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Light of the World

By David Gardiner

This story may be reproduced in whole or in part for any non-commercial purpose provided that authorship is acknowledged and credited.
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“In all human history, child, there ain’t nobody who’s put one over on Jesus!” But for his booming voice there was no sound in the packed church hall. He scowled down from the raised dais and fixed the young woman with his bulging blue eyes. “If you don’t have no faith the good Lord’s gonna know. Ain’t no fooling Jesus. Now I ask you one more time, daughter, have you got the faith that the Lord Jesus can come into your soul here this evening and make your broken body whole again?”

“Yes, Reverend Fishbone, I swear I got that faith!”

There was a rumble of “hallelujahs” from around the room, then silence once again. Fishbone lowered his voice. His eyes widened and flickered in his gaunt leathery face. “Shane, I want you to walk up to this young woman and lay your hands on her shoulders, and I want the healing energy of the Lord Jesus Christ to travel down those big strong arms of yours right into the body and soul of our sister ... what did you say your name was?”

“Jacey Flower, Reverend Fishbone.”

“Into the body and soul of our sister Jacey and make that body whole again, and fill that soul with the love of the Lord so that Jacey is ready to enter Paradise on the Day of Judgement. Will you do that for me please, while I lead this congregation in prayer?”

Shane rose to his full six-foot-six, silver spurs jangling on his cowboy boots, hat casually dangling on his back from its loosened chin-strap, rhinestones sparkling in his thick leather holster belt with the wooden cross where the gun should be, and flashed a heart-melting smile in Jacey’s direction. Fishbone looked up at the neon light fitting that was hanging precariously from its supply cord at the far end of the hall’s ceiling, held out his hands with the palms upwards as though checking for rain, and commenced the well-practiced incantation: “Holy Jesus who gave his life to make a fallen mankind whole again, who cured the lepers and raised Lazarus from the dead, from the overflowing reservoir of your infinite love, grant us this prayer for the restoration of the health of this our sister... Jacey, and grant that...”

As Fishbone’s powerful voice rumbled on Shane self-consciously laid his big open hands on the girl’s shoulders and mouthed the words: “Evening, Ma’am” with a gentlemanly nod. She looked him straight in the eye and then, as though she had entered an epileptic seizure, her body began to pitch and rock so that the gentle pressure on her shoulders was all that was preventing her from falling to the floor. As the tremors died down and Fishbone’s prayer drew to a close in a chorus of loud “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords” the sticks that she had been holding fell loudly on to the stage at either side of her rigid body and Shane gently released his grip. She remained standing, still meeting his eyes with her unblinking stare.

“I thought you said you couldn’t stand up without them there sticks, Ma’am?” Shane asked her gently. Her reply was to fling herself into his arms. He awkwardly returned the embrace.

“Reverend Fishbone,” she shouted out, the words muffled by Shane’s big check cowboy shirt, “that’s the first time in eight years I’ve stood up without them sticks! This here’s a miracle, Reverend Fishbone! Praise the Good Lord!”

“Praise the Good Lord indeed Sister Jacey,” Fishbone echoed from the stage. “Praise the Good Lord and give thanks! Your faith has made you whole. The Good Lord’s Deputy has gone done it again.”

“Praise the Lord!” the congregation thundered in response, while Shane tried to prise himself free from the young woman’s enthusiastic embrace without too much loss of dignity. When he was free he pulled the cross from its holster with a flourish and brandished it above his head as if firing a round into the air.


The Rev. Luke Fishbone’s chair was pulled in tight to the low dining table in the little kitchen behind the stage. His starched dog-collar was open and hung around his neck like a giant white horse-shoe. He seemed a lot older and more tired than he had when he was preaching. Taking a deep breath for the effort, he lifted the first bucket on to the table and started pulling out the notes from among the coins and sorting them into piles of the same denomination. Shane, still wearing his cowboy outfit, sipped beer from an open ring-pull can and watched the swift movements of Fishbone’s practiced hands. Through the open serving hatch they could hear the commotion of the people leaving the hall, engines getting cranked up in the parking lot, raised voices and nervousness discharged in laughter. It was unwinding time for everybody, their audience as well as themselves.

“We done okay tonight,” the Reverend mumbled, “Yep, we done okay.”

