May the Light of the Lord Shine Down Upon Us by John Stephens

Old Parsons and his wife took them in after the accident. It happened on a back road a mile west of Lockwood where the girls’ father had a still. The way it got reported was that both  parents had been sampling the product a little too freely, such that on their way home they slammed square into a tree. As fortune had it the girls were visiting with a neighbour who was expecting payment in liquor.

Being as they had no other living relatives it fell to the Parsons to bring the girls up. And to be fair they stepped right in, where others might well have shut the door. They were strict Christian folk, the Parsons, and knew what was right by the Lord.

The girls’ existence out there at the edge of town was pretty mean. Most of what they had was bought with money earned from laundry Mrs Parsons took in. As soon as they were able, the girls’ hands were in the wash-tub. And at harvest time old Parsons had them grubbing up beet and picking corn. Dawn to moon rise he worked them hard. For it was God’s work. A debt was to be paid and they were never let to forget it.

And knowing nothing better they bore the burden of existence without doubt or question. Till a few weeks back that is, when there happened by the house a man selling Bible tracts. The day he came by the girls, young ladies now, was home all on their own. Not accustomed to male company, other than old Parsons, they were at once taken by the young fellah, who being an experienced traveller and a man of the cloth had a certain charm about him that many found hard to resist. His natural warmth and openness drew folks to him like bees to a hive. Some said he was a born preacher, put on this earth to save us all. Others saw something else behind those long lashes and soft grey eyes.

Now, given that the day was hot and dry and the young man in sore need of something cooling, the girl’s welcomed him into the kitchen. Although they knew it would likely meet with disapproval, they thought that with him being a man of God and all, the grandparents would surely see it as a Samaritan act of kindness.

And indeed, when old Parson’s and his wife returned, they too were soon cast under the young man’s spell. Especially when he explained the purpose of his vocation and his visit there that day. Opening his brown leather valise, he brought forth an array of printed pamphlets, which laid out in plain and simple language the meanings of scripture that many brethren often fail to grasp a hold of.

‘Blinded by the light that often times we cannot see what is there before our eyes. But Jesus tells us all “I am the Light of the World; and the ones who follow me will have the Light of Life.”

My friends I am a lamp lighter and what I bring will light the lamps in your souls.’

They stared at him across the kitchen table. And it seemed indeed that something burned bright behind those soft grey eyes.

‘You will stay the night and break bread with us?’ Old Parsons urged.

‘Of course, he will,’ his wife affirmed.

Well into the night they sat around the kitchen table while the stranger opened his leaflets and spread amongst them words of shining glory, which flickered like magical fireflies around the oil lamp’s glow.

But all the while he spoke the young man’s eyes strayed ever upon the older sister, upon her long golden locks, upon the buttons down the front of her pretty floral dress. In his dark heart he knew he would have to have her long before the first cock crowed.

In the dim half-light of dawn, just as he was, slipped the latch at the kitchen door, the young man felt a tug at his sleeve.

‘Leaving so soon, young sir? Now that you have had your fill?’

He stared back into Parson’s searching eyes and sneered. ‘Old man, I have taken nothing that was not freely given. Now unhand me or you will feel the Wrath of the Lord.’

With that he drew his arm away and felt the sting of the old man’s open razor as it sliced through his coat sleeve. The keen edge went deep, paring through flesh and muscle, severing all, right down into the vein. The young man swore in pain and anguish, and with all his weight pushed old Parsons back on his heels. A loose nail caught and they sprawled backwards into the stone sink, where the old man’s skull shattered like a goose egg, sending brain and bone spilling into the shadows.

Mrs Parsons stood in the doorway stock still. On the dresser a bread knife glistened. She grabbed it and lunged forward over the young man, driving the blade into his neck: once, twice, three times, like sticking a pig. His face turned to her as gouts of blood spouted up at the ceiling, splattering over the kitchen table and filling the blue rimmed plates laid for breakfast.

Behind her there came a soft whimpering sound, like a child might make in its sleep. She turned her head and there was the elder girl, still in her nightgown, shouldering Parson’s shotgun, the two barrels levelled square into her face.

‘No, cried,’ she cried. ‘No, Annie. Don’t...’

It was the younger sister who waved me down. As soon as I saw her I had a feeling that here was a mess that no one really wanted to look in upon. I still see that picture on the living room wall. Two girls standing in front of that clapperboard house some sunny Sunday morning, all dressed and ready for Church, the Light of the Lord shining right down upon them.

Published in Issue #20

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