We Welcome Any and All Religious Signs, Especially the Unverifiable
by Kirsten Reneau, 3.24am May 10th 2021
The new house is nice enough. The new job is nice enough. The neighborhood seems nice enough.
After moving in, you’re greeted in an appropriate time period from Emily, the president of the neighborhood association, with a basket that includes homemade bread and a new plant. Your only plant, actually. You have to water it every single day, so it feels like the neighborhood association kind of set you up with more commitment than you’d originally wanted and the dust in the air makes you cough and dries out your skin and you definitely thought you saw a copperhead in your backyard when you first moved in.
But it’s fine. It’s all nice enough.
A few weeks in and you start to be able to relax your shoulders. You stop waking up in the middle of the night wondering where you are. You ignore the Sunday morning whirl of power tools from your neighbor, which begins at 6 a.m. and ended at 8 a.m. prompt. It starts to become comforting, even. You buy a sign that says “home is where the heart is” and hang it up in the living room because this is where your heart is, beating in your chest, for now.
Neighbor can mean down the street when you live in the middle of nowhere, so you only see the Tall Man from a distance. It’s just enough to able to make out the way his cheeks have collapsed into his skull from the weight of age and how his white button downs are always carefully tucked into his slacks. Occasionally a deer crosses the space between your homes.
Often, he walks the property, seemingly aimless, with a box under his arm.
The box itself is probably wooden, obviously homemade. Sometimes he leaves it in the front yard. You swear you can see it shaking out of the corner of your eye, but every time you turn to look head on, it’s still again.
Your cough keeps getting worse.
There is an itch in the dead center of the back that you cannot reach, no matter how much you stretch, how tangled your own limbs become. You try lotions, take extra hot showers, get an allergy test, nothing helps.
One day you realize that the Tall Man has never left the property before.
His name is Jedidiah, but Emily has to tell you that. Emily sometimes stops by to make sure the plant is okay and tries to catch you up on town gossip, which means she starts by explaining a hundred-year-old feud that ends with why she just COULDN’T vote for Jessica From Down The Block’s idea for the Christmas Cantata.
Emily tells you that Jedidiah is adept at preaching and healing. Lost souls find him and hold the snakes that he has patiently, lovingly cared for, the way the Good Lord above loves you, he will take care of you, it is his will, and we must trust in Him above all things. She says rumor has it that’s how Courtney Ann Around the Corner’s second oldest uncle had died: poisoned, sweating under the dry heat of the plastic tent in August. Apparently snake handlers refuse to call the hospital if you’re bitten because it’s his will, Emily tells you, trying to look casual as she glanced over at the property next door down the street.
But that’s just a rumor, she says, and you nod because it’s what you’re supposed to do. You imagine this revivalist tent to be orange, though you don’t know that to be sure. You wonder if it cast a glow on him as he died.
You are more aware of your skin than you ever have been before, the way it prickles under your shirt, how it needs some kind of touch.
You ask Emily if something like this typically happens, if maybe the dust is irritating your skin and it’s just something you have to live with.
I never – she starts and stops and putters around the idea. Maybe it’s a sign or something. You know, like the plague.
You don’t laugh in her face, but you want to. What an idea – a plague of itching? Here, in the middle of nowhere? In your house?
You put out new sheets on your bed, hoping that the fresh linin will cool the needs of your skin. But still, you itch and itch and nothing can be done. You don’t realize you haven’t slept until you hear it, the whirl of the power tools, the signal that Sunday morning has risen again. You walk to the window, your eyes looking for Jedidiah, your hands reaching, searching, turning your back red and bloodied in their hunt.
You wonder if there’s something worse in that box than just snakes.
The dust starts to cover your house, and you don’t realize it until you end up in your backyard, naked and red by your own hands. You find a deer skull, bleached white, and the house looks like the color of a sky about to storm by comparison.