This is the second round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these second-round submissions, it’s the letter “B”.
Readers have a month to vote for their favorite story in each round and points will be assigned to each writer.
For each letter, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “B”.
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Copyright 2020 – Gary Broxson
(1,940 words – approx. reading time: about 7 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Doctor King had his dream,” the congregation erupted in praises for the Lord. “Doctor King had his dream,” Pastor Rufus Youngblood shouted again. “He dreamed that little black girls and boys would live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Outside, thunder rumbled, underscoring the Pastor’s remarks.
Pastor Youngblood pulled a pure white handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed his forehead. He took a sip from a glass of water situated to the right of the pulpit. Rows of large black women in fanciful hats fanned themselves as they waited for Pastor Youngblood to take them to that mythic mountain top. But just as the pastor’s sermon was about to crescendo, it faltered.
“Doctor King,” the pastor started, then stopped. “Doctor King had a grand dream,” his tone now somber. “And look what he got for it.” The congregation quieted, the hallelujahs halted and the Lord praising paused. They stared in stunned disbelief at the man that had stood before them a 1000 Sundays, always uplifting, never despairing. “A bullet!” Youngblood shouted, slamming his fist on the ancient oak pulpit, his half-empty water glass teetered, then tipped, spilling its content onto the carpet.
“For the time he spent in a Birmingham jail, marching to Montgomery, dreaming in DC, all he got was a bullet and a closed casket.” A baby started crying in the back of the old church but was hushed by a young mother. Pastor Youngblood sensed rightly that he was scaring his congregation. He stepped from behind the pulpit and walked down a purple carpeted stair. There, with a bible in his large hands, he sat on a prayer bench and faced his people.
“It’s time I told you all a story,” he sighed. “My story,” he paused, unsure. Distant lightning flashed through the church’s stained-glass window depicting Jesus with open arms and a blood-red robe.
“Go on, brother,” a familiar voice, Deacon Jones, prompted.
Youngblood took a deep breath, as if he were about to jump into turbulent waters, and began again. “As you know, I’ve been a God-fearing man for a mighty long time. But there was a time when I feared for all mankind. I feared for our very soul.”
“I’ve never spoken of this, perhaps out of guilt, maybe out of shame. You know I served our country in war, in Viet Nam, but you don’t know about my lie, the one I’ve been living with all these years since. That year was 1968. Perhaps the bloodiest year since Jesus took to the cross. There was Bobby, then Martin, then so many, many more in the jungles of Vietnam.
I was an infantry private, an FNG, they called me.” This got a few comradely chuckles from some old vets. “We got sent out on a search and destroy mission, to an area we called Pinkville, named after the communist VC we knew were holed up there. The boys were wound tight; our platoon sergeant had been sniped just the week before, and the grunt’s blood was up.”
“I don’t know how it started, I guess it doesn’t matter. You see, it had to happen. That’s the dream. Someone told me later that a boy had refused to get a sergeant a drink of water so he threw the kid into a well and dropped in a grenade. There was panic, then shooting, then screaming, then… madness.”
Pastor Youngblood paused. Hard raindrops drove sideways onto the church’s aluminum siding, mimicking a muffled machinegun. Deacon Jones made his way along the side aisle and retrieved the fallen glass next to the pulpit. He half filled it with water from a nearby pitcher and offered it to the distraught man. Youngblood smiled at the old Deacon, and whispered, “I’m sorry.” Then gulped the water and continued. Deacon Jones looked into the pastor’s eyes, paused, and then nodded his understanding.
“We killed them; we killed them all. We told ourselves that this was war, that we were following orders, that we were somehow serving our country. This, my friends, was my lie.”
“I can still see her face.” Youngblood pointed to the dark water stain on the purple carpet in front of him. “The little girl, one arm shot off. She looked directly at me, like, why? Why? Then just before a soldier with his trousers half-down got to her, I drew my .45 and shot her between the eyes.”
The congregation groaned collectively. Deacon Jones was there again, placing a reassuring arm around Ruf Youngblood, not a pastor now, but an old soldier, a man, a man bent in pain. Pastor Youngblood looked up, then stood up. He tugged down at the hem of his jacket and straightened his tie. He strode back to the pulpit – resolute. He reached down behind the pulpit and brought out a large hardback tome and placed it in front of him, next to the coiled microphone stand. “Thank you,” he spoke into the mic. “You just don’t know how much better I feel getting that off my heart.”
“But there’s something else you must know.” With big hands wrapped around the edges of the pulpit, he continued. “All charges were dismissed, except for our platoon leader. He got a slap on the wrist. I finished my time in the jungle, and then brought it all home with me. You see, like Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., I too had dreams. Every night in the bottom of a bottle, I would see that little girl. She just stood there at the foot of my bed and watched me. I couldn’t sleep; my bed was always full. The families, dressed in black pajamas, squeezed in beside me, sleeping peacefully the way they had in the ditches and rice paddies. I was a wreck and I wanted out but I only had one escape plan – a bullet.” More groans from the congregation.
