“Joe,” Betty said, “I have to tell you something.”
When Joe sat down, she handed him a picture. “Is this the old man you saw last night?”
Joe looked carefully, perusing the picture with tired eyes. He examined the photo for a few minutes, eyeing the hair, the young face, the mouth, nose, and chin. The man in the photo was a lot younger than the man he had seen the night before, he wasn’t quite sure it was him, until he looked into the eyes. Yes, the eyes, they had the same mesmerizing look.
“Yes, it’s him, the eyes are the same, it’s him alright. He said his name was King. Who is he, really?”
Kerry came in with a pot of tea and poured for all. Kerry and Joe sat quietly while Betty told them what had happened to her so many years ago and why her husband, Pastor Lloyd McArthur, was so quick to get rid of him. Many years ago, when Betty was a young married woman, she had an affair with King because, apparently, her new husband, the pastor, was unable to give her the thing she wanted most, a child.
“Joe, when Kerry told him about King, he was furious, and while some of the members of the church were here last night, he was home plotting revenge. He’s out of control, Joe.” Betty’s tears fell down her cheeks and Kerry put an arm around her to console her. “He never did get over it. And, what’s worse, is that he thinks that King took advantage of me and raped me, but that is not what happened; he just won’t believe me.”
“Where is he now?” Joe said.
“I don’t know. When he left this afternoon, I went to my sister’s house. I went back home, and then I got a phone call a little while ago about the fire, so I came here.”
“Betty, I think King has had some kind of revelation, or it could be that he is just a senile old man. But, nonetheless, I believe that he has changed. I believe that he is harmless.”
“Yes, you know that, and I know that, but Lloyd doesn’t. I’ve never seen him like this. I’m afraid of what he might do. He’s already caused property damage. What are we going to do?” Betty said.
Joe got up.
“Where are you going?” Kerry said.
“I’m going to go over there and see if I can’t knock some sense into that old coon.”
“No, wait, let me call first, maybe he’ll answer the phone, if he’s there.” Kerry picked up the receiver and dialed the number, no answer. She tried once more and still, nothing.
The three of them sat back down and Kerry made another pot of tea. It was almost midnight and Kerry kept calling periodically, but still no answer from the pastor. Betty was tired and Kerry suggested that she sleep in the guest bedroom for the night. Betty agreed and felt relieved that she didn’t have to see her estranged husband. Kerry brought her to the bedroom and gave her a nightdress to wear and got her settled in. She went back downstairs to find Joe on the phone.
“Was it Pastor McArthur?” she said.
“No, Kevin. He’s agreed to go back to King’s house. He says that all the other men who were at the fire tonight are accounted for; they are at home with their families. I think the pastor may have went back to finish the job.”
Kerry followed him to the shed, to the gun cabinet. “Do you think he’s lost his mind? Do you think the pastor would actually hurt King?”
Joe opened the cabinet and pulled out a rifle. He reached for a box of ammo and then locked the cabinet again. “I don’t know, Kerry, but I can’t help but feel that this is my entire fault.”
“Joe, if you hadn’t seen that sign, someone else would have.”
“Listen, go back in the house, lock up and turn out the lights, and then go up to the bedroom and keep an eye out, just in case he comes here looking for Betty. If he does, or if you hear anything, call Gus next door and he’ll be here in a heartbeat. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He kissed her on the cheek and started the truck. He watched until she got into the house and then he was off.
Kevin was waiting for him on the step when he drove up to his trailer. Instead of driving the truck, Kevin suggested they take the ATV and use the old railroad trail to get to the other side of the road from King’s property. If the pastor was waiting for King, then they might have a chance to blindside him. Joe thought that it was a great idea. It was now almost one o’clock and the moon was full. On the way, Joe told Kevin about Betty and King and it all made sense now.
They were coming upon a fork in the road, and Kevin turned out the headlights. He was going to park the ATV in a grove of bushes, but when he got closer he caught sight of something shining in the moonlight. He stopped and they got off the bike to investigate. It was the pastor’s truck. Just as Joe had thought, he had come back to finish the job.
“Shit, we’re going to have a hard time trying to find him now.” Joe said.
“Not with these.” Kevin said, as he raised two pairs of night vision goggles. “I got these babies last year when we had the licences to hunt coyote. I never thought I’d use them for something like this though.”
Joe was impressed. They had about a thirty minute walk ahead of them before they got to the main road, and then about twenty minutes on that dirt road to King’s property. Kevin hauled the bike to the other side of the road and pushed it into the ditch. He covered it with some bushes and then they started their trek to the main road. The wind picked up, which was both good and bad. Good because no one could hear them coming, but bad because they couldn’t hear anyone coming.
