Bill and the Sting of Death


The flames licked at the darkness, and the light danced off Bill’s eyes. Heat pressed against his face and the night air ran a cold breeze across his back. Bill placed his feet against the warm rock of the firepit. John’s face stared through the flickering shadows and light. His eyes unwavering, waiting for an answer from Bill.

Bill stammered under the watchful eyes of his friend. “Look, I don’t expect you to understand. You have Rhonda. You can’t possibly know what it’s like.”

John’s eyes softened, “You’re right, I can’t. Maybe I would be as angry as you, but this obsession with killing more people, it’s not healthy.”

Bill stared up at the stars. The remote mountain location seemed to open the heavens above the light of the fire. For a moment, Bill realized how small he was. He closed his eyes and saw Lori lying dead on the floor. His heartbeat began to grow louder. “They killed her.”

“And you killed them.”

Bill stood, shaking his head. The cold air blasted through his open coat, and he closed it and crossed his arms. He paced in short steps, not wandering far from the fire. “But I didn’t get everybody. Somebody had to plan all of this. I wouldn’t be practically hiding up here if that wasn’t true.”

John remained seated and replied, “True, but it’s not your place to be the executioner.”

Bill growled, “Why not? Why do I have to sit back and wait for justice from strangers?”

“Because we would fall into anarchy and war if everyone took matters into their own hands.”

Bill waived John off. His frustration rose, and his heartbeat grew louder. He turned back to his friend and replied in a gravelly voice, “You don’t know anything. I thought you, of all people, wouldn’t be a coward. Standing by and letting others fight your battles.”

Bill stormed away from the fire and paced around the yard in the darkness.

John stood up, “Bill, you’re getting too worked up, you need to calm down.”

Bill’s muscles tingled, the pain in his side faded, and his anger grew. “Stop telling me what to do.”

Bill bent over and ripped away a railroad tie from the flower bed. He flung it far down the hill until it landed with a thud and crunch at the edge of the dark woods. His body began to shake, his knees buckled, and pain flashed from his side. Bill collapse to the cold, wet ground.

John rushed over and knelt by him, “Are you alright?”

Bill began to weep. He felt John’s arms hold him the way Adam used to when he was upset. The scene changed for a moment and Joshua held him on the playing field of the orphanage. Bill wiggled loose of John’s embrace and looked at his friend wide-eyed. He gasped, “What’s wrong with me?”

John answered in a soft voice. “I don’t know. Let me help you back to the fire.”

Bill shook his head and forced himself off the ground. His body felt heavy, and his muscles burned. He slid his cold hand under his shirt. To his relief he was not bleeding. Bill plodded over and collapsed in his chair. The warmth of the fire against his feet and legs began to loosen some of the stiffness. The two men sat in silence, staring at the blaze.

John finally asked, “Do you think you should go see Adam again?”

“I don’t know. He said he was going to call me after he hears from Joshua. I guess he’s having a tougher time finding him than I thought he would. Besides, the last thing I need to do is lose it in front of a bunch of kids.”

“Yea. Hey, do you want to talk with my pastor?” offered John.

Bill scowled, “I gave that up years ago. Tell me, John, where is God, if he’s around? Where was God when Lori was shot? Where was he when Joshua screwed with my head? Why would God even make me like this if I’m actually created?”

John sat silent.

Bill answered, “That’s what I thought.”

“Just because I don’t know the answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”

Bill replied, “I’ll tell you what. If God will bring me somebody with some answers, and if he shows me why he did this to me, I’ll come back to him.”

John’s eyes drilled into Bill’s, “Why do you think you’re so special that God has to meet your demands.”

“I don’t know. I know the Bible says we will find God if we seek him with our whole heart. So, I’m open to what you and everyone else in my life have claimed again and again.”

“And if that doesn’t happen?”

Bill stood up. “I’m going to grab a beer. Do you want one?”

John nodded.

In a few minutes, Bill returned with two opened bottles. After he gave John his beer, he sat back down and took a long swallow.

He finally answered John, “If God leaves me blowing in the breeze, then I’ll see what this Joshua character tells me. Maybe I’ll do what he suggests. If not, I don’t know, maybe find me a cabin with an internet connection and live alone off my investments.”

“You’d be a hermit?”

“If I can’t control myself, it would probably be safer for everyone to be isolated.”

John raised his bottle, “From your lips to God’s ear. For the record, I don’t believe you should hide under a rock.”

“We’ll see.”

The two quietly sipped their beers. Bill placed a couple of small limbs in the fire and put his feet as close as he dared to the flames. He pulled them back as the soles of his shoes began to smoke.

John stared at the sky and finally looked back at Bill and asked, “Will you keep the house?”

“I don’t know. I can’t think that far ahead. Maybe I’ll sell it and buy one of the lots up here and be your neighbor.”

“There are worse places to live.”

“So, what’s going on at your job?” asked Bill.

The two men talked about John’s job, family, and Rhonda’s plans for the mountain house until the fire died out. Bill was thankful for an hour or so of normalcy. Ready to fall asleep, he walked up the two flights of stairs to the main floor, exhausted.

Bill walked into his bedroom, took off his shoes, laid face-first into his pillow for a moment, and then started to snore. He soon found himself walking on the grounds of the orphanage as a child. Joshua was walking with him, holding his hand. Bill let go and skipped ahead.

“Are we going to the Viking village?” asked Bill.

“Would you like that?”

Bill responded, “Yes,” and he twirled and danced beneath the blossoming trees.

Bill tripped, his body jerked, and he woke up on his bed in the mountain house. He slipped off his pants and slid under the blankets. “Who are you, Joshua?”

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