No. 7: “God Can Be a Cruel Bastard”
Context at the end of this excerpt.
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!
Originally published in “Chilled to the Bone,” 1990, The Berkley Publishing Group.
pp. 234 - 235 of "God Can Be a Cruel Bastard":
At 11: 30, I left the bar and drove to Sunset Point. It was Monday, a night off for Wakefield's holy hell-raisers, and I wasn't terribly worried about the police. The cemetery gates were secured with a chain and lock for the night, but I was prepared for that. Before leaving New York, I'd purchased bolt-cutters – spent almost 50 bucks for them – and they did the job cleanly and easily. I drove through, stopped, and closed the gates behind me.
It was a cinch finding Steve's grave. I parked by the war memorial, got out and opened the trunk. It was full of tools. Brand-new tools I'd bought at the same store where I'd purchased the bolt-cutters. There was a shovel. A crow bar. A sledgehammer. A screwdriver. A battery-powered lantern. I hadn't found a winch.
Before I picked up any of those tools, I stood.
Stood and remembered once again – there were a million memories that day, too many to begin to sort out – remembered the high-school conversations we'd had not far from here.
It had always been Steve's biggest nightmare.
That someday he would die, and having no say from that point on about the fate of his earthly remains, he would be buried. That having been buried, having been locked into his satin-lined box – tons of earth above him, six feet of hard-packed earth impenetrable to sound – he would wake up.
In his casket.
His locked, pitch-dark casket. Would wake up like that, and would run his fingers along the cloth, would pry his frantic fingers into the joint between the coffin's lid and bottom, would locate the hinges... rusted solid, rusted forever...
and then he would scream.
Scream through bloodless lips. Scream, the impossibly stuffy air filling his lungs, his fingers tearing madly at his surroundings, his sweat profuse and dank like the mold already beginning to grow around him.
And then – then, at the moment when panic was greatest – there would be the pronouncement.
Maybe it would only be inside his head. Maybe it would actually be a voice, deep, throaty, authoritative.
Just that single word, forever.
Steve would hear it, and he would begin to scream again, and then it would happen... utter hopelessness, drowning him.
But not truly drowning him, of course.
Never to sleep.
No eternal rest.
God can be a cruel bastard, he always said. Wouldn't that be a cruel bastard kind of thing to do? Wouldn't that bring a smile to a cruel bastard's lips?
Please don't think Steve was a morbid son of a bitch, because he wasn't. Not about most stuff. He didn't believe in ghosts or goblins or vampires or spirits or any of that flapdoodle. Just this hangup, this crazy conviction that God was saving this practical joke for him – him, specifically for him, a conviction so firm you'd think it had been written in the Bible somewhere.
I should mention that Steve had another fear that chilled him to the bone. Claustrophobia. The paralyzing fear of enclosed spaces. The fear of closets, phone booths, tunnels, caves.
-- 30 –
READ “God Can Be a Cruel Bastard” in “Since the Sky Blew Off: The Essential G. Wayne Miller Fiction Vol. 1, Kindle Edition.”
They say horror writers exorcise their fears by writing. They’re right. “God Can Be a Cruel Bastard” is how I tried to chase one of mine back in the early 1990s.
It also is an example, one of many, where you will find a degree of reflection and commentary on social and cultural issues, including politics, the treatment of women, the stigma surrounding those living with mental illness and intellectual disability – and, in this case, religion. Raised Roman Catholic during the era of the unforgiving and scary Baltimore Catechism by the daughter of Irish immigrants (and a once-Protestant father who converted), I was trying to make sense of organized faith, which for some is salvation and blessing, and for others cruelty and real-life horror. Look around the world today.
But I digress. Come back tomorrow for an uplifting story about a real-life miracle worker…