Author's note: This story is an entry in Koromo and Empty’s Song Competition. The song this story is based on is "God’s Away on Business" by Tom Waits.This story won 3rd place in Koromo and Empty's Song Competition.
Have you ever lost a best friend? Someone that you could talk to about anything? Someone that you would unquestioningly give your life for and trust in any circumstance?
All of us, at some point or another, have “lost” a best friend. For most of us, it’s usually a close childhood friend we grew distant from as we got older. As our interests, likes and dislikes changed, so too have our once impenetrable friendships. Now imagine that your best friend, someone you loved like family, started going down a bad path but doesn’t realize it. He’s on the path to ruin, dooming himself with every step he takes. He changes. He’s no longer the same person you could spend hours, if not whole days, with. He’s different. He doesn’t care for you, only greeting you with hatred and scorn. It gets worse, worse, worse until finally… he’s gone. It’s not a pleasant thought, that of your best friend slowly dying while you watch.
Now imagine being responsible for it.
Trevor was the kind of kid that the new kid would not want to associate with. He had all the traits that made him easy prey in the jungle that is adolescence. He was short, weak and a complete geek. From large thick glasses to social ineptitude- if it was nerdy, you would find it in Trevor. He spent as much time memorizing Star Trek trivia as he did getting his ass kicked by the local bullies. On the other hand, I was your typical cool jock, although I like to think I was a cut smarter than the rest.
So, you could guess how dumbfounded I was when Trevor of all people wound up becoming my best friend. I had just moved in mid-June to a small town in rural Pennsylvania with my father, after my bitch of a mother cheated on my dad and destroyed the family. While she and my two sisters remained in the urban metropolis of Manhattan, my father and I moved to a backwoods nobody-knows-where-the-fuck-this-is hellhole, aptly named God’s Crest.
When I say that God’s Crest was a hellhole, I mean it was truly a fucking hellhole. Not in the sense that murderers ran amok or drug dealers inhabited every street corner, but in the sense that it was completely and utterly boring. God’s Crest was a pitifully small town numbering no more than 400 boring people. The only buildings in town aside from the two dozen homes were a shitty diner that served shitty food, a few gift shops, the schoolhouse, and the church. If there was a line between medieval village and modern town, God’s Crest sat right on fucking top of it. For some reason or another, my father decided to get away from it all after the divorce and move to this godforsaken town, where he found work as a gardener.
As you can imagine, I was distraught, having to abandon my life in New York, but I wasn’t willing to abandon my dad. I figured that the change from fast-paced city life to the quiet simplicity of rural life would do me some good. I decided to embrace the move and welcome all challenges with an open mind.
During the first day, I realized how stupid that was. The people of God’s Crest were very distrusting of outsiders. I couldn’t blame them, since all the townsfolk knew each other and preferred to keep it that way. My father and I were strangers. We were two invaders to their world, and we didn’t belong there. The townsfolk made sure we knew that immediately, with their sharp glares, scowls, and general avoidance of us. It went on like this for a week, until the people grew to accept my father for his friendly personality, dry humor, and most importantly, his devotion to God. Dad was always the God-fearing type, something the people of God’s Crest could identify with. Me? I’ve been a staunch atheist since my early teens. The townsfolk didn’t know that, though, and merely assumed I was religious too, based on how devout my dad was. Like father, like son.
By the end of the second week, my father had firmly settled into life in God’s Crest. He worked hard maintaining our neighbors’ gardens, and everyone liked him. Unfortunately, his son didn’t have the same luck. The other kids never approached me, and I never approached them. I stayed inside most of the time, alternating between watching amateur porn on my laptop and sleeping the day away. Life went on like this until early July, when a knock on my door sent me scrambling to shut my laptop and redress myself.
“Just a minute!” I yelled out.
After finally getting myself together, I opened the door, and I just laughed. Standing in front of me was the dorkiest-looking kid you could imagine. He was wearing baggy shorts, a blue shirt with some yellow alien monster on the front, and tattered sneakers. His mousy brown hair fell across his thick, comically large glasses. And judging from his stupid grin, he had no idea what he looked like.
“Is something funny?” he asked with all the innocence of a puppy.
“Nah, man, everything’s cool. What do you need?” I said, still trying to suppress my laughter.
