This is the fifth 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 submissions, it’s the letter “D”.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. 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 “E” as submitted by its author.
WARNING: some of the stories deal with adult themes and events (somewhere between PG and R rating). Plus, one might encounter the occasional use of the more colloquial word for fornicate.
Copyright 2020 — Perry Broxson
(3,019words – approx. reading time: about 12 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Finally, Rosemary had a purpose. It was God. The God of the Holy Bible. The God that spoke light into the skies and laid the earth’s foundations. The God that answered prayers. She wanted nothing more than to please her Heavenly Father.
Her earthly father, Doug, was not happy when he came home from work and tripped over boxes of her stuff.
“What’s this shit?” he barked.
Rosemary came out of her bedroom, wearing one of her mother’s modest peasant dresses. “It is as you say, Doug. Shit.”
He looked at her like she’d grown another head. “Did you just call me Doug?”
“Indeed,” she said piously. “For I have but one father, and He is seated on His holy throne in Heaven.”
Baffled, Doug pawed through the items in the boxes. “Clothes,” he inventoried, “record albums, books, makeup, nail polish, jewelry . . . Puff, your stuffed dragon! You love Puff.”
“I love my Heavenly Father,” she said. “I have put away childish things, Doug. In order to faithfully follow God, I forfeit all that I have. Puff is an idol. Please, take these worldly possessions to the Goodwill so that they may be given to unbelievers.”
After her two-week grounding, Rosemary announced that she would be out door-knocking for Jesus, if anyone cared. It was the summer of 1978, a time when parents were less inclined to coddle their kids, or monitor their travels. Rosemary was 16. In two years she would be on her own. Her mother, Karen, openly joked that on Rosemary’s 18th birthday, she would break her dinner plate and change the door locks.
“Dinner’s at 5:30,” Karen said. “Dad will want to watch Cronkite at 6:00, so try to be on time.”
Rosemary stuffed two dozen Chick Tracts in a drawstring fabric bag and tucked her bible under her arm. She did not reply to her mother’s request. Nor did she comply.
Pedaling past familiar houses on her pink Schwinn 3-speed bike, she decided to take her ministry outside of her comfort zone. Didn’t Jesus say that a prophet is not honored in his hometown?
Foundry, she decided. She’d make the township of Foundry her mission field for the day. It was not an affluent community like Garden Village, her hometown. Foundry had risen around an iron mill built during the Roosevelt administration. It had cratered under Carter’s.
Resolved, Rosemary lowered her red head and pointed her Schwinn east of Garden. Five miles and four hundred calories later, she entered Foundry. A foul, metallic smell welcomed her. The old mill hadn’t operated in two years, but its stench remained quite active.
The houses in Foundry did not look like the houses in Garden. They were run-down, clapboard shacks, discolored from smoke-stack pollution.
Rosemary dismounted her bike, armed herself with her bible and tracts, and began knocking on doors.
“Hello,” she said twenty-seven times, “My name is Rosemary. If you have a few minutes, I’d love to tell you about my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Only three of the twenty-seven homeowners cracked their screen doors enough to receive a gospel tract. The other twenty-four slammed their dingy doors in her face. She was tired. She was hot. The bad air had nauseated her. Perhaps it was time to return to Garden, she thought. Grab a quick cone at the Tastee-Freez. Swing by the Mall. Home by 5:00. Tacos at 5:30. Catch The Waltons at 7:00. Read her bible. Say her prayers. Sleep. Repeat.
One more house, she negotiated, feeling guilty about her privileged life. Apostle Paul had been jailed. Steven the Martyr had been stoned. And here she was, thinking of soft-serve ice cream, tacos, and a warm bed.
She wheeled her Schwinn onto a cracked driveway. It was the last house on the street. The exterior was stained with a red-black patina. It was the color of her chain-smoking aunt’s fingertips.
The door opened before she could knock. “Hello,” she said, startled, “My name is”–
“Rosemary,” a slim, prim man finished. “You’re Doug and Karen’s lovely daughter.”
