Eleven-year-old Shawn had recently moved to the small town of Salisbury, Idaho, with his parents and six-year-old little sister, Amanda. They arrived in an old but well maintained Station Wagon and moved into a large suburban house with a two-car garage and white picket fence. Although his sister adjusted to life in Salisbury relatively quick, it was difficult for Shawn. The months leading up to their move had been quite stressful.
Shawn and his family were active members of the Roman Catholic church. His father, Terry, assisted heavily in church functions. Shawn himself was very involved and deeply faithful, the pristine image of what a good Catholic boy should be. Everything was good.
But then the economy turned down. Things began looking dire, and Terry started researching through the internet to try to make sense of what was happening. He began connecting dots, no matter how great the distance. This thing was somehow related to that thing. That thing was somehow associated with this other thing. And as more and more dots were connected, Terry fell down the proverbial rabbit hole. Before long, he had engrossed himself in conspiracies involving the Catholic church and studying Pentecostal interpretations of the end times.
It wasn’t long before Terry’s behavior began to change. First, it was extended conversations late into the night with his wife, Melissa. Then it was questioning the Catholic faith which he had relied upon for so long. When the priest tried to quell his concerns, Terry would calm down for a while. But then he would do more research on the internet. When attempting to look up information on what the priest had told him, the first search results were usually negative about what he was trying to understand. As such, Terry would come to believe his priest was lying to him, part of the grand conspiracy.
He suggested to Melissa that they leave the Catholic church, but she would have none of it. They were both raised in the Catholic faith, and it was where they belong. So Terry continued to faithfully take his family to church as they always had, even though he struggled with it. He continued to participate in all the church functions as he had always done. He continued to raise his children in the Catholic tradition and encouraged them to be good Catholics. And though he continued to struggle, it got easier. Things slowly began to return to normal. And then it was all shattered when a disturbance of horrific proportions rocked the church they had always called their own.
One weekday morning, a senior member of the church was discovered bruised and violated in the pews. It was the priest who had found her sobbing and shaking. She was lying on the floor with her clothes torn apart. The sobs that came from her mouth were barely audible.
The police launched a full investigation, and after a few days, they caught the man who did it, a scrawny man by the name of Frank Murphy. He was the church’s janitor. Frank was a registered sex offender, but the church had never bothered to run a background check. Though he never attended service, he was always on time to clean every day and consistently did an incredible job. Frank never failed to impress anyone with his exceptional cleaning. If anyone ever ran into him, it was always a friendly encounter, and no one thought there was anything off about him.
The old woman would often come to church in the late evenings by herself to pray. Frank had been watching her for a long time. He knew the priest’s schedule and habits, so he knew that she would be all alone when she would come to pray. Well, not entirely alone. He would always make himself seen to her by mopping the floors while she was there so that she would not be spooked if she heard or saw him. When Frank felt the time was ready, he took his opportunity and pounced upon the old woman.
The priest, unable to deal with what had happened under his watch, tried to resign, but those above denied him his request. “You are the Shepard who guides these sheep. You must gather the flock lest they scatter and perish,” is what they told him. But he was such a broken mess that he could not gather them, and his sheep fell to the wolves.
Most of the congregation, not being able to cope with the incident, departed the parish. Some migrated to Catholic churches in neighboring towns. Some turned to other religions. Some quit the faith entirely. The majority who left, however, changed to other denominations. Those who remained sat in mostly empty pews, listening to a broken priest just going through the motions.
Terry was one of those who jumped denominations. The incident only cemented everything he had read. Every single conspiracy theory. Every single claim against the Catholic church. And he rallied against it. And it wasn’t just him, but also his wife, Melissa. Though she had held to the faith much better than Terry, they had been having conversations for so long that she was quick to side with him when things went south. Suddenly, everything he had been saying began making a lot of sense, and it wasn’t long before they found a new church community and moved to be closer to it. It was called Christ Trinity Church, and it was a Pentecostal denomination.
