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Demon Country
October 2006

When my wife’s step sister said her family had just been baptized at their nondenominational church, I suppose the “beware of god” alarms should have been blaring in my head. Lately, however, I’d been trying to take a softer stance on religion. My wife and I had an agreement. I wouldn’t criticize her Southern Baptist Christ-mongering and good Samaritanism and she’d turn a blind eye to my atheism and moral ambiguity.

Nondenominational church had such a pleasant ring to it. I imagined Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Jews, Buddhists and Satanists sitting alongside each other, praying for world peace.

“No,” my wife corrected my delusions while gnawing her twelfth twinkie of the morning. “It means they drink strychnine and handle snakes.”

“What?” Her step sister, Ellen, I could see buying into the insanity. She once sent her bank account number to Umbatu Mustafari of South Africa who was looking to share his three million dollar windfall. But surely her husband, Jerry, had more sense than to mix reptiles with religion. He’d served a tour of duty in Iraq. Granted, I still hadn’t figured out how he could spend eight months fighting in the desert and return home a hundred pounds heavier.

“You ain’t up north, anymore,” the wife reminded. “Folks down here take their religion and their NASCAR far more seriously.”

“That may be. I just hope their church accepts homosexuality. BJ will feel right at home handling snakes.”

The wife rolled her eyes but resisted correcting me. BJ came out of the birth canal vowing never to deal with vagina again. For the thirteen years of his life BJ had been laying the groundwork for a future of cock sucking and ass banditry. Either that or he was born without wrist bones.

No one else in northern Alabama had any promblem realizing BJ would soon live up to his namesake. Ellen and Jerry remained oblivious. They ignored his lisp, overlooked his inability to throw a baseball and saw nothing wrong with BJ requesting only cooking implements for his fourteenth birthday.

“Quit being ugly,” the wife said, scarfing down another snack cake. She always equated ugliness with truthfulness.

A week after Ellen’s spiritual conversion, her mother, Lovella, who lived in the trailer beside mine, sought God’s presence in a significantly different way.

One o’clock in the morning, the cops came knocking on my trailer door.

After flushing three ounces of Mexican ditch weed down the toilet and untying the kids from the radiator, I was able to open the door with confidence in my momentary good citizenship. My confidence level wavered a bit when they asked me to step outside, but at least they weren’t accompanied by a film crew.

“Are you Lovella Sampson’s son-in-law?”

“Well...she married my wife’s dad a few years back before he was dead.”

“Ok, sir. We’re sorry to inform you that she considered ending her life tonight.”

“So?” I considered it all the time. It was part of working for a living.

“We’ve managed to get her old-timey .16 gauge from her. Will you hold it for safe-keeping?”

“Why? She ain’t gonna be able to shoot herself without it.”

“That’s the point, sir.”

“Oh hell, gimme the gun. I’ll just add it to the arsenal I’ve been building for the upcoming revolution.”

“We’ve made arrangements for her to see Dr. Harper in the morning. Until then can she spend the night here. She doesn’t think she’s up to dealing with her daughter.”

“Ah, goddammit, I already got a gallon of crazy, I don’t need a cup of hers.”

In the end it was the wife’s decision to let her stay the night. Her thoughts being, since Lovella brought the wife’s father so much joy late in his life, Lovella ought to be able to inflict an equal measure of misery on us.

It wasn’t that Lovella wanted to die. She just didn’t want to live. More than anything, she wanted someone to talk to whom she wasn’t related to. A Herculean task when you’re living in Alabama. Since she was much too lazy and inherently ignorant to look up the number of a suicide hotline, she simply dialed 911 and told the operator she was thinking about blowing her head off with an old-timey .16 gauge.

I spent the next hour and a half plumbing to no herbal avail.

Life went back to normal. And when I say normal, I mean the usual work/sleep/dope/tv/kids grind that a man can lose himself within. I forgot about Lovella’s desire to escape the south using St. Peter’s railroad until the afternoon I ran down to her trailer to borrow some milk so the kids could have their bowls of Lucky Charms for dinner.

Ellen’s car was parked on the gravel driveway outside Lovella’s trailer. I scanned the yard looking to see BJ practicing his cheerleading routines. No luck. I got as far as the porch before I heard Ellen’s plaintive cries.

“Demons, you have no purchase upon this good Christian woman’s soul. Demons be gone!”

What the fuck? As I’d done so many times before in so many different places, I silently approached the front room window and peered inside.

Lovella, pale and shaking, sat on the futon. Ellen knelt between her mother’s legs. Her hands rested on her mother’s forehead. Mercifully, they were both clothed.

“Demons be gone!”

“Don’t you preach at me! Don’t you dare preach at me!” Lovella growled.

People who’d never heard Lovella bitch about Walker: Texas Ranger getting cancelled, might have been unable to equate the guttural tone with Lovella’s voice.

Some might have blamed demon possession.

This carried on for five minutes before I retreated. What was going on inside the trailer, it was like watching a carload of clowns getting smashed by a panel truck stuffed with two tons of rubber chickens. You wanted to laugh at the tragedy of the absurdity of it all.

Boiling Ramen noodle soup ten minutes later, I told the wife what I had witnessed.

“Ellen was probably just laying hands and casting the demons out,” the wife said, nonchalantly.

“And this doesn’t strike you as insane?”

“Well, sure it does. But they do it all the time.”

“Christ, I thought drinking rat poison was bad.”

“I know. Remember what I told you about BJ?”

“About him inviting the boys basketball team to play spin the bottle with him?”

“No. About BJ calling that black kid on the school bus a nigger.”

“I ain’t heard that.”

“The school called Ellen and told her what happened. They weren’t gonna come down too hard on him on account of all the kids calling him a fag all the time.”

“I bet she had a fit.”

“She’s so much in denial. She refused to believe it.”

“You mean BJ asking for an Emeril LaGasse cakepan for his birthday didn’t tip her off?”

“It must’ve made her wonder. Cause she got on his computer and checked history and found that he’d been going to a bunch of gay porn sites. A bunch of them.”

“That’s...hilarious.” I thought about the zombie porn and black on white sites I checked out the night before. Had I deleted cookies? “What did Jerry have to say about all this?”

“Nothing. He volunteered for another tour of duty in Iraq. Anyway, Ellen had an emergency commando unit of demon expellers come out from the church to rid BJ and his computer of all the queer demons.”

“I bet that won’t scar him for the rest of his life.”

“To hear Ellen tell it, he’s cured. He wants to be called Bobby Joe for now on and he can throw a football sixty yards.”

“Miraculous.”

“He still wants to be a chef, though.”

Before the noodles were done boiling, Lovella and Ellen invited themselves in. Lovella whistling and smiling and joking as though all were right in the world. Ellen glowed. Spiritual enlightenment. Or maybe psychotic delusion. I couldn’t decide.

But maybe they’re on to something, I thought. Maybe the next time I seduce a Wal-Mart cashier, the wife and an elite cadre of female nondenominational exorcists could lay hands upon my penis and cast the demons out, absolving me of any and all responsibility for my actions.

And then what a wonderful world it would be.


Karl Koweski resides in Guntersville, Alabama, where he explains the concept of okra to Yankees.

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