Fiction: The Fickle Messiah

By J. Paul Ross

[From the Weekly Standard Gazette, September 15, 2019.]

In all my years covering the important goings on in our fair city, never before has this reporter witnessed a tale like the one I am about to describe. It is so amazing, so unbelievable that it may cause some of you to toss this venerable newspaper straight into the nearest trash receptacle. If that is your inclination, dear reader, then so be it. Yet, for the brave souls who dare continue, believe this: every word printed here is the absolute truth. Every detail has been checked and rechecked by the author and every fact has been corroborated via Wikipedia. What follows may shock, it may disgust, it may even inspire but take heed, it might also cause you to pause the next time someone asks if you believe in miracles.
September 5 — The summer was like any other in the city: cloudless blue skies and a parched, searing heat. Oppressive even for our beloved state, HVAC repairmen were putting in twelve-hour days that season. But for those either too cheap or too poor to have anything but a swamp cooler, tempers were as hot as the asphalt outside.
I had just finished my lunch and was huddled by the swamp cooler with the rest of my sweat-drenched colleagues at the Weekly Standard Gazette when the “additional units” request came over the police scanner.
Apparently, there was a riot in the Hilltop neighborhood on the west side of town. Once known mainly for its crime rate, the area had recently become a haven for hipsterettes and lumbersexuals, a place for ne’er-do-wells to gorge themselves on high-end Belgian cuisine and nurse schooners of Croatian IPA. Years ago, only a 9-1-1 call would bring the police there. These days however, there are five to ten restaurants, taverns or bistros per block and patrol cars lurk on every side street to pounce on any unfortunate soul who consumed too much Zmajska Pivovara Pozoj with their Paling in’t groen.
Things had been simmering there for some time but according to local entrepreneur and vape addict, Axl Soffet, “Things didn’t get cray ‘til Joey Pasternick’s pooch scarfed the Cheesys at the Independence Day party. If you don’t believe me, you should check it out: it’s all over Insta.”
Unfortunately, due to a misplaced password, the Weekly Standard Gazette does not have an internet connection and thus cannot verify the claim of being “all over Insta.” Nevertheless, after an hour of trying to get online at the library, this reporter managed to uncover several very interesting facts.
May 5, 2016 — One Mr. Joseph “Joey” Pasternick, a 26-year-old apprentice plumber living at 4536 Helfer Street purchased a Labrador/Scottie mix from the Westend Rescue Kennel. The Municipal Licensing Bureau has it registered under the unusual appellation “Cannoli.”
Well known in the neighborhood, the floppy-eared, amber-colored dog had a notorious reputation.
“The animal was certainly a disconcerting one,” Father James O’Malley, pastor of Good Shepherd Church stated. “Every time I went by Joseph’s house, the dog was waiting. It’d stare out the front window, look right at me and lick itself . . . you know . . . down there.”
Little else is known of the pet but, thanks to social mediaand the pictures he has posted, the same cannot be said of Mr. Pasternick.
Joseph Pasternick attended Oak Grove High School where he enjoyed wearing flannel and signing his classmates’ yearbooks with “Zeppelin sucks!” In addition, he seems to have later in life developed a penchant for drinking beer and photographing semisolid foods such as mashed potatoes, refried beans, guacamole and peanut butter.
More recently, Mr. Pasternick graduated from Turnabout Vocational School in February 2018. When interviewed, his teachers admitted he was not the best of students.
“Yep, he wasn’ the brightest kid,” declared eighty-five-year-old Thaddeus Barnett, Mr. Pasternick’s Introduction to Soldering instructor. “It took him three tries to pass the final. He just couldn’ get what flux did. Plus, he was a slob. He was always eatin’ these chips and everythin’ he touched had this orange powder on it.”
How Mr. Pasternick’s intelligence issues contributed to what happened on September 5 is purely a matter of speculation. What we are sure of is that the problems in the Hilltop neighborhood began during a block party on the Fourth of July. Set on Helfer Street between Forty-Sixth and Forty-Seventh Avenues, it was a gathering of fifty or sixty people. By all accounts, it was a happy, respectful celebration and despite the liberal amounts of alcohol, many revelers remember Mr. Pasternick attending with the now-infamous Cannoli.
“That dog. I swear,” a neighbor recounted. “It knocked over the table with Sia’s creamed kale and Romy’s stout-bacon jalapeño poppers. It ruined Ione’s sautéed beet greens with coconut oil and ginger, and I can’t tell you how many times it made me spill my matcha green smoothie. Plus, I still can’t believe Joey put a bag of store-bought chips right beside my strawberry chia jam. I mean, how gauche can you be? It was disgusting.”
