The people gathered inside the revival tent are what you would expect. Unsophisticated. The air heavy and damp with the smell of unwashed asses. Men in coveralls, women in print housedresses, all looking for something. I sit beside Tess and play with her knee, then her thigh until she laughs and slaps my hand away. Then we hold hands and talk about the crowd and play footsie.
The Reverend Amos comes in and we all stand up and he motions us to sit. According to Tess he has been playing to full houses for weeks.
Neighbors, says the Reverend, He couldn’t stay out of these hellholes. And I said to him, Y’ain’t gonna take the son of God in there with ye? And he said, No I ain’t. And I said, Don’t ye know that He said, I will foller ye always to the end of the road?
Well, sir, Amos goes on, I aint askin nobody to go nowhere. He’s gonna be with ye whether ye ask it or not. Ye caint get shed of him. Now are ye goin to take him into that hellhole yander?
You can cut the rest of this from cloth. Nothing novel. I get bored and it’s all I can do not to yawn and I’d already be gone but for Tess. Amos asks if anyone would like to be healed. One man goes up in a wheelchair and Amos heals him and he gets up and walks a few steps and falls on his face. After two more failures the next one, no doubt a shill, goes up on crutches and after being healed throws his crutches away and runs along the stage and the crowd goes nuts. Tess jumps up and applauds and looks at me and throws her arms around me and gives me a long, deep kiss. I run my hand over her little underage ass.
And after that a tall man with a shaved head comes in. A man looking like a fugitive from a skinhead fantasy. The Reverend stops his sermon altogether. Baldy pushes his way to the crateboard pulpit where Amos stands and turns to the congregation. Then Baldy turns his palms outward and addresses us.
This man’s an imposter, the intruder says with equanimity. He holds no papers of divinity and has no qualifications for the office he has usurped. He merely memorized a few verses from the good book for the purpose of lending some flavor to the piety he despises. This man is not only illiterate but wanted by the law in the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Luzianna, and South Carolina.
Lies, lies! Proclaims Brother Amos, who drops to his knees and starts quoting random verses from the bible.
He is sought on a variety of charges the most recent of which involves a twelve year old girl that went to him in trust and this man was caught violating her while wearing the vestments of God.
A moan surges through the crowd. A woman drop to her knees, then passes out.
This is him, cries Amos, sobbing. This is the devil. Here he stands, Amos says, pointing a finger of judgment.
Let’s hang this piece of dogshit, cries an ugly motherfucker in the crowd.
Baldy says, Why, three weeks ago he was run out of Natchez, Mississippi for having sexual congress with a cow.
Why, goddamn if I wont shoot the sumbitch myself, says a thug in the crowd, and fires.
The Reverend tosses his saffron robe aside and flees in terror with half the crowd after him in bloodlust. The other half is too old or sick or stunned to leave. They murmur and chitter and look around. I stand up.
Where RU going, honey? Tess says.
To liven things up a bit, I say to her and wink and stride toward the stage.
I mount the stage and put on the saffron robe, which is too big for me. I raise my hands and yell, SILENCE!
And everything goes deathly quiet. Tess stares at me with a hand over her mouth. Listen to me, I say thunderously. Ye have listened to that false prophet. Now listen to a true one, to the word of the Son of the living God!
Amen, a few of them say politely.
I bring ye tidings of a new tomorrow, I say, gaining confidence. Of a heaven come to Earth in these final days before the Judgment. Get with me or get with the Evil One for there is not much time, I say, taking a breath. And those of ye that think ye are Christian enough, TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME!
And there is a roar that I let go on for a few moments before I motion for silence. Then I say, Let us pray.
Outside the tent the bald man is sitting with the other half of the congregation, drinking. I have taken off the robe and Tess follows just behind me, holding my hand like a devoted little gf, which maybe she will be. I hope so, because I am lonely. We walk over to Baldy and I say, When were you in Natchez, Mississippi?
When were you in Natchez?
Where did you learn all that about Reverend Amos?
I was never in Natchez, Baldy says. Doubt that Amos was. Never saw him before in my life, before today.
He raises his glass and they all drink. A chill runs over me.
In the gathering dusk I walk over to Amos’ quarters, which I now claim as his successor. It’s quite comfortable, as I would have expected. The revival business must pay well. It’s in a corner of the lot, obviously set up to be moved in a hurry if need be. Outside a noose has been fashioned from a rope thrown over a tree. Someone has gotten a horse from somewhere and Reverend Amos is sitting on the horse with duct tape over his mouth and hands tied behind his back. When someone puts his head in a noose they call me over to say a few words.
Today ye will be with Him in paradise, I say.
I cover Tess’ eyes with my hand and whisper, Don’t look.
A raggedy man slaps the horse on the rear and it runs and Amos is hung. They may have actually done the noose right because his neck snaps with a loud pop.
I walk Tess over to the preacher’s quarters and lead her inside. I give her a drink from Amos’ collection and after she has finished I start taking my clothes off, breathing hard.
What RU doing, honey? She says, swinging her legs.
I am going to baptize you, I say.
Will it hurt? she says, laughing.
Not much, I say.