My best friend growing up was obsessed with God. His family never struck me as particularly Jesus-y, but Art took it hook, line, and sinker. He was always reading one of the books of the Bible. Even some more strange books, like Enoch. I remember when I mentioned I'd never heard of them, he just shrugged and said most sects considered them non-canon.
The strangest things about him were, in no particular order, that he was friends with me, and his obsession with meeting God. I've always been a godless heathen, for lack of a better word. He never seemed to care, and honestly I enjoyed the Bible stories he had to tell me. Weird shit, like Jesus banishing a dragon, angels breeding with humans and making monstrosities. You know, weird shit.
Towards the end of high school, I lost track of Art. I spent some time in and out of mental health facilities. Some of the people I met in those years really liked the stories I remembered from Art. Sometimes because of the absurdity, but some of them found some hope somewhere in there too. When I finally got home, Art was there waiting for me. Bright, full of Christ, and with cookies from his mom.
It was like we never parted. He was extremely excited that he’d gotten into Bob Jones University. I laughed at him when he mentioned “B.J.U.” He ignored my crude humor, as always. I guess they have a program that’s very intensive in Bible studies. I asked him about meeting God. He was still as convinced as when we were ten. After my stint in the facilities, I thought to ask, “Does that mean you want to die?”
“No!” he snapped.
An awkward silence, then he apologized for being snappy. He calmly explained that if he were to kill himself, or possibly even die purposely, that he’d risk not going to the Pearly Gates. Of course he prayed, and volunteered, and really anything he could do to emulate people who’d been saints. He was working soup kitchens, advocating for AIDS patients, donating as much as his little job would let him to the homeless and, with all of that going on, still managed to help out at the women’s shelter. He really latched on to the “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” bit from the big guy.
Is it any surprise he hadn’t met God? I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but at the same time, I admired the difference he was making in the world. He called me on my lunch break one day. In one of his religion classes at BJU, the discussion apparently shifted to inmates. Someone said they’d heard a lot of death row inmates suddenly find God once their fate is sealed. In typical Art fashion, he wedged visiting inmates into his schedule. He passed those stories onto me, too. Some of them were absolutely proud of their crimes. No remorse, they nearly pissed themselves laughing at the mention of the Lord or salvation. There were those who’d sought out salvation. Not all of them through religion, but many of them had. He focused on those. Even the ones who seemed to absolutely believe found it laughable that God had actually come to them. Disappointed, but he added “Prison Ministry” to his resume of good deeds and kept that a few days a month, too.
I don’t really know if it was the same class, but discussion turned towards, “there are no atheists in a fox hole.” It was like he had been sitting on top of the solution the whole time. He dropped everything and joined the service. Three tours. Afghanistan once, Iraq twice. Assignments everyone else thought were crazy, he was the first in line. Every time he came back, he was the exact same Art. I honestly don’t know if he killed anyone over there. I didn’t want to ask, and he never seemed interested in talking about that part of his job. Eventually, he gave that up, and went back to BJU, this time on a G.I. Bill.
I got the impression he wasn’t very strict with himself on his attendance this time around. He was digging into more of the “non-canon” books again. I’m not sure where he found it, but he kept talking about doing works in the name of God as a means of transformation. Art said he was still figuring it out, but that he was starting to see all of the work he’d put in trying to meet God as a means of personal transformation. Service as a chrysalis, he said.
After that, I never knew when we’d talk. He’d call or show up at all hours of the day, exhausted, but somehow invigorated at the same time. I kind of figured maybe he’d had some kind of existential crisis that led into drugs and drinking. I’d seen it in the facilities, and he certainly fit the archetype that I’d seen do that. I just tried to be there for him as best I could. I tried to bring it up, maybe save him like he’d always tried for me. He swore up and down that he wouldn’t touch anything like that.
