by Jason Nunes
2004 SFWP Literary Awards Program
This is how I find out: I’m sitting in the chair feeling old, and foolish, the doctor, who has been prodding at my scalp figuring out exactly how much hair he needs to extract from my ass to cover my growing bald spot, stops in mid examination, he turns whiter (if that’s even possible), let’s out a gurgled yelp, and backs out of the room shaking with something pretty close to mortal terror. I sit, not moving, wondering if he’s ever coming back, or if whatever is sitting on my head is finally going to bite. Neither happens. I decide to find out what is so terrifying. He’s got one of those mirror-on-a-retractable-arm thingies, like they have in the bathrooms of upscale hotels. It takes a little bit of straining, but finally I position it so I can see. All that’s there is bare skin and a few lone sheaves of hair.
‘It’s like the Sa-hair-ah desert.’ Talking to myself is a bad habit.
I look closer. I see it. It’s right on the battle line, half revealed, where the hair retreat is currently in full force.
‘What the fuck? Why do I have ‘666’ on my scalp?’
I keep hoping it’s a college prank, that one of my so called ‘buddies’ waited until I was passed out, and played a little joke on me. Maybe it’s a tattoo. I know it’s not. The most frustrating thing about it is I’m an atheist. I can’t remember a time when I believed in god ‘ or the devil.
I’m not a bad guy. I don’t store pieces of dead people in my freezer or lock kids in the car trunks and push the cars into lakes. I don’t even cheat on my taxes or girlfriends if I’ve got them. I can’t say I haven’t been tempted’ well, by the cheating stuff. I can even be generous. I help my friends move without complaining. I even give change to bums. This whole Anti-Christ thing fucks me up something fierce.
I spend the next week, or 2, or maybe even 3, climbing into various bottles, and various women, and various ugly situations. I go through all the stages, though not necessarily in the right order, rage before denial, that kind of thing. Just to make sure I’ve got them down, I go through them again. I’m a slow learner. Right before I’m about to go through them again, I run out of money. Let me tell you, there is nothing like poverty to sober a guy up, well, a middle class white guy from the suburbs. To me, hunger is something that happens between lunch and dinner, and you tackle it with a Snickers bar.
I’m lost. So I do what any self-respecting middle class white guy from the suburbs does. I call my mother.
‘Mom, I’m the Anti-Christ.’
‘Mmm, found out about that one did you?’
‘What? You mean you knew? Where you ever going to tell me?’
‘Oh honey, it was the 60s, we all did such crazy things back then, free love, all those drugs. After Rosemary’s Baby, Satanism was all the rage ”
‘You slept with the Devil? But, I always thought dad was my dad.’
‘Well he was’ is. He is sweetie. A father is so much more than genetic material. Your father, Tom, he loved you and raised you. That’s what matters. So what if genetically you are someone else’s little boy.’
‘Mom, that someone else was the Devil.’
‘Sperm is sperm sweetie. Besides he’s not really as bad as he’s made out to be you know. He’s just had some really bad PR.’
And so on. The Reader’s Digest version is this: When I get around to telling her my predicament, and hit her up for some cash, she pretty much tunes me out.
‘Why don’t you go ask your father?’
‘It doesn’t matter. In their own ways, they both were bums.’
Always so helpful. The conversation makes me think. Aside from watching the Omen movies when I was a kid, I know absolutely nothing about my real father. It’s time to find out. Maybe being hungry can be an advantage.
I wander the streets in search of one of those bible-thumping, fire-and-brimstone soup kitchens. It takes some time, and questions to a plethora of smelly homeless people, but I find one. I try to jump the line. I decide not to. Those guys hide knives in their flaps and folds.
It’s while standing there that it starts. I have plenty of time to get to know my line mates: Fae, aged somewhere between 14 and 150. She makes meager drug money by blowing the Mexicans out on 25th and Utah. And The Poetry Guy, who is just that, he makes up poems for handouts. They’re good too, and if they didn’t contain numerous references to killing whitey, I’m sure he’d make a mint. He gives me one for free.
Now, I’m no bible scholar, but the whole time I’m in line with Fae and Poetry, I can’t help but think about Christ. Didn’t he start out with a whore and some guy who was good with words? Wasn’t he younger than me when he started his life’s work? He sure had a lot more hair.
‘Wow, I’ve got some catching up to do.’
Poetry glares at me, and keeps on with his poem. ‘My blade at the hot throat of all the oppressors ‘ blue-eyed devil! I cut deep in the name of myself!’
