Reverend Prosperity Jones couldn’t take his eyes off the WallScreen. The Second Coming! Now, of all times, when he was finally starting to make a profit. He knew it was just coincidence, but somehow, it felt personal.
But was that really Jesus trashing D.C., or something else, like the Beast from the Book of Revelations?
Jones shook his head. The Beast was supposed to have seven heads or take the form of some lion-bear-leopard thing. So Monster Jesus definitely wasn’t a Beast. Unless the Bible was wrong, which, of course, was impossible.
Jones went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of whiskey. He’d been sober for fifteen years, ever since the birth of his daughter. He felt guilty about choosing alcohol over prayer, but these were special circumstances. The impending Apocalypse had really screwed him over. At the very least, God owed him a drink.
“Excuse me, Reverend.” It was his assistant, Linda, on the SmartCom.
Instinctively, Jones hid the glass behind his back. Then he remembered no one could see him. “Yes?”
“There’s… uh… someone here to see you. She’s in your study.” Linda sounded worried. What was that about?
“Thank you, Linda,” he said. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
He raised his glass in the air, toasting God. Then he took a gulp and went to meet his guest.
The visitor was sitting in the leather armchair across from his desk. She was turned sideways with her back to him, dangling her legs over the arm rest. Crimson dreadlocks crawled from her head like a nest of snakes.
When she reached her hand back and rubbed her neck, Jones saw fingers armored in skull rings and a spiderweb tattoo on the back of her palm.
He could not imagine why such a person would come to see him, unless it was a hooker seeking redemption before the world ended.
He cleared his throat. “May I help you?”
The visitor turned and regarded him with eyes shadowed in dark makeup and fierce eyebrow rings. She wore black lipstick, contrasting the silver nose ring peering from her nostrils. Blinking her Grim Reaper eyes in acknowledgment, the girl said, “Finally. I’ve been waiting here forever.”
She got up from the chair and wobbled toward him on patent leather boots with rapier heels. Her hip-hugger shorts and crop top revealed a pale torso with a pierced belly button inked with angel wings. A tattooed vine of bleeding roses with deadly black thorns crawled up her right arm.
Placing her hands on her slender hips, she said, “Well? Aren’t you gonna say hi?”
Something was very wrong here. Jones could feel perspiration forming along his hairline. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
The girl stamped her foot in annoyance. “Daddy, it’s me.”
Daddy? Jones could hardly breathe. “Mary Margaret?” he whispered. But how could that be? It had been two months since he last saw her. Even so, in his mind, she was always six years old, still wearing pink dresses and butterfly hair ribbons.
“I hate that name,” said his daughter. “Call me Magenta.”
Jones didn’t know which he wanted to do more: scream, cry, or faint. So he did all three.
It wasn’t until Jones had washed down his second drink that he could even look at his daughter.
“Dear God in heaven,” he moaned. “What have you done to yourself?”
“Nothing.” Magenta was back on the leather chair, legs draped over the arm, poking at her FlexScreen. Her voice was surly. “Don’t be such a drama queen.”
Jones exploded. “How can you say that! You look like a… like a…”
“A whore? Nice. Jesus hung out with whores, you know.”
Sacrilege! Jones tried to control his anger. “He didn’t hang out with them. He… he… talked to them and showed compassion, even though they were sinners.”
“Then maybe you should follow his example,” said Magenta. “Isn’t he supposed to be, like, your role model?”
“You have no business telling me how to practice my faith!”
Magenta swung her legs off the arm rest, sat in the chair and turned to him defiantly. “Really? ‘Cause you do that to people every day! That’s, like, your whole job.”
The accusation stung. “I don’t tell people what to do,” said Jones. “I tell them… look, don’t change the subject. This isn’t about me. Don’t you think that…” he gestured helplessly “outfit sends the wrong message?”
His daughter cocked her head. “And what message would that be?”
“Don’t take that attitude with me, young lady! You know what I mean.”
Magenta’s expression hardened. “Gawd. This is why I don’t do these visitation things anymore. All you do is judge me like some kind of…of… judgmental person.”
“The settlement says I have a right to weekend visitation,” said Jones, more defensively than he meant to. He changed the subject. “Does your mother know you dress like that?”
“Duh. I was with Mommy Nicole when I bought this outfit.”
Jones cringed at the mention of that person. “No,” he said. “I mean your real mother.”
“Mommy Nicole is a real mother!”
“Your other mother,” said Jones. The whiskey had kicked in and the feelings he normally suppressed bubbled to the surface. “The woman who gave birth to you,” he said, voice rising. Then he shouted, “My wife!”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
Magenta turned her back on him and began fiddling with her ‘Screen again. “She’s not your wife anymore.”
