There was this time I thought Gabriel was blowing his horn and dive-bombing me into Hell. Turned out it was a Mack coal truck across the road at Dale Trivette’s Trucking pulling onto Route 610.
I was in bed and thinking about what Mother told me while we had a snack that evening.
“Don’t worry if you’re a sinner and the time comes and Jesus returns,” she said. “The Bible says Gabriel will sound his horn to signal the Lord coming.” She leaned down to me and put her soapsuddy hand against my face. “When you hear that horn sounding out, just ask the Lord to forgive your sins and you can go to paradise.”
She smiled so big when she went back to eating her strawberry Jell‑O.
So when that Mack honked to pull onto Route 610, I started praying. It wasn’t much of a prayer, you know. Not the really practiced kinds of prayers you hear in church. What I was saying was mostly out of fear and it all ran together and maybe I was whimpering a little, too.
A few days after I started vacation bible school I was at mom’s house for the weekend. My real mom, not my grandmother who I called Mother. I told her I was going to get saved. She had just had my baby sister, whose dad was mean but gone most of the time. She looked tired and hurt before I said anything. When I told her, she stared for a long time at the floor and then went into the bathroom.
I bent down and talked under the door.
I said, “I know I’m just a little boy, but I want to walk with Jesus Christ.” I pushed my mouth close to the opening between the bottom of the door and the floor. “You can, too, Mom. If you hear Gabriel blowing his horn, all you have to do is ask Jesus to forgive you and you can go to paradise, too.”
Vacation bible school ended not too long after that and I started thinking more about playing baseball than I did about Jesus and sin and Gabriel. But when winter came back around, I stood in Mother’s kitchen and started imagining again what Gabriel would sound like blowing his horn.
Outside the kitchen window, the grass in the front yard, the porch rails, the hummingbird feeders, were covered in ice. Even whispers seemed to bounce off the frozen things and go on forever. They bounced and bounced and made such a loud sound when they did.
Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of the collection The Same Terrible Storm, which was nominated for the Chaffin Award in 2013, and the upcoming collection Where Alligators Sleep. His writing has been widely published and anthologized, most recently in Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia. He was a judge's selection winner in 2012 for the Still: Journal Fiction Award and a finalist in 2013 for the Gertrude Stein Award. He survives in Eastern Kentucky. Visit him at bentcountry.blogspot.com.