The fishing gear I was pawing through gave up a dry bait smell; like dried up worms and fish scales. I was looking for my flashlight for a camp out me and Butch was having out back his Daddy’s property and getting frantic at not finding it. I’d done asked Mama and she didn’t have any better idea than I did. I couldn’t tell her why I was in such a need of it. I didn’t need it so we could see. I needed that flashlight because I was afraid of peeing outside in the dark. I know I was too old to be feeling like that at thirteen, but it was true, I was scared of the things I couldn’t see getting on my thing. I don’t know why I had such a fear, but all I could picture trying to take a whiz outside was a big ol’ bat or prehistoric jungle skeeter buzzing up on it and biting deep into my ding-a-ling. It was enough to make me not want to camp which was stupid because I like building fires and fishing and sleeping outside and all that. It was peeing in the dark that scared me green.

The carport had the gritty smell of dirty, black oil. It always did ever since Daddy spilled that pan of oil when he was changing it in the car a while back. He tried to clean it, but nothing really got it up. Even now when he tried the water that run off had a rainbow sheen to it. He was mad at himself for a while over that one. Daddy doesn’t cuss, but I think he wanted to that day. I walked back in the house, empty handed and feeling tight chested over the idea of not having my flashlight tonight.

“Did you find it?” Mama’s voice came from the kitchen on the smells of her beef stew and cornbread.

“No, ma’am. Daddy back down yet?”

“Not yet, Ted. Why don’t you go on up and tell him supper’s about ready?”

I walked to the back of the house and pulled the cord for the attic steps. They creaked as they unfolded out so I could walk up. I loved the look and smell of the attic. The dark wood smelled just like it looked to me; old and wise. Like it was rich with its wisdom, so rich it made a smell. He didn’t like for us to come all the way in once we was up the steps. Daddy went up there to work. He said it was the only place he could get some quiet to write his sermons. So I just stood on the top step and told him from there. “Daddy, Mama says supper’s about ready.”

“Alright, son, tell your Mama I’ll be down directly.”

“Ok, Daddy. Uh, Daddy, have you seen my flashlight? The big silver one?”

“The one your Granddaddy give you for your birthday? Don’t tell me you lost it, son.” He looked at me over his glasses. The lamp threw shadows on his face that made me think of Ebenezer Scrooge and the men in Oliver Twist.

“I ain’t lost it. I just don’t know where it is. Have you seen it?”

“That’s the very definition of lost, son. I have no idea where it might be, but you best find it. All the way back to your great-great-granddaddy we been honest, preaching men, you understand?”

“Yessir. I know. That’s why I’m Theodore Holsmyth the fifth and you’re the fourth and grandaddy’s the-”

“That’s right, we go all the way back. And we’re men who pride ourselves on keeping our house and the people and things in it orderly. Holsmyth men don’t lose things, son, so you best remember where you left it. I don’t want to have to correct you, hear?”


“Alright. Go on.” He nodded me back down the steps.

I didn’t want to be corrected. Last time I couldn’t sit down for two days. I hoped I could find that flashlight. I walked back into the kitchen where Mama was setting the table. “Daddy says he’ll be down in a minute.”

“Alright. Help me set the table.”

I did, laying out the silverware all crooked so she had to follow behind me and fix it anyway. It was my turn to say grace. At the end I asked God for good weather on our camp out tonight. Got a look from Daddy for that one. I didn’t see it but I felt it. He can do that. While we was eating Daddy asked me, “Did you find that flashlight yet?”

“No sir, but I remembered where it is and I’m going to grab it on my way out.”

“Where is it?”

“It fell behind your toolbox. I forgot.”

He just grunted at me and went back to supper. I was lying through my teeth. I just didn’t want him to go cut a hickory switch. Besides, I asked Jesus for forgiveness. I was going to check there. I thought it might could have done something like that; rolled behind something or other.

When I got to Butch’s Missus Crisswell was putting a big block of ice in the cooler on the wagon Butch had all loaded up. We walked out to the back pasture pulling it behind us. The sun was just set so the sky was all pink and orangey and the cicadas was buzzing so loud you felt you could drown in the sound. We got the tent all set up under a sweetgum back there after we kicked all the burrs out of the way so we could have a place to lay down. The first stars was showing by the time we got done. We ate cold fried chicken, biscuits and big wedges of coconut cake washed down with sweet tea while we watched it get dark. We watched a big swarm of bats come out flying around all crazy trying to eat up all the bugs they could. A while later the skeeters got after us so we made a fire and threw on some green branches to make it smoky and keep them away. We sat around it telling stories, playing cards, and talking about girls until we was both yawning. We crawled into the tent and fell fast asleep.

I woke up some while later. It was still dark as pitch out. I had to pee. Real bad. I didn’t have my flashlight. The air was still and warm and my face felt slimy with sweat. I was itchy too. Our fire didn’t do much for the skeeters. They found me just fine. I was about to bust and float away it near felt like, but I decided to go up to the house to pee anyway. I had to go about as bad as I ever have, but I just knew something was going to bite me there if I went outside. I duck-walked across the pasture cupping myself and trying to go fast, but not jostle my bladder none. The dew-covered grass was somehow prickly and soft at the same time. I could hear peepers down yonder in the cattle run and the nowhere everywhere sound of crickets. It wasn’t a long walk to the house. Took a few minutes. The porch light was on so I knew which way to walk. I let myself in once I got there and moved quiet as anything to the hall bathroom where I shut the door. Missus Criswell had night lights in every room of the house for some reason, but I was glad of them.

It was cool in that bathroom. All white, clean tile. It sucked the heat from the soles of my feet in a way that made me want to lay down naked on the tile, but I barely noticed because I about couldn’t get out of my shorts before I started to go. I watched my stream hit the bowl and go all foamy with the force of it. After I finished I decided to take off my pajama bottoms and top and get cool on the tile. I leaned back against the wall and stuck my legs out. It felt better than I thought. Even my bites felt better. I wondered if Butch’s Mama and them kept anything to read under the bathroom sink like we did. I decided to check. I found a stack of fishing magazines and pulled them out. I looked at a couple, but got sleepy again, so decided to put them back. When I picked up the stack some of them slid out. One of them wasn’t a fishing magazine. It was on cheap paper. The cover was blue. In big white letters on top it said “FINGER FUCKING FIFTEEN” and nothing else. I couldn’t believe the f-word was on a magazine. I didn’t even know you could print the f-word on a magazine. I always thought I’d just go straight to Hell if I ever said the f-word. I had to open it.

Inside I saw pictures of girls. Older girls. High school girls. Girls with makeup on and nothing else. Girls with someone’s fingers stuffed inside their private parts. I’d never seen a girl’s private parts before. I never thought I would. Not until I was married. I kept turning pages and looking at these girls. I felt the sin take hold and move me, but I kept turning the pages. I wanted to be that hand. The sin had me good. There weren’t many pages. On the last one was another girl. This one looked different. She was alone. There was no hand inside her. Nothing was inside her, but her legs were spread and you could see everything. Her face, though, her face looked a little afraid. I liked that look. I don’t know why but it felt good to me. That girl felt good to me. I sinned against myself right there in the Criswell’s bathroom thinking about that girl and the things I wanted to do to her and have her do to me. Dirty things. Sinful things. I couldn’t help it. Satan had my flesh and was moving it for me. Satan felt real good. After I felt guilty and dirty and had to quick ask Jesus for forgiveness. I know it worked when I felt Jesus in my heart telling me everything was alright.

I cleaned up, flushed the commode, pulled on my pants and top, and slid the magazine down the back of my shorts before walking out of the house as quietly as I come in. I knew what I was doing was wrong. Stealing is wrong. But I had to have it. I’d never find anything like it again. And I had to have that light red-haired girl. It felt almost like I was saving that girl. Almost like Jesus was telling me to save her. I slid the magazine out of my shorts when I got to our camp and stuffed it in the folds of a blanket I didn’t end up using before crawling back in the tent and falling fast asleep.

