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Specifics of Hell

Kayla Rae Whitaker

I began to lay awake at night, worrying about Hell, the heat, what my parents would do when they realized I was damned. My stomach began churning at odd times, making noises, cramping up with no notice.

We ordered pizza on Thursday night, but I stayed on my bed, curled in a ball, trying to breathe my stomach untangled. My parents came up, checked on me, and ran their hands over my forehead. Murmured about taking me to the doctor.

The next Sunday was our flag routine. We had practiced our flag routine during Sunday school for two months, marching like soldiers and waving our flags to “Shine, Jesus, Shine” playing from a portable boom box. During practice we had pretended to sword fight. Now, in front of our parents and Reverend Tolliver beaming in the front row, light reflecting off his hair, we stared straight ahead listening for cues.

The room started spinning at the last chorus. I dipped and spun my flag and began to sweat. The song ended. I dragged myself back to our pew, took my seat, felt my mother’s cool hand press my forehead, her whispering that I did good, and I closed my eyes as the Reverend began to talk. I leaned over, took deep breaths. Don’t talk about it, don’t talk about it. But it didn’t take long for his voice to ramp up to a yell, something about the fruit of God’s glory and the creative grace of On High turned perverse and rotted through and through, Satan’s grip on man’s lust, and I knew he was talking about me, to me, when he said, “sinners burn especially for this.”

What had Aron said a few weeks ago about red-hot pokers going through your nutsack? What would that genuinely feel like? What would it really feel like to burn? When Brian Tolson stuck his arm in the fire at Boy Scout camp and had to go to the emergency room, his entire arm skin peeled off in one piece, leaving a tender red underneath. I imagined my entire body’s skin coming off like a bloody glove.

A trickle of sweat crept down my back. The wood pew ground into me. From the corner of my eye, I could see Bryce picking his nose, my father’s hands folded together in his lap, his thumbs scraping together. My mother leaned over, put her hand on mine.

I could feel puke rise in my throat. I tried to swallow and it emerged, spilling down my shirt.

I don’t remember much after that. I must have been smaller than I felt, small enough for my dad to carry me out to the car and drive me home.


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