Jericho [Part 4]
“You’re dead,” Claire said finally.
“I’m what?” Justin said. He knew he must have heard his wife wrong. After all, he could talk to her.
“You’re dead,” she said again. “You died from the tea. And now here you are, in your purest form, just as ugly and pitiful as I assumed.”
“What?” Justin could feel the fear sweeping through his chest and clouding his brain. “What did you do, Claire?”
“I’m tired of you. I’m tired of this life. I want what belongs to me,” she snapped. “Generations in this town and people have forgotten my family built this community. Now all I’ve got to show for it is a husband who needs to be taken care of more than my own daughter. People laugh and say how far the Allens have fallen since Jericho was founded. All that’s gonna change and it starts with you.”
“Claire, honey, I don’t understand,” Justin said, looking around the room. “I’m not dead. I’m here. I’m right here.”
Claire sighed and took her compact, the mother-of-pearl one that belonged to her grandmother Elisa Allen, and opened it. She moved close to Justin and put the mirror in his face.
“This is you now,” she said, staring straight at him.
Justin screamed as he met his reflection in the mirror. His face was barely hanging onto his skull, his eyes hollow in the sockets that held them in place. His skin was rotted and filled with holes and when he took a breath, he could see his skin sag just a little more.
“It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real,” Justin stammered, looking away and closing his eyes. “No. You didn’t do this to me. It’s not real. You’re my wife. You love me.”
“I did, once. A long time ago,” she hissed. “But it’s been over for a long time. I’m ready to let you go. You served your purpose. Now the Reverend will be your guide.”
“Don’t worry, son, you will be able to redeem yourself,” the Reverend said as Justin sank to his knees, his joints cracking on the way down. “You’ve served your purpose in Jericho. Now you will be sent across the country for me. You will be glorified for your work.”
Justin could only shake, his anger bubbling up to meet his fear and disgust. He was filled with rage and when he stared at his wife, he had a source to pour it into.
“You bitch,” he bellowed, struggling to get to his feet, “you will pay for this. I’m gonna—”
Justin took a step towards Claire, but she didn’t move. She only smiled as he took another step and was thrown backwards onto his back, thorned vines keeping him in place.
“You will do nothing,” she said. “You are not in control. You always were a follower. It’s what separates us.”
“Son, you do not have a choice in the matter,” the Reverend said, standing next to Claire and taking her hand. “But there is good news. We have decided that you will serve as our Messenger. You will never need to eat, drink, or sleep again. No substance will impair you, you will never feel pain or die. You will work to bring the needed to Jericho. Unfortunately, you yourself will never step foot on this land again.”
“What? Why?” Justin was losing his need to fight back against the truth he could feel himself accepting. “What about Audrey?”
“She will be fine,” Claire said. “She has me.”
“This is the bargain, son,” the Reverend said, clasping his hands in front of him as though he were in prayer. “You either accept this reality or I send you straight to the next phase in your life. Here on Earth, it’s called Hell, but it is so much more than that.”
“What are you?” Justin said, the tears finally coming to him. He could feel nothing, nothing but grief and confusion. “What the hell are you?”
“You could not understand it even if I told you,” Reverend Frees said, smiling. “But soon you will learn what my presence will do. Now, have you made your decision?”
Justin stared at Claire and the Reverend, trying to find a way to argue for his life. He could sense that there was no way to make that happen, so he took the next best option.
“I’ll do it,” he muttered. “I’ll be the messenger.”
“Fantastic.” The Reverend clapped his hands together and the vines disappeared below the stone wall. “Unfortunately, you will have to go through more deaths before you are ready.”
Behind him, Justin could hear stones traveling against each other, scraping together and creating an echo of screams in the room. He reached his fingers back to feel cold hair and an open space where a stone floor should have been.
Justin got to his feet to find himself face-to-face with his wife.
“Sweetheart, you ain’t gotta do this,” he said, begging. “Whatever this man is, he ain’t from God. He ain’t Godly. None of this is. You gotta be able to see that.”
Claire cocked her head to one side, considering his words. He took his chance.
“Baby, I have not been a great man but I will change,” he said. “This ain’t the way to teach me a lesson.”
Claire looked down for a moment. When she looked up, there was nothing in her eyes.
“Goodbye Justin,” she said, and after his eyes widened with shock, she pushed him into the hole. She stared at Reverend Frees as she heard him fall, screaming and cursing her name as he plummeted.
“Are you alright, darlin’?” Reverend Frees asked as the stones moved back into place.
“I sure do feel free in a way I haven’t since I was a girl,” she said, smiling. A single tear fell from her eye.
“Oh, sweetheart,” the Reverend said, motioning her into his arms. She buried her head in his chest as he stroked her hair. “Everything’s gonna be alright. And remember, this is just one step forward for what you’ve always wanted.”
“Right,” she said, wiping her tears and moving away from the Reverend.
“Don’t you worry about a thing,” he said. “Now I know you don’t want to take care of the girl, but she’s gotta live. I’ve explained that to you.”
“I know,” Claire said, agitated. “I don’t even know where her father is. What if he goes looking for her?”
“He won’t because he don’t know he’s got a daughter,” the Reverend said. “He’s clueless. As far as anyone’s concerned, she’s Justin’s daughter. Right?”
“Now we got a lot to do if we’re gonna return Jericho to your family, don’t we?” Claire nodded. “And there’s gonna be a lot of hard things you gotta do. But one step at a time. So what are you gonna do now?”
“I’m going to take Audrey, walk back into town, go to the grocery store, and then go home,” she said, listing off her next steps. “I’m gonna call my auntie over in Wilson and talk to her awhile, then I’m gonna go to sleep.”
“That’s right. You let me handle everything else. You just do all that, alright? Soon you won’t have to worry about Audrey. She’ll be safely far away from here and you’ll be the grieving widow who’s lost her family that climbs back to greatness.”
“Thank you, Reverend,” she said, smoothing the front of her dress and picking up her compact from the floor. She fixed her face. “Well. Audrey and I will be going now. Thank you so very much for a lovely evening. We will see you at sermon tomorrow.”
At the exact same time that Reverend Frees was warning the people of Jericho of a massive evil that would soon come to threaten their community, the husk of Justin Thibeaux was located near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He was found by Swedish siblings on vacation; the little boys, six and eight years old, found his remains near the cliff.
Instead of calling their parents to investigate the petrified body of a human man, they managed to kick it down into the canyon, not noticing when one of his hands caught the face of the canyon and held on.
After the Swedish family left the area, Justin Thibeaux stumbled onto the road. Slowly, as he walked further, his bones began to mend together, his skin stitched back across his skeleton. He managed to move his limbs, removing the cracks and scraps his joints made as they learned how to work in unison again.
By the time he reached the tourist parking area, he looked like any other man.
The only thing that set him apart from other people were his incredible green eyes.
[Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash]