The Baritone by Nigel Byng

A pencil sketch of a mob of ancient men in togas attacking one man with swords and knives
Image Source: Canva Pro

Life had brought him to a crossroad. Well, perhaps it was more like a roundabout with five or six exits, and he was stuck in the wrong lane. Because every time his arrogance had brought him to a fork in the road, he had chosen to keep going straight. Francis had made his own path. He had done things his own way. But the sensational operatic baritone had fallen from grace. Now he sat in a small studio flat, constantly itching the sore that was festering where his foot used to be.

‘How did he get here?’ it was one of those leading questions he would ask himself. A rhetorical musing, which would wind him up into a fit of rage. A rage that had made his wife walk out on him after 29 years of marriage. She had reportedly found faith, and her courage as well.

‘Lies!’ the words bellowed in the folds of his chin. He used the stick at the side of his rickety bed to poke at his sore. The entire neighborhood knew she had left because of the short, curly haired, blue eyed preacher man. The one who sang like Frankie Valli. He would come to his house daily, with his Bible in hand, and his unholy, adulterous infatuation on his mind… seducing his Nicole. She had left the fishing village that was their marital home, after the rumors surfaced and caused a stink. Minister Crerand would soon get his comeuppance.

Francis rocked his bulky frame into another position. Bed sores: they were another thing he had to contend with. Then his doctors told him he had diabetes, and within months he had his right leg amputated just above the ankle. Another fork in the road.

His housekeeper had already visited for the day, and she had prepared a lovely meal for two as he had asked. It was resting on the small tray, along with his blood pressure medication, and God knows what else was contained in the nine other bottles that was part of his daily regime.

“Don’t forget that the results of your prostate biopsy are scheduled in two days. I will be here at 9AM to help you get ready.” she promised on her way out the door, and he grunted a response. He already knew the results of the biopsy. It wasn’t good.

In her uninformed, illiterate, unqualified opinion, he was suffering with depression. The woman had barely finished middle school; the nerve of her. She too had found Jesus and would pray for him every day. Francis was always polite, but secretly he wished she would try to kiss a speeding train and take her insufferable evangelizing with her. He sighed so forcefully that spittle flew out of his mouth. He was indeed depressed; his silent acknowledgement of her diagnosis made him laugh for the first time in days.

A rumbling of a deep, baritone giggle, reverberated in the small room. This went on for nearly a full minute, until it brought on a coughing fit. Covid had messed up his lungs. He sucked on his inhaler, two puffs as recommended, and tried to hold his breath. Another fork in the road. It was time that Minister Crerand be made to answer for his sins.

At three minutes to five, he could see the stubby, little, Jimmy-Swaggart wannabe, heading up the path to his front door, eager as always. His unholy thoughts about Nicole had been fully satiated, but he was still about the Lord’s business. Life was unfair. Francis quickly mixed the contents of a small bottle into the pumpkin soup the cleaner had left him. He owed his fans one final performance.

Greetings over, the two men sat down to eat. Minister Crerand had carefully propped Francis upright, then served himself a bowl of the savory soup. Francis gently refused; it was against his doctor’s orders. But he did have his very delightful bowl of mixed veggies. He promptly emptied the contents of the bowl unto his large rotund stomach, which was now plopped on his thighs, and he used the unstable protuberance as a makeshift eating tray.

“My God, man. You’re a savage.” Minister Crerand grinned in admiration. The hideous demonstration of supreme gluttony aside, he was impressed.

“It shortens the distance between my mouth and the food.” Francis replied.

He watched as the bible-thumping philanderer, slurped his soup and he smiled.

“Do you like the soup?”

“Yes indeed. It is quite good. Did you make it yourself?”

Francis nodded, his mischievous grin growing by the minute.

“You must share the recipe.” he sucked in another spoonful; it whistled as it flew between his gapped teeth.

“No secret recipe, just my special ingredient.”  Francis rolled a small bottle over to the preacher.

His mouth hung open; the spoon suspended two inches from his lips as he saw the faded label on the brown bottle with the wooded cork. The red writing clearly spelt ‘poison’. His eyes danced between the bowl and the bottle, then his host. Three times he repeated this.

“Words elude you. How disappointing for a charmer such as yourself. Whatever became of my wife?” Francis began a slow laugh, like the sound of a steam train beginning to chug its way slowly out of a station.

Minister Crerand grabbed the tiny bottle and bolted out of the house, the maniacal laughter chasing after him as he dashed off for help.

