A simple premise; a bold promise
To present one story per day, every day—
providing exceptional authors with exposure
and avid readers with first-rate fiction.

Today's Story by Caitlin Myer

Jim scratched his belly and grinned real big and white when they said they were missionaries with a message from Jesus Christ.

Serialization Sunday: Hoodoo – Chapter 2

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first serialized novel, the taught thriller City of Human Remains, can be found in full here

Our current novel, Hoodoo, tells a story of visionaries, heretics and lunatics in Utah, centered on the life of Alice Lott, a twelve-year-old girl  who believes that God wants her to have an affair with her junior high school counselor. 

Find earlier chapters in Hoodoo here.

Chapter 2

Mom threw the last of her big parties in 1977 when I was ten years old, with the cooler full of ice and bottles sitting out front of the trailer. Jim – that’s what we called Dad back then – was holding a beer, and my half-brothers Denny and Mike were pouring drinks and taking them around. One of Jim’s friends turned up the radio for the Jackson Five, and danced with my baby sister MaryEllen, her bare feet on top of his shoes. 1-2-3, sang little Michael Jackson. Mike bowed and held out his hand to me, sashaying me around the gravel driveway. A-B-C. It was that perfect moment in a party, when everyone’s had a bit to drink and the sun is going down and there’s a breeze, and it feels like family, like the best people you could ever know. Jim was whispering something into Mom’s ear that made her giggle, her eyes all lit up and sparkling.

I don’t remember what happened after that, but it’s safe to say things probably went downhill, like all the parties in the bad old days, everyone drinking too much, and then still drinking more, and one of Mom’s friends throwing up in the yard, and Mom crying and then screaming at Jim, and Jim yelling at his friends to keep their hands off Mom and broken bottles and piss or beer or something else slicked onto the kitchen floor.

The next morning, MaryEllen was messing around in the dirt out front of the trailer, and I was spinning, looking straight up at the sky, my arms lifting out to the side and my feet almost tangling up. I heard the crunch of shoes on gravel and stopped to see a bunch of men, and then the yard stopped rocking and I realized it was just two, looking like they’d been scrubbed by a giant brush. I’d never seen anyone look so clean. Crisp white short-sleevers, ties, and shoes just beginning to lose their shine in the dirt on our stoop.  One of them hunkered down in front of me, sun glinting off his short hair, “Hello Princess, is your mommy or daddy home?”

Princess. Wow. MaryEllen’s mouth was hanging open. She stared at them with great big eyes while one hand slowly wandered towards her mouth. Her fingers finally found their way in, and she chomped down to suck off all the dirt, losing interest in the strangers in two seconds. Kids. I pointed to the door and got up to see what Jim would do with these guys. Mom was already passed out in the back, but Jim was only on his third beer, so he was feeling good when he came to the door. He scratched his belly and grinned real big and white when they said they were missionaries with a message from Jesus Christ.

“Oh yeah? What does my buddy Jesus have to say?” he held up a hand. “Come on in. You boys want a beer?”

He cracked himself up. I sat down on the steps to listen in after the screen door banged shut behind them. I guess he figured they’d be good for a few laughs.

They talked for a long time. After a while I crept inside and sat down on the floor to listen. The missionaries were sitting on the couch that was also Denny’s bed, and they’d propped a flip chart on the table. They had their show down cold. One of them would say something, and the other would sort of expand on what the first one said and point out little things that someone might have missed. It was like they’d rehearsed this for months, practicing just the right tone of voice, the right gestures, who said what. They said they were Christians all right, but theirs was the One True Church. They believed in the Bible, but they also believed there was another book about Christ, what they called a Testament. One of them pulled out this shiny blue book from somewhere, right on cue, and laid it gently on the table. They sure weren’t full of fire-and-brimstone like the evangelists. These guys were so quiet. Jim just shut up and leaned forward to listen, except when he remembered that he was just messing around, and then he’d laugh, Ha, and lean back, spreading his arms along the back of Mike’s couch, nodding like he was real smart.

“Injuns, huh?”

They were talking about how Jesus, after he died, came to America to say Hey to the injuns here. They said that the Indians then were called Lamanites.

“Y’know, I’m a full-blood Cherokee,” said Jim, opening another beer.

First I’d heard of it. Jim grew up in foster care – he had no idea what he was, but he sure as shit wasn’t Cherokee. Pahrump – hell, all of Nevada – was Paiute territory – I didn’t know any Cherokee kids. Anyway, Jim looked to me like he’d be right at home in some big, faraway city, like where the real Indians – dots, not feathers – came from. Or maybe he was an Arab. He looked like an Arab to me, just like in the movies, You want to buy camel? It will cost you plenty, white man. Big white teeth big nose shiny black hair, crafty smile. Jim used to say I was the only kid he knew for sure was his ‘cause of my hair. I wasn’t as brown as him, but I was darker than anyone else, even MaryEllen. Mike and Denny were blond and a foot taller than Jim, but they were born way before Jim came along.

I was twisting a piece of my hair around and sticking it into my mouth to get it wet so I could make it into shapes, squinting at the ends while I pulled at them to make a little fan, when one of the missionaries looked at me.

“Families are very special,” he was saying.

He said that if you’re good, you get to be with your whole family in heaven. These guys were good salesmen for the most part, but that family business was a clinker as far as I was concerned. I got up and let the screen door slam behind me. I thought I’d see what was going on around the trailer park.

