I took the winding backroads to the distant wilds that would hopefully house the Good Reverend Taylor, pastor of the penitent and respectful flock of West. I had my suspicions from the beginning, gauging the wide-eyed look and occasional whisper among his followers as a sign of xenophobia. As I trudged along the path from the designated ‘parking area’ (Taylor’s cabin too defensively placed to be reached by car), I noted no less than four sets of eyes watching me from the drawn windows of his secluded forest home. I knocked on the front door and found I was expected, one of the parishioners had called, (or ostensibly sent a telegram) to warn him of my approach. I was greeted by a single Taylor son, who ordered me to follow him, leading me to a large living room occupied by the entire Taylor clan. They were gathered around an imperious, gnarled old man. I realized that they meant to give me the impression of clairvoyance, as if God himself had sent word to Reverend Taylor that I was on my way. I didn’t complain. How often is it that the big man himself warns his chosen prophet of your impending arrival? Four dozen eyes were on me. I could’ve cut the tension with a knife, but I had only a pen. Recorders make these types antsy.
“Reverend Taylor?” I offered.
He stroked the hand of a young, blonde-haired girl and then shooed her, she left his side and ran to her mother’s. He gazed up at me with a painstakingly Southern sneer.
“What’s yer name, boy?”
“Nicholas Varner,” I replied, not lying so much as omitting my last name.
He nodded, slowly. “A good German name. By God, I sensed the look of Jewry upon you. Have a drink, Nicholas.” One of the Taylor girls brought me a tall glass of sweet tea. I tugged at my collar.
Reverend Taylor was a man practiced in his prejudices. Were hatred a virtue, he would’ve been a fountain of far-reaching equality. His world was a construct of blame, great blame, blame eternal. Blame for the sinners of Babylon for opposing God’s kingdom, blame for the citizens of God’s kingdom for not opposing the sinners of Babylon strongly enough- blame for the women for feminism, the blacks for civil rights. Blame for the whites underneath it all, for not possessing his vigor, his hatred, and enough of it to cast off the yoke that America had enforced, to renege the benefits of belonging to such an unholy nation, and as he later informed me, the taxes.
Yes, Taylor was a blamer, and he made this clear to me before I could ask him my questions. He knew why I’d approached him, and with his heavenly foresight, predicted this was his chance to spread the word of the First (and only) Church of West to a great audience. He informed me at great length of the many conspiracies that gripped our nation unseen, some related, others not. But like an intricate puzzle containing every piece but white he found all the races guilty of mass participation. If it wasn’t the Negroes, it was the Mexicans, if not the Mexicans then certainly the homosexuals. Reverend Taylor collected prejudices like some men collect pins, providing me with all the flavorful racisms of the South and more. He had a hatred of the Italians that was almost Sicilian in its fervor, a righteous fear of the Chinese that would’ve made Hirohito proud. As he explained it was the presence of Mongolian blood that muddied up that specific group of people, and made them so damned determined to conquer the West (and by proxy, West). I resisted the urge to ask him why Mongolia itself was so complacent.
But above all else, he hated the Jews. I realized this at once, if not through the icy growl in his voice as he uttered the word, but through the lack of any euphemism. To him, the very word ‘Jew’ seemed to be an abhorrent term, some of the younger children cowing at its mention.
He was halfway through an obscene description of the horrific crimes of the ZOG when my stamina failed me, and I interrupted.
“Reverend Taylor, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I’m interested in doing a follow-up on your theor… discovery, but for now my assignment is the rumor of alien activity outside West.” Taylor looked supremely cross, but I had feigned interest well enough in his explication of the Jewish devils, and cringed only slightly at his first venom-coated use of ‘nigger’. He nodded, and gave a casual wave to the feminine side of the room, which became a flurry of muted color, somber women rising from their seats and escorting themselves out. The room, partially revealed by the absence of the women, resembled a cathedral that’d been dropped into someone’s study, bookcases lined with religious texts (all religious) and philosophical theses (all uncomfortably Nordic), triumphant statuettes of saints nailed to the walls, with a singular wooden cross centered behind Taylor. The emaciated Jew who usually adorned it was inexplicably absent.
If their contempt for me had been kept in check by the presence of the fairer sex, it explained their sudden shift in demeanor. I found myself surrounded by broad-shouldered Taylor boys, a half-circle of zealots ahead of me, fireplace behind. I suddenly wished I had taken the sweet tea. Reverend Taylor spoke with the impunity of the Pope and the inflection of the Don.
“Now, Mister Varner. What is it in particular you’re interested in?”
“The, uh… aliens.” I said.
“Why yes. It was only the week before when we heard what had happened.”
I nodded, my pen finally recording something useful.
“What did you hear, and from wh-”
Taylor’s face soured. “Don’t you dare interrupt me, boy.”
I felt very much like a minority. The Reverend continued.
“In the beginning, God created the Earth, and all its creatures. He gave this world to man, to spend and use as he saw fit. The cattle and horse became tools unto man, as the dog became his companion and the woman his faithful servant.” He stood, every inch of his wrinkled husk quaking in the act. “Genesis 1:28, ‘Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; you are the masters of the fish and birds and all the animals.’ This includes the lesser races, Mr. Varner. And, of course, your aliens.”
I paused, my pen lulling on the page. “I’m not sure I follow.”
He burst forward, ignoring me. “We are the servants of a just God. We do not question our given task, to question is tantamount to rebellion. For the question is already asked and answered. Malachi 3:2, ‘But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.’”
Reverend Taylor broke into a wide, golden grin, as if he’d taken the upper hand in an argument I hadn’t been following. I stopped again, and began to put away my notes. “I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. Mr. Taylor,” I stood without making eye contact, dismayed but ready to leave. “I have other leads I need to check, if you don’t have any information I’m going to have to-”
“One of our own was the first at the crash site.”
The other men in the room tightened up. I sat back down and met the Reverend’s gaze. “The what now?”
“There was only one ship. Don’t you think that’s coy? Just one of the little beasts. Like he was lost.”
“Little beasts… aliens. There was one ship, and one alien? What did he look like?”
“’For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.’ Psalms 35:7. Is not the LORD prepared? Little green beasts, sent to tempt our very souls.”
I was lost for words. “And… what did… what, um, happened?”
“‘Let destruction come upon him unaware; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.’ We, in the image of God, are prepared.”
“You’re not seriously telling me-”
“What happened, Mister Varner? What we did? What any hunter does when his land is invaded. We killed it.”
I sat in disturbed silence beneath the piercing eyes of Reverend Taylor. Behind me the gas-lit fire licked at my shirt until my back itched with pain. I noticed, for a moment, the averted stares of all the Taylor boys, swollen-faced and flustered. For some reason this comforted me, and I leaned forward with a smile. “That was quite a speech, Reverend Taylor. Your sermons must be outrageous.”
“Don’t you condescend me, you little stain.”
I put away my notepad. “Absolutely not. Do you think you could get me into contact with the actual ‘hunter’? I’d love to hear his story. Maybe we could set up a phone interview, you know, with-”
The Reverend snarled. “We have the corpse.”
“Liar!” I blurted out, and thought the fattest Taylor boy was ready to faint, face bulging as if he were allergic to insolence. But the Reverend saw he’d gotten the better of me. “You’d like to see that, wouldn’t you? I suppose it’d be too much to ask for your faith.”
“If you’re serious, show me.”
“No sir! The corpse is property of the First Church of West. It is not some museum exhibit. I will decide who sees the wretched thing and-”
I threw up my hands. “And only other members of the First Church of West are sufficiently prepared to view it. Right, whatever.”
The Reverend roared, spittle launching over my shoulder and into the flames. “You shut your mouth, you son of a whore! I know what you are! I know all about you.” He wagged his finger and gnashed his teeth. “You’re one of them. You’re a blood bubble on the sickly, forked tongue of mankind! You just want a little story, just your name above some filthy piece of fiction in the trash heap of twisted human thought! I am a messenger of God, god-dammit! You will hear what I have to say only if you are worthy! You think you’re the first to come to me for scraps from my table of plenty? You think I need your mention, need your second-rate journalism? Get the out of my house, boy!”
If the Taylor boys had understood nothing before, they understood this. I found both my arms in a vice, the fat son ahead of me. I was dragged through the hallway I came from and found the fading daylight and forest ahead of me. All things considered, I had expected worse. My legs suddenly left the ground. “Wait, wait, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m- CHRIST!”
And then, four Taylor boys launched me out the door and onto the dirt road. I heard the door slam and felt my stomach roll. Something approached me from behind. It was the fat Taylor boy. I cringed, but no country-style stomp came.
“You gotta business card?”
I grunted weakly, then whether from fear or confusion, pulled out my wallet and raised a card in the air. He took it.
“The Reverend’ll call you later.”
I coughed up dust under the cloudy sky, heard the door open and slam, and wondered what the hell I was doing. I fished my cellphone out of my jacket pocket, and hit the recent calls button. After a moment, I got an answer. “Yeah. Yeah, nothing worthwhile here. Good luck with your lead.”