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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-five LOOKING FOR MR. CARL

by
JEFF BARKER
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T

he first snow of the season was a heavy one this year. I remember because the neighborhood children were all out playing in the park near my house. They waddled in circles, pausing to fall face first into the powder. Some took turns slipping down icy plastic slides and flopping into the snow. The high pitched squeals of pleasure were muffled by my double pane window.



I lifted my favorite mug of coffee to my chin and watched its warmth grip the window and turn the squirming children into blurry colors bouncing off of one another. I rubbed the window back to clarity and looked beyond the playground. That’s where I saw a large mound of snow-covered dirt. It was the very spot where I had buried Mr. Carl.



The spot looked so apparent to me in the daylight. True, the new overnight snow added depth and layers to everything in the common area, camouflaging the insolent resting place I left for Mr. Carl; but his decomposing body was there under a thin layer of dirt for anyone willing to see it.



I don’t have children. It’s not that I couldn’t conceive or didn’t want them; it’s just that life never presented me with the type of man for which I’d be willing to share that responsibility.



But I am partial to kids. I especially enjoyed watching the neighborhood kids on a morning like that one. They were all bundled in oversized jackets, so stuffed with insulation that their arms were pushed outward like miniature zombies. They flung snowballs at each other. Their arsenal was constructed in haste, and few made impact with their intended targets. Still, they screamed with joy and trotted around the playground to regroup and challenge others into joining the snowball assault.



Mr. Carl liked kids, too. That’s why he had to die.



I watched the three deacons walk out of the old church, past the neighborhood kids to the first house on the circle. They high stepped to clear their boots of the intact morning snow. Brother Edward navigated around the large rise of snow and nearly stepped right on top of Mr. Carl. They found the front steps of Betty’s house and waited there for her to answer the knock.



Killing was easier than I thought. The good pastor loved making house calls. I made lasagna just like my mother once taught me. Real tomatoes and spinach, not canned. I wore my low cut dress to church that evening, even though it was freezing and everyone knew that first big snow was about to hit. It is a thin green dress that grips me in a way that gives me the gift of confidence. I always wear it with a golden rope belt, which wraps around me twice, to make sure my thin waist is apparent to anyone interested in looking. I knew Mr. Carl’s debauched tastes leaned toward the taboo, but I had seen him craving my figure once before, so it wasn’t beyond me to lure him in that way and let it be his true affliction that would bring him to death.



“Mr. Carl, I made my mother’s lasagna, and it would mean the world to me if you would stop by and share it with me tonight,” I said. “I have something very important to ask you,” I spoke just above a whisper, as church was letting out, so that he would lean in to hear me. His head was in the perfect position to both smell the understated fragrance behind my ear and look down into the dark space between my pushed together breasts.



The deacons reemerged onto Betty’s front steps after spending some time in her house. They all shook their heads in that slow way people do when they want you to know how the circumstances are beyond belief.



I walked to the table behind me and picked up the knife I used to stab Mr. Carl eleven times. I know it was eleven because I counted out loud as I went. It was in honor of Mr. Carl’s legendary sermons.



‘Six Ways to be a Godly Parent.’



‘Nine Things Jesus Taught us About Humility.’



‘Seven Signs You’re Loved One is Not Saved.’



So I stabbed him in the stomach and neck eleven times. ‘Eleven Ways to End a Predator.’



The knife’s handle was cold in my warmed palm, and I could see my bright green eyes in the blade’s reflection. It was clean because Mr. Carl’s filthy blood had been washed down the kitchen sink’s drain with the dried lasagna scraps. I pulled my shirt back and exposed my forearm. I ran the blade along the length of my arm, careful to not yet break the skin, then I walked back to the cold window and took in that picturesque first snow.



The three deacons walked to the second house and knocked on the door. Mr. Fairchild came out onto the porch in his rubber boots and orange hunting coat. All four men embraced in a long group hug and rocked in prayer. It was the type of physical intimacy between men what I have only observed while they are in prayer. The embrace was broken with a deep nod of “Amen” and they pulled back from each other, suddenly uncomfortable with their proximity.



