Here’s how this happened–
Sunday morning I find this news article about a ‘pastor’ in Atlanta, GA asking his congregation for 65 MILLION dollars to replace his current private jet. His church is in a poor area. Now, without getting in on how absurd this is, I had this sudden image of a man who looked like Jesus (according to classical pictures) busting down the doors and beating the crap out of this guy.
Somehow that image immediately changed into Jesus busting down the doors in body armor with a shotgun and warning about an incoming zombie horde.
After laughing about it, I was literally hit with all of these ideas, and bam, this happens.
**Note** If you are easily offended, this is not the story for you.** ❤
Hayden Crutchfield was nervous.
He watched his father prowl back and forth on the stage, like a caged tiger with its eyes locked on its next meal. Its next meal was the congregation and their souls. He stopped at the pulpit where sat his ancient, monolithic bible, and slammed a hand down. The crack reverberated through the microphone over his mouth and echoed off the rafters high above them.
“And Jesus wept,” he shouted, slamming his hand down again. “He didn’t weep because he was a weak man. He didn’t weep because he was hurt. No! Jesus, our Lord and Savior, he wept because we have all sinned, and fallen short of the glooooooooory of God!”
Hayden took note of when his father drew out words, when he shouted them. It was perfect timing, perfect pitch. Pastor Tim knew just when to push the congregation, and then when to sooth them. Push and pull. It was an art, something Hayden had been trying to learn for the past five years. He was seventeen now, and he was expected to follow his father’s footsteps, both heavenly and earthly.
Tonight, as a matter of fact.
He glanced down at his watch. His father would conclude in ten minutes. Suddenly his mouth was dry and he needed some water. He’d been told to save his bottle of water until he started preaching, but that was impossible.
“When Jesus was up there, hanging on that old, splintered cross,” several older women in the crowd moan at this, probably fanned themselves. “He wasn’t thinking of himself. He wasn’t up there because he had to be. He hung up there because he wanted to be there. He wanted to shed his blood for our sins.”
Hayden drank as deep as he dared from the water, while drinking in his father’s pitch and tone. And then he did what he’d been avoiding all night—he looked out at the congregation. It was Sunday night, and word had been spread for weeks that Hayden Crutchfield, son of Pastor Tim, was set to give his first sermon.
Thousands had shown up to witness his first time. More than one face studied him instead of his father. Hayden could only imagine how he looked: pale, sweaty, his dark hair plastered to his head by both sweat and hair gel. His father had told him to slick it back—something Hayden never did—and he’s pretty sure it made him look like a young, up-and-coming car salesman.
Suddenly the congregation was on its feet, clapping and shouting loud enough to cause the speakers hanging from the ceiling to shake and swing slightly. Oh, crap. What had he missed?
He darted a glance at his father, then he rose and clapped as well, clapped until his palms burned. From the look of joyous rapture on his dad’s face, and his uplifted hands, Pastor Tim had just concluded his fiery sermon. Those ten minutes had passed by way too fast.
Pastor Tim dropped his hands, a wide grin on his face. The crowd, following suit, ceased clapping and sank back into their seats.
“And now, my brothers and sisters, while my son makes his way to the pulpit, Brother Simmons is going to say a prayer over the offering. Give from your hearts, brothers and sisters, but know that God, God knows what you can afford for his ministry. He loves that penny just as much as he loves that hundred dollar bill.” Chuckles swept through the congregation as one of the deacons sitting to the right of the pulpit stood, bowed his head, and began praying loudly.
Meanwhile, Hayden stood and quietly made his way to where his father stood with his head bowed, but eyes open. Hayden placed his smaller and much less-worn bible next to his dad’s. He set his bottle of water on the floor just behind the podium.
The deacon finished his prayer and heads lifted, eyes opened. Pastor Tim gripped Hayden on the shoulder, his smile wide and white, almost reflective. The mic on his cheek looked like a huge mole, and Hayden almost started laughing.
Yeah, the nerves were bad.
“Every father has a dream,” Pastor Tim said, staring from Hayden to the congregation. “Just like my heavenly Father smiled down on me the day I first spoke his word, I’m so proud that I can be here to smile down on my son as he brings the gospel and the truth to you, my brothers and sisters.”
Amens and Hallelujahs swept out, mingling with the feint sounds of coins hitting empty offering buckets as ushers moved up and down the aisles.
Pastor Tim turned to Hayden and wrapped him in a bear hug. “You okay for this, son?” He whispered. Hayden knew the mic had been killed.
“I want to throw up,” Hayden confided. His stomach contracted at the thought.
“Don’t embarrass me, okay?”
“I won’t, father.” Hayden said, painting on a smile and pushing away from the older, sweatier man.
His dad grabbed his bible, held it over his head as if it were a talisman, and made his way to his large, plush chair set to the left of the platform, near where Hayden had been sitting.
Just breathe, Hayden thought as he turned toward the people of his father’s church. Lights shined in his eyes from above and back in the video booth. Several red dots meant he was being broadcast out onto the airwaves of Angel Saves television channels. Live.
“Good evening, brothers and sisters. As most of you know, my name is Hayden,”
“Preach it, Brother Hayden!”