The door opened and the girl who had introduced herself as Jacey Flower sidled into the room carrying her two sticks in one hand. Luke cast a disapproving glance in her direction but sorted out three twenty dollar bills from the pile on the table as she approached. “Jacey Flower, that’s your real name ain’t it?”

“Yes Reverend. I know I weren’t supposed to use my real name, but hell I just couldn’t think of nothing on the spur of the moment.”

“Didn’t need to be on the spur of the moment. You had all day to come up with a name. You some kind of retard?”

“No sir,” she made a show of looking offended, “ain’t nothing wrong with my brains. I just ain’t no actress. Never said I was.”

“And what was all that nonsense ‘bout you grabbing hold of the boy and draping yourself all over him? Did I tell you to do that?”

“You told me to do what came natural. Get inside the role you said. Well, Shane here is a handsome boy and I reckon if he’d just cured me of being a cripple I would want to fling my arms around him. So that was what I done.”

“Well it didn’t look nice. These folk come here to praise the Lord and feel good about themselves and raise their minds above bodily things for a couple hours. They don’t come to see no lap-dancing show. You shoulda’ had more horse sense than to turn it into a peep show for voyeurs. I’ll pay you this time because I’m a man of my word, and I would have you know you’re getting twice as much as the pianist and three times as much as the choirboys, but if you want me to use you again you’re gonna’ have to buck up your ideas some.” He thrust the bills ungraciously into her hands.

“If you want it done a particular way you need to explain better,” she countered indignantly as she left. Before she shut the door she gave Shane a sweet come-on kind of smile and he responded with a dignified nod.

“Jeez I gotta’ work with some crap material.”

“She ain’t material, Luke. She’s a girl. A human being.”

“So I saw. One more minute and she’d a had your dick in her hand. Are you lecturing me boy?”

“Luke, I ain’t happy in this here business no more. What we’re doing ain’t right.”

Luke put down the money he was counting and swung the bucket with the small change back on to the floor before he gave Shane his attention. “You think I’m a fool boy? You think I don’t know who’s been putting all these stupid notions into your head? Let me tell you something. You’re nothing without me. Just a big dumb kid from Texas that can barely write his own name. Who do you think’s gonna’ give you a job out there? What in hell’s name you think you’re gonna’ do with yourself? Pump gas? Dig up the highways? You’ve got no skills, boy. You’ve got no education. You’ve got no property. You’re gonna end up back in the trailer park that I dragged you out of. The world’s a rough place out there. You ought to know that. Ought to know when you’re well off. I’m smart, I can sweet talk my way into things. You’re just young. That’s all you’ve got and it ain’t gonna’ last. Think, boy. Think long and hard before you up and leave me.” He hauled another bucket on to the table and started fishing around for the paper money once again. Shane took a deep swig of his beer but did not reply.


“You there Mollyjoe?” He hung his cowboy hat on the hook by the door and sat on the bed to remove his boots. Mollyjoe appeared from the ensuite dressed in a dark red bathrobe. Before she said anything she put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips. He responded willingly but awkwardly, preoccupied as he was with the unlacing of his boot.

“Did you do it, Shane?” she asked anxiously, looking into his eyes, “Did you say something?”

“Yeah, I said something.” She sat on the bed beside him and lifted the boot on to the floor so that she could hold his hand.

“Go on then. Tell me. How did it go?”

He hesitated. “Well, fact is, I don’t think he took me none too seriously. He said I would be nobody without him. Wouldn’t get no job, and as like as not I’d end up back in the trailer park in Mantella living on Welfare.”

“And what did you say?”

“Well, I guess I couldn’t think of what to say just then. Could be he’s right, you know, Mollyjoe. I ain’t got no skills, no education. I ain’t got a gift with words like him. There ain’t all that much I can do, except what I do now.”

“Nonsense. You’re the one they come for, not Luke. You’ve got something that everybody can see except yourself. You’ve got the gift, Shane. The healing gift. Sure, everything Luke sets up is a fake, but some of the people he doesn’t set up, they come themselves, and it ain’t fake then. They get cured, Shane. You have something real. I know. The girl with the blood disease in Alabama. She knows. And the kid here in town with cancer, and his mom, they know. You do cure people, Shane. Real cures. You won’t accept it but it’s true. I was one of them. Why won’t you believe me?”

“Mollyjoe, lots of people who get bad headaches have them go away every once in a while. It don’t prove nothing. That’s what headaches do.”

