St. Mark’s Methodist Church appeared large and dark with pinnacles and spikes that clawed desperately towards the sky. The edges and corners of two-by four and four-by-eight plank patches jutted out of the walls haphazardly. Its well-worn architecture was from an ancient, darker French time. The lawn in the front was manicured, but stained dead in spots wherever the village dogs had urinated. The sign for the church faced the road. One of the missionaries had been given the box of letters to change behind the glass. The sign read:
AMERICAN MISSIONARIES PRESENTING JESUS TONITE. RESURRECTION PLAY: 9PM LOT
The entire team had met at 7PM for prayer and dinner. Dean, the team’s cook, had been working for weeks to master cooking with bananas. He’s even spent an evening hassling the chefs of two of the four-star hotel restaurants by the airport, seeking tips. This was the night of Dean’s latest creation: a banana stew that had been spiced and stewed in such a way that it presented as a potato stew, with breaded dumplings. The meal had been a hit, and the two large pots of it had been consumed and scraped clean.
Mark, the 23 year old missionary from Alabama, had finally finished with his currency flipping before the evening services at St. Mark’s Methodist Church started. The mission team’s cash coffers were now deep in the black, and Mark wasn’t going to be spending any more time running to banks and exchanges to hustle American dollars. The team of 20 missionaries were all together as a group again.
Mark was pleased with himself. He smiled smugly as he unraveled several tangled, coupled extension cords. The money issue had been a big deal for him. Mark felt that by his finding this currency exchange exploit, that he was taking from a corrupt system to bankroll God’s work.
He unrolled and distangled extension cords from the outside electrical socket to the Sony boombox/speaker soundsystem in the center of the gravel lot to the right of the church. Mark had driven a small thick post of rebar into the ground beside the outlet earlier in the day to tie to, so that if the extension cord was pulled, it wouldn’t yank immediately out of the wall.
Mark had been raised in the church. His family had frequented the white Baptist church in a lower Alabaman town a little up the street from the black one. Mark had never questioned the absolute racism of the southern Christian church paradigm. The question had never entered his head.
Mark’s actual entrance into Christianity had been at 18 when he’d felt called forward to commit his life to Jesus Christ at a revival meeting at that very Baptist church. Mark had walked humbly past his peers to the front of the church sanctuary for prayer.
A deaf woman with long brown curly hair also had walked forward and stood next to him had received her hearing that night. This was the closest Mark had been to a miracle.
As it turned out, Mark later became romantically involved with the once-deaf woman and he learned that she hadn’t been completely deaf. He also learned that she wasn’t truly sure how much the prayers at the revival meeting had actually helped, but she was sure that they had.
Mark had been bothered by the falsity embedded in this revelation. It felt mendacious, but then sincere at the same time. It seriously discounted his own amazing testimony, which wasn’t really the point. Mark had been saved, and if a questionable miracle had happened by the altar, then he didn’t need to talk about that part of the story anymore. The relationship soon fell apart over trust issues, but Mark’s Christianity only swelled and grew. He still believed strongly that Jesus was actively working in the supernatural realm around him.
Several missionaries were etching into the ground with sticks to determine the stage area that they would perform their dramas within. They were yelling their ideas about how it should be done across each other.
The stage area was as close to the road as possible, to take advantage of the two street lights spilling their cool florescence. One of the light poles had been hit with a truck or heavy animal, and it leaned heavily off-kilter, actually bathing more of the lot in more of its crooked, dim glare.
The stage had become a large twenty-by-thirty foot rectangle, with perimeter lines lightly inscribed in the dirt. It was marked at its four corners with 6 ft. steel tetherball poles that had been cemented into large truck rims, with the tires still attached. The markings were so heavy that two missionaries were needed to move one of them. One held the pole as a counterbalance, while the other rolled, guided and finessed the wheel to its corner. Cinder blocks and stones were on the dirt stage for the performers’ placemarks. The border was straightened and dug deeper with broom handles.
The church service had featured a puppet show, with sock puppets that regularly mistimed the utterances of the words from the pre-recorded presentation. The presentation was about being as a child before Christ. It featured a lot of talking and a lot of singing of classic kid church songs like “Jesus Loves me” and “The Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock.” Anytime there was the remotest hint of the supernatural in the story, like one puppet witnessing the resurrection of the puppet Lazarus, the children would erupt and cheer. There were over 30 kids gathered before the puppet stage at the front of the sanctuary. The stage itself was a crudely-painted, black, open-backed refrigerator box. A black king-sized sheet with white fills at the top had been stapled to two large sticks held upright at either end by Charles and Craig.
Neither Charles of Craig had really found their place with the missionary crew. Neither were really cut out for intense missions work. They both worked together and did menial tasks for the team when needed. They held the barrier sheet as high as possible, so that the secrets of the puppet masters behind the box remained intact.
Charles, who’d been at a Mike Warnke concert that spoke of Smith Wigglesworth. Mike Warnke, a born-again, widely-respected, ex-satanist, sometimes told stories while performing of a faith healer named Smith Wigglesworth. Warnke told Wigglesworth’s story of God sitting in a rocking chair when he awoke. Warnke told his audience that everyone had the opportunity to meet God in such an intimate setting, if everyone remained honest and focused on the truth.
Charles had been so impressed with Warnke, that he’d given his life to Christ that day, and a hundred dollars to the offering basket. Some of Warnke’s assistants had sensed demonic activity in or near Charles and they’d prayed over him and set him free from lust, treason and other impediments. Charles didn’t feel that he’d been afflicted with such apparitions, but accepted the spiritual assistance. Charles felt the desire to meet with God the same way that Smith Wigglesworth did, and Charles also felt that some day, he too, would be able to assist someone spiritually in an auditorium.
Craig had given his heart to Christ on a street in Dallas, with the assistance of a long-haired street preacher. Craig was next to a man who’d been prayed over and had his leg straightened. Craig never questioned the fact that he’d seen a miracle that day, even though he didn’t actually see the leg straighten. He’d committed his life fervently to God, hoping that he too, could lead people to the Lord on street corners and heal the sick.
Charles and Craig also worked as crowd control, guiding kids to the front of the cardboard stage and steering them away from the sides, or going underneath the black sheet. Richard and Dean worked the puppets, and truthfully, it was one of the worst excuses for a puppet show that anyone on the team had seen. However, the team was confident that the Grenadian kids present hadn’t watched much television, let alone, been in the presence of actual puppets.
Richard, who simply couldn’t get the timing of speech to the puppets he controlled had a painful past. He’d in desperation during his first marriage, and one night, stepped into an Episcopal church and allowed the priest to talk him out of suicide. Richard had then later gotten involved with some spirit-filled Episcopalians, which led to his being baptized in the Holy Spirit one night, making him able to speak in tongues. Richard would allow the air to pass through his mouth and the words would form. Richard never truly understood his speaking in tongues, and wondered ashamedly if it was something that he’d done because he’d been in a room full of loud, spirit-filled fellow Christians pushing him to speak in a different language. Perhaps he’d been a victim to Christian peer-pressure? But the words came, nonetheless.
Dean, the other puppeteer with horrible timing had been a cowpunch in his previous life. He’d met Jesus at a old-time tent revival gathering in a field in Oklahoma. There had been all sorts of miracles in Dean’s midst that night. A woman screamed at the top of her lungs that she could now see. A man stood and jerkily pushed his wheelchair about on legs that he claimed he’d been healed. Dean couldn’t explain the power, but he knew he’d seen God at work.
Richard and Dean had coincidentally also been raised around God-fearing grandparents that had taken them to church on religious holidays like Easter and Christmas Eve. Both men had felt that their making a puppet show presentation would be beneficial to the team. They had assembled all of it, the sock puppets, the music and the stage, with incredible heart. They ran the children’s ministries arm of the tour efficiently, except for their actual puppetry.
The large group of Caribbean kids that had clustered near the refrigerator box sang along as instructed by the puppets behind the curtain. As the kids became rowdy, Charles and Craig began to speak in escalating stern tones to the sassier ones who were trying to get behind the cardboard stage.
Nancy, a blonde, ponytailed, twenty-seven year old, bright-eyed, real-estate agent from Indiana, with a crooked, broken nose, and black sweatpants, swept into the front. Nancy had been selling houses and banking a lot of her profit to finance her Grenada tour.
She dominated the foregound of the puppet stage and placed herself in the way of the trespassing kids, and waved her arms, encouraging everyone to sing along with the puppets. Nancy, irritated, was on stage, she had her stage smile on. She knew exactly what she was doing.
Nancy had only come to Christ recently, but Hank had interviewed her and felt that she would be an asset to the team. Nancy knew how to work with people and general office administration. Her professional capacity was extremely useful at the Grenadian border. Nancy throttled the paperwork through the system, and the team’s transition from airplane to travel van was seamless.
Nancy’s excited building up of the crowd paid off. The kids sang louder, and the puppet antics were paid off with loud peals of group laughter.
There were no converts during this service.
Hank had sat out of the puppet show in a back room by to the right of the entryway in the Methodist Church and had attempted to pray and get to the bottom of his experience up in the hills. Hank’s brain was full of static however, and he couldn’t concentrate. The mental searing that he’d taken when the Gonteekwa had entered him still gave him pause. It had felt like scripture itself had been burnt out of his head and discounted.
Hank’s thoughts drifted. To his faith. How intimate his early days as a Christian had been. How he’d felt chills regularly, as new aspects of the goodness of it all revealed themselves. How he’d felt the Holy Spirit like a mist about him. So pure, so peaceful. The air had been thick, his eyes afterward in the mirror had been so clear. How his heart had been made whole again. How free he’d felt. To be forgiven. To realize that all of the horrible things he’s done, to realize that blame went somewhere else.
Jesus died on the cross for Hank’s sins. His most vile bedroom deeds, all washed away, by the grueling torture of Crucifixion on Golgotha.
What is not to love about a man who would take all of that punishment? It is a beautiful, sweet, precious thing. All of that horrible pain. Payment for sins. That the larger, Greater God would force a part of Himself into this reality, to be with us. To break bread with us. To be killed by us.
It had been so perfect. Every thought that Hank had, he knew that God read. He worked, to prove to Jesus, to God himself, that he meant business. That he wanted to serve him. That he was ready to do what He wanted. This drive, this love, this mission. Hank was on it. He tempered his mind and studied the Bible, looking for clues to the reality that he lived in. He’d opened the Concordance and gone back into the Greek, the Hebrew.
Over the years, his relationship with God had simmered. Hank never tired however, of trying to meet with God in prayer. Hank wanted to meet God, and he knew that he had to keep the relationship strong. He focused himself. He prayed and looked for any sins that he may have missed. He repented for his mistakes, his lusts. Hank wanted to connect with God so badly.
It wasn’t about going to church. It wasn’t about how he did things. It was about what was going on in Hank’s head, and how could he make it pleasing for a God that he loved. Hank knew the rules, and he knew when his conscience bothered him. Hank sincerely repented for his sins, and he did his best to adjust himself so that he wouldn’t stumble again. In it all, he felt love.
The love looped for Hank. He loved God, and God loved him back and blessed him with peace.
Peace. Hank’s life had been peaceful. Hank had stopped really worrying about his missionary finances awhile ago. He’d allowed people to come forward and support him and Sandra. Hank hadn’t asked for it, but people had come out of the woodwork, bearing cash. Giving monthly commitments that more than paid his and Sandra’s bills.
Hank tithed as much as he could. He and his wife were humble. In that humility came a peace. They were servants of God, spreading the message of Jesus.
The warmth that came with that peace. The nucleus he’d found in his relationship with Sandra. His heart heated, as he considered how God had been at the center of it all. How Hank’s honesty and raw way of being with Christ had afforded him a security. That security was the knowledge that he was doing the right thing.
Hank had done the right things. He had a connection with God. It all worked this way. The peace continued the more Hank served and remained honest in his heart.
The connection was cold. Frostbitten. Zero transmission. There was no peace. It was complete utter loss. Inner dark, churning chaos. The fear of admitting that he actually felt fear. The loss. The loss. Severed somehow. Somehow he was cut off, and there was no sense to it. The warmth had left him. Hank Maldita felt cursed. He tried not to give into it, but the blackness now filled where all the light had been. He felt sinful. He felt completely off. He sagged in his chair.
Hank felt a prick. A tickle behind his ears. The hairs on his neck tightened. A dark thought interrupted him.
What if, whatever it was that he’d inhaled, what if it could read his mind? What if it could read his thoughts? That he might be presenting his own spiritual weaknesses to whatever intelligence it was? Hank also considered his wife Sandra. All of his continual thoughts about her, and the relationship that they had were now accessible to whatever diabolical, alien intelligence this was in his head. Hank missed Sandra, and he tried to think about anything but her, so that her memory wouldn’t be tainted by or shared with the thing that was in him.
Hank realized now. He now understood it completely: the Bible verse that chimed in the back of his head and reminded him to to keep all thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. His thoughts had to be completely under control. Even in his beaten state, he had to focus and keep all of his thoughts forward and in the moment.
He needed to get back to the base and talk to John Harrison.
Hank spent another ten minutes in the back room collecting his thoughts. He breathed slowly. He counted to 50, considering each of the numbers as he whispered them. He focused. Hank’s presentation time was coming, with an altar call after the 9PM Resurrection Play presentation out on the dirt lot.
After the puppet show had finished within the church and most of the crowd had cleared, Hank walked up the left side of the sanctuary, and stood before a dim, wooden church office door and next to Reverend Chip. Chip smiled broadly. The word “Rector” had been primitively wood-burnt into the door. It was 8PM.
Hank then explained to Chip his adventure with the large aggressive bug that he’d smeared inside of his shirt. Chip left for the other side of the sanctuary. He rummaged through some boxes that were stacked against the wall, under a stained glass window. He returned, smiling with those incredible teeth with a fresh button-down white dress shirt.
Thanks and returns were said.
Chip then opened the heavy, oak door to his office and they both stepped in. Hank stepped into the office and towards the right, where there was a small office bathroom. Hank anxiously removed his sweaty, bug-gutted shirt, wiping the loose, half-dried insect innards off of his perspiring chest as he peeled the soggy garment off.
Meanwhile, Chip spoke and shared some of the church’s woes with Hank, pacing slowly with his hands behind his back. Chip stopped his pacing, at the entryway facing the sanctuary. There was still activity in the church as a few local stragglers with small children wended towards to the main entryway. Richard and Dean were at the front of the sanctuary, silently breaking down the puppet stage. Joking about something, both had a puppet. The puppets were acting out a sequence that they found to be hilarious. Chip observed them solemnly.
