The story so far:
Cold raindrops pelted the windows of the old Allen farm, a fact that should’ve deterred any trick-or-treaters that weren’t set off by the half-mile trek from the nearest neighbor. Sure, B.D. – Benjamin Dudley on his birth certificate; Big Daddy to all his friends – had a cornstalk maze and some astounding decorations, but the weather prohibited the strobe lights, sound effects, or any other electronic surprises he’d prepared for unsuspecting visitors.
B.D. watched the showers intensify. Gutters overflowed, cascades of water rolled down the four pavement steps up to his porch. He reached into a plywood coffin, withdrew an umbrella – don’t want to ruin the latex makeup job his son was so proud of – and lumbered to the street to check for lights approaching from either direction. Finding none, he went inside and flicked the porch switch off.
The boys weren’t home yet and television reception always went sketchy when it thunderstormed. He traced a finger over a shelf of DVDs that didn’t entice him into another viewing. Rather than call it an early night and retire, he kicked off his boondoggers and laid on the couch with his Bible on his chest. He rarely had the opportunity to sit down with the Good Book anymore, what with Paul and Roland’s motorbikes jumping fences and tearing up gardens. They were good kids, but teenaged boys couldn’t help but cause mischief. Genetics, he suspected, they’d inherited from Sheila. Such a shame they never had a chance to know their mother.
He turned the onionskin pages to Philippians 4, a chapter he read for comfort, especially in those moments he was overcome with thoughts of his deceased wife. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me death.”
“Strength,” B.D. uttered. He didn’t know how the boys pulled this one off, but he was certainly going to strip them of their computer privileges until they explained themselves.
* * * * * *
My tires slid from the gravel and into Big Daddy’s grass. I yanked the emergency brake, threw my door open, and ran up the path past waterlogged effigies hanging from his tree. A wind swung one of the bodies into the path, straining the rope until the dummy’s neck cracked. It must have been a branch, I told myself.
I leapt up the four stairs and pounded on the door twice before letting myself in. “B.D.? Is he here yet?”
Before anyone had a chance to answer, an explosion boomed outside, followed by a brightness filling the windows. Thunder follows lightning, not the other way around. And the illumination wasn’t dying down; rather, it danced on the walls. Flames! Lightning must have struck something and ignited it. The house? The relentless pounding of the rain intensified; had it evolved into hail? Tornadoes weren’t unheard of in these parts.
I charged upstairs, screaming names but hearing no response. Maybe they weren’t home? Maybe Big Daddy was chaperoning some church hayride for his boys and their friends? No – the Preacher wouldn’t have sent me here if that was the case.
The absence of smoke concerned me, but not nearly as much as the absence of the Allens. Another flash ignited the sky outside; I crossed the master bedroom and looked out the window.
Dismantled cornstalks were arranged into the shapes of runes, somehow blazing with white flames beneath the torrent. Amid the flames, a figure clad in red robes brandished a torch and glided toward the giant oak.
Two scrawny boys kicked at the air, suspended by their wrists from a thick branch. Across a patch of grass, B.D. fought his constraints, tied, upside-down to his tractor tire. Shirtless, his voluminous belly and breasts hung against the underside of his chin. He blubbered helplessly, but the hooded figure took no notice.
There was no time to locate where B.D. kept his guns. Sprinting across the room and into the hallway, a hole in my shirt caught the door handle and tore Mick Jagger’s cartoonish mouth in half. I bounded down the stairs and into the side yard as a gust blew the figure’s headgear over a clothesline.
Charlie Anderson looked different than he had at my house. More primal somehow. I would’ve guessed his red tint was from the fire if only the flames weren’t white. He extended his arms overhead and his sleeves rolled down, revealing arms covered in tattoos. Earlier today, I assumed those were prison marks, gang insignia, Chinese symbols representing strength or peace or harmony or... What the hell do I care? He’s going to kill Paul and Roland!
He produced a scythe from somewhere within the folds of his robe – I’ve no idea how it fit in there – and jabbed at the sky with it. He turned skyward and water rolled off his dome as he chanted into the storm. I recalled something I’d said several times since Caroline’s death:
There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. If you rush headlong into certain death and survive, what a brave thing you’ve done. If you don’t make it...
I yanked a pitchfork from one of B.D.’s paper mâché corpses and held it like a baseball bat, wishing the Preacher was here to fight this battle instead of me. Though he’d claimed I had a power, I was too rushed to ask questions about it. I’d taken a mortal shot to the head and survived it – was I able to ignore death? No better time to find out than the present. I hope I’m brave.