Though the transition was smooth for the rest of the family, Shawn had difficulty adapting. His parents were so appalled at what happened that they quickly adapted to what they perceived as a better faith. His sister was young enough that she didn’t notice the difference. But Shawn was at an age where he was old enough to be deeply invested in his faith but too young to understand what had happened fully. To him, his parents had flipped a switch and uprooted everything he knew and understood. Shawn didn’t fit in with the people in this protestant town. And though the words were similar, Pentecostalism was a completely different religion as far as he was concerned with rituals that he would consider demonic.
Nothing about the new church sat right with Shawn. First, it was how they treated communion. It wasn’t that it wasn’t every week or that they used Sara Lee bread and grape juice instead of actual wine and consecrated biscuit. It wasn’t even that they grabbed the juice and bread on the way to their pews instead of going to the alter. Those details bothered him, to be sure, but what genuinely troubled him about it was that they did not believe it to be the actual body and blood of Christ. Though he would grab his cup and bread on weeks in which communion was present, he could not bring himself to ever partake in it, and they instead just sat in his hands until the end of service when he’d return them to the table from which he had retrieved them.
On one particularly spirited service, a woman a few pews over stood up and started babbling incoherently. It frightened Shawn, but it was about to get a lot more frightening for soon, a man right behind him stood up and also started babbling. Further back, an old woman fell to the ground convulsing in spastic motions as strange words escaped her lips. Shawn was horrified as he watched this possessed woman, and no one rushed to her aid.
“Hallelujah!” the pastor shouted from the pulpit. “The great spirit of GOD has taken hold of this woman and spread it among the congregation! The Holy Spirit is GREAT!”
Nobody knew it, but the old woman had suffered a massive seizure and fallen out of her pew halfway into the aisle. Meanwhile, the rush had taken hold of the congregation. The woman and man who had stood up first were now shaking uncontrollably, and the sounds coming out of their mouths could no longer be described as words. The rest of the congregation seemed to erupt into an orgy of thanks and praises to God.
“Oh, Holy SPIRIT! You have ANOINTED us with your blessing,” the pastor shouted on. He kept shouting all sorts of things that sounded Christian but offered no comfort to Shawn.
And suddenly, as if a wave of exhaustion had whooshed through, everyone seemed to collapse into their pews. The pastor just leaned on his podium, profusely sweating as his deep breaths fell into the microphone and echoed off the walls. For a short time, the only sound inside the church was that of heavy breathing.
Though it felt like minutes, only a mere thirty-two seconds had passed by the time the pastor up-righted himself and spoke.
“Praise be to God,” he spoke through two heavy breaths. “Peace be with you. Now go and serve your Lord.”
As though waking from a long slumber, the congregation slowly rose to their feet and exited the church. Not all, however. Some remained exhausted in their pews. Perhaps because of this, few paid any mind to the old woman who had died in the isle. Shawn didn’t know this, but parishioners just lying in the pews for a while after these spirited events were relatively standard. That’s why nobody realized she had died until the last few congregants were leaving.
The next week, once the news had gotten around about the old woman’s death, there was no sorrow. Only joy. The pastor said the Holy Spirit spoke through her and that His voice was too much for her body. The pastor said that God was ready to take her and that He had one final message for her to deliver before He did. After the service, Shawn asked the pastor what that message was. Though the pastor seemed perplexed when he responded, he managed to force a smile.
“You heard it, didn’t you?” he asked. “The voice of God Almighty? He delivered it solid.”
Shawn looked into the pastor’s eyes for a short while before saying, “No.”
The pastor looked uncomfortable, as though his clothes had all of a sudden become half a size smaller. He still managed to smile, though.
“Well,” he stammered, “you’ll just have to pray harder. Don’t worry; you’ll get there.”
As time went on, Shawn found it increasingly difficult to adapt to his new church. Though they were welcoming when his family first arrived, he realized just how rabidly anti-Catholic they were over time. Shawn would often find himself at odds with their doctrine, arguing a battle that was already lost. It wasn’t that he couldn’t defend his position. His age considered, he did a remarkable job at it. It was just that they wouldn’t listen. Anything they couldn’t rebut against, they just dismissed as “Catholic lies.” Shawn spoke up less and less until the time came when he just stopped speaking altogether.