‘Hey guys, I’m thinking of starting a church’ sort of an alternative to all this Christ stuff. Would you two be interested in helping me set it up?’
Fae pops her gum and shrugs. Poetry clenches his jaw. Neither says no.
During dinner, the sermon is lost on all of us. Hell, damnation, Revelations. I look around at all the bums, and junkies covered in filth and scabs.
‘Christ, consider your audience.’
Later on, while Poetry watches Fae suck my cock in the $20 a night room I’ve rented with my emergency sock fund, it hits me, my revelation: Christ had his mission, and now I have mine. I’m not going to bring about Revelations, or rain down fire, or make rivers run red with blood. I’m just going to help people see ‘ see what most of them already suspect: The world already is hell.
It hits so hard, like a fist in the stomach. I cum and anoint my first disciple.
I don’t even try to recruit. They just start to gather. The hookers are first, then the coke and dope sluts. The pimps take a little longer.
The first one to show up is Little Jimmie. He is thin and dangerous, like a knife. He makes anger seems cool. It stops being cool when I’m lying on the floor, and he is breaking my ribs. Fae cries while Poetry watches. I have my second revelation listening to the bones pop and crack: This is the only language the world understands. It crosses all boundaries, all dialects. I need to preach my message to everyone. I can’t leave anyone out. I will use the script of pain and violence. It makes me laugh, which just pisses Little Jimmie off. He kicks harder. I laugh harder. At some point he stops, but I don’t.
‘You are one crazy mother fucker.’
He says it with fear in his voice. I anoint him too. For some, it’s my semen, for others my blood. I’m not so different from Christ after all.
And that’s when it hits me. The broken ribs, living in the piss in the sink hotel, surrounded by the detritus of society, hookers, pimps, I feel better than I ever have. I finally have a reason to be. I am done wandering aimlessly through my life. I am going to become somebody. Sure, that somebody may be the Anti-Christ, but you have to play the hand that life deals. I decide to become the best damned Anti-Christ that I can be.
That’s when it all starts.
Fast-forward several months. I’m surrounded by an army of them: the pimps, and the hookers, the dope fiends, and the homeless, and it grows every single day. I don’t even have to get beaten or blown for them to come to me anymore, though, to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do have to make changes. Can’t have every single convert sucking or fucking me up. I make it a ritual, part of our ‘services,” held Monday, because every other good day is taken ‘ a shit day for the shit. There is a warehouse for the sermons, though the faithful often spill out onto the streets. We set up big monitors outside so they can all see and hear. Poetry does most of the talking. He’s so much more eloquent than I am. But towards the end, right before I anoint another set of disciples, I like to have my say.
When the cameras show up, I know it’s trouble, or as an old boss used to say, an opportunity.
We are used to the little cameras, adventurous tourists braving the seamy underbelly. These aren’t those kind. They’re big ones, on the shoulders of bored guys wearing cut-off shorts, and dirty t-shirts. Each one has an umbilical chord, a microphone cable, attached to a pretty, perfect, plastic person.
‘I stand here in the midst of”
It was only a matter of time. They came for the show, who am I to disappoint?
‘Is this thing on? Can you hear me in the back?’
The roar of affirmation startles even me. Good thing I didn’t ask them anything serious. I smile. The reporters look nervous. They are the only beautiful people here. Cubic Zirconium in a pile of dog shit. At least the dog shit doesn’t pretend it’s valuable.
‘Thanks for coming out everyone.’
Another roar, and now even the camera men look scared. I’m finally making an impression.
‘Look, let’s cut to the chase OK? For those of you new to the congregation, let me introduce myself ‘ I’m Mark. I’m the Anti-Christ. Please, hold the applause until the end. For the benefit of our visitors, let me dispel some misconceptions. I’m not evil. I’m a realist. I’m not trying to bring about Hell on earth. I’m just trying to get everyone to see the truth: Earth is hell. I’m just a regular Joe, like everyone else. No horns. No hooves. Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to business. Let’s get on with the show. Please give a big hand for Shawanda and Raymond.’
Our two newest recruits walk out onto the stage. I drop my pants.
‘Sha’s going to blow me, and when she’s done, Ray’s going to kick my ass.’
And they do. And the place goes crazy. And by some miracle (or perhaps the exact opposite of one) the reporters escape with their skins and tapes intact.
