Sunday, December 2, 2018

Pentecost by Jesse Lynn Rucilez

    April 14th, 2017
    Stark City, Oregon.
    6:01 a.m.
    “I will extol Thee, Oh Lord!” Reverend Gideon Brahm recited with all the enthusiasm he could muster. Bathed in flickering candlelight, his eyes stung from lack of sleep. His throat ached from seventy-eight hours of near-constant preaching about life, death, love, Pentecost, and—he hoped—resurrection. “For Thou hast lifted me up…”
    Gideon’s heart sank as he gazed at his dwindling flock. Three days ago, he’d begun this doomed experiment with twelve handpicked apostles, and half of them had fled.
    Half of them had denied him.
    “And hast not made my foes to rejoice over me!”
    Tall and lean, Gideon looked much younger than his actual age of forty-three. He wore his light brown hair shoulder-length, framing his smooth, handsome face. A face that’s charmed many out of their money, and lured many others into his thrall.
    “Oh Lord, my God…”
    Even now, hair mussed and tangled, eyes ringed with dark circles, Gideon radiated warmth and compassion. A natural born leader. A man you’d trust with your very soul.
    “I cried unto Thee, and Thou hast healed me!”
    Before Gideon lay a white satin sheet. Atop the sheet lay a pale, putrescent thing which couldn’t be healed—by The Lord or otherwise. A corpse. A naked old woman. Name, unknown. Cause of death, unknown. Its wrinkled face looked slack and peaceful; eyes closed, lips parted. Arms spread in a T, fingers curled into partial fists.
    The eternal pose of the crucified.
    “Oh Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from the grave…”
    Washed but not embalmed, the old woman’s body had been culled from Stark Memorial Services by a fellow devotee. Already, it carried the sour stench of death, and the flesh beneath its breasts and buttocks had begun to blacken.
    “Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down into the pit!”
    Around the corpse sat the remnants of Gideon’s flock. Like Gideon, they wore white satin robes tied at their waists with golden cords, and nothing else.
    “Sing unto The Lord, Oh ye saints of His…”
    To Gideon’s left sat Dennis Moore. A kind man with a kind face, Gideon thought. A distraught woman lay across his lap, weeping. Dennis held her, chewing his bottom lip as he absorbed the sermon. Gideon had known Dennis for five years. A friend invited him to Gideon’s now defunct Lambs of Nazareth bible study group; long before Gideon proclaimed himself an actual prophet.
    Before a lot of things.
    “And give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness!”
    Marla Smith, the woman clinging to Dennis, had also belonged to the Lambs of Nazareth. A very average woman, Gideon thought. Unloved, unmarried, and childless. But Gideon had slowed Marla’s descent into spinsterhood with several detours to his bedroom. Not that she’d minded. It felt good to be wanted, and the lovemaking had grown in both frequency and intensity—
    Until Hope arrived.
    “For His anger endureth but a moment; in His favor is life!
    Beside Marla sat Rick Daniels, shivering and stroking his thick, blonde mustache. He looked like a used car salesman, Gideon thought. Gideon had known Rick for three years. After ordering his flock to disseminate flyers proclaiming him a Prophet of the New Age, Gideon first met Rick, flyer in hand, outside his church. Fresh from rehab, Rick had seemed lost and lonesome, and Gideon welcomed him with open arms, advising him to fill his life not with booze, but with God.
    Trading one addiction for another.
    “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning!”
    Beside Rick sat Gwen Robinson, grinning, hands clasped between her flabby breasts. Not a very bright woman, Gideon thought. But pleasant; the very definition of obedient. And gullible. When Gideon spoke in tongues, she’d shout, “Praise Reverend Brahm!” When Gideon placed his hands on an arthritic old man and proclaimed him free of pain, she’d shout, “Praise Reverend Brahm!” When Gideon spoke of the paradise awaiting all those who followed him, she’d shout, “Praise Reverend Brahm!”
    And by the rapture on her face, Gwen had zero doubt that Gideon would fulfill his messianic prophecy.
    “And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved!”
    Beside Gwen sat Ruth Miller—the oldest of Gideon’s flock—impassive as she brushed the corpse’s hair. Impassive, though her thin hands trembled with every stroke. Two years ago, Gideon had convinced Ruth of his power by conducting a séance in which he’d contacted her uncle; the man who’d molested her at the tender age of twelve. “He says he’s deeply sorry,” Gideon told her. “And he wishes he could take it all back.” Afterward, Ruth handed Gideon a check which had decimated her savings but cemented her position in the flock.