“We purchased this parish from the Catholics, as you know. There were some quick, inexpensive local adjustments to the structure.” Reverend Chip spoke eloquently, dressed all in black except his centrally-necked priest’s collar. His voice was deep, yet sharp. He punctuated his words properly through a thick Caribbean accent.
Hank, finished dressing, stood with Chip at the entrance to the office and looked out into the greater church.
Chip smiled widely, and gesticulated at various corners of the church from the open door of his office.
“Look at all we have done here, Hank.” There was a row of pews made of what looked to be left over furniture parts from two or three different dinette sets. Three of the windows on the sides of the sanctuary were clear, and the other 9 were stained with the remaining stages of Christ and the cross.
“I see.” Hank said. The patched roofing high against the ceiling of the interior had been obviously done with various different grades and cuts of plywood.
The musty, cedar, cigar-box smell of the building was dominant. That remaining smell after years of that salty incense, shaken regularly by catholic priests. The missionaries had joked earlier in the day that the church interior smelled like a bar.
There was a haphazard, unprofessional method to it all, yet the building was standing, and Reverend Chip was proud of it all.
“I am impressed that you have this piece of history here in St. Mark’s.” Hank added with a smile. Hank’s smile was forced, but not because of mendacity. Inside of his chest, he felt poisoned and heavy. Hank wasn’t sure if it was the banana stew bubbling in his stomach or not.
“We do have a struggle, Hank. The man who brokered this building from the Catholics was corrupt. A thorn in my side. He sold us a building that wasn’t his. The Catholics have demanded their building back, even though they abandoned it. I fear a lawsuit,” His hands where clasped behind his back and his closely shaved dark head was tilted downward. Reverend Chip then smiled and added, “St. Mark’s is funny that way. I do believe we have been given a dragon to destroy.”
Hank recognized Chip’s apocryphal allusion. There was no dragon. The dragon in the story turned out to be a bunch of priests who ate the sacrifices to the alleged beast.
“Remember that there was no dragon, it was just a bunch of Bel worshippers, with bad footwork.” He looked Chip in the eyes and smiled benevolently at him.
Chip smiled back. “You are indeed a scholar!”he said.
Hank respected Chip on a deep level. He was the kind of real Christian that Hank loved to interact with.
“The Catholics. . . wow Chip. You are in a pickle here. Do the Catholics want you to pay again for the property, or do they want to take it back?” He was trying to stay in the moment with Chip, and not monitor his internal pollution. But in thinking that he shouldn’t, he did.
The gas bubble in Hank’s stomach had eased up, but his bowels still still felt loose. Uncomfortable, Hank changed his footing regularly and alternated from having his hands in his pockets to crossing them across his chest and then back to his pockets.
“I have suggested to them through a friend that if they want us to pay for it again, perhaps we could be on a payment plan. I only have 300 members! I only have 300 members attending on a night like tonight, when you Americans are in town! I also have 300 members at Easter and the Christmas Eve service. But I believe we can pay whatever the Catholics ask of us.” Chip, with a wide stance, wrung his hands behind his back as he spoke, it was his only motion. “These repairs, they look great, but I see how they might devalue a very high price.” Chip winked.
Hank tried to stay in the moment with Chip, but the chaos he was feeling internally continually broke his conversational concentration.
Chip continued, “If Catholics ask for the building back, well that will make it complicated. I went to Bible school to become a Baptist Minister, not a Catholic priest, or a Methodist one for that matter, so I would have to leave the parish as leader.” As he spoke, Chip watched Hank closely. Hank’s non-response to the wink had created an odd edge between the two.
Hank brushed off the guilt of his possible cultural flub. He wasn’t sure. He needed to steady the conversation.
“So, the Catholics? They haven’t responded?” He walked through the center of Chip’s office and looked at the pictures of the white, woodcut Catholic saints that covered all four walls, non-symmetrically, in various sized wooden frames.
A three foot by three foot, bronze, four-pointed cross potent hung on the wall behind Chip’s desk. A dented beige filing cabinet that looked like it had fallen off of the back of a fast-moving truck was to the left of the desk. There were two lamps on top of the filing cabinet, they didn’t match and their light, the only light on in the room, was feeble.
“Hank, we are troubled. The man who originally secured this property for us was a criminal. There were official forged documents. Law enforcement is investigating. The police all see the good we are doing here, and the benefit that it is to the community, and they are keeping their distance. I wonder daily what God has in store for me and for this little congregation and church.” With this statement, Reverend Chip paced towards and then behind his huge, worn, mahogany desk piled high with unsorted papers. Chip reached with his right hand, absentmindedly for a metal folding chair propped against the wall by the filing cabinet. In one fell motion Chip spun the chair, it opened, and he sat down in it, landing behind his desk.
Hank said nothing, then he saw something in the corner of Chip’s office, to the left of his desk, on the floor. A small shadow, or was it a rodent? And suddenly, it was gone. Faded. The dim light from the filing cabinet gave the eye-trickery license. Shaking his head, he looked back to Chip and promptly forgot.
“I know that God has called me to be here to St. Mark’s. I love these, my people. I give back to them as much as I can. I am their servant. I have done no wrong. This troubling property issue will resolve itself in God’s time. I will open up my home and yard for services if we lose this building.” Chip said soberly. “My wife doesn’t like that idea one bit.” he added with a flash of his eyes and a grin.
The darkness outside had finalized, and the streetlights were the only things making the outdoors visible. The moths and other flying insects clustered thickly around the lights, causing them to look almost like illuminated upside down pots, with active, bubbling insect stew.
Then something twisted in Hank’s lower chest. His gut churned like an angry trout in a bucket. Hank made the sound of “ssst!,” and immediately held up his left hand, with his first finger pointed up, the universal signal for “give me a second!” He turned and stumble-ran to the bathroom in the front of the room, yanked the thin door open and retched up his dumpling-heavy dinner, splattering the entire toilet, and the floor directly in front of it.
Crouched before the toilet, but far enough away not to soil his new shirt, Hank’s stomach squeezed and burned more of the sickly-sweet, meaty juice up his throat. Then, just as violently, as they’d attacked, the gut spasms stopped. Strings of saliva dripped, to the edge of the toilet, populated with tiny, yellow, half-digested food wogs.
Hank was sure that he’d eaten more than what he’d just let go of. His stomach acid had mixed with the savory cooked green bananas and had somehow made the taste similar to that of chemical artificial banana flavoring.
“I’m sorry, I really don’t feel good at all.” Hank said out the side of his mouth to Chip. He fumbled for a roll of industrial paper towels on the grungy marble sink and began to wipe up swaths of the mucousy, gelatinous sputum and the yellow, foamy stomach acid that had missed the bowl. The porous, worn linoleum held the bile down, and Hank had to wipe hard.
“This guy Dean who cooks for our team, he means well.” Hank said over his shoulder through his acid-burnt vocal cords. Turning to face Chip, Hank attempted a smile, conscious of the throw-up spatter on his lips.
“You are not well, my friend. You are not well at all. I have been watching you off and on all day. You are ill.” Chip’s Caribbean punctuation made the his last sentence sound like a command in the room.
Chip hadn’t rushed to Hank’s side. He’d let the man vomit in peace. He’d stood up behind the desk and placed his hands on the ample piles of unstacked papers and leaned over the desk in Hank’s direction.
The lamps on a battered file cabinet to the right of Chip illuminated him poorly, giving him the visage of a thin ghoul.
“I’ll be alright.” He straightened himself and reached up to pull the ivory handled lavatory chain to flush his undigested dinner away. Wiping his mouth with his hand, he added, “I had a rough day up in the hills today.”
“The hills?” Chip asked.
“Yes. I met a man named Nelson.” Hank said. Chip stepped around from the desk quickly and paced through the darkness to the bathroom.
“This. . .Nelson, what did he say to you?”
“Actually Chip, I want to ponder what happened between me and Nelson in my heart for a little while longer. I don’t really know how to describe it.” Hank said.
Chip now stood before Hank. They were eye to eye.
“Nelson is powerful with the darkness. Pay him no mind. Jesus Christ is stronger than any evil in St. Mark’s.” Chip smiled again, with that toothy, white grin.
Hank smiled weakly, and turned back into the office bathroom. He looked at his face in the mirror, there was a pronounced blackening under his eyes.
Chip stepped into the room behind him and looked down to observe Hank’s vomit cleanup job.
Hank wet a cardboard colored paper towel and patted his face in front of the small single sink in the tiny lavatory. He collected his nerves. Chip stepped out of the tiny room. Hank’s stomach was quivering. He shook his balled fists at his sides lightly, like he was going into a boxing ring.
“Its going to be a long night.” Hank sighed.
“Always remember that you are doing this for God’s glory, and not yours.” Chip replied.
“Thanks Chip, you have been such a blessing on this tour.” Hank smiled and held out his hand for a formal shake. Chip grabbed it.
It was 8:35PM when Hank headed out into the humid night air.
To the right of St. Mark’s Methodist Church was an acre and a half plot full of people that had been bulldozed years prior. The plan had been to raise enough money to build a one-room Methodist elementary school on the property. The business with the Catholics had stalled the school project indefinitely. However, concerts and church presentations still happened on the lot. For a small sum, a wedding party could be held there as well. The ground was a flattened, dry, crumbly dirt. Occasional fist-sized clods were a part of its landscape. Some areas of the lot got more foot traffic than others and there was a steady layer of dusty silt floating at knee level with all of the shuffling and stepping.
The speakers were detached from the Sony boombox and Mark found microphone stands in a maintenance shed for them. He’d elaborately tied to speakers to mic stands with bungee cords to elevate the range of Mark’s pre-recorded music for the Resurrection Play. Mark organized a row of 5 missionaries to stand over the extension cord connection points that led to the sound system. The missionaries that were standing over the extension cords notified the thronging crowd regularly and pointed down to the cord at their feet. This was the best solution that they had for a quiet electrical source.
The crowd was considerable, and the team had lost count after 250 people. A layer of noise and general conversation covered everything. What Mark noticed, which made him wonder, was that the bulk of the crowd stayed back in the far corners of the lot in the darkness, away from the street lamps. Women and children stood in the well-lit edges of the lot directly by the street, observing. The locals were talking with mildly hushed tones among themselves. The lot was packed.
“I told you we should have picked up batteries.” Hank said over the crowd to Mark as he walked towards him, contributing to the mild cloud of dust.
“I have 5 people watching the connections of the cord. It should be OK, unless someone pulls the line from the source. Chip said that he has a backup generator in case the church’s grid goes down, like he said it did last week.” Mark drawled.
Hank stood in front of Mark, face to face.
“Good job, Mark.” Hank said.
“Hey man, you don’t look so good.” Mark said.
“I don’t think dinner really agreed with me.” Hank answered. He was sure his experience in the hills had affected his countenance, and that the other missionaries might see the acute spiritual crisis that had befallen him.
“I really didn’t like that stew that Dean cooked, but wow, it sure didn’t taste like what it is.” Mark said. “It could be worse, I mean, we could be on a different mission field eating bugs or something. I suppose a little gut pain is OK for all of us.” Mark said through a smile.
“Everyone has got cramps?” Hank asked.
“Everyone has been complaining. Even Dean.” Mark snickered.
“I’ll talk to Dean.” Hank said as an aside, lightly considering how he was going to be diplomatic with the cook.
“Hey! We have probably close to 300 people here tonight! So, sick stomachs or not, we are doing well! Maybe we will have a few converts out here tonight.” Mark beamed.
Hank smiled back as sincerely as he could, nodded to Mark and turned to observe the crowd. Feeling light-headed, he walked slowly into the thick crowd of locals, some were wearing their best clothes. The cotton, button down shirts, khakis, summer dresses and capri pants added mild pageantry to the occasion. The women. Some had caught Hank’s eye. He’d looked away, trying to keep his head in its proper place.
The air was dark and humid. There was a tension afoot, which was exacerbated by the missionaries and their attempts to remain organized. It wasn’t particularly overt, but the Americans were losing their patience.
Hank walked through the crowd of black faces. Hank shook the hands of locals, welcoming them and thanking them for coming out for the evening. He also stopped and gave words of encouragement to his white team members. He saw their spiritual persistence, and he wanted to embolden them positively.
“Love is patient and love is kind.” Hank whispered to the team members he saw whether they were succumbing to stress or not. They all knew the Corinthians verse. They also knew that it was an assurance from their spiritual leader that they were doing the right thing.
During his supervision, Hank winced in pain occasionally. His stomach felt as if there was a swelling porcupine in his upper intestine.
Hank walked up to Bonnie, who was inside of the stage area. Bonnie was a tiny, curvy young Irish brunette from New Jersey. Bonnie had been raised a Christian, in a Christian home, in a non-denominational church where demons were cast out gutterally screaming at times, on Sunday mornings.
Bonnie had been involved in various missionary travels off and on for the past several years in South America. Both Hank and his wife Sandra had traveled to Mexico with Bonnie on a house building mission with a different church two years previous.
Hank liked Bonnie, but he also knew that her lack of verbal discipline caused her to say things that made her audience wonder exactly where she was coming from. Just three days before, Hank had bailed Bonnie out of a strange argument she’d had with a local woman about sex before marriage. Bonnie’s encroaching usage of words like “rut” and “breeding” had brought a questionable tone to the discussion.
Bonnie had gotten used to getting away with a lot because of her pretty, young female looks. Hank tried to keep her sidelined as much as possible and not center stage. She did have her uses though. She was practical. She was handy with tools. She’d worked with a her Christian uncle Victor, who was a carpenter. She’d always wanted to build her own house some day, she said regularly.
“Bonnie, after the presentation, I need to you stay close to Thomas and Bruce. I don’t want to really be a stickler, but I just don’t know about this crowd.” Hank said. When he finished his statement, he looked around at the crowd. Something was off, but he couldn’t figure it out. The shadows, Hank felt that there was something in the shadows paying attention. Something that knew what he had.
“Hank! Do you see all of these people? Yes, sure, I’ll team up with Bruce and Thomas.” She answered perkily. Hank smiled weakly.
Hank had questions. He had been paying attention to his team and knew that Bonnie and Bruce were spending a lot of time together.
Romantic relationships within missions were things that needed to be discussed with spiritual leaders for guidance. Hank was expecting such a conversation with Bonnie and Bruce soon. It was going to be complicated. Hank liked to have his wife Sandra around for such situations. The path to marriage without the pitfalls of lust and sexual sin was a difficult one. People tended to listen to a married couple’s counsel at the same time on such a subject rather than one man or one woman.
Bonnie could see Hank’s discomfort in regards to her grouping with Bruce. She wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. Both she and Bruce wanted to respect each other and their leadership. However, the titillation of french kissing had overwhelmed them on several occasions during their nightly walks near the big house. Passion coupled with the muggy, nutmeg air and all of the cricket and cicada music, had succeeded in tempting hands to grope and groins to grind. Both had stopped in the sweat, begging each other for forgiveness, before it was too much. The fire had been lit between them, and their consummation appeared to be inevitable.
The Resurrection Play began at 9pm sharp, with the crowd pressed into the outer perimeter of the stage area. The play was a series of pantomimes and wordless actions that described the arc of Jesus’ life and ministry through a presentation of his miracles, including the resurrection from the dead of Lazarus.
The 6 missionaries that performed the play all had heavy white face paint with glossy black paint smeared lightly to accent lips, cheekbones and eyes. The group was uniformly dressed in blue jeans and white t-shirts.
Music pumped out of the speakers that Mark had placed. The mix was timed with the different miracles Christ performed. Mark was secretly proud that he’d managed to sneak the coin clattering sequence from the beginning of Pink Floyd’s MONEY into the soundtrack during the sequence where Jesus drove the money changers out of the church.
The presentation continued, with 3 missionaries dressed as Roman Guards carrying swords and wearing the de-handled broom brushes attached with duct tape to the ball caps on their heads as plumes. There was a choreographed whipping, with a voice-over explanation about the 39 lashes that Christ took being one lash less than that of a death sentence. Jason, a white, burly fireplug of a man played Jesus mainly because of his full beard. His ample fleshiness was a continual reminder that he wasn’t quite the Christ that everyone was familiar with.
The Roman guards tossed dice for Jesus’ purple coat. Jason, in whiteface, with a prop-crown of thorns on his head, looked plaintively out at the audience, with his arms wide apart, crucified.
There were 4 teenage Grenadian boys trying to get into the stage area during the presentation. Anthony and Nathan, two second generation Italian-American 18 year olds from the same Progressive Baptist Church in Valdosta, Georgia shooed the local kids of the perimeter. Nathan and Anthony were both crouched and trying to keep their heads out of the way of the show. They both had sick stomachs and were at the end of their patience for anything other than shutting down for the evening. Their shooing of the kids was becoming more and more rude and aggressive. Both boys pointed directly at the Grenadian teens, met them with angry eye-contact, and shooed for them to leave the entire area, not just the stage. No one noticed their behavior.
Jason, at the end of the play, rose up from the dust with his painted white face and his light blue eyes turned upward having risen from the dead. Two missionaries with angel wings did their best to fade into the background of the staging area. Jason then, hands raised above his head, signaled that God above had indeed brought Christ back from the dead. The most personable aspect of Jason’s presentation of the risen Christ was his penetrating clear blue eyes and his slow eye contact with anyone in the crowd that would meet his gaze. The love passage of Corinthians was the concept that Jason kept in the forefront of his thoughts while doing this, because he knew that Jesus had compassion for other humans more than anything else. Some eyes that Jason met looked away, and others in the crowd, looked back with a flash of such hostility and hatred for him and his Christ that he broke contact and sought calmer gazes.
The night heat was sweltering. Jason’s stomach had cramped. The sweat from his forehead beaded through the oil-based paint on his face and plashed down on his white shirt.
Jason, who’d been in the church room at the right time, and had demons cast out of him, at a bible camp by James Powell, a traveling spiritual warfarist. Jason hadn’t realized that he afflicted by demons, and he’d openly taken the intrusive prayers in stride.
Next on the stage was a testimony. Trisha, an 40-something white widower from Virginia, with curly brown hair took the microphone. She wore a long, light-blue conservative skirt, and a matching blue blouse. Her testimony seemed the most useful for the evening, because as a child, she’d spent her summers in Jamaica. Trisha knew about the islands, island culture, and could even throw in a bit of a Caribbean accent if she had to. Trisha proceeded to tell the story of her life. The story of a sad little white girl from the islands who had everything, but was still empty inside and needed Jesus.
Hank made his way through the crowd. His thoughts weren’t on the presentation, or his vomitous experience with Reverend Chip either. Hank’s deepest thoughts had to do with the plague within him. Hank felt that now there was something off about his entire faith. He didn’t know what manner of abomination or sin it was to have his prayers listened to and meddled with by an outside intelligence. He did know that it was inside of him, eavesdropping on his thoughts.
There was a new, empty horror opening up within him. Hank’s entire purpose and existence as a human being had been questioned and abused in the hills. Had God left him? Had God never been with him in the first place? He needed to talk to John Harrison and get some perspective. The once warm place in Hank’s heart that he’d felt was part of his relationship with God felt hollow, cold, and lifeless.
The steady droning and pulsing of the thick crowd continued. In the dark, Hank couldn’t see their faces. Hank was aware of the potential racist slight in making mention of such a thing and squeezed between people, working his way to the stage at the center of the lot.
Hank breached the stage area, and nodded, mouthing “good job,” to both Anthony and Nathan as he observed how well they’d kept the staging area clear of people. Hank was exhausted, and he had just a few more steps to go.
Trisha was done with her testimony, and she held the microphone out to Hank. Hank tapped it twice to determine the sound level from the boombox. The commotion of the agitated crowd required a microphone adjustment and several more taps.
It was time for the grand call for repentance and salvation. Hank reached down deep and belted it out hard through the sound system. Fighting against his physical odds, he winced his way through his explanation of Christ’s superiority over all. He’d only recently seen FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF with the bored teacher half-hoping for a response with “Anyone. . .anyone. . .?” That very pop culture joke was playing in the back of Hank’s head, as he sweated and spoke. For some reason, this particular crowd seemed almost hostile. Agitated. They milled about, not paying attention to his message, seeming to have a different agenda. Hank raised his voice into the mic and the reaction was the same.
Hank’s final altar call, after his explicit, medical explanation of the broken heart of Christ during his crucifixion (hence water coming from his side during the spear prick) yielded no fruit whatsoever. Jesus had died of a broken heart on the cross, and that was why water gushed out when his side was pierced with a spear.This point had no efect on the audience.
Hank pleaded with the Grenadians before him to consider leaving their lives of sin to follow Jesus.
The crowd continued to stir and chatter lightly among themselves throughout the entire message.
No one in the crowd committed their heart to Jesus on that warm night.
Hank was done. There were black cycles embedded in the pale skin under his eyes. The armpits in his new button down white shirt had soaked through. His strained eyes were a dark red. He knew that he needed sleep, but he needed to push through and do God’s work for just a bit more.
He thanked the locals for coming out, and asked that they keep clear of the stage while the team put the equipment away.
While Mark, Nathan and Anthony broke down the staging area, the rest of the missionaries worked through the crowd, asking local Grenadians what they thought of the presentation. The players were still wearing whiteface while interacting with audience members.
The lot was full of dust and activity. Conversations were taking place everywhere. The smell of marijuana and dust was in the air. Small bursts of bass could be heard from the nearby downtown area. There was heavy dance music in the distance.
Jason, still in whiteface and wearing a crown of thorns, discussed with 3 short-haired locals wearing tank tops and cargo shorts the truth of the life of Christ. This was the way that the missionaries’ dramatic presentations usually wound down. There would be a presentation, an altar call, and then individual conversions as the team talked with the crowd.
The crowd had swelled to well over three hundred people. Paroxysms of laughter and strong voices cut over the steady din of the mob intermittently. The crowd was so tight that most moved about with their hands balled into fists held closely to their chests. Occasionally the sexy smell of a woman’s sweet perfume would tease through the air, blotting the sweat and odor of most of the crowd. The night heat was cool compared to the heat being generated by all of the bodies in such a confined area.
The crowd murmured steadily and pushed about, occasionally causing large swaths of people to be forced to re-adjust their footing. Women with smaller children stayed out of the crush. The churning core of Grenadians in the center, surrounding the stage, were male. There were lots of dreadlocked Rastafarian heads in the congregation, men with caps and beanies, and some with closely cropped or shaved heads. There were several Peter Tosh t-shirts being worn among the other shirts and tank tank tops. The women mostly wore skirts, and stayed with their own sex and the children on the outer areas of the gravel lot. Some of the younger women had necks heavy with Rastafarian medallions for sale. Lots of the people throughout the crowd wore the thick, leather stringed necklaces that hung circular leather medallions with heavily stitched borders featuring a map of Africa, or the dreaded Rastafarian lion: the Lion of Judah .
To the right of the staging area, three missionaries found themselves before a Rastafarian local named Benjamin. Benjamin had most of his dreadlocks packed lumpily into a large, thin, stretched sock-cap with red, black and green patterning. It formed a bizarre cone leaning diagonally to the right of his head. Benjamin also had heavy, dreadlocked facial hair, that started at the sides of his mouth, and carried down fused with other locks from his beard they rested on his chest. Several heavy, black-brown locks hung from the side of his hat, spilled lazily over his shoulders which demonstrated that they’d grown to his waist. Benjamin, six feet tall and athletically built, with broad shoulders and a tapered waist, wore a white Peter Tosh t-shirt and cutoff black khakis. He had a Lion of Judah medallion around his neck. He was barefoot. His built strongly built calves jutted out of his legs, as if chiseled from granite. He also had a bag or some sort of leather purse with a homemade twine belt that wrapped around his right shoulder, the bag hung on his left hip. Benjamin unzipped the purse and fumbled around it it with his left hand.
The three missionaries, Bonnie, Thomas, and Bruce all had spent most of the last month talking with the Grenadian locals. However, it was rare that actual Rastafarians interacted with the missionaries, or came to church. Rastafarians had their own places of worship. The missionaries were visibly uncomfortable.
“That’s a cool shirt, man.” Thomas offered, gesturing lightly at Peter Tosh who was looking down at his guitar with a joint hanging from his lip. Thomas was a mustachioed, cleft-chinned, ex-wrestler and daily jogger from Minnesota. The most athletic looking missionary on the whole team.
Thomas, who had been in the room when Jerry Falwell himself had prayed over his cancerous grandfather, and the cancer had seemed to recede.
“Peter Tosh died last month.” Benjamin said, shaking his head gravely. The dreadlocks on his shoulders gave and pulled lightly with his head motion.
“A musician?” Thomas asked.
“Reggae warrior. He exiled himself to learn spiritual truths.” Benjamin answered. His eyes locked onto Thomas’.
“Hey, we have spiritual music too! We have One Bad Pig, Petra and one that you might like. Its a guy named Andre Crouch!” Bruce interjected.
“That not reggae warrior music.” Benjamin’s gaze now locked onto Bruce.
“Oh. Ahhhhhh. Uhhhhm. . .” Thomas said. He didn’t know how to make the next step in conversation. He considered discussing the current location of Peter Tosh’s soul with Benjamin, but knew that telling him that Peter Tosh was in hell as far as Christianity was concerned would be a non-starter.
An awkward second passed, where all four knew that they should be talking, but no one knew how to break culture.
“How long is your hair?” Bonnie asked, reaching up and forward and securing one of the hard, yet bendable locks that hung from Benjamin’s cap in her fingers like a specimen. The throng of people, collectively took breath as Bonnie felt the consistency of the dreadlock, rolling it about. Conversation stopped in the vicinity. Quiet eyes focused from all angles, waiting for the appropriate response. Angry faces leaned in.
“It is rude of you to touch my hair. It is not right, American lady.” Benjamin stated, his deep Caribbean accent was commanding. He pulled his head back jerkily, until the lock fell out of her hand.
The silence in the area was forced. Everyone deep in their heart of hearts, wanted to see how far this situation would go. Bruce jumped into it, trying to bury Bonnie’s offense.
“Hey, you know, in the Bible, there was a man named Samson who took a vow not to cut his hair.” Bruce said. “A very strong man!” Bruce lifted his arms and gave the classic muscleman pose. He looked around at the crowd, shaking his head yes with wide eyes, smirking, while swelling like a bullfrog. Thomas scoffingly looked at Bruce and rolled his eyes.
“I know your Samson.” Benjamin said. His hand was still working in his purse, it looked like he was scratching or clawing lightly on something. “Your Samson had serious wo-man troubles.” He added, with his low booming voice.
“You have heard the story of Samson?” Thomas asked, surprised.
The crowd circled and pressed in on them, providing constant interruptions. Bonnie reacted to all of them.
“I know of Samson, his ladies and his strength. I took the Nazarite vow you know, but my name is Benjamin.” He answered.
“The Nazarite vow?” Bruce asked.
“Yes man. You know that I’m Rasta. Samson had 7 dreadlocks. I have more.” Benjamin said with a smile. Then his left hand, having finished its mission pulled a thick, oily, twist-ended marijuana stick from his purse.
“Well, after Samson, the hair-growing kind of changed. When Paul talks about long hair on a man in the Bible, he says it is a dishonor.” Bruce pontificated.
Those still paying attention in the crowd gasped again.
Bruce, who had attended a sermon during a Kenneth Copeland convention where Roberts Liardon spoke of having a conversation with Jesus. Roberts Liardon had spoken of meeting with Jesus, while watching Laverne and Shirley and it’d had such an effect on Bruce that he chosen a life after Christ.
Thomas elbowed, and then shot a strong look at Bruce. Bruce absorbed the look, and hung his head contritely for a second.
“I’m sorry, Benjamin. That was rude. I’m just trying to keep the conversation going. I guess I am not too good at this sort of thing sometimes.” Bruce said in the most awkward way possible. He was genuinely out of sorts.
Bruce was a blond, mustachioed, broad-shouldered, six-foot-two construction worker from Wyoming with a huge pot-belly. Bruce had taken a year off to spend part of an inheritance and do missions work. Bruce knew nothing about Rastafarianism, Caribbean culture, or American Black culture for that matter. Bruce felt that the message of Christ transcended culture. Bruce did believe that with his heart for Jesus, that he could make a difference among the natives of Grenada.
“How do you get your hair like that?” Bonnie asked, still intrigued by Benjamin’s hair. She opened her eyes to him and poured it on with a smile.
“That is a rude question from an American lady.” Benjamin stonily answered. Benjamin, under heavy micro-aggressive, Christian attack, maintained his calm. He played with his tightly rolled marijuana stick. He smelled it. He held it in his mouth and dry-pulled on it. Its heavy, skunk-chocolate smell teased in the air.
The crowd around the three missionaries and the Rastafarian grew closer stilll. Regularly brushing against the missionaries. The crowd was still swirling and pushing in a different directions too. The locals apologized with “Sorry!” and “Excuse me!,” as they nudged up against them.
“Ok, try not to be offended Benjamin. I have to ask you something. Before I left the United States, my silly friend Jim told me that Rastafarians put manure in their hair to get it that way, is that true?” Bruce asked. He smiled broad and sincere. Bruce was hoping that the Rastafarian would send a message back to Jim that would tell him how stupid he was. Bruce wasn’t expecting a negative reaction at all.
