Wineskins Archive

December 7, 2013

Short Story: Jack the Baptizer (June 2012)

Filed under: — @ 2:38 pm and

By Steve Leavell

From the first moment she saw him, Billie Sue Lindsey knew that the Reverend Jack Barlow was the chosen one. There wasn’t any doubt in her mind. He would be the one to receive the gift that so many of the young (and a few of the not-so-young) men in the hills around her home outside York, Arkansas seemed to want so badly.

Billie Sue was only sixteen that summer, but she had already figured out a good many things for herself. Foremost among these things was that to be blonde and blue-eyed and as sweet-faced as an angel and to have a body that turned men’s heads was a God-given blessing. It was, she thought, sort of like the gifts of the talents mentioned in the Bible. She knew in her heart that to waste or hide such a gift would be a sin, and she was determined not to fall into a trap like the one her older sister Deni Mae had blundered into.

Deni Mae had married her no-account husband Jasper when she was only a year older than Billie Sue was now, and not near as good-looking Now, five years and three babies later, she looked more like Billie Sue’s momma than her sister. Such a waste had to be a sin and had to be avoided.

So, for nearly a year and a half, Billie Sue had been looking for the chosen one. She didn’t know who he would be, but she had always known a number of things about him. She knew he’d have to be from off somewhere else besides York or anywhere else in Dryden County. No home-grown products need apply. She knew that he’d be someone equally gifted and special in his own way as she was in hers, a worthy recipient. Harnessing a high-stepper to a jackass as her sister’s marriage had done just had to be wrong. She knew that, when she saw the right one, she would know and nothing would stand in her way. Most of all, she knew with a sublime confidence that she wore as snugly as the homemade dresses her momma sewed for her that — when offered the gift — the chosen one would accept with nothing less than amazed gratitude, and the course of the rest of her life would be set.

Billie Sue had been down at the store when the Reverend Jack Barlow drove into town. His dusty old Ford sedan gasped and sputtered to a halt in front of Hastings’ General Mercantile where she was picking up an order for her momma. She saw him from her vantage point next to the notions counter as he entered the store. He paused for a moment in the doorway. In her eyes, he was framed like a gorgeous, life-sized portrait. She knew he was the one.

The Reverend Barlow was taller than the common man, with just the right balance between leanness and muscle. His auburn hair was slightly longer than Billie Sue was accustomed to a man’s hair being, and it swept back from a high, noble forehead. His face was handsome, almost to the point of prettiness, but a neatly-trimmed mustache and a faint shadow of a beard (that no razor, no matter how keen, could ever entirely shave away) preserved the masculine cast of his features.

Despite the dust of the road and the heat of the day, the white shirt that Reverend Barlow wore was so crisp and clean that it almost glowed, even in the dim light of the old store building. The creases in his black suit were sharp as blades, and his shoes were polished mirror-bright. His necktie was blood-red and held in place by a tiny gold pin in the shape of a cross. Billie Sue let out a low gasp that was almost a moan.

If there had been even a shadow of a doubt in the girl’s mind, it was dispelled when this vision spoke. “Good day and God bless, brother,” he said to Old Man Hastings, and the words seemed to roll like thunder from somewhere deep within him. “My name is Reverend Jack Barlow, and I’ve come to bring the word of God to this fine community.”

Billie Sue pulled herself further into the shadows behind the notions counter because she didn’t want Barlow to notice her. After all her months of waiting and watching, the arrival of the chosen one had taken her by surprise, and she did not look her best.

Pretending to sort through the cards of buttons and needles, she listened as the newcomer explained how he had been led by the spirit to preach remission of sins and the imminent return of our Savior throughout this part of the state, and inquired as to just where in this locale such a thing might be done. Before Barlow left, Old Man Hastings had, with a quick phone call to Lola Aldridge and a couple of the other folks who still met at the old Gospel Tabernacle down by the river, made satisfactory arrangements and had further agreed to help distribute some of the printed handbills that Barlow fetched from his Ford. Most folks would have agreed that to secure such cooperation from the man thought to be the sourest old coot in town should qualify as a genuine miracle. Before Barlow left, Billie Sue decided she didn’t much care if she never saw another button or needle again as long as she lived.

