Barrage of Butterflies

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“Can you please help me,” a boy pleads. His freckled face and strawberry blond hair is obscured under a heavy chain. He’s wearing a dirty robe, the one on which little blue dinosaurs and spotted lizards were once printed. It was his favorite robe; Aunt Barb got it for him on his eighth birthday. Now it hangs tattered on his skin, the friendly scaly beasts masked in thick mud, sweat, and urine.

In the child’s beautiful, sparkling eyes one could see a life full of love and elation, of days spent at the beach, flashing a smile with fists deep in sand, and nights curled on the couch watching Sleeping Beauty until he rested at last. But the scars told a different story. They told of sleepless weeks in unforgiving darkness, abandoned in a quarry of revulsion and isolation. They told of unimaginable horror.

Every night, he prays for release from his captor. All he wants is to get back home to bury his puppy, Angel, who was struck by a speeding Corvette. He wants to kiss his momma, promising that he would never think bad thoughts about his baby sister. His stomach rolls, and his tongue aches for a simple drop of water.

The boy’s weakened innocent cries turn to cold whispers. “I just wanna go home,” he begs. “Just wanna…” He cannot make out the words. His own body defies him as he’s plagued with memories of his daddy and barbeques and Christmas presents.

Succumbing to exhaustion and sadness, the boy curls on the ice-licked floor and imagines he’s in his momma’s warm embrace. He imagines he’s sipping from a cold glass of apple cider and eating popcorn, hidden under an enchanted palace of pillows. Sweet honey, gummy bears, and cinnamon breezes occupy his homesick dreams.

Suddenly, the tears and hollow whimpers cease. His chapped, bloody lips form a thin smile, with thick dust and stale air filling his lungs. Color returns to his face as he is met with an old friend.

Together, he and Angel walk out of the basement and disappear into the night.

Heaven

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“Would you just hold still?” Laurie says, running her palm slick with spit up my forehead.

“I’ve been doing this every week for thirty-seven years; you’d think I would know how to prep myself before the sermon.”

She scoffs. “You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” Her cold beryl eyes, like daggers, stare into my welcoming green. It’s when her perfectly-plucked eyebrows pull together and her strawberry lips purse that I back off; I mustn’t start a fight with the domineering she-demon.

“Thank you, honey.” Those words taste foul, toxic even, but nevertheless I bite back my sharp rebuttals.

She claps my back, cackling, and hands me the car keys. “Don’t kid yourself, Charles. You know damn well I don’t fall for that bullshit.”

***

When we arrive at the church, I put her hand in mine and we meander the parking lot, stopping to greet our loyal audience, a crowd of Bible thumping hypocrites who strictly come to the house of worship for the gossip.

A woman in her thirties wearing a bright purple Georgette skirt stops us before we enter the church. “Good morning, Charles. Oh, and Laurie, I just want you to know that I took your advice on my little problem.” She winks. “It’s working just fine now.”

My wife and I display our false smile, the one that portrays a loving pastor and his wife. “It’s so nice to see you, Margaret.” I turn to Laurie. “I’ll let you two catch up, though. I’m afraid I am running late as it is.” Laurie nods and throws me her “you lucky sonofabitch” grin, allowing me to retreat into the brick building.

It only takes me a few minutes to set up the podium and clear the stage. And at 10 o’clock finally I am able to begin, just like all the other times.

I fumble my hands through Edgar Allen Poe’s short story compilation on the podium – a Bible cover is pasted flatly on the book’s face – and I pretend to turn to just the right page. Before I begin, I quietly clear my throat. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Today, we’re going to move on from the previous sermon about the birth of Christ and delve into a relatively short discussion of Heaven.

“So, when I ask you the question, ‘What is Heaven?’ I think we can all at least come up with some similar, albeit unique, versions of the spectacular place. We also spend a lot of time learning what we must do to reach eternal bliss as well as what it would be like. Will we know each other? What will we do? We simply don’t know. But what’s certain is that we will spend an eternity worshiping and seeing Jesus face to face, helping God run the universe.” I hear various amen and praise the good Lord from front aisle.

Laurie stands behind the last row, her face slightly distorted, and she nods toward me before exiting into the foyer. Catching the cue, I close my eyes and mutter, “Amen, indeed,” before raising my clenched fists into the air – my figure mocking the large crucifix hanging above me. As I open my eyes, the room begins to shake and plaques strung on the wall featuring the Stations of the Cross violently tremble and fall to the terracotta-colored carpet. I bring my fists together, casting my body in an emerald aura. The True King’s power flows out of me like smoke through a sieve.

The others sit perfectly still; their eyes stare forward and they do not blink; their arms rest at an angle in their laps. Cell phones, Bibles, purses, anything they were holding before the trance fall with a thud to the floor.

“Stand up and face the Lord; so too as you exit this life on your feet shall you enter the next prepared to stride to the Holy gate,” I call, and almost instantly the entire congregation obeys; the overly-religious elderly folks that always populate the front rows, the usually bouncy and disruptive children, the husbands who only come at the request of their wife – everyone stands straight, awaiting my next order. But there won’t be another order. Before I meet my wife, who was probably right outside the church’s front doors, I mutter a prayer of my own: “Please forgive me.”

“Your part is done, I assume?” My wife says outside, thumbing a green BIC cigarette lighter. She doesn’t stop focusing on dancing flame atop the lighter, a scarlet ballerina. I feel my body twitch as I watch her observing the fire.

“It’s not like I had a choice. You do the gasoline?”

“You couldn’t have missed the puddle in the foyer. And with these bricks, that place’ll be a furnace before you know it.”

With a final flick of the lighter, Laurie bends down to ignite the gasoline trail at our feet. I watch through the window as the floor in the foyer ignites into a massive carpet of fire. Pretty soon there isn’t anything that’s not blazing in the small church. Smoke froths through the cracks of the doors leading into the nave, where hundreds of paralyzed worshipers wait their turn in the line to Heaven.

“How many more times are we going to do this, before it’s enough?”

“Don’t play the angel, Charles. You’ll just end up in there with them. You made a deal with me, and you will keep it. Let’s not forget that you gave up your old family for a taste of His power.” She tosses the keys into my chest. “Now we leave, unless you wish to welcome the policemen and firemen when they roll in.”