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The Joker on His Cross

Updated on January 2, 2015
Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin, an experiened writer, enjoys creative writing in all forms, from literary to mainstream.

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A thought crossed Everett’s mind: If it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen. Again it came, but this time aloud. “If it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen.” Suddenly, to him, it seemed the most perfectly appropriate thing in the world to say, because wasn’t it just a short time prior, too hot in the kitchen. Did it not seem entirely ridiculous that he could have been but a few simple hours earlier quite literally burning his ass off in the kitchen, and now the irony, he was freezing it off in the depths of the forest.

He began to laugh hysterically, like a madman. Like a madman, because, sadly, Everett was not a madman. He began to, as he so often did when he played crazy in midnight’s wilderness, scream. Sometimes his screams were foreign, even to himself--inarticulate to any man or beast. Sometimes his ravings scared him, especially after a fit when he found himself alone, cheeks and throat burning. Alone. But luckily, what he screamed tonight were words, oh so familiar. “If it’s too hot,” he bellowed, “get out of the kitchen!” Over and over he yelled. It made him laugh. All the warmth of that kitchen. Entirely wrong that he should be out here freezing, a sinner, while Christ and all his followers burned in that kitchen. Hell’s kitchen! Followed by even more laughter.

He reflected on his curse. Out here in this cold wilderness, the air moist and freezing, the ground boggy and wet, it seemed that his dream would never come true. To be like Genie. Simple. A sheep of the flock. One of God’s chosen. He hated his sister, with her large forehead and narrow eyes. He hated the way she screamed in the night until someone got up and held her. She wasn’t the only one with nightmares. He had nightmares, too. But, like the man Pawpaw had taught him to be, he didn’t cry. In the darkness alone he felt his insides burn and endured it.

Alone! The word rang with an unwanted truth in his mind. Alone! He was four years younger than her, yet at the first hint of night terrors Meemaw and Pawpaw were in her room, holding and warm. Warm! And here he was outcast in the wilderness, miles away from hell’s kitchen.

Ah, the curse. To not be crazy. To have to pacify one’s self by screaming crazy in the wilderness, while knowing all along you are uncontrollably sane. And to make it infinitely worse, he could think, too. He could think and things that were ridiculous were ridiculous, because when one is sane and one can think, that is just how it is.

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He remembers when he was seven and his Pawpaw told him the story of Jesus. He remembers laughing uncontrollably. When Pawpaw asked why, he answered, “How could Jesus of died for my sins? It was so long ago, and I live now. That’s a funny story!”

The next thing he remembers is seeing stars. The laughter stopped. He didn’t cry because, well, you just didn’t cry, not by seven, not if you were him. You had learned better than to do that by seven. Pawpaw calmed. Apologized. Said that was never the way to get the devil out of a child. He then cut a switch from a hickory tree and proceeded to beat it out of his ass. “This,” he reassured him, “is the appropriate way to get the devil out of a child.”

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Flash. Sizzle. Like hell’s kitchen. And soon Everett is warm with a fire. But with him, it is never like he is with the fire. More like he is in it, but that isn’t exactly right either. He is part of it. He feels its pulse, every crackle. Like some evil twin, whenever a fire of his dies, he feels it die.

He remembers when he was six and Pawpaw took him on his first fishing trip. He remembers being shown how to start a fire. He remembers taking right to it. He remembers getting back to camp later that evening, catfish held in his hand by a stringer, and the emptiness of seeing the fire dead.

“Everett, why are you crying?”

No answer.

What did the hickory switch say to the ass?

I don’t know, what?

Quit cryin!

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More insane laughter. To only really be insane. And out of the darkness a scraping sound. Everett investigates. To his surprise he sees an entire family of armadillos, four of them, one following the next following the next. They are cumbersome creatures. He catches the first three and throws them in the fire one by one. This is something he has almost always enjoyed, hurting little things

He clutches the fourth in his hand and holds it over the flames. Armadillos carry leprosy. I carry leprosy. He begins to hurt in the pit of his stomach, the way he so often hurts in the pit of his stomach. He lets the baby go, its outer shall scorched. It is alone now. Alone. I gave my mother leprosy. It was a suspect thought, an illogical thought. He didn’t make what had happened to her happen to her, nor was her wasting away a result of leprosy.

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She was so beautiful, once. He had saw pictures in Meemaw and Pawpaw’s photo albums. He remembers seeing her senior picture, a Jesus cross draped across her chest. Despite it, she was beautiful. He vaguely remembers when he was five an almost toothless, leather skinned skeleton reluctantly giving him and Genie up to Meemaw and Pawpaw, that joker still nestled between her shriveled bosom.

