The Superbowl, New Orleans…
Karak gazes down lovingly at his enraptured flock, imploring, coaxing, loving all with the power of God. He raises his hands in supplication, rolls sweat-blinded eyes under the unbearable glare of powerful spotlights. Karak is graciously fat. Like an oversized cherub from a children’s comic opera he glides across the stage, leaning, peering, supplicating, pleading, bleeding tears of earnest sweat from every pore. His speech is deep, resonant, imploring, redolent of the spiritual crisis that is his message tonight. The reflected glare of the halogen lights on his polished, gleaming baldness lends him a hazy golden aureole visible even from the rear of the stadium, outshining the delusory purity of his snow-white silk suit.
Fucking electric migraine…
He breathes deeply, focusing the power of his oratory.
‘And yea, I say unto you my brethren in Christ, that ye, yea even thee my people shall behold the coming of the Beast…of the Antichrist, who shall devour even thy children should ye not repent and take salvation from THE LORD!!!’
He pauses dramatically, leans forwards low, wipes the sweat from his gleaming brow. The dissonant roar of Hallelujah’s rising from the euphoric multitudes gathered around him is deafening. Women weep openly, imploring God for forgiveness of imagined sin; men fall to their knees in rapture, intoxicated by the power of evil made manifest through the power of God’s word.
I love this shit…
‘Brothers and sisters in Christ,’ Karak continues, suddenly subdued, reverential, whispering dread secrets of salvation, dominating the sudden crystalline hush of the vast arena; ‘as you have witnessed on this historic night, the time draws near…the time of trials…the time of rapture…the time of our Lord, JESUS CHRIST!!!’
He raises his hands, suppressing the rising tide of adulation. ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…ladies and gentlemen, GOD BE WITH YOU ALL!’
A salvo of fireworks erupts into the night sky. To thunderous applause and ululations of salvation realised, Karak turns his back to the crowd, catches a towel thrown from backstage. A dazzling white suit, blond wig and Colgate smile sails forwards onto the stage, raises the microphone with a flourish. Karak retreats.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, our lay-preachers will now move among you…please give generously …ladies and gentlemen…brothers and sisters…heed the words of the prophet…’
‘Goddamn it!’ Karak thunders as he kicks open the changing room door. ‘Who the hell set those goddamned stage lights up…huh? The fucking things damn near roasted me…’ He stops short as unexpected darkness floods his eyes. Bewildered, he jerks defensively backwards into the open door.
A sibilant whisper snakes its way from the gloom: ‘Come right in, Karak!’
Karak peers into the room, pupils dilating as his eyes adjust to the gloom.
‘Moses…? Mr. Kaluma…?’ His voice trembles. The towel slumps soggily to the plastic floor. A slick sheen of sweat runs in chill rivulets down his back.
‘Come forward Karak Marden…stand before me now…’
‘It can’t be…you’re dead, old man…I saw you…’ Karak protests weakly.
‘Blessed be the name of the Lord, Karak, for he has wrought a great wonder in me…now step forwards my son…don’t be afraid…’
Karak reaches uncertainly for the wall, fumbles for the light switch, never taking his eyes from the shadowed corner of the room.
‘Now that’s not very polite Karak…aren’t you glad to hear my voice again…for he who was lost is found, my son.’
A flood of brilliance washes through the chill, air-conditioned room, dispelling the shadows and half-light. Karak glances quickly around, freezes as the withered, dreaded figure of the old negro gushes through his head like sudden, deadly frost. Almost paralysed by shock, he shuffles forwards uncertainly and falls to his knees, bows his head. ‘Mr. Kaluma…you’re alive…’
‘Yes, son, I’m alive…’
Karak raises his head. The old man is just as he remembers him.
He trembles, violently; ‘Forgive me father, for I have sinned against thee…’
‘Yes, that you have Karak…’
The old man laughs suddenly, removes his wrap-around dark glasses, revealing milky, sightless eyes: dead pools of rancid milk that gaze knowingly from his corrugated face. He leans forward from his seat, leaning on a barbarously carved stave, stroking the short, snow-white beard that contrasts so strongly with his ancient, ebony skin.
‘You are one mean, lyin’ sonofabitch, Karak...now get up off them scrimpy knees and face me like a man, goddammit...’
‘I said get up, Karak.’
Karak remains on his knees, coaxing his numbed brain to an assessment of the impossible. Impossible…you’re dead…
‘Very well, Karak. Remain as you are then…’
The old man’s voice falls to a whisper…‘You know why I’m here, Karak…don’t you…?’
‘No Mr. Kaluma…’
‘Don’t lie to me, Karak…not now…not ever again, you white piece o’ flab-encased heathen shit!’
‘Fuck the sir, Karak, you know why I’m here…where’s Abaddon, Karak…? Make it easy on yourself, now…’
Karak’s voice is barely a whisper, cracked with stress and unspeakable, sickening fear.
