Give me that old time religion. Praise the lord, immerse me in the brilliant blood of Christ!
Something like that
In Appalachian country, God takes on a unique role. The God of the mountain people is a vindictive shit reeking of Old Testament mumble jumble. He is one to dread, but his followers… let me tell you. Let me fucking explain to you all about the sadistic, wrathful followers of the high country. Holy Christ, you’ve never met so many fucked up people. Even the most sharp tongued, snake oil slinging Evangelical would cringe at what these small isolated towns claimed to be God.
Ain’t no good ever come from religion. I’m steadfast in this and rather inflexible. Having been raised in the highlands myself, I found myself very fortunate to have been given a more progressive household. My pa would not have no holy rollers or bible thumpers living in the homestead.
Pa once told me a biblical story when I was six years old that God burned a bunch of people alive because he perceived them to be nothing more than sexual deviants. “what’s a sexual deviant” I asked Pa. “Well, a deviant means nothing more than that you are different. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anybody should be burned alive for being different.”
My Pa’s words made so much sense to me, and I’m grateful to have been raised by wonderful parents. But there was just something about raining fire indiscriminately that just didn’t sit right with six-year-old me. I glanced up at him and asked, “Pa, why did God have to go on and kill the children of Sodom? What did they do wrong?” And you know what my Pa’s answer was? “Simply put, God is an asshole.”
You Yankees from up top won’t get it, I ain’t expecting some Hollywood hot shot to get it either. But to utter such blasphemy in the highlands was unheard of. No one did it. Seriously. I’d wager that there’s still an old timey law on the books that authorizes the courts to stone people to death for such talk.
The Emersons moved to King’s Creek from Alabama, took the house right next door when I was thirteen. They were a somber lot who never spoke in town unless it was unavoidable, or to spread the family patriarch’s toxic brand of Christianity.
Peter Emerson was something else, I tell you. On this one occasion he called my Ma a harlot for sun bathing in our own back yard. This guy just yelled “harlot!” from his own kitchen window. And it was loud, I heard it from inside with the windows all shut and the central air pumping. Pa was pretty upset over this. I was scared, I honestly expected him to tear the man’s head off, but no. Annoyed, he simply shook his head and called him a miserable cunt maggot.
Wendy Emerson was a simple, mousey, silent woman. Seriously, I never heard that woman’s voice. Nobody had. It began to spread throughout King’s Creek that perhaps Mrs. Emerson was a mute. That was not the case, however, for she had been controlled by a rigid system of conduct which was based on some looney biblical revelation produced by her husband. One day he told her she was no longer allowed to speak. She was twenty-two years old the last time she spoke, and Wendy had to be no younger than forty when the Emersons moved next door.
Wendy was treated awfully, but it was nothing compared to how the patriarch disciplined their fifteen-year-old daughter. Her name was Maggie and boy did I have the hots for her. She was a beautiful free spirit with a rebellious streak. The teen would catch rides from older high school boys, use profanity when at school, and cut class to smoke cigarettes behind the bleachers. She was a real spitfire, and I admired her because we all knew that whenever her father got wind of her debaucheries, he’d deliver harsh punishment. Often the girl would come to school with large bruises and even a limp. Maggie may have been in pain, but you’d never know it because for her, school was the only place where she could be free and she wasn’t going to waste any of her free time in the dumps because her daddy canned her. She took beating after beating, but the old man couldn’t break her. I applaud such an attitude in a person.
Over the span of three months, she began a downward spiral. Maggie began smoking pot, drinking booze, having sex and when she got home all stoned and drunk, well she knew the drill. She would undress and wait for her penance. Maggie saw the beatings as the price she had to pay to be free for part of the day.
I’m willing to bet that once school let out for the summer things next door got worse. Maggie was a wild child, and she was not about to leave her lifestyle behind simply because the school year ended. Maggie was instructed to never leave the house, she was a sinner without remorse and as Peter put it, “to let you out there would be tossing you to the wolves”. The thing was Maggie had become self-destructive, but it wasn’t because of the devil, it was because of her father and his authoritarian, sadistic fanaticism.
When her father told her that she would have to spend the entire summer indoors she simply laughed at him, called him a prick, took her clothes off and took her beating. Of course, she didn’t listen to him and the minute the old bastard left for work she’d strut out the front door in a miniskirt. Her mother would watch in horror from the window as her daughter lit up a cigarette on the porch while waiting for Greg to pick her up.
Maggie began dating Greg in April and boy did he fill her mind up with dreams. The seventeen-year-old boy promised to take her away from her parents once he got the money together to start their new life. So how did the dick with legs plan on getting the cash together to split town? The dumb fuck planned on robbing a drug dealer known as Diablo. He would never get the chance to carry out this plan, however.
