A Form of Malice

📅 Published on November 12, 2020

“A Form of Malice”

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 13 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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Hugh stood at the pulpit, his hands loosely holding each side. Beads of sweat stood out on his wrinkled forehead despite the chill seeping into the old church. Errant drafts of winter wind entered from beneath the eaves and sporadically flowed over his balding head.

“What is it you keep in your heart?” he asked the congregation, drawing his sermon to a close. “What’s locked away there and weighing you down?”

Families lined the pews. Wives watched him, either from sincere interest or merely politeness he couldn’t tell. He liked to think the former, but he wasn’t that naive. The men were easier to read, surreptitiously glancing at their watches or phones, hoping that he’d end early so they could be home by game time. The kids were the most transparent, squirming in their seats and whispering to their equally impatient siblings.

Hugh didn’t blame them. He often bored himself.

“Is it regret? Grief?” he asked, letting go of the pulpit and raising his hands out to them. “Or even hate? I tell you now, that when you harbor that negativity–”

Someone laughed, the sound quiet yet obvious. Hugh stopped and glared out at them, his eyes sweeping the room. They all stared ahead, no one giving anything away.

He cleared his throat. “As I was saying, when you hold on to that hate and let it take up residence in your heart, there’s no room for anything else. So where will you put Jesus?”

He paused, letting the question linger for a moment.

“How can He enter your heart if it’s already full? You must ask yourself if your hate is more important than God’s love. And I sincerely hope you know the answer without me saying it. Think on this during the week to come. Consider how best to empty your heart of things that keep God’s love from filling it. Now, please stand.”

Hugh watched them all as they stood. Mothers reached out and grasped children’s hands. The children smiled unabashedly, knowing the sermon was over, and that they’d soon be playing away the rest of their weekend. The husbands shot glances at one another, their grins more subtle.

“Let us pray,” he said, and scores of heads bowed in unison. “Lord, please bless us–”

Only one head was unbowed. A teenage boy stared at him, his close-cropped hair shining beneath the overhead lights, his face devoid of expression.

Hugh continued, his mouth on autopilot, the stale words dropping from his lips, leaving a taste like sawdust on his tongue.

* * * * * *

Hugh stood outside the vestibule, shaking hands as he shook in the cold, accepting well wishes and other insufferable compliments. But he suffered them all the same.

“Very nice sermon, Pastor Stephens,” someone said.

“Great job today, Pastor,” someone else said.

“Really enjoyed it! We’ll see you next week,” other people said.

He pressed the flesh, squeezing each hand as it went by like they were on an assembly line. Eventually there was no one else, yet he stood, an automaton with no task, his hand hanging in the air. He turned and went inside, shutting the doors behind him. Walking the aisle, he stooped to grab a gum wrapper from beneath a pew. Lorena would be in tomorrow to clean, but he couldn’t just walk by and leave it sitting there. It used to upset him, the carelessness, the audacity really, of leaving one’s trash in God’s house. But nowadays it brought no anger, just a sigh.

Hugh stepped up to the pulpit, carefully replaced his bookmark between the thin pages of the Bible, then closed it. He ran his hand over the old leather cover. It’s worn texture soothed him, but not in the way he needed. It was the comfort of nostalgia, not of faith. If his congregation only knew how little he heard from the Almighty lately they’d pack up and head for greener pastures. God had stopped talking, or Hugh couldn’t hear His voice anymore. He honestly couldn’t say which was worse.

The sound of the front doors opening echoed throughout the church. Hugh listened to the approaching footsteps with a knot of dread tightening within him. He couldn’t do this today, just couldn’t. His mind was replete with his own worries, so how was he supposed to help someone else? He couldn’t even help himself.

But he could lie, and sometimes that was enough. Sometimes that’s all people needed to get through the day. Just a simple lie.

The blond, unbowed teen from earlier walked through the vestibule. He dropped the hood of his red coat, and Hugh could see he wasn’t a teenager at all. Probably early twenties but no more than that. He raised his hand in greeting as he approached the pulpit.

Hugh stepped down and held out his hand. “Hello, I’m Pastor Stephens. Hugh, if you like.”

“Hi, Pastor Stephens,” the man said with an easy smile. “I’m Caleb Barr.”

Hugh put on a smile that he hoped looked sincere. “It’s nice to meet you, Caleb. I haven’t seen you around. Are you new in town, or just new to our church?”

“Both,” Caleb said. “I just got in town this week.”

“Well, it’s great to have you,” Hugh said. “And I’d love to talk more but I’m afraid I’m quite busy with closing up now. My rectory hours are from two to four in the afternoon. Perhaps you’d like to stop by then?”

Caleb’s expression changed, misery spreading across his face like the shadow of a passing storm cloud. “Oh, yeah, I’m sorry. I’m just…I’ve been having some issues and was hoping maybe you could help.”

Hugh was about to gently remind him about the rectory hours, but there was something about his expression that stopped him. He found that he wanted to listen.

“Of course,” Hugh said, gesturing towards the front pew. “Please have a seat.”

Caleb sat and Hugh followed suit, sitting down sideways on the pew and facing towards him.

“What’s on your mind?” Hugh said.

Caleb looked down to his hands, pausing for so long that Hugh began to worry.

“Earlier this year,” Caleb began. “My…well, someone very close to me, took his own life.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Hugh said honestly. “The sudden death of a loved one is always tragic, but suicide is especially hard to come to terms with.”

“It has been. Hard, that is,” Caleb said. “I knew something was wrong, I’d known since we met. He carried, I don’t know, a weight with him wherever he went. Like he had his own internal gravity to struggle against. Like he was being held down.”

Hugh nodded solemnly. “That is often the case. Whatever your friend was carrying was dragging him down. Something he let fester in his heart. I’m not blaming him for his actions, he’s beyond any of our judgments now, but if you don’t let someone help you with the weight…well, you drown.”

“Yeah, that’s it exactly,” Caleb said, nodding. “And I tried so many times. Begging him to let me help, or at the very least let me find someone that could help. A counselor, a therapist, something. But he always refused.”

Caleb’s eyes filled with tears, but he didn’t make a sound.

Hugh placed a hand on his shoulder. “You did what you thought best,” he said. “But some people won’t get help. Not because they don’t want it, but because they can’t see past their own pain. It clouds everything, keeping them from moving forward. Please, don’t carry this guilt around with you. I promise you, that is not what God wants. Try to let it go. For your sake and for his.”

Caleb wiped his face and smiled. “I know you’re right. He wouldn’t have wanted it.”

Hugh returned his smile, and something incredible happened. For the first time in a very long time he felt something. He was helping, maybe even making a difference in this young man’s life. This was something more than the suburban squabbles and gossip that was the norm from the rest of his congregation. If he could give this person hope, then maybe some would rub off on him as well.

“Of course, he wouldn’t,” Hugh said. “He–”

“I know what he would’ve wanted,” Caleb said. “The same thing I want now.”

“What’s that?” Hugh said.

“I’d like you to answer a question.”

“Okay, I’ll do what–”

“Tell me, Hugh,” Caleb said, leaning forward. “What is a man?”

The words galvanized Hugh, bringing him to his feet. “What did you just say?”

Caleb stared at him, his eyes cold and hard. He slipped his hand into the pocket of his coat and drew a pistol.

“Sit. The fuck. Down,” Caleb said, pointing the gun at Hugh.

Hugh’s knees shook, threatening to give way beneath him. He did as he was told.

“I’m going to ask you again,” Caleb said. “What is a man?”

“Where did you hear that?” Hugh said, the words barely escaping his dry lips.

Caleb’s smile was wide and humorless. “Oh, I think you know.”

“Look,” Hugh stammered. “I don’t know what’s happening here, but I assure you–”

“Let me tell you what happened, and then I’ll tell you what’s happening. Deal?”

Hugh nodded. What else could he do?

“Up until six years ago, you ran Reclamation Through Scripture.”

“I don’t know what–”

Caleb raised the pistol until the end of the barrel was directly before Hugh’s eyes, black as death and wide as a train tunnel. Hugh moaned, the sound small and weak.

“Lie to me and this conversation is over,” Caleb said. “And right now, this conversation is the only thing keeping you alive. Understand?”

Hugh swallowed hard; his nod so subtle that he barely moved his head.

“You ran Reclamation Through Scripture. Now in your own words, tell me exactly what your organization did.”

“It was,” Hugh said. He let out a shaky sigh. “It was a therapy group, of sorts. We used God’s Word to help people, men, overcome…to help–”

“Say it,” Caleb said.

Hugh stammered. “To help…to-to help–”

Caleb pressed the pistol closer. “Say it!” he cried.

To help them overcome their homosexual urges!” Hugh spat breathlessly.

“How?” Caleb said softly.

“Well, through prayer sessions, Bible study–”

Caleb hit him, slamming the butt of the pistol right above his forehead. Hugh raised his hands to the wound with a cry. Blood ran from his split scalp, spilling between his fingers. He felt dizzy, untethered.

“What did I say about lying?” Caleb said, wiping the blood from the gun onto the fabric covering the pew, a crimson smear against the pale blue. “That’s the last warning I’m going to give you.”

“But I’m not lying!” Hugh cried. “We did–”

“I’m sure you prayed,” Caleb said flatly. “But I want you to tell me what else you did.”

“All we tried to do was help, to save them, show them how to live a normal life,” Hugh said, wiping blood away from his eyes. “We did what we believed was necessary.”

“What you thought was ‘necessary’?” Caleb said, laughing. “Holy shit. Okay, so you thought it was necessary to feed him pills to make him sick, and then force him to watch pornography?”

Hugh winced. “It was conditioning. To make them–”

I know what the fuck it was for!” Caleb screamed. “You wanted to make him vomit every time he saw two men together. You wanted him to feel disgusted by just being himself.”

“I don’t even know who you’re talking about!” Hugh said through clenched teeth.

“Ethan Weber,” Caleb said slowly. “You remember him?”

Hugh pictured a young man, eighteen years old, his hair so brown it was close to black.

He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I remember.”

Caleb sat back. “Good. Now I’ll tell you what I remember. I was fresh out of the Army, starting college at twenty-three and anxious as hell. I’ve been in firefights, watched friends die, but I was about to piss my pants just walking around campus. No friends, no family. Well, I have a family, but we haven’t spoken since I came out. Big surprise, huh? My first day I’m so nervous I couldn’t bring myself to walk into the classroom, and there he was, sitting on a bench. He saw me looking and smiled, and all of my anxiety disappeared.”

Hugh said nothing but couldn’t help the feeling of revulsion at the thought.

“We started dating,” Caleb continued. “But every time we touched, every time we so much as hugged, I could feel his tension. Like his muscles were tying themselves into knots beneath my hands. We were together for six months before we even kissed.”

“Caleb, listen, I’m sorry–”

Caleb kept talking, as if he were oblivious to Hugh’s presence. “It was another year before we tried to be intimate. I didn’t mind the wait, I just wanted him to be comfortable. He was so nervous, shivering like he was freezing.”

“You don’t have to,” Hugh said, suddenly sweating. “I mean, I don’t–”

“He didn’t want me to see the scars,” Caleb said, his jaw tightening as if he could bite down on the words and destroy their very existence. “He had warned me ahead of time, but I still had to rein myself in at the sight of them. I had to keep a straight face, show him I was fine and that it was okay. But I wasn’t okay, I was furious.”

Hugh’s eyes felt hot, and his pulse hammered along the sides of his neck.

“How sick do you have to be?” Caleb asked. “How fucking deranged–”

“Stop,” Hugh pleaded. “Please.”

“–to attach a generator–”

“I said stop!” Hugh cried.

Caleb leaned in close enough that Hugh could feel the man’s breath on his face.

“You drugged him,” Caleb said, his voice cracking. “You brought him women, prostitutes, and shoved those little blue pills down his throat to get him to perform like a circus animal. Did you watch? Did you like that, you sick fuck?”

“I didn’t,” Hugh lied. “Listen, he was eighteen years old. He was a man, and old enough to make his own decisions. He–”

“No,” Caleb said. “No, those decisions were made for him. Hammered into him after years of his parents, and his church, telling him that he wasn’t normal, an abomination, that he was going to burn forever. He would’ve done anything to make his parents love him again. But they didn’t deserve it, didn’t deserve him.”

Hugh silently prayed, not for forgiveness but for his life.

Caleb stood. “He left me a letter,” he said. “I found it two days after he took his own life with the same gun I’m holding now. He wrote about how much he loved me but could never be enough for me. How he was broken and could never be whole. But do you know what I will always remember, more than his words of love? I’ll remember his last sentence: ‘If there is a Hell, I hope Pastor Hugh is there.’” Caleb smiled.  “So, I’m here to make sure that happens.”

“Please,” Hugh said, breaking down into sobs. “Please don’t kill me.”

“Because I know something you don’t, Pastor Hugh,” Caleb said. “Do you know what’s worse than knowing there’s no God? It’s knowing that there’s no divine judgment, no justice. But there is vengeance, not in any hell, but right here on Earth.”

Hugh reached out, his fingertips brushing Caleb’s jacket. “I’m begging you–”

“As much as I want to, I’m not going to kill you,” Caleb said, and pocketed the gun. “You’re going to do that yourself.”

Hugh stared up at him, confused, his vision a prism of tears. “No, I won’t. The Bible says–”

“You will. Maybe not today, but you will. Here, I have something for you.”

Caleb placed his hand on Hugh’s head, directly on the wound in his scalp. He began to speak slowly, his voice barely above a whisper.

The church began to shake as the wind strengthened outside. Snow slammed into the outer walls, the sound like static. Hugh’s head spun as if he were drunk but his limbs were frozen in place.

“What are you doing?” he slurred. “What–”

Hugh’s mind was flooded. He saw himself through Ethan’s eyes as the boy was tied down, could smell the brown leather straps, and feel the cold touch of the brass buckles. His tongue pressed against a cloth gag as his muscles convulsed to the tune of the generator’s hum. The air smelled of ozone and flesh, burning hair and sour sweat. He felt Ethan’s terror and pain, but there was something worse. Something worse than the electricity coursing through the most vulnerable parts of him.

