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Craig Hooper was to be an atheist living in a family of devout Christians.
He didn’t hate God, necessarily, he just found the probability of the existence of a deity was highly improbable, and who could really blame him for thinking that, after what happened? One bus accident took away his loved ones in the blink of an eye. His real parents were buried six feet underneath the ground, and here he was, with the entire world eyeing him skeptically, as if unsure he would survive this harsh and rotten land all by himself.
He had had a short period of time to mourn over the loss of his parents and indulge in the sadness of bereavement before the Social Services had swept him up and decided he was to be put in a foster family. This was not something that he wanted, but it would appear as if he had no other choice. All the rest of his family was long dead, and this latest bus accident had been a devastating blow. Craig was the last one left now, and he was determined to carry his family name proudly. He even had plans for the future. He would do well in school and grow up to be an artist. That was the one thing that he prided himself in: the gorgeous drawings and even paintings that he was able to create with a few strokes of a pencil or brush.
His various art supplies were now safely stowed away in his brown leather suitcase as he mounted the steps to the door of his new home. The man beside him, Bruce, who worked with the services, offered his arm, and Craig looked at him in annoyance. Even if he had just had to endure the death of his parents, he saw no reason in being weak. It would only hold him back. Craig was determined to have a good outlook for his life, no matter the situation.
Bruce, reaching the porch to this new home of Craig’s, knocked three times, very loudly, on the clean white door. Almost immediately the door swung outwards, and Craig was greeted warmly by his new mother.
He had been informed of everything about her. This included her job, current family, date of birth, and her name, Susan Banneker.
A fairly overweight, blonde woman rushed towards Craig with open arms before nearly smothering him in a crushing hug, as if they had known each other for years and used to be old friends. He hung there limply in her arms, not wanting to display any affection whatsoever, but not wanting to have a bad first impression either.
“Craig, dear we are so happy to have you! Please tell me, how are you doing?”
“I’m just fine, Mrs. Banneker,” Craig responded, unsmiling.
“Please, Craig, call me Mom! That’s who you’re going to know me as from now on!”
“Sure, Mom… thanks.” The word "mom" seemed to be alien in his mouth, as if he had not used it in a long time.
“Why don’t you go inside and take a look around while I and Mr. Barker talk here for a moment! Your room is up in the attic if you want to explore!”
Every word this woman said was fused with excitement, as if she was talking about a trip to Disney World rather than accepting a recently orphaned teenager into her home. Craig stepped into the house that would soon be his new home and breathed in the air. It smelled faintly of cinnamon. A cross hung on the wall opposite to him and it immediately caught his attention, given his newfound atheism.
He snapped out of his trance when he noticed two little boys peeking out at him from behind a half closed door, he had read about them in the report that was handed to him by Bruce. As soon as the boys saw that he had observed them, they drew back within the confines of their bedroom and resumed whatever activity they had been doing before his arrival.
He took sight of the stairwell on the left side of the living room, right before the doorway where the twosome of boys had been standing. This must lead to the attic, Craig thought to himself. This was a given, due to the fact that it was a one story house.
Slowly at first, and then with confidence, Craig walked across the den and mounted the stairs. He marveled at how none of the floorboards creaked when he applied his weight to them, he bounced on the balls of his feet momentarily, before stopping and checking to make sure nobody had seen him. He continued on his way until he was met with a wooden door, which he opened.
The smell of oak was the first thing that struck him. It wafted pleasantly into his nostrils as he stepped into the room, acknowledging his surroundings. His bed was at the end of the room, accompanied by a dresser and even a desk, which he had always wanted. An attic window presided on the opposing wall that provided a bird’s eye view of his neighborhood. Everything seemed perfect. It was the ideal place for a new start after such a damaging loss.
That was when Craig felt it for the first time, the shivery feeling that something was behind him, watching his every move.
He turned to face the opposite wall and started violently when he saw what was there. It was a massive, life sized crucifix, complete with a realistic and grotesque representation of Jesus Christ. Craig moved towards it. He had been frightened at first, but now was more curious.
