by Lady Grey

My, that was a nice little church. Tennessee being in the Bible Belt, right around the buckle area, some might say, you see all kinds of churches. Some of 'em are modern, with chairs instead of pews and fancy lighting and all. But this one was real small, with wooden floors polished up pretty and stained-glass windows that caught the inside light. They didn't use it as a church during the week, there were musicians playing and dancers dancing and that kind of thing. It was just one street above what the college students called the Strip, where the restaurants and the clubs plied their trade. How very fitting, to do it in a so-called 'holy' place that was within shouting distance of a hundred sinful lures.

"Now why'd you say you came again, honey?" It's so important to make sure. They have to be worthy.

How she looked at me, so big-eyed and eager. Even the most innocent of them give away their true natures like that. They say they want the blessing, but it's not God's hand they're looking for.

"I knew you'd be here. God must've told me...I've always known I was meant to use my voice to serve the Lord, pastor Caleb. When the words of the hymns rose up to the chapel bells, I knew He heard me. People filled up both morning services when I had a solo. I need to use my voice to do God's work--and when you spoke, I just knew you were the one He sent to help."

"Mighty proud of yourself, aren't you? My voice, my solo. It's God using you, not you using God. We are his instruments, and if any power's coming through us, it's him sending it--he can take it away just as fast. He's the power."

She bobbed her head like a cork. "Oh yes, I know that. I'm not saying I understand why, I just know that it is what I'm meant to do--"

"There's that presumption again." I got right up in her face, close enough to see my reflection in those big green eyes. "You don't know anything. How can you claim to know the mind of God? He's infinitely wiser than we are, and makes his will known only through his chosen vessels." Her eyes get all startled, and I allow myself to laugh, just a little. "And I'll tell you, sweetness, a little singing strumpet like yourself is never going to be a vessel of anything but sin and corruption."

She gasps and steps away, and I follow. Now the dancing begins, and I'm leading. "You have the sin of pride in abundance, child, and it's never going to lead you anywhere but down the darkest path. You're not singing for the glory of God, you're singing for yourself. When you're singing about amazing grace and blessed assurance, that's not what you're thinking about, is it? You're thinking about how pretty you sound, and how maybe the pastor's admiring your new dress..." She puts a hand to her mouth. On the right track, I knew it. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he, and that goes double for women. Born to sin, and lead men into sin, not a pure thought in your head. The Lord sees your pridefulness, sees how you look at the godly men in your congregation when you should be focused solely on him. You think his wrath won't fall on you for misusing the gift he gave you?"

And the tears come. Some can even cry prettily, and this one's a natural. Sadness and penitence just seem to overflow down her cheeks. It's quite a convincing act. "Oh pastor, I know! I can't help but be a little proud of myself, but I don't think I'm above my friends, just because I can sing! God gave them talents too, it's just that mine's more...noticeable..."

"Excuses." Cut those off at the root. "Misusing that gift makes you nothing more than a dirty girl, one of those shameless whores that flaunt their bodies and yowl like bitches in heat on the TV."

"I'm not..." There's a little wobble in her voice.

"Then prove it." She's up against the wall now, and I am the Sword of God, waiting to judge her worthiness. "Knowing what you are, sing now. Sing for God. Maybe he'll hear you, and you'll be judged righteous and pure."

She has to take a few deep breaths, swallowing those crocodile tears. Her body shifts, posing--they call it a singer's stance, but with her breasts thrust out and her legs apart I know quite well what it is she's trying to do--and her voice lifts into the rafters.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me..."

Oh, that is a fine instrument she's got there. Mezzo-soprano, ringing out clear, with the least little bit of vibrato on the high notes. I can feel the sound trembling warm down inside me, beating like a heart. Very near perfect.

"...I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see..."

My instrument's better. So smooth, she never sees it coming into her belly, and that last warm note is held out long, and longer, into a cry that near rocks me, and the roof. So sweet.

"What did I tell you? Screaming on key." She steps out from behind the stage/altar/podium, big black eyes smiling. "You wanted to see my power, I gave you what you wanted."

I can't even look at Her, my attention's still on the pretty singing choirgirl. Such a sweet voice, could the body under that flowered dress be as pretty, sinful whore that she was?...


Her voice is edged, and jerks me away. "Yes," I finally agree, refocusing on the dark-haired woman in the filmy grey dress, grey as ashes. "You made a good deal with me, and more than lived up to your end. Now remind me of mine?"

She sighs like a child. No less than I'd expected, they all sulk when they don't get their way. "Serve me. Do what I tell you. Ask no questions, feel no pity, just do it. And I'll give you power. More power even than this." The edges of Her voice smooth out into caressing velvet, touching the heat inside. "Imagine a roomful of girls like this, all of them ready to be...cleansed. By your power."

I won't kneel, not to any woman, not even to Her. But I look Her square in the eye. "Then my life is yours. You'll give me life everlasting, because after just this little encounter, I feel damn near immortal!"

The dark eyes laugh, and Her face shifts for a breath, into something blonde and blue-eyed, such sweetness over sin. Enough to make a preacher cry, and laugh. "That'll come, Caleb. But now, the cleansing must begin. Send the Bringers to where I tell you, and you'll be going to England..."

They have some lovely churches there too, I've read.


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