Burning Spirits

by Adam Clark Edwards

There sat the church in its casual Sunday dress. A building that was once a sanctuary for saved souls had now been condemned by the state. The seventh day for this building could now conform to the previous six as a day of rest. There it sat on Main Street, just as I had been told. I had also been told of a tavern about fifty or so yards south of the condemned, which was rumored to be the only tavern in the county to open its doors on Sundays.

After sojourning fifty or so paces from the condemned, I pressed against the tavern door, half expecting it to press back, but I was able to swing it open wide with great force.

As expected, being the only tavern open on Sundays, the tavern was crowded with people. What did surprise me, though, was the type of people there. These were not typical rascals, searching for God in the depths of the Sea of Rye; these people seemed to have already found Him. They were what my mother and past lovers would call “decent folk,” of which I was not. However, there were a few interesting characters among the saints. I saw what looked to be a sailor or fisherman or some sea-faring man, probably an Irishman because he had a red beard. I saw what looked to be a westerner with a Stetson hat, bolo tie, and a moustache as bushy as a cocker spaniel’s coat in winter time. I also saw an Arab in a turban, an African, an Indian—probably Penobscot—and a Sherpa from Nepal or Bangladesh or some damned place. The most obvious of the interesting characters, though, was the man in the white collar.

The man in black with the white collar stood in the far corner with the book in his hand. He was looking at me as he said, “Come in, Brother! We always have room for one more.”

This should be interesting, I thought. Would the saints proclaim, “Amen!” with raised glasses? Would the choir be singing sea chanteys instead of hymns? I shuffled through saints and stood as close to the bar as I could. My curiosity of the culture of a tavern-chapel faded as all interest shifted to the corner of my eye as it witnessed the concourses of the celestial glass bottles. Holy hell, did I need a drink.

The man with the white collar continued his sermon, “Brothers and Sisters, the Lord has been testing us, hasn’t He? Some might say that He has allowed the Devil to conspire the heart of our governor to condemn our beautiful chapel. It is easy to think that but, Brothers and Sisters, that just isn’t so. The Lord has blessed us with a great governor to shepherd this great state. This condemnation is not a curse, but a blessing. Have we not grown closer as a community? We are all sacrificing together and, in doing so, we are growing together. I would personally like to thank Brother Angus for allowing us to use his tavern as a temporary place of worship.”
His focus left Brother Angus—at least that’s who I presume it was—and then refocused back to the rest of us. He continued, “Brothers and sisters, it is truly a great sight to see all of your bright, smiling faces. However, I believe that we have some sinners in our presence. We are not here to judge or embarrass or accost, but we are here to welcome. Did the Savior not spend his days among the sick, the lowly, the criminals, and the otherwise afflicted? We are here to help and mend wounded souls. So now, my beloved brothers and sisters, I feel inspired to ask: are there any here among us who need to be cleansed from sin?”

The man in the white collar surveyed the room. “How about you, Brother?” he said to the man in the turban. The man in the turban shook his head slowly. “Or you, Brother?” he offered to the Sherpa. The Sherpa stared straight ahead in silence. “Brothers and sisters, I know that there are sins that need to be washed away here today. I am willing to wait here all Sabbath day until someone…”

“…I am a sinner!” I shouted.

“Yes! Excellent, Brother! Come on up here!” the man in the white collar ordered. I weaved and shuffled my way to the man in the white collar. I made my way into the clearing and stood but a foot apart from the man in the white collar. He sized me up, perhaps staring into my indecent soul.

“And what sins do you need to be cleansed from?”

“Oh… I don’t know… all of them.”

“Brother, you need to be specific. Shout to the Lord and to all of these fine people what you need to be saved of.”

“Um… Ok… Gimme a minute to think…”

“Look at that, brothers and sisters. This man has so many sins that he cannot remember them all. This is a true testimony to the mercy and grace of the Lord that even his most hardened and crimson stained children can change. Take your time, Brother. Think.”

“Uh… Pride…”

“Yes, yes. Go on.”

“…Wrath…”

“Shout it, Brother!”

“…Violence…”

“Receive His blood!”

“…Drink…”

“Forsake it, good man!”

“…And… Uh… All the deeds of a rascal.”

“Feel His Grace! Blessed be the Lord! I believe this sinner is ready to taste the waters of baptism! Brother Angus, get some water ready for this sinner!”

Brother Angus pulled a bucket from underneath the bar and put it underneath the tap. He pumped four times without result.

“Tap’s froze over, sir. Only way we’re gettin’ water is by meltin’ some ice from outside.”

The man in the white collar pondered this new information.

“How long do you think it will take to have water ready?”

“It’s colder than a witch’s tit outside, Sir. There’s nary any snow and it’s all ice as hard as Zeus’ breasts, I reckon. Breakin’ the ice and cook time should be ‘round twenty minutes, I reckon, sir.”

“Brother Angus, that just will not do. We have a soul that needs to be saved and we cannot keep the Lord waiting. I see some perfectly fine liquid on your shelves. Pull out a bottle.”

Brother Angus scratched the back of his neck, breathed deeply, and wiped both palms on his apron before turning around and grabbing a bottle of red wine from a lower shelf. He commenced forward movement towards myself and the man in the white collar, hiding the label into his chest.

“Brother Angus, what drink have you selected for this sinner?”

Brother Angus looked at the label and said, “Pierre’s Red Wine.”

“That wine does not look very aged. I’ll bet that’s what the beggars order. Did the Lord not command the Israelites to sacrifice the best lambs of their fold? The unblemished?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Then I suggest that you return Pierre and bring out the unblemished and best of your fold.”

Brother Angus stared at the man in the white collar and breathed deeply through his nostrils while biting his lower lip. He whispered, “Aye, sir.”

He returned to the bar and placed Pierre’s back into its original resting place. He bent down below the bar and was down there for some time. I heard the opening of a heavy door, probably the door to a safe. Brother Angus surfaced with a new bottle and closed the safe door.

“Brother Angus, what drink have you selected for this sinner?”

“Twenty-nine-year-old Scotch which I personally brought over from the Scottish Highlands. It’s the best of my fold.”

“Well done, Brother Angus, the Lord will be most pleased with you. Give it here, please. Thank you.”

The man in the white collar grabbed the bottle out of Brother Angus’ hands. He examined it before and after blowing the dust off of the bottle. He removed the seal and held the open bottle over my head. I could smell its sweet aroma.

“Brother, I baptize you with the blood of our Lord.”

The man in black with the white collar upturned the bottle’s contents over my head. I shut my eyelids and felt the liquid kiss my forehead. The mass of the liquid consumed my face. The sweet, sweet burn that entered the cuts and wounds on my checks and brows was intense, yet divine. The blood drained into my wide, open mouth. It was sweet. I loved my burning esophagus.

When I opened my slightly stinging eyes, the man in the white collar put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “How do you feel, Brother?”

“I feel the burn.”

“Brother, that’s the Spirit of God burning inside you.”

Brothers and Sisters, I’m sure that you’ll be happy to know that I still feel the Spirit of God. I reckon that I feel him most in pubs because I was saved in one. I never saw the man in the white collar again. I had a drink at Brother Angus’ pub a few years ago and he told me that he went off to be a missionary in some god forsaken jungle and has yet to return.

Oh, my Brothers, there is nothing sweeter than the burning blood. The burning blood helps me forsake. It helps me forsake, oh, my brothers.