Jericho [Part 1]
The choir rose before the sun, their hymn moving through Jericho, calling the faithful to the river. Voices joined into one song, coaxing the lazy and sleepy from their beds, begging them to join the awakened in the bask of a clear day. By the time the chorus sounded, those in Jericho were moving through their Saturday ritual.
One by one, the faithful appeared on the outskirts of town. Most walked from home, taking the countryside blooming beside them, the bluebells marking their path to the river. Others rode bikes, allowing the warm breeze coming from the hills to brush their hair and wipe the sleep from their eyes. Still others rode horses, moving at a slow pace, cutting through meadows and pastures to appear on the other side of the river, wading through the shallow part to meet with the rest of their congregation.
Justin Thibeaux was among them. Accompanied by his wife, Claire, and their three-month-old baby daughter Audrey, he was so early that he had time to help Clayton Marron set up the chairs for the back half of the congregation.
This had become routine for Thibeaux. Never one for sermons before, it wasn’t until Reverend Frees and his tent gospel showed up outside of town a few months back that he began going to church regularly. Now he was a man of God, One Who Walked With Purpose, and he insisted that the entire family attend sermon every time to ensure that they stayed in His Good Graces.
And when they thought of Him, they did not think about God. They thought about Reverend Frees.
“Justin Thibeaux,” a low booming voice called out as Justin completed setting up his part of the chairs, “why I do declare you are looking more and more well every time I see you.”
Justin straightened up and turned around to see Revered Frees walking towards him. His long and lanky appearance seemed to be at odds with his boisterous demeanor and baritone voice, but Justin liked him anyway.
He still couldn’t figure out exactly why he took to him though; it was more of a gut feeling than anything else.
Reverend Jeremiah Hamilton Frees, devoid of religious garb, was dressed simply in black slacks held up by dark grey suspenders and a white shirt, which was already stained with sweat from setting up the tent. His long limbs seemed to jut out from his clothing, but no one really noticed. All anyone really noticed was that since Reverend Frees came to Jericho, he had begun to look younger and younger with every passing sermon.
Today, Justin noticed that the Reverend’s eyes were no longer a milky green but a gorgeous grassy green, clear and pristine. Justin thought to himself that the Reverend had lost about 25 years in the four months he had been in Jericho.
“Why hello there, Reverend Frees,” Justin said, dusting his hands off before shaking the tall man’s hand. Reverend Frees held on to his hand, clapping it with his free one, smiling broadly. “How are you on this day? How’s the river treating you?”
“Ah, the river gives aplenty,” the Reverend replied. “I might be old but I can still sense an opportunity to feed when it presents itself, my boy.”
“I heard about coyotes coming into town,” Justin said, leaning against the tentpole, shading his eyes from the sun that was fast rising above the hills. “Just wanted to make sure you were safe up in Devon’s Grove.”
“Oh, I’m alright. I’ve got Priest and Bishop,” Reverend Frees replied, motioning to the two large German Shepherds sleeping next to the pulpit. “And anyway, with the beautiful food your wife has been sending up to me, I have much to be grateful for.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Justin smiled at this. Claire wasn’t taken with Reverend Frees like he was and it took a lot of cajoling to get her to cook some food for him. Now that she’d done it a few times, she was getting into the habit of going up to Devon’s Grove on her own several times a week.
“Ah, yes, we are just about ready to begin,” Reverend Frees said, clapping his hands together. “If you don’t mind, son, I would like to invite you to dinner tonight.”
Justin froze and then began to grin widely. The invitation had only been extended once before, to a man named Lode Johnson. While Lode hadn’t been seen in a while, it was thought that Reverend Frees had sent him on a special mission to the Big City.
This was a big honor, one that Justin wasn’t going to pass up.
“Of course,” Justin said as the large tent began filling with the town of Jericho.
“And bring the girls, won’t you? I am very good at making big meals and it might be nice for all of us to break bread together before we discuss something I would like you to do for me.” The Reverend smiled, his eyes twinkling in the growing daylight. “It would be my pleasure.”
“We’ll be there,” Justin said, reminding himself to tell Claire to get her hair done and to dress Audrey in her best Sunday clothes.
“That’s great. We will be there.”
The Reverend smiled again, clasped Justin on the shoulder, winked, and moved up to the pulpit to begin his sermon.
Reverend Frees stood alone by the riverbed, standing in the exact same spot that his pulpit had been only a few hours before. Instead of looking out towards a congregation, he faced the river and the hills that bordered the east.
“My, my, what a beautiful sight,” the Reverend murmured as he kicked off his shoes and felt the flattened grass and rocks below his bare feet. “How lucky to have found such a peaceful place.”
He waded into the river and was joined by Priest and Bishop. Together they moved upstream towards Devon’s Grove, stopping every once in a while to pluck caladium leaves or oleander that presented themselves in view of the river. Priest and Bishop would help locate the plants and the Reverend would pick just the prettiest portions to put in the sack that sat around his chest.
Thankfully, this part of the state had both plants in droves.
When he had collected enough, he moved out of the river and back onto the trail that led to his modest cabin. Along the way, Priest would run ahead and point out wild mushrooms, which the Reverend would harvest and put in a small pouch that hung from his belt.
“Thank you, Priest,” the Reverend would coo every time the dog found a mound of mushrooms to choose from. “Yes, these will do just fine for tonight.”
The Reverend arrived home, clinking the wind chimes made of bones on his way in.
When the door shut behind him, the land shuddered and waited. Blood would be spilled soon.
[Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash]