The Three Temptations of Christ
Blood stains in the soil turn the land red; devoid of nutrients, minerals, value. Life moves like a slow slough towards death; small movements, stunted trees, squinted vision. On the porch of her trailer, Francis sits slouched beneath the light of a blood moon. Beside her on the wooden step is a dark headed boy whose hair holds his face captive in shadow. The red light lies like a blanket on the land, trapping the world between itself and the bloody soil.
I came here to preach the gospel, says Francis with a mouth that chews the night air. My husband and I.
The boy seems not to hear or perhaps Francis didn’t really say anything because he sits unmoved by the force of the sound. Francis speaks again in an attempt to unseat him.
How can you preach resurrection to a ghost? What is the threat of hell to a people visited by terrors in the night? Demons don’t belong in a book that has no end, a story with no up or down or land or sky. I’m weary. In my spirit I can feel the tear of doubt, the birth pangs of hopelessness. Faith can take no root where there is no flesh and bone to hold it.
The boy now lifts his head and his face is drenched in the red light when he says Man cannot live on bread alone.
Francis takes off her glasses and rubs the bridge of her nose, from which wrinkles emanate and fold her papery skin.
I raised six kids in the Ozark mountains, she says. I lost one in a fire. One in a car crash. One in an overdose. The trials of God are a deep and continuous wellspring. My husband tells me to hold onto God but he offers me no way to dry my tears. What is the threshold of a woman’s spirit? When does surrender become a viable course?
The boy is still unshaken and he says You shall not test the Lord your God.
Francis returns her glasses to the bridge of her nose and blinks a few times behind the thick lenses. In the far distance a group of trailer homes can be seen clustered around the facade of a brick building with a cross at its pinnacle.
When Carl told me God was calling him to indian territory I thought any kind of change would be better than none. I prepped my lessons for Sunday school and tuned my piano for the hymnals. I was an obedient servant. Humble, and I’ll remain that way. What else do I have? But in the secret places of my heart where no one can see I can hold a desire for something different.
Now the boy leaps from the little wooden porch and plants his feet in the bloody soil. Go Satan! he screams. For it is written that you shall serve the Lord you God and him alone!
Francis’ papery skin begins to fold and peel away piece by piece until there is nothing more than a whisper remaining where she had sat and the boy reaches down into the dirt and scoops up a runnel of blood and drinks it from his cupped hand. Away in the distance, a coyote cries to the blood moon.
Christopher Aslan Overfelt lives and works on the empty plains of Kansas. In the summertime he grows cucumbers and in the winters he takes attendance at the local high school.