It was unusually cold for the first Sunday of November. The sky was clear and the moon was full.
Just after midnight, an old man placed two rusty gas cans next to a plastic fuel container, all of them full, into the bed of his 1965 Ford pickup. The truck’s red paint was scratched and faded. He kept the vehicle patched together with duct tape and coat hangers, but it still ran all right.
After locking up his trailer, he drove to the top of the hill and parked his truck just off the two-lane highway. Across the road was a one-room church next to a cemetery. No one used the church anymore, but headstones kept popping up next to it as the tiny West Virginia community continued to die.
With his good hand, he was able to carry the two cans together and still manage the plastic one in his weak one. He carried them to the other side of the road and looked up at the door to the old church.
It terrified him.
There was something inside, he’d been told. Something he wasn’t supposed to look at and was sure he didn’t want to see, but there was no one else around that could do what he needed to.
No one seemed to know who had the key anymore, so a carpenter’s pry bar would serve instead. A piece of the crumbling door frame broke free of the latch holding the padlock, allowing the door to swing open. He left the plastic fuel container outside and carried the cans in with him. It was so dark inside the room that he could barely make out where the pews were, and that suited him just fine.
Keeping his head down so he could only see his feet, he shuffled toward the front of the church and set one of the cans down to open the other. He poured it out onto the floor in a wide half circle, cringing at the acrid gasoline vapors. It gurgled at first as it emptied, then poured smoothly at the end. After he dropped the first can and went back for the second, he made a mistake, seeing something he meant not to.
Closer to the center isle than he would have liked, there were feet dangling off the front end of the pew, as if someone were sitting and waiting patiently for him to complete his work.
He knew not to look up. He didn’t want to see who it was or in what state they were in.