“Your assignment, MB, if you decide to accept it . . .” said my senior pastor of New Life church, Cory McCracken, and then broadly smiling, continued, “wow, that sounds Mission: Impossible – ish, doesn’t it?”
I smiled, nodded, and said nothing about how I thought Pastor Cory had an uncanny resemblance to the now aged Peter Graves, the actor who once played the Jim Phelps character in that Mission: Impossible tv series. Pastor Cory, though a kindly old fellow, loved the sound of his own voice and mentioning the resemblance might have kept us here that much longer. As it was, we’d been sitting in his office at the church a good half hour discussing everything else but the alluded assignment.
“Please, excuse me,” Pastor Cory said. “I get carried away with my imagination from time to time. I assure you, though, this isn’t an impossible assignment. I’ll tell you this much; it’s a tough assignment. But if you’ve been called by our Lord to do this, then, as I always say: if the Lord guides, the Lord provides . . . Your assignment is to assist Amos McCann, the pastor of our sister church in Damon, in northern California. Damon is a small, country town; you’ll absolutely fall in love with it.”
“Okay,” I said, apprehensively. “What’s the tough part?”
Pastor Cory cleared his throat and paused a moment. I sensed he was searching for the right wording. And then, bingo! There it was – “Zombies,” he blurted.
“Zombies?” I replied. “Use it in a sentence or two, if you wouldn’t mind, Pastor Cory.”
“I know it sounds preposterous,” Pastor Cory said, fishing through papers in a drawer of his desk, “until I saw these photos.” He finally found them and handed them to me. “See for yourself.”
I viewed three colored photos: two of old men and one of an old woman, and granted, they all looked like they’d had a makeover from the undertaker and that they could’ve been last seen lying in a casket; but were they zombies? I didn’t think so.
“What do these photos prove?” I said, handing them back to Pastor Cory.
“These photos are of people that once attended the church,” said Pastor Cory. “For over a year now, these people have been dead. And yet, from the dates at the bottom of each of these photos, they appear to have been taken last week.”
I chuckled. “I mean no respect, Pastor Cory, but have you ever heard of photograph manipulation done on a computer?”
“These photos were taken by Pastor McCann,” Pastor Cory said, defensively. “You’re saying he manipulated the photos? Which, if you are, you’re saying Pastor McCann is a liar.”
A framed photo of Pastors Cory and McCann was hung on the wall behind Pastor Cory. The two men held a good sized salmon between them. They were smiling over their catch of the day and obviously over their close friendship. It was a Kodak moment between grandfather and grandson, had they been related.
I threw up my hands and said, “Obviously, you know him better than I do.”
“Frankly,” Pastor Cory said, then sighed, “I don’t know what to believe. All I know are things haven’t been the same since this man arrived up there three months ago.”
The pastor then handed me a photo. It was like the catch of the day photo, only, the other man with Pastor McCann was a young black man. He was pitch black, with a set of choppers that were whiter and more crooked than any I’d ever seen.
“He calls himself Chioke, which he says means gift of God,” said Pastor Cory. “He also claims he was raised by missionaries in South Africa, who gave him that name.”
I nodded and said, “Okay, so what’s he doing thousands of miles away from South Africa in a small country town like Damon?”
“According to Chioke, he was sent there. But this reanimation of the dead, which is nothing but voodoo from the Devil. Of course, it was rather difficult to persuade Pastor McCann to believe otherwise after Chioke resurrected Pastor McCann’s wife; so you can see how truly difficult your assignment is going to be.”
“My assignment is really Pastor McCann, isn’t it?” I said.
Pastor Cory nodded. “Yes. He’s your assignment. If the head is sick, the whole body is too. This voodoo in the church is heresy, and either it goes or Pastor McCann goes; or they both go. So, what do you say? Do you accept this assignment, Missionary Bob?”
Some might say kismet was in play when the following scenario took place the next morning . . .
Da da da-da . . . da da da-da . . . came the introductory beat to “Time of The Season” by The
Zombies, a 60s classic rock group, oozing off a CD playing in the livingroom. And sultry Serena down the staircase came. She made her way into the kitchen and poured herself over the back of me while I tried making French toast. She whispered in my ear the words of the song being sung, “‘What’s your name? . . . Who’s your daddy? . . . Is he rich like me? . . .'”
Neither I nor Serena was rich like Serena’s daddy, who ran a successful law firm in Beverly Hills, California. I was to have joined that firm when Serena and I returned from honeymooning in the Bahamas, something I’m still ambivalent about doing. And, as any of you would know having read what happened to me and Serena in the Bahamas, I was changed in a very profound way.
“‘Tell it to me slowly'” Serena sang with the song, lips pursed. “‘I really want to know . . . ‘”
With the look of an abandoned puppy, I shook my head and flipped the French toast over. “Now look what you made me do,” I said, pointing my spatula at the charred toast.
Serena pinched a corner of the toast and tossed it from the frying pan into the sink. “Just start over,” she said and then wailed with the song, “‘It’s the time of the season for loving!'”
As Serena closed in on me with full puckered lips, I stopped her. “That’s it,” I said gleefully. “I’ll just start over.” I saw this as possibly a good lead-in to the assignment I’d already accepted from Pastor Cory.
“Start over?” Serena inquired, placing her hands on her hips. “Start over what, MB?”
With The Zombies in the background doing their da da da-da’s, I explained to Serena my epiphany – even though she’d heard this before when we were in the Bahamas. “I’m Missionary Bob, Serena. That’s really who I am. If I don’t stay true to that, I’ll never be happy – ever. And you do want me happy, right?”
A glassy-eyed resolution came over Serena. Glumly, she said “Uh-huh. Sure. Whatever makes you happy, MB. I mean, Missionary Bob. I mean . . . what we talking about here, honey?”
As my eyes burned, not from passion – spiritually or physically – but rather from oil smoking in an empty hot skillet, I boldly announced to Serena: “You and I are going to become full-fledged missionaries!”
The phone rang. “It’s Daddy,” Serena said, and handed the cordless phone to me.
I’d have rather passed a kidney stone than to have passed on information about my assignment to my father-in-law, Wilhelm Burroughs, II; a man of ironclad will and with a sick-sense of humor. “What’s the favorite line in billiards to a masochist? . . . ” he joked after a settlement he won that financially ruined Fat Eddie’s Pizza & Billiards. “Give me the shaft!”
“MB, my boy, are you ready to kiss some keister come Monday morning – particularly mine?” Wilhelm said in his usual high-handed, jocular fashion.
I hung tough and dumped the news of my epiphany on him. To my chagrin, he was quite under-standing. After an off-color joke he made at my expense, he wished me success and said goodbye.
Serena, eyebrows arched high with anticipation, asked: “So, what did Daddy have to say?”
I took my next cue from the words The Zombies were singing “Tell it to me slowly” and placed my arm around Serena’s waist and whispered: “More important, let me tell you about my talk with Pastor Cory yesterday.” I told her everything, except about you know what.
We packed our bags and left our shabby 3,000 sq. ft. condo in Beverly Hills, happily singing “Bye, bye blackbird . . .” yeah, right – not so much. Serena unpacked our suitcases twice, called two different divorce attorneys twice, and, topped matters off with a call to Daddy.
“Yes, uh-huh, I understand, but . . .” were the only words I ever got out to Daddy over the phone – not to mention to Serena as well, but with an added “But honey.” After Daddy threatened to kick us out of his condo that we lived in rent-free, more likely just me, he slammed the phone in my ear.
With my ear still ringing, I sat on the bed and looked out the window at an orange sunset, brilliantly enhanced by the smog. “Lord,” I prayed, “maybe I’m not called to do this after all.”
