The Annointed One
by Miranda Stone
Adrian found Libby crouched in the shadows outside his bedroom, biting her knuckles and staring up at him. He stood in the doorway, his robe hanging open, as she trembled like a cornered rabbit.
Stepping into the hall, he closed the door behind him before Gloria, still sprawled naked on his bed, caught sight of the girl. Libby flinched as he grabbed her arm, but she allowed him to pull her to the landing. Drawing her close, Adrian detected the scent of the furniture polish she used, and beneath that, a trace of sweat. He could smell the oil on her scalp. She hadn’t bathed that morning.
“What are you doing?” he whispered, giving her a shake.
Libby stared down at her shoes, her breath coming in shallow pants. “I’m sorry, Dr. Barnes,” she said.
“I’m paying you to clean my house, not spy on me,” he said.
The girl’s teeth chattered, and he felt a twinge of pity for her. She was only nineteen and one of the ill-educated residents of Mill Creek. They all lived in veritable shacks back in the hills.
Tilting his head to the side, Adrian studied her. Even now, she was unable to keep her stare fixed on the floor; her eyes slid sideways toward him.
He glanced down at his open robe and grinned. “Do you like what you see?” he asked. Libby started to shake her head, and Adrian backed her against the wall, pinning her beneath his weight. He felt the threadbare fabric of her dress against his skin. “Did you like what you heard?” he whispered in her ear. She turned her face away, squeezing her eyes shut.
Adrian hiked up her dress. Libby struggled, bucking her hips and pushing at his shoulders. She still wouldn’t open her eyes.
He slipped a hand inside her panties and felt the tuft of hair between her thighs. “You’re wet, Libby.”
She snapped her head around to glare at him. “Let me go,” she said. “I mean it, Dr. Barnes.”
He brought his fingers, still slick from touching her, to his mouth. Libby watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as he closed his lips around his fingertips and sucked. Then he took those same fingers and worked them into her mouth, knowing he was risking a bite. She was a feral thing beneath him; a wild smell emanated from her. She accepted his fingers, and the feel of her hot tongue made him shudder.
“Go downstairs,” he said. “Stay in the kitchen until I say goodbye to my guest. If you leave before I speak with you, I’ll be paying your father a visit.”
That brought the nip he was expecting. Adrian yanked his fingers from her mouth and released her. She pushed away from the wall, stumbling down the steps like a calf on clumsy legs.
He went back to his room. “I’m on call this weekend, and I have to be at the hospital,” he told Gloria, shrugging out of his robe.
She groaned and sat up. “You work too much.”
“That’s because I’m one of only two cardiologists in this county.”
They dressed in silence, and he led her downstairs. At the door, Gloria gave Adrian a lazy smile and kissed him. “It was fun, as always,” she said.
Adrian waited until she backed her car out of his drive before going to the kitchen. Libby sat at his table, arms wrapped around her skinny frame. He took a bottle of vodka from the cabinet. “Would you like a drink?” he asked, retrieving two glasses. A dull ache pounded in his head above his left eye. He figured it was the start of another migraine.
“Drinkin’ is a sin,” she said.
Adrian returned one of the glasses to the cabinet and sat across from Libby. “And you don’t think what I caught you doing is a sin?” he asked as he poured himself a drink.
Her pale cheeks flushed a livid red. “It is a sin,” she said, “and I expect God will punish me for it soon enough.”
Adrian took a swig of vodka and winced at its burn. Libby gnawed at ragged fingernails already bitten to the quick.
“Are you going to fire me?” she finally asked.
Adrian let out an exasperated sigh. He’d hired Libby after a nurse at Crawford General Hospital overheard him complaining about keeping up with housework on top of his crazy hours.
“You should get Libby Chambers to clean your house,” the nurse told him. “She’s a real sweet girl, honest as the day is long. When I was laid up with my back last year, she cleaned my house every week. Does a wonderful job.”
The name wasn’t familiar to him. “Is she from around here?”
“She lives out in Mill Creek,” the nurse said. “Her daddy’s a preacher at Mill Creek Church of God. They’re a bunch of holy rollers, and years ago, Libby’s granddad died after handling a rattlesnake during a sermon. But Libby’s a good girl. Quiet, dependable.”
Libby came every Saturday afternoon, moving though his house in near silence. Most times, he didn’t realize she was in the room with him until he caught a glimpse of her in his peripheral vision. She stayed close to the walls, her long sleeves brushing the painted plaster.
Today was the first time he’d entertained a visitor while Libby cleaned. Gloria had shown up unannounced, and Adrian took one look at her flimsy slip of a dress and knew what she had in mind. Libby had just begun working downstairs, so he figured he and Gloria would have plenty of privacy in his room.
“Why were you spying on me?” he asked Libby.
She dropped her hands on the table. “I wasn’t,” she said.
“Lying is also a sin. Now you tell me the truth or leave my house right now.”
Her lips trembled, but she drew back her shoulders and set her jaw in a firm line. Her long hair, a lighter brown than his, was pulled into in a braid, revealing her face. “I was about finished cleanin’, and I was going to head home. I figured since you were upstairs with your friend, I’d clean your room next week, but I wanted to let you know, and when I reached your bedroom door, I…” Another blush invaded her face and neck.
“You heard me with Gloria.” His head pulsed with a nauseating throb. “You liked hearing us,” he went on.
She shook her head. “No.”
Adrian slammed his glass down on the table. “Don’t lie to me.”
Libby’s mouth opened wide, and Adrian knew he should be ashamed. He cast his thoughts back to twenty years ago, when he was her age and just as foolish. But the urge to reduce her to tears and make her beg for his forgiveness overrode his sense of decency.
He could see her wavering, her hands fluttering at her neck as she stammered. But just when he thought he’d broken her, she sat up straight in the chair and crossed her arms over her breasts.
“You shouldn’t push me, Dr. Barnes,” she said. “There’s somethin’ awful and twisted inside me. My own mama said so before the cancer took her. She told me I’m just like my granddaddy. He died from a serpent’s bite because he was not a pure vessel for the Holy Spirit. I’ve prayed for the Lord to take away my evilness, but I know it will be with me until I die. You’d best leave it alone.”
The sun sank behind the mountains outside, casting the room in shadows. Adrian folded his arms on the table and leaned toward her. “There’s nothing evil and twisted in you, Libby,” he said. He spoke to her in the comforting tone he used with skittish patients before surgery. “It’s normal for you to have desires. It was inappropriate of me to take Gloria upstairs while you were here, and I was wrong to touch you the way I did.” He lowered his head, trying to catch her eyes. “Since we’re being truthful with each other, I have to admit I was turned on by the thought of you listening outside my bedroom.”
Libby coughed, covering her mouth with a shaking hand. Adrian stood and went around the table. Libby moved her hand from her mouth to her eyes. She hid from him even as he pulled out her chair and knelt before her. “Look at me, Libby.” He grasped her wrist and drew her hand from her face. “It’s not wrong,” he said. He moved his hands along her arms to her shoulders and then cupped her breasts in his palms.
Libby’s body slackened in the chair. Still on his knees, Adrian wrapped his arms around her hips and eased her to the floor. She lay on her back, taking in large gulps of air. “Relax,” Adrian murmured. He pressed his mouth to hers, and she clumsily tried to return the kiss. A surge of affection for her overcame him as he unbuttoned her dress down to her stomach. He unfastened her bra to reveal her small breasts, the nipples a slightly darker shade than her pale skin. Adrian clamped his lips around her left nipple, sucking it as he rolled her right nipple between his thumb and index finger. Libby cried out and arched her back against him.
Adrian grabbed the skirt of her dress and raised it higher until it was bunched around her hips.
