Authors: Christopher Fulbright,Angeline Hawkes
by Christopher Fulbright & Angeline Hawkes
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Originally published in trade paperback by Elder Signs Press
Electronic Edition | Published by ND3 Press
Copyright © 2013 by Fulbright & Hawkes
All rights reserved.
Clad in a gossamer white gown, the squalling baby was passed overhead like a crowd surfer upon hundreds of pustule-ridden hands that groped the infant’s pink flesh. Gangrene fingers pulled at the satin ties of her bonnet, yanking the frilly bit of fabric from her downy head. The child’s shrill cries rose above the din of moans and anguished wails as bony, flesh-beribboned hands pulled her down into the mob.
The baby disappeared amidst the horde. Snapping jaws, elongated from wasting faces and rotting skulls, bit savagely at one another in jealous rage. The crowd erupted into a mass of writhing bodies slick with pus and mucus. They fought to possess the child.
From out of the fray, the baby crawled, white gown stained with crimson and smeared with putrid stains of infection and decay. As the flailing hands touched the hem of her garment, all who touched her were healed…
Dejah sat bolt upright in bed, sweat sticking her t-shirt to her flesh.
Her husband Thomas lay beside her in the midnight darkness, snoring. This struck her as odd and she blinked to reassure herself she had not slipped from one dream into another. He hardly ever slept in their bed anymore.
Everything slips away
, she thought.
Her heart still hammered in the aftermath of terror. Her breath came back to her in short gasps, her chest now released from the vise of fear. She ran hands through her long hair, matted from restless sleep.
She slipped out of bed and made her way to her daughter’s crib. The child’s breathing was even, rhythmic. A light touch on Selah’s chubby cheek assured Dejah that her baby was really here, really okay.
She padded into the master bathroom, closed the door and flipped on the light, still quaking from the memory of the dream.
? Thank God, but it felt so
. The fresh memory of it raised the hair on her arms and tingled over her flesh.
Dejah turned on the tap and splashed cold water over her face. Standing there in the too-bright light, staring at herself in the mirror, she took a deep breath. It was Sunday, she realized. Several hours from now, they would return to the church in which they had not stepped foot in months for Selah’s christening.
“You okay?” Thomas whispered from the bedroom.
The sound of his voice startled her. She marveled again at how strange it seemed to have him in here with her overnight. How quickly she’d become accustomed to the growing distance between them.
“Yeah.” She flipped off the light. “Just a bad dream.”
She slid into bed, pulling the damp sheet over her shoulders. She lay with her back to him. He reached for her, gently touched her shoulder in darkness. She did not pull away, nor did she move any nearer to him.
A moment went by, and his hand went away. It left a cool impression behind.
She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
* * *
The church parking lot was packed. In addition to Selah’s christening, it was Easter Sunday, which Dejah felt would make this even more special, but now that they were here she realized it served only to fill her with a greater sense of apprehension.
She told herself her anxiety grew out of their extended absence from the church―having to see Reverend Forbes, who’d been so kind to them even as he’d fallen ill late last year, and everyone else they knew after being gone for so long. When things started getting rough between her and Thomas, their attendance dropped off. Thomas became angry at the mere mention of church, and she hadn’t felt compelled to argue the need for it.
The parking lot was almost full. To her relief, they made it to the front doors without seeing anyone they recognized and were swept inside in a lazy river of humanity. The service started on time, announcements were made, and the music proceeded, backed by the choir. As people raised their hands in supplication to the Lord, Dejah was reminded of the diseased hands in her dream, clots of rotting flesh clinging to bones as they carried her baby.
She could sense their gnawing hunger, and yet, how they worshipped Selah. How the baby seemed somehow holy to them.
She tried to shake it off. The image of her daughter in the gown, cradled here in Thomas’s arms, triggered the memory. She forced a smile for Selah, refusing to believe the dream meant anything significant, but too uneasy to not believe in ill omens.
When Reverend Forbes came to the pulpit, Dejah was overwhelmed with emotion at his emaciated appearance. It hadn’t been that long since they’d last seen him, but the change in him was shocking. He moved feebly, as if afraid he’d snap. His hair was thin, his skin colorless, his eyes sunken and watery as they looked out over his congregation. The cancer had taken a dramatic and significant toll.
