portion of the artwork for Joshua Ben-Noah Carlson's story

Tide Pool
Joshua Ben-Noah Carlson

Jehu said, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.”

Most of my youth group recently accepted Jesus into their hearts as their personal lords and saviors. I didn’t, mainly because Jesus and his friends the apostles dressed like fucking queers. I told Pastor Johnson that and before he said he’d pray for me, and put his hand on my head, one corner of his mouth started to smile.

By that point most of the church ladies had stopped talking to me, and Pastor Johnson said it was probably all right that I didn’t go to youth group anymore, since Mrs. Hayner preferred not to answer my questions or have me participate. She said “milk” like “miwk,“ and she would never let me show her what I was talking about in her Bible. She’d snap it closed when my fingers got by it, Sit down!, and then her little miwk mouth would fold up with white wrinkles while she found her place again. I remember she’d never heard of the giants before the flood, the heroes of men, and she really snapped her Bible at my hand when I wanted to show her where Noah got drunk and boinked his son. The room we were in was one of the little-kid Sunday School rooms and the walls were painted with the Ark and rainbows and animals marching two-by-two, and Noah in his fag dress. We’d blown through from the creation to the flood in about three weeks, and I asked if we were going all the way through Genesis, ’cause there’s good shit in that one later on.

She asked if there was a particular story I’d like to discuss. I said the one about Judah and his sons. She kind of opened her hands, like “Tell it.” Here it is:
Once upon a time there was Judah, who was a pretty good guy up until now. He married off one of his sons to a chick but the son died ’cause he was wicked. So Judah told his other son to boink her, but that son kept pulling out and jizzing on the floor to keep her from getting pregnant. So Judah killed him. He only had one son left and that one was too young to do any boinking, so everything was fine for a while. But then one day Judah picked up a hooker that was really the chick in disguise. He went to kill her too, when he found out it was really her, but she said she was finally pregnant. He didn’t kill her, she had twins, boys, and the one named Perez was the great-great-whatever grandfather of Jesus.
That’s a good story. She didn’t stop me telling it, just sat there and looked at me. I left at the bathroom break. That was when Pastor Johnson said it was all right if I didn’t go to youth group anymore. I could just keep coming to his office whenever I wanted to discuss shit like that.

He has two offices, sort of. There’s a big outer one that opens onto the big room between the front doors and the sanctuary, and through a door at the back of the big office is a smaller one with the door always shut. It’s pretty slick. There’s a little window in the door and through it you can see the desk and Pastor Johnson at it, but you can’t see the chair across the desk from him. For privacy. That night when I wanted to talk about Judah I was in the chair across from Pastor Johnson and he was telling me about seashells. Someone knocked on the door. Pastor Johnson opened the door and I heard Mrs. Hayner’s voice. He talked quietly and kept cutting her off. I heard her say my name, then Pastor Johnson said, “I have him in here.” He said sorry to me, and I told him to just tell her to pray for me or whatever.

The shells he was talking about he said are on mountains all around the world. Seashells from the flood. He said yes, he knew that Noah maybe boinked his son. I remembered I was wondering but didn’t ask if Noah had another guy he was boinking before the flood that died out there. I could imagine Noah standing on the deck leaning on the rail looking out at the corpses floating, looking for the guy. I suppose he’d’ve only done that for a day or two, ’cause by then the bodies would be puffy and there’d be sharks and shit, little fish eating them. Or maybe it was a one-time thing with his kid. Either way me and Jesus come from this guy, too. We all come from a queer.

One thing I don’t want you to think is that I’m a queer, too. You won’t see me talking to girls much, but boys for sure don’t interest me either. The other youth guys that accepted Jesus into their hearts spend half their time flirting with the youth girls, trying to get in good with them, and the other half staring at them and talking about them. “Out of the mouths of babes,” they say. Then: “Into the mouths of babes. Into the mouths. Out of the mouths.” Yeah. Gimme five. None of those guys will ever boink anything. Not for real. And the girls laugh when they hear them say this shit.