That evening, when Billie Sue’s daddy came home from work at the planer mill, he had one of the handbills with him. Billie Sue and her mother watched and listened attentively as he showed the paper and told them how the young preacher had marched right through the mill, flyers in one hand and a bucket of ice water in the other. Barlow offered each man a dipperful to drink, which was much appreciated in the July heat. Then he’d quoted from the book of the Revelation about the water of life and given them each a handbill.

Billie Sue looked at the flyer. It was a general purpose advertisement with a blurry photograph of the Reverend Barlow’s smiling face and phrases such as “Salvation Through the Blood” and “Power of the Living God” in large black type. Near the bottom someone had, in careful hand, written in the time, date, and location of this particular revival. Today was Friday, and the meeting would commence Sunday morning and continue for a week.

Billie Sue’s daddy told them how impressed he’d been with the young man — not just with his fervor and apparent sincerity, but also with the way he’d worked more than half an hour stacking slabs in order to catch the men up and repay them for the time he’d distracted them from their “earthly labors.” Although the Lindsey family had been respectably and passively Methodist for generations, it was decided that they would attend the Reverend Barlow’s revival.

Though she was careful not to show it, Billie Sue was overjoyed. She had always known that the course of divinely ordained destiny was fixed and immovable, but she had not expected it to run quite this smoothly.

That night as she lay in her bed on the back sleeping porch, Billie Sue considered the events of the day. She’d been amazed, at first, tha the chosen one had turned out to be a preacher. On reflection, though, she decided this seemed about right. From what Billie Sue knew about God, it sounded just like the kind of thing He’d pull.

Of course, it also meant she’d have to be very careful about how she went about offering the Reverend Jack (as she had already started to think of him) her gift. As Billie Sue fell asleep, the last image floating in her mind was Barlow’s face, not blurry like on the handbill, but clear and sharp and smiling straight at her and her only.

Come Saturday, the name of the Reverend Jack Barlow was on the lips of the entire town of York. The young evangelist had single-handedly canvassed the area Friday evening shaking hands, doing good deeds, offering prayers, and inviting one and all to his revival.

Billie Sue was out of bed before sunup. She’d finished her chores before noon, gathered up her egg money, and walked to town on a shopping expedition. Her plan was to purchase a number of discreet necessities designed to enhance her natural gifts.

When she arrived, there was a substantial crowd gathered in front of Hastings’ store, spilling down the sidewalk past Bryant’s drug store, reaching almost to the post office. In front of the crowd, standing against his old Ford parked on York’s only pave street, was the Reverend Barlow. He was apparently giving the assembled multitude an impromptu sermon. The young minister was dressed much as he had been the day before, except that he’d removed his suit coat, exposing the bright red suspenders which matched his tie. His sharply-creased shirtsleeves were neatly rolled up to his elbows.

In his right hand, the Reverend Jack held a large black leather-bound Bible locked tightly in his grip. As he gestured to his audience, the book flapped in its limber binding like a living thing kept captive. When she drew close enough to hear, Billie Sue could recognize the content of the message, if not the context.

” … in the world, but not of it,” he was saying. ” ‘Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed,’ said the Apostle Paul in Romans 12. And who was he writing to, dear friends? Did he mean just the Romans? Was this message and command just for them? No, I expect not, for as we all know well from the words of the blessed Apostle Peter, that rock of faith himself, that God is Acts 10:34, no respecter of persons. But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him. And it is indeed as James, the holy brother of the Lord Himself, wrote in the precious book that bears his name that pure religion and undefiled before man and God requires that we keep ourselves unspotted from this world.”

Billie Sue listened, not so much to the words as to the booming cadences of the preacher’s voice. She noticed that every time he cited a passage of scripture (which was frequently), he would raise his right arm above his head and turn the flapping Bible in a tight circle, as if to add the weight of the object to the force of his words.

The Reverend Jack continued in that vein for quite some time, seamlessly blending the words of the Holy Scripture together with the thoughts of the Reverend Jack. For the most part, the crowd was listening with rapt attention. A few of the younger children scrambled around and through the forest of adult legs, wisely staying just out of their mothers’ reach.

Billie Sue stayed on the outskirts of the crowd, still not ready to be seen by her chosen one. She crossed the street as inconspicuously as possible and made her way past the Gulf station and Phelps’ used car lot. Once safely beyond the crowd, she crossed back and slipped behind them into the drug store. Billie Sue took her time making her cosmetic purchases, even more time than she usually did. By the time she was finished, the Reverend Jack had moved on; the crowd had dispersed; and she could step out onto the street without feeling like a fugitive.

