking in.” 

*  *  *

Chuck flipped ajar his green-cushioned recliner, unbuckling his belt and staring up to the ceiling.

“Praise the Lord!” he said, subsequently lifting his arm and belching into his shirt. “That was some kind of tasty meal, Catherine. I thank God everyday for giving me a woman who can cook so well. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, as always,” said Catherine. “I learned from my grandmama, back home in Florida – back in Paxton.”

“God ole Paxton,” said Chuck, shifting around in his recliner, “I miss the place sometimes. But no place is quite like the bluegrass, is it? These rolling hills, these endless woods. Livestock. Wildlife. Turkeys, deer, and catfish are innumerable. Can’t beat it.”

“I’d have to agree with you,” said Catherine.

Chuck continued shuffling in his recliner, trying to get comfortable. It was a fairly large chair, but Chuck was an enormous man in both height and weight. As he rolled around, the recliner buckled as if to break. But it didn’t break – it never broke – Chuck had been sitting in that recliner for over a decade. He did, however, brush up against the adjacent side-table, causing it to wobble, knocking his glass of sweet tea to the shag-carpeted floor. He didn’t even notice, his heavy eyes fluttering involuntarily as if to snooze.

“I’ll get it!” said Catherine, picking up the now empty glass and going to the kitchen to get cleaning supplies. 

“Are Mr. Livers and Miss Thompson still here?” said Chuck, forcing himself from falling asleep, turning back to the kitchen toward Catherine, flailing awkwardly in his recliner like a beached tuna. 

“No. They left several minutes ago. Aren’t you glad they didn’t see you unbuckling your belt?”

“Didn’t even think about that!” said Chuck. “Reckon it’s good they didn’t. Not like they would care much, anyhow. They’re good folks. Say, where are the boys? They out playing in the field?”

“Yes,” said Catherine, “I just saw them cross the road. They’re over in the cow field now.”

“Wonder why they like playing out there?” said Chuck, “When I look out there, all I see is work. Cows to be fed, ponds to be stocked, fields to be tended. Just work.”

“They’re still boys,” said Catherine. “To them, nothing is work. Not yet.”

Chuck lifted himself from his recliner. It creaked and groaned in relief. Not thinking to re-buckle his belt, his pants slid past his waist, down below his bulging hips. Noticing it, he chuckled to himself. “Hey! Catherine! Look at me. I look like one of those kids from school; like one of those sinful rap-stars from TV.”

She smiled from the kitchen, feigning amusement. 

Before walking out onto the front porch, Chuck grabbed his pair of binoculars from the nail hanging by the storm door. He stepped out onto the porch and put the binoculars to his face. From within their lenses – which wobbled back and forth as he gazed ahead; he was fighting off a food-coma, he was the closest to drunk he would ever feel – he saw prancing (literally prancing!) around in the cow field the two boys, Nate and Eddie. He continued gazing ahead, his thoughts at first amused, then confused, and then a bit angered. 

He continued spying. Through the dirty lens, he saw Nate fall to the earth and begin rolling around in the thin grass. Edward looked on, laughing, then gazing up and staring into the sunny sky, completely enamored. 

“What are boys doing?” said Chuck to himself, “Are they boys being sinful?”

Chuck stepped back inside, pulling up his pants and putting a Kentucky State Fair trucker-hat on his bald head:

“I’m going to check on them boys,” he said to Catherine, “They’re making me uneasy.”

“Why’s that?” She said, “We can see them from the porch! They’re fine.”

“I’m not talking about that,” said Chuck, “I mean uneasy in other ways. Chuck walked down the unstable front porch steps, got into his truck, and pulled from his driveway out into the cow field. 

Seeing the truck, the cattle, previously loafing about near Nate and Eddie, ran excitedly toward the truck, thinking they were about to be fed.

“It ain’t feeding time,” Chuck spat, rolling down the window. 

Cows are so dumb, he thought to himself. They serve one clear purpose in God’s kingdom – food for people. They served that purpose well, though – Chuck couldn’t deny that.

*  *  *

Eddie was staring up to the sun-split sky, gazing at the clouds sailing peacefully by. They morphed and changed shape repeatedly. They always did that, but today it was different – it was as if they were putting on a show just for him. 

Nate lay adjacent to Ed, rolling around in the grass.

“This grass,” said Nate, “What is up with this grass! Why is it so amazing?”

One of the cows gave a loud moo, and then all of them trotted off back toward the road.

“What’s up with them?” said Ed, a big grin spread across his face.

“Who knows,” said Nate, “They’re just living their best cow life, man!”

“May as well enjoy it,” said Ed, “Before they have to go to slaughter.

That thought created an abrupt shift in Ed’s previously contented psyche. What a life – grazing peacefully in an open field for years, only to be suddenly dragged off and killed. What did the other cows think when that happened to one of their herd? It had to be so jarring – so confusing: 

‘Well, Bertha was here yesterday, but she was taken away by Chuck. I wonder if she’ll ever come back?’

Ed shuddered. A tingling anxiety crawled spider-like up his spine. A weight settled upon him, forcing him down to the dirt. He sat heavily, barely capable of keeping his eyes open. He had to keep them open, though – it was worse when he shut them. Morbid shapes shifted in the blackness of his closed lids – an abhorrent, flashing galaxy. 

“Oh, man,” said Nate, “Oh no, dude!”

“What?” said Eddie, “I don’t feel so well, man.”

“My dad’s coming!” Nate was pointing to the edge of the cow field, “There’s his truck! Oh shoot, man! We’re screwed!”

Ed looked in that direction, seeing the truck traveling down the gravel road – hearing it crunch and rumble in the rocks. He turned away – he couldn’t look.

“I’ve got to get the fuck out of here, man,” said Eddie. He got up and ran away, down the hill toward the stagnant, mossy pond. 

*  *  *

“What are you boys doing?” said Chuck, “Where did Edward go?”

Nate looked up from his place in the grass. He was horrified – trembling with cramping, sweaty paranoia – but he didn’t know what he should do. “I… uhhh…” he stammered, spewing saliva fusing with the seat beading on his lips and chin.

“Get in the truck,” said Chuck.

Nate obeyed. The truck ambled along the dirt road, down the hill toward the pond. Upon pulling up to the bank, Chuck saw Eddie dart within the cover of a hanging Willow Tree on the other side.

“Go get your strange friend,” said Chuck.

*  *  *

Nate opened the door and began walking around the bend of the pond. Nate was focusing as hard as he could, but he was still struggling to walk straight. A fish jumped in the middle of the pond, which made Nate jump as well, in fright. Surrounding him like a clicking, gurgling symphony, a horde of hidden cicadas performed their screeching, avant-garde summer song. Nate’s eyes twitched continuously. He was freaking out.

 “Ed!” he said, pushing through the natural door of the tree, “Hey, Eddie! We’ve got to go!”

*  *  *

Eddie sat quivering from within the shady tent of his tree. He felt momentarily safe – he could block everything else out. A collection of small frogs and turtles lay sunbathing in the muddy bank near where he sat, just outside the hanging canopy of the old Willow. Nate’s yells, drawing closer, caused the group of them to scramble suddenly into the water. One of the turtles, after swimming away several yards, lurched out from the water atop a mossy log. He scrambled frantically as the log spun before finally settling and resuming his sunbathe. Eddie stared at him. the turtle stretched his lengthy neck high proudly into the sun. Eddie loved being out in nature.

“Hey! Ed!”

Eddie knew he had nowhere to go. He dug his head in his hands as if to further retreat, but he knew it was no use. He was tripping his balls off, but he wasn’t totally removed from his sense of logic. He wasn’t completely detached from reality. He looked up from the mud of the pond bank, staring through cracks in the thick foliage into the sun toward, where Nate’s shadow was pacing in his direction. He saw a glimpse of the cattle at the top of the hill, looking down on them curiously. He saw a few large trees littering the field – more huge Yellow Poplars. They began spinning in the earth – they were fucking spinning! Their broad trunks rotated counterclockwise – shifting the shadows even from within the shelter of the Willow. They sprayed leaves across the cow field like a fertilizing machine – like a celebratory, autumnal pinata. 

“We’ve got to go, man.” Nate said. “It’ll be okay – I’m super messed up, too. We’ll handle it together.”

Eddie looked up to Nate, who had reached out a hand to help him from the ground. Eddie took it and they began walking anxiously back to the idling truck. 

*  *  *

Chuck had the eye of a circling red-tailed hawk; he didn’t need his binoculars to see into that tree – to see Nate lift Edward from the ground.

