This story revisits Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic work Young Goodman Brown. If blasphemy bothers you, please don't read it. All characters are age 18 or older. Thanks to MagicaPractica for superlative editing!
Faith Brown was mystified, and made somewhat uncomfortable, by the mischievous grin on her husband's face. It was as if he knew something that she didn't. It seemed furthermore that what he knew had something to do with her. He'd been looking at her that way for—she considered—three weeks now.
"What are you smirking about?" she asked with a touch of irritation.
Goodman's eyes became a little less intense. "Darling, I am not smirking, I'm smiling."
"Uh huh." She looked at him suspiciously over her morning coffee.
"And I'm smiling because I love you."
Faith took a deep breath and sighed. "Okay, my love. I have to get to work. What do you want for dinner?"
"I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you, there's a meeting tonight at the church. And I really need you to come." Goodman looked like he was barely suppressing a laugh.
"You need me to come," she repeated. She looked at him with disbelief bordering on mistrust. What was going on?
"Yes, I need you to be there."
Faith considered her husband's request and decided to try tugging back. "What if I have other plans?"
"You can't!" Goodman bit out the words sharply, then retreated a bit. "I mean, please, Faith. We've been members of this church since we were kids and, you know the church has been growing so much lately. It's important that you attend tonight's meeting."
"How come I never heard about it from anyone else? Why hasn't it been in the church newsletter?"
"It was planned at the last minute and Orton asked me to let you know." Goodman looked hopeful that this explanation would dam up her questions.
"All right." Faith rolled her eyes. "I feel like there's something you're not telling me. But as it's for the church, I'll do it."
Goodman strolled over to her place and hugged her. He pressed his lips into her hair. "My wife Faith, my faithful wife. My true love, for all my life." He often recited the little poem he had made up for her.
She wiggled away and looked in her husband's eyes. That odd gleam was still there. Something was definitely going on.
Faith put on her trench coat and picked up her purse. Autumn weather had put a chill in the air. Her place of employment, the small town's general store, was half a dozen blocks away.
As she walked toward work, friends and neighbors greeted her along the way. Many people complained about living in a small town, but to Goodman and Faith, it felt like home. They were both twenty-nine; Faith would soon be thirty. They had grown up together in the church and the local schools; they were not king and queen of the prom, but they were perfectly happy in their lot as middle class members of the small community.
"Good morning, Faith." Mrs. Johnson was walking her dog, or rather, the yellow lab was walking Faith's neighbor.
"Hi, Sheila. How's the new puppy working out?"
"He's about ready for obedience classes!" The lady called over her shoulder as the dog pulled her down the sidewalk. For a moment it seemed like Sheila Johnson was trying to escape. Of course, that was silly. Faith laughed and waved good-bye to her friend.
Next she saw two teenagers on their way to school. Jimmy and Cleecy were long-time sweethearts. Their wedding was planned for June.
"Better get along, you don't want to be late for school," Faith came up behind them.
"Hi, Mrs. Brown," squeaked skinny Cleecy. "We won't be late."
For just an instant, Faith was startled. Was there some kind of odd look in the high school senior's eye? The women's eyes met: Faith questioned, and Cleecy knew. What did she know...?
Jim took his fiancée by the arm. "Come on, Cleecy, the bell's gonna ring. Have a nice day, Mrs. Brown."
The sickly grin on the young man's face didn't make Faith feel any better.
Her commute proceeded in the same fashion. Either she was going crazy, or everybody in town seemed to know something she didn't. Even the groundskeeper who waved from his riding mower looked her up and down. His greeting was friendly, but also — thoughtful? Leering? Faith couldn't be quite sure.
By the time she reached the general store, Faith was beginning to feel testy. It was her turn to open up and mind the place for the day. She figured a five-minute lapse in opening the doors would be forgivable, and further reasoned that she needed to get her head in the right place to be a good servant of the Lord today.
She lingered for a moment in the employee breakroom and pulled out a tiny book of Bible verses. In a quiet voice she read aloud the words of comfort and meditated upon them for a few minutes before putting the book away. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Faith felt renewed as she left the little room and opened the main door to the public. For a little while she occupied herself straightening the dry goods. Then the bells jangled, signaling a customer.
Faith popped out from behind the flour and smoothed her hair back.
