A story about fate
Written by Lil Bob
"Friends, did you bring me the silver,
Friends, did you bring me the gold?
What did you bring me, my dear friends,
Keep me from the gallows pole?"
- Gallis Pole, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, 1939
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;”
King James New Testament - Isaiah 5:20
In a dingy run-down motel room a small congregation had gathered itself together. An informal prayer meeting of sorts.
This particular group consisted of two peculiar parishioners: an immaculately garbed middle-aged man, his hair and beard dyed the same chestnut brown color of rich Spanish leather with a frail, nearly naked man sitting Indian style on the moldy motel carpet.
The large, imposing man in a perfectly cut suit identified himself as Preacherman. His emaciated friend, a male prostitute who wandered the dim city streets, was mostly called Lonesome Bill.
Sitting in an air of near perfect stillness, the large man in the immaculate suit and the chestnut beard cast he gaze before him. On the battered nightstand was an ashtray with a large idiotic smile painted on it.
"FRIENDLY INN & LODGE!" the ashtray trumpeted. On the very friendly ashtray were drugs. Drugs and a glass pipe.
Rousing from his dull glowering the large man relieved the Friend Inn & Lodge! ashtray of it's contents. He carefully tapped a white substance from a small plastic bag into the mouth of the pipe. The bag was no larger than the tip of his thumb. He pressed the gravely powder delicately into the glass pipe. He looked like a giant trying to strangle a house fly.
The large man went through these motions in a practiced, methodical ritual. It was like watching a Catholic priest perform the rite of the Host in Saint Paddys - using a patient restraint to honor the holy observance.
No one spoke. The only sound was the passing of traffic in the dense New Jersey night outside of their dingy hotel room.
Lonesome Bill, a frail man who had spent all of his adult life in the grip of some unseen terrors, looked up at the ceiling as if attempting to discern the source of his bleak consternation.
The amount of sheer concentration was obscene. He looked as if he was studying the contours in the ceiling’s pock-marked surface for a secret message. Something that was hastily scrawled out there on the tiles and mildew by an anxious god for junkies, or from the Devil in disguise - or any other interested otherworldly party.
Once found, Lonesome Bill would follow the letters of this mysterious message to the “T”. He was game. That is, if the money was right, honeychile. And that money better be right...
The large man in the immaculate suit and chestnut beard looked over to his befuddled friend, having fully packed a healthy bowl of meth. Finally speaking, he broke the silence.
“With faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain … “ he recited, placing the small meth pipe to his lips.
The worn-looking, frail man paid no attention. His hand idly pulled shredded strings from his pair of cut off jean shorts as he anxiously scanned the ceiling. In a obviously drugged state he stared upwards as the immaculately dressed man drew a red Bic lighter from it’s resting place in his pocket.
“‘...move from here to there.'” Chestnut beard growled.
A burst of flame shot up from the innards of the bright red Bic lighter smothered in the fleshy immense folds of the man’s hand.
“‘And this mountain will move!’” He solemnly intoned.
A small, hungry tongue of flame was drawn into the translucent glass pipe igniting the methamphetamine and sending the drug roaring instantly into the large man’s brain - firing off all his synapses at once like a power plant screaming to life.
The nervous frail man continued studying the ceiling oblivious to the impromptu sermon from the book of Isaiah.
After a long deliberate exhale the large man in the perfect suit’s mood instantly shifted.
“I am the Preacherman! And I have come to spread the sweet gospel of the Lord.” He brightly annouced to the dingy hotel room.
Preacherman, as the large man in the perfect suit thought of himself as, pulled at his chesnut beard, and stood up, all impressive 250 pounds and a full 6 foot 8 inches of him. He took another deep drag from the sickly sweet pipe - allowing it to sweep through his system and lodge in his lungs like a cool, cool breeze.
He held the smoke like a champion bronco rider. Mastering his respiration, capturing dense clouds of smoke in his titanic lungs. He felt his eyes water. A bit of snot poured from his nostrils as the smoke demanded to be released from the confines of this chest.
Smoke erupted from his mouth in one determined blast. For a few moments, it seemed to fill the entire room in a dense blue-white fog - and then it evaporated - melting into the shadows of the room.
With a renewed vigor, the large man studied a pile of twenties on the dresser next to him. Handsome Bill’s rental agreement written in Andrew Jacksons.
He seemed to be looking from a colossal distance at the small pile of green paper.
Looking over to the frail man crouching on the floor, who also seemed miles away from him, Preacherman was overtaken with a sudden pang of pity for this desperate creature but just as quickly he reminded himself that no one, no earthly creature must know about his habit and live.
He moved towards the crouching figure of Lonesome Bill to get a better look at him. Lonesome Bill didn’t pay him much mind at all.
"You... brother?” He inquired so softly.
“You of so little faith. Why do you fear so?" He asked drawing closer to Bill.