Because of his initial outspokenness and eventual silence, Shawn came to be seen as something of a weirdo. He didn’t fit in with anyone, and all the other children would avoid him. When they did talk to him, it was always down as if he were stupid. They would refer to him as “The Unsaved” or “Apostate.” This always irked him. They barely knew anything about their own religion, let alone the Bible or Catholicism. Yet Shawn held his tongue. He was secure in his faith, even if everyone told him that he was wrong or stupid.
It was announced in early September that the church would be holding a costume contest at their annual Trunk-or-Treat. The best costume would win five full-sized candy bars. Nobody gives out full-sized candy bars, and as such, everyone was going to be trying their best to win. And this was when Shawn knew how to show them all. He was going to win that prize and show everyone up, both the other children and the adults.
In the seven weeks leading up to Halloween, Shawn spent all of his free time gathering materials for his costume. He was going to be an angel, and his parents were so thrilled that he appeared to finally be taking an interest in a church activity that they helped in any way they could.
Melissa went out and bought the whitest silk she could find and stitched together a robe. Terry crafted a frame for wings and a halo out of metal wire. And Shawn went out collecting the most beautiful feathers he could find. He went to parks, went to lakes, went to fields, and went to anywhere birds were known to congregate. He collected hundreds of feathers, and when he finally had enough, his mother helped glue them to the frame.
It was also during this time that Shawn stepped up his church game. He began participating in church activities and became an active member. He sang the praise songs, took communion, and even got himself caught up in the spirit when the occasion called for it.
Halloween came, and his family arrived at the Christ Trinity in their station wagon. Shawn and his family got out of their vehicle. Only Amanda was in costume; She was dressed up as a panda bear. Shawn took a glance around at his surroundings. Eleven cars were lined up beside the building with their trunks open, each full of various miniature candies. He watched as families got out of their cars with children and walk to each trunk to retrieve their candy. After they had collected their bounties, they made their way into the church.
Terry slapped the roof of the station wagon and opened the back.
“You ready, son?” he asked in a cheerful voice.
Shawn nodded and removed the duffel bag containing his costume from the back. Terry and Melissa took Amanda to the various trunks while Shawn went inside to change. As he walked in, he was greeted by the pastor who let him know the festivities were downstairs. Shawn thanked him and headed to the bathroom to change. He walked past two other kids on his way, who taunted him.
“Forget your costume?” they mocked.
But Shawn ignored them and went to the bathroom and changed.
A short time later, Shawn entered the downstairs in full costume. The white silk robes flowed elegantly as he moved, and the golden halo above his head sparkled in the lights. But what was most impressive were the large wings on his back made from a fantastic array of real feathers. It was clear that a lot of care went into selecting the feathers as they were all white and shades of light blue.
The congregation stared at him in awe and amazement. Could this really be the awkward boy who not long ago challenged all their beliefs? Could this really be him all dressed up perfectly as one of God’s angels? Had he finally shed his Catholic beliefs completely? Had he finally been saved?
Martha Lutter was the first to break the silence.
“Shawn!” she exclaimed. “I’m so glad you could make it. What a marvelous costume you have on! Why it may be the best costume that I’ve ever seen.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Shawn replied.
“My! You really are an angel. Why don’t you go and mingle with the rest of the congregation? It will allow the judges to get a good look at your costume. Oh, and there is a refreshment table in the back with all sorts of goodies. Help yourself.”
Shawn made his way into the festivities and noted the costumes that the other children were wearing. There were your standard scary ones, such as vampires, zombies, and devils. There were your profession costumes like firefighters, police officers, and plumbers. There were your cute/adorable costumes like princesses and panda bears, though these were mostly worn by girls and very young children. And of course, there were your popular characters such as The Shredder, Optimus Prime, and Batman.
But there was only one angel amongst all of these, and he stood out and above all the rest.
Shawn made his way around and made sure to politely greet as many people as he could. When he had finished, he stopped by the refreshment table for some punch. As he stepped back and sipped his punch, an old man he hadn’t noticed standing behind him spoke.
“A fine party tonight, eh, Angel?”
Shawn should’ve been startled, but he’d grown accustomed to the peculiarities in this church and really expected anything.
“Yes, indeed. And such marvelous costumes that everyone is wearing,” replied Shawn. “Though I must inquire, are such things appropriate for the church? I mean, it seems almost idolatrous, don’t you think?”
“Hmmmm….” the old man said. “Yes, I suppose it is. Coming from a Catholic background, I suppose you would know a thing or two about idolatry, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, yes. Absolutely. Being able to hear the unfiltered word of God without all the ritual has really opened my eyes to the falsehoods that Rome teaches. I’m ashamed to admit the amount of time I had spent praying to the saints.”
The old man looked at Shawn hesitantly. Something bothered him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, so he kept quiet on the matter.
“Yes, well, now that you’re a real Christian, you’ve been forgiven and go straight to Jesus with your problems. No middleman was ever necessary to speak to him. If anything, he found it damned offensive.” The old man stopped himself and looked down at Shawn, who hadn’t moved. “Anyway, you’re saved now. All is forgiven.”
“Thank you,” replied Shawn. And then he walked off.
As he walked through the crowd of costumed kids, Shawn was stopped by sweet old misses Peterson. Large round wire glasses and a curly blonde bob framed her face. She placed her hands on her knees and leaned forward to speak.
“Good evening, Shawn,” she said with glee. “How are you tonight.”
“I’m doing well, misses Peterson. Thank you. And how are you?”
“I’m doing just fabulous.” She stopped, looked around, and then leaned into Shawn’s ear. “Just between you and me, I think you’re a shoo-in for this year’s winner.”
“Well, thank you for the vote of confidence, misses Peterson,” said Shawn. “Though, I must ask why the Halloween party? It seems pretty antithetical to our Pentecostal faith. Is the church promoting Satanic rights cleverly disguised as a harmless festival?”
Misses Peterson was shocked, dumbfounded, and impressed all at once.
“My goodness, Shawn! You have certainly come a long way in your faith since leaving Catholicism. We may need to get you baptized soon.”
“Yes,” Shawn replied. “It was an atrocity that I was baptized as an infant. I had no say in the matter. How could possibly be saved?”
“Yes, indeed. Anyhow, back to your question. If you recall, we never once referred to this as a Halloween party, only a costume contest. The primary reason is to keep our children off the streets and away from the pagan celebrations happening tonight. The annual trunk-or-treat is just a nice way to witness to any outsiders who might come by.”
“Ah, but if this is not a Halloween party, what of all the Satanic costumes such as vampires and devils? Are they not a representation of evil and paganism itself?”
Misses Peterson was silent for a moment as she looked out amongst the crowd of children. She frowned and let out a long ‘hmm.’ She had spotted them earlier but decided against making a fuss about it at the moment.
“Yes. Some in our congregation don’t seem to be keeping with the faith. We’ll be talking with their parents independently at a later time. That said, thank you for standing strong and choosing a costume that properly represents the true faith.”
“Thank you,” Shawn said as he smiled politely. However, the left corner of his mouth went up a little too, high, almost to a smirk. “It’s essential to me that we properly understand our faith.”
And with that, Shawn walked back to the table to pour himself another cup of punch. The old man was gone now. He was off mingling with some of the other adults, no doubt chastising them on their child’s costume. Shawn had just started to take a sip when a couple of hands shoved his back. Shawn choked on the punch, and some of it came out of his nose. After wiping his face with a nearby napkin, he turned around to see two boys, both older, standing before him. One was dressed as Dracula and another as a red devil. No one seemed to notice this encounter except for a middle-aged man on the far side of the room.
“Hey, dork!” the Dracula said. “What were you talking about with misses Peterson over there? Were you talking trash about us?”
“A person’s conversation is his own business,” Shawn replied. “I do not have to share my privacy with you. Now, please leave me be.”
The devil and Dracula exchanged glances and then focused their attention back on Shawn. The middle-aged man was now halfway across the room, slowly making his way through the crowd of people. Dracula grabbed Shawn’s robe near his collar violently while the devil pressed his plastic pitchfork under Shawn’s ribs.
