I stared at the crucifix on the wall with a mixture of horror and disgust. It stood about two feet tall, and the arms of the cross were about a foot wide. The wooden figure of the Savior on it was incredibly life-like…the skin a mottled tan, and res streaks of blood where the ugly nails were pounded into His hands and feet. The hole in His side actually had some depth to it, I noted…and it to was painted with reddish streaks dribbling down his scrawny torso. His crown of thorns was sharp; I knew if I touched one, it might prick my finger if I touched it hard enough. Blood dribbled over his face.
I looked at Michael. “If I have to sleep in this room, that has to go.”
He grinned. “I don’t blame you, but no way. My mom would shit if you moved her crucifix. That thing has been in here since before I was born.” He paused and looked at it. “It used to give me nightmares, Will.”
I looked at him. “I’m going to have nightmares with that hideous thing hanging over my head. Fine, it can stay, but damned if I want to look at it.” And with those words, I unsnapped my duffle bag and removed a pair of boxer shorts. With a sarcastic smile, I looped the legs over the outstretched arms and covered the crucifix up.
Michael laughed. “Your ass if Mom sees that,” he warned.
I shrugged. “I’ll risk it,” I said, grinning.
After five long years, I had finally returned to my home state of Maryland. My family had moved away eight years ago, but my job and schooling had prevented me from visiting for some time. My old high school friend Michael had called me several days ago, telling me that an old acquaintance, Ron Brenner, whom we had also gone to school with, died suddenly from cancer. And so it was, Ron, whom I secretly loathed, had brought be home. Michael had once confided in me that he felt the same about Ron, but he had still worked his way into our lives in an inexplicable way. And so I would make an appearance, for old times sake.
I was surprised that I actually felt a pang of homesickness as I drove down to Maryland from Philadelphia. I thought that those old feelings were long killed by the passing of time and my new friends and job. But alas, it wasn’t to be. My heart quickened as I neared Michael’s home, and it was with great joy that I embraced my friend when he answered the door. His mother eagerly hugged me and planted a wet kiss on y cheek, and his father vigorously shook my hand. Michael grabbed two of my bags and led me downstairs to the basement guest room, which neighbored his room. And there, I saw the crucifix that I had forgotten.
“What time is the viewing?” I asked at the dinner table that night. Mrs. Gonzalez frowned, and his father made a noise in his throat. Michael sighed.
“Around six tomorrow evening, I think.” he said. He mad a face, then returned to his steak.
“And we have to be there by what? 6:30?” I pressed.
“Sounds about right, Will.”
His mother spoke up. “Will it be an open viewing?” she asked.
Will and I looked at each other and shrugged. “I don’t know, Mom,” he said. “I hope not. I haven’t seen him a couple of years, I’m in no particular rush to see him again now.”
I grinned for a moment. “Old memories are better than new ones,” I agreed, and we laughed.
“Especially of Ron,” added Michael.
Mrs. Gonzalez snorted. “You boys! He was your good friend, have some respect for the dead.”
“Yes, Mother,” sighed Michael, and the rest of the dinner was spent in silence.
That night I slept fitfully, plagued by dreams. I woke several times, bathed in sweat, my pillow wet from spit. I sat up in bed in the early hours, and used my shirt to wipe by forehead. It was then that I saw the cross hanging on the wall, my boxers lying crumpled on the floor below. The hell with it, I thought, and settled back down, closing my eyes.
I opened my eyes, and groaned.
“What now?” I whispered.
The faucet in the bathroom? I sighed, and swung my feet over the edge of the bed, consciously not looking at the monstrosity on the wall, and plodded down the hall to the bathroom.
But the sounds were dimmer now; I realized it as soon as I opened the bathroom door. Wherever it was coming from, the dripping water was not in here.
I looked about for a moment, and shook my head. The sink in the wash room? The washing machine? I opened the washroom door, but saw no sign of dripping water, and no puddles on the floor.
The sound definitely was not coming from in here.
Back down the hall…into my room…PLINK PLINK! I froze, shocked beyond belief. The walls were stained red…and as I watched, another drip slipped from the arm of the cross and into the puddle of reddish black blood beneath it. I stared in horror as more blood welled up from the wooden body hanging on the wooden cross, and then I bolted from the room, screaming in terror, as a wave of fear washed over my mind.
“Michael!” I yelled, pounding on his door. The door immediately swung open, and he looked at me, face white.
“Will, what in hell is it?! What’s wrong?!” he demanded, eyes wide with alarm. I gibbered hysterically and pointed down the hall to my room. He looked at me for a moment, his eyes white, then stepped over to his dresser. I sat on his bed, moaning, as I watched him withdraw a pistol from his dresser. He checked to make sure a round was chambered, and then he walked down to my room. I breathed deeply, expecting a scream or cry any moment, but several long moments passed. Finally, he reappeared in the doorway. “So what in hell is the problem?” he demanded, too bewildered to be angry.
I looked up at him, my mind reeling. “Are you blind? The blood, all over the floor, from that fucking thing hanging from the wall?” I exclaimed.
He looked at me and said nothing for a long time. “Come on,” he said finally.
“No way, fuck that.” I trembled.
“Come on!” he said, anger creeping into his voice. He dropped the gun back into his dresser and shut the door. Then he took my arm and led me down the hall like a child instead of the man that I was. I closed my eyes as I stepped into my room, and then reopened them when he told me to look.
My boxers were still lying in the puddle of blood on the floor. Thoroughly soaked, they looked as though someone had wrung them with the steadily dripping blood that rained down from the murdered savior on His tree. Michael stooped down and snatched them up. He held the dripping garments in front of my horrified eyes, and then he turned and rubbed his fingers on the bloody body on the cross. Nausea rippled through my stomach, and I clung to the doorframe and took a deep breath so as not to vomit.
“Look, Will, they’re dry, you ass!” he said, exasperated. I closed my eyes, not looking at the blackish-red smear on his fingertips as he threw my boxers back onto the floor. The steady plink, plink became muffled as the drops spilled onto my soiled boxers. I sat down heavily on the bed, looking at him, positive that my mind was slipping, that I needed help. He looked down at me, and his angry expression softened. “Look, buddy, you were dreaming, ok? That thing is enough to inspire nightmares in a priest, for Christ’s sake. You want to sleep on the couch in the den?”
I nodded, and thanked him. He went to the linen closet in the hallway, pulled out fresh blankets and sheets, and tossed them on the couch in the den for me.
“Michael?” He looked up, questioningly, and I smiled. “Thanks bro.”
“No problem, Will,” he said and shrugged. “Hell, that thing still gives me nightmares from time to time.”
For the rest of the night I slept not one minute, trembling beneath my blanket as I heard the steady plink, plink, plink, down the hall…
The funeral for Ron Brenner was not until the next day, but tonight there would be a viewing of the body at the funeral home. The ritual was one that I dreader, and like many other people, I swore to myself that when I died, there would be no parade of well-wishers and mourners over my empty shell, discussing how “life-like” and “composed” I looked. I stared down at the body for a long moment, the silent, still, features of Brenner, and shuddered inwardly.
“He looks so…so…” Michael thought for a moment, before whispering the end of the sentence in my ear, “Dead.” I would have laughed if not for how tired I was, and the fear of my mind slipping that caused my mouth to stay shut at the blackly-humorous comment. My eyes fell to the tiny cross that the corpse held on its chest, and I thought of the new horrors that the supposed symbol of peace and righteousness now held for me. I moved on, found an empty chair, and sat silent for the rest of the ordeal.
That night, He opened His eyes and looked down at me. One hand wrenched itself off of the tree, blood spilling down His wrist and to the floor. His feet were pulled off of the nail, and then the other arm came free. For a minute, the little Jesus hung from the cross, and then He jumped down from the wall, landing neatly on my boxers that were still crumpled on the floor. He landed softly and rolled with the fall, then froze for a moment, crouching, looking up at me, his little beady black eyes shining with loathsome hate for a moment.
“I died for you!” He shrieked, and my eardrums exploded in a fiery red agony from the piercing cry of His voice, the deafening reverberations that echoed through my skull. He lifted His hands and opened His tiny fists, and the black blood bubbled out and onto the floor as he grinned up at me, tiny fangs glittering in the moonlight streaming in through the window…
I barely stifled the scream of terror on my lips as I bolted upright on the couch, trembling with terror. Sweat poured from my brow, and panic hung over my mind like a black shroud of doom. I turned on the table lamp beside the couch, quickly looked around the room, eyes peering fearfully into the shadows and corners. No Jesus crouching and waiting. I swung my feet over the edge of the couch, standing carefully, eyes still darting from shadow to shadow, waiting for the lurking Savior that might or might not be waiting to pounce on me, His hapless prey. And then I froze, head cocked, listening. The silence was complete. The blood was no longer dripping!