Reverend Forbes expelled a rattling cough, serving as a painful reminder that soon he’d no longer be with them. His prayers were delivered with humility and sincerity. Dejah didn’t know another man who deserved to die less than Reverend Forbes. And then, he called their little family to the front of the sanctuary.
The congregation applauded as Thomas and Dejah made their way through the aisle with Selah babbling happily, eliciting “awwww-ing” sounds from the crowd. As they approached the pulpit, Dejah’s heart beat faster. Closer to him, she could see the wrinkles and deep lines in Reverend Forbes’s gaunt face, a map of his life’s joys and sorrows. Sometimes when he breathed, a heavy sigh sounded, a
along with each breath.
They shared a knowing look. Dejah felt the impending loss of his life like a passenger on a plane that sinks in turbulence…an awful drop and tightness in her guts that didn’t go away.
Thomas held Selah out for Reverend Forbes, supporting her from beneath as the pastor laid hands on her forehead. Forbes closed his eyes in a pained expression. Baby Selah placed her hand on the pastor’s cheek. It was a sweet moment and the congregation laughed, but it soon became apparent that
something else was happening
Selah grew quiet. The pastor was still.
Two of the musicians set down their instruments in time to see Reverend Forbes drop to his knees. His eyes rolled into his head. He collapsed to the floor at the foot of the pulpit.
“Thomas!” Dejah called. Thomas did his best to hang onto Selah, who transformed from an animated, happy baby to appearing limp and dazed. Dejah pulled Selah into her arms.
The musicians came forward, tending to the pastor. The congregation was astir with concern. One of the deacons approached. “Everyone take it easy. We’re calling an ambulance. Let’s pray….” His voice trailed away.
Dejah and Thomas were ushered into the first row of pews. A few people gave the baby a strange, almost accusatory eye. Dejah couldn’t explain it, but it was like a powerful force had passed from the infant to the reverend.
After a few minutes, the murmur of discussion was a muted din across the sanctuary. Reverend Forbes stirred, but those around him encouraged him to remain still. Before they left, Dejah looked at the reverend near the pulpit on the raised dais; he was staring at Selah.
* * *
The following weekend, Dejah entered the kitchen, lured by the scent of fresh coffee. Thomas had just finished a phone conversation as she entered the room. There was a grave look on his face as he switched off his phone. He stood there; thumb lingering over the
My God, what now
? She thought.
Thomas looked at her. “That was Rosie, from church.”
“Reverend Forbes, he’s—”
Dead. He’s dead, and now they’re going to blame my baby because she touched him.
“He showed up at church energetic, happier than ever, and said his cancer was in full remission. His doctors can’t explain it.”
So why are you afraid
? Dejah wanted to ask, because she could see fear on his face.
“He’s asking about Selah,” Thomas said.
Dejah didn’t respond. The nightmare of infection and decay still lingered in her waking thoughts, and crept around the edges of her dreams. She couldn’t shake the twisted feeling that somehow this and her nightmare were related. That somehow what happened with Selah and Reverend Forbes was not just an Easter miracle, but a portent of things to come.
9 years later
On a Friday night in the middle of a mild October, Hell rained down in a blaze from the night skies over Greenville, Texas. A school bus full of Millward Christian High School Students returning to Dallas from a football game against Greenville Christian Academy were among the first to see it. After sundown, the temperature dropped to a balmy 80 degrees and because the bus reeked with the stench of a locker room, they opened the windows as they crossed a small gulley bridge. The bus dipped into a deep pothole, as a sudden flash in the darkness pushed a wave of heat across the land. Sound followed a split-second later: an explosion so powerful it nudged the bus and made the kids inside catch their breath as their hearts kicked into high gear. They felt the heat and impact of the explosion like a mortar blast and scrambled to the windows to gawk. It looked like an airplane exploded in the sky.
“Holy shit!” said Collin Davis. “Cool!”
“Hey man,” said another kid, “that airplane just fucking exploded!” This was followed by a whole cacophony of cheers, curses and shouts.
“Watch your language, son!” the coach hollered above the terror-filled frenzy, but no one paid any attention. It seemed the team as a collective let loose with enough profanities to put a ship full of navy men to shame.
