The door exploded open.
“In here brethren. I give you the devil child,” his father slurred. The man only drank on Sundays, but the sloppy speech remained Jaden’s constant impression of him.
Caught up in the revelry of his preaching, the father grabbed the boy by an ankle and dragged him out of bed. The solid slam of head to floor snapped Jaden from any sense of the rooftop. Tears of regret mingled with those of pain.
Towed into the living room, he felt himself hauled roughly into a chair. His father slapped his face to be sure the boy had some consciousness. Smiling crookedly, the man gathered a candle from the pantry and secured it to the coffee table before the chair.
Sleep took its time leaving the boy’s eyes. He focused in on six forms circling him. Most tried to stay in the shadows. Jaden knew the melodrama of his father. The older man kept most of the lights off to enhance the gloom, the aura of lurking evils. He used the same affect in the chapel.
An iron vice, many mistook for a determined hand, clamped on the boy’s head, “Now show them.”
The vice tightened. The boy felt his skull cracking.
“Show them yourself.”
Jaden narrowed his eyes to only witness the wick. Slowly, hindered by the vice, his mind grabbed hold of the thread. Faint sparks ignited, twittered, and a flame burst into life, waxing and waning atop the candle.
“You see. Do you see children?” His father exclaimed. The hand relaxed atop the boy’s head. The preacher’s voice returned, “Can you deny what I have delivered unto your eyes? The proof. And give thanks.”
An awed, “Amen,” filled the room. Jaden expanded his view. He saw figures on their knees. Eyes fixed on the candle’s crown, they prayed.
He wondered how he could never tune his thoughts to the hand crushing his skull.
What might have been a thankful pat given to a pet, slapped the boy’s head.
“Give thanks. And thanks you should. For proof of the devil is proof of the divine. There is no Satan without Jehova,” his father sluiced the words passed practiced lips. “I came to you from the wilderness, and not to offer the recitation of written words. I came to show you the truth. Not mine own. The Word.”
“Hallelujah!” the crowd answered.
Jaden sealed himself onto the chair. He knew better than to attempt to leave. The wobble in his knee proved a constant, thankful, reminder of such disastrous desires. Instead, he steeled himself for the coming flood of curses. The well meant hexes of the faithful hurled at the daemonic, seemingly in their presence. His father, his owner, cast all known aspersions on the boy’s mother, offering the child up as a freak show attraction. He told of finding the creature in the midst of a burning home and saving it thinking he did the right thing. The father’s reward proved to be the validity which he could offer to those who, like Thomas, needed to feel the nail holes.
“I don’t feel ashamed of you for doubting. Lucifer has poisoned you too well. But I thank Christ I can wash your eyes clean.”
The vice returned to insist on further demonstrations. Jaden obliged. The candle flame gushed into a column. Even when the wax melted into a boiling pool, the fire persisted, the second part of the act.
“That’s enough,” father ordered.
The boy ignored, knowing his part.
“I tell you devil. Desist. In the name of the Christ and God the all mighty Father.”
The flame twitched at the child’s request. ‘Wait for it,’ he thought, ‘It’ll all be over soon.’
The kneeling congregation began hurtling their own commands, attached to the names of saints and angels. Soon the room was awash in the cries of the faithful attempting to subdue a force of the most vile. The boy did his best to look perturbed by their protestations.
The hand on his head pumped three times. He knew the cue. The flame plumed into a small mushroom, dying as it flourished. Jaden collapsed forward.
Hushed silence fell over the room.
“Is he…” one of the kneeling started but trailed off.
“No, just peaceful for the time being. This boy is not wholly gone from us. He just needs our love and prayers,” his father spoke with the usual charismatic fervor. Jaden did not smile. He knew how to deny his face expression.
“Whatever you need,” a voice uttered and others agreed.
The boy felt himself being lifted.
“Then let me tuck this one away, and perhaps we can discuss some means of doing our parts.”
Easing the child back into his bed the father whispered, “You did well son.”
“I did my best,” Jaden answered, eyes closed anxious for dreams.
“Yes, you did. I hope I wasn’t too harsh,” the kindness in the voice sounded alien compared to earlier.
“Never more than is necessary.”
Smoothing the boy’s hair, the father remarked, “You’ve got your mother’s understanding.”
“Just don’t ask,” Jaden said, trying to avoid memories of his incinerated mother, an unforeseen complication at his birth.
“Ask what?” Father said blinking back tears.
Jaden smiled, “I love you Dad.”
“I love you too. I only hate myself.”
“I’ve let them hurt you.” He rubbed the boy’s knee.
Jaden rolled over, “Not on purpose,” though sometimes he wasn’t sure. Father left without a word, just the click of the door lock.