“Honey,” Serena said, walking into the bedroom. She sat down on the bed beside me and placed her arm across the back of my shoulders. Strangely, though, I couldn’t feel the weight of her arm. “I was wrong. If this is what you’re called to do, then I am too.”
I looked up at Serena and, amazingly, I saw the bedroom wall that was behind her – through her!
I leaped off the bed. “Serena?” I said, looking horrified at a ghostly figure of Serena that was slowly evaporating away. When she was all gone, Serena, the real flesh and blood one, rushed into the bedroom.
“What? Did you call me?” Serena said.
“Uh, no – yes, I mean,” I said totally confused, as you can imagine.
“Are you all right, MB? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.” Serena asked.
How on the nose right she was, I thought, and then said: “I think I was wrong to accept that assignment from Pastor Cory without consulting you first, honey. And if you’re not onboard with it, then neither am I.”
“It’s strange,” Serena said, “but I feel differently about it now. I don’t know why, but I do.” She
sat on the bed, patted the space beside her, and asked me to sit down. I did and she placed her arm across the back of my shoulders. “I was wrong. If this is what you’re called to do, then I am too.”
Needless to say, I looked up and didn’t see a bedroom wall through her. Thank the Lord, though, the Lord I soon realized was very much in all this. “You know, I knew you’d say that,” I said, and then got this queasy feeling I had said something I shouldn’t have.
“You did?” Serena said surprised.
“No. Not really,” I quickly replied. “I meant . . . hoped you would say that.”
Something eerie but wonderful had happened. The apparition of Serena, which I now took to be a prophetic sign from the Lord, was indeed a confirmation I should go to Damon. And, evidently, Serena was to go with me.
“So, what’s in Damon?” Serena asked.
You had to know that word was on the tip of my tongue. You know the one I mean. To avoid seeing Serena dump our clothes from our suitcases a third time, I bit my tongue and didn’t say the “z” word.
Damon is a small town that lays in the shadow of Mount Shasta, the fifth highest peak in California, in a land populated with a kind of tree that makes its way into the homes of millions of people come Christmas. It has one road in that’s steeply down a curvy stretch of blacktop that sometimes becomes quite narrow around the mountains.
“It’s so breathtakingly beautiful,” Serena said. She powered down the passenger side window on our Mercedes-Benz SUV – a wedding gift from Daddy. You really didn’t think it was mine, did you?
It was twilight and the arctic cold air immediately began to freeze my bare hands that tightly gripped the wheel that steered this gas-guzzling monster. “Serena,” I said in a complaining tone, “I won’t be able to feel my hands soon. Do you mind?”
Her head was out the window. Her eyes were closed as she snorted in the frosty air. Suddenly, a narrow part of the road made me hug the mountain and made me quickly yank Serena by her parka back inside the Caddy. We then passed a boulder’s edge that sheared off the side mirror.
“Close the window, now?” I asked.
“Daddy will have a fit when he sees this,” Serena said, anxiously observing a metallic stump that once held the side mirror. “You have to go back and get it, MB.”
“Excuse me?” I said, looking bewildered at her.
Serena pouted. “This was Daddy’s wedding gift to us, MB; I can’t let him see what you’ve done to it.”
“Oh, really . . . maybe I should’ve left your head out there and brought you back with just a stump instead. Would that have been more to his liking – or yours?”
Suddenly, Serena screamed: “Look out!”
When I returned my eyes to the road, I saw among the distant figures of treetops silhouetted in a full, silvery moon a very close figure of a man. Before I knew what hit me, literally too, the thick chrome grill of my SUV Benz hit the man and catapulted him over a cliff. With the blacktop wet and icy, the Benz swerved and finally stopped near the cliff’s edge; we had come close to nearly joining whoever it was.
“Oh, MB,” Serena said, fairly shook up, “you hit someone!”
“Do you think?” I said sarcastically, and scared. Then I took a 6-volt battery flashlight from the glove compartment and opened the car door. “Stay here,” I told Serena. “I’ll be right back. In the meantime, try calling 911 or something. Okay?”
