The Right Epitaph

This is fiction story written for a Red Writing Hood prompt from Write on Edge. The prompt was to write a story in which an epitaph features prominently. The word limit was 500 words or less.

The subject matter of this story may make some readers uncomfortable. Constructive feedback is welcomed. Tell me what you liked and tell me how I can improve:~)

Tommy watched the graveside service standing beside an ancient oak tree. Silver-gray moss hung from its twisted branches and swayed in the warm breeze. A young preacher spoke the eulogy. His voice was so soft only a few phrases made it to Tommy’s ears.

“…a good servant of the Lord…”

“…beloved by all …”

“Give me a break!” Tommy spit the words out. He didn’t think God would be pleased about this eulogy.

The preacher finally stopped. People dropped flowers on the casket and spoke to the sobbing wife. Eventually, old Herman and his grandson stepped forward, checked the straps and the machine lowered the shiny new casket into the grave. After a few minutes, two pallbearers in their black suits stuck shovels into the nearby pile of dirt, symbolically tossing chunks of it down.

Preacher Beau’s wife screamed as the wet dark dirt fell on the casket. Her scream woke Tommy’s memories. In his mind, he smelled the musty bed in the church basement and saw Preacher Beau coming towards him, his flabby skin pale against the clumps of black body hair.

He remembered screaming into the pillow as Preacher Beau held his head down. When he was done, he threatened Tommy. Said no one would believe him. Said he’d tell people Tommy stole from the church. Said Tommy would be sent away from his parents. Tommy kept quiet. He never told anyone about the basement visits.

His mom called him with the news of Preacher Beau’s death. She begged him to come home for the funeral, but he made excuses. He came anyway, but stayed hidden. He needed to see the bastard laid to rest for himself, but he wouldn’t honor him. No, he had other plans.

After the cemetery cleared out, Tommy waited until Herman finished covering the grave with the backhoe. A light rain dampened his unshaven face and his tennis shoes squeaked as he left his hiding place, walking towards the grave.

When he reached the rounded pile of dirt, he saw the headstone. Below the facts about the preacher’s birth and death was the epitaph, “A godly man who served the Lord all his days.” Tommy laughed out loud at this fiction chiseled into the headstone.

He’d fix that epitaph. He unzipped his backpack and pulled out the waterproof cloth with its words printed in permanent ink. He climbed up on the mound, placed the cloth over the headstone, stepped back and read aloud what he’d written.

“Here lies the lying Preacher Beau
Swore he served his people well
But for the sins they didn’t know
God made sure he went to hell.”

The next morning, Herman and his grandson son saw the covered headstone.

Herman gasped in shock. “We need to take that down right away. Help me, son”

The grandson grabbed his granddaddy’s arthritic hand with his own strong one. With tears in his eyes, he said, “Leave it, Granddaddy. That’s the right epitaph for Preacher Beau.”

*     *     *     *     *

Every society, animal and human, in order to survive must make the health and safety of its young a top priority. Continued failure to do this will put the society at risk.

No one is comfortable with the idea that children are raped or experience sexual abuse. Yet, the National Center for Victims of Crimes estimates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will have experienced an episode of sexual abuse while younger than 18 years. 

The numbers of boys affected may be falsely low because of reporting techniques (Botash, Ann, MD, Pediatric Annual, May, 1997).