“This is sinful,” Libby said, but she didn’t sit up.
“It isn’t,” Adrian said. He tugged at her white cotton panties, and she lifted her hips from the floor so he could take them off.
Adrian lay down and buried his face between her thighs. Libby gasped and tried to scramble away, but he held her firm. Her slick warmth coated his skin. Libby stopped struggling and stared down at him, her eyes unfocused as she moaned. She rested her hands on his head. He felt the heat of her palms, and the pain of his migraine faded. Soothing warmth bathed his insides. It was a strange sensation to him, one he couldn’t name, but he imagined it was peace.
Gently he slipped a finger inside her. Her cries grew louder, and when she scooted down, pressing harder against his mouth, he grinned. Her muscles clenched around his finger inside her, and she fell silent as one contraction after another gripped her body, drawing her taut with the strength of her orgasm.
When it was over, Libby opened her eyes, blinking at Adrian as though he were a stranger. She released him and stood, buttoning her dress with her back turned.
Adrian climbed to his feet and gripped the edge of the table. He wanted to feel her hands on him again. Her touch would take away the emptiness creeping inside his chest with clammy fingertips.
She leaned against the counter, her shoulders rigid. “I have to go,” she said.
“Stay,” he urged.
She shook her head. “I won’t let you touch me like that again.”
Hot helpless rage coursed through him. “You enjoyed me touching you,” he said. “I made you come.” He reached for her, and she grabbed his wrist hard enough to leave bruises. “Tell me what you want,” Adrian said. He hated the pleading in his voice.
Libby dropped her gaze. “I want to be forgiven,” she said, “for what I’ve done here with you.”
Adrian jerked his wrist from her hand. “Go home, Libby.”
She didn’t move. “Do you still want me to clean your house?” she asked.
He gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to scream at her. His headache returned, a stabbing pain in his skull. “Yes. Now run along to Bible study or whatever the hell you holy rollers do on Saturday nights.” Libby shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She started to speak. “I said, get out,” he growled.
She snapped her mouth shut and turned on her heel, leaving him alone.
The work week moved slowly as a pool of stagnant water. Adrian muddled through it, seeing patients and conferring with other doctors. All the while, he thought of Libby, wondering how some doe-eyed hillbilly had wormed her way into his mind.
On Friday evening, Adrian walked out of the hospital, relieved that Dr. Rice was on call for the weekend. He picked up takeout from the Chinese restaurant in Crawford and then rushed home to change into a pair of faded jeans and t-shirt.
Blake arrived at his house at seven, wearing a suit and tie. He grinned when Adrian opened the door. “Hi, handsome,” he said, his brown eyes full of heat. “You’re looking as gorgeous as ever.”
Adrian closed the door behind them and leaned to give Blake a kiss. “It’s good to see you,” he said. The scent of Blake’s cologne flooded him with longing. In the six months since they’d last met, Blake had put a little weight on his wiry frame, and his dark hair had begun to gray. “I picked up your favorite for dinner.”
“Szechuan shrimp? Fantastic,” Blake said. He sat down on Adrian’s couch, crossing his legs and resting a hand on his knee, while Adrian went to the kitchen to pour Blake a glass of wine.
“How were your meetings today?” Adrian called as he pulled the cork from the wine bottle.
“Grueling,” Blake said. “I still don’t know how you live in this godforsaken county. Trying to pitch a sale to that hospital’s planning committee is an exercise in futility.” He stopped his chatter for a moment and then asked, “What on earth is that noise?”
Adrian peered out the kitchen window. “It’s my housekeeper’s car,” he said as Libby parked the rusted vehicle in his driveway. “I think it’s older than she is.” Libby climbed out, wearing a long-sleeved dress the color of a lemon drop. She held a pie plate in her hands.
