Pastor Hugo Jenkins awoke in his study surrounded by crumpled bags of potato chips and large plastic cups which exuded the aroma of strawberry milkshake. His lime green dress shirt was steaming with damp and roughly smashed against the vinyl armchair, and a pinching sensation on his chest proved to be nipple clamps. He had no recollection of the events of the previous night, although he suspected that his private rituals of Friday afternoon had led to a full-on autoerotic orgy. His grey dress pants were tangled around his ankles and his tartan plaid boxer shirts were ripped wide in the crotch. Sighing, he looked around for any form of caffeine and found a few ounces of oily coffee in a mug which he brought to his lips. The coffee tasted like motor oil, but he forced it down with a grimace and a mental note to invest in a proper coffee maker.
He pulled up his pants and fastened his belt, trying to reconstruct a plausible scenario of his own movements from the evidence that presented itself. He chuckled at the carpet stains which resembled patches of glue, brown smears on the wall and clear, sticky runoff from the armchair. Jenkins was about to peel off his soiled garments and take a long, hot shower when he heard the first knock.
A brisk tattoo at first, four sharp raps, followed by a tentative pause, a breezing of knuckles against the door frame and dead silence.
The church was closed on Saturday morning and Jenkins hadn’t expected any visitors, certainly not this early. He wondered if it might be the maintenance worker, Pedro Rivera, but recalled that Rivera’s services weren’t available on Saturdays.
The knocking came again, a repetition of the earlier pattern with a barely audible sigh after the knuckle-breezing, followed by a cough.
“Who is it?” Jenkins asked. There was no reply.
Jenkins went to the closet, seeking something suitable to cover his slept-in wardrobe with, and found a threadbare but clean white terry cloth robe. He shrugged it on, hoping his visitor would either go away or prove to be Florinda Higgins, a parishioner whose straightlaced front he fantasized as thinly disguising a carnal volcano. Perhaps at this very moment she was rubbing her moist pubis against the walnut veneer, choking down gasps of desire, and if he opened the door she would fall into his arms and impale herself on his throbbing, erect tool. Of course this was very doubtful. He moved to the door and opened it a crack, looked around the lobby and found no one. He then carefully locked and bolted the door and began to move towards the bathroom when the knock returned.
Whoever it was, they were persistent. Jenkins suppressed a sudden image of violence, the serial killer who had been stalking him finally closing in for the coup de grace, although this seemed unlikely considering that he had no enemies that he knew about and random murders were unheard of in his small midwestern parish. He piled his clothes on the bathroom floor and stood under the hot spray, willing his breath to return to normal and his heart to stop pounding.
Through the veil of water he thought he heard the knock again, but then defiantly rapped his own knuckles against the glass of the shower stall. There was nothing to fear. He thought again of Florinda, her curves and soft thighs wrapped around him, and his hand moved to his cock, pinching the coronal crest and then sliding down the length. Soon all he was aware of was the thrum of blood in his ears as he coaxed himself to a shattering orgasm. When he was finished, Jenkins soaped himself off, shampooed and conditioned, grabbed a towel from the rack and stood in front of the misted mirror, rubbing the surface with a slight squeak. With a sense of chagrin he realized the nipple clamps were still attached; he tweezed them off and placed them in the pockets of his robe, reminding himself to put them back in the cabinet when he had a chance. The face that greeted him was a predictable portrait of middle age, with sagging jowls and more lines on his forehead than he would like. His hair was virtually gone, with just a tuft on the top of his head in place of the thick black curls of his youth. His pecs sagged. As for his belly, well, squats were certainly in order. Lots of them.
Jenkins walked down the hall to his bedroom and shut the door, rummaging in the clothes cabinet. The pile in the hamper beside the closet exuded a stagnant smell. When he had dressed himself in his Saturday casuals–a pair of blue jeans, a t-shirt with CHRIST LOVE MINISTRIES emblazoned on the front in cheery purple, sneakers and white socks–the pastor began to feel a little better, and had almost forgotten about the phantom knocker when it returned.
This time it was an insistent, propulsive rhythm straight out of thrash metal, the kind of music he warned his flock against but secretly enjoyed himself. A jolt of fear shook him. The uninvited guest had turned home invader, and he was unprepared to fight whoever was behind the fierce beat. He looked around for some kind of weapon and found only a chair. “Go away,” he shouted. “I’m armed.”
Then the knock caromed off the door and faster than humanly possible was echoed in the vestibule, a polyrhythm building up as the knocks accelerated and knit together and boomed and thumped and vibrated, as though an entire marching band had taken up residence in the building. Jenkins pressed his hands to his ears and prayed.
And then, in a series of revelations that seemed to upload themselves in his brain as he stood quaking in his jeans, Jenkins recalled the sermon he had delivered the previous Sunday on the topic of God’s grace, and the text he had used: “Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.”
On Tuesday, the parish had mourned the death of one of their oldest and most faithful, Melinda Burbage. Burbage had prevailed after the shocking accident five months earlier in which her three sons, members of the band Putrid Essence, crashed their tour van into a retaining wall en route to a concert to promote their latest (and final) album, Death’s Door. Ever since, her presence on Sundays was a kind of memento mori, a haunting reminder of the inevitable.
Jenkins lowered his arms and opened his ears to the rhythmic music, the bright, dark and muted tonal palette the ghostly family evoked from the adjoining church, the windows, the alcoves, the walls. He felt suddenly humbled. The Burbages had not come there in search of a grace that was not his to promise; rather, to awaken him to the shallow spirit underlying his words.
With folded hands, the pastor bowed down as a cataclysmic rain of knocks poured from all sides. The silence after was broken only by the pulse of his heartbeat. The knocking ceased finally and forever.