How I Became an Electric Nun
by P. F. White
When my parents died, I was sent away and raised in the puritanical household of my grandparents. My grandfather would read nightly from the good book for the edification of his grand-daughters. We were given sternly worded sermons and were seldom allowed to run or smile. Despite this, as a child I never believed. No matter how much my grandfather beat me, I would not pray.
I did not believe in sin either.
Grandfather occasionally called me his devil child. The name was not affectionate.
I yearned for escape from my morbidly religious life, and I dreamed of finding a strong, miraculous man to take me away. So I guess I did believe in salvation, even if my reasons were entirely selfish.
We lived far from the city. My grandfather felt a strong need to attend church on Sunday. It was almost a compulsion for him, and yet the only thing that could possibly dissuade him from it was to take the family to witness the modern miracles of science. Sideshows, really, that would occasionally flicker through the town like brightly colored bugs.
Grandfather disliked their hucksterism, and would rail against it on quiet evenings while my sisters and I knitted on the porch. Yet still we found ourselves making the long trek into the city to attend every magnetic marvel and electric excitement advertised in the Sunday paper.
Maybe it was precisely because of his dislike of hucksterism that my father felt so compelled towards these garish excitements. Whatever his reasons, I rarely felt the slightest interests in the event save to make eyes at whatever cute boy could be found in the audience.
Sometimes I made more than that as well, but it was only natural. I do not regret it now that I have found salvation. Our savior’s primary message was always love, no matter what grandfather had to say on the matter.
My life progressed in the boring fashion until the eve of my seventeenth year. As my birthday approached, my grandfather found mention of a particularly scandalous article in the Sunday paper. It referred to a revival of sorts.
The article boasted of “Automatic music, special effects, and the most profound electric Jesus to be found in the west.” My grandfather was livid. Worse still was the fact that many respectable churches were condoning the performance and allowing it to be held in their chapels.
My grandfather vowed not to attend. Then one week later our own parish decided to play host to it. Caught between his two most fervent obsessions, grandfather had no choice. We attended.
The drab confines of our church never looked so splendid. Electric lights of many colors were draped across the dusty rafters and twinkled merrily like Christmas. Horns and speakers were affixed to every surface and mechanized angels murmured recorded blessings in every corner of the room. On the alter sat a massive brass and stained glass coffin, like the ones old vampire movies, but emblazoned with a glowing silver cross of prodigious size.
Warily our conservative congregation took to the pews. The somber finery of our Sunday clothing seemed out of place in such an atmosphere. Carnival attire would have suited the chapel better. Our priest watched from the sidelines and wrung his hands, uncertain of his decision now that it had begun.
There came a tremendous and beautiful blaring of horns. The automatic organ jauntily played off key; the keys moved as if by ghost as the gear-box concealed beneath it clattered.
A skeleton thin man in a candy cane striped suit danced across the stage. He wore an enormous top hat and black bowtie. His skin was clean-shaven and oily. He twirled a sparkling glass cane.
“Ladies and Gentleman! Boys and Girls! Children of all ages! Blessed and beautiful parishioners and penitents! I gladly welcome you to the most scintillating show of sagacious sanctimony on this or any other sphere!”
He paused for breath, filling his hollow chest like an inflating balloon before beginning again. I glanced at my grandfather. He was red-faced and puffing. His fists were clenched tight. I could not help but smile at his obvious displeasure.
“My name is Unimportant. My crew is called Mystery. I am sometimes called mister. We are sometimes called Holy. But I am always, always: Ghost-man!”
He did a bit of soft-shoe to the front of the stage. “I am here as a representative of above!” He gestured with both hands heavenwards and was rewarded by a bulb above him bursting dramatically. “An enemy of below!” He thumped the floor with his glass cane and someone coughed loudly. The music skipped a beat. “And a friend to the common man and his beautiful art of science!”
The thin fellow paused as if frozen. He seemed to be waiting for applause but received none. His head bobbed slightly but he went on.
“We are going to expound! Explore! Enlighten and ultimately: explode all your more entrenched entitlements and enthroned epistemology!” At this the man flicked his wrist and sent a lit bottle-rocket screeching across the room. It exploded with a burst of color and nearly gave several parishioners heart attacks.
“We are going to jury-rig our jollies into judgment! Juxtapose it with a jaunt into joviality and charge the very modest ticket price of...”
The music swelled and somehow every one of the multi-colored lights flickered to a somber red. The air grew positively demonic and the thin showman’s voice dropped dramatically in pitch.
“...your immortal souls.”
