Jeff Phillips: The Gospel According to Puke

Luke’s parents had spread a 10’ x 10’ area rug in the corner of their unfinished basement, alongside red plastic shelving for trucks and dinosaurs to establish a playroom for him and his younger brother Reed. This was where they played Atari on an old TV and used cardboard boxes to make cities for their action figures. When he was 7 years old, Luke’s neighborhood playmate Tommy pointed out a crack in the cement near the furnace.

“Cracks like that are made by the devil. He’s trying to scratch his way to the surface.”

Luke tried to dismiss this, but it didn’t sit well with him despite how many times he said “nuh-uh.” It’s true he didn’t quite feel comfortable down there by himself at night to begin with. And recently the Atari seemed to be on the fritz. The screen would slip into static and it sounded like someone was murmuring on the other side, a group of people chanting, something like “go to the corner, go to the corner, go to the corner.”

Tommy was the type of kid who would show off all of the swear words he knew to old ladies taking their evening walk. Once, Tommy peeled apart his slap bracelet and tried to stab Luke with it. On another occasion, Tommy picked up an aluminum baseball bat and chased him down the street for tattling on him when Tommy’s mother pressed him for answers about who trapped their cat in the dryer.

So it made sense that Tommy knew a thing or two about the devil. Luke used to think of the devil as half-bat, half-man. That’s how he pictured him during frightening the Bible stories when they came up in Sunday school. “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” This was from his favorite book, the book of Luke. The other kids would grin at him whenever this book was mentioned. “Luke! Luke! It’s your book, Luke!” Now he considered that the devil might be more half-rat, half-man; some sort of underground critter.

A few days after the crack was pointed out to him, Luke was down in the basement at night, playing with green plastic Army men, and the light went out. It was pitch black; the small window above was mostly covered on the outside by a thick bush, blocking the moonlight. Luke tried to call out to his parents to come down with a flashlight. His vocal cords seemed to be frozen. He tried crawling his way toward where he thought the stairs were. He passed by the crack, felt it with his finger tips, and the crack seemed to be wider, deeper. He could even hear what sounded like the echoes of scratching. A warm breath puffed the back of his neck. He crawled faster to the stairs. Somehow, a few of his Army men were placed on one of the top steps, and they dug into his bare feet as he sprinted up to the kitchen.

The next afternoon Luke was playing in the driveway. Reed was in the woods behind their house. Luke heard his little brother’s shrill and bloodcurdling scream. It sounded as if someone was stabbing him over and over again. Reed ran out from the foliage, desperately tugging off his shirt. A bee was caught underneath and had repeatedly stung him. Their mother was sickened to find Luke on the ground laughing as Reed cried for the pain to go away.

The following morning Luke’s parents took him to Sunday school. As they got out of the car and walked closer to the church, Luke turned pale. Sweat drenched his hairline, his chest, and he started shivering. Luke pulled back against his father’s hand. As his father turned around, thinking his son was only being fidgety, Luke dropped to ground and vomited. His puke was thick, white and foamy. It kept coming. The gag reflex caused his eyes to pinch shut, and he saw visions of a bomb’s blast pressing people into the corner of a dark room, where their bodies folded into an L shape of flesh and liquefied bone. When the vomit seemed like it was at a stopping point, his father said “it’s okay son, let’s get you inside, clean you up in the bathroom.”

Luke looked up, eyes bloodshot and filled with what appeared to be seething hatred. “Go to the corner, go to the corner, go to the corner,” Luke hissed.

When his father tried to pick him up, Luke bit him. Then he went limp.

Luke laid in bed the rest of the day. Barely conscious, he drifted up against corner, bending his neck, forming an uncomfortable crick. He didn’t have the willpower to adjust. It was like he was inside a videogame, reduced to an 8-bit avatar to do someone’s bidding. He felt like he was contributing, the thicker that souls could be stacked, the greater the pressure this blanket of possession could exert on the next unassuming loafer in the devil’s latest lounge. Luke had often worried about rules: eating his veggies, bedtimes, taking off his shoes indoors, washing his hands after peeing. Now the only rule that felt important was that he stay in the corner, that he keep pressing, until visions of a beckoning finger, reaching up through the crack, flickered in his mind.

When the rest of his family went to sleep, Luke felt himself released by the pull of the corner. He wandered down to the basement, found the crack without turning on the lights. He perched over it. The crack seemed to have spread even deeper, allowing up drafts of heat. Luke threw up into it, spitting up thick globs of bile. He was spinning with delirium, similar to what he had felt once before when given nighttime cough syrup. His body also felt incredibly light, like a dandelion seed puffed into the wind. It was as though the dead weight of having a conscience was scooped out of him, and it was time for him to enjoy free play without any rules.

Gospel According to Puke

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