Hugh could feel Ethan’s hope. Hope that his family would accept him again, that his dad wouldn’t look at him with disgust, or his mom with shame.

Yes, the hope was far more painful.

“It’s done,” Caleb said and removed his hand.

Hugh recoiled. He fell back against the pew as his bladder let go and warmth spread down his legs.

“What did you do to me?” he said softly.

“I shared Ethan with you,” Caleb said. “I kept his smile, his laugh, his touch, all of the good things. And I gave you the rest. Everything that you help put there. Everything that was left after the bullet took half of his face off.”

Hugh shook his head, sweat and blood dripping from his brow. “I don’t believe you,” he said. “And I don’t believe in curses or any of that nonsense.”

“Really?” Caleb said. “You’ve got to brush up on your Deuteronomy, pastor.”

Hugh seethed silently.

“You know,” Caleb continued, “My recruiter told me that if I joined the army, I’d see the world. I didn’t believe her. Thought I’d be stuck stateside, never seeing any action. But it turned out she was right. I went to some places that you wouldn’t believe. Places I didn’t even know existed. It’s amazing what you learn about a place when you truly immerse yourself in its culture. The crazy things you can learn from the locals if you’re willing to listen. There’s so many secrets out there in the dark corners no one explores.”

Hugh felt faint. “What godlessness have you brought here?”

“It was already godless here,” Caleb said, standing. “Always was. I’m leaving now. Call the cops if you want, it doesn’t matter to me and it won’t change what happens to you. I would prefer it if you didn’t though. I don’t want to be in prison when it’s time for your funeral. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be leaving. It looks like I’m finally going to meet Ethan’s parents.”

Caleb turned and walked away.

* * * * * *

The next Sunday, Hugh stood at the pulpit, his hands gripping the sides tightly, his knuckles white and bloodless.

“And w-when you,” he stammered. “When we–”

Sweat ran into his eye. He loosened one gnarled hand and palmed it away.

“When we left off last week, we were talking about what we keep in our heart.”

He could see confusion on some of the faces in the crowd, concern on others. His suit was wrinkled, his collar soaked with sweat. He hadn’t shaved in days.

“And I asked you,” he continued. “To think of ways to unburden yourself.”

His own burden sat in the back of the church, staring at him with a hate-filled eye.

Ethan’s other eye was milky and opaque, ruptured from the force of the gunshot. Below that cursed eye was bloody meat where the rest of his face should’ve been.

Hugh shuddered as he suppressed a cry. Ethan had appeared to him in the dead of night, just hours after Caleb had left Hugh in the church, still crying, sitting in the damp warmth of his own piss.

And Ethan had been with him ever since. Sometimes he would wake him up in the early hours of the morning, and Hugh would open his eyes only to see Ethan staring back at him. The first night he screamed so hard that he vomited right then and there. Other times Hugh would have blessed hours of peace from him, only for Ethan to unexpectedly appear out of nowhere, a reflection in a mirror, a shadow thrown from the light of a dying bulb.

The worst times were when Ethan stood glaring at him, naked and bloody, the scars showing pink against his pale skin.

“Ephesians tells us,” Hugh continued. “To ‘get rid of all bitterness…’”

Ethan was now sitting next to a woman in the middle of the room, his blood dripping onto her dress. Blood that only Hugh could see.

“‘–rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.’”

Now he sat in the front pew, his blue eye and his white one fixed on Hugh.

Hugh fought his terror and revulsion and looked down to him.

“‘And b-be kind to one another,’” he said, then swallowed down bile. “‘Tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.’”

He stared into Ethan’s ruined face, looking for hope. But there was only hate, burning so hot Hugh could feel it from where he stood.

“Forgiveness,” Hugh pleaded. “Is the only way forward.”

Ethan smiled at him, what was left of his lips jerking upward in a spasm, showing broken shards of teeth. He shook his head slowly, and Hugh could hear the bones in his neck grating against each other.

Hugh had spent the prior week in prayer, yet Ethan remained. He had cried out to God, begging and bargaining. Nothing had changed. He belonged to Ethan as Ethan belonged to him. He had taken up residence in Hugh’s heart like an infection, leaving no room for the slightest spark of hope.

Tears rolled silently down Hugh’s cheeks as his congregation looked on in confusion.

Caleb had been right. He couldn’t live like this. The only question would be how long it would take. He had visions of locking the church doors and hanging a noose from the rafters, right above the pulpit. How many days could he keep himself doing it? How long until his mind broke beneath the weight of Ethan’s dead glare?

Ethan now stood directly opposite the pulpit, his head cocked to one side as if curious, as if he were asking himself the same question.

How long?

And he was staring, always staring.

Hugh didn’t think it would be that long until the end. Not that long at all.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Harville


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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