After days of exhaustive research, this reporter has concluded those “store-bought chips” were in actuality a bag of Cheese’s Cheesy Curls, “America’s X-tremist Cheese Delights.” Mr. Pasternick’s ex-girlfriend, Miss Miri-Lynn Walsh, confirmed this before going on to describe how the dog managed to steal and consume the entire contents of said bag.
What followed was an evening she would never forget.
“It lasted damn-near ‘til sunrise,” Miss Walsh, a raven-haired cosmetologist, later admitted. “We had to let poor Cannoli out every twenty minutes. Around the third or fourth trip, I was pissed but eventually, I started getting really worried. I mean, they were pretty solid at first but by three a.m., you could hear the spray hitting the ground from the back door.”
The next morning, the couple awoke to discover the entire yard spotted with a collection of pale orange dollops. The grass sere from the heat and almost a Nazarene color of yellow, most of these “deposits” were formless and “the consistency of slush.” In total, there were twelve small piles and a single mound, the mound being what drew their attention.
“It damn near made me sick,” Miss Walsh confessed. “But once we got used to the smell, me and Joey realized how much the big pile looked exactly like . . . well, you know . . . Our Lord and Savior.” She went on to add, “I couldn’t believe it. I mean, yeah, we laughed our butts off at first but he laughed a lot more than I did and I definitely didn’t have anything to do with what happened next.”
What happened next was an action local law enforcement officials have called “the first of Mr. Pasternick’s many ill-advised and stupid” mistakes: he photographed the dog’s “deposit” and posted it on Instagram.
Found by this reporter before it was scrubbed from the internet, one must see the image to believe it. From the seraphic smile and Nordic jaw covered by a neatly trimmed beard to the halo made of the only Cheesy Curl spared from digestion, the likeness was stunning.
“I told him not to post it,” Miss Walsh insisted. “But he just had to. Of course, don’t even talk to me about the puns he came up with: the Salvation of the Scat, the Scat Savior, Fecal Cheese’s, the Passion of the Cheese’s, the Last Temptation of Cheese’s, the Second Coming of Cheese’s. Sure, a few of them were funny but . . . Oh, what else can I say? I mean any of them would’ve worked. Why did he have to use the one he did?”
Called “the sole creative thought Joseph Pasternick ever had,” the title he chose for his post was so insulting, so profane,our legal department insisted we not republish it. They said it would be in poor taste and offensive and they could not be heldresponsible for the boycotts that might follow or the threats which would certainly follow. As defenders of the First Amendment, the Weekly Standard Gazette was initially unwilling to sacrifice the principles of a free and independent press. However, once the projected rate increase from our insurance company came to the attention of the editorial board, we decided to respect the more important section of the First Amendment and not upset our readers of faith.
Unfortunately, Mr. Pasternick did not have such advice.
Within a day of his post, both the Twitterverse and the blogosphere exploded. It was here the claim of being “all over Insta” may or may not have arisen.
Despite Mr. Pasternick’s photo receiving more than twenty “likes,” most of the other comments were less-than-positive and the vastly unfavorable appraisals went on for nearly two months. These grew increasingly hostile until by the last week of August, someone discovered where Mr. Pasternick lived. Many have claimed this feat was attained solely through the power of prayer. Naysayers, though, point to Mr. Pasternick’s Instagrampage where, along with the aforementioned image of controversy, was one of him drinking a can of PBR on his front porch.
It took very little time for the address to circulate and, three days later, a group appeared at the back fence of 4536 Helfer. The protestors, shouting unintelligibly and carrying signs declaring, “Sin Must Be Silenced” turned out to be a cadre of self-proclaimed “Crusaders for The True Lord and Savior.”When questioned by police, they merely responded withquotations from the Berean Study Bible. This continued until the group began speaking in tongues where it was then promptly left alone to yell and wave their placards in relative peace.
At this juncture, Mr. Pasternick managed his second “asinine and ill-advised” mistake: he took a photo of the group and posted it beneath the initial one, listing it under the dual titles, “Genuflectors [sic] Upon the Via Defacrapia” and “Day Visit to the Stations of the Ca-ca.”
It is hard to determine what offended people more: the photos or the puns. What we do know is that by September 5, the congregation gathered at Mr. Pasternick’s domicile had grown to include every major group the photo and its heinous title could possibly insult.
Needless to say, it did not take long for things to get out of control.
Most witnesses agree the first spark was lit by a devout Lutheran who had opened his New Revised Standard Version of the Bible and prophesied how, at any moment, The Lord and Savior would smite Mr. Pasternick and his wicked beast with His mighty 6’3”, 215-pound frame of pure muscle. At this, the Fundamentalists quickly cried foul and pointed out how theKing James Version clearly implies The Lord and Savior was nowhere near 215 pounds. According to them, He weighed one-and-a-half talents and stood three-and-a-half cubits tall with a Body Mass Index of 21%. Here, the Evangelicals took issue with the claim of a 21% BMI, stating how the New International Version makes it obvious the number was actually 20.8%. The Methodists immediately yelled “blasphemy” and proclaimed the Common English Bible dictates it was closer to 20.5% considering the amount of fish He ate. More cries of blasphemyrang out and accusations of heresy quickly followed.