“Have you ever gagged on a dick?” I asked one of the girls. “That shit’s not really funny.” That girl’s mother said in our little meeting in the big office that I should leave and never come back. “This is where I’m supposed to get fucking better,” I told her. I don’t think I really need to get better—maybe I didn’t need to say “fuck” at the mom—but I know how church ladies’ minds work. She backed off and Pastor Johnson calmed her down. Whatever. When I need to whack one off I don’t sit and think about these girls, that’s for sure. I go online. That’s where I saw the girl gag on a dick, some black dude’s “monster cock.” The cameraman was laughing at her. I didn’t go back to that site. There was another one with a van. These guys would drive around and talk girls into getting in, then drive around with them until they boinked them, then dump them off wherever. The guy that did the boinking would get out with the girl to pee, and when she was hunched down with her pants down the guy would push her over and run back to the van. While they drove off they’d throw out her purse or backpack or whatever, and some money. That kept me off the Internet for a while, but now I have some better ones bookmarked. Sites where the girls have a real whorey look in their eyes and you know they were wrecked before, and you don’t feel like you’re doing any more damage watching them get pegged.

That’s kind of why I like Judah’s story. He gets it. You can’t wreck a hooker.

This morning during the offering I held up the plate a little while I dug in my coat pockets. It’s not my normal coat. It was one of my mom’s boyfriend’s, and I wore it ’cause it’s long and covers my pants-pockets. My mom saw me in it before I left home and she must’ve thought it was a father-figure thing ’cause she said, “I’m gonna throw that thing out when you get back.”

What I was digging for was the last page of my prayer-journal, that I’d copied out for Pastor Johnson. I wasn’t planning at first on putting it in the offering. I meant to have it in my pocket when the cops got there. I meant to be dancing in the room between the sanctuary and the front doors, maybe naked, maybe not, but with that paper on me so I wouldn’t have to talk.

I write the prayer-journal to God, not Jesus. It was Pastor Johnson’s idea, of course. He said I could write anything in there that I didn’t think I could tell him. I said there wasn’t really anything I couldn’t tell him, just a lot of shit that he probably didn’t want to hear. But I write it down. I told my mom that I write it to God instead of Jesus like Pastor Johnson said, that I don’t really care for Jesus and his friends and she said it’s only Jews that talk to God and don’t bother with Jesus, that if you go to a Christian church—Christ-ian, dumbass—you have to like Jesus. Pastor Johnson said I can write to whichever one I want, or the Holy Spirit, though I didn’t really get what the Spirit was or why I’d want to talk to it. He said that if I talked to one I kind of talked to all three. I said if I couldn’t just talk to God and leave the other two out of it I’d rather just accept Judah into my heart and talk to him. Or King David. He’s good shit, too. He was a hardass from his youth and killed tons of people—he had someone killed for pussy, even—and after a battle once he got naked and danced for days for God—that was before Jesus, so it was just for God. I would accept him into my heart, either of them, but Pastor Johnson says only Catholics talk to dead saints and heroes and shit. We’re stuck with just Jesus and God and the Spirit.

Anyway I put the page in the offering in case the cops shot me up or I got too covered in blood. I wanted it to be readable. And I was kind of stalling—the first time I put my hand in my pants-pocket on the gun something weird had happened. It’s a pretty gun. It’s a Springfield Armory replica of a 1911 model Colt. On each side of the handle are two wood decorations with diamond-shaped flat faces for grip. I swung back my coat—this was during the first hymn—and reached in my other pocket. I had four full clips in that pocket, stuffed in two balled-up pairs of socks to stop the clicking. I wormed my fingers into one of the pairs of socks. I worried for a second that I’d put the clips in upside down in the socks, but when I got my fingers in there I could feel the rounds at the tops. I didn’t want to have to fiddle with the clips. I’d practiced and I knew I could change them out fast if they faced the right way. The clips even slid pretty easy out of the socks. I’d practiced shooting some, too, and I was pretty sure I could hit Pastor Johnson in the chest if not the head. I had to do it from pretty much the back row, I knew, so I could cover the main exit.

Another thing I don’t want you to think is that I wanted to shoot Pastor Johnson. That was part of the deal. I figured I should shoot him because I didn’t want to. It’s no trick to shoot people you don’t like. No one would give that any thought.

Let me back up a second. The gun was my mom’s boyfriend’s. Not the same one as the coat. That one was Nick, the gun was Jay. Jay was an asshole. After I took the gun I wanted to shoot him. Back up farther. He knew it was me that took the gun because he had just showed me the gun a few days ago. He had to pick me up from detention when my mom was at work and I saw the case under my seat. It was kind of poking out between my feet. I asked him what it was and he said, “Open it up.” I did and he told me about it. He said it just like that: “A Springfield Armory replica of a 1911 model Colt.” A gun that was used in both World Wars and so forth.

