by Bruce Harris
The thermometer showed triple
digits. Tolerable, if not for the rising, oppressive humidity. The thirty
some-odd gathered under the tent sat on folding chairs, sweating. Most fanned
themselves with whatever paper or cardboard scrap they scrounged. The swirling
heavy August air around their faces brought little relief.
“I hear he cures ar-thur-i-tis,”
an elderly woman sitting in the front row said to her husband.
“Sure as heck couldn’t
worse than Doc Pettigrew,” he replied. “Only-est thing he good fer is handing
out a bill. He couldn’t cure a ham.”
A frenetic young woman cradling
an infant rushed in, searched for a seat. A young man stood, waved her into his
“Oh, thank you so much,”
said, breathing hard. “God Bless.”
ma’am, I assure
you. How old is he?”
“She’s a she and she’ll
months next week.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t
The mother, in her teens, didn’t
hear the man. She was consumed with the child. “She’s burnin’ a fever. I tried
everything. I’m hoping Father Huggs can cure her. I hear he’s got powers from
the heavens.” She rocked the baby. “Good girl. You’re a good girl,” she said.
“Father Huggs will take care of you, you sweet little thing you.” She craned
her neck. “Where is he? When is he starting? This here heat isn’t helping
George Huggins III billed
himself as Father Huggs. Despite the heat, he looked fresh in a crisply pressed
all-white suit, heavily starched white shirt, and white bowtie. The outfit’s
color, in stark contrast to his coal-black eyes, was custom-made. The ensemble
was one of three identical, made for Huggs by an Alabama tailor in exchange for
the preacher’s promise of eternal salvation. Appearances were important to
Huggs. A massive faux gold cross hung against his chest. An ostentatious
gold-plated wristwatch indicated start time. He took a deep breath, found the
tent’s opening and with hands raised, exploded onto the scene.
“Hallelujah brothers and
Hallelujah! Let us pray!” He placed palms together, his long fingers formed a
steeple, and lowered his head.
Everyone sat in prayer, eyes
closed. Everyone that is except Father Huggs. As was his ritual, he scanned the
audience through slit eyes, his out-of-control libido having taken over. He
spotted her on an end seat, holding an infant. So young, he thought. So
pretty. Yes, pure, but not too pure. George Huggins, this is going to be a good
“Who believes in Jesus?”
voice loud, surprising the crowd.
Some in the crowd raised their
hands. Others screamed, “I do!” Many did both.
“He is our savior. He died
our sins,” Huggs solemnly proclaimed, before holding up his hands. “Shush…listen
carefully…don’t make a sound…there… there it is…can you feel it? Can you feel
the earth move? Can you feel it? It’s the Lord’s magic! It’s the Good Lord’s
hands reaching out…to you…to me…touching us all. Do you feel it my brothers and
sisters?” his voice a feverish high pitch.
“Amen!” screamed the
dwellers. He continued sneaking glances at the young mother holding the baby.
The arthritic woman in the front row stood. She repeated, “Amen!” and walked
toward Huggs with outstretched arms.
Momentarily annoyed at having
divert his gaze from the attractive mother to the elderly approaching woman,
Huggs recovered quicker than a lightning strike. His toothy grin elicited a
perception of empathy, warmth. He said nothing. His eyes served as a baton.
With a conductor’s skill, he directed the crowd to quiet down.
Huggs took the woman’s hand
his. “Tell me…tell everyone…how can the Lord help you today? Praise Jesus!” he
“Praise Jesus!” the
yelped in unison.
“It’s my ar-thur-i-tis,
Huggs. I got me so much painful joints and elbows and fingers and knees and…oh…everywhere
in my body.”
“And did you go see a doctor?”
“I surely did,” the
She rubbed her hands together.
“And I still got me my pain everywhere.”
The crowd grumbled. “Come
closer,” Huggs implored. He engulfed the woman in his arms, gave her a hug. He
pictured himself hugging the young mother. He stole another look at her
pristine beauty. He had her, and everyone else’s attention.