    And both enjoyed the benefits of forgiveness.
    “Lord, by Thy favor, Thou has made my mountain to stand strong!” Shaking, Gideon turned to his most beloved follower, Hope Rochester. So beautiful, so pious and docile. A former cheerleader, and it showed. Long, slender legs. Petite waist. Firm breasts. Bright blue eyes. She sat with her head bowed, blonde hair shrouding her angelic face. Though exhausted, looking at Hope stoked a wicked desire deep in Gideon’s loins.
    A temptation into which he’d already been led.
    “Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled!”  
    Dennis, Marla, Rick, Gwen, Ruth, and Hope. All of them believed that God—not fate, not luck, not mere coincidence, but God—had brought Gideon into their lives. Thus, they believed that God had gathered them together in Unit 313 of the Warrington Arms apartment complex to witness a miracle.
    To be touched by the Holy Spirit.
    “I cried to Thee, Oh Lord…”
    No furniture graced the small, shabby living room. No appliances. As if no one lived there. An emptiness, waiting to be filled.
    “And unto The Lord I made supplication!”
    Thick white candles, both melted and melting, encircled this disparate group; casting warmth and light upon them.
    “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit?”
    Warmth and light; everything Gideon had promised yet hadn’t delivered.
    “Shall the dust praise Thee? Shall it declare Thy truth?”
    On each wall, high above them, hung a large bronze crucifix. Four Jesuses; looking down, not in glory but in eternal torment.
    “Hear, Oh Lord, and have mercy upon me!”
    Mercy, however, has been in short supply. Two years, beset by miserable fortune; no help to be found.
    “Lord, be Thou my helper!
Claims of charlatanism and sexual abuse. Bad press about Gideon’s alleged faith healing. A vicious exposé on his claims of divinity. Lawsuits. Charges of fraud and money laundering. Threats. Vandalism to his church.
    “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing!
Enough to drive this man, this preacher, this deluded hierophant to the brink of madness.
    “Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness!”
    Gideon Brahm. Born Keith Ernest White to a small family in Beaverton, Oregon. Strict but loving Seventh Day Adventist upbringing. Organized a youth ministry in middle school. Did volunteer work throughout high school. Graduated with honors. Earned a B.A. in religious studies.
    Straight as the proverbial arrow.
    “To the end that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent!”
    Now, growing frantic, strung out on scripture, that once straight arrow has taken a sharp curve into the darkest depths of human depravity.
    “Oh Lord, my God, I will give thanks unto Thee forever—”
    Desperate to maintain their love.
    Amen!” Forcing a smile, Gideon crossed himself. Reverent. Decisive. As if by uttering those hallowed words and making that hallowed gesture, his will would be done on earth as it never would in heaven.
    “Amen,” Hope whispered.
    “Amen!” Dennis, Rick, and Gwen repeated.
    Gideon ceased shaking. A dreadful silence descended upon the shadowy room. Still smiling, the drained reverend gazed at his flock. At the Jesuses facing him. At the dark ceiling. Everywhere, except the decomposing corpse on the floor.
    The glaring reminder of failure.
    Oh, Heavenly Father…give us this day our daily bread.  
    Gideon sighed. Dennis, still chewing his lip, nodded and patted Marla’s back. Rick tried to smile and failed. Gwen, sporting a genuine smile, glanced up; gaping at her own vision of The Lord. Ruth’s expression didn’t change as she continued to brush the corpse’s hair.
    Why hast Thou forsaken me? Another sigh; the very sound of defeat. Again, Gideon’s restless gaze settled upon Hope. Still staring at the floor, Hope hadn’t moved, and Gideon found her stillness comforting. “So,” he began in his most authoritative tone, “what does the psalm teach us?”
    A moment passed. Marla whimpered. Dennis shrugged. Rick shook his head. Ruth brushed the corpse’s hair.
    “No thoughts from anyone?” Gideon raised his arms as if inviting a group hug. “Sister Rochester, perhaps you’d like to—”
    “Love, Reverend Brahm!” Gwen interrupted.
    Turning to Gwen, Gideon grinned. “Yes, Sister Robinson! Testify! The Pentecost, the coming of The Lord is upon us!”