That next morning come on hot. Butch had took off his pajama top sometime in the night. He was covered in skeeter welts. “I got eat up last night,” he ended this with a yawn, grinding sleep out of his eyes.

“Me too. Those skeeters was relentless.” Relentless was last week’s vocabulary word and I’d liked the sound of it. It sounded like what it meant. Moving forward; running everything down to get to what it wanted.

“Wanna see if anything’s biting at the crik?”

I didn’t. I wanted to take my stolen magazine home and look at it some more. I’d woke up probably half a dozen times thinking of it after I got back to sleep. “Naw, I promised Daddy I’d help him some today. He’ll get mad if I stay out all morning. I better head home before too long.” I sure was lying a lot lately.

Butch’s Daddy drove me back home around ten that morning. My own Daddy looked up in surprise when I walked in, “Back already? I figured you boys’d be out fishing half the day at least.”

“Wasn’t nothing biting ‘cept the skeeters.”

“Well that figures don’t it? Go on and put all your things away. Don’t leave no mess for your Mama to clean up, hear?”

“Yessir.” I did as I was told and put my things up, but my swiftness wasn’t from a need to obey, it was so I could shut myself in the bathroom with my magazine. I thought that magazine was an odd thing. On the one hand it was making me sin again and again, but on the other hand Jesus was telling me I was saving that girl somehow by taking that magazine. He told me I’d know how to do it one day because he’d show me.

I shut myself in and locked the door. I didn’t get bothered none in the bathroom. Daddy says a person ought to be left alone when they’re tending to themselves. I pulled my pants down not because I wanted to sin but because sitting on the commode with my pants on felt weird. It might sound stupid but I felt like I might forget I was wearing pants and go to the bathroom anyway. I sat down on that cool ring and before I even got my fingers in the pages I could already feel the sin moving my flesh. I stared at the girls in the front thinking of last year when Daddy sat me down and told me all about girls.

“Son, now deep down all women are harlots and whores. They can’t help it. It’s left over sin from Eve. Some women, like your Mama, are able to overcome that sin and be good, Christian women. But most women just can’t resist and they give in to that sin. They’re too full of sin to resist sin. You got to watch out for girls like that, Ted. They’re forward and not afraid to tempt you. Don’t ever go chasing after a girl or let one chase you. You let God bring you one. You’ll know when he has for she will be a meek woman before the Lord and her husband.”

I could see he was right. These women here, they just looked like what a harlot would. All spread out for any boy to come along and use. So full of sin and Satan and danger and didn’t even care. That sinful part of me liked seeing all their bare parts out, but underneath that those girls disgusted me. They had a choice. God gives us a choice to choose right or wrong and these girls, they chose wrong. They could be saving themselves for a good Christian man but they wasted themselves on Satan.

The girl on the last page was the only one I didn’t feel like that about. She was scared. She didn’t know what was going to happen. She needed someone to rescue her, to show her the right way. I don’t know why Jesus put that girl so heavy on my heart, but she moved me, and the sin moved me and I helped a little but that was the sin too I think. I asked Jesus for forgiveness wondering if there was a limit on holy forgiveness in a body’s lifetime.

I first thought to hide my magazine in my closet, but I couldn’t keep it there. Mama cleaned that thing out every so often and she’d find it. Same with my mattress and anywhere else I thought to keep it. Mama’d find it when she cleaned. I finally settled on seating it in the middle of a tall book about baseball history on my bedroom bookshelf. It only made the sides bulge out a little.

At supper I tried to be polite and act like nothing was different but it felt like everything was. I had one hand in my lap and was stirring my food with the fork in my other. I just wasn’t all that hungry. I ate some. I kept thinking about those girls. My girl. Every time I did I had a battle in me, I wanted to save that girl and yet the sin she brought up in me was great and not to be trifled with. I couldn’t even find words to tell Jesus to come help me from the sin when it had me. It had me halfway now. I bet that girl’s skin is smooth and warm. For some reason I wanted to put my mouth on it. I was thinking too hard about that and not hard enough about who and where I was. My hand started sinning all by itself. I just kept thinking about how her skin would taste and feel. How it might be different from breast to stomach to thigh. Or not.

