“There Is No Release” by Jonathan Olfert

Taylor Cresswell hoped and prayed that the doorbell was his long-awaited pizza. Instead the doorstep held one (1) missionary in a baggy brown thrift-store suit. Though Taylor’s allegiance to and affection for the capital-C Church were as far in the rearview mirror as his divorce, he found himself feeling bad for the skinny kid. That suit and the severely parted hair brought back uncomfortable memories.

“Where’s your number two?” Taylor asked.

“Good evening, sir. I have a message for you about how you can find joy in this life and in the world to come.”

“Ugh. Your companion. Where is he?” Taylor squinted up and down the street. Sunset had sunk in. The pizza was late. “Aren’t you supposed to stay within eyesight of each other?”

“I am within eyesight.”

“Probably knocking some other door way too late at night, is that it? Jeez, it’s past eight. Shouldn’t you be…” Taylor waved vaguely. The nuances of the ironclad missionary schedule failed to dig their way up through twenty years of purposeful forgetting. “…at home?”

“It’s a very important message, sir. Can I come in, sir?”

“You’re not after me, Elder—” Taylor squinted at the scuffed nametag but couldn’t make out the name. “I already joined your church.” Technically true, and it ought to short-circuit the door pitch.

The missionary’s head tilted. “Will ye give a humble servant of God something to eat, sir?”

“Got no dinner appointment, is that it?” Taylor scratched at his stubble. “Yeah, come on in. Pizza’s almost here. And”—he adjusted his word choices midsentence—“uh, screw off with that ‘sir’ thing.”

Taylor shifted back to let the missionary come in off the step and take off his scuffed old dress shoes. He was skinny but unexpectedly tall, and he moved like he could hold his own at Church ball games. Taylor grimaced at the smell of sweat and pretended not to see a toe poking through the kid’s sock. He regretted his burst of generosity.

“I’m Elder—” said the missionary, just as wind rattled the screen door. He held out his hand to shake, but Taylor pretended not to notice; the gloomy entryway provided a decent excuse.

Instead Taylor went out onto the front step to look around. “Go on in. Kitchen’s straight ahead, bathroom’s on the right. I’ll flag down your comp, wherever he is. You guys shouldn’t be tracting this late. It’s a safe neighborhood and all, but folks are putting their kids down and settling in. You’re lucky I was even wearing clothes.”

“These are the valiant hours,” the missionary said with disgusting earnestness, and headed deeper into the house. Taylor squinted against the glare of his own porch light and turned it off. In the dark, he got a better view of the lonely islands under the streetlights, the glow of TVs inside identical houses. This street had an oppressive sameness to it. One of these days, once the lawyers finally figured out whether he or Jilleen actually owned the house, he’d move on to somewhere more interesting. Somewhere the pizza arrived on time, for example.

He went to check the delivery’s progress on his phone and found the battery dead. With the missionary inside and out of earshot, he indulged in moderately heated profanity.

“Well,” he called, coming inside, “I don’t see the other guy, so if you…”

The missionary was sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through a battered set of scriptures—Taylor’s scriptures, previously abandoned in a bookcase whose door stood open. Taylor bit back a sermon on boundary issues, plugged his phone into a charger, and flopped down in a kitchen chair opposite the missionary.

“Yeah, don’t go rooting around my shelves, alright, bud? You’re probably going to find some things that your mission president would not, and I mean not, approve of. I’m not one of those ba—uh, guys who likes to play ‘corrupt the missionary,’ so just… yeah.”

The missionary’s scarred nametag caught the light oddly but was halfway readable in here. Nelson was his name, apparently. He didn’t look up from the scriptures. “Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house.”

“Look, I know you need to do a little ‘spiritual thought’ every time you have dinner, but just save it—no, screw it, go ahead, do what you gotta do. Get it out of the way while we’re waiting on the pizza. Meat lovers fine with you?”

“And it came to pass that the man received him into his house. And the man was called Amulek, and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma.”

“Guess I’ll take that as a yes.”

Elder Nelson shook his head slowly. “And it came to pass that Alma ate bread and was filled; and he blessed Amulek and his house.”

Taylor tipped his chair back and rested his head and shoulders against the wall. He had envisioned the evening going far, far differently. “So, Elder Nelson, how long you got left?”

The missionary flinched. “Oh that I were an angel, and could have the wish—”

“Bud, I get it, you know your Book of Mormon and all that, but give it a rest. The food’ll be here in a minute. Look, maybe you should go out front and flag down your comp.”

“And the word came to Alma, saying: Go; and also say unto my servant Amulek, go forth and prophesy.”

Taylor tipped his chair forward. “Dude, enough—”

A second nametag sat on the table. Elder Cresswell, it said.

“Where the… ” He looked back and forth between the nametag and the skinny missionary in the old suit. “I lost this like five years ago. Digging through my crap–look, I think we’re done here. Just go find the other kid and head home. It’s way too late to be bothering people.”

Elder Nelson didn’t budge, just met Taylor’s gaze and held it until Taylor looked away. “As President McKay says, every member is a missionary, sir.”

Unease settled into Taylor’s gut. He let out a shaky breath and picked up the nametag. “You should probably go home, kid. For real, now.”

Elder Nelson flinched at the word “home.”

The doorbell rang. Taylor exploded from the chair and headed for the door. But between one heartbeat and the next, the tall, lean missionary stood in his way.

“I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left, for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.”

The hallway was narrow. As the doorbell rang again, Taylor tucked his shoulder and shoved past the missionary. Nelson shifted aside before they could make contact, or else Taylor might have body-checked the kid into the coat closet. Taylor stomped out the front door and grabbed the pizza out of the delivery guy’s hands. Right there on the front step, he jammed half a slice into his mouth. “Get outta here before I call the cops,” he growled over his shoulder, chewing viciously. The lukewarm pizza failed, utterly failed, to calm him. The delivery guy backed up and hightailed it for his car. Taylor fished in his pockets for his phone. What he pulled out instead was the scuffed old nametag he’d left on the table.

Back inside, he deposited the pizza opposite the scriptures and tossed the nametag in the trash. The missionary was nowhere in sight. Taylor stomped through the house, upstairs and down, all of it–nothing. He snagged his phone off the charger and used his minimal battery to power the phone’s flashlight. No dark corner yielded a skinny kid in a baggy old suit. But the longer he searched, the more he felt sure the kid was still here.

Ten o’clock rolled around. Taylor locked up tight, every door, every window, and took his cold pizza to bed. He’d anticipated watching something raunchy and hilarious. He wasn’t in the mood, but he turned it on anyway to take his mind off all this crap.

Deep down in his gut, he knew it wouldn’t work. And truth be told, when he tried to sleep and found the nametag digging into his neck and tangled in his pillowcase, he wasn’t even that surprised.