Tears of the Rose (Part 1)
The room was filled with the sweet sour smell of lemons. Rays of light twinkled through the stained glass panes and stretched across the old oak desk towards the carafe. The carafe lay on its side nearly empty. Its ichor still drizzled from the spout. Droplet after droplet pounded the floor, their rhythms echoing the heartbeat of a child who was huddled in fear under the oak desk.
Reverend Jeremiah Jones knelt down and watched the puddle grow. It darkened as it stained the floor. The puddle seemed to stare back at him. Drip. Drip. Drip. It was as if each droplet formed the mouth of a newborn crying for its mother’s breast milk or the petals of some graveyard flower. Drip. Drip. Drip. The droplets sent tiny rippling waves across the puddle. Its shape was no more. Tendrils leaked out in every direction sliding towards the cracks in the floor. Drip, drip, drip beneath the floorboards down into the darkness the puddle cried. Jeremiah realized that the carafe had long since emptied and that it was his own tears that filled the black pool below him.
Drip. Drip. Drip. The silent rain cascaded over the lid of the casket. Little Jeremiah felt the grip of a hand on his shoulder. “Come now Jeremiah.” Jeremiah just stood there. The grip tightened on his shoulder and then relaxed. “It’s time to go.” He took a step forward away from the shelter of the umbrella. The rain beat down hard upon his head. Cold water mingled with his warm salty tears. He looked up for a moment at the man who stood beside him. Father Leo had come to take him away from his mother. Jeremiah turned back to his mother’s casket. God had already done that.
He lowered his gaze toward the white rose that was clenched firmly in his tiny hands. It was so white, so pure like a burning flame among the dead. Its thorns bit deep into his palms. Father Leo noticed the trickle of blood that flowed down his wrist. “You’re bleeding.” He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the already dissolving stream of blood.
“Why did she have to die?” It was question that Father Leo had been asked many times before but never from a child.
Father Leo knelt down beside him. “She was sick… but not anymore. God has given her the gift of eternal life. She’ll watch over you now.”
Jeremiah took a deep breath and then walked up to his mother’s casket. He laid the rose on top of it. Father Leo gently took the boy by the hand. “Your mother will always be with you.” Jeremiah cast a final glance at his mother’s tomb as he was led away. The rose petals had been broken by the rain and slid down the side of the casket. A few of them clung to the handrails refusing to let go. The others fell into the earth where they would be buried in darkness forever.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Yellow fanned out across the ivory linen. It was another bed soaked night at St. Luke’s Home for Wayward Children. The December winds howled outside mocking the small boy’s plight. Jeremiah carefully slid out of bed so as not to wake the others. He grimaced as his toes touched the cold floor. He slowly pulled the covers back revealing the urine-stained sheets. Jeremiah tugged the corners free and began to fold the sheet into a bundle. He worked quickly and quietly in the dark. Should he hide the sheet or make for the laundry chute in the hallway near the door? He pondered the situation. If he hid the sheet he might be able to get another before bed check the next night. Would another stained sheet raise the alarm? Mrs. Tuddle had been forgiving but Father Cavanaugh was on to him. Either way the risk was too great. Perhaps Mrs. Tuddle wouldn’t tell Father Cavanaugh. Jeremiah surveyed the room. All was quiet now. Even the blistery gusts of wind outside had died down. It was decided.
Jeremiah crept across the room weaving through the rows of beds making his way toward the light of the hallway. Suddenly he heard a faint rustling noise and he froze in his tracks. Was someone coming? The noise had stopped. Jeremiah began to relax. He quickened his pace. Closer. Closer to the hallway. He heard the noise again and his blood ran as cold as the frost that glazed the windows. It must be Father Cavanaugh. From the corner of his eye he noticed a light emanating from under a bed. It was Andrew’s bed. Jeremiah stooped down and pulled back the flap of the blanket to find Andrew surrounded by the crusts of pastries and the trappings that they came in.
“Jeremiah,” exclaimed Andrew. Jeremiah clasped his mouth shut. The boy crinkled his nose and mouthed some inaudible words.
“I’ll remove my hand when you keep your fat mouth shut,” Jeremiah whispered harshly.
Andrew muffled an okay and Jeremiah cautiously removed his hand. “Your hand stinks like piss. Did you piss yourself again?”
