Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Time in Zombie Writer’s Camp XVI: The CONFEDERATION Project

This is one of those rare cases in which one’s nostalgia for something isn’t killed off by a chance encounter with it years later. That is to say, I’ve always remembered this chapter  fondly, and damned if it didn’t reward my love when I read it again just today. Preacher Miller isn’t a cartoon villain; the overcooked and overexposed trope of the Evil Preacherman doesn’t apply. Here, we come to understand his drive, we feel his indignation — which means we’ll be there to weep when it all goes to shit, as we know it must. 

So help me, I am going to find a way to lash all this together and finish this once I’m done relating The Saga of the Dead Silencer. This is just too good to throw away. Run the boilerplate!

In 2008 James Robert Smith and I collaborated on a project we hoped would turn out to be the Winesburg, Ohio of zombie epics, a mosaic tale describing the communities coming together (and squaring off against one another) in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. For various reasons the collaboration fell apart. Bob took his part of the narrative — which included his idea of a border collie manipulating the other abandoned dogs and zombies—and crafted The Living End. I scuffled around for a couple of more years until I came up with The Saga of the Dead Silencer.

For those readers following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, who miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the sixteenth installment I wrote for the project. Of course, if you like this, feel free to pick up Bob’s completed work. Support your local architects of the apocalypse!



PREACHER MILLER


A ridge-runnin’ cracker, she said, that’s all those people think when they look at you.

Well, thought Preacher Miller, ain’t that what I’m doin’?

They think you get everything handed to you just ‘cause you’re white. You ever notice how it’s perfectly okay to make fun of poor white people? We’re all stupid an’ makin’ naked with family members if not the cow (like we can afford livestock!) an’ people laugh and laugh! It don’t matter how much schoolin’ you get or how pretty you learn to talk, everybody white and black looks down on a ridge-runnin’ cracker!

But Leah Miller’s boy had been determined to rise above all that. Faith in the Living God and in His Only Son, Jesus Christ, had enabled him to work and raise the money for seminary school. And what did you know, most of the people at seminary school recognized his faith for what it was, a genuine thing! They were all brothers in Christ, and it didn’t matter who you were or where you were from or the color of your skin (though admittedly there weren’t a lot of black folk there at the place he went to, all of one, really, but he was a good guy).

Gerald Nicholas Miller sat through countless hours of tutoring just to catch up to the levels his fellows had taken for granted in eighth grade. He was well aware they would not have afforded him this opportunity save that, alone among his fellow students, Jerry Miller knew his Bible backwards, forwards, sideways and down. And Jerry Miller, known among kith and kin as Preacher Miller even before he was accepted into school, also knew the Old Testament was full of stories of outsiders who had made good against all odds. Jacob, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, and that poor shepherd boy who left the fields with no more than a lyre and a sling to become God’s greatest warrior and the most beloved of Israel’s many kings — everything in the world against them save a heart faithful and true to the Lord their God.

Then came Jesus to explain the ageless truth demonstrated in these stories, a Good News for poor children of every stripe and color: For verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Matthew Chapter 17, verse 20. And in Chapter 21, verse 22: And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

This was echoed in Luke Chapter 17, verse 5: If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Preacher Miller had had no intention of literally moving mountains. He had only desired to stand as a beacon of hope among those who were as impoverished of spirit as they were of material wealth. For he, Gerald Nicholas Miller, was from the same place, the same mindset, and through the power and love of God the Father and through His Son Jesus Christ, he was flush with the treasures of heaven. Where is boasting then? said Paul to the Romans (Chapter 3, verses 27-28). It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Adrenaline spiked throughout Preacher Miller; it was the kind of verse someone like Dr. Mark Winthrop would use to excuse his excesses. So why was it he and not Dr. Mark fleeing alone along this midnight ridge?

Breath hitching, Preacher Miller slowed from his run. He would have stopped altogether but his blood was pounding so hard through his body he thought his very skin would burst, let alone his heart.