Craig leveled his eyes to the crucifix that was before him. The depiction of Jesus stared right back at him with glassy blue eyes, an expression of utmost pain on his carved tortured face. Its wooden body was twisted and thin, bones appeared to be sticking out of his chest. There seemed to be a spear wound on Jesus’ left hand side. The bright red gouts of blood that had been painted onto his wooden skin appeared to be fresh, as if Craig would get his fingertips bloody if he worked up the courage to reach out his hand and touch the thing that presided on the cross before him, with its wrists nailed painfully into the gory planks.
Craig backed away, never taking his eyes off the crucifix, and then he ran downstairs, looking fervently over his shoulder as if he expected something to be chasing him. Childish as he was being, that crucifix scared the hell out of him. There was something about the way those glass eyes were looking at him, almost as if they could see directly into his soul.
Craig came downstairs and ran directly into his new mother. She cooed at him about how dinner would be ready soon and that he should help her set the table. Susan, as she became known to him in his own mind, talked to him frequently while she was preparing her newest meal of lasagna, a food which Craig detested. No matter, he wouldn’t allow himself to be unhappy. Susan rambled on about her two twin brothers who she was so proud of, Hayes and Sam, while Craig absentmindedly helped her out in the kitchen. He knew how things worked, he had helped his own mother so often… despite himself he felt sadness welling up inside him and for a second there was the threat of tears, but he forced it down.
“Good Lord, Craig, you are such a wonderful help in the kitchen, you can have extra servings if you like,” she prattled on thoughtlessly, “I believe the goodness of the God in heaven brought you here to me today, Craig.”
He had said nothing, and there was an awkward silence for about a second or so before he replied uneasily, “Yes of course. Thank you, Susan… I mean, Mom.”
If Susan even noticed Craig’s blunder, she didn’t show it. Instead he was ushered into the dining room as she called her two little boys. They entered the room wordlessly, with dark circles under their eyes. With their sandy hair and full, red lips, they looked startlingly like their mother. Then, Susan proclaimed they should all say a prayer.
The words were out before he could stop them.
“I am sorry, I can’t do that. I’m an atheist.”
Three heads swiveled around at him and stared at him in shock. As if in awe, Susan asked him, “Craig… why is this?”
Craig looked away, embarrassed, before replying, “It’s just my opinion, that’s all.” He would refuse with everything he had to talk about his real reasoning, for then crying would be inevitable, and this was something he could not let himself to do.
“We won’t worry about it…” Susan said uncertainly, “A few months in church and I’m sure you will believe once again."
Everything after that seemed a blur. Craig ate the lasagna, despite his disliking towards it, and then met and spoke briefly with the somber twins of the house. What was it that makes them seem so lifeless? he wondered. After that he helped to clean up the kitchen and before Craig knew it, it was time to go to bed.
He mounted the steps with dread in his heart. He didn’t want to lay eyes on that crucifix. Not now, and never again. He understood that the Banneker’s were a very religious family, but he saw no reason for them to keep something as terrible as that stowed away in their attic.
He couldn’t sleep that night. He knew that the Jesus on the cross was staring at him with those blank, open pupils through the darkness, no matter how much he tossed and turned, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched by the thing that stood against the wall.
When morning came, Craig was completely disoriented, he had never stayed up so late in his life, and being kept up all night had made him extremely lethargic. To make matters even worse, this was his first day back at school.
He did terribly, and who can blame him? With his sleep destroyed he had no energy to do the tasks at hand, whether it be algebra, English, or otherwise.
When he came home he was ashamed and disappointed in himself. This sense of shame did nothing but deepen as he told Susan everything had gone well on his first day back. She had been so excited and he even caught a bit of pride in her voice as she congratulated him on his success.
The days passed by like hands on a clock: very slowly. Every hour of Craig’s life was muddled with exhaustion. He simply could not fall asleep with that cross in his room until the late hours, and when he did manage to fall into a fitful rest, he was plagued with horrifying nightmares. As a result, his life began to crumble around him.
He could no longer come up with original ideas for his creative art projects, and as a result, he simply stopped trying altogether. Whenever he attempted to sit down at his desk and draw something, he could feel the eyes of Jesus boring into his back. His dreams of being an artist, his very future, had been crushed. The one talent that he had was gone. Now when he looked upon the crucifix at the far end of his room, it was with genuine hate. It had laid wreckage upon his life, even more so than was already done.