Adrian opened the front door, and Libby stood on his porch, a tentative smile on her lips. “Hi, Dr. Barnes,” she said. Before he could answer, she rushed on. “I know I’m not supposed to be here till tomorrow, but I just wanted to say I’m sorry for last weekend. And to bring you this.” She held out the pie, her face hopeful.
Adrian took it from her. “All is forgiven over pecan pie, Libby,” he said with a grin. “And call me Adrian. No more Dr. Barnes.” He picked up a strand of her long hair. She’d never worn it down before. “You look lovely.”
She stepped into the front hall. “Thank you,” she said.
“Would you like me to take your bag?” he asked, reaching for the old tote slung over her shoulder.
Libby drew it closer to her. “That’s okay. I hope you don’t mind me stoppin’ by, but…” She glanced over Adrian’s shoulder and froze. Adrian turned and saw Blake standing in the living room doorway. He’d removed his suit jacket and tie and unfastened the top button of his shirt.
“Libby, this is my friend, Blake Colton. Blake, this is Libby Chambers,” Adrian said.
Blake strode forward and held out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Libby.”
Libby took Blake’s hand but continued to stare at Adrian, the warmth snuffed out of her eyes. “Nice to meet you,” she mumbled.
“Why don’t you join us for dinner, Libby?” Adrian said. “Do you like Chinese food?”
She cleared her throat. “I’ve never had it before.”
“Then you’re in for a treat.” Standing so close to her, Adrian caught a whiff of the soap she used, and beneath that, the musky scent he recognized as uniquely hers.
She looked from Blake to Adrian, uncertain as she gripped the handle of her bag. “Do you mind if I use your bathroom?” she asked.
“Of course not,” Adrian said.
She set her bag in the corner and started down the hall. Adrian waited for her to disappear before turning to Blake. “She brought pie,” he said with a sly smile, holding up the plate.
Blake raised an eyebrow. “You mind telling me what the hell is going on?”
Adrian threw an arm around Blake’s shoulders, leading him to the dining room. “Libby cleans my house every Saturday. Last weekend, I caught her listening outside my bedroom door while I fucked Gloria. Turns out she’s a little voyeur, and she’s ashamed of herself,” he said.
Blake’s mouth dropped open. “Her?” he hissed. “She looks like she stepped out of the nineteenth century.”
Adrian placed the pie on the dining room table. “She comes from a family of holy rollers up in the hills. Her father’s a preacher; he handles poisonous snakes during his sermons. The women aren’t allowed to wear jewelry or makeup. Hell, they’re not even allowed to wear short sleeves. She cleans my house in an ankle-length dress.”
Blake snorted with laughter. “Well, you certainly seem delighted to see her this evening. But don’t you think you’re going for the low-hanging fruit this time?”
“Since when did you become so virtuous?” Adrian asked.
“Since never,” Blake said. “I’m just wondering why you invited her to dinner.”
“I do have an ulterior motive,” Adrian admitted. “I’m hoping you can use your abundant charm to persuade her to join us upstairs later on.”
“Oh, you are evil.” Blake let out a sigh. “We’re both going to burn in hell for this, but I’m in.” He shrugged. “Who knows? It might be fun.”
Libby entered the dining room, lingering by the doorway. “Go on and have a seat,” Adrian told her, nodding toward the chair across from his. She sat down, hands folded primly in her lap.
“Libby, would you like a glass of wine?” Blake asked.
“Drinking is a sin,” Libby and Adrian said simultaneously. Libby smiled behind her hand.
“I hope you don’t mind if I sin a little tonight,” Blake said, lifting his glass to his lips.
“Not at all,” Libby said. She looked up at Adrian. “I’ll just have water, please.”
Adrian finished setting out the plates of food, then brought her a glass of water and made himself a gin and tonic. When they were all seated, Adrian and Blake picked up their forks, but Libby bowed her head and whispered a prayer. Blake scowled at Adrian.
