turned onto my side with my teeth clenched, tongue glued to the roof of my mouth, every drop of moisture leached from my body and dried into the blanket or else flowing through the veins of the city’s sewage system. No amount of cursing the invisible bastard with the invisible tomahawk buried into the cortex of my very real head could bring me relief. What’s more, I was still somewhat drunk. That meant the real hangover hadn’t even begun. I wanted to cry like the child who’s embarrassed because he spills his tray of food in front of everybody at the K&W Cafeteria.
Coach was sitting on the adjacent loveseat, smoking the bubbler. I never did find out why they called him that, Coach. What to say about his looks? I suppose it’s how you’d imagine a professional softball player would present himself. He rattled a PBR can, one of our dozen or so empties that surrounded us like prayer candles.
“Don’t you judge me,” he said, cutting eyes.
I sat up, feeling like I’d been kicked in the nuts or brains or both. “This cannot stand,” I said.
“You look like I did after my third divorce,” Coach said. “But I’ve got the medicine.”
“If you say hair of the dog, I’m going to stick my finger down my throat and point my mouth toward your rug.”
“I wouldn’t advise that.”
He was at the kitchenette in a flash, something boiling on the stove there. It smelled kind of like shit. The bubbling sound was the only comfort I’d ever known. He took great care in pouring the steaming contents of the pot into two mugs, sat one on the coffee table in front of me.
“Drink up,” he said, and then he took a sip with his pinky out like the ladies with the fancy hats do on Downton Abbey.
I indulged in a healthy gulp. Another, and one more after that. “This is the most bitter thing I’ve ever drank,” I said. “It tastes like I’m drinking a foot. What is it, anyhow?”
“Peyote tea,” Coach said.
“What?” I said, standing straight up.
“Peyote,” Coach repeated, reclining. “Relax. Ask the shamans, it’s medicinal.”
“What joke are you getting at, man?” I said. “This is going to fuck me up, probably.” I checked my phone. I had to be at church in forty-five minutes. “I’ll deal with you later,” I told Coach, and then I only saw him three more times in the next ten years.
I put on my Sunday shirt, stepped into my Dockers, combed my hair close to my head, and in a nose hair shy of thirty minutes I was there on the front pew with the rest of the junior pastors. I’d only joined because I wanted to catch the attention of a girl who wasn’t even a member anymore. It was the second stupidest decision I’d made at the time. The first was obviously coming to church after ingesting liquid mescaline.
The sanctuary felt like Arizona. I’d never been to Arizona, but I imagine that’s what it was like. Hot and close, in a swampsack kind of way. I sensed God’s enduring judgment, but it was more likely the body high coming on strong. The hangover was subsiding, at least. By the time Preacher hit the pulpit I was drooling. He went through all the usual pleasantries. The man’s voice tickled.
After the house-cleaning stuff he said: “As y’all know, once a month we have one of our junior pastors come up to deliver the message. This month that young man is…”
Then it was as if he pointed at me like a game show host.
Fear prickled all my pressure points, and one of the other junior pastors nudged me with his elbow as if to say, “Well?”
I don’t know how I got up there because it sure as shit wasn’t legs. Sweat was coming from pores I didn’t even know I had. I looked upon the congregation, shimmering like a golden PBR in the backlight of a bar. And then I just let it ride, man. I spoke from inside a tunnel. And out of me poured a great river of possession. And God sent fractals of wasps upon every man, woman, and child. The stained glass dripped a honeycomb of colors, and I thought about when Dale Earnhardt died, how my parents wept.
I told a parable about Jesus that wasn’t a parable about Jesus at all, but about the ringmaster, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
“Tongues!” someone hollered. “I knew it was possible.”
There was running through the aisles, loud cries for mercy. They dunked me in that tub they kept in the back for baptisms. It was the best sermon the church ever had. I quit religion in 2008.
Matt is a writer from North Carolina. Follow them on Twitter @illmattic919.