In clear point of fact, Lonesome Bill was indeed very afraid, but for altogether different reasons than the humongous man that was bearing down on him.
Bill felt strongly that he was beginning to transcribe the secret message. The one mysteriously contained in the ceiling above. He felt that he was so very close to making a letter or two out of the word jumbles contained there.
A huge brown head and chestnut beard now entered Lonesome Bill’s focused field of vision. In the big screen of Bill’s vision, the man’s head alone took up the far left of the vision-screen and the secret letters on the ceiling, shifting and moving by some unseen hand, began to spell it all out for Bill on the right side of that screen.
Lovingly and very deliberately, Preacherman wrapped his huge, meaty hands around the thin throat of the frail man.
“Do you know what happened to that which stood against our Lord and Saviour, brother? ” the huge man gently asked.
No answer from Lonesome Bill. He was about as far away mentally as any headcase that ever drooled.
“Jesus rebuked those same winds, brother.” the large man said with growing menace - becoming full of murderous hatred for this inattentive and godless creature.
Preachman’s enormous hands wrapped tighter around Lonesome Bill’s throat - pressing his windpipe shut.
“Do you hear me, brother?” Preachman asked Bill eyes.
The low husky whispers of Bill’s lungs fighting for air were all that answered him. Lonesome Bill’s lungs sucked at the airless vacuum of his constricted airway. His dull eyes never left the ceiling.
“He rebuked them!” Preacherman repeated in a roaring shout.
The frail vertebrae of Lonesome Bill’s neck were no match for Preacherman’s strength, amplified by holy hysterics and pure crank. The neck bones gave way much like a handful of dried twigs. The bones popped and snapped against the sudden, tremendous strength applied by the huge man’s massive hands.
The giant of a man in the immaculate suit held Bill’s dying body by the broken neck feeling his own pulse race as the unfortunate Lonesome Bill’s pulse slowed, skipped and then stopped altogether. Like a man coming out of a deep trance Preacherman released Bill’s throat - almost unaware of what led to the murder.
In doing so, he dropped Bill’s entirely dead body. It landed on the brown stained carpet floor in a crumpled pile.
“He rebuked them.” the giant man repeated, trying to shake out the sudden confusion of the situation.
With clarity of purpose, Preacherman picked up the broken body of the dead junkie. He struggled with the awkwardness of the lifeless body and pressed it into a carpet-less closet at the back of the rented room.
Out of a semblance of decency, he propped the body up into a sitting position but left his eyes open.
Raw adrenaline surging through his brain and bloodstream cooked and baked every detail of the room into his amplified awareness. The cheap mottled carpeting, the off-white yellowing nicotine stained walls, the off-brand motel tv with a thin crack running down the side and Lonesome Bill’s cold dead eyes. All of it. Every detail was instantly carved into his mind - a mundane masterpiece of the macabre.
"Do not tell anyone what you have seen here, my brother. Not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Preacherman advised Lonesome Bill’s corpse.
Bill’s unseeing dead eyes brooked no disagreement.
Seemingly satisfied that his devilish drug habit was once more a secret. He smoothed his chestnut beard, pulled at some imaginary lint on his immaculate suit until he felt ready tp make good on his escape.
“Amen.” the giant man said to the corpse.
“Amen, brother, amen!” whispered a small voice.
“Hellfire and death!” Preacherman bellowed turning on the soon-to-be-dead witness.
But there was no one there.
“...the word of God is quick, and powerful - sharper than any sword, piercing even the soul and spirit ...” the eerie, sourceless voice began.
Without thinking, and in a low mumble, Preacherman finished the quote by sheer force of habit: “The word of God is the discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart. Hebrews Four Twelve.”
A cold sweat broke across his forehead and the voice cackled evilly.
The strange voice, oddly familiar, was one he could not identify nor could he tell where it was coming from. It seemed to coming from everywhere.
In a blind panic, Preacherman spun around again searching. The colossal man flipped over mattresses and cheap furniture searching for the spy’s secret hiding place, determined to discover him or her.
The room soon looked like the aftermath of an explosion. But for all his furious efforts - he found no one. No one.
As he was beginning to doubt his own awareness, due to drugs and the shock of the murder, and write the voice off to street noise or a mild hallucination the strange voice piped in again.
“Hallelujah! Can I get a hallelujah, Jimbo?” the small voice cackled.
His eyes darted to the direction of the door. At the closed venetian blinds Preacherman thought he could see the small form of a child peaking through the blinds. It’s neck … It’s neck seemed wrong - somehow.
The neck was bent at a strange angle - like a dog that firmly believed that it heard a distant whistle.
Preacherman stormed away from the room leaving the dead body of the male prostitute behind him. Flinging open the door he charged into the breezeway of the cheap motel fists balled up into punishing hammer heads - ready to dispose of the secret witness to his crime, be it man, woman or child.