“Screw you lard ass,” retorted Jeremiah.
“Bed wetter,” replied Andrew as Jeremiah covered his mouth again.
Suddenly the room was flooded with light and a most familiar drawl boomed from the doorway. It was Father Cavanaugh. His voice was as unsettling as a death rattle. “What in God’s name is that noise?” His voice permeated every crack and crevice in the room sinking down like an old forgotten dust. Andrew pulled Jeremiah, sheets and all, under the bed. The two panic stricken boys embraced one another.
Father Cavanaugh strode between the beds. The other boys began to wake. “Back to sleep,” he shouted as he drew closer to their hiding spot.
“He’ll find us for sure,” gulped Jeremiah.
“No he won’t. I fixed my pillows so it looks like I’m still sleeping.”
“A lot of good that will do me,” said Jeremiah.
“What do you mean?” Andrew questioned. Jeremiah motioned to the yellow stained sheets and Andrew began to fight back tears.
“Don’t you dare cry,” warned Jeremiah.
They could see the switch dangling from Father Cavanaugh’s belt. He always kept it at the ready. Clomp, clomp, swig. Clomp, clomp, swig. He held a bottle of liquor affectionately in his hand. The closer he came, the more heartily he threw back his liquor as if in anticipation of what was to come. The boys held tight to one another. Jeremiah could feel something popping in his back from Andrew’s tight embrace. He paid it no mine though. The discomfort was nothing compared to what would happen if they were caught.
The old priest was upon them. They waited with baited breath as he slowly passed by. Andrew’s ruse just might work. Father Cavanaugh approached the last bed – Jeremiah’s bed. The two boys peered out from under the bed watching intently as he stopped at the end of the row. Cavanaugh was too drunk to realize that no one was in the bed and proceeded to come back their way. Andrew began to relax and as he did, he let out a boisterous shriek of gas.
Father Cavanaugh raced towards them. The boys scrambled out from under the bed in an attempt to get away from him. He grabbed Andrew’s gown. Andrew flailed about kicking and screaming sending Father Cavanaugh’s bottle spiraling across the room. Cavanaugh tore at his belt with one hand fumbling for his switch. Andrew became the object of a tug of war game between Jeremiah and Father Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh’s pants dropped down around his ankles as he pulled the belt free. The children, awake now, began to laugh stoking the fires of Cavanaugh’s rage. Andrew’s gown tore clear off leaving him struggling in nothing more than his undergarments. Cavanaugh swung at him with bare knuckles hammering the child down to the floor.
“Stop it. You’re hurting him,” screamed Jeremiah. The old priest stopped. His chest heaved as he gasped for air. He stood upright trying to compose himself. Andrew lay curled in a fetal position on the ground whimpering like a beaten pup. The room was deadly quiet. Most of the children either feigned sleep or peered out from under their blankets in horror.
Father Cavanaugh leered at him. “Obedience is silence. Give me your hands.” Jeremiah fought hard not to gag from the peppermint smell that crawled forth from Cavanaugh’s breath.
“No” stammered Jeremiah.
“I didn’t hear you.” The fire in Cavanaugh’s eyes grew with intensity.
“I said no.” Father Cavanaugh lashed out with the switch catching him across the nose. Jeremiah let out a wail that shook the home to its very foundation. The children bolted upright at the siren call.
“All of you, all of you will get worse if you disrespect me.” He looked around at the frightened boys. Something caught his eye – a sheet poking out from under the bed. He snapped it up realizing instantly what it was. He held it up high for all to see and waved it around like a banner. “Don’t think this won’t go unpunished. There is no room in heaven for sinners and weaklings.”
Father Cavanaugh turned back to Jeremiah. “Now you will repent boy.” Jeremiah stood his ground. “Hold out your hands or they all suffer your fate.” Jeremiah looked around him. God had forsaken him and left him in this hell.
Cavanaugh called out to the others. “He must atone for his sins.” Jeremiah stretched his hands out toward the priest. His knuckles bore the scars of much atonement. Crack. The switch bit into his tender flesh. Crack. “Bed wetter” cursed Father Cavanaugh. Crack. Tears of sadness and anger poured forth from desolate eyes. Crack. “Bed wetter” chanted the others in perversity. Even Andrew joined in. Crack. His heart flooded with pain and passion. Crack. The switch broke in half over Jeremiah’s bruised and bloodied hands.