He remembers the gasp of the crowd three years later when he ripped that useless bastard off her neck. It was the last time he ever saw her. As people on meth-amphetamines are often apt to be, his mother was dead. He thought that if he ripped that curse off her chest, she might rise again. She didn’t. Genie screamed and Meemaw clutched her against her sagging chest.

“Everett, come here!” Pawpaw insisted.

Like a puppy accustomed to regular beatings, he did not “come here.” He stayed there, trembling in fear. Pawpaw rushed him. Everett knelt to the ground by the casket. He clutched the cross in his hand. He lowered his head and performed a bit of magic that no one would ever figure out, nobody but Everett, and like a good magician, he would never reveal his methods of deception.

“Everett, give me the cross! Give me the cross, now!” Pawpaw grabbed him by the arm, yanked him to his feet. “Give it, you devil!” Everett outstretched his arms and opened his hands. The joker is gone. And for my next trick Pawpaw will beat the shit out of me. And if Pawpaw had just beat the shit out of him a little longer, he might have found his daughter’s cross.

It was three days later during a rather dry and painful bowel movement that the cross magically reappeared. Everett took it to his hiding spot in the woods, the place where he burnt things. Try as he might, he just couldn’t get the fire hot enough to destroy that cross.

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“Jesus,” he said almost laughing, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But Jesus could stand the heat. It was never Jesus that cursed his mother. It was Everett all along. He was the devil, for if Jesus cured leprosy, the devil gave it. I gave my mother leprosy and she died. He watched the armadillos burnt carcasses lay lifelessly in the fire. He saw the scorched baby one near his feet, rolled in a ball and because of Everett’s mercy, probably dying a slower and more painful death than any of them.

Right then at that moment, he wanted Jesus. He wanted to be dumb. He wanted to believe the ridiculous story of a man who died so that over two-thousand years later Everett could be forgiven for all those animals he’d killed, for not being able to stand the heat of the kitchen. But that wasn’t true. I want to be Jesus!

Rise and walk my son,” he said, tapping the shell of the baby armadillo that lay near his feet. “Be cured!” he screamed. “Your leprosy is cured!” The infant, startled, ran a few feet, then rolled in a ball again. He ignored this. “And my miracles shall never cease.” He reached his hand into the flame and pulled out the body of a dead sibling. “You, as well, are cured. From this day you are all cured! Be free!” He let the darkly charred carcass go. It hit the ground, did half a roll, and came to a rest on its side. Suddenly, he could no longer ignore it. It had been quite empowering to play Jesus, but he was not Jesus. Jesus isn’t even Jesus. The armadillos were dead. He winced in pain. His hand was now burnt even worse than it had been in hell’s kitchen. This had indeed been a bad day, the kind of day that a person wants to simply sleep away. To blink one’s eyes and have it be gone forever. He was suddenly very tired. He laid his head on a mossy rock. Staring at the dying animal, he fail asleep.

When he awoke, it was morning enough for light. The fire had died and the baby armadillo was gone. For a moment he entertained the thought that maybe his Jesus trick had worked, afterall. Of course that isn’t true. An animal dragged it off. Blessed are the stupid who believe in Jesus. The stupid. This got him thinking of his father. Lucky bastard! He had found a way out. He, too, once could think, but an accident huffing paint thinner saw to an end of that. Now he shits himself three times a day and, like Genie, is amongst the simple, blessed saints destined for heaven.

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Stomach acid shot up in his throat. This is what the sinner feels when he knows there is no chance of redemption. He would need to go home. They would all be waiting for him when he got there. Or even worse, they would not yet be there and he would have to wait for them. It was in this moment he found God. It was in this moment he firmly asked his forgiveness and saw his answer written in tiny footprints. The baby armadillo hadn’t been dragged away at all. It had walked off on its own. It has been saved! In all his years he had never felt such a valid hope. Everything is going to be ok!

He ran home expecting to see it all like it was. He ran towards the miracle. His family’s kitchen, not hell‘s kitchen at all. He ran to the clearing, and there it was, an entire home burned to cinders. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”

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In fairness to Everett, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was an experiment gone wrong. He just needed to get the fire hot enough to burn that cross, and no one would help him. If he had told them, they wouldn’t have understood it the way he did. They would have claimed he was what he wanted to be. They would have said he was crazy.

True, he had hit his Pawpaw upside the head with a hammer, but Pawpaw never would have let him modify the gas pilot on the stove the way he wanted to. Pawpaw would have complained about the smell. He never would have let himself be tied down to his chair to watch. It was easy enough to tie the others to their chairs with simple brute force, but well, Everett had gotten carried away with that hammer, hadn’t he.

They would all still be ok They were all conscious again when it was time to see what happens to the man called Jesus and his mighty cross when the kitchen gets hot enough. If you can’t stand the heat “get out of the damned kitchen!” Hell’s Kitchen!

