The Mouth Of The River

Tim Tucker

Adam Barrow's family had been non believers. His pa died fighting for the Confederate Army during the Civil War and his ma took ill with pneumonia shortly after and passed. The Right Reverend Comstock and his wife took Adam in and taught him the ways of the bible. Being a hot blooded orphan at an early age, one would think that Adam would have had a score to settle with God, but not this young man. While others believed 'cause they was told or out of fear, Adam believed with his entire being.

It was during his time with the Comstock's when he met Faith Valentine. Faith had been a lost soul, drifting from city to city as a "public woman" during the war at the tender age of fourteen. After the war she found her way on the right path with the help of God and for five years Adam had watched her blossom from a malnourished sapling into a fine young woman whose deep blue eyes and golden haymow hair made her the desire of boys across the land.

Adam and Faith were like two peas in a pod, and despite her history he swore that she would be the one he would marry, 'cause every saint had a past and every sinner has a future.

As Adam tutored Faith in the Scriptures one cool, star filled fortnight she asked him to recount his baptism at the hands of the Right Reverend Comstock, for she too would soon take the plunge into the Holy Pitch.

Adam remembered the ceremony like it was yesterday. Every Spring the believers would flock to the mouth of the Potomac River and set down their tents in anticipation of the baptism day. Once the day arrived you were dressed in robes as light as freshly fallen snow and given the tiniest sip of milk of the poppy to quiet your fear, slow your breathing, and keep you still. The poppy sluiced into your bloodstream and weighed your bones down like stones sewn into the underside of your flesh. Adam recalled the Reverend Comstock telling him not to be afraid, that it was like taking a bath made of syrup.

"Just lay still son," Comstock soothed, rubbing the eucalyptus balm over Adam's eyes to keep the pitch blackness out."When you're finished you'll be born anew, ready to walk hand and hand with our Lord and Savior."

"Yes sir."

"But first you have to face the darkness alone. You may want to fight it but don't, just let it consume you. Promise me you won't fight it Adam."

"I promise."

"Attaboy."

Adam was lowered spread eagle into the thick, black tar, the roiling darkness closing over him like a coffin lid. You had to last a full minute under the pitch but all sense of time and place was lost under the river. All that's left was the nothingness, smothering on all sides, just a taste of what would become of your immortal soul if you didn't turn to God and accept His forgiveness.

They pulled Adam from the pitch, the damnation sliding from his body like primordial slime. He fell to his knees, breathed in the dusty air, and thanked his Heavenly Father.

"Weren't you scared none?" Faith asked, her eyes luminous under the candlelight.

"I reckon so. The pitch would turn any man into a believer. No one wants to spend an eternity in a place like that."

"They say that when you take your first sip of poppy your legs go all rubbery and your tongue numbs like a big ol' slug in your mouth and all kinds of colors explode behind your eyes, letting you know God is with you down in all that darkness!" Faith said, bursting with excitement.

"Well, the poppy is mighty strong."

"And did you feel God under there with you?" Her hand moved closer to his.

"He was as close to me as you are now." Adam whispered.

"I don't know, I'm just nervous is all. Sometimes I feel as if not only I don't deserve you, but I don't deserve His forgiveness, not after the things I've done."

Adam cupped her delicate chin and bought her closer. "We are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. Once you're done with the baptism you'll take your first breath as a new woman and all will be forgiven."

Adam gently kissed her on the mouth and she kissed him back, her taste and smell of flesh more profound than even the most miraculous wonders of God.

The day of Faith's baptism was oppressively hot, the sun seemed to just hang in the midday sky, its sharp rays spilling across all of Creation. The congregation of the Right Reverend Comstock gathered at the mouth of the Potomac like a dole of majestic doves and at the center of the throng of worshipers was Adam and Faith. She was dressed in a gown of pure ivory linen, her hair tied in a decorative braided halo and eyes as deep as the far away ocean.

She looked like an angel.

"Remember Faith, don't fight the darkness, for God will be with you every step of the way." Adam whispered. Faith nodded hesitantly and went to join Reverend Comstock at the edge of the river pitch.

"Repent, O' child of God and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the Forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!" Reverend Comstock boomed. He balmed Faith's eyes and slipped the chalice of poppy into her mouth. When her body went limp the womenfolk commenced the hymn singing, their voices somber, almost dirge like. Reverend Comstock lowered Faith's body into the pitch, the dark river rising over her like a living thing, devouring her legs, arms, and torso. Finally her head went under and the seconds seemed to crawl in perpetuity.

One, two, ten, fifteen, thirty...

Faith broke through the surface of the pitch, her once pure figure stained with tar and face a blackened mask of horror. She gagged and gasped, her body trying with all its might to reject the poppy. It was as if she was caught up in one of those exorcisms you read about in the bible, her arms and legs thrashed so. But when she cried out, Adam knew this was no act of God: his Faith was in mortal danger.

"Oh help me, help me please! I don't want to die! Adam help!

A shocked current spread throughout the congregation and Adam could feel the eyes of the worshipers upon him.

"She holds steadfast onto her sins!" Reverend Comstock shouted. "She must be held still to accept God's blessing. Let us help her!"

The womenfolk's hymn rose louder, a terribly ugly lament, and Reverend Comstock spoke in a strange, ancient tongue. The men took control of her arms and legs and held her under, waiting for her to still, to accept the darkness and God's grace.

"Stop it, you're killing her!" Adam tried to rush the rivers edge, to save his Faith, but he was seized on all sides by the congregation. All he could do was watch helplessly as Faith finally went quiet, her lungs full of pitch and screams stilled on her tongue. They pulled her from the river, his once beautiful Faith now just a limp, measly body.

"Well, it seems as if this ones sins were too great for even God to forgive," Comstock mocked. "Or perhaps she was unwilling to give up her sin? Once a whore always a whore, isn't that right Adam?"

Adam Barrows could not- would not- listen as he screamed and cursed towards the merciless, unforgiving sky. The congregation dug a hole right there at the mouth of the river and buried his Faith in a shallow, nameless grave.

THE END