Cole Hardman
Dec 2, 2018 · 7 min read
artwork by Graham Hardman — https://instagram.com/graham_hardman/

EXT. N 12TH STREET (MITCHELL) — MID-MORNING, SEPT. 23

Dirk, in a beat up old car that might have once been his father’s batchelormobile, spins off Hancock and starts down the road running between Mitchell High School and what used to be the Mitchell First Church of God, where the funeral is scheduled to be held. Suddenly, he finds himself driving into a mass of people moving between the high school and church parking lots, and he slams on the brakes before biting at the heels of staring students.

The students are wearing gym clothes and polos and ripped jeans and basketball sneakers, blazers and cowboy boots and tuxedos, even Canadian denim things like chunks of dirty ice complete with American flag stripes. They have baseball caps on and rubber bands in their hair. Some are even wearing their blue and gold letter jackets, despite the heat. All of them are moving like zombies towards the church. One student in particular, a BIG BALDING STUDENT, who nearly sits on Dirk’s car, slams his open palm on the hood and yells.

BIG BALDING STUDENT

The road is blocked!

DIRK
(passive aggressively from
inside his car, where
no one can hear him)

No shit.

FLORI (IN PHONE)
(speaking from the cupholder)

Just pay attention…

DIRK

Everything is fine.

FLORI (IN PHONE)

You know it’s not.

DIRK

We can wish.

FLORI (IN PHONE)
(uncharacteristically
pointed for an algorithm)

If I wasn’t stuck inside your phone

I’d go alone, and you could stay at home

twiddling your thumbs or sleeping in like always.

DIRK
(sarcastically)

But look at where we are.

FLORI (IN PHONE)

So pay attention.

Dirk turns the phone away from himself in the cupholder so that Flori can’t see his face. The mob of students in front of his car begins to dissipate, and he gently lets his foot off the brake. The car slouches towards the church. Dirk takes a breath.

DIRK
(somewhat more composed)

If this is what you think it is, then what

are we supposed to do about it?

FLORI (IN PHONE)

I don’t know…

Dirk’s phone flashes in his cupholder while Flori calculates something hidden.

FLORI (CONT’D IN PHONE)

All I know is what I’ve seen. RJ

used Hereafter more and more last month,

and just before he died, he’d been logged on

for nearly twenty hours.

DIRK

Talking to who?

FLORI (IN PHONE)

Anons he paid someone offshore to make

to stand in for his parents.

DIRK

Jeez…

FLORI (IN PHONE)
(concerned)

I know.

Dirk finally pulls into the church parking lot. He parks the car between two lifted diesel trucks, which stand over it like bodyguards towering around a well-worn celebrity, and steps out to look at the main building. Unseen, and indeed, completely unnoticed by him, Rod coagulates beside him.

ROD
(nodding meaningfully and
gesturing romantically)

The history of this church deserves a pause.

Some 400 years ago, an unnamed,

insane French trapper, crazed after spending

months enchanted by the emerald darkness

he found in the old woods of the New World,

constructed a temple at the exact spot

this crowd of ignorant students is heading for

out of rough-hewn timber, grass, and mud,

mixed, just so, precisely with his own

fecal matter. He worshiped wooden gods

of his own creation, hid in the smoke-filled

confines of that sacred place, with burnt

abundant grain and flesh and fragrant oils

distilled from the holy organs taken from

his many varied kills. He left the shack

in disarray when trapping moved northwest,

and it wasn’t for decades, when a troubled group

of Protestants, who also loved the hunt,

discovered the stable foundation the Frenchman

had laid, that it was put to use again.

Dirk stands where he was, beside his car and admiring the church in a glint of sunlight. But something happens to Rod. The form he is assuming comes undone, and the ectoplasmic expulsion that he undergoes is something you might not be prepared to fathom — but it happens under our very noses. Arms, legs, head, torso, etc. unwind into unblinking eyes and naked no-faced dolls and crashing glass with a splash of something somewhat indescribable, like screaming snot, which presently assumes the form of a woman in a heavy black dress who most people in Mitchell know through years of lore as BETTY BEWITCHED.

BETTY BEWITCHED
(sweetly sincere)

“This most sacred ㅤ ㅤand holy spot

was put

ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤbefore our congregation

ㅤ ㅤby the Will of God,”

some crazy pilgrim

in blackened stockings said

ㅤ ㅤwhile the sweetest-smelling

ㅤ ㅤsplit pine walls rose around him.

The Protestants got down to business

ㅤ ㅤand soon ㅤ ㅤ the place was filled

with the cries of crazy juries

ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ witnessing ㅤ ㅤprophetic wails

and the dry-heaving ㅤ ㅤtears of those condemned

to die.

ㅤ ㅤPeople were hung ㅤ ㅤwith prickly ropes

on the oak tree just outside —

ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤit’s still there

today ㅤ ㅤonly bigger

ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤand blue-white ghosts

still linger in the parking lot

when the moon

is full but hidden ㅤ ㅤby dense judicial clouds,

ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤwhich happen to resemble

ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤthe smoke that poured

from the broken windows on the night

I gathered all the witches

ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ ㅤ — and burnt it down.

Bewitched Betty, upon mentioning other witches, stretches out into multitudes of others, which fill the parking lot. Rod is among them, gesturing mildly to a boy, RJ, that is younger than most, and further othered from the witches by the deeply tanned color of his skin. RJ has a double-barreled shotgun in his hand, and a bewildered look on his face. When he speaks, his voice carries the weight of an accent he was urged to shake, wrapped in an American way of speaking he was urged to take up, but which he never could abandon.

RJ

For a long time, the space where the church had stood served as a dust-filled open lot across from

the newly built high school, where some kids played

baseball in the spring and football in the fall,

and others laughed beneath the spreading arms of the oak tree,

which held them like some gentle but earthly

helicopter parent.

RJ looks down at the gun in his hand. He breaks it open and looks at the two shells, which stare wide-eyed back at him with an irritated bronzed-red gaze.

RJ

Of course, like most the happy students who pass beneath

the branches of the tree on their way to the church today,

the children that were playing here before this church was built

always failed to see the suffering marked by a certain emptiness of leaves

where violent ropes once wore the bark away,

revealing all the raw and sticky mess they call reality —

that they claim is their lives.

A sprinkling of leaves falls slowly through so many ghosts. A dog in a neighboring yard, trained genealogically to sense and even hunt unseen things, pricks up her ears at the perceived temporal change. Rod puts a hand on RJ’s shoulder and smiles in a way that is both forgiving and inviting before turning back to address us.

ROD

Then, at the turn of the last century,

a nondenominational church was built

in a forced-perspective aspect stolen from

Disney and Hollywood and styled after

the famous cathedrals of Europe as a sign

of warm goodwill between Hoosier Uplands,

which happens to distribute smartphones to

people who need government support,

and their new Hereafter HUB community.

The parking lot begins to empty as students make their way into the church. Rod adjusts the cufflink on his left arm, and you might think that he was looking in this very direction to address you in a personal, almost incriminating way.

ROD
(dissipating like the
sweat evaporating off the
back of your neck, which
leaves you feeling cold)

This, dear visitors, is the church that Dirk

approaches with a sense of growing dread.

DIRK
(talking to Flori, who is
in his pocket, but
appearing to talk to no
one in particular and
receiving more than a few
cautious stares from
passerby students for it)

I can’t believe this church. Aunt Garth was right —

they’re rebuilding the whole town.

FLORI (IN PHONE)
(muffled but flashing
briefly through the
pocket fabric)

It looks

like the city paid the same people

from out of state to put them both together.

DIRK

Who?

FLORI

Neverland Production House.

DIRK
(curiouser)

That’s fun…

As Dirk walks towards the arches that mark the entrance to the church, the scaled illusion of the building dwindles to the force of a well-made playhouse. Two men, TALL ELDER and FAT ELDER, dressed in old suits that probably fit them once upon a time, but which, like the dried-up dreams of their youth, now seemed to hang around them like half-rotten coffin linings, stand like foreboding specters outside of the church. The elders pass out orange-bound copies of the New Testament and preach on the dangers of technology and multi-denominational worship.

Dirk looks to see if Shelly is protesting nearby, but there is only one man, AGGRESSIVE PROTESTER, standing in the bed of his truck and yelling.

AGGRESSIVE PROTESTER
(lonely and livid)

Circuits can’t be people —

Software isn’t equal!

Dirk comes to the old men in their decaying suits. The tall elder passes him a bible.

TALL ELDER

A church is more than a community.

BALD ELDER
(beyond genuinely
concerned)

Do you know where you’re going when you die?

DIRK

I’m off to Neverland.

BALD ELDER
(confused)

That’s good — that’s good.

Dirk takes the bible before walking through a large wooden door and into a glass foyer.

CUT TO:

Lit Up

Welcome to Lit Up -The Land of Little Tales. Here you can read and submit short stories, flash fiction, poetry - in brief, your own legend. We're starting little. But that's how all big stories begin.

Cole Hardman

Written by

I’m an engineer with a passion for poetry and literary theory. Find more at: http://poetwithnoface.com/

Lit Up

Lit Up

Welcome to Lit Up -The Land of Little Tales. Here you can read and submit short stories, flash fiction, poetry - in brief, your own legend. We're starting little. But that's how all big stories begin.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade