Chapter Sixty-One: The Plague of Darkness

Editor’s Note: of course, one problem with complete modernization is this: Vine is still a land of miracles. Jonah is convinced God will destroy Vine the moment the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000. I’m skeptical, but the God of the Hebrews sent darkness to Egypt, while the Chosen People in the Americas got darkness, too. I happened to be at Jim’s when the darkness struck, and the funniest story I heard came from a clearly fed up Walter Polk: 

“Don’t you go out there,” she warned him. 

“I’m fine to drive,” he said.

“That ain’t what I said and also no you ain’t. Don’t you go out there, is what I said.”

“I’m fine.”

It was dark and had been dark for three days. Some eternal optimists swore the sun was rising, of course it was, the days had simply been cloudy. Those people were without eyes to see. Darkness had descended on Vine. One man could not see his own hand in front of his face, she knew that much. Counterpoint: the curves and contours of these roads had been seared into his DNA. He’d been driving a truck since age seven, navigating the fields on his father’s farm. 

Now he wanted to go to Gentleman Jim’s, goddamnit. 

The air had been preheated like an oven. Brown grass and dying trees. Dried deer blood in the dust. If you looked hard enough you could see bird limbs decaying in the dead grass. Could practically hear the fly population multiplying. There wasn’t an inch of his clothes untouched by sweat before he got even a quarter mile. 

The roar of a pressure washer hammered through the bar’s parking lot. Couldn’t figure why they’d be washing in darkness. The bar-back looked up at him, a squat man with both the shape and hardness of a cannonball. In both Heaven and Hell there are those who exist to keep the gears turning, he thought, admiring the bar-back’s dedicated clearing of leaves cigarette butts bottle caps dead bird feet oil slicks into gutters. 

“Without discipline we are nothing,” the bar-back said. The pressure washer hissed out a stallion stream and the darkness stayed where it was. 

Inside was same as it ever was. Green pool table blue smoke dust everywhere. Beer on tap and whiskey back up there where you had to ask someone to reach it for you. The guitarist’s songs sounded like the choked-out soil of a field lying fallow. 

“How’d y’all make out the weekend?” he asked as he ordered.

“Kept the music down. Regulars didn’t mind as long as the kegs still worked. Didn’t really close. Let people sleep in their chairs, under tables, whatever,” the Bartender said. 

“How do you figure the Israelites did it?” Alice Rollins asked. “How do you figure—I mean they were God’s chosen people at one point? Before they killed Jesus? Was that them or was it the Pharisees? God sent down darkness—those babies must’ve been crying—I never could figure—how they kept them babies quiet when the firstborns were dying. How do you figure—you know?”

On the Earth there are places where fragments of divine activity can be found. God created the Heavens and the Earth but each creation leaves artifacts. Byproducts. It is in these pockets of holy detritus that miracles can occur. He knew this the same way cicadas know 17 years have passed. 

“Darkness befell the Egyptians,” the Bartender said. He was drinking this morning, too—whiskey neat next to his coffee mug. “The Israelities were exempt from the plagues.”

O Lord we come to You humble servants wandering in darkness. O Lord our lives are but specks of dust compared to Your everlasting mercifulness. O Lord we approach You as sinners undeserving of salvation as fruit withers unpicked on the vine or the lifeless lake idles thanks to a lazy surface. O Lord the owls still scream in darkness. 

He stepped out of the bar. He wasn’t going to be gone long. The car’s engine rippled through his ribcage and when he flipped on the headlights there was a deer. 

It wasn’t going to rain, he could smell it. 

Somehow his little finger had a line of blood running down to his wrist. 

The deer went into the forest. This is the Word of the Lord. 

Thanks be to God. 

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