Read Sunday Billy Sunday Online

Authors: Mark Wheaton

Tags: #General Fiction

Sunday Billy Sunday (5 page)

BOOK: Sunday Billy Sunday
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Phil and Mark made the quick, five hundred yard trek to The Rocks, shadowing the lake from just within the dense thicket, filled with tall pines, blackjack oaks and red cedars. The trail was pretty sandy as long as there were trees, but then it began filling with rocks, building up towards the craggy outcropping known as the Rocks, which blocked the trail and could only be circumnavigating by swimming around it in the lake or hiking a good ways deeper into the woods. Most simply climbed up and over them as this seemed to be the shortest route around the boulder pile, but it resulted in a great number of skinned shins and palms.

“Dammit!” cried Phil, slipping off a particularly large chunk of granite and bashing his knee into a tree branch laying on the trail. He made the mistake of looking to Mark for sympathy; Mark who was overall slightly more athletic and agile.

“Piece of cake,” Mark exclaimed, making a point of bouncing up the rest of the short rocky path to the summit. Phil kept hoping his friend would miss at least one step, but sure enough, Mark was able to negotiate his way to the top like a mountain goat and swiftly disappeared from sight.

When Phil joined Mark atop The Rocks a few minutes later, any residual pain from the climb fell away as he found his hypothesis proven out as not only were Faith and Maia there, they were both reading books and it appeared that they’d been there for some time. Maia had her shirt off, revealing a distinctly unrevealing bikini top and Mark, squatting next to the two girls, kept stealing glances at her bare, chestnut skin.

Faith squinted up at Phil as he crested the boulders and smiled. “Hey, Phil.”

“Hey. Guess I was wrong about having The Rocks to ourselves today.”

“Guess so, but we won’t kick you out,” Faith said this last part with a taunting grin, which Phil seemed to feel was an invitation to sit, so he did.

“What are you reading?” he asked. Faith showed him and he nodded. “Wow. I probably checked those out just before you. Really cool stuff.”

“Did you read all four?” she asked, duly impressed.

Phil nodded and was about to offer his critical assessment when he was interrupted by Mark.

“Yeah, for weeks every time I’d go to his house, he’d be there in his mom’s hammock in the backyard, like he was reading the phone book or something,” Mark said. “Could barely tear him away.”

Phil grimaced, but liked that Mark gave him and Faith something to mutually eye-roll about.

From out of nowhere, they suddenly heard
screaming
echoing up from the direction of the camp and they all quickly looked over only to see that the football game had devolved into some sort of water rugby-cum-wrestling match with the boys throwing each other into the sandy water before going after the girls. The scream had come as one of the boys had gone after Becca Roy, one of the smallest girls on the cheerleading squad, and had raised her all the way over his head before throwing her back into the water. That by itself didn’t elicit the scream, however; it was the fact that her bikini top was almost torn off in the process.

But the second she bobbed out of the water, Becca ran up to the cackling perpetrator, yanked his bathing suit down before he knew what happened and her screams turned to hysterical laughter as she pointed at his pale, zit-covered ass.

“These guys all go to your school?” Maia asked, looking at Mark, voice full of derision.

“Yeah, pretty much,” he replied. “They’re the most popular kids. Our version of glitterati.”

“Really?” Maia asked, surprised. “Well, that’s wild.”

“How come?” asked Phil, having believed the hierarchical status afforded to jocks and cheerleaders was pretty much universal.

“I grew up on Army bases where the Catholic kids were
never
the popular kids,” Maia explained. “In fact, they were usually down at the bottom of the pecking order next to the Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Protestants – they ruled the roost for the most part.”

Maia’s words might as well have been in a foreign language as Phil, Mark and Faith were all pondering this in the same manner. The idea that there could be a pecking order based on religion just wasn’t something they were familiar with or, at least, not that they’d noticed. And Catholics on the bottom?
Crazy!

“Where do you go to school now?” Phil asked.

“Crocker in Cedar Hill,” Maia said, to which Mark nodded.

“My mom substitute taught there a couple of times. Tough school.”

“Not really,” Maia shrugged. “Well,
you
three wouldn’t last five minutes there, but it’s not so bad.”

Mark smirked. “You think we’d get shot or something?”

“Or something,” Maia replied, sizing Mark up. “You don’t strike me as the brave type.”

