‘Brimstone’ by Dave Henson

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“Ye shall burn for eternity in the depths of Hell,” Brimstone screams as Russell Davis gulps the last of his coffee. Russell and Brimstone have been nearly inseparable during the summer. But now with school back in session, Brimstone, in apparent fits of separation anxiety, has been heaping even more hellfire and damnation than usual.

Russell got the African Grey a couple months ago, shortly after his wife left him. The 29-year-old parrot’s previous owner had been a preacher who rehearsed his fiery sermons for hours daily.

“Thy skin shall melt and thine eyes turn to cinders,” Brimstone squawks and swoops at Russell, who ducks and hurries out the door.

***

Russell enters the school and walks down the hallway.

“Hi, Mr. Davis. I’m looking forward to arithmetic class later this morning.”

“What? Oh, hello there…uh…” Third period. Nose ring. “Uh…”

“Suzie. Suzie Spangler. Mr. Davis, I’m hurt you don’t remember my name.” The girl turns her face into an exaggerated pout and stamps her foot. When she does, her breasts jiggle slightly under her loose-fitting top.

My God, Russell thinks, the bodies on some high school girls nowadays. “Ms., uh, Miss Spangler, of course. Sorry. Yes, I’m looking forward to our class.” He quickly turns and heads toward the teachers’ lounge.

When third period math class rolls around, Suzie is first to arrive and comes immediately to Russell’s desk. “Hi again, Mr. Davis,” she says with a big smile. “Now — what’s my name?” It seems to Russell she’s pushing out her chest.

“Yes, Miss Spangler. Did you get your assignment completed OK?”

“I thought problem three was crazy, Mr. Davis. I was thinking —” Suzie leans forward and lowers her voice— “you might give me your number, and I could call or send you a text if I get hung up again.” She holds up her phone, which is stickered with pink stars on the back.

As Suzie speaks, Russell can see out of his lower periphery that her top is hanging down. Is she even wearing a bra?

“Well?” she says.

“Yes?”

“Can’t I have your number? Please please please.”

Russell imagines Brimstone screeching “The flames await ye.”

“Stupid bird,” Russell mutters under his breath then gives Suzie his phone number. “Only if you get stumped.”

***

The next evening, Russell is finishing his soup when his phone dings the arrival of a text. Hi, Mr. Harris. It’s Suzie! This is a tough assignment!

Do you need help? Miss Spangler, Russell replies.

I wish you’d call me Suzie, RUSSELL 😉

Russell thinks about what to say, then decides no response is best. He puts down his phone, takes his soup bowl to the sink, and rinses it out. Just as he finishes, there’s another ding. He looks at his phone and immediately hits the home button. He hasn’t seen clearly, but it appears Suzie has sent him a picture of herself. Topless. As he starts to open his messages again, Brimstone begins flapping around the room. Russell puts the phone down.

For the rest of the evening, Russell wonders what he should do. Delete the text and pretend he never got it? That might not be best. What if Suzie tells somebody? Plus her phone will still show she sent him the photo. Maybe he should tell Vice Principal Simpson.

“Why in the world did you give her your number?” Vice Principal Simpson says. “You know that’s against school policy.”

“I…she said in case she needed help with her homework.”

“Give me your phone. I want to see exactly what we’re dealing with.”

“Maybe it’s not that bad. I haven’t looked at it.”

“The experts can tell if you’re lying. They’ll know how many times you looked at it and for how long. I’ll have that little tart suspended. I’ll see to it you lose your job, Davis….And go to prison….And be thrown into the burning furnace below where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Maybe going to Ms. Simpson’s a bad idea, Russell says to himself, snapping out of his fantasy. He starts to delete the text then hesitates. Maybe one little peek first wouldn’t hurt. Just then Brimstone lands on Russell’s head and bites his ear. He turns off his phone.

***

Russell has been wary of third period all morning. How is Suzie going to act? He doesn’t have to wait long. Shortly after the bell rings, she’s standing in front of him. The first thing he notices is she’s wearing a blouse buttoned all the way to her neck.

“Good morning, Miss Spangler.”

“Mr. Davis, I’m really sorry.”

This is unexpected. “Sorry about what?”

“That photo. I meant to send it to…someone else. But I had our conversation thread open and … Don’t tell anybody, OK?”

“I won’t … I mean, there’s nothing to tell. I never got a photo from you. Did it have something to do with the homework assignment?”

“No, it was … Really? You never got it? Really?”

“No photo on my end, Miss Spangler. Be seated, please.”

***

Russell sits in his easy chair reading the evening paper. Brimstone is already on his perch in the bedroom. Russell puts the paper aside, takes out his phone and looks at the picture Susie texted to him. Suddenly someone is pounding on the front door. Russell attaches the security chain and opens the door a few inches. There’s a big guy with skulls and flames tattooed on his neck.

“You Davis? The teacher?”

“I’m … who are you?”

The guy lunges forward and puts his foot in the door. “I’m Jack Spangler,” he says and holds up a phone with pink stars stickered on the back…

… His heart pounding, Russell sits up in bed and takes a sip of water.

“Just a dream, Brimstone,” he says. “Let’s go back to sleep.”

“The Fire awaits ye,” the bird replies.

Russell takes his phone from the night table, covers the screen with one hand and deletes Suzie’s message.

David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has appeared in various journals including Gravel, Literally Stories, Bewildering Stories, Dime Show Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction on the Web, The Fiction Pool, The Eunoia Review, and Fictive Dream. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.

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