Behind them, the neighborhood children had yet to be slowed by the redundancy of winter. They rolled in the snow and made snow angels with the earnestness of innocence.



Of course, some of those very children had lost their innocence. This was the basis of the important question I had posed to Mr. Carl at dinner. “Can you explain consequences to me, Mr. Carl?”



He set his fork down and rested his hands on the table, pausing for God to give him wisdom. “Consequences are a gift which allows us to fulfil the promise of our actions.”



“That’s too deep for my little mind, Mr. Carl.” We sat across from each other in the flickering light of a candle.



“Jesus teaches us that life is a series of consequences for the choices we make with our free will.” He spoke with a slow pace for emphasis, and to give my ‘little’ mind a chance to catch up. “Consequence is a direct result of choice.”



“What about those who are done terribly wrong. Why should they suffer the consequences of someone else’s sin?” I asked.



“Because you can’t have free will without consequences, even if those consequences are because of someone else. All of our actions impact each other. That is the burden of sharing a life with sinners, I’m afraid.”



The morning of that first snow, there was one less sinner in the community, and that made me very fulfilled.



Mr. Fairchild joined the three deacons as they walked to the next house on the circle. They pushed past the waist-high picket fence and up the snow-covered walkway to the front door.



I saw the neighborhood children expanding their game of snowball-war beyond the small playground into the larger common area. Two of the older kids climbed over Mr. Carl’s body and used his rise of snow-covered dirt as a bunker. They popped up one at a time, laughing and throwing snowballs at the other children. It was an emotional sight for me. I closed my eyes and exhaled, feeling the pleasure work its way down my neck. I was satisfied with what I had accomplished. By then, Mr. Carl’s eleven holes had drained him of all his fluids, and he was nothing more than an empty bag of frozen tissue providing such joy to the neighborhood children.



The night before, he sat at my table and explained the conundrum of consequences. I asked him if he would like some more coffee. He said he better not, but I was already up from my seat and on his side of the table. I put my hands on his large shoulders and began to rub. “You are so busy serving all of us in this community, do you ever get time for yourself?” I massaged harder until his head rolled forward and he let out a slight sigh of pleasure. “Does your wife ever rub your shoulders?”



He didn’t answer me.



“Tell me something while I rub your strong shoulders Mr. Carl. Tell me something important,” I said.



He said nothing for a moment and then, “God wants all of us to please each other. There is peace in pleasure.”



I worked my hands up the back of his neck to the base of his skull and continued to massage. He let out another disgusting groan. Then he reached down behind him and put his sweaty hand on the back of my thigh, just above my knee. That’s when I thanked God for confirming to me that I indeed had a nasty predator in my home.



I continued to work his shoulder with one hand while I undid the long golden rope belt on my dress with the other. I ran the belt through the wooden slats of the dining room chair and then over Mr. Carl’s head, around his neck. He sat up tall and seemed confused about the pleasure I was going to deliver my pastor.



I leaned into his ear and said, “Now you will receive your consequence.”



I held the chair in place with my knee and yanked hard on the belt, jerking his head back over the top wooden bar of the chair. I looked down into his eyes while I choked him into unconsciousness. My firm grip held long after life left his face and he went limp.



Mr. Fairchild and the three deacons had made their way full circle to my front yard. They paused at the edge of the walkway and leaned in to talk. I thought for a moment they were going to begin praying again, but it was obvious they were strategizing about how to take me. No one would be taking me.



I also had to strategize the night before about how I would get Mr. Carl’s big limp body out of my house. I positioned my mother’s old king-sized bedspread onto the floor and dumped his body out of the chair and onto its center. Then I smashed his temple with the coffee cup to makes sure he wouldn’t be awakened during transport. See, consequences come easily.



The difficult part was dragging the heavy bedspread across the icy playground to the other side of the neighborhood. I don’t think I cared if anyone saw me. My job was almost complete. I dumped Mr. Carl’s body into the shallow hole I had made earlier that evening before church.



