SING A NEW SONG, a short story

SUNDAY STORIES: “SING A NEW SONG”

OCTOBER 31, 2021
by SUNDAY STORIES

Skull!

Sing a New Song
by Kurt Baumeister

Once upon a time, in the 1980’s, in America…

1.

“The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.”
― Jerry Falwell

There was Mayor Randolph on the television saying how the American Dream was freedom of religion and this right couldn’t be denied, nor would it be a safe America or a safe world or a safe anything until any, any, religion was allowed a place to congregate and hold services and the like, said safe place to be furnished solely at the taxpayer’s expense. And it was okay when the Catholics showed up, even the Shintoists and the Buddhists, they were alright; but when the Third Church of Satan moved in next door, that was when all the trouble started. 

Their leader was Nymrod Trank, but they just called him Father Nymrod. Cut of the traditional cloth of Satanic priests, Father Nymrod had long, dark hair, big dark eyes, a gutter-growl of a voice, and a bit of a paunch. The paunch, I remember, there was a rumor went around about it when they arrived. Rumor was Father Nymrod got that way by eating baby goats live on the half-hoof. I never quite bought that though because how could you even eat a half-goat or even a quarter-goat without getting the horns or the tail or the hooves stuck someplace? And, anyway, even before that, wouldn’t the thing buck and moo or whatever it is goats do? You know, make a horrible racket? Like I said, I never bought the whole goat bit. 

I turned eleven the day the Satanists showed up and, unfortunately, it being my birthday hadn’t affected my having to go to Sunday school. Service had just gotten over and we were waiting in the Children’s Worship Center for Reverend Fellsworth to finish his after-service fellowshipping and come deliver a mini-sermon designed just for us kids. 

Now, I’ve got to admit that we were, none of us, thrilled with the prospect of another sermon so when we heard the roar of those diesel trucks coming down the street and the shouts and denouncements and maybe even a few failed exorcism attempts, well, we all sprang out the Worship Center and into the street, me near the front of the pack with my best friend, Timmy Waters, by my side. 

And we see these huge, black moving trucks coming down the street in a long row, like some funeral procession; and they all had flames and demon faces and skulls painted on in reds and oranges and blazing golds. I’ll swear that the sky was black as the night when I looked up and there was lightning and thunder there like it was the Day of Judgement. It all looked really, really cool, so cool it started me thinking maybe the Day of Judgment wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. 

2.

“It’s not listed in the Bible, but my spiritual gift, my specific calling from God, is to be a television talk-show host.”
― Jim Bakker

In the street, right in front of our house, I saw Rev. Fellsworth and Father Nymrod squared off in a shouting match that looked well on its way to becoming a smack-down, the line of black trucks idling behind them, engines revving ferociously, like demons subdued at the gates of Hell, waiting to unleash their powers upon the world. Vroom, vroom, vvvvrrrroom.

I heard Rev. Fellsworth’s voice even above the noise of the trucks, “Be gone ye denizens of iniquity. Ye shall not partake of the green pastures of our land for the Scripture tells us that the sheep must be separated from the goats in all things and you, sir, are the goats.”

“You just call me a goat?” asked Father Nymrod.

Reverend Fellsworth side-eyed Father Nymrod’s ceremonial ram’s-horn headdress and cocked an eyebrow. He would say no more, but the implication had indeed been made.

“Hear that, y’all?” Nymrod asked. “Jesus dude says we’re goats. Baaaaaah, baaaaaah, baaaaaah. Two horns good, no horns baaaaaahd.”  

The Satanists all laughed. 

Father Nymrod wasn’t finished though. “I know who you are, Fellsworth. And Imma give you just thirty seconds to get out my way before I kick your demagogic ass up and down this street. The Third Church of Satan is here to stay and that’s that, good or baaaaaahd.”

The Rev’s face went from pink to red to a shade of purple I’d never seen in all my days. He shook at the jowls like one of them old-timey politicians with all the facial hair, looked like he was going to explode for sure. Then he did. Fortunately, it was only verbally.

“Sir, I will not move,” the Rev. shouted, “As young King David stood against the foul giant Goliath, so I stand against thee and all thine host of darkness.”

