Thursday, October 10, 2013

Short story: Smiting Sinners

Good vs. evil vs. minding your own business in the Blue Ridge mountains. Can a respected preacher-man succeed in calling a wayward brother to repentance? And, is anybody ever going to do something about "Uncle"  Ralph?

Scheduled for publication in Life Will Surprise You in the End: More Short Stories by David Satterlee (2004)

Smiting Sinners
By David Satterlee
Just below Brown Cemetery, Wiley Roy was joined by the Reverend Pastor Bobby Thrasher from the Johns Creek Churches. You know the place: right where Johns Creek joins up with Caney Fork. Most of Wiley Roy’s friends didn’t go to the Baptist church there. Wiley Roy mostly didn’t go to the Methodist church across the road.

It didn’t much matter. The early risers, and anybody who still were in want of waking up, usually went to the Baptist Church. The late risers, and those in the mood for a kinder and gentler sermon, went across the road to the Methodist. Some years back, the Baptist Reverend Bobby had agreed to also preach the Methodist sermon while their Pastor healed up from a broke leg. The leg turned to gangrene and the Pastor died, so Bobby became the Reverend Pastor Thrasher some years ago and it just stuck.
Besides, serving both congregations paid enough to let Bobby make it his full-time calling. The arrangement worked out well for everybody involved except for faithful Carl Henson, who put up a fuss about it being sacrilegious or something. But, within three months, Carl and seven of his sheep drowned in high water. Everybody decided that God had smite him for being such a poor shepherd and blessed Bobby for being such a good one.
One afternoon, Wiley Roy Quinn was walking down Ragged Mountain, heading towards his cabin up Johns Creek. There was plenty of time to get there before dusk and he wasn’t hurrying. Fact of the matter, Wiley Roy never did like to hurry — all the more so now that he was toting a bushel sack of corn.
“How you doin’ Reverend Bobby?”
Wiley Roy didn’t miss a step as he rotated his load to wave with his free hand. Reverend Bobby was his cousin. This was no random coincidence; this far up in the mountains, it wasn’t unusual to discover that most people were related in one way or another. I’m not trying to be snippy here. Facts are facts. You’ve just got to understand that possums are greasy, if you catch my meaning.
“Whatcha doin’ here?” Wiley Roy asked. Cousin Bobby dropped in beside him, matched stride and answered, “I’ve been up the trail towards Polly Middleton Gap. I heard the McCarter twins were both sickly and decided I oughta see about them. Then, commin’ back, I was called to pray a spell at the falls.” They walked on in silence for a bit before Bobby asked, “What’s you got there?”
They both had known the question was coming. Wiley Roy didn’t raise corn and he had no business on this mountain with a whole bag of it. The only possible conclusion was that he had stolen it from Ezekiel Brown’s barn. Wiley Roy finally, recognizing the inevitable, answered, “I found it in Brown’s barn.” Bobby challenged,“He didn’t give it to you, did he?” Wiley Roy answered, “Well, he wasn’t using it.” He said it with a finality that seemed to settle the matter.
“You givin it to Uncle Ralph?” Curiously enough, Uncle Ralph wasn’t related to any of the adults around here. Ralph had never given anybody up Johns Creek his full name. It eventually came out that he had been run up into the Smoky Mountains by a mob of angry husbands from the Gatlinite Free Will Baptist Church. He hadn’t quit moving until he got well-past the Cherokee and found himself blocked in by the Blue Ridge.
Ralph had joined the Free Wills because they sounded right up his alley. He had always been a charming rogue and, shall we say, free and willful with the women. And then, he had found Free Will, Free Grace and Free Salvation all together. How could he turn that down? Ralph found a small log cabin off a ridge up what is now called, well, Log Cabin Road. And so, Ralph had just stayed. He lived alone, shot and trapped his own meat, raised a few vegetables in the high meadow and made the best damn mountain white whiskey anybody had ever tasted.
As far as anybody seemed to know, he also quit messing around. He never showed up at community events or came down to socialize in any way. Now, men would go up there to buy a quart or two. Sometimes, they would take up a sack of corn to trade for the nectar of his still. In fact, the path to his little place was well-traveled and the interior was bright and cheery with gingham curtains and lace doilies. As I said, Ralph didn’t go out and bother anybody, and nobody seemed inclined to bother Ralph.
The Reverend Thrasher decided to have another try. “You know, it’s like I say, God sees everything we do and will hold sinners to account.” Wiley Roy was not moved: “Yeah, but even if he can see everything, nothing ever showed me that he cared a lick.” Wiley Roy could see in the momentary hesitation of Bobby’s step that he may have scored a point.
The Reverend Pastor would not be deterred and spent several minutes giving an exposition on local, regional and historical examples of God smiting deserving sinners. His voice rose and fell in modulated tones. He called on the heights of heaven and the depths of Hades. He talked of Saving and Damnation, of Plagues and Lightning cast by His Might Right Arm. The Reverend Pastor shuddered at the passion and power of his own conviction. And in the end, exhausted from the the expression of his manifest humility to be possessed in the power of the Lord, he fell into a silence that seemed to echo between the hills.
Wiley Roy had to admit that he had been the sole witness of an impressive, and possibly historic, performance. It was worthy of the finest Come-to-Jesus revival. It should be transcribed and added to the annals of great oratory. He was still not moved. He redirected, “How do you know that God is a ‘He?’”
“Well… Well…” Stammered Bobby. He was not prepared to say, “Because He just is.” It was an article of faith. It was a fundamental assumption. It was so obvious that it had never been questioned. But, considered further, there was no doubt that God, the “One Creator,” “Our Saviour” and, has been mentioned earlier, “Smiter of Sinners” was entirely represented as a character of agency. He was definitely and unequivocally male.
 At that moment, Paredros, taking a walk with Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, pointed out to her that Wiley Roy was stealing a bag of corn. Enraged, she grabbed the nearest thunderbolt and hurled it at Wiley Roy. She missed, accidentally smiting the Reverend Pastor Bobby Thrasher dead. In the ensuing peal of thunder, Wiley Roy will always believe that he heard a rumbling laughter as a female voice cursed: “Damn, missed again.”