Libby finished saying grace and took her first bite of food. “This is delicious.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Adrian said. “I always pick it up when Blake comes to visit. It’s his favorite.”
She turned to Blake. “Have you and Adrian been friends a long time?” she asked.
Blake nodded. “Since college. Adrian was the smart one, studying to be a doctor, while I decided to get a degree in marketing.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Adrian said. “He does very well for himself. He sells medical equipment and travels all over the state. Today he was at Crawford General peddling his wares.”
“That sounds like interesting work,” Libby said. “I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been out of this county.”
Adrian focused on his plate before Blake could shoot him another dirty look.
“Adrian tells me your father is a preacher,” Blake said, draining his glass. Adrian picked up the bottle of wine to pour him another.
“At the Mill Creek Church of God,” Libby said.
“He must be a brave man, handling snakes.”
Adrian kicked Blake hard under the table. Blake winced but didn’t let his smile falter.
“A lot of church members handle the serpents,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a copperhead, other times a rattler.”
“What about you?” Blake asked. “Have you ever handled them?”
Libby put down her fork. “No,” she said. “In order to be protected from the serpent’s bite, you must be a pure vessel for the Holy Spirit.”
“And you don’t believe you’re a pure vessel?” Blake asked, leaning closer to her.
Libby’s eyes locked on Adrian’s face. “I know I’m not.”
Adrian reached across the table and took Libby’s hand. “You’re not sinful,” he said. Libby stared at their fingers intertwined.
Blake finished his second glass of wine. “Let me ask you something, Libby. Do you think it’s sinful if I fuck Adrian?”
Libby’s eyes widened. She looked at Blake, then at Adrian, her cheeks burning.
Adrian didn’t give her a chance to answer. He stood and pulled Blake to his feet. They kissed long and deep, their tongues meeting between their lips. Blake moaned into Adrian’s mouth.
Adrian looked over at Libby. “Do you like seeing this?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
Libby sat dumbstruck, her legs crossed tightly as she shifted back and forth in her chair. Adrian wondered if she was even aware that she was arousing herself with her rhythmic movements.
“Dinner can wait,” he said. “Let’s go upstairs.”
They went to the front hallway, and Libby grabbed her bag. She paused at the foot of the stairs as they started up. Adrian glanced over his shoulder. “Coming?” he asked.
She hesitated, then gave a firm nod and bounded after them.
Adrian turned on the bedside lamp. Libby looked around his room, uncertain, before she settled into a chair in the corner, placing her bag beside it. She yanked at a strand of her hair, her foot drumming a staccato beat on the floor. Adrian stood just a few feet in front of her. He turned to the side so he could see Libby’s face, and she would be able to see Blake.
Blake unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it aside. He gave Adrian a devilish grin before dropping to his knees and pulling Adrian’s jeans and underwear down to his ankles.
Libby gripped the chair arms, her breath coming fast. She tore at the skin of her bottom lip with her teeth as Blake took Adrian in his mouth. Adrian moaned and closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation. He rested his hand on Blake’s head, guiding his movements as he imagined Libby lying naked beneath him.
“What the hell?” Blake shouted, pulling away from Adrian.
Adrian opened his eyes and saw Libby holding a .38 revolver. “What are you doing?” he asked, quickly pulling up his jeans.
Her hand was steady as she held the gun. She perched on the chair’s edge, her weight balanced on the balls of her feet. “I’ve been thinkin’ and prayin’ all week,” she said. “What we’re doin’ here is shameful in the eyes of God.” She pressed her free hand against her chest. “And I know it’s my fault. I’m as sinful as Eve temptin’ Adam with the apple.” The lamplight played on the unshed tears in her eyes as she turned to Adrian. “If I hadn’t listened to you with that woman, it never would have come to this. But I warned you!” She shook the gun at him. “I told you that I’m awful and full of sin.”
Blake started to move, and she aimed the gun at him. “Stay right there,” she said.