He had to do something. His grades, normally very good, were declining at a rapid pace. There was something he would have to do to get his life back together. His first plan was to ask Susan to have it taken down. He found her in the kitchen one evening, humming to herself and stirring up another one of her foul concoctions. Craig touched her lightly on the shoulder and asked, “Mom… do you think it would be okay if we took down the crucifix in my room?”
She turned on him. Her face went white, then red. Then Susan did something that Craig had never seen her do before. She yelled at him. “I forbid you to ever talk about this! Maybe when you convert to Christianity we will discuss it! As for now go up to your room and don’t come out for the rest of the day!”
Craig had slunk off to his room, hurt at this sudden outburst. What was it that could possibly have set her off like that? She was probably angry at the fact that he had not yet converted. Anger rose up within him. He had no plans of converting anytime soon. He would take that fucking crucifix down himself if she wouldn’t. Craig stomped up to his room and slammed the door open before pivoting to face the crucifix. Disgust overcame him, and he felt his lip curl. Why should he be so afraid? What stood before him was no more than an inanimate object.
He would have to wait until Susan went to work at the power plant the next day. He walked over to his bed and lay down, he had waited this long, he could hold on a little longer. One more night with the crucifix in his room.
As usual, it was a lengthy night, but when morning came, Craig was ready. It would be the first thing he did that day, he decided.
Gathering all his courage, he moved forward, step by step, until he was face to face with the crucified Jesus. In a sudden burst of hate, he spat upon the gruesomely painted countenance before kneeling and wrapping his arms around the wooden base, his cheek pressed against Jesus’s thigh. It wouldn’t be difficult moving it at all. He had frequently helped his father, who used to be a trucker, to rearrange heavy objects in his eighteen-wheeler.
Craig tugged with all his might. His toned muscles flexed in his undershirt as he pulled with his gathered strength. The thing wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard Craig wrenched at the base of the crucifix, there was no give, no sudden clatter as the thing fell away from the wall. It stayed firmly implanted into the floor, as if it had been set into stone, although the chances were higher that it was bolted in.
He backed up with his heart thudding in his chest. A terrible sort of trepidation crept over his heart. The kind that he got when he was little and had done something bad and his mother had just found out. The thing on the wall knew he wanted it gone now. It knew it. He had attempted to remove it and he had failed.
The rest of the day was spent basking in his paranoia. Every time he heard a floorboard creak, he winced and swiveled around, half expecting Jesus to be standing there, with blood dripping from his hands and feet, and an expression of menace on his usually aggrieved face. He didn’t go into his room until it was time for bed, and even then it was only very reluctantly. He asked the twins if they wanted to switch bedrooms, and they both refused. It was all for nothing.
A storm was brewing on the horizon as Craig sat upon his bed, eyeing the crucifix from across the room. Every so often he would hear the threatening boom of thunder in the distance, and from the attic window, he saw flashes of lightning. Craig pushed himself underneath the covers and grabbed a flashlight, flicking it on. The darkness would be coming soon.
And come it did. Craig huddled underneath his thin bed sheets, trembling. The thunderstorm had intensified the emotion of fear that the crucifix seemed to give off, and he was nothing short of terrified. He looked in open eyed horror at the other end of the room. Every once and a while a bolt of lightning illuminated everything, including the cross.
He heard the noise when the room had become dark once again.
He heard, or he thought he heard, a single moan of pain.
His breathing became faster and faster, his stomach felt weak. The lightning flashed once again, and he caught sight of the expression of pain on the face of Jesus. Then it changed.
Jesus lifted his head and he smiled at Craig from across the room, showing bloodstained teeth.
Craig nearly let out a shocked scream, but he clamped his hand over his mouth. It was just my imagination, he thought frantically. Holy fuck, it was my fucking imagination. I didn’t really see shit. It’s my fucking imagination.
He had to get out. His instincts took over as he bolted out of his bed and sprinted towards the door, he shot down the stairs, not daring to look back before he reached the bottom. He flung himself into the twin’s room and shut the door before pressing his back against it. Then, he curled up onto the shag carpet that the floor provided and stayed there, shaking with fear. Neither of the twins had so much as stirred.