“Do you believe in Jesus?”
asked, his gaze boring into the older woman’s cloudy eyes.
“Amen!” she declared.
Huggs stared upward. “Do
hear that, Lord? Do you hear one of your devoted followers?” Huggs waited, then
began shaking. His movements initially imperceptive. With sloth-like speed, he
worked himself up into a gelatin frenzy, all the while embracing the woman. The
two appeared to be engaged in some sort of a Kabuki theater, a macabre-like
dance. They moved, as one, around the tent. When the pair returned to the
front, Huggs released his hold and stepped back.
“Thank you, Jesus! Thank
your healing powers!”
The woman began flexing her
fingers, bending her knees and elbows. A wide smile replaced the serious look
on her face. “I can move again! Look!” She moved every body part capable of
moving. “There’s no pain! I’m pain free! God Bless you, Father Huggs! God Bless
“Don’t thank me, my dear, thank the Good Lord above. All it takes is a little
belief…and confidence in Father Huggs…for great miracles to occur.” He looked
over his flock. “Who’s next?” he asked as he escorted the woman back to her
The young mother with the sick
child stood. The preacher’s pecker did the same.
“The babies,” Huggs
Lord’s miracles at work. He approached the young mother, extended his arm, and
led her to the tent’s front. He liked her smell. The infant cried, her skin
red. Huggs feigned deep concern.
“Brothers and sisters, this
special case. This precious baby, this gift from the Good Lord, isn’t well.”
Huggs sighed. “I fear this is going to take everyone’s effort, everyone in
prayer, one voice speaking to Jesus. Close your eyes.” The congregants
complied. “Now, pray like you’ve never prayed before in your lives.”
Huggs looked around. The young
woman’s eyes were closed. He took the baby, admired teen’s chest. Huggs
loves them jugs, he said to
himself. Out loud, “Sweet Jesus!” he yelled. “Do you hear our voices? We put
all our faith in you to heal this beautiful little girl as only you can do.”
The preacher could control a
room, but not the goddamned little head in his pants. “Brothers and sisters,”
he continued, “I must ask you all to leave, right now. This baby needs my
undivided attention. Please, before you all go, stop at the basket and give
what you can. The more gifts you give to God the more He will bless you and
this beautiful child.”
The crowd stood. One by one,
they stopped at the basket, dumped spare change and bills in. Some wished the
young woman the best. Others stopped to touch the baby’s head. Most thanked
Father Huggs. When the last person departed, the room became still. Huggs,
holding the baby, stood next to the mother.
“You must have faith,”
said to her. “Do you?”
“Good. Faith in the Lord.
in me. Do you understand?”
Again, the woman nodded her
“There is only one way.
trust me completely. We must become one. The Lord will see the strength in our
total commitment to each other.” He forced himself to avert his eyes from her
chest. He gently placed the infant on the ground. “Come to me,” he said. “Come
close…into my arms.” She complied. Their clothes were off in seconds. He
entered her. Displaying no self-control, he went balls deep, pounding hard. The
infant, sucking a pacifier, watched.
“It will take time for the
to break,” Huggs said when it was over. The woman appeared numb, unaware of
what just happened. She placed a few dollars into the basket. A satisfied Huggs
smiled, nodded. He watched her disappear into the sticky night toward town.
Like his father and grandfather
before him, George Huggins III took to preaching early in life. Tent sermons gave
way to services at small churches dotted throughout the south. But Huggins III,
his avuncular appearance coupled with a booming voice that for some reason
people trusted, began attracting more followers. He led regular weekday bible
study classes in college before landing a job on a religious radio talk show.
His reputation for sticking strictly to scripture morphed into fire and
brimstone diatribes. “Every word, every page, every verse is God’s lesson that
must be learned!” He became a frequent guest on Christian television shows. It
was only a matter of time before a network signed him to his own show and he
became the preacher America tuned into Sunday mornings, drawing the ire of
pastors and priests who watched as their Sunday faithful stayed home to view Huggins’
He married and had a daughter.