Then I pulled out my butcher knife and began counting. One, two, three. I was amazed at how the knife made each penetration with such ease. Four, five, six. His stomach made a sucking sound each time I pulled back the blade. Seven, eight, nine. He would never hurt another child. Ten, eleven. Yes, ‘Eleven Ways to End a Predator.’



Once I covered him with the loose dirt, I crawled on top of his grave and watched the low clouds speed across the night’s sky. That’s when I could tell they were going to be right about that first snow. It was coming.



The deacons and Mr. Fairchild were also coming for me. They walked to my front door and knocked. I sat at the table in Mr. Carl’s chair with the knife concealed on my lap. “Come in,” I said.



The door pushed open but the four men stayed outside on the front porch.



“Come in guys. It’s got to be cold. Have a seat.”



They thanked me, and sat around the table. One of the deacons and Mr. Fairchild had to share a bench.



“I’d offer you all some coffee, but I’m very tired. I had a busy night.” I could feel the blade’s heaviness on my lap.



Brother Edward spoke first. “We’re going around telling the neighborhood about what happened to Pastor Carl.”



I reached under the table and squeezed the knife’s handle.



“He’s missing and we think something terrible happened to him.”



“Is that so?” I said.



“Nobody’s seen him since service last night,” Mr. Fairchild said. “And you know how cold it got. I don’t think he would’ve fared well on a night like that out in the woods. Plus, it’s a twenty-mile hike through the pass just to get to traffic.”



“What about after church? Where’d he go after church?”



“Nobody knows. Even Sister Ann doesn’t know. She said he was supposed to be home for dinner, but never made it.”



I let go of the knife and put my hands on the table. “You mean, he didn’t tell anyone where he was going after church last night? Not even his wife?”



“I don’t guess.”



“How about that,” I said. It sounded strange coming from my mouth, but I couldn’t help it.



The men looked at each other and then to me. “Is there something you’re not telling us?” Brother Edward asked.



“Naw. Just surprised.” Mr. Carl’s secrecy must have meant he had plans for me. Private plans.



“You mind if we look around your house, just to say we did? That way we know we looked everywhere in the neighborhood.”



“I guess.” I reached under the table and found the knife again.



They got up and went into all of the small rooms. I heard them opening closet doors and even my bedside table drawer, though I don’t think I could have kept Mr. Carl in there. After some time they came back into the room and stood around me. I continued to sit, since I was holding a murder weapon.



“We’ve been praying in all the houses for Pastor Carl’s safety. Want to pray with us?” asked Brother Edward.



“No thanks.”



They stood there looking at each other again and then back down to me. “What’d you say you were doing last night that’s got you so tired?” Mr. Fairchild asked.



“I didn’t.”



Again, silence.



I lifted the knife off of my lap and squeezed the handle with even more firmness.



“And you haven’t seen Pastor Carl?” Brother Edward asked.



“I’m sure you’ll find him,” I said.



More silence.



“Well, thank you for your time. Please do pray for Pastor Carl.” The four men lumbered out of my door, and I could hear them crunching snow across the walkway to the front gate.



I pushed back Mr. Carl’s chair and walked to the window. The knife was beginning to feel comfortable in my hand. I looked past the delight of the neighborhood children to Mr. Carl’s grave, and smiled.



Yeah, that first snow is always my favorite, but there will be many this winter. Then one day there will be a final snow, and the sun will begin to overpower what was dumped behind. That’s when Mr. Carl will make his presence known. That’s when I will make his consequence known.



   
   

 

endmark



Jeff Barker has five short stories being published in literary journals and anthologies in the next six months. Jeff is also a healthcare provider in the field of psychiatry. Before that, he had a nine year career as a television news anchor and reporter in Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Oregon. He has interviewed three U.S. Presidents, and stood in the middle of five major hurricanes. His vast life experience and study of human behavior shape his storytelling. Jeff is married with three sons and a daughter on the way. He lives on the Gulf Coast in Daphne, Alabama. You can follow his work at jeff-barker.com.



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