“You know my parents – you know me?” she asked.
“Indeed,” he said, his voice formal yet cordial. “We participated in a cross-county bowling league. Couples. Before my beloved Persephone passed. Your parents bragged about you effusively. Always showing photos.”
“Wow,” she said. “I didn’t know they bowled.”
“What’s this,” he said, changing the subject. “A big beautiful bible and a raft of Chick Tracts. Are you out proselytizing, my dear Rosemary?”
“Our church calls it evangelizing,” she said. “But, yeah. Wanna hear about my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?”
The little man bounced, as if on a trampoline. “Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.”
He opened the tobacco-colored door and ushered her inside.
“You’ll need a beverage,” he said. “Sit here and I’ll make us some black tea.” He scuttled to the kitchen.
As cups and kettle clanged, she marveled at the beauty of the room. It was such contrast to the grimy exterior. The Victorian furniture looked like something out of Buckingham Palace. The scarlet drapes right out of Gone With the Wind. The paintings and sculptures stolen from the Louvre.
“Nigel,” he said, returning, interrupting her wonderment with a porcelain tea set.
“You can call me Nigel,” he said, sitting next to her.
She scooched over, uncomfortable with his proximity.
“Mr. Nigel,” she said, clearing her throat. “Have you asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins? Have you asked to be saved?”
Nigel clinked cups with the teenager and sipped primly. “Saved from what, my dear?”
“From yourself,” she said. “From your sinful nature. All you have to do is pray to God, ask for forgiveness, and accept Him into your heart.”
“Do you like your tea?” he asked.
She felt compelled to drink. “Yes, it’s delicious. Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome,” he said. “It’s prayer that I have a problem with, Rosemary. I’m unconvinced that it’s efficacious. If God exists, and He has a plan, and He knows the plan, how can our pleas and petitions alter the plan?”
She slurped her tea, buying time. “Good question,” she said. She had an answer, but she couldn’t retrieve it. “I, uh, think, maybe, wait . . .”
“Put simply,” he said, sliding closer to her, “we are play things. Powerless pawns.”
“No, no, no,” she protested, then forgot the scripture in Mark that asserted the power and promise of prayer.
He held up a small medical vial, showing a liquid that resembled broth. “For example,” he said, “you are powerless to combat the effects of this chemical. Even as I speak, your central nervous system is failing, your brain is fogging, and your consciousness is fading.”
“You drugged me,” she slurred. She dropped her tea cup. He caught it before it hit the floor. However, he did not catch her.
Nineteen hours later, Rosemary awakened. Dazed and dizzy, she surveyed her environ. There were three small rooms. The one in which she resided was tantamount to a third-world jail cell: cot, toilet, and wash bucket. The second room was a chapel: it was ornate and iconographic – at its centerpiece was a six-foot crucifix. The third room was an open, stone furnace, its interior charred from industrial smoke.
Goosebumps bloomed. Her skin was cool and clammy. She was underground, she knew. In a basement. No, she corrected. A dungeon.
A red man slid through a latched hatch and descended the stone stair case. He was carrying a single candle. It was dark, but his color was unmistakable.
“Mr. Nigel,” she said. “Is that you?”
“Yes, Rosemary,” he whispered, “I was afraid I’d given you too much Ketamine. Your breath was so shallow, your pulse so slow. But you’re young and strong.”
“You drugged me,” she said, more clarifying than accusatory.
“Yes, I did,” he said. “You’re mine now. And I’m yours. Together we’ll make a child that will rule the earth. He will be called the Son of Perdition – the Antichrist.”
She looked at him in the light of the candle. He wore a red, form-fitting, body suit, split by a gold zipper that ran from neck to groin. He pulled the flaccid cowl over his head. It was a devil’s mask, replete with stitched, upholstered horns.
“You’re some kind of molester,” she shouted. “A monster . . . a pervert . . . a pedophile!”
“I answer to many names,” he said. “But when I’m here, with you, I ask that you call me Legion. It’s derivative of Nigel. Clever, don’t you think?”
“No,” she shouted. “What are you going to do to me?”