We become the darlings of CNN. The entire television watching public becomes intimately acquainted with my electronically blurred-out genitalia. The western world goes insane. Everyone wants to start a holy war. Swaggart screams for my blood. The protesters come the next week. The war is slow to start, even with the rhetoric. It’s hard to be righteous and holy when you are beaten and knifed. The real reason the faithful don’t rise up to put us down is the same reason we get thousands of new converts each day: television. It’s easy to be a Christian while sitting in an easy chair and munching on Cheetos, a lot more difficult when you are face to face with a 6 foot tall black man wielding a bad attitude and a switch blade. There are some who try, of course, but their innate love of all things violent marks them as mine anyway. It’s only a matter of time before they realize this.
Fuck the meek. They aren’t going to inherit shit.
My life continues to move on fast-forward. Anti-churches appear everywhere, erected by the faithful, sometimes over night, even in the Bible Belt. I receive calls from Madison Avenue and Hollywood. I have to hire publicists, HR managers, advertising agencies. Starbucks, Dominos, Crispy Cream, they all begin to watch. Trying to mine my secrets.
It’s better to burn out than to fade away, or so somebody once said.
I should see it coming, but of course I don’t. I guess I’m punch drunk from all the beatings. If I were a student of history, it would be obvious. Leonard Bosack and Sandra Lerner, Julius Caesar. Even Christ had his Judas, right?
The TV show is what really puts us on top. So many people are looking for something. Anything. The alternatives? They’re so old fashioned, require so much work: denial, fasting, repentance, and for whom? Guys who’ve been dead for thousands of years? Fictional characters? Our ratings are huge. My viewers, they can see me. Every night. I’m flesh and blood. Real. They get to see me bleed, they get to see me cum. I’m not some spirit sent down from a magical never-never land handing out a bunch of rules that still offer no guarantee. I tell them like it is.
‘This is it folks. We’re at the end of the line. There’s no pearly gates, no 72 virgins. Just this. Just now.’
Our Neilson ratings stun everyone but me. We’ve got it all, sex, violence. We’re the best reality show on television. They can’t turn away. We’re a spiritual train wreck. But I still offer redemption: the redemption of reality. That’s my mission.
‘Fuck Survivor, the Great Race, Martha Stewart, CNN. We’ve got them all beat. Our operators are standing by. Show your commitment to the cause by dialing 1-900-666-6666. Ah ‘ that’s what I like to hear, the phone lines are lighting up. We’ll show that big guy in the sky yet.’
And that’s when it happens. Right before we’re about to get stale. Right before the inevitable channel changing exodus. It’s perfect timing. Cements my legacy. Just like getting nailed to the cross.
The flesh is weak. Life is short. No one lives forever. Not even God.
It’s the middle of the telecast. Satan’s Springtime Singers have just finished a stirring rendition of Crossroad Blues. I’m floating. It’s my favorite part of the show: Personal Stories of Irredemption from the faithful.
‘Little Amy Madigan, South Fork, North Dakota. Class slut, bad girl, been giving it away since she was 13. It’s her turn to shine. Those righteous, so-called Christians who never have understood ‘He who is without sin, throw the first stone’, it’s time for them to get their comeuppance. They all think they are so spotless, perfect. They all think it’s their duty to cast judgment against a poor soul like Amy. I’ve got a little question for them. If they’re so pure and righteous, what are they all doing wallowing down here in hell with the rest of us? You want to talk evil? Listen to Amy’s story folks. What could be more sinful than justifying your own foul deeds with the lie of holiness? They are worse than sheep. They are Judas cows, leading us all to the slaughter, where we get to discover, after our brutish short lives filled with guilt and denial are done ‘ buh blee buh blee buh blee, that’s all folks! They’re ain’t no more. Should have got yours right here on earth. Let’s listen to Amy, folks. Let’s hear the truth!’
I’m on a roll tonight. I’m like a light bulb, all lit up and burning from the inside. A glow to cast aside shadows. Of course, that’s when the axe falls. Literally. I feel the thick, cold blade sink into my neck. I feel the warm blood running out of me. It’s not like wine at all. I turn to meet my Judas, Poetry, just in time for the next blow to fall, to sever. I’ll never know why. Jealousy? Righteousness? Simple old-fashioned blood lust? Part of me wants to believe that I see sadness in his eyes right before it all goes black, but I don’t. And really, I was right ‘ buh blee buh blee buh blee that really is all folks.
They always say, leave ’em wanting more, so I do. There’s a sucker born every minute. or once every 2 thousand years. Eventually one is bound to be Jesus, and one is bound to be me. Maybe next time, we’ll finally get it right.