BUY HERE, PAY HERE
Pastor Kenny didn’t want to stop
for slushies. All that sugar, it would make the kids hyper and the parents
would blame him, and there went his chance for promotion to Assistant Director
of Youth Outreach. Already, the weekend
had been a disaster, with the barely pubescent members of “Team Flamingo”
losing every single activity over the Jump
4 Jesus retreat. Two kids were sent home early after contracting poison
oak. Bleary-eyed parents arrived at midnight to pick up their daughter who’d
complained of homesickness. Another couple had been discovered fornicating in
the equipment shed and were summarily ejected from the program, which was a
shame because they were the only athletic members of Team Flamingo.
Kenny’s resolve held until the
gas gauge plummeted without warning from the half-full mark to empty and the
kids resumed their incessant mewing for a pit stop. He gripped the duct-taped
steering wheel and
swerved off the expressway into a gas station with a missing “G” on its
sputtering neon sign. Color posters of flavored ice drinks alongside discount
cigarette ads festooned the front window. The kids squealed and dug in their
bags for change while Kenny filled the tank and pretended to protest.
“Promise, we’ll get smalls!
It’ll only take a minute.”
“Five minutes, guys. We have to
be at the church parking lot by nine,” he called as the kids scampered through
the front door, held open by a lean, pockmarked man wearing a bandana and a
leather vest. Tattoos snaked up both of
his arms from wrist to shoulder. When one of the girls chirped a thank you, he
eyed her up and down, settling his gaze on her chest. Kenny frowned. Best practices
in youth safety
dictated that he stay with the kids. He tucked his polo shirt, emblazoned with
his name, title and the church logo, into the waistband of his khakis and
walked to the entrance. As he stepped over the threshold, Kenny gingerly nudged
aside a syringe and a used condom with his sneaker.
kids crowded around a chipped Formica
counter while they mixed blue and cherry slushie mix together in thirty-two
ounce cups. Kenny saw more than a few brand-new “Jump for Jesus!” t-shirts
already stained. A withered hot dog rotated on a warmer next to a microwave
dotted with fingerprints and smeared mustard.
“I thought you said small,
guys.” Kenny shook his head in feigned disapproval. The cool adult, the one who
let them stop for snacks. They ignored him.
Biker man paid for a six pack
and left, holding the door open for a couple in their early twenties, both
barefoot, with sunken, hollow faces. The store clerk, thin and wiry, peered at
them over an issue of Entertainment Weekly. His male pattern baldness seemed a
cruel joke in contrast to the generous smattering of pimples dotting his cheeks
and nose. A nametag that read “Joey” hung unevenly from his shirt pocket.
He frowned. “You have to wear
shoes in the store.”
“Don’t have any,” the man
replied. “Can we use your bathroom? The ones outside are out of service.”
Joey stifled a yawn. “Sorry. Employees
The woman stared at her feet,
which were caked with dirt. The man looked at Kenny with eyes the color of coal
“They got you too. I can see
them,” he said. “But you didn’t finish the deal.”
“Let’s go guys,” Pastor Kenny
As the kids filed toward the
counter, the man drew his hand out from his waistband, producing a dull
stainless steel revolver. Red ribbons danced around the man’s feet, flickering
in and out of view under the fluorescent bulbs.
“Open the register.” He gestured at his companion. “Lock the
The scarlet streamers undulated
over to caress Kenny’s cheek as if in recognition. “Long time no see, Kenny.
We’ve been looking for you.”
“Does anyone else see them?”
Kenny whispered to no one in particular. The security cameras and corner
mirrors only showed Kenny violently twitching while the robber swatted away an
invisible insect from his thigh.
“You heard him, open it up,” the
woman shouted. Kenny saw her mouth was littered with yellow, decayed teeth.
Joey’s nametag dangled
precipitously on a bent clasp. “We only keep a hundred in the register. I don’t
have the combination to the safe.”
“Not my problem,” the man
The kids shrieked at the first
shot, which he fired at the video camera and missed. He turned around.
“Everyone on the floor. Except
you, preacher man. You and me, we’re the same, ain’t we? But you cut out on
them. You still have yours.”
Kenny’s eyes flickered to the
ribbons, which had encircled the man’s head and twisted into a knot. “Of course
we’re the same. We’re children of God.
He watches over everyone. He even has his eye on the tiny spar—"
“We both got The Dread.”
One of the girls started crying.
“Please, let the kids go,” Kenny
stuttered, remembering that robbery etiquette demanded that he, the adult in
charge, request the children’s release. But he could feel them coming for him,
coming to collect an overdue payment for a careless, childish wish, spoken
aloud in a moment of weakness.
“I will fear no evil.” Kenny
mouthed the words but he didn’t believe them.
The clerk thrust a wad of money
from the register toward the man. “Here, here.”
“This ain’t shit,” the man said,
his eyes black in surrender.