Blake glanced at Adrian, his eyes full of panic and accusation. Adrian knew he needed to keep a cool head; his medical training had taught him that much. “Libby,” he said, his voice calm, “why did you bring a gun with you tonight?”
“Because I have corrupted you with my sinfulness, and it’s my responsibility to save you. I need to bring you to the Lord.” Keeping the gun trained on them, she withdrew a small Mason jar full of clear liquid from her bag. “The Bible says that those who believe in Jesus Christ will be able to take up serpents and drink any poison, and it will not harm them. Tonight we will be anointed by the Holy Ghost.”
Blake shook his head. “You are out of your mind.”
Adrian nodded toward the jar. “What’s in that?”
“Strychnine-laced water,” she said. “It’s far more strychnine than water, though.”
“You think by drinking poison, you’re going to prove your faith in God?” Blake asked, incredulous.
“I will become a pure vessel for the Holy Spirit,” she said. “I knew you would doubt me at first. I knew you would try to stop me. That’s why I had to bring the gun.” She held the Mason jar between her knees. Still clutching the gun in one hand, she tried to twist the top from the jar. Adrian felt his pulse quicken, afraid she would accidentally shoot one of them or herself. Finally she managed to open the jar. “I’ll drink first,” she said. “When you see I’m unharmed, you will be prepared to accept Jesus Christ and turn from your wickedness.” Her voice took on the cadence of a backwoods preacher.
“Libby,” Adrian said. “I’m a doctor, and I know what strychnine poisoning can do. If you drink that, you will suffer a horribly painful death.”
Libby regarded him with pity. “I gave in to temptation before, but tonight I am renouncing my sinful ways.” She took a deep breath. “I am ready to receive the Holy Spirit.”
She brought the lip of the jar to her mouth and drank. After several swallows, she began to cough, grimacing as her eyes watered.
Blake turned to Adrian. “If that’s strychnine, how long before it takes effect?”
Adrian kept his eyes on Libby. “Only a small amount is needed for a fatal dose. If it’s as potent as she claims, she’ll start going into spasms within twenty minutes.”
Libby gripped the gun in her right hand and held the jar with her left. She leaned back in the chair wearing a beatific smile. “I understand your need for proof. Thomas the Apostle doubted Jesus at first.”
“I’m sorry,” Adrian whispered to Blake. “I had no idea she was…”
“Insane?” Blake said.
Libby narrowed her eyes. For a long time none of them spoke. Adrian and Blake studied Libby, waiting for the first sign of strychnine poisoning. Minutes ticked by, twisting Adrian’s insides. He noticed the deep flush spreading over Libby’s face. The hair at her temples grew damp with sweat. She fixed her stare on some point above his head, and a garble of sounds issued from her mouth. Libby’s tongue rolled, her voice guttural as she spoke some indecipherable language Adrian had never heard before.
“She could be having a fit,” Adrian said to Blake. “Look at her face. She’s burning up.”
Libby continued her chanting, and Adrian felt a chill settle over him like a wet cloak. He glanced at his watch and saw that half an hour had passed.
“Whatever she drank, it’s not strychnine,” Adrian said. “She’d definitely be showing symptoms by now.”
Libby fell silent. Her eyes were bright and clear, and she beamed at Adrian. “The Holy Ghost has spoken through me,” she said. “You have witnessed it.” She held out the jar to him. “Let the Spirit come into you.”
Adrian heard the stark resolution in her voice and went to her. Libby raised the gun as he approached. “Put the gun down, Libby,” he said. “I’ll do what you want.”
“Don’t drink it, Adrian,” Blake said, his voice rising.
Adrian took the jar from Libby. Staring down at it, he hesitated.
“If you don’t drink it, I’ll shoot him,” Libby said, waving the gun at Blake. “He’s a demon in the flesh, sent here by Satan to tempt us.”
“She’s not going to shoot me,” Blake protested.