When I got back later, the strangers were gone, but that blue book was still on the table. Jim was sucking at like his thirtieth beer, looking kind of sideways at the book, his eyebrows pushed together. MaryEllen was already conked out on her sleeping bag, so I scooched in next to her and fell asleep, dreaming of Jim in a turban, sitting next to Jesus in a teepee. Jim was asking Jesus if he wanted a beer, and Jesus shook his head, saying Firewater bad, kill spirit, and I saw that he was wearing a big feather headdress, but it was cutting into his head, making him bleed, and Jim started to scream.

Jim was screaming and knocking bottles all over the place and Denny was trying to pin down his arms that were flailing around and Jim’s eyes were bugging out of his head and he kept pointing at the blue book. It was pitch black outside the windows and MaryEllen was crying. Mike was still out somewhere. Mom showed up looking scared in just a t-shirt, her hair reaching for the sky. Denny got Jim sat down and then Jim just reached an arm up around Denny’s neck and started bawling. Finally he calmed down and told us, sniffling, that he saw a vision. He saw the Hand of God pointing at the blue book, coming from a cloud of fire. He said we had to mend our ways. He said he and Mom had to get married, and we all had to go to church, and (and this is where Mom twitched into life, you better believe it), we all had to quit the bottle. Denny had sat back on his couch, so now Jim lunged at the cupboards, pulling out all the drink, smashing bottles on the sink, and Mom was screaming, reaching to save a bottle, her shirt riding up to show her panties, cradling the bottle between her breasts, but Jim pried it away and smashed that one too. Denny got into the act, opening the door and emptying bottles into the yard. And when Jim opened the fridge for the beer, I grabbed MaryEllen’s hand and dragged her along to help too. We whooped and smashed cans open (MaryEllen needed help) and watched the brown stuff roll down the sink until there was nothing left.

Jim never touched a drop after that night.

The funny thing is, I don’t think he even wanted to. It was like someone had just swiped the beer clean out of his brain – he never missed it one bit, even though it had been sort of the whole point of his life before. Mom was a different story. Jim was set on us all getting on the straight and narrow, though, so he wasn’t about to give up. He made her stay home from the coffeeshop where she worked for days while he just held onto her. She yelled and cussed and shook and cried, she even got down on her knees and begged him for just a taste. One day she acted like she was fine, all over it, and she got all cleaned up and put on her waitress uniform and made like she was going to work, but Jim wasn’t fooled for a minute and sent Denny ahead on his bike to catch her coming out of the liquor store. I think deep down, though, Mom started really wanting to get clean, and it got a little easier after that. She started going to AA before her shift, and when the other alkies talked about their Higher Power, Mom would say that her Higher Power was Jim.

Jim called the church number that was stamped inside the front cover of the blue book, and the missionaries came over again and again, until we were seeing them pretty regular. They always had their flip chart and once they did a whole lesson just for us kids, which seemed like a lot of trouble to go through just for me and MaryEllen.

Elder Tanner was the one who called me Princess, that first day. He had light brown hair that was finer than MaryEllen’s, and in the sunlight you could see right through it to his head. He was double-jointed and knew every coin trick I’ve ever heard of. Elder Tanner came right from the heart of the Promised Land itself, Lemuel, Utah, where everybody said Hello when they passed each other on the street, and the neighborhood kids played kick-the-can until dark, and the streets were wide enough to turn around a tractor-trailer. Jim’s eyes would look up into the far distance listening to these stories, imagining a town street that wide.  Elder Zabriskie was quieter, with what Jim called hound-dog eyes. He went home a couple of weeks after we met him, and an Elder McCall slid right into his place by Elder Tanner’s side.

Denny told me, years later, that Elder Zabriskie had to go home because he’d been having an affair with their landlady, Mrs. Finch. Mrs. Finch had a heart attack right about the time the Elders were asking us to commit to come to church on Sunday. She had been carrying these plates down the stairs when it hit, and she fell on top of them. Elder Tanner and Elder Zabriskie went home from our place to find her lying face down in a big pool of blood. It all came out about the affair when someone found moony letters from Elder Zabriskie in Mrs. Finch’s things, and Elder Zabriskie tried to slit his wrists. Elder Tanner got to him in time, though, and they bandaged him up and sent him home to Idaho.

None of us knew a thing about that at the time.

They kept asking us to come out to church, but I think Jim was nervous about the likes of us mixing with all those holy people. Elder Tanner told us that not many of even the most faithful had ever had a vision of the Hand of God or anything close, so we had something to be proud of there. We should hold our heads up, he said, because we were all Children of God, and He loves all His children the same. I was still scared to death when we finally went, though, and I think Jim was too. Mom said she could barely stand up, her knees were so weak. We had a time trying to find something that was kind of okay to wear, too. My dress was way too small, and I ended up just having to wear my thongs ‘cause I didn’t have any real shoes that fit. MaryEllen was more presentable in another old dress of mine. Mike and Denny came out okay – they had pocket money from doing odd jobs around town, and they both kept their clothes super neat. But Mom and Jim really took the cake, coming out of the bedroom. Jim was in an old suit, believe it or not, and he’d brushed it real clean. Mom had on a yellow dress that was about ten years out of date, but she looked great. I could see why she got all the attention at work, guys pinching her butt and whistling and that kind of thing – she was truly pretty, with her blond hair all piled up on her head, her smile kind of new and scared.


Founder of the Portuguese Artists Colony in San Francisco, Caitlin Myer regularly reads her work at Why There Are Words, Quiet Lightning, and other established reading salons in California.  Her one woman show on Simone de Beauvoir was produced in Seattle.  

Read more stories by Caitlin Myer


To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page