“Then one night something different happened.” For the first time this surreal evening, Pastor Rufus Youngblood smiled. This was the warm smile that packed parishioners into the pews; that sent them home to roasts in ovens; and kept them coming back for generations. “My sad little one-arm girl arrived as usual, but this time she had friends.”
“Four little black girls in white Sunday dresses surrounded my bed that night in 1978. They held hands and sang hymns and wouldn’t let the others get into my bed. The new girls were burnt horribly but they smiled and spoke to me as innocent children will. They told me that God was the answer to my misery, that only he could forgive me of my terrible sins. They told me that my soul had been too long at war, but now was the time for peace, and only now could I accept the difference. That night I got down on my knees and I prayed, and I prayed some more, until God took the pain away. I dedicated my life to Christ and have served you fine folk, and my Lord, to the best of my meager abilities.”
The congregation stood, they clapped; they shouted Hallelujah to the roof as the rain beat down, droning like angry bees in a hive.
As they applauded, no one noticed the church door crack open just enough to allow a visitor to slip into the building. He moved into the rear pew and looked around nervously, obviously not expecting such an uproar. The visitor was young, perhaps a boy of 17, thin and wan. He shook off the weather and set his jaw in a strange yet determined fashion.
“So, why, you ask, would I choose this night, this stormy devil-beating-his-wife night to reveal my lie? It’s the dream, brothers and sisters, the dream. Unlike Martin Luther King’s dream for equality for all, my dreams have a way of coming true—for better or worse.”
“It started back in ‘Nam. The night before the massacre I dreamed of that little girl. She stood there at the foot of my cot, with that bloody arm, and she told me what would happen and what I had to do. She told me there was a time for war and a time for peace. And then it all happened, just as she said it would, and I did what she had asked, what I had promised her. That was man’s war with man, but it took some bad booze and the good Lord to finally give me peace.”
Deacon Jones, ever vigilant, noticed the young man in the raincoat come in the back door of the church. He sidled up to the visitor and put a hand on his shoulder. “Welcome, brother,” Deacon Jones whispered.
The stranger recoiled, pushed away and wiped at the place on his shoulder where Deacon Jones had touched him. “I am not your brother, brother,” he shouted at the astonished elder. With his left hand, he peeled back his raincoat. The handle of a sawed-off shotgun jutted from his waistband. With his right hand, he pulled the weapon free and pointed it at Deacon Jones’ chest. “But I am your worst nightmare,” he finished. Thunder crashed as both barrels erupted in flames. Deacon Jones was lifted off his feet and propelled backward. He crumpled and bled as flames licked at his coat and tie.
The stranger stepped into the aisle where many a sinner had followed that purple pathway to God. The congregation was again stunned silent by the events of the evening. The visitor’s eyes gleamed, he howled a rebel yell and flung off his raincoat. He was shirtless. Pistol grips bowed out from his leather belt. He broke the shotgun in half and two smoking shells ejected onto the floor. Pulling two more from his bulging cargo pocket, he inserted them and snapped the barrel upward with a mechanical click.
Aside from his maniacal grin, the most notable features of the stranger were his tattoos. A tapestry of colored inks stippled his torso and arms. Skulls, helmets, swastikas, cryptic symbols and numbers illustrated his pale flesh. Taking a Glock from his belt, he pirouetted, waving guns in each hand. “This is the beginning of the race war!” he proclaimed, eyes bright with madness. This was the look of savagery that Pastor Youngblood remembered. The intruder continued, “You are the sacrificial sheep to the slaughter, lambs for the shearing.”
Lightning flashed through the stained-glass window illuminating the stranger in a kaleidoscope of colors. Thunder followed, sharp and loud. The stranger froze, seemingly unsure of his purpose. He tucked his chin and looked down at his hairless chest. Blood bubbled and flowed from the center of a large swastika inked across his breast. He turned back to the pulpit, his arms flopping to his sides, the weapons suddenly too heavy. Folding to his knees, he looked up at the man behind the podium.
Pastor Rufus Youngblood lowered the smoking government-issue .45 caliber handgun. He met the gaze of the dying stranger. “There will be no war today, son. Now is the time to rest in peace.” The intruder leaned to one side and tipped over, prostrate at the altar.
“It’s over, Brothers and Sisters. It’s over,” Pastor Youngblood announced. He placed the pistol back into the large open book centered on the pulpit. It fit perfectly into the carefully carved-out silhouette in the pages. “The girls came back last night. They told me that this would be the time for war and peace.” He slammed the book closed revealing Tolstoy’s classic epic.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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