by Grasshopper

Chapter 3

"The lord will destroy the house of the proud. The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the lord." The words rang harsh and clear through the small room. "Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction. Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful."

Wesley sat in the front row, his bible held tightly in his hands, turned to Proverbs Chapters 14 and 15. He saw that Father read only the bad parts. He didn't read the other parts of any of the proverbs, the happy good parts. Father's god wanted them all to be sad and miserable, it seemed to Wes. He decided that the other parts were happier. Wes decided to sit very quietly and think about just the parts that made him feel good inside. "A soft answer turneth away wrath, the prayer of the upright is his delight."

Father's voice boomed again, "A wise son maketh a glad father; but a foolish man despiseth his mother." Wes thought about his mother, the mother he'd never known. The only time Father had ever mentioned her, he had said simply that she was unworthy and was shunned. Wes didn't know what that meant exactly, but it sounded bad. He had heard Father in the parlor one night, talking real loud and calling Mother a hor. Was he supposed to hate his mother? He didn't ! Sometimes, he missed her so much, it hurt. He didn't care what she was if she'd just come home.

Over the years, ever since that first time he had held a new crayon in his hand, Wes had drawn... anything and everything. He had no drawing pencils, no charcoals, no sketch pads. He used fat school pencils and then #2s. He saved all his schoolwork so he could draw on the backs of the papers. Mrs. Harris saved all the bits and pieces of crayons and chalks for him. He didn't know why, but he could capture a smile, a look, a wisp of feeling with his pencil. He had never seen his mother, so he drew angels; angels holding the hands of small children.

Mercy had told Wes as much as she could remember; that their mother had been beautiful and had sung to her every night. Mercy could sing a few of the words and Wes had begged her over and over to sing them for him:

"Baby's boat's a silver moon sailing in the sky.
Hmm Hmm Hmmm and the clouds go by.
Please baby, don't forget to sail back to me."

Wes clung to those words, wishing his mother was here today to hold him and sing to him.

He jerked back from his daydream to hear Father saying the words that always finished his sermons:

"'Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Let my words follow you. If you wish to avoid destruction in your lives, be of proud heart. Do not let the evilness of the world creep into your hearts. Our god will punish you. Do not fall."

Even at eight years old, Wes knew that Father sometimes made no sense. Didn't he just say that his god would destroy proud people's houses and then to have proud hearts?? Somehow, Wes knew that this was not his God, his comfy God with the warm light who always held his hand in the dark of the big hole. He looked around quickly at the faces in the seats to his right. No one really seemed to be listening, just nodding and muttering 'Amen'. Was he the only one who didn't believe Father?

Wes felt Mercy nudge him and together they stood up and waited for Father to walk down the aisle and out the front door. Karl Jr. wasn't here again today. Wes sighed, knowing what was coming and wishing that Karl would just sit here and let the words drift over his body like he and Mercy did. It was a lot easier that way.

The saddest thing was that Karl was, in his own way, just as harsh and restrictive as Father and, as the years went by, just as mean. Mercy said she could remember way back when Karl Jr. had been nice, but that was when Mother had still been there. Wesley had never seen his brother being nice. It made him sad.

Wesley knew that the Hewetts went to church at the big Presbyterian Church over in Franklin. Every Sunday, Cole said, they got all dressed up, went to Sunday school and church and then their daddy took them out to eat at the steakhouse. Cole would tell Wes all about the deserts and he even brought Wesley M&Ms and sprinkles in a little plastic cup.

Wesley never asked Cole or Callie about church. He worried that they would want to come visit him at his and Wesley never wanted them to meet Father. He never wanted his Cole or his Callie to ever hear Father or see him. He was afraid Father would not allow him to be their friend. Father would say they were proud because they lived in a nice house and had nice stuff. Wesley's chest hurt just thinking about Father and Cole in the same thought. It was like talking about good and evil in the same breath.

On the way to church that Sunday morning, Cole asked, "Daddy, can we go to Wesley's church sometime?"

"I don't think so, son," Albert shot a glance over at his wife, Sarah.

"Why not?"

