In Our Lovely Deseret
Edited by Robert Raleigh
[p.129]In a holy vision the Lord came to and told me to buy myself a shovel and employ it in a righteous use, so I went next door and borrowed one off Boyd Laswell and awaited further instruction. I took to pondering and praying, striving to divine what God might have me accomplish by means of a shovel.
I hauled the shovel through my comings and goings, slung upon my shoulders. I did some walking and standing, praying to God to prompt me where to dig, though I didn’t even know if digging was for what the shovel was intended.
Boyd Laswell saw me at it one noon and came after me shouting at me to render him back his shovel. I tried to dissuade him with Leave off: God has confiscated this shovel! but he knocked me off my feet and took it. He is not properly parceled over to the promptings of the spirit as am I.
I had a few deep and easy nights, then the same fitful vision came awork at me. A few nights and it had harrowed me through, though, and I began to think that if I kept paying the dream no heed I was on course to hell. So I got up in the stark of night and scuffed my way down to the Central Hardware and broke the door window out with a garbage can lid. Would have gone in after a [p.130]shovel too, but God showed me the glints of the dog’s teeth as he waited to devour me. So I went home again and in a while fell asleep.
Woke up an hour later with my mouth dry and sores on my lips, a vision of the shovel still rutting about my head. So I snuck on over to Boyd’s and snipped a crowbar from the back of his truck, then pried the lock off his shed door. Now I’m no thief—all I took was the shovel. Would have left money for it, too, but figured it better to let God reward Boyd in his own way.
I kept with my study of God’s holy scriptures, kept Boyd’s shovel sharp-edged and skinned of dirt. My mind sharp too, God having made it so. Pretty soon I began to fathom that the scripture I read and the church I embraced pursued divergent paths. I had read the scriptures a hundred times but never known the truth until then.
Boyd came over twice a day, telling me to give him back his goddam shovel and to come mend his shed. I kept telling him I didn’t take his shovel and I didn’t do nothing to his shed door, but the devil made him so as not to be satisfied.
“All that was took was a shovel,” he said. “It’s you, very plain as day.”
He tried to bluster his way around my house looking for the shovel, but I wouldn’t let him get far. Hit him on the back of the head with both fists when he wasn’t looking, then dragged him on out again. Most of the time after that we just stood truce on the porch, Boyd waiting to see if I would let something slip concerning his shovel and me voicing out the fact of the spirit I was fast in the process of discovering: the church’s apostasy. Boyd was given over to regaining his shovel and did not fully take my words in. Did not ever say a thing, unless the shovel was involved.
Before taking to bed, I would always pray God to let me know what was to be done with the shovel. I likewise prayed in rising, and added to my morning prayer as well for God to make Boyd leave me the hell alone.
“Look,” Boyd said after a few weeks. “You can keep the shovel. All I want to know is that you were the one took it.”
“I didn’t take it, Boyd,” I said. “I don’t have your shovel.”
[p.131]He just shook his head and went off. If that isn’t a prayer answered, I don’t know what is.
I started reading, in plus to the scriptures, the History of the Church, the discourses of all the presidents and prophets. Didn’t take me long to see where the church had gone wrong. It was so easy to see I couldn’t figure why nobody else had fallen sensible to it yet.
The way it was laid out to me, Ezra Taft was the last real president of the church worth his salt. All the ones since him were liberals, people who the Lord had inflicted upon the church for its wickedness. Ezra T, though, he was a good John Bircher who saw with a clear eye the importance of our Founding Fathers’ Constitution. And all that ruined by the evils of the federal government. He saw like it was in broad daylight the conspiracy of the New World Order, and to top it off he supported gardening and self-sufficiency. But by the time he was the president, even he was too old and sick and got kept incognito and shuttered up by liberals.
What we needed, I figured, was a return to the full-starched priesthood wielders of the past, a return to the original prophets. The church’s secret formula to success.
Had that on my mind. Was concerned for the welfare of God’s church, for keeping it on the holy track. It took me all day thinking about and praying for the Lord’s help for the church, so I stopped going to my work and spooled myself away inside the house.