    Gwen beamed, clasped her hands ever tighter. “The psalm is all about God’s love. His deep, everlasting love for each and every person in this wor—”
    “Shut up!” a petulant voice cried.
    Dennis, Rick, Gwen, Hope, and Gideon; they all jerked toward Marla. Everyone except Ruth, who frowned and kept brushing.
    “Shut up, Gwen!” Disentangling herself from Rick, Marla sat up, palming tears from her flushed cheeks.
    Still beaming, Gwen cringed from the sobbing woman.
    “Sister Smith, please!” Gideon’s voice wavered as he leant forward, reaching out.
    “No, Reverend Brahm! You shut up, too! This is wrong, what we’re doing—and you know it!”
    “Be calm, Sister Smith! The Lord is testing you right now!”
    “No, Reverend Brahm!” Shaking her head, Marla pushed to her feet. Dennis reached up to steady her and she slapped his hand away. “You don’t speak for God! Maybe you used to, but no more!”
    “NO!” Staring at the corpse, Marla took a deep, ragged breath. Backing away, head still shaking. Edging toward the door. Gideon watched her, speechless, knowing that his spell had been broken.
    “Please don’t go,” Dennis pleaded.
    “Think what you’re doing,” Rick said, lips quivering.
    “Don’t turn your back on us,” Hope said.
    “Or on God,” Gwen added.
    But Marla kept shaking her head, kept backing away. Still crying, still staring at the corpse. “He’s fooled us for so long. But he can’t fool me anymore. This is bad. This is evil…”
    Gwen gasped. Dennis and Rick gaped at Marla’s sacrilege. Ruth continued to brush.
“You shut your mouth!” Hope screamed.
“Everyone!” Gideon called, looking from troubled face to troubled face. “Sister Smith has lost her way. Let’s not compound her folly with anger or insults.”
“Yes,” Dennis agreed.
“That’s right,” Rick added.
“Praise Reverend Brahm,” Gwen said.
Stifling her fury, Hope exhaled, bit her shiny upper lip.
“There’s no God here,” Marla continued. “Only sin. Only lies…and death.”
Gideon shook his head. Ungrateful bitch.
A moment later, Marla found the door. Heedless of the eyes upon her, unconcerned about her clothes, she twisted the knob and slipped into the hallway. Gideon watched the door swing shut with a forced expression of pity and regret; masking his shame—Boom!
The door’s slam echoed in the small room, then the dreadful silence returned. Disheartened, Gideon looked at the door; the symbol of his failure. Seven times now it had opened and closed. Seven times he’d been denied in front of Hope.
Seven times, a dagger driven into his belly.
Again, it falls to me…  
One by one, Dennis, Rick, Gwen, and Hope turned to Gideon; the combined weight of their stares as uncomfortable as a hot, white spotlight.
This a nightmare, a living hell. “The Lord’s work is never easy, my children. It’s always hard. He has ordained this…”
“Amen!” Gwen replied.
Nodding, Dennis closed his eyes and folded his hands. Rick looked at the floor. Still frowning, Ruth continued to brush the dead woman’s hair.
Gideon turned to Hope, felt his stomach clench. For the first time since taking her into his fold, Gideon saw the thing he feared most on Hope’s precious face:
Oh, God. If I lose her, I lose everything…
“Reverend?” Louder now; tinged with the unmistakable timbre of confusion.
Gideon flinched. Just one word. His title, but also the fracture point of a thousand unanswerable questions. No! Tearing his gaze away, Gideon gestured at his flock. “Everyone! Quickly! Bow your heads and join me in prayer!”
Silent, Rick and Gwen joined Dennis in bowing and folding their hands. Ruth, heedless of Gideon’s voice, continued her mechanical brushing. Eyes wide and glistening, Hope gaped at Gideon for a long moment before obeying his command. As she looked down, Gideon saw her quiver, and a tear rolled down her right cheek.
No, no, no! “Our Father which art in heaven,” he began, gasping, beginning to sob. “Hallowed be thy name…”
Thus, Gideon prayed, Ruth brushed the corpse’s hair, and the corpse continued to rot on the floor, surrounded by Gideon and what remained of his flock.
And no Pentecost found them.
On this day, or any other.

Jesse Lynn Rucilez was born in Reno, Nevada. Growing up, Jesse was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes stories and Marvel Comics. Throughout his life, Jesse has mainly worked in the security industry, both in Seattle, Washington and Reno, Nevada, and taught self-defense for several years before deciding to focus on writing. Inspired by authors such as Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Kurt Vonnegut, he prefers to write literary horror and science fiction, exploring what he calls “the dark side of the American Dream.”  

1 comment:


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