“Them two boys is holding hands!” He shrieked from inside his truck. His eyes widened; he slapped the dash angrily. He turned down the annoying music – 107.9 WLXM Christian Rock Radio – which was currently playing How He Loves Me by David Crowder Band. Chuck had a real distaste for that music – the message was good, he knew, but the music itself was awful. He still listened to it, though – all the time; he thought maybe if Nate understood that cool rockstars sang about Jesus, too, it would convince him that Jesus was cool. It was working, he was pretty sure. He couldn’t stand it at this moment, though – them boys was holding hands! Nate helped that Edward kid off the ground – that ain’t right! Chuck knew exactly what he was going to do – he was going to take them two boys to church this evening, and after that, he was going to have two talks: one with Nate, and another with Edward’s parents. 

Chuck fumed silently as they pulled out of the cow field. They first picked up Catherine, who limped down the front-porch stairs, this time with her cane – she didn’t deal well with being on her feet all day and cooking lunch and subsequently cleaning up after everyone had overexerted her struggling knees. She raised herself into the passenger side of the truck with painted labor. Chuck should have helped her, he knew, but he didn’t even think about it until she was already settled in her seat. Chuck’s mind was elsewhere. He couldn’t stop thinking about his sinful son. What were them boys doing? And why were they acting so weird? Chuck had to snap them out of whatever this sinful behavior was.

He turned the volume in his truck back up, switching from the Christian station to one of the classic rock stations on his Sirius Satellite Radio. Clicking through the classic rock options, he settled on Money for Nothing, by Dire Straits. 

“Yes!” he thought to himself, “This will snap them boys out of their sinful behavior.”

Chuck didn’t listen to rock and roll too often; not anymore – he knew most of it was about as Godless as you could get – but sometimes he thought it was necessary. It helped make a man feel like a man. It reminded Chuck of his younger, past life – his unfortunate, more heathenistic days – which provoked within him a feeling of intense self-loathing, but today it was necessary. He cranked up the volume.

*  *  *

I waaaannnnt myyyyyy M-TVVVVVVVV, Eddie heard from within the dark, echoing cavern of his detached, anxious psyche. He felt the ambience of the keyboards and synths, and – after a time that felt like a millennium – he heard the guitar-riff come in. It sounded so beautiful he almost cried. He bobbed his head along to the music. He looked at Nate, who was wide-eyed and ecstatic. They embraced the music. Eddie thought that maybe everything would turn out okay.

*  *  *

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup. Yeah, buddy, that's his own hair.

That little faggot got his own jet airplane. That little faggot, he's a millionaire.

We got to install microwave ovens, custom kitchen deliveries…

Chuck was waiting for the guitar-riff; he was waiting for the soul-crushing lyrics. It couldn’t be denied! Those two sinful boys would listen to this song and be unable to deny their manhood! After that, he would deliver to them the most truthful, beautiful, promising sermon about the love of Jesus Christ and his team of men – his disciples. 

That would fix them. 

Chuck thumped the steering-wheel in rhythm with the music, once accidentally honking the horn. A horse in a neighboring field looked up, confused, and then went back to chewing hay.  Chuck was manic – he was happy. He couldn’t wait to deliver holy wisdom to his flock. 

*  *  *

Eddie was riding high. He couldn’t get past that beat, that riff, those synths! He remembered this song from back when he was a kid – back when his dad used to listen to it while driving him to school; it would warm up those chilly autumn mornings. He had no idea what the lyrics were – he was mostly incapable of understanding language, especially music, in his current state of mind – but that didn’t matter to him. This was such a jam! Unfortunately, his spaced-out jam session ended prematurely when Chuck pulled the truck into the asphalt parking lot of the church. 

*  *  *

Eddie looked up to Chuck as he stumbled through the front-door of the church. Making momentary eye contact, he winced in horror and looked away. Chuck’s eyes were wide and manic – his white, bushy moustache was curling unnaturally as if aflame, his gritted teeth were grinding and cracking audibly. It grated on Eddie’s ears, that sound of the grinding – or at least he thought it did. He turned away, clutching the nearby greeter’s table to stabilize his oncoming wooziness, the imprint of a palm visible from sweat upon removing his hand. 

