Confirmation [Short Story]
[Edited original photo by Elviss Bitans]
I will never forget the sound Evil made when it died in the Baxter’s house one night in the fall of 1982.
The basement of the rectory of St. Ambrose had that smell. The one that appears to be common amongst cellars of houses of the Lord. Of decades-old candle wax and spent wicks, mold-imbued books. Of rotted flowers and palm reeds. That smell. I’d once thought it unique to our chosen parish at the time. It’s not. And any time I happened upon it in some other basement, sometimes in another church, I’d be reminded of CCD.
Some people call it Catechism. I suppose it could have been called Sunday School, except in our town it was held on Tuesday nights. Tuesday School? Not the same ring to it, I’d say. So, CCD. Sounds like some kind of mental condition, now that I think of it. Apropos, if you don’t mind me saying so.
Needless to say, I did not look forward to Tuesday nights.
The last year of CCD for me was centered around preparing for Confirmation. I won’t get into the details of that for you non-Catholics, and to be quite honest I can’t remember what to tell you about it anyway. I suppose it was to “confirm” one’s faith in God and the church. Confirm beliefs. Confirm that you bought the whole damn thing. One of “them.” One of the flock. For me it served only as confirmation that, following that fall, my Tuesday nights henceforth would carry with it only the aroma of glorious, sweet freedom. Thank you God, Hallelujah, Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong, Amen.
Father Jacobs, the presiding priest at the time, did not conduct CCD at St. Ambrose. The old guy would show up from time to time, sure, when he wasn’t busy doing God-knows-what on a Tuesday evening. Probably better off pulling numbered letters out of a bingo cage, really. But for the most part it was just us ten kids and Mr. Baxter.
Of all the teachers I had for CCD throughout the years, Mr. Baxter won the prize for being, shall we say, the most devout. This includes the likes of Sister Estelle, a decrepit, miserable thing harkening from the days of when my own mother attended Catholic school in a neighboring town. No lie, Sister Estelle — or Sister Est-Hell, as we called her — carried a yard stick along her back like a rifle on a cattle rancher. I’ve learned since then that it served more as a bullshit deterrent than anything else. God save the poor soul warranting its unsheathing. Thankfully, I never bore witness to it.
Warren Baxter’s boys, Mark and Jason, attended this particular CCD class along with me and seven others our age. They were homeschooled, so I can’t say any of us knew much about them beyond the walls of that basement, and that the poor bastards had their dad as a teacher. Not just Tuesday nights, but every fucking day. Mr. Baxter sorta reminded me of Christopher Cross. Y’know, “Sailing” and “Ride Like the Wind”? Not to mention he carried a beaten acoustic guitar with him anytime I saw him. He certainly wasn’t an old guy, but he sure had what I guess you could say was an old way of thinking when it came to the education of religion. He had a habit of taking it upon himself to detour from the illustrated Jesus textbooks and remind us of all the things that could make up a mortal sin. You might think that means killing, stealing, raping — that sort of thing. No. He’d remind us weekly that masturbating was a mortal sin that was a sure ticket to Hell. Even thinking about jerking off. It was like you might as well give Satan himself a handy, because, son, it’s just like knocking on his door with that hand.
I guess Mrs. Baxter was a sure help of keeping her husband Heaven-worthy, at least before their divorce.
Mr. Baxter was a parishioner at the church, but he also sang and played guitar at Sunday mass. Considering the limited source material, he wasn't half bad. I’d been taking guitar lessons at the time and knew he wasn’t just some two-bit hack. He played for us a couple of nights at class, which was a welcome reprieve from mundane bible verse analysis, even if it wasn’t exactly Clapton we were listening to. The man dug music; no question of that. And on the second-to-last class of the year, he took it to a new level.
The record player sat in the center of the largest table. Not an odd sight, really. We’d listened to hymns and such before, and even been forced to — dear God — sing along to them. But there was something very different about it this time. Something special. When my eyes caught it, I couldn’t restrain myself.