On her way home, Billie Sue ran into Coretta Pierce, a girl she knew from school, although not exactly a friend. Coretta, who apparently did not observe this distinction, greeted Billie Sue like a long-lost loved one and insisted that, since her home was on the way to the Lindsey place, the two walk together. Coretta was a chatty, outgoing girl with long, curly red hair and thick glasses.

As the two walked down the gravel road leading east of town, Coretta apprised Billie Sue of the news concerning the Reverend Jack Barlow. When informed that the Reverend Jack was staying at Coretta’s house for the duration of the revival (the Pierce family being one of the few surviving Gospel Tabernacle clans and notorious for such good deeds), Billie Sue actually started paying attention. She began the delicate operation of extracting information without betraying her interest.

In order to glean any meaningful wheat, she had to sift through a great deal of Coretta’s chaff. Billie Sue held her tongue and nodded a lot. She agreed in a pleasant, vague way with everything Coretta said. As usual, it took very little encouragement to keep Coretta talking.

On their short walk, Billie Sue learned that the Reverend Barlow was originally from Atlanta (this was certainly far enough away to meet Billie Sue’s standards) … that he had no family (she’d never considered the possibility that he might) … and that, before becoming a preacher, he’d been in the Army and had, in his own words, “lived the depraved life of an abject and alien sinner” before being called by Lord. (Billie Sue took considerable encouragement from this.)

Coretta also confided that she thought the Reverend Jack (it bothered Billie Sue a little to hear Coretta call him that right out loud) looked just like the movie star who’d played Robin Hood in some old picture show she’d seen, but that at supper and breakfast, he had sown a tendency to give thanks for the meal at such length that her gratitude cooled considerably, as had the food.

When the pair at length reached the Pierce place, Billie Sue — having learned all she could, and fearful of encountering the Reverend Jack prematurely — fended off persistent invitations to stop in for a cool drink, and made her way home alone.

She experimented a bit with her new cosmetics after supper and washed her hair with the new Rose Petal Shampoo she’d bought. She turned in early, her head covered with sticky brown net-covered brush rollers and full of thoughts of the Reverend Jack.

Sunday morning, Billie Sue was up early once again. After two hours of primping, painting, brushing combing and ironing, she at last felt ready to be made manifest to her chosen one.

When the time came to leave for the church, both of Billie Sue’s parents acknowledged her spectacular appearance, her daddy by saying she looked “real pretty” and beaming his usual indulgent grin. Her momma agreed, but with a quizzical, almost worried expression. Mrs. Lindsey asked her daughter if she thought the red dress was altogether appropriate for Sunday morning wear (and on a visit at that), but did not press the issue.

The family loaded up in their dodge pickup truck and made their way to the Gospel Tabernacle building down by the river. It felt a little funny to all three of them to be driving past the Methodist Church where they usually worshiped. Billie Sue noticed there were only three cars in the parking lot there.

The Gospel Tabernacle building had been constructed several years earlier when Donnie Aldridge died in a hunting accident, ironically on a Sunday morning. He’d left the proceeds from several substantial insurance policies and investments to his wife, and the infusion of funds had awakened a long-dormant religious fervor in Lola. She sent large sums to be spent for the glory of God and the benefit of African orphans. The balance of her new-found fortune went to construct a suitable new meeting place for the Holiness sect in which she’d been raised and from which she’d strayed years before.

The building was constructed about three quarters of a mile west of York on the edge of the Aldridges’ cow pasture, just off the state highway, with the river convenient for baptisms.

The Gospel Tabernacle itself was an unlikely-looking religious edifice. It had been constructed by Lola’s brother Hank and his crew. They normally worked at building storage sheds for farms and such. Hank, having received most of his building trade experience in the military, had designed a tabernacle that looked like nothing else so much as an exceptionally large quonset hut. The ends of the rounded structure were made of brick and the metal roof which extended to the ground was a bright silver. So was the fifteen-foot-tall cross which projected skyward above the front door.