This took Mark aback. He didn’t exactly relish people piercing the ever-present bubble of cocksure confidence he worked so hard to exude.

“You want to see brave?” Mark asked, a smirk in his voice. “Watch
this
.”

Mark got to his feet, kicked off his shoes and walked to the edge of the cliff. Phil quickly jumped up and went over next to him.

“Oh, come on,” Phil whispered. “Don’t be retarded. No one’s gone in yet.”

But Mark continued scanning the water below. Finally, he turned a grin on his onlookers.

“Then the thing to do is to not think about it, riiiiigh...?” Mark said, before stepping off the edge.

Phil instinctively grabbed for his friend, but then caught his balance and took a few steps back from the rocks.

“Oh, my God...!” Faith said, her eyes going wide as she and Maia leaped to their feet and ran to the edge.

The drop was between four and five stories straight down, but it felt like a lifetime before they heard Mark hit the water with a tremendous splash. Phil watched him the whole way down with a mix of terror and exhilaration. Out on the beach, the cavorting jocks and cheerleaders all heard the splash and were looking out towards The Rocks, wondering who had the stones to go first that year.


Whoooooaaaa!”
cried Mark as he rocketed back to the surface. “It’s fucking cold!!”

“Whooooo-hooo!!” yelled Maia in response before shedding her shorts to reveal the rest of her rust-colored bikini. She turned to Faith and grinned. “You coming?”

“Never in a million years,” Faith replied, giving her a look of
and-I-can’t-believe-you-would,-either
.

“Okay. Try not to miss me!”

With that, Maia backed up a few feet to get a running start, then dashed out over the edge, launching herself a couple of yards out past the cliff before gravity took over. Faith watched her all the way down as Mark, noticing he might be in the landing zone, quickly swam a few feet away.

“I can’t believe she just did that,” Faith said, finishing her sentence as Maia smacked into the lake, sending up a shower of water drops that rained down on Mark. “What if there was something under the surface?”

Phil just shrugged. “They’re lunatics, our friends.”

Down below, Maia broke the surface, pushing her tangled hair out of her eyes as she smiled up to Faith and Phil. “Oh, my God – he was right! It’s
freezing!”

“More reason to stay up here in the sun!” Faith cried back.

“Whatever!” Maia yelled, splashing her way over to Mark who was still surprised that she’d so easily followed him down as he thought what he’d done required the height of courage.

Phil watched as Mark and Maia dared each other to swim underwater or race or something, but then looked back at Faith, shaking his head. “They’re made for each other.”

“You think she likes him?” Faith asked.

“What’s not to like?” Phil replied. “But he’s still stuck on that girl, Rachel and probably will be for awhile.”

“Oh, yeah,” Faith nodded. “They were a thing, right? I couldn’t stand her.”

“Hah,” Phil said. “She was okay. That said, not sure your friend is really his type.”

“Because she’s funny?” Faith asked. “Or because she’s black?”

“But she’s not
black
, right?” Phil countered, not realizing Faith was joking. “Not all the way, anyway. Maybe black and Mexican, but then something else. She did say she was military, so maybe she’s half-Vietnamese.”

Faith shrugged. “I don’t know what she is, but I do think she’s pretty.”

“Oh, me, too,” Phil said quickly, realizing what he was saying. “I’m just thinking about for Mark.”

Faith didn’t reply and Phil looked down at his shoes, knowing how awkward he’d made the back-and-forth when all he’d wanted to do was have a nice couple of moments with Faith to tee-up something for later. He thought about apologizing for sounding like an outright bigot, but Faith was just staring out at the lake, perhaps giving him an exit, probably wanting him to leave.

“Hey, I didn’t mean in the way it sounded,” Phil began. “I know she’s your friend. I wasn’t trying to be racist.”

But before Phil could finish, a number of the jocks who had formerly been tossing the football around on the beach bounded up the boulders to do some cliff-diving of their own.

“Watch this!” cried one of the guys, a big, linebacker-type, who did a comical kind of skydiver-style leap, arms straight out, stomach exposed for the world’s worst belly flop, which — just at the moment before striking the water – he rolled into a clean, thread-the-needle-style dive, barely making so much as a splash as he plunged beneath the lake.