“You’re so stubborn! They weren’t just bad headaches, Shane, they were like having a chain-saw go through your skull real slow. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do nothing but lie on my back and scream. I would have done myself in, I swear. I was this close to doing it.” She made a pinching gesture with her right hand. “You saved my life, Shane,” she whispered. “You took away the pain and gave me something to live for. I swear I’m never going to stop thanking you for that, no matter what happens. You’re my own personal redeemer, Shane. My angel.” She kissed him again and this time he held her with both his arms and relaxed into the embrace.

“Come on,” she said as they separated, “get out of that stupid costume. Me and you’s going to see Luke together. You ain’t never going to demean yourself in that third rate fairground act no more.”


The sound of Mollyjoe’s knocking over-rode the commentary on the ball-game that Luke was watching on the motel TV. He turned it off with the remote before rising stiffly to open the door. He feigned surprise when he saw who it was. “Mollyjoe? Shane? Come on in. What’s up?” He buttoned his shirt sleeves as he waved them towards the stained sofa.

“Luke, we need to have a talk,” she began with a noticeable edge to her voice. Luke slumped into the low single-seater so that he wouldn’t be looking down at them. He put on what he hoped was a concerned and fatherly expression and waited for Mollyjoe to start.

“Shane’s been with you for more than two years now. He’s grateful for the break you gave him but now he’s moving on. He won’t be there next Sunday. Only fair to let you know.”

Luke’s face darkened. “Well pardon me, is that how you repay somebody that’s dragged you up out of the gutter and given you a good life and money in the bank and a car to drive and things you never woulda’ had in a million years if he hadn’t took care of you?”

“Wasn’t no act of charity Luke. You made good money out of Shane. Very good. He don’t owe you nothing.”

“What have you got to say for yourself, boy?”

“What Mollyjoe says is right. The things we do ain’t right. Ain’t even legal. I ain’t felt good about it for a long time, and I don’t want to do it no more.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Mollyjoe took over, “Maybe we will end up back in that trailer park. But we’ll be able to sleep easy and feel good about ourselves. We won’t be telling our children lies and filling them up with fairytales and false hopes.”

Luke spoke very quietly and somehow it seemed to be from the heart. “Are you crazy? Of course you will. All that bullshit about how you just have to be honest and work hard and you’ll get to the top of the shit-pile and have a Cadillac and a seafront mansion in Florida. Ain’t that bullshit? Ain’t it the same bullshit that I tell people except that it’s all waiting in the sky for them when they die? You talk about fairytales and false hopes. What’s the difference, Mollyjoe? People believe the stuff we tell them because the truth is ugly. Very very ugly. Everybody’s got to believe some kind of bullshit, ‘else they’d do their selves in. All we’re doing is spreading a bit of good feeling. Happiness. Comfort. Good vibrations. Whatever you want to call it. And for that service we make a small charge. People don’t even have to pay it if they don’t want to. How can that be wrong?”

“It don’t work any more Luke. I’ve listened to all your clever arguments about how it’s okay to con people out of their life-savings. Shane don’t want to live that way no more.”

“Don’t he? Is that so? Why don’t he talk for himself then? Are you letting this woman tell you what to do, Shane? Ain’t you man enough to talk for yourself?”

“It’s over, Luke. It’s been good, but it’s over. Mollyjoe is right. She and I want to try a different kind of life.”

“You’re making a fool of yourself Shane. You’re letting a woman push you around.”

“According to you I’ve always been a fool, Luke.”

Luke hesitated, took an unopened packet of cigarettes out of his pants pocket and put it back again before he said anything. “I can’t stop you from going if that’s what you want to do. But you’re talking Sunday and that’s only one week away. For friendship sake, Shane - give me two weeks, not one. Two weeks to find a replacement. That ain’t asking a lot is it?”

“I’m sorry Luke. Shane don’t want to do no more shows with you. His gift isn’t for sale no more.”

“His gift? What gift?”

