Marlene stood staring out the window, phone still clutched to her ear though the call had ended. A call she’d been expecting for a while now, and hoping for for many years before that. Frank was dead. And then the tears hit her. The relief. He was gone. Finally. She crumpled to the floor and sobs came. Great heaving sobs of – well she didn’t know, joy? Was it ok to feel joy at a man’s passing? Even if he was an evil sonofabitch? Damn it, she felt joy! And damn it, too, if she wasn’t gonna be there to see them put that bastard in the ground. But how to get there, that was a problem. She cursed the idle rust heap that passed for her car sitting on the overgrown lawn outside. Miles from the nearest bus out here. Hell. She would just have to hitch-hike. There was no other way. Picking herself off the floor, she headed to her room to pack.
Two hundred miles. Only two hundred miles to go. Her forehead rested against the glass of the car window. Her second ride of the day. The first had been a church-going lady who’d dropped her the far side of Poton. She’d offered a prayer for Frank’s soul when Marlene had told her she was on her way to a funeral. Marlene’d had to stifle a “Ha!” She’d been waiting about a half hour on the outskirts of the town when Billy had pulled up in his father’s sedan.
“Where ya heading’, Mar?” he’d asked leaning across the passenger seat to speak to her.
“Frank’s funeral,” she simply said.
“Oh.” He pushed open the door and she sat in amongst the candy wrappers and empty chip packets. And that was it. They didn’t have to speak. Billy knew the score. She’d let it all pour out on his lap one drunken night two years ago. It was a night for revealing secrets. His one of light and happiness as he finally came out. Her’s one of darkness and sadness as she’d opened up about Frank. The minister. The man of God. The man of hate. Her father.
Their church in Topeka was small. Isolated. The way Frank liked it. That way he could control the comings and goings a lot better. That way he could preach his own particular brand of faith to the true believers. His family. His followers. And, with her twin Joe, her other half, she’d bought it all for so many years. Filled with her father’s righteous anger, they’d picketed those poor men’s funerals. They’d shoved fliers and posters dripping with bile in the faces of people in every town across the state as they’d travelled from one “Den of Sin” to another. They’d judged all by their father’s yardstick and justified all by their father’s word. The so called word of God. Marlene was content. Safe and happy in her nest of hate with the brothers and sisters she loved. Convinced of their righteousness and their place in heaven.
But the cracks had started to appear. It was hard to travel to all those places without picking up some doubts. Without seeing some of the reality of the world. These weren’t all sinners. These were just folks trying to live their lives as best they could. And God wanted them all to burn? Both herself and Joe began to doubt. She’d gone to Frank with her doubts and he had railed and ranted at her.
“This was how they get you”, he’d cried, “with their comfort and normality. God doesn’t want you comfortable, girl,” he had wailed. “He wants you on your knees! Get on your knees for God! Pray for forgiveness! Pray for your soul!” And she did. Dropped to her knees there and then, yearning, begging for God’s righteous forgiveness. Praying for the strength to do His work. She devoured the scriptures from the family bible. Armoured herself with fire and brimstone.
And this had worked for a while. Her fervour bright again. The pickets re-invigorated by the Word. Joe, though, he’d gone quiet. Shut down. Like God’s fire had gone out in him. And she began to worry.
About a month after her panicked soul searching, Joe disappeared. No one would tell her where he had gone. Frank wouldn’t even say his name.
“That fag lover is gone! God wants his army to be vengeful and strong. Not weak and pitiful. You mark my words, girl. God has a special place in hell for the lovers. For the meek. For the kind. Now you pray like you’ve never prayed before.” And he’d grabbed her then, forcing her to her knees with him, gripping her shoulders tight. Not for the first time, she’d felt the fear. He was manic. Raging. Violent. Every prayer ended with a slap across her cheek. Every psalm with a punch to her chest. For weeks she endured these special prayer sessions. Feeling every inch of “God’s” wrath. Every inch of the betrayal her father felt towards her brother, beaten into her instead. And finally she had seen him for what he truly was. A bitter, twisted old man. So full of ire at the world. So empty of feeling and empathy for anyone else. A violent madman. Pure and simple.
With a clarity she’d never felt for his word of God, she woke. And got the hell out of there. No doubt her name no longer spoken amongst her brothers and sisters. No longer spoken by any in the church. She’d lost her entire family. But she’d gained a life. She’d never found Joe. He’d disappeared completely. None of the others in the wilderness, as she liked to think of the other banishees she’d come across, had heard from him. Older brothers and sisters, cousins she’d never known had gathered round her. Taken her in. Shown her actual love. She’d struck off to Poton on her own. Needing the space. Needing the time to build herself a new. And then she’d received the call.
They pulled up opposite the building. It looked so small now. Drab. Rundown. Ringed by police and surrounded by a mob. The loved ones of the people whose funerals’ they’d picketed. Their turn for righteousness. She could not blame them. It’s why she was here herself. She watched from the across the street as her step-mother Margorie, her father’s second wife after Marlene’s own mother had died, stepped up to a make shift podium to address the gathered media. The madness was there too. Marlene could see it in her eyes. Anger and hate. No sadness. No love. Just resentment at the world as her words were amplified from the speakers set up at the gates of their small church. Some bull about not worshipping the dead. There’d be no funeral. They’d cremated Frank already. He was with God now, training the angels for the coming apocalypse. She went on and on, defiant, remorseless in the face of the angry crowd. A crowd that was quickly turning ugly. Marlene watched as a young man at the back of the crowd threw something. An egg, judging by the splatter on Margorie’s face. The crowd cheered. More missiles flew. Less organic more solid, and then the police were pushing forward, dispersing the crowd, yet cursing the woman they were protecting. Marlene sighed. Even in death, Frank was causing nothing but trouble.
Then she saw him. Just standing there in the middle of the mini-riot. Still and cool as a breeze on a hot Kansas day. Joe. Like that first ray of sunshine after a thunderstorm. Banishing the years of darkness, worry, guilt, and anger. There he was. Alive. Well. Smiling. A big grin spread across her face as he started towards her. Joe was here. Frank was gone. His ghost finally exorcised in death.
Another shorty, again inspired by a writing prompt from Jessica Cauthon. A bit longer than the last, but I still enjoyed writing it. And not a hint of swords or sorcery.