“Tis the snake who dances up the rain.” -Native Wakota Lyric
Resting on Tripp Goode’s desk, the brownish-yellow, eleven-by-eight envelope was an ineffectual arsenal. The pastor clamped his sweaty forehead between his thumb and middle finger. A promise of hollow power, the damned thing with an address to DeSoto, Oklahoma was grounded. No, it would continue orbiting the desk until he could find specific documents to place inside. But even The Great Tripp Goode had limitations as the OSU Medical Center did not care about such a bribe.
He sat back. Too many bills were coming in, groupies of debt cheering from backstage at the illustrious Goode Family Ministries weekly performance. Within public, he counted his blessings and commanded those around him to praise likewise. However, with the crowd emptied and lights cut, the red voices from those envelopes nagged him to a choral scream. There were no blessings, nothing real on which he rested, and, at this point, who even knew about God?
But, dammit, he needed Calanthe’s neighborhood. The proclamation of an additional church in the town of Wakota could solidify his credibility, would ignite an inferno throughout his embers! He’d secure funds necessary to parade onto the national stage with clout! A fourth church, and especially one as far south, to gather the harvest from the sister cities of Port DeSoto and Fort Minerva…how could he possibly fail?
Calanthe. That’s how. Ugh, that little swishy, prancing, hoppity queen with the perfect amount of hair, the skin of relative youth, and a defiance intriguing to and picking at Goode’s imagination. Calanthe was in a desperate spot undeniable to the pastor, a youth in need of salvation. Could Goode be his savior? Like someone finding a wet kitten meowing pathetically to come inside…
He shook his head and erected his body, stretching while the chair scratched into the plaster wall. He might have sighed or groaned, but the struggle within was evident even if God was peeking. Goode stood in front of the rack serving as his bookshelf, his eyes perusing the sideways titles, checking over the tchotchkes: the small, ceramic crosses, the Precious Moments kids draped over a lamb, his wooden box painted to resemble tin, and other bric-a-brac: these were memories, things hidden away by his psyche only to be unlocked as he needed them. Still, no answer was screamed down by God, no visions nor messages; only the irritating silence, a quiet voice screaming nothing all throughout him.
He faced his office, his sanctuary. Diplomas as empty as the envelope on the desk framed his throne: a highlight to what he’d never accomplished. Intelligence doesn’t equate achievement within academics, and here was the personification of that principle, one Mr. Dr. Pastor Tripp Goode, life-coach, psychologist, father, and personification of God’s success in the area.
“There’s nothing here,” he said. Did it feel better to break the silence?
Oh, the sting of arrows through the ego and piercing the heart with a thwump!, the cratering of a self-built foundation! Not the first time his mind’d massaged the idea - the evidence was too pointed - but to analyze the theory as fact would’ve shattered even Falwell. Goode had handled many potential public relations mishaps in the past, from accusations of youth handlers mishandling trust (and the youth group) up ‘til the last disaster of an insistent Elizabeth hell-bent on marrying Jesse. That one had been the biggest headache he’d experienced, maintaining PR and paying for conversion therapy.
Elizabeth. It’s been said Tripp Goode only loved that which nobody else could obtain, and his heart belonged to his daughter. Sure, there was a history with Sarah, a partnership, but she wasn’t as smart as Elizabeth, not quite the asset his offspring had proven to be. It’d broken him when she wanted to marry, but he would never find peace in how she was blind to the obvious weakness held to by Jesse. Even Goode identified the limp wrists, couldn’t deny the near lisp, and he’d wondered if he’d failed as father. Every woman needs a strong man to protect them, to show them their worth. Besides, there was something peculiar about Jesse, something…tingly…
He reached out and clasped the receiver of the phone on his desk. The other end rang. Nothing. He slammed the piece into its cradle and yanked the door open, the arm of the couch sending it back to assault his humerus while he slapped at the wood and crossed the doorway. For all the light in this hall, there was no life, no spirit. Had it always been like this? Who cares now? Goode’d found his answer, a light he sought in the nocturnal oppression. His sheath felt full of sword again, and, had he not been sixty-eight, he would have skipped to the reception desk.
“No,” Sarah was saying into her iPhone when he entered. He propped his head on his fist while he leaned on the counter, his face impatient as she finished her conversation. “I need it moved by tomorrow afternoon, if possible. Yes, please…no, I’ll make sure both forms are sent to you by morning. Okay, thank you! No, you have a blessed day!”
“When I call, your job is to answer,” Goode explained in his favorite voice of superiority. “I didn’t think it was so strenuous a job, but if you’re not up to it-“
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart!” she said. “I was just calling maintenance to see if they could move that trash can out there.” She pointed beyond the glass to the eyesore on the sidewalk. “They never empty it, and it looks so tacky in front of the office.”
“Hmmm, okay,” Goode said, nodding his head. “Good…job? Is Jesse still around the campus?”
“Let me check,” the missus said typing on her keyboard. She watched the screen until… “No, he’s on his way home, it looks like. According to the GPS.”
