By John Thomas Tuft

The old F150 pick up is parked beside the stream. The radio is turned low, playing 90’s country, but the night has its own music. Catfish splash in the water, mosquitoes buzz, and the underbrush rustles as rabbits, raccoons, and a rodent hunted by a stray rattler go about their business. An owl punctuates the sense of restless order with his eternal question. The three dogs are napping in the cab, oblivious to the chorus of bullfrogs who, in turn, are oblivious to the gigging sticks poking out of the bed. A man crouches beside a campfire, watching the flickering flames with the intensity of a Walt Longmire stare, his eyes following the sparks that pop out and dance in lazy pirouettes toward the canopy of stars overhead. A Winchester 30-30 leans against a nearby log and the image is completed by the six pack of Rainier beer nestled beside it.

“Am I too late?” asks a ragged apparition who stumbles out of the trees, scattering the wildlife all to kingdom come. “What are you doing here, Zeke?” The man beside the fire half rises from his crouch, genuinely perplexed. “You’re supposed to be dead.” The old man pats all over his motheaten pea coat and stained baggy pants, shows off his missing teeth with a smile. “Well hell, nobody told me!” is his response. “What’s a matter, Preacher Boy? They said you needed…” he pulls a chewed on piece of paper from a pocket, squints in the firelight, “…anon…aneen…annunciation. Yeah, that it. Annunciation. You havin’ trouble sayin’ your words right, Preacher Boy?” The man straightens all the way up, raises one eyebrow, “They?” Zeke gives an eloquent shrug. “Everything’s a committee nowadays, I guess.”

As if to emphasize the point, the night sounds grow still as a woman with long brown hair, jeans, cowboy boots, ‘Roll Tide’ tee shirt and an infectious smile steps into the clearing. “Hey ya’ll! This here a party or what?” She spies the sticks in the truck, exclaims, “Oh, wow, you gigged any frogs yet? All we’d need is some cracklin’ cornbread and we’re all set! Jack, hand me one of them there Rainiers.” The dogs woke up and quickly gathered around the latest arrival, seeking affection and attention, like we all do in the presence of angels. “Hiya, I’m Terralessa. Who might you be?” She stepped toward Zeke. “Are you one of Jack Goo’s friends?” Zeke made a low bow. “The pleasure’s all mine, Missy.” Then he turned back to Jack. “Preacher Boy?” Jack waved his hands. “Jack Goo is a childhood thing.” Zeke took Terralessa’s hand and held it while saying, “Well, childhood things make way for manhood things.”

When they had all taken a place around the fire, with the dogs showing their preferences, as dogs are wont to do, and everyone popped open a can, Zeke spoke. “So, Preacher Boy, what’s up? Why’d ya need us here?” Jack Goo the Preacher Boy took a slug. “I didn’t ask for you. Why’d you come?” Terralessa took the smallest dog into her lap. “So what’s going on right now, darlin’? Is this your good spot?” Jack sighed, “Topsy turvy. People are looking for a good spot. Everybody should have one. Right now, everyone is afraid, and anxious. And a good number are working themselves into being angry.”  “Well shoot,” exclaimed Terralessa, “ya cain’t blame a body for that, now can you?”

Zeke wiped his mouth on a sleeve and looked into the fire with rheumy eyes. “You got your politicians and your pouters. Your preachers and your perishables. Different religions and different relics.” A coughing fit interrupted. When it passed he asked, “Ya got anything stronger, Preacher Boy? Anyway, you got different faiths and different fates. Some people look around and wonder, why shouldn’t I have what they have?” Terralessa snuggled against the largest dog and said, “And some people look around and wonder, do you have what you need? Ya gotta figure out which one you are.”

“Preacher Boy, in your line of work,” Zeke stopped to belch loudly. “Pardon my grace. As I was sayin’, you got people that look at distant hills, see crosses and say, ‘Yeah, that should be me.’” He chuckled and Terra joined in. “And it always comes back to, but I’m glad it ain’t me, though!” Jack spoke up, “And some say, this is my cross to bear, I must grin and bear it.” Zeke poked a finger at him, “That don’t pass the smell test, sonny. Because then there are those who sees a cross on every hill and say, this could be me.”

“That there is your annunciation, Jack Goo the Preacher Boy,” said Terralessa in a kind of benediction. “Taking a good, hard look at things and asayin’ and actin’ and adoin’ in a way that says,” she paused, waiting…The dogs growled at the shadows and went back to sleep. The bullfrogs picked up their chorus. The rabbit and raccoon and rodent pursued by a rattler went about their business. The owl continued to ask. The sparks climbed into the night sky. The man sat by the fire. Alone. With the answer to all prayer. “This could be me.”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.