The church bells faintly ring through the small, quaint town of Ebbing, Missouri as the townspeople complete their Sunday morning errands. Nathaniel sits on the patio of the local bakery, eating an apple fritter with a cup of coffee. The steam from the coffee fogs his glasses as he takes a sip from the cup. He runs his hands through his auburn hair as Mrs. O’Ven waddles up to him, interrupting his daily practice of people watching
“Nathaniel, honey, I’m making my famous chicken pot pie for lunch and you’re more than welcome to stay.”
“That’s extremely sweet of you Mrs. O’Ven, but unfortunately I have to skedattle, I’ll be taking pictures of the morning service for the Ebbing Gazette. Have a nice day, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He stands up, towering over the table as he pushes the chair in. He strides through the town with his camera in hand. The sweet aroma of flowers fills the air as he passes the floral shop, and he stops to admire the selection. The Pastor’s wife is leaving the shop with a bouquet of pink lilies but stumbles into Nathaniel on her way out. Nathaniel catches her before she hits the ground.
“Whoa, Mrs. Anderson, watch your step.” Nathaniel says with a slight chuckle.
“Oh my! Pardon me! I’m so sorry, Nathaniel!” Mrs. Anderson responds.
“It’s all good, are those white lilies okay? It would be a shame if they got squashed.”
“White lilies?” Mrs. Anderson says in confusion, but then realization strikes her. “Oh! Nathaniel, they aren’t white, they’re pink, it’s unfortunate you can’t see the colors for how they really are. They’re especially gorgeous today.”
“Regardless of the color, they’re still beautiful. Are those for today’s service?”
“Oh yes, they’ll just look absolutely lovely next to the altar, don’t you think?”
“They would, I was just heading over to the church right now. We might as well walk together .”
“I actually have a couple more errands to run before the morning service begins. You should go ahead though, I might take a while.”
Nathaniel and Mrs. Anderson part ways, and he walks across town to the church. The blazing summer sun beats down on the church, casting a shadow of the cross, which blesses everyone who enters. The conversations of the townspeople are engulfed by the playful screams and laughter of children. From his peripheral vision, he notices two figures walk towards the back of the church. One of the figures is significantly taller than the other and is forcefully leading the other. Nathaniel is intrigued, so he detaches himself from the crowd and follows them. He warily distances himself from the figures, making sure he is not seen. The taller figure opens the door to a rickety barn, and shoves the other figure inside. The door closes behind them, a screeching creak filling the air as it is locked tightly. Nathaniel slowly moves forward and sees an opening on the side of the barn. He peers through the weathered, maroon panels of wood, and recognizes the two figures. The Pastor is slowly circling a teenage girl from the church choir. He eyes her hungrily as she stands there, paralyzed with fear. When the Pastor stops behind her and whispers in her ear, she winces and tries to move away from him. He pushes her onto the ground and forcefully holds her down. She tries to scream but his hand covers her mouth. Nathaniel stands there, shocked at the sight. His first instinct is to photograph the moment, in order to show the Sheriff. The camera shutter goes off, cutting through the deafening silence. The Pastor immediately stops and looks around to find the source of the sound.
“Who’s there?” He thunders, his voice slightly quivering.
Nathaniel ducks behind the wooden panel, his breathing quickening as his adrenaline rises. The sharp clicks of spurs reverberate. When they stop, the screeching creak of the door wails through the air, causing Nathaniel to bolt towards the front of the church. The dust settles as the Pastor stands in the doorframe, hunting for some indication of who made that noise.
At the front of the church, Nathaniel fades into the crowd of townspeople, making his way towards the main street. He constantly looks behind him, making sure the Pastor isn’t following him. He almost reaches the main street, when he bumps into the Pastor. Nathaniel is frazzled and avoids eye contact with him.
“Good morning Nathaniel, it’s a fine day to be photographing.” says the Pastor in a warm and friendly tone.
“Yes, it is, but if you’ll excuse me I need to-” Nathaniel attempts to continue walking, but the Pastor blocks his path.
“Hold on a second,” The Pastor begins to walk closer. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
“Perhaps another time, I really should be-”
“Nathaniel, I’m not sure if you’re hearing what I’m saying,” The Pastor stops walking. When he makes eye contact with Nathaniel, his expression is no longer friendly.
“What is it then?” Nathaniel says firmly.
“If you’ll follow me inside of the church,” The Pastor grabs ahold of Nathaniel, guiding him towards the building.
Nathaniel tries to turn around, “Sir, pardon me but I-”
“You don’t wanna make a scene in front of all these people, do you? Come along.”
The Pastor leads Nathaniel to the kitchen in the back of the church. The morning sun peeks through the half-open blinds, casting harsh shadows. The sound of ice collapsing in a cup rattles the room as the Pastor pours two glasses of sweet tea. He offers one to Nathaniel as he takes a seat at the table. Nathaniel reluctantly sits down, but leaves the glass of sweet tea at the middle of the table.
