Introduction: The Sacred Exchange
When the Mossad obtained incontrovertible evidence that the Grand Ayatollah of Iran not only had a nuclear bomb, but it was installed, ready to launch on a missile in a silo disguised to look like a mosque, Israel pushed the button on its own secret missile and Tehran was obliterated. Although Iran had only one nuclear-tipped missile, it had distributed nuclear knapsacks to hundreds of willing suicide bombers who entered Israel and detonated the small devices in as many Jewish settlements as they could, thus helping the Palestinians to gain their own long-sought-for, if now-irradiated nation. Al Qaeda, not content with that great victory over the Zionists, unleashed its own nuker-knapsackers on the Satanist capitals of Europe and the costal cities of America. The newly elected American Christian Pastor President and his Christian Pastor Vice President were evacuated before a nuker-knapsacker leveled a two-mile radius around the White House. Retaliation was ordered. No backpacks from America. Missiles. To Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Kabul, Jeddah, Mecca. Sometimes their arrival nearly coincided with missiles from France and Great Britain. Mecca got a triple whammy. North Korea used its one missile to kill millions in Tokyo. China solved its Taiwan problem; there was no more Taiwan. India and Pakistan nuked each other to their hate’s content. For some reason, cooler heads prevailed in Russia. They decided to sit and watch and wait.
The world entered another Dark Age. Religion ruled again.
Bob Crowley, drunk and very tired, almost tripped over the broken toy truck before kicking it out of his way then trudging around the side of the house to the back of a former duplex that now housed six families of 50-some Christian souls. Work on the Great Christian State of Kansas Cathedral went on from dawn to dusk, almost a 14-hour, hot, summer day. After Bob had made the long climb back to the ground, he stopped at one of the small booze-holes at the edge of Rabbletown to drink its oily-smelling, stomach-wrenching, blessedly mind-numbing alcohol before going home. Now, in the doorway to his basement apartment, he burped and smelled the sour acid of his empty stomach. Pulling the burlap sack of tools off his shoulder and dropping it to the floor when he entered, the noise of his own household assaulted him. The twins came, screaming their welcome, and he picked the bag of tools back up, swung, and caught one of them on the side of the head, sending him sprawling sideways and setting up a wail of tears and pain that caused his wife to yell, “Stop beatin’ the kids, will ya?”
“Well keep the little retards away from me.”
A pounding on the ceiling prompted his wife to grab a broom and bang back against the floorboard above them. “Mind your own business up there!” She then focused her scream at her brood, “Get to bed!” A couple of the older ones, Bobby and Lila, started hushing and herding the younger ones over to the corner where their pallets lay. Through the blare of the “Truth Today” news channel on portal, he could make out his eldest son spouting Bible verse, “Strong drink is raging. Suffer the little children.”
“Bobby, shut up. And can’t you turn that damn thing off?” Bob shouted at his wife over the noise of the portal. “It’d be nice to have a little peace and quiet for once. And get me something to eat! God, what a day,” he said and sat down in exhaustion at the table.
“If you don’t stop swearing, your own children will report you. We’ve been told to expect a portal message from the Pastor President. Here, some soup is left.” She plunked a dirty bowl in front of him. The smell of split pea almost made him vomit.
“What, another message from Jerry the Jerk?” he said, and then did get worried as he noticed Lila looking at him. Pious little shit, she just might report me to the Inquisitors, he thought. At fourteen, her breasts were developing. He’d seen her praying with one of the neighborhood boys. It was about time she found a mate and got out of the house. More likely, it’d be Bobby–the twelve-year-old who stared into space until some Bible verse got disgorged from his brain to his mouth–who’ll rat on me. Time for him to pick a trade, Crowley thought, but I’ll still have to support him until he turns 14. Then I can finally kick him out of the house. Cheryl thought little, darling Bobby would be accepted to pastor preparatory school if they could come up with the application fee. Fat holy chance. Jesus, why do I dream of the kids leaving anyway? With 11 of ‘em I’ll be long dead before the youngest is grown. And the retarded twins, the ones who had run to greet him, will never leave.
A squeal broke out from the corner where the kids slept, and Bob got up to roar at them: “Go to sleep you God-damned shits or I’ll beat your heads in!” That quieted them, but he saw the hatred in Lila’s eyes. The way she looked at him reminded him of the eyes of the feral cats that roamed the work site. A mason would sometimes lob a stone down at them from those many stories above and occasionally squash one. It made the survivor cats look up from time to time with hatred in their eyes at those who let such things fall upon them. Yes, he thought, I’d better see that she moves out soon or she will report me. But what do I care? How could my life be any worse than it is now? He looked down at his red, raw, scraped hands, calloused and rough from years of laying brick and stone. He picked off a dried bit of cement. What if they did turn me in as being an UnChristian? How could Bible Re-education Camp be any worse than working on that J-damn cathedral? After all, I haven’t done or said anything to warrant stoning. Then he wondered how had he come to have such thoughts? He used to be proud of his skill. One of the Order of the Mason’s fastest layers. Took two hod carriers to keep up with him. He looked around at their basement home, and remembered how proud Cheryl had been of him when he first had been able to afford its rent. Basements were prime locations. Cooler in the summer; warmer in the winter. He recalled his grand plan of using stones as he could acquire them to face the patchwork siding, which was a quilt of unpainted scrap wood. Now the basement's dirt, and the smell of the bodies of his own family, sickened him, and he looked at his wife. He’d married her when she was only 16 and now she was 30, and after 11 kids she looked 50. Cheryl’s once deep-chestnut-brown hair had gone to a mousy gray. And what a slob she’d turned out to be, Bob thought. He heard her say to the kids:
“You kids say your prayers, and say one for your father and his safety. It’s only because of God’s grace that he hasn’t fallen yet. Hung-over as he is up there.”
