Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Suspense from Richard Argo


Richard Argo is a teacher of writing and he facilitates the Netwest Prose group in Murphy, NC. He is a strong part of Netwest and has been for many years. His commitment to help other writers and support Netwest is recognized and greatly appreciated. This short story grabs you immediately and you won't stop reading until you reach the end. Richard reads at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC on Thursday evening, February 21 at 7:00 p.m.



Amen

I stand in the shadows at the rear door of the church and pull the slide back on the nine-millimeter pistol. The recoil spring strains to close the slide, but I let it ease forward slowly and watch the cartridge, the lead bullet and shiny brass casing disappear into the firing chamber. There are eight more rounds in the magazine, but it will take only one. One round will end the miserable life that has made my life miserable. Pray hard sinner because I’m sending your rotten soul to hell. I open the door and slip in.
Inside the temperature is ten degrees hotter. I can feel sweat bead on my upper lip and soak into my collar. It is near noon and sunny outside, but heavy curtains make the room early-morning gray. The musty smell says the Ladies’ Auxiliary has not cleaned in several months. The voices of the choir are plain and clear, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” Blessings will flow like blood, today – like the pure blood of Jesus. I walk forward.
I move like a cat – a large cat – each step placed softly and firmly ahead of the last, through a series of adjoined rooms. The choir has finished and the preaching has begun, an inaudible murmur punctuated by “Amen” and “praise the Lord.” I pause at the narrow steps that lead to the choir loft. Lord, still my hand and quieten my heart that I might not falter when I send that son-of-a-bitch to judgment. I ascend the first step.
It is thirteen steps to the small landing and door at the rear of the choir loft. I open the door a crack. Choir, preacher, and congregation lay in my view, even to the ushers at the heavy double-door in back. Before me is the center aisle between the altos and the basses, between the sopranos and the tenors, down between the deacons and the Minister of Music, right on down between the Jones’s and the Browns, the Smiths and the Johnsons, all the way to the back. The only person between me and freedom is the man at the podium. He stands there, broad-backed and tall, stripped of his coat. His white shirt and snowy hair make him look like a polar bear. His right arm, with Bible in hand, extended as if he will use it to beat the congregation into remission. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God-uh. No one can come to the Father except through the Son-uh.” Yeah, you showed my mother the glory of the father and now this son is going to send you to glory. I raise the pistol.
I see his head on the sights like a gourd on a spike. No body shot for me. I want to blow his righteous brains across the first three rows of the faithful. I want his life to go out like a light, no chance for confession, no chance for redemption. “The Lord says, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged-uh.’ He who call another ‘fool’ is in danger of Hell fire-uh.” I may go to Hell, fool, but you’ll be there first and stay longer. I squeeze the slack out of the trigger.
His head dances on the sights like a drop of water on a hot skillet. I open the door. Just one step closer will make it easier.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death-uh.”
Just one more step closer and I can’t miss. One more “Amen” and you are history.
“Fear not. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the Earth-uh.”
Another step closer and the next “Amen” will be your last.
“And now, we will sing our hymn of invitation-uh, ‘Just As I Am.’”
The church is silent. He is standing not three feet from the barrel in my outstretched hand. He turns to face me. His eyes show fear – no, not fear, surprise. His eyes show surprise and a touch of sadness.
Can I get an “Amen?”

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