And often there were those who peddled wares not for the flesh but for the eternal soul as prescribed by the Almighty, for in the progress of this new nation all faiths seemed possible, and all manifestations of the Creator seemed true. Now there were those who gathered in the forests and bathed in the rivers, and so many playing children were unwittingly greeted by the pale, liberated flesh of the godly— oh, to be a lad before those wilting and corpulence, to feel the breath quicken as a sagged woman coos from the brush, or a flaccid man pleads for a roll in the needles and leaves. Oh, to believe with deepest faith that in another’s flesh one finds the Almighty’s light! And there were those who would not murder nor eat the flesh of animals, supping upon only what they found growing from the land. And there were those who uncovered the flesh of men buried, and these were seen wandering with burlap sacks and crowbars and sniffing at the soil. And there were those who lived twelve or more within the same house and worked no jobs, choosing rather to till the soil and raise livestock, to feast upon the bounty of their labor. And here the men slept in rooms across from the women, but no sex frolicked with the other, for to fornicate was considered the foulest sin. And now pregnant women were excommunicated and sent to live amongst the sinners of the land while the implanter of the seed was but reprimanded, for “a man’s lusts are the deepest of all nature’s transgressions” and it was well know that “the female encourages and lures the male.” And some called for an end to priests, for one man should not stand as gatekeeper to another man’s salvation.
And some called the natives “the wandering tribes” of the original peoples. And some found in caves and under rotten stumps tablets writ with the language of the Almighty.
And there were men who drifted from church to church, from movement to movement, and from tavern to tavern, finding no solace for that which burned their soul, the torment and doubt. And when all faiths and tonics were exhausted they were found slouched against boulders, their heads blown out, pistol fallen to their chest, or they dangled from the trees, their necks rope-burned red, and black tongues distended. So many gave up their flesh beneath His black mountain that medical students traded the graveyard for this forest when seeking fresh corpses. And school children dared their chums to gaze upon the ghoulish decompositions, the souls struggling free, diaphanous, and wandering mountainward.
And many who did not put the pistol to their mouth found relief in lashing themselves, so parading the forests and streets, moaning and spilling black blood, while stray dogs and cats trotted at a careful distance, lapping the red tide. Or they found relief in those who preached the end of time, the final date named, and congregations made to renounce all possessions (although many of these preachers and followers invariably did kill themselves rather than admit the folly of false hopes). Indeed, how many false revelators were dragged through the streets, the cobbles strewn with bloody scraps of preacher’s garb? And others fled in the dead night for new towns, where their shame was not yet known, and there they named some new date of final doom, now again entirely certain to come.
Yes, you knew these preachers, in all their names and guises. They attempted to infiltrate the shopkeeper’s home and the shopkeeper’s shop, to explain the days and why they were made, and when the world would fall to a final night. You heard them speak the words of the Almighty, and you saw them in the forests of the land, praying unto the trees, gathering up the moss and the sticks and calling them the voice of God, or you saw him at the golden alters of their churches, decrying all other churches and preachers as the utterers of ignorance and sin. And when in the presence of no one else you told these preachers, “His creature has visited me in the night and bathed me in its terrible light,” and they replied, “Sure it did,” or “You all right, Son?” or “You mocking me?”
And middle class preachers preached in their parlors, coffee and tea and cakes provided afterward by their wives, and poor preachers preached in town squares and on stoops, in tin sheds and in wooden shacks, and here they shouted their twisted impressions of holy books known to all. By this time a thousand preachers of a thousand configurations wandered the streets, and some promised ruination and the rise of devils and a “great roasting,” while others pledged cities in the clouds, and others promised choirs of creatures, and others said there was no end or beginning, for all lived within the same constant breath of life. And no matter the nature of their inclinations or the origin of their holy insights, all insisted upon tithes and donations of possessions. Indeed many preachers wept openly at collection plates heaped with silver coins and watches and pearl necklaces and gold teeth, and later they slept upon these riches, or filled tubs with coins and jewels and bathed in them. And many were run out of town with shotguns and pitchforks, and others were feathered and run out of town straddling rails, the fumes of scorched skin and tar, white eyes beneath the morass. And many built enormous houses with gold fountains on the front lawn, naked children spitting water, and these preachers too were run out of town, or strung up, or filled with boiling silver or lead, for none could suffer a charlatan in those days.
And you walked in their midst, listening to all. And it is said you learned much of the world from these men.
ROBERT KLOSS is the author of two novels, The Alligators of Abraham and The Revelator; a novella, How the Days of Love & Diphtheria, and the hybrid genre work, The Desert Places, co-authored with Amber Sparks and illustrated by Matt Kish.
The Revelator features cover art and original interior illustrations by Matt Kish.
Adapted from The Revelator, by Robert Kloss, Copyright © 2015 by Robert Kloss. With the permission of the publisher, Unnamed Press.