Adrian looked over at his friend, a hard knot forming in his throat. “Yes, she will,” he said. Then he lifted the jar and drank.
He had never tasted anything so bitter. His stomach revolted, threatening to bring the liquid back up. Adrian choked it down. “Christ, Libby, what did you put in this?”
“Your salvation,” she said. “Now you best prepare yourself to receive the Holy Ghost.” Libby reached for the jar, and Adrian handed it to her. He sat on the bed, and Blake sank down beside him.
“I’m sorry,” Adrian said again, leaning forward and holding his head in his hands.
Blake stroked Adrian’s hair. “You couldn’t have known it would turn out like this.”
Adrian sat up and grabbed Blake’s hand. “If it really is strychnine, don’t even try to drink it,” he said. “Just let her shoot you. That will be a lot less painful.”
Blake’s face pinched as he fought back tears. “For God’s sake,” he whispered.
Adrian stared at the alarm clock on his bedside table. He waited for the first symptoms to emerge: nausea and vomiting, the spasms of his face and neck which would progress to convulsions racking his entire body. He breathed in through his nostrils and out through his lips, struggling to keep his fear in check. When half an hour passed, he fell against Blake in relief, his hair matted to his forehead. “It’s not strychnine,” he said.
Libby stood and approached the bed, still holding the gun on Blake. “It’s your turn,” she told him.
Blake held up his hands. “No way. What if you two are metabolizing the poison slower than normal?”
“Strychnine poisoning doesn’t work that way,” Adrian said.
“Last time I checked, you weren’t a toxicologist,” Blake shouted. His eyes hardened as he turned back to Libby. “I’m not drinking that, you crazy bitch.”
With a flick of her wrist, she tossed the liquid in Blake’s face. He sputtered, wiping at his eyes. Libby dropped the empty jar and gripped the gun with both hands.
“Please, Libby, no,” Adrian begged, his words shrill with terror.
The gunshot produced a ringing cacophony in his ears. Hot blood sprayed his face and chest. Beside him, Blake slumped over onto the pillow, clutching his neck with both hands and making a sickening gurgle. Blood spurted between his fingers.
“Oh, fuck,” Adrian said, scrabbling to grab Blake’s shirt from the floor. He held it over the wound at Blake’s throat, applying pressure. Libby lowered the gun and staggered a few steps backward, her face grim. “Damn it, Libby, call an ambulance,” Adrian screamed, weeping as he knelt over his friend. Blake’s eyes bulged with disbelief.
“You’re going to be okay,” Adrian said. Blake tried to speak, and a large bubble of blood erupted from his mouth, exploding across his lips and chin. “Don’t try to talk,” Adrian told him. The rational part of Adrian’s brain knew Blake would be dead within minutes. But the part of him who remembered Blake’s favorite food, who knew how he looked when he first opened his eyes in the morning, stretching and letting out a lazy groan, refused to accept the scene playing out before him.
Blake’s body slackened. His skin was the color of ash. Adrian pressed harder on the wound. “Stay with me, Blake.”
Blake’s head drooped to the side, his eyes flat and vacant. Adrian checked for a pulse, knowing he wouldn’t find one. He rocked back on the bed, tearing at his hair with bloodstained hands as he sobbed.
Adrian felt a hand on his arm. “I had to cast out the demon inside him,” Libby said.
He swung at her, his fist slamming into her shoulder. “You murdered him in cold blood,” he said, spittle and mucus dripping from his chin. “You’re going to prison. Do you realize that?”
Libby gave him a benevolent smile. “What earthly bond can hold me now that I am filled with the Holy Spirit?” She reached for him again. Before Adrian could shove her away, she dropped her hand and stumbled, her eyes widening in bewilderment.
The spasm rippled through the muscles of her face, drawing her expression into a grimace. Adrian gaped as her neck contorted.
“It was strychnine, wasn’t it?” he said.
