The Church beamed on the end of the street. White picket fences and the blissful sunshine covered the area, house to house, end to end. Kids playing, laughter, and love in the sweet air. Little Tracy sat on the edge of the curb prodding her baby brother who munched vigorously on a quickly melting rocket ice lolly. Down the street at top speed a few kids on BMXs sped away into the illusion of white houses and astro-turf like road. Strangely, there were no cars here, there never had been. Sprinklers doused the evergreen lawns that grown-ups mowed simultaneously with joyous faces. This place was a communal as community got. Young Timmy sat under a tree, his mind and hands on and in the work of his sketchbook. He scribbled heavily onto the page with clenched teeth. The thought of his Mother filled his mind as he abused the page with his pencil. He hated living with Aunt June. Timmy remembered Dad calling her a “Fanatic bitch!” once and although he had no idea what she was so fanatic of at the time, he knew certainly well now. It was the lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

It was always sunny here in ‘Purged Tories Suburban Community lot: a community with a whole lotta’ heart!’ as the sign had read on the way in the first week here. “You can’t stay with your mommy anymore, Timmy; she’s not with us anymore.” Aunt June tried on that sanctimonious gentle tone that Timmy could see through like spring water. He was twelve, not stupid, not oblivious the world he was growing up in. “Things will get better, you’ll like it here. Blah blah”. This place was one big foster home. It was too nice, too heavenly and perfect at times. It felt hellish too in some ways. He snapped one of his pencils and then- Diiiiiiiiiing! Like antlers who have heard the snap of twigs in the distance, everybody in the immediate vicinity shot their heads and eyes to the church that now rang loudly. Lawnmowers and ice lollies were dropped where they were and the masses of the suburban community flooded like slow zombies to the door of the white steeple church. Swarms of people, even Cary Jenkins; who constantly shaved, had come out with half of his face smothered with white shaving foam.

Timmy buried his head in his book and groaned. If he could keep quiet, maybe they’d ignore him. Maybe they’d carry on and not – “Chuuuuurch.” Said little Tracy in a mechanic like drone, her chubby finger pointed in that direction, her eyes gazed onto Timmy with seriousness. She shook out of it and giggled. “Church time! Churchie time! Time for daily church!” she prodded off down the street. Timmy watched as everybody followed the sound of bells.

“God.” He said to himself. A sigh of exasperation left him and he followed en masse like the others.

He sat at the back with his Aunt June. Both of their eyes were gazed towards the man up front, a white frock upon him; a white beard to match. The sermon had already begun, the white walls and white frocked choir boys all gazed as he ranted on. It was always the same stuff Timmy thought. Fire and cleansing, abolished sins, the big man in the sky watching over all the ants with an omnipotent stare, and if you were not to repent, you would be stuck here.

“This is a good one,” said Aunt June with a nudge. Timmy gave an annoying stare and stared back at the man. “He’s magnificient!” another nudge came. Timmy sighed and pulled out his sketchpad. June kept her eyes focused forward. Timmy knew her well enough to know she’d never really look down. She was positively infatuated with Pastor Dante. Aunt June was a shrill woman, in her late fifties. She didn’t look a day over forty. Her blonde hair slipped past her shoulders, with golden radiance, but beneath that pretty exterior, there existed a woman who was devout as she was violent.

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, "You fool!" shall be liable to the hell of fire.” Spat the pastor, the appreciative followers nodding along with his spouting. Timmy likened him to a kettle, always full of hot water that would boil and cause him to steam out onto the others. The church would become a sauna. He would boil here in church and people would bask in the steam of it all. He was always going on about fire and death, just like the pictures in Timmy’s book did. He continued to draw a demon of some sort in it. Baphomet or Cthulus – something dark and sinister at least. He did not know why he sketched what he did, or dream what he did, but, he just assumed it was normal, and so he barely questioned it.

He hadn’t seen it coming. A hand swiped at the book and sent it flying, the lead broke when the pencil hit the floor with a wooden drum roll. Timmy’s head shot up out of a knee jerk reaction, his eyes met with Pastor Dante’s. His eyes were squinted, full of hatred.

“It appears we have a stray sheep in our flock.” He yelled. The hail of moans and sighs of disappointment flooded the hall just like the zombie worshippers before. Aunt June opened her mouth in shock, and that was enough for Timmy to know he’d been caught out finally.

“Child, why do you draw such vulgar visuals? Does the Light Bringer’s influence cloud your mind with his wicked ways?”