When he got there, the image of the motel room already fading from his mind’s eye - there was no one there.
In the parking lot he saw nothing. There was nothing but distant headlights from cars passing obliviously on the road.
Slamming the door of his Cadillac he raced away.
Many miles away, outside of a plush television studio, an anxious looking woman stood outside a dressing room door.
“Mr. Horleaf?” she squeeked.
“Sir?” she squeaked again.
“Mr. Horleaf? Sir, you’re going to be late. Um, Mr. Horleaf?” the anxious, youngish looking woman squeeked in her most insistent but respectful tone.
Her wireless headset bounced on her face as she pounded on the heavy door with her tiny hands, pounding on the thick door that separated the televangelist’s dressing room from the rest of the television studio.
“Mr. Horleaf, it’s almost showtime...” she squeaked in a quiet, resigned voice.
Lonesome Bill’s body was in quite an advanced state of decay when it was finally found.
If Bill’s poor mother, already overburdened with five other near-mongoloid children, had known what a sad fate that her third-child had come to she wouldn’t have been much surprised by it.
It was Bill’s poor old Momma that given him his upbeat nickname, after all. Laying it on him way back in the dirt and grime of Owensburg, Oklahoma - home of the Fightin’ Highlanders.
Now, in a even grimier place, a seedy New Jersey motel room, poor old grown-up Lonesome Bill’s corpse was a gray, bloated sack of bacterial activity when it was finally discovered. This bacteria colony had spent the last few weeks hungrily decomposing poor old Bill’s dead body like tiny, invisible piranha.
The seemed to go for the eyes the most. Dissolving them in wet piles of goo first. The overwhelming stench, a natural by-product of decomposition, wafting from the body was horrible, and also unmistakable.
Hordes of smelly bacteria, enthusiastically exploring the world of flesh in the dead addict’s corpse had dissolved many of the remaining soft fatty tissues (their were not many) of Bill’s bod - pouring discarded and corroded fat tissues into the motel’s closet until the putrid stench alerted the adjoining rooms as to the entire colony’s presence.
That’s when the police were called. They knew the motel’s address pretty well already.
“Did you know that smell, that high sweet sickly stench of rotting flesh, that isn’t a “smell” at all. It’s actually an evolutionary advanced form of taste.” said the man in a rumpled, damp overcoat.
Rumpled Overcoat, whose rough face easily masked the keenness of the sharp eyes set within it, made imaginary quotation marks in the air for the word “smell” to symbolize and emphasize the immaterial nature of his own personal concept of odor.
“I was a doctor in my county - I doan need this shit, man.” said a grim faced Pakistani man by way of response.
Not taking any real notice of the remark, Rumpled Overcoat continued his own sermon, of sorts.
“Well Doc, “smell” is a sense that fish or worms are completely without - but us humans, like most mammals, possess olfactory sensitivity in a mighty abundance.” Rumpled Overcoat pontificated.
Then, masking his face with a small notepad, Rumpled Overcoat pulled up the zipper up on one of the body bags that awkwardly covered the mostly naked decaying corpse of Lonesome Bill. The body bag was a bad fit. Bill was found in a kind of fetal position sitting up.
So, Bill had garnered the unprecedented usage of a total of three navy blue Culver County body bags due to the stench, the peculiar bent angle, and of advanced rot of his decaying corpse.
Three ponchos and he still smelled. Rumpled Overcoat grimaced but continued his speech.
“When any ‘odor’ (his hands made quotation marks in the air again) is absorbed nasally - it’s taken in through the nose then tasted. ‘Odor’ (more marks) are actually tasted in the wet palette. This is a precursor for what our primitive ancestors would call a feast - if you will.”
Rumpled Overcoat gagged a bit - the bacteria emanating from the closet aggressively attacking his throat tissues.
“You should get a hobby, man.” the dark-skinned man said looking in disgust at Rumpled Overcoat.
From behind the small note pad, Rumpled Overcoat just smiled. He waved a few uniformed men over to the corpse.
“OK, gentlemen - let’s get this fella on outta here.”
The men did as the Culver County Coroner said. And that was last the world at large ever saw of poor old Lonesome Bill.
“Mr. Horleaf, please! We have a live feed that starts in T-minus-two minutes!”
The program director, summoned by a panicked young woman in a headset, was now angrily demanding entry into the televangelist’s dressing room alongside her.
“Are you sure he’s in there?” the program director asked.
The anxious, youngish woman, clearly withering under the pressure, simply looked back at him blankly.
Their demands for entry grew louder and more aggitated but no one from inside from the dressing room responded.
Inside, Preacherman was silently staring at a small picture which he gently held in his colossal hand.
Oblivious to the pounding on the thick door he had installed for just such cases (and also due to his growing paranoia due to his prolific meth usage), Preacherman looked lovingly at the black-and-white photo as a small tear threatened to pour down the side of his face and into his chestnut beard.