As we’d soon come to realize, this had been an extraordinarily bad move. Never mind the fact that Father Nymrod was younger than the Rev., had thirty or forty pounds on him, or even that he was wearing his ceremonial headdress, there was one thing none of us knew yet about Father Nymrod. The truth was Father Nymrod was a certified badass, a former training partner of no less than the Nature Boy, Ric Flair himself. You know, one of the Four Horsemen! 

Upshot was Father Nymrod proceeded to pummel the Rev. mercilessly, up and down the street, just like he’d said he would, the Rev. gasping for air the whole time as the healthy young Satanist fisticuffed him good: right, left, right, left. Finally, the Rev. could take no more and he fell to the ground. He lay there motionless, and I have to admit, the way he’d been beaten, I was scared he’d actually been killed. Even Father Nymrod seemed to fear this. He bent down to check on the Rev., make sure he was still breathing. But the Rev. had just been playing possum. He made to rise again when he thought he had an advantage, only to see Father Nymrod nail him with a savage headbutt from his ram’s horn headdress. 

“Fucker tried to sucker me,” said Father Nymrod as Rev. Fellsworth tottered back, a cut opened on his forehead. 

The Rev. wavered there in the Sunday heat, regaining his bearings just long enough to turn tail and run back inside Holy Savior. And there he’d stay for the next eight hours, right under Holy Savior’s carving of the Last Judgment, a fat, brass candlestick in one hand, a giant silver cross in the other, dried blood caked on his forehead.

I can still remember the way the Rev. looked and thinking about how the carving he was holed-up under had always had a sort of implied guarantee, something I had thought assured us this sort of thing could never happen. We were the sheep, after all and the sheep were good and the sheep would always win. The problem was the goats had won this time. And they hadn’t just won, the goats had kicked ass.

Reverend Fellsworth wasn’t done though. He wasn’t done by a long sight. The very next day he dictated a letter to his secretary, a call to all Baptist churches in the Tri-State area. The request was not only for the usual prayers of goodwill and monetary support. Oh, no. Reverend Fellsworth declared war on the Satanists, calling for young champions of Christ to come forth to fight evil in all its forms, which included, especially, the Third Church of Satan and Father Nymrod Trank.

3.

“Rock and roll is the new pornography.”
― Jimmy Swaggart

Now, none of us had seen Father Nymrod’s wife, Mrs. Cindy Trank, until then, but Cindy was indeed something to behold. White-gold hair so big and high no one could say what all products she used in it, skin a radiant red-brown from all the sunning she did, and a seemingly endless collection of high heels and low-cut black dresses, Cindy’s simple presence was enough to send attendance at the Third Church of Satan through the roof. 

I can even remember Dad saying that maybe we should just go over to the Third Church of Satan, to be neighborly, just once to see what it was like. But Mother would have nothing to do with it and we never did get to go. I think, though, that Dad regretted his suggestion till the day he died, because of all the trouble it caused.

For one, it got him kicked out of Holy Savior and consigned to Hell by the Reverend Fellsworth. Which did have its good side, because it gave the Rev. something to rail against other than the Satanists: a topic which had gone stale in the face of his beating and Cindy Trank’s growing popularity. The Rev. could even point to my mother and us kids, say how forthright and valorous we were for throwing off the yoke of lustful evil and satanic collusion which our father had attempted to burden us with. 

Oh, sure, I’ll admit I was relieved about being unyoked and everything; but it made me sick to be sitting there, everyone watching, torn between my father and Reverend Fellsworth who was the local representative for Our Father in Heaven. 

For my earthly father’s part, he didn’t take his excommunication well at all. Dad started to drink and found he couldn’t stop. He eventually fell into gambling and sexual promiscuity, a pit of drink and bets and sex so big and deep and bad he to leave our town, go live in horrible, godless New England. He never did return. Not that my mother cared, what with all us kids and the requirements of her faith, she had no time to worry after a husband the Lord had forsaken. 

4.