“No sir I-“

“Silence!” he screamed to Timmy as if he was a grown man. The little kid felt like a deer in headlights. Then his eyes flicked to Aunt June. “You’d be wise to teach this young man the error of his ways, June.” And with that he turned his nose up and flitted back to the front of the Altar, he cleared his throat, made a passive joke and continued.

Timmy kept his head lowered. He’d felt ashamed that he had embarrassed his aunt and the look in her eyes made him realise he was going to suffer an awful thrashing when he got home.

He was right. Several thrashings had bestowed their stinging remains onto his back that night. Aunt June had told him to say ten Hail Maries and retire to his bedroom for the night. As he watched the late evening sun disappear from his window into the purple glare of the never-changing warm nights, he thought about drawing again. Aunt June had thrown his pencils and sketchpads out and locked him in his room. If he was going to get them back, he had to make sure Aunt June was asleep. He couldn’t afford any more beatings with that belt she so enjoyed flailing like a sadistic bitch. [Another word his father at one time or another had called her.].

He reached under his mattress and felt around for the spare key he had found there when he first moved in. Moments later he’d made it to her bedroom. He moved one eye in the crack of the slightly-open door and examined a comatose June who lay sprawled on a recliner. The moving glare of the TV shone rays of refracted light onto her, distorting her shadow into a tiny fragment and then a glaring, monstrous beast. Bingo. He headed downstairs and into the kitchen. The house had always been bare. It was full of antiques and porcelain dolls; Jesus memorabilia and an askew quota of Bibles that Aunt liked to randomly keep on hand for when “She needed to consult The One quickly.” . The only time he, himself felt that need to consult The One was when he was taking a dump, and even then it was only light reading.

Outside the night sky, as dark as it was, illuminated the street enough for most of it to be visible like it was daylight. Timmy made it to the backdoor and noticed the sketchbooks were on top of bins, the pencils neatly placed on them. He gently turned the lock-snap, the door opened lightly with a creak that lightly echoed out into the street. With clenched teeth he moved out into the humid air of the night.
His hand grabbed the pencils with a fear they might evaporate. Scooping up all of his tools he turned back to the doorway. “Neigh!” A distant voice had yelled suddenly. He turned back to the street with a panic. Somebody has seen me! June will kill me. He put the books and pencils back into the bin and looked out into the street ready to admit his fault: silence, nothing stirred. From the garage driveway that had never been the home of a car to the end of the street, Timmy could see the small woods that lay opposite the row of perfectly lined suburban houses with perfect clarity. For a moment he listened for another yell but none followed. His eyes made out from above the treetops an ever-contorting tower of smoke that floated towards the heavens. A fire in the woods? He couldn’t make sense of it. The smoke blew west but rose from the east, close to the Church. He ran down the street and into the forestry. If Aunt June found out he’d saved the town from a fire in the woods, maybe she wouldn’t thrash him for being out here during his punishment! Yeah, she’d let me off and maybe give me my books back! He knew he could only go so long before she’d catch him drawing.

He cut through most of the already trimmed bushes near the church and had made it out into a clearing. The Church’s tip poked out of the tree-tops, yet somehow to Timmy, it didn’t seem white as it had anymore. It could have been the ever-moving smoke that cast his vision hazy but somehow the white paint had turned to a darker shade of brown or black. A faint buzz filled his ears and for a moment he thought it was exhaustion –he hadn’t slept for three days, his mind caught up in his sketches- until he moved closer to the Church and realized the buzz had turned into a chant that had started off small. The stench of strong smoke filled his nostrils and from an opening in a few trees he saw the faint flicker of light. Was that fire? What is that smell? Burning Skin? He remembered that faint smell from when Aunt June had been putting on her lovely act. She had burnt a joint of beef that had made Timmy gag. He looked through the trees; his curiosity peaked. In the clearing behind the Church there stood a huge flaming cross that continued to burn as if somebody had doused the wood with something flammable; something that made the fire burn and not wither. From the backdoor of the church, hooded figures slowly walked out in a line that circled the cross, all chanting. Timmy thought of the days when he would play trains with his father in such a way of movement as this. He counted back how many hoods there were: Twelve in all, not including the tall red hooded figure that bent under the doorway and stepped out into the clearing. Timmy left his mouth wide open as he stared at the red figure, the hooded gown must have been seven to eight feet tall! It moved with a sort of weariness as went to the burning cross. The others all surrounded the cross in a large circle, and then, slowly but surely, they all began to chant:

“And I said: Woe is me! for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.”
As they all continued to taunt, the red giant began to tremble and shake as if he was receiving a seizure. It pulled up its baggy sleeves and produced deathly thin arms that were tainted red and white. The smoke had begun to make Timmy’s eyes water and he could not understand how all of them could stand so close to the heat that was even beginning to touch his own skin from afar with gentle warmth. The circle turned to face past the church and watched as two hooded figures dragged a naked man, gagged and bleeding towards the cross. Following him was a white hooded person. They shoved him onto the floor in front of the red giant and there he lay on his knees. He did not look up; he stayed still where he was. It reminded Timmy of a puppy that had misbehaved and was atoning, waiting for his flailing. The image of a dog being beaten made him think of Aunt June briefly, hopefully still passed out.

“Rise,” Said the white hoody as he moved around to face the naked man fully.

“I don’t want to!” the man pleaded like a child. Timmy began to feel that lump jump in his throat, his stomach was doing flips, and he felt like he was going to crap himself where he stood because of it. What was happening!?

“Rise!” He yelled louder this time. The tall Red beast took one of its gangly arms and lifted his head up by his chin as if it cared for him. It looked down upon the man and Timmy saw for the first time in his life the look of what happens when a man looks into something that evokes fear of the deepest level. The man fell on his back in recoil and moved quickly away from the fire with a gasp of pain. “Restrain him!” Commanded White Hoody, and immediately it was clear that the man was Pastor Dante! Timmy could only watch, frozen to the spot. The hooded figures on the right side moved to box him in. The man frantically tried to move but the barrage of robes and arms held him tight. He screamed for a moment but it slowly withered to a low mumble as Red bent down and gripped him with both claw-like hands. He raised the man upwards as if he was a small child and Pastor Dante spoke softly:

“Child, you are but on a path of divinity. For you see, you and all your kind are cursed, yet blessed. I am your shepherd. You are my flock. I am here to cleanse you. All of you will be cleansed, and I am here for you. If you wish to be hailed into the next other-worldly place of paradise, you must first be purified and absolved. Are you ready?”

The man was lowered onto the hot grass that smoked in front of the cross. He looked up in awe at the beast and ignoring the heat that burned his back, he nodded with admiration for a brief moment before he lowered his head. There was a pause, and all that Timmy could hear was a brief, distorted laughter that was vaguely inaudible.

“I killed a boy. I killed a boy.” He said as if confessing to a police officer, he began to cry and wail. “He’s dead. He’s d-“

“It does not matter. Are you ready?” Asked the beast; the man nodded heavily.

The White Hoody shoved both hands onto the man’s face and pushed him onto the continuous flames off the cross, he hit the wood with a thud and crackle of escaping fire. For a brief moment he remained still, but as he realized what was to happen, he began to panic and scream in shrill horror. The hooded beast nodded and two hooded figures began to run rope around the man, tying him to the cross as he roasted. He screamed such a bloodcurdling scream that Timmy covered his ears and slammed his eyes shut. The man continued to flail and burn. His skin began to crisp and the flames engulfed him in a swallow.

“Our-father.” He screamed out in abominable hurt, his skin blackened and smoke began to pour from most orifices. He began to move stiffly and his mouth moved up and down, but no words came from his blackened face.

“Hu urt.” Steam began to pour from his eyes that dried and melted onto his cheeks at a supersonic speed before dying.

“Deliv’ frm’ evil.” Many of the hooded figures began to mumble lightly. Timmy watched as the fire extinguished the final scrap of life, and all that remained was a burning, blackened skeletal frame that seemed frozen in an eternal scream. The man was dead but his black arms lowered slowly. The hooded figures began to chant once more:

“And I said: Woe is me! for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.”
The red hooded figure’s gown suddenly dropped to the floor as if the beast from within had evaporated into thin air like the smoke that now covered the area. Burnt flesh stained Timmy’s nostrils, and in terror he ran from the trees, he tripped, jumped up and sprinted. He felt like Pastor Dante and The Beast was behind him, he panicked and tried to move quicker. He ignored his sketchbooks, shot inside his house, slammed the door shut and sprinted upstairs into his room, upstairs into his bedroom, and under his quilt. He didn’t feel like drawing any more. He couldn’t go back out there. His mind raced and he couldn’t make sense of things.