I slowly opened my eyes, and felt myself groaning before I heard myself. My eyes slowly adjusted to the very dimly lit room and I realized that I was sat atop a massively large, rounded hay bale, in the middle of an empty barn. I wasn’t hanging from anything. I wasn’t tied to anything. But the bale was tall enough that I dare not jump. I’d for sure break my leg if not die from fright or fracture on impact. The ground below me was dry. And it was cement. And it was very quiet. Too quiet.
It was at this point that I became aware of my memory. Or lack thereof. The last thing I recalled was driving my tractor across the field to fertilize this year’s land. I wanted a plentiful crop - we didn’t do so well last year. Not a lot of rain. It was so damn hot, I vaguely remember pulling a water bottle out of my pocket. Maybe Molly Sue poisoned me? Can’t have.
What time was it? How long had I been here? It was very dark inside this barn, but there was a very low level of light peeking through some cracks in the walls. Not bright. Dawn. Or dusk, perhaps.
I sat for what felt like hours. After a while, I heard a very slow, thick drip develop, somewhere off in the distance. And I mean slow drip. Maybe one every two or three minutes. And each drip was followed by some hissing sound. At least that’s as best I could describe it. This went on for some time. I deduced that it must have been dusk when I originally noticed the light, because it was darker now.
I heard a door behind me somewhere open. I heard slow footsteps. The door slowly closed with a loud bang. I sat up as straight as I could and my heart rate quickened. I was sore, and stiff. But I wanted to know who was here. And I wanted to know why I was here.
Something metal was being slowly dragged across the floor. It had some heft to it, I could tell. The loud screeching stopped, and I heard a calamity of metal sound. Then I heard footsteps growing closer to me, from behind. I concluded that someone was climbing a ladder, from behind, to approach me. I heard some other noise. Some sort of sloshing, inside of a container. Perhaps they were going to feed me something? I was very hungry, but I had no idea who put me here - how could I trust someone to feed me anything?
Whoever it was had reached the top, and I could sense them very close behind me. I could smell them. It had to be a lady. They had pretty lilac perfume. I jumped when they touched me. Caressed me was a better description. They traced their fingers up and down my arm. I looked over and saw the light purple polish on their nails. It looked so familiar on their pale skin, but my frantic brain couldn’t place it.
They pulled their hand away slowly. It came back into view with an open water bottle moving towards my mouth and as it did, memories came rushing back of Molly Sue handing me a bottle from the kitchen doorway that last workday morning with that beautiful smile on her face. Before I started working the fields on the tractor. I always knew she loved me. And I think she knew deep down that I always loved her brother.
“Molly Sue, why?” I started yelling, as my eyes started welling up with tears.
She sighed. “Oh Billy Joe,” she said, “I ain’t done nothing. I just loved you. And daddy knows that you belong in this family, but not with that good for nothing Ray Ray. You’re gunna be with me and give me the babies I deserve or you’re just a good for nothing too.”
So they knew. I don’t know how they knew, but they did. I never acted on my feelings. I had never told a single soul. Not Ray, not my parents, any friends, I’d never even said it in confession at church, nothing.
I broke down. I was sobbing. And I was aching in pain from the damn shackles around my ankles and wrists, making it impossible to safely move an inch atop this rounded hay bale. “How’d you know, Molly? I wasn’t ever gunna do anything! I was gunna live out my life and be a good Christian boy, and marry you just like I was supposed to.”
She started stroking my arm again, but this time I noticed a glass droplet in her hand that had a strange, slightly whitish opaque liquid in it. I also noticed she kept it steady to let it not spill or drip.
“You don’t have to lie to me, sugar.”
Again I heard the barn door open, but it was far less graceful this time. I heard stomping and dragging. Yelling and screaming. Ray was screaming and he was being forced into the room by his father Roy. Molly Sue retracted her hand away from me and as she did a bit of the liquid dripped from the droplet, landing on the hay next to me. As it did, that same hissing sound I heard from earlier erupted louder since it was closer to me, and I saw, with growing horror in my eyes, that the hay was rapidly melting in decay. With instant clarity, I realized the liquid in the glass droplet was lye.
Roy threw Ray to the ground.
“So ya’ll thought you’d just be lil fags behind our backs and leave Miss Molly behind, like she ain’t nothin’?” Roy shouted at Ray.
I just stared in disbelief.
Ray shouted in terror, refusing to look at me. I honestly didn’t know what he thought or felt. Like I said - I had never divulged how I felt about him to him. So I didn’t really know where he stood.
“It ain’t like that pa!” he pleaded. “I’ve been goin’ with Janice from Perrysville! I didn’t tell you yet, but she’s pregnant, and we was plannin’ on getting married before Christmas!” After a second he smiled, hoping they would be pleased.
Molly Sue’s hand with the glass droplet had returned back to my line of sight. “Liar!” she screamed. She squeezed a few drops of the lye onto my bare arm. “You’re just saying that to protect your pretty boy!” As I watched the skin and muscle melt on my arm bubble away in front of my eyes, the pain was so intense that I almost blacked out.
“I swear, I’m not lying!” Ray pleaded, now in tears. “I can show you pictures and everything!” Quicker than anyone expected, Ray was on his knees, reaching for his pocket. Molly Sue reacted from her gut and started squeezing more lye onto my body, moving her arm up my arm as the liquid came out of the droplet. I cried out, in desperation. As Ray dug his hand into his pocket, Roy reached for a bucket I hadn’t noticed that was sitting nearby. Before I could yell out, Roy dumped the bucket over top of Ray’s head and he began to instantaneously melt from the top down.
In the heat of the moment, I hadn’t noticed Molly climb up on top of the hay bale behind me. She spoke soft, but stoically. “I love you, Billy Joe. But you did this to yourself.” Without a second thought, she kicked hard, straight into the center of my back. I flew forward and landed frontside down directly on top of Ray. As I made contact with his body which was riddled with lye, I too began to deteriorate. Knowing I was within my final moments, and that he was already gone, I gave in to sin, and for the first, last, and only time in my life, reached for his hand. But it was too late. Both his and mine had already melted away.