“…Julie say she want a way out
Seen her life spread cross the night
Know she got to find a way out
Sell her soul out for some light
With her love she break the darkness
Say she got to change her world
Gonna leave out on the time trap
Got to be a newborn girl…”

Far as I know, my father never did see the issue of Satanic Pinup that featured Cindy Trank, or Sindee as the magazine called her, but my sister Julie did, and she took it and got it autographed by Cindy who soon became like a sister to my sister and like a hero to her too. 

Cindy had been September Satanic Pinup of the Month before her stint as high priestess, and it didn’t take long before Julie realized she wanted to be just like Cindy; to be, amongst other things, a Satanic Pinup of the Month. 

So, one night, Julie climbed down our trellis and snuck over the wall and back into the yard of the Satanists. She was committed to seeing what the Third Church of Satan was all about for herself. What it was all about at that moment was Nymrod and Cindy sitting on their terrace sharing a glass of Beaujolais and some grilled prawns.

“Julie? From next door, right, honey? Where…how did you get over here?” Nymrod asked.

Julie nodded back at the wall.

Nymrod gave a grin of silent approval and knocked back the rest of his Beaujolais.

“Come on inside,” said Cindy, rushing over to wrap Julie in a shawl black as night, “That’s a cute little nothing you have on, sweetie, but you must be awfully cold out here.”

“Cold? Hell, yes, I’m cold,” said Julie. “But it was worth it to get away from that horrible house and those horrible people.” She glared back at the wall, back at us.

“Well, alrighty then,” said Nymrod.

Cindy nodded too. She smiled sweetly, almost sympathetically, as if she understood exactly what Julie had been through. She led Julie into the Third Church of Satan, and so my sister passed into the arms of legend, becoming just the sort of bait Rev. Fellsworth needed to attract holy warriors to his cause.

5.

“…Freight train comin’,
Like the light of the world,
Someone comin’ now,
Save a lonely girl,
Catch evil in a freeze frame,
Set our universe to right,
Man of God is comin’,
Enter Clint White…”

Aspiring country-pop recording artist and part-time warrior for Christ Clint White was twenty-two years old when he saw the letter Rev. Fellsworth sent out shortly after Julie’s “abduction.” The enclosed flyer featured a picture of my sister and said that this fair flower of Christianity was in the process of being defoliated (spiritually!) by the forces of evil. 

Another picture lower on the page showed her captors, Father Nymrod (shaded to look even more evil than real-life) and Cindy (done up as a Satanist of the Month, though, of course, without any of her pornographic bits showing). The ad asked for young heroes to come forward and save Julie from her wretched, all-too-imminent fate. It was signed by Rev. Fellsworth and though it didn’t mention monetary rewards, the spiritual benefits were more than implied.

Now, Clint White was a paragon of good. In addition to being a fine singer and a guitar virtuoso, Clint saw himself as a sort of modern knight, thoughts of chivalry and justice, good and right his meat and drink. And when I saw Clint ride into town that December day, the rush of the world seemed almost to stop as he came towards me, near noiseless yet full of power atop his sparkling white Harley Davidson. 

His hair unshorn, glowing even as sunlight hit it, glowing like the hair of an angel or maybe even Fabio or Michael Bolton, Clint wore faded blue jeans and shiny white leather boots, a white leather jacket and white-framed sunglasses. An old-style ’59 Stratocaster slung across his back, neck pointing towards the heavens, Clint tousled my hair and called me kid. Then he walked inside to talk with my mother who had been frying food all day in preparation for our visitor. 

My mother nearly fainted when she saw Clint in all his rock star glory. She smiled as she sat there in the kitchen, talking with our new hero, Clint reassuring her with stories of deprogrammings and exorcisms he’d conducted. He would save Julie.

“I’ll save her, ma’am. Have no doubt.”

6.

“I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art.”
― Madonna

By the time Clint arrived, Julie had been with the Satanists for a month. The first few days, she’d been scared, not least because my mother spent a full twelve hours a day banging on the front door of the Third Church of Satan. Mother had even called the police, but Julie was eighteen and there was nothing the police could do. 

As a matter of fact, once the police showed up Father Nymrod filed a restraining order against my mother. Sure enough, there was nothing the police could do with that either, besides enforcing it. Soon, Mother’s only hope was that a Christian knight like Clint White would answer Rev. Fellsworth’s call, fortunately one did.