Paul Morley, my best friend at the time, saw it too. Led Zeppelin IV, its unmistakable album cover featuring that painting of an old man lugging a bundle of sticks, sat among a few recognizable others. AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. Queen’s The Game. Classics today — purely defining, then. A few kids started in with “Stairway to Heaven” before Mr. Baxter shut them down.
“And she’s buy-uy-ing a-”
“Sit down, everyone. Yes, I’m going to play some of these — just a little. But then I have an important story for you.”
He slipped Led Zeppelin IV out of its sleeve and placed it onto the turntable. Man, I thought, this is gonna be great. I prepared myself for the sweet sounds of Robert Plant, belting out his “Hey hey, mama,” rolling into Jimmy Page on the ax and Bonham on skins. It was already playing in my head.
Instead, we got something else entirely.
Mr. Baxter turned on the player and moved the needle up a bit onto the platter. He put it down a few times, giving us a little tease here and there of what we could have — should have — been listening to in entirety. He finally got to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and let it play. Sweet release.
About midway through the song, he turned the player off. What is this, another lesson about not beating off? I thought. To 14-year-old me, it may as well have been.
“Now, listen to this.”
We all knew what was going to happen. Playing “Stairway” backwards wasn’t new. And then it all became painfully clear. Zeppelin. AC/DC. Queen? I hadn’t heard about that one yet. But most of us knew of the supposed hidden messages within the latter two, and now Mr. Baxter was going to play them. Here. In the basement of a church.
He spun the record counter-clockwise, slowly, by hand. Eventually he got to the money shot, where Plant’s voice seems to sing out the words “my sweet Satan,” along with some other things that don’t sound so Heavenly when you over-analyze the shit out of them.
But for the playing record, the room was silent. I don’t think we quite knew what to make of it. Mr. Baxter — a guy who’d preached that the simple pleasures of alone time in a long, hot shower was sinful — was playing verses about the Devil. In the Lord’s house! What was next, a Ouija board?
Once he was through with Zeppelin, he went onto Highway to Hell. The album cover alone should have burst into flames the moment it entered the parking lot, but he played it just the same. For a few minutes, singer Bon Scott became Scott Bon. Or maybe it’s Ttocs Nob. You’re supposed to hear something like “my name is Lucifer” somewhere in that backmasked garbage, but all I heard was blasphemy to some wholesome, British-borne rock and roll.
Queen was an interesting one. Played backwards, the lyrics “another one bites the dust” becomes “it’s fun to smoke marijuana.” Oh great, so now that’s evil too? My older brother’s days were numbered.
Mr. Baxter let the chuckles and high-fives among us slide and stopped the turntable.
“Alright. Why did I play these for you tonight?”
I dunno, to thank Jesus these classes are almost over, I thought.
Paula Spencer spoke up. “Because they talk about the Devil…?”
We all looked at each other, clueless. That wasn’t it? Besides Freddie Mercury soloing in reverse about weed, what else was there? And I was sure as shit stinks that Baxter had his fair share of ganja in his days. Hell, at that moment, I was thinking he’d smoked a bowl before class.
“A couple of reasons. First, it’s to make you aware. The things your generation is listening to — on the radio, on records, and tapes — are deceiving you into falling out of love with God.”
“But on the radio, it’s not backwards,” Paul said.
“I don’t even have a record player,” said someone else.
Mr. Baxter shook his head, in that these-clueless-kids sort of way.
“It’s doesn’t matter. You heard it for yourself. It’s still there. And the Devil — he hid it there.”
We learned years ago: you don’t groan at a teacher in CCD. But the restraint in the room was palpable.
“So … Robert Plant … is Satan?” I asked.
“No. He’s just one of many instruments.”
“Like a guitar?” Randal asked. Now that let loose a volley.
“Alright, quiet down. Not like that, no, Randal. I mean they serve the anti-Christ. Though they may not know it. But, because we can play this … music this way, the Devil’s tricks are revealed. And they are in all of the music you’re listening to. All the rock and roll, all the heavy metal. It’s there, and he is trying to use it to deceive you into falling out of grace with God.”