Had there been writing on the wall, a mene mene tekel upharsin he had missed in thinking he could take down an operation like New Bethany with only thirty-three men? Was his faith insufficient, nowhere near the mustard seed required to make the necessary difference?

Stop!

The command resounded as if shouted from the very heavens. Preacher Miller, Gerald Nicholas Miller, Jerry to his mother, and a name known but to God since before he was conceived in his mother’s womb — Preacher Miller skid to a halt and looked towards the sky.

The moon blazed with a blue-white intensity, beaming a spectral heat upon the mountain. God Himself was beyond that moon, shining with a luminescence so intense mortal eyes dared not register it in the void between the stars. Preacher Miller stood, his breath all but steaming in the moonlight, looking to the sky for further instruction.

But all Preacher Miller heard was the slow pulsing of crickets. The distant hiss of wind rising in trees....

Terrors are turned upon me: they pursue my soul as the wind: and my welfare passeth away as a cloud.

From Job’s lamentation unto God in Chapter 30, verse 15. Most scholars thought Job and his famed tribulation the oldest book of the Bible. Did Preacher Miller consider his sufferings equal to that of....

Enough!

Listen:

The wind in the trees, ruffling the long grasses of the meadows. Like a father’s hand in his child’s hair. Fifteen references to the wind in Job alone — God answered Job’s complaints from the whirlwind — but so many more throughout the Scriptures. The unrighteous driven as chaff before the wind. The cleansing wind. The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness. (Jeremiah Chapter 22, verse 21.)

The wind blew downhill, warming as such winds did, downhill towards New Bethany. It felt hot against Preacher Miller’s fevered skin on this blazing bright summer’s night.

Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments in thee, and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter into all the winds.

Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have any pity.

A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I will scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them.

Ezekiel, of course. Chapter 5, verses 10 through 12. Describing a world in which God’s houses of worship had become dens of gambling in the name of fundraising. Venues for rock concerts in the name of relevance to the young. Where the spirit and truth Christ demanded in worship according to John 4:23-24 vanished before the unholy name of Tolerance for one hellish perversion after another.

Preacher Miller drew a breath. Did this mean that God Himself had ordained The Thing? That the dead should rise and consume the flesh of the living? That tiny orphans should cry in the night for hunger, only to fall ill and die and rise with yet an even more unholy yearning?

That old charlatan Dr. Mark had spoken of how The Thing had been God’s will, a cleansing for the new kingdom, and Preacher Miller had been appalled. Preacher Miller now realized that his own soft-hearted horror at the depredations of The Thing (hadn’t he reproved Brother Brock in this wise earlier that evening?), his contempt for Dr. Mark and his ambitions had blinded him.

Here, now, on this ridge, the wind calmed about him. The scales fell from his eyes and Preacher Miller looked down from the ridge where he stood. He saw the trees blue-black and lovely in the moonlight. He saw the garish white scar where a wealthy man had hired a bulldozer to gouge the side of the mountain, clearing land for a mansion which would never rise. He saw the road further below, that thin black vein he and his men had avoided for fear of being spotted. The road that led directly down the mountain from Soul’s Harvest to New Bethany.

Everything was still.

It seemed strange to hear, for Preacher Miller did not feel the air moving across his skin. But the same voice which had commanded him to stop compelled him.

Look.

The leaves of the hardwoods flashed as the wind parted the trees along the road. Laid bare in the moonlight the black road sparkled and shone. A rising gust shook the trees even more violently. Just in case he’d missed it the first time....

As the wind fell it pulsed along the trees. Downhill. Like blood from a pulsing wound. Hissing. Splashing.

Flowing downhill.

Preacher Miller’s feet moved beneath him, one before the other. He watched the wind pulse slowly along that road, even as the breeze began to rise about him, breaking before him.

Flowing downhill.

Preacher Miller turned to face into that wind. He would follow it all the way back to Soul’s Harvest.
Not a ridge-running cracker. Indeed, I have no idea what this thing is, but somehow it seemed appropriate. The chick with the sword in the background can be like the Angel of Death or something.

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2011, 2017 by James Robert Smith