He swore to himself and to God to remain faithful. He tried. But the man who
preached the gospel and criticized the craven men and women who turned away
from The Lord was flesh and blood himself.
It wouldn’t harm to look,
convinced himself. In and out, he figured, necessary research for an upcoming
sermon. He’d still have time to appear at his daughter’s sweet-sixteen party. Hell,
my days of infidelity are past. The
Lord will steer me away from sin, he thought to himself. I’m stronger now.
He’d driven by the place
of times, wondering of the debauchery within. The Lord understood his purpose
for entering this day. Club Heat’s parking lot was nearly full. He turned up
his collar and walked in. Darkness. Good. No one would recognize him, not that
anyone in this sin den followed the gospel. Huggins took a seat against the
back wall. On the circular stage, Misty, exhibiting Olympic-like gymnastic
skills, twirled around a pole. Huggins diverted his eyes, but focused on Misty
when the cheering suddenly increased. The now topless dancer swung her bikini
top on one finger before tossing it into the crowd. It was as if a zookeeper
hurled raw steak into a lion cage. Huggins prayed for the young girl, as well
the men, now pushing their way to the stage, reaching out, stuffing dollar
bills in the performer’s garter belt.
Huggins checked his watch,
thanked God for the illuminated dial. He better split if he wanted to get to
his daughter’s party. He’d promised her he’d be there. One dancer led to two,
three, and then four. From the stage, the twenty-something stripper introduced
as Skye, eyed him. Huggins knew he should get up and leave. He promised himself
Skye would be the last performer. But following her set, she approached the preacher.
In a weak moment, he bought her a drink. They talked. Under the pulsating
colored lights, Skye sparkled. Her glossy pink lips mesmerized the normally
confident Huggins. Maybe, he told himself, he could rehabilitate the young
woman. God would reward him for saving her soul, he rationalized. But when Skye
took his hand and placed it on her bare breast, George’s thoughts dive-bombed
south, from his head down to the little horny brain between his legs. Skye led
George to a semi-private room. The normally loquacious evangelist was
momentarily tongue-tied. Skye convinced him to accept a lap dance. He asked for
a second one. He needed more.
“How much money you have?”
The old feelings returned. Sweet
Jesus, it felt good. “Plenty. Enough to make you glad you were born a woman.”
filthy.. I like filthy men.”
The intoxicated Huggins wagged
finger. “Let’s see now. I got 7-inches ready to go down here,” he said,
grabbing his crotch. “I’m 6-feet, and an inch. So…let me see…that makes me only
9.5 percent filthy! The rest of me is pure Christian!”
Father Huggs, also known as “America’s
Sunday Moring Preacher,” completely forgot about his daughter’s birthday party.
Blue. Green. Red. Yellow. He
also saw pink, purple and orange. It resembled rainbow dandruff. Father Huggs
swiped at the glitter, to no avail. It was as if glue had secured the tiny
sparkling particles to his shirt. If that wasn’t bad enough, “America’s Sunday
Morning Preacher” reeked from Skye’s bodily fluids. He snorted, a feeble
attempt to rid his nostrils of the unwanted invasion unleashed by her buck a
“Father Huggs?” The
immediately regretted saying it. He pretended not to notice the man standing
before him. “Let’s see, mister, I can give you room 110. Walk back outside,
hang a right. Can’t miss it. It’s the only door that doesn’t have a broken or
missing number.” His attempted joke fell flat.
“I won’t be long,”
“I’m not spending the night. How much?”
“Um, that’s fine.
here don’t require overnight stays.” The motel clerk told him the cost, grabbed
the cash. “I guarantee you’ll find a Bible in your room. Yes sir,” he proudly
said, “No room is ever without a Bible. That’s been our policy here at the Rose
Shack Motel ever since this place opened.”
“Good to know,” Huggs
smiling weakly, turning for the office exit. Skye’s aroma, the Chanel Number
minus-5, or whatever the hell she wore, embedded into his pores like an ingrown
hair cyst. The stench left a comet-like trail. Enticing and sweet an hour
earlier, the odor now nauseated Huggs. He again tried wiping at the stripper’s glitter
clinging to his shirt.