“So … what are we supposed to do?” I asked.
“Stop listening to it. Forwards. Backwards. On the radio, or at home. These are all the new instruments of Evil. And you should shun them just as you would any other mortal sin you’ve learned about in this class. You’ll think you have control over what you believe until it’s too late, and you stop coming to mass. You stop loving Jesus and God and everything else that will bring you to everlasting life in Heaven.”
Well, I was going to Hell. Before he’d finished his bummer of a diatribe, I’d started to think that if everlasting life in Satan’s parlor meant a lot more Zeppelin, Rush, and everything that was candy to my ears, I might just be okay with that.
“The second reason I played these for you — and this is very, very important. You listening?”
Most of us nodded.
“Never — and I mean never — do this on your own. I know it’s tempting — a fun trick to show your friends. But do not do it. I played this here, because we’re safe in God’s house. But at home, or anywhere else, you are not. And the Devil does not like when his tricks are revealed. And he will let you know.”
“How?” Paul asked.
Mr. Baxter pulled out a chair, sat down and leaned in. “I’ll tell you how. Because it happened to me. Mark and Jason can tell you — they were there.”
All eyes were on the two Baxter kids. Their eyes told us that either they were mortified or terrified. After what their father had to say, I’d go with the latter.
“A night a few months ago, Mark was playing one of these records in the cellar at home. I told him what I told you, many times before — none of that music. The work of the Devil. Sins against God. But he couldn't help himself. That’s how it works: You let him in, and he won’t let go.
“So I decided to show him what was hidden in those songs. I did the same thing I did here tonight. I stopped the record, and slowly I began to play it in reverse. And those same, hidden messages were revealed.
“And then … he walked right through the room.”
“Who?” someone asked.
“The Devil,” Jason whispered. In the ensuing silence, you could hear a guitar pick drop.
Mr. Baxter nodded. “He did. A dark figure. Dressed in the darkest cloak I'd ever seen, he passed into the room. No face, just nothingness. Tears were streaming down our faces. We couldn’t move. He glided closer to us, and we still could not move. He stopped just ten feet away from us, and he pointed, right at me. And in a voice I’ll never, ever forget he said …”
He let the sentence hang in the air. This was some real campfire-story shit, and I’m betting I wasn’t alone in hankering for some roast marshmallows right about then. What a showman.
No? That was it? Not “come with me, you’re going to hell” or “turn it up, man?” I say that now, but to be quite honest with you, I was shitting bricks.
I’d been taught for years every manner of how the grip of evil might drag me down into a fiery pit of doom. You bet your ass I was saying the rosary every night and had a small shrine to Virgin Mary in the corner of my bedroom. Now I was learning that this Satan fella came in a physical form like the Grim-fucking-Reaper if you pissed him off.
I glanced over at the Baxter kids. My look said “this shit real?” Their look was “this shit real.” That did it. After an extra lap around the beads before bed that night, sleeplessness would be unavoidable.
The following Sunday morning, I was once again packed hip-to-hip between my mother and brother within our usual pew at St. Ambrose. The usual congregation was there, including Mr. Baxter on guitar, and front-man Father Jacobs. Paul, a four-years-running altar boy, was on the bells with Mark Baxter.
I hadn’t forgotten the story Mr. Baxter told earlier that week. How could he just continue on like that, seeing what he saw? Or worse, what load of horse shit he fed to a mess of God-fearing — and now, for certain, Devil-fearing — kids? I wasn’t sure what was worse: That he went so far as to convince his own boys to play along so convincingly, or that they actually did see something that night.
Paul caught up with me in the parking lot, as the adults meandered around shaking hands with one another and secretly hoping they’d get home in time for football.
I shrugged. I had nothing.
“Hey, I talked to Mark earlier. About what his dad said.”
“What, about masturbating?”
He pushed me. Hard. I guess I deserved it.
“That Devil shit.”