The good Lord, in all his mercy and wisdom, would let him know when his time had come.
The perfectly polished Cadillac looked completely out of place in the run-down downtown alley. It sat like an inflexible electric blue Sphinx, an otherworldly anomaly parked in a garbage and trash covered alley. With it’s orange parking lights on and it’s dark tinted windows it never betrayed it’s ominous occupant(s).
This alley, like every grimy alley in every crime-ridden urban hellhole, was alive with a barely manageable mania. One that constantly, and rarely silently, threatened to spill out in uncontrollable waves of broken bones and lead-punctured organs.
It was a side effect of the narcotics that swept through the alleys, just like this one, that turned brains into mushy tools for violent crime. Users, consumed with a need for dulling poison, sought nothing more than to escape the environment that they had created, like demented gods unsure of their own creation, on a daily basis.
Preacherman sat in his immaculate Caddy, in his immaculate suit, waiting.
A thin man in a red Bulls leather jacket passed the alley for the fifth time. This time, he motioned over to the vehicle.
“The good Lord works in mysterious ways.” Preacherman reassured himself shifting his vehicle into Drive.
The Caddilac smoothly, and nearly silently, rolled gently over broken glass and discarded candy wrappers towards where the man in the Bulls jacket disappeared.
A couple, a man and a woman, waited for him as he slowly rolled to a stop at the end of the alley. The woman held her right arm like a wounded animal, cradling it to her chest.
Preacherman, his best smile closely plastered to his giant face, appeared as the jet black of the driver’s side window smoothly and mechanically retracted into the recess of the Caddy’s door jamb. He focused his attention on the male half of the duo, who had his hand in deep in the front of the pockets of his Bulls jacket.
“Whatchu want, playuh?” the man harshly asked, indicating that anything in view, particularly the young black woman at his side, had a reasonable price tag attached.
Preacherman, accustomed to dealing with the poor and the desperate showed the man exactly what he wanted to see. A giant wad of cash materialized in his over-sized bejeweled hand.
The man looked with sudden reverence at the green stack of bills as if he had turned a street corner and accidentally bumped into the Lamb of God.
“My man, my man!” the man cried out as the Holy Ghost of financial gain fully overtook him.
The man waved frantically over to the scowling female.
“Tesha! Hey, Tesha! Get your dumb ass over here.” he ordered.
The scowling woman, maybe 20 maybe something-else, scrambled on her high heels stomping angrily over to the glowing blue Caddy. Preacherman saw that she had a death grip on the middle of her left arm.
“Whadduh-fuck-you-wan, man?” the woman barked.
“Get in that car you dumb hooker-bitch!” The man demanded grabbing her by her wounded arm.
The woman shrieked in pain. Her howl ended when a smack across her face caught her off guard, for the second time, and he howl dissolved into a low sob.
“She’ll’ behave for you, son. She jus’ needs to know her place.” Bulls Jacket said in his most genuinely greasy tone.
Bulls Jacket held her tightly waiting for the exchange. But Preacherman has other ideas.
“You too, brother. Let’s all go for a ride.” Preacherman suggested, dangling the cash, allowing the pimp another moment to calculate the sum he held, to appreciate the appeal of riding in such a splendid and well-appointed vehicle and being out of filth and grime of this god forsaken alley.
Without another word the duo quickly ducked into the vehicle and Preacherman shot out of the trash covered alley, as he’d done dozens of times before, like a bat out of the mouth of Hell itself.
When they pulled into the parking lot of another anonymous motel, Preacherman was finishing up regaling his new found brother and sister with his favorite tales from the Good Book. Both of his passengers, sitting like impatient children in the back seat, listened to him like most captive audiences do, with restrained annoyance and a periodical nod.
“You see, the dream of Pharaoh, the Tyrant, was easily read by Joseph but a mystery to all others. Why do you think that was, Stephon?”
Stephon was not really so sure about what Joseph’s dream analysis capabilities were.
But he was sure of two other fun facts. Number one, this jive-ass honkie was going to be making a charitable donation to the Stephon Davis Relief fund in the very near future and Number Two this phony preacher was directly out of his fucking mind.
Stephon hesitated in the face of these two unassailable fun facts before answering this crazy white man. He looked over the huge man’s brown beard and perfectly coiffed hair.
“That Joseph was a true Christian, preacher?” Stephon ventured meekly.
“Your grip of the Old Testament is unshakable, brother!” Preacherman roared in agreement.
Sitting and scowling beside Stephon, Latesha was not into this thin charade that her new man had got her into. She itched. And she itched bad.
Since she’d hooked up with Stephon he’d done nothing but take her money and call her a “dumb ass hooker-bitch.” Believe it or not, this was a huge step upwards from her last man who’d come damn near to killing her but instead just broke her arm after discovering the hidden treasure that she’d been hiding from him.