"Good morning, what can I do for you?" To her amazement, the man was someone she didn't know. A stranger in town! His eyes were an odd grey-brown behind glasses with thick black rims. A brushy brown crew cut topped his head. His jacket and trousers were the slate grey of river rocks.
"I'm new in town." The man's gravelly voice made her think of Jack Nicholson.
"I could use some basic supplies, and directions to a good hotel, if you could," said the man.
"Mack. Devlin Mack."
"Welcome to Meritsville, Mr. Mack."
Faith shook his hand. The stranger's hand was cool and dry. Maybe he hadn't been wearing any gloves. Was it really all that cold outside?
The gentleman grinned. "Call me Dev, please."
"Dev." Faith smiled. The man's name was pleasant on her lips, the way the vee sound at the end made a soft vibration. She liked him.
There wasn't anybody else in the store, so she grabbed an empty picnic basket and walked with him, chattering like a little tour guide about the local preserves, meats and cheeses.
Devlin paused at the dessert case. "What have we here?"
Behind the glass was an assortment of cakes, pies, and other delectables. Faith beamed with pride. Many of them were by her own hand.
The visitor seemed to sense her thought. "Did you make these, little lady?"
A big smile spread across Mrs. Brown's face. "Most of them."
"What do you recommend?"
"Well, different people like different things but I think ... for you, the devil's food. If you're a chocolate lover, it's the best."
"I'll take the cake," he declared.
Faith threw back her head and laughed. What a charming gentleman! "Surely you don't mean the whole cake."
"Yup, the whole cake, if you please. Can you do that? Is that all right?" Suddenly he seemed concerned about staying within bounds.
"Certainly it's fine, I can make another one."
The amused woman extracted the sweet from its place and carefully carried it behind the counter, where she wrapped and boxed it up. She tied a set of pink hair ribbons from her personal belongings around the box. The pink and white package looked like innocence incarnate. The sinful treat inside would bring her new friend a great deal of pleasure.
With a spring in her step, Faith bustled about, bagging Mr. Mack's purchases with a neat and careful hand.
"Will that be everything today?"
"At least for now. Thanks for being so generous with your time this morning."
"Not at all." Faith watched him go with a smile on her lips. Mr. Mack had certainly brightened her morning. The thought had crossed her mind to ask him for lunch. But she dismissed the notion quickly. A married woman ought not to be out gallivanting with a single man, especially a stranger in town. It would be unseemly.
Instead, she followed her usual custom, locking the door at noon and slipping into the back room for lunch. She read her Bible some more and munched on simple meat, cheese and bread; no soda pop, for she was watching her figure.
This part of her day was usually a calm lull after a busy morning, but Faith had trouble feeling serene. The stranger occupied her thoughts. Dev. She said his name softly, just to feel the vee sound of her front teeth on her lower lip. Devlin. The letter L in his name curled her tongue like a sensuous French kiss.
The sound of a key in the lock of the main door made her jump. Faith froze. As quietly as she could, she stood up and peered around the corner.
The other woman jumped. "Oh! Faith. You scared me!"
Faith relaxed a little bit. "What are you doing here? It's your day off."
"Oh, ahh... I just needed to pick up a few things." Debbie's smile seemed off. She was definitely nervous about something, but what? And there was that same peculiarity when she looked Faith in the eye. I-know-something-you-don't-know.
"Well, come on in. Let me help you, my lunch hour is just about over."
"Oh, no, that's okay. I can get it." Deb waved and disappeared down the baking goods aisle.
"Suit yourself," said Faith to her co-worker's back. Then she muttered: "What is everybody hiding?"
Faith put away the foodstuffs from lunch and wiped the table in the back room. She heard the bells jangle again while she was in the ladies room and figured it was Debbie leaving the store. It was a little after one o'clock, she noticed as she washed her hands. Well, a few minutes late for afternoon hours wouldn't hurt, either.
She came out of the wash closet and bumped smack into Reverend Orton. With a yelp, she bounced off of his rotund belly.
"Whoa there, Little Missy!" The minister caught Faith in his arms and kept her from falling down. "I'm sorry to startle you."
"That's okay," Faith gasped, catching her breath. "I mean, I closed up over my lunch hour so I could eat like I normally do but Debbie came by and I guess she didn't lock the door on her way out."
