Monday, July 4, 2011

"Hung" by Stephen R. Wilson







Maggie Argiss kicked the apartment door shut behind her and hurried to set her grocery bags down on the floor. Her cell phone was ringing in the bedroom and she had to answer it. There was a good chance it was the hospital calling about her dad again.

The plastic bags in her hands and on her right arm were easy enough to shed, but the ones she had strung on her left arm had gotten all tangled up somehow. She pulled at them and felt the clasp of her watch dig into her skin. Blast it! she thought.   

She undid the clasp and then pulled the bags and watch completely off. The clasp had actually drawn blood!

Ignoring it, Maggie ran to the bedroom, but she was too late. “One missed call,” read the phone’s display. “Mtnview Medi…” with the phone number listed underneath.

“Crud!” Maggie breathed. If she had only charged her phone last night, she could have already had it on her when it started ringing. Flipping open the phone, she hit the call-back button, and walked back toward the kitchen.

She had just rounded the corner when she suddenly screamed and dropped her phone. Nailed to the inside of her door, was an old, bearded man.

His head was hanging down so far that his chin was resting on his chest. His hair was graying and oily and his whole body was dirty, like he had never bathed in his life. And all he had on was some sort of cloth diaper-looking thing.

Who would have put him up there like that? Maggie wondered. Who would have done this to him? She could imagine some cruel guys picking up this old homeless man and doing this as part of some sick sport. How did they get into my apartment? More importantly, is the man dead? No, Maggie could see him breathing. The breaths were shallow, but he was breathing. Unconscious, then? Sleeping?

Then Maggie noticed the man’s wounds. Even though he was nailed to the door by both wrists and by one nail binding both ankles, the man’s wounds didn’t look fresh. The blood around them was dried and cracked and it looked like the skin around the nail holes had almost healed. In fact, it was like the skin was even starting to grow over the nails.  

“H-Hello?” Maggie tried, her voice tremulous. “Are you…all right?”

“I’m used to it,” the old man said, not bothering to move his head.

Maggie’s heart stopped for a moment when the man spoke – she wasn’t really expecting him to answer – and it took her a few seconds before she could ask, “Used to…what?”

“Hanging here like this. Sleeping like this.”

“I…” Maggie had no idea what the man meant. Was he crazy? Probably was. “Do you want me to…call someone for you?” she asked.

But the old man didn’t answer. Had he fallen back asleep? Passed out?

“I’m…I’m going to call the police,” Maggie said. “They’ll help you down.”

The old man lifted his head then and looked at her. “They can’t help me here,” he said. “No one can.” He let his head drop back down and then added, “Except for you.”

“Me?”

“Oh, but you probably won’t. Most people don’t. You might as well forget you ever saw me.”

“I…what?” What was this old man talking about?

“You’re just noticing me now because your dad is in the hospital dying and you’re open to spiritual things right now. You can’t accept the idea that your dad is really going to be…just gone when he dies.”

“Is he?”

“No.”

“Where’s he going to be?”

“…Does it matter?”

“What do you mean, ‘does it matter?’ Of course it matters! He’s my dad!”

“I’m your dad!” the man snapped, suddenly looking up again. Maggie was shocked at the man’s sudden intensity. He dropped his head again, chuckling to himself. “Sorry. Inside joke. You should have seen the look on your face. It was great. Oh, I haven’t laughed like that in…”

“I want you to get down,” Maggie said. She was angry now. This old, dirty, homeless man was making light of her dad’s illness. How did he know her dad was sick anyway? “I want you off my door.”

“Of course you do,” the old man sighed, regaining his composure.

“Then get down!”

“…Make me.”

“Arrgh! Fine. If I help you get down, do you promise you’re not going to shove one of those nails in me or something?”

“You are so stupid,” the man said, looking at her again. “If I had wanted to stick these nails in you, they wouldn’t be in me, now would they?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, let me say it so you can understand it: These are your nails. They were meant for you. But I took them.”

“Someone wanted to hang me up there? Why?”

The old man laughed again, shaking his head. “Maybe because you’re so dense.”

“I’m not…”

“No one wanted you to hang, okay? That’s the point. That’s the kinda guy I am. But there have to be consequences. So this is it.”

“Consequences for what?”

“For all the junk you pull! For all the rot that goes through your brain! What do you think?”

“I…who are you?”

“I am the Christ of God,” he said in a deep, Darth Vader voice.

Maggie squinted at him. She knew she must be nuts for thinking this, but something about him made her almost believe him.

“You asked where your dad was going when he dies,” the old man said. “I can tell you that it doesn’t look good. He’s kept me up on his door and walls for the past fifty-six years and it doesn’t look like he’s going to take me down anytime soon. Of course, that’s fine. Most people never take me down and they get what they’re gonna get because of it.”

“You mean Hell?”

“H-E-Double Hockey Sticks,” the man confirmed.

“…Are you…Jesus?”

“I used to be.”

“What do you mean, ‘used to be’?”

“I mean…Listen, do you know what the name ‘Jesus’ even means?”

“I don’t know. Christ?”

“It means ‘God saves’. I say I used to be Jesus because I used to save people. Now I don’t very much.”

“You…You’re messed up, you know that?”

The old man laughed. “You think so? Well, you can hardly blame me, I think. You try hanging up here in everyone’s life, waiting for them to notice you, waiting for them to take you down, but they never do.”

“I…I noticed you. What if you were to save me?”

“Ha! You’re the other group. You’re taking notice right now, all right, but that’s only because you’re in a crisis moment. You’re about to lose someone. You think maybe there is something to this faith stuff after all. Maybe there is a Heaven that dear ol’ dad can go to. But what happens when the crisis is over? What happens when your dad dies and some time has passed for you and things start to feel normal in your life again? What happens then? Back on the nail-hooks I go. Well, forget it. I’d rather just stay where I am rather than get my hopes up.”

“I…I want you to save me. I know I could be better. I…I know I need something else. I…believe. Save me! Please!”

Jesus sighed. “I don’t know. Do you really want Me to?”

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