An older couple rattled the door
from outside. The husband banged his fist on the glass, demanding entry and use
of the inside facilities. His wife saw the gun. Her mouth formed an “O,” but
the door mostly muffled her shrieks. Kenny thought she looked rather like a
mute bird trying to sing.
The man spun toward Kenny. “Tell
those brats to shut up and empty their pockets. “Laney, go get it from them.”
Laney snatched crumpled bills
and loose change from the kids’ outstretched hands. They’d dropped their slushies
when the shooting started and the floor ran red and blue with a thickening pool
of liquid syrup.
“Let’s pray about this,” Kenny
said. His voice dropped to a whisper. “They might go away if we do. They have
The man looked Kenny up and
down. “How long you been running?”
Kenny recoiled. “A long… since
He imagined how weak he must
look, nose running and tears dotting his sunburned, still plump with baby fat,
cheeks. The Dread hissed up through the floor and drew him in a lover’s
embrace. Kenny howled when they squeezed his spongy belly. His ribs cracked.
“Pastor Kenny, I’m scared,”
of the twins said.
The man turned his attention
back to the clerk. “Your wallet too,” he said.
“Please, man, I have to pay rent
Some of the kids screamed when
the gun popped. Others clung to each other, mute. The clerk’s head struck
the counter on his
way down, a dull thud like a pumpkin hitting concrete. He slid to the floor.
Laney ground her teeth
and picked at her face while the acrid stench of gunpowder wafted through the
“Let’s get out of here,” she
pleaded. “Those old people are gonna call the cops.”
“Pastor Kenny, Meredith can’t
Kenny spun around. One of the
girls sat hunched over, wheezing.
“She needs her inhaler. Let her
go,” Kenny pleaded. He bent over and clutched his shattered ribs in agony as The
Dread wriggled in and out of his ear canal.
“They found you,” the man said.
“Still want to pray?”
Kenny’s voice faltered. “Um,
yes.” He braced his hands on his thighs. Hunched and quivering, he began.
“Let’s pray. Dear Lord, I ask you to shine your blessings down on these two
people, your children, who have lost their way. I implore you to show them that
through your divine mercy, they can be beacons of light and that through
Christ, all things are possible. And
please help Meredith breathe. Amen.”
“Amen,” the children murmured
“That was truly lovely,” The
“That was nice,” Laney said.
“You believe that? We’re beacons of light?”
The clerk let out his death
rattle and expired.
“I surely do,” Kenny said, but
he could feel them hollowing the rest of him out, piece by piece. Their recompense.
The Dread took a break from
stroking his internal organs. “Good times, Kenny. Buy here, pay here,
A bargain struck between a
willing seller and an eager buyer would seem an equitable transaction. Terms
negotiated. Price set. Handshakes all around. No high pressure sales tactics,
no tedious credit checks or pretend trips to consult with the manager to
approve a better interest rate. Just business.
But when examined, Kenny had
discovered, the transaction always benefitted one party disproportionately. The
low down payment belied the astronomical end cost. And the product? Well, had
he not obediently initialed the waiver of warranty, the As Is disclaimer in bold
print and large font, the release and
indemnification clause that required him to pay in full regardless of
satisfaction with his purchase?
it would feel different.
“Tough shit, Kenny. Now be a
good boy and open wide,” The Dread replied.
With the low down payment made
and the instant gratification of walking off the lot with a supernatural can of
whoop ass, Kenny had sauntered, no strutted, through the last months of high
school. Yearbook season proclaimed him Most
Likely to Succeed, Most Popular.
The student council secretly recounted the votes four times. But it was Kenny’s
name they grudgingly emblazoned on the acrylic trophies.
“I don’t actually feel any
different. I don’t feel like a winner, you know? Like the guy who comes in
first. I just feel like, me,” he’d said, twisting a tissue in between his
“Your payment is four days late.
If it happens again, we accelerate your note,” the ribbon had murmured.
Kenny pressed on against the cold
clamp of The Dread while Meredith’s wheezes became shorter and less frequent.
“Psalm 119, verse 105, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my
path.’ Like the bible song goes, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it
shine. The kids were just singing it in the van. Just now. We’re on our way
home from Bible camp.”
“Meredith isn’t breathing,
“Sucks to be Meredith, don’t
it?” the man said. “We all got our crosses to carry.”
Kenny mustered a deep breath and
shouted, ”In the same way let your light shine before men that they may see
your good deeds and praise your faith in heaven. Matthew 5 verse 16.”
That verse had kept them away
once, when he’d felt them the next town over after he’d chickened out on his
end of the bargain and the luster of the plastic trophies and yearbook notables
were long dimmed. After he’d reasoned that it was just a stupid piece of paper
and after all, both sides had benefitted and no harm, no foul, let’s all move
on and forget it ever happened. Community College, then Bible College. Doing
good works later in life always made up for youthful bad choices, right? He
only felt the teensiest bit hollow, just a bit prone to melancholy when he
thought too long about his missing parts and whether they were still looking to
collect the rest. Surely the bargain had worked out in the end. If anything,
he was entitled to a refund. Payment after payment, and yet here he
stood, still fat, unpopular, and lonely.