It was that Saturday that I took the gun. My mom and Jay were arguing about something and I just walked out and took the whole case out of his truck and brought it in. I figured I’d shoot him right then, but they wrapped it up pretty quick. A few days later I heard them arguing on the phone in the morning about it and then he came over later and fucked up my room. My mom’s not very good at looking for things—usually I can always tell cause a few things aren’t where I left them—but that day I knew it was Jay come over on his lunch break. My room was trashed. My clothes were all out of my dresser, my bed was moved out from the wall, and it looked like my closet had just moved out to the middle of my floor. All I’d done I had put the case right under her bed. She’s no good at finding stuff. Or at hiding it. A few months ago I found some pictures under the bed, of her and Jay, and I put the gun in the same place I’d found those pictures. Anyway, Jay came over that night and he came up to me and said, “Where’s it at?” I’d seen my room already and I told him it probably wasn’t in there. He stiff-armed me into the wall and then he was right in my face with a finger in my belly. “Where’s my fucking Springfield?” I thought for a second I’d go get it for him and peg him, but only one clip was loaded and I didn’t think nine bullets was enough for him. And I was waiting for him to grab my neck.

Back when he’d caught me looking at the pictures I found, he said, “You think this shit is nasty?” He showed me the site with the van. He held my neck to keep my head aimed at the screen. And he said if I told my mom I found the pictures he’d do that to her, or, click, that. When I was against the wall and he wanted the gun I thought I would just stand there unless he grabbed my neck like that. Then I’d have to get away and shoot him, and maybe hold my mom’s neck and have her watch. Even Pastor Johnson I can’t have touch my neck like that. That, and the praying, is why he puts his hand on my head instead. I can’t have people touch my neck.

When I was against the wall my mom told him to leave me alone, he’d already trashed my room. He swung a blind arm and knocked her sideways into the table. He was looking at me the whole time. He said, “Answer me.” I said I didn’t have to answer him shit, he wasn’t my father. He pushed that finger into my belly and he said, “You know who your father is? I bet you don’t. He was a fucking queer, just like you, you little faggot.” And then he left. That was that, and after my mom had a few and was crying and bitching on the phone to Molly I took the case back into my room and loaded the other clips.

That’s kind of what got me thinking about shooting Pastor Johnson and some of the rest of the church. Reading about David and Joshua and the Judges and shit it seems like you’re not necessarily supposed to kill just people you don’t like.

But that first time I reached in my pocket for the gun something weird happened. As I said it was during the first hymn and we were of course all standing, me in pretty much the back row with no one really behind me. I had decided that I had to shoot Pastor Johnson first both because he was facing me and would see what I was doing if I shot someone else, and also ’cause I didn’t really want him watching me shoot other people. I thought of the other youth people, but they were kind of scattered throughout. I decided I’d just shoot kind of randomly, accurate, but random in who was who in what order. So I pulled back the coat and got hold of a clip and reached in the other pocket for the gun. I described the handle to you. I felt the diamonds against my skin, the hammer, then the trigger guard and the slide release against my thumb. My arm felt cold. I went to pull the gun out and the cold went right up my back and through me into my chest and my other arm and my legs. I felt cold and sharp in my hair, which was sweat. I sat down. The feeling stayed. It felt like when I watched the first girl pushed down in her own pee.

I sat there for the rest of the hymn and right on until Pastor Johnson got up to pray before his sermon. While he was starting the prayer I got up and left. He saw me going—he always prays with his eyes open—and kind of nodded at me. Like “See you later.” I went out into the big room and stood for a minute. Then I had a good idea. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it at first. I went up the stairs to the loft. It’s not really a choir loft, but you could fit a big choir there. It’s above the Sunday School rooms and looks down from the back of the sanctuary. I figured from there I could cover the whole sanctuary and the exits, and shoot over people to fire more evenly across the room. I remember I was trying to figure out what I felt when I went to pull the gun out. I hadn’t expected to feel much of anything. Maybe sad for Pastor Johnson, but that was why I was going to shoot him first. The stairs had green carpeting. The railing was one long dowel and I could feel the grain all the way up. The floor of the loft was sloped down and it felt weird on my ankles. I didn’t duck or anything. I just walked right up to the rail and leaned out and looked at them. My first thought was they wouldn’t stay there long enough to get puffy, the ambulance people and the cops would clean them up. My second thought was of the shells. This is how he said they work. When the water from the flood went down there were like tide pools in all the low spots, full of shells and seaweed and the little fish and maybe sharks. But in a real tide pool that works, the water comes back and keeps things going. In these the water just went away and the fish and shells piled up on each other and got buried in mud and shit and died and turned to rock. And now we have them. That thought did me pretty well and I reached in my pocket again for the gun.

