How could he repent and change his life? He was on his way to prison. Cleansed by Fire.
July 15, 2013
A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire
Father Frank saw Ward in the wavering glow of a cigarette lighter. A sneer seemed to dance on his face as the flame fluttered.
“Guess you’re tougher’n I thought. Figured you was dead.” Ward started to stoop. “Maybe this time. You’re standing on the diesel.” The boy let out a short, sinister laugh.
“Wait.” Father Frank had to keep Ward talking, not lighting a fire. “If I’m standing on the diesel, and you light it there, how do you get out?”
“Same way I got in. The door behind me. I ain’t going out the door you come in. Didn’t know it was open. So, let’s get it on.”
“Before you do that, can I ask you a question?”
“Ask away. Maybe I’ll answer. Maybe not.”
Father Frank waited, hoping Mike would hurry up. The priest turned his head slightly, held his breath, trying to hear any sound indicating Mike was on his way. What was he doing, anyway?
“Get on with it, Frank.” The priest’s name came out a sneer. “Clock’s tickin’.”
“Okay. Okay.” Slowly. Slowly. “I’m guessing you set fire to Prince of Peace because it’s my church, and you’re mad at me.”
“Maybe you’re mad at Sammie, too. So, you decided to burn down Prince of Peace.”
“Yeah, yeah. That ain’t a question.”
“I’m getting to the question.” He coughed a little, trying to buy even a small amount of time. Maybe the lighter would run out of fuel.
“All the others, including this one of course, are Baptist churches.” He raised his hand and ticked them off, as slowly as he thought he could get away with.
“Pine Valley Baptist Church. Calvert Road Baptist Church. New Beginnings—.”
“I know the names. Get on with it.”
“Why? Do you have something against Baptists? Did one of them do something to you and you’re getting back at them? But then, that wouldn’t explain four different churches. You see my dilemma?”
Ward started to answer. “You think I care—.”
But the cavalry wasn’t arriving, so Father Frank talked right over Ward’s words.
“I mean, if it had just been two, a person might say it was a coincidence they were both Baptist. But four. That goes beyond coincidence, don’t you think? I mean—.”
Ward interrupted. “Got nothing against Baptists. There’s just more of ’em around here. I wanted ’em all the same to confuse the police. Only one Catholic church in town. Couldn’t do four of them. Same with Episcopalians. Only a couple of Methodists. See? If I wanted four of the same, had to be Baptist.”
Ward started to stoop down again.
“Wait. Ward, the police know it’s you. They’re on their way here. They’re not going to let you get away, fire or no fire.”
“So, why not light it?”
“Because God will forgive you. Whatever you’ve done, He will forgive you. But you need to show Him you want to be forgiven. Not lighting this fire, not continuing down this sinful path, is a start.”
Ward said nothing. He held the flame steady in front of him.
“With the authorities here on earth, it’s over. But with God, it can be a beginning. Think about it, Ward.”
Still Ward said nothing. Far behind the boy, a tiny sliver of light pierced the blackness. It was unable to reach Ward or Father Frank. Mike was backlit, as was the revolver outstretched in front of him.
Very slowly, Father Frank moved his head from side to side, hoping Mike would see it.
“All you have to do is ask God to forgive you, and He will,” the priest continued.
After a moment, Ward said, “You really believe He can forgive me? I’ve burned His churches. Killed a man. Don’t see how He’ll forgive me.” Now, his tone was more questioning than argumentative.
“Others have done worse and been forgiven. God absolutely will forgive you, if you truly repent, ask Him for forgiveness, and—very important—change your ways, your life.”
“There are opportunities for good—or evil—everywhere. In church, in prison, everywhere.”
By now, Mike had traversed half the distance to Ward, who apparently had not heard him. Ward flicked shut the lighter, plunging the place into darkness.
Mike snapped on his flashlight. “Put your hands on top of your head, Ward. Now.”
Ward placed his hands on top of his head. At that, Father Frank walked over and took the flashlight from Mike and kept it shining on Ward. Mike pulled out plastic handcuffs and secured the arsonist’s hands behind his back.
Chapters of the serial are published on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday.
You can learn more about Cleansed by Fire and other James H. Callan novels on his Amazon Author Page.