SECOND HONORABLE MENTION, Summer 2016
The Ghost Story Supernatural Fiction Award
BY KEVIN McCARTHY
So, Timmy is just standing there in the doorway, smiling and brandishing a kitchen knife.
“Welcome, Pastor,” he says. “Come in, come in.” A voice inside of me is telling me, no, screaming at me to run, but after what Timmy said to me over the phone, I can’t just abandon him now. Once we’re inside, he leads me to the kitchen table. Using his free hand, he pulls back one of the chairs and, with a flourish of the knife, beckons me to sit.
Over the years, I’ve heard some pretty crazy stuff come out of Timmy’s mouth, but his taking me hostage at knife-point is new. I don’t know if I ever told you about the time a few years ago when I was driving the youth group down to the District Youth Convention in Rochester. Half the kids were asleep and the rest stared glaze-eyed out the windows. DC Talk droned through the blown-out speakers of the fifteen-passenger church van. Timmy was riding shotgun. About an hour outside the cities, just out of the blue, he leans over to me and is like, “I heard what you said. I’m not as stupid as you think.”
The thing is, I hadn’t said a word. Nobody in the van had said a mumbling word. And I certainly hadn’t called him stupid. Not even in my head.
Anyway, there I find myself, sitting at Timmy’s kitchen table. Not a single light is on in the entire house.
“When will your mom be home?” I ask.
“In three weeks.”
“Three weeks? Where is she?”
“In San Francisco for work.”
“Is it normal for her to leave you home alone for weeks on end?”
“I’m sixteen. I can take care of myself.”
“Whatever happened to her boyfriend?”
“I’m not sure of his name. The guy that works at One Stop Auto. He has a ponytail.”
“Brian. He’s old news. She dumped him over a year ago. Her latest boyfriend was named Phil.”
“Oh. Well, where’s Phil?”
“When Mom left, she gave him a week to move out.” Timmy stops fumbling with the kitchen knife and makes eye contact with me. This is weird because he’s probably never made eye contact before in the entire time that I’ve known him. He says, “Phil’s gone, but I am not alone.”
“Who else is here?”
“My friend, the Lieutenant.”
“The Lieutenant? A Lieutenant in what army?”
“I invited you over so the two of you could finally meet,” Timmy says, ignoring my question regarding the Lieutenant’s allegiance. Timmy sets down the knife. “I have to warn you though, he doesn’t like you very much.”
“Wonderful. Is this Lieutenant one of your gamer friends?” I ask, figuring the guy is someone Timmy met online playing Dungeons and Dragons or something.
“No. The Lieutenant lives in this house. He’s lived here since like the ’60s.”
Timmy’s finally starting to freak me out a little. Part of it is the way he says “Lef-tenant,” pronouncing it like the British do.
About this time one of the bedroom doors sweeps open slowly, seemingly by itself. I watch as nothing comes out into the hallway and walks leisurely over towards the kitchen table. The floorboards creak under unseen weight. I think, if the Lieutenant is only Timmy’s imaginary friend, then his imagination must be much heftier than my own. Whatever the Lieutenant is, it pulls back a chair and sits down directly across the table from me.
I try praying silently, but it’s hard to formulate complete strands of thoughts when you can hear your heartbeat pounding in your temple.
Timmy interrupts my stuttering silent prayer: “The Lef-tenant has something he wants to say to you.”
I glance at the knife and then at the empty chair. I am not so sure I want to hear the Lieutenant out. “Listen to me, Timmy. I came here to talk to you, not this guy, whoever he is.”
Timmy doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even look up. I don’t think he can hear what I am saying. He seems enamored of his reflection in the knife blade and has this look in his eyes that I can’t quite gauge.
An idea comes to me, an idea that’s either been planted in my brain by God or gleaned from the hundreds of episodes of Cops I’ve watched in my lifetime. I need to turn Timmy’s attention away from the present situation and focus it on something else. Anything else.
“Remember last summer up at Lake Geneva Bible Camp when you told me the story about cutting the grass? About when that voice spoke to you, told you to tip over the lawnmower and throw your head into the rotating blade?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“You remember why you didn’t obey that voice?”
“It would have hurt.”
“Yes. No. Well . . . true, it would have hurt, but what did we talk about after you told me the story? About the voice not having your best interest in mind?”
Timmy stares at me blankly.
“Do you trust that I have your best interest in mind?”
He opens his mouth and is about to speak, but then he hesitates. After a moment he says, “The Lef-tenant’s right.”
“You don’t really care about me. It’s your job to pretend you do.”
“That’s not true. I do care about you.”
“You’re just like my mom.” Timmy picks up the knife and stabs its point about an inch and half deep into the soft wood of the, probably purchased from IKEA, table. “Both of you are liars.”
Trying to talk Timmy down isn’t working and I realize that I’ve thrown up in my mouth a little. I need a new plan. Nothing is coming to mind so I just wing it.
“I’m thirsty,” I say, swallowing my vomit and clearing my throat. “May I please have a glass of water?”
“Sure. Stay here. I’ll go get it.” Timmy stands, yanks the knife out of the tabletop and takes it with him as he strides across the kitchen towards the refrigerator. He has left me alone at the table with the Lieutenant.
His back turned to me, Timmy says, “Sorry. My mom always says I am a terrible host. Do you want anything to eat?”
“Sure. What do you got?” Now is my chance.
“We have frozen burritos and…”
I make my move. I’m not sure if I get a piece of the Lieutenant, but I sure kick the stuffing out of his chair, launching it backwards so it bounces off the wall. Before I can think of what to do next, Timmy charges me. Screaming like a banshee, he plunges the knife into the top of my shoulder. It hurts, but lucky for me the blade struck bone or something and he can’t pull it out. I catch Timmy in a bear hug and we crash to the floor. Now, I am older than he is and quite a bit bigger. On top of that, I remember some of the jujitsu I picked up during Tuesday night Holy Roller sessions in the basement of the mens dorm at Bible College and eventually I am able to gain the upper hand.
“Get off me. You’re not my friend—not like the Lef-tenant is,” Timmy says, his face pressed against the floorboards.
“No, I won’t let you go. The Lieutenant doesn’t really care about you. Besides,” I say, “I think I might have killed him.” As we are having this conversation, I use my bodyweight to keep him pinned to the floor.
“Timmy, I have to put you to sleep now. But when you wake up, you and I are going to have a long talk about friendship and trust.”
Then I do what any youth pastor in my situation would do to: a rear naked choke. I wrap my right arm around the front of Timmy’s neck until his Adams apple is cradled in the pit of my elbow, grab my left bicep with the opposite hand and gently squeeze, temporarily cutting off the blood flow to his brain, causing him to pass out.
After that, as I lie panting on the hardwood floor between an unconscious kid who sporadically attends my youth group and a broken kitchen table, I wonder if Timmy has a point. Would I still care about these kids if caring was no longer my job? Eventually I struggle to a sitting position, grasp the handle of the knife, and begin working the bloody blade out of my shoulder, which, now that the adrenaline has begun to wear off, hurts like the dickens. It is then that I hear footsteps scurrying down the hallway. The bedroom door slams shut. In all the commotion I’ve completely forgotten about the Lieutenant.
Now, I wish that at this point I had shouted something more befitting of my calling as a licensed minister of the Assemblies of God. Something confident, maybe containing a Bible verse. But that is not what I said. No; to my eternal shame, what came out of my mouth was neither eloquent nor spiritual. I yelled, “You better run, motherfucker.”