Father Cavanaugh licked the dried spittle from his lips. “Let that be a lesson to you boy.” He turned to face the others” “Now get back to bed.”
Jeremiah staggered back to his bed. “Where you going?” He turned and faced the priest. “Bed wetters don’t get beds. You sleep in the closet.” The boy was defeated. The world spun around him and the only sounds he could hear were the beating of his heart and the emptying liquor bottle that lay in the corner going drip, drip, drip like the echoes of the rain coming down on his mother’s grave.
Darkness surrounded Jeremiah. He sat in a supply closet full of musty boxes and the stench of kerosene. He thought he heard the squeak of a mouse that might have nested inside one. He didn’t care. Mice or rats, let them eat him alive. There wasn’t much to get, the vultures had already picked at his bones. Hours passed by. He could tell because the pain had subsided in his hands. They were numb now - numb but not useless. He began to plan his escape. Father Cavanaugh was surely in a drunken stupor by now. This wasn’t the first time he had been locked in the closet. Little did Cavanaugh know that Jeremiah had stolen the spare skeleton key and placed it behind one of the boxes for such an occasion as this.
Click. No sooner was the lock open than Jeremiah was down the hall with a kerosene lantern in tow. He stole upon Father Cavanaugh’s room and before the old man could awaken from bed, doused him with kerosene. Father Cavanaugh sat upright sputtering on the kerosene that had gone into his mouth. His eyes were full of surprise.
“Now it is you who is the bed wetter.” Jeremiah held out a lit match and dropped it into the priest’s lap setting him ablaze. Father Cavanaugh instantly stirred from bed and leapt across the room towards the hallway. He stumbled falling towards the window and went down like a stack of bricks pulling the drapery along with him. He climbed back to his feet and hurtled down the corridor screaming like a banshee. The drapery was partly wrapped around him and trailed behind him like a burning devil’s tail setting fire to everything it touched. Soon the hallway was an inferno. Jeremiah strolled through the hallway, flames licking at his heels. From somewhere down the corridor in a crisscrossing hallway came the final agonizing screams of Father Cavanaugh.
By now, most of the children were awake and frantic while others slept silently unaware of the peril that raged around them. Still Jeremiah marched on down the hallway unaffected by the commotion. Cries for help rose up all around him. The winter winds fanned the flames and the home went up like a tinderbox. A beam had broken loose from the ceiling and barred the doorway to the boys’ dormitory. Andrew reached through the doorway trying to push it away. Upon seeing Jeremiah he called out for his help. Jeremiah stopped and turned towards the frightened boy. “The fires of hell shall consume the sinners.”
“What are you talking about,” screamed Andrew. “Help me move this beam.”
Jeremiah’s eyes glazed over. “Pray Andrew. Pray to God for forgiveness.” Then he turned his back to the deafening roar of screams.
The falling flakes of snow danced around him as he watched the fires die under the streams of water that jetted out from the fire engine. He was oblivious to the fireman who wrapped a blanket around him. Jeremiah was transfixed. The wind whispered to him. It called his name. It told him things. Then all was silent except for the drip, drip, drip of the hoses as they sputtered to a stop. St. Luke’s Home for Wayward Children was no more. Little Jeremiah Jones was no more. His innocence died in the fires of the home with the other girls and boys.
Reverend Jeremiah Jones stared down at the puddle. He saw the reflection of a little boy huddled under the desk and turned to face him. Jeremiah leaned towards the boy. Little Ethan Fernier drew back with a gasp of fear.
“Don’t be frightened Ethan. Come here.” Ethan only drew back further. Jeremiah extended his hand. “I won’t hurt you.” Ethan looked over the reverend’s shoulder and saw the lifeless bodies of his classmates and shuddered. Jeremiah could smell fear exuding from the boy. He knew it all too well. He spoke softly. “I promise.” Ethan slowly reached toward the preacher and they joined hands.
Jeremiah gently helped the boy out from under the desk. Ethan looked up at him. Jeremiah could see straight through to the boy’s soul. He motioned to the overturned cups that were strewn about the floor. “Why didn’t you drink like the others?” he asked.
Ethan stared at him with empty eyes and replied, “I don’t like lemonade.”
