Author's note: The following story is an entry into Helel's Christmas Contest.

“If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known. Then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently. And behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you,” Father Gabriel paused as he paced before the congregation.

His hand rose, pointing fiercely toward each of them, fire in his eyes, “Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.”

Jacob shifted in his seat by his father as Father Gabriel approached. With eyes lit almost of fire he leaned closer to the two of them. Jacob’s father nodded with pride at the words but the young boy could not understand why. The meetings over the last few weeks had become livelier than he remembered from his earlier days of attending. Gabriel placed a hand on Jacob’s shoulder as he turned back to the awestruck crowd before him.

“And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be a heap forever; it shall not be built again. And there shall cleave naught of the cursed thing to thine hand: that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee as he hath sworn unto thy fathers. When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep all his commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the LORD thy God,” the Father’s voice almost echoing at his completion as he looked down to Jacob with a smile and wiped the sweat from his head with a handkerchief. 

The room erupted with, “AMEN,” then fell silent again as Gabriel returned to the pulpit.

The words were confusing to Jacob and they hung over his head for the rest of the night. He sat between his father and mother at the dinner table, eyes furrowed, and pushing food about his plate. His parents were talking about the night’s sermon but their voices seemed far away. A pea rolled from the plate and onto the floor, which Jacob’s father happened to notice. His mother’s voice stopped abruptly as the man across the table rose from his chair and circled the room.

“I know you aren’t wasting my food,” the voice boomed, causing Jacob to look up.

“I will clean it up Michael,” Jacob’s mother squeaked.

Michael raised a hand to silence his wife then pointed to the single pea on the floor. Jacob slid from the chair and grasped the green ball between his fingers. When his eyes met his father’s he could tell what he was expected to do. With a puff from his lips, Jacob brushed away the dust that had formed on the small orb before placing it in his mouth. Michael returned to his chair, still staring at his son. Jacob quickly lifted his spoon and began shoveling food into his mouth. He knew what the consequences would be if his plate was not clean and for once the sermon was far from his mind. Once he was finished, he cleaned his face with his napkin and sat quietly awaiting permission to leave the table.

Michael finished his meal, the utensils clanking against the plate, “Now what has you so distracted tonight, Jacob?”

The boy’s eyes rose to meet his father’s gaze, “J-just,” he stammered, “the sermon. I apologize, but I do not understand it.”

“It was very clear instructions, what’s not to understand?” Michael replied while leaning on his elbows and narrowing his eyes.

Jacob shifted a bit in his chair and thought of the right words, “It sounded as if we are to punish the wicked.”

Michael smiled, “See, it wasn’t that complicated, now was it?”

“But,” Jacob said without thinking and quickly paused, knowing that to question God’s word was heresy in itself. He expected to be scolded, but his father did not move.

“Go on,” Michael instructed.

“The sixth commandment is, “Thou shall not kill,” the boy said in a questioning tone.

Michael looked to his wife then back at the boy before getting up from the table. He came to stand beside Jacob, placing a hand on his shoulder and looking to his wife, “I think it’s time, Martha.”

A sense of fear trembled in her eyes, “He is still so young, Michael.”

“Nonsense,” Michael slapped the boy on the back, “He will be thirteen soon, practically a man and a man needs to know what is expected of him.”

Jacob was not sure if it was the look in his mother’s eyes or the ominous tone of his father’s voice, but fear crept up his spine. He rose from the rickety wooden chair, his body trembling under the weight of his father’s hand. Michael’s calloused palm pressed Jacob toward the hallway and toward a door that had always been off limits to the boy. His father removed a brass key from his pocket, placed it within the keyhole, and turned it quickly. The sound the mechanism made was like the cocking of a gun and made Jacob jolt. His father chuckled at the sensation and opened the door before guiding his son down the dimly lit stairs toward the basement.

The boards creaked beneath their feet, almost moaning a warning to Jacob. Once his feet met the concrete floor at the bottom his father reached up to a chain that dangled above. With a slight pull a clicking noise was heard and the room was bathed in an amber hue. The boy’s eyes scanned the walls, which held bookshelves filled with faded texts. At the far end was an old oak desk that he had remembered being his grandfather's at one time. Michael stood admiring the room, arms folded, as his son approached the desk. His eyes fell on the open book upon it, which seemed to be a journal filled with names of people he did not know. Above the desk was a cork board with various news articles pinned to it, all of them referencing a local murder. From the fading ink and yellowing paper, Jacob could tell that some of them were very old. His fingers traced the words, noticing a common theme in every title, “Cult”.

“What does this mean?” the boy said as he looked back at his father.

Michael approached and noticed Jacob’s finger pointing to the word, “It is a word they like to use for us, to try to make people afraid of us.”

“You mean, we did these things?” Jacob’s voice quivered at the thought, stepping back from the desk.

Michael placed both hands on his son’s shoulders to stop him, “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee. It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

Jacob’s body became a leaf in the wind, shaking under his father’s hands, “What does that mean?”

Michael turned the boy to face him and knelt before him, “It means that it is our duty to cut the wicked from ourselves and from this world, so that we may enter Heaven pure.”

