Globe Soup 7-Day Short Story Challenge #9:
Won Best in Genre (May 1, 2023)
It was Come-to-Jesus time. The Lamb of God played the opening rift of a head-banging version of Rock of Ages and the congregation leapt to their feet. The electric guitars screamed PRAISE and the drums banged out HALLELUJAH as thousands of worshipers—packed to overflowing in a sanctuary the size of Texas—felt the electrified surge of the Holy Spirit. The tempo of the music ebbed and flowed, drawing the crowd in, then pushing them back out, giving the entire scene a sense of chaos.
“I think they're ready, Boss,” a busty blonde said, momentarily looking up from the Preach-On app on her tablet, while a team of assistants jostled around, putting on the final touches: another dab of concealer, a swipe of bronzer and a cloud of Freeze Frame to tighten the preacher’s silver pompadour.
Hair & Makeup removed the vinyl cape, protecting his million-dollar suit, with a flourish, then side-stepped to make way for the Deacons. They swarmed in like moths to an open flame to attach the gadgets. The wireless doohickeys and what’s-it’s—the microphone and The-Man-in-the-Ear. The church board of directors approved the best wireless mic and covert ear-speaker that money could buy, the quality of the set only rivaled by the earHero used by the CIA. The generous offerings of the congregation—those poor hardworking schmucks—fully funded the tools necessary for a successful revival.
The Deacons finished and patted the preacher around the chest and back to smooth the crinkles and ripples in his shirt caused by the mass onslaught of the setting of the technology. They sidestepped to make room for the preacher’s wife, still being clucked over by a group of mother hens, them preening her blonde beehive and dabbing at her plump red lips, as she drew alongside her spouse and took his supple hand in her own. Two perfectly manicured and bedazzled hands that screamed MONEY, joined for the common good of The Lord’s House, the limited liability company which protected the massive beast this once tiny strip-mall church had become.
“Places,” The-Man-in-the-Ear said.
The pair moved center-stage to stand side-by-side on their marks, behind the heavy curtain concealing their presence.
The music shrieked, and the crowd thrummed, raising their voices in exaltation to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Glory’s and Amen’s were not in short supply as the crowd went mad for Jesus, first, and then for the preacher and his wife when at the touch of a button, the burgundy velveteen curtain in the foreground of the expansive stage began to rise. The slow reveal of Preacher John-Wayne and his wife and help-meet Tammy Lynn was meant to titillate the worshipers and it did not disappoint. The enthusiasm in The Lord’s House, LLC raised the rafters.
“Boots,” The-Man-in-the-Ear said.
The curtain paused for a moment around knee level to showcase the luxurious pairs of his and hers Lucchese handcrafted cowboy boots, worn by the duo. True Texans they were, as proven by the brushed nickel spurs protruding from the ridges on the heels of the ostrich vamps. The Luccheses began to tap and shuffle as the band played a short rift of Boot Scoot Boogie. Legs a-jostling and spurs a-jangling, the congregation sang along until the curtain was back in motion.
The Lamb of God transitioned to There’s Victory in Jesus. The roar of the crowd reached fever-pitch at the sight of Preacher John-Wayne’s Rolexed wrist and million-dollar suit above his fancy boots and the applause unstoppable at the sight of Tammy Lynn’s low-cut dress sporting an unwieldy gold crucifix, snuggly nestled between her double-D breasts.
“Teeth,” The-Man-in-the-Ear said.
The curtain slowed its pace as it breeched Tammy Lynn’s decolletage.
“Smile, Honey Bunches,” Preacher John-Wayne, growled.
“Sure thing, Sugar Plum,” Tammy Lynn purred, twitching the corners of her pouty lips—as much as the fillers would allow—as the curtain rose and her tight smile was revealed.
The crowd went insane, and the jostling got out of hand when the shoving began. Security appeared like gang-busters, tasers at the ready.
And the curtain rose on, cresting John Wayne’s shoulders.
His upper half, the sleek tailored navy sharkskin jacket and crisp white collar, accentuated by a priceless Navaho sterling and turquoise bolo tie, finally revealed as the curtain approached his chin.
“Lights,” The-Man-in-the-Ear cued a nameless, faceless technician in Command Central, and the stage lit up like the sun.
