Nearly nodding off, I sat listening to the illustrious Reverend Rob Deetz as he entered into the second hour of his sermon. My a*s began to hurt from the century old hardwood pew. I tried to shift to a more comfortable spot, but was wedged between the shoulders of two large old men. I looked around at the two hundred members of a rural community crammed into the small church. All, including myself, had shown up to pay last respects to one Mrs. Lorraine Gilbert, a sixty-two year old mother of twelve that had devoted herself to family, community and church. A true righteous pillar of the community. Being her youngest child, my attendance had been an a forced courtesy. My step-father decided that the funeral would be held in the community and church he and my mother had grown up in.
So, I sat there, shoulder to shoulder with family members that still only knew me as “Freddy’s wife’s daughter”, listening to the Reverend Deetz (along with many, many others) paying homage to the much respected, God-fearing, family loving woman. After almost four hours, I felt as though the had paid plenty. As Reverend Deetz began to sing “This Little Light of Mine”, his fifth song, one of the old ladies in the front row with a large bun on her head and a long skirt covering her ankles, bolted upright in the standing position. Her body solidified as her fists clenched from the power of the Lord coursing through her veins. She raised her hands up high, words of unknown origin rolled off her tongue, she then dropped to her knees and bowed her head low. Several other old ladies, with similar buns and skirts, joined her, they kneeled in front of the casket, palms pointed upward. Reverend Deetz’s voice rose until it shook the windows, he began to sweat profusely, one hand raised to the Heavens.
I began to shift in my seat, not being of this faith or even being a regular church goer, I had never witnessed a person going under the power. Unfortunately, my fellow attendees were very familiar with this practice and joined the line of old ladies. Each and every one of them being struck with the love of the Lord. Soon, I was the only one in my seat. Bodies covered the floor, prostrated before the altar, singing, praying, speaking in tongues. Reverend Deetz was screaming at the top of his lungs, praising mother for her devotion to the church and the Almighty above. He raised both hands into the air as the entire spectacle crescendoed to a fever pitch.
I needed to leave, to get away from the perceived madness that had begun to unfold. If I had the courage to leave, I couldn’t without stepping on people. I sat, wild-eyed and slack-jawed. Pain emanated from white knuckles and breaking fingernails from the grip I had on the edge of the pew. Every muscle tightened up, my heart raced, I was scared. Just as I decided that I didn’t care who I had to trample in order to get out of that damn church, my eyes fell upon the Reverend. He had stopped screaming, he stood still, hands still in the air. He looked as though he had just been struck by lightning. His face contorted into ghastly forms, his body shuddered, his eyes rolled back into his head. Thinking this was part of the show, I stood up, planning my escape route.
Suddenly, the Reverend dropped his hands to his sides and surveyed the congregation. He patiently waited for the power and love of God to leave his parishioners. One by one, they returned to the Earthly plane, quietly got up off the floor and returned to their seats. I sat down as well, full of confusion and fear. I mentally cursed my mother for marrying my step-father, then cursed my step-father for dragging me to this crazy filled horror ride. Thinking the o**y of devotion was over, I relaxed my grip on the pew.
Reverend Deetz looked across the silent church, a smile slithered across his face. He resumed his sermon as though nothing happened. As he spoke, his words took on an ominous tone, a low growl began to well up from his throat. The more he spoke of the Lord, the more agitated he became. His face turned red, his mouth frothed, sweat rolled down his forehead. He stomped over to the casket and kicked it over.
“B***h! Lying, Godless, w***e!” He screamed
My mother’s body flopped out of the casket as it hit the floor. The crowd gasped, some screamed, one of the old ladies fainted. Her large hair bun cushioning her head from the floor. My step-father and my brothers raged towards the altar.
“Sit down, sit the f**k down!” Screamed the reverend. His face had now contorted into what looked like an old fun house devil mask. His teeth gnashed, he pointed a now gnarled finger at the men. In a calm tone, he repeated, “Sit the f**k down.”
