Ding Dong went the doorbell. Mr. Richards opened it with a flat expression on his face. His sweatered gut pressed against the screen door.
"Isn't it a bit early for Trick-R-Treat," he asked.
"No, Mr. Richards," I said, "We're girl scouts. These are our uniforms. We're delivering some cookies you ordered last month. Thin Mints, Dos-i-does and a box of Samoas."
He scratched his head and stifled a yawn, "I don't remember ordering anything, but sure. Let me get my wallet."
He opened the door for Julie and me. Inside, Mr. Richards turned towards the kitchen and as he did I pulled Mommy's taser from the box of thin mints and stung him in the butt. The electricity crackled like lightning and Mr. Richards leapt forward, slamming his head into the bannister. Wide-eyed with disbelief he swirled around, took three steps and collapsed against an upright piano, making a hellish racket as his elbows came down on the keys. By the time he hit the floor he was totally out cold.
"Holy Cow," said Julie, "that was really loud. You sure he lives alone?"
"He's divorced," I said, pulling a roll of duct tape out of the box of Samoas, "living alone is what it means."
I gotta admit, I was frightened. I was staring up that antique stairwell and just waiting for someone to come bounding down around it, wondering what all the noise was about.
"Come on," I said, "help me tape him up afore he wakes up."
We pulled off long strips of tape, making that weird whapwhapwhap sound that duct tape makes, and it wasn't long before we had his hands and legs bundled up solid. We dragged him out the front door and across the porch. His head hit every step on the way down and I felt bad about that because I didn't want to hurt Mr. Richards. I mean, none of us liked Mr. Richards. He teaches the Science in school and he made fun of me for making fun of Holly Whitlow when she stepped on a big ugly crack out in the playground. We told Holly it was gonna land her momma in the hospital without knowing her momma was already in the hospital.
This got Mr. Richards really mad.
He lectured us that everything was cracked, that you can't help but step on a crack because nothing is cocoa-he-sieve, meaning all the atoms and molecules and stuff are cracked up and mostly empty. He said that if you took all of God's creation and compacted it into a little ball it would be no bigger than a marble and so heavy no one could move it. That black marble might not have a crack in it. Possibly maybe.
Mr. Richards says some really stupid stuff sometimes, but that's not why we chose him. We chose him because he lives out in the boonies with no house to the left and no house to the right and nothing but corn for as far as the eye can see across the street. We also chose him because of the Evolution. I don't really understand the Evolution but it daddy gets mean and mad any time anyone brings it up. Daddy says the Evolution is what the liberals used to take control of the government and that the liberals are all homosexuals and damned by God. I've also heard farmers say that the Evolution is the reason why the corn-borers ain't being killed off by our pesticides. Mr. Richards? He teaches the Evolution. I'm not sure how anyone could teach anything to a bunch of caterpillars, but doing so just can't be right.
About half-way to the garage Julie and me stopped to catch our breaths. Mr. Richards is big, heavy and fat. It felt like we were struggling to get a whale into that garage. I looked across the road to the rows of corn and felt the presence of the corn-borers. They couldn't be seen but we all knew they were out there, burrowing deep into the ears, eating kernels off the cobs before anyone could harvest them. Daddy says the corn is like the liberals, alive on the outside but dead on the inside. The farmers say it isn't worth the gasoline to go out and knock them down. They were gonna let the snow do that, but not if we could help it.
As the garage door lifted up Mr. Richards came awake and started screaming. I slapped some tape over his mouth and whispered in his ear, “Don't worry Mr. Richards, in just a few minutes everything is going to be great. Everything is going to be..., Magnificent. Just you wait.”
Mr. Richards didn't believe me and began to thrash like a maniac so I tasered him again.
Inside the garage it was dirty but it would do. Julie opened up the third box of cookies and dumped our knives onto the floor. They were big long kitchen knives, the kind you see cutting up tin cans on TV. They glimmered in the dusty sunlight. From Julie's pack we fished out our bright white Jesusween robes and changed into them.
Over at Saint Paul's Church Pastor Steve often preached about how important sacrifice was, about how Jesus sacrificed his life for our sins and how God let him do it because God's Love is Eternal. Daddy says Pastor Steve doesn't know squat about anything, especially since Pastor Steve got caught embezzeling last July. I don't know what embezzeling is but it sounds dirty. It sounds like something boys do with their dingers, so I don't even want to know what that is, but truth be told Pastor Steve got caught doing it and Pastor Steve had to go away. They padlocked the doors of St. Paul's and we had to stop going to church. The only church left in town is Saint Vincents and that is for the Catholics. Daddy thinks the Catholics are all devil worshipers in disguise, so we don't go there.