“Take a program, young man!” shrieked a cracked voice ecstatically. Eddie took the paper program but didn’t look at the man. Eddie was paranoid and horrified. Who were these fucking people? What was this goddamn place? He opened the program, hoping to use it as a shield from the terror of reality. The letters inside swirled and wiggled as if alive. He should have expected that, but it nonetheless disturbed him. He slapped the folded paper closed and slung it spinning counterclockwise into a nearby trash can.

“No use for it, huh?” said the voice, “That’s okay – no worries!”

“We have to get to our seats, dude,” came a murmur from behind. It was Nate. Grabbing Eddie's arm, Nate led him into the sanctuary, sitting the both of them down in a creaking pew toward the back.

“We don’t have to sit with my mom,” said Nate, “She’s used to it – I always sit in random places.”

*  *  *

AGAIN!” bellowed Chuck from within the confines of his crazed psyche. He glared angrily at Nate taking Edward by the arm, “Them boys is doing it again!” thought Chuck, “And in the house of God! I can’t stand this.”

“Something eating at you today, Brother Keaton?”

It was Mr. Livers. Livers was such a valued member of the flock – he taught Sunday school in the morning and handed out programs in the evening! For no pay! He was a true disciple of the Lord.

“Nothing,” responded Chuck, “My boy has just been tugging at my nerves today.”

“Aw, that’s just kids! Tell you what, I’ll go sit with Nathan and his friend, see what's on his mind.”

“You know what?” said Chuck, “I would really appreciate that.”

“Consider it done!” concluded Mr. Livers, pacing hurriedly into the sanctuary, a nefarious grin spread across his wrinkled, sun beaten face.

*  *  *

“Dude,” said Nate, looking over to Eddie, “I’m tripping nuts, man.”

“Me too,” said Eddie.

Nate gave a disturbed grimace, “What’s wrong with you, dude?” 

Eddie’s face was ghost white. He looked dead. 

“You look dead, dude!” said Nate.

“I’m fine,” said Eddie, “I’m just tripping hard. I would run out of here if I knew which way to go. This place is a trap – this place is a maze. There’s a metaphorical minotaur in here, and I’m the meal; I’m the fucking goat, man. I don’t know how to get out of here.”

“Dude!” said Nate, “Don’t cuss in church! But don’t worry – it’s no maze! I’m tripping too. We’ll help each other through it. Check this out!” Nate grabbed a bible and flipped it open:

“Believe it or not, this isn’t my first time being messed up at church. Usually I’m just high though – this is the first time I’ve ever been tripping my balls off. But this always helps me!” He was pointing at the front cover of the Good Book. “There’s some stories in here, dude! Some messed up stuff. Take this, for instance.” Nate flipped to the back of the book – the thin, waxy pages fluttering like winged insects before falling back together – to Revelation:

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 

This is the second death.

“Burning sulfur!” yelled Nate, not realizing how loud he was being. Shuffling, loyal members of the Southern Baptist flock looked back in startlement. Nate’s face reddened:

“Burning, sulfur, dude,” he whispered, “That’s so messed up!”

Eddie couldn’t help but chuckle. What bizarre, ridiculous poetry! It read like a socially backwards heavy-metal song. His brief moment of comedic relief was interrupted abruptly when Mr. Livers sat down beside him:

“Hey there, boys!” he said, his wide eyes boring like an ocular drill into Eddie’s brain and scrambling it. His breath smelled like coffee, smoke, and decay – it smelled like shit. Eddie, teeth gritted, chuckled in an idiotic, deadpan fashion. 

“He…hello, Mr. Livers,” Nate said finally, “What brings you over here?”

“I’m here to sit with you boys!” said Mr. Livers.

“I have to get the fuck out of here,” thought Eddie miserably to himself. 

“You need to get out of here?” said Mr. Livers, “And hey! No cursing in church – this is the house of the Lord!”
“Holy shit!” shrieked Eddie. His thoughts and words were merging – he could no longer distinguish between them. He was totally fucked!”

“You need to calm your friend down,” said Mr. Livers to Nate, “He can’t be carrying on with all these vulgarities in church; your dad wouldn’t appreciate it, and neither would Jesus.”

“Right,” said Nate, but before Nate could comfort Eddie, Chuck’s voice rang boomed throughout the sanctuary. 