“Well, you’re the new kid and I noticed that you’ve been keeping to yourself ever since you got here. My name’s Trevor. I just wanted to drop by and say hi. Like you, I don’t really fit in here either.”
This took me by surprise. He didn’t fit in here? What? I was the one who didn’t fit here. Not him.
“What do you mean by that?” I said with an edge to my voice.
He got frightened, putting his hands up and sounding a bit panicked. “Nothing at all, man! I just meant that I keep to myself too!”
I was tired of dealing with this kid already. I wasn’t in the mood to make friends, and even if I was, I didn’t want to be friends with a loser like Trevor. “Thanks for stopping by, but I’m just fine, thanks.” With that, I shut the door.
As I went back to my laptop, I started to feel bad. He was just trying to be nice after all. He took the time to greet me, unlike any of the others. He couldn’t help it that he looked like the kids I used to bully in New York. As sad as it made me to say it, Trevor was the only other person in God’s Crest besides my father to give a shit about me.
And honestly? I was getting tired of the porn anyway.
I ran back out the door and saw him walking down the street with hunched shoulders. It occurred to me that Trevor actually wanted to be friends. Hell, this was probably the biggest moment of his day, just to walk up and say hi to me. I caught up with him after a few seconds, and he looked absolutely terrified, as if I was about to beat him just like all the other kids did. Before he could react, I started speaking.
“Hey, chill out, man. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m sorry for being an asshole earlier. I’m just kinda sick of being ignored by everyone in town, you know?”
He beamed and nodded eagerly. “It’s cool. I was like that when I first moved here, too.”
“Really, man? What was it like?”
He started to explain, and we ended up walking and talking for a couple hours. Turned out that Trevor was actually a cool guy, despite what his appearance would suggest. He moved to God’s Crest to live with his grandmother after his parents died in a car crash. We liked the same kinds of girls, the same foods, and even some of the same books and movies. Hell, he was an atheist too. Sure, I didn’t like Star Trek and World of Warcraft, but I did respect how much he knew about his interests, nerdy as they may be.
Not everything I learned about Trevor was good, though. He talked about his problems with the other kids, about how often he got beat up and mocked for being who he was. I cringed, since I used to bully nerds like Trevor in the past. Although I never mentioned it, I think he knew regardless.
We continued to hang out over the next few weeks, doing all sorts of things, from exploring the massive forest behind the church to watching movies he ripped off the internet. I began to see Trevor as my little brother, even though he was older than me by two months. I was a tall and built guy, whereas Trevor was as scrawny as they come. I became protective of him, not just because he was my friend and he needed it, but also to soften the guilt I had from when I was a bully. The local assholes, for the most part, stayed away from Trevor now, and the few bold ones learned their lesson after I kicked their asses. I never would have expected it, but Trevor became my best friend. Hell, I was closer with him than I was with any of my friends back in New York. Although I never thought I would be best friends with a nerd, I was grateful for it. Hanging out with Trevor made life in God’s Crest bearable.
Something very rare, the rarity being change, occurred in God’s Crest when our small town received a new, permanent visitor. The former pastor of the church, Pastor Albert, was a jolly old butterball. Trevor and I always used to make fun of him for his weight and the way spittle flew from his mouth during his energetic sermons. My dad and Trevor’s grandmother told us several times to show some respect, but we couldn’t help it. We were two 17-year-old small town atheist hipsters who loved to shit on religion any chance we got.
Even though we used to make fun of Pastor Albert all the time, we were just as saddened as anyone else when the old man died in his sleep on a blistering night in late July. He was a good man at heart, zealous as he was. The funeral was a somber affair, and even Trevor and I, the two asshole atheists of God’s Crest, expressed our sorrow at the man’s departure.
The new arrival in God’s Crest was a short, thin man with thick rimmed glasses and pale skin. After the passing of Albert, the church was looking to hire a new spiritual leader. None of the remaining clergy wanted to replace Pastor Albert, and none of the townsfolk wanted him replaced. However, church services still had to be conducted, and someone had to do it.
Enter Reverend Douglas.
I was never quite sure how the church found him or how he found the church. My guess was that word spread around the neighboring towns and eventually reached his ears. Some people said the Reverend was destined to come to God's Crest. Whatever the case, Reverend Douglas was here and he was here to stay.