“I know you think it’s bullshit but Shane does have a real gift. Just because you dressed him up like an organ grinder’s monkey and made him perform in your side show don’t mean that he ain’t got the gift. Shane can really help people. When I walked up on to that stage in Louisville I’d already decided I was gonna take every pill the medics had given me and wash ‘em down with a bottle of Southern Comfort. That’s how bad the pain was an’ I’d had it for better’n five months. He put his two hands on my shoulders and that pain went away and it ain’t never come back since. Not for one second. An’ I’ve seen him do the same for other people, an’ so have you only you’re too narrow-minded and sure of yourself to admit it. You can’t see nothing but the… nasty an’ hopeless an’ ugly side of the world ‘cause that’s how you was brought up and how life has always been for you. Life don’t have to be like that. The world ain’t … such a dark place as you think it is. Shane here is like a saint or a prophet. I don’t care how dumb it sounds, I don’t care if you laugh at me. You don’t have nothing to give to the world but Shane here has.” She put her arm around his waist and snuggled-up to his big chest. “He has… a light to bring into the world.”

A smile spread across Luke’s face in spite of the agitation that he was feeling. “Cowboy Shane McDaniels, the light of the world. A pretty dim light, Mollyjoe. Sorry, I couldn’t resist it. You know who the bringer of light was don’t you?” He chuckled and shook hios head. “The two of you, gonna set up independently? Run your own healing mission? Do you know how funny that is?”

“We ain’t setting up no mission, Luke. Just offering Shane’s services free of charge to anybody who needs them. If they want to make a contribution that’s up to them.”

“Hey, you never told me about that Mollyjoe…”

“We’ve got to live, Shane. But only what people are willing to give… only what they want to give us…”

“But that’s no different to what the preacher here says.”

“It is different. It’s really helping people…”

Luke sprang to his feet. “You double-crossing bitch! And you too Shane, only I don’t think you’ve got the brains to see what’s going on. You’re going to set up in competition. Use everything I’ve taught you. The name I’ve created for you. Leave me high and dry with halls booked two seasons in advance and nobody to put into them.”

Mollyjoe got to her feet too, suddenly intimidated by Luke’s fury. Shane sprang to her side. “Sorry you feel that way Luke. We got to go now. Ain’t no more to say.” She turned to go but changed her mind.

“There’s a boy in this town that Shane has cured of bone cancer. That wasn’t no plant that you paid to come up to the stage. That was real, Luke. And the girl in Alabama. You don’t understand. There’s something real going on here. Something big enough to blow people’s minds.”

Luke wasn’t listening any more. As Shane ushered Mollyjoe toward the door he went to the big chest that he kept by the wall and lifted out a shotgun. “Luke? What the hell are you doing?” Shane almost whined. “What ya’ think you’re gonna’ do with that?” He pushed Mollyjoe behind him protectively and backed out of the doorway, into the near darkness of the deserted motel courtyard.

Luke had lifted the gun to his shoulder now and was standing silhouetted in the doorway aiming it straight at Shane’s chest. Mollyjoe crouched behind him, rigid with fear.

“Want to know something about your bone cancer boy, Shane?” Luke spoke quietly and evenly, as if the gun wasn’t there. “His mother sent us a lawyer’s letter. Said we told her to stop the treatment and as a result the kid died nine days later. But he did have nine very happy days, doing things he hadn’t done since they told him what he’d got. And the girl in Alabama? She went into terminal care a couple of weeks after we left. I’m afraid she’s dead too. But she never said a bad word against us. She reckoned her faith wasn’t strong enough. We gave them both a little bit of good happy life that they might not have had otherwise. I count them two of our success stories. You think we’re bad people Mollyjoe? You don’t even know what bad is. You know anything about what the Klan did to the Negroes around here when I was a kid? No? Maybe you should find out then. Find out what evil is. Because I don’t think you even know.” He leaned the shotgun on the doorframe and relaxed.

Mollyjoe suddenly screamed and grabbed her head as though a knife had been plunged into it. “Jesus Christ! My headache Shane! My headache! Jesus Christ I’m going to pass out. Oh God, Shane, help me!” She doubled up on the ground and Shane reached down and put a hand tenderly on her shoulder but her body continued convulsing with pain.

“Sorry I had to do that, Mollyjoe,” Luke said quietly, tossing the shotgun on the bed behind him, “but I needed to make you see something. Shane don’t help nobody. Neither do I. Folks either help themselves or nobody helps them. Everything just depends on what you’ve got going on in here.” He tapped his head. ”There ain’t nothing out there. Just the dark.”

Shane helped her to her feet and led her gently back towards the square of light spilling out from Luke’s motel room door. Artificial light, manufactured by mankind to hold the darkness of the world at bay.