“Paul! We’re still at church!” Paul’s mother hissed from somewhere in the crowd. That woman could hear a hummingbird fart in a bison stampede.
“It’s the parking lot, Mom! God, relax.”
If I’d talked to either of my parents the way Paul did, all the prayers in the world wouldn’t protect be from the sure evil that would ensue. The Devil would walk right in and applaud. But Paul’s exposure to the dictionary from Hell came from none other than his own mother’s mouth, and with certain regularity. I became fluent in the language by the time I was eight, from weekly summer sleepovers at the Morley house.
“He still swears it’s true.”
“You make him swear to God?”
Paul laughed. “No. But he’s not changing his story. Said a big person in a cloak sorta floated into the room, and then back out again.”
“What did he sound like?”
“I dunno. I didn’t ask him. Probably like ‘STOP THAT SHIT NOW!’”
His impression sounded more like Froggy from The Little Rascals than some dark being from the netherworld. Come to think of it, that would be pretty terrifying. Would someone please get that poor boy a cough drop, for God’s sake?
“Sorry, Ma. I tried it, y’know. The record thing. Nothing happened. It’s a bunch of buuuuull shit.”
“Well, duh, yeah. You thought it was real? Creepy story, but no way is that gonna really happen. He was just trying to scare us. Don’t you think we’d hear of it happening to someone else already? I did it at my cousin’s house a few months ago.”
I gave him a look that told him that his stupid question was going forever unanswered.
Paul pointed to the parking lot behind me. “Look, there he is.”
Mark Baxter was still clothed in his altar-boy whites, carrying his father’s guitar case to their station wagon. Paul gave me a nudge and started in his direction.
Mark was a quiet kid, but not shy. More of a rebellious sort, I guess you could say. If he’d been in traditional school like the rest of us, no doubt he’d be one of the “cool kids” who took no shit from anyone and gave a pile of it to the teachers. There were few occasions you’d see him without bruises or a black eye, a sure sign he hadn’t backed down from trouble. It was that attitude that made the story he was holding onto so compelling.
“What’s up? Hey Keith.”
I held up a hand in greeting.
“Swear to God that story is true,” Paul said. The equivalent of a religious double-dog dare.
Mark shut the rear door and leaned against it.
“I’m not doing that. You know I won’t do that.”
“So it’s a bunch of buuuuull-”
“I don’t care if you won’t take my word for it. It’s what I saw.”
“How come it never happened to Keith? He said he did it at his cousin’s house, and nobody creepy came drifting through the room. Except maybe his Aunt Helen. Sorry Keith, she’s, like, a witch or something.”
Mark shrugged. “I guess you’re lucky. Maybe it’s the house.”
Paul seemed to back down at that. Then the wheels started to turn.
“Let’s do a sleep-over, then,” he said.
“A … sleep-over? What are we, ten?”
“Well then just have us over at night. Your dad’s got the records already. We just play them in the same room, on the same record player. If the Devil doesn’t show up, then it’s a bunch of crap.”
Mark’s cool demeanor warmed at that. “My father really doesn’t like people over. And it’s not a bunch of crap.”
“I wanna see for myself. So do you, right, Keith?”
I did my best to hide my real answer to that one. Instead, Mark did the honors.
“No. You don’t. And I don’t either.”
“Psssh. B.S. Whatever.”
Paul turned and walked away. I gave another silent wave to Mark before taking off as well.
I was only just getting ready for bed when something rapped against my bedroom window. It was early, but it was a school night, and I knew just who it was.
I opened the window to Paul’s shit-eating grin.
“Now? Where? It’s a school night, man.”
“What, Mark wants us over? I thought his dad wouldn’t let us.”
“We’re just gonna go visit. Come on.”
I shut the window in his face. Paul kept right on talking.
“If you don’t come out now, I’ll go knock on your parents’ window and tell them you called me over.”
I flung the window back open.
“No you wouldn’t. And they’re not even in bed anyway.”
“Fine, then I’ll go knock on the door.”