“Okay!” Serena said annoyed. “You don’t need to talk to me that way.”
“Honey,” I said genuinely, “you’re absolutely right. I’m sorry. Forgive . . . ” was my last word before she shoved me out of the car, and locked all the doors with the automatic all-doors lock.
“Fine. That’s the way she wants it – fine!” I grumbled, walking to the cliff’s edge.
I shined a powerful beam of light from the 6-volt battery flashlight down the side of the mountain, over crags and bushes, and saw nothing. Then, while sweeping the light quickly over a small ledge, I saw something. I brought the light back and exposed an old man sprawled out on his back, not moving a muscle, with his eyes wide opened. He’d been out and about in this fairly cold weather, but wasn’t wearing a jacket of any kind. In fact, the clothing he wore was rather odd: a pair of dressy dark shoes with dark slacks, and a long-sleeved white shirt buttoned to the collar.
“Oh-my . . .” I then realized, with the flashlight beam full on his face, this was one of the old men in the photos Pastor Cory had shown me.
The town of Damon didn’t have a single soul in sight, and it was relatively early in the evening.
And the only traffic light on Main Street, which turned red, wouldn’t you know it, I ran because I was hurrying for help. And, wouldn’t you know it, this was a speed trap for possibly the only cop in the town, besides.
I pulled the SUV Benz to the curb and stopped. In the rearview mirror I saw a paunchy cop leave the black and white. His attire seemed a bit unconventional. He wore a red and black checkered earflap cap and a red hunting vest with a silver star pinned to the left upper pocket, and, odder still, was a six-gun holstered and strapped to his leg like an old western gunfighter’s. I powered down the window and immediately started blabbing to the officer about the man I hit on the road coming down here.
“Zip her up, partner,” said the officer, who sounded and looked an awful lot like the famous actor, Slim Pickens. “One violation at a time, if you don’t mind – license and registration, please.” I handed them over to him, and he headed back to the police car.
“Daddy isn’t paying for this ticket, MB,” Serena said, and defiantly crossed her chest with her arms.
I sighed. “When did Daddy pay for anything?” Even though I knew he had paid for most everything, it just felt good to say it – once.
“Do the Bahamas, the Mercedes-Benz, and the luxury condo ring any bells for you, MB?”
“Oh,” I said acting innocent, “you meant your daddy.” Then I quickly looked in the rearview mirror and changed the subjected. “This yokel is taking forever. Meanwhile, an injured man I hit with Daddy’s Mercedes-Benz may be dying.”
“Well, don’t just sit there,” Serena said. She then reached over and opened my door, and shoved me out.
My feet no sooner hit the blacktop when the officer, who was en route to my car, drew his six-gun. He aimed the muzzle square at my head and said, grimly, “Go ahead and make my day, punk – ” and cocked the hammer of the gun.
I shot my hands up faster than a 7-11 store clerk on espresso all night. “No. Wait. You got me all wrong, officer.”
“Nah.” The officer said. “I think I got you all right; otherwise, why are you making a run for it?”
“But officer, I’m not. I was on my way back to you. To tell you we’re wasting time here while a man lies on a mountain ledge, dying.”
A car door slammed behind me. A moment later, Serena stood beside me. “What’s going on, officer?”
“Your cupcake here tells me there’s some man dying on a mountain. Can you vouch for that, ma’am?”
Can you vouch for that, ma’am? Like, wow, what just happened here? “Hey,” I said waving my hand at the officer, “I can vouch for that, okay.”
He fired a shot in the air, and then quickly cocked the hammer of the gun again and aimed the muzzle at me again. “You’ll poop regular if you eat regular is what you can vouch for,” said Slim, for want of a better name for the officer.
Serena snickered and then said, “Yes officer, I can vouch for that. My husband, MB, hit a man on the mountain road – accidentally, of course. Who may or may not still be alive, so I think it’s imperative that we . . . oh, my . . .”
Coming down the middle of Main Street, from the far end where we’d driven into town, was a person running full bore toward us. In a matter of seconds the person, actually the man I hit with the Benz, zoomed past us.
“That’s the man,” I said, pointing at the geezer whose incredible speed would’ve left any track star in the dust. “He’s the one on the mountain road that I hit.”
“That can’t be the man,” Serena said. “I mean, when we left him, he looked . . .”
“Dead?” Slim said. “Oh yeah,” he then said rather proudly, “that’s old Wally Ford, who’s been dead for over a year. He’s a zombie now.”
“But . . . but . . .” Serena clamored, and then turned to me. “MB?”
For the next few minutes, while I tried to explain the untold portion of my assignment from Pastor Cory – you know, that part with the “z” word – Serena screamed.
The church was a small building of white board, steepled with an enormous cross made of maple that was four-by-eight. When Serena and I arrived, transported here via the backseat of Slim’s squad car, a revival was in full swing. People packed a small room, waving their hands in the air to organ music playing “When the Saints Go Marching in” – a personal favorite of mine.
When the singing finished, a voice came over the PA system and asked everyone to be seated. The voice belonged to a young and prematurely white-haired man, who, for a long while, just stood at the mike with these crazy beaming eyes and smile.
“Hello and welcome everyone,” he said serenely, giving it an eerie cult-like flavor. “I’m Pastor Amos McCann – like I need to tell any of you that,” which brought some laughter from the crowd. And then, when he noticed me and Serena at the back doors, he added, “Sorry, you must be new, so welcome.”
Everyone looked back and smiled, happily, at us.
I raised my hand and said, “Hi.”
Serena, haltingly, raised a hand too. “They all look normal,” she whispered.
“That’s because they are normal,” I said looking at a congregation that was evenly proportional with the young and the old.
Pastor Amos left the mike at the podium and went to the far end of the stage to the organist. He took the hand of a woman seated at the organ, she was roughly his age, and had her stand up. Looking adoringly at her, he said, “A special thanks to my wife, Helena, for her fine playing.”
While everyone wildly applauded, I observed how the overhead lighting – panels of tubed neon in the ceiling that left nothing to the imagination on those lit below – gave a sheen to the natural oils inherent in everyone’s body, with the exception of Helena’s. A person with the worse case of dry skin would’ve had more luster to them than she did, not to mention the grim pallor look she had too.
But of course, you knucklehead – she’s a ZOMBIE.
As Helena sat back down at the organ, I observed another oddity: her robotic movements. She stopped for a second halfway down before she completely sat, and she turned her head 15 degrees at a time to face the congregation; after a short pause, she smiled. And then she clicked her head back to face the organ keys – all without a word from her.
Serena whispered to me, “She’s one of them, isn’t she?”
Serena elbowed me and said, “I can’t believe you brought me into this!” and almost loud enough for everyone else to hear her.
A finger crossed Slim’s chapped lips. “Shhhh!” he went and told us our domestic squabble belonged outside.
Suddenly, everyone began applauding as this short, young black man in a pinstriped navy blue suit came from the wings of the stage and walked to Pastor Amos at the podium. “And this man,” said Pastor Amos, salivating, “certainly needs no introduction to you all!” Then Pastor Amos lowered the mike and, after bowing, stepped back.
“In case there are any new people here,” he said in the King’s English, having a smile chock-full of teeth – very white and very crooked, “and I see two in the back.”(I wonder who they might be?) “Welcome, my friends. My name is Chioke; it means God’s gift. And that gift that God has given, through the use of His humble servant, Chioke, is the resurrection.” He shot his hands up and shouted: “RESURRECTION!” over and over again. The entire congregation then came to their feet and began shouting “Resurrection” with him.
Two old men came from the stage wings. Wally Ford was one. The other was the second old man in the photos shown me by Pastor Cory. They had no luster to them, only a pallor of death. They went and stood on either side of Chioke.