Compassion flooded the reverend’s eyes. There was gentle warmth in them. Ethan was bewildered. How could this terrible man have such a big heart? Had it all been lies? This man had broken bread with his family. He remembered that brisk November day when he and his family had first arrived in Fairview Falls.
“Ethan, you’ll love it here,” Ethan’s father reassured.
“I miss Brian and Pete,” Ethan said softly.
“They’re only a phone call away. And you’ll make new friends.”
“I don’t want any new friends.”
“Think of all the adventures you’ll have.” His father always had a way of putting a positive spin on things. “Did you know that Fairview Falls has the largest number of stone chambers on the east coast?”
“What’s a stone chamber?” His father had peaked his curiosity.
“Some believe they are Celtic dating back hundreds of years. They might have been used in ceremonies.”
“Like witch ceremonies?” he asked as he leaned forward.
“Maybe,” laughed his father. “We can go exploring if you like.” Ethan beamed. His father had him.
Ethan’s mother shot her husband an annoyed look. “Why do you encourage these fantasies? Witches, ghosts, goblins…such dreck.”
“Eloise, it’s normal for a boy his age to have an imagination.”
“Sure, but not such,” shuddering, “dark stuff.”
“He’ll be fine. Won’t you Ethan?” He exchanged a smile in the rearview mirror with his son.
“Well, I don’t want this one raised on such nonsense,” his mother said as she rubbed her swollen belly.
“Ah, corrupted innocence.” Eloise playfully slapped him on the arm. Ethan’s father chuckled.
The car turned into an apartment complex and was treated to stares by a number of its residents. “What is this hobo central?” exclaimed Eloise.
“Keep your voice down. I’m sure they’re nice people.”
“I don’t care to find out. Justin, this is the best you could do?”
Justin stopped the car. “It will do for now. It’s only temporary.”
“Only temporary he says. It was only temporary when you were laid off from the construction yard. It was only temporary when we had to move in with my mother.”
“It’s not that bad,” he interjected.
“Daddy, can we see the chambers now?”
“No,” Eloise said. “I don’t want you wandering around this…”
“Hello.” Eloise jumped. A man with a long ponytail leaned into the window. Eloise prepared to swing her handbag at him but Justin caught her arm.
“What are you doing? He’s…”
“He’s here to help us. Eloise, this is Reverend Jeremiah Jones.”
“I’m sorry I gave you such a scare ma’am,” said the preacher.
“Not to worry reverend. She’s just adjusting to the new surroundings.”
“Adjusting. Hmph,” muttered Eloise under her breath.
“And this must be Ethan.” Jeremiah flashed a smile at Ethan. Ethan was quiet.
“Ethan, say hello to Reverend Jones,” urged his father.
“Hello,” he said meekly.
Reverend Jones laughed. “There’s plenty of time to get to know one another. I’m going to be your new teacher.”
“You are?” puzzled Ethan.
“Your Sunday school teacher.”
“Sunday School?” Ethan looked more confused than ever.
“It’s high time that you understand about real things like angels and God instead of ghosts and goblins,” snorted Eloise.
“Ghosts and goblins, huh?” Jeremiah smiled. “I believe in ghosts and goblins.”
“You do?” Ethan perked right up.
“Sure. You’ll find there’s lot of things that go bump in the night in a small town like this.”
“I’ll bet,” said Eloise sarcastically.
“See Ethan, what did I tell you? Your adventures are just beginning,” said Justin.
“That’s right,” said Jeremiah. Ethan grinned from ear to ear as he looked into the gentle eyes of the man before him.
That day seemed like a million years ago to him. Ethan wanted to cry but was too afraid to. The shadow of death loomed before him. Its gaze hypnotized him. “God has let you live for a reason Ethan,” said Jeremiah. “Do you know what that is?” Ethan shook his head no. All he could think about was being far from the church and in the comfort of his father’s arms along with his baby sister. “God has chosen you.” Ethan’s mind flashed back to that first day at school.
The children sat around small tables waiting for the reverend to arrive. Ethan was nervous. There were so many new faces. He avoided eye contact by coloring.
“Whatcha drawing?” questioned a voice from over his shoulder.
Ethan tried to hide his picture with his hands. A slightly older boy sat down beside him and pulled his hand away.
“A vampire. That’s cool.” He plopped a picture he had drawn down in front of Ethan. “Mine’s a lizard monster. What do you think?” Ethan grinned to show his approval. “My name’s Martin Graves but everyone calls me Marty. What’s yours?”