He began to unzip his red costume. “As the angel of the Lord took indecent liberties with the virgin, so will I take indecent liberties with you.”
“Oh God, help me,” she prayed.
Night after night, she crawled ten feet to the chapel. There, she spread herself over the altar and wept. At the feet of bleeding Jesus, she prayed for hours, pleading for relief, begging for mercy. Eventually, her energy depleted and she fell into a fitful sleep.
One night she dreamed that Nigel – or was it Legion? – returned. He was no longer in the devil costume; he was dressed in a leather apron and dungarees and boots. He was carrying something – something bulky. She heard the hiss of a gas line, the scratch of a match, then the flump of quickened fire. Now she saw it all now, from the light of the blaze. He was working inside the mouth of the stone hearth. He’d donned long black gloves and a face shield, and he seemed impervious to the heat, one with the fire.
It reminded her of a bible story – the story of three faithful Jewish boys thrown into the fire by the wicked King. Shadrack, Meshach, and the other one . . . the one she couldn’t quite recall. In Sunday School, it had sounded like A-Billy-Goat, but that couldn’t be right.
In her dream, she watched as Nigel tamed the flames and mastered the inferno. She watched as he sacrificed her pink 3-speed Schwinn to the infernal hellmouth. Hot tears streamed as she watched the pink metal melt and become molten red.
That’s me, she thought. The last scrap of evidence that I ever existed. And now it’s gone. Now I am gone.
There was, of course, other evidence that Rosemary had existed. Her parents provided copious photos to the authorities and those photos were printed on milk cartons and bulletins and billboards and TV media. Her disappearance had ignited a state-wide manhunt. However, after a few months, urgency was usurped by apathy. Most folks assumed Rosemary was just another 16-year-old runaway, hitch-hiking west, screwing her long-haired boyfriend and smoking hand-rolled dope.
In reality, Rosemary was becoming habituated to her incarceration. Yes, she’d fought and prayed and cried and tried to escape. Over the months, however, her struggles lost strength, and her prayers lost vigor. It was only hopelessness that flourished.
The solitude began to change her brain. She craved human contact. Even the devil’s own company.
Three days each week, at 3am, Legion would visit her and take his indecent liberties. He called this the Devil’s Hour. On the day she found herself looking forward to his visit, she attempted suicide. She would have likely succeeded had her bra’s elastic straps not broken before she could hang herself.
When she awoke, the devil was there. Hell, she thought. I’m in it. Deservedly so.
It was not Hell and not the devil. It was Nigel in costume, holding a molten casting with hot tongs. “Hold out your left hand,” he demanded. Disoriented, she did so. He dropped the hot casting into her palm. He grasped her hand and squeezed it into a fist. Smoke seeped through her fingers as she screamed.
Finally, he released her. She flung the hot metal and pressed her palm to her mouth, kissing and cooling the brand.
“You are sacred,” Legion said. “You’re the chosen virgin. You will conceive and bring forth the Antichrist. Your body is a precious vessel; do not abuse it.”
She looked at the design seared into her flesh. It was reminder of her cruel providence, of her fate. It was a five-pointed star – a pentacle.
Occasionally, after he’d shed his red suit and taken his indecent liberties, he would linger and speak with her. She would ask about the outside world, about the organized efforts to find her, about her parents. One early morning, he surprised her with a breakfast of cereal and milk. The carton bore her image.
“It’s been a whole year,” Nigel said, almost giddy. “And they’re still looking for you.”
Rosemary examined the carton. Her parents, Doug and Karen, had chosen the worst photo. It was her 13th birthday party, and she was wearing a one-piece bathing suit and her short red hair was wet from the pool. And she was mugging – crossing her eyes and jutting her tongue.
She and Nigel laughed, for she had changed so much. She was now plump and ripe with life. Her breasts were full and her skin was clear and her hair was long and vibrant.