“It's show-time,” Preacher John-Wayne giggled squeezing Honey Bunches’ hand. He arranged his fake-and-bake bronzed face and million-dollar pearly whites into his Welcome-One-And-All smile as the curtain rose even higher and the power couple was finally on full display.
The-Man-in-the-Ear whispered, “Mics are on, Boss; take it down Lambs.”
On cue, the band dropped tempo and the crowd became slightly less unruly as the music switched to a somber piano piece. Preacher John-Wayne and Tammy Lynn raised their coupled hands in the air, stage lights reflecting off rows of platinum rings touting massive gemstones, to blind those ailing wheelchair-bound congregants (seeking a-healing) in the front row.
“Seats,” The-Man-in-the-Ear said.
“Thank you. Aw, thank you. Too much, thank you. Too much, settle down. Oh ho, settle down, folks,” he chuckled.
“My lovely bride, Tammy Lynn and I welcome you to The Lord’s House annual ‘Let’s Talk About Jesus Revival,’” Preacher John-Wayne projected his authoritative voice while Tammy Lynn continued to smile and wave the crowd down, until the applause slowed to a trickle.
“It’s a great day to be in His house,” he bellowed pointing to the heavens.
“Take a seat, my friends. Please, be seated. Let’s get to The Word,” he opened his arms to the audience, encouraging them to sit down for The Message—his sermon carefully scripted by his team of Bible scholars.
“Tears,” The-Man-in-the-Ear said.
Preacher John-Wayne lowered his arms, pausing for effect, then hung his head and thought about sad things—Mama’s death, the current state of the NASDAQ—until tears welled in his eyes. He held them in, lest they leave a streak in the heavy pancake makeup created specifically for those viewers joining via high-definition television.
He looked up into the third-tier balcony—scanning the crowd through the welling tears—then worked his way down, tier-by-tier to the floor, his gaze finally settling on those unfortunates in the front row. His features shifted to display compassion, and this is when he allowed a single tear to roll down his cheek. He pulled a snow-white embroidered handkerchief from his breast pocket, lightly dabbing away the tear—and a generous blob of bronzer. The spontaneous effect of this action was immediate. Tissues rustled and hankies swished as they were pulled from purses and pockets, at the ready for the emotional roller coaster that would ensue. Preacher John-Wayne slipped the soiled hankie into his pants pocket, turned to Tammy Lynn and made a show of kissing the back of her hand before she exited stage left.
“Preach,” The-Man-in-the-Ear said.
He cleared his throat, and the show began in earnest.
“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above.” His perfect tenor rang out acapella as the harsh stage lights dimmed to evoke a feeling of closeness and Preacher John-Wayne raised his arms and lifted his eyes to gaze into the heavens, “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you,” eyes back to the congregation, he lowered his voice, confiding one-on-one with each and every parishioner.
“Call on him, my friends, that ye may be forgiven. Let’s talk about our Heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness.”
Preacher John-Wayne grew momentarily flustered when he locked eyes with one of his many mistresses seated at measured intervals among the parishioners. He felt their cold stares and blanched as one after another, they collectively (and covertly) drew index fingers across their milky white throats, the customary threat that the jig was up if he didn’t pay up. Generous cuts of the tithes and offerings, collected by the Deacons, would buy the silence of the mistresses for another year. It promised to be a great night, as no one dared hold out on the Deacons.
“Shake it off, Boss,” The-Man-in-the-Ear hissed.
Preacher John-Wayne visibly shuddered, “Oh, yessss! I feel your presence, Holy Spirit,” his voice rang out clear as a summer’s day and he smiled down at Tammy Lynn, seated with the cripples in the front row. Her cold hard stare said the jig was up.
His brain went into hyperdrive, Is it up? Does Tammy Lynn honestly think she can up My jig? There's not a money-grubbing woman on planet Earth who can up My jig?
Preacher John-Wayne couldn’t help but smirk, Bring it on, bimbos. It’s your words against God’s and I have God in the palm of my hand. For He is faithful and just and I will always come out on top.
* * *
Lisa H. Owens
Globe Soup 7-Day Short Story Challenge #9: Best in Genre (May 1, 2023)
[Actual Partial "Contest Finals" PDF]
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