Naturally, this was followed by a host of one-upmanship boastings by his comrades, all of whom began flying off the cliff into the water in a variety of dives, ranging from the clumsy to the passably expert. Faith, whom the jocks didn’t seem to notice any more than Phil, rose to her feet and picked up her book.

“It’s fine,” she said to Phil, quick and dismissive as she retreated towards the trail leading down.

Phil tried to come up with something to say back, something that would fix his error and restart the conversation, but came up dry.

“Dammit!” he cried, getting him a couple of looks from the pack of jocks that stood on the cliff’s edge.

“What’s wrong, man?”

Phil looked up and saw that one of the jocks was actually a skinny, deeply-tanned boy named Colby Keating who Phil had known since they were either five or six and who’d always been a friend to him.

“Nothing,” Phil shrugged under-his-breath, before heading down the path after Faith.

Father Billy thought he’d been about nine or ten when he’d learned that what killed you in a crucifixion wasn’t the fact that you had long spikes driven into your ankles and wrists that made you bleed out, but had been told that death was actually caused when the body succumbed to asphyxiation as it became increasing difficult over time for a victim to inhale. It was only much later that he heard that this wasn’t the case
either
and that most of those crucified died from rapidly-spreading infection resulting from exposure or hypovolemic shock due to dehydration. This kind of death took days and during that time, that those crucified, a word that came from the same Latin root that brought “excruciating” to the language, also endured the public humiliation of not only being nude while on the cross, but also having to urinate and defecate in front of others as they slowly died.

It seemed like an utterly humiliating way to go.

Father Billy thought about this when he’d gone to the church council to explain why he felt the giant wooden crucifix he’d only bought a couple of years before now had to be lowered, checked and later re-hung, he ran into some resistance as most believed there was nothing wrong with it. Only after he explained that he was afraid that he’d pulled it loose from its moorings when he’d grabbed for it during his fall and that it might one day collapse down on a parishioner did they decide to go along with his plan.

After professional movers had lowered it from the wall and loaded it into the truck of a parishioner named Jay Berger, Father Billy had it driven to his house where he had offered to clean it thoroughly before replacing it on the wall behind the altar. With the help of a couple of neighbors, Father Billy set it up on a pair of saw horses in his garage, thanked everyone profusely, then closed the garage door and covered the windows.

That first night, he prayed to it, lying on the cold concrete floor underneath the saw horses, thinking it might make all the difference as in the presence of the crucifix was where it had all begun. But after there was, again, no answer, he merely meditated with it for hours, laying his hands on different points on the sculpture in hopes of once again feeling the pulse that he reluctantly had to admit he didn’t believe he’d feel again. At this point, however, already into the second week of June, Father Billy’s plan for the summer camp was well under way.

He hadn’t known exactly what he was doing when he started taking the sculpture apart, but once he decided that he didn’t care if the wood ended up fractured beyond repair, it was a lot easier. After awhile, he had but one goal anyway: extract the three, foot-long iron spikes that represented the nails used by the Romans to affix Christ to the cross.

It had taken all night, but he finally managed to tear them out of the wooden limbs they’d been ‘driven’ into and weighed each in his hand. One of them had been bent at the tip when the sculptor had pounded it into the hole he’d chiseled out, but Father Billy figured he could straighten it out if it proved an impediment.

But staring at the three nails now three weeks later in camp, now removed from the heavy black leather satchel he had brought them and a handful of other, equally sinister items to Camp Easley in, he suddenly realized that he knew where the sculptor had gotten them from. Though prefabricated railroad spikes had become fairly standard in the twentieth century, he had seen photographs of the crude, poorly-patterned spikes that were used prior to this. Each one would have to be smithed individually, meaning tiny differences and imperfections in the iron would reveal that no two were identical. That was definitely the case here.

Each one was about thirteen inches long, weighed seven or eight pounds and could be easily hefted in one hand. Unlike, say, a kitchen knife that had a handle or a dagger that had a hilt, these nails required the holder to grip them just under the nail head, which could be awkward once the tip struck anything more solid than sour cream. Father Billy had experimented with downward thrusting movements involving the nails for days, repeatedly sliding his hand down the four-sided spike, which led to more than a few cuts and even splinters from residual pieces of wood still embedded on the nail’s flaws.

BOOK: Sunday Billy Sunday
13.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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