(written 3-15-06 as a personal assignment in response to Maxx’s question: “Can there be dark Christian horror?”)
Shelter from the Cold
“You can live on the street, boy. I’m sick of you! Now get out of this house and stay out, you worthless brat! You’ve been nothing but trouble since the day you were born. Any preacher on the face of the earth would tell you you’re going to H---!”
She waddled through the door in baggy sweatpants, shaking her fist, and her bushy, unkept hair exploded in the wintery wind. “I wish you’d never been born. Now GET OUT!”
Adam stood in the yard wearing a white t-shirt and jeans, his bare arms covered by purple tattoos of tongue-lashing serpents with enormous ruby eyes. His tennis shoes sank deep in the snow as he mocked his mother.
“Gladly!” Adam strained in his loudest voice: “I’m never coming back…you can count on it, Ma!”
The door was missing stripes of gray paint, and cardboard and duct tape covered its small, square window. As it slammed shut, a ferocious grin broke out on Adam’s face. He’d broken the window himself in a fit of rage just the day before, pounding it to splinters with the end of his mother’s rolling pin. It was a way of demonstrating his heart’s cry: he wanted out of there. He was tired of the way preceding generations defined by despair seemed to seal his own inheritance.
Snowflakes wafted gently from the night sky, landing quietly and peacefully. Adam stood in place, glaring at the ugly, disfigured door that reflected his own deep wounds. He glanced down at his tattooed arms - a statement to the world reflecting his own inner turmoil - but darkness shrouded them. As he did so however, the frigid temperatures caused him to shiver, and it seemed the tattooed serpents began to crawl across his bare skin…under his t-shirt…up toward his face. They coiled around his neck, their fangs poised on the edge of his mind, ready to strike a final blow. Adam invited them closer, closer…”C’mon and kill me. Get it over with.”
Greg lived just down the road from Adam, and sat at the dining room table studying for the next day’s senior English vocabulary test. Greg’s younger brothers ran noisily through the house – unaware that their older brother had work to do. But Greg found himself even more distracted by a quiet, internal Presence reminding him of a recent conversation with his Uncle Cephas. He closed his notebook and headed upstairs.
In the privacy of his room, Greg prayed: “What’s this all about, Lord? What do You want to show me? “ In their recent conversation, Uncle Cephas said that Christians must be ready to respond to evil at any moment; that the Lord uses people who seek and submit their wills to Him to score victories against Satan in everyday life. Ever since, Greg felt challenged to listen for the call to become one such warrior. “So what do you have for me, Lord?”
Adam began walking – what else was he to do? The serpents struck spiteful blows with their lies, jabbing him with relentless fangs: “You’re worthless, you’re nothing, a nobody. Find a way to end it all, quickly.”
He’d walked for maybe a quarter of a mile when his eyes wandered to the old barn set back from the road – the place where he and other neighborhood kids played when he was younger. Adam used to love it there. He considered the barn neutral territory and a place of shelter from the “better than thou” looks of some of the neighborhood parents.
Greg and he played there often when they were little, and now Greg’s house stood between him and the barn. He glanced toward the security light illuminating the house and shivered. The barn was just on the other side of the back fence – he could see it. Should he go there tonight?
The barn’s black silhouette beckoned Adam; its huge, empty doors yawned an invitation, targeting his heart. He turned and ran through the snow for about twenty feet, then tripped over a row of landscape rocks to fall flat on his face. The snow stung his hands and face, and he lay there, stunned, while the serpents wound their coils even more tightly around his neck. “You’re ours. You’ll never escape.”
Greg sat on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands, praying. “Lord, what does it mean to be holy and set apart for You? How can You use me? I don’t know…Uncle Cephas said…just be available and expectant. Show me – and give me a chance to serve You!”
When he glanced up, Greg thought he saw a form laying in the yard - but - surely not! Must be a shadow or something. Then the body of a young man, perhaps someone about his own age, rose and ran wildly into the shadows.
Adam wanted his life to end – how hard could that be? He flung himself inside the door of the barn and smelled the familiar scents of his childhood – hay and dust. Darkness covered everything, and yet he knew there must be ropes here, somewhere. Ropes and beams – a perfect place to hang himself!
