by Pat Cadigan
"IN THE NAME OF JESUS!" the Reverend Jesse Rapture screamed, and slapped his open palm down on the woman's forehead. The crowd in the tent roared as she spasmed in her wheelchair.
Rapture began running both hands over the woman's pathetic, twisted body. "God-Jesus-Jesus-oh-Christ, help me, help me rebuke this vile sickness, Jesus, Jesus, I cast it out, CAST IT OUT!"
The uniformed nurse who had come to the platform with the woman turned away, obviously repelled, as he straightened the clawed fingers, the arms, the shoulders, working his way down the rest of her body. "Jesus-Jesus-Jesus-GOD-LORD-CHRIST-ALMIGHTY!" he finished, and stepped back to the other end of the platform.
"Now, daughter, I KNOW you can WALK without THAT CHAIR!"
The woman looked at her hands incredulously. "Praise Jesus!"
The crowd took it up as a chant. "Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus!"
"I COMMAND you to GET UP and WALK WITHOUT THAT CHAIR!"
"Praise Jesus and walk without that chair!" the crowd roared over and over again, until it seemed as though the combined force of their voices lifted the woman out of the wheelchair and then sent her hobbling across the platform to collapse, sobbing, in Rapture's arms.
Counting the take back at the motel was Rapture's favorite part, but as usual, a quarrel broke out between Kitty and Sylvia as to who should play the cripple at their next gig. Kitty was the better contortionist, there was no doubt about that, but Sylvia looked the part, thin as a stick no matter how much she ate.
Tonight he was too tired to go through any of that again, and he directed his assistant Martin to get them out of his sight. "Buy them something to eat. Go to a drive-in and stay in the car. And bring me back something." He knew Martin didn't really like the idea of leaving him to count the take alone, but Martin could lump it. They were all expendable, and they knew it.
Ten minutes after they'd left, there was a light tapping at the motel-room door. Rapture folded the coverlet around the cash he'd been sorting on the bed and strode across the room to jerk the door open. "Dammit, I thought I told you--"
"Reverend Rapture?" The woman standing outside was tall and well built, especially in all the places that counted. Plain in the face, but Rapture wasn't too fussy about faces. "I was in the tent tonight, and I saw you. I've been travelling all over to every tent revival I could find, and now I know you're the man I've been looking for."
"I remember you," he lied. "What is it that you need my spiritual help with?"
She stepped inside and looked around. "Are you alone?"
"I was just making my devotions to Jesus, yes." He glanced at the bed nervously. He'd have to get her worked up so she wouldn't hear the coins clink when he took the coverlet off. Or maybe she'd settle for the floor. Plenty of them did.
"My husband has need of your powers."
A small warning bell went off in Rapture's mind. Husbands could be problems. "Daughter, I'm awfully tired this night--"
"But I have great faith. As well as two hundred dollars."
"That is great faith," Rapture said, thinking of how the others would never have to know. "But we will have to pray an almighty prayer together--"
"I'll do anything." Her breathing quickened with desperation, and Rapture realized that in spite of her composure, she was having a hard time containing herself.
"I don't know what Jesus may ask--"
"Whatever he wants, he can have. Just heal my husband."
"If your faith is great, it will be done."
"I'll get him. He's in the truck." She darted out. Rapture hurried to remove the coverlet from the bed to the small round table near the window.
"Reverend!" She was standing in the doorway again with a wheelchair in front of her. "My husband. Jim. Heal him."
Rapture never heard her. The plastic-wrapped thing in the wheelchair was past healing by--well, there was no telling. Weeks, maybe even months. She had done something to the body, treated it with something to slow the deterioration, so that the bullet hole over the left eye socket was still fairly obvious. There were strange round things stuck all over the plastic that Rapture realized, to his horror, were garbage pail deodorizers.
"It was an accident," the woman said. "I didn't mean to shoot him. Just that painted-up whore he was with." She kicked the door shut behind her and rolled the chair into the room near the foot of the bed. "Just heal him. You don't have to worry about her."
"Oh, Jesus--" he moaned, backing away from them.
"Yes. Jesus. Go on. He was a son-of-a-bitchin', no-good lyin' tomcat, but I know you'll heal him of that, too." She knelt down next to the wheelchair.
"God-Jesus-Jesus-oh-Christ!" Rapture yelled, and the woman repeated it, word for word, lifting her arms to heaven.
"Yes? Yes?" she said to Rapture. "Pray more! Oh, Jim!" She embraced the corpse, jerking a fresh howl from Rapture. "Jim, I know you'll rise, I know it! And we'll make a new start. I forgive you for what you did with that bitch." The corpse's head, protruding from the plastic wrapping, dropped bonelessly to one side, tearing the rotted flesh. The ghastly odor hit Rapture full in the face for the first time, making him gag.
"Noooo! Noooo!" he howled. "Get him out, get him out!"
The woman got up and ran to him, seizing his arms. "Lay your a\hands on him now, make him rise!"
"Oh, Jesus, help me, HELP ME, no, DON'T!" he screamed. The woman was amazingly strong, far stronger than he was in his hysteria. She managed to drag him, struggling and twisting, over to the corpse. The cocked head stared at him eyelessly.
"Say it now!" She gave him a mighty shove, and he landed on the dead man with a scream, feeling the rot under plastic squash at the contact. "Say, 'I know you can walk without that chair.' Say it!"
Rapture scrambled onto the bed, wiping desperately at himself. "Get him out of here, Jesus, help, God, police, SOMEBODY!"
The woman stared hard at him as he pushed himself against the wall, babbling.
"Hey, wait a minute here. You're not laying your hands on him!"
"You're goddamn right I'm not!" Rapture panted hoarsely. "I'm not touching that thing. Now, you get out, get-out-GET-OUT!"
The woman's eyes narrowed. "You mean you can't heal?"
"No, no, I can't heal, I can't, I can't--"
She reached under the plastic and came up with a gun. A bit of something rotten was stuck to the barrel.
"No, wait, what are you doing?" Rapture screamed loudly.
"You son-of-a-bitchin', no-good--" She climbed onto the bed and came at him. Drive all over this state with him in the back of the truck. I came two hundred miles from the last one, two hundred miles, and what do I find?" She shoved the pistol under his chin and thumbed back the hammer. "Another fucking fake."