Creative Contest Winner: Jonathan Barefield

A Bomb Attached to a Thought Switch

“A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth and that is why we call what he writes fiction.”

William Faulkner

They call it global warming; I know what’s really happening.

There’s some small comfort, sitting in my car, safe behind the glass. Knowing that when the bomb goes off in the distance, I can watch and retain my retinas.

There’s a Judgment coming. We’re all dying to know who’s going to survive.

I flick my phone out of my pocket. Somewhere in the distance, lines are crossed. Signals aren’t getting through. Our skulls too thick, egos too heavy. It’s a wonder our necks don’t snap. I flip my phone open, shut, sigh.

You know you’re at the end of your rope when you’re dialing the devil for comfort.

I wonder what the number would even be.
“God, can you hear me?”

I chuckle. Don’t be such a cliché.

It’s so fitting, I think.

I’ve always been haunted by demons, by Hell. Growing up in the South, I know what it means to burn alive. I know Hell is a bottomless pit, complete separation from God. In the most literal sense, the holiest of places.

Hell was circling the department store clothes rack and not finding your mom on the other side when you came back around. Hell was calling and screaming and thinking you knew but just couldn’t prove that the whole store was empty save you. Hell was looking for sales clerks but being greeted by the silence of mannequins guarding the doors. Your tiny legs shrinking smaller, pumping faster, the parking lot rising in a humid haze.

For miles and miles. And miles.

You fall on all fours, the ground cuts your palms to pieces just before it slips out from under you. Hell was falling forever, burning with desire, never again feeling your father’s love…your mother’s soft embrace. And repeating it all again.

Hell is your mind arrested by nothing more than itself.


When I was four years old, I met Jason. I asked my mom if I could spend the night at his house. We were going to dig a hole to the devil. We would dig until our arms gave out, until our fingernails cracked and blood seeped through. My mom made me stop talking to him. He never came over, we never spoke again. He disappeared.

Now that I’m older, I know exactly what he was.

In elementary school, I was terrified of the telephone. Not just any phone—the one in my living room. It was a conduit to other people’s thoughts.

There was this one kid who told me if I picked up the receiver and dialed “000,” I would get a direct line to the devil. We all pretended we were brave enough to head straight home and call. We bowed out our chests, swaggered.

When I got home, my dog Rascal was losing his mind. He had been running from his shadow for weeks. Now, he was barking at it, charging the wall, hurting himself. I wanted him to stop. I wanted to put him outside, but the phone had me frozen to the floor like I was at the center of the ninth circle of Hell. I could hear him calling to me, I knew he wanted me to just pick up the phone and listen, agree. I never could…


The light on my phone taunts me.

It’s fiction. It can’t save you, can’t save your soul.

I’m sitting in a parking lot remembering women who never existed. I’m contemplating killing friends I never had.

I cling to memories reshuffled and replaced as many times as Perfectionism could bear to be disappointed again.

Where do I cease spinning?

Where do I begin?

I dial a string of sixes and press “Send.”

Please, pick up. Nothing. The number I have dialed is no longer in service.

But the devil has to make his deals somewhere, damn it.

If he even exists.

That nagging rationality, doubt…fear.

It starts to blend together, connecting points from the past to the present, trailing off into a nebulous future. History has been haunting me.

So someone tell me, please, what happens when I go to nail the Lord up and only have the guts to climb back down in shame. What happens to the world?

Think about it. Would you damn yourself to save all of this? Would I?
Average global temperatures have spiked at an alarming rate since 1980. Well, alarming is a subjective term. It may not seem significant, but it’s rising.

It’s not global warming. I know what’s really happening; would you care to guess?

I hit “Send” on my phone again. It starts to dial, then grows hot. I drop it, and it sputters, fumes, and dies on the floorboard. A gentle breeze passes by; the sweet smell of perfume rises in the air.

“I missed you,” I say.

She grins mischievously.