“Everett, untie me! Everett, your sister, your Meemaw, they’re bleeding. The fumes. We’ll all be killed!”

“Shut the hell up old man!” So liberating to talk to him like this.

“What are you doing?”

Everett outstretched his arms and opened his hands as he had so many years ago, but this time his right hand was not empty.

“And for my next trick, I make him burn.”

“You don‘t dare!”

“All I have to do is make it hot enough.” Meemaw, beginning to come out of her concussion just enough to understand, starts to sob. Genie seems as calm and at peace as she has ever been.

“The devil. The devil...” It seemed Pawpaw still had quite a lot left to say, but with a hammer, the claw side this time, buried in his skull, the words stopped.

Then the cross was placed at the source and an explosion, a grand explosion fifty times more powerful than Everett could have imagined. Some way in the midst of all this, he’s still not sure exactly how, Everett wound up outside.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” We were all supposed to burn together!

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He took a seat by Genie. Unlike the others, what was left still looked like a human. She, perhaps, hadn’t burned to death at all. Maybe smoke inhalation.

For a reason he couldn’t understand, he held her in his arms. He held her in his arms and waited for them to come. And waiting there is when he saw a thing, a thing that made him laugh. Seared into her chest was the joker on his cross.

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    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 12 months ago from Oklahoma

      Alexis: this is one I feel confident in, though it has not got a whole lot of traffic.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and giving support.

    • Alexis Cogwell profile image

      Ashley Cogdill 12 months ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

      I always find your writing interesting. The insanity of this one was intense, which I personally enjoy. :) Have a great day, Larry, and happy writing!

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 18 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      That was truly skillful fiction writing : If you can’t stand the heat “get out of the damned kitchen!” Hell’s Kitchen! That life on Earth for some!

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 23 months ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for dropping by, Delia.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 23 months ago

      WOW!!

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 24 months ago from Oklahoma

      Mihnea: thanks for the support.

    • Mihnea Andreescu profile image

      Mihnea-Andrei Andreescu 24 months ago from Tilburg

      This is a very interesting epic ,narrative writing.I do support fictional work on hubpages-it is definitely very underapreciated and underrated.Very well done my friend

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Mel: I'm glad you enjoyed this tale. Your positive words always make my efforts seem a little more worthwhile.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      How did I miss this? This ranks up there with Melvin Haggins. You are a true talent. This was spectacular.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Stella: it is always such a pleasure when you drop by. One of my darker tales, but I'm glad you got something out of it.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Larry, a truly amazing story, that gave us a vary hard subject, mental illness. Glad you could write about it.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      JG: I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • jgshorebird profile image

      jgshorebird 2 years ago from Southeastern U.S.

      Larry, the read twisted my gizzard. My brains are still attempting to pick at the permutations. I like that.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      JG Shorebird: the question is are they annomolies of society or reflections?

      Thanks for dropping by.

    • jgshorebird profile image

      jgshorebird 2 years ago from Southeastern U.S.

      People like Everett exist in this world...unfortunately. Good read.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks so much for the positive endorsement, Lee.

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      Lee Cloak 2 years ago

      Serious stuff Larry, really slendid writing, very engaging, very interesting, one i will read again and again, thanks for sharing, voted up, Lee

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Shyron: thanks for the kind words.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago from Texas

      Larry wow, this is really interesting. I agree with Flouish, and this was too interesting to stop reading.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Larry, someone I know just got a story published in an anthology called "The Seven: The Ancient". I think this story might be a good fit. Email me if you have any questions. I'd love to see this published somewhere!

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      FlourishAnyway: thanks for the feedback. I am so glad you got something out of the story.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      The protagonist is profoundly ill, but I like your story, especially how you tie the "Hell's kitchen" idea back to a Biblical theme and the explosion. The repetitive use of "If you can't stand the heat ..." was effective because it reflects the obsessive thoughts that often occupy the mind of people troubled by mental illness.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Peggy, thank you so much for the positive feedback.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This was riveting from beginning to end and a psychological look into the mind of a deeply disturbed individual. You truly have a gift of storytelling! I agree with Iris in that you should enter this in a contest.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Iris:

      Thanks again for the vote of confidence. No, I haven't looked into any contests for this particular story yet.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Larry, it's provocative. But even for those that don't care for the style or topic I think they'd agree that it is excellent writing. Have you considered entering it in a contest? It's so good.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Iris:

      Thanks for the positive feedback.

      It's a disturbing subject matter, and I know it isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I felt like it turned out well.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Wow, Larry!!! That is some of the best writing I've seen on HubPages. I was riveted from the first to the last sentences.