“Ethan. Ethan Fernier.”
“I see you two have met,” said Jeremiah as he strolled in with a bible under his arm and a smile upon his face. “Put your pictures away boys. There’s a time and place for everything but not on God’s time.” His smile faded away. Ethan hesitated for a moment. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.” Ethan sat upright. A few of the children rolled their eyes as they listened to the reverend drone on but not Ethan. The reverend’s words washed over him. “His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.” Something cold and dark flashed inward. Ethan felt the preacher’s grip upon him where there were no hands. “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.” Darkness was all around him. He could feel it. He could hear it ringing in his ears. Darkness flooded the room and black was all he saw.
Ethan awoke some hours later. He bolted upright. “Relax little one.” He was lying on a cot in a small makeshift office.
“Where am I? I want my father,” said Ethan as he choked back tears.
“You are in my living quarters. Your parents are on their way.”
Ethan looked about the room. Reverend Jones sat across from him, back turned away, as he wrote in his journal. “You had quite a spell.” He stopped writing and turned to him. “What was it you saw?”
“Nothing,” said the boy.
“Come now Ethan. You saw it didn’t you?”
Ethan felt a cold draft creep over him.
“You saw the darkness. You heard the voice breaking through the ebony waves.”
It was as if Ethan could suddenly hear a voice. It was a calming voice. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." He couldn’t tell if the voice was in his head or spoken by the preacher himself. His mind felt cloudy. Knock. Knock. Knock. Everything came back into focus as the door to the little room creaked open.
“Ethan, my God are you okay,” asked Justin as he rushed to his boy’s side. The floodgates were open. Ethan balled like a newborn baby and nestled his face into his father’s shoulder. Justin gently picked him up and carried him past Jeremiah to the door where his mother and baby sister waited. As he passed the preacher, he couldn’t help but look up and into his eyes. The iciness had melted away. In its place was that gentle warmth like a ray of sunshine. Ethan knew his place in the world. He was one of God’s servants.
The afternoon sun danced lazily over the silent stares and open mouths of the little ones that lay like scattered leaves on the lemon soaked floor. Ten, eleven, twelve… where was thirteen? He was thirteen. No, wait. Marty should have been number thirteen but he was nowhere to be found.
“Was Marty chosen too?” Ethan asked softly.
“No,” replied the preacher. “He was lucky.”
Suddenly the door to the church blew open. Several policemen in riot gear poured through the door. In a moment, they were upon them. Ethan was torn away from the preacher. He watched as they pounced on the preacher and thrust him to the ground.
Ethan screamed, “don’t hurt him.”
Jeremiah’s face splashed in the puddle as they tightened handcuffs around his wrists.
“Weep not little one. I do this for you.”
“Let’s go scumbag,” growled Officer Harris as he hoisted him to his feet.
It was a circus outside. The media had caught wind of the tragedy. Cameras flashed as they pulled Jeremiah out of the church. The police held back the angry mob of parents who wailed like the coming storm for the loss of their young ones. Marty Graves shivered with fear as the preacher walked by. He had always found Sunday school boring and never tired of finding new ways to skip class. He had been on the playground when he heard the cries and gasps wafting through the air from the open window of the Sunday school classroom.
Jeremiah shook free of his captors. “I know it was you who called the police. The day of reckoning is upon you boy. Your days are numbered.” Marty sank back into the crowd as the preacher looked into the eyes of the cameras. “Judgment day is here. Fairview Falls is where it all begins. God's hand shall smite the wicked.”
“Murderer,” someone yelled. “Child killer,” screamed another.
“Suffer the little children before they can sin.”
One of the children’s fathers broke through the police line and tackled the preacher landing blow after blow upon his face. Harris pulled him off the preacher. Jeremiah climbed to his feet and spit out a stream of blood.
“It was God’s work. It is my work.”
“You son of a bitch,” sneered Harris as he punched him square in the jaw. The preacher was unfazed and grinned as he caught a glimpse of Ethan standing in the doorway. Ethan smiled back. He understood the preacher.
The camera flashes flooded out the warmth of the afternoon sun as the Reverend Jeremiah Jones was loaded into a squad car. The sirens screamed drowning out the cries of lost innocence as the squad car roared away.