The boy’s father revealed a long decorative blade, adorned with a golden cross upon the handle. It was placed gently in Jacob’s quivering hand, having never held a weapon for any purpose other than hunting. Michael instructed his son that it was time he learned the true way and that this was an honor their flock had been bestowed for generations. His father pulled a book from one of the shelves, brushing away the dust that had formed upon it. The binding was opened and the pages pressed open to reveal dates and history. Jacob’s eyes scanned over entries involving The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, and lesser known events involving a term he did not understand, “Bellum Sacrum,” something he pointed out to his father.

“It means Holy War, we are at war with the wicked of this world and we are the Almighty’s soldiers,” Michael said with pride, “And soon, you will be too.”

A week later, after finishing dinner, Michael gently kissed his wife’s head and told Jacob to grab his coat. The boy did as instructed and followed his father to their car. He reached for the passenger door, but Michael told him to get in the back seat and be quiet. Jacob opened the back door, slid into the seat and reached for his seat belt but his father told him to lay down. His body eased across the cloth, resting his head on the seat beside him. Michael started the car and headed out of the dirt path that led from their house and turned toward the highway and within an hour Jacob could see the lights of town.

When the car came to a stop under a streetlight Jacob whispered from his hiding place, “What are we doing father?” Michael turned his eyes to his son and with a smile spoke with gentle words, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

The young man’s eyes drew narrow, unsure of what his father’s words meant. Just as his mind began to truly contemplate their meaning, a woman approached the passenger window of their car, leaning in and speaking sweetly to his father. She asked if Michael was looking to have some fun tonight and the man simply nodded. The woman opened the door and took a seat before the car came to life again. The woman began asking questions that Michael did not answer, which made her irritated. Finally, when the car stopped under a grove of trees she cursed at Jacob’s father and told him she was leaving, but the lock had been set in place and removed from inside the door. She began cursing again and slapping Michael in the face, demanding to be let out of the car.

“Listen, psycho, if you don’t let me out of this car right now you are going to suffer some serious consequences,” she screamed into Michael’s face before spitting on him.

Michael wiped the saliva from his cheek and smiled, “Though and join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished but the see of the righteous shall be delivered.”

Jacob had been told what to do when he heard those words but did not move. His eyes were intent on the woman that seemed confused by the scripture and continued to lash out at his father. He did not want to do what was required of him, but he too feared the punishment that would follow if he was not able, not only from his father but the Lord himself. He closed his eyes, grasping the handle of the blade that his father had insisted he keep on him at all times. His rose, bringing his arms around the seat in front of him and sliding the sharpened blade across the woman’s neck. Immediately he felt the warmth of her life spill upon his fingers and heard the gurgling gasps for air.

“No, p-please,” she begged through haggard breath, “God, no!”

“It is too late for that,” Michael said, still smiling, “But if ye will not hearken unto me and will not do all these comments; And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you. I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.”

The woman struggled to breathe in vain, her fingers scratching at Michael’s arm. Her body quickly grew weak, her hands ceased to fight for freedom but simply stared at the man across from her. Jacob sat back, his eyes still closed to the horror he caused and listening to his father’s words. He fought back tears as his father instructed him to witness the good work he had done. He did not want to but he knew he must, so his eyes parted to see the woman’s pale face leaned over the center console of their car. Her life was slowly slipping away, and the light in her eyes began to dim.

Michael brushed at her bloodied cheek, “And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you.”

When the woman’s body went limp, Jacob’s father removed the body from their car and disappeared into the wooded area beyond them. The boy watched for what seemed like an hour before his father returned the car and started back home. The ride was a silent one, all until they pulled back onto their property. The vehicle turned silent as Michael turned off the engine and leaned back toward his son. He rustled Jacob’s matted brown hair as he wiped away a single tear from his own eye.

“You are going to be a good soldier son and now you can enter Heaven pure, just like the rest of us,” he said before stepping from the driver’s seat and escorting his son back inside their tiny home. 

Martha had drawn him a warm bath to clean the filth of the wicked from his body. Jacob undressed and eased himself into the water, staining it the same hue as the woman’s neck. He sat unmoving as his mother wiped away the crimson splatters that had found their way to her son’s skin. She hummed softly as she set about her work as if this was a regular practice for her. The boy slowly turned his eyes toward his mother, his bottom lip quivering and a tear forming at the edge of his eyes. She wiped at the tear and shook her head slightly, almost in a warning.

“No tears,” she said quietly.

“Do I have to do that again?” Jacob squeaked.

She nodded in agreement, “Yes, many times.”

A lump formed in the boy’s throat, “H-how many t-times?”

Martha thought for a moment before answering, tapping a finger on her chin, “Any time you sin, you must be brought back to grace. So, it depends on how good of a Christian you are Jacob.”

He turned his eyes back to the crimson-dyed water he sat in. Thinking of how many sins he had committed in his short time alive. He could not imagine how many he may have to repent for during an entire lifetime but just the thought was confounding. He looked back to his mother, who still seemed completely unmoved by the life she lived. Jacob stared at her soft image, wondering how someone so sweet could believe what she believed and allow such things to happen, especially to her only son.

“How often does father have to?” Jacob finally asked.

Martha sighed, “Sadly, every day.”

Jacob took a large gulp, trying to force the lump in his throat down but it was no use. His mother released the water from the tub and handed Jacob a towel before turning to head to the door, “Now hurry up and get dried off and dressed, your father needs to get cleaned up too.”

Written by L0CKED334
Content is available under CC BY-SA