Blood on the Altar
Written by Stuart Thaman
Story by Breanna Mounce
“I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness…” Ecclesiastes 3:4
I knew wickedness. I knew evil. Hell, I still know him. Evil has a name around here in the woods of rural East Tennessee: Pastor Errol James. Never trust a man with two first names is what my Momma always said. I wish I would’ve listened. I wish I could go back and tell my seven-year-old self to run from that evil son of a bitch. Sadly, that’s the way life went for me. I don’t have any scars, but the memories…
Every time I drive into town, I have to see that little white church. The freshly painted steeple, the cars filling the parking lot every Sunday, the metal sign placed by the county that just says ‘church’ as though people wouldn’t recognize the stereotypical building. Just beyond that, I have to endure another seven acres of Pastor James’ prize-winning goat farm. It makes me sick. But I’m not a hateful man, not really.
I was a good Baptist boy growing up. I read the Bible every night like my father told me and I went to church every Sunday. I even sang in the choir with the other kids. That’s when it started. By all estimation I was a terrible singer. Couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket is what my Momma always said. But that didn’t stop Pastor James from trying to teach me. At first, I liked the attention. Momma tried to get me singing lessons in town, but they were too expensive, so when Pastor James offered to tutor me for free, we counted our blessings.
After my first summer of lessons, Pastor James said I needed to sing with my shirt off. He said he wanted to watch how my ribcage moved so he could better instruct me. Even after it happened, I didn’t figure out what a sick bastard he was until I was sixteen. I caught him leering at my little brother during the sermon one Sunday when it dawned on me. That was the last time I set foot inside a church… until tonight.
I couldn’t handle it any longer. As I was driving home from town, something deep inside me raged up to the surface and jerked the steering wheel. I was doing ten over when I hit the yellow county church sign with my truck. Knocked it clean out of the ground. It was well past midnight and the only things close enough to hear were the goats. The damned creatures bleated and yelled up a storm. I stepped out of my truck and all I could think about was Pastor James taking me to his office to “show me the trophies he won at the county fair”.
“And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 4: 2-3
That’s why I never had kids. My first wife left me over it. Better is he who has not yet been – sometimes I wish I had never been born. Like the Bible says, the unborn can’t know evil.
I stepped over to the sign and picked it up. The twisted hunk of metal was sharp and heavy in my calloused hands. With the glow of my headlights, I used the edge of the sign to cut through the simple barbed-wire fence of Pastor James’ goat farm. One of the filthy beasts came right up to me and I swung the sign like a baseball bat. The thin metal edge sliced through the goat’s neck with a spurt of blood that brought a smile to my face.
It’s been hours since I wrecked my truck and killed that goat. Now, I stand in the front of the little white church with blood on my hands and the stench of death tickling my nose. All around me, Pastor James’ prized goats lie in pieces. Seventeen of them, by my counting. Only one more left to get.
I walk back into the darkness of the farm and search out the last filthy, wretched goat. I find him by a shallow pool of water and hoist him onto my back as I had done with the others. The goat yells once or twice, but doesn’t fight or squirm until I kick open the church door. I carry it to the altar and grab the last bit of barbed-wire fence I gathered and tie the animal’s legs. In a flash, I remember Pastor James tying my own legs together with his belt…. The putrid memory gives me strength. I stretch the goat flat beneath the statue of Jesus and bring the bloody sign to its neck. With a quick swipe, the creature’s head rolls to the bloody carpet with all the others.
I smile and look left to the choir pews. Pastor James shrieks behind a layer of duct tape and struggles against the barbed-wire cuffing his wrists. It wasn’t hard to get him down to the church. In fact, it had almost been too easy. One phone call and the pervert had come running.
“The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” Ecclesiastes 9: 3
The man, naked and bleeding, quivers and shuts his eyes as I approach. With my pocket knife, I carefully slice his eyelids away. He whimpers and tries to escape, but the more he struggles, the more the barbed-wire cuts into his weak flesh. I wipe the blood from his face and stare into his soulless eyes. “Are you familiar with the third chapter of Luke?” I ask him with a sly grin.
He shudders and murmurs, but the duct tape holds.
I turn back to the statue of Jesus over the altar and hold my hands wide in imitation. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff,” I spin back on the pastor and smile, “but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The man struggles again and cuts his wrist down to the tendon. I turn his chair to the side so he can see Jesus on the wall staring down at him – at us – judging. Although the sky was clear when I began my gruesome work, a peal of thunder crashes and shakes the church roof. A bolt of lightning slams into the church steeple and sends a wave of splinters down upon my head.
“The Lord has judged you, Errol James,” I announce. I can hear the roof starting to burn above us and driving rain showers down from heaven. I bring the metal sign to the pastor’s soft flesh and rest it on the front of his throat.
Another bolt of lightning shatters the front of the church and the statue of Jesus behind the altar falls.
Pastor James’ blood splatters my face. I’ve done the Lord’s work – Momma would be proud.