Some imagine life and death to be an end of all things, not existing in the present. So, we walk a tight line, keeping very scarcely away from addictions and life altering decisions; a razor edge away from racing headlong into the trees and crushing our skull over the hood of a smoldering car. Not me, I know that both life and death exist now, in the present. I believe the agents of death hold their vile hands much too closely and occasionally need to be swatted away like a gnat. Likewise, the agents of life lend a hand and guide the way from time to time. The stories I am about to share, to me, are true. To others who don’t or won’t believe, they are little more than fictional entertainment. Don’t deny though that for some reason, the dark side, or let’s say the other side draws us more than we may care to admit. What hands might you need to swat away?
I was raised in church. My great-grandfather was the pastor of our little country chapel. He was old, white-haired and wide eyed. His sermons drew my attention because he was not a normal country preacher. If you are old-time Pentecost, then you know hellfire and brimstone often spews forth from the pulpit like an erupting volcano, burning holes of conviction in the hearts of all within earshot.
This wasn’t my grandfather’s style at all. He was the storyteller that had a knack for twisting tales of pet pigeons and blind racehorses - into stories with a deep spiritual meaning. He weaved his lessons with love and humor and a great amount of skill. More than that, he was my storyteller. As a small child I would see the world through fantasy from the vantage point of his lap. Our back and forth narrative lasted hours and days and summers as elephants paraded down the old gravel road past the small farm. Don’t stand too long in this outbuilding, I keep the bears underneath it!
I grew into a boy and was ever at his house. After my parents left for work, I would ride my fifteen-dollar BMX to his house and spend the day picking vegetables and tending to the ponies and chickens with him. I avoided the bull. It must’ve been something he caught in one of those Pentecostal services, no doubt a demon that had been cast out of someone. And he kept it in the bottom of the barn. He was a man of many strengths.
I became a young man and my great grandfather told less stories. Although he still spouted the Bible like he had written it and argued with my mom over whether or not the Christmas tree was Christian or Pagan. As my feet grew larger, he would tell me I was a man of great understanding… get it? One day I found out Grandma was sick. I visited her in the hospital but before we knew it, she was gone. She did not suffer long; God was kind to her. Alone, my grandfather struggled. I wasn’t there for him, I didn’t soothe him with comforting tales of Heaven, and I regret that greatly. The woman he spent the majority of his long life with was now gone and that took a great toll on his aging body and mind. Often, he would ask my cousin who lived next door to turn down the music but there was never any music being played. I believe the great corridors between this life and the next were slowly beginning to open and welcome him home. Two years passed and one day he walked through those gates and I saw him no more.
Eventually, with some struggle, the church found another man to take his place behind the pulpit. A great man with a slow Alabama drawl who, yes you guessed it, preached hellfire and brimstone. But as time moved forward, I would be thankful for him because whether demons are big black bulls or bulls are big black demons, demons were very real, and I was about to find out.