The minister stared at the breathy gabble. "You seem upset, my child. What's wrong?"
The fatherly words gave Faith calm. She sighed. "I guess it's just been a strange day, Father." She threw a humble glance at the floor and made her voice as steady as she could. "You don't, I mean, happen to know if there's a meeting at the church tonight?"
"Why, sure! Didn't your husband tell you? I asked him to." The Reverend pushed his cap aside to scratch the side of his head. "Wouldn't think he'd forget."
"Oh, yes. He did tell me. But could you please tell me, what's the meeting about?"
Father Orton patted Faith's hand. "It'll be easier if I tell everyone at the same time, okay?"
In no uncertain terms, Faith got the stonewall message. No one was going to let her in on the mystery. She'd simply have to go to the meeting and find out for herself.
It was after the Reverend had bid her good afternoon and left the store that she realized he hadn't bought anything. What was his purpose for stopping by?
The rest of the day was pretty quiet. Late in the afternoon, Faith took a short dinner break and prayed for the Lord's guidance. She admitted to God that mortals could not always see the Divine plan; she asked God to grant her a patient heart as the plan unfolded. Surely there was a purpose, and her rôle would be revealed in good time.
At about a quarter to six, Faith began the closing rituals of sweeping the floor and straightening the counter. She counted out the cash drawer and put the excess money in the safe, so that the next day the till would begin evenly. She lingered for a moment over the hundred-dollar bill with which the stranger had paid. The money was crisp and new. It seemed out of place in plain old Meritsville. Well, old Mr. Smith the banker would handle it like any other money. That was his job.
Faith was making her last rounds through the aisles when the bell jangled again.
"I'm sorry, we're closed," she called out.
"Hello? Mrs. Brown?" It was Devlin Mack's voice.
Faith smiled. She came around the corner, untying her apron strings. She noticed the picnic basket on the counter.
"It's nice to see you," she said brightly. "What's up?"
Devlin removed his hat and held it in both hands. "I hope I won't be out of turn if I ask you to have dinner with me."
"Oh, no, I couldn't. But thank you," Faith took pleasure in the compliment.
"I'm not asking for a date, I know you're married. I'd just like someone to break bread with."
"Oh, uh..." Faith recalled the Lord's injunction to break bread together.
"A picnic of your own good food," Devlin picked up the hamper and smiled. "I even put in two slices of your cake."
Faith wavered a bit more. After all, Mr. Mack was new in town. It was important to make him feel welcome.
"Okay, but just for an hour. I have a meeting at the church tonight."
"I'll see that you get there in plenty of time."
Faith led the way to a spot she liked but rarely got to visit: a little clearing in the woods at the town's edge. She felt a little funny having a picnic dinner with a man she barely knew. But what the heck! It was only for an hour. Then she'd go to the darn meeting and find out what all the fuss was about.
Devlin was charming and funny. He told her tales of strange lands far away.
"Have you really been to Jerusalem? I've always wanted to go."
"Many times," he assured her. "It is a holy country, despite all the wars and grief. Maybe you and your husband will make the journey someday."
"I would really like that," said Faith. "To walk in the footsteps of the Lord; that has ever been my wish."
"Speaking of walking, isn't it about time for your meeting?"
"Oh!" Faith looked at her watch and gave a little shriek. "It starts in two minutes. Here, I'll help clean up."
"Got it," said Devlin. He crammed everything into the picnic basket with no regard for order or dirty forks. "Don't worry, everything can be cleaned later. Which way to the church?"
"This way," Faith pointed. Devlin helped her to her feet.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "I thought we came through those two big magnolia bushes, there."
Faith's mind was full of Devlin's stories, and her belly was full of food. "I thought I knew the way..."
"Tell you what, let's try one direction and go just a little way. If it doesn't seem right, we'll double back and try something else."
"Good plan. Let's go."
They set off between the magnolias. A slender dirt path lay on the other side and they followed it for all of five minutes.
"This isn't right. I'm sure of it."
"Okay, back we go."
Faith appreciated Mr. Mack's calm in the situation. Had she been by herself, she might have panicked and made things worse.
The second route proved familiar. "This is the way," she sighed with relief.
"Good! I hope you won't be awfully late."
Faith consulted her wristwatch. "Well, I will be, but a few minutes late won't hurt, I'm sure. They'll just have to get started without me."
