The Silent Sermon

This is another story I submitted to The Molotov Cocktail; this one for their 2020 Flash Frenzy contest, which was unsuccessful.

Ethan had the cassette tape of the preacher in; his hellfire and brimstone pushed at the rubber seams of the car speakers.

As he went down the highway, Ethan did the speed limit, law-abiding, and godly.

“Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up,” the preacher said, pounding a Bible against the lectern.

That’s when Ethan saw him. A hitchhiker hunched near the grass, a small bag slung over his back, and a white thumb sticking out.

Ethan brought the car to a stop 10 yards past where the man was standing. The man did a light jog to catch up to the passenger door. Ethan rolled the window down.

“Can you take me to the county line?” the hitchhiker said, trying to shout over the preacher, who was getting to the part about God breaking his enemies into pieces.

Nod.

The man opened the door, slung the bag into the backseat next to a guitar-shaped container, and buckled in. Ethan looked left, used his turn signal, and pulled out again.

“You play, man?” the hitchhiker asked, looking back to the guitar, and again, trying to talk above the preacher on the tape.

Head shake.

“Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins,” the preacher said..

Ethan had the stainless steel cross tucked into his left hand, down below the seat. With a quick switch of hands, Ethan drove the base into his own neck, then his thigh, and then his opposite arm.

“What the hell, man?” the hitchhiker said.

As the hitchhiker fumbled for the passenger door handle, Ethan brought the cross diagonally into the hitchhiker’s throat. Once, twice, and then as the hitchhiker shifted, Ethan found the nape of the neck.

The cross wasn’t a knife, so it didn’t penetrate deep and didn’t kill.

No bother.

Ethan tapped the breaks, pulled to the side again, having only gone about one mile past where he’d picked the hitchhiker up, and came to a stop. The man was bent over, choking, grabbing at his neck. All defense at that moment. Which was what Ethan needed: a moment.

He opened the driver’s side door, stepped out, and opened the back door to retrieve the guitar-shaped container. He opened it, and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. With measured steps, he came around to the passenger door, and yanked the hitchhiker out.

Without preamble, Ethan blasted his own left foot, near the pinky toe. Then he blasted the hitchhiker’s right shin. The man screamed. Ethan allowed himself the slightest of smirks.

“It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand,” the preacher said.

Ethan came around to the opposite back door and retrieved the hitchhiker’s bag. Inside, he found clothes. He used one of the shirts to wrap around the man’s shattered leg. He cinched the tourniquet good, making the man scream again. He used a pair of the man’s white underwear to wrap around the man’s neck. A minor cut by comparison, but all the same.

There were more clothes, but Ethan didn’t use any on himself.

After putting the shotgun back in its container, Ethan muttered, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” and heaved the hitchhiker into the trunk. Then, he eased back onto the highway using his left turn signal, and doing the speed limit, law-abiding and godly.

Ethan figured he had at least five minutes.

From the trunk, the hitchhiker screamed and with his last remaining strength, punched at the underside. The screams and punches were louder than the preacher. Ethan smirked even more.

When he was a kid, Ethan’s preacher dad took him hunting, and Ethan enjoyed seeing the animals shot. Not because he was violent, but because of their screams.

That noise became a mistress, which Ethan chased down country highways, hitchhiker after hitchhiker.

Upon silence, he would be judged, and hell awaited then. That’s what his father had said.

Ethan wouldn’t let that happen.

At five minutes, the punches to the trunk stopped. As did the screams.

The preacher was wound up, with more thumping, “Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it …”

Ethan nodded.

He turned up the volume, and kept edging down the highway, doing the speed limit, looking to his right for the next hitchhiker along the grass.

In his left hand, he clinched the cross.

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