I took to sleeping through the day and carrying the shovel around the street at nights, Boyd being asleep, until the police cruisers took to pulling up alongside me and serving me hell. After that I took mostly to staying in.
Evenings, Boyd came by so much that I started letting him off the porch and into the front room. Sometimes he would ask with about one-third of a heart after the shovel, but pretty soon he wore himself out on the topic altogether. My former employer came over a few times and knocked hard enough to rattle the door in its frame, but me and Boyd stayed quiet and pretty soon that one went away for good.
I offered Boyd the fruits of my study. I told him how liberals had seized the reins of the church, leading the horses to run full bore away from God.
[p.132]”What we need, Boyd,” I said, “is a return to the prophets of the past.”
But Boyd would not admit yea or nay, nor even pay attention. That’s how he was.
Then one night I figured the vision’s meaning through and through. I stood up and slung the shovel athwart my shoulder and walked over to knock on Boyd’s door. A few minutes of pounding and he came to the door mumble-eyed, his holy underwear in shameless view to all the world. Didn’t seem too pleased to see me. But, after all, he didn’t know what I was there to see him about.
“My shovel,” he said, when he saw me carrying it.
“Get dressed, Boyd,” I said. “We’re driving to Idaho.”
He sat looking through me a long time like I was stupid or something. Shaking his head, he went back inside and closed the door.
I opened the door and invited myself on in. Boyd was back to his bed already. I shook him awake a little.
“Loan me your truck, Boyd,” I asked.
“Let me sleep,” he groaned.
I asked after his keys, but he wouldn’t tell me or didn’t know what I wanted. I got on the bed and shook him a little more, but that didn’t do anything for him neither.
I looked for his keys on the kitchen counter. There were some hooks on the wall by the back door, but nothing in the way of keys to hang from them. Taking Boyd’s trousers from the living room floor, I found the keys in a front pocket. I found his wallet too, back pocket, and figured he would not begrudge a few measly dollars for gas.
“Boyd,” I said, “I’m taking your truck to Idaho.”
Boyd didn’t say anything, so I took the truck and left.
[p.133]I drove three hours to Idaho, God’s country, considering God’s words the whole way. Got there an hour before the sun-up, the sky threatening light, then drove up and down the town until I stumbled onto the graveyard.
I walked about a bit, the dew clinging to the toes of my boots, until I started to see the honorable Benson name slung all about the headstones. I walked down through them until I found the prophet Ezra Taft and then set to digging.
[p.133]Took me about two goddam seconds to reckon digging with a shovel was a waste of time. I left the shovel by the headstone and took a thinking walk around the graveyard, trying not to walk on nobody.
Near the back fence I found a digger, the keys in it, just as if God had placed it there for my use, which he had. Climbing in, I started it and threw the gear in. I drove back to Ezra Taft Benson’s grave as best as I could manage, clipping down no more than a few headstones. I started in digging, mastering the trade as I went. First thing I almost tipped the bastard over backwards, but then I got it figured and took a few gouges out of the ground, dumping them wherever the scoop had a mind to dump, which was sometimes back in the same hole. Took the hole down until dawn was near breaking and I had scraped and splintered the lid of the casket, then scrambled down on my own to finish off with Boyd’s shovel.
When I got the lid up, I could see the old prophet’s face perfectly preserved for a moment, privately collapsing as the air struck it. I had to hang my face over the side of the grave a little and breathe, but then I thought maybe this was God’s test for me. Getting down there, I pushed at the body a smidgeon, seeing if the bones were integulated together sturdy enough. They seemed to be so, so I grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him out.
I shook the bugs out, best I could, then got him all secured under a tarp in the back of Boyd’s truck. I got back in myself, drove.
When I pulled the truck back in around lunchtime, Boyd was setting on a lawn chair in the driveway, arms crossed.
“Where you been?”
“Shit, Verl. You took my truck all the way to Idaho?”
“You told me to,” I told him, handing back his keys. “You volunteered it.”
He threw his weight around some more, then suddenly calmed down and started sniffing his way around.
“What’s that smell?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
He went to the back of the truck and looked under the tarp. Went white once he saw the bundle there.
“Jesus,” he said. “What is this all about?”
[p.134]”Don’t worry your pretty head none, Boyd. That’s the prophet. I’m just saving the church is all.”
