For Brother Timothy’s first session of exposure therapy, his therapist Jerry took him to the batting cages. There Jerry handed Brother Timothy an aluminum bat with no grip and a filthy red helmet whose white ear pads were stained black with ancient sweat. Looking at the helmet, Brother Timothy told Jerry that the world of filth is the world of pigs and whores and eternal damnation, and that the only path to salvation passes through Father Elijah’s cleansing tongue, but Jerry just laughed and thumped Brother Timothy on the shoulder.
“Father Elijah’s fuckin dead, brother, you ain’t gotta worry about him anymore. Now put that helmet on your head and pull down on those ear flaps till everything’s nice and tight. Go on. It ain’t gonna bite you.”
When Brother Timothy hesitated, Jerry twisted the helmet onto his head and gave it a good smack. Though he felt no pain, Brother Timothy shuddered in fear. After struggling for so many years to complete Father Elijah’s Trial of the Second Soul, he didn’t really understand what pain was anymore.
“What’d I tell you?” Jerry said with a grin. He held his arms out at his sides and looked around. “You’re still here ain’t you?”
Before Brother Timothy could answer, Jerry steered him into station one of the batting cages (slow softball, 40 mph), and showed him the right way to stand beside the square of black electrical tape on the ground. Just as the red eye of the pitching machine flicked on, Jerry scooted out the door.
The first pitch whizzed past Brother Timothy’s face like a bullet from an ATF agent’s rifle. He screamed in terror and fell to the ground. The aluminum bat clattered against the concrete and rolled to the other side of the cage.
"That was a close one, brother!" Jerry said, from behind the cedar lattice. "But you see that? You're still breathing, ain't you?"
Brother Timothy sat on the concrete and shielded his head with his arms. Another pitch screamed past and thumped against the backstop. Brother Timothy drew a quivering breath. He looked at Jerry and nodded.
“That’s what I’m talking about, Tim,” Jerry said, his voice dropping to an intimate whisper. “You can do this. I wouldn’t have brought you here if I didn’t think you were ready to get out into the real world. You ain’t gotta worry about that cult ever again. They can’t hurt you anymore.”
Brother Timothy cleared his mind of all thought. He took another breath. He nodded again.
“There’s my man,” Jerry said. “You got six pitches left, brother, and then you’re out. Just hang in there. You ain’t gotta do nothing.”
But Brother Timothy had done nothing for too long, and because of that nothing, everyone he had ever loved was now either dead or in prison. So he dashed to the other side of the cage, picked up his bat, and waited for the next pitch to whiz by. Then he jogged back to the left side of the cage and stood next to the square of black tape on the ground. He looked back at Jerry to make sure he was standing the right way. Jerry motioned for him to take a half step away from the square. Brother Timothy adjusted his stance. Another softball screamed by, smacked into the backstop, and rolled down the sloped concrete. Jerry opened his mouth to say something, but he stopped himself and nodded. Brother Timothy turned back to the pitching machine and stared into the glowing red eye. Gripping his bat tightly, he watched as the mechanical arm scooped up a yellowed softball and let fly the final pitch.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/