By James Ward Kirk
I sit up in bed, my heart jittery, sensing something bad happened to my little brother. I whisper-cry, “Jacob?!” but he doesn’t answer me so I know I am alone.
Touching Jacob’s space next to mine in the bed we share, I feel the wetness so perhaps he’s just in the bathroom cleaning up. I pull the blanket off me and get out of bed. The left side of my underwear is wet from Jacob’s piss spot. I drop my underwear to the floor and pull on my jeans. Cold darkness envelops me, swallowing me like a snake.
quietly move from our bedroom and walk to the bathroom downstairs. He isn’t there, but the back door is agape. I walk out into the darkness and whisper-shout his name, but all I hear is my own voice coming back to me. It must be midnight as the full moon is high in the sky. I see lightning bugs flash by the hundreds, in symphony with the chirping of crickets; I slap at a mosquito. My fear causes my skin to tighten, pulling closer as if to protect me from something darker than the darkness.
Quietly I return to my bedroom and slip on my sneakers and yesterdays faded-green t-shirt.
I leave through the back door, but now the sun shines so hot. I lift my hand to protect my eyes from the bright light.
Looking around the yard, I still find no evidence of Jacob’s presence. Did he walk down to the creek to bathe, so as not to disturb our parents while he cleaned up?
I cross through the cornfield, cut across the dirt road separating the corn from a soybean field, and keep walking until I reach the next gravel road. I turn to my right and continue down the gravel and hard-dirt road. The creek runs through the fields but reaches its deepest point about a quarter mile from here. The heat of the sun burns my skin through my shirt and my face is sweaty. Sweat trickles down from my nose to my chin. I lift up my shirt and dry my face.
My belly rumbles. Hunger draws my attention to my left. An old barn stands, leaning greatly on its cracked frame, not a part of our familiar landscape. But I am not surprised because now I think I am in hell and it occurs to me that hell holds no surprises. This proved to be true.
From inside the barn I hear Jacob. “John? Is that you?”
His voice is sad, so sad and I start crying but not a simple cry with a crunchy face and tears on my face. I sob so hard the pain brings me to my knees and I vomit bile onto the dirt, lacking undigested food to offer to the demon that rules this realm of hell.
Mara; I hear the name in my mind and ears, and I am as certain Mara is a name as I am Mara aims to hurt Jacob.
I am wrong.
I approach the barn; again, I hear Jacob. “John? Is that you? John, I need your help.”
Now I hear the sob in his voice; and his pain, a hurt greater than mine, resonates into my bones.
I stand outside the barn, my soul screaming, “No, John!” Perhaps this is the moment my soul fled my corpus. I have no memory of one after I enter the barn.
Darkness and cold air flood the barn, drowning and freezing life, turning my sweat to ice. I am blind and I am mute.
I spot a form near the back wall of the barn. To my left and right are stalls, four in all, two to each side, a horse in each stall, each a separate color that I cannot quite make out. The four stallions scream at me in a language I either cannot or refuse to understand. I smell their piss and shit, as each horse spits at me, the globs freezing to my skin, lumps of horror, dread for things to come.
My brother calls to me: “John?”
I move closer to the form holding Jacob in its arms and I finally see my brother, nailed to a cross.
“John, you put me here. You may as well have hammered the nails yourself.”
“I’m sorry, Jacob. I am so sorry.” My voice sounds like ice cracked by the handle of a knife.
“John, please trade me places.”
I cannot deny my brother. “I will, Jacob.”
The sound of the nails tearing through the bone and muscle of his feet reach my ears first, then the same sound as he rips his wrists free and he falls to the ground. I move to him. His body is whole again, un-impaled, tender.
He moves past me, but stops at the barn door and turns toward me.
I know what I must do,
I climb upon the cross. I feel no pain as the nails pierce my wrists and feet, only the cold.
“Thank you, John” He leaves the barn.
No, Uncle Jimmie, do it to Jacob, not me, never again me!
As the darkness becomes complete, I scream, my baptism thorough, and in the first moment of eternal agony, I cry “Forgive me!”