When Marbury found her cache of $80 dollars (mostly in singles) and a couple of bags of Horse he’d hit the roof in a way that became legendary in the city.
He’d beat her of course. But it was what he did after he beat her that which made him one of the better respected pimps on the city’s street corners.
That first night that Latesha was in the hospital - he’d attacked her. He waited until after hours to do it by sneaking in and hiding in a medical supply closet. He even tied up a night shift nurse who wandered in and found him crouching in there.
Marbury came for her in middle of the night when she was tranq’ed out.
Awaking to fists pounding her face, she did her best to fend him off. Tesha had broke her arm in eight places, shattering her arm under the weight of the stolen polished steel bed pan that Marbury had slammed her with, repeatedly.
He was like vicious animal - even when three orderlies pulled him out of her room - spittle flying his mouth in his most sincere imitation of a rabid dog. He even bit one them.
“You sure do know your Bible.” Stephon said his broad, congenial smile revealing his gold fronts.
Latesha’s perception returned to the present. She looked over to her new pimp who was flashing a big, happy “Aw-Shucks-Mister” grin at the sucker-ass white man in the Caddy’s driver’s seat.
On the front of the gold dental jewelry read the word “THUG”.
“Oh, Lord yes, brother. The Word is my stock and trade.” Preacherman erupted, full of good-natured human warmth.
Sailing the giant luxury vehicle to a stop in the nondescript parking lot, the unlikely trio got out of the electric blue Cadillac with Preacherman leading the group straight to a dingy motel room.
Opening the thin metal door wide to the room the preacher allowed the full measure of his benevolence shine. Nothing wrong here, gang. His body language radiated. It’s all right as rain.
“Our pew is ready brothers and sisters.” He reassured with his brown beard sweeping upwards, magnifying his trademarked smile.
Preacherman’s smile, seen by millions of loyal Christian soldiers each week, was an altogether new phemonema for the pimp and prostitute to behold. Preacherman’s beneficent countenance, that he indeed made as to shine upon the newest members of his flock, was a wholey new occurrence in their lives.
This immensely warm expression was only a mask. A mask that hid the monster inside this man. Under that broad perfect smile were worms and maggots. Hungry critters that threatened to eat away the holy pretense of their interaction catch these two people completely off their street-honed guard.
The two hesitated, with their old street instincts calling out from somewhere deep in the gooey reptilian tissues buried deep in their cocaine addled brains.
“Watch yourself, little man.” Stephon’s dead step-uncle said to him from a memory.
At the door, Stephon pushed away the memory - reminding himself that his step-daddy was murdered by Stephon’s own 13-year-old hands as his auntie held down his step-daddy’s thick black arms.
You’re the one that shoulda watched out better, old man. He thought, shutting the memory completely out of his mind.
Grabbing Tesha by the still broken left arm he pushed her ahead and into the room. Taking a defensive position and tossing Tesha on the motel bed like a discarded hamburger wrapper he found his attention firmly fixed on the giant wad of cash that the idiotic white man had, for a second time, flashed at them.
How much more does he have? Stephon asked himself, thinking about multiplying capital as it pertained to his minor league cocaine connections.
Preacherman drew the door behind him and looked at the two lost souls that the good Lord, in all of his eternal wisdom, had provided him with. He marched towards them with his usual good grace, his trademarked smile never leaving his beneficient, trustworthy face.
The man looked out the window in time to see a small child across the street. The child seemed be looking right into the room. But there was something wrong. Something wrong with the child’s neck. The smile-mask faded from Preacherman’s face.
“Yo! You gonna fuck this bitch or what!?” Stephon indignitly roared as if Tesha not being sexually exploited even for a few seconds deeply wounded his sense of self-worth.
On cue, the smile-mask returned and Preacherman forced himself to return his attnetion to his company.
“Unburden yourself, brothers and sisters. Unburden yourself to me.”
Preachman’s massive form filled their vision.
“This is fucking ridiculous, Marty.” the anxious, youngish woman screeched.
“He’s hiding in there like a little girl, again.” She continued.
The program director slammed his clipboard to the ground and placed both hands over his face. He badly wanted this woman to be quiet. Her voice! It was like long fingernails gouging themselves into his ear drums with animal panic.The last thing this show needed was panic.
Order would have to re-assert itself. Order.
“You don’t understand, Mr. Pastorelli. He’s been in there for two days.” she pleaded.
“Sheila. Shut your mouth.” The program director muttered with both of his hands pressed into his face.
“He’s going to miss the show!” the anxious, youngish woman howled, wild-eyed and infuriated.
Quite without warning, the program director, withdrew his palms from his face and smacked the woman directly across the kisser - once. Then, as if to emphasize his point of view that Order Would Prevail he slapped her again.
Marty Pastorelli, Program Director of hit evangelical show The Power Hour and usually the picture of patient benevolence, seized by his Production Assistant by the head using both hands and cupping her face. He pressed her cheeks towards him the way another man would’ve done in preparation for a romantic kiss - slowly and deliberately.