“Give him a call. Invite him back. I need him to do something. He owes God.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. Goode swiveled and peered through the window. His vision formulated more with clarity, his heart beat faster, and he grinned. There was still a good chance he would get what God wanted for him.
Calanthe stumbled into his house, barged into his cave where he could find the pieces to glue himself together, and he slurped the familiar aromas to the depths his lungs would allow. From the rear of the home, his Mr. Spinky Nakeybum alerted to an empty food bowl. He tossed his man-purse onto the couch and proceeded to the kitchen.
The hairless cat on the counter beside the microwave meowed: intense impatience as the writer pulled the bag of food from the pantry. In the silence, Spinky swallowed as fast as he chewed, and Calanthe leaned against the fridge, his head cocked as stared through the ceiling.
Jesus, what a horrible day, he thought. He closed his eyes and used his fingers to massage his eyelids while electric flares detonated in his darkness. His blood pumped faster, his hands trembled, and a thin coat of sweat oozed: damp skin, damp land, and damp spirits, it just made sense, didn’t it? All but washed up. But then, what was the ending for a writer supposed to be? Comedic? “Pleasant and airy!” says the New York Times? Bah!
Spinky dropped from the counter, a satisfying thud spreading Calanthe’s eyelids open as he relocated his fingers to his mouth, but what does one chew when the fingernails are just ragged strips? As he ripped the skin to reveal new bleeding crevices, he inflated his mouth like a balloon, and a spray of spit burst from his lips.
“Idiot,” he said. “Could I be any more disgusting?” He pushed his moist fingers through his hair and stepped from the fridge.
How the hell would Goode have access to my health records? he thought. Calanthe would be gracing Oklahoma State University with a call, would incite a nice investigation fueled by the threat of a lawsuit. The one damn piece of information he trusted would stay confidential now threatened to jump into the masses.
Goode. That’s how. Ugh, that big preachy, stomping, ego-maniacal bully with the perfect amount of toxicity, the experience of relative age, and power intriguing to and picking at Calanthe’s imagination. Yet Goode was in a desperate spot undeniable to the writer, a pressured brand in need of salvation. Could Calanthe be more pressure? Like someone discovering a throbbing pimple begging pathetically to be popped…
His phone chirped from the living room, and he followed the sound to his bag. From behind the sofa, he slapped a cushion from the leather, cramming his hand into the satchel before retrieving the device.
What’s that smell? he thought as a waft of melon and skunk blew over him. Spinky hissed from the front door, his back arched while he swiped a paw through the air. Calanthe leaped over the couch and snatched the chain hanging from the ceiling fan, illuminating the room and exposing his irrational fear.
In the corner curled a thick knot of a cottonmouth, black pebbly skin with bubble gum flesh around distinct fangs as it hissed and pulled back, cocking to strike the feline.
“Scram, Spinky!” the writer said, his vocals as high-pitched and broken as one might expect when an eggbeater is introduced to logic. Spinky only existed as a blur as he fled. Calanthe’s lungs rejected the nauseating smell through his mouth, and his muscles moved with the fortitude of a blank mind in a panic. He wound his pitch and hurled his phone at what could have just as well been a Titanoboa with tusks, claws, and a roar. There was a sickening crunch as the device hammered the snake before shattering on the floor.
The snake struck twice, and making no contact, it snatched back and postured its hovering head, an unreliable piece of exposed electrical wire. It danced back and forth. The man’s body shuddered, and he looked away.
It’s not DEAD! he thought. He spoke his frustrations, but to anyone else in the room, it would’ve been gibberish, no matter how well Calanthe deciphered his noises. He searched the room, but it was the glass top of the coffee table his muscles heaved above his head, a personified Grecian myth. He climbed the couch, one foot propped on the back, and grunted as his arms sprang the disc down. No one’s ever ready for such clamor, and he screamed, his hand covering his mouth.
The devil was still writhing and slapping its tail, but a plate of glass pinned the snake’s head down. Blood accented the body, and Calanthe was there on the floor, one stomp to the snake’s head as he scooped a piece of glass and rammed this breaking dagger into the skin, again into the flesh and muscle. Even when the wooden planks beneath stopped him, he stabbed the beast with his glassy knife and pulled the shard through the skin, and then his teeth were bared and he was shouting his dominance while shredding the snake, its skin fraying as the smell of its insides permeated Calanthe’s mouth.
His muscles sore and palms bloody, the barbaric drive pulled free of Calanthe’s body, and when he sagged long after the cottonmouth had died, once his fear swept back into whatever box from where it’d originated, he stood over his kill, the offering unto his fears. The warm and humid air could not stop him from shaking, a tremble controlling every nerve, and this time, when he opened his mouth to scream, there was no triumph, no victory, only the memory that he’d touched the skin, had mixed energies with this beast. It was a mess, and it would take a couple of hours to clean, but until then, Calanthe cried.
Thunder, for the fifteenth consecutive day, rattled the windows.