Monday, April 29, 2013
Can I Get An Amen
The Reverend Horton Kirkpatrick gazed upon tonight’s gathering in the tent revival meeting and found it good. Packed to the canvas walls, which would mean a hefty take at the passing of the plate. Best of all, this remote postage stamp of a Montana town had probably never heard the stories of Reverend Horndog or the folks who’d run him out of places bigger than this. He ought to rake in plenty of beer and blow before the rumors started.
The men were the usual scruffy sort he expected out here in God’s Armpit, but the women were fine as could be. Especially that lovely number in the front row with the ample attributes and the thick coils of hair the sandy brown color of a lonely desert at sundown. Her lengthy legs ended in a pair of snakeskin cowboys boots. She must have a rich sugar daddy who kept her in shoes. He’d be separating her from her allowance soon, and from Daddy too if he could swing it.
Already the crowd was getting antsy. They sounded, and smelled, like a petting zoo. Horton knew the stench from experience. This religious con was a much sweeter scam, and usually smelled a lot fresher.
He raised his hands. “Brothers and sisters. God bids you all welcome to His home.”
“God lives in a tent?” somebody said loudly. A titter of snarky laughter ran through the congregation.
“You’d think He’d live better when He’s on the road,” somebody else remarked. “A Winnebago or something.”
“God lives in our hearts,” Rev. Horton proclaimed, “but sometimes we shut the door and forget—”
“Which god?” the Winnebago booster asked. “We got a ton around here.”
“There is only one God, and he is—”
“Vishnu? The tigers outside of town worship him, and you should see the palace they live in. Maybe we should switch.”
“Yeah, I hear ya. We pray to Chaos, but that only makes things worse. More interesting, though.”
“There is only one God,” Horton boomed, “and He has sent me to bring you His word. Are you ready to receive the word of the Lord?”
“I’m ready to eat,” a man in the back called out. “Where’s the refreshments?”
Horton was taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“The food.” The man waved one of the flyers Horton had tacked up around town this morning. “It says we get refreshments.”
“Yeah,” Winnebago chimed in. “Pastor Tim puts out meat and veggie trays. He lets us snack during the sermon.”
“I bring the refreshment of the Lord’s word and the blessings of the holy spirit. If you welcome the Lord into your life, He will bring you all the sustenance you require.”
“We’re not gonna get fed,” the man in the back translated. “Scat,” Winnebago said.
He was losing them. There went his full pockets. The woman in the snakeskin boots stretched out her glorious legs and made as if to rise. There went his full something else.
Time to pull out the big guns.
Horton usually saved the demonstration until later in the sermon, once he had the suckers all worked up and ready to believe, but desperate times, et cetera. He flung open the crate atop his makeshift altar and pulled out two writhing, thick-bodied serpents. They were only harmless black snakes, less threatening than a can of hairspray, but the yokels wouldn’t know that. Harry put up a half-hearted show of resistance. Sally, who hated the crate, hissed and squeezed his bicep.
Horton held the feisty Sally high for the benefit of his audience. “Behold the power of the Lord! Such is my faith that I may handle these venomous creatures without fear, for God will not allow those who believe in Him to—”
“Shoot,” the woman in the boots snorted. “They ain’t even poisonous. Where I come from, the preachers handle rattlers fresh caught off the desert. Not for too long, though. We lose more preachers that way.”
“Are they the refreshments?” the man in the back asked hopefully.
“Piss on this,” Winnebago announced. “Let’s go to Pizza Hut. They’re having a special on Meat Lovers’.”
Okay, then. Divine retribution time. “Turn not away from the word of God,” he threatened, “lest you suffer His fearsome wrath. For the Lord is a jealous god.”
As if on cue, the walls of the tent suddenly rippled, as if blasted by a high wind. A mighty thupping sound accompanied the wind, like helicopter rotors, or the crack of enormous wings.
In an instant the entire congregation went silent. Boot Woman stared about with a look of consternation on her face. She wasn’t the only one. Harry and Sally suddenly started twisting in Horton’s grip, in a desperate bid to escape.
“Damn,” Winnebago said. “He’s good.”
Oh shit, Horton thought. That better not be a tornado. He hadn’t even passed the plate yet.
He lifted his snakes high over his head. Sally’s tail whipped at his face, just barely missing his cheek. “Behold the power of God!”
A man knocked the flap aside and strode into the tent. “Where is the spokesman for God?” he demanded, in a voice that shook the walls even worse than the wind had.
“I never touched your wife,” Horton bleated automatically.