I flicked on the hallway switch, stepping quietly down the hall to the last room on the right, the guest bedroom, and swung open the door, expecting the expected at any moment, but happily surprised by the unexpected that actually lay in wait.
There was no blood on the floor or staining the wall. My boxers were dry in a soft pile beneath the loathsome crucifix. The Jesus was still nailed in His proper place, and His eyes were mercifully shut in peaceful composure, hopefully in real death.
I sighed with relief, picked up my boxers, and went back to bed. Sleep came quickly, and I had peace for the rest of the night.
At the last moment, one of the pallbearers for Brenner’s casket fell sick from a virus. I was asked to replace him at the head of my friend’s coffin, and even though he was not truly my friend, how could I turn down the request of a mother of someone who had followed me like a lost puppy? And so it was Michael, myself, and four others whom I once knew but no longer associated with, carried the heavy wooden box from the funeral home to the hearse, from the hearse into the church, from the church back to the hearse again, and finally from the hearse to a deep hole in the ground where he would wait until the Lord saw fit to have his decaying body rise up and walk as foretold in Revelations, world without end, amen.
“Hopefully, he wouldn’t be up moaning for brains,” I whispered to Michael. Michael snorted, and I grinned as we listened to the priest at the head of the gravesite finish the last of the closing prayers. He sprinkled some dirt on the polished wood, said a few more words, and finally the mourners began to drift away, Michael and I with them. We both smiled sadly at Mr. and Mrs. Brenner, then hurried to Michael’s car and left the cemetery. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” asked Michael, and I laughed.
“Hopefully your funeral will be more enjoyable,” I said, grinning, and Michael laughed back. “Of course it will be, Will. I left a reserve fund for pony rides.” We both cracked up. “What time do you plan on leaving, Will?”
I thought for a moment. “Tomorrow afternoon, maybe early evening, I don’t want to get stuck in rush hour. And at the same time, I don’t want to be suffering from a hangover too badly after the wake tonight.”
Will nodded. “We should get together soon again, Michael. I miss the old times, it’s no good if we only get together whenever one of the crowd kicks it, yanno? It makes me feel too damn old, and we’re far from being old.”
That night, twelve of us gathered around a back table in a bar we once frequented. An empty chair sat between myself and another man my age named Joseph Grotzky. The chair would have been Ron’s, had he been alive to sit in it, and now my earlier words to Michael came back to haunt me. It would seem as though our circle was now only destined to come together in the celebration of death, rather than to enjoy life. We laughed and talked of old times into the long hours of the night, far later than I had intended earlier. At some point around midnight, I told Michael that perhaps it would be best if I were to stay an extra day or so, and he of course had no objection. And so the beer continued to be poured and enjoyed, and we reminisced the past.
“Tell them about your dream, Will,” said Michael, nudging me in the ribs with his elbow. “Tell them you saw Jesus!” He laughed drunkenly, and I groaned. The others turned their attention on me, leaning in, some bemused, some serious, but all interested. And so I did. I told them of the dream that seemed like reality in Michael’s guestroom, and the tiny Jesus stalking me the night before. They laughed of course, and I expected it, but the ones who had seen the crucifix understood the nightmarish visions that it had produced in me.
“Just remember, Will,” laughed Stan Schafer, “If Jesus comes for you again, try to pin Him down long enough to drive a stake through His heart. After all, it’s the only way to kill a vampire!”
We all laughed, more so at Stan who was so drunk he almost fell out of his chair as he cackled loudly at his own joke. But the thought did sober me up some…
The light of the early morning sun was peering over the horizon as we climbed the steps to Michael’s house and let ourselves in. Somehow, we managed to stumble down the stairs to his basement living quarters, and we went to our respective rooms, and I immediately pulled the shades, collapsed on the bed, and fell asleep.
As it was, in my drunken comatose state, I didn’t hear the soft thump of a small body landing on the floor. Nor did I hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet scurrying across the floor. Nor did I feel the covers of the bed pull taunt, as though something was climbing up it.
I was a still sleeper, and my mind was made numb by the alcohol. The pressure of a tiny body on my chest went unnoticed. The soft caress of a tiny hand across my cheek went unfelt. And as one tiny hand passed a sharp nail to the other hand, drew it’s arm back, and brought the sharp metal nail across my cheek in a wicked slice that left a flap of skin hanging from my jaw, I sat up in a gasping shriek of agony, and the tiny figure was sent cart-wheeling through the air to land on the floor somewhere near the foot of the bed. The blood spilled down my cheek and into my lap, and my eyes blurred for a moment, trying to see in the darkened room, trying to adjust to the pain that shot through my face every time I moved my mouth. I touched my cheek as a tiny body skittered across the floor, and a low giggle sounded from under the bed.
“Sinner!” hissed up at me, and I moaned, “Oh dear God, help me,” even though I am an atheist, as though the invocation could help me somehow. Again, that hideous chuckle from under the bed.
Jesus scampered out from under the bed, tiny beady eyes looking up at me as He stood a foot high, blood-stained hand clutching the nail that ripped my face open. I touched the flap of skin hanging painfully from my cheek again, looked at the blood on my fingertips, then looked back at Him. “What do you want?” I croaked, the words causing fresh pain in my wound.
“I died for your sins!” cried out Jesus, and He waved His tiny nail at me, and hissed. I saw the mouthful of wicked little daggers in His mouth, watched Him as He leered at me. He lifted the nail to His lips and licked my blood from it, looking at me lewdly with His nasty eyes. I watched Him, trembling with fear, feeling out of place and absurd. And as I watched Him lap my blood, I also saw Him seem to…grow. His frame grew taller, only by an inch or two, and His scrawny wasted chest filled in some. His ribs were still visible, but not as much as before. And with a start, I realized what I was seeing. Stan, as drunkenly funny as he had thought he was being, had hit the nail on the head. I was looking at some sort of a vampire.
The creature, sensing my thoughts, hissed again and lunged at the bed sheets, meaning to climb them and claw more blood from me. I yanked the sheets up from the floor, trying to ignore the blinding pain and blood leaking from my cheek, as I crept back into the corner, trying to overcome the wave of fear that was striking at me. The tiny hands appeared on the top of the mattress, clawing for purchase, and the head appeared. His eyes caught mine, and I was held for a moment, frozen as He drew the rest of His body onto the edge of the bed.
“The blood of Life!” it squealed, exposing the mouthful of knives in an ugly grin, and stepping closer to me. He knelt for a moment, His eyes never leaving mine, and lapped at the blood on the bed. A soft sigh issued from my throat as His body shuddered and then expanded once again. He stood, now slightly under two foot or so, and advanced again. He lifted His clawed hands, cackled, and stepped closer…and as He did, the wave of hypnotic fear broke on my mind. I shrieked, loud and full of fear and anger and hate. Jesus, startled, took a step back, then paused, hissed, and rushed forward.
I scrambled back, kicking at Him, screaming at him “Go away, go away, oh please God, go away!”
His mad laughter peaked louder, His eyes leering at me as He sliced the air with the nail clutched in His fist. I yanked my foot back just in time, and the nail barely grazed my toe. He lunged and I leapt from the bed. He spun, shrieking at me, as I rolled down onto the floor, scrambling to get out of the room, madly thinking of stakes and wondering where in hell Michael would have one to pound through the heart of his mother’s crucified vampire Jesus.
Suddenly, there was pounding on the door, Michael’s fists banging heavily, his cries to me from the other side of the door. “Open it, Will, unlock the door!”
I turned back to the bed, only Jesus wasn’t there now. My eyes swept the room madly, looking for Him, and spotted a furtive movement in the corner, and just barely caught a glimpse of Him streaking out from under the bed towards my feet. I screamed loudly and kicked, my reflexes moving with a will of their own, and I barely registered that my foot connected solidly, sending the tiny body sailing up into the air, through the blinds that covered the window, shattering the glass, and outside onto the lawn.
And into the sunlight.
The screams of agony echoed into my room, and I unlocked the door, shouldered past Michael, and outside to the grass where my window was. Michael followed me, his frantic questions ignored, and then I froze, staring, horrified, and then he fell silent also. The tiny body was melting, His skin breaking around His ribs and bones, and He was quite obviously dying. His lipless mouth gaped up at us, open in a mewling plea. His skeletal hand reached up at us in a gesture for mercy as the sun’s rays purified His evil, burning out His life. His arm crumbled to dust. His chest caved in, and the morning breeze began to blow His remnants away.