All day the two of them swam naked down at Burt’s Pond. While they were drying off, he handed her a bag.
“What’s this?” Her eyes lit up with excitement. She had never received a gift before, and Greg had no idea how much this meant to Maggie. In the bag was a pair of pink lace thong underwear. “Oh my god, I never had real lingerie before.”
“Technically real lingerie is from France, and these were made in China.”
Maggie shot a suspicious glare at him, jokingly. “Wow, you really know your woman’s underwear. Let me find out you got a little sugar in your tank.”
“I love you, Maggie.”
That’s the precise moment where our story goes to shit. Greg was just a naïve teenage boy letting his hormones speak for him. He didn’t love her, not really. But for Maggie, this was a life-altering event. For the first time in her entire life, someone spoke the words “I love you” and directed them at her. Her eyes swelled up, and she threw her arms around her boyfriend, causing them both to fall onto the grass.
Maggie looked deep into his eyes. Her lips quivered. She felt sick and happy all at the same time. She began to tear up as a drop streamed down her cheek, glistening in the sun. Greg reached out a hand and gently wiped her face dry.
“Why the tears?”
“I just really love you .”
The two of them lost track of time, as young lovers often do in the summer. Her father would be home when she got back, something that had never happened before. She would be attacked the very moment that door opened, but she was prepared to take whatever punishment her father deemed necessary. Hearing Greg say those words that afternoon made her glow like never before, and nothing could ruin this high. Or so she thought.
“What in the name of the Holy spirit do you think you’re doing?”
“I went out, obviously.” Maggie rolled her eyes, shutting the door behind her. She took off for the stairs, but her father grabbed onto her arm.
“Do you really think you can disobey me and head upstairs, unpunished? God has given us the conscious choice to sin or not, you have chosen to sin. I don’t fault you for sinning. The bible tells us that temptation dates to the Garden of Eden. The serpent was cunning, he was persuasive and led them to sin. God didn’t hate his creations, yet he knew that there must be atonement. That’s the gift that Jesus gave us. We sin, we are punished and then we are clean again. Girl, take those rags off and prepare for your cleansing.”
Maggie took off her blouse with a cocky expression. There was no fucking way that she was going to let this asshole ruin her mood. But suddenly everything came to a screeching halt when she began to remove her skirt. She was wearing lingerie. Sneaking out is one thing, but to come home with whore garments is a new level she had never experienced before. Maggie was terrified.
“Go on, get that skirt off and them undies so I can whoop you.” When the skirt hit the floor, her mother gasped. The poor woman was convinced that this would be the time her husband would finally lose control. Wendy feared for her daughter’s safety. She wanted to help, but she was groomed and brainwashed to believe this was right.
As for Peter, he just stood there and stared at the underwear, frozen and unable to talk. His eye began to twitch, the arm he used to beat the girl began to shake with rage. Everything was so silent except for Maggie’s sobbing. She swore years ago to never give the old man the pleasure of seeing her cry ever again, but this was different.
“You nasty little slut.” Peter muttered under his breath. He scooped up a large hardbound bible, the one that he kept on a table by the front door. His lip curled, and he looked like he was about to cry. “I’m sorry, girl, but it’s God’s will.”
Peter totally lost control. He used that big hard book to beat his daughter. Each brutal whack to the face resulted in blood splatter. She spat out broken teeth and then came a loud cracking sound. This was her jaw breaking. Wendy dropped to her knees and silently watched her husband beat the living hell out of her only child. It finally came to an end when Maggie collapsed like a sack of potatoes.
“Get up, girl.” Peter’s face and chest were drenched with blood, and the flames of hell burned in that man’s eyes. “I said get up!”
She didn’t move, nor would she ever move again. The bible fell to the ground with a loud thud. Peter fell to his knees, looking at his little girl. He couldn’t believe how still she was. And her face. He pummeled her until it looked like ground hamburger.
“No. oh my god, what have I done?” He reached out to touch his daughter’s hair while desperately searching her green eyes for any sign of life. There were none. Peter had killed his fifteen-year-old daughter over a pair of underwear.
The cops came and arrested Peter. That evil motherfucker is still alive, lost in the prison system where I hope the memory of Maggie Emerson haunts him for the rest of his miserable life. A while back I ran into a correctional officer who had worked at the prison where Peter was serving out his sentence. From how he tells it Peter has since turned his back on the lord.
Every time I drive by the Emerson house, I think about Maggie. It’s unbelievable that a religion of peace and love could lead to such tragedy.