When the Lindsey family arrived, the fenced-off corner of the Aldridge pasture was so full of cars and trucks, they were forced to park along the highway. As they entered the tabernacle, Reverend Barlow was leading the assembly in song while Lola tried her best to keep up with him on the piano. This was no easy task, for the young minister would shift seamlessly from one hymn to another without pause or warning. He’d slide from the final Someday! of “We Shall See the King” directly into “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus” and from there to “Trust and Obey” with scarcely a pause for breath.

Mr. and Mrs. Lindsey found a seat near the middle of the building (having arrived too late to find one near the back), and Billie Sue marched up to the very front in response to frantic waving from Coretta. She took a seat next to the red-haired girl and her equally red-headed little brother. Billie Sue arranged her skirts carefully so as not to snag them on the hard bench made of one-by-fours then indifferently varnished. With a nod and a smile, she took the paper-bound hymnal Coretta offered.

By this time, the Reverend had made his way through “Trust and Obey” and launched into Number 127, “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” Lola’s piano had caught up with him fairly quickly, and the remainder of the congregation had begun to join in — in fits and starts. Billie Sue sang out enthusiastically. Her voice was not exceptional, but she was now ready and determined to be noticed.

At the end of the hymn, Reverend Jack paused for a moment. Lifting his arms, he stood before the multitude in silence and raked his gaze across their upturned faces. The moment stretched. Billie Sue was sure that the preacher’s sweeping glance had lingered on her. She felt certain their eyes had met, and that he must have felt the same electric shock of recognition she did. Billie Sue decided this would be a moment she would tell their children and grandchildren about.

The silence grew and swelled. When it seemed that the curved, sheet-metal walls of the tabernacle could no longer contain it, the Reverend Barlow spoke. In a voice that commanded attention in spite of — or perhaps because of — its quietness, he said, with a dramatic pause between each word, “Let … us …pray.”

Every head in the tabernacle save two bowed instantly. The Reverend Barlow turned his face upward and closed his eyes tightly. Billie Sue never let her locked gaze waver from her chosen one. He began to pray in a voice that grew in power and volume; that increased in rhythmic urgency from phrase to phrase.

“Our all-wise, our all-seeing, our all-powerful Father: we come before you now in shame, for we know we have sinned. We come before you in fear, for we know you are a just and harsh God. We come before you in hope, for we know you are a forgiving God.” Here he paused briefly. A few of the men in the congregation caught their cue and responded with tentative “Amens.”

Barlow continued, his body now stiff and swaying slightly. “Father, we come to you now as castaways: poor, broken wanderers tossed to and fro upon the seas of confused desire and smashed upon the shores of sin. We, like your blessed servant Paul, find a war within us — a war between the purity of the spirit and the pollution of the flesh. We find that we are drawn, we are driven, we are compelled to debase ourselves in ways that should and do sicken our souls. Father, we are weak and come to You for strength. We are lost and come to You for guidance. We are fearful and come to You for protection. We are sinful, o Lord, and we come to you for forgiveness.”

Another pause here brought forth louder and more confident “Amens” and even a few spirited utterances of “Yes, Lord, yes!” and “Praise God!” Barlow went on, now rocking heel to toe, heel to toe, his voice reaching new levels of passion.

“We thank you, Lord, for your Son, your sinless Son,” and now the voices from the congregation came unbidden, filling every minute pause, every intake of breath, with sharp shouts of “Jesus!” and groans of “Lord, our Lord.”

” …Your Son who died upon the cross, the sinless One who took our sins upon Himself so we who have no righteousness of our own might partake of His.

“Be with us, Lord, as we join together in Your presence to seek Your favor, as we seek to be washed in the blood of the Lamb, as we seek to prepare for the day of your return. In Jesus’s holy name we pray, amen.”

The “amen” was echoed with a single voice rising from a hundred throats. Only Billie Sue saw the instant of Reverend Barlow’s eyes flashing open to gaze out upon the multitude, but in the next second every eye of the assembly answered his stare. Not only Billie Sue, but all of them were his to do with as he would.

He preached to them. Reverend Jack preached in a way Billie Sue had never heard before. She was used to the calm, reasoned, orderly addresses of Dr. Lackland at the Methodist Church, kindly homilies she only half-heard.

Barlow preached hellfire and brimstone, death and damnation. With his big black Bible waving like a talisman, he preached of sin, of the pollution of the flesh, with a vigor that left all details to the assembly’s imagination. This filled them in a far more vivid way than any words that Reverend Barlow might have actually spoken. There were no words to express the depths of theoretical foulness which those minds explored or the burden of guilt which eac individual bore in their secret heart of hearts.

