Garzi_(attr)_Stoning_of_Saint_Stephen

Holy Land

Ryan Abshire

Father Bill paid for the Jesus outfit with the church credit card and went to the fountain behind the dressing kiosk to have an employee in rags wash his feet. The crown of thorns bothered him, but everybody else was wearing one. He accepted his suffering.

Father Bill bought a four-dollar, Virgin Mary-shaped bottle of water at The Main Manger, an over-priced booth run by a man dressed as Joseph.

“Gotta feed the son of God, you know?” he said, when Father Bill’s eyebrows went up at the price.

Father Bill shrugged and said, “I thirst.”

“The word of the Lord.”

Father Bill continued on the dirt road, past men in loincloths carrying cross replicas up a hill. Bloodied and weary, they flexed their muscles at an attractive girl Jesus, who waved coquettishly. Guides garbed as Simon swatted at them with cats-of-nine-tails to keep the line from growing.

Father Bill finished his water and couldn’t find a trashcan. He saw people throwing garbage into burning bushes where trashcans should have been. He threw his bottle into one and it disappeared.

Screams echoed off the stone wall of a faux cathedral. Father Bill looked up and saw a six-story tower at the top of the hill where four replica crosses hung on tracks on all sides, each with its own Jesus strapped to the beams. A gong sounded and the crosses dropped simultaneously, the men falling through hidden doors at ground level and going through darkness into an imitation inferno, coming out with second-degree burns on their arms and legs. Then they rose to Heaven, a rotating restaurant at the top of the ride where manna burgers and burn cream were served to the newly-risen Saviors.

In a bathroom down the street, there were no toilets, only signs that said “Jesus Does Not Defecate.” Father Bill sat down against a spotless alabaster wall in the bathroom and cried, wondering why he’d come.

From a hidden speaker came an announcement: “The next rock out session starts in fifteen minutes!”

A Jesus couple smoking cigarettes told Father Bill to follow them. They led him to a small-scale Roman Coliseum which he didn’t think had much to do with Jesus. The song “We Will Rock You” played loudly and a muscular David walked into the center of the arena carrying a megaphone.

“Let he who hath the strongest arm cast the first stone,” he yelled, followed by booming applause from the sons of God.

A thin, dark-haired girl came from a trapdoor beneath the floor, escorted by four Roman soldiers with plastic swords. She stood still until the guards disappeared and stones began to fly.
The people Father Bill had followed handed him a rubber rock which weighed more than a golf ball.

“Try it, brother,” they said.

“Are you kidding? What’s wrong with you?”

“Dude, it’s cool. They bring her back to life at Miracle Mansion if she dies and they pay her well. She only works one day a week. We should be so lucky.”

Father Bill thought it didn’t sound so bad until he saw the girl take a stone to the head and go down. At that, he walked quickly down the steps, feeling sick that he’d come to this place, upset that it even existed. The billboards had said this was a new Holy Land.

Over the loudspeaker David reminded: “If you’re out of stones, buy more from the concession stand nearest you.”

The girl was about to get up when Father Bill rushed to protect her with his body.

“Sir,” the megaphone buzzed, “exit the arena floor.”

“No,” he yelled, “this is enough.”

The girl wept and whispered, “Forgive them,” clutching Father Bill’s robes.

“Alright, on the count of three, we’re firing”

“Do what you must,” Father Bill said, pulling off the fake beard and crown of thorns, tossing them aside.

David put a stone in his sling and started winding up. “One…two…three.”

A stone struck David in the head and his crumpled body fell to the ground, pummeled by more stones then sandaled feet and fists, dust to dust.

The crowd flocked around Father Bill and he didn’t know what to say. Glass broke in the distance and smoke came up over the walls of the mini-Coliseum.

Someone stepped forward to kiss his feet, murmuring “My Lord.”

Father Bill opened his arms to them, said, “My children.”

And they got on their knees.

 
 
 


Ryan Abshire lives and works in rural Louisiana. His stories have appeared in The Louisiana Review.