From there, things escalated to the various factions mocking each other’s respective tenets. Tempers flared, words grew more heated and soon both sides were caterwauling and ululating. The Pentecostals, citing the New American Standard Bible, joined in next, followed by the Seventh Day Adventistswaving Young’s Literal Translation and a lone Nestorian whoadmitted he was only there because he “got turned around on the way to the bus stop.”
The disputations grew louder while the sun rose and the temperature climbed. Residents have testified the conflict was vociferous enough to drown out passing Harley-Davidsons and city dump trucks. Well on its way to becoming a riot, the situation was at a flashpoint when an “unknown figure” appeared. No description exists, no one remembers a single physical detail but he was able to silence the borderline mob.
“He was sketchy,” said a protestor who wished to remain anonymous. “I think he came with the Presbyterians. Anyway, I was trying to calm things down — like any true follower of myLord and Savior — when this guy jumped up and waved his hands. ‘They’re escaping to the mosque!’ he yelled. ‘The atheist SOB’s taking his dog to the mosque! They’re going for Sanctuary!’ Well, I don’t know what sanctuary means but I watch the news. I know how bad them Muslims are. So, Presbyterian or not, I followed him to the mosque on Klondike.”
Upon further investigation, the Weekly Standard Gazette has determined that according to Google Maps, no Islamic house of worship exists on Klondike Street. There is also no address for such a structure anywhere else in the Hilltop neighborhood. What the crowd had assumed was a mosque turned out to be a store called Nehru’s Persian Rug Repair, owned by a Mr. Padmaj Balasubramanian of Chandigarth, India.
Fortunately, due to the Hindu festival of Gokulashtami, the store was closed and thus, when the crowd torched Nehru’s Persian Rug Repair to the chorus of “Onward Soldier of Our Lord and Savior” no one was injured.
I arrived not long after the first smoke plumes had billowed into the pale blue of the summer sky. The paddy wagons were already there and I positioned myself between the protestors and the waiting lines of police bundled up in body armor like cozy ticks. The city’s finest tried their utmost to calm the situation but with the crowd devolving into another state of dissension, the riot squad chose to pacify things before they got out of control.
They came down Forty-Seventh Avenue in rows, their faces covered by balaclavas and plastic visors, their wooden batons banging on their clear rectangular shields. It was a harsh, jarring sound and a multitude of protestors immediately fell totheir knees and shouted “Romans!” while gesticulatingprofanely at the armored formation.
This did little to deter law enforcement and, with the police descending upon them, the mob stopped yelling at each other and began to misquote the First Amendment. Insults of “heretic” and the technically inappropriate “infidel” followed. Initially, the city’s finest were calm and relaxed and behaved like the true professionals they are. Of course, this changed once the “Nazi” chant started and not surprisingly, the police responded with an orgy of pepper spraying. They sprayed the rioters, the people watching the rioters and finally, they sprayed anything in sight— food carts, street signs, trashcans, buses, parked cars and even intrepid reporters.
Still, the mob fumed and roared. They continued to shout names until the tear gas flew and the water cannons began their merciless journey across the crowd.
Onlookers have sworn they could hear the cries of discomfort from a block away and this onslaught continued until most of the true believers were coughing and gagging. It was obvious the mob had lost their will to fight and it seemed as if the forces of law and order had prevailed. But just when the situation appeared to be de-escalating, a Roman Catholic sergeant of the riot squad allegedly took umbrage at an insult hurled at the crowd by his Unitarian lieutenant. Exactly what passed between the two remains a mystery but the words ultimately climaxed with the sergeant punching his superior in the nose. Observing this, a group of Baptist officers removed their helmets and used them to bludgeon their Anabaptist colleagues. They were followed by the Lutherans in the traffic division attacking the Fundamentalists of the patrol division upon which the single Seventh Day Adventist member of SWAT launched a rubber bullet at the only Congregationalist member of SWAT. This factionalism quickly infected the rest of the officers and soon fists were flying and billy clubs were swinging in every direction. Within moments, it was impossible to tell protestor from cop and the only member of law enforcement who escaped unharmed was a Pentecostal motorcycle officer who is to this day unable to convince his coworkers that Pentecostalism is actually a religion.
The utter chaos of such an event is practically impossible to convey. I have experienced many things in my years with the Weekly Standard Gazette but none of them ended like that afternoon in September.