The serpents hissed ominously in his ears – “Yesssss, yessss, yeeeeesssssssss!”
Greg rose from his bed, his heart pounding in his throat. Surely he’d seen someone out there in the yard! The clock by his bed read 8:07 p.m.– his parents and siblings were still up. What should he do? Call the police? Secretly sneak outside? Pray?
He glanced at his Bible that lay open to II Timothy 1:7 - “God has not given us the sprit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Greg opened his bedroom door.
There, on that wall – ! A thin rope dangled loosely – was it strong enough to do the job? The serpents choked him with every ounce of evil they could muster, and Adam felt himself grow dizzy. With fingers numb with cold, he struggled to throw the rope high over his head, remembering an open beam where he used to walk when dared by his friends to do so. Now that beam could once again mean acceptance….
Greg quietly slipped downstairs, unnoticed. It seemed his family had mysteriously evaporated…the boys to get ready for bed, and his parents to read behind their respective books. No small coincidence.
He grabbed a throw blanket from the back of the couch, a flashlight from the kitchen drawer, and a coat from the hook on the mud room wall, and quietly slipped out the back door – latching it softly behind him. Outside, snow continued to fall with delicate ease. Greg’s heart pounded red alerts in his chest – what was he doing out here? And yet somehow it wasn’t about him at all. His mission was one of rescue; his Master needed his help.
“Lord, protect me…use me…”
Adam was about to give up when – there! – the rope finally landed over the beam and dangled low enough for him to grab its loose end. Perfect! Now, a noose? How? His fingers hardly worked anymore, and he was shivering almost convulsively. “Hurry and finish the job,” the serpents hissed. “Or else you’ll freeze – slowly. Make it quick. You have no place to go; this is your last stop.” They jeered and taunted him, their eyes glowing with volcanic hate. Did he have the guts to pull this off? Of course he did.
Greg threw on his coat and hung the blanket around his neck, then began to follow the snowy footprints into the shadows. His flashlight beam exposed their destination: the old barn! He climbed over the broken barbed-wire fence marking his parents’ property, and flashed the narrow beam toward the sagging structure. The runaway had been in this same spot only minutes before.
A biting wind swooshed from out of nowhere and sliced Greg’s face fiercely. Undaunted, he cried out, “Anybody in there? Hey – anybody in the barn?” Loose metal shingles on the roof clattered in the wind.
Greg’s heart leaped to his throat. “God has not given me the spirit of fear…” The Lord moved his feet, one step at a time, toward the gaping door.
Adam stood on a bale of hay, breathing heavily, with the rope positioned. At the sound of Greg’s voice, the serpents slithered from Adam’s neck to resume their stations on his arms.
Wasn’t it just a matter of kicking over the hay…and then he’d be finished?
“Adam! Is that you?” Greg stood in the doorway and shone his flashlight beam directly on Adam’s blanched face. “Hey buddy, what is this all about?” Greg rushed to grab his neighbor’s legs and Adam did not resist. The boys had known each other all their lives, and Greg had never ridiculed Adam like the other kids on their road. The serpents lay still – their power nullified by the presence of the light.
Greg fumbled for his pocketknife. “Whatever has happened, Adam…this isn’t the answer.” He hopped up on the hay bale, grabbed Adam with one arm, and sawed the rope with the other. His childhood friend melted and fell to his knees. “C’mon, we’ve got to get you back to the house…you’re half frozen.”
The wind howled through the cracks of the barn – was it the sound of angel voices? The boys stepped outside under the stars; a meteor shower fell across the sky.
Two hunched bodies staggered through the snow, retracing their steps – Adam draped in a blanket with Greg’s arm around his shoulder. The serpents’ red eyes dimmed to gray; Adam’s tattoos lay crushed and lifeless beneath the blanket.
I love the interaction with the snake tatoos. I think the meanings of the things like the door and tatoos would be even stronger if you didn't "tell" us what they meant, but let the symbols show the meaning on their own. Strong story, well done!