The men stopped in their tracks, I don’t know if it was fear or mind control that made them obey without questions. As they quietly returned to their seats, I was now convinced this was not part of the service and started my escape once again. Murmurs and whispering filled the room, people started to squirm uncomfortably.
“All of you, shut your f*****g mouths. Someone get that old b***h off the floor.”
People sat stunned, eyes wide in terror. Some had their heads down in silent prayer, others stared with hate and anger. Someone finally woke up the old lady on the floor, helping her to a pew. Reverend Deetz stood tall at the podium.
“I’m sure, there is.. Some confusion.. As to my behavior. Well, I’ll tell you, the Lord has filled me with his power and love. He has seen fit to let me see into the hearts of each and every one of you. Even the late Mrs. Gilbert, God rest her soul.” He motioned to the corpse splayed out on the floor.
Reverend Deetz surveyed the crowd, making eye contact with individuals as he read their internal dialogue. When his eyes met mine, a slight look of confusion came to his eyes. He stared at me, I look back into his soul. He continued his monologuing.
“Not one of you can call yourselves, Christian. I see adulterers, thieves, rapists, gossips. I see blackness, envy, hatred, lust in your hearts. You are all guilty of some sin, some guilty of all of them.” He pointed a gnarled finger at me, his eyes narrowed into slits. “You. You are one of the chosen. You are the only one deemed worthy. Lord be praised,”
I shrunk down in embarrassment. The congregation looked at me with daggers of hate in their eyes.
“Now, Mrs. Gilbert here was not the pillar of righteousness you all claim her to be. No. Mrs. Gilbert had secrets. One was her being a prescription junky. Just because Dr. Drug said it was ok, she was no better than addicts in the park with needles hanging out of their arms. Her beloved pain killers and sleep aids are the reason we are all here today and you all though it was just a car crash.” He looked directly at me as he said this. Whispers crept across the congregation. Reverend Deetz swept his arms through the air “She had several more secrets, twelve of them to be exact. You see, out of all of Mrs. Gilbert’s children, not one of them were fathered by Mr. Hafford, her first husband. Poor Mr. Hafford, didn’t know he was shooting blanks until the day he died. Many a husband has had lovely “bible studies” with dear, dear Mrs. Gilbert. Even after she stole Mr. Gilbert (who adopted and raise her many children), she continued to screw your husbands.” More murmurs and whispers from the crowd. A sneer crossed the reverend’s face. “This must be good news to you, Sister Claire. All these years, wondering if your baby boys belonged to your husband or to Mr. Hafford. That is why you spread all those vicious rumors about their daughter. You didn’t want your sweet boy marrying his half-sister.”
A few people stood up and headed for the door, not wanting their secrets to be revealed. Some kept their heads down in prayer, some in shame. I kept my eyes on the reverend.
“Where do you think you’re going? No one leaves, not until judgment has been passed.” He scolded the congregation. He then turned his head and looked straight at me. Once again I shrunk down in my seat, not wanting to be singled out again. He hopped down from the podium, walking through the aisles, he berated and belittled each and every parishioner until every little secret and lie was brought to light. Even though their soft underbelly of deceit had been exposed, everyone stayed quiet in their seats. Some even looked relieved to be finally outed. Many hung their heads in prayer. I was still disturbed by their lack of anger. “Sheep waiting for the slaughter.”, I thought. When the secrets of the last lamb was revealed. He stopped at me.
Why are you here?” He asked.
I smiled politely, eyebrow raised, “To pay my respects of course.”
“Child, no one here deserves your respect. They all deserve to be damned to Hell.” He narrowed his eyes and tilted his head in acknowledgement.”You knew that already, didn’t you?”
“It doesn’t matter what I know. I’m not here to judge, I’m just here for the show.” I smiled warm & sweet.