Reverend Douglas was a short thin man with thick rimmed glasses. His thick brown hair fell in tufts over his head. He was a quiet and feeble man, opting for silence over speech. He was a stark contrast to Pastor Albert, whose larger-than-life figure and booming voice made him a beloved member of God’s Crest. That’s not to say Reverend Douglas was unqualified, though. No, he was devout. He feared God. He was an educated theologian. And he certainly loved Christ with as much fervor and passion as Albert did, even if it wasn’t visibly apparent.
On his very first day, he captured the heart of God’s Crest. Though he was quiet and spoke in a wispy, eerie singsong voice, everyone fell under his spell. His voice had no strength, but it had influence. He spoke of God’s love and sacrifice, and how we must sacrifice our time for God’s sake. He enjoined forgiveness and mercy. He encouraged everyone in town to be kind and generous with one another. The man always spoke softly, as if his voice was bound to only whisper. Despite being the polar opposite of Pastor Albert, Reverend Douglas was just as charismatic a speaker as him, if not more.
God’s Crest fell in love with Reverend Douglas, forgetting Pastor Albert entirely. Trevor and I, well, we still weren’t swayed by this Christian bullshit. I found ways to make fun of the Reverend, insulting his stature, voice, and pallid skin. Trevor laughed at the jokes, but I noticed that he never actually made jokes about Reverend Douglas. I could see why, I guess. The Reverend was almost physically identical to Trevor. Both of them were short, scrawny, and had brown hair. They had high-pitched voices and preferred silence to noise. If you put the two next to each other, it would be reasonable, almost expected, to think of them as father and son. If Trevor made fun of the Reverend, it would be as if he was making fun of his future self. Although he laughed at my jokes about the Reverend, I sensed that it was an uncomfortable fake laughter. After a few days, I stopped insulting Reverend Douglas and Trevor was clearly relieved.
July was nearing its end and the summer was half over. That didn’t discourage Trevor and me, though. We still made the most of our time, doing all sorts of stupid shit like bothering the neighbors and messing with strangers online.
During those last few days of July, I did not mention the Reverend once.
God’s Crest had an annual tradition. Every year on July 31st, the church hosted a barbecue at the large field behind the schoolhouse. Everyone was invited and attendance was all but mandatory. Although there would be a few sermons and other God nonsense, we weren’t deterred. Free food was still free food, right?
It was after this barbecue that Trevor began to change.
We went to the barbecue and had a good time. I talked to some girls, pulling out my old jock charm, while Trevor hurled witty insults at his former bullies. A large gazebo was set up with several chairs and a podium beneath, clearly for Reverend Douglas’ sermon about being grateful for the food or whatever. Trevor listened attentively to the Reverend’s speech but I simply didn’t give a fuck. I was there to enjoy myself and eat some chicken, not listen to the little man with the weird voice talk about how some magical sky king loves me or some shit. Although I didn’t pay attention to the Reverend’s speech, I did notice that he seemed to focus his gaze on Trevor, who stared right back at him. I wasn’t too concerned with it; the Reverend probably found it amusing that one of the townsfolk looked like him as a child.
The sermon ended and the Reverend called Trevor over for a private conversation. I was downing my eighth glass of fruit punch when I saw the two of them out of the corner of my eye. Reverend Douglas and Trevor were standing a fair distance from the gazebo, totally out of earshot. The Reverend had his hand on Trevor’s shoulder and seemed to be speaking excitedly, unlike his usual self. Trevor was nodding excitedly, as if he just achieved the top ranking in World of Warcraft. The Reverend finished speaking and tapped Trevor’s shoulder a few times. Trevor smiled at the Reverend and then made his way back to me.
I was curious. “What were you guys talking about? Wait, no. Let me guess. Something about God being fake, right?” I joked.
Trevor laughed lightly. “No, man. Reverend Douglas said I seem like a nice genuine kid with a lot of potential. He said he wants to ‘better acquaint’ himself with me.”
I had to admit, this made me double over laughing. “That’s hilarious, man. Does he know you’re an atheist?”
“Yeah, I told him, but he said that doesn’t matter. He said that he and I are a lot alike, and that he wants to mentor me.” Trevor’s eyes shone with enthusiasm.
