Second Coming: Chapter 4
The morning of the Rally, I expectedly served as Steven’s alarm clock, despite the one on his phone already loudly attempting the feat to wake him. With his camera gear in my car and our not-so-official printer paper badges around our necks, we began the drive down to the plaza.
“Don’t go dozing off when he inevitably goes off into one of his long bible-passage type talks.” I warned him from the driver’s seat.
Steven tugged on the ends of his shirt collar. “Come on, I’m a professional.”
“Could have fooled me.”
The parking around the plaza was expectedly full for a weekend morning, but to the best of my knowledge, not any busier than any other day. I began to scout for the location of the speech while Steven started to unload the hard cases from the back seat. There were already some flimsy blockades with arrows printed on copy paper, pointing to what was hopefully the event. As expected, the party had taken up at the top platform of the brick plaza at the center of the park across from the City Hall.
With a flash of the badge around my neck, I was able to get through the local volunteers apathetically blocking the way up the stairs to the platform. Hank was the first to notice me arriving.
“Howdy, Terrence boy.” He clapped his hands, drawing the other’s attention my way.
I scanned the staging area. Several loudspeakers were set up facing the lower stage where the crowd was hopefully going to congregate, connected with the podium and microphones with a spiderweb of thick cables. Joseph took up my hand suddenly, shaking it with his firm-yet-whimsical ‘best pals’ handshake. “The mayor did us good.”
“I see that.”
Joseph peered out behind me. “And your friend? He was able to make it this morning?”
“Oh-” I nodded, pulling out my phone to check the time. “Yes. I should head back and make sure he’s getting everything.”
Sharon had turned Joseph back around, pulling him down to her level to examine his coif. With a shrill spritz of hair spray, she tamed another one of the unruly strands at his hairline. In the Pastor’s grasp was a stack of note cards, carefully held between his fingers.
“Thank you, dear.” He mumbled out, double-checking that none of the sticky solution had ended up on the words. “Keep it up, Terrence. We’re forty-five minutes out, aren’t we, from opening up the gates, letting folks in?”
“Just about.” A volunteer spoke up.
Twenty minutes before the speech- ten before allowing people into the plaza- the soundcheck had been completed, and the addition of a lapel mic and sound pack to Joseph had allowed the roommate to finally meet with the Pastor. Just after, Steven had set up one of his cameras on a tripod just below the platform, and had used me to line up the shot from below. “All good, Ter!” He shouted up, concurring with a thumb to the air. I nodded back. From my point of view, I could see the road down below, and upon it, a medium-sized white bus pulling up. I read off the name on it.
“Mr. Cummings, Gulfview Baptist Church… was the name of your congregation, wasn’t it?” I said, looking back for the man, still rehearsing his words just under his breath.
“Huh?” He perked up. “Oh, well, darn me to heck if it isn’t them. Hank! Hank, did you get some of them to come out all this way?”
Sharon spoke up. “It was both of us, dear.”
“How wonderful.” The pastor hummed, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Well, it’ll be like preaching to the same old folk, won’t it?”
Despite my worries, Joseph’s own parishioners were far from the only folk to be at the ready to show up for the rally. As the city hall volunteers began to allow them inside the plaza, Steven was running a roll of yellow tape around his position to guard the equipment. He ran up after me on one last pit stop to his gear.
“Okay Terrence.” He called me to attention. “I’m going to hand you off the second camera gimbal so you can catch some B-Roll.”
“Huh?” I managed to react before the heavy contraption handed my way.
Steven began with swift strikes of his fingers to list out the buttons. “Power-record-focus- doesn’t have to be perfect, just for something extra.” He hammered out without taking a breath. “The gimbal’ll keep it nice and stable for you anyways. Oh, since it’s pretty bright, make sure you’re not over-exposing it. You can change the Aperture on the lens up front. As long as it looks good on the viewfinder, you won’t have to do anything else.”
