Bobby Ray Jones was just finishing his morning workout in front of the television when GNBNC’s familiar breaking-news theme music sang out from the speakers mounted around the room. The network was cutting into Jones’s regular Sunday lunchtime show, the GNBNC Weekly Business Preview.
“Ya’ always got to stay ahead of the competition,” his daddy used to say, and Bobby Ray had followed that advice throughout his long and successful career. The Weekly Business Preview helped him stay ahead in the stock market, since most investors weren’t paying attention to the markets on Sundays.
But for Bobby Ray, Sunday was also his primary day of business. In fact, he’d already worked a full day by the time he’d entered his expansive home gym that morning.
As the overblown “breaking news” graphics package spun and sparkled its way to its conclusion and the theme song moved toward its kettle-drum crescendo, Bobby Ray slumped onto a stool at the bar and watched.
The network cut to the anchor desk — empty. Then, from the left side of the screen, a tanned and composed, but slightly aged, male model slid into the chair and inserted his ear piece. The Sunday anchor on GNBNC clearly had been caught unprepared, thinking he had another ten minutes of Weekly Business Review to do whatever it was