O is for Opium

Serpent and Apple
Serpent and Apple — Image by © 68/GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Ocean/Corbis

“Opium”  is another of my short stores in my book Flight of Destiny. A town called Jacksonville has fallen into disarray, many under the influence of the celestial drug opium. A preacher (known as Preacher Moon) is sent to stop the town falling deeper into the mire into moral collapse. He is a pious man, a kind of John the Baptist figure, who believes his strong voice and powerful words putting the fear of God into the inhabitants will bring the town into line.

A town council meeting was called by the church elders. A new force needed to be summoned to counteract this seemingly unstoppable slide into moral iniquity, and, at their behest, that force arrived the next day on a spavined, overworked, mangy-looking brute of a horse, scarcely able to navigate the town streets. The rider didn’t care about appearances. He put his trust in God to provide for all his earthly needs, including those of his horse. With his wild, shoulder length hair and scraggly beard, he looked a wild man, eyes full of zeal, capable of digging deep within a person’s soul. In other rail towns he’d proven a bastion against any evil that stood in his way. His fire and brimstone sermons were legendary, and he had a reputation for smiting even the most heinous of sinners, those acting as consorts of the very devil himself.

The preacher finds himself confronting an adversary, who he deems responsible for the evil that is prevalent in the town.

And before the day was out, there was one man in particular he had placed his sights on: the local gangster chief of the Green Triad Gang, known to everyone simply as “Gecko.” The preacher’s first move would be to locate and confront this source of all the evil scourging the town. Once he encounters Gecko he finds him to be somewhat different to what he imagined, in that Gecko, is wise and witty and more than a match for him verbally. 

“You will henceforth stop your activities, or be smitten by the Right Hand of God!” Gecko considered the threat calmly. “And what form would this punishment likely take?” he asked, as if the preacher’s answer might make a difference.

“You and your family will suffer the heat of Hell’s fire throughout all eternity,” he clarified, pointing the head of his staff menacingly at Gecko, who remained completely unruffled.

“Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man,” Gecko sighed philosophically.

Ultimately  Opium is a story about temptation.  The Preacher is drawn into eating a piece of cake. He is also tempted by Gecko’s beautiful daughter.

Gecko smiled sweetly at the preacher, twiddling the dragon ring on his finger, then glanced at the cake.

“Will you not have something to eat with us, Preacher? I’m about to cut this cake,” Gecko said in a relaxed, convivial way, reaching for a gilded knife.

The preacher’s face soured. It was clear to him that Gecko’s offer was a gesture of hospitality rather than threat, and he was extremely hungry from the long ride. In truth, he’d lost count of the time since he had last eaten, and then, it had been mostly grasshoppers he’d come across on his travels. Still, how could he accept food from such a loathsome sinner?

“Food from the devil’s hand no doubt,” he growled in a bitter tone, shaking his head in the negative and averting his eyes from the cake and the exotic fruits the young girl had placed on the table.

“No,” contradicted Gecko, “A cake baked by my daughter, here.”

Gecko beamed proudly.

“Never,” replied the preacher, lifting his eyes and hands towards the heavens as if holding up a massive rock and waiting for God to cast it onto the tempter before him Gecko shook his head.

“Isn’t it equally sinful to spurn gifts provided by God. Surely this magnificent cake is such a gift. Wouldn’t it be wrong not to take advantage of an offer of food in order to keep yourself strong in his service? Even Jesus, if I’m not mistaken, indulged in local weddings and feasts.”

Gecko cut a large slice of cake and as he brought it to his mouth, a look of anticipatory pleasure and contentment swept across his face.

ENJOY OPIUM (the short story…I mean)

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.


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