Campfire

Campfire

4/27/2009

Kenneth Burchfiel

Zur Ehre Gottes

Bryan shone the flashlight on his face.

“And they saw a bloody trail leading right out the front door.”

The other kids oohed and ahhed. One of them poked their stick back into the fire, roasting a marshmallow until it burnt. A bag of graham crackers and chocolate sat within reach.

“Mr. Devon, tell us a story!”

“Yeah, make it really bloody. And cool!”

Tall trees surrounded the rocks and logs on which they sat. The fire twisted ash into the sky, now covered by thick, gray clouds.

“Mr. Devon, please tell us one.”

Oscar looked out at his troop. Twelve expectant pairs of eyes stared back at him.

His hands, nearly white, stood out against his tanned arms and legs. The fingers twitched every so often. His faced showed an uncomfortable smile.

“This one, I’ve never told anyone before.”

Bryan and Jacob clapped their hands. Everyone leaned in.

“There once was a man whose middle name was Chadwick. He enjoyed life. He liked playing with his kids and got teary-eyed when they left for college. He and his wife loved to fish and hike.”

One of the kids yawned. Another looked away from Oscar and put their marshmallow back in the fire. Wind shook the trees around them.

“But one day, he had a thought about stabbing his daughter—of slicing her with a sharp knife until blood spurted out from her arm. He could see her humerus under the flesh and muscle. And he yelled out loud, it was so painful an image.”

Bryan drew his stick back, wide-eyed.

“The thoughts continued. Next, it was the man’s son whom he stabbed, this time with a Swiss army knife. He closed his eyes from the pain, trying to make it stop. But yet another image came right after.”

Someone rubbed their arm, as if to make sure that there was no gash in it.

“The man figured that he had some secret desire to kill his children. So he avoided them. When it was family week at Albeit You, he didn’t go—but gave them a brief phone call. During Christmas break, he tried to stay five feet away from them at all times. They were confused, but what could he say?”

A campfire log rolled onto the ground, producing a shower of sparks and snaps.

“I don’t want my parents to stab me,” Jacob whispered. “This is scary.”

“So what did the man do about the thoughts? He washed his hands. If he poured scalding water on his palms, it seemed to wash the images away. If he didn’t clean them, he got nervous—so nervous that the very sight of a knife would make him jump.”

The troop leader bit his lip. Someone shone the flashlight on him, illuminating the lower part of his body. That was when the kids noticed his shaking knees.

“He went to a pastor, but didn’t explain why he was confessing. The priest gave a general absolution, but by the time the man returned home, he wanted to drive right back. The feeling of being hated by Christ was agonizing.

“Work got difficult. He got up to wash his hands; he would skip meetings to call the priest on the phone. Eventually, his employer fired him.”

It sounded like there would not be blood in the story after all. But the kids noticed how uptight Mr. Devon looked; his arms were tense, and his knees continued to wobble. And something looked weird with his hands.

“The man confined himself to his house and blockaded himself from his wife. He sold all the knives he owned, meaning his wife had to cook with spoons and forks. He couldn’t explain to her why he always looked afraid, or why his hands were so white.”

“Are you okay, Mr. Devon?”

Oscar blinked and looked at Bryan.

“I—I…”

The flashlight turned off. He breathed in and out, then continued.

“Now, this man had been a troop leader for some time. One day, he made one of the worst decisions of his life: he chose to go on the yearly hiking trip.”

Nobody had a marshmallow in the fire. All the side chatter had stopped.

“But there were no faucets on the trail; no Reverend Miller to confess to at the campfire. So the images of spurting blood and flashing knives and screaming children made him more and more nervous as the night went on, more and more sinful, until his heart began to thud, his knees vibrated from fear and his head ached with pain. So he left his bag and ran off into the woods, looking for a stream where he could wash—and leaving twelve confused kids who would never understand his campfire story!”

Oscar leapt up, jumped over the log and ran off into the forest, leaving only his bag. The initials on it were plainly visible.

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