Instead, Marty Pastorelli yelled at the top of her lungs.
“Don’t you...! Don’t you crack up on me, Shelia! OK?!” he yelled, spittle flying from his mouth in every direction. Most of the spittle landed in Shelia’s face.
Sheila, caught face-to-face with some sort of screaming ape that had just smacked her around a bit, tried to nod to her boss the program director, but her head was caught tightly in the vise of his grip.
“I’m sure Mr. Horleaf has a perfectly good reason for the delay.” Marty Pastorelli said directing each harsh syllable into her face.
This was not Order. This was not Order. Marty’s brain screamed at him.
Marty, sensing through his own animal panic just how closely and tighly that he was holding Sheila reluctantly released her. He seemed to have to unlock several frozen muscle groups to do so.
Shelia, now even more anxious and youngish looking, was on the edge of tears. Both of her cheeks were blossoming into bright red roses. Her head set had clattered to the floor.
Marty pressed his face close to the heavy oak door of Mr. Horleaf’s dressing room.
“Mr. Horleaf? Sir? Listen, it’s Martin Pastorelli out here. Sir? Sir, we’ve only got about another minute to have you on stage. Sir … ?”
The heavy oak door did not budge nor did anything on the other side shift or make a sound.
“He’s not coming!!!” Sheila wailed.
Inside, Mr. Horleaf was quite occupied, himself. The voice of the stage people did not phase his dark reverie.
Precariously balanced at the top of a stool Preacherman wobbled uneasily. A heavy length of rope was wrapped tightly around his neck and tied off to a ridiculously huge ceiling styled chandelier.
The thick rope was really a stage prop he’d used in a sermon, some weeks past, to demonstrate the demonic power of Satan on the human spirit. And now, it was going to serve as the instrument of his own demise - of his own release.
“Funny how things turn out ain’t it, Jimbo?” came a small child’s voice.
Weeping openly now, Preacherman looked down at his feet. At the them stood a boy. A small child of maybe 9 or 10.
The shock hit him in a single mind-numbing wave.
The boy was dressed in a worn old suit and straw farmer’s hat in the plain fashion. He very much resembled a Amish midget. Plain was the style of dress - what they called it. Plain. A uniform of homespun, home-stitched clothing fitted to every able-bodied man and boy in the good God-fearing Amish community.
“Oh, no, Charlie. Oh no ...” Preacherman whispered under his breath.
Tears were streaming in rivers down his face soaking his chestnut beard.
There was something clearly wrong with the boy’s head or neck. It was not right.
The small boy’s head leaned at an angle like a dog who operates under the belief that he can hear a the distant piercing cry of a whistle.
No - it some something more. There was no way a human neck could be turned in such a way. It was... twisted.
The boy’s breathing made the dry rustling sound of dead leaves blown over even drier acreage. A raspy, coughing sound hitched in his small chest the same way a car that won’t start revs up and dies meaninglessly.
“Oh, Baby Jesus. Baby Jesus - baby - baby - GEE-SUS!” Preacherman screamed an exhortation to the heavens above (or the plain white ceiling, whichever your prefer).
The boy’s mouth, a brackish black hole in his face, opened slightly. A low chirping sound escaped. Preacherman felt an ice cold shiver race down his limbs.
“Don’t you say it, Charlie. Don’t. I know what I done. I know.” Preacherman cried down to the apparition.
His usual top-shelf enunciation was gone. The slow Amish country cadence had crept into his voice.
He wept. How he wept. And these tears were not the phony crocodile tears For-All-Gawhds-Children that Preacherman had so regularly wept on cue and on camera. These were the heart-shaking tears of endless misery and deeply shaken strife that had chiefly characterized his emotional life since this long-departed ghost standing before him had once lived and breathed.
When the ghost had lived, it’s name was Charlie Horleaf. It was close kin to him by way of brotherhood.
He’s been dead and gone to Lord Jesus for over 30 years. Thought Preacherman.
The ghost looked up, dead eyes swimming in it’s angled head. Charlie examined his big brother standing timidly at his suicidal perch, wiping away tears with a rope around his neck. If the apparition felt anything it did not betray it. It’s bloodless white face remained emotionless and impassive.
The small mouth parted and more of the odd chirping escaped as the lips slowly parted as the dead face made as if to form words.
“Wassamatta, Jimbo?” It finally asked.
“ You look a little ... low.” the blackened mouth muttered. The sentences were punctuated at the beginning and end with that strange, chirping sound.
The insect-like chirping/clicking noises surrounded the syllables that made up each word. Like they were just on the other side of the boy’s tongue - moving that black mouth with millions of their bug mandibles. Like a symphony of speakers inside dead old Charlie’s mouth talking all at once for him. Like their combined voices were his voice.
