The lawn chairs rose in the air as if the Rapture was leaving the righteous behind. When the townsfolk saw their pastor in a chair, they wondered why they were standing in their backyards. They shouted for an explanation but he was too high above them to be heard. Had he not taught them the good news?
This was what a student breathlessly told me when she ran into the dollar store with the news. Soon more students arrived from the directional college to buy snacks and beer for a chair-watching party. The students did look concussed, a claim made on a syndicated radio show. The allegation was that they were concussed by the ambiguity emanating from their studies. Whatever their condition, they had fistfuls of five-dollar bills to spend.
The chairs were visible from the store parking lot. The students watched while I worked on the floor by the entrance spelling out daily sales with letters from unstrung party banners. Customers often stepped on my work disrupting the sentences that bring attention to overstocked items such as bleach, ammonia, cookies, and reading glasses. The manager gives me the freedom to advertise for an hour in the morning.
After lunch, Rick, a swarthy councilman, arrived and asked me to advise the congregation on the chairs. They thought of me as a man peddling the devil’s aphorisms, a thoughtless reading of my floor writing. The pastor, according to Rick, got into his chair on his own accord and was seen rising and converging with the other chairs. Before he rose beyond contact, he may have spoken in tongues which was good for revelation but not as an explanation. Since you will be left behind, said Rick with enthusiasm, could you help us figure out what’s happening? This sounds like a miracle, I said, especially if he is still alive. An explanation would be a miracle, said Rick. I agreed to a per diem to consult — pitch the far-fetched — but feared a bad result. I wasn’t going to catch the pastor if he fell.
The light illuminating the cluster of chairs was dumbfounding and captured my attention as I walked the backyards with the weepy faithful identifying their chairs with binoculars. I wrote in my notebook about faith without scapegoats, as if I were being paid by the inadequate word. Later, as the evening bugs arrived, an informant told me the pastor was a ladies’ man, a characterization amended to a fornicator of sopranos and secretaries.
The community came to believe the risen chairs were a test run of the Rapture. I thought it was an incoherent game of musical chairs; I had to be careful not to jeopardize my per diem with poorly timed irreverence. I was no more than a foil for Rick’s banter as the days passed and there were no reports of airborne chairs elsewhere in the state, another miracle.
Eventually, the pastor returned to sight waving as if he were about to lower a rope for us to pull him back to earth. The town council, all church deacons, believed he was returning from a divine audience in a triumph over gravity if not grace. Attempts to send water and a sandwich by a weather balloon looked promising until the balloon kept going. After the balloon, Rick thanked me for my work and asked for my notes. I’ll return them after I make a copy, I said. Incensed, Rick read a list of accusations against me as leverage. 1. Looking up Coed’s skirts while piddling on the floor. 2. Misspelling ammonia and Velveeta. 3. Eating pretzels and then gluing the bag shut with Elmers. 4. Having too many books in my trailer. 5. Entertaining a visitor from Boston. 6. Deliberately confusing Q‑Anon shoppers by telling them that a church father believed that in the end everyone would be saved. Damnation is beautiful, said Rick, handing me a check.
The students were waiting for me at the store with the claim that they’d sent a drone up into the chairs and found the pastor, but his contortions were so horrific the camera malfunctioned and the video was lost. They wanted to use my notes to write a script for an Indie horror movie. I could not promise anything with the chairs still in the sky.
Later that week, the Pastor walked down the gravel path of the trailer park with a soundless footfall looking fit enough to survive another ordeal. He found me sitting in my lawn chair icing my knees. What did you know about the chairs? he asked. He accepted a beer and a bowl of gumbo. For a start, I said, it is a miracle. I should have said special effects but that sounded like weak skepticism. We tried to brainstorm the particulars of the miracle but banality quickly overcame us and the Pastor finally said that he had more pressing problems than miracle authentication. He did. My secretary is pregnant, he said, and won’t go to the city for an abortion. So I need to get away for a few weeks and pray…maybe up north where the Pilgrims landed. I’ve never had chowder. Then I’ll come back and resign. I won’t ball my eyes out and repent. That’s in your favor, I said, almost a miracle. Anyway, we’ve got a good story but it’s not doing us any good as it is. It’s not any good, said the pastor as he left.
After the lawn chairs were found in the public swimming pool, Rick came to the store to see if I was in compliance with the new ordinance prohibiting signage on commercial floors. I was working outside at a large whiteboard. Rick stopped with a roll of tin foil in his hand. You know where he is, don’t you? He’s coming back, I said. Not coming down, said Rick, pointing to the sky. One way or another he’s coming back, I said. The chairs have returned and he’ll return soon.
David Gilbert has published stories and poetry in the Mississippi Review Online, Blip, New World Writing, First Intensity, In Posse, Caliban, Screens and Tasted Parallels, and other magazines. He has coedited with Karl Roeseler two collections of stories: Here Lies and 2000andWhat? He is the author of four books and eBooks of stories: I Shot the Hairdresser, Overland, The Third Bridge, and Central Casting. He has also authored Five Happiness, an obstruction-driven narrative.