“Mentor you? That’s a load of bullshit, Trevor. He just wants to turn you into one of those crazy Bible thumpers. Don’t waste your time on him.” I said sharply.
Trevor was taken aback and spoke indignantly, “Dude, what the hell? I don’t believe in God and I never will, but what’s the harm in making a new friend? The Reverend seems like a really cool guy and I’m gonna hang out with him.”
“Ok, do whatever you want to do, man. I’m just saying it’s weird, that’s all,” I shrugged.
“Yeah, whatever,” Trevor muttered.
The rest of the barbecue went well. I ate more food and even got a little friendly with a local girl, Marie, while Trevor meandered about the barbecue taunting his former bullies. We kept our distance from each other, though. He was a bit pissed about my dismissal of the Reverend and I thought it was just plain weird that Trevor the ultra-atheist was excited about chilling with a hardcore Christian.
The next day, Trevor and I were supposed to play a few rounds of ding dong ditch but he bailed immediately, saying that he was going to meet up with Reverend Douglas instead. I didn’t really mind, but it was certainly unexpected, considering Trevor absolutely loved ding dong ditch. While he went off to the church, I stayed home and watched some lame slasher films Trevor ripped for me.
I didn’t see Trevor the rest of the day. I thought he would drop by and tell me about his “mentorship” with the Reverend, but he didn’t. I just chalked it up to him being tired after what I assumed to be a stern lecture by Reverend Douglas on why atheists are stupid and God is cool. Idiot.
The following day, I was walking towards Trevor’s house around noon when I saw him walking in the opposite direction. He was walking to the church. Not going to lie, this bothered me. We were supposed to get lunch at the local diner, and I thought it was really shitty of Trevor to bail on me without telling me.
I caught up to him shortly. “Trevor, man, what the fuck? We’re supposed to have lunch at the diner now! Why are you bailing on me again, dude?”
Trevor wheeled around quickly and spoke, “The Reverend is a good man. Did you know that? The Reverend is a good man. I’m seeing him again today.”
That sounded very… odd. Trevor never spoke like that. He never spoke so…mechanically. I wasn’t going to waste time dwelling on it, though, and said my piece, “Listen, bro. If you don’t want to hang out all the time, fine. If you want to spend time with Reverend Douglas, go right ahead, my friend. I’m just letting you know it’s kind of weird, especially since you’re an atheist.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. I get it. But Reverend Douglas is a good man. I’m going to see him now. I’ll see you later, I guess.” Trevor turned on his heel and walked away.
The next two weeks were fucking weird and I cursed myself for not stopping the problem early on. Trevor visited Reverend Douglas every single day, and in all of the subsequent conversations I’ve had with him, he couldn’t go five seconds without mentioning some life lesson the Reverend taught him. He abandoned all his old dorky clothing and started wearing black suits and slacks exclusively. Trevor became increasingly drawn towards the Reverend and pretty much worshiped the fucking ground he walked on. His obsession with the Reverend was alarming enough, but what disturbed me even more was Trevor’s complete turnaround from Atheist Prime to the most devout Christian you would ever see. Rewind one month ago, and Trevor wouldn’t have been able to tell the Old Testament from the New Testament. After just two weeks with the Reverend Douglas, it seemed like Trevor memorized the entire fucking Bible. He threw out verses left and right, using them to chastise me for all the stupid shit he gladly did alongside me before his mentorship.
I knew the Reverend was a bad influence on Trevor, and I should have tried harder to keep him away from that creepy bastard, God knows I regret not trying harder. I was watching my best friend turn into a completely different, and honestly, a very shitty, person. His zealotry did not go unnoticed by the people of God’s Crest, and even Trevor’s grandma was unnerved by his behavior. But every time I tried to tell Trevor that maybe he should spend more time at home and with me instead of with the Reverend, he got very defensive and hammered out even more Biblical verses about “keeping good company”. He insulted Marie, who was my girlfriend at the time, calling her a “whore” and a “filthy harlot”. He called me a “piece of shit sinner” and I came this close to punching his fucking teeth down this throat. Angry as I was, though, I couldn’t hit him. I still thought of him as a younger brother, but that didn’t mean I had to tolerate this. I simply decided I was tired of Trevor’s shit and didn’t want to waste any more time or energy on him. I made up my mind to stop all contact with him until he came to his fucking senses. I would have been worried about Trevor getting picked on by bullies again, but even they were trying to put as much distance between themselves and Trevor as possible.
