y name is Bernie Louis Harding Jr., and I’m a good person. Always have been. Always will be.
Do you believe me?
When I was seven, my Grannie put chocolate pudding in my lunch bag every day. Some of the kids at school were jealous, so I shared with them. We passed around the pudding and ate it with my spoon.
When I was twelve, I saw Liana Scaldy pass out by the playset. She was mean and made fun of my shoes, but I still went and got help.
And when it came time to choose a career, I became a doctor.
I love helping people. That much I remember.
So do you believe that I’m a good person?
I need to kill my wife.
How about now?
Please don’t lose faith in me. Give me the chance to explain.
Annie and I married young. I was still in medical school and neither of us had any money, but we were in love. It was the easiest choice I’ve ever made.
We tried having kids, but with no luck. Perhaps God knew what would happen and spared a young soul. Of course he did. He is always looking out for us. This is what I needed. This is my path.
Annie wanted a little girl. I hated myself for not being able to give it to her. Still, our love never wavered.
By the time I was 30, I had a dependable medical practice setup. I chose pediatrics. In part because I love kids, and in part because I believe they are the ones who deserve the most help. I think that if Jesus were a doctor, he would be a pediatrician.
On the last day of my normal life, I remember kissing Annie goodbye—just like I always did—then walking out the door into the beautiful Alabama sunshine. I tuned my radio to 100.3, cracked the car windows, and pulled out of the driveway to go to work. I was scheduled to see a boy with a tumor on his face that morning. I remember that. It kept me up all night thinking about how best to treat it. I didn’t want to cause permanent damage to his face. That innocent face the Good Lord created. I didn’t want to maim it.
Annie tells me that on my way to work, I was in an accident. A giant truck carrying soda and other sugary beverages t-boned me in an intersection. The driver fell asleep at the wheel. Too many hours driving without a break. I can’t remember if he went to prison, and frankly, I don’t care. This is what God planned for each of us and I trust that the driver was sent down the path he needed to be sent down.
That was twenty-three years ago, if what Annie told me today is accurate. I have no recollection of that day or any day since.
Annie said that I have a rare memory complication. The doctors told her I was lucky to survive the accident. I spent three months in a coma. Then one day Jesus himself decided that I still had work to do in this life. I reopened my eyes on April 4, 1979.
During the first few days after my rebirth, my short-term memory lasted less than a minute. The doctors told Annie this was common in patients recovering from brain trauma and that it would fade over time. They expected a full recovery.
Here’s the problem. It never did.
Annie tells me that my mind works in strange ways. She says we have conversations, but I change the topic erratically and don’t remember what we were talking about moments earlier. I still enjoy watching television, but by the time an episode is over, I can’t remember what happened at the start.
Annie says I do have the ability to make some new memories. She lets me go on walks around the neighborhood by myself and somehow find my way back. I have friends. At least, she says I do. She says I go out every day with a smile on my face—a smile larger and more genuine than she ever remembers me wearing before the accident. I walk through oppressive heat, hurricane-strength winds, and frigid fog. I wave at my friends as if I know them, but when we meet, I introduce myself and ask for their name.
“You’re just so God damn happy all the time, Bernie,” she told me earlier today, “How the hell are you so happy?”
Normally I would not stand before my wife and listen to her take the Lord’s name in vain, but I could tell she was upset. And frankly, my mind was spinning. I didn’t believe what she said. In my head, the accident never happened. The morning leading up to it was a monotonous dream and I was about to start that day for real.
When Annie broke down sobbing, I ran over to the mirror and looked at myself. It was not my face. The man I saw was thinner and had deep wrinkles around the corners of his mouth. He looked like an older brother that crawled out of the woods. I backed up, then grabbed a picture of Annie and I on our wedding day and threw it at the mirror. The glass shattered. Annie covered her mouth with her hands as tears rolled down her face.
She’s taken care of me, day in and day out, for the last twenty-three years. I don’t know that in the way that you might know what you ate for lunch yesterday, but I know it because Annie says it to be true and I trust her.
I don’t work and Annie can’t work either. Someone needs to be with me all the time. She says that sometimes I say that I want to go for a drive and she has to hide the keys from me. Then I become violent and strike her across the face with the back of my hand, but it doesn’t last long because I forget what I’m doing and move on to my next fleeting thought.
Her parents support us. When she told me that, I nearly punched a hole through the wall. I pictured her dad’s bushy eyebrows judging me every time he stops by to hand her a check. He always hated me. And now, I can’t blame him. I hate me.
Many things have changed, but many have stayed the same. Annie says my favorite food is still her pot roast and that she makes it for me on the first Sunday of every month. We still go to church. After she told me about my condition and I regained my composure, the first thing I asked her was, “Do you take me to church?”
“Every Sunday,” she said, turning around and walking out of the room.
That was a relief. The Devil hides everywhere and nobody sees him or believes he’s there. That’s the problem. At least I know I’m not possessed by a demon. A demon could not cross the threshold of our church undetected for twenty-three years.