He wasn’t bluffing. He’d done this to me before, and my folks fell for his Eddie Haskell routine every single time, hook line and sinker. As usual, Paul was going to get his way. I, as usual, was not.
The Baxter house was walking-distance away, but since Paul had his bike with him, I took mine as well. There’s something about walking while someone rides circles around you that feels a bit degrading.
We threw our bikes onto the Baxter’s lawn. I headed for the front door, but Paul started around the back.
“Where are you going?” I said.
“Jesus Christ! He doesn’t know we’re coming?”
“Nah. You heard him. He wasn’t gonna have us over. So we’ll just come over.”
I really should have made for my bike and headed back home. I started to weigh the punishment I’d get from my parents due to Paul’s threats against Mr. Baxter’s wrath, should we knock on the wrong window. Once I got home, Paul would make good on what he said, I’d be grounded for a week — and more — and the process would repeat until he got his way. I thought it better to see it through and put an end to Paul’s obsession right then.
None of the shades were drawn in the Baxter’s single-story ranch, and we found Mark hanging out in one of the rooms alone with its door shut. The lights were on and he was laying in bed, sort of huddled in a ball, back to the window. He was still clothed and clearly not sleeping. I tried to convince Paul otherwise.
“He’s sleeping. Let’s go.”
Paul ignored me and gave the window a knock.
Mark sprang up from the bed and turned to the door.
“I- I’m just praying, Dad. I promise.”
Paul knocked again. Mark stiffened, snapped around, and was greeted by Paul’s smart-assed wave. My look said, “I know. I’m sorry. What can ya do, it’s Paul.”
The window unlocked and opened.
“What are you doing here?”
Mark licked at a cut below his lip, and his face was sunburn-red. Always meeting trouble.
“Man. Who’d you fight this time? Did you finally fight Felix?”
“Maybe I’ll fight you for coming here knocking on my window. What do you want?”
“Play us the records.”
“Go play them yourself.”
“We wanna see what you saw. Come on.”
“You really don’t.”
“Just let us in. If you don’t, I’ll just go knock on the door and tell your dad you called us over.”
Right from the Morley playbook.
“No! Just … Fine. Meet me at the back by the bulkhead.”
Mark lowered the window. Paul was already on his way to the back of the house, but I watched Mark push his bedroom door open carefully, looking around before edging himself into the hallway, and pushed the door shut without a sound.
The bulkhead was a rusty, two-door entryway set into the house’s foundation. A few minutes passed before the inside latch was screeched open like a prison lock, and one of its doors creaked open. I could barely make out a person standing in the dark. I sure as Hell hoped it was Mark. Paul nudged me ahead of him. Either his night sight was better than mine and he was sure of who it was, or he just as blind and I was his shield.
“Get in,” Mark whispered.
The bulkhead led into concrete-floored basement, pitch black but for a crack of faint light from beneath a closed door. The smell of mildew and machine oil was unmistakably workshop-ian. I confirmed this when I bumped into what I figured was a long workbench. A few tools clattered onto wood and clanged against the floor.
“Shhh! My dad’s room is right above here.”
“Where’s Jason?” I asked.
“He’s staying with my mom.”
Mark opened the door into a finished part of the basement. All was dark but for a single lamp on an end table against a torn couch. Grey berber carpeting covered the floor from wall-to-wall, stained in the corners with water damage. French drains were always an afterthought back then, and not one easily or cheaply rectified. An old pool table took up the place of honor, consuming most of the room. Against one wall a Radio-Shack-brand Realistic stereo. Of course, it had a turntable.
Mark shut the door behind us as quietly as he had his bedroom door.
“We’re under the living room here. We should be okay.”
Paul already had the turntable cover off and was flipping through the sleeved albums stacked vertically beneath it.
“Which one did you play when you saw that thing?”
Mark hurried over and pushed Paul aside.
“Get out of there! My dad has them all organized. He’ll kill me if we mess it up.”