“You take him back,” he said. “Now.”
Boyd, he could be pretty stupid sometimes. “I can’t take it back,” I said.
He started whimpering. “Get it out of my truck,” he hollered, “or I call the police.”
“Sure,” I said. “Lend me a hand, Boyd.”
He wouldn’t help me, though. Just went into the house, and me after a little while following him in.
“Going to look awful funny to the police,” I told him. “You with a body slung in your truck.”
“I didn’t do nothing,” he said.
“Don’t matter,” I said. “What matters is what it looks like. And what it looks like is awful funny.”
I didn’t wait for an answer but went back to my own house and clapped the door closed like I was angry or something. Didn’t take him long to be coming after me.
“All right,” he said. I’ll help you get it out.”
I didn’t know quite what to do with him, so I told Boyd just to lean him against the garage wall and maybe brace him up a little in a corner so he wouldn’t turn and yaw over.
I sent Boyd home, then sat there in the garage looking at the fellow. He didn’t look like no prophet, his flesh mortally gone and what was left murling on the bones. I wondered if maybe I had gotten the wrong Benson on my hands instead of Ezra T. But no, the stone had read Ezra Taft all right.
I tried to stand him up so he would stay afoot but the body was not exactly co-operating and wanted to stay boardstiff, hands to sides. 1 leaned him against the wall, then thought it over and stepped next door.
“Got some wire?” I asked Boyd.
“What’s to keep me from calling the police, now that he’s out of my truck and in your garage?”
“Neighborly spirit,” I said.
“By God,” he said, “I’ll call them.”
“Just fetch me the wire,” I said.
[p.135]He went out to the shed, me following, and fished out a coil of solid wire. I took the coil and slipped it over my arm.
“I wouldn’t call them,” I said. “God don’t like it.”
I’ll figure a way to make them think you were in on it,” I said. “Thanks for the wire. ”
I spun two turns over the garage rafter and started hooking the wire to the body, but there was no easy place to hook it on. So I went on back to Boyd’s.
“Got a drill?” I asked.
He started to turn, then hesitated. “Drill,” he said. “I don’t even want to know.”
Pretty soon I had him wire slung and standing, more or less. I had him looking sleek as he could look in a dark pinstripe suit that I borrowed from Boyd’s closet while he was asleep.
I decided to see what I could do about making him look a little perkier. I went into the house and got some of the supplies my wife had left a few years back when she had seen fit to leave me so suddenly for no worthwhile or explicapable reason. There was some bright neon-red lipstick and some peach colored powder with a puff and some mascara and then a few other supplies that I didn’t even know what part of the body to rub with.
I started with the lipstick because I thought it would be hard to go wrong. You’ve got the lips, you’ve got the lipstick, seems pretty simple. The problem was there weren’t really no lips to speak of. I had to make due with what little flesh was left and color in on the teeth for the rest. Then I went in and got some tissue like I had seen my wife do, and then I pressed it against the lips, like I had seen her do.
The peach stuff I just kind of powdered all over with until his face looked like he was coated with pollen. The mascara I finally gave over on because I couldn’t see the point of making eyes look bigger that weren’t even there in the first place.
I went inside and found my spare reading glasses and smeared the lenses with Vaseline. I put them on the prophet and he looked good enough, better anyway, almost penetrating with the eyeholes gone uncanny through the Vaseline.
I couldn’t help but call Boyd over for a look. He didn’t want to [p.136]come but I kept threatening to turn myself in and take him with me, so finally he shuffled over.
“Jesus Christ!” he said when he saw the prophet. “You’ve gone crazy, Verl.”
I shook my head. ”I’m the only sane one in the bunch.”
“You got to get this body out of here,” he said.
“Like hell,” I said. “This here’s the prophet, come to lead the church back to the track.”
He kept calling me crazy until he was tired out of saying it, but I just stuck to the truth and kept telling him about the dream of the shovel and the steps of how I had gotten from a shovel to having a dead prophet—”The last true prophet!” I told him—in my garage. I used God’s logic on him. Boyd just shook his head and looked sad about his life and maybe about my own. Deep down he was a compassionate person, Boyd, even though he was basically as dumb as a post. That was the beauty of him and why I wanted to take him along the path to salvation. Suffer the little children, if you know what I mean.