“Theodore! Answer your Daddy when he’s talking to you!” Mama’s angry voice startled me out of my own unclean thoughts and I jumped in my chair. Daddy’s face had the start of a thunderous look. I quick cupped my hand around myself, ashamed like they could see even though I was under the tablecloth.

“I’m sorry, Mama, I was just daydreaming. Sir?” I looked at Daddy.

He looked at me hard, “I asked how much you lacked on your lessons for Monday. I know you ain’t done a bit of it this weekend. Finish up and go get on your schooling. You ain’t doing nothing but playing with what’s on your plate.”

“Yessir,” I shoveled a few bites in my mouth, big ones. I ate my biscuit and drank my glass of milk and went up to my room.

I know I was supposed to be working on school work, but my mind and eyes kept drifting over to my bookcase. After awhile I give in and pulled the book down, and took out the magazine. I took it back to my desk and laid it on top of my history book. I looked at all the girls again, but it was that last girl that Jesus set so heavy on me. I named her Strawberry because for some reason I just knew if I sniffed her up close she’d smell like one and also her red hair. Strawberry was who I was really there to see. I looked at them all again, but still I thought they looked like harlots. Strawberry didn’t though. She was probably sweet and just needed a good boy to show her a better way. But even as I’m thinking these things I’m sinning too because I’m also thinking of putting myself in her mouth and inside her and I know these are sinful thoughts but I can’t stop them or my hand as I stare into her big scared eyes.

“Theodore!” Daddy’s voice, big and angry, right in my doorway. I jumped and the sin left in me that was suddenly cut loose didn’t know what to do so it jumped around a little too. I only turned halfway in my chair flipping my textbook open over the magazine and hoping he didn’t come in the room. The sin was still in my flesh and it stood straight up with it. If he came in my room I could only hide under my desk if I didn’t move none.

“Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

“No sir. I was studying. I must not have heard you.”

“I need you to come down here and help me for a minute.”

“Ok, Daddy. Can I finish this chapter in my history book?”

“How much you lack?”

“Only this one page.”

“Hurry it up.” Thankfully he turned and went on downstairs. I read the same paragraph over and over on the page the book had opened to. It made no sense to me but I had to stop paying attention to that sin still inside me. It kept my flesh moved and I needed it to stop moving my flesh for a minute so I could help Daddy. The sin finally let go and I ran on downstairs to see what he needed.

I held the light while Daddy worked on the brakes. It didn’t take long, about half an hour, but to me it felt like it took forever. I couldn’t stop thinking about my girls, especially Strawberry so when he finished up and finally let me go I was going to run back upstairs to my room. Mama stopped me though. “Ted, I need you to run this pie plate back over to Big Charlotte right quick. I forgot to do it today and I think she’s still awake. It ain’t but eight thirty.”

“Yes ma’am,” my voice had a lot more enthusiasm than my heart did, I tell you what. I went over and rang their bell. Little Charlotte answered. She wasn’t so little though, that’s just what she was called on account of her Mama also being a Charlotte; she was Big Charlotte. Little Charlotte was twenty-two years old, but still lived at home as nobody had married her yet. She was a pretty gal and real active in Daddy’s church so I don’t know why she wasn’t yet married. I never did finish sinning before and the sin was still inside me big as anything. I had to work hard not to look at the ghostly white of her bra under her top. It was stirring the sin in me; moving my flesh. I think I must have been seeming strange to her because she gave me a funny look after taking the plate from me. I went on back across the yard to home. I came in through the kitchen and Mama asked me, “Did you give it to Big Charlotte?”

“Little. I’m wore out, Mama, I’m going on up to bed.” Once I got up there I took my magazine from under my history book and went to the bathroom so I could look at it in peace. After I locked myself in I didn’t even look at the other girls, just Strawberry. The sin came on me hard and fast and when it had finished with me I got real sleepy. I was so tired I nearly forgot to ask Jesus for forgiveness. I remembered as I was turning off my bedroom light and quick asked him. I felt him, but not as strong as before. I thought maybe Jesus was upset with me over something. I fell asleep wondering.