“But your - you’re - ...” Great sucking gasps of snot and air fought with each other in the large man’s exhales and inhales as Preacherman fought for breath and balance.
As he cried, he wiped at the tears with his giant sized hands, the noose tightened around his meaty neck further constricting his airway.
“You. You were at the motels.” he sputtered in dull realization.
The boy-ghost nodded or whatever passed for a nod when it came to otherworldly apparitions of his sort. The head slightly lifted and then dropped like a bag full of squirming maggots.
The mouth opened wide in a parody of a smile. The humming, chirping sound in it’s mouth got loud. Real loud.
“Why Charlie? Why Charlie?” Preacherman begged.
The head twitched to the side as if considering the best choice of words as a response. The dead eyes drifted in the head in imitation of thought. The chirping mouth opened again.
“You left me out there, Jimbo. ‘Cause you left me with the crickets.” Charlie hissed.
The memory of his dead brother flooded back to Preacherman. The shocked expression permanently fixed on his 9-year-old face. Preacherman remembered the cold Pennsylvania fall. The forest carpeted in dead leaves. And most of all, as he ran home to tell his parents all about the accident that claimed his little brother’s life, he remembered the sole witnesses to 10-year-old James Horleaf’s murderous crime - the crickets.
“They got in my mouth after I died, Jimbo. Crawled around in there re-e-e-al deep.” the ghost said.
Preacherman remembered seeing Charlie for the last time in a cheap country coffin in his parents parlor. He seemed asleep.
As if sensing Preacherman’s drifting thoughts ghost Charlie opened it’s mouth again.
“The crickets...I’m never gonna get ‘em all out now.” the ghost complained.
“Oh, no Charlie - I dint mean it. You gotta believe me. I dint mean it.” Preacherman sobbed.
The ghost pondered the giant man for a moment as if turning around in it’s sickening ghost head the weight of the words that his murderer had just spoken.
Even with it’s mouth mostly closed it sounded like thousands of crickets were gearing up in a great communal song of vengeance inside it’s mouth.
Preacherman moaned a wordless, hopeless moan.
The boy took a single step forward ready to pronounce it’s sentence upon this murderer. Preacherman tried to recoil up the stool but there was no where to go.
“Oh no! No! No, Charlie! No-o-o-o!”he screamed.
The broken necked ghost child opened it’s mouth again, this time the mouth kept getting wider and wider as if the blackest pits of Hell itself were opening themselves up for Thomas Wayne Horleaf.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Old Bean. I’m here. And I mean... to collect.” the abyss said.
Tesha was mostly naked now. A benefit of being a stripper and prostitute is that undressing is a fairly quick chore. Her blue leopard print mini-skirt was rolled, unceremoniously around her thick honey toned waist.
“Well, you gonna fuck, Preacher?” Stephon said as he walked to the small green tiled bathroom.
“My cup indeed runneth over, brother.” Preacherman consented.
The enormous man flipped the whore over on the bed pressing her knees down into the bed springs and took no mind of Stephon.
In his furious ministrations, he did not notice the man step behind him with a .22 caliber hand gun pressed forward.
“Oh Daddy! Oh Daddy. Hit that shit, Daddy,” the hooker mechanically cried as Preacherman pushed himself in and out of her.
“Oh, Daddy. I’m gonna do it, Daddy, Here I go-o-o-o!” Tesha said trying add a measure of human emotion into the mostly flat declaration.
Stephon decided it was only proper to allow the stupid white man to come before he blew his brains out. He continued to creep forward as the stupid white man fucked his whore.
Careful, now Stephon - came a hushed warning speaking in his dead step-uncle's voice.
I’m gonna get MONEY - came a 14 year old boy’s voice from Stephon’s memory - his voice as a kid. Before he smothered his step-uncle for $14 in loose change.
The gun barrel was just an inch from the back of the stupid white man’s head. Stephon’s hand trembled slightly. He needed to be careful. The man may have been stupid but he was huge. More than capable of beating Stephon’s ass.
“Oh my child ... Muh chile-l-l-d!!!” Preacherman wailed as his seed burst forth into the dead recesses of the hooker’s innards where it would find neither purchase nor refuge.
Here we go. Stephon thought.
His finger lightly pressed against the trigger. Right before he pressed all the way down to deliver the fatal shot he hesitated. Something in the corner of his vision moved. Stephon felt cool breath on the side of his face.
“Hey there little bro, hey.” came the voice of Stephon’s dead uncle, Antoine, this time not from within his head, but right next to his face.
And then, it wasn't. The face <i>changed</i>.
Looking away from the back of the giant white man’s head he saw it. Where Antoine had been there was a small boy’s face. A face drained of all blood, hinged on a rusty nail of a neck, and it pressed itself into the side of Stephon’s own face.
When it opened it’s mouth there was no red in there. No tongue, no teeth. Nothing but shiny black beetles wiggling. Stephon saw thousands of tiny black rainbows in that darkness squirming … and chirping.