“Amen! We know you, little brother, preach!”
Hayden’s face reddened and he cleared his throat, smiling. “I guess y’all do know me, don’t you?” He chuckled here, along with the crowd. “I’ve been watching my dad from that bench right there,” he pointed at the front row, right in front of him. Right now his mom and little brother occupied the seat, along with the families of the deacons. “For seventeen years now. I dreamt of the day I’d be standing here in front of you, my friends, my family, wishing with all my heart that I would have the words to convey to you just how much my other Father, that loving Man watching over us all right now, cares for each and every one of you.”
He paused, letting the emotions raise the flesh on his arms.
“A Man died for me. For me.” Hayden presses a fist to his chest, voice a hushed whisper. It carried over the silent crowd. In some of the lights he saw the glimmer of tears, like small gems he was mining. “But not just for me. Jesus was younger than I am right now when he started ministering, that day his parents took him to town, and He taught the Elders. Humbly, He taught them. Lovingly, He taught them. Even now, He’s teaching me, loving me, wanting me to follow Him. Just like he wants each and every one of you to model your life after His. Be His.”
Shouts of ‘amen!’ rose up; some stood and clapped, while other lifted their hands toward the rafters.
Hayden glanced down at the small, super-thin clock his father kept on the pulpit. This was his first sermon. He only needed five more minutes. Then an altar call, then he could get the hell out of this place.
“Brothers and Sisters,” Hayden gripped the edges of the podium and leaned over it. No doubt that light shining in his eyes was also shining off his hair. “We are not of this world, we have been chosen. To serve this church, our Lord, and each other. We serve a God of love.”
Amens rippled in waves back and forth among the congregation. People nodded their heads, lifted hands in praise. Hayden smiled his empty smile—his father’s smile. He had them.
And then something slammed against the large doors behind him, the doors which would open to reveal their baptismal. Had someone wandered back there and gotten lost? Kids probably. Hayden ignored it and took in a deep breath. This was it, his finale. He’d make his dad proud and get him off his back for a few weeks, maybe even a month.
It came again. Something hammered on the door. People began to murmur. Pastor Tim rose from his seat and turned, as well as the three deacons on the other side of the podium.
“Is anyone missing a kid?” Hayden’s dad said, though his mic wasn’t on so no one else heard him. His dad wasn’t used to his mic not being on.
Before anyone could move to check out the noise, the doors exploded open, one of them ripping free from its hinges and sliding across the stage.
Hayden stumbled back, knocking over his water bottle and almost tipping the podium over. Smoke poured from the doorway for a few seconds, roiling out and up toward the ceiling. A person stepped from the smoke, though wisps of it clung to his beard and swirled around his head.
His brown hair was long and matted with blood, the same blood that caked half of his face. Through the dirt smudging his face, Hayden could make out a tattoo just above the man’s eyebrows. It appeared to be faintly glowing, and growing dimmer, fading.
As he stepped over the threshold leading from the baptismal to the stage, Hayden noticed the man’s boots and clothing: leather boots laced up half his calf, a short leather skirt of some kind, and a leather vest sporting rips and tears. It was odd to say the least.
“What is the meaning of this?” Pastor Tim demanded, rounding his chair and taking a few steps toward the intruder.
Hayden narrowed his eyes. There was something familiar about this man, like he’d seen him somewhere before. One of the homeless men who came to eat on Tuesday nights, perhaps? Had he broken into the church earlier and—Hayden inhaled deeply—no, that wasn’t weed smoke.
The man halted, swaying slightly. He looked around, a bewildered expression on his face.
“So, they will strike here first,” he muttered, his accent strange, yet familiar.
“Hey, I asked you a question. Brother Simon, call the police,” Pastor Tim approached the man, authority radiating from every inch of his silk suit. The cameras were rolling, after all. Hayden knew his dad was a showman down to his very core, if nothing else.
The newcomer turned pale, flat eyes on Pastor Tim.
“You’ve called out my name so many times in your messages, it is a wonder I’ve not the taste of your lips on my ass.” His voice was low, dangerous.
Hayden’s father stopped in his tracks. “Who are you?” Pastor Tim demanded.
The man sighed and swayed. He looked tired. Hayden had a sudden urge to scoop up his bottle of water and offer it to the man. Before he was conscious of the act, he was doing just that. He’d picked up the bottle, crossed the stage, and offered it to the hobo with no knowledge of the act.
“Thank you, boy.” The man flicked his thumb against the cap and sent it flying, then turned the bottle up and downed it in one long gulp.
“Who are you?” Pastor Tim demanded again, louder this time.
And then, from the back of the auditorium, came more banging noises. This noise was different though. It was the sound of heavy rain on a tin roof. Or several people banging on the doors. What the hell is going on, Hayden wondered. He looked from the back of the room to the man. Several in the congregation had risen and were heading for the doors. Perhaps it was the cops, already.
“Who am I?” The man said in his hoarse, whispering voice. “I am First Warden of the North, Lion of Judah.” He looked up at Pastor Tim, almost spitting out the rest. “Jesus Iscariot, your Savior, sacrificial lamb to the undead horde.”
More to come!