“I’m going home,” he said.
“But Boyd,” I put it to him. “You’re a church goer. Don’t you want to save the church?”
“You do what you want,” he said. “I don’t want to hear anything about it.”
I followed Boyd back home and before he could shut the door got my foot wedged in.
“It’s me, Boyd,” I said. “Let me in.”
“Like hell,” said Boyd.
“Boyd,” I said. “All I want is one more thing from you and then I’ll leave you alone forever.”
He thought that one over an hour, stamping on my toes in the meantime. But when he saw I wasn’t going to let off easy, he started to crumble.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Just come tell me how he looks for once.”
“I don’t need to see him again to tell you he looks like hell.”
“Last thing ever,” I said.
“Promise?” he asked.
“Jesus, he looks like hell,” said Boyd.
[p.137]”You mean it?”
“I don’t know how you did it, but you made him look worse,” Boyd said. “What you got to do now is get him back into the ground.”
“He’s going to lead the church, Boyd.”
“Like hell he is,” said Boyd.
“I am going to raise him from the dead,” I said, which was the truth.
”I’m going home.”
“I’m telling you the truth, Boyd,” I said. “Don’t believe me, and you’re destined for hellfire.”
He shook his head and walked out.
“I mean it, Boyd!” I called after him. “God needs you!”
I went to bed but like hell could I sleep. Kept having dreams about the prophet in my garage. In my dream he was begging me to hurry, and God seconding him.
I got out of beel and made some chicory, me being the sort who because of his religious knowings doesn’t drink strong drinks like coffee even though that is what I mainly want to drink all the time. I took my chicory out into the garage and sat on the steps looking at the body. I set the cup down and started turning around the body, circling around it, and thinking. Then once I got around behind it and I felt like I had the holy power coursing through me I put my hands on the head and blessed him to rise up and walk, and be alive.
Then I stepped back. I waited for the prophet to stand and walk but he did nothing of the kind, just kept hanging there by the wires.
I decided that maybe a body dead and buried and in the ground for as long as that and all made like that might need some surprise or some kind of jumpstart. So I kept on crouching down and hiding behind him, then leaping out, yelling, “Rise up and walk! Rise up and walk!” It seemed like a good idea at first but after a few hours the idea didn’t seem so good to me anymore, but God knew I had tried so for once he let me get some sleep.
In the morning it was all the same things and me trying to figure out how to get the prophet onto his feet again so as to show us where the church went wrong and start it back where it would go right instead.
I thought maybe if I sprayed him down with a hose first that might help matters, but what happened was the hose of it just spread what was left of his skin all over the garage. I blessed and anointed him every [p.138]five minutes or so to rise up and walk, but he was stubborn for death and wasn’t having none of it. I kept trying to surprise him but he wasn’t interested in that either.
Around nightfall, nervous from the dreams about to come my way, I called it quits. I made my way inside to think the problem through with all my fund of logic. But it wasn’t the sort of problem that would give over easy to logic. Once that came evident, I got out God’s holy Word, which had never led me wrong before, and opened the pages and looked for wisdom therein:
And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.
Maybe, I thought, this is a message from God directly to me. But I have come to think that it is better not to act until confirmation comes, so I kept flipping my way through all the holy books until after seven or eight fake starts I came onto the real one:
For the Word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is spirit …
I had read that one a hundred times, but it felt like God had had his prophets put it in there just for me to find at that moment, so I could go about saving the church.
Boyd had locked the front door, but one of the windows was open a little and the screen popped right off in my hands. He was in bed though it was only a little past midnight, so I shook him awake. He just about had a coronary, to hear him talk. He wasn’t so happy about me showing up, but you could always count on Boyd not to hold a grudge long.
“Still got that generator, Boyd?” I asked once he had calmed down.
“You can’t borrow it,” he said. “Let me sleep.”
I went out of his bedroom and rummaged through the house a little but could not find the generator anywhere. Tried Boyd’s garage. Then I took the crowbar out of Boyd’s truck again and pried the new door off the shed. It was a little better door than the first one, but didn’t make any difference in the long run.
The generator wasn’t there, but there were an orange utility cord and two spools of bare wire, and these I took back to my own garage. I worked the wire into one of the cord’s positive sockets and then the second wire into the negative socket. The hole for [p.139]grounding 1 just left like it was. Then I wound both spools of wire crisscross around the prophet’s body and twisted them together once I ran out of them.
I plugged the cord in and the first thing it did that I saw was make the prophet start to hiss and smoke, though he weren’t dry enough to catch flame. Then the wires on him started to glow red and the extension cord was hot enough that the plastic started to melt too. I was going to pull it out but I didn’t want burning plastic all over my palms so instead I ran into the house and opened the fuse box and saw the pennies spanning the gaps were glowing red hot as well.
I ran into the kitchen to find something to pry the pennies free with, but by that time all the sockets in the house were spitting sparks and such, and then from the garage came a big flash and everything went dead.
I took a flashlight out of the pantry and had a look around. Most of the sockets were black with a smell coming out of them. When I opened the fusebox the top penny was melted down over the other pennies and fuses and all of it burst apart or looking none too pretty. I had never seen the like and as I looked at it I started to think it meant something or perhaps was a sign of sorts, perhaps that God liked what I was doing and was telling me to keep it up. And then I began to wonder since all this had happened in the house about what had happened in the garage.
I went over to Boyd’s and stared in his plateglass window. He was sitting in front of the TV in his bathrobe eating popcorn. There was no reason not to disturb him. I rang the doorbell.
“Boyd,” I said, when he opened the door. “I got a power outage. Lend me a hand.”
He groaned, but then he tightened his cinch and came along, his good-naturedness working on him and kind of blacking out his good sense.
“What you doing up, anyway?” I asked.
“You ought to know,” he said. “How do you expect a man to sleep once you climb through his window?”
When he got in and saw the fusebox, he just stared at it.
“What makes you think I can fix that?” he asked.
“You’re pretty handy, aren’t you?”
[p.140]He took a screwdriver and undid one of the wall fixtures, showed me the wires all burnt out behind the plug.
“You got a few thousand dollars?” he asked.
“Not precisely,” I said. “God provides,” I said.
Boyd shook his head.
“Always has,” I said. “Problem with you, Boyd, is you don’t give no heed to all the miracles around you.”
“I can’t do nothing about it,” he said. “I’m going home to sleep.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Take a gander or two out in the garage.”
“I already know who’s out there,” he said.
“I need to figure out how I went wrong,” I said. “I’m afraid of what I’ll see.”
That got him curious enough to come. I went into the garage first, waving the flashlight, he following.
I looked around first at the socket and saw it was shot to hell. The flameproof wall was still smoldering and toxic so I had to stamp the sparks off it. The cord too was a hell of a mess. I followed it slowly out, slid the flashbeam up the prophet’s body.
He was burnt all over and Boyd’s suit burnt off him and the wires I had run around him sunk deep into his body now and probably held up only feebly on the bones. But I’ll be goddamned if his one hand which before had been down at his side wasn’t now raised up above his head.
“Will you look at that?” I said.
“What?” asked Boyd.
He took the flashlight and went over to take a look at it, then looked at the shoulder joint too.
“There’s a miracle if I ever saw one,” I said.
“Electricity must have done it,” he said.
“God did it,” I said. “That’s his holy sign to you.”
Boyd turned around, what I could see of his face in the afterthrow of the flashbeam contorted and tight.
“You rigged it!” he yelled.
“Get thee behind me, Boyd,” I reasoned. “If you think it through a little you’ll hear what God is telling you.”
But all he wanted was to push past me and stamp on out.
[p.141]”Boyd,” I yelled after him. “You got to believe! You got to believe!”
But not everybody deserves to be a prophet. Some people even God’s miracles won’t touch. Some people don’t even listen to God when he hits them over the head.
BRIAN EVENSON is the author of Altman’s Tongue (Knopf, 1994), The Din of Celestial Birds (Wordcraft, 1997), Prophets and Brothers (Rodent Press, 1997), and Father of Lies (Four Walls Eight Windows, forthcoming). He teaches at Oklahoma State University.