Laney clicked her rotted teeth
together. “I don’t have a light left to shine.”
“God loves all of his children
equally. Whatever you’ve done, he forgives you. All you have to do is accept
Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal savior,” Kenny said.
“Your heart tastes like
chicken,” The Dread replied.
“I went to Sunday school when I
was a kid,” Laney croaked. “I got to sing in the Christmas pageant one time.”
“You are the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden,” Kenny whispered.
Laney set the money on the
counter. She wept. “I can’t.” She tore
at the skin on her lip until it bled and her tears mixed with the blood.
“I’m going. Keep the money. I
swear I won’t rat,” she said.
The man glanced at her indifferently.
He shot her in the midsection while The Dread fluttered just above the ice
cream display. The shot shattered the door to the milk case.
gaped at him, looked at the crimson stain
spreading on her abdomen. “Bwft,” she rasped. “Why?”
As sirens wailed in the
distance, he jerked the gun toward the kids.
“Sing the song,” he said.
Most of the kids were crying.
Others whimpered. All of them looked at Kenny when the man issued the order.
Kenny flinched when Laney succumbed to gravity, staggered to one knee, then two,
her mouth slack. She crawled across the floor, clawing as she went, reaching
for something, anything, to explain why.
Laney. We all got our crosses to carry.
“Go ahead. It’s going to be all
right,” Kenny told them.
The Dread rippled along the
kids’ heads. “It’s really not, you know.”
Haltingly, the kids sang. They gaped, glassy eyed, at Kenny, when they
finished, “…let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” Kenny nodded at his
flock. The cool adult. Most likely to succeed. Brave, even.
Laney lay sprawled on the floor,
facedown in a mishmash of dust, peanut shells and dried beer.
When the kids finished singing,
the man motioned at them with the revolver. “Get out. Take Meredith too.”
The kids scuttled to the doors,
slipping and sliding in the slushie trail. Two older teenagers drug Meredith in
between them, her lifeless arms draped across their shoulders.
“Let’s pray together now,” Kenny
said. “Me and you. My God turns my darkness into light. Psalm 18 verse 28. The
light keeps them away. It has before. They couldn’t find me for almost five
“Cheater,” The Dread hissed.
“My step daddy used to come to
my room to pray with me every night,” the man said. “That’s why they came to
me, you know? I guess I called them. I don’t pray anymore.”
“Why did you stop praying?”
“My step daddy liked my company
Kenny swallowed. “I…”
“Save it,” the man said. “I
wanted it to stop, you know? For him to go away.” He snorted. “He went away,
alright. That’s a body that won’t ever be found. They tore him apart in front
of me. I liked it.”
Kenny tried to take another deep
breath but his lungs had filled with fluid. He wanted to take the man’s hand,
comfort him, and pray for solace. Instead, he said, “What was it like? Going all
the way through with it? Not having a… you know.” His voice shook.
The man shrugged. “Not bad at
first. But then they never left. It’s
like they get off watching me do bad shit and not even care about it.” He
gestured toward Laney’s body. “I don’t even know her last name. I was getting
dope off her. When you’re loaded you don’t notice them as much.”
“I’m sorry for you,” Kenny said.
The man waved the revolver
dismissively. “I ain’t looking for pity. I just want to be done with it. I got
enough bullets to do you too, ‘less you want them to finish you off.” He
paused. “I’m not enjoying this, you know.”
The phone behind the counter
rang, perhaps the police calling to negotiate. Kenny laughed. Easy terms. No tricks.
No hidden fees.
The man cocked his head to the
side, sizing up Kenny one last time. “Before we end this, tell me, preacher
man, how does a guy like you get The Dread?”
Kenny felt them rip away the
last chunk. Paid in full. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Blue lights flashed in
the parking lot. He imagined Meredith huffing on her inhaler. Or maybe she was
dead. It felt odd not to care. He supposed that one of those stupid kids had
probably wished for something at the slushie counter. Buy here, pay here. Better
hope they don’t follow you home, kid.
“I guess I wanted someone to
like my company a lot,” Kenny said.
The first responders found the
store quiet but for the rattle and hum of an ancient air conditioning system
and the flicker of fluorescent lights. Joey the clerk lay where he’d fallen,
his eyes still open. Laney’s blood mingled with the slushie mix and filth on
Pastor Kenny looked peaceful in
repose underneath the Horizon Honey Bun cardboard kiosk. The man had helped
himself to a cold one before shuffling off his mortal coils next to a crate of
discount cigarettes. The Dread moved on, their ledger back in the black.
Kim Bonner’s work has previously appeared in Yellow Mama
("The Grove") as well as the Flying South Literary Journal and the
Barely South Review. One of her essays is featured in a 2021 anthology
published by the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. She is a native of Florida.