“Alright… so what is the real reason you wanted to talk to me?” asks Nathaniel.
The Pastor takes a long sip from the glass, maintaining eye contact.
“Can’t two fine gentlemen sit down and have a conversation over a glass of sweet tea?” He casually responds.
“Normally yes, but there’s a service you need to attend to very soon. So I reckon this isn’t a casual conversation.”
The Pastor takes a deep breath and leans towards Nathaniel.
“I know you saw me earlier, the wind doesn’t sound like the noise them cameras make.”
Nathaniel stiffens and attempts to maintain his composure.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The Pastor finishes his glass and slams it onto the table. Nathaniel jumps in his seat.
“Don’t play games with me, boy! Give me those damn photos. You and I both know that if those got out, it would ruin me.”
“If you knew what you were doing would ruin you, then why do it?” Nathaniel replies in a snarky tone, hiding his fear with his words.
The Pastor quickly rises to his feet and flips the table. He storms over to a knife set on the counter and reaches for the largest one. Nathaniel starts to run towards the door, but as he is reaching for the handle, a knife grazes his face and buries itself in the door. He quickly turns around to see the Pastor about to throw another knife. Nathaniel swiftly drops to the floor, just barely dodging the second throw. Once he looks up, he is blinded by the sunlight gleaming through the window. A silhouette charges at him, wielding a cleaver over its head. Nathaniel frantically looks around for something to protect himself with, but there is nothing, so he impulsively tackles the Pastor. The cleaver is knocked out of his hand and Nathaniel scrambles to grab it. The monster that everyone in the community looks up to pulls Nathaniel back, throwing him at the table. The impact is so vigorous, his glasses fracture. He attempts to get up, but the room is spinning so much that he can’t. The Pastor towers over Nathaniel, holding him down.
“If you’re not going to give me the photos when I ask nicely, I think I’m just going to have to kill you instead. It’s nothing personal, but this is the only foolproof way to make sure my secret stays one.”
The Pastor aims for his heart, but Nathaniel grabs the Pastor’s forearms, preventing the knife from lowering further. With all of his might, Nathaniel overturns the Pastor. Using the Pastor’s own knife against himself, Nathaniel stabs his jugular vein. The blood instantly splatters everywhere, painting the kitchen a deep maroon. Nathaniel throws himself off the Pastor, his eyes wide in disbelief. The door to the kitchen swings open as Mrs. Anderson stands in the door frame with her mouth agape. She drops the pink lilies, unable to process the scene before her eyes. A harsh shadow hides half of Nathaniel’s face as he stands before her, covered in blood and holding what looks like a murder weapon. At that moment, Nathaniel knows he is in trouble, because in Ebbing, there is no such thing as self defense.
A harsh light shines on Nathaniel as he slouches in his seat, staring at his distorted reflection on the steel table. After two weeks, the door to the interrogation room finally opens and a man with broad shoulders and a stern expression enters the room. “So Nathaniel, you didn’t think you could do something like this and get away with it, did you?”
Nathaniel stays still, his gaze fixated on his reflection.
“Hm, okay so you’re playing that game with me.”
The man saunters over to the chair but doesn’t sit. He looks down at Nathaniel. In one fell swoop, the man slams his fist onto the table. “Why did you do it?! How could you kill such an innocent man?! He was a righteous family man, a man of the community and most importantly a man of the church.”
Nathaniel slowly raises his head, his stare piercing through the crack in his glasses, right into the soulless eyes of the interrogator. “He wasn’t innocent.”
The man is taken aback and takes a moment to collect himself. “Do you regret your actions?”
“No, I don’t regret a damn thing.” Nathaniel responds abruptly, “He had the entire town believing his perfect cover-up. Even after you saw the photos with your own eyes, you’re gonna believe that filthy excuse for a human.” Nathaniel spits at the man. “You absolutely disgust me.”
The man’s stern expression doesn’t change as he flicks the spit off his face.
“At least I don’t have the guilt of taking another man’s life on my conscience.”
Nathaniel hysterically laughs. “Who said I feel guilty?”
“Hm, I think I’ve got what I needed.” The man walks out of the room and slams the door.
The gate rattles as it slowly opens. Mrs. O’Ven waddles into the room, looking at Nathaniel through the gray bars that encase him.
“You know, every morning for the past 6 months, I still think that you’ll stop by to buy an apple fritter and a cup of coffee.”
Nathaniel refuses to meet her gaze, but chuckles. “My mornings haven’t been the same without them.”
They sit in a prolonged but comfortable silence.
“You know what?” Nathaniel says. “I should’ve accepted your offer to stay for lunch that day. If I did I might not be in this situation.”
“You’re probably right, honey, but then that monster of a pastor would still be alive, traumatizing the town’s youth every Sunday.” Mrs. O’Ven reaches into her bag, “I figured since today is your last day, you would like an apple fritter and a cup of coffee.”
Nathaniel begins to tear up, he makes eye contact with her and smiles.