“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
“I’ll let you in on a secret, boy,” he whispered: “it want die out.”
“What want die out, Pop?” The boy was sitting at the side of his Pop, who was whizzing and coughing up spittle into a little can on his chest from time to time. The Old Man’s eyes were growing soft in intensity as if a flame in all that darkness was slowly melting down like a candle that had been left to burn too long.
“The Light, boy, the Light,” he coughed up phlegm as he spoke. “Even in the midst of all my dark days, and I had plenty, there was something deep down in me that hung on to that belief I’d gotten in me when I was your age. A belief in life boy, a belief in life…” He started hacking again.
The Boy’s Mama came in the room, whispering: “Let ’em rest now.”
The Boy leaned over gave the old man a hug. The man opened his eyes up and tried to speak, but nothing came out but a whistle from someplace in those watery lungs. As the boy rose up from his chair and turned to leave the Old Man reached over and held his boy’s shoulder. The boy looked back, and the man gave him something he’d been holding in his palm. He tried to speak and got out a cracked voice: “Take it…” Then his head fell back and he began whizzing and croaking.
The Boy looked up at his Mama who had a worried fever in her eyes; he nodded that he understood. She hugged him tight for a few moments, then said in a whisper: “It’ll be alright son, everything’s gonna be just fine.” As he got to the door he looked back one last time. His Pop was still hacking and coughing, his Mama was sitting holding his hand, her eyes closed and seemed to be praying. He knew it wouldn’t be alright, nothing would be alright anymore. He closed the door and left.
He went down the hall to his own room. Once in he closed the door and sat on his bed. His little brother was already asleep in the bunk above, snoring away. He turned on the little lamp just above his bedstead and took off his clothes, hanging them on the chair next to the nightstand. Then he pulled back the coverings, crawled in and lay there a moment feeling the cool sheets against his skin, and the fresh clean smell of the linen that permeated the room. His Mama must’ve changed the bed today, it was all straight and clean and smelled like those flowers she bought from Mrs. Jules Shop on Saturday’s. Violets and other bouquets she’d set out on the table in big white china bowls in sugar water, just floating there giving off that sweet smell that filled the whole house like it was summer all year long. His sheets smelled like that. Then he felt the small thing his Pop had placed in his palm. He sat up and opened his fingers and gazed at the little medal medallion for a moment. It was the worn figure of a man set against some kind of smooth background with writing around the edges on one side with a big eagle carrying stars in a ribbon. He could just make out the words Saint Michael US Marines Medal on one side, and on the other was a winged angel-man holding a sword up standing on a mule or jack ass with something in his left hand that looked like small bags or pots on a string dangling down. He knew his Pop had been in the Marines. This must’ve meant something to him.
He lay back down thinking about his Pop, how he’d had his legs blown off overseas by some bomber who’d put something called an IED in the road that blew his Pop’s armored vehicle to smithereens killing one of his buddies and maiming him and one other for life. Ever since Pop had come back his condition had deteriorated day by day. Pop tried to slough it all off at first, tried to keep chipper like he did in the old days, but little by little his hurt body had slowly given way to one thing or another till pneumonia had set into his lungs recently. The doctors said he’d suffered certain internal injuries that just couldn’t be mended; that it was only a matter of time. They’d done all they could for Pop. He loved his Pop. He sat up again and slipped the neck chain over his head, and let the medallion fall onto his chest. He felt that cold metal fire light up as his heart thumped against it. He remembered what his Pop had said earlier: “The Light, it want die out.” He knew what that Light was now, and he knew he wouldn’t let it die out if he could help it. He felt that medal burning, burning…
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Note: Flash Fiction. Flannery O’Conner said long ago : “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” Even though I lost my own faith long ago, I have to admit even to my self that it haunts me still. One cannot so easily escape one’s origins… the fear-haunted preacher’s of my youth, the apocalypse, the fire-n-brimstone bully-pulpit waylaying… it all sits there in that dark place like a rabid beast waiting to unleash its terrible secrets. Took me years to walk away from all that dark southern religion… and, even now I hear those voices in the black places of my soul.