The gas man's last day on the job began normally, but ended in a nightmare.
| Bennett Brown was a simple man. He was friendly to everyone, and loved his family very much. His mother had raised him to do things Gods way, and ruled over him with an iron fist to make sure that he did. She had no sense of humor, and didn’t believe in fun. Naturally, Bennett turned out to be the same way. He never even considered breaking the law, be it God’s law or the governments. He never allowed himself to lose his temper, or to partake in the evil pleasures of the world like drinking or watching television. “The Devils work,” his mother had called those things. Bennett believed her.
Not surprisingly, this lifestyle had had its effects on Bennett’s mind. So sharply focused was he on walking the line that some parts of his brain had begun to unravel a bit. Nothing noticeable, mind you, but the cracks were beginning to form in his sanity. Bennett said nothing of this to anyone. He wasn’t even sure if anything was wrong or not. He went about his business, delivering propane and taking care of his quiet family.
The first Tuesday in August began just like any other day. After carefully inspecting the gas truck, he organized his deliveries for the day and started working his route. His first stop was Mrs. McHale. Bennett turned on the four-way flashers and backed the big propane truck carefully into the narrow driveway. After setting the parking brake, he jumped out and greeted the elderly lady on the porch.
“Good morning, Mrs. McHale! How are you doing today?” Bennett stood at the edge of the stoop, and propped one foot on the bottom step. He had been delivering gas in Tattnall County for almost ten years, and knew all of his customers. Some of them, like Mrs. McHale, even had him and his family over for dinner on occasion.
“Hello there, Bennett!” Mrs. McHale said with a smile. “How’s your family doing these days?” She sat down in the wicker chair by the door and rubbed her left knee. “Can’t stand up too long, this humidity has got my poor legs just as sore as they could be.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am,” he said sincerely. “Helen and Cindy are doing just fine, like always. Cindy is getting excited about going back to school. I think Helen is just as excited to get her back to it!” Bennett chuckled. “She’s going to be in second grade this year, and growing like a weed!”
“Well my goodness, how the time flies. It seems like just last week when you brought her home from the hospital. The years go by faster since Herbert died, I think.” She paused a moment, looking off at nothing in particular. “I haven’t used much gas lately, so why don’t you just put fifty gallons in this time.”
“Sure thing, Mrs. McHale. I’ll bring your receipt back to you in a jiffy.” Bennett pulled the hose around the side of the house and pumped the gas. After reeling in the heavy hose, he returned to the porch with the stamped receipt.
“Alrighty ma’am, here you go. It sure was good to see you again!”
“Thank you Bennett, you take care now. Tell that sweet wife of yours I said hello,” she said. “Drive safe, there’s all kinds of crazies out there these days!”
“There sure is,” Bennett called back on his way to the truck. “God bless; I’ll see you next time!” He climbed up into the cab, released the brake and eased the truck out on to the road. He paused at the next stop sign and adjusted his mirror a bit. Some people called him anal retentive, or obsessive-compulsive, but he didn't care. Bennett just liked to have everything a certain way, and that was that.
His next stop was several miles away, at the Johnson house. They were a young couple, with a daughter who was the same age as his daughter, Cindy. Bennett was quite fond of Mrs. Johnson and her daughter, but he strongly disliked her husband. Every time Bennett delivered to them, Mr. Johnson was drunk and yelling at them; throwing stuff around the house and cursing loudly. This time was no exception. Bennett knew right away that it was a very bad day at the Johnson house. He pulled into the circle drive and parked.
Melinda, the young girl, was sitting under the tree in the front yard. She was crying, and had a trickle of blood in the corner of her mouth. Bennett could hear Mr. Johnson yelling at her mother, calling her very bad names. Bennett hated people who drank and cursed. The Bible said people who did those things were sinners, and sinners got punished. Bennett was very conscious of right and wrong, having grown up under a very strict and religiously fanatical mother. Without a father in his life, Bennett had unknowingly cloned his beliefs and behaviors from his mother.
Bennett walked over to Melinda and sat down beside her on the grass. She looked at him pleadingly through tear-blurred eyes, and got up and hugged him tightly.
“Calm down sweetie, everything’s okay,” he soothed her, stroking her long blonde hair. “Mr. Bennett is here, you’ll be just fine.”
“Daddy is being mean, Mr. Bennett,” she sobbed. “He’s hurting momma and me.”
The terrible and unnecessary evilness of the situation made something click in Bennett's mind. He became dizzy, and spots danced in front of his eyes. He sat paralyzed for a moment, unmindful of the drool that leaked out of the corner of his mouth. Perhaps it was due to his very sheltered and singularly focused childhood, but he just couldn't fathom the possibility of one person being cruel to another, and especially to Mrs. Johnson and Melinda. After a moment, he regained his senses somewhat, though his eyes had taken on a glazed appearance. Bennett wiped her eyes and patted her cheek absently.
“You just sit right here, sugar. I’m gonna go talk to mamma and daddy. You stay out here now, you hear me? Don’t come inside until I come get you.” He stood up and hitched his pants back into place. “You just sit right here and wait for me.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Bennett,” she replied. “I promise I will.”
Bennett walked back to the gas truck and opened the tool box. He selected the three-foot steel pipe wrench, and walked up the steps and opened the front door.
Seth Johnson was standing with his back to the door with a belt in one hand and a beer can in the other hand. Irene was lying on the floor in front of him, screaming and crying. There were swollen red welts on her face and arms, and blood smeared on her left cheek and shirt front. Her cries had apparently covered the sound of Bennett’s entrance, as Seth never turned around. Bennett looked at Irene for a moment, and then he swung the heavy wrench at Seth’s head as hard as he could.
The wrench bludgeoned through Seth’s skull, and lodged itself in his neck. Seth dropped to the floor in a burst of spasms; his beer can overturning and spilling into the carpet. Irene stopped crying and stared, her mouth agape. Bennett just stood there, waiting for her to rush to him in thanks and adoration.
When Irene finally managed to move, she shrieked and lunged from the floor. She yanked the pipe wrench from Seth’s bloody corpse and charged Bennett. “What the fuck did you do?” she screamed. “Oh my God, what did you do to my man?” She swung the heavy wrench clumsily at Bennett.
Bennett jumped back in surprise. “But, but, I just saved your life, Mrs. Johnson,” he protested, confused by her reaction. He grabbed the wrench as she tried to hit him again. “Why are you mad at me? I saved you and Melinda!”
“Oh, you son of a bitch, what did you do with my daughter?” she cried. “You murdering fuck, where is my baby?”
“She’s right outside, under the tree. I took care of her,” Bennett protested weakly. Irene ran outside, grabbed Melinda, and ran back into the house. Bennett stood beside Seth’s body dumbly, not sure what to do next. Irene rushed past him and into a bedroom, shielding Melinda’s eyes. She came right back out, slamming the bedroom door behind her.
“I’m calling the cops; you’re going to jail for this,” she spat at him. She grabbed the cordless phone off the coffee table. Bennett jumped towards her and slapped the phone out of her hand.
“You can’t send me to jail, I saved you,” he shouted. “What’s wrong with you, you ungrateful heathen?” She slapped him across the face as hard as she could, and turned to run. Bennett instinctively grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back. Irene’s feet flew off the floor and she fell flat on her back. Her head came down on the corner of the coffee table with a sickening thud. Her left arm pawed the air twice, then dropped to her side.
“Irene?” Bennett whispered, as he knelt down beside her. “Irene?” He felt her neck, fruitlessly looking for a pulse. Her eyes stared at the ceiling, an expression of shock on her motionless face. Bennett began to cry, and he stroked her hair absently. "This wasn't supposed to happen," he moaned to himself. "I just wanted to help." He turned toward the squeak of the opening door, and saw Melinda looking at him with questioning eyes.
