Savoring the Wretched

Dreu was ready and willing to see it all burn down.

In this world that despised him, nothing held him captive to the expected codes of social morality. A joke, being nearly invisible yet not absolved from the obvious contempt his very presence brought out of everyone he encountered, like a magnet attracting sharp words and anger.

They said, after anger came acceptance. And Dreu had reached the point of acceptance. He accepted that there was nothing left to save, nothing left to prove. Just his words and fire.

Nothing else.

His eyes lifted up. The starch collar of his dress shirt scrapped against his neck as he raised his head. The wooden pew squeaked beneath him, a protest to lengthy prayer. He could feel the censor of his mother next to him. If he turned his head, he would see hers open, glaring, a hushed whisper away from slapping him with her words.

“…and Lord, save the lost, confused souls in our flock…”

A hot injection of anger raced into his veins. Not paranoia, those words were aimed for him. He felt the eyes upon him, eyes of judgement and condescension. Eyes followed by lips profusing intimate knowledge of an almighty being they claimed to speak for, and used as a crutch for their behavior. Lips carrying curses for him, lips stealing light and surrounding his precarious world in darkness and despair. Lips followed by hands, hands to lay hold upon him, weigh down on his head, dig into his mind, and scope out his soul. Hands of violence and fervor, hands to pummel and restrain, hands to bring him to the brink of death. Hands to hold him beneath and keep him deep within.

Dreu bared his teeth. He wasn’t lost. He wasn’t confused. For once, he had an exact knowledge and understanding of who he was.

The problem was, it wasn’t acceptable. It wasn’t permitted. It was forbidden and the duty of the flock was to point out the black sheep and drive it off the nearest cliff.

A chorus of “AMEN” broke through his thoughts. Dreu slid back into his seat, off of his protesting knees. He glanced to his left, where his mother sat, lips pursed, eyes lasered in on the pastor with the intensity of a religious fanatic. Father sat frowning, lips twisting into a cruel scowl with the book open in his thick, powerful hands.

Dreu knew just how much power that man held in his fist. Knew intimately, the amount of force that man held in his fist.

“…calls us to be a righteous people. A chosen people. He bides us to cast out all filth and unholiness from his congregation, so that they may remain pure, a holy sacrifice unto the lord at the time of his return…”

Ah, yes. Dreu had almost forgotten this part. The casting out, when all else fails. When laying of hands, anointing with holy oil, and the rod of chastisement fail. After the beatings, food deprivation fasting and prayer, if the sheep doesn’t return to the fold, it would be cast out, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The deceiver. The devil possessed.

If this was of the devil, Dreu basked in the light of the morning star. If being honest to himself was evil, then he bathed in the black and forfeit heaven. If eternity with god meant deception, condemnation, torture, and hate, he gladly sacrificed his soul and sang in hell.

Dreu reached out to grab the back of the pew in front of him, wincing as the movement flexed his compromised ribs. Grasping his satchel, he bit his lip to hold back the pain as he wrenched himself to his feet and headed for the side aisle. He ignored the thunderous expression on his father’s face.

They couldn’t possibly crucify him for a bathroom break. Not now, with bigger issues to pray out of him.

His mouth fractured into a smile that looked more like a grimace around his split lips.

Splashing water on his face, he stared at his hands. For once, they didn’t shake. A calm descended. From his hands, he looked into the mirror. Grey eyes looked back, eyes surrounded by layers of bruises ranging from purple to green to yellow in his pale skin. Dark brown hair hung past Father’s regulation length and grazed the collar of his dress shirt.

Tearing off the suit jacket, Dreu unbuttoned the dress shirt and stripped it off, along with the tank top beneath. Clenching the porcelain sink with bloodless fingers, he glared at the reflected map of pain on skin stretched across bones fractured and broken. Topography of bruised muscle and cut flesh.

Dreu was glad he couldn’t see his back. The last contortion attempt with a hand mirror had been… revolting. Granted, the marks had been fresh all those weeks ago. He had finally stopped bleeding through his shirts, but the shredded mess of his back was something he was glad he couldn’t see.

Reaching into his satchel, he pulled the dark, long-sleeved shirt onto his frame. Next was the sleeveless jacket with its myriad of bulging pockets. Dark blue jeans and boots completed the ensemble.

The whites of Dreu’s eyes contrasted starkly to the black face paint covering his face. The gloves on his hands covered the last inch of visible skin. After tying his hair back and throwing the satchel over one shoulder, Dreu stepped out of the bathroom, leaving the remnants of his suit behind.

It’s like shedding skin. Behold, all things were made new.

His boots ringing on the steps, Dreu headed upstairs and exited the back door. Out of the satchel, Dreu pulled a thick industrial chain, which he wrapped around the double doors’ handles and secured with a thick padlock. With a test shake to ensure the lock would hold, Dreu circled the building to the second exit which he similarly secured.

The last door only needed a key.

The snick of the lock confirmed, Dreu stepped back, craning his neck up at the cross nailed securely to the roof of the church.

“Bless me, father: for although I have sinned, I seek not absolution, but resolution. To do what I must, and to keep my hands steady to the task before me.”

Dreu reached into the satchel again, and pulled out a can of spray paint. Shaking the can, he began his trek, circling the building, painting on every inch of surface he could reach. Beneath the stained glass windows, Dreu could hear the chorus of Amens, and Hallelujahs and other such ringing endorsements as the pastor droned on. Cicadas hummed their symphony as Dreu continued. Arms moved tirelessly and inch after inch of paint polluted the pale white walls and red brick.

Twenty minutes later, his work complete, Dreu tossed the spray paint can away. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a bic lighter. Flicking the spark, the flame burst into life. Dreu stared into the flame, past the brink of doubt, beyond the point of indecision.

Standing there, on the parched autumn lawn of the church, Dreu was ready and willing to see it all burn down.

In this community that despised him, there was nothing holding him captive to the expected codes of religious morality. A joke, being almost invisible yet not absolved from the obvious contempt his very presence brought out of every Christian he encountered, like a magnet attracting sharp words and anger.

They said, after anger came acceptance. And Dreu had reached the point of acceptance. He accepted that there was nothing left to save, nothing left to prove.

Just his words and fire.

He dropped the lighter into a tuft of brown grass, and watched the flame grow. Hungry and eager, the fire devoured larger segments of lawn, the soft whisper growing to a crackle building to a roar. The breeze guided the flame in a southeastern direction, a narrow margin that would either take the flame to the building or miss it completely. Dreu watched impassively as the flame crawled toward the parking lot, seemingly a hail-Mary pass…

Until a stray gust of wind redirects the intermediate tongues of fire. Smoke snaked skyward, gray and pure as the fire greedily advanced on the church.

Dreu backed away as the smoke began to billow in thicker sheets. Staccato shouts of concern punctured the air. The shouts soon turned into screams as the fire reached the side of the church and climbed the wall. Igniting the spray paint, the sparks leaped from paint stroke to paint fleck until all four walls ignited.

Framed in a halo of smoke, the flames ignited the words, “THOSE WHO ARE FILTHY, LET THEM BE FILTHY STILL” repeated around all four walls of the building.

A siren sounded in the distance, above the roaring flames and the screams of terror. The doors thudded with impact from the people within, but the locks held fast. An adventurous lick of flame climbed to the eves and tongued the base of the cross, giving it the illusion of a crucifix, rising out of hell…

Dreu rolled down the window and breathed in the smoke tinged air, the burning church a cloud of black smoke in the rear-view mirror as he pointed the car in the opposite direction of the sirens.

Onwards to damnation.

Embracing the imperfect    ~ Opalflame

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