The radio was buzzing with news of the Fairview Falls atrocity. Headlines were calling it the Sunday School Massacre. Mothers and fathers swept up their children and held them dear as they watched the boogeyman pass the camera by on TV. Evelyn Jones finished pruning her rose bushes while halfway across the country, filmmaker Winston Korman grabbed his notepad off of his coffee table and scrambled to jot down every detail.
Evelyn plucked the last rose for her bouquet and hastened her pace toward the house. A storm was brewing and Jeremiah’s clothes were still hanging on the clothesline. She made her way into the kitchen switching on the television as she went. Evelyn took down a vase from the cupboard and began to fill it with water as she peeked out the window to gauge the darkening sky. The television sputtered with static, a sign that the storm would be there any moment. She plucked a rose from the bouquet, trimmed it and pinned in on herself. She placed the rest in the vase.
“Citizens… outraged at the… This is the worse… Fairview Falls has ever seen.”
Pit, pit, pat. “Oh no,” she exclaimed as she looked up to see the first few drops of rain glide down the window and cling to the screen. She caught her thumb on a thorn as she set the roses down. Evelyn sucked the blood clean as she raced to the back porch. She frantically reeled the line in. One by one, she threw the clothes into the waiting laundry basket not bothering to fold them. The rain slashed downward soaking her dress. It clung tightly to her bosom. The heavens opened wide and a mighty crack of thunder resounded throughout the town. The laundry became soaked too. Evelyn sat down on the bench defeated. She stared up at the sky and laughed as the rain washed over her. Life seemed so simple for a moment. She remembered what it used to be like before Jeremiah and she had married, before he had his calling...
Jeremiah pulled Evelyn into the stone chamber out of the storm’s reach. The winds groaned with discontent and bellowed their rage into the small rocky room. They were both wet head to toe. She shivered. The room was cold and dank. It might have actually been warmer back out in the clutches of the tempest. Jeremiah pulled her close. His body warmth enveloped her like a blanket. There was a tenderness in his big brown eyes like she had never known. It radiated like the gentle amber hue of the setting sun. He leaned in and they began to kiss. Jeremiah lifted her into the air and perched her high on an outcropping. He hungered for her and she for him. He parted her thighs and thrust himself forward. Her body was flooded with warmth while the storm raged on outside.
Lightning raked over the nearby meadow setting it ablaze. The falling rain could not quench the fire’s thirst. It consumed the land crawling up an old oak tree. The smell of burning earth filtered into the stone chamber and shattered their joys of ecstasy. Jeremiah stood in the entrance gagging from the billowing smoke. Evelyn clung to his side. She urged him forward but he stood his ground mesmerized by the burning tree. He dropped to his knees and covered his face crying out in shame “forgive me father for I have sinned.”
“Jeremiah? Jeremiah!” The flames threatened to engulf the stone chamber. Evelyn pulled at him as he began to weep.
“What have I done? What have I done?!”
The flames licked at them like a thousand angels bringing forth fire and brimstone. Evelyn was desperate now. The meadow was almost impassable. She slapped him hard in the face. Jeremiah was stunned. He looked up at her with great sadness.
“We have to go now,” she pleaded. Jeremiah looked all around him. Realization sunk in. They were moments away from being consumed by the lake of fire. The ground around them began to smolder. He rose to his feet and lifted her up. Jeremiah strode through the blazing inferno carrying Evelyn in his arms. The fire burned away at his soles. His long flowing hair was singed by the time he had reached the other side.
Jeremiah sat her down, wavered and then collapsed. Evelyn, with all her might, dragged him away from the edge of the burning meadow. It was then that she noticed that his shoes had burned away leaving his feet and ankles a blistery mess. He had walked through fire to save her.
A month later they were married. Upon returning home, things began to change. Though that fateful day was never talked about again, it resonated throughout their lives. The fire that swept the meadow had claimed his soul.
The clouds were lined with soft gold as the sun sank over Briar Ridge. Jeremiah sat on the porch looking up at the heavens. He didn’t hear Evelyn approach him from behind and didn’t notice her as she sat down beside him either.
“It’s been too long,” she said breaking the silence.
“Too long?” His gaze never shifted.
She put her hand on his shoulder and gently caressed it. “It’s been too long since we’ve … been together.”