Stephon could not look away. He could not move.
“Do it, Stephon!” Tesha howled impatiently.
This was exactly the wrong thing to say to someone as large and paranoid as Preacherman but Latesha Santos was not exactly what anyone would call the brightest bulb in the bunch.
Preacherman, alerted to Stephon’s proximity swung around bearing down his full mass on the paralyzed pimp. Both hands snatched Stephon’s right arm and neatly snapped it out of it’s socket.
The gun erupted pouring molten hot death into Latesha’s shocked face. The first bullet tore open her forehead digging a neat channel through her upper brain and coming to rest in her neocortex. The second, ejected when Preacherman refolded the murderous pimp’s arm in a way that Nature did not ever intend tore into her abdomen making a small red eye appear over her belly button. It left a fist sized exit wound against the cheap motel bed and spattering a Jackson Pollack into the cheap bedding made out of her stomach and part of her spleen.
“Judas Iscariot! Betrayer of the LORD!” Preacherman roared, finding his rage doubled and tripled as each bullet fired.
When the .22 dropped to the floor his rage flared to unknown heights of madness.
Stephon’s arm, freed from it’s connective sheath of bone within the scapula proper was completely dislocated from his shoulder. The arm limply drooped at an awkward angle at his side as Preacherman’s rage filled eyes appraised Stephon’s lack of response.
Stephon had not moved or looked at him. His face was a jet black death-mask of fear. It never moved. It never reacted to the dislocated shoulder, the shots, or looked at Preacherman at anytime. Instead, the wide-eyed gaze was fixed to his left - focused on something that Preacherman could not see.
The confusion made his rage burn more brightly.
“Die like Judas of old! DIE!” Preacherman decreed pulling the arm free of Stephon’s body.
Suddenly, Stephon returned to Earth from whatever strange universe that his awareness had been spell-bound within.
As he returned, he became aware of a pain like no other he had known. It burned in bright red auroras of pain. Radiating out from his stump.
My stump! He thought in total shock. My stump?!
A black man’s arm swung at him knocking him to the ground. It came around again flinging blood across his face in spatters. The arm rose and fell until Stephon lost track of the blows, the howling pain and could no longer see the flying streaks of blood sail through the air.
The lights went off in the entire world for him as an awful sound filled Stephon’s ears. As he lost consciousness for the final time, due to a combination of the blood loss and the merciless beating, he thought he could hear something like a dull roar, almost like a hornet’s nest.
It sounded just like crickets.
Turning his head on the broken swivel of his neck the small boy that looked like poor old dead Charlie threatened to speak again to Preacherman.
Taking another step forward the black mouth parted again.
“Would you like me to read you your eulogy, brother James?” the crickety, raspy voice inquired.
The boy child’s voice hinted at the fire that had once inspired Preacherman so much. Charlie began paraphrasing a passage from his own favorite book of the New Testament Matthew.
It was a passage, one he’d screamed to throngs of wild-eyed old women and closeted homosexuals (with rotund portly wives in tow) that mainly made up his studio audience. Specifically, the little demon spoke from the book of Matt, Chapter Seventeen:
“Listen well, brother and do not fear my words for: ‘if you have faith and you do not doubt, you can say to this mountain …” the ghost Charlie pointed up at Preacherman on his ridiculous perch.
“'Go. Go and throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.”
With that, Preacherman stepped off the rickety stool and into history. His neck did not break as he had intended. His giant arms thrashed at the air and his legs spasmed in frightful fits as the improvised noose bit deeply into his neck.
The Demon-who-looked-like-Charlie smiled. His toothless squirming black mouth caught the light from the dressing table. It looked, to Preacherman, like a preview of Hell itself, dancing in the small grin of his death brother’s mouth.
His unshakable resolve in his own salvation waivered in the face of slow strangulation.His trust in the forgiveness of Lord Jesus was replaced with something very much like panic as he strangled to death in his own dressing room.
The demon that looked like a small boy climbed up the large man’s enormous leg like with feline grace, digging his fingernails into the pleats his pants leg, then the folds of his vest, scaling up his tie and lapels.
The small demon scaled the mountain of Preacherman’s body until he reached it’s peak where he found his Preacherman choking, crying and close to death.
Through heavy tears, Preacherman, gasping, tried to speak a few final words to poor dead Charlie, to say how sorry he was that he had sent him to the good Lord at such an early age. No words would come. His mouth was bound in a teeth grinding grimace, one that Rumpled Overcoat of the County of Culver’s Coroner’s Office would find to be more than a little hilarious.
Charlie, wrapping his small hands around the giant neck gently squeezed at James Horleaf’s throat. When his grip found purchase he clamped the esophagus shut.
The last thing on Earth that Preacherman ever saw were two dead eyes swimming slowly in a little boy’s face. Eyes that were staring with something like glee, deep, deep into his own.