“Give To God All That You Are For Only God Can Heal The Land,” was the last message Pastor Steve left for us on the sign outside Saint Paul's. It's been there all summer, a terrible summer of rotten crops and people moving away to follow the Money. Daddy started drinking a lot that summer, started calling Pastor Steve a False Prophet who didn't know squat about sacrifice. Julie and I came to believe that all adults were crack-steppers. That the older you were the more impure you became. Adults talked the talk but they could not walk the walk, not without stepping on a crack, so we decided to do it for them.
“How do we do this,” asked Julie, watching a glimmer of sunlight dance across her blade.
“I don't know.” I admitted, “I think we just do it. We say the Lord's prayer and then we do it.”
We kneeled beside Mr. Richards and said the Lord's Prayer over him. Once finished, I picked up my knife, grasped the handle in both hands and raised it high above his head.
I knew the descent should be swift if I truly meant to do it, but that wasn't the plan. Julie and I had read the story of Abraham and Isaac a dozen times over in our Golden Book of Bible Stories. We knew that God didn't want us to kill anyone. He just wanted us to be willing to kill for Him, to prove the Strength of our Love. We knew that God would send an Angel to stay my hand. At the very last second, He had to. It was what God did.
Slowly, I brought the knife down towards the pit at the bottom of Mr. Richard's throat. I closed my eyes, clamped them shut and pictured an Angel's hand, wishing it into being. It would be white like porcelain and glowing with celestial energy. I could feel its smooth skin tickling my own like the finest of feathers as it reached around my grip.
I opened my eyes.
The razor sharp tip was a hair's breadth from Mr. Richard's adam's apple.
I have proven my Love, I thought as loudly as I could think, I know you don't want me to kill. Send your Angels. Stave my hand. Heal the Land. God. Please.
Then Mr. Richards ruined everything.
His eyelids fluttered open. His eyes saw what they saw and nearly popped from their sockets. Mr. Richards jerked bolt upright and the knife sliced across his neck before I could pull away. The cut didn't go deep but it hit something big, something like a hose carrying blood to his brain, and suddenly there was blood spraying everywhere, fanning over us like a lawn sprinkler. Julie screamed for me to stop it and I tried. Honestly, I tried. I dropped the knife and pressed both hands against the wound, almost as if I were strangling him but this only made the blood spray harder through my fingers. Mr. Richards kicked beneath me, writhing like a big fat earthworm stuck on hook. He bowled me over and knocked Julie aside who scraped her knees as she fell across the concrete.
I didn't think there could be so much blood in one human being. The angels should have stopped us. God should have intervened. The Plan was for Him to come down from Heaven and once he was here we'd beg him to kill the corn worms and break Pastor Steve out of jail so we could go back to Church. It was all so simple.
How could God say No?
Mr. Richards slowed in his writhing and fell silent. His breathing wheezed as his chest rose and fell slower and slower, eventually sputtering to a stop.
“Holy Moly,” said Julie, “he's dead. You killed him.”
“I didn't kill him,” I snapped, “he killed hisself. I saw the angel's hands getting ready to stop me. I felt it, they were there. Really, they were there!”
Julie's eyes lit up, “Were they? Did you really really see them!”
“Yes,” I exclaimed and then stopped. I loved my little sister. I could not lie to her. “Or maybe no. I don't know. There was something, but it all happened so fast. I didn't kill him. I was ready to do it for my Lord, but mister poopyhead had to jump up and stab hisself.”
Julie sat back on her heels and looked at the mess around us, the dirty sticky copper stinking mess. Our Jesusween gowns were so soiled they almost looked black in the shadows of the garage. Our faces were splattered red like the back of a butcher shop.
“We're never going to clean this up,” said Julie, snuffling back a hot run of snot, “the ceremony. We've got to do it. We've got to do it, again.”
“What,” I exclaimed, thinking she'd gone nuts, “NO, we are NOT doing anything. We've got to think!”
Julie grabbed my arm and pulled me close, “We've got to do this Becky. Only God can clean this up.
“Think about it. We did it wrong. Think of Cain and Abel. Cain made a sacrifice of lettuce to God and that made God angry. Abel sacrificed the Fat of the Lamb and God was happy. Mr. Richards? He taught the Evolution.”
We both sat and stared at the shadow mound of his corpse.
“He did. He did,” I whispered to her and myself, edging Julie on to more.
