Tongues of Fire by Kyler Campbell

Momma said the church burnt down in ’85, the same day I was born. Said it was on account of someone leaving a space heater running overnight in the sanctuary. Close as anyone could figure, it got too close to a pew cushion. She never told me who it was what left the heater on, but I think she knew. Most said it was Randy Lyons’ boy, Cedric. He was touched in the head, real forgetful and affectionate. He hugged everybody he saw and never had no sense of boundaries. During a potluck fellowship, he cornered Charlotte Holbrooke in a Sunday school room, kept telling her how pretty she was and gave her a big hug. He hugged her so hard she screamed, but Cedric wouldn’t let her go. Her daddy run in and knocked the two of ‘em down, started hitting on poor Cedric. The boy didn’t mean no harm, but Mr. Holbrooke said that wasn’t no good excuse. He wanted Cedric beat in front of the whole church for hurting his girl. Nobody figured that was fit. The church wasn’t up for beating a boy as touched as Cedric.

Momma always said the Holy Spirit visited the church so often they had him a seat saved up front. People was always shouting and speaking in tongues and laying on hands. They used to say the Holy Spirit was fire from heaven, come to cleanse us for Jesus. A year before I was born, a travelling preacher showed up carrying a metal box with a key lock and holes poked all in it. He preached that Sunday about the hand of God protecting his children, that we was sheltered beneath his wing. He unlocked that box in the pulpit and pulled out the biggest rattlesnake Momma ever saw, even to this day. That man shouted and called upon the Lord to protect him, to test his faith. That snake got to wiggling and the preacher dropped it right on Pearl Jenkins lap in the front row. She stood up, shouted, then passed out. Charlotte Holbrooke’s daddy run to her and threw his coat over her legs so old Pearl didn’t show no one her glory. When he did, he stepped right on that rattler’s tail and the daggum thing bit him on the ankle. We thought he’d be dead for sure. Turned out that preacher’d been milking his snakes just in case God decided he hadn’t been faithful enough. Mr. Holbrooke said the place was a freak show, started calling down curse after curse on families and preachers and animals alike. We never saw him again, and no one ever called on the snake preacher either. Most everyone figured that the Lord gave us the common sense enough not to pick up such a creature. That seemed protection enough not to get bit.

A year after that, Momma went into labor with me. She brought a midwife with her to the hospital, to honor the old ways, she says. The midwife was old school Pentecostal. While the doctors went to work, she stood over Momma, laid hands on her, and prayed in tongues for near about a hour. Momma said when she looked at the midwife, she was wearing a crown of fire, though the doctors say it was probably the drugs working on her. Apparently, it was a very cleansing experience.

Out where the church used to be, there ain’t hardly nothing now. Structure caved in and brought the steeple down with it. Momma says the steeple came down the same moment I opened my eyes into the world, as that midwife was praying in tongues. Ain’t no way to prove that, but it’s a neat thought. The mess of a church is outside the city limit, so it’s up to the county to clean it up. They don’t seem to be in no rush seeing as it’s been almost twenty years. The building’s scattered but the fire never touched the graveyard out behind the building. So now there’s a pile of charred lumber spread in front of the most pristine graveyard you ever seen. Momma said there was such a spirit in that church, like the apostles on the day of Pentecost with their tongues of flame. Anyone who watched that building burn down on the night I was born would probably agree with her.

 

About the Author:
Kyler Campbell is a recent car crash survivor who had to undergo facial reconstructive surgery involving metal plates and screws. He now considers himself to be part Terminator. His work has appeared in Driftwood Press, Hawaii Pacific Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts and elsewhere. He lives and teaches in Charleston, South Carolina.