No One Questioned It

Here’s a Blog Battle short story (998 words, pushing my luck) for the theme: Head.

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Deep in the Utah boonies a ways off I-80 stood a little town–so small you’d drive past in the time it took to Google directions back to civilization. One lone church stood above the houses and shops like a shepherd over the flock. The town’s few heathens joked that even Westboro Baptist members thought Last Days Holiness Tabernacle a bit extreme.

Five years ago, Last Days’ new pastor Eli took that as a point of pride. On his first Sunday, he praised the congregation for following their late pastor’s example so well.

When the ladies of the church invited Pastor Eli’s wife Edith out for tea and gossip in the form of prayer, she graciously declined. “I’ll need to check with Eli about that. The husband is the head of the wife, you know.”

Mary the silver-haired organist chuckled. “Yes, dear, of course. But the wife is the neck and can turn the head whichever way she sees fit.”

Edith’s face blanched and she shook her head. She shot a quick glance at her husband, who stood in the foyer with the men discussing politics and such. When she whispered, “Perish the thought,” no one questioned it, though Mary rolled her eyes.

When Mary was asked to step down two months later, no one questioned that either. The pastor’s daughter Gracie was quite accomplished on the organ, even at age ten. Her youthful energy brought joy to the congregation, or so said Pastor Eli.

Three years ago, Gracie’s Sunday School teacher Rebekah asked her husband Levi over dinner to consider some strange things the girl shared in confidence.

Levi grunted from behind the sports section of the Herald, which Rebekah took as yes.

“I figure you might know best,” she said. “Gracie said her pa sometimes sends her upstairs to the attic for her daily Scripture reading. She hears Edith downstairs in the workshop crying out, even screaming now and then.”

Levi glowered over his newspaper. “I don’t think I ought to know the pastor’s private doings, ‘Bekah.”

Rebekah grimaced. “She said it only happens at the beginning of the week, because sometimes Edith can’t walk right for a couple days after. Her pa calls it cleansin’ Edith’s sin, scourgin’ away her transgressions. You an’ me both know Edith ain’t ever seen a sin no closer than the horizon.”

“Ain’t my place to judge another man’s affairs, ‘Bekah. Not yours either.”

When Rebekah brought her concerns to Pastor Eli, he smiled and assured her things were fine at home. Gracie had been reading some trashy novels she picked up from kids in town, that’s all.

And no one wondered why Gracie didn’t play hymns the next Sunday, what with the terrible fall that sprained her wrist.

Some folk did wonder at how fast Levi and Rebekah found themselves under the pastor’s rebuke two years ago. “She has a Jezebel spirit,” Pastor Eli said of Rebekah, slamming his fist on the pulpit. “No woman ought to manipulate the head of her household, and no self-respecting man should stand for such.”

For the next few Sundays, he read the Old Testament stories about Jezebel and condemned all the ways she usurped spiritual authority. He warned of the dangers of following in those footsteps. It all sounded pretty clear-cut, so no one questioned it.

Except Levi, who stood one Sunday with a page of notes. “I’ve been reading materials online, explaining what the Bible really means about being the head and all that. Pastor, it seems most teachers understand the husband’s role to be servant leadership, not tyranny. He’s to love his wife like Christ loves the church… to give his time and energy in serving her needs. Right before ‘wives, submit to your husbands,’ it says ‘submit to one another in the Lord.'”

No one thought it strange that Pastor Eli kicked Levi out right then. You can’t stand up in the service and challenge the head of the church without consequences. And they’d been warned by Eli not to trust just any so-called minister of the Gospel on the Internet.

So when Eli preached, “be the head of your house, not the tail” each year, no one doubted his judgment. They’d all seen how dangerous challenging authority could be.

A year ago, the wives whispered at how quickly Edith aged, how frail she’d become. But Gracie had grown into a beautiful teen, kind-hearted and meek. Still, her shoulders always seemed bent by an invisible burden.

Pastor Eli sheltered his family from the world, and no one questioned it, because everywhere they looked, they could see how corrupt the world had become.

Best to keep Gracie pure from all of that. Everyone said some day, she’d make an excellent wife for some lucky man.

“So long as she stays pure from sin,” Eli would answer, and people would nod in agreement.

Three months ago, the church secretary overheard Eli and Gracie arguing in his office. He promised to deal with her sins when they got home, said the time had come to cleanse her mouth and purify the rest of her from whatever vile wickedness had latched on.

She ran out the door crying.

Raising teens was hard work sometimes, everyone knew it.

When Edith showed up later, the secretary mentioned the argument. She didn’t expect the fire that flared in the quiet woman’s eyes, or her haste in returning home.

That night, the sheriff stopped by the pastor’s house. There’d been a gruesome accident in the workshop, Edith said. She led him downstairs and showed him around. He came up whiter than snow, wiping vomit from his mouth. The official report said “suicide,” even though all that remained was the pastor’s severed head. No charges were filed, but whispers spread.

In the months that followed, Gracie played hymns with a carefree passion like never before, and Edith sang louder than anyone else, her face alight with joy.

And no one questioned it.

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