Benjamin’s eyes closed to a scowl. The milling crowd around them all had tightened even more. The missionaries were in a circle, and the circle felt even more cramped. As the tension heightened, and more ears tuned in, more locals clustered. The Grenadians, some with sandals, most barefoot, of all ages and sex, knew something potentially very interesting could happen.
“Why would you ask me such a question, Jesus man?” Benjamin whispered angrily. “It is not a story for me to tell you.” He added.
Bonnie squeezed herself between Bruce and Thomas.
Benjamin defiantly lit the spliff with a wooden match strike from his front two teeth outward, illuminating the carvern of his mouth. The arc of the searing, igniting flame cutting downward between them all. The missionaries watched Benjamin in awe as he inhaled and pulled, sucking down a heavy load of smoke and hardly burning any of the spliff’s length. Holding his breath, he held the cigarette up and proffered it to them. Open-mouthed in shock, the missionaries shook their heads no and made universal hand gestures that said that they weren’t interested.
“We don’t do drugs!” Bonnie laughingly blurted.
“It is not a drug or a bad thing if it comes from the earth, sister.” Benjamin answered, his voice strained as he spoke around the smoke. He dragged on the spliff again, topping of his lungs. The burnt skunk smell surrounded them. Its smoke wisped between them.
Benjamin then lifted the spliff, holding the lit end pointing upward. A hand belonging to a shirtless light-skinned young man with a tight-knit skullcap took, pulled on the spliff, and then passed it.
“My God frowns upon marijuana use. Your God should frown upon it too.” Bonnie said.
Benjamin then blew a concise lungful of marijuana smoke directly into the center of her face. She stood, shocked and dumb, eyelids fluttering. The stream of smoke continued in a forced cloudy plume, bouncing off of her face and billowing about her head. Bonnie then held her breath. Bruce and Thomas, both squared their shoulders. They were in the cloud too. Bruce put his arm around Bonnie and tenderly pulled her out of the murky air. When she was clear, she inhaled deeply. The air was sweet. She gulped it. She gasped.
“That was rude, I was rude. So I apologize, sir. We have gotten off to a horrible start here.” Bonnie said loudly while turning back towards Benjamin, weakly smiling, standing straight, and trying to salvage the situation.
Thomas stepped forward towards Benjamin.
Benjamin raised his hand, and a hand from the crowd reached forward and passed Benjamin’s spliff back to him with a crooked smoke trail. Hazy eyed, Benjamin lifted his spliff and dragged on it again, hard. A full double-lunged plunge on the smoke. It lit up, and a light disc of ash formed on the end of the spliff. Tufts of white smoke danced about his face as he shut his intake off.
“You sir, are being disrespectful!” Thomas said, sharply.
Benjamin, lungs full, stepped forward to Thomas, and head-faked him with a lurch. Thomas stepped back. Thomas was physically bigger than Benjamin. Thomas had more muscle and two inches of height. This was Benjamin’s territory though, and Thomas knew it.
Benjamin tilted his head back and blew a massive cloud of heavy white smoke into the air directly above them. The air was still and no breeze disrupted it.
Two tall, shirtless, black, medium-built men in faded cutoff jeans stepped to either side of Benjamin. Their heads were huge from the stumpy coils of uncontained black and brown dreadlocks spilling down the both of them, hanging over their chests like black door chimes. Benjamin held his position, the men, with their own recently-lit spliffs, brought more smoke to the missionaries.
Bonnie stepped forward from between Thomas and Bruce, “Guys, Let me tell you about Jesus, my God.” Bonnie says.
“Can I kill your god?” The Rastafarian to the left of Benjamin interrupted with a yellow-toothed smirk.
The entire crowd in the parking lot area continued to sway and swell behind the Rastafarians. The rest of the team, Richard, Dean, Craig, Nathan, Anthony and Mark gathered around Bonnie, Bruce and Thomas. Many clouds of marijuana smoke rose above the shaved, beaded, beanied, and dreadlocked heads throughout the gravel lot.
On the other side of the lot, away from the confrontation, a woman and her child began to pull away from Hank as he tried to talk to them. He saw that she was pulling her child to join with the crowd that was swelling behind Benjamin and the Rastafarians gathering behind him.
“My God can’t be killed. He is the strongest. All other gods bow before him.” Bonnie yelled stridently. There was enough murmuring in the crowd to dampen her voice, yet the three Rastafarians directly before her heard.
“Then howcome we never see him?” The Rastafarian on the right of Benjamin asked, smoking. He held it, then his nostrils flared as his lungs dumped two downward jets of smoke.
“We can’t see him, but when Jesus walked the earth, that was when he was able to be seen in a physical form.” Bonnie answered, shrilly. Bruce and Thomas stood close to her. Their hearts were pounding now, because they felt that the crowd could turn violent. Bruce continually looked Thomas in the eye for assurances, and Thomas nodded slowly.
“Did he look like this?” Benjamin held up a flier from the St. Mark’s Methodist Church that he’d somehow come in possession of. On the flier was the typical benevolent, archaically smiling, white Jesus, with long blonde locks, a trimmed beard and blue eyes.
“The person who drew that picture thought so.” Bonnie answered, smiling at her cleverness.
The dark, humid air carried whiffs of damp pavement, as if a tropical storm had just passed nearby. Benjamin pulled again on his spliff, this time more of a relaxed draw.
“I have no time for your white god, sister. He looks too good. I think other gods would have put the hurting to that weak, white man.” Benjamin spoke with the smoke he exhaled. His accent punctuating the burst of the exhalation in the air.
The haze from the three smokers lifted in the air, and the tall street lights that illuminated one side of the lot showed the paths of the burnt mist, joining with others. Different patterns of smoke lifted off of the Grenadians throughout the lot.
Benjamin turned and elusively folded into the crowd. The only illumination at the back of the lot were the spliffs, held by invisible hands cutting through the darkness, like fireflies with incoherent flight and hover patterns.
“I’m sorry, what were your names?” Thomas spoke loudly at the two, heavy-haired men Benjamin had left before him.
“I am Roscoe, and that is Angelo,” The man on the left said, gesturing with his cigarette.
“Roscoe and Angelo. Do you know what happens when you die and you don’t have Jesus in your heart?” Thomas asked. He licked his lips, ready to evangelize and get the evening back in order.
“If Jesus does not exist. Then perhaps nothing you speak of happens.” Angelo said. He spoke loudly, and turned his head towards Roscoe, to make his voice benefit the crowd of Rastafarians behind him.
“If you die without Jesus in your heart, then you have a destiny! To burn in the Lake of Fire, eternally!” Thomas said loudly. Thomas was hoping for a question about the Lake, because he’d been reading up on Gehenna and all aspects of Hell in his spare time.
“There is no god damn Jesus to make me burn in a fire!” Angelo bellowed at Thomas. Both Angelo and Roscoe stepped as close to Bonnie, Bruce and Thomas as possible. The Rastafarians behind Roscoe and Angelo swelled, and there was loud, unintelligible murmur coming from them. The missionaries flanking Bruce, Thomas and Bonnie tightened rank.
“Looks like a mob is forming.” Bruce said to Thomas, over Bonnie’s head.
“Is everything OK here?” Mark asked of both parties as he pushed forward, looking both Angelo and Roscoe in the eyes, as well as Thomas, Bonnie and Bruce.
“Everything was fine until American woman told us Jesus was a white man.” Roscoe said. Roscoe’s voice was deep and concise. His brows were furrowed. He looked with surprising intensity at Hank, who was walking up to the group. Roscoe looked at Hank as if he wasn’t quite real and he needed to be focused on.
Hank finally made it into the center of the crowd, using his arms and height to swim and grab shoulders to cut through the swarming people who were engulfing the missionaries. Somewhere, far in the background a whistle was being blown, in long bursts.
“People please! We have come here in peace. We are not here to offend!” Hank yelled. He waved his hands in the air to draw the attention to himself. The murmuring had broken into conversations all around them. Words like “racist”,”evil”,”CIA” and “colonial” were being bandied about by the locals.
The whole crowd pushed and swayed, causing the missionaries to lose footing at times and knock into each other. Someone from behind pushed Thomas in the back of the head. Thomas turned in the direction and yelled “Hey!” But there were at least 5 potential culprits where he turned, the crowd was so thick.
Hank cut and waded through the horde of people. Elbows were thrown in his direction and hands started to grab and pull at his clothes. The blaring whistling in the background under the thrum of the crowd was getting closer.
“People please! We have come here for you! We have come to tell you about Jesus Christ! There is fight!” Hank felt hands all over him. Hank was surrounded by men, too many to number. Some had dreadlocks, others did not. They had aggressive hands that searched and prodded. The crowd pushed and spun. Control had spiraled. All that needed to happen was one fist to be thrown.
The whistling blasts became close. It was Reverend Chip. He blew the whistle now in short bursts, and the locals cleared a path. Chip also had large, two-foot, black Mag-light flashlight, that he cut through the darkness with and that bodies cleared out of the way of.
“The show is over my good people! Its time for us all to go home. The church is now closed!” Chip yelled.
Instantly, the crowd complied. The tension in the air broke. The hands that grabbed at Hank stopped. Bodies rapidly turned and spun away from him. The locals respected Reverend Chip as a good man first, the pastor of the Methodist church second. There was the feeling in the air that the show had just ended and the audience was going home. Light laughter and conversation punctuated the hot night air.
The lot cleared almost immediately. Lingerers were about, but most of the people vacated the area promptly.
“Thanks Chip. I don’t know what was happening here.” Hank said.
“Things were going good, and then they weren’t,” added Bonnie.
“The crowd seemed angry with us.” Thomas chimed in.
Chip looked at the faces of the missionaries. Some local dark bodies passed by and between the Christians. There were still several figures on the outer perimeter of the lot, in the distance.
“This is an interesting town, this St. Mark’s. People are superstitious here. You are doing God’s good work and of course there will be troubles.” Chip said. He smiled. “If there weren’t troubles, then you probably aren’t doing the right thing!” He said with a laugh.
Hank nodded and faintly smiled.
“Team, I am going to ask you guys to break it all down. Let’s pack it all up for the night. I’d like for us to head back to the house in about fifteen minutes as a group, OK? We’ll meet in the foyer of the church in fifteen and leave as a group.” Hank said to his people. The tired-eyed team looked back at Hank relieved that the night was over. Then they busied themselves with the packing up of the sound system and some went into the church to move equipment to appropriate storage areas.
A well dressed man stepped forward out of the shadows of the lot.
“Chip.” He said, Greeting the Methodist reverend. His reddish eyes continually drifted to Hank.
“Desmond.” Chip answered, with a knowing downward nod.
“Chip, I would like to talk to your white friend here.” Desmond said. Desmond’s clothing was impeccable. His button-down white shirt had ironing creases on the shoulders. The pleated tan plants looked brand new. His black edged, white wingtips were in perfect condition. Desmond had an unlit marijuana cigarette in his hand.
“Desmond, my friend here isn’t well. Perhaps you two could schedule a talk tomorrow? As you have seen, it has been a busy evening here at the church.” Chip said. His hands were clasped habitually behind his back, and his legs had taken a comfortably wide stance.
Roscoe, Angelo and Benjamin stepped forward out of the darkness from the far side of the lot. There were 5 more behind them, all Rastafarians, all with heavy, black, tortile dreadlocks cascading over them, increasing the size of the group. All of the newcomers grouped near the well dressed man named Desmond.
“Chip. Something was lost in the hills today. We all think that your white friend knows where it went.” Desmond said.
“What was lost in the hills, Desmond?” Chip asked, commanding with his accent.
“Nelson’s familiar. The beast. The protector.” Desmond said.
“On this property, Desmond, Jesus is the protector. He is also the savior.” Chip said. “I think that you should talk to my friend Hank about whatever it is you need to talk to him about tomorrow. Look at the man. He is ill.” Chip said. He gestured with a toss of his cropped head in Hank’s direction. Hank was indeed haggard looking, and he smiled weakly.
“Chip, I can speak for myself and talk to this man. It is fine. Desmond? You said your name was Desmond? My name is Hank.” Hank said. He held his hand forward to shake. Desmond didn’t reach for it. Hank did his best to appear unfazed and holstered his hand in his pocket.
Desmond stared at Hank for a full twenty seconds before he spoke.
“Hank. You have seen Nelson’s Gonteekwa, and you know where it has gone. Nelson would like for you to give it back.” Desmond said. With the marijuana cigarette nestled between the first and middle fingers of his left hand, he rubbed his hands together. Desmond stood, with a wide stance like Chip’s, locked in place. He continued to rub his hands together, waiting for a response.
“Gonteekwa?” Hank said, feeling the word in his mouth.
“Yes, Hank. The Gonteekwa. We give Nelson clothing and offerings, and in return the Gonteekwa spared us our lives. The Gonteekwa hunts on other parts of the island. Nelson made this deal with us. Now you have the Gonteekwa and we are worried. My people, my neighbors, all of us are in danger. Please come and give it back to Nelson.” Desmond said. The eight men behind him nodded in agreement.
“I, ahhh, I don’t know what to say. I didn’t take anything from Nelson. We had a strange meeting. There. . . isn’t much to say.” Hank said. He was flustered. He jammed his other hand in his pocket. Hank knew he had the Gonteekwa, but he didn’t take it, know how to give it back, or want it. Hank needed to get back to the base and talk to John Harrison.
“Nelson said you assaulted him and took it. Nelson is hurt. He might not live through the night.” Desmond said. His face had turned into a hard sour scowl, with all of his unbreakable attention focused on Hank.
“I did not assault Nelson! We had a strange meeting where he was asking me about the blood of Jesus. Nelson said there was something up in his hills that Jesus can’t stop. I have more. Look. Why don’t you guys come up to the house later? I need to get back, take a shower and take some time. Chip has said tomorrow, but I am willing to meet with you at the house at say 11:30? Maybe Midnight?” Hank asked. He figured there would be enough time for him to talk to John Harrison by then. John would know what to do with this situation.
“Ok American Hank. We will come up to your house in a few hours.” Desmond said. He turned back towards the others that were with him. They huddled, talking to him in hushed tones.
“Do you know where the house is?” Hank asked.
“American Hank, everyone knows where the white people are.” Desmond answered. He and his dreadlocked crew turned and headed towards the off-kilter light post, and meandered up the road, conversing intensely with themselves.
“Do you know what you are doing?” Chip asked Hank, hushed and alert with distress. His eyes were wide, and he was watching the group walk up the street.
“No.” Hank answered.
An hour later, in the dimly lit guys dorm area which had once been a wine cellar, Hank was pulling it together. There were four other bunks in the room, and his roommates lived out of their suitcases which were on the bunks and against the walls throughout the room. A single, buzzing clear bulb illuminated the shiny beige paint on the concrete walls and lit the smooth, cold, cement floor.
His roommates were out socializing, and as a leader, he felt good that he’d set the group meeting for ten the next morning.
He’d taken a shower, and even though there wasn’t a hot water option, the cleanliness of his recently soaped body and freshly shampooed hair made a difference in his countenance. The black scorching under his eyes had lightened. Dressed in surf shorts and a black tank top, he looked himself up and down in the mirror. Hank, considering what he’d been through that day, felt almost normal.
His mind was still racing and he had 10 minutes before he was supposed to meet John Harrison on the balcony upstairs. Hank was hoping that somehow John Harrison could free him from whatever this Gonteekwa thing was. Hank had been trying not to think about the alien intelligence eavesdropping on him, but at the same time he couldn’t help it. The notion of keeping all thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ consumed Hank’s brainspace. He wrestled with the notion that if the thoughts weren’t under control, they might bring about a thought-pattern that could trigger the Gonteekwa.
Hank was also embarrassed. He was going to have to tell his spiritual leader that he’d failed at spiritual warfare.
Hank was also going to have to speak on exactly what he’d seen, and in truth, he wasn’t sure exactly what had happened in Nelson’s shanty. But the truth needed to be told. Hank knew that in order to be completely free of this thing, he would have to be completely honest with John Harrison.
Hank’s head issues were so intimate and unspeakable, that he practiced acting like everything was fine. Looking in the mirror, he practiced relaxing his eyebrows to ease on the anxiety lines on his forehead. He breathed deeply. He attempted to set a smile on his worried face.
Hank, against his better judgement, had even begun to employ a mantra. Hank realized the religiosity in the rote repetition of prayers. Hank’s interactions with God, were with thoughts and prayers that were alive. Hank was conversing during prayer. In the case of a mantra, the argument is that the empty repetition of the prayer does in fact mean something positive. That prayers spoken without total mental engagement were devalued prayers, but still holding value.
Consequently, Hank began repeating a prayer that he’d learned as a child one Sunday in an Episcopalian Church. He’d been reciting it ever since he’d gotten back to the bat-house that evening. The prayer was this simple mantra:
“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Over and over. When Hank was aware of his thought, he could consider who Jesus was in one iteration, then his need for mercy the next, and the wages of his sins for the third. There were plenty of angles to continually consider, so long as he could keep his thoughts on the prayer itself. Distraction was the enemy.
With his prayer cycle running through his head, Hank could function. However, coupling the prayer meditation with menial chores like showering and the brushing of teeth had opened windows for his mind to wander out of. When his mind wandered, things got weird.
Refocusing on his meditation, Hank stood in front of the collective dresser mirror, with shaving cream on his face. He shaved with his single-bladed, blue Gillette disposable razor, wiping the excess foam onto his wet bath towel. There was a small blue plastic coffee cup from a truck stop named “Stuckey’s” half-full of water that he clacked the razor about in periodically to clear the hairs from the blade.
While pulling on the skin over his collarbone to get a better shave, Hank saw something move, in the reflection behind him. Hank stopped. He focused on the mirror. Then he turned around to where he’d seen the movement. It had happened near the collective pile of dirty clothes in a corner, but there was nothing. His thoughts drifted. Hank noted to himself to remind his roommates to do one final hand-wash soon. Then he remembered that he needed to get laundry soap the next time they went on a supply run. It had to be soon.
Hank went back to shaving. Distracted.
There was another motion in the room. No sound, but it caught Hank’s eye. He spun to focus exactly where the action was coming from, but it was just the corner along the cement floor between two closed suitcases that led to the corner by the wall.
Hank was sure that it wasn’t a large insect or a rodent. What had it been? It had been sizable. The hairs on the back of his neck pried achingly outward. His forearms pricked up too. The fear began. He’d kept his experience with Nelson in the hills out of the forefront of his mind. Hank repeated the prayer, moving his lips. He was hanging on until he could talk to John Harrison about it all.
Hank did his best to outwardly not manifest what he was thinking inside. Hank was saying his mantra, and the mercy he wanted was that there would be no manifestation of this Gonteekwa. Not while he was here, alone. Hank didn’t want to watch himself change or shift or whatever it was. He shook his head and tried to clear his brain.
He rested the razor blade back on his adam’s apple and met his own eyes in the mirror. He wanted to focus on the task at hand, but the eyes looking back weren’t his. He moved his lips and recited the prayer to himself. Glowering eyes looked sternly back at him through the glass. A foreign, intelligent personality. Angry, triangular eyes dug deep into him. The monstrous eyes looked as if they had taken over his face, grotesquely, and the rest of his features contracted to make room for them. Hank suddenly felt as if his own eyesight had been flushed blurrily underwater. Hank’s heartbeat kicked in. He recited the mantra, whispering at the mirror and it provided no peace.
Hank considered the others in the house. He wondered where his closest team member was as he realized he was completely alone. No one was in this part of the house with him. Most of the team had come back to the base in St. Marks and then left in a previously hired a van to go to a late night soda fountain thirty miles away in Saint George’s near the medical University for ice cream and coffees.
Then there was another movement in the room. Hank tried to follow it with his eyes, but his own visage trumped whatever he was looking for. His eyes were still misshapen, and now Hank’s head had a fuzzy cloud over it in the mirror, something blocking the view.
The horror of it all. Hank knew that he couldn’t yell out. His prayers weren’t working. He was a victim of whatever weirdness this was. The horror came from his lack of comprehension. His shifting, clouded looks in the mirror scared him, perplexed him and kept him frozen in place.
He threw the razor down and reached up around his head and felt nothing, but in the mirror, there was definitely something in the air, engulfing his face. A small, dark cloud. Hank fought to control his thoughts, and his hushed-tone prayer mantra became much more desperate.
A different, undefinable pillow-sized grey-black cloud scooted across the floor towards Hank from behind. He could see it in the mirror. He turned and saw it with his own eyes and it did not obscure itself. It murkily made its way to his leg. Hank stepped back, knocking into the dresser. Hank froze then, as he watched the thing slowly work up his left leg, working its way up his outer thigh, steering away from his crotch. It looked like a ball of hair. Hank reached down to push it, shoo it away, and suddenly snatched his hand back. There was a long, razor incision down the back of his left hand, a small thread of blood wept through. Hank sucked air through his teeth as he felt the pain.
The airy cloud moved up his chest, and he batted and swung and tried to push it away, but his hands passed through it, feeling nicked. Hank saw more slashes and cuts on his hands, clawmarks big enough to break the skin. The nicking and grazing left wounds like thornbush scratches. Hank’s primary worry became keeping this thing from his head or face. Hank cowered, covering his face with his lightly bleeding hands.
Then, just as weirdly as it had started, the cloud dissipated. The chaos stopped, and the room was quiet again. Except the room had always been quiet. The cacophony had been Hank’s internal attempts at self control.
Hank felt warmth on his shoulder. He saw the damage that he’s taken when he’d thrown the razor down. Loosened light flaps of skin that wept a trickle of blood that cradled and turned down his neckline before lightly absorbing into his tank top.
The creepiness was too much.
Hank feverishly wiped the shaving cream off of his face, the blood off of his hands, and as much as he could wipe off of his tank top before tossing the towel onto the pile of dirty clothes.
Hank was stressed. He had no explanation of the experience he’d just had. He’d stopped his mantra because his brain had rushed past it, and he simply wanted to get out of this darkly infested, clammy part of the house.
Hank turned, stepped into his slippers and walked quickly up the stone steps to the living room area of the house. On the way up he felt the wounds on his hands, which were just sharp scratches that had barely broken the skin. Two small, pillow-sized shadows moved followed him, at a distance along the floor, out in the open.
Hank hurriedly padded across the hardwood floor under the sagging, guano-packed ceiling. The shadows followed closely, staying in the dark and along the corners.
Agitated and flustered, Hank exited out of the huge, curtained, double doors that led to the spacious, squared-off mahogany porch the front of the house. Hank’s wight made the wood creak lightly. Out of Hank’s sight, the clouds glided after him. Drawing close. Catching up to him, climbing his legs, getting up on his back. Behind his head. He made it to the banister, and looked out at the clear, star punctuated black and blue night sky.
Hank stopped. He turned. He thought he saw a shadow. But the shadow scurried, it disintegrated. Then he felt it. The weight on his shoulders. The light caress. Hank turned quickly. Saw it dart down his shoulder to hip to the floor.
The creeps. Hank had them.
The back of his neck suddenly itched. He hunched over, resting his right hand on the back of his neck. Something was awfully wrong. The darkness scurried back up his leg as soon as he looked out over the grass below. It nestled behind his neck. It parked its smoky tendrils in Hank’s ears.
There was a light on deep in the kitchen behind the living room. The best illumination was coming from the night, however. The cool, silver moonlight brightened the humid jungle air.
Hank started with his prayers again.
He leaned with both arms on the banister. The darkness clung close to him, and spread itself across his back. Hank ground his teeth and recited the mantra. The awning above his head had blackened fecal stains, where the bats flew out at night, and where they clawed back in the early morning.
Again, Hank felt the anxious pang of embarrassment. He really didn’t want to share his story with John, but he had no choice. There was something inside of Hank that needed to be addressed and hopefully removed soon. The grand payoff could be a deliverance session with John Harrison. A deliverance session would be perfect, Hank thought. Then he wondered how on earth was he going to explain all of this to Sandra? He hoped to what was left of his faith in God that he could be delivered from whatever demon this was that he’d picked up in this foreign land.
It was 10:45 Pm. Hank prayed and looked out over the tropical silhouette complete with palm trees laden with coconuts. The night air was still warm. The lack of illumination from the ground for miles about made the night sky that much more brilliant. The milky way – cloudily dusted with bright specks, was acute and inexplicable. The lush grasses on either side of the main entryway swished, as warm breezes stroked the plump green blades. Three missionaries from the team were a hundred yards out, on a blanket, in the grass by the paved walkway looking up at the stars. The waxing gibbous moon darkly lit everything with its dim reflection of the daytime sun.
The paved walkway went out another fifty yards or so, past the missionaries lying in the grass. Then there was a steep, unpaved dirt road that curved around and down the small mountain that the house had been built on.
The dirt road was big enough for a vehicle. Stacked on both sides of the road were tall thorns, brush and vines. Some locals knew their way to the road, but most carried machetes to enforce their path knowledge on the encroaching jungle.
John Harrison walked out onto the balcony, carrying two tall glasses of iced coffee. “Hey Hank,” He said as he stepped to his favorite rail to the left of the stairway, by the column. Placing the coffees down, he swung one of his legs hung lazily over the side. The fall, if he lost his balance would have been fifteen feet. He smiled and looked over at Hank.
“You are going to have to tell me about your day. Ever since you came back I have been waiting for your report! Bonnie said that there was an issue with some natives?” John asked. He was wearing a very loud, button down Hawaiian shirt, which casually covered his sizeable gut, that featured palm trees linked all the way around it. He was wearing beige khaki shorts and Birkenstocks on his feet.
Hank walked to John. He had so much to say, but most of it was insane and couldn’t be talked about. He stuck to the subjects that were safe.
“John, there was a tension among the locals that I really wasn’t ready for.” Hank said. He looked down and saw the two tall glasses of iced coffee.
“These natives, Hank. They’re unpredictable. Get yourself a coffee, and hand me mine, will you?” John said.
Again, Hank was bothered by John’s usage of the word “natives”. He’d heard John say it continually through the tour. However, Hank chose again not address it.
“John, I had an encounter in the hills today that I have to tell you about. It was all about spiritual warfare.” Hank said, handing John his coffee, which he took with two hands.
“Spiritual warfare?” John asked, sipping.
“Look, I went to this house up in the St. Mark’s hills. I met this man there in a clearing. He told me that there was a monster up there that the name of Jesus can’t control.” Hank said quickly. He sat on the same rail next to John, at a polite distance. They both faced the moon.
“Well, I would like to see some form of evil that doesn’t respond to the name of Jesus!” John said, laughing. His leg kicked out high above the grass below. He sipped his coffee again.
“John, Jesus’ name didn’t work. Not at all! I did it all, too! I called on the blood of Jesus, I commanded in Jesus’ name, I rebuked. Nothing.” Hank said, softly.
“You had to deal with a demon?” John asked, suddenly very serious.
“John, this man, his name was Nelson, he started to change before my eyes. He turned into this huge thing. This all happened within ten feet of me. I was using Jesus name and it meant nothing.” Hank said. Hank had suddenly become nervous. The next part that he had to tell John Harrison actually made little sense.
“A man was changing shape in front of you?”
“What did you do? What kind of shape? What happened?” John asked excitedly. He put his coffee down on the rail, next to Hank’s, which was still untouched.
“This guy. . .he starts to turn into this thing. A big hairy demon. He starts to turn into a Gonteekwa.” Hank started to say before John interrupted him.
“A Gonteekwa? I have never heard of this.” John said.
“I’m telling you, it was like the guy was turning into a werewolf. One of the locals later told me that the name of the beast is, ‘Gonteekwa’.” Hank said. He scooted just a bit closer to John.
John frowned as he tried to comprehend what his friend had been through.
“This isn’t a joke?” John asked.
“The next part is the weirdest part of it all. Its the part that I am most embarrassed by.” Hank said.
“You told it in the name of Jesus to begone?” John clarified.
“I screamed at it.” Hank said.
“Were you afraid?” John asked.
“Yes, I was afraid, how could I not be?”
“Perhaps that was why it didn’t work. Fear is wrong. We should have no fear, because Christ is within us. He that is within us is greater than he who is in the world. This Gonteekwa, this is a thing of the world. We shouldn’t fear that which can kill our bodies, but we should fear God who can kill our body and our soul.” John said.
Hank hung his head, nodding yes, but growing impatient with John’s lack of comprehension. Hank felt that there was so much to articulate, and he was going to get absolutely nowhere if he is going to have to take some sort of biblical rebuke at every turn.
“I was scared, John, yes. I was seeing something that I have never seen before. That I have no words for. I had no control over the situation. All that I knew to do was to use the training that we have talked about, but it wasn’t enough. John, I believe my heart is right here. I am not harboring any sin. I pray and ask forgiveness for my sins regularly. I have been pure.” Hank said. The irritation in his voice had been obvious. Hank also knew that the locals were coming and he still had a long way to go in the conversation.
“Tell me the rest.” John said, reaching for his coffee, and sighing.
“This thing. This Gonteekwa. It lifted off of the man that I was talking to and it forces itself into me. Down my throat. This thing. John, its in me. I don’t know what to do. I think. . .I think. . .” Hank trailed off.
“So you are possessed? It took you over?” John asked. John sat remarkably still.
“It is in me. I am worried John. I am worried it can hear my thoughts.”
“Yes, the locals know that this thing is in me. They say that its theirs. That they want it back. This is part of what Bonnie was going through I think. It seemed that our entire presentation at the Methodist Church was clouded over by the fact that the locals feel some sort of unrest.” Hank said.
“Unrest? I don’t follow.”
“The locals. They would pay the guy who had the Gonteekwa in him a tithe. They gave him stuff so that the demon wouldn’t attack them.” Hank explained.
“I have heard of offerings to appease the spirits before. But here is the truth, Hank: Jesus is more powerful than whatever this Gontiki thing is.” John said, lightly smirking. Trying to break the tension.
“John, they’re coming! I told the locals to come up here. I didn’t know what else to say! Maybe we can all have a discussion. Maybe you can deliver me from this thing? Maybe you can cast it out of me? Right here and now?” Hank pleaded.
They both heard loud squawking and giggling coming from the missionaries on the blanket out by the walkway. It was obvious that they were slapping at insects.
“Heh. The mosquitoes here will fly off with your arm. I told them not to go out there with that blanket.” John said. John was uneasy now. His head was turned towards the missionaries, but his eyes slid left to Hank.
“Do you think you can cast this out of me? Get it out of here? The locals, they can see it in me. If it isn’t here, then maybe they will go back.” Hank said.
“Its too late at night. The natives aren’t coming. You have forgotten about island time.” John said.
The horseplay and noise continued from the missionaries in the moonlight on the grass.
“They are coming. I told them to wait a few hours.” Hank said.
“You actually told the natives to come to the house? You gave them directions?”
“They know where we live, John. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you stick out here.”
“So let me get this straight. I need to command this evil spirit to leave you right now?” John said.
“Yes. Right now. Do it.” Hank answered.
“Hank, I don’t think I can. My heart isn’t right at this time. I need some time to myself. I need to get my attitude straight.” John said.
“John, John please. I need help here. Just do it. I know you know how.”
“Look, Hank. I have inoperable stomach cancer. Just today I was yelling at God while out in the forest behind this place, demanding an answer as to why he is killing me, after all of this work I have done for him. I feel that I have gotten this missionary base up and running, and now God is pulling me away from it. I don’t know why. I thought that this was what He wanted me to do.” John said as he looked down.
“John, I really need you to get it together here. This thing I am dealing with. I don’t know what it is. You live here. I am just visiting. John, I have a wife at home. I don’t want to bring this thing back with me. To the United States? Please. What do you need to do?” The desperation in Hank’s voice was honest. “Please John.”
Then suddenly, they heard the missionaries on the lawn chirping politely and greeting people. In the moonlit distance, Hank and John could see a crowd forming at the end of the walkway. Pleasant conversational tones carried through the air to the porch. The guests had arrived.
“See. Here they are.” Hank said.
“Let me handle this.” John Harrison said. Now John sounded irritated. He swung his leg over the banister, grabbed both of his knees rocked forward and stood fully on the balcony. Hank stood too.
“Don’t talk about whatever it was you saw in the hills. Don’t acknowledge this Gonteekwa thing. I’ll get rid of them.” John said.
John and Hank made their way down the steps. The group at the end of the walkway, several hundred yards out in the moonlight talked lightly.
John took advantage of the short walk to discuss more.
“You see Hank, the Bible says we are to test the spirits. That we aren’t to be unevenly yoked. That some will only leave with fasting and prayer. There’s a lot more. There are countless verses about the power of God over the power of Satan.” John said softly to Hank as they walked.
“Do you think for a second that I am not aware of how bizarre my situation is? I literally felt a demon fly down my throat. I’ve had a rough go of it ever since. We all got sick from Dean’s soup tonight, but I actually puked in Chip’s office!” Hank said.
“In his office? Oh, he likes that desk!” John said, chuckling.
“I made it to the bathroom. Look, John, you have to take me more seriously here. This situation is. . .embarrassing to me.” Hank said.
John stopped walking.
He turned, facing Hank at his left and placed his right hand on the side of Hank’s shoulder, gripping it lightly.
“Hank, I have been a Christian for what, twenty five years now? I have heard a lot of stories and I have seen some crazy things. I’ll tell you now though, I have never heard of a story as crazy as what you just told me. You are going to have to forgive me. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see it happen. I am willing to pray over you. I am willing to do what it takes. But look at it from my perspective. You have come back to the house, and you claim that there is a demon in you that will not respond to the name of Jesus. Furthermore, you say that these men here,” He gestured with his right hand before placing it back on Hank’s shoulder. “you say that these men here are demanding that you give this demon back to them? Its a lot to handle, Hank. Its a lot to swallow. I want to believe you. I really do. But uh, let’s go see what this fracas is all about.” With that, John turned from Hank and began to walk again.
“You know, I always thought that unevenly yoked meant that a Christian cannot be possessed by a demon. You have given me a lot to think about, Hank.” Then John was silent.
Hank was seething. His Christianity didn’t need to be called into question. John hadn’t been there in the hills, and John hadn’t seen Jesus’ name fail, completely. John also had no idea how hard it had been for Hank to admit that a demon had taken up residence within him.
John and Hank walked up to Bonnie, Bruce and Thomas. Facing them were Desmond, Angelo, Roscoe and five other dreadlocked men, 3 of whom had machetes in their fists. Threatening as the weapons looked, they’d only been used to hack into the driveway to the property from elsewhere.
“We have been talking about the presentation earlier.” Bonnie said, with a bright smile.
“I did not see the presentation. I had Bonnie tell me more.” Desmond said thickly through his Caribbean accent. He smiled, but it was forced. He was well dressed as always.
John surveyed the group. He made eye contact with all present. Then he turned to Bonnie, Bruce and Thomas.
“I am going to need you three to pack up and go back to the house. Hank and I have some private business with these men.” John said, authoritatively.
The three missionaries quietly picked up the blanket and the empty glasses and pitcher of orange juice that they had brought with them.
“Mosquitoes are snapping like alligators anyway.” Thomas mumbled. His mustache curved as he smiled.
“I told you so!” John laughed lightly. They left. There was a long beat of silence as everyone waited for the three missionaries to clear earshot.
Roscoe then lifted up a .45 pistol. The handle was wrapped in what looked like duct tape. He waved it about, before pointing it at Hank, with a straight arm.
“You, right? You have the Gonteekwa?” He asked with an accent and a hiss. He raised the business end to Hank’s face.
“Put that damn gun down!” Desmond roared.
Roscoe, recognizing his rank, lowered his pistol immediately. Angelo, who was standing behind Roscoe, took a small step back. Denny, Cesar, David, Marcel, and Robert were quiet and observant in the close shadows. Cesar was wearing a Peter Tosh shirt. They all wore jeans and khakis cut off at the knee or above. None had shoes on. Their natural, thick, non-symmetrical dreadlocks hung loosely and out of the brims of their hats and their bandanas.
In the distance, Bruce and Thomas turned and looked back upon hearing Desmond’s profanity. Then they both turned back and refocused on the house, minding their own business. Bonnie, unfazed, was still trudging through the grass, rather than the walkway. Nancy and Mark had stepped out onto the porch at the house, and Bonnie waved at them, picking up her pace.
“If I kill this Hank with Gonteekwa, then it will be released to you, Desmond.” Roscoe said with his thick Caribbean accent, while he stepped lightly towards Hank.
“You cannot guarantee such control of the Gonteekwa, you fool. It has chosen to work with this man. I wanted it to choose me, but I do not wish to force it to make its choice.” Desmond said.
“Look, Desmond. I don’t want this thing in me.” Hank said. He felt a shiver, a cold pinch in his stomach, it was sharp.
John cut in.
“I think we all need to dial this whole thing down and start from the beginning. Does anyone know where the beginning is?” John placed his hands together, clasped them. He stood erect, leaning back slightly, and his belly was made more apparent by it all.
There was silence. It was as if no one knew who had been addressed.
Desmond stood as tall as he could. He stared at Hank, examining him. Desmond looked down at Hank’s feet and slowly took him in as he worked his red eyes up to Hank’s blond head.
“I know the beginning.” Desmond said, finally. The men behind him crouched in closer.
“Please.” John Harrison said with the graceful, almost mocking motion of clapping his hands once over his chest, with splayed fingers, requesting a presentation.
“The one that carries the Gonteekwa carries a handful of his emissaries as well.” Desmond said with his accent. His voice had taken on the knowing tone of a subject he was very familiar with. He hadn’t taken his eyes off of Hank. Hank looked down.
“Emissaries?” John asked.
“Yes. Scout spirits. Its that thing, you know. That thing in the corner of your eye. Its on the other side of the room. Every now and then it moves in the shadows. You glance at it, and its gone. You focus onto something and then you forget you saw it. They hide in the background. If you see them, its a mistake of theirs, and they disappear.” Desmond said. Everyone breathed quietly, listening. The multi-layered warbling of the insects in the background destroyed the silence. Desmond continued to stare at Hank.
Hank looked up at him. His eyes were quizzical.
“I have seen them on you, Hank. On you now, on your shoulders. Around you. In the shadows. Ever since you walked here to me.” Desmond said slowly, softly with precisely accented words. Hank whirled his head around, left and then right, horrified. He saw nothing.
“They are unrestful. This is why we can see them. Something is in the air. Something is happening with the Gonteekwa.” Desmond added.
“Can you get this thing out of me?” Hank asked Desmond, as if to strike a deal. His tired, red eyes were open with desperation.
“Hank! That’s enough! Desmond. You were supposed to tell us the story from the beginning!” John said, he threw his left arm out in front of Hank, interjecting himself in the space between Hank and Desmond.
“Nelson, our Gonteekwa keeper is dead. He has died since we last talked.” Desmond said. He’d relaxed his gaze on Hank and began to stare John down.
“Nelson died?” Hank asked.
The men behind Desmond pulled in even closer, as if on cue. The news of Nelson’s death wasn’t news to them at all.
“Who is Nelson?” John asked, stepping closer to Hank, and forward towards Desmond, trying to keep up in conversation. The whole group had tightened their radius.
“Nelson is the man that I saw up in the hills today that I was telling you about.” Hank said lowly into John’s ear.
“We aren’t safe anymore.” Desmond said.
“Correct me if I am wrong, but if the demon has left your area, how can you not be safe?” John asked.
“Nelson told me that the Gonteekwa is a wayward spirit. From before the Bible. In fact, the Bible doesn’t even matter.” Desmond said.
“Pre-Adamic creation? Something from before the Bible? The Bible doesn’t matter? I don’t know what you are saying. Of course the Bible matters.” John said softly. He paused. His eyebrows shot up. “You mean like the Nephilim?”
“Yes. The creation before the creation. Nelson knew how it all fit. ‘The Nephilim, King Og, and King Nebuchadnezzar,’ Nelson used to repeat those names over and over like a song. The Gonteekwa comes from that time. It feeds on death – it kills all who see it. However! It can be negotiated with. We in Nelson’s neighborhood we were never attacked. Why? We brought Nelson clothes and offerings, and he in turn kept the Gonteekwa away. It was his negotiation. Nelson always said, ‘Connection, human connection, that’s the currency.’ But I have no earthly idea what that means.” Desmond’s final statements came with a shaking of his head. The tension was thick, yet the droning of the insects drowned it all out.
Hank felt that the moment was not dissimilar to being sold a car, by the owner’s unversed roommate.
“I’m ahhhh. Not so well well-versed with pre-Adamic creation. It was there though, in the Bible. David killed a Nephilim, not just a human goliath, you know. . .you say that Nelson had control of this thing? This thing you talk about? Something from that era?” John asked. He was rubbing his hands together as if dry-washing them in a basin. “How?”
“Nelson was to tell me, but Hank has ruined that possibility. Now that Nelson is gone, the Gonteekwa is free to attack us. I can tell you no more of the history of the beast.” Desmond spoke gravely, his Caribbean accent punctuated the words and gave the statement finality.
“I don’t get why anyone would want this thing in them.” Hank said softly, “This ‘Gonteekwa,’ This power. It doesn’t respond to our God at all. It isn’t controllable at all.” Hank added.
“This is a controllable power that you don’t understand. Even if you don’t believe, you still must reckon with it.” Desmond said. He shot a look at John.
John bristled,”Everything is under His command. All of creation is under God’s command.”
“I don’t believe in your God. I don’t believe in your Bible. But I know that close by is a power. A bad power we all have to face in the hills of St. Mark’s.” Desmond said.
John Harrison was speechless. His thoughts raced to a place outside of his own spiritual training. His brain tried to comprehend a spirit power that was outside of what he’d learned from the Bible. He struggled to come up with a response to Desmond. He nodded his head up and down, looking past Desmond to nowhere in particular, processing.
Angelo stayed close to Roscoe, and the five men in the back all fanned out, creating a semi-circle and a small distance John and Hank. Desmond stood in close with the white men.
Desmond turned to Hank, “Look, American Hank. It chose you. You have something it wants. It is a negotiating spirit. You are going to have to find out. Find out what it wants from you.”
Hank turned to John. John’s face was a mask of puzzlement and unfinished thoughts.
“John, I am without sin as far as I can tell.” Hank said, “I’m telling you, I prayed and fasted hard before coming to Grenada. I came here to get closer to God. But I will tell you that something dark has been calling me in the back of my mind, in my dreams. Something has been prepping me.” Hank paused. He looked about the entire semi-circle. The chirping insects were deafening.
“I think what’s been messing with me is this Gonteekwa that these people are talking about. It knew I was going into the hills. It called me up there.” Hank said.
John said nothing. His hands had stopped rubbing against each other.
“American Hank: Did you see exactly where the Gonteekwa went?” Desmond asked.
“Yes. The Gonteekwa got inside of me.” Hank responded, with a furtive glance. “I didn’t know what to do.” Then he added, “I still don’t know what to do.”
Roscoe half-raised the pistol.
“This is wrong. Nelson told me that I was supposed to have the Gonteekwa next.” Desmond said through gnashing teeth. “I don’t know what to do either.”
John remained quiet. A considering, thoughtful look was frozen on his rough face.
“Why did you send me to see Nelson?” Hank asked Desmond. “None of this would have happened if you hadn’t sent me up the hill to his red shanty.”
“He always requested that if a white man came, to send him. I sent you.”
“Why a white man?”
