[cw: physical violence]

The Devil’s Trinkets

By Jeff Harvey

Preacher says he can prepare me for eternal life, but I’ll have to make sacrifices. I agree because it’s the only way I can see Momma and Hannah, my half-sister, again. 

Straw-like grass crowds the field behind the church, begging for a drink following another summer day of high humidity and no rain. As the mosquitos start biting around sunset, the Brothers chop up the donated wood, douse it with kerosene, and start the fire. 

His flock quiets as Preacher raises his hand to speak. “Brothers and Sisters, the Devil never rests in his attempts to destroy our love of Christ. That’s why we must sacrifice the unnecessary human comforts that tempt us into living a life of sin.”

After making my way through the group of over thirty congregants, I throw my copy of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road into the fire, its flames leaping six feet high, the smell of burning wood and rubber in the air. 

After every sacrifice, congregants sing cries of “Sweet Jesus, help us all.” 

Miss Vickers pulls out a box of romance novels and chucks them into the fire. “Forgive me for having this filth in my home.” 

I look at the cover of Queen’s A Night At The Opera. I had bought it the weekend I met Anthony at Midtown Park in Memphis. He stopped his green Civic and asked me for directions to George’s Disco.

 “Never heard of it,” I said.

“It’s a gay club. Wanna help me find it?” 

I jumped in, and we spent the next four months together.

Momma holds Hannah near the fire so she can fling in her collection of Cabbage Patch dolls with her six-year-old hands. The plastic sizzles as their skin blisters and their eyes melt away.

After tossing in the photos from my trip with Anthony to New Orleans for my nineteenth birthday, Momma hugs me. “Now that you’ve put all that foolishness behind you, we can be together in Heaven someday.” My first thought is that we are together now. Preacher steps in between us and shakes his index finger at me as if he’s daring me to get close with her.

Momma’s eyes close. She raises her hands into the air and shakes from head to toe. Sounding like the owl that used to live in our barn, Preacher says she is speaking in tongues. She kicks off her flats and runs toward the coals, screaming gibberish about my sins. After placing one foot on the hot coals, my heart races and sweat rolls down my back. I run to help her. Preacher elbows me to the ground. He grabs Momma and orders a couple of Brothers to lock her and Hannah in the church bus until her nerve pill kicks in. No one tends to her foot.

Preacher taunts me with his dead eyes and crooked grin, reminding me of all those times his threats forced me to the fellowship hall after Momma and Hannah had gone to sleep. I know he’s planning something for later, something that can never happen again.

After sending the repentant sinners home, Preacher unlocks the bus and shepherds Momma and Hannah next door to the parsonage. On his way, he barks another order, “Let the fire burn out on its own and clean up all this mess.” 

I burn the paper cups and food wrappings and carry the two hatchets to the fellowship hall. Anthony. How he’d dance to Donna Summer with me at George’s, our sweaty shirts tied around our waists. How he’d mouth to me over the beat (You’re my hero), how he’d run that Labor Day night, as the men who chased him drew nearer, shouting at him, taunting him. Blood gushed from his head as they shoved him into a concrete wall, his eyes finding mine and issuing a silent plea … get away now. Preacher said I’d be next. 

While I was sweeping the floor, Preacher comes back and places his belt on the table. “Mason, now that you have done away with the Devil’s trinkets, we can get started on your healing.” 

            He strikes me across my back with his belt and knocks me to the floor. Preacher bends down and knees me in the back. I flinch, letting out a scream formed in anger, in sorrow, in disgust. He places an arm across the back of my neck, pinning me to the floor. I try biting him but can’t. I close my eyes and see Anthony, his eyes … get out now. This would be our first anniversary. 

A ping-pong paddle lies on the floor near me. I grasp it and am able to swat Preacher a few times in the groin. He releases his arm, and I push him away. After getting myself off the floor, I’m ready for what comes. As I take a full swing at Preacher, his outstretched fingers turn into claw-like talons, ready to destroy me. The veins in his neck throb and a growl oozes from his throat. Preacher takes a hatchet from the corner, and I cut myself fighting him for it. Blood splatters across the linoleum floor. 

Momma appears in the doorway with his pistol. Preacher freezes when she screams for him to stop. After he attempts to take hold of the pistol, a shot is fired. 

I hear preacher calling 911. “She had a pistol and tried shooting me and her boy. Nothing else I could’ve done.”

Jeff Harvey grew up near Memphis TN and now lives in San Diego CA. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Moonpark Review, Literary Yard, Twin Pies Literary, Stone of Madness Press, Daily Drunk Magazine, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @JeffHarveySD.