“Judgment is exactly what you are here for.” He let out a low chuckle.
I stood up and met his gaze. As I looked into his soul, I asked “Had any good prayer sessions, lately? Reverend Deetz?”
“Just yesterday.” He said nonchalantly,”She was a sweet, little thing.”
His face contorted from devilish, to confused, to shame. He stammered,”I. I. I’ve. Never t-touched a child. Never. Touched. A child.” He was aware of his confession, but unable to comprehend why the words came out of his mouth.
He began to back towards to the altar, I followed. As we made our way back up to the podium I dismissed the good reverend with ”Thank you, Reverend Deetz, you have done your job perfectly. You may now take you seat with the rest of the lambs.”
The reverend sat down in a deacon’s chair, hanging his head shame. I turned to address the congregation. Bible in one hand, the other held out over the congregation. Channeling Charelton Heston as Moses, I spoke loudly. I instantly knew why preachers preached this way, it was fun,
“I guess it’s time for our closing prayer. Brothers and Sisters, children of God, we have gathered here to celebrate our love for the Lord and Sister Lorraine. “ I motioned to corpse splayed out on the floor. “Thanks to the beautiful testimony by Reverend Deetz, all of your sins have been put out to be judged and judged they have been. Each and every one of you have been deemed unworthy in the eyes of the Lord. But, but, in his mercy, he will pass swift and just punishment on you all.”
Panic started to set in, a low roar rolled through the aisles, the people dropped to their knees. Prayers rolled off the lips of every individual. Yet, they stayed put, they never tried to leave or attack. Was it the same influence Reverend Deetz had over the angry sons? I still think it was truly a miracle how they never once confronted each other or themselves the entire time. I strolled down the podium steps and towards the main doors. Hatred, confusion, fear, filled the eyes of many as I made it to the exit, Damn sorry fools, didn’t learn a thing.
I opened the door, I turned for one last announcement. “You have all lived your lives in sin. Yet, only now you pray for forgiveness. You’re prayers have been denied.” I let the door close behind me as I left. I could hear the clamor of feet and bodies, men and women screaming, trying to escape. I took a few steps into the yard, turned back towards the small church and said,”Lord, I have done your bidding. The rest is up to you.”
I walked to my car, lit up a cigarette and looked back at the small church. I could still hear screams, fists banging on the doors and windows. Lightning rained down from a clear blue sky, the screams died out as the building glowed brightly. The smell of electricity and burnt flesh filled the air.
The news called it a tragedy full of sorrow, two hundred and eighteen members of a small religious community electrocuted all at once at while attending a funeral for one of their most beloved and respected members, even the corpse had been knocked over from the force. Why such a misfortune would befall a God-fearing, hard-working community was beyond comprehension. Yet, no one could explain how they were fried like little white grains of rice. It was a beautiful day for a funeral, not a cloud in the sky. Lightning would have never caused so much destruction. Must have been rats chewing on the wires, or some type of conductive material used in the carpeting.
I was interviewed as the sole survivor, saved only because I had been an outsider that just couldn’t bear witness to such a show of emotion, devotion and love for the Lord. I had been out getting some air when the tragedy took place. I was now an orphan without a (if you’ll excuse the phrase) soul in the world. I had survivor’s guilt, PTSD, grief-stricken over the loss of my entire family and adopted community. I made every major news network, Ellen, Dr. Phil, even Murray took DNA tests to find out who if my father was really my father. He wasn’t. I don’t know how he did it, but apparently he got the DNA from every dead man in the church, my real father was Reverend Deetz. I still chuckle at that little tidbit of information.
Well, give me my Oscar right now. I played the part so well. Donations are still rolling in, even a new car and free ride to college. As I sit in my beautiful new house with a very large inheritance, being the last living member of a large family certainly has it’s rewards, I thank my Lord. He now has two hundred and eighteen new souls to torment with fire and brimstone in the pits of Hell and I have received my just rewards.