God’s Crest is a very quiet town. There’s no crime and everyone trusts each other. It’s a very tightly-knit community, more like an extended family, really. At the center of this family was the church, and in an effort to be more accommodating, the church always kept its doors open 24 hours a day. You know how in some movies, a guy is going through a crisis and ends up going to the church to clear his head and have a heart-to-heart conversation with the local minister?
Yeah, that didn’t happen to me.
Marie and I broke up on an unusually cold Saturday night in mid-August. She was tired of Trevor’s shit as well and was absolutely livid that I didn’t defend her when Trevor called her a whore. I did yell at Trevor and try to force an apology from him, but Marie’s definition of “defend” was “beat Trevor until he pissed God”. Even though Trevor was, in fact, an asshole, I wasn’t going to hit him no matter what. Marie couldn’t accept that, so she dumped me flat on my ass after I took her home from the diner that night.
I wasn’t that upset over being dumped; what Marie demanded was ridiculous and I was glad we were through. What I was upset about was that it was Trevor’s fault. My best and only friend turned into an extremist and I felt it necessary to clear my head. I wandered around town until it was about 3 am, and then I started heading to the church, even though that funhouse from Hell was the reason I was so angry. I pushed open the large doors and entered the church, completely swamped in darkness. If pitch-black had a sound, I was hearing it. I was about to move to the front and sit down when my eyes immediately jerked toward a small flame lighting up ahead.
What I saw made me fucking freeze.
Reverend Douglas was there.
One hundred feet away.
Just sitting there.
Holding a candle.
This, I could not fucking believe. It was 3 am and the Reverend just sat in a rickety old pew upfront, staring straight ahead. Common sense told me to get the fuck out of there but common sense vanished as soon I stepped into the Reverend’s playground. I couldn’t move, even though I willed every muscle in my body to turn around and run. I stood unmoving for at least a minute, and then something happened which chilled me to my core.
The Reverend turned his head exactly 90 degrees to the left and spoke in his wispy singsong voice.
“Trevor is a good boy, isn’t he?”
I fucking ran.
I bolted out of there faster than I’ve ever ran before. Whatever the Reverend was, he wasn’t normal. This wasn’t normal. None of this was fucking normal. I tried to pretend I was hallucinating, but I knew what I saw. I rushed home and collapsed into my bed, breathing heavily and sweating all over. I didn’t sleep that whole night. How the hell could I? All I could think about was the Reverend’s pale face in the candlelight, his goddamn terrifying voice, what he said about Trevor.
The next morning, I was a total wreck. I didn’t sleep, I looked like shit, and I never wanted to go back to the church again. I never wanted to see the Reverend or even hear anything about him ever again.
In the town of God’s Crest, though, skipping church on Sunday morning was unforgivable. My father was well liked by the community and I didn’t want to fuck that up by not showing up to the service. So, I pulled myself together, cleaned myself up, and headed off to the church. I was definitely planning on sitting as far away from the Reverend as possible, though.
When my dad and I reached the church, we took our seats and the service proceeded as usual. Hearing the Reverend’s voice sent shivers down my spine and this tiny man, this scrawny weakling looked fucking spectral as he delivered his sermon. I spotted Trevor in the front, away from his grandmother. He was staring at Reverend Douglas with bright eyes, drinking in every word the man whispered.
“And God has promised His love to all those who truly desire it. Look to the society beyond and you will see all manner of whores and filthy harlots gallivanting about, parading their sin for all. They do not desire God’s love and mercy, so it is up to us to make them desire God’s love and mercy. Take, for example, the average impure teenage girl. She runs from man to man, shaming herself and her God, and she enjoys it. For the sake of these monsters, we must-“
The entire church went silent. The Reverend stared at the blasphemer with a gentle smile and shook his head.
