by Brenda Kezar
Brenda Kezar is a horror and fantasy writer from North Dakota. Her short stories have appeared in Silverthought, Bonded by Blood V, Penumbra eMag, A High Shrill Thump, Loving the Undead, and Zombidays: Festivities of the Flesheaters. You can find her on the web at: brendakezar.com.
The heavy church door swung open and a bald-headed Monk peered out. "Jesus won't see anyone until after dark. You'll have to come back later."
"Wait," Nick grabbed the door. "I'm a reporter. I called earlier--" The monk scowled and looked Nick up and down. Nick let go of the door.
"Come back after dark," the monk repeated. He thrust a bible at Nick. "In the meantime, read this."
"No thanks." Nick took a step back and held up his hands. "I've read it before."
"Not this one. This is the true story of Jesus Christ, his true word. You've only read the distorted versions, corrupted by the mouths and minds of men." He pressed the book into Nick's hands. "Jesus himself wrote this version."
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The binding was crisp and fresh, the cover unmarred. He ran his hand across the gold-embossed title: The Word, by Jesus Christ.
Nick smiled. What the hell. The book might give him more material for his story, maybe even enough to milk it into a series. "Can I keep it?"
"Of course," the monk beamed. "Share it with others. Its purpose is to spread the word of the Lord."
"Thanks." He turned and spotted a diner across the street. He'd get a bite and catch up on some reading.
The waitress took his order and turned away. "Hold on," Nick touched her arm lightly and read her nametag. "Angie?"
"Look, honey," she smiled. "Don't let my friendly customer service give you the wrong idea."
"No, no, sorry. I was just wondering if you live around here."
She cocked her head and raised her eyebrows.
"Wait, let me back up and start over. I'm a reporter, here to do a story about the church. Do you know anything about it?"
"The old Barnhouse Baptist?" She leaned over and peered out the window. "But I reckon they're calling it Christ Immortal, now."
"Great!" He grabbed the recorder from his bag. "Is it okay if I record this?"
"I guess." She shrugged. "I don't know what help I can be. I only know what I hear at the counter. I don't go there, myself."
"It's always been one of those fire and brimstone churches. Even worse, now, I s'pose. I don't care for it. I prefer my religion a little more neighborly." She adjusted the collar on her shirt. "Not my place to speak against it, though. They must be doing something right. Their membership has shot through the roof since they changed the name."
"And you know they're claiming Jesus is there?"
She snorted. "Yep. Crazy, ain't it?"
"So people around here aren't buying it?"
"The hell they ain't! The economy may be in the tank, but Jesus-speak's the one thing everybody's still buying. And if you've got Jesus his-self ... well, then you got yourself a moneymaker, hon."
"I thought country people were full of down-to-earth common sense?"
"This is the Bible Belt. God's country." She shook her head. "Maybe any other time people might have cast a wary eye on the church, but these are trying times. People are hungry for the smallest scrap of hope. They want to believe."
"But not you?"
"Not me," she laughed. "Not unless he comes out and performs a miracle, like making my deadbeat ex pay up. Now that would be a miracle. Till then, I ain't buying it."
She sighed. "Course, talk to me in a week or two. I might've changed my tune by then. Bev sure did."
"She another waitress?"
Angie nodded. "A week ago, Bev would have laughed right along with us. But she went over there, too. Asked Jesus to heal her ailing momma."
"She's seen him?" His heart skipped a beat. "I'd love to interview her."
"Sorry, darling. She's gone. Caught the redeye this morning out to see her momma. Checking if her visit with Jesus helped, I reckon."
"Huh," he said. "I never would have thought so many people would fall for it. The world just keeps getting weirder and weirder."
"Honey," she laughed, "it's always been a weird, weird world."
He returned to the church after dark and was led downstairs by a blandly smiling monk. Cafeteria tables filled the dim basement and candles flickered on every tabletop. The scents of wax and cinnamon filled the air. And something else. Something reminiscent of freshly turned earth.
Jesus stood with his back to them at the far end of the basement. He turned and smiled when they entered, and held up a mug. "Coffee?"
"No thanks," Nick said. The monk bowed and left.
Jesus walked to a table and gestured for Nick to sit. "Are you sure you wouldn't like some coffee? I can't get enough of the stuff."
"I'm sure." Nick shook his head and smiled. Jesus "jonesing" for java. He made a mental note to use the wordplay in his story. He glanced at the mug in Jesus' hand: World's Greatest Dad. He snorted.
Jesus ignored it and sat down. "So. Where would you like to begin?"
Nick set the Bible on the table and put his voice recorder between them. He opened his notepad and pretended to study it in an effort to compose himself. The whole story was so crazy--so deliciously crazy--he was giddy. But he had to remain professional: offend the weirdo, lose the story. He hadn't seen a national story yet, so he could have the scoop on this one.
"I don't know," he said. He glanced at the revised Bible. "There's just so much to digest. Your Bible is completely different from the one most people are used to."
"I know, and I am truly sorry. You've all been fed misinformation for so long. If I'd known my story was going to get twisted...." He smiled gently. "From gospel to gossip, distorted as it moves from one mouth to the next."
"And you allege that's what happened with the Bible?"
"It is what happened. It's obvious. Your Bible goes to great length on who I am, but makes no mention of what I am."
He couldn't hold back the grin any longer. "You mean a vampire."
"I know it's hard to believe. But if you look at it logically: I was born of a virgin birth; my rituals involve drinking my blood and eating my flesh; they crucified me, buried me, and returned to find an empty grave." He shrugged. "How else do you explain it?"
"Well, you are the son of God."
Jesus frowned and laid his hand over Nick's. "You, Nick, are a son of God, too. We are all sons of God. I just happen to be a favored son." The smile returned. "And a vampire."
"Okay. So then why are you back? Just to make a correction in the media?"
Jesus laughed, exposing a double set of shining white fangs. Dental work like that must cost a fortune, but he wouldn't have paid for it. Little old ladies would have, sending in their pension checks, believing they were buying their way through the pearly gates.
"No, though it is a wrong I intend to right. I'm here because the end times are nigh and it's time to prepare the flock."
"Prepare the flock?"
"I thought you said you read the Bible? Armageddon, Nick. God's kingdom on Earth. The last judgment." He sighed. "The end times are nigh."
"So that's what this is all about? Conversions before the end?"
Jesus nodded. "So, what about you? Are you ready for a personal relationship with me?"
"I'd like to get to know you a little better first." The joke went over Jesus' head. "For starters," Nick said, clearing his throat. "Why should people believe you? It's not like you're the first person to claim the title. Do you know how many people have claimed they're the second coming?"
"I'm the real deal. What do you want me to do? Perform a miracle?" Jesus frowned. "What happened to having faith?"
"Faith has never been one of my strong suits. I like facts and hard evidence. Seeing is believing."
"Then it's settled. I will perform a miracle, and you will believe. Afterwards, you will join my crusade and spread the word."
Nick laughed. Don't count your cuckoos before they're hatched. "Okay, fair enough. What are you going to do to make me a believer?"
"My favorite miracle," Jesus stood and came to Nick's side of the table. "The one that always brings my children back to me. I will raise the dead." He grabbed Nick's hands and pulled him to his feet. Several monks materialized and surrounded them. Nick struggled, but the monks held him with grips of iron. One of them tilted Nick's head sideways, exposing the broad plane of his neck.
"Did you read John 10:28-29?" Jesus asked. "One of the accurate passages, Nick. 'My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.'" Jesus laid his hand on Nick's shoulder. "My son, I give you this gift: eternal life. Welcome to my flock, Nick. And don't be frightened. The pain is fleeting."