“Mr. Bennett? Is my mommy sleeping?” she asked tentatively. She walked to him slowly, clutching her teddy bear.
“Yes honey,” he answered, as he hastily wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “Mommy is sleeping with God now.” He paused for a moment, unsure of what to say next. “She said she wants you to come live with me now,” he said tentatively. “How does that sound?” He tried to put on a smile, though his lips were quivering.
“But I don’t want to live with you, I want to live with my Mommy,” she wailed. “Why can’t I live with Mommy?”
“Hush, baby,” Bennett said, wrapping her in a hug. “That’s just the way it has to be. Stop that crying now, you have to be a big girl,” he said.
“No! Leave me alone,” Melinda cried in panic and fear. “Go away, I want my mommy!”
Bennett was blinded with a sudden rage, and grabbed Melinda by the shoulders and shook her violently. “Stop crying, stop it, stop it, stop it,” he yelled. “Why don’t you like me anymore? We’re going to be a family, and you are going to love us, and I’m going to be your new daddy,” he shouted. Melinda stopped crying abruptly, and he stopped shaking her. Melinda’s head hung oddly to one side, and blood trickled out of her nose and ears, staining her silky blonde hair. Bennett dropped her lifeless body to the floor and jumped to his feet. He walked around the house for several minutes, trying to collect his wits. Finally he went back in the front room and sat down beside Irene, his mind in a dense fog.
After a while, with a vacant look in his eyes, he stood and straightened his uniform. He picked up the bloody pipe wrench and returned to the truck. He wiped the wrench clean with a shop towel, placed it in the tool box, and climbed into the cab. After cleaning the blood from his hands and face, he backed the truck up almost to the door of the house, and reset the brake.
He only hesitated for a moment, and then he walked quickly to the rear of the house and entered the kitchen. He lit all four burners on the stove, and then walked back up front, stepping over the bodies that littered the floor. He pulled the gas hose inside the front door, opened the valve, and engaged the PTO. Clouds of cold white propane immediately began to fill the room. When the gas filled the entire room and began moving towards the rear of the house, Bennett disengaged the PTO, reeled in the hose, and ran to the cab of the truck, pulling out of the yard as fast as the truck would go. He had barely reached the end of the street when the house exploded into flames behind him. He didn’t look back.
He drove aimlessly from county road to county road for nearly two hours. Gradually he regained his senses, and he began to attempt to rationalize what had happened. He knew that there was no way that he had done those things on his own, of course. God must have used his hand to smite Seth Johnson, which he vaguely remembered doing, but surely God would not have used him to kill Mrs. Johnson and the girl, which he also vaguely remembered doing. Perhaps the Devil had possessed him; his mother had warned him it could happen. Of course, that had to be what happened! He began to perk up a little at the idea. It made a lot of sense to him that God and Satan had just had a battle and he, like Job, had been right in the middle of it. If that was the case, then he, Bennett, had not actually killed anyone. He had merely been a part of The Plan. And as a part of The Plan, he had no right to question the actions of God. Bennett nodded his head, confirming to himself that he was okay, that he hadn’t sinned after all. The shadow lifted from his face, and he turned back towards town to continue his route. Whistling tunelessly, he headed for his next stop.
“Hello, Mr. Murphy, how are you today!” Bennett called as he pulled the hose to the tank. “Looks like it’s gonna be a hot one.”
“Howdy Bennett, how are you? I got a good basket of tomatoes out of the garden this morning; do you want to take some of them home?” Mr. Murphy had a huge garden in his back yard, where he spent most of his time.
“No thank you, sir. Helen’s grown more of them this year than we can use as it is!” Bennett laughed. “I was gonna ask you if you wanted some of ours!” He filled the gas tank up and reeled in the hose. “You take care now, Mr. Murphy,” said Bennett, handing him the receipt.
