by Trey Wickwire
The Reverend Goodholt Bertch sat at the kitchen table, contemplating a life that had led him to this place and time. Where had it gone wrong, when had the devil become more of an influence than the Good Lord? How could he have missed the signs? With trembling hands he reached for the bottle of Wild Turkey. In the weak light of the vent light over the stove it shown with an eerie radiance, as if it was embodied with a life of its own. For a moment the trembling hand froze as weary eyes stared at the bottle, but then it moved forward again to grasp the cold smooth surface. As the golden liquid poured into the short glass the Reverend glanced to the right where the Colt 45 automatic pistol waited with the patience of the damned.
The bourbon went down smooth and warm and the Reverend wondered what hell would be like. Was he destined for hell? Could there really be any doubt? Tomorrow the woman would talk and the world would know. But did that really matter? Even if by some miracle the woman decided not to parade his sins through the streets of the world, a feat made so easy in this electronic age, his sins would still exist. The shame would still sit on his shoulders, a heavy cloak weighing him down like the armor on a knight fallen in the ocean.
The trembling was less now as he placed the empty glass down on the table. For a moment he couldn’t remember having drank the bourbon and wondered where it had gone. He reached for the bottle but his hand fell on the pistol instead. For a moment his hand rested there on top, not grasping but not moving away either. His eyes rolled over to look at his hand, resting on the gleaming metal. The gun was a standard issue over the counter model, nothing customized, and in fact had only been fired a few dozen times soon after its purchase. The Reverend had wanted a gun and wanted to know how to shoot it, but soon the novelty wore off and it had been placed in the safe to be forgotten, like many of the other toys he a bought over the years. Slowly he picked up the gun. The polished nickel of the long straight barrel caught the light and amplified it. The walnut grips seemed out of place, too organic for a machine of precision death.
“Beautiful piece isn’t it?”
The Reverend didn’t start at the voice from the other side of the table. He recognized his own voice just as he recognized his own face staring back at him when his eyes finally looked up from the pistol. There were differences of course, the Reverend before him looked slightly younger and certainly more confident and at ease. There was even a smile although it more closely resembled a cocky leer, lacking any of the warmth the word smile implied.
“What do you want,” the Reverend asked himself.
“Want,” the new Reverend’s leer turned into a grin, “why nothing at all dear boy. I just came to watch the show.”
“Of course, I should have known the devil would want to see the results of his handiwork, I just didn’t imagine him wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts.” The Reverend placed the pistol on the table and reached for the bottle of bourbon.
“What, this old thing,” remarked the devil, pulling the brightly colored shirt away from his body as if to examine the flowers and palm trees. “Surely you remember this outfit old boy.
The Reverend did remember. It was long ago when he was still a struggling minister and had wanted to take his wife on vacation but they just didn’t have the money. He had decided to borrow the money from the churches missionary fund with the plan to pay it back. Since he was in charge of the fund and managed all the books it was an easy bit of embezzlement and he had indeed paid every cent back to the church, every single cent. The outfit was what he had worn the day he took the money, purchased the cruise tickets and surprised his wife with them.
“I remember it,” he said, “what of it.”
“Oh nothing, if it upsets you I can change,” and with that the devil’s outfit melted and reformed into a very expensive suit. His fingers were jeweled and a gold Rolex was on his wrist. “Is this more to your liking?”
The Reverend looked away, shame filling his mind, body and soul. Across the table from him was sitting the image of himself when his evangelical television show first went nationwide. He could still hear his wife, begging him not to dress so flashy or display so much wealth. Shouldn’t he use the money for the poor rather than on expensive clothes and jewelry she had asked. But no, he wouldn’t hear of it. If he was going to raise more money for the poor he had to look like someone to respect, someone to admire. He couldn’t do that looking like a small town preacher.
“You should have listened to her.”
The devil knew what he was thinking, well that made sense didn’t it? The son of a bitch was probably just his conscious having a field day anyway.
“No I’m not.” The devil smiled over the kitchen table at him. Self righteous bastard, thought the Reverend. I guess that’s why he looks like me.
“Hey Goody,” said the devil, using a nickname the Reverend had been trying to hide from for more than twenty years, “how do you like this one?”
Once again the devils outfit melted and reformed. This time it was a simple pair of slacks and a shirt with several buttons undone showing a god awful medallion hanging in the thicket of hair on his chest. The Reverend looked away and raised the glass to his lips but it was empty. He reached for the bottle, the tremor much worse now and the bottle clinked loudly against the glass as he poured the rest of the bourbon into his glass.
“What’s the matter Reverend,” the devil leaned back, “cat got your tongue?”
“You bastard,” the Reverend said between swallows of bourbon, the once smooth and warm liquid now harsh and hot, like drinking hell itself. While the devil laughed the Reverend’s thoughts went back to when he had worn this outfit. It was the first time he had cheated on his wife. He didn’t remember the girl, just the night itself, a hot and sticky summer evening in the heart of Atlanta.
The Reverend had been at a seminar with several other televangelists and had snuck out one evening to a nightclub. He still couldn’t believe he had worn that outfit. But he hadn’t wanted to look like a preacher and he had to admit, the outfit was far from what a preacher should be wearing.
And the girl, how could he have been so foolish? He had thought she was actually attracted to him. They had talked at the bar and when she asked to go back to his room he was so surprised that he simply said sure. But that wasn’t the only surprise, the demand for money came as a complete shock. He didn’t know what else to do but pay her. He wept after she left, wept for his soul.
After that he became numb, preaching on TV every Sunday and making excuses to travel as often as he could. The girls became an addiction, a need that had to be fulfilled at any cost. And now, now the true cost was due.
She was known as God’s own madam, some even said her client list went all the way to the Pope and tomorrow she was going to share that list with the world. Of course Reverend Goodholt Bertch was barely a footnote in list of famous clergy clients but it was still listed and the Reverend had a big enough following that the media wouldn’t forget to mention him.
“So, are you going to mope there all night sunshine?”
The Reverend looked up at the devil. There was no disguise now, no doppelganger staring back, just a man, lean of frame and feature, with a goatee and narrow eyes. He was dressed well and looked as though he was prepared to visit the theater or perhaps attend a formal dinner party.
“Nice to see you dressed for the occasion,” said the Reverend as he reached for the empty bourbon bottle. For a moment he looked at it, wondering why it was empty, then he placed it back on the table, not caring what the answer was. The devil grinned as the Reverend reached for the pistol. For a moment the Reverend stared at his reflection in the polished nickel. It was distorted and he wondered if it was merely an accurate rendering of his soul.
The Reverend looked up as thunder rolled across the skies above his house. When he looked back down at the devil he was smiling, same as before. “It wasn’t supposed to rain tonight, is that your idea of mood music?”
The devil roared with laughter. “Oh Reverend, you have been a fun ride I must say. I’m indeed sorry to see you go. Come, let’s be on our way.” With that the devil stood and offered his hand to the Reverend who hesitated before taking it and standing.
“I don’t understand,” said the Reverend as the devil led him to the door. They paused and the devil looked back towards the table, gesturing for the Reverend to look as well. What he saw there made his breath catch in his throat, except that wasn’t possible. His throat was back at the table along with the rest of his body.
The wall behind him was covered in blood and tissue, slowly making its way to the floor. His body slumped across the tabletop, gun dangling from one finger. The bourbon bottle had been knocked to the floor and it still spun, gradually losing momentum.
“It wasn’t thunder was it,” said the Reverend softly.
“No, not thunder,” said the devil.
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