This story is by Doug Spak and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Shylo stood over her mother’s dead body and wept.
Blood poured from Sylvia Everson’s neck, forming an expanding red pool on the faded-green carpet.
Knees shaking and ears ringing, Shylo swallowed the urge to vomit, then took several deep breaths to steady herself. Her mother wasn’t part of the plan.
She surveyed the living room; it hadn’t changed in the two years since her father threw her out of the house. Over the fireplace, a framed print of the Last Supper. The family bible sat on the table between her parents’ worn Lazy Boy recliners, embossed with gold lettering: The Eversons. And in the corner, her father’s Hammond organ. As choir director of the First Community Pentecostal Church, he spent hours each week planning Sunday’s music. Ironically, Shylo remembered the lines from one of his favorite hymns:
“I MUST TELL JESUS
I MUST TELL JESUS ALL OF MY TRIALS
I CANNOT BEAR THESE BURDENS ALONE”
Shylo started down the dimly-lit hallway.
“Sylvia, what’s happening out there?”
Shylo was surprised at how weak her father sounded. It wasn’t the familiar, mellifluous baritone that could make church women swoon or terrorize his youngest child, the most fragile of his four.
“Sylvia… Sylvia… please come quick?”
His voice was desperate, frightened, Shylo thought.
Photos adorned the walls on both sides of the hallway. Mom, dad, Heather, Maureen and Debbie skiing in Aspen. The family at Heather’s wedding last year. Maureen and Debbie on their mission trip to Ghana. Purged from the family’s narrative, none of the photos included Shylo.
She stopped to study her reflection in a glass frame. The tears unleashed streams of black mascara down each side of her face.
Entering the master bedroom, she was shocked to see the visage staring back at her. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer had consumed her father. He wasn’t the same muscular tyrant who dragged her by the hair and threw her onto the porch two years ago. He was emaciated and shriveled. He was insignificant.
“Michael, is that you?” he said, barely above a whisper. “Where…where is your mother?”
Shylo walked to the edge of the bed and looked down on her father’s gaunt, sallow face. His lips were cracked and bleeding. His once-dynamic blue eyes were sunken into his skull, black and lifeless.
“Dad, it isn’t Michael anymore. My name is Shylo now. And dad, I’m sorry, but mom is dead. It was an accident, I swear. I didn’t mean it.”
“Oh my God. What have you done Michael?”
Waves of guilt washed over Shylo as she watched tears well in her father’s eyes and run down his hollowed-out cheeks. He was breathing heavy, almost hyperventilating.
“Michael, what… what have you done?”
“Dad, please don’t call me Michael. I’m so sorry. I didn’t plan to kill mom. When she saw it was me she tried to slam the door in my face. But my foot stopped it. Then she slapped me. And I guess I snapped. Without thinking, I took out the gun and… shot her.?
“Only… an animal would shoot his mother, Michael.”
Shylo hung her head. “Shylo dad, please call me by my correct name.”
“No! No… sweet Jesus, your…name is Michael Everson Junior…”
Her father started to hack and had to gather himself. His breathing was labored, and he struggled to speak.
He continued: “You’re a sad… confused young man. Sick. We thought… you’d grow out of it. We thought it was a stage. We tried to help… did what we could. All that money… love. And for what? Look at you. Look at what you’ve become. A murderer.”
“I was never Michael,” Shylo said, pleading now, as she did two years ago, to be validated. “You knew that when I was six. All those years spent trying to fix me. Prayer circles. Healers. Conversion therapy. You mentioned something about love, but where was there anything resembling love?”
“You aren’t normal Michael,” he said, swallowing hard, every syllable an effort. “You’re a freak. Nobody’s born… this way. We’re born… in God’s… image. Divine…perfect. You weren’t born to be…this. You chose this. You chose whatever… you call yourself.”
“Transgender, dad. I’m transgender.”
“No Michael it’s not trans anything. You were, you are… an abomination. We prayed… Jesus… would shed his healing light… on you.”
Shylo winced at the word abomination. It was the last word her father screamed two years ago when he threw her to the dogs.
He continued. “Remember Colossians 3:15, Michael? Put to death, therefore… whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires. The wrath of God is coming.”
Shylo let her father’s scriptural admonishment hang in the air for several seconds.
“What about love dad,” Shylo said. “The biblical Jesus teaches love and forgiveness? People like you twist those teachings into judgment and hate because of your own fear and insecurity? I’m your child. What fucking difference does it make whether I’m a man or woman, gay or straight? Do you remember Ephesians 4:31 dad? Get rid of bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other. Just as in Christ, God forgave you.”
“Don’t you dare use holy scripture to justify your sin, Michael. Not in this house. Not ever.”
Shylo’s father stopped, gasping for air. She could hear gurgling from his throat. The death rattle, she assumed.
“Dad, did you even think of me these past two years?” Shylo asked, leaning in even closer. “Did you ever wonder what became of your youngest child? Let me update you. I’ve spent most of the time living on the streets? I became a heroin addict. I’ve been in jail twice where they raped me, dad. I’m HIV positive and have Hepatitis C? The way I see it, Job’s got nothing on me, wouldn’t you agree?”
Without waiting for a response, Shylo reached into her backpack and pulled out a piece of paper. She unfolded and held it inches away from her father’s face.
“Mom used to tell me how blessed you felt when I was born. A miracle you’d say. God delivered a son to carry forward the divine Everson name. Look carefully, dad. Can you see? This is my new birth certificate. Shylo Loren Myers. I wanted you to see this before you died. I wanted you to know that when you breathe your last, your precious Everson lineage will go the grave with you.”
She returned the certificate to her backpack, then pulled a gun out of her jacket pocket. A silver and black Glock. It was still hot, and the safety was off. She laid the gun on top of her father’s chest.
“One other news alert, dad: I tried to commit suicide three different times? Twice with pills and, the last time I slashed my wrists. While you were singing hymns to the righteous, your youngest child was dying a little every day.”
She laid her hand on the Glock
“I came today because I’m tired, beaten down. I decided I wouldn’t fail a fourth time. But that I would take you with me, to whatever judgment awaits on the other side.”
“That’s right Michael… kill your mother, kill me, kill yourself. Satan’s perfect little trifecta. Go ahead, get it over with Michael. I’m tired”
“It’s funny,” Shylo said, “I came here today for vengeance, to punish you for ruining my life. Seeing you like this, I realize your God has taken matters into his own hands. I’m assuming he forgives you. I guess I do as well. I’m sorry about mom, I am. That wasn’t supposed to happen. It was an impulse. I guess I didn’t expect her to slap me. It’s all so confusing dad. It’s been confusing for as long as I can remember. I don’t want to be confused anymore, dad.”
Shylo picked up her backpack. She turned to leave, then stopped at the bedroom door. Without turning back to her father, she said:
“I love you, dad.”
She exited the bedroom and walked down the hall toward the front door. She grabbed the pink, and blue Afghan draped over the sofa for as long as she could remember. She knelt and gently covered her mother’s body with the Afghan.
“I’m sorry mom. I love you.”
She rose to leave, then stopped to study the framed lithograph on the wall beside the door. It was Corinthians 13:13, always her favorite scripture passage:
And now these three remain:
faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
As Shylo pulled the front door open, a deafening report stunned her. It was like a cannon, coming from the direction of the master bedroom. She took a deep breath to steady her racing heart, stepped through the entryway and closed the door behind her. And, for the last time, walked away from the house of Everson.