Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)
- TITLE: Old Habits
By Allen Scovil
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Mark was his uncle, not that he would call him 'Uncle' to his face; due to the way his mother's family was spread, Mark was only four years older that he was.
He gulped his coffee, said 'bye to his mother, and headed off to the factory where he had landed an entry-level engineering position the previous month. As he drove along the freeway, images of murder danced a bloody conga line through his mind. He hated Mark, and would cheerfully confess it to anyone who asked. Forgive, like the preacher kept talking about? Not likely!
A while back he had pushed down the memories from ten years before, so their return rather ruined his day at work. On his way home after, he stopped off at a mall to pick up something to soothe his rattled nerves.
Yes, he thought, a chocolate bar, seventy percent dark; that would be heavenly.
Seated at a bench away from the crowd of the food court, he slipped off the paper wrapper, then carefully separated the foil so that it wouldn't tear, and folded it back. As he went to take his first bite, the mall disappeared, and all he could see was light.
There was a stench. Glancing down, he saw that his snack had turned into a putrid black slab of filth. A fierce rebelliousness seized him, and he bit into it anyway, breaking off a piece. It was foul, far more bitter than the worst coffee he had ever tasted. He began to chew, and chew ... and chew. All the while waves of nausea washed over him.
"Pretty tough to swallow, isn't it?"
He jumped, then checked around for the source of the voice: nobody.
Suddenly he heard muffled screaming coming from his mouth, but it wasn't him. He pulled out the mouthful of filth, which took the shape of himself at twelve years old, naked, helpless, without defense. It stood in his hand, head back, mouth wide open, and the shrieks kept coming; desperate pain without physical injury. All it had taken was one caress from Mark those ten years before in the forbidden place.
The little figure's shape shifted, becoming a living crucifix: a naked man, helpless, without defense. The scream of John's little self was coming out of this man's mouth as well, together with the agony of many others, most of whom had also suffered no bodily hurt.
He came to himself. When he saw the chocolate bar in his hand, he tossed it in the nearest trash receptacle in disgust and headed back to his car.
Except for work and meals, John kept to himself for the rest of the week. The certainty of his hatred had been badly shaken, and he needed time to think. As he considered the vision, what he had seen in the little man on the cross made his pain seem almost trivial, his hatred petty. Saturday morning, he finally accepted that, real though his hurt was, it wasn't worth the hatred he had been carrying.
That afternoon, everyone arrived, and John noticed that Mark seemed to be taking an unusual interest in him, so he worked to bury himself in this or that group of relatives to avoid him. After a while, however, he grew bored of the incessant chatter, so he picked up an hors d'oeuvre and wandered over to the patio door, just to look outside. Seemingly out of nowhere, Mark grabbed his arm and pulled him outside, away from everyone else.
"I'm not letting you get away again," he said angrily. "Whether you like it or not, I'm apologizing for what I did to you ... you know ... back then. I'm sorry; I did wrong." He let go, and straightened his jacket as he glared sadly at John, his eyes begging in the ensuing silence.
John stood, stunned by Mark's confession. Apology? he thought. But ... what he did. But ... what the man on the cross did. But ... what do I do?
When Mark got no response, he sighed and turned around. Walking back into the house and through the crowd of relatives, he left through the front door.
John belatedly raised his arm in front of him in a futile attempt to stop his vanished uncle.
Habits, he glumly realized after a moment, were so hard to break.
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