That next morning I woke up with sin already in me. It felt good, but bad too. I was ashamed how good it felt and how much I kept doing it, but Satan feels real good inside you and it’s hard to stop inviting him in once you’ve felt that. I thought maybe I was bending some rules a little, but I knew with Daddy a preacher and me his son, living in his house, I had some protection against Satan getting in me too deep. As long as I kept talking with Jesus and reading my Bible I knew Satan couldn’t stand that sort of thing and would eventually go on. I got up real quiet, trying not to make my bed creak so much as I got off it real slow and tiptoed over to my bookcase. I didn’t want them to know I was up. I wanted to look at Strawberry while I laid in bed. I tiptoed back with my magazine all close to me like someone might see. I climbed back in bed real slow again but it creaked and squealed anyway, and to me it sounded like it was the loudest it had ever been. I pulled my blanket back over me, over my head too, and slid my pajama bottoms down with my shorts. There was enough light coming through the window that I could still see under the thin blue blanket. I looked down and saw how full of sin I was. I thought maybe what felt good was getting the sin out. Like it was the sin making me feel that stirred up feeling and not hear Mama or Daddy when they call me. I wondered if that was what Jesus was mad at me about. Me trying to fight it instead of getting the sin out as much as possible. I felt Jesus come into my heart then and tell me I was right. I felt smart figuring that out on my own. I let the sin move through me this time and didn’t feel shameful or like I had to ask Jesus for forgiveness. Mama and Daddy might say messing with yourself is dirty and a sin, but Jesus told me different and Daddy said I could hear Jesus good as anything. Jesus was always right just like God was Daddy said, so I knew it was true what he was putting in my heart. I imagined Strawberry doing all kinds of things to me, things I didn’t know if girls did with boys but I’d show her because she don’t know no better. Thinking about showing her and then her doing some of those things made the sin come right out of me. I laid there for a minute letting the feeling of that sin going out of me just set in me for a while. I wiped my hand down my pajama top and got up after a minute or two thinking about pancakes and sausage which I could smell coming from downstairs. Real sudden I was starving like I ain’t eat in days. I got out of bed, throwing my blanket over my magazine and took off my top dropping it in the hamper. I pulled on an undershirt and my robe and went on downstairs.

“Morning, honey, you sleep all right?” Mama greeted me when I came in and set a plate and a glass of juice at my place.

“Yes ma’am, I slept real good. Can I have extra this morning? I’m hungry as anything.”

She looked at me for a minute, “You’re getting big, Ted. You’re gonna eat us out of house and home doing all this growing.” Mama set an extra piece of sausage and two more pancakes on my plate and sat back down herself.

It was Sunday so Daddy was already gone and Mama’s hair was up in curlers. Daddy didn’t start his preaching till ten thirty and it was only a little after nine now. He liked to get there early to make sure all was in order. Mama and I set there eating breakfast not saying anything. She was reading her Bible verses to go over with the children in her Sunday school class. I was lost in my thoughts of Jesus’ message for me and how I might get Strawberry. Mama looked up at the clock and her eyes got wide, “I’ll be! We’re going to be late to our own church, son! Run upstairs right quick and get dressed and comb your hair. We got to go!”

“Yes ma’am.” I shoveled one more bite in my mouth leaving my plate empty except for the smears of syrup and took a drink of milk before I stood up and ran upstairs to quick dress and run a comb through my hair. I didn’t have time to wash my face but I brushed my teeth real quick, but not real good because Mama hollered up, “Ted, we got to go, son! Come on!” and I had to run downstairs before I got done.