Libby fell to her knees, still clutching the gun. The convulsions traveled to her arms and torso, causing her to keel forward. Adrian leapt off the bed and crouched beside her, pinning her hand holding the gun with his knee. Libby cried out as he settled all of his weight onto her fingers. She loosened her grip, and Adrian grabbed the gun.
Sitting with his back against the bed, he watched as she toppled onto her side. The convulsions seizing her body grew in strength and duration. “Adrian,” she pleaded. Her fingertips clawed the floor, inching closer to his leg. Adrian kicked her hand away.
“It’s only going to get worse,” he said, examining the gun in his hands. “The convulsions will become constant. Then you’ll begin vomiting and foaming at the mouth. After an hour or two of this torture, you’ll finally asphyxiate and die.” He blew out a heavy sigh and shrugged. “Of course, I’m going to die too. But when the spasms start, I’ll use this,” he said, holding up the gun, “to blow my brains out. I’m not extending that mercy to you.”
“I believed,” she whimpered. “I believed with all my heart.”
Adrian grabbed her by the chin. His touch brought on another convulsion. “Your mama was right, Libby. You are evil, and God has turned his back on you tonight. You’re so wicked that God has chosen to spare me instead of you.”
Libby started to gag, but she was too weak to sit up. She vomited up what little dinner she’d eaten, the mess dripping into her hair. Even when her heaves produced only clear fluid, the retching continued.
She rolled over, staring dully at the ceiling, and Adrian was prepared to move her onto her side again so she wouldn’t choke on her vomit, but then a powerful convulsion arched her back off the floor. Her spine curved, taking on the shape of a bow. Libby’s face was tinged violet, and froth appeared at the corners of her mouth. As much as Adrian hated her, he was forced to look away.
An hour passed, and her breathing grew more labored. Adrian closed his eyes, listening to her wheezing, struggling to draw in a full lungful of air as she slowly suffocated.
Finally the room grew quiet. He opened his eyes and looked down at her sprawled on his floor, vomit and saliva pooled around her head. Her face was a hideous shade of blue, her eyes bulging in their sockets.
Adrian gripped the edge of the bed and pulled himself to his feet. He held up his hands, caked with dried blood. It had been over two hours since he’d drunk the poison.
He climbed onto the bed and wrapped his arms around Blake. The body was now cold and growing stiff with rigor mortis. “I should have been the one to die,” Adrian whispered. “Not you. Not her. I set this in motion. And yet I’m still alive. How can that be? What kind of sick bastard is God to let me live?”
He dozed, resting his head on Blake’s shoulder, and when he woke, weak morning light worked its way around the edge of his bedroom curtains. The horror of the night before overwhelmed him like floodwater from a broken dam.
Adrian reached over Blake’s body, feeling on the floor for the gun, turning his head so he wouldn’t see Libby. His fingers wrapped around the cold metal. Sitting up on the bed, he pressed the barrel of the gun to his temple while holding onto Blake’s unyielding fingers. Adrian pulled the trigger and heard an unsatisfying click. Swearing under his breath, he checked the cylinder and saw that he had five rounds. He pulled the trigger again and again.
Adrian screamed through clenched teeth and threw the gun away from him. It slammed against the far wall and went off with a deafening bang.
He lay back against the bed. A bitter taste lingered on his tongue. As his chest rose and fell, he sensed the hand of God upon him, finding him wanting even as his lungs worked effortlessly, drawing in breath after breath.
Issue #3 Contents
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY
Kirsten Imani Kasai
A Heart So Pure
Slips of Yew
The Anointed One
The Flustered Husband’s Guide to Spices
The Gallows Tree
The Gardener Estate
When You Love Someone
Miranda Stone’s fiction and poetry have been published in numerous print and online journals, including Pithead Chapel, Prole, and The First Line. Her short story “The Confession” was published in the anthology Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South. She lives in Virginia and can be reached at AuthorMirandaStone.com.