"Unbelievable. Damn bible-thumpers are taking over the world." Jerry retrieved the morning newspaper from the porch and shook his head. The headline read, "The End Times are Nigh. Repent, and Know Jesus Christ."
He stepped into the kitchen, flicked the light on, and nearly jumped out of his skin. Bev stood next to the refrigerator with a cup of coffee clutched in both hands.
"What are you doing back already?" He sucked in his breath. She was supposed to be in Memphis, visiting her ailing mother. He'd put her on the plane himself, yesterday morning. "Is your mother okay? She's not..." He couldn't bring himself to say it.
"She's fine." Bev smiled and handed him the cup. "She's better than fine, actually."
"What a relief." He eyed her over the rim of the cup. Bev was no sourpuss, but she was no Mary Sunshine, either. But now she seemed almost... giddy. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." She took the cup from his hands and put it on the table. "It's you I'm worried about."
"Yes, you." She put her hands on his shoulders and stared into his eyes. "You and your eternal soul. I want you to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
"Not you, too," he groaned. "Has the whole world gone mad?"
She pulled him close and wrapped her arms around him. "Is it so wrong for a wife to worry about her husband?" She kissed his neck.
"Look, Bev..." She kissed his neck again, softly, wetly. He sighed and closed his eyes. He didn't know what had gotten into her, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. She hadn't nibbled his neck in a long time.
He yelped when the nibbles turned to bites, and tried to push away. She gripped him tighter. How had she gotten so strong? He balled his fists and pounded her back. She ignored his efforts and suckled at his throat, persistent as a tick. His knees went weak and his legs buckled, and then she was holding him up.
Before he blacked out completely, he heard trumpets.
Angie locked the diner door and stepped onto the sidewalk. God, her dogs were killing her! At least that nice reporter had made the day more interesting. At the thought of the reporter, her gaze wandered to the church across the street. A whole crowd of the faithful lined up outside the church, waiting to get in. Bev and her husband stood at the edge of the crowd.
Angie frowned. What was she doing back from Memphis already? "Hey, Bev," Angie waved. "Bevvie!"
Bev's head swiveled Angie's direction. Her face was a pale oval and dark smudges hung beneath her eyes. She gave Angie a weak smile and a half-hearted wave, and then she and her husband melted into the crowd feeding into the church.
"Shit." Angie said. "Her mother's gone and died." She watched the crowd for a moment longer, hoping to catch sight of Bev again. Her arms broke out in gooseflesh and the hair on the back of her neck prickled. Something wasn't right about that church. She turned away and hurried to her car.
Ed answered the door and found Nick standing on his steps. "Where the hell have you been?" Ed barked. "You were supposed to be back a week ago! I had to run some crap about a record-breaking frickin' petunia!"
"Can I come in?"
Ed hesitated. Nick was pale and wan, and his eyes had an unusual glassiness to them. Grudgingly, Ed let him in and invited him to take a seat in the family room.
Ed poured himself a scotch. "Drink?"
"Coffee would be great." Nick sat on the couch.
"I've only got instant. Instant decaf. Iris insisted I switch."
Nick wrinkled his nose and shook his head, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"Are you feeling okay?" Ed sat in the chair farthest from the couch, purposely putting distance between them. Nick might be high. He never pegged Nick as a recreational drug user, but you could never tell with some people. Drugs would explain the disappearing act, and the glassy eyes.
"I'm fine." He smiled. He'd had dental work done.
"What's with your teeth?" Ed asked. "Is that what the disappearing act was about, a mid-life crisis?"
Nick left the couch and turned the radio on. He adjusted the dial and a rapturous voice filled the room, reading the same Bible passage, over and over. Nick closed his eyes, beaming, and mouthed along with the words:
Revelations 1:18; "Though I am the First and Last, the Living One who died, who is now alive forevermore, who has the keys of hell and death--don't be afraid."
"Not a crisis, my friend." Nick opened his eyes. "A revelation. I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ now." He smiled. "And I'm here to spread the word."
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
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