She led the visitor in a quickstep along the sidewalks toward the church. Not a single soul was in sight. Apparently everybody was at the meeting.
When they saw the church, Mr. Mack darted ahead. "Here, I'll open the door for you."
But a few feet away, he stopped and turned to his host with a look of abhorrent shock on his face. He held up both hands, palms out like a traffic cop.
"Stop! Faith, don't go in there."
"What do you mean? What's wrong?"
"Faith, don't look. You don't want to see." He tried to block the window beside the door with his body.
Impatiently Faith pushed him aside. Devlin didn't resist too hard.
The young wife peered through the church window and gasped at what she saw. The entire community was buck naked and engaged in a massive orgy.
Sweet Mrs. Johnson was on her hands and knees, doggy style, while the groundskeeper knelt behind her. Faith saw the man's penis plunging in and out of the nice lady's bum while she moaned in filthy passion. Faster and faster Sheila Johnson rocked back and forth. She cried out in ragged gasps, ordering the groundskeeper to cum up her butt. Faith could hear every word of the slutty shouting.
Directly beside them, teenage Jim was fornicating with Faith's co-worker Debbie. "Fuck me, you young stud!" she yelled. "Give it to me!" Debbie lay on her back with her legs wide open. Jim grinned wickedly at the storekeeper and pinched her nipple. Debbie shuddered and moaned. She lifted her legs to the young man's shoulders and pumped her hips in time with his.
The good people of Meritsville lay sprawled naked on the floor, copulating like rabbits.
Faith turned away in disgust. A warm feeling grew between her legs. This sickened her more.
"I can't believe it. Is this what they wanted me here for?" she whispered.
Devlin took Faith by the hand. "Let's go, Faith. I'll take you home."
Hot tears of shame began to burn in the woman's eyes. "No, we have to stop it. Don't you see it's wrong? They're defiling the church." She headed toward the back of the building. "We can get the reverend, he'll make it stop."
Devlin trailed after her. Clearly the woman was determined to do the right thing.
They rounded the corner. The reverend's office was a small annex, like a cabin stuck onto the back of the church itself.
"You better let me check first," said Mr. Mack. Without waiting for Faith's answer, he hustled up to the window and peered inside.
When he turned back, his face was somber as death. "Faith, please don't look. You really don't want to see this."
Faith pushed forward, lifting her knees as she stepped through the tall grass.
What she saw made her scream.
Naked as the day he was born, Father Orton sat balanced on his desk. His penis stuck out like a red thermometer below his big fat belly. Skinny Cleecy, the high school senior, had her back to him. She bent forward, balancing her hands on his desk chair. He slender breasts bobbled as he grabbed her ass cheeks.
"Oh, Father, take me, Father," pleaded the congregant. "Fuck me, Father, for I have sinned."
The priest slapped the young girl's pale ass. With his other hand he poked at her sex. "You little whore, you're wet as a whore of Babylon. You will be punished!" With that, he stabbed his cock between the girl's lips. Cleecy moaned and thrust back against him.
But the sight of the sinning minister was not the worst insult. For within clear view was Faith's own husband, Goodman Brown.
Goodman lay back in the preacher's overstuffed recliner. On either side of him was a naked woman. He turned his head left and right, suckling first one nipple and then another. He had a hand inside each woman, and was obviously twiddling his fingers around. Wet stuff oozed over his hands and the girls cooed with delight, bouncing as he prodded them and tended their breasts.
A third woman knelt between his legs, sucking on his member as if it were the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. She made mmmm, mmmmm noises as her head bobbed up and down.
Goodman arched his back and began to fuck the woman's mouth. "Get me off, baby!" he shouted. He withdrew his hands from the women and grabbed one of them by the waist. Roughly he dragged her onto his face. He shook his head like a dog with a bone, growling while the woman squealed and bucked.
"Mmm, mmm!" yelled the woman between his legs. She pulled back, opened her mouth, and let Jim's white fountain splash up between her lips. She giggled with delight at the naughty play.
The Reverend Orton looked Faith directly in the eye and smiled. He waggled his tongue at her, and blew her a lascivious kiss.
Faith screamed again, and everything went black.
* * *
Inside the church, the entire community sat in the dark. There was a sense of hushed expectation. Any minute now, Faith would walk in the door.