“The hell you don’t,” said Dracula through his fangs. “You think you can come in and disrespect our faith and then pull a one-eighty on Halloween? I don’t think so. You’re up to something, and you’re going to tell me what it is if you still want all your teeth.”
Shawn was frightened, but he knew where he was. These two weren’t going to do anything to him. Certainly not in front of all these people. No, Shawn was safe for now.
“I understand true faith,” spoke Shawn. “I am no false Christian. But when you say these things against me, then I am truly blessed. Matthew says that for Christ’s sake, you say these awful things about me, for you hate him. If you did not, then you would let no unwholesome word come from your lips upon me. If you truly love Christ, then be gracious to me, for I have done no wrong to you.”
Dracula and the devil looked at each other slack-jawed. Was this really happening? Was this kid talking back to him? Dracula’s face snarled up, and he pulled his hand back into a fist.
“Oh,” said Dracula, “am I going to pop you one.”
And he would’ve too if not for an adult hand wrapping around his fist. He looked up to see the middle-aged man.
“No one is going to be popping anyone,” said the middle-aged man. “Now, how’s about you two leave this boy alone before I kick your asses?”
The two monsters looked at him, unsure of how to react.
The monsters disappeared into the crowd with haste.
The middle-aged man lowered himself down to Shawn’s level.
“Are you alright, kid?”
“Nice use of Ephesians in there. I’m impressed. Sorry about those two goons. They’ve been to church their whole lives but somehow don’t seem to understand anything about it. I worry that the pastor will never get through to them.” He looked down at Shawn and realized that Shawn didn’t recognize him. “Oh, I’m sorry. Where are my manners? You’ve probably never seen me before. The name’s Bruce. Bruce Richardson.”
Bruce Richardson extended his hand, and Shawn grasped it firmly and shook. Bruce seemed impressed.
“Shawn. My name is Shawn.”
“That’s a mighty firm handshake you’ve got there, Shawn. You must come from a place where the men were men.”
“That explains it. Can’t say I agree with Catholics much on anything, but I have to respect that they do things the old way. It raises real men. Not this….sissy stuff you see before you.”
Shawn was genuinely surprised. This is the first person he’d run into since becoming a part of the church that seemed to contrast with the rest of the congregation.
“You don’t seem like the rest,” Shawn asked. “Are you a part of this church?”
Bruce just chuckled.
“Oh, yes. I’ve been a part of this church most of my life. Work just takes me away quite a bit, so I spend a lot of my worshiping at other Pentecostal churches. However, this is my home base, so I always come back here.” Bruce leaned in. “You know, this church wasn’t always so wild. I’m honestly disappointed with the direction it’s taken. I speak up when I can, but all I usually get are polite smiles. I think they put up with me because I’ve been a part of the congregation so long, but they have no intention to change directions.”
“Might I ask, why do you stay?”
“Oh, now that’s a good question.” Bruce thought about this for a moment before speaking. “I suppose it’s out of obligation, mostly. If I leave, who will speak up?”
“But you just stated they don’t listen to you.”
“No. No, they don’t. But somebody needs to speak for the gospel from time to time. Their hearts in the right place, even if their service isn’t. You won’t see me standing up chanting in tongues and writhing all over the floor like the rest of them; well, not usually. I think most of them believe I’ve lost my salvation.”
“Do you think you have?”
“No. And I don’t think the folks here have either. However, as they head down the path they’re walking, I fear that time may soon come.” Bruce looked down at Shawn, who was staring up at him quizically. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry, kid. I didn’t mean to burst your bubble like that. I just got lost in what I was saying, that’s all. Look, this is a fine church, and they’re all great people here. You’ll get the gospel. I can tell you’ve already received it. It’s going to be okay.”
“No,” said Shawn. “It’s fine. You may be the first person I’ve run into since I got here that’s given me real hope. Thank you.”
Bruce looked somewhat confused.
“Er, thank you?” said Bruce.
“You’re a good man, Mr. Richardson. Deo Gratias.”
And before Bruce could respond, Shawn walked off. A voice behind him spoke.
“You’re not filling that boy’s head with rebellion, are you, Mr. Richardson?”