After church Daddy asked me to stay back and help him. Mama went on home to get dinner going and do some housework. It took me and Daddy about two hours to get everything done. When we got home dinner was ready. “Y’all go wash up and come sit down for dinner. It’s about ready.” Mama had made her roast chicken. It was me and Daddy’s favorite thing for Sunday dinner. That or her pot roast. The whole house was mixed up smells of seasoned chicken, buttery mashed taters, some pole beans from our garden with ham in it, and a skillet of Mama’s cornbread. I was about starved, we all was and we ate without talking except to tell Mama how good it was.

When I was done eating I stood up and took my dishes to the sink, “I’m going on up to my room,”

Mama looked at me funny for a minute. “You go on up there and get your schoolwork done and nothing else.”

“Yes ma’am. I ain’t planning on fooling around or nothing.”

I run on up to my room thinking about Strawberry. When I walked in I seen Mama had made my bed and cleaned up the gum wrappers off my desk. My heart come up in my throat like I was going to throw it up. I felt like I was going to throw something up. I pulled back the covers knowing what I was going to see but hoping I’d see it there anyway. It wasn’t. I checked under my bed and even in the book just in case I’d put it back and forgot I’d done it. It was gone. I’d done gone and lost my best thing because I was careless and maybe worst of all Mama knew I had looked at such a thing in her house. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to look her in the face again. I hoped she didn’t tell Daddy.

I couldn’t hardly concentrate on my assignment and it wasn’t nothing but using vocabulary words in a sentence. I copied some of the sentences right out of our old dictionary because I just couldn’t think good enough to come up with any of my own. I read some for my book report, but I couldn’t hold nothing about what I was reading. I kept having to read the same paragraph over and over. After awhile I give up and just read page after page until bed but didn’t take none of it in. I kept expecting to hear Daddy coming up the stairs to give me a whoopin and couldn’t sleep none for thinking about it. I was still awake when I heard Mama and Daddy come up and go to bed. Pretty soon I heard Daddy snoring real loud so I knew he was asleep good. I got to thinking about what Mama might have done with that magazine once she found it. If she gave it to Daddy I was likely in for a whoopin with the belt and that was probably the least of it. They’d think bad of me. Even worried as I was I still managed to fall asleep.

I had a dream that I was outside leaning on our burn barrel looking at the back of the church when I felt a hand on my shoulder and smelled strawberries. I turned around and Strawberry was standing right there in front of me all naked and everything. Then I realized I ain’t got no clothes on either. She looked at me and smiled, “I’m right here,” then reached down and took me by my thing. Her hand was warm and soft and my thing got really big in the dream. Bigger than it could ever be. It was like a baseball bat and Strawberry was petting it and wrapping her arms around it and rubbing her face on it and it just kept getting harder and trying to get bigger. I could feel it all swole up with sin and I wanted to put it in her and let all my sin out. I didn’t say nothing to her the whole dream, but it was like she could read my mind. She came up smiling at me, proud I saved her, and put one leg on either side of mine with my giant thing all swole up between her legs where she started rubbing up and down it real slow. She was hot there and it felt real good going up and down like that. I wanted to put it in her she just wouldn’t slide up far enough on it for me to get it in. I felt aggravated but it also felt real good what she was doing so I was feeling two things at once and for some reason that swelled the sin up in me even bigger. I could feel it was about to come out when I woke up. I don’t know what woke me. Nothing as far as I could tell, but I woke up all the same. My thing was throbbing and hot and full of sin. I reached down and touched it letting my hand work the sin out. It didn’t take long but this time it felt like the sin might never stop coming out. I looked over at the clock. It was nearly four in the morning. It was Monday and today was burn day. Daddy always burned the trash on the first Monday of the month. Jesus come in my heart then plain as anything and told me where my magazine was.