Yes, pray for our safety because the state don’t provide no safety nets for us, he thought bitterly to himself. Six masons had died in the last two months alone. He had been working aside Clarence when the old man lost his balance, tripping over an idiot hod carrier's foot, and went tumbling down to his death. The bodies of Clarence and five other masons were still stored in the morgue, waiting until there were enough dead for a group funeral. The Pastor Governor wouldn’t bother himself for a service for less than 12 workers, representing the 12 apostles in some sort of warped church symbolism.
Depressed at that thought, Bob put his head down on his folded arms, but the smell of the split-pea soup came up to his nostrils and he pushed the foul bowl away.
“Gimme some bread and cheese.”
His wife turned the portal up even louder, because the screen was now filled with the face of Pastor President Jerry Falwell V. His fat face smiled, his hair was slicked back making him look like a plump seal, but with a weasel’s nose.
“My fellow Christian Americans, I have wonderful news for you. Praise God, for how HE HAS blessed this land. More people across the world join us each day in accepting Christ into their hearts as their savior, just as all of you have done. One day, with the help of the papists, we will regain Jerusalem from the devil Muslims. And one day, too, we will bring Christ to the yellow people. The Second Coming is near! Christ’s return is soon! We must show that we tried to save every soul from Satan we could reach. Oh, that Jesus will find ALL the world is Christian when He returns. And woe then to the UnChristians.”
Bob hated the Pastor President’s voice. He hated the voices of all ministers, that sing-song specially modulated rant made Bob want to smash his calloused fist through the portal.
“I have a special joy and great revelation to reveal to you. God has spoken to Me! As I was on My knees asking for His guidance, He gave Me that guidance. He wants Me to run for a third term.”
A third term! Wasn’t it still in the Constitution that a person could only be president for two terms? But, Bob realized, who would bring suit against him, and so what if they did? There was no Supreme Court anymore; it existed in name, but decades ago the Pastor Presidents simply didn’t nominate any new justices when one died. Same with federal judges. They just died off and were never replaced. Lawsuits ended. Why file a lawsuit when there was no one to hear it? Still, it was unusual for them to tamper with the Constitution. Wouldn’t they have to call the Great Christian National Congress in session and then all the Great Christian State Legislatures as well?
“God has told Me that our Holy Constitution has one remaining flaw in it. The limit of two terms allows too little time for Me to work God’s will in the office of the Pastor President. Time is short. Tomorrow, I will order the Congress of the United Christian States of Holy America to convene and introduce an amendment to the Holy Constitution to eliminate this flaw. I’m asking the Pastor Governors to convene their Christian legislatures so they, too, will be ready to pass the amendment. God has great plans for Me and His holy nation: expelling the devil Muslims from Jerusalem; expanding Christ’s message around the globe; ensuring that all Americans remain Christian Americans–all this can be done in My lifetime. With God’s help, and with the help of all true believers. My brother in God here, Vice President Robertson, has agreed to take on the additional duties as Secretary of the Department of the Defense of the Faith and National Grand Inquisitor,” Falwell said as he turned to point to the man behind him, recognizable by his wide and toothy grin, and the way he was always rubbing his hands together as though washing them in the blood of sinners. “Thus do we demonstrate again a simplification of our system of government and that these efficiencies make us worthy of your vote. My fellow Christian Americans, good night and God bless. My will be done.”
“Jesus, what’s he want to be–King?” Bob snorted.
“There is only one king and that is Jesus Christ our Savior. I hope you don’t talk like this around your co-workers. They would report you. You haven’t made an altar call in I can’t remember how long. You really are in need of repentance,” she scolded him.
Bob was thinking that when the Kansas pastor senators came to Topeka, they would visit the construction site of the cathedral with their bevies of church secretaries in tow. He fantasized about accidentally dropping a stone like other masons did on the cats to see if the state then regretted not having safety nets. The fantasy was cut short when he looked at his wife and saw her flushed face. An address from the Pastor President always did that to her, making her feel righteous, and Bob knew what was coming.
“We’ve got to fornicate again tonight, Bob.”
“So soon?” He remembered the last time: what was it, four months ago? He had finally gotten it up and they were plugging away when he heard a noise behind him and looked back to see his two, retarded, eight-year-old twins, their identical, right index fingers in their identical, right nostrils, snickering.
“I failed the pregnancy test again at the clinic today, and they said if I failed next month, they’d have to art-preg me.”
“Well, tell them I can’t get it up anymore.”
“That wouldn’t matter. You know that. They’ll haul you in and hook you up to the electro-ejaculator. Bob, I don’t want to be one of those women who have to be art-pregged.” She was starting to cry. “My Personal Pastor Counselor says God looks with disfavor on art-pregged wives. Other men perform their duty to God’s Church of the Evangels. I don’t know why you can’t.”
“Alright! Alright! Where’s that bottle you keep hidden from me? If I’m going to fornicate tonight, then I damn well am going to get drunk.”
He heard a snicker, turned around, and roared, “And if any little shits come over to watch, I’ll kick their asses out the door!”
He put his head back down in his hands. Sweet Jesus, he thought, and tomorrow they would start laying stone on the last story. Just the thought made him dizzy.
“And, Bob, Honey, you come home right after they let you off early from work tomorrow for stoning Friday. The kids and I don’t want to miss that holy event.”
Then he heard Bobby say, “Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”
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