Shaun Huntington forgot about his unspoken vow to spend the ride home sulking about the colossal unfairness of life. With that one burst of flame he forgot how Jana Cooper dumped him to get back together with Rhett Pollard, the team’s star running back. But he’d spent plenty of time until that moment wallowing in the sorrow of his existence.
Shaun was just a minnow in the big football pond. He was only on special teams. Girls wanted to be able to say their boyfriends were quarterbacks or running backs or defensive backs. They didn’t want to have to follow their explanation of “my boyfriend’s on the football team” with “yeah, he plays special teams.” Like he was on the retard squad or something. Like “special teams” should ride the short bus to the game and be happy their parents have a few seconds to snap a photo every time a ball gets kicked-off. He was barely a step up from trainer—that dreaded position of unfortunates who didn’t even get to warm a bench.
Seriously though, could Jana have possibly been any more of a bitch? Granted, she and Shaun weren’t getting married or anything, but they’d gone out a couple times, and while the words “going steady” never crossed either of their lips, he figured it was implied. They’d made out a couple times, been to dinner and a movie. Hell, he’d even felt her tits under the bleachers as she writhed in supposed delight while pressing a hot kiss to his lips, inserting her probing tongue. He’d been stupid enough to delude himself into believing that she’d done something special for him, letting him touch those tits. Now he knew that her phone number scratched into the rusty metal of the shitter stall with the phrase “for a good blow” etched under it was probably true. Damn it if he didn’t get to stick around long enough to find out.
Damn you, Rhett
He guessed, even after all that, he was surprised to see her show up for the game tonight. She drove all the way to Greenville to see them play. He pretended not to see her, because he was intense like that. Shaun was painfully aware every time Rhett made a big play and the stands exploded into applause, that on special teams, opportunities to get cheered were few and far between. The occasional run-back can stir up the crowd, but you’re seldom making the big play. Still, every time there was a kick off, Shaun jogged out with the rest of the special teams squad, carrying himself like a proud stallion, hoping, God, hoping, he’d catch the big one and run it all the way in. It never happened, but she was still out there, and he didn’t do anything stupid like trip over his shoelaces and eat dirt, so that counted for something. Their team, the Millward Christian Saints, won by a margin of fourteen points for a respectable win.
After the game was over, Shaun continued his charade about not being too excited that she was there. He took a moment on the bench, stalled while grabbing his helmet, and chatted with a teammate. Then he was going to walk onto the field and say hello to her, to Jana, and he turned just in time to see her run to Rhett Pollard, throw her arms around his shoulders, and kiss him long and deep. Rhett moved a hand to cup her little ass, lifting her off the ground as he did so. Shaun stood there, stunned, watching Jana’s perfectly curved leg fold behind her as they kissed, and then she took Rhett’s hand and they went to her car and beyond, presumably, to have all the sex Shaun only dreamed of.
Now, riding the bus in a daze, listening to his mp3 player, staring out at the night, all of that suddenly—thankfully—went away when the airplane exploded in a fiery blast above the bus.
Maybe some shrapnel would fly through a window and take out Rhett,
he thought. Divine justice and all. But probably not. He’d never been that lucky.
Shaun pushed his way to a window, climbing up behind Collin and another kid, Juice Hayman. He looked out, catching the tail end of the explosion, roiling clouds of orange and black shining like the morphing face of a demonic Jack-O-Lantern in all the glowing colors of Halloween.
A secondary blast, smaller than the first, but nearly as brilliant, lit the night again. One part of the plane continued its deadly flight, while two other pieces went off in their own directions. The team watched the flaming airplane break completely apart and fall in a scatter of flaming wreckage. The bus turned a corner headed over a short road taking them to I-30 and then home. The entire bus tipped dangerously. All the kids howled.
“Hey, sit in your seats, guys, c’mon!” the driver shouted over the excitement.
Coach Middy started barking at the guys to sit and to simmer down. Meanwhile the driver got on the radio, nervously recounting for dispatch the details of the explosion. Shaun heard the dispatcher reply with a squawked promise to call the police. Didn’t really matter though, not for whoever was in that airplane. That metal bird was toast and so was anyone unlucky enough to have taken that flight to Hell. Shaun bit his bottom lip as he made his way through the bus aisle, sliding into his seat, all thoughts of Jana and his own piddly existence fading quickly in light of the night’s developments.