Dale was born with a heart that was two sizes two small. It was a congenital defect that turned the undersized youngster into a virtual shut-in… the boy who stared out the window at other children while they played and laughed and played. Dale was limited to sedentary pursuits, the kind of play that involved sitting still for long periods of time. He never knew his father. The old man took off when he was three due to the stress of raising a special needs child.
When he was seven, and still sickly, his mother took him to the mall to meet Santa. She chain-smoked the entire way there… having a sickly child was stressful, and cigarettes gave her some comfort, as did her cranberry juice and vodka cocktails. She told herself while drinking them, “Cranberry juice is good for my urinary tract.”
Dale got winded a few times on the way from the car to the mall entrance and then again in the mall itself. He was rarely around this many people, too, so the whole day was turning out to be stressful. They were sitting on a bench in front of a mall church run by Reverend Jimmy, whose kindly face grinned from the sign out front. “Have you met Jesus?” the electronic billboard asked. “Christ is the reason for the season.”
Dale took it all in. His mother sat with him on the bench, puffing away on a Virginia Slim until a mall cop told her to put it out.
Out of nowhere, Reverend Jimmy himself appeared. “This is America!” Reverend Jimmy said. His voice carried across the mall, from end to end. “Can I get an ‘Amen, Jesus’?”
“Amen, Jesus!” Dale said.
“Don’t encourage him, honey.” His mother put out her smoke on the heel of one of her flats and pocketed it. It was expensive raising a special needs kid.
“Don’t start with me, Jimmy,” the mall cop said. “Thanks for putting out the cigarette, ma’am.”
“No problem,” Dale’s mother said. She freshened up her lipstick and then asked the mall cop if he could find a wheelchair for her son.
“Allow me to lay hands on the boy,” Reverend Jimmy said.
“Knock yourself out,” Dale’s mom said.
The reverend placed his hands on Dale and prayed loudly to the Lord to heal him, to take away his infirmities, to make him a whole child so he could walk in the Lord’s Light. And, what do you know, it worked. Dale felt his undersized heart grow in his chest. He stood up, feeling better than he ever had in his life. “Thank you!”
“No, don’t thank me, son. Thank your Savior, Jesus Christ!”
“Thank you, Jesus!”
“Dale, cut that out. You’re only encouraging him,” said his mother. The mall cop arrived with the wheelchair. “Get in the chair, Dale. We’re going to see Santa.”
“Santa!” Reverend Jimmy hollered, incensed. “Idolatry!” The Lord moved within in him and he spoke for a few moments in ancient Mesopotamian, which sounded to the lay people surrounding him like gibberish. “Hum-min-a-hee! Hum-min-a-ho!”
“He’s having a fit,” Dale’s mom said to the mall cop. “Do something! Shove your wallet in his mouth.”
“Naw,” the mall cop said. “He’s speaking in tongues is all.”
“I can do push-ups, thanks to Jesus!” Dale knocked out twenty push-ups and rose to his feet.
“Praise Jesus!” Reverend Jimmy said, returning to American English.
“There’s no scientific explanation,” Dale’s mom said.
“Science and the Lord don’t get along,” Reverend Jimmy said.
“I pledge myself to the Lord’s service!” Dale said.
“Amen and alleluia!” Reverend Jimmy said.
Dale walked over to a handrail and looked down on the lower level of the mall. Hundreds of children were lined up to see the man dressed as Santa, while no one was lined up outside the church of this man whose dedication to the Lord’s work had led to his miraculous recovery. It was, indeed, idolatry.
As Dale grew older, he grew taller and stronger, and he cast a fearsome shadow on the earth wherever he walked. He went to school and found that the other kids didn’t have his zeal for Christ. He could hear them mocking him out in the hallways, but once he came around the corner, they shut their mouths and trembled, because they could see that he was righteous and the Lord was with him. Plus, he was six-foot-five at 14 years of age and played on the varsity football and basketball teams. The only problem with basketball was that every time he stuffed the ball into the basket, he’d drop to both knees and praise the Lord and not play until his prayer was concluded. This wasn’t as big a problem on the football field, where he played a combination of quarterback and fullback. The offense had only one play: Hike the ball to Dale and watch him run 15 to 20 yards, while he shouted out, “Alleluia! Praise Him! Praise Him!”
His mother didn’t share his commitment to the Lord, or to Reverend Jimmy, or for picketing abortion clinics… but she did nothing to hinder him either. Every time she saw him on the football field she could hear cash registers ringing in her head. According to a documentary she’d seen on ESPN, the first item all professional athletes bought was a house for their long-suffering mamas. If anyone had suffered, she figured, she certainly had. First Dale was sickly, then he was nuts.
When Dale disappeared on his 18th birthday, having grown to a monstrous six-foot-eight and 280 muscular pounds, she immediately went to the mall and accosted Reverend Jimmy, who came back at her with some sort of hooey about how the Lord had beckoned Dale to a higher calling.
“What’s a higher calling than being quarterback for the University of Florida?”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” he said, and then started up with that humminah-humminah business that was kind of like his way of saying, “End of discussion.”
She tried sending the cops after him, but Dale had reached the age of majority and was free to turn down all the free college education that was being thrown at him.