A middle-aged man and woman came to the stage and, reaching up to Wally Ford, they implored: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy . . .”
I whispered to Serena, “They don’t mean yours.” And she elbowed me.
A young man came to the stage and reached up for the other old man. “Grandpa Douglas . . .” he said, sobbing. “You’re alive. You’re alive!”
The two old men on stage remained stoical and motionless until Chioke went into the stage wings, and then the old boys began, in robotic fashion, moving across the stage and shaking the hands of people, but never saying a word.
I told Serena to stay put and told Slim I was going to use the bathroom. Once outside I snuck around to the rear of the church and found a door to enter. I could hear the cacophony still going on inside the sanctuary while I crept down a dark and narrow hallway toward the wings. Lo and behold, in the wings, I found Chioke watching and pantomiming the actions of the two old, dead men that were causing the ruckus inside the sanctuary.
I started toward Chioke, with the idea of dragging him out onto the stage and exposing him, when the lights went out – my lights, that is.
Even though the whole thing was a blur to me, I could make out that the smeared images were of those inside a barn and of Serena standing a short distance away; oddly, though, her hands were clasped together over her head.
Serena gave me a swift kick in my shin and whispered, “Wake up, MB!”
“What . . . what happened to me, babe?” I said, becoming horrified by the fact that Serena wasn’t the only one with her wrists tied above her head to a rope that went up and over a beam in the ceiling-I was too!
“If you’re feeling a really sore lump on the back of your head . . .” Serena said, pausing to look at the door right behind her, “you can thank your buddy, Pastor Amos, for that.”
Suddenly, the door opened and Slim walked in, carrying this Bowie knife; however, Slim was transparent. I could see the door behind him through him. I was having a vision of a future event that would actually happen within minutes. I had to act fast.
“Serena, listen up, and just trust me,” I said. Since the door hinges were on the left, I told Serena to, “Move as far to your right as possible.” She did, and the rope cleared the top of the door, not a minute too soon.
I took a giant step back and swung in. With a stunning force, the bottoms of feet met Slim’s chest. He went flying back, dropping the Bowie knife to the ground, and cracked the door post with his head. He slumped to the floor and bowed his head; he was out cold.
Serena and I looked at the Bowie knife on the ground between us. She said it first. “Great. But how do we get to the knife?”
“Maybe I can help,” a voice said in the doorway.
“Pastor Amos,” I said, and swallowed hard. “Has my old buddy come back to finish the job?”
Without a word, Pastor Amos took the Bowie knife off the ground. He moved the sharp blade passed my face to the rope above my head and he cut me free. He then turned to Serena and cut her free too. Needless to say, we were very appreciative to Pastor Amos, though confused.
“I thought you and what’s-his-name – hokey-pokey Chioke – were, you know, buds.” I said.
A groan came from Slim.
“I’ll be glad to explain things to you, but first, maybe this rope would better be used on him, before he comes around.”
I couldn’t have agreed more with the pastor.
While Serena made sections of rope with the Bowie knife for the pastor and me to use on Slim, the pastor explained, “Our congregation membership had gotten fairly low. If you knew how Pastor Cory is about numbers . . . well, let me just say, you may have been tempted yourself to go Chioke’s way to increase numbers.”
“That’s quite a ways to go, Pastor Amos,” I commented.
“The real clincher came,” Pastor Amos said, “was when Chioke raised my dear, sweet Helena from the dead. And yes, I knew, it was only her body; I knew she wasn’t really there inside. And yes, I knew it was wrong. But to see her once more . . .” and then taken by strong emotion, he sobbed and said, “I just couldn’t help myself.”
Serena placed her arm across his shoulders and tried to comfort the pastor. He looked up at me with red, tearful eyes and said, “I’m sorry I hit you, too.”