I crawled out of bed real quiet and tiptoed down to the kitchen where I took a box of matches out the door with me. I still hadn’t found my flashlight. I didn’t bother to put no shoes on and kept stepping on little gravely rocks but I made it out there and lit a match to hold over it. Wasn’t nothing I could see but some old newspapers and some old wore out rags Daddy used to stain some wood. I started to lean over to dig through when the match burned my fingers and I let go. It landed on the newspapers and before I could think about what was happening they was eat up with fire; flames licking up bigger and bigger curling the paper into ash. Then one of Daddy’s rags caught and the whole thing was ablaze. I stood there staring at those rags turning to char wondering what I should do when I saw a blue triangle sticking out from beneath them. My magazine. I forgot all about the danger of fire as I stuck my arm in those flames and plucked it out. My heart was thudding as I clutched my magazine to me and cried I was so relieved and scared. The barrel was on fire and I’d nearly lost my Strawberry forever. I was both relieved at having got her back and worried as all get out about the barrel. It was burning nice as you please and it wasn’t but about four in the morning. Mama and Daddy were going to have a fit. I better think of an explanation quick. Mama would be up in about an hour and I knew that barrel would burn bright for at least another two. I walked back inside with my heart banging away in my chest, my magazine slid down the back of my shorts just like it had been the day I took it, and went on upstairs to my room where I put it back in the baseball book.

I never did get back to sleep and that morning I heard Daddy and Mama talking real low at each other in their room. I opened my door and tiptoed closer so I could hear better and heard Daddy say, “I’ll go look all through his room while he’s at school and make sure, but I don’t think he would have. He’s a godly boy. He ain’t devious like these other uns.”

Mama sat there for a minute before saying anything, “He’s a good boy, Dore. We raised us a good boy.”

Jesus told me right then what to do.

I went back in my room and pulled my magazine out of the book. I slid it in my stack of school books so Daddy wouldn’t find it when he searched my room. When I got home that afternoon Daddy was waiting for me. My heart was jumping but I also felt Jesus’s hand on me telling me He’d show me just what to say.

“Son,” Daddy’s eyes looked serious and tired too. That made me feel bad that I’d make him feel all wore out like that. “Your Mama found something in your room yesterday when she was cleaning up after church. I think you know what it was.”

I nodded, looking at the floor, listening hard for Jesus.

“Where did you get it?”

“I found it when I was riding my bike out on 17 last week. It was in a bag someone throwed out that busted open on the side of the road. I saw it and just took it. I knew such a thing shouldn’t be just lying around like that for innocent eyes to see so I took it home to get rid of the sin.” I reckoned that last part made it not a lie.

“Last week? Why didn’t you bring it to me, son?”

“I was going to bring it to you, Daddy, but I guess I just got so excited about the camp out and busy with school I kept forgetting to bring it to you. I put it on my bed so I wouldn’t forget, but Mama and I was running late Sunday so I forgot to pick it up. I’m sorry Mama had to see that, Daddy, I’m real sorry.” I felt my eyes blister up with tears and let them fall hoping he’d see I felt pitiful over it even though my tears weren’t over anything but getting caught, “I thought I could get rid of the sin without you and Mama ever knowing it was here.” I swiped a hand across my eyes, looking sideways at Daddy right quick who sat there giving me a look I couldn’t figure out.

“If you was any other boy I’d say you was lying, son. But you’re a Holsmyth, and we don’t ever lie, for we are the mouthpieces of the Lord. Anything like this happens again you come to me immediately, hear?”

“Yessir. I won’t let nothing like this happen again.” I meant it too. I wasn’t going to be so careless in the future about keeping Strawberry hidden.

At first I wondered about lying so much and to Daddy especially, but then Jesus come in my heart and told me it was alright to lie about this. Jesus told me that the people who figure out this secret are specially chosen by him and there aren’t many of us because most of the world don’t understand it. I was awed by Jesus’ message for me. That he thought I was so special I deserved a special message made me feel important. I knew when I finally got Strawberry I’d tell her about my special message and I’d show her how to get the sin out. I’d thought up lots of ways we could do it together. I knew she’d be real glad. She was alone and scared and just needed a good Christian boy to save her and show her the way.


About the Author

K. A. Tate lives in the northern Shenandoah Valley with her husband, partner, and and a couple of very bossy birds. This is her first published work of fiction.

Photo, "Shrewsbury Parish Church, sanctuary entrance," by Preservation Maryland on Flickr. No changes made to photo.