While I attempted to remember everything he had said, Steven was already on his way back down to guard the primary camera gear from a pair of nosy kids. I was just able to balance the expensive, overly-complex camera gear on my shoulder when I heard Joseph speak up.
“Mayor Malcolm, good to see you.” The pastor greeted the man and his small entourage. “Thank you for setting all of this up for us today.”
When the crowd finally settled, it was quite the surprise to see almost all of the once free space then occupied. Various signs on paper and cardboard read out the support for Joseph, The Pastor, as well as various forms of appeal to Jesus and the other higher powers. About Steven’s space, a couple more cameras, belonging to the local news, had also set up. Mayor Malcolm was the first to address the crowd.
“Citizens of Tallahassee, and perhaps those from even farther, I welcome you this morning to this wonderful event. The man behind me needs no introduction, a man who has, in fact, become a great friend and ally of mine over the past few weeks. May this event be the first step forward to seeing him, Pastor Joseph Cummings, into the White House as the President of the United States!”
Malcolm released his sweaty grip on the podium and stepped back as the relative roar of the crowd grew. The two prominent figures exchanged handshakes as Joseph took up the platform. His chest rose and fell with heavy breath as the voices dwindled back to pious silence. I readied the camera before me and waived my hand before the lens to achieve a slightly better focus.
“Proud followers of this cause… I welcome you!” Joseph began, his fingers dancing out before him. The hum of voices grew like a wave, before crashing back down onto the shore. He licked his lips before continuing. “The two most powerful forces in this country today are politics… and religion- for reasons that without them, there would be anarchy. From the first time I stepped up to the pulpit at the church that has long since heard many of my sermons, and looked out at all the faces among the pews, I could see nothing but sheep… granted safe inside their flock, but nevertheless desiring… and needing… order from a higher power. And you know what? I am not that higher power.”
This line brought out a few stifled hums and huffs. So far, the content was not so bad, especially for the intended crowd. I redirected the camera and walked about, attempting a different angle. I took up Joseph’s back- just a silhouette against the sun at that angle- and double-checked I was recording. Just as Steven had said, I had to tweak the lens to filter out some of the light.
Joseph shuffled his note cards and spoke again. “Not even in the most powerful country in the world, The United States, could someone like the president be considered the highest power… But, of course… you all know whom that title belongs to.” With a pause, he pointed his finger up to the sky. The crowd hummed, and a singular whistle rang out.
“There is a certain… calling that is answered when you take the role of Pastor… a call from that higher power… HIS higher power. Asking you to do good by him. And for many years now, I have done the absolute goodest by him, no matter what. Through recessions, social strife… hurricanes! Dishonest, unbelieving, liberal presidents!” An ebb of boos rippled about. “It’s been not only me, but all of you as well, who have risen above it all, with the power of the good Lord Jesus Christ flowing through your bodies!”
I felt the speech devolving, but alas, the crowd was nevertheless eating it up. A hum arose again, louder than before. Through the viewfinder of the camera, I caught Joseph looking up to the sky, as if channeling some sort of power. The sound grew worse, inhuman. I pulled the camera gear off my shoulder and looked up to the source.
A great glow, brighter than the sun itself, had appeared from above. At the center of the crowd, a wide beam of ghostly pale light was projected down. Steven, dragging the tripod with him, had pulled back from the source with the rest of the crowd. Joseph was unmoving at the platform, his arms up to the sky. Neither his wife, nor Hank, or any of the volunteers or staff had considered moving up to move him away.
As I ran up to the edge of the platform, gimbal jostling at my side, the light disappeared just as quickly as it had arrived. At the epicenter of where it had landed was a man, bearded and long-haired as if he had come out of the painting above my grandmother’s mantle. As he stood, his pristine white cloak flowed down past his feet.
Joseph let out a loud breath into the microphone, still conducting audio to the loudspeakers. “The Lord himself hath granted me this day a miracle. He hath delivered upon me, upon us, once again his flesh and blood, his son- his second coming!”