“He taught the Evolution and the Evolution is Evil. Mr. Richards is not the Fat of the Lamb. Mr. Richards is Cain's lettuce. God let him die because God wanted him dead. He was unpure. Now God is unhappy, and we've got to make God happy again.”
She looked at me, eye to eye, and said, “let it be Me for I am the Fat of the Lamb.”
“No! You! I can't. I won't.”
“Have you no Faith?”
“I'm younger than you,” said Julie, “I haven't stepped on as many cracks. I am pure and my Faith is true. Put me under the knife. The angels will come. I promise it.”
“And if they don't?”
“I've always wanted to see Heaven Becky, ever since I was a child. You have to do this.”
“You are a child,” I nearly shouted.
“All the better.”
I looked around us. The garage was empty. No sounds could be heard from the lawn or the house. There was just the rows of living dead corn across the road and a slight autumn breeze tussling their flax.
Did I still have the Faith?
I wasn't sure.
Why did I have to bring the tip so close to Mr. Richard's neck? Why didn't the angels stop us at breakfast? Why didn't they appear in the tree house where we made our plans, talking it over day after day after day? I had no answers but I had to agree. Everything was so fucked that only God could save us now. This I knew to be true.
“Let's do it,” I said, helping to push Mr. Richards off to the side.
Julie sat down in his place. To begin the ceremony we prayed as hard as we humanly could. Once finished she laid down and I raised the knife, at this point I was begging God to stop me, aware of every passing inch as the blade went up, hung there in my shaking hands, and then started to descend.
Please, please, please, I screamed inside my head, don't make me do this. I will if you ask me to, but don't make me do it alone.
I saw the shadow of the blade pass over her neck. The shadow was trembling and seeing it tremble only made my arms quake all the more. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I. My hands were shaking so badly the knife was a silver blur in space. Enraged, I shrieked at my own fleeting faith and threw the knife away.
I grabbed up my sister and hugged her as hard as I could.
“I can't. I can't,” I sobbed into her hair, “I just can't do it. I'm not strong enough.”
“I know,” said Julie, her voice strangely weak and distant. She hugged me and I felt hot rivulets of blood streaming down my back. I pulled away in horror. Julie was white, as pale white as a ghost. She slipped from my grip and fell to the floor. At some time when I wasn't looking she had slit her wrists, sacrificing herself.
The angels did not come.
Shuddering with fear and terror and rage I scurried back across the dirty floor and knocked over a rack of gardening tools. I spidered up the wall and stumbled out of the garage to fall down on the pavement and puke in the driveway. Everything that was in me came up vibrant pink and orange, forming a footprint splatter across a huge crack in the asphalt. The fluid that touched it swirled down into the fissure and was gone into the blackness. I looked left. I looked right. There was the house and Mr. Richards blue Buick and an unlit jack-o-lantern gazing back at me like an idiot from the porch. All of it was cracked. Just as Mr. Richards had said, the cracks were everywhere, impossible to avoid.
I stood up and shouted at the sky, “WHERE WERE YOU? WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU?”
The only sound was the wind and the falling leaves and the living dead corn and the slight rustle of one moving through the other. Then came a small whisper, not on the wind but from deep inside my mind.
Lucifer, it said.
If God will not listen
maybe the Devil will.
I stormed into the house, grabbed a pack of matches off the stove as well as the jack-o-lantern from the porch. Back at the garage I stepped into the shadows, fearing that at any moment Mr. Richards or Julie would jump out at me, but neither of them did. Both Julie and Mr. Richards were dead and would never move again.
I lit the jack-o-lantern and placed it in the doorway with its shining face turned towards me. Next I grabbed a can of gasoline and splashed it over all the walls. Finally I flipped the can over and sent a small flood of fuel heading towards the pumpkin.
I knelt beside Julie and clasped her cold sticky hand in mine and I prayed like I had never prayed before. I didn't care who heard me – God, the Devil or the entire Universe - just so long as somebody did, some otherworldly force which could deliver us from all this Evil. I vowed I would be its Slave. I would be its Burnt Offering. I would roast in Hell for all Eternity just so long as something came along to set things right again.
The gasoline pooled around the jack-o-lantern. Fumes caught and a pillar of flame erupted from the hole in its head. Fire rushed along the sides of the garage and up into the rafters while I prayed and prayed and prayed. I had heard stories where the Devil waits until the moment of your death and then appears to make a deal, but as the smoke choked my throat and the heat burned in my eyes there came nothing, just the sight of a roasting pumpkin, the creak of flaming timbers, and out across the road the heartless endless rows of corn being eaten by caterpillars from the inside out.
Beside that there was nothing.