Nigel stroked her taut stomach with his coarse hand. He confided his private thoughts. He told her of his passion and talents for ironworks, how his soul had been crushed upon the mill’s closing. He told her of his epiphany. Of his Damascus moment. He told her of his revelations, and how she and he were chosen to bring about the end-times, and usher in the reign of Satan.
She believed him, exalted him. It did not occur to her that she had swapped gods, altered allegiances. The hopelessness that had once filled her, had been replaced with life.
“Drink this,” Nigel said, pushing the porcelain teacup to her dry lips. “It’ll take the edge off.”
She was in full labor; dilated, dehydrated, and exhausted. “No drugs,” she hissed through clenched teeth.
He pulled back, uncertain how to help. Uncertain if he should help.
A contraction struck her guts and she screamed. Nigel was nervous, pacing the three rooms. He busied himself in the furnace. A fire must be made – the doorway prepared. Surely, Satan would want to see his spawn, the Son of Perdition, his earthly ambassador.
“It’s coming,” Rosemary shrieked. A tide of blood and feces and amniotic fluids gushed from her. Skin split as the child slid out.
Nigel removed his smoking gloves and picked up the child. With his pocketknife, he cut the umbilical cord. The child was silent.
“What is it?” Rosemary asked, breathless.
Nigel glanced at the genitalia, then frowned. “I’m sorry,” he said, petting the child’s wet, red hair. “It’s a girl.”
“Sorry?” Rosemary asked, “Why?”
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s not your fault. We can try again . . . you’re young.” He then turned from her and walked the short distance to the stoked furnace.
She lifted, propping herself up on her elbows. “I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
Standing at the mouth of the fire, he turned and explained. “Scripture reveals that the Antichrist will be male. He is called the Man of Lawlessness, the Son of Destruction.”
“But, but,” she sputtered. “It could be wrong. Scripture could be wrong.”
He smiled sadly. “When you came to my door three-hundred and eighty-two days ago, you were certain scripture was true. What has changed, Rosemary?”
She laughed as she looked around her prison, as if to say What hasn’t? Her gaze fixed on the crucifix in the small chapel. “Prayer,” she said, answering his question. “Every night I pray that I’ll be rescued. Be freed. Every night I’m either unheard, ignored, or denied.”
His sad smile forged into an angry arc. “After all I’ve done for you,” he said, shaking his head.
“Bring her to me,” Rosemary pleaded, reaching for the child. “I’ll give you a son . . . but . . . please, give me my daughter.”
Nigel turned his back to her. He stepped toward the blue and gold flames. He held the baby girl upside-down, by her ankles.
“Nooo,” Rosemary cried, crawling across the stone floor toward him.
Nigel did not hesitate. He pitched the child into the fire and then wiped his wet hands on his dungarees.
Rosemary tried to stand, tried to stop the madman and save her child. Their child. But labor had taken too great a toll on her small body, and she collapsed. She buried her face into her arms and wailed: “Please – anyone – any god, any angel, any devil, any demon. If you’re there, if you’re real, help me. Help my baby. I beg of you. In your holy or unholy name, this I pray.”
A great whooshing sound ushered forth, exhaled from the mouth of the furnace. The flames changed and became dark, lightless. Within the inferno, stood two shadowy forms.
“Satan,” Nigel said, taking a knee. “You’ve come. I’m sorry about the child – the girl. The next one will be male, I promise.”
The two figures emerged. One was Satan, wrapped in leather-wings, resembling a robe. The other was a woman – a beautiful red-haired woman, clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.
“Well done,” Satan said, towering over Nigel. “You have provided me with a bride. On the eve of the end-times, she will give birth to the Son of Perdition.”
The fiery woman was not so pleased. “Still,” she said, “there is a score to settle.” With her scaled, dragon hand, she grasped Nigel by his ankles. She lifted him, upended, dragging his head across the stone floor. With a mighty swing, she released him, flinging him into the heart of the fire he’d forged.
Rosemary lifted her teary face and beheld the strong, beautiful woman. “My daughter,” Rosemary said. “You have answered my prayers”
The red-haired woman waved her dragon hand. The latched door and the top of the stairs flew open. Rosemary was free.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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