They soon came upon the main road. Each of them scoping the area with night vision goggles through the rifle scopes. Joe saw something in his scope, but it was just a rabbit. Joe signaled Kevin to move on across the road, proceeding with caution, and then Joe followed. They hiked the rest of the way, Joe on one side of the road near the trees and Kevin on the other, both wearing the goggles. When they were almost all the way there, the wind came to a complete stop, and a strange feeling overtook them. The image in their goggles became like white noise, static. Joe made his way to Kevin and they had to stop to gain their bearing. It was as if the air had suddenly become electrified. When they looked at each other, each still wearing the goggles, the hair on their heads stood on end. Kevin giggled nervously.
“What is this? Is it an electrical storm?” Kevin said.
“I don’t have a clue, but I don’t like it.”
“What should we do?” Kevin’s voice was shaky.
“I’m not sure, what do you think?” Joe looked at him. Kevin’s hair was standing on end. He giggled. Then Kevin giggled, and for a moment they both got caught up in it and forgot about where they were and what they were doing. The goggles started to fog up and when they took off their goggles, they noticed a bright light up ahead.
“Okay, enough of this sneaking, let’s go.” They started running up to the field, neither one caring about what lay ahead.
“You did it, you coward, you took advantage of my dear sweet Betty and you raped her!”
“No, Lloyd, no, please believe me, I didn’t know she was your wife until afterward. Please, Lloyd, please.”
It was the pastor and King. The pastor had a rifle to King’s chest. And there was light, growing brighter, and lighting up the sky.
Joe and Kevin were in the middle of the field, coming upon them.
“Don’t do it Pastor McArthur, Lloyd, please don’t do it!” Joe said.
“Stay where you are, Joe, or I’ll put a bullet in this sonofabitch’s chest.”
Kevin stopped, but Joe didn’t. “Lloyd, Betty is at our house. She wants you to come home. She doesn’t care about King. She just wants you home safe.” Joe tried hard to settle him.
“Did she tell you, Joe? Did she tell you what this monster did to her? Did she tell you what he did?” He was a raging bull, full of years of pent up anger and contempt.
“Please, Lloyd, it’s all in the past. She says that she just wanted you to be happy. She did it for you, for the both of you, so that you could have a child.”
“No, he raped her! He raped her!” Tears ran down his face, but the rifle in his hand remained pointed at King’s chest.
Joe looked into King’s eyes. There was something in them. Joe could see that he was not scared. He didn’t want to die, but he wasn’t scared to die. He stood there, with his hands in the air, knowing what was coming, but he wasn't afraid. He looked like a man finally at peace. He smiled at Joe.
Joe was right at Lloyd’s back now. He could grab the gun, but could he do it without it going off? He didn’t think so, so he pleaded and talked the pastor down. “Please, pastor, think about Betty, think about Tom; you raised him as your own and now look at that boy, a grown man with a family of his own. Think of your grandkids, Lloyd.”
All around them the sky grew brighter and even though Kevin and Joe were aware of it earlier, the pastor had not noticed, until now. Now, the light was so bright that it was blinding. No one could tell where it was coming from; it was just there, growing brighter. Joe saw his chance and grabbed the rifle. The blast from the gun was like a clap of thunder and rippled through the atmosphere like an atomic bomb. Joe saw the bullet as it went, in slow motion, to King’s chest.
But the bullet never made it to King’s chest. The bullet went through the static that was left of King. King began to dissipate even before the bullet left the chamber and what was left of him was like dandelion pollen blowing in the wind. The bright light had faded and the wind had commenced. The moon was full and the sky was bright with an abundance of stars. The three men were dumbfounded. Joe put the gun down and Kevin walked in closer. A light shone from the porch of the house.
“What just happened?” Kevin said. “I mean I saw it, but I don’t believe it.”
The three of them looked around, dazed. The little black dog came from the porch and sat at Joe’s feet.
“I think that we should just forget about this, about everything that happened here tonight. In my opinion, Lloyd, you were never here. I’ll tell Kerry that Kevin and I came back, but there was nobody here, and that King was nowhere to be seen. No one needs to know.”
Pastor McArthur looked solemn. He looked to the smoldering church, and then he looked at the ground and said, “I think you’re right, Joe, I think you are right. My God, what have I done?” He put his face in his hands, held it, then ran his hands through his hair. “Mother of God, what have I done?” He fell to the ground, screaming for forgiveness.
The following summer, Joe and Blackie, were hiking through the woods. Blackie had run ahead and was now barking up a storm. When Joe finally caught up to the little black dog, he was sitting in the middle of a circle of burnt grass. All the hair on Joe’s body began to stand on end, and in the sky the sun grew brighter.