Bat in the Belfry
“Oh, Mark did such a beautiful job on that new cross didn’t he? Jesus would have loved it,” said Agnes before lapsing into a trilling rendition of “Are You Washed in the Blood?”
Harold nodded, biting back a comment about the blotchy stain job and joining the hymn in his customary monotone. His wife clapped the hymnal shut, proving to any wandering eyes that they knew the words by heart. Harold wondered if he even knew all his grandchildren’s names by heart. Brittany, Katie, Annabelle, Timothy… He rocked back on his heels and frowned. Well, at least he knew the proper way to stain a cross.
“Harold,” hissed Agnes, interrupting the third chorus. “Harold, look.” Her painted eyebrows disappeared under the brim of her Sunday hat as she jerked her head to the side.
Sheathed in black, a man strode down the center aisle. Like a spider on the wall, every eye followed his path. Women scooted closer together, and when he found a seat at the opposite edge, there was a fluttering sigh of relief. But it wasn’t the black he wore from head to toe that unsettled Harold. It wasn’t even the cape or the suit tucked into studded boots. It was the face, fatally pale between stringy curtains of hair while painted black eyes sunk into their sockets with a skeletal stare.
“Who does he think he is?” asked his wife. “This is a house of worship. Oh and right in poor Ruth’s usual spot too. Of course, after Marge spilled the beans about that daughter of hers, I wouldn’t show my face either.”
“Ahem.” A nervous cough pulled Harold’s attention back to the pulpit. The Pastor smiled and greeted the room with a gaze that avoided the left side of the hall. “Let’s dive right into God’s loving word today, shall we?”
“Harold,” said his wife, breathing puffs of Poligrip against his ear. “You need to do something about this.”
“You’re the Head Deacon, Harold, we can’t be seen allowing blatant Satanism in God’s sacred dwelling.”
Harold grimaced. “Are you sure we should—”
“Look at Pastor James fumbling up there. Do the Lord’s work and get that lost soul out of the church.”
Several heads nodded at his wife’s words, their floral décor teetering dangerously atop their hats. Harold sucked in a deep breath and gave his wife’s hand a squeeze. “Alright, ladies, I’ll take care of this.”
In only a few steps, he stood at the side of the shady man. He gave a little cough, but the man’s gaze remained fixed on their stammering pastor. Harold swallowed, straightened his tie, and reached out to tap the man’s shoulder. Before he could ready himself, the skeletal face spun his direction.
“Excuse me, son, I don’t think this is where you belong,” he said. He straightened his chin with what he hoped was a steely glare.
“I thought everyone belongs in church.” The man turned back toward the front.
Harold tapped him again. “Son, this is a church of God, we don’t tolerate satanic practices here.”
The man’s darkened eyes narrowed. “I’m not a Satanist. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m trying to listen to the sermon.”
“Alright,” said Harold. He gripped the man’s arm. “You’ve had your laugh, it’s time to go.”
The man spun out of his seat, shrugging off Harold’s clutch. “Listen, old man,” he said. His crimson lipstick stained the tips of his fanged canines. “I’m no different than any of you. I came here for the same reason.”
Agnes gasped and fanned herself, clutching her wrinkled bosom. Women throughout the congregation daubed at green and orange makeup lines running down their faces with each bead of sweat. Husbands guarded their wives’ delicate sensibilities with arms squeezed around their trembling shoulders. At the pulpit, the Pastor trailed off, his mouth opening and closing without a word. Mark stepped from a nearby pew, making a steady path toward Harold. Oh no you don’t, Mark. This is my cross.
Harold puffed himself up and forced himself to look straight into the man’s sunken eyes. “Son, I insist that you leave this sacred dwelling.”
The man didn’t turn away from Harold’s piercing stare. He didn’t look back at the sea of horrified faces, but for just a moment, Harold thought he saw a glimmer disappear against the blackened sockets. Pastor James ushered the congregation into a solemn prayer beseeching the Lord to touch the lives of the wicked.
Without another word, the man swept out of the hall.
“Oh, praise the Lord,” said Agnes to a round of hearty amens.
Mark shook his hand with congratulations. “Just doing the Lord’s work,” Harold replied. “Beautiful job on that cross, Mark.”
Wrinkled hands patted his back with murmurs of “God bless you, Harold,” as he returned to his seat.
“Ruth would be so jealous of me now,” said Agnes over a spirited chorus of “Victory in Jesus.” She gave Harold a kiss that smudged his cheek with red. “Of all weeks for her not to be here flapping that tongue of hers.”