Marked pulled an album from the shelf and looked at its cover. Admiring it? Fearing it? One couldn’t tell.
“In this room, right?” Paul asked.
“Where did he come from?”
Mark pointed to an opening without a door. “The laundry room.”
“At my house, that’s where my dad keeps his booze,” I said.
“Are you sure it wasn’t just your mom?” Paul said.
“What? No! My parents are divorced, stupid.”
“So maybe it was your mom.”
Mark said nothing, but the seething in his posture was palpable. At that moment, I felt sorry for both of them.
Mark eased the platter out from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable, then turned the receiver on. He grabbed the needle and halted before placing it down.
“I don’t think you want me to play this backwards. It ruins the record, anyway.”
“No, we want you to play disco so we can dance,” Paul said. “Just play it. I want to see the Devil you said you saw.”
I finally spoke up. “But what if-”
“But what if what?” Paul snapped. “We see him and he tells us ‘no’ again? So what. Then we know and we won’t do it again.”
Mark looked back at us both, then placed the needle down. He seemed to know just where it had to go.
“This can play the record backwards on its own. I don’t need to do it by hand.”
He flipped a lever on the turntable and stepped far away, eyes not leaving that laundry room door. At first, seconds of silence, but for the popping and crackle of worn vinyl, then the speakers came to life. Sure enough, the words of Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” began to blast in reverse. I was caught off-guard at how loud it was, on account of Mark’s fear of alerting his father to the goings on. It caught Mark by surprise as well.
Mark stumbled to the stereo. Someone stood in the doorway to the dark laundry room.
Mark froze. We all did. Satan had come. And then he spoke.
“What did I tell you.”
We said nothing. I felt the urge to run, but my legs were no better than bowling balls on Twizzler sticks. Paul backed up and was stopped short by the pool table. The record kept on playing.
“What. Did. I. Tell. You!”
Mark spoke. “N- No?”
“No! Nobody over! Nobody!”
Mr. Baxter stepped into the room. He was seething. He was nothing like I’d seen him before. And he was clearly loaded.
“And are you … are you playing that again?! After what happened last time?!”
“Dad? I … I’m sorry. They just showed up. I didn’t know-”
“Shut up! You two, get out of here the way you came!”
Through this all, the record continued to play, but all I could hear was Mr. Baxter’s rage.
“And you! Get over here!”
Paul and I turned tail and blasted through the door into the workshop. Paul shut the door behind him.
“Holy shit! His dad is … he’s crazy! Let’s get the hell outta here!”
For once I was willing to following Paul’s lead. As the bulkhead lock slid open, I heard Mr. Baxter’s anger turn up to eleven, while Robert Plant carried on.
“How many lessons do I need to teach you, Mark?! Another one?! And another?! I guess it’s time for one more! Come here!”
Mark started to cry. “No, Dad. Please.”
I couldn’t move. I knew that plea all too well. To leave, or stand idly by, knowing what was sure to come next, would be as damaging as what that bastard was about to do.
“What are you doing? Let’s go!” Paul said, and then flew out into the yard.
I turned and opened the basement door. Mr. Baxter had Mark pinned against the wall by the stereo, his arm cocked back with a fist. The record skipped. I’d say it was comically timed to my entrance, but the situation was anything but.
I’ve carried on a lot about how strange Mr. Baxter was. How he seemed to thrive on using the fear of damnation as a demented teaching tool, to kids who had been taught throughout their lives that Hell was no place to wind up. Throughout lessons failing in everything but illustrating the absurdity of it all, he had been kind. He had been patient and good. A seemingly willing volunteer to God. In that moment, the fog had lifted. Like with the ridiculous things he preached, he had fully veiled the truth of himself.
Mr. Baxter’s head snapped in my direction.
“I thought I told you to-”
My mouth opened, but nothing came out. My breath caught in my chest. My eyes were no longer looking at Mr. Baxter or Mark. The anger that had blazing within them turned to absolute terror, trained on the open laundry room door.
The being floated into the room.