“You too, Bennett,” Mr. Murphy smiled. “Don’t you work too hard!” Bennett waved as he pulled out of the driveway. After four more deliveries he was finished, and drove back to the store.
It only took a few minutes to complete his paperwork for the day, and then Bennett clocked out and went home. He could smell the meatloaf in the oven as he walked in the door, and a smile broke out on his face. Meatloaf was his favorite dish, and Helen always made it for him on his birthday.
“Daddy! Happy birthday!” Cindy ran up and gave him a big hug. Bennett picked her up and swung her around, both of them laughing.
“Hey there, how’s my favorite girl today?” he asked. “Did you get me a pony like I asked for?”
“Oh Daddy, you’re so silly,” Cindy giggled. “You know you’re way too big for a little pony!” She honked his nose playfully as he sat her down. “Mommy is making a special surprise for supper,” she whispered. “I’m not supposed to tell you what it is.” She laughed with glee at having such a special secret from her father.
“Hhmmm, let me guess,” he grinned. “Is it Booger Casserole? Or maybe... Elephant Soup?” Cindy laughed at Bennett, her face shining with happiness.
“Nope, can’t tell,” she said with a smirk. “Mommy says you’ll just have to wait and see!” Bennett ruffled her hair, and went to wash up for his little birthday party.
Later that night in bed, he kissed Helen passionately. “Happy Birthday, lover,” she whispered, nibbling his ear lobe.
“Thanks for a wonderful dinner, sweetheart. You are the best wife in the whole world,” he whispered back. They made love, and afterwards he lay staring at the ceiling, listening to her snore lightly. Guilt began to ooze out of the little cracks in his mind, and he tried fruitlessly to push it back and keep it locked away. Along with the guilt came doubt, and it ate away at his conscience. He knew in his heart that the police would find out that it was him. Even though he was in the right, which he was no longer positive about, people wouldn’t see it that way. Shame would be put on him and his family, and he would be arrested and prosecuted and end up in jail, and perhaps even Hell, in the end. What if it hadn’t been Gods Plan for him to do those things? Even if it was, how would he ever convince a jury of sinners that he was not guilty of a crime, that Seth was sentenced to death by Almighty God, that he, Bennett, was merely doing the will of the Creator? And worse yet, what if Satan had used him to kill all three of them? What if God had nothing to do with it, if there was no Plan? How would he be able to face Helen and Cindy once they knew? The questions plagued him as he tossed and turned.
After a while, he got up and went to the den. He looked at the family pictures on the wall, and glanced through some photo albums on the hearth. He opened the family Bible and flipped randomly through the pages, hoping for a sign. At last, he reached above the mantle and took down the old shotgun. It had been passed down to him from his grandfather, who was an avid bird hunter. He loaded it with the shells that he kept in case of emergency. "Dear God, what have I done," he whispered. "How did it come to this?"
He went back to the master bedroom, where Helen lay sleeping under the sheet. Bennett kissed her on the forehead with tears streaming down his face. He straightened up, put the barrel against her temple and covered it with a pillow, and pulled the trigger. The sound of the gunshot was incredibly loud in the house. He heard Cindy scream, and rushed into her bedroom.
“Sshhh, honey, its okay,” he quieted her.
“Daddy, what was that noise?” she asked. Her small voice quivered.
“It was a car outside, it backfired. Everything’s fine, baby, just go back to sleep,” he soothed. She lay back and closed her eyes. Bennett sat with her until she was asleep again, remembering every moment of her life, and how much he loved her. He would do anything for her, to protect her. There were a lot of crazies out there; the world was full of evil these days.
Bennett slipped the barrel of the shotgun into her open mouth and gently squeezed the trigger. He looked away as her blood splattered all over the headboard of her canopy bed. With his body shaking in uncontrollable grief, he put the barrel into his own mouth, said a short prayer, and pulled the trigger one last time.