There was a series of flickers as the lights reverted to their previous states, fervent whispers, and the sound of several bulbs, evidently in bad need of repair, bursting. The crowd began to whisper loudly in fear. One man in the back stood up abruptly. The showman whirled his cane in an impressive arc and pointed it at him. A spot-light shone out at the man from somewhere in the rafters.
“You sir! Is the price of a soul too much for you? Are you not worthy of judgment or perhaps frightened of its outcome?”
The man made to answer but was flustered. The showman paid him no attention.
“Mayhap you are a sinner? In need of confession? Perhaps you doubt my abilities or the veracity of my claims? Perhaps it is my hat?”
At this the showman grinned broad. Several of the younger audience members laughed. The showman stood up straight as an arrow and with a twirl of his cane knocked his hat from his head.
A cascade of dirty black hair tumbled down his shoulders in a complex of dreadlocks. Each was capped by a silver or gold crucifix.
We were all amazed, but I had the foresight to look back towards the dissenter. He no longer stood and I could see him nowhere. The crowd looked more docile, but more frightened. There was an aura of menace in the air that no one could account for.
Thunder suddenly boomed out from the speakers and a deep voice spoke in melodramatic bass.
“Ghost-man! This has gone on long enough! These people have not gathered for petty trickery or abasement! They have come to meet my son.”
Ghost-man bowed humbly on the stage. His glass cane whirled behind his back and flicked a switch setting off several noisy gears. Slowly the embossed coffin began to rise to a standing position. Dangerously fat sparks spat from it and the lights flickered as its massive cross gained in luminescence.
“Of course, Almighty One!” shouted the Ghost-man over the noisy coffin, “I was only having a bit of fun. If it is the son that they want, then it is the son they shall have!”
Everyone in the chapel sat on edge. Nothing moved. The gears had ceased. There was a moment of silence.
Then the coffin lid exploded outward and a glowing man of electric perfection strode forth onto the stage.
He was robed like a peasant in ancient times. His limbs and face were poorly crafted from plastic. Yet he radiated light and a sense of divinity. His features were unmistakable.
The electric Jesus had an aura that left the entire congregation in awe.
His eyes were merciless, powerful and kind. He sought out the eyes of everyone and filled them with magical love. One after another the congregation was reduced to tears. There was no explaining it. He walked as a man might walk, and looked as a man might look, but we all knew he was not. He was so terribly more, yet so humbly less. A miracle of something. Science? God? It did not matter to anyone the moment his neon blue eyes touched you. Women wept and men sat up straight. I was scared, more scared than I had ever been. Then those blue eyes fell upon me.
And I believed.
I rose to my feet in adoration. The electric Jesus took one graceful step towards me, but my grandfather was quicker. He leaped to his feet with a stomp and an oath. He cursed brazenly, a harsh brutal syllable like a battle cry and raised his balled fists to the Christ.
“Would you stand against love with fists held tight? Would you hide your sin with oath upon your lips, o my brother?” said the machine, in the voice of perfection.
I knew then that this wonderful creature was here for me. That the electric Jesus would love me like none other. It was a powerful, mysterious, and magic creation of some incomprehensible force. I loved it so much that it hurt.
“You are not my Savior!” Grandfather shouted, his face redder than blood and his chest heaving in deep sobs of air. I could feel the heat radiating from him as he shook his fists. I tried to move but he grabbed me and would not let me go.
“No,” said the electric Jesus sadly, “I am not.”
Then grandfather clutched his chest with both hands and crumpled to the floor. The music rose to dramatic accompaniment as I found myself leaving the pew, abandoning my grandfather and racing to the arms of the electric Jesus.
He took me in his arms and we kissed. A spark rose between us and filled me like a battery of holy love. There was a sound in my ears like a battering ram. There came the noise of splintering wood. The electric Jesus shielded me with his body as the Inquisitors stormed the chapel.
They fell upon him with jackbooted heel and truncheon, reducing him to wires and smashed plastic within moments. Yet the electric Jesus never faltered. His lips remained pressed to me and his loving electricity filled me until the last moment when his glow failed. I began to weep, then lost all track of the world.
The Inquisitors had dispersed the crowd within minutes, and by the end of the hour I found myself in the darkest dungeon of the Bishopric. The Bishop knew my story all too well. He knew that after experiencing such pure, celestial love that I was wedded to Christ in a way he could never be.
Every night became my wedding night. The Jesus’s electric arms were forever wrapped tight around me. His lips would speak to me through the trickle of a thunderstorm or the flicker of a light. And though the Bishop did his best to win me, to steal my love and my beauty and take my Christ from me, he could not. The electric Christ was inside me. I was plugged into the electric faith.
Copyright © 2011 by P. F. White