Annie’s laying in bed sleeping now. The sun is only just beginning to set, but she’s been there for about an hour.
I walk into the kitchen and pull the largest knife from our knife block. This knife was a wedding gift from my best friend, Bob Hugh. It’s German—they know how to build a sturdy blade. I can remember using it to cleave a t-bone back when we were newlyweds! It’s not a butcher’s knife, but it cuts through bone like butter. I wonder where Bob is now?
Before Annie ran to the bedroom crying, she told me that once every few years I have a good day where the duration of my memory increases, lasting hours instead of seconds. Today is one of those days. I do not remember waking up, but I remember many things about today. I remember the look on her face when she began to realize I was holding a conversation longer than normal. And how she broke down in tears telling me about my accident and our lives since then in agonizing detail. I remember how I broke the mirror. And how I felt like an alien in another human’s wet skin. And how my stomach sank when I asked her if she still took me to church. The gap between my question and her answer felt like an eternity under water. At least I know I’m not possessed. That is a blessing for us both and reason enough to be grateful to God Almighty.
Most of all, I remember the pain in Annie’s eyes just before she stormed into the bedroom. She told me several times how happy I am. How I walk around as if everybody is my best friend. The words she used to describe me made me sound like a dog.
“Are you happy?” I asked her.
I remember how her lips quivered. And how her eyes were already red from crying, but how they turned three shades darker and soon tears flowed. She covered her face and ran. I thought about walking over to the dining table and slamming my forehead into the corner. I didn’t want to remember anymore.
But I do. I still remember. It hurts and I want to make it go away. For both of us.
I told you that I’m a good person, and surely now, you believe me. I am merely a man here to fulfill God’s will. For me, that is enough. I have to remind myself of that. That is enough.
God must have given me this day for a reason. There is something I’m supposed to do. He has work to do and he needs my help. The Devil is always working. And that’s the trouble. He is in the darkness working his evil deeds and nobody sees him. God sees him. I see him.
I feel the edge of the knife with my thumb. My Pop taught me how to check if a blade is sharp. You don’t slide your thumb down the edge—a sharp blade will slice through your flesh.
Yes, a knife can slice right through your flesh and through your bone, but it cannot cut your soul. Remember that.
No, when you test a blade, you rub your thumb across the edge, not down it. I can feel this blade is sharp. I grab a pumpkin sitting on the counter, position it in front of me, and slam the knife down through the flesh of the pumpkin. The knife makes a thud when it hits the wood counter.
I told you I tell the truth. This blade is sharp.
Now you will believe me when I tell you something else. I only tell the truth—remember that.
I told you before that I’m a good person, but I confess to you today that I must sin. I must sin in the name of Jesus Christ himself, for we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. This is God’s work I’m about to do.
I can tell that Annie is lonely and miserable. I do not think she is possessed by a demon and I do not think that I am either, but the Devil is at work in our house. He is torturing her. He was there on the day of my accident. He made me what I am. God pulled me back because I still have work to do, but the Devil took my life from me. He took Annie’s life. He took our life.
The Devil is here in this house and I’m going to find him.
I wipe the orange blood of the pumpkin from my knife with a kitchen towel. It stains the white fibers. Yes, Bob gave me this knife for a reason. God was at work, as he always is. This sharp knife was Bob’s part in my fate. He gave it to us thirty-one years ago so that on this day I could use it to defeat the Devil.
“Where are you?!” I shout.
There’s no response. I didn’t think it would be that easy, but it was worth a try. The Devil is cunning before he is brave. He is calculated. He would not come forth and let me vanquish him back to hell. No, it will be a fight. I will have to pull him from the hole in which he burrows.
You trust me now. I may be a shameful husband, but do not call me a liar. God spoke into my ear and told me to wield this blade. His voice was warm and it touched my soul. This is what God is telling me to do, so you understand that I must listen. I am his knight. What kind of man would I be if I did not listen?
He did not tell me what to do with the blade. But what can I expect? He put me here to learn a lesson, not to control me as a puppet. This is my task. I must do his work and vanquish the Devil from this house.
I take a step toward our bedroom. I can no longer hear Annie sobbing. I want her suffering to end. The Devil’s tortured her enough, hasn’t he? God, please show me a sign that he’s tortured her enough. She is good. She is all that is good in this world. You know that, of course. She deserves to be in heaven. Let me handle the Devil. She’s endured enough.
The sun has nearly set as I take two more steps toward the bedroom. The sky is purple. I can see stars. Annie used to love it when I pointed out the Big Dipper. She could never find constellations on her own, but she’d stare at them without blinking for an hour once I had her head oriented in the correct direction. I think her place in heaven will be near the Big Dipper. I imagine there’s a house there waiting for her, not unlike our house here in the mortal world. My dog, Red, is there expecting us. He was not red in color, but I wished he was, which is why I named him Red. He was hit by a bus when I was ten years old. A yellow school bus. I loved him.