Mr. Baxter dropped his arm and flattened himself against the wall next to his son. The record played on.
Tattered dark brown robes draped over what was mostly human-shaped, drifting about it within a nonexistent wind. Swirls of debris and filth floated within the gaps of the cloth. Though they could have been flies, as the sounds of Led Zeppelin seemed drowned out by a skittering, hissing sound that bordered on radio static. There was no face, no real body parts at all. Just a thing. I would say it stood about seven feet tall, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. Because the best I could tell, it was floating. The thing drifted closer to the Baxters. Mark continued to cry. Mr. Baxter looked as though he might start. Neither one said a word.
A long piece of the thing’s robe lifted, as though carried by an arm that wasn’t there, pointing, at the abusive wretch against the wall. It spoke.
Mr. Baxter broke down and slid to the floor. His mouth moved the words of “Our Father,” though I couldn’t hear him over the hissing, the music, and the throbbing in my head.
Mark didn’t follow suit. Instead, he ran over and stood beside me.
“NO,” it hissed again.
“No. I know. I know,” Mr. Baxter whimpered. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I know you said no. I won’t do it again. I won’t do it again. I won’t!”
The specs floating within the swirl of robes darted to where Mr. Baxter lay huddled on the floor. There was no music, only the sound of what had begun to consume Mark’s father within a cloud of black, black which became solid, almost gelatinous and liquid. He screamed as the mass took over the man’s shape, writhing on the floor in what appeared to be pure agony.
The screams became grotesque, muffled gurgles before ceasing as abruptly as the thing had appeared in the laundry room doorway. Mark turned his face away. I still couldn’t move at all.
I have no idea how much time had passed before what had overcome Mr. Baxter once again became a cloud of airborne debris. On the floor, only another stain to match those in the corners of the room, filling the room with the odor of stale urine. As though called back to their master, they drifted to where the robed thing hovered, wafting about it as they’d done before.
It didn’t go back into the laundry room. Instead, it was just gone. Just as was the music. Just as was Warren Baxter.
Outside, I wasn’t at all surprised to see Paul and his bike long gone. I’d been inside with Mark for a long while after what had happened. He was a raw mess, as anyone would be. I helped him give a call to his mother, who lived about an hour away. I stayed for about that long before walking my bike home — I was in no condition to ride.
“I’ll say he just left me here,” Mark said. “Nobody would believe me if I told them what really happened.”
“What about his car?”
“He walks a lot. Usually to the bar down the street. They’ll believe that. I know Mom will.”
I could tell you I was terrified, walking that stretch of road alone late at night, after what I’d seen. In truth, I was relieved. For so long I was told of mortal sins I thought frivolous as being the true path to Hell. That simple “impure thoughts” would destine me to a horrible eternity only a young, teenage boy could imagine. How could such things measure in defiance of all that is good to the monstrous acts of murder, or of rape, or of beating one’s own child? There was a comfort in knowing that once the Devil truly is in someone, he comes looking for that piece of him to take home.
My house was in complete darkness. I threw my bicycle into the garage and entered through the back door, into the kitchen. At that hour, I was sure everyone was asleep.
“Where’ve you been?” It was my father. The son of a bitch was standing in the doorway from the basement, in the dark. Ice cubes tinkled from his highball glass.
“I … was just putting my bike away.”
“No. You were out. All night.”
“Get in your room.”
There was no point in carrying on. I did as he said and shut the door behind me.
It was a school night, but I wasn’t about ready to sleep. Sleep, I knew, wouldn’t come at all. Not after the Baxter’s. Not after Dad. It would be another day of looking tired, looking terrible. All under the guise of looking tough.
“What are you doing?” I heard my mother ask from down the hall. “What time is it?”
“Your son. I’m getting my belt.”
I turned on the small stereo in my room. Led Zeppelin IV was already mounted on the turntable, affectionately played countless times in the past as I fought to sleep through a shroud of tears and pain.
I placed the needle down, and as the door to my room opened, I began to turn it counter-clockwise by hand.