Terrible Minds’ Flash Fiction: The TorchPosted: September 11, 2011
Every year on the week of the Fourth of July, the Collierville Church of God rented a school bus and sent the youth group to the mountains. Jesse’s parents had just moved to town and joined the church in June. Seeing an opportunity to make new friends, they insisted their child go have fun for the week.
The Junior Highers and High Schoolers piled in, throwing their backpacks and pillows to the back rows, sitting by their crushes, singing camp songs. Jesse wore a khaki-all-over outfit, pockets lining the chest and the limbs. When no one would make room on a seat, the driver said, “Jesse, why don’t you come up here and sit by me? Help me keep an eye on the road.”
When they arrived at Camp New Life, the kids poured out of the bus, screaming and running, knowing exactly what to do. Jesse stood silently at the bumper of the bus, seeming content to just be in the khaki with pockets all over, gently smiling, interested in the wall of thick trees that fenced the camp.
Mark, a camp counselor, approached with a genuine kindness. “You must be Jesse!” he said. Jesse looked into Mark’s eyes and didn’t say a word. “Did you bring a pillow?” Mark felt that it would be unwise to look away from the intensely deep stare. “You wanna check out your team’s cabin?” Jesse’s shoulders shrugged. Mark took this as a yes. “C’mon, buddy.” He put his arm around Jesse’s shoulder, which immediately clenched up. He didn’t try to touch anymore.
The first night of open showers was always the most challenging. Even more so for someone who has never been to camp. Some boys were quick about it, had their clean underwear immediately ready. Other boys found the whole ordeal entertaining. These were the ones that smacked each other’s asses with wet towels and spent too much time in the nude.
Jesse stood outside of the shower, fully dressed in the khaki, stared at the floor. Whenever someone walked by, put a toothbrush in the mouth, or fiddled with a locker. Just staying long enough to avoid questions from Mark the Counselor.
But the illusion of washing came to an abrupt end. Scott and Gary, the loudest and most ass-slappingest of the boys came out of the shower, towels wrapped around their waists. Jesse, Q-tip in ear, leveled focus in the mirror on self.
“What kinda gay outfit is that?” Scott asked. Jesse looked at Scott in the mirror, said nothing. “Do you know how to talk?” Nothing. “I’m gonna tell Mark if you don’t take off those gay clothes and take a shower.”
Gary laughed hysterically. “You have to take a shower, faggot!”
Scott reached for the top button on Jesse’s shirt. “Alright, shirt’s coming off.” Jesse jerked away, shoved the toothbrush into a pocket on the pants, and walked away. Scott took off his towel, wound it up, and popped Jesse so hard on the ass that the top of the khaki shirt was immediately wet with tears. Still, no sound.
When Scott saw Jesse turn around, it felt like no one had ever looked at him before. Or everyone had looked at him, but no one had ever seen him. For the first time, he could see himself clearly, naked and pale, falling to the floor.
The next morning was the Fourth of July and it was all about, “Where are Scott and Gary?” An emergency prayer meeting was held and lots of adults were begging God to reveal the whereabouts of these two precious young men.
All of the students were questioned one by one throughout the day. When Mark asked Jesse the standard questions, the answer was staring silently into the woods. “You picked a strange year to start camp, buddy.”
All games were moved indoors to the gymnasium in order to be supervised by fewer adults, the rest of them scouring the camp site, dragging the lake, checking the nearby roads, wandering in the woods.
Terry Gable, Camp Supervisor. “I’m calling the authorities. Fireworks will go on as scheduled tonight. Keep the kids occupied. If anyone asks, Scott and Gary got sick and went home early.”
As everyone anticipated the fireworks to start, Jesse walked into the middle of a circle of adults holding a roman candle. “Whoa, Jesse, that’s not safe, bud.” But it was already lit. “Jesse! Point it away!” The adults quickly scattered.
It was pointed straight up. The first load was fired, but stopped at the end of the tube with a thwump. The end glowed a deep red. The glow grew bigger and bigger, as did Jesse’s smile, until both formed an uncomfortable and terrifying torch.
And then Jesse spoke. “May the Lord be a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
And then Jesse walked. The torch leading, straight into the woods and the entire camp followed.
The police arrived with search dogs. They quickly ran after the crowd, the dogs running ahead of everyone with ease. When the dogs got close, Jesse turned around and looked through their eyes. With a startling yelp, the dogs lay down on the Earth.
Jesse and the camp arrived at a small clearing in the woods. The torch pointed up to the trees where Scott and Gary were delicately balanced on a branch, their limbs bound and mouths gagged. The crowd screamed and rushed forward. Jesse pointed the torch at them and the glow grew longer until it was almost touching the police officers. They flinched and dropped their guns as they glowed red.
Jesse climbed the tree with one hand, the other holding the torch. When the two boys’ limb was reached, Jesse slid into a noose just like the ones on Scott and Gary, tied to a higher branch.
“Thanks for letting me be a part of this, guys.” The glow of the torch extended to the base of the branch. Within seconds, a clean break.