One of the floorboards squeaks as I lean my weight onto it. It’s the Devil. He’s here. I swipe my knife at the air, hoping to slice open his rotting flesh.
“My blade is blessed by God,” I whisper.
I must act fast. You see that now. There’s no more time to talk.
I move as quickly as I can toward our bedroom while keeping my steps light. I turn the door handle, then push the door open. I know Annie is sleeping before I see her. There is always a peace in the air when she’s asleep. God doesn’t pick favorites, but if he did, she’d be one of them.
I poke my head through the crack of the door. There she is. Lying face down on the bed. She always falls asleep on her back, but rolls over in her sleep onto her stomach. I can hear her soft snores echoing off the walls of the room.
I look behind me to see if the Devil is following, then slip into the room. My hand is shaking. Why is it shaking? I cannot let the Devil put this fear in me. I squeeze the handle of the blade.
It is a sin to murder, but this is not murder. This is putting an animal down when it’s in pain. This is saving my wife from the Devil. I’m doing God’s work. He would not fault me for that. He had Bob give me this blade. This blessed blade. He gave me my memory on this day to do his work. I must act fast, for I do not know when my memory will fade.
Perhaps the Devil has been stealing my memory. This thought had not not crossed my mind, but it makes sense. Yes, God has been in a battle with the Devil for twenty-three years. Today he has succeeded. Today he has held the Devil at bay long enough for me to finally finish his work. That’s why I need to act quickly.
I creep toward the bed, gripping the blade in both hands and raising it over my head. I know where Annie’s heart is. I can bring the blade down through her ascending thoracic aorta. I cannot leave the blade in, for if I do, she will wake up and bleed out more slowly. I had a child come to me once. He’d been running with a pencil and tripped and fell and it pierced through his chest into his heart. If his mother had removed the pencil, he would have bled out and died instantly. God was with her that day and she knew to leave the pencil in and I was able to save him. I cannot let Annie linger. It must be swift. If I plunge the blade into her back, it will slice through her ribs and sever her aorta. And if I remove the blade quickly, she will die before she wakes up.
My arms are shaking. I take a deep breath and whisper, “See you in heaven,” then plunge the blade down toward Annie’s back.
I stop just inches before the tip of the blade sinks through her skin. What if the Devil is inside of me? He’d want me to believe he wasn’t there, right? Yes, murder is a sin. The greatest sin. And betrayal is a close second. I cannot betray Annie as the Devil betrayed God. I cannot murder her. I see you, Devil! And I will vanquish you!
Then why did God put this blessed blade in my hand today? I must think quickly. At any moment the Devil could prevail and I might lose my memory...
I must be the location of the battle. It’s the only explanation that makes sense. God is battling the Devil inside of me. He has been there for twenty-three years. He had the forethought to show Bob the path and gift me this blade. He has been working to give me my memory for twenty-three years so that the battle can end today.
And there’s only one way this ends. I am possessed. I must exorcise the devil from myself.
“I see you, Devil!” I shout.
Annie brings her hands to her face and rubs her eyes. I raise the blade back up over my head as she rolls onto her side to face me. Then I open my mouth. I do not know why I do this, but I feel it is what God is telling me to do. I must bring the blade down through my mouth to exorcise the Devil. It will not be suicide, for that is also a sin, though I will die in the process. Annie looks at me. I can tell she is frightened, but she need not be. She will live a happy life. She still has many years left on Earth doing God’s work. For he has used her to do battle with the Devil and she has done all that he has asked. We will meet again in heaven.
I want to tell Annie I love her, but God is telling me there isn’t time. He is shouting in my head, “Now! Now!” I worry about Annie, though. Will she blame herself? Surely God is thinking of her. She has her own path, I need to trust in that. But she has been through so much. She is so good. So pure. She says I have been happy, and yet she has suffered.
I need to cleanse her of myself. Of the Devil. She deserves that. God will handle the rest. God will take care of her when I’m gone.
I drop to my knees. She is curled up in the fetal position. Her body is shaking. I take my left hand off the blade and press my finger to her lips.
“Shhhh,” I whisper, “God is here.”
She says nothing, and I am thankful for that. I do not have time to talk. God is still in my ear. His voice is fading, but he’s still there. The Devil is fighting back. “Do it!” he tells me.
I bring the blade up to my neck and take one final look at Annie. Her eyes are closed and for that I’m thankful. I slice the blade across my neck, severing both carotid arteries. I see blood spray her face before my consciousness fades and I begin my ascent to heaven. Her eyes are still closed and she is covered in blood. “Good,” God whispers.
My blood will cleanse her. It will rid her of any lingering demons. Like Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins, I have sacrificed myself in the name of God. I have sacrificed myself for Annie, and I hope this fact will help her find peace while she waits for her turn. Before she joins me at our house in heaven.
I can feel the Devil leaving my body. God’s plan has worked. The Devil’s on his way back to hell and I feel light. I feel free.
I’m coming home, Red. I’m coming home.