“Because it was a white man who gave Nelson the Gonteekwa.”
“We have a solution for this!” John suddenly interrupted, “Its called spiritual deliverance! I think that as a Christians, we at this house are all going to have to fast and pray tomorrow. We’ll have a deliverance service here at the house tomorrow night.” John announced.
Hank’s stomach began to pinch more. He winced. The day’s warm air lifted and cooler currents had finally arrived.
“You didn’t tell me that this was your plan.” Hank said to John.
“As base leader, I only just decided on it. Now if you will excuse me, I’m…” John cut himself off and turned, he heard something behind him.
Mark was running towards the Hank and John. Bonnie, Bruce and Thomas had turned around and were walking quickly 50 yards behind Mark. Nathan, Anthony and Nancy had joined the group.
John Harrison and Hank both sighed and waited the few seconds until Mark arrived, winded. The men around Desmond whispered lightly.
Mark leaned forward, out of breath, and crouched with his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. His stomach hung down like a hammock. He held up one hand, requesting a moment to compose himself.
“So there is a house about a click down the road, after the brush.” Mark said, then he gasped. “They have a satellite phone and have offered us free usage of it for several hours tomorrow.” Mark’s breath caught up and he composed himself. “We can set up a schedule and check in with everyone stateside for free!” Mark smiled, proud of his latest frugal hustle.
It exploded out of Hank, the sudden sickness. He’d had no warning outside of the continual pinching he’d been feeling for hours. Hank instinctively clutched his middle with both hands. A black, inky column of oily indefinable matter forced its way out of Hank’s mouth. His throat distended. The regurgitation didn’t plash or splatter, but remained a contained, liquid object – as if contained by a transparent dense gelatinous skein. Desmond stepped back, the men that he’d come with also began to step backward. John turned to Hank, shocked, never having seen such manner of vomit before, not falling, but floating formlessly out of his mouth.
Hank’s eyes were dull and trancelike. He convulsed and pushed more out more of the slow, unctuous, pollution out of his throat and gut. His retching was instinctual, and he remained standing. It looked as if his jaw had dislocated.
Nancy caught up to Bonnie and they walked together. Bruce, Thomas, Nathan and Anthony continued toward the group, and to Hank’s bizarre vomit demonstration.
The dark mass that was rolling out of Hank’s mouth hung in the air. The smell was sulfurous and pungent, yet spicy, almost gingerish. The unspeakable black regurgitation arced deliberately to the left out of Hank’s mouth. Enlarged and frothing the dark jet built in volume and girth as it exited. It circled Hank slowly, suspended three feet above the ground.
Mark, stunned, reached up with both hands and covered his mouth. Bruce, Thomas, Nathan and Anthony stopped, dumbstruck and unable to react properly to the preternatural display before them.
Bonnie and Nancy, not comprehending the nature of the moment because they hadn’t gotten close enough, both turned and skipped back towards the house. “This looks like a big man party.” Bonnie shot over her shoulder. Their skipping was synchronized on the concrete path and they laughed and had fun in their world. Going faster and faster, back towards the house, side by side. Neither having skipped in years.
Denny, Cesar, David, Marcel, and Robert slowly stepped backwards, mesmerized. Speechless, everyone in the area observed the dark, stable force as it glistened and curled out of Hank’s mouth. The ear-splitting crickets in the background raised an octave.
Occasionally a choke or wet slurp came from Hank’s throat, as the blackened substance winked in the moonlight and continued to wrench itself slowly from his innards.
They all stood, fastened in position.
The blunted edge of the left-curving column continued twisting behind Hank wrapping around to his right hand side, the edge of it was the size of a fist, and the fist was swelling like an angry viper.
John looked on – processing the mental horror before him. Anguish and fear washed over him as he tried to understand it. His mouth mumbled the unintelligible. It was visually impossible, yet his eyebrows were raised, as he watched anxiously. His brain fought for definitions that weren’t available to him. John’s reality was breaking, as he tried to comprehend what he couldn’t. The frustration of a lack of definition became an internal alarm. A madness was encroaching on the edges of his reality.
The blunt end of the blackened drooping coagulation balled up larger still, then, as if followed by a freakishly muscled arm, punched forward, and blasted itself deep into Desmond’s face, leaving molasses drops hanging in the air. Desmond’s hands shot out. He took the face-torrent, convulsing. He buckled and swelled. The cylindrical spiritual filth pushed and coerced itself completely into him. The final suspended globules then forcefully charged down Desmond’s throat with the rest of it.
His eyelids stretched and became three-sided. His shoulders hunched forward. Bulk and mass added to his frame, his back. Needle hairs pushed out of his face. The roof of Desmond’s mouth puckered and extended, creating a snout. His teeth altered with the fangpoints aimed inward. There was a thin glowing edge articulating his frame that caused his outline to silently sizzle in the moonlight. Deep muffled crunches and pops boomed from Desmond’s joints as they grew and adjusted. His face became a cross between Desmond and something canine, yet wider and almost bearlike. His musculature reduced, sucking into itself tight and riveted, then expanded, flexed and increased, fanning thick with new sinew and veins throughout.
Desmond’s perfect wardrobe stretched, tore and fell to the grass. His breathing was labored, like that of a workhorse as his newer, deeper lungs pulled in the humid air.
The Gonteekwa, still forming, fell back on its haunches, squatting. It had become a burly several hundred pound short-haired mass. It looked directly at Hank and threw out its left claw knocking Hank’s face back, describing strings of blood from his open cheek as he tumbled landing on his back. Exhausted, Hank bled and dropped out of consciousness. The monster was still forming.
Roscoe raised his .45 and unloaded two percussive rounds into the conscious mountain that Desmond had turned into. The Gonteekwa turned its head in Roscoe’s direction and let out a low guttural drone. Angelo quickly stepped to Roscoe.
“You can’t kill it.” Angelo whispered.
“Shut up.” Roscoe retorted, discharging another useless round. The tone coming from the Gonteekwa still hadn’t broken. Angelo scrambled away.
The cords upon veins upon musculature all had snapped into place. The formless spirit had achieved its final configuration, and Desmond was no more.
The men behind Desmond broke into a run back towards the jungle behind them.
“Jesus God.” John whispered in awe.
The Gonteekwa leaned in John’s direction.
Thomas stepped forward, “In the name of Jesus, leave this place!” he yelled.
The Gonteekwa hummed, showing the inward-tilted fangs, and met Thomas face to face. Thomas stepped back, shaken.
Bruce, Nathan, Anthony, and Thomas all prayed aloud, begging Jesus for protection. The Gonteekwa’s black triangular orbs passed over them, looking into their eyes with contempt.
Considering the disposition of the creature, the gunfire, and Hank’s damage the moment was quiet. The Gonteekwa assessed all of the humans in the area, holding relatively still except for its huge turning head. Its ears pulled up and pinned back, tight to its massive skull. Its outline slightly illuminated. Sizzling silently.
Hank moaned, writhed and bled on the grass. Roscoe aimed the pistol for the Gonteekwa’s head and squeezed off two more rounds. The gunshots had caused the missionaries in the house to turn on the lights, which illuminated the entire yard.
Momentarily distracted by the light, the Gonteekwa squinted at Roscoe.
Roscoe raised the gun, and tried to aim for it’s eye.
The Gonteekwa took two quick steps in Roscoe’s direction and with its hairy, taut forearm punched its talons forcefully out and through his t-shirt directly in the solar plexus. Roscoe violently recoiled from the puncture force.
Angelo had fallen when he’d scrambled and sidestepped away from Roscoe. He looked up to see Roscoe gutted before his eyes, and chose to stay on the ground.
The brightly outlined nails had jabbed deep into Roscoe, two claws had forced through his back – blood fluttered irregularly out of his wound. The t-shirt soaked up Roscoe’s leakage, staining downward, following gravity. The deep red liquid lolled thickly down his pants at the speed of warm honey. Roscoe dropped the gun weakly with a thud. His tongue flopped out of his mouth, and his eyes flickered. He fell backwards, exposing his neck. His akimbo legs in his blood-soaked cargo shorts dragged his sneakers, his weight suspended upon the Gonteekwa’s talons. His eyes emphatically fought for consciousness.
It yanked upward with a quick rip, to the xiphoid process at the base of Roscoe’s sternum, and grabbed it like a car door handle. Small thick, clear-red bubbles foamed out of Roscoe’s mouth as he sputtered and choked. It cascaded over the Gonteekwa’s hairy, tightly muscled forearm. The beast pulled Roscoe’s chest forward to it’s elongated, canine maw. The inward-facing fangpoints dug deep into the center of Roscoe’s throat, and met tip to tip under his crushed cords and arteries. Roscoe’s throat was then whiplashed out. Innumerable droplets of red-black meat arced through the cooling night air, flecking the nearby missionaries. The Gonteekwa then dropped the spurting, spasming body to the grass.
The missionaries continued with their wide-eyed prayers pleading with Jesus to cast the demon out of the area. They’d all fallen to their knees.
Angelo, still frozen on the ground a few feet away, and drenched in Roscoe’s blood spray, started to stand. The Gonteekwa reared back, quickly raised its brightly-outlined right claw 15 feet in the air and then brought an angled swipe down on his face, tearing the lower half of his nose, all his teeth, jawbone and throat out. He exhaled a pathetic wheeze and a thick trickle of blood out of the base of what was left of his neck. Angelo’s ripped throatmeat hung wet between the Gonteekwa’s hooks and his teeth tinkled to the grass. His exposed flesh under his face contrasted with his mocha brown skin and gleamed a torn raw pink that emerged with a dark red. Dazed, he shambled toward the Gonteekwa. The dollops of thick plasma pulsed out of his neck to the beat of his heart, soaking his shirt to spatter his pantlegs. Angelo fell to his knees before the beast, pushing his final pumps of blood over his front as he fell face-forward, to the monster’s feet.
“Jesus commands you!” John Harrison yelled.
Anthony, Nathan, Bruce and Thomas all had been yelling similar spiritual commands at the Gonteekwa from their blood spattered faces. They stood and gathered themselves behind their leader, John Harrison.
The Gonteekwa, its white illumination highlighting it in the dark turned and looked John in the eyes over a several foot distance. It snorted, and then it scanned over the other missionaries, who continued to pray and hold their open palms out towards the beast – telling it to leave in the name of Christ.
The Gonteekwa refocused on John. It stepped in his direction, planting its fists and powerful forearms into the ground with each step, pulling the world underneath it menacingly before it stopped and arched over him. John held his ground, “Protect me Jesus, from this evil.” he said.
Its darkly haired brow reduced to a granite, hateful scowl. So pronounced was this look that John flinched as if someone had clapped before his face.
“Get out of here in Jesus name.” John mustered and snarled.
The Gonteekwa opened it’s mouth and brought the fangs down on John Harrison’s left shoulder. Clamping hard with a crunch, it then pistoned its fists into the ground, which quickly lifted John’s 300 pound frame in the air. It let go of the bite, tossing him forward. John – who had begun to squeal in pain – described an abundant, bloody twisting arc in the air. The other missionaries had stopped praying, and had stepped in all directions not knowing what was going to happen next. John landed, his face double-bounced against the grass on impact. He groaned and sputtered, blood drooled out of his mouth. His shoulder wound wept.
The Gonteekwa stopped glowing.
Desmond’s naked, steaming body then dropped out from under the Gonteekwa and he rolled with a moan onto his stomach. The heavy frame that had been the Gonteekwa’s physical form formlessly collapsed like a mist and hovered above Desmond like a black ghost. It stretched and formed a dark, streaked shadow, then launched forcibly in the direction of the five men who had just run off.
The missionaries gathered around John Harrison. They tenderly rolled him over. Thomas tore his own shirt off and attempted to stuff Harrison’s shoulder gouges with it to stop the bleeding. John Harrison’s eyes looked at the night sky, blinking, tears streaming down his face. His faith, broken.
In the suburban jungles of Grenada Denny, Cesar, David, Marcel, and Robert really had no chance.
The specter clouded about Robert’s head while he ran and then pounded itself down his throat. Robert stumbled and fell, overcome with the metamorphosis contortion. After he was completely harnessed by the beast the Gonteekwa, on all fours, sniffed the air. It smelled its next target, and tore into the tall brush, ripping through the wall of vines and thorns with its claws until it achieved a tattered opening to a clearing.
David was in that clearing, running and mumbling to himself in the grass that he didn’t have far to go. He heard it behind him, the huge, destructive noise. Running up from behind at full force, the beast shoulder-checked David who then wrapped completely around the trunk of a palm tree.
The Gonteekwa, wearing the animalized visage of Robert, stopped. The beast turned back paused, then lumbered quickly towards David’s whimpering, splayed body, still upright, still wreathed around the palm tree. Pausing for a second, it raised its heavy shining talons and slashed downward into David’s back viciously. He yelled. Then it slashed with its other heavy arm. The left, right, left clawswipes mangled David’s clothes and exposed the bones and cartilage of his shoulderblades beneath them.
The skin around the exposed back of his ribs flowed red and puckered while David twitched and moaned weakly in pain. David’s wounds rained on the base of the tree and the grass below. The beast turned and smelled the air, with its doglike black nose.
Cesar ran as fast as he could on straw and hard dirt footing. There were several different path options carved onto the ground. his dreadlocks whipped and crashed about. He heard it rumbling up behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the heavy, angry mass closing in. Pounding into the ground like a herd of horses. “Woah, woah, WOAH!” Cesar was yelling, he ran as fast as he could. His legs hurling him forward to the point that he was losing his balance.
The beast bounded after him, barreling in on Cesar’s right side and quickly overpassing him. For less than a fraction they saw each other, mid-pass. The behemoth reached out with a heavy left claw and grabbed Cesar by the back of his thickly corded head using his face as a brake to grind down their running momentum. The bloody skid mark on the ground was a foot long. Cesar had dropped the machete.
Stopping to sniff the air currents with its sharply haired black snout, the brute looked back and forth. Cesar gurgled into the ground, pulling and grasping with his outstetched arms. The Gonteekwa pumped forcefully down on its left shoulder, a motion that focused all of its weight into Cesar’s head, collapsing it like a soft pumpkin. Cesar’s arms twitched and his right leg pulled up and rested its knee under his chest. The Gonteekwa pushed off of him in Denny’s direction, dragging Cesar’s lumpy wet brain matter with its claw as it turned.
Denny was running with a machete, flailing it wildly, as if to hack the air in front of him out of the way. “I gave! I did! I gave clothes to Nelson!” He yelled.