He preached of a God drawn from the deepest fears and direst imaginings of his audience; a stern and just God whose judgment was swift and certain. The picture painted of such judgment-to-come turned the burrowing guilt of the assembly to gnawing fear.

As he preached on, there were no sounds int he Gospel Tabernacle except for the booming, rolling cadence of Barlow’s voice, the answering counterpoint of the congregation’s scattered response, and the faint underlying flapping of a multitude of hand-held fans imprinted with a color portrait of Jesus on the front and an ad for the local funeral home on the back.

Barlow gradually shifted his subject, not really following any true plan of organization, but rather circling ideas as a buzzard does its prey, touching lightly several times before landing solidly upon it.

He began to speak of mercy, of forgiveness, of a cleansing that could come only with the spilling of innocent blood, the blood of the sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Lamb.

He opened a door of hope the slimmest possible crack, and let the power of guilt and fear force his hearers through. When Barlow reached the conclusion of his sermon and launched into “Just as I Am” (so abruptly that Lola didn’t catch up for three measures), dozens of people streamed to the front of the tabernacle, desperate for forgiveness of sins both real and imagined.

Coretta was among the throng seeking absolution, but Billie Sue was not. She knew somehow that his was not the best way to make contact. She wanted her approach to the chosen one to be more individual, so there would be no danger of her being lost in the crowd.

She carefully watched, however, as Barlow made his way from penitent to penitent, praying with and for each one. She saw the fervor in his manner, the careful attention he paid to each one. She was determined to gain that attention, not just as one of many, but for herself and herself alone.

At the close of services, Billie Sue’s daddy shook hands with the Reverend Barlow. He introduced himself and his family to the young preacher. Billie Sue took the offered hand and held it for perhaps a second longer than was strictly necessary. She smiled but didn’t say a single word.

Apparently Sunday morning was all the reviving Billie Sue’s momma and daddy wanted or needed. They declined to go back for any of the evening services, so for the rest of the week, Billie Sue walked down to the Pierce place so she could ride with them. She always took pains to look her best and attempted to attract the attention of the Reverend Jack without responding fully to his evangelistic overtures. Billie Sue’s mother seemed to be a bit taken aback by her daughter’s new-found religious commitment, but didn’t worry too much because the girl always came home right on time and always behaved herself during the days.

The crowd during the week’s revival had its ups and downs with a faithful core of dedicated followers supplemented with various polite or curious visitors. On Tuesday night, Deni Mae was there and went forward loudly and soggily repentant of unspecified sins. Billie Sue thought the poor girl might be expecting again, though she’d gained so much weight it was hard to tell for sure, and she decided it might be best not to ask. The next night Jasper was among those asking for prayers on his behalf, although in a much more subdued manner than his bride.

Each evening at the close of the meeting, Billie Sue shook the hand of her chosen one. Sometimes she said a few words to him and sometimes not. She always had to endure, the giggling, blushing presence of Coretta seeking to pull her on and out. Billie Sue decided the Reverend Jack must know their destiny as well as she did. She was convinced she could see it in his eyes.

Saturday evening was to be the final night of the revival. The word was that the Reverend, his work done here and his coffers enriched by a generous contribution from Lois Aldridge, would move on to the Mountain Home area for his next revival, or perhaps venture as far north as Missouri.

Billie Sue knew her time had come. The groundwork of smiles and glances she had laid down was subtle, but substantial. She would offer her gift tonight. There was no way Reverend Jack could refuse. She felt a strange and strong combination of confidence and excitement. Sunday morning, she knew, she would be far from York and well on her way to a new world.

As was traditionally expected, attendance on Saturday evening was somewhat more sparse than usual. Old revival hands always referred to it as “the devil’s night.” Most of the merely curious had had their wonderings satisfied, and those who were merely polite with their visits had already come and gone. In addition, the weekend offered other amusements, so it was small wonder the crowd had dwindled to a faithful few.

Billie Sue and Coretta took their customary seats near the front. The Reverend Barlow preached with his customary vigor. In fact, no matter what his announced topic or starting point, the lesson always twisted and turned until it conformed itself to the same shape and pattern of corruption and redemption.

