BLESSED BE THE PATIENT • by Milo James Fowler

I bring a gun to church just to see what Pastor Mike will do.

They say the best way to know your enemy is to see him in a stressful situation. I don’t know who they are, but I think it’s true. Makes sense, anyway.

Remember the story about that daycare supervisor in Albuquerque who had to let go of two employees due to budget cuts, but she couldn’t decide who? Throwing the fire alarm without warning right in the middle of snack time did the trick. Four of her fifteen staff charged outside without a care for the toddlers they left behind. Made the supervisor’s job more difficult in the end — she had to fire four and replace two — but you get the idea.

Fiery trials test our mettle.

But waiting periods are damned inconvenient. You can’t just walk into a gun shop and buy a 9mm semiautomatic and walk out with it cased on your hip. Not in California, anyway. Not legally. The gang bangers, sure, they get a hold of military-grade automatic weapons with armor-piercing rounds, but the average citizen like you and me? Nope, we’ve got to wait two whole weeks, just in case we’re planning a crime of passion. They think we’ll cool off after fourteen days if such is the case.

Not me. I’ve been planning this for a while.

After my mom passed, I kept on going to church. Everybody expected to see me there. Sure, they knew I was going through a rough spot, first year in community college, living alone, working the night shift at the local stop-n-rob gas station to pay the bills. Good thing was Mom had owned the house outright, paid it off when I was a baby, when my dad died and left her a big wad of life insurance. So the bills I paid were your average get-by variety: gas and electric, water, groceries. I always biked to school and to work, so I sold Mom’s Civic and put the three G’s in the bank, figured it might be good to have a little back-up in case of emergencies.

On Sundays, they expect to see me there in the front row on the right side. That’s where our family’s always sat, Mom used to say, all the way back to my great-grandmother.

But it’s just me now. Me and my grudge in this otherwise empty pew.

I watch Pastor Mike give the benediction, and I just about leap to my feet before he’s done. In some small way, I know what convicts feel like on their last day in the pen; that antsy animal urge to flee has been vibrating in me through the whole service today, but it’s stronger than ever now. I’m so close to freedom I can taste it, and I can barely keep it together.

Maybe that’s why things go wrong.

“Gun! He’s got a gun!” The shouts and screams go up like slow-motion firecrackers all around me as I charge the stage.

I’ll tell you what I expected: Pastor Mike throwing his Bible at me and running off scared, or Pastor Mike ducking behind his pulpit and screaming his fool head off. But that’s not what Pastor Mike does.

He meets me head on. Tackles me to the floor. Breaks my lip open with a spurt of blood across his knuckles once, twice, then again, whipping my cheek to the cold floor with his fist.

Too bad he didn’t show that much gumption beating back the ol’ Reaper when it came for Mom.

“What’s wrong with you, boy?” Thirty years my senior, he’s got the right to think of me as a kid.

I grin up at him through the slick coppery mess my mouth’s become. I fight against the hold he has on my arm, easily overcoming it. I’m stronger than he is, and he knows it, and it makes me glad.

Shrieks erupt from the congregation. Men’s shoes storm toward me.

“You don’t want to do this, son.” Pastor Mike grimaces as he struggles against my gun arm. Beads of perspiration sprout from his tanned brow. This close, it’s obvious the man uses a spray to look like he spends his free time in the great outdoors. This close, I could count all the lines on his face if I wanted to.

“You let her die.” My voice bubbles and croaks.

He frowns, then seems to understand me. “It was her time.”

“Now it’s yours.”

There’s no ear-splitting pop or blast from the gun. Just a stupid jet of water that splashes the side of Pastor Mike’s face, his eye, his ear, the parts of him that would have been a bloody mess if I’d had the patience to wait for that 9mm.

He blinks down at me, his knotted shoulders relaxing with relief in the same way his face, all cringing and twisted when he saw me pull the trigger, smoothes out and sags in disbelief.

“Are you out of your damn mind?” he gasps, releasing me and dropping back on the bottom step of the stage, out of place there all sprawled out instead of well-composed like he usually is, just a part of his pulpit.

Well-muscled members of the congregation take hold of me, nearly ripping my arms from their sockets as they haul me up onto my feet and snatch the squirt gun away.

“You didn’t let go of me,” my voice murmurs.

“Get him out of here!” orders one of the deacons. He looks like he’s carrying a pair of tires under his flabby dress shirt.

Pastor Mike stares back at me. “What’s that you say, son?”

He didn’t run away. He didn’t even back off when he saw me pull that trigger.

Maybe he knew he should die, that he deserved to, after letting my mom pass away like she did, all alone with no holy man at her bedside.

Good to know.

A successful dry run. Or wet one, I guess.

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared in Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, and Shimmer. In his spare time, he collects rejection letters.

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