The Second Coming

by Townsend Walker

Jesus Christ did not rise at 7:20 on the evening of May 23, 1928 as the Reverend Herbert Barnes had foretold. The hundred people assembled around James Smith's cellar door began to drift away after thirty minutes of inaction. The preacher continued to exhort before the dwindling numbers, "Lord, our Savior, we implore thee, come to us poor sinners, come, that we may hear thy words: 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live . . .'" An hour later, only Charity Smith and the Graham spinsters were kneeling with him.

A pleasing and precocious girl, Charity had just turned seventeen. Tonight, in honor of the impending second coming of the Lord, and not coincidently to impress prospective beaus assembled around the cellar, she was wearing her new white sun dress. Reverend Barnes was in black serge. Long white hair flowed to his shoulders and a prophet's beard covered the front of his frock coat. He turned to Charity, tiny black eyes glinting under a top hat. "You should go into the house now, my child. I will be in momentarily. I must see to the cellar," he mumbled, as he went down the steps. "I fear foul play."

Peering into the darkness, Reverend Barnes whispered, "Sam, where the hell are you?"

Back in the corner, among some wooden kegs, Herbert spied the splayed out figure of the un-resurrected Christ. The white robe was dirty, his long blond hair disheveled, and the beard had drifted off his chin.

"Sam, what in God's name happened?"

"We was down here getting ready, me and Charity, and was looking for somewhere I could sit until the time," Sam said. "That's when I saw these kegs here."

"I can smell the liquor on you," the Reverend said. "This resurrection was going to carry us into Lubbock and every town in West Texas. Now we'll have to go 500 miles before we find anyone who hasn't heard of this debacle."

He reached down to pull Sam to his feet. "Get up you simpering fool."

"Think we could take a keg with us?" Sam said. "It's powerful good."

That did it. The preacher left Sam where he was sprawled. "Christs are a dime a dozen. I'm getting me a new one. Give me that wig and beard. You can rot here."

As he was leaving, Charity poked her head down into the cellar. "What are you doing down here? What happened to that fellow was with you? Pa's upstairs wondering he's going to get paid."

The Reverend took her by the arm and led her toward the barn. "Charity, a young woman like you, in a small town like this, it doesn't seem to offer much. I've thought about a new way to bring people to the Lord, and Charity, you're part of that, a big part. Come with me, on a mission, on the Lord's mission."

From the time she was seven and learned about a world outside Levelland, Texas, Charity knew her future was anywhere but this flat brown land interrupted by nothing higher than cotton bolls. This preacher might be her ticket. "I'd have to talk to my folks. Besides, the money you owe Pa?"

He tugged on his beard. "The way I see it: your father and his illegal liquor caused Our Lord and Savior to stay in his tomb tonight. And now that I am acquainted with your Pa's ways, I might easily have a word with the sheriff."

The Reverend looked back toward the faded white clapboard house and saw Mrs. Smith peering out from behind the lace curtains. He steered Charity so the barn was between them and the house, then put his arm around her, and pulled her toward him.

"Reverend Barnes, what are you doing?"

"The love of God is flowing through me, sister, and directing me to show you that special love He has for you."

He was looking into cornflower blue eyes set among fair features and couldn't resist. Lips poked out of his snowy face and moved towards Charity's pink ones. The sweetness he'd hoped to taste was soured by the sharp stab between his legs. He curled up on the ground and closed his eyes.

The Reverend slowly, and painfully, uncoiled himself, and looked up at Charity, standing there. "Herbert, the way I see it is this: you could have made a small fortune out there tonight; you talk real good, but you're sloppy," she said. "So, I'm going with you; we'll do the Lord's mission and all that stuff, but I'm calling shots from here out."

Herbert struggled to get his feet under him. A mixture of hope and trepidation trickled through him.

"Number one: no hick towns; we're going to Austin where real money is," she said. "And you're getting rid of that pathetic costume and hair."

"Yes, Sister Charity."

"Number two: touch me again, and you'd better hope the border is only an hour away, and you got yourself a fast car."

"Yes, Sister Charity."

"Three: I'll take charge of the fifty bucks you owe Pa, plus whatever else you got; get us set up."

Reluctantly, the Reverend handed her $100, hiding a twenty.

They arrived in Austin late the next afternoon. Driving down Brazos Street, Charity asked the Reverend to stop the car. She hopped out, valise in hand, and ran off down the street.

"Sister Charity, stop, where are you going?" he called.

She turned, lifting her arms heavenward and crooned, "And now abideth Faith, Hope and Charity; these three, and the greatest of these is Charity," then, "But don't depend on Charity, Herbert!"

BIO: Townsend Walker lives in San Francisco. His stories have appeared in L'Italo-Americano, Crimson Highway, Static Movement, 971 Menu, The Aggregated Press; Raving Dove, AntipodeanSF, Neonbeam, Amazon Shorts, The Write Side Up, Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal, The Battered Suitcase, Dark Sky Magazine, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Cantaraville, Pequin, Danse Macabre, and others. During a career in finance he published three books: on foreign exchange, on derivatives, and the last one on portfolio management. Four years ago he went to Rome and started writing short stories.