portion of the artwork for William Clayton's short story

Notes on a History
William Clayton

April 22: We walk all day, following Dad through sagebrush and scrub oak. At sunset we find the boulder with the tree growing out of it. Dad points to a spot on the ground, and we start digging. After a while Brother Taylor hits something hard with his shovel. It takes six of us to lift out the wooden chest, and inside we find the two metal tablets.

“And behold,” Dad says, “the lost revelations of Moses. They have been preserved by the hand of the Lord to guide us in these last days before his return.”

“A miracle,” Mom says. “We will cleave to these teachings as we cleave to your body.”

We camp there for the night.

April 23: By the time we get back to Paradise, I’m dripping with sweat in my wool tunic. Dad shows off the tablets, but he won’t let anyone else touch them. He says that Mom has a great work to do by helping with the translation. But first she needs to be set apart. We form a circle, and Mom kneels down in front of him and closes her eyes. Then we put our hands on her head.

“Cubby Lynn Campbell,” he says, “in the name of Jesus Christ, we ask for a blessing that the Holy Ghost will fill your body with strength. For although you and Cougar were lost to us in the city of queers, even so the Lord created the queer cancer and now has seen it right to bring you out again. And so I proclaim to those dark spirits within you, Get behind us, and return no more. For thus saith the Lord, I am set to clean the Earth, even with fire and gnashing of teeth, but not yet. Because first I must set about the perfection of my saints. Where much is given, much is required. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

Mom is crying. She stands up and gives me a hug. “For the first time in a long time,” she says, “I feel like we’re a family again.”

Everyone cheers, and then Dad leads Mom into his tent for an afternoon hump.

April 26: Three days they’ve been translating and humping, humping and translating. Speaking in tongues. Dad says he’s going to complete Mom’s conversion by seeding her with another child. Only this one won’t be weak and hairless like me.

I walk down by the river where we are building the tabernacle. The walls are up, but we haven’t finished the roof. The wind is whistling through the wood. I step inside and see Eliza Holt kneeling in the corner. She hasn’t seen me yet, so I watch her while she prays. Her face isn’t much to look at, but she has the biggest tits I’ve ever seen. You could feed a whole generation with those things.

Then she opens her eyes and looks at me. “Cougar,” she says.

I walk out of there as fast as I can.

May 2: Three more families arrive tonight. Dad comes out of his tent still holding the gazelem. He says the tablets have revealed a ceremony of consecration. Each new family has to make a sacrifice. The Wilsons have a hundred pounds of deer meat in the back of their truck. Brother Cloward gives up his wife’s Fiestaware. The Higbees don’t have much since Brother Higbee got fired from the gas station. They come up to Dad with tears in their eyes, holding Hyrum’s marching bass drum. Hyrum is their son who died of a seizure. He really loved that drum. I remember one summer he was walking around town with it every day, just pounding away at that thing.

Dad pronounces each sacrifice acceptable before the Lord. Then we build a bonfire, and everyone holds hands around it. Dad bangs on the drum as he leads us in a chant:

Christ, Christ, Jesus Christ
Lose your life in Jesus Christ
No more Satan
No more sin
Now with Jesus we will win

We get louder and louder, faster and faster, and my tunic is sticking to me like another skin. I gaze up at the wheeling stars. Someone puts a handful of hot deer meat in my mouth. I look over and it’s Eliza. She’s looking at me and the fire is shining in her eyes. Dad is watching her and smiling, and everyone is dancing and circling, and sparks are rising on the wind.

May 7: We shingle the roof with bark. It looks like a bunch of crooked teeth. With all of us crammed in there I can smell everyone hot and close. Dad says we don’t need to take the sacrament anymore because now we are perfect in brotherhood. We stay up all night praying and singing. Sister Jones says she sees angels standing in our midst. Brother Wheeler says he sees the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist standing at his right hand. Dad says that Jesus came once to bring peace, but when he comes again it will be with a sword.

May 20: Dad has been humping Mom like a rabbit, but still she won’t take seed.

“Maybe you’re still a lezbo,” Dad says.

“Maybe you’re all dried out,” Mom says.

“One way or another,” Dad says, “I’m going to have another son.”

May 21: I walk down to the tabernacle to see if Eliza is there. I wait until dark, and then I make my way back to the tents. Dad is sitting in front of the fire talking with Eliza and Brother and Sister Holt. It takes me a long time to fall asleep.

May 31: Dinner is deer meat and a handful of crackers. Dad says the tablets have now revealed our rightful consecration of property. Me and Brother Bingham smear our faces black with cold ash. Then we grab some potato sacks and jump in the back of Dad’s pickup. He drives us out about 15 miles to the McAllister farm. When we get to the dirt road, he flips off the lights. He says he’ll keep watch in the truck while we consecrate.

First thing I do, I head to the chicken coop and grab a few hens by the neck and stuff them into a sack. They won’t stop squawking, so I swing the sack around in the air and then slam it to the ground a few times. I don’t hear anything after that. Then I grab as many eggs as I can and throw those in, too. When I come out of the coop, Brother Bingham is dragging a fat sow out of the barn. She’s squealing to high heaven, kicking this way and that. I grab her by the hind legs and try to help pull her along. The moon is big and bright, and I stop for a minute to watch it shining off all them pink teats. It makes me think of Eliza and all what I could do to her.

That’s when the porch light turns on. Mr. McAllister is standing there in his overalls with his rifle. “Hey, you!” he shouts. “Get the fuck off my land!”

We drop the pig and run to the truck. All I can hear is the sound of my own breathing, and I’m just focused on those red taillights. I don’t see the irrigation ditch, and that’s when I fall down hard. First there’s the snap of bone in my leg and then everything flashes white behind my brain. I can’t tell anything from anything. The next thing that happens is Dad and Brother Bingham are lifting me into the truck and I’m screaming in pain, and Dad is hauling down the dirt road, and then when we hit the highway the breeze is cool on my face and I pass out again.

June 1: I tell Dad to take me to the hospital. He tells me the Lord helps those who help themselves.

June 2: My leg hurts so bad.

June 3: Dad comes into my tent with some hand-cut two-by-fours and a leather belt. Brother Bingham is with him to hold me down. They frame my leg with the wood and then Dad straps the belt around the frame. It’s not tight enough to hold, so Dad grabs some bungee cords from his truck and straps those around, too. Then he drags in a 50-pound bag of quickset concrete and tears it open and pours it into the frame and adds some water.

After a while the cement starts to harden up. An evening breeze is blowing in through the tent flap, and I can hear someone’s voice on the wind. Maybe it’s Eliza. I close my eyes and see her walking with me by the river. She’s wearing her wedding dress. She turns to me, and I reach out to lift her veil. When I lift the veil, her face turns into Mom’s face.

June 5: My leg feels better but now my foot is all swolled up. Dad says I need to move around because that will get the blood out of my leg. He’s fashioned me a pair of wood crutches. He helps me up, and I hobble out for breakfast. Mom says I look like some kind of Jacob after getting his hip busted by that angel.

June 6: Dad says the tablets have given him a new revelation. He leads us all down into the tabernacle where there’s a platform with a huge claw-footed chair and a white bedsheet hanging behind it. He sits in the chair and bows his head. Brother Taylor comes out from behind the bedsheet holding a tinfoil crown. “And behold!” he shouts. “We now crown you king Dennis Campbell, and we claim you prophet and revelator over all the lands and principalities of the Earth, until that great and dreadful day when our Lord Jesus Christ redeems the living and the dead. Amen.”

“Amen,” Dad says.

“Amen,” everyone says.

Brother Taylor puts the crown on Dad’s head.

“And now,” Dad says, “with my first pronouncement as king of Paradise and all other lands and territories known and unknown, I now restore the covenant of old, even that of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which is the doctrine of having wives and concubines to raise up the seed of this last generation. For if one womb is dried up and closed to mankind, so will the Lord see fit to open the next. All those who enter into this covenant will be saved, and if you abide not you will be damned, so says the Lord of hosts.”

Then he reaches out his hand, and Eliza steps out from behind the bedsheet. She’s wearing a white dress.

“You son of a bitch,” Mom says.

I hobble up to the platform. “Eliza,” I say, “you don’t have to do this.”

Brother Taylor punches me in the crotch, and I lie moaning at Dad’s feet as he marries Eliza. Then he commands everyone to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

June 7: The sheriff asked for a statement. I don’t have anything else to say except what’s written here. This is my testimony.

After the ceremony, Dad and Brother Bingham went back to McAllister’s and brought back one of his lambs. They killed it and cut it up and barbecued it for a wedding feast. Then Dad took Eliza into his tent for an afternoon hump. Speaking to her in tongues. I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Son,” Mom said, “where are you going?”

“Whoever isn’t with me is against me,” I told her. “Which one is it?”

She stood up and followed me to Dad’s truck. I told her to grab the gas can and a box of matches. Then she followed me down to the tabernacle. Someone must have told Dad, because there we were pouring gas onto his king’s chair and all over the floor and then there he was standing in the doorway.

“Jesus is coming,” he said. “And there’s nothing you two can do to stop it.”

“Jesus is dead,” I said. “And he isn’t coming back.”

That’s when Mom lit the match and dropped it onto the chair. Everything turned into flame. Dad ran at Mom and shoved her into the wall. She grabbed his hair and wouldn’t let go.

I hobbled to the doorway. “Come on!” I shouted. I turned around and saw them fighting, faces cold with pure hate, hands locked together like falling hawks, circling in the flame.

Then I laid there weeping in the dirt until the ambulance came. On the way to the hospital, somebody asked me what was my name and who was my family.

I don’t have a name. I’m just another orphan.

William Clayton’s Comments

I grew up in a small Mormon community in Utah. If the people of the South are haunted by Christ (to steal a phrase from Flannery O’Connor), then the people of the Mountain West are absolutely possessed by him. In the farming towns and desert towns and suburbs and cities, he walks and whispers. Turn a corner and you just might find him standing there ready to show you the end of the world.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 56 | Fall/Winter 2020