“I’m sick of your misogynistic bullshit, Reverend! You don’t know shit about anything, and I’m tired of you feeding lies to these people. There is nothing wrong with a woman having sex, and it doesn’t matter who or how many people she has it with! Fuck you, Reverend!” Marie stood on one of the middle pews, throwing more and more curses upon the still smiling Reverend, drawing gasps and cries of outrage from the other townsfolk. I was surprised as well, although I shouldn’t have been. Marie was perhaps the most liberal and open-minded girl in all of God’s Crest. Hell, she was the only one willing to date, while all the other girls swore to wait until marriage.
Marie continued her rant against the Reverend. Her mother cried and her father kept his eyes downcast, both parents ashamed of their daughter. Nobody was stopping her, as nobody was prepared for her outburst.
Nobody was prepared for Trevor’s reaction either.
Trevor, all five feet of him, soared from his seat and charged Marie like an animal. His glasses fell off during his lunge and his eyes looked… blank. His mouth was shaped like a large oval, and opened in a silent scream. This used to be my best friend, a tiny little weakling who got beat up by everyone. The...creature I saw in the church that day wasn't my best friend.
The entire church, this time including Marie, went silent for the second time at Trevor’s rapid movement. Marie stood frozen in shock at what she was seeing, while Trevor jumped in a wide arc towards her, his hands outstretched and poised for her throat. Had Marie’s father not reacted in time and caught Trevor in the air, Marie would have been fucking mangled. I’d never seen anyone so angry before.
The Reverend did not stop smiling the whole time.
The service ended shortly after the incident. Trevor managed to scratch Marie’s father across the cheek, and both Marie’s family and Trevor were commanded by one of the local community leaders to remain in their homes for the rest of the day. The Reverend apologized to Marie’s family for the incident and apologized on Trevor’s behalf as well. He assured them that Marie and Trevor would both learn a valuable lesson from the incident.
My father was appalled with the incident, but was glad that I had already cut ties with Trevor. He didn’t know I dated Marie, thank science. The town of God’s Crest was changed by this incident. Marie’s family would be shunned forever and if the whole town didn’t know of Trevor’s zealotry, they knew now. The Reverend ordered everyone to forget the incident and clear their heads, even closing the church for the rest of the day.
Between the drama of my best friend turning into a fucking psycho and the Reverend’s terrifying reaction to the altercation, I had a hard time thinking clearly. That night, I resolved to go the forest behind the church and calm down. I had always found the forest to be a peaceful place. Trevor and I used to throw acorns at squirrels out here before he changed. We used to run and jump across the numerous ditches, holes, trees, and groves of the forest, harassing the wildlife along the way. Sometimes I came there alone just to think and get away from my troubles. The forest had been a safe place for me, and I loved going there.
I didn’t know that night would be the last time I ever went in the forest.
It was late, well past midnight when I arrived at the edge of the trees. I wasn’t planning on staying long, just an hour or so to stop dwelling on the incident and forget about Trevor. I wandered about the forest aimlessly, the chirping of crickets and dancing of fireflies doing little to comfort me as they usually had. My mind was clouded with the thoughts of the past few weeks, and I wasn’t sure how long I had been walking- had it been five minutes? Or twenty? Could it have been an hour already?
These thoughts vanished as soon as I heard voices up ahead.
Voices? In the forest? At 3 am? I rubbed my eyes and slapped myself a few times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things.
I hoped that I was.
I moved closer to the source of the noise, but I couldn’t see anything in the gloomy darkness of the forest. The canopy blocked the moonlight almost entirely, only a few tiny slivers of moonlight seeping through. It was not enough to see anything, though. I inched a bit closer and I heard something I desperately wished I had never heard.
A loud discordant humming, almost drowning out a faint gurgling. The stench of whatever lay ahead was repulsive, reeking of various body fluids mixed with the dirt and moss from the forest floor.
I heard a choked attempt to scream, only coming out as a groan before a wet crunch replaced the groan with a sharp gasp.
The humming immediately turned to a melodious whistle, producing a haunting song that was beautiful in spite of what it accompanied.
Another strand of moonlight broke through the canopy, shining right down onto the event in front of me. Although I couldn’t see clearly, I saw someone crouching on the ground overlooking a ditch. The person had their hand outstretched towards the ditch but kept it slightly out of reach of the hand trying to grasp it.
That was Marie’s voice.
I thought I died and went to Hell when I heard the person’s response.
In the same wispy singsong voice I’d heard in my waking nightmares, Reverend Douglas responded, “If you’re looking for someone to pull you out of that ditch, you’re out of luck.”