Dale was in Freeport, Indiana, living in a makeshift barracks, surrounded by the men and women of Christ’s Army, a tax-exempt church who during the day walked door-to-door selling Bibles manufactured in Cebu, Philippines by orphan children and by night trained for the End Times, which were surely coming soon, considering the state of the world and the people in it.
Dale thought of his own mother, who, he discovered at the breakfast table the morning he left, was having sexual relations with the mall cop who’d told her to put out her cigarette the day the Lord found him. Yes, the mall cop was sitting at the table, slurping the milk out of a bowl, an empty box of Rice Krispies on the table next to him. He was wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a white undershirt, tapping his bare feet on the linoleum floor to the sound of REO Speedwagon coming out of a transistor radio on the kitchen sink. “Hello, son,” the man had the audacity to say.
Dale said nothing. He picked the man up like he was a child’s toy and ejected him from the house. Dale shouted after him, “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death! Leviticus!” He slammed the door shut.
“What have you done?” his mother asked. She was holding one of those pee-on-it pregnancy tests in her hand. The little plus sign was showing.
“Behold, she is with child by whoredom! And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt! Genesis!”
But now he was among the righteous, performing the Lord’s work.
At night, on the night fire range, Dale was in his element. All of the stillness that he practiced when he was young and sickly… The Lord’s Plan made so much sense now! He watched the bullets flame from the barrel of his rifle and strike the glow-in-the-dark Santas set up in the field… solid and true!
Dale was in town selling Filipino Bibles the day the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms came to call at the compound. He stopped to eat at the Chik-Fil-A when news came that the Feds were barreling down the road toward the compound in five converted MRAPs accompanied by a black helicopter, more than likely part of the One World Government that sought to convert everyone to either Atheism or Islam (take your pick). He walked over to the adjacent department store and watched it all happening live on a 48-inch flatscreen with surround sound speakers. He handed his unsold Bibles to the patrons milling around and walked down to the hunting department. He bought two rifles, a pistol and enough ammunition to bring down a herd of reindeer. But it wasn’t the reindeer he would be after. Oh, no! It would be their master, the one who sought to turn CHRISTmas into “The Holidays.” The one who sought to replace the legitimate story of the Bible with a made-up fairytale.
Dale was going to bring down every Santa in every mall in America.
After his fifth Santa… struck dead center in a mall in Boca Raton, Florida… the heat became too hot and Dale escaped to the woods of North Carolina. He hid in the forest for two years, continually pursued by those defenders of idolatry, wickedness and the One World Government… the FBI. He’d learned to hide from them using techniques he’d picked up by watching reruns of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone movies on TNT on pirated cable TV in a hunter’s cabin. Of particular interest were the Predator and Rambo movies.
They tried to trick him. First, they flew overhead and broadcast his mother’s voice, begging him to give himself up. “Nice try, harlot!” he shouted at the treetops.
Then they had someone do a very clever impersonation of Reverend Jimmy. Fake Reverend Jimmy called out, “Please come out, Dale! Please! They set me up! You know I would do nothing like what they said I did! And the hooker? Okay, big mistake! I’ve prayed on it and God forgave me!”
After two years, and a very poor hunting season, Dale ran out of bullets and jerky and made his way into town, a limp version of his old hale and hearty self. His clothes were ragged and a putrid stench followed him as he stumbled into the convenience store, intent on leaving with as much jerky as he could steal or swallow. He would pray for forgiveness later out in the wilderness. As he stuffed his pockets, a brown man, an obvious Muslim-Atheist type, shouted at him in an incomprehensible tongue. It reminded him, for a moment, of the Reverend Jimmy when the Holy Ghost took hold of him. But then he saw the shotgun in the man’s hands.
“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass! One Samuel!” He surged toward the man, but the shotgun went off and down he went, his blood and viscera hitting the floor before the rest of him came down. He looked up and saw a cardboard cutout of a girl in hot pants. A speech bubble from her mouth asked, “Who wears short-shorts?” She brandished an obscenely shaped pink razor.
He was hurt badly, but the Lord kept him alive for a bit longer, long enough to see the FBI special agent in charge, another brown man, come walking in wearing a blue windbreaker with an FBI badge stenciled in yellow on his breast.
The FBI man knelt down and whispered to Dale, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. One Samuel.”
Dale could hear the ambulance’s siren coming and a thousand other sirens as well. Dale replied, “And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass. Leviticus.”
He saw a blue tunnel stretching out before him. His father was there, the father he never knew… But he knew it was him. “You’ve done enough, son!” his father called out. “Time to come home!” And Dale expired there next to the cardboard cutout whore and the Federal man.
He was buried in a pauper’s grave. Nearby the New Christ’s Army was forming, selling Bibles manufactured by orphans in Liberia, and their children arrived in a procession at Dale’s grave every Christmas eve. There, they would set up little stuffed Santas in a row atop his grave and, one-by-one, shoot them with .22 caliber rifles until the stuffing flew out of their bodies and the Santas were no longer recognizable as such. They were going to carry out Dale’s work, finish it, put the CHRIST back in CHRISTmas… but do it right this time.
Less zeal. More cunning.