“I’m a different man now. Pleasures of the flesh no longer exist for me.” She withdrew her hand and sat in silence. “I know it must be hard for you,” he said. “I don’t think you understand.”
“You’re right. I don’t understand.” Her anger was replaced with hopeless desperation. “What was it that changed you so?”
“It was God.”
“God?” She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.
“I didn’t expect you to understand.” The last few rays of the setting sun faded away.
“I want to understand but you shut me out. Don’t you love me anymore?”
Jeremiah turned to her. “Of course I do.” Tears welled up in her eyes. He put his hand to her cheek. She grasped it and held it there for what seemed like an eternity. “But I love God more.” The desperation consumed her. “That’s why I have decided to become a preacher.” She felt the world collapse in on her and he could sense it.
“Be happy for me. I have been chosen by God to bare witness to his kingdom and carry out his mission here on earth.” Evelyn managed a smile. For better or for worse, Jeremiah was her husband and it was her duty to stand beside him.
A sudden clap of thunder shook the old house and awakened Evelyn from her daydream. A woman stood in her yard staring up at her. Evelyn shielded her eyes from the storm’s fury to better make out who it was.
“Sandra? Is that you?” Sandra Brown stood soaking wet with a vacant look upon her face. “Hurry on up here before you catch your death from cold.”
“I’m already dead,” Sandra replied.
“What? Are you feeling alright?”
“It’s your husband.”
“My husband? Jeremiah? Is he okay?” She felt panic begin to rise in her. It was like a feeling that she had before, a time that she fought hard to forget about…
It wasn’t long after Jeremiah had been ordained as a minister that Evelyn found herself alone must of the time. Jeremiah would often work late and fall fast asleep in the small office in the back room of the old church. He said that he must constantly keep abreast of the activities of his congregation because he felt them slipping into sin. She thought it was nothing more than another way for him to isolate himself from their marriage. She had even learned to play the church organ in an attempt to become more involved in his life.
For years, Evelyn would go to the church at the same time with his dinner every night. This time it would be different. This time it was their anniversary. Evelyn had prepared his favorite Italian dish and wore the finest dress that she owned. She set out for the church earlier than usual to catch Jeremiah by surprise. Perhaps just this one time she could persuade him to look at her and not his bible.
She quietly made her way past the rows of pews carrying the silver serving tray that was a gift from her mother on their wedding day. The faint light of burning candles danced in silence from under the door. Usually she would hear the sound of him reciting biblical verses or passages from his sermon as he memorized them. She hesitated for a moment thinking that he might be napping. A smile crept across her face at the thought of gently waking him with a kiss. She carefully balanced the tray in one hand and opened the door with the other.
Jeremiah sat in the corner on the floor with his hands folded in prayer. A large cross-shaped candelabra burned brightly behind him. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and then she realized that what she thought was a shadow cast by the glowing red candles was not a shadow at all. Jeremiah’s hands were covered in blood. Startled by her discovery, she stumbled backward into the desk knocking over an inkwell.
Jeremiah sat upright. His eyes were full of rage. “Get out,” he screamed. She faltered. Jeremiah stood up. His robe slipped from his shoulders revealing self-inflicted lacerations on his arms and back.
“Jeremiah, what have you done?!”
His eyes tightened and he raised his fist. “Get out,” he growled. Evelyn dropped the tray and turned for the door in a burst of tears. The black ink flowed into the spilled red sauce and pooled up on the floor. Jeremiah stood there for a moment looking down at it and then kneeled facing the burning cross. He could hear Evelyn sobbing in the other room.
“I suffer for you just as you have suffered for all of us. Cleanse me of sin. Make me whole again. Bestow upon me your eternal blessing and make me worthy to carry out your mission here on earth.” The mingled pool of red and black began to bubble and form a faceless face. A cold gust of wind swept through the room and the candles began to flicker. Jeremiah watched as the smiling pool looked back at him.
The wind whispered to him. “The time draws near. Your work has just begun.” Jeremiah nodded. He understood. Somewhere in another time and space a dark figure sat on a throne of thorns and laughed at a fool’s delusion.
Crash! Lightning crisscrossed the sky. Evelyn called out to Sandra pleading with her to come inside. Sandra slowly raised her arms, stretching them outward as if she we suspended on a cross. Evelyn stood in disbelief. Blood was flowing freely from the woman’s wrists. She gasped in horror. Suddenly a bolt of lightning touched down near the side of the house. A wicked flash of light erupted blinding her for a moment. When her vision cleared Sandra was not there. The wind grew stronger forcing her to retreat inside.