As I rubbed the goose egg on the back of my head, I heard a voice from the doorway say, “But it was a well intentioned hit, Pastor Amos . . . for the good of the folk, wasn’t it?”
“Chioke!” exclaimed Pastor Amos.
And there he stood, and not alone either. Chioke held up his hand in the air and cocked back his thumb that cued Grandpa Douglas to do likewise, only Grandpa Douglas’s thumb cocked back the hammer to a sawed-off shotgun.
My Cadillac SUV, actually Daddy’s, was quite roomy inside I discovered. I, Serena, and Pastor Amos sat comfortably in the backseat with plenty of leg and elbow room to spare; of course, our wrists and ankles were bound by plastic ties. Chioke drove while Grandpa Douglas rode shotgun – a thing he literally held on us the entire time. Following behind the Caddy was Chioke’s car, a sleek black BMW, which good old Wally Ford drove. Only a telepathic line to Chioke was all that was needed for dead Wally to perform this feat, and a line that Chioke gladly provided.
The question that the three of us in the backseat pondered, silently to ourselves, was where were we being taken? From a full silvery moon directly overhead, I guessed time to be midnight. From the steadily upward direction, I guessed we were traveling up some mountain. And crossing the snow line increased the odds of that being right.
“Are you warm enough back there?” Chioke asked, from the rearview mirror.
Wow, how thoughtful of Chioke. “Are you warm enough?” I asked Serena.
Only a scornful eyebrow rose in reply from her.
“Are you warm enough, Pastor Amos?” I asked.
He nervously smiled and nodded. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“Everyone’s okay back here with the heat,” I said. And then I raised my fettered wrists in a plastic tie and added, “But this would be nice, you know, removed.”
From the lines that formed at the corners of Chioke’s eyes, I could tell he was amused but not the least bit moved to take any action. He said, “They’re fine the way they are. Be patient, my friend, we’re almost there.”
I looked into Wally Ford’s cold and factually dead eyes and asked, “Where is there?” But I really didn’t
expect an answer from him. And Chioke certainly wasn’t going to volunteer information on that matter.
It was right when the snow flurries began hitting the windshield that the Caddy pulled off the road into what was either a rest-stop or a viewpoint or maybe both; whichever it was, the place was bordered by an old stone wall about five feet high. The wall was there to prevent cars from driving off the cliff; this one had a 7,000-foot drop. Something, Chioke told us, he was going to test out.
“It’s nothing personal, you understand,” said Chioke to the three of us, rhetorically speaking of course. Then Chioke directed, through pantomiming, Grandpa Douglas and Wally Ford to seat us differently inside the Caddy. I was dropped in the seat behind the wheel, and Pastor Amos was dropped in the passenger seat beside me. Serena remained in the backseat.
While Chioke made kung fu like movements to instruct Grandpa Douglas and Wally Ford on how to move the Caddy back to the road, my life flashed before my eyes: I was a child, and the Lord was there; I was a teenage, and the Lord was there; I was a student at law school, and the Lord was there; I was dinner on that crazy island in the Devil’s Triangle, and the Lord was there – good golly Miss Molly, is this any stranger than there?
“NO!” I said, “It isn’t. And the Lord is here, too!”
Pastor Amos chimed in, “Yes, yes, yes!”
The zombies stopped pushing the Caddy back; they had reached the road.
Chioke opened the driver’s door, locked an anti theft bar across the steering wheel, and strapped my foot to the gas pedal. To ensure my foot remained there, Chioke drove the butt of the sawed-off shotgun down on my knee. With my near blackout from pain, besides my near deafness from the screams that came from Serena, the engine was started and was racing at high speed while in neutral. Chioke reached across me and brought the automatic shift down to drive, and then quickly moved his arm away.