The service ended with a disappointing response of only three seeking prayer, two of them repeaters from earlier evenings in the week. Most of the crowd dispersed rapidly. Billie Sue sent Coretta and her family home with a convincing story about going on down the riverbank a bit to visit at her sister’s house.

She waited until everyone else left. (She thought Lola Aldridge would never leave) and waited outside in the shadows. When the Reverend Jack at last emerged, carrying a carton of hymnbooks and flyers, she approached him.

“Hello, Reverend Barlow,” she said. “Do you remember who I am?”

Barlow set the cardboard box down in the back of his old Ford. “Why, yes, of course I recall you, Sister Billie Sue,” he said with something that wasn’t quite surprise. “What can I do for you?”

Billie Sue chose her words very carefully. “Well, you know, I’ve been here every night.”

Barlow nodded.

“And you probably noticed I didn’t come forward any night.”

He nodded again. “But …” Billie Sue’s words and a large measure of her confidence fled. She had not realized that there would be so much talking involved.

Barlow came to her rescue. “But you still feel a need within your spirit which has yet to be met. Is that it, Sister?”

Now it was Billie Sue’s turn to nod.

“I’ve heard your cry, Billie Sue — the unspoken reaching out of your soul. And I think, my dear little sister, that what you need is that thing which our Savior spoke about with Nicodemus when that wise man came to Him on a night just as dark and frightening as this one. As the blessed Lamb said on that night so long ago, you must be baptized in both water and the spirit. Come with me, child.”

He took her by the hand and led her away from the tabernacle and off into the shadows. Billie Sue felt her heart pounding like it would bust loose in her chest and felt her pulse racing throughout her entire body. They approached the river’s edge. In spite of the summer’s heat, the stream was flowing rapidly — a legacy of unusually plentiful spring rains.

Billie Sue could barely see Barlow’s face in the darkness, although it was very close to her own. She could hear his voice, and with no fully-visible point of origin, it seemed to come from everywhere.

“Look, here is water,” he said. “What doth hinder you from being baptized? ” Barlow peeled off his coat and began kicking off his shoes.

Billie Sue stammered a bit. “My dress,” she said. “My momma would kill me if I ruined my dress.”

“Then take it off,” Barlow said.

She did.

Barlow put his left arm around Billie Sue’s bare shoulders. He took her right hand in his. They walked into the river together. The water was warm and pleasant; the current pressed gently but incessantly against their bodies. When they had waded out to where the water was shoulder-deep to Billie Sue, Reverend Jack turned to face her. He placed his hands on her shoulders. The water had plastered her slip to her body. She was certain Barlow noticed she was wearing nothing underneath it. She trembled with excitement.

“Do you believe … ” the all-but-disembodied voice spoke again, “… that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and the Savior of all mankind?” Billie Sue agreed that she did. She did not add that this was not the foremost thought in her mind at this moment.

“Based on that confession of faith,” the Reverend Jack continued, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” With that, he gripped her bare shoulders tightly and lowered her into the water. Billie Sue felt the warm, dark water close above her head. Her pounding heart leaped so, she thought it might stop.

After an incredibly long second, the Reverend Jack pulled her up to the lesser darkness of the night. Billie Sue took a half-step forward. Beneath the surface of the water, their thighs touched. Her chest brushed against his as she looked upward and reached for his face.

The Reverend Jack’s powerful grip tightened on her shoulders and he pushed her down beneath the water once again. Billie Sue gasped with shock — which was a definite mistake under water. She struggled, but Barlow’s hands were strong beyond belief. He held her down and held her down and this time her pounding heart did stop.

Jack the BaptizerBarlow waded back to shore carrying Billie Sue’s limp form with him. He retrieved the dress and wriggled it back on the body, neatly buttoning it to the top. Then he towed it out to the center of the river where the water was swift and let the current take it.

He swam back to shore and fell to his knees in prayer. He prayed for forgiveness for what he had done and stood up a moment later.

Barlow felt good.

The girl had died pure and free from sin, washed in the blood of the Lamb. Her soul was with God, and she had him to thank for it.

He knew she was one of the chosen ones; he’d known from the moment he’d first seen her more than a week before in the store. He could always recognize them.

Barlow loaded his car and went on his way. He felt warm and happy.

He always did when he knew he’d done the right thing.

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