The man stared at him. He must have been in a rush to attend the service, because all he had on was a loincloth. His body, bronze as an Aztec warrior’s, sported muscles Horton had only read about. Hair the color and sheen of an obsidian blade fell to his near-naked butt. “You are the priest of the Serpent God?”
“Uh … whuh?”
The man straightened. “I am Itzcoatl, son of the Feathered Serpent. I have seen your announcements in town.” He held up a flyer and pointed to the photo of Horton and his reptilian assistants. “You are a priest of the Serpent God. You will serve me in this capacity.”
Oh, right. The snakes. Easy for a nutcase to get the wrong idea. “Look, buddy, I’m trying to conduct a service here. We can talk after the meeting.”
“Of course. You may spread the word of my magnificence. You mammals! Heed the word of this my priest. You stand in the presence of the divine!”
The psycho lifted his arms. The wind sprang up again, deafening and pummeling within the confines of the tent. Harry and Sally were hissing like a pair of leaky tires on Truckasaurus. So was the woman in the boots.
Horton blinked. He would have rubbed his eyes if he weren’t holding the snakes. The man’s shadow, filling the wall of the tent behind him, resembled an enormous snake with feathered wings.
What the hell kind of freaky town had he stumbled into?
Ask and ye shall receive …
One minute Horton was standing before a tent full people and one crazy mofo. The next he was back in the petting zoo. At least, that’s what it looked and sounded like. The entire tent was crammed to the walls with barking, yelping animals. Wolves and coyotes mostly, but Horton’s reeling brain catalogued foxes, beavers, bobcats, rabbits, and a bull elk complete with a massive rack. The rack ripped a hole in the tent and the elk bounded through. The rest of the congregation plowed out the hole in its wake, leaving torn rags of clothing behind.
Somewhere in the middle of this he lost his grip on Harry and Sally. They whipped beneath the rear of the tent to freedom. The woman in the boots followed suit.
So also, with little thought and no regrets, did Horton.
In the field behind the tent sat his camper. Horton ducked behind it. The wind tore at his clothes and roared in his ears. The field was alive with fleeing beasts. They ran for the trees at full speed. Meanwhile, the tent—
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Horton moaned as the roof of the tent was torn asunder. A gigantic winged snake, black and glittering, flapped through the roof and took off in pursuit of its erstwhile worshippers. Or perhaps sacrifices, at this point.
Horton had enough experience to pick the exact right moment when to get the hell out of town. Now was that time.
He ripped open the camper’s door, climbed inside, and froze. The first thing he noticed was the cage where he kept the rats for his snakes. It was empty. The woman in the snakeskin boots sat at his mini kitchen table. Horton was just in time to watch a pink, hairless tail slide between her lips.
She smacked those lips and grinned at him. “Found the refreshments,” she said. “Plump and juicy. Just the way I like ‘em.”
Horton fell backward out the door. He’d barely hit the ground before he scrambled up and started running. Direction didn’t really matter, as long as it was Away.
So ended Horton Kirkpatrick’s tenure as a revivalist preacher and his association with God. He took from his experience the lessons that no one should ever go anywhere near Montana, and God was a son of a bitch.
# # #
Rosa waited for the ruckus to die down, and for her dinner to settle. Man wasn’t much of a Bible thumper, but he kept some damn tasty rats, she’d give him that. But dang it! Of all the places for an actual snake god to turn up. Her being an actual snake, she wasn’t too keen on anyone keeping close tabs on her whereabouts, let alone a damn god.
She opened the camper door and hopped down, and discovered her shitty day wasn’t quite over yet. The snake god stood before her. He beamed a smile full of white teeth at her. “Daughter.”
Rosa hissed in a breath. Don’t show fear. You do, you’ll get swallowed. “ No offense there, sugah, but you ain’t the real Quetzalcoatl.”
“No. I am his son, the Obsidian Serpent. I have risen to take control of this mammal-infested planet in my father’s name.”
“Well, you ain’t gonna be doing it with that ape as your priest. He done lit a shuck for parts unknown.” She looked Itzcoatl up and down. Shoot, that was one fine hunk of man-flesh, god or no. Might be worth the risk of getting swallowed. “If you’re a god, you must know what I am. Seeing as how we’re both serpents and all … ”
“I have already committed to my divine mate, and see no need for concubines. You may serve as a handmaiden. My wife deserves a staff.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of priestess, seeing as how the position just opened up.” Who knew, there might be some profit in this. Specifically, continued survival. That always topped out Rosa’s ledger. And wherever a god went, there were bound to be spoils. You just had to stay intact long enough to enjoy ‘em.
Rosa executed a limber bow. It even looked fairly genuine. “All hail the mighty Feathered Serpent.”