With one final wet respiration and long crackly sigh, the machine signals it’s finished.  Andrew pours the first cup of the day—a new day—but his hands are still shaking.  Adrenaline, fatigue, fear, guilt: all of these have taken over his body.  He scratches a match and lights the three candles on his desk, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen,” and allows the flimsy cardboard stick to burn all the way down to his pinched fingers, feels the intensifying, approaching pain, ponders what hell will be like when he ultimately arrives there, body and soul, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.

A Red Mallee cross attached to a leather necklace, a gift from a missionary friend in Australia, dangles from a green Tiffany lamp on the desk.  The cross of Christ—eternal life for some, eternal death for others—dances in the fiery flames of the candlelight, flickers within the line of human vision; the shaky shadow that is cast upon the wall beckons for attention: two arms reaching out.

Mr. Simmons reached out, too—begging, weeping, pleading—but no grace or mercy was bestowed.  Throwing a tantrum, his balding head twisted back and forth; he cried and rocked and screamed like the babies he molested.   At fifty-five years old, he hugged himself and called for his mommy, a quivering question mark in the frightening dark.  No one realized he’d gone missing because the dough-bellied baker was abducted quietly in the night. 

Lex Talionis, Andrew thought, suddenly entranced.  Rationalizing.

Dentures, stringing with nasty saliva, hung loose from Simon Simmons wide-open mouth.  His eyes, bloodshot with fright and bulging from Grave’s disease, looked up and flicked rapidly, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth between the unknown men towering over him.  He was shaking as if he’d been tased.

One of them, a tall, muscular black man, chiseled to superhero power and perfection, said, “Damn, boy, quit staring up at me with those creepy ass eyes or I’ll close them for you right now and won’t give you any time to pray.”  Pulling a revolver from behind his back, “I’ll tell you what, let’s play a game, Pat-a-Cake.   You like games, right?  It’s simple, Simon: pretend that I’m the pieman and give me a penny for your prayers.  Tell us what we want to know.  How about Simon Says, hmm?”

The only thing the sticky, blubbering man could manage to say came in the form of pathetic, deep-throated, single syllables, “Gah…  Gah…”  Huge tears splashed like rain onto the roach-infested floor of an abandoned motel somewhere in the middle of hell’s nowhere.

“Ga Ga?  That ain’t no answer, Baker Man; that’s a singer, goes by the name of Lady—which you ain’t into.”

A Ruger LCRX .38 special, untraceable to Boom Boom Pawn and Gun, was placed into Mr. Simmons’ fat hand, fully loaded, his pudgy finger placed upon the trigger.

“Let’s play another game, the Russian kind.”

An outright lie to the panicking sex offender trembling on his knees, “There’s a single bullet in this gun.  You talk—OR—I’ll spin the wheel with my gloved hands, place this gun in your mouth or on your balls—your choice—and I’ll help you pull the trigger.  Some call this game One-in-Six.  The sick bastard standing next to me calls it Mouth or Marbles—because you like to put things in your mouth that don’t belong there and also enjoy playing with little boy’s marbles, right?  Personally, I call this game what it really is: assisted suicide.”

For a moment, Mr. Simmons found his voice: raspy, high as helium, cartoonish.  “If, if, if I talk . . .”

“IF?  You mean wh-wh-wh-when you talk, Winnie the Pooh, yes, you can go back to your adult boyfriends in prison.  But no more children or animals—unless the warden has a cat.”

“Gah!”

“Alright goo goo gaga.  Start talking like an adult.  You’re really starting to piss me off.”

Mr.  Simmons just sat there, a pale blob, sniffling and snorting.

After a long pause and exasperated sigh, “Listen, Puddin Pie, I like to sing or whistle songs whenever I play games, sorta like Jeopardy, ya dig?  It will afford you a few more critical seconds to think of your answers from three related categories: who, how, and where.  When I finish singing, hold up one finger for WHO, two fingers for HOW, and three fingers for WHERE.  Good clean fun, right?  Let’s begin, Sugar Plum Fairy.”

The unidentified strong man had one deficiency: he couldn’t sing.  The tone-deaf champion sang anyway; loud and proud; off-key and unashamed; another kind of torture; an eerie lullaby right before a man was shot to sleep; killer karaoke; a prelude to something wicked; illegal; irreversible; inerasable from memory—but—admittedly understandable and maybe even justifiable to Andrew’s waffling conscience.

The other men snickered at the crying, slobbering man who hummed along and nodded his hopeful head with submissive, bugging eyes.

Roly Poly… 

Mama’s little fatty… 

Andrew forced himself to watch another human placed under deep duress.  Lines appeared on the bald man’s forehead beyond where they belonged, rippling fore to aft, Don Rickles in the extreme.  Sweat gushed from his body like a fountain, soaked his shirt, dripped from his ears.  Snot bubbled from his nose.  Piss poured into his pants.

Eats bread and jelly… 

Twenty times a day…

Five sausage fingers thrust into the air.  The singing stopped.

With the lightning speed of a professional boxer, one of the other men slapped the baker’s hand and screamed directly into his ear, loud as a drill instructor, “He didn’t say five fingers, stupid!”

Simon Simmons tried to speak but couldn’t catch his breath.  “Air—Air—”

“Let him breathe.”

The man’s dentures found their way to the floor.  A heavy boot crushed them.  The men laughed.  Mr. Simmons wept.

Jesus wept, Andrew thought.

In Gethsemane, Christ sweated great drops of blood, a rare condition known as hematidrosis, so immense was His fear of the cross, His loathing of becoming sin on man’s behalf, the holy flesh of the Sinless One saturated through and through with the sins of the world—every thought, word, and deed—the very blackness of darkness that would separate the Son from His Father for the first time in all of eternity past.  The blessed Christ, soiled with Mr. Simmons’ pedophilia and a billion other perversions, nailed and impaled to death.  Without the shedding of His blood, there’s no remission of sins.  The deal on the divine table: His righteousness for man’s unrighteousness: The Great Exchange, some have called it.  One life for many.  The crazy thing Andrew knew was that Jesus became Mr. Simmons on the blackest day in history.  He doubted that Simon knew or even understood that soul-saving fact before he—

“Hey, Dump Cake!  You better start talking.”

Mr. Simmons, a depraved serial molester, uttered one final word before sharting in his underwear and suffering a violent, frothy seizure.  “Hand…”

“Oh, I’m not giving you a hand, baby lover, but I will give you this.”

Under the chin.  A flash of light, a thunderous explosion, a spray of blood.  All at once.

Andrew wipes his face.  Blood then.  Tears now.

The pastor unlocks the bottom drawer of his desk, thrusts a blind hand between and underneath some hanging file folders, pulls out a bottle of peach brandy, and adds a generous amount to his almost drained coffee: half-and-half.  The liquid is hot and satisfying under his sternum, an emotional decongestant.  Andrew takes another swig followed by a long, slow, deep breath.  He sets the large mug on a coaster.  Carved into the circle of jarrah wood, these words: post tenebras spero lucem.  The Latin Vulgate translation of Job 17:12, “After darkness, I hope for light.”
___________
Andrew Dabar (written for NaNoWriMo, Day 1)