*  *  *

“My flock!” he said, “My wonderful flock. You know, today has been a bit of a tough day for me. It’s not always easy being a father – sometimes it can be tough! But whenever I have difficulties in my fatherly duties – whenever I’m being pouty or complaining to myself – I think about the much more difficult job our Lord God has, being the father to all of us sinners. His job is infinitely more difficult, and he does a perfect job of it! I need to consider his example in my own life, with my own family – I think all of you should do the same. Think of your duties as a parent, and how you mimic the Lord in your behavior and guardianship. Be the shepherd to your children – I’ll do my best to do the same. I’ll also do my best to be a shepherd to you all – my flock. My beautiful flock.”

Chuck, though allegedly coming to terms with the events of the day, was still twitching and manic. His eyes darted around the room like a rabid psycho. Sweat stains drenched his armpits – the thick, musky scent of which permeated the sanctuary. He needed to take a quick break. He sat down in his regal preacher’s chair as Miss Thompson began playing the first hymn on the piano. It was His Eye is on the Sparrow:

His eye is on the sparrow; and I know he watches me…

*  *  *

Gahhhhhhhhh!” shrieked Eddie from his pew. His heart was pounding out of his chest, he was cramping all over, he felt dizzy – he was having a panic attack. His quivering eyes darted around the sanctuary. Thought and word had merged – what the ever-living fuck did that imply? He screamed again – whether internally or externally he wasn’t sure. He understood no language – everything Chuck was saying may as well have been gibberish. It sounded like one of the adults from a Peanuts cartoon. Lifting himself from the green cushioned pew, Eddie scrambled – stumbling like the town drunk – out of the building. 

He wasn’t at that moment coordinated enough to successfully descend the concrete steps to the parking lot – he fell tumbling down them, scraping up his knees and elbows – bruising his left eye. He lay pathetically in the asphalt of the parking lot for only a moment before rising and darting down the street. 

“Hey!” came a voice from behind. It was Nate, who had followed him outside. “What are you doing, dude?” he yelled. 

“I’ve got to go man. I’m tripping ball sacks – I’m sorry, but I really have to go.”

Eddie continued down the road, stumbling and wobbling, struggling to stay on the sidewalk. His house was only a couple of miles away – he could make it. He knew the streets of Abry like the back of his hand; he could navigate them even in this tripped out, hallucinatory world. 

“Get back here, boy!” came another voice from behind. 

Upon hearing Chuck’s voice, Eddie tripped and fell hard to the concrete sidewalk. He thought he had already been walking for a long while, but he had barely even made it out of the parking lot. Spacetime was all fucked up for him. Chuck strutted over to where Eddie lay, flipping him over with one of his steel-toed, shitkicker boots. 

“You have brought sin unto my house, into my church! It’s my job to be a warrior for the Lord – I must snuff out sin wherever I see it, and I see it clearly in you!”

“Dad, chill out,” said Nate, “Eddie isn’t feeling very well.”

Chuck turned, having no time for Nate. “Shut your mouth, son,” he said. “I’ll deal with you later.” He looked back at Eddie: “The police are on their way. I don’t know what they’ll do with you, and I don’t care – but I hope you get what you deserve after what you’ve done to my family.”

Eddie had no idea what Chuck was saying. He also had no idea of whether he was still thinking aloud or not. From his place on the ground, he saw behind Chuck the towering white steeple of the church soaring into the sky as if to split the sun. Bright rays invaded his eyes; Eddie liked that, it felt warm and relaxing – calming. He looked into the yard of a neighboring house and saw a tree; it was a huge yellow poplar. It was spinning in the yard – this one was fucking spinning too!”

“This boy is still talking crazy,” said Chuck.

Flashing blue lights painted the tree. Eddie heard a siren from behind. He closed his eyes but then reopened them. He couldn’t keep them closed – as horrifying as the reality of the current situation was, that shifting blackness was scarier. 

For some reason, Eddie began laughing. He couldn’t stop, not even as the police ushered him into the car and pulled away.



Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of 

Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. His short stories have been published in numerous magazines, webzines, podcasts, and literary journals, including previously on (Phish Lot; Mournful Dove; Three Musky Tears; Taxidermy Soul; Jackpot; Two Shots). His first novel, titled Abry, was published this spring. He lives in Kentucky with his wife, Mary, and his pet rabbit, Achilles. 

Donate a little?

Use PayPal to support our efforts:


Genre Poll

Your Favorite Genre?

Sign Up for info from Short-Story.Me!

Stories Tips And Advice