His dreadlocked hair, tied together at the back of his head with a black bandana, flopped and banged about violently. The beast ran powerfully behind him, jumped and landed all four of its clawed feet on Denny’s back. Denny fell forward, the machete flew from his hand, and he was ground and shredded in the gravel as the Gonteekwa used him as a brake as well.
After stopping, the beast looked down at Denny, broken, whimpering, and trying to flounder. The monster stepped off of him. Denny, whose back had been compressed and broken in the fall, was trying to pull himself forward with his gravel-shredded hands. His legs weren’t working, his face was tattered and ribboned. The Gonteekwa wound back sideways with it’s left arm, low and barely above the ground, and clawing into the ground with it’s right paw for torque. It swiped roughly at Denny, knocking dirt and blood in the air as the claws ripped Denny in half. Denny’s intestines leaked and spread, some still connected to his lower pieces, two wet feet away. His threadbare right arm reached forward, his last thoughts were to crawl away. The large volume of spattered blood and the pieces of torn organs mixed with the weeds and dirt. The ground lookied like a small marsh.
The Gonteekwa then lifted its wet black nose into the air, and smelled the ocean.
Marcel, the fastest of the bunch, had gotten out by the cliffs. He had one more clearing, and another thicket and then he would be back inland. He’d heard yelling and other noises in the distance. Marcel muttered to himself. He’d thrown his machete away already, and hoped that if he concentrated on running, he might not get taken.
The muscle-packed, illuminated Gonteekwa poured it on, throwing its front legs down between its haunches and pulling the back legs up by its shoulders for purchase. Throttled and scored the ground while gaining traction, dirt flew in the air.
Marcel was now along a cliffside, and the rocks and the ocean were several hundred feet beneath him. He looked back over his shoulder and suddenly felt the impact of the several hundred pound creature ramming him, with such velocity, that his head was immediately whipped to the end of his neck cord.
Marcel and the Gonteekwa streaked over the side. A half of a mile above a rock beach and shallow ocean shore. In a short second, Marcel saw the Gonteekwa’s body collapse into a cloud and lift off of Robert’s screaming body and slither back up to the cliff edge. Robert and Marcel fell to the sharp rocks below.
It had been approximately three minutes since the spirit of the Gonteekwa had flown away from Mark, Bruce, Thomas, Nathan and Anthony.
The group had been attempting to stop John Harrison’s bleeding and were trying to figure out emergency care. John was coughing and bleeding profusely. Bruce and Thomas were both shirtless, and were both covered and spattered in Harrison’s blood.
Nathan and Anthony, in shock, surveyed the carnage. Roscoe, Angelo, Hank, Desmond, and John Harrison were all down, all in various stages of death or damage.
John Harrison was conscious and breathing, but Thomas and Bruce told him to hold still and shushed him when he tried to talk.
Mark had realized that he was third in command, and with Hank and John down, he was now number one.
“We don’t have a phone to dial 9-1-1 with.” Mark said, aloud and mostly to himself. “I don’t even know where there is a doctor at this hour. I guess I have to run down the hill right now to the house with the satellite phone.” He said. He looked at Nathan and Anthony, and decided it was better if he ran alone and left everyone behind.
Hank, a short distance from them, lying on his back, woke up in time to see a dark cloud swirling above his face. He opened his mouth to scream and the Gonteekwa plunged itself down his throat. His arms lifted off of the ground, hands up, in the universal position of “stop,” and the dark spirit continued to pour into him. Unctuous splashes of the spirit hung in the air, waiting for the opportunity to dive into him.
His arms extended and formed heavy muscle as the needle-hairs pushed through his skin. Hank looked about but his sight was shrouded as if underwater. His body contorted and expanded. His mind crackled. Something was inside of his head with him, and he felt his body aggressively shift and increase. Deep popping and rumbling sounds erupted from within him. His chest expanded, his clothing tore. His lungs took in an impossible serving of night air. The last think Hank remembered was his face feeling like it was splitting apart.
Mark stood, he turned and saw several silhouettes of missionaries coming out from the house.
“Everyone! Go back to the house immediately! There is a wild animal out here!” Mark yelled.
They turned immediately and ran back to the house, murmuring among themselves.
Mark turned to Bruce, Thomas, Nathan and Anthony.
“Guys, stay with John. Keep him quiet. His wounds aren’t fatal, but he needs help. I think you have almost stopped the bleeding. Let’s stay out here and go back and rile up the rest of the house until we get help.” He said. “Its better if you’re out here trying to help and pray over John here than going inside and getting a bunch of questions and screaming.” He added.
With that, Mark stood up, checked his bearings, then started running towards the pathway off of the hill, in the direction of the house with the satellite phone.
“The name of Jesus didn’t help.” John whispered to Bruce.
“It did, John, the demon left.” Bruce answered.
“You guys were able to command it?” John asked.
“It left.” Thomas chimed in,
The Gonteekwa, now having adopted some of Hank’s facial features, rolled over onto its belly, then stood in the dark. Mark, focused and stressed, had ran within 20 feet of the beast, not noticing. Sniffing the air, the Gonteekwa followed Mark’s scent as he ran past. Then ran after him.
Mark, after several hundred yards, stopped. He was really breathing hard. He rested his hands on his knees. The moon illuminated the path, and brush, thorns and ivy blocked him into the path on both sides. When Mark had caught his breath, he started to walk. Then he heard it, the pacing behind him. Heavy, plodding pacing.
Mark turned around, with his back to the moon. The Gonteekwa, illuminated, stood directly before him. Its shoulders swelled, the glowing red eyes locked onto Mark’s.
“Leave demon, in Jesus’ name.” Mark said. Then he went head over heels, backhanded up the path by the beast.
The impact of the hit was square in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He lay on his back, trying to breathe, trying to assess how much physical damage he’d taken. The Gonteekwa walked on all fours, powerful and slow stopping directly over Mark.
“I am covered by the blood of Christ demon. You have no authority here.” Mark said, up into the air at the feral, muscular behemoth standing over him. The Gonteekwa lowered its head, so that its face was directly over Mark’s. Mark winced, feeling the hot breath. Then he felt something in his stomach. The Gonteekwa had lowered one of its talons into his gut, and pushed it in slowly.
Mark’s reaction to the pain in his stomach was to lift his head, to look down and see. The Gonteekwa closed its mouth over Mark’s head, and bit down, shearing it from its body. The body, pinned by the beast’s talon shuddered and flopped. Blood poured freely out of the neck stump.
John Harrison couldn’t be quiet. He wanted as many details about the situation as possible.
“You mean it just lifted up off of Desmond and took off? Where did it go?” He asked.
“I don’t know, John, but it left. We were all here praying and it did leave. We commanded it to.” Thomas said.
“I commanded it too, but it didn’t work.” John said. “Why didn’t it work?” He asked aloud.
“I don’t know.” Bruce answered “Wow, what a mess huh? We have dead bodies on our property.” Bruce added.
“I think Mark will talk to the police.” Thomas said.
“Wait a second. The police. He can’t talk to the police!” John said. “What will he tell them? They aren’t going to believe this!”
“Maybe he won’t. We have to figure out what we will say though, because they are going to want an explanation.” Thomas said.
“Look over there!” Nathan yelled. His finger pointing down the path. They all saw it. The huge beast, lumbering in their direction, maybe a hundred yards out.
“That’s it again. Guys, its time to pray.” Thomas said.
John looked over and saw the beast in the distance. All four missionaries prayed, holding their hands forward in the direction of the Gonteekwa, which had started to run at them. It was closing the distance quickly.
Thomas stood, Nathan reached up and pulled him back. Thomas landed hard on his rear.
“Let me do this.” He whispered, pulling his sleeve back.
“In the name of Jesus, you need to leave us, demon.” Thomas stood in the grass. The Gonteekwa, with its boiling glow about its edges, lowered its blunt head, and rammed into Thomas. The impact threw back into Nathan, whose face clacked with the back of Thomas’ skull as they both went down.
John knew that this was his big chance to properly practice spiritual warfare. He knew he’d been compromised before, but the bit that he’d taken had given him clarity. John was sure now that he had the faith that was needed to command this particular demon.
“Satan, you have no foothold here. No ground to stand upon. I command you in the name of Jesus Christ, the son of God, to leave this property once and for all.” John screamed, from his back on the ground. His head had turned slightly so that he could observe the reaction of the beast. All he registered was hatred.
Bruce then stepped between John and the furious Gonteekwa.
“You need to leave here now demon, in Jesus name.” Bruce said with all of the authority he could muster.
The beast had watched Harrison intently as he’d spoken his spiritual rebuke. It had held still, as if considering the words. Then it attacked.
First by slashing Bruce out of the way with a right-pawed gut swat. Bruce’s stomach was opened, as he stumbled from the blow. Sharp, new pain registered in his head. His intestines sluiced forward and spilled with a wet trickle out of his stomach wound. The torn, thick-layered belly skin flopped wide, exposed more viscera and pricking the corners of the wound with new pain. He bled anew. His lower belly gently cascaded, leaving a soggy red swath down his pants gathering at the crotch. “Jesus. Oh my God.” he muttered as he became lightheaded from loss of blood. His hands were slick from his open wound. He fumbled trying to hold his skin and innards together, gently. Spent, he fell forward, dead.
Nathan and Thomas had stood. Nathan’s nose was bleeding down his face and onto his white tank-top. He was irritated with Thomas for not staying down and now his nose was broken. Anthony stood beside them. Desmond stirred in the distance.
“Pray! We all need to pray!” John Harrison yelled from the ground.
The Gonteekwa hunched down, low to the ground, its canine chin hovering over the grass. Stalking. closing in.
All four hunched together. Holding hands, looking directly at the slowly approaching, red-eyed 12 foot beast.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, we command you to leave.” John said loudly. The others followed with agreement and amens.
The Gonteekwa sprang at the group swinging its front claws out wide, left and right, the left catching Anthony in the thigh and spinning him forward. The right talons catching Nathan in the shoulder. Nathan folded, then curled into the fetal position. The Gonteekwa opened it’s mouth wide and went straight for Thomas’ throat, snapping its jaws shut several times in rapid succession. Thomas’ hands went to his throat, but his entire upper chest had been deeply shredded by its inward-facing teeth. Thomas fell to the right, the Gonteekwa turned to its left, opening its mouth and biting over his right shoulder from behind. Anthony had been hopping on his good foot, and now he dropped to his knees. Torquing backwards an downwards, Anthony was bent unnaturally, his spine broke inward and his ribs broke outward. The flying blood speckled the darkness.
Turning further left, the Gonteekwa stood over Nathan in his fetal position. Making a fist with it’s right claw, it rained two heavy punches down on the side of Nathan’s head. He stood, and looked into the red-eyes. The horror, the emptiness. The confusion. Nathan could make no sense of what had happened. He’d seen his Christian beliefs violated and unproved. Nathan wanted to comprehend, but he couldn’t. The blockage in his brain was too great. He saw the maw of the monster open, and he felt the pain of his throat being torn and perforated. He felt his breath leaving from the bottom of his throat because of his blown windpipe. He fell, sputtering and bubbling into the lush, folded over grass, seeing the creature’s focus on John Harrison’s prostrate body.
“I’m telling you to leave here! Leave! In the name of Jesus!” John screamed.
The clawing frenzy began across John’s chest, his stomach. The hooks tore and worried his previous wounds. The digging and slashing ripped through John Harrison’s corpulent frame. Bits of flesh sailed through the air as his body was violently processed. He held his arms up to block and his hands were sheared at the wrists, his arteries forcing their pressure into the air.
Time stopped for John Harrison as he was being clawed apart.
The white noise of the pain forced John to detach from his pain and fold into his mind. Several thoughts cooked, all of them, attached, all grim. With the name of Jesus doing absolutely nothing to stop the assault of this supernatural creature, came a deep confusion. All of the supernatural things that John had read in the Bible he’d taken with a grain off salt. Seven days of creation could be explained away as billions of years. Lazarus rising from the dead could be explained as the awakening from a coma. Tongues of fire, Saul’s blindness, the angels rolling the rock away, the animals entering the ark two by two, it was all explainable as exaggeration. All of it was loosely untrue, except Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
John Harrison was convinced Jesus had come back from the dead. That conviction, coupled with the belief that Jesus is not only the son of God, but a form of God himself had been key in the foundation of his Christianity.
If Jesus had instructed Christians to use his name to cast out demons, and that didn’t work, was Jesus lying, or was it the men who’d scribed the book?
Someone had lied, because of those lies, the name of Jesus was useless.
Harrison faced the Truth: that the Bible was a book written by men. That Jesus had been only a man, if he’d even existed. The biggest offense was that John had spent the past 25 years believing a stranger’s written human lies.
The madness, frustration and loss gave John a twinge of deep anger.
“B-but I am protected and redeemed by the blood. . .” were the last words he spoke. His lungs, punctured, wet, and flayed. The pain returned. It was maddening and unstoppable. John couldn’t have screamed if he wanted to.
Desmond had sat up several minutes before. He was naked on the grass in front of the white missionary house. The smell of blood was in the air, and he’d just seen four people killed.
Desmond had no cards to play. The Gonteekwa, in the distance, turned from spreading John Harrison’s and bounded straight towards Desmond, stopping with a skid squatting, towering over him.
“We could make a deal? We could negotiate?” Desmond spoke to the heavy, dark-haired creature over him. Its mouth opened wide. It mouth dropped over Desmond’s head, over his breastbone. He reached with his hands, grabbing at the outer lips of the Gonteekwa, reaching back and feeling the jaw muscles pulsing.
There was a crunch, the inward facing teeth pulled, while paws were put on Desmond’s fighting and squirming limbs. There was another pull, and Desmond’s head, and most of his upper torso, ripped and tore, as he screamed from inside its mouth. The wet. The blood drizzled out where the teeth continued to worry and pull inward. The tearing and popping of raw, vibrant flesh took a painfully long time and then he split, strung loosely into the grass.
Hank dropped out from under the Gonteekwa. He landed on his knees, naked. The formless black mist hung above him, then shot into his face and down his throat.
He fell over, onto his side, his cuts upward to the cooling night sky. The blood dripped slowly, it had begun to coagulate. Hank remembered that the rest of the team was coming back from their trip to St. Georges for ice cream. Hank knew that there would be people from the house who may have seen some of what he didn’t remember.
He was going to have to lie. He was going to have to lie and lie and lie to get out of this. It was an animal attack. That was the first lie. Would he have anything to declare at the border? He was carrying a dangerous spiritual parasite to America. He had to. He was going home to see his wife no matter what.
Hank stretched out, lying on his back naked in the warm Grenada night. He chose to lie there and look up at the stars, and get his story straight. He also had to figure out how to tell Sandra that he was now a werewolf. A Gonteekwa.