None of them ended in a miracle.
For the sake of full disclosure, this correspondent must admit his eyes were watering and many of the things I witnessed were a smear. In the aftermath, I have since had my vision examined and everything is in order. This newspaper has also consulted the best mental health expert it could afford and though Yahoo Answers assures me that despite having a Vitamin B deficiency and a possible case of scabies, I am neither psychotic nor delusional.
The tear gas was wafting. The smoke from Mr. Balasubramanian’s store was thick and black. Pepper spray hungin a fog and the water cannons created rainbows in the mist.
And then it happened.
Floating above the jagged rows of police and the panicked mob, a visage appeared. Some have said it was THE Lord and Savior Himself while others claim it was the Holy Father of The Lord and Savior. Some dispute this, however, declaring it was the Virginal Mother of The Lord and Savior or perhaps the formless Holy Spiritual Presence no one is ever supposed to see. A few in the crowd have even maintained it was the Archangel Garfield, his sword raised to smite the wicked. (Religious scholars have been unable to explain to this reporter exactly how the martyred twentieth President of these United States had become a chief angel of the Almighty. When asked, they merely proclaimed The Lord and Savior works in mysterious ways.)
Now I do not know what exactly I saw but like everyone else present, I fell into a reverent silence. From there, I watched the faithful lower their fists and bow their heads. I saw angry glares of retribution become grimaces of shame. I noticed pastors in expensive suits attempt to hide and slick-haired snake-handlers cringe in guilt. I am also fairly certain I beheld a man resembling Chester A. Arthur flee in terror.
And then the ghostly image disappeared, winking out into the high sun to leave both the cops and the mob confused and unsettled.
The eerie silence continued, its somber peacefulness broken only by still-dripping water cannons and pervasive coughs. This “divinely inspired” serenity went on just long enough for the police to recover and soon, they were back to doing their jobs and kettling the disparate groups into corners.
By day’s end, over fifty individuals were taken into custodyyet the only person charged was one Canh Paitoon Delvecchio. Mr. Delvecchio, a 32-year-old Buddhist monk, was arrested for giving mouth-to-mouth to a plainclothes vice detective who’d been knocked unconscious by a flying copy of the Book of Mormon. (Mr. Delvecchio is currently awaiting trial for assault of a police officer, incitement of a riot, first-degree arson, public indecency and possession of an expired driver’s license.)
Fortunately, although also threatened with incarceration, this reporter managed to avoid Mr. Delvecchio’s fate and as theprotestors were being tossed into the paddy wagons, I was left alone to ruminate on what I had experienced.
Ruminate was, and is, all I can do because for an event beheld by so many, not one picture exists. Almost every camera, smartphone and TV video seems to have malfunctioned and the few captured images are nothing but blurred swirls of smoke and water vapor. I have suffered many sleepless nights over this phenomenon but I suppose it is yet another question whose answer I will never find.
So what is the point of this story? The waiting, epiphanic denouement?
Well, by definition, it is impossible to quantify such an otherworldly occurrence but Sergeant Peter Strahovski, a ten-year veteran of the Metro Gang Squad, perhaps put it best.
“I don’t know about that other stuff but it wasn’t like they say. It wasn’t that the Evangelicals stopped yelling or the Baptists stopped dancing or that the rest of them holier-than-thou know-it-alls finally shut the f— up and stopped causing trouble. Nope. The most amazing thing about September 5 was how Carla’s Alaskan Bar-B-Q Pit wasn’t touched. I mean, it was right next to the Arab’s carpet store and there wasn’t a single mark on it. Now there’s a miracle for you.”
As for Mr. Joseph “Joey” Pasternick and his dog Cannoli, their current whereabouts are unknown. A few days after the “Miracle on Klondike,” Mr. Pasternick’s girlfriend broke up with him and the house they shared on Helfer Street was abandoned.
This reporter has read every account and talked to every source he has in order to locate Mr. Pasternick. I have scoured Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr and anywhere else Bing says is relevant but to no avail. It is as if he and his pet have vanished off the face of the earth. I have spent hours washed in the piercing glare of a computer screen while the dial-up connection buzzes and beeps, and my favorite librarian frowns at me in disdain. She has often suggested I give up this quest. In her mind, I suppose the endeavor is a pointless one. For she is a woman of faith and is thus certain both man and dog have been taken down to the merciless hell they deserve.
Which, if the New American Bible (Revised Edition) is to be believed, is somewhere in Florida.
Or possibly New Jersey.

J. Paul Ross is a graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver and a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. His fiction has appeared in numerous online and in print magazines and journals including: 34 Orchard, The Antioch Review, The Bacopa Literary Review and Fiction International. Currently, he is working on a novel set along the Pan-American Highway.