Even in a different room, it was difficult to fall asleep. He kept remembering Jesus lifting his head and bearing that grisly smile. Finally, at three in the morning, he managed to close his eyes and drift off.
When he awoke in the morning, stretched out on the floor of the twin’s room, he knew that this was it, the final straw. He wasn’t going to put up with any more of this bullshit. He went directly to Susan. She was in the bathroom, brushing her teeth. She spat before turning to Craig. Susan had not finished getting ready for the day, and her hair was a mess. She looked at him expectantly, still dressed in her silken pajamas. He took a deep breath before spilling what was on his mind.
“Mom, I really think we need to do something about the crucifix in my room.”
Again her face took on a look of shock. Then she did something Craig would have never suspected. She burst into tears. Startled, and hurt to see his new parent acting this way, he asked, filled with tones of concern, “Mom? Are you okay? What’s the matter?”
She stared at him with a look of helplessness before replying with a question of her own.
“The twins told you, didn’t they?”
Craig viewed her with surprise, replying, “Told me what?”
“You know what I’m talking about,” she said bitterly. “The twins told you about Allan.”
Craig’s mind was reeling with confusion. “Who is Allan?”
“You know damn well who Allan is. He was my third son. You’re making fun of me because he died. I thought you would know better…” Susan broke off into a fit of sobbing, burying her face in her hands.
“What does this have anything to do with that crucifix?”
Through her tears Susan was able to choke out a response. “He… he was always making up stories about a crucifix in his room. I knew he was lying, that attic doesn’t have a crucifix. He kept talking about how it would watch him at night and even move around sometimes…”
A coldness entered Craig’s chest. The next question he asked, he asked with a sudden overwhelming dread.
“How did Allan die?”
“You know this…” Susan was sobbing. “Please don’t make me tell you, you already know this.”
“No, I don’t. How did he die?”
Susan spat out the words, “He hung himself.”
An involuntary shudder passed through Craig’s body, and before he knew it he was turning around and leaving the room. Susan made no attempt to follow him. He made his way to the second bathroom of the house, shut the door and locked it. He sat down on the floor and rocked gently back and forth. Susan’s words reverberated around in his mind like echoes in a canyon.
I knew he was lying, that attic doesn’t have a crucifix.
He stayed put right there until he heard the slam of the back door and the subtle shifting of gravel that signified Susan’s car moving down the driveway.
A plan had formulated in his mind, a plan that would have to work. He got up and opened the door. With his jaw set in a tight line, he walked over to the kitchen and started sifting through all the drawers, searching, until he found what he wanted, and held it up.
A cheap, disposable lighter, it was exactly what he needed. He shoved the lighter into his pocket before going outside to be met with the brisk winter air. He strode into the garage and picked up the unmistakable red carton. He seized it in his hands and uncorked the yellow stopper. The fragrance of gasoline seeped into the air. He stormed back into the house. He was being loud with his footfalls for a reason. He was scared. Craig trooped up the stairs and opened the door to his room. He turned to face the crucifix.
It stood there almost innocently. Its face was as it normally was. There was nothing to indicate that it had moved, and for a second, Craig had his doubts. Then he remembered Susan’s tears over Allan. This was simply something that had to be done.
He strolled up to the crucifix, and ran a finger down the chest of Jesus, with every muscle in his body tense. He almost expected it to jump out at him… but nothing happened. His confidence mounted, and he began to cover the crucifix with gasoline. As the fumes wafted, the dry wood got wetter. A good bit of the liquid was actually spilled on Craig himself.
When he was finished, he stood there, quivering slightly, before he reached one hand into his pocket and fished out the lighter. He smiled triumphantly as a single click brought forth a flickering flame.
From downstairs, the twins heard a single scream of terror. Having been through this situation before, they knew what to do. Both of them fled the house and pounded on their neighbor’s door, screeching for someone to call the police.
When the police did come, they entered the home to find the strangest case of suicide they had ever seen.
It would appear that Craig Hooper, in the grief of his parents' deaths, had covered himself in gasoline and set himself aflame.
It was most peculiar, however. Much of the gasoline had been splashed onto the bare wall of the teenager’s room.
Written by SnakeTongue237