Bruce turned around to see a slim lady in a burgundy business suit, complete with shoulder pads. Her long black hair was up in a bun held together by a pair of wooden knitting needles, and her cat’s eye glasses glared him down.
“Oh, Miss Marquis! I didn’t see you there. How do you do?”
“I’m doing very well. It’s nice to see you at church. It’d be even nicer to see you at an actual service.”
“Now, Miss Marquis, you know very well that I travel for work, and when I’m on the road, I attend service at other Pentecostal churches.”
“Mm-hm. No doubt, that’s where you get all your crazy ideas about how a service should be.”
“With all due respect, I’ve been attending this church a lot longer than you have, and it was quite a different beast when I was growing up.”
“A beast, you say? Is that how you look at us? As a mark of the devil? Well, I’ll tell you what, this elation that you see when you actually show up for service is a new move of the Holy Spirit.”
“Now Miss Marquis,” Bruce pleaded, “I never said anything of the sort. It was a figure of speech. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Say what you will, it makes no difference to me. I only ask that you stay away from that boy and not fill his head with your poppy-cock. He’s spent his whole life brainwashed by the Roman Pagan cult, and it’s been a challenging transition for him. The boy is finally saved, and he doesn’t need you undoing that. As you can see, he’s finally embraced the Lord and is a true Pentecostal.”
Bruce looked at Miss Marquis and gave her a raised eyebrow.
“Are you sure about that?” he asked.
Before she could answer, a loud squeal blanketed the room, causing the faces of those in attendance to scrunch up. Once the sound had dissipated, everyone looked over to see Tom Adkins standing on a low platform holding the microphone, looking embarrassed.
“Sorry about that, folks,” he said.
At thirty-two years old, Tom Adkins was the most senior of the church elders. Though he was often aloof and had a tendency to stumble over his words, he could be counted on for most any task at hand. As a matter of fact, he would often volunteer his services before he could even be asked. His eagerness to volunteer is what landed him as host of the costume contest.
“Anyway,” he continued, “We’ve got some great costumes this year, and the judges have made their decision. Now, before I declare the winner, I must give the unfortunate news that we had to make a few disqualifications for not following the rules. Remember, we’re not here to celebrate Satan like the rest of the world is doing today.”
The edge of Shawn’s mouth curled up in amusement ever so slight at that last statement.
“So, for all of you who thought it would be cute to give in to the dark side, take a note from the winner. The costume voted on by the judges best represents everything about what we teach and believe in. Though the individual had a rough start coming in, they have today shown that they truly understand our faith and the message we carry to the world. This individual’s costume represents the exact light that Christ Trinity is supposed to represent. So without further ado, I present to you, Shawn. Shawn, would you come up here?”
Shawn made his way up to the platform and stood before the congregation as everyone applauded him. Everyone, that is, except for Bruce Richardson and the old man from earlier. They seemed more interested in how this was going to play out than the celebration at hand.
Tom Adkins smiled and put a hand on Tom’s shoulder.
“Congratulations on winning the costume contest, Shawn. For the judges, it really was an easy choice. This last month or two, you’ve really stepped up and become a part of the congregation. In fact, you’ve almost become the perfect member. However, this was a costume contest, so none of that could have any bearing on the actual outcome.
“Shawn, your costume…” Tom stumbled a bit with his words. “Umm….how do I say it? It’s not just that your costume is simply incredible from a visual standpoint. While the sheer impressiveness of it alone could potentially have given you the win, that’s not what sealed it. What sealed it was that your costume embodies everything that Christ Trinity is all about. So I have to ask, is your costume of a specific angel?”
“Yes,” Shawn replied as the microphone was extended in front of him.
“And which angel is it?”
Shawn gave a brief pause as he looked around out at the crowd of elated faces. They were caught up in the moment, some of them even tearing up. With a sly smile, he leaned into the microphone.
There was a collective gasp and then silence as everyone was stunned in their places. Bruce Richardson put his face into his hand, shook his head with disappointment, and walked out of the church without saying a word. After what felt like an eternity but was only mere moments, the old man who had spoken with Shawn earlier finally spoke. It was a whisper, but the room was so silent that everyone heard it.
“The father of lies.”