Room 110 was standard. King-sized
bed, nightstand, double dresser, and bathroom. Huggins pulled open the nightstand
drawer and grabbed the Bible. For several minutes he read scripture,
Corinthians first. Flee from sexual
immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever
sins sexually, sins
against their own body. He flipped pages, stopped at Hebrews. Marriage should
be honored by all, and the
marriage bed kept pure, for God will
judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Exodus was next. You should
not commit adultery. Spiritually
satisfied, he clutched the book to his chest before returning it to the
battered nightstand. He stripped and showered. Now he needed to physically rid
himself of Skye. He cursed the lukewarm water’s weak pressure as well as his
own personal weakness. Huggins scrubbed his skin until raw, picking shiny
particles off his balls. He then aggressively massaged shampoo into his scalp. George
Huggins III stood in the shower over 30-minutes. He would have stayed longer,
but the initially lukewarm water had turned cold. Huggins needed the cold
shower hours before.
He sniffed his own skin.
Satisfied, the preacher got dressed. It was impossible to rid his clothing of
Skye’s colorful glitter. The hell with it, he thought. By the time he got home,
his wife, Eleanor would be asleep. He’d toss the clothes into the bottom of the
laundry basket, apologize for missing his daughter’s party, and slip into bed
next to her.
“Is that you, George?”
half-asleep wife asked. “Poor dear, working so late. I’m tired. I’ll tell you
all about the party in the morning. Sleep well, George. God Bless.”
George Huggins III lay still.
didn’t take long before he heard Eleanor’s rhythmic breathing. He pulled it
off, he told himself. In the morning, he’d apologize to his daughter, Lillian.
He’d buy her something special to make up for missing her big day. Huggins
closed his eyes. He tried clearing his mind, but a certain Proverbs Bible verse
played on a continuous loop in his guilt-ridden brain.
He woke to Eleanor’s muffled
voice, on the phone in the hallway off their bedroom. Huggins looked at the
clock, 7:00am. Eleanor had to be speaking to her sister in Mississippi, anxious
to tell her about Lillian’s sweet-sixteen party. Huggins heard the sound of the
washing machine. Eleanor had the laundry going. Perfect, he thought. Wash away
the last bit of evidence off his
clothes. He moved closer to the bedroom door, listening to Eleanor’s side of
“…I don’t know.
He wasn’t at the
party. Oh, and get this, guess what I found all over George’s clothes…glitter.
Can you believe it? All different colors…”
Huggins pressed his ear harder
against the door. She knows, he
thought. Bible verses ran through his brain. It was too late for forgiveness or
repentance. Eleanor would divorce him. He’d sinned. Adultery! Huggins had
broken one of the sacred Ten Commandments and his promise to God. He’d never be
able to look himself in the mirror again. He listened.
“No, he doesn’t know
going to tell…Oh, he’ll be surprised…”
Huggins put on a pair of slacks,
grabbed his keys, and quietly headed toward the garage. Eleanor, engrossed in
conversation, didn’t see or hear him.
“Where else could he have
covered in glitter?”
Those were the last nine words
Huggs heard his wife speak into the phone before he drove out of his garage
without bothering to fasten his seatbelt. The pesky Proverbs verse, But a man who
commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself,
beating relentlessly in his head. He floored it. Death was instantaneous
following impact with the tree.
continued her conversation, “…He’s such a good man…Yes, I agree…Imagine,
despite having worked late he stopped off at the party… He must have been so
disappointed missing it…Yes, Lillian picked out the glitter colors herself…Ha…Yes,
you should have seen it…right, the glitter was everywhere…it’ll probably take
several washings to get it out of all our clothing…and God knows how many
showers to get the stuff completely out of my hair.”
Bruce Harris writes western,
crime, and mystery novels. His work has appeared in Mondays Are Murder,
Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and Over My Dead
Thomas resolutely eschews
any mythologizing of an artist and so avoids discussing personal life and relations.