"Well, we sort of decide what church we're going to attend and then that's where we go," he replied, knowing that wasn't going to satisfy either of the children.

"Is God in everybody's church, Daddy?" Callie asked.

Albert sighed, thinking to himself that it had probably been a long time since God had visited in the Church of the Redemptive Suffering if he'd ever been there at all. "I think so, Punkin. It's not the building, you know, it's the people and the feelings and the belief in Him that makes a church."

"So, Wesley's daddy believes in God just like we do, right Daddy?"

"I don't know, Cole, I sure hope so." For the sake of those kids, he surely did hope so.

The Straihan children were never allowed to go to other children's homes to play; besides they had their afterschool chores, so Wesley had to be friends with Cole and Callie only at school. He and Mercy had little games they played as they scrubbed floors and collected eggs to sell.

Mercy always talked about her dreams and told Wesley of the grand adventures she had while she lay sleeping; adventures on sailing ships or sky rockets or floating in the pink fluffy clouds, in beautiful countries she'd read about in her school library books. They would pretend to be kings and queens, knights and princesses, famous rock stars; anything other than Mercy and Wesley Straihan. Wesley was eight and Mercy was ten and their dreams were all they had .... well, besides the fear.

Wesley always included Cole and Callie in his pretends. He would be rich and handsome and clean and he would save them from dragons and horrible goblins. Callie would faint and Cole would always give him a kiss on the cheek. In his pretends, he deserved to be their friend. He was as good as they were..... in his pretends.

At eight years old, Wesley knew how the world worked and he wanted so badly to be anyone other than himself. He wanted to be worthy enough to be Cole's friend. His favorite pretends were just he and Cole, fighting demons, rescuing lost souls, battling evil, always standing back to back, swords at the ready, and, his favorite part, Cole always telling him how he would protect Wesley til the end of time.

Wesley and Cole were on the high swings. The playground teacher had forbidden anyone to jump out of the swings from up high. Two years ago, Bernie Jenkins had broken his leg cause he didn't roll; he flopped.

"I bet I could fly higher than you," Cole called.

"I could fly higher than a redtailed hawk," Wesley answered. "If I was a hawk, I'd fly all over; out to the Pacific Ocean and all the way to China." They were both pumping their legs as fast as they could as the wind grabbed at their shirt tails. "I want to just let go and fly away," Wesley cried out, letting go with one hand.

Cole stopped pumping his legs. "Wes, No! Hold on. You'll fall." His face echoed the fear Wes could hear in his voice.

What Cole wouldn't ever understand was how free Wesley felt up here, flying in the sky like a bird. How much his heart yearned to just let go and fly far away; how he dreamed about it and knew one day he'd leave and never look back. But, as he looked over at his best friend, Wes realized that to leave forever meant leaving Cole. How could he leave Cole?

Slowing, they matched their swing arcs until they were moving parallel. Seeing Mrs. Buzby, the playground teacher, way over at the merry-go-round, they grinned at each other and flung themselves out of the canvas seats to land on their knees in the sand.

Back in the classroom, Mrs. Schmidt began to explain about the cycles of the moon. "The new moon is the lunar phase that occurs when the moon, in its monthly orbital motion around Earth, lies between the Earth and the Sun. At this time, the illuminated, or glowing, half of the moon faces directly toward Earth, so that the moon is invisible as seen from Earth. The new moon takes place between sunset and moonset. Tonight is the new moon." She handed out a paper all about the times of the phases of the new moon. Wes folded his and stuck it in his pocket.

During break, Cole shared his chips and juice with Wes, as always. "You know, we oughta watch the new moon tonight," he said. "Can you get out of the house after bedtime? We can sit on Mr. Harrelson's barn roof and see what time the moon shows. Mrs. Schmidt will think it's cool."

"I don't know," Wesley answered, thinking hard. He didn't want to disappoint Cole, but he didn't want to get caught either.

"Come on, Wes. It'll be fun. I'll come over after dark and shine my flashlight at your bedroom window. You crawl out and we'll go climb up the loft rope at Mr. Harrelson's."

Wesley could never deny Cole much of anything for very long, even if it meant getting in trouble. "Okay then," he said slowly, "Okay. I'll sit by my window and when I see your flashlight, I'll come out."

Prayers over, Wesley climbed onto his cot with all his clothes on and pulled the cover up. Karl Jr. wasn't in his bed across the room yet. Wes lay very still, thinking about Cole and the moon. Remembering the song they used to sing in Kindergarten, Wes hummed softly to himself:

"I see the moon. The moon sees me. The moon sees somebody I'd like to see. God bless the moon and God bless me. God bless the somebody I'd like to see."

Wes knew now that the somebody he'd like to see was always Cole. Once, when he's been huddled down in that deep pit, he'd sung the song really loud. Scared and lonely, he'd just wanted to hear the echo of his voice as it bounced off the dirt walls. It was then that he'd figured out the somebody. If Cole were down there with him, he wouldn't have been scared. After that, he was never quite as scared because he kept Cole in his head; let Cole surround him with warmth and security. So, he lay still on his cot and drifted off to sleep as he hummed the moon song.

Jerking awake, Wesley looked at the window and then over quickly toward Karl Jr.'s bed. He saw the lump that was his brother. The night sky was dark, a few stars lit. Slipping over the side of the cot and crawling to the window, he peered out toward the woods. No light! Had he slept too long? Had Cole come and gone home, disappointed? Just as he started to turn back to his cot, a single light blinked from the darkness of the woods. Cole! Pushing at the window, he eased it up just enough to slide through on his belly. Grabbing at the rough shingles, Wes steadied himself and pulled on the jacket he'd left outside the window. Glancing back, he could hear Karl Jr's snores as he pulled the window shut. Schooching down the sandpaper shingles, he made it to the gutter and swung over to clasp the rain drain between his knees and slide down. Hitting the ground running, he sprinted across the yard and ran full tilt into Cole.

"Whomp!" Cole gasped as he sucked in air. "Come on; let's go. It's almost time." Grabbing Wes' hand, he ran toward Mr. Harrelson's pasture. Pulling up the loft rope, knot by knot, they made it to the loft door and then up onto the roof. Settling down near the rim, Cole pulled out an extra pair of mittens and a wool cap. "Here, you always forget yours," he said, knowing Wes didn't have any.

As they watched, just for a few moments, the new moon was invisible. "Cool!" Wesley whispered, "The sun is shining on the moon and we can't see it at all." Cole handed him a Snickers that Wes stuffed in his pocket.

Sitting there, the dark absolute, the ground far away, if it weren't for each other, they would have been afraid. "What if I fell off here?" Cole asked.

"I'd pick up your pieces and glue you back together."

"What if I smashed my head and went all bonky?"

"I'd put a big hat on you made out of raccoons and carry you around on my back."

They laughed at the silliness. "Wes, do you ever think about forever?"


"Why not?"

Wes thought for a minute, "I guess cause I don't know what it's gonna be like tomorrow, so how do I know about a big thing like forever."

"Will we be friends forever?" Cole asked.

"I hope so."

"What about tomorrow?"

"That's totally for sure," Wes smiled. "Wherever we are tomorrow, we'll be best friends." Cole slung his arm around Wes' shoulders and they rested against each other as the new moon slid into the sky.

Cole headed for home and Wes ran fast back to the rain drain. Shimmying up, he crawled across the shingled roof and shoved at the window. It wouldn't budge. He tried again. It was stuck or something. Putting all his eight year old strength into it, he shoved as hard as he could. He was gonna have to go through the kitchen door. Oh please, let it be unlocked. Back across the roof and down the rain drain. Opening the screen door as quietly as a mouse, he nudged the back door open and slipped inside. Creeping across the floor, he almost made it to the hallway.


Wesley froze.

"Go to the truck."

Wesley just turned and walked back out the way he had just come. He let the screen door slam. It was no use arguing. No use trying to explain that all he'd wanted was to see the new moon. He climbed into the truck and sat as near to the window as his body would allow. As they drove out of the yard, he glanced up and saw the light in his room outlining his brother standing at the window. Karl Jr. was grinning.

The well house. The padlock. The fall into darkness. The sound of the wind blowing against the metal of the little shed. All so familiar. Almost like coming home. He was taller now, but never tall enough. He was warmer, at least he had on his jacket.

Wesley had spent more than a few nights in his pit. He wasn't terrified anymore, just lonely and angry and confused. Cole was already home, in his warm bed, dreaming of dragons and knights. Why did it have to be like this? He pulled the wooly cap lower down to snug in his ears.

Sitting very still, he listened for the sounds of the night. The creaking, the rustling, the soft whispers. Once, there'd been a snake in here, trapped just like Wes. It hid under the old rusted lawnmower and Wes had pretended he was a snakeslayer. It would lick its tongue out, all two-pointy, but it was as scared as Wes. The next time he was bad, all he found was a snake skeleton. No one had come back for the snake. Wes learned to be quiet from that snake. Quiet and still.

The darkness was complete tonight. The new moon wasn't strong enough to pierce the tiny hole in the tin roof. Wesley had discovered that, if he leaned his head back against the wall and let his mind drift, his eyes could see even in the darkest of night. He could make out images and shapes dancing along the ledge of the pit, night hawks and owls cruising and the stars in the night sky. He never considered that he was down deep in the earth with no link to the outside. Wes listened. No sliding, no whispering. He just sat where he'd landed and curled up in a little ball. He remembered what he had said to Cole earlier: "Wherever we are tomorrow, we'll be best friends." Cole would be at home and Wes would be sitting here in this stupid hole, but they would be best friends.

The one good thing about going to the pit was that Wes always dreamed of Mother when he would finally fall asleep. Mother would sing to him and now that Mercy had told him all the words she could remember, Wes could hear Mother singing about the silver boat and sailing. He would hum along in his dream and sometimes, they would sail away over the silver sea, just Mother and Wesley. It always felt like Mother was here with him, holding him and it settled his mind.

As the morning sun strained to reach down into the pit, Wes woke up. He was always so amazed that he could sleep down here, but it made the night go faster. He knew he was supposed to be contemplating his sin; he finally knew what that word meant, but he didn't really see any sin in going with Cole to watch the new moon.

He peed in his pee place, ate half the Snickers bar, and watched the little moats of sunlight drift through the air. There were puddles of water where rain had settled down on the dirt floor. He tried to get a drink of water, but he kept sucking up the mud too.

The day crept slowly by. Snow began to fall as the afternoon wore on, drifting down to melt as it touched his face. Wes lay down on his back; arms folded across his chest and let the snow cover him like a blanket. He opened his mouth to let the flakes melt on his tongue. "Thank you, God, for the water. I don't know why you make me come down here, but since you do, thank you for watching out for me each time."

He pulled the moon phase paper out of his pocket and unfolded it, trying to rub the creases out. A pencil stub in his hand, he drew a curve, smudged it with the side of his finger, added more and leaned back against the wall and let his mind drift so he could see Cole. The way the right side of his lips curved more when he smiled, the little scar that cut into his left eyebrow, the freckle on his left earlobe, down to the swirl of cowlick that poked up where his part started. He didn't even have to close his eyes to play a loop of Cole; Cole spiking the ball with his hands laced together, Cole working a long division math problem by poking out the tip of his tongue, Cole walking toward him with that funny look in his eyes, Cole, angry when bullies picked on little Jimmy Smithers.

The cold beginning to seep through his jacket, he turned once again to the old smelly tarp, crawling under the corner. By the time Father unlocked the padlock, Wesley's teeth were chattering.

"Have you contemplated your sin?"

"Yes, Father."

"Are you ready to repent and be forgiven?"

"Yes, Father."

Father tossed down the rope and hauled Wesley out. "Why will you not learn the error of your ways, boy?"

Wes wanted to yell, 'Because I didn't do anything wrong!!' but he had learned quiet. He had learned still. He had learned to let it all play out. He wanted to see Mercy. He wanted to see Cole. He had to be good. One day, he would not do as Father said, but today was not that day.

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