The Caddy began speeding toward the old stone wall. Serena screamed. I was half screaming and half praying, but soon began yelling, “O Lord, HELP!” Meanwhile Pastor Amos, reservedly, recited Psalms 23 verse 4: “‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me . . . ‘”
Suddenly a shot fired and hit the front wheel of the Caddy. It swerved right, left, and then flipped onto its side. The engine decelerated but the Caddy stayed in motion, sliding along on the ground’s thin layer of snow until its undercarriage and wheels slammed into the old stone wall – that held up. I called to Serena and to Pastor Amos and, though they were shook up and banged up, they answered back they were okay.
Outside the Caddy, we heard shots fired. One was from a sawed-off shotgun. The others came from a revolver. And then a man made a bloodcurdling scream. After a minute of silence, we heard a man’s voice making a call on his cell for an ambulance.
“I know that voice,” I said in the ear of Pastor Amos, who was lying underneath me.
“Yes. I think I do too,” said Serena on the floor of the backseat.
“Howdy folks,” said a man at the driver’s side window.
I gasped and said, “Slim?”
A funny thing about that vision of mine regarding Slim, you know, the one in which I saw Slim coming through the barn door with a Bowie knife. Turned out, Slim was well aware of what Chioke was up to all along, and was coming to free us. It was my premonition on the vision that was completely wrong. But a good thing, otherwise, Slim might’ve been plastic-tied and in that Caddy with us.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Pastor Amos said, with his arm in a sling and seated in a chair at the foot of the hospital bed I was lying in.
“Indeed, He do,” replied Slim, slouched in a chair with arms resting on his paunch.
From my vantage point down the length of my leg in a cast that was suspended in air by a sling and weighted down pulleys, Slim’s face was resting on my toe tips. “Can you ever forgive me, Slim?” I said. In case he’d forgotten, I added, “You know, for kicking you in the chest.”
“I will when you stop calling me Slim,” he answered.
Come to think of it, I never have gotten his real name.
“It’s Melvin C. Mathews,” said formerly known to me Slim. “But you can call me Mel, all my friends do.”
I smiled and said, “Thanks, Mel.”
Serena walked into the room. She was bruised on her face, neck and forearms. Considering what she and the rest of us went through, she was doing very well. She went directly to Pastor Amos and informed him, “Helena, Grandpa Douglas, and Wally Ford were all laid to rest. It was a beautiful service. I’m sorry you didn’t go, but I understand. If it will make you feel any better, none of the relatives of the others came either.”
Pastor Amos, with tears, thanked Serena for understanding.
When Chioke had been killed, with a bullet through his heart from Mel’s gun, the zombies ceased to exist. They dropped like puppets whose strings had been cut. I remembered Matthew chapter 22 verse 33 and quoted, “‘For in the resurrection they . . . are like angels of God in heaven’ – they being those who have died. Helena, Grandpa Douglas, and Wally Ford weren’t resurrected. If they had been, they’d have been ‘like angels of God in heaven.’ What Chioke gave us wasn’t a gift of God, but voodooed zombies from Satan.”
“I reckon an increase in church numbers don’t mean a thing if they’re all zombies,” said Mel, and cackled over his pearl of wisdom. He then turned to Pastor Amos and said, “Sorry,” and stood up. “I guess I’ll be moving along. Say, what’s MB stand for?”
I answered, “Missionary Bob.”
Mel winced. “Missionary? . . . Ain’t that a title and not a name?”
Pastor Amos escorted Mel from the room and said, “I’ll explain later.”
Serena came to me and, leaning over a tray on my bed to give me a kiss, knocked a cup of water over. Luckily it was almost empty. Serena said, coquettishly, “Oops! What a mess I’ve made. I’m Messy Girl.”
I knew where Serena was headed with this. “Oh, you’re Messy Girl all right,” I replied, flirtatiously. “And I’m, Clean-up Boy.”
I opened my arms for Serena and she dropped in – “Ouch!”
Well know one told me about her, the way she lied
Well know one told me about her, how many people cried
But it’s too late to say your sorry
How would I know, why should I care
Please don’t bother tryin’ to find her, she not there . . .”
(She’s Not There by The Zombies)