Evelyn made her way back into the kitchen ringing out her dress as she went. The television blared with static. She reached for the knob to turn it off and was surprised when an image of her husband flashed up on the screen.
“Rev… Jones was… into custody today. We’re down town now where… the wails of grief stricken… mourning… dead children.” A chill ran through Evelyn not from the wet clothes she wore but from realization. “…poisoned… lemonade.” She held out her hands. The aroma of fresh lemon still clung to them – lemons that she had squeezed herself that very morning. She had filled the pitcher and had carried it herself to Sunday school. Fresh lemonade – what a treat for the children. It was the perfect complement to the chocolate chip cookies that she had baked the night before.
Evelyn ran to the sink and threw on the hot water. She lathered her hands in soap and began scrubbing. She sniffed her hands but the smell was still there. Evelyn reached under the counter, pulled out a scrub brush and began frantically scrubbing at her hands until her flesh was raw but she could not rid herself of the stench of death. She collapsed against the counter and let out a terrible cry. The television flickered in the background. Images of dead children being loaded into ambulances flooded in like the storm that raged outside. Sandra’s daughter was among them. The news report flashed to a picture of Sandra Brown with the word suicide below her name. It was quickly replaced by footage of Jeremiah getting into a squad car. He looked at the camera and right into Evelyn’s soul. She understood.
Outside, the wind howled as the eye of the storm drew closer. With the last shred of hope for a happy life sucked from her by the crushing knowledge of her part in the day’s horrible events, Evelyn steadied herself upon the porch railing. Gusts of wind threatened to knock her from her perch before she was ready. She pulled with all her might tightening the final knot in the clothesline and then slipped it into place. Badoom!! The thunder crashed and the backyard lit up brightly. Evelyn could see the faces of the children smiling back at her.
At the heart of the storm stood the Westmore Psychiatric Facility. Jeremiah stood in the shadows peering out the window as the storm wreaked havoc upon the town. An occasional lightning flash illuminated the pane revealing his bruised and battered visage. The guards had taken no pity on him. He was in hell and would remain there while he awaited evaluation. From the window, he could see the gravediggers working feverishly to fill a grave but the mound of dirt had long since turned to mud. The mud and rain cascaded over the lid of the casket. Jeremiah felt the grip of a hand on his shoulder. “Come now Jeremiah.” Jeremiah just stood there. The grip tightened on his shoulder. “It’s time to go.”
The lightning flashed again. Jeremiah’s reflection smiled back at him. “It’s okay,” his reflection said. “I understand,” replied Jeremiah. It was all God’s plan.
“Who are you speaking too,” asked the guard.
“No one,” smiled Jeremiah. “No one at all.”
The guard escorted him to the evaluation room. As he left the waiting room, he passed a patient. He was a hulking brute of a man who sat quietly with his head down. Jeremiah’s thoughts were clouded for a moment by a single word, a name – Azrael. He had caught the man’s attention and he looked up. The two exchanged glances. They understood each other. He too had a calling and a part to play yet in this divine plan.
Harold Valentine switched off the television and slumped down into his easy chair. He watched his three year old son Oscar playing on the floor with his tinker toys. It was difficult enough having lost his wife, he thought. To lose a child would be unbearable. He looked at the fading glow of the television screen and slid down beside his son. Oscar looked up at his father and grinned. There was such innocence and simplicity in his tender smile. Harold prayed that he would always be able to protect him from the Reverend Joneses of the world. He cast a glance out the window. The storm was breaking.
Rays of light twinkled through the dark clouds and stretched across the back yard of the Jones’ house. Drip. Drip. Drip. The last drops fell from the eaves of the porch. Drip. Drip. Drip. The sun broke through and the rain began to dry up. Between the lull of the gentle gusts of wind and the distant sounds of mourning came the soft creak of swaying rope. Evelyn hung from the rafters. The rose, still pinned to her, glistened as the sun touched it. Her wet and lifeless body danced in the air. Evelyn’s eyes were filled with peace. Drip. Drip. Drip. The tears of the rose flowed until they were no more. The storm had ended, for now.
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