This part of the story is where my details get murky. A rash of murders ripped through our city. Art was the final victim. There were eight victims in total. The first person was an investment broker. He was plastered all over the news for very likely accusations of embezzlement. They came to raid his condo, expecting that he’d skipped town when he failed to meet his court date. No one was prepared for him, boiled in oil in his hottub. The murderer had broken in, put extra heating elements into the tub and refilled it with vegetable oil. They found two rare coins balanced on his eyes.
The next victim was similarly high profile. A nationally syndicated personality, known for spewing vitriol and outrage. He targeted anyone outside of his political circle. The person responsible caught him early in the morning going into the studio. The aide that usually arrived at the same time was running late that early morning. The sound proof studio made sure no one heard what must have been a horrific racket. He was chopped, limb from limb. It must have been done quickly, because he had still been gasping for his final breaths when the aide found him. He was too far gone to give a description of his assailant. The camera’s only caught a person in all black, like one of those ANTIFA protesters from recently. No forensic data was recovered.
The third victim is what started suggestions of more than one killer. The local news reported the wife of the second victim had been found dead in their home. They found her inside of a python. The small video clip of their house showed a small wine cellar that was only accessible from the kitchen. The person, or persons, must have broken in during the funeral and dumped a menagerie of snakes into the cellar after removing the ladder back into the kitchen. They’d removed the hatch and put the rug back over it. When she came home, she fell into Indiana Jones’ nightmare. Copperheads, water moccasins, pythons, cobras, an anaconda that came up missing from the zoo. It was a hateful death sentence. An expert from the zoo said that, if they hadn’t found her for awhile, there may have been nothing left in the python, as they digest bones and all.
Number four was our Congressman. Not a hometown hero, but not a villain either. He had a passion for expensive wines and dinners. Expensive outings, mostly at the expense of corporations buying his votes. He had been nailed down to a chair in his study. The coroner noted small cuts inside of his mouth, that they chalked up to the rats that had apparently been force-fed to him while live. There were also toads and snakes slithering and hopping around the study, and remnants of them in his stomach at the time of the autopsy.
At this point, people were mortified. Who was doing this? Comments on the local news’ website for these stories ran the gambit between praising someone for taking out the trash and admiration for their creativity in problem to disgust that no one could catch the person responsible for the depravity and being terrified that it would never stop. The fifth killing flew under the radar, but is now believed to be the fifth in the series of killings. An adult entertainment convention happened through town. One of the actresses was found burned alive in the alley along the hotel she was staying in.
The sixth victim is where these killings started to find their links cemented past speculation. I personally knew this guy. Art did, as well. He was a science teacher we both had in high school, Mr. Fink. A very capable man, but full of himself to a fault. He was convinced he was God’s gift to everyone. If you cornered him being wrong, he simply gaslighted you into thinking that he was right the whole time. They found him strapped to a waterwheel. Official cause of death? Drowning. They think he rotated on the wheel for days before being found. Someone noticed that all of these were the Hell-bond’s punishments for the Capital Sins.
They found the last two victims together. Art’s neighbor, Jim. He’d always spent so much of his life trying to one up Art’s family. They got a new car? He bought a boat the next week. Art got into BJU? His son was going to MIT. Art always ignored it. He said if you let the envy bother you, you’re just being prideful, and that’s just as bad. His wife found him in their chest freezer. It had been emptied, filled with water and he’d been forced in. The lid was weighed down with cinder blocks to prevent his escape. He was locked in a block of ice.Art was there, too. The police haven’t been able to figure out why he was there. His flesh was singed and his torso was split from neck to pelvis. Since we were so close, I got a chance to see his remains. It reminded me of a used cocoon, a spent husk laying on the garage floor. There wasn’t much left, some bone and flesh. The organs were gone. I did some reading, Art’s death wasn’t a punishment for sin, but Jim’s was. I haven’t heard from Art, but I get this feeling in my chest that he’s out there. Maybe he met God, maybe he turned into what he’d been worshipping all this time?