“That was her decision, not mine,” said Jones. His eyes grew hot with tears. “We were happy until that woman came along!”
Magenta didn’t answer.
“We were a family,” he continued. “And your mother was not gay! I would have known. That Nicole woman confused her and then lured her into the homosexual lifestyle.”
His daughter snorted. “You can’t turn someone gay, Daddy. They’re just born that way. It’s, like, science or something.”
Jones stared down at his desk blotter. “We had it all,” he whispered. “Our lives were perfect.”
Magenta threw down her ‘Screen. “Oh. My. God. You do this ‘perfect family’ speech every time I come here. I’m so over it!”
She stood up.
“You have no idea how much Mom cried when she thought no one was looking. But with Mommy Nicole, she’s happy. Why can’t you just be happy for her?”
Jones pounded his fist on the desk. “How can I be happy when everything is so twisted? There’s a right way to live. Families stay together! Marriage is between a man and a woman! And teenage girls don’t dress like prostitutes!”
“Unbelievable.” Magenta shook her head in scorn. “You’re so out of touch, I doubt you’d even recognize a real prostitute. In fact, you probably can’t tell I’m a lesbian.”
Jones opened his mouth to speak but all that came out was a gurgle.
Magenta threw her head back and laughed. “I’m kidding! Oh man, you should see your face right now.”
Jones was furious. “That was not funny!”
“It was fucking hilarious. You just don’t have a sense of humor.”
Did he really just hear that? Did his little Mary Margaret—who’d always set the example in Sunday school (back when she actually went)—use the F-Word? Maybe the world really was ending.
For the second time that day, Jones didn’t know which he wanted to do more: scream, cry, or faint.
“I’m outta here,” said Magenta. She headed toward the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Me and my friends are gonna watch Jesus blow shit up.”
Jones was about to reprimand her for blasphemy but this was all happening so fast, he had to choose his battles. And right now, the greater concern was her outfit.
“I forbid you go out dressed like that!”
Magenta raised a wickedly pierced eyebrow. “Ooh! You forbid me. I’m so scared.”
She stalked out the door, taking his dignity with her.
Jones sat at his desk for a long time after his daughter stormed out. The whiskey was almost gone. He’d long since dispensed with the glass and was simply drinking from the bottle, old school.
He was looking at Mary Margaret’s FlexScreen. Evidently, she’d been writing a poem while she was talking to him. The imagery was all dark churches and slithering serpents and raping angels. What the hell was going on in that girl’s head? And how could his ex-wife allow this?
It had taken two years to finalize his divorce from Rebecca. Two miserable years of fighting over stupid things and throwing away money on lawyers. All for nothing. Rebecca pretty much got everything in the end: full custody of their daughter, the title to the house, and most of the assets from the Church of Goodliness after it was liquidated. That last one hurt worst of all.
The Church of Goodliness had been Jones’s dream. He’d wanted to build a ministry that promoted traditional family values. Jones was convinced that feminism was the single most destructive influence on modern society. The Church of Goodliness was supposed to change that. But it was torn apart before it had the chance.
Now Jones was running a virtual church, Prosperity Ministries. It had been his lawyer’s idea. Jones simply asked his followers for a financial token of faith and in return, God would grant them prosperity. Jones could make that promise, the advertising went, because he was a Level Six Prayer Warrior.
Prosperity Ministries wasn’t a con, Jones told himself. The concept of prosperity did include things other than money and there was no time limit on the guarantee. So it was entirely possible that the donor would experience prosperity in some form at some point in his or her lifetime. And it wasn’t like people got nothing for their money. Jones posted regular sermons on his YouTube channel.
He’d started with sermons on decency and family values, but nobody watched those. After researching other preachers on YouTube, Jones emulated their tactics and covered more, let’s say, colorful topics. He didn’t necessarily believe any of the things he was saying. All that mattered was gaining subscribers.
At first, Jones wrote the sermons himself. But after reading comments from his followers, he realized he had a treasure trove of unpaid employees. So for the past year, he’d let his most enthusiastic subscribers write the sermons for him. They called themselves, The Disciples of Prosperity.
Jones took Prosperity Ministries to the next level with lifetime memberships. As a member, your prayer account was debited monthly. That way, you never had to remember to pray; Prosperity Ministries was doing it for you. You could go calmly about your life knowing that God had your back.
It was working beautifully until Jesus showed up and scared the you-know-what out of everyone. Jones was already getting angry requests from members to close their accounts return their money. Clearly, the arrival of the Apocalypse was a massive Prayer Fail.
And then today, he’d had the shock of seeing his little Mary Margaret transformed into a teenage crypt keeper named Magenta. It was almost like God hated him.
My life is ruined, thought Jones. He drained the last of the bottle, got up from the desk, and passed out on the floor.