I had the feeling again. My whole body was cold and I was almost shaking. I tried to imagine shooting like when I practiced, but I kept coming back to the girl getting up out of her pee and whatever else was on her and walking up to the road to get her purse and decide whether to pick up the money. And my sister—I have a sister, I know I haven’t told you about her. There’s been a lot going on in my head while I’ve been telling you this that hasn’t gone in here, shit that you don’t want to hear, and I wasn’t going to talk about her. But she came into my head, too. In our basement a few months ago, she was getting ready to go out—she’s never really there except for clothes and to get ready or eat some cereal—and she had on a white shirt and a black foldy skirt that just covered her butt, and long diamond-pattern socks and black platform shoes. She was lining her eyes and said, “Are you looking at my ass, you little pervert?” She stopped with her makeup for a second and looked at me in the mirror. Then she leaned back in to keep going with her eyes but she reached down and flipped up the skirt and I saw for a second her whole butt and the black curves of underwear coming out the top. And before she flipped it up, in the mirror she had that whorey glint for a second. I told Pastor Johnson that. And that if I saw that look on her face again I wouldn’t be able to even look at those sites I have bookmarked. He said that would probably be all right, if I didn’t look at them again. I said I wouldn’t be able to look because my sister would be one of them and I couldn’t look at any girls then because there wouldn’t be any left that I could go back to, that I cared if they lived or got fucked in the ass and died. He said you can always care. Always care. All of a sudden I felt bad for him. I think if you know anyone for long enough you can’t do anything but feel bad for them. And if that’s caring I’m fucking out. Out.

I looked back out at the people and I thought again of the shells and how I knew that these people would be preserved like that in this story, I knew that I’d have to tell this story to you or the cops and that if I didn’t shoot anyone they’d just be preserved like the shells from the flood, buried in shit and saved forever, and I didn’t want these people to be saved. I tried to take the gun out, I tried. But this time I thought I’d puke right over the rail like Noah looking out at the bodies for his boyfriend, a giant’s monster cock, anal vids, I felt like the cameraman was laughing at me. Then I looked at Pastor Johnson. He spotted me up there. He was just revving up for his sermon and he looked up at me and the corner of his mouth started to smile. Hey, you didn’t leave.

Now I’m sitting in the big office. My pants pockets are bulging out, and everyone went home an hour ago. The only other time I’ve sat in this office alone was when my mother came to bitch at Pastor Johnson ‘cause I was talking about the Nephilim—the giants—and Noah and Judah. They were in there a while and that’s when I mashed my face into the door to the small office and I could see him, but I couldn’t see my mother in there. It didn’t do any good. It’d been her idea that I come in the first place—“What are you doing sitting there. Go do something. Go make a friend. Go to church. People have to like you at church.”—but when she left she just walked out and Pastor Johnson drove me home later.

The door to the small office is locked. Every week after the service a deacon counts the offering and stacks the intercessory prayer requests and puts them on Pastor Johnson’s desk and locks the door. When Pastor Johnson is done doing whatever after the service he goes in and writes down the requests in his own handwriting and shreds the originals. For privacy. Then he takes the money to the bank. My page from my prayer-journal is in there. I want it back, so it doesn’t get out, so I don’t have to tell you about it. “Please help me pull the trigger when it’s time.” That’s how it ends. But there’s other shit in there too.

Every time I hear steps outside the office I reach in for the gun. Every time my whole body goes cold and I get shaky. I haven’t done anything wrong, yet. And I wonder if this coldness is Jesus coming into my heart.

I was washing pots in the kitchen. My then-four-year-old daughter was singing in the living room. Her lyric was, “God’s laundry,” over and over. I heard my wife ask her, “Do you think God wears clothes?” My daughter answered, “Yes, I’ve seen him wearing a white dress in the bible.” I left the dishes and sat down and wrote the first page of this story.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 28 | Spring 2010