|Apr/May 2017 Humor/Satire|
Photographic image © 2017 Stuart Gelzer
Allen Williamson stared at the framed portrait of his Lord and Savior, Satan. In what had become a weekly occurrence, he tried to determine if the painting was actually off-balance or if he was just anxious about making sure everything was in its right place before the other members of the Southern New Jersey Church of Satan arrived. He allowed his eyes to drift out of focus in the hopes that somehow his perception would become more objective, but it was no use. He adjusted the portrait slightly, stared at it once more, and let it be. There were other matters to attend to.
He brushed some dust from the seat of a folding chair in the front row and sat down. It was hard to believe that this meeting marked the three year anniversary of the Church, though he knew that if he allowed himself the opportunity to recall all of the long hours he had put in over the years it would likely feel closer to a decade's worth. He made his way to the snack table, grabbed a bag of pita chips, and waited by the Satanic altar.
Jazmine and Paul made their way in, both wearing Slayer shirts, which Allen believed was an intentional display of disrespect towards him as High Priest. He had specifically requested at last month's service that all Church members avoid any clothing that had co-opted the iconography of Satanism for commercial reasons. In fact, Allen was almost certain that he had mentioned Slayer in particular as an example.
Jazmine and Paul, of course, said nothing and simply nodded their heads in Allen's general direction, even though no one else had yet arrived at the VFW. Allen took a deep breath and quickly ate a few pita chips out of nervousness. He was aware he often compulsively snacked instead of dealing with the anxiety of confrontation head-on, as his therapist had mentioned, but he was also aware he needed to calm himself down in some way in order to avoid alienating a third of the Church's congregation.
"I think the portrait's a bit crooked," Paul said. "He looks like he might fall out of the frame at any second." Jazmine laughed so hard she snorted. Allen ate another fistful of pita chips.
Jazmine and Paul had attended services consistently for the past year or so, but Allen had struggled to ever feel connected to either of them. With the other congregants Allen felt at ease—they complimented his sermons, they thanked him for all of his hard work. A few of them had even invited Allen over to their houses for meals. But Jazmine and Paul rarely interacted at services beyond the Holy Satanic Rituals, which were obviously required. Allen often found himself focusing on them and only them during his sermons, wondering what he was doing wrong to make them appear so utterly disinterested.
"I can't help but notice that you're both wearing Slayer shirts," Allen said. He decided to stand up in an attempt to assert some dominance as well as disconnect himself from his compulsive habit. "You might remember in last week's sermon I suggested that in order to have Satanism taken seriously we need to dissociate ourselves from the hollow, corporatized iterations of devil worship." Allen felt strong, maybe even a bit confident. "I believe I even used Slayer as an example."
"I must have dozed off during that one," Paul said. Another snort from Jazmine. Allen tried to determine if he was being sarcastic or sincere, then realized that either way he was being insulted. He wished some other congregant was there to break this tension. Or, better yet, that Paul and Jazmine would decide to leave. What exactly did they gain by attending week after week and criticizing him? Why didn't they appreciate all he had done for Satanists in the Greater South Jersey region? What were they thinking when he bared his black heart and soul during those sermons? He tried to understand their perception of him: was he their weekly entertainment? He imagined them laughing about him on the way to the parking lot, mocking the way he accentuated certain words with his hands on the ride home. He pictured the two of them eating breakfast days later, giggling again about the arbitrary nature of the Slayer ban. They were probably right, he thought.
He stared at the two of them and smiled gently. "Can I help you with something?" Paul asked. Allen closed his eyes and took six deep breaths. He heard Paul whisper something that caused Jazmine to forego a snort altogether and belt a laugh so loud that Allen could have sworn he felt a few trickles of her spit on his forehead.
He took six more deep breaths. Oh Dark Lord, he thought, please guide my thoughts. He waited for something to happen, then felt foolish for believing that was possible—let alone here in a rented VFW, let alone by him who had never even registered himself as an official High Priest in the national Church. He counted off the same amount of breaths again, hoping to finally regain his composure so that he could prepare himself to say the mass in spite of a wide swath of his congregation. It was at that moment when two sudden bursts of air shot by his ears, followed by the sound of two folding chairs crashing against the floor.
Allen opened his eyes to find the Slayer shirts lying on the chairs but no sign of Paul or Jazmine. He closed his eyes and tried to reimagine their presence as smug and disrespectful as it ever was, but when he opened his eyes again, the shirts were still lying lifeless on the chairs.
A door opened, and several congregants entered. Allen silently panicked, believing he should quickly hide the shirts though he recognized it was too late for any sort of cover-up. The best distraction he could manage was to clasp his shaking hands together and nod at the new arrivals.
One of them pointed at the shirts as he took his seat. "Are these the shirts you warned us about?"
Allen nodded. The man inspected one of the shirts diligently, holding it up to the light and squinting his eyes. Allen took a deep breath and braced himself for a line of questioning. "Couldn't agree with you more," he said as he threw the shirt back on the chair. "Downright tacky."