“P-p-p-p-please! I-I-I’m sorr-sorr-“
“You’re out of luck.”
The Reverend sat down on the ground and continued to watch Marie as she died. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t scream. She was done.
I was paralyzed. The encounter I had with him at the church was terrifying, but this was fucking unreal. I stood still, holding my breath for what seemed to be forever. The Reverend eventually stood up and started walking in the direction of the church. I waited ten minutes until I sighed in relief and collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily and shaking all over.
I lay gasping on the ground for several minute and soon found myself crawling to the hole Marie was in. Once I looked down at her, I vomited.
Marie was lying in the ditch, her body skewered in several places by multiple wooden stakes driven into the ground. The sharp wooden spikes jutted out all over her body, through her stomach, her thighs, her shoulders, and even her throat. Her mouth was locked in a half-scream, her left cheek torn apart by one of the stakes.
Blood, vomit, and urine sank into the soil below her, while her clothes were stained nearly black by the damp soil and dried blood mixing on her body. How long had she been here? By God, how long had she been here?
I don’t know how long I stayed there, sobbing and retching the whole time. Soon enough ants and other insects came to feast on her corpse, crawling through her body, into her nose, ears, eyes, everywhere. Even now, I can’t forget the image.
I suppose my body picked itself up and carried me home that night of its own accord. I fell to my bed and did not wake up until late in the afternoon. My father was worried, and woke me up after deciding I had slept enough. He told me the fallout from the incident the day before. Apparently, Marie had had enough of our small town and its intolerance, and decided to move out of God’s Crest that very night. As far as the town knew, she was engaging in debaucheries in the big city “like the whore and filthy harlot she was”.
I wanted to scream at him and tell him the truth, tell Marie’s parents the truth. I wanted to tell them that Marie didn’t move to the big city. That Marie didn’t get to leave God’s Crest on her own terms. That Reverend Douglas wouldn’t allow her to. It didn’t matter if Trevor had attacked Marie or not. As soon as Reverend Douglas smiled at her, Marie's end was decided.
I wanted to tell my father about the evil living in God’s Crest, but I knew he wouldn’t believe me. No one would. The whole town loved Reverend Douglas. I would have called the police if there were any police to call. The people of God’s Crest hadn’t experienced any crime or notoriety for decades. Just like the rest of the world, the law forgot God’s Crest.
And what about Trev-
Holy fucking shit. Trevor.
Trevor went to the church around this time every day. I had to warn him, I didn’t care what he would say. He was and still is my best friend and I had to save him. The Reverend targeted Trevor for something and whatever it was, it was wrong, it was evil, it wasn’t fucking human.
I ran right out the door and sprinted to Trevor’s house. I practically slammed against his door over and over until he finally opened it, dressed in a black suit and glaring at me with contempt.
“Trevor, listen to me. I don’t care if you never want to see me again. Just please listen to me. The Rever-“
He pushed past me and started heading for the street. “I don’t have time for this. I’m going to see Reverend Douglas. He is a good man.”
That was all it took. I fucking snapped.
I grabbed his shoulders and slammed him against the door. I started screaming in his face, “DON’T GO TO THE REVEREND, TREVOR! You can't fucking go to the Rev-“
“You won’t stop me,” he said with finality.
“HE KILLED HER, MAN! Reverend Douglas killed Marie! He fucking killed her! She never left God’s Crest! Her body is-“
I couldn’t finish my sentence after Trevor kneed me in the stomach. It wasn’t the wind being knocked out of me that left me speechless, but rather the fact that Trevor, a weakling less than half my size, brought me to my knees with one hit. While I was gasping for air, Trevor knelt down and said in the same wispy singsong voice of the Reverend, “The Reverend is a good man. He wants me to see him now.”
His boot sailing towards my head was the last thing I saw before I blacked out.
Trevor was strong, but he wasn’t that strong. I came to after a couple minutes and sat up on Trevor’s front lawn. I didn’t know how to describe what I was feeling. I stopped caring about Trevor entirely, but I wouldn’t call it apathy. I was angry that he dismissed me so quickly, that he considered me a fool. I was sad about the irreversible destruction of our friendship. And yet part of me was content, knowing that I did all I could. If he still wouldn’t listen to me, it was on him.