As time had passed, though, as Julie had grown more accustomed to the Satanists, she had grown ever more certain she’d done the right thing. The Satanists weren’t bad people at all—they volunteered at animal shelters and goodwill shops and did all sorts of other altruistic things—it was just that they had an alternative lifestyle. They said so and Julie listened.

She listened to them talk about how things weren’t so bad in this world, long as you didn’t keep your head buried in the sand, long as you didn’t place all your stock in religion saving you for some afterlife, long as you contributed to society, learned a trade. A trade like what, Julie asked? A trade like…yeah, maybe playing guitar, singing rock and roll, and being an acolyte of the Devil, they said. 

Initially, this took Julie aback, for Mother had always warned her about rock and roll, not to mention the Devil. But it was then that Father Nymrod led Julie down into the basement and beyond, to the fourth sub-level below the basement of the Third Church of Satan, a place sonically sealed by earth, lead, and layers of concrete, a nuclear apocalypse shelter that doubled as a super-secret recording studio and performance venue. To hear Julie tell it, it took about thirty seconds before she was hooked on the whole scene.

There was this eerie red and black lighting everywhere and then, as a beat picked up, thumping in the background, Cindy came out dressed in something that looked like a negligee trying to be a dress or maybe its reverse. Who could know where the sound came from except the stage curtain rose and there was Father Nymrod in his ceremonial garb—even the ram’s horn headdress—

and he was playing a red Les Paul Deluxe with psychedelic purple runes painted all across it, his acolytes behind him, on bass and drums, respectively. There was no way around it, they rocked.

And they continued to rock, day and night. Julie learned her parts well and she was just about Cindy’s size, my sister was, so she could wear all the neat costumes that Cindy had squirreled away for special occasions. You know: High Black Holidays, stadium dates, and the like. And Julie had her pick. She could wear leather or lace, gold or silver, red, black, cotton, spikes, fishnet…whatever she wanted. 

7.

“In my view, the only thing worse than a rock star is a rock star with a conscience.”
― Bono

On the night Clint White broke down the front door of the Third Church of Satan and stalked in yelling for my sister and her soul, he was jacked out of his gourd on his “hero’s meal” of my mother’s friend chicken and all the Mountain Dew he could swallow. Sugar, caffeine, and grease coursing through his veins, Clint and his Strat made quick work of Nymrod’s army of Satanic retainers/unsigned guitarists, but as he descended to that fourth sub-level, where he knew he’d find Nymrod himself, Clint could feel his confidence beginning to flag. 

Clint was no fool, after all. He knew he’d expended some of his best material just getting to that point. The question was whether he had enough left for this final challenge, the duel that would involve him and Nymrod going note for note and chord for chord, the prize Julie’s soul. Trusting in the Lord, Clint opened the final door. 

On stage before him stood a five-piece outfit, Julie and Cindy each with a mic stand, each wearing black leather cat suits flanking Father Nymrod in full ceremonial regalia, armed with his Gibson. Above the stage loomed neon lights that read “Julie and the Satanists,” the letters so big and bright they seemed almost as though they had to be truth. Red and black spotlights blitzed and shocked all around the room, Clint had barely taken in the imagery when the music came at him.

The rhythm section kicked in first, then quickly the focus became Father Nymrod’s axe-work—jagged, yes, but also impeccable and somehow elegant. Clint sensed this was only the beginning, Nymrod taunting him in a way, simply suggesting the guitar feats he might be capable of. 

The vocals picked up then, Cindy’s voice rising with the same urgency as Julie’s, as if to show Nymrod and everyone that despite all his skill, they were the front, the real show. It was true. Dueling vocalists were far more than Clint had counted on. And he was moving across the room then, towards the stage, feeling almost as though he was doing it against his will. Closer and closer he came to the sign looming above, the sign that read Julie and the Satanists.

When Clint reached the stage, when he felt he could almost touch Julie, that was when the music stopped and Father Nymrod spoke, “Young Mister White, ah yes, the Christ figure in our little tragicomedy. And how’s that fairy tale go about Satan tempting Jesus, showing him all the kingdoms of our world, splayed out at his feet. What did your lord have to say to that one, Clint?”

