Saturday, June 28, 2008

Artist Entry: The_Network guitarist Kevin and a tale of a televangelist's demise

Bishop Kent Manning

by, Kevin Howley

A dead heart shrieks so loudly in the ER. In Bishop Kent Manning’s case, his lifeless heart was loud enough to bring him back from the dead. The EKG meter hummed steadily until the Bishop’s eyes blasted open, then continued with a rhythmic beeping. The EKG produced the beat of an appalling soundtrack. The cracking and scraping of bone, the slurping noise of blood, the whiz of cold machinery, and the muffled voices of doctors and nurses plundered horribly over the metronome of the EKG meter. His torso seemed a detached heap of metal and blood; an excavation site where he had the best view. Whether he was in shock or drugged, he felt no pain. His only real feeling was the trembling of his skull and he’d occasionally taste iron tickling the back of his throat. He was road kill; meat and bone being tenderized for consumption or a calf being packaged for distribution. His guts were exposed and his blood was decorating the ER staff. He had all the strength of a gnat smeared across a windshield and the only pain he felt stemmed from an echoing voice somewhere in his wiggling head.

“There is no God,” he heard.

Even while he could see a smashed bullet being plucked from his midsection, his only worry was that damn voice. He never remembered thinking that God didn’t exist and attributed the voice to the trauma he was experiencing. Even when his father died, when he’d watch the slaughtering of farm animals, when he’d cover his face in makeup for the television camera, when he was taking a shit, when he drove, when he slept, and especially when he counted money, he never doubted the existence of God. As he tried to ignore the voice, he heard someone mutter, “spinal anesthesia,” and he fell asleep.

“Bishop,” a voice called to him.

His mind fumbled to wake up.

“Kent! Wake the fuck up!” the voice continued.

He did wake up and tried to recognize the voice. Kent was in a hospital bed and sitting in a chair next to him was a stranger.

“Oh, right…my face,” the stranger said. “You’ve never seen me.”

“Who are you?” Kent asked.

“Well, when you rob a bank, Kent, the last thing you need is some shithead with a decent memory seeing your face so you usually wear a mask,” the stranger said. “I wore a mask when we met. I wore a mask when I shot you!” the stranger laughed.

Fractions of memories began to add up in Kent’s head and he remembered the voice. He remembered being in the bank when someone with a mask came in to rob the place. Kent tried to think of something substantial to say but could only whispered, “You.”

“Yea,” the stranger said. “Me.” The stranger continued, “Imagine my surprise when I’m just trying to get some money from some bank and I see Bishop Kent Manning, that annoying fuck from TV, standing directly in front of me. I remember thinking that, if anything were to go wrong, at least I’d have a well known hostage to take. But then you tried that charming “on-air” type of shit with me and, I gotta tell ya, Kent, it irritated the fuck out of me. And then you just had to break down like such a little bitch in front of me. It made me sick. I had to kill you, y’know?”

Kent’s eyes began to drip as his memory improved. Kent remembered speaking to this man and exactly what he had told him. Then he remembered, “There is no God,” and sobbed.

“Yes!” the stranger said. “Just like that. It’s fucking disgusting, Kent.”

Kent tried to stop crying. He was always so good at conveying such confidence on television. When he was in front of the camera, while the phones rang, and while the funds kept rising, he was God. He thought of his church; the 26,000 members of Bishop Kent Manning’s “Rising Tide” Congregation. Then he thought of what he had told this masked stranger in the bank.

“Oh yea,” the stranger went on. “First you tried to get on my good side. You told me how barely any of the money you raise actually goes to helping anyone. And that, in fact, most of the money you raise goes to repossessing the homes of your “flock.” You were going on and on about how people are such sheep; how they need someone to do their thinking for them. You were so pleased with yourself while telling me how these old widows shell out their children’s inheritance to you. You told me about your fake bank accounts and all the political candidates who get most of the money. You told me how easy it would be for you to give me so much money to let you live. You said that you and I are alike. And, honestly Kent, I wasn’t going to kill anyone, but here’s this huge televangelist in front of me just pouring on the bullshit. I mean, I’m just a criminal. No grey area. You’re just so fucking fake. And when I raised my gun, damn did the blubbering start,” the stranger laughed. “Oh, it was too much. I really didn’t care about how much money you could give me. I wanted to shoot you. So I did. But, hey, now that you survived, I kinda want that fucking money, Kent.”

“There is no God,” Kent’s mind repeated.

With that echoing voice proclaiming so persuasively, Kent couldn’t find a way to perform. Even though he was a cheat and a criminal, he always did believe in God. Now, Kent was empty. He just couldn’t perform. Hell, he even tried to picture the face of a widow he’d taken money from. The proud Bishop. He meant nothing.

“There is no God,” repeated.

“So, y’know, keep your mouth shut and heal up,” the stranger said.

Kent’s stomach dropped and his throat swelled.

“When you’re all better, we’ll take a nice walk to the bank together,” the stranger said. “I shouldn’t have to bore either of us with details of what would happen if you tell anyone about me,” he continued. “I mean, your church and audience members, the politicians, the oh-so faithful, they’ll be so disappointed, Kent.” The stranger smirked. He had such sharp features. Kent was sure that there was something in the Bible about this, but he couldn’t recall anything.

“So, yea, I’ll be visiting every day until you’re better,” the stranger said as he got up from the chair and headed for the door.

Kent’s eyes swam as they followed the stranger from the chair to the door. He thought back to that loud EKG meter and the shriek that woke him. If God was not responsible for these events, who was? How do atheists deal with such situations? How does anyone deal with anything? He had never had so many questions and each one felt like a dull nail being driven into his forehead. He thought that the hate of the world must have been in that bullet. A fat tear dropped from his cheek when he looked up at the stranger opening the door to leave his room.

“Don’t look so down, bucko,” the stranger said. “You’re alive aren’t you?”

With that, the stranger was gone and Kent was alone, really alone. He looked around his room and everything seemed to exist without purpose. The walls of his room, the window, the bed; everything was meaningless. He looked down at the IV in his arm and wondered why he should be kept alive. He wondered who kept him alive. He felt that a great deception had been taking place with no author or benefactor. He then removed the IV and, with all his strength, got out of bed. His head throbbed as he looked left to right. He walked towards the window and opened it. The warmth of the sun met a strong breeze and blanketed his body in euphoria.

“I feel,” he thought.

He looked out the window. He looked down the 16 stories at all those people walking around with their own thoughts and ideas. The door to his hospital room opened and he hurled himself out of the window. From behind him, he heard an unearthly scream and, as the concrete launched skyward to meet him, “There is no God,” flashed in his mind.

A dead heart shrieks so loudly in the ER. In Bishop Kent Manning’s case, his lifeless heart was loud enough to bring him back from the dead…

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