The old negro rises suddenly, raises the heavy walking stick, smashes it into Karak’s shoulder. Karak’s bones crack like dry twigs.
‘Don’t fuck with me, Karak…’
Karak screams, rolls on the floor, spastically clasps his shattered shoulder. Footsteps echo through the bright light of his agony. The old man gently shuts the door. Through the red blindness of pain, Karak senses what is to come. The roar of the congregation diminishes to a whisper.
‘Now Karak, think very carefully before you answer me…Where is it, Karak…Where’s Abaddon?’ He raises the heavy staff.
Still reeling in pain, Karak pleads; ‘I don’t know Mr. Kaluma…sir…I swear I don’t know…’
Crack! His right knee explodes. Outside, separated from Karak’s torment by a few meters of vinyl flooring and a universe of sickness and pain and fear, the crowd raises a thunderous roar of praise: ‘Thank you Jesus!’
Karak rolls away from the old man, screaming. ‘Please Mr. Kaluma…I beg you…’ The agony is unbelievable, tears into his guts like barbed wire, stabs at his brain like shards of frozen death.
‘They want it back, Karak…now you’d better listen to me before I get really angry and visit upon thee the wrath of The Lord!’ He pokes Karak’s shattered knee curiously, feels the movement of bone shards beneath the skin with grim satisfaction.
Tears well from Karak’s pleading eyes…Impossible...impossible…you’re dead…
‘You’re dead!’ he screams.
‘Karak, If I’m dead, who the fuck just smashed your knee to hell and gone…huh…?
‘Now listen carefully, Karak. I’m givin’ you one, just one chance to make amends here…where… is…Abaddon?’
‘Sir…sir…I can’t…it’s gone…’
‘Gone…? What’d you mean, gone?’
‘Sir…it’s…it’s evil…don’t you understand...?’
‘What have you done, Karak? You’ll tell me where it is now Karak, or else – this is your last chance..’
‘Please, Mr. Kaluma, sir…I can’t…’
Moses Kaluma screams in rage. Once again, the cane whistles through the air, smashes through Karak’s open mouth. His teeth explode like shrapnel. The noise from the stadium washes through the room like an evening tide.
‘And here, brothers and sisters…here we have a pledge for ten thousand dollars from Jimmy Appleton…God bless you brother…come on now, you children of God, don’t let Satan blacken your hearts with ungodly parsimony– give freely to the Lord now; give to the Lord and ye shall be rewarded, for thy place shall be at his side in heaven…’
‘Praise the Lord!’ the crowd screams in renewed frenzy.
‘Praise the Lord!’ the old man shouts, bringing the heavy wood cane down on Karak’s unprotected rib cage, on his fingers, and on his naked, gleaming skull. Blood spatters the pristine whiteness of his beard, drips onto the scuffed yellow floor.
‘Praise the Lord, Karak! Now tell me where it is, you ungodly piece of shit! You tell me right now or face the judgement of the Lord! ’
‘Amen!’ the crowd screams.
Karak’s body jerks spastically. He gasps, mouths incoherent words with his shattered speech apparatus, pleads weakly through bloodied, unseeing eyes. The old man breathes deeply, smiles down at him and kneels, cradling Karak’s bloodied, broken head in his lap as though he were a broken child or a damaged sparrow; ‘There, there, my son…’
Karak gazes into the old man’s dead eyes, shivering.
The old man lovingly caresses his brow, wipes at the blood with withered hands.
‘Tell me my son, tell me, that I may rejoice, and slaughter for thee the fatted calf…return to me from sin now…’ His hand tightens around Karak’s throat.
‘Tell me my son…’ He leans downwards, presses his ear to Karak’s bloodied mouth.
‘Tell me, my son…be released from pain…cleanse thy spirit in the well of truth…’
‘Fuck you, old man,’ Karak whispers, and dies.
‘Fuck it!’ the old man shouts in disgust, roughly feeling for Karak’s pulse… ‘Fuck it all to hell!’
He stands suddenly, brushes faddishly at his suit, pokes contemptuously at the broken body with his feet, and spits in disgust.
‘Fuck you Karak, you miserable, no good son of a heathen whore…how dare you die on me…how fucking DARE you…’ He raises the heavy stave, strikes savagely at the corpse, smashes down again and again at the contorted face, heedless of the blood and gore and bone shards that spray him with the insignia of a butcher. Yet again he raises the stave, but pauses, as though puzzled by the broken body at his feet. Slowly, he lowers the heavy cane, draws a deep breath and walks unerringly to the rear exit.
‘I guess I’ll let myself out then…’
He lowers his head, taps a pattern of blindness with his cane, and meanders onto the deserted, rain washed street, singing quietly in a voice of ebony resonance: ‘…and yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…for thy rod and thy staff will comfort me…’
‘Amen,’ the crowd jubilantly echoes into the glory of the starlit night.
To be continued...