“The man has gone mad. Mad I tell you. He’s tried to poison me!” his screams shattering the peace in the serene lakeside village.

This time, the fork in the road only offered two options and Francis had chosen both. Using his cane, he toppled the rest of the soup, and then he scattered the utensils across the room. He rotated his grotesque frame from side to side, in his head he felt like a walrus. It was far less graceful. The sore from his foot, left a trail of blood as he slumped to the cold floor like a sack of wet flour. Then fiddling in his pocket for the tiny capsule, he held it up to the setting sunlight and mulled over his handiwork. For three days he had carefully crushed and mixed the ingredients of his little project into a very toxic concoction. He could hear the crowd, fired up like the noisy mob that went after Dr. Frankenstein, pitchforks in hand. Just as they reached his door, he whispered goodnight and bowed to his audience for one final encore. The foaming and convulsions were almost instantaneous.

Drifting off into his self-induced miasma, he could hear the embattled minister strenuously denying the contradiction in the evidence presented.

“I swear to you. On my holy calling, that this… this is not how it appears.” Minister Crerand’s voice had risen an octave or two.

Francis grinned. His laughter, only in his head this time. Sounds began to fade, his vision blurred, but the murky silhouettes were now dragging a hysterical Minister Crerand away from the scene. He had saved his best for last.

‘The reviews would be good. Yes, they would be.’ He thought to himself.


Nigel Byng is a freelance writer, living in the USA. His writing can be found on Signs of the Times Australia, or on his personal blog Helping you to Succeed where he displays his love of fiction under his pen name, Jerome Kenrick. Follow him on Instagram at @hyts_daily.

We would love to read your work. Interested? Please READ our SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.



13 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    Nigel’s short story is revenge at its devious best. The protagonist elicits much sympathy, the descriptions gently revealing his pitiable condition, but it’s the sharp smack at the end that hits the reader with much satisfaction. Getting even couldn’t be more dangerous, but knowing that it’s almost over anyway – why not go out with a great big bang? I’d say a powerful, once in a lifetime performance!
    Congratulations Nigel!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. byngnigel says:

      Terveen this was a fun write on my last visit home..sat down with the old lady for a reminder in effective story telling. Thanks so much for the opportunity to share with your audience on MasticadoresIndia

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jonicaggiano says:

    Nigel what a great story! I had to read parts of it twice. I love the way you kept us guessing the whole time what would happen next. I loved all the descriptive language about the Baritone man. The ending was perfect. I wondered if you might turn things around. In the end the preacher was getting more than his preaching done. Great ending and a powerful mess at the ending. He got even with everyone and ended his slow and miserable death. Bravo! 🎊🎉🌟 Congratulations on a great story. So great to see you here. Have an amazing weekend.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. byngnigel says:

      Hi Joni. I’m working at getting better at this gig. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s very satisfying feeling as a writer when people appreciate your stories. Thank you so much for your support. You’re a trooper.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The challenge in short story writing is to give the key characters an emphasis which alights the readers imagination. You’ve done this very well! Great story….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. byngnigel says:

      Thank you Tonya. I’m trying… I really am. Happy that you enjoyed it. And thank you for the comments and feedback.


  4. michnavs says:

    Oh, my Nigel…like Joni i had to read it over again and savor everything. You are a very good story teller. Your story telling techniques are beyond what my imagination could take..for a short story to be so filled up with impactful details, is very challenging but you did it so well flawlessly..

    Congratulations Nigel🌹

    Liked by 2 people

    1. byngnigel says:

      Thank you so much Michelle. MasticadoresIndia has so many talented writers, it required a boldness to step into this universe.. it’s daunting, because everyone is so good. . But then I did, and I realise everyone is hyped up to make you better. You guys are so supportive. I’m pleased my writing impressed you.. looking forward to “Locker”.. good luck

      Liked by 2 people

      1. michnavs says:

        You are a brilliant storyteller Nigel🌹

        Liked by 1 person

        1. byngnigel says:

          Thanks Michelle

          Liked by 1 person

  5. haoyando says:

    Haha, I was cracked up by “shortens the distance”. Wow, you make me think twice or three times next time when I am invited to a meal. So true. Gluttony not only affects the body; it also affects the brain…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. byngnigel says:

      Lol… I once entered an eating competition, and popped three buttons on my shirt..never again. Social norms and graces go out the window with people who are going through mental struggles. Gotta give them much greater latitude for behavior. Glad the story made you laugh. It was fun to write. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s