Clint stuttered, scanned his mind for chapter and verse, could almost taste the words but they just wouldn’t come to him. Darkness spilling all around, he asked, “My name?”

“Yes, Clint, I know your name. But that wasn’t the question.”

Whether stunned by the question, the proficiency of Nymrod’s band, or his attraction for Julie and Cindy both, Clint couldn’t say. He knew what he felt though and that was fear, fear not just for Julie’s soul but his own life. If he lost this duel with Nymrod, he’d never live it down, never be able to get a contract and move to Nashville as he dreamed, as he felt the lord had promised him long ago.

“Not quite, Clint, but close. Jesus did say no, but he said it because his father could give him all those kingdoms anyway. It wasn’t anything really valorous as you’ve been thinking for so long. It was more a pragmatic kind of decision, see.”

The trigger finger on Clint’s right hand twitched as Nymrod glared down at him, questioning his very faith, and then Clint could take the mockery no more and drew, his hand poised against the Stratocaster for the first note. 

But Nymrod, having anticipated the draw, was just that much quicker. “Can you say no too, Mister White? Can you say no to this?”

Nymrod ripped off a searing, blues-imbued solo then, running the scales up and down, throwing his head back as waves of music washed over him and then Cindy began to rock with the waves and sing. She was gripping her microphone lasciviously in her left hand and staring Clint down, making love to him with her eyes. And Clint began to think maybe he hadn’t come all this way for Julie. Maybe the truth was that Cindy’s beauty, and her picture, was what had brought him to this place.

The speakers were huge and the wall of sound that they spit out sent Clint reeling away from the stage, toward the back of the cavern. The trusty Strat slipped from his grasp, and he fell. The lights went, and Clint was crawling around on his hands and knees, trying to get hold of his guitar, praying to God for this one victory. Fumbling through the darkness, he had his hand back on the neck of the Strat, but concussive drums shattered his hold and a powerful bass line sent him sprawling again. Cindy was singing for her life as she left the stage and strutted down the aisle to where Clint lay: 

“…Yesterday, I saw love
I saw it growing wild
on the silver screen
That shadow world
Where young heroes go
To die. That’s reality
Black and white images
Fading from a silver screen…”

The thoughts that moved through Clint’s mind then were all about shame and pain and regret. He wished he’d stayed away, had known enough to never come here, wished he’d left Julie to the forces of darkness because he knew he’d lost, and he knew his goals hadn’t been all pure and white like he’d dreamed or hoped.

Julie was beautiful. Oh, but how Cindy was beautiful and that was what mattered, and he could read in her eyes what was gonna happen and even though he knew he shouldn’t, even though it was wrong, he was going to do it.  

“You’ll pay for your corruption of this beautiful child,” Clint said, pointing at Julie.

Julie said, “Oh, Jesus, don’t be so dramatic. I’m happy here. And how else am I supposed to get a record deal but by throwing in with the Devil? You ought to know that by now.”

Clint gasped and he cried, “No,” he said, “No, no, no.”

Father Nymrod spoke, “As you can see, Clint, we Satanists are pretty fucking tight already, but I’ve been listening intently as you’ve made your way through my musical maze, and I’ve been thinking, we could really use a second axe. Y’know, like the Stones, like Maiden.”

“You mean, me?” Clint asked.

“Sure,” said Nymrod, “But only if you can answer one question for me?”

“Question?”

“Clint White, would you be willing to sell your soul for rock and roll?”

“Lord help me, but yes I think I would. Yes, yes, yes.”

And Father Nymrod said, “Well, then, welcome to the band.”

“We begin bombing in five minutes.”
― Ronald Reagan

Kurt Baumeister is the author of the novel PAX AMERICANA. He has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, The Nervous Breakdown, The Good Men Project, Rain Taxi, The Weeklings, and others. A native of Northern Virginia, Baumeister holds an MFA from Emerson College and is an Editor with 7.13 Books in Brooklyn.

Photo: Cristhian Hernandez/Unsplash

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KURT BAUMEISTER

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