I tried my very best to believe that.
That night, Trevor went missing.
No one had seen him after that day, and the Reverend claimed, in his soft eerie voice, “Trevor is probably exploring. He’s a good boy, though. I’m sure he will return.”
Trevor never returned.
His grandmother died of grief two weeks after his disappearance. God’s Crest eventually forgot the tiny zealot and moved on to worrying about other issues.
I hadn’t forgotten.
I knew the Reverend killed Trevor. I had only hoped that he didn’t meet as painful an end as Marie did.
August passed and September arrived, bringing with it cold winds and the toll of school bells. I tried my best to forget about Trevor. He was and still is my best friend, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on my schoolwork if continued to grieve over him.
The months went by until June arrived once more. My father and I had spent a full year in God’s Crest. I still went to church every Sunday but I never wandered around the forest again or stayed out after dark. I kept my distance from the Reverend, but every now and then, we would make eye contact. I could see the message in his warm brown eyes.
He knew that I knew.
Several years passed. I didn’t remember Trevor that frequently anymore and eventually came to terms with his death. The Reverend holds a moment of silence for Trevor every year at the end-of-July barbecue, and every year, I remember Reverend Douglas luring Trevor to his death this very day. The first couple years, it took every bit of self-control I had not to pounce on the Reverend and maul him just as he probably mauled Trevor. Eventually, I stopped giving him the satisfaction.
I've accepted the death of my best friend, but something about his disappearance has always bothered me. I knew what happened to Marie. Hell, I saw it with my own eyes. But I still didn't know what exactly happened to Trevor. Reverend Douglas, who doesn't appear to have aged much and still delivers sermons with his unearthly voice, obviously knows what happened to my best friend, and I'm reminded of this painful fact every time our eyes meet at the Sunday service. I used to hope that maybe Trevor was actually missing but I've made peace with it. My best friend is dead and although I could have saved him, I let him walk, no, run to his own death.
Along with this grim acceptance, I have also had a few realizations about our small town. I find it strange that the town was named God’s Crest when God was never actually here at all. Perhaps the Reverend was innocent, merely a puppet controlled by whatever ancient evil rests here. I realize that nobody ever truly leaves God’s Crest, and all who arrive are either absorbed into it permanently or destroyed and forgotten, like Marie. I’m no longer an atheist, since no logic or reason can explain the otherworldly nature of this town.
Maybe God’s Crest was never a holy place, but was always a part of Hell instead.
I lost my best friend but I never knew how I lost him.
I suppose it was my desire for closure that had me sneaking into the church at 1:30 am on a sweltering Saturday night in July, twenty-eight years after Trevor’s murder. I remembered the candlelit encounter with the Reverend from so long ago, and I did not wish to repeat it by entering through the chapel. I entered the church through one of the basement windows instead and landed in a completely dark storage room.
I didn’t know if Reverend Douglas would be in the church, but if he was, he would have been in the main chapel, sitting down and staring ahead like he was that one terrifying night. Not taking any chances, I moved as silently as I could across the church basement, using only the flame from my lighter to guide me. I searched room after room for a hint, for anything linked to Trevor.
I was crossing the hallway and heading for the chapel when I heard… something.
Coming from the end of the corridor.
I moved quietly towards the noise and I heard it more distinctly.
Somebody was crying.
I continued to approach the noise until I was met with a door leading to a supply closet. A river of dried crimson had leaked through the bottom of the door.
I heard the crying clearly now, soft erratic sobs alternating with ragged breathing and hacking coughs. I could hear wet squelching sounds each followed by sharp grunts of pain, all of which were quickly halted with wet crunching sounds.
And there it was again. The whistling. The fucking whistling from that night in the forest almost thirty years ago. The same song, still beautiful, still disgustingly unseemly for whatever evil was happening inside that room.
Beyond the door, the Reverend spoke in his timeless, wispy singsong voice, “Goddamn, there’s always such a big temptation to be good. Isn’t there?”
“You’ve been a good boy for the past twenty-eight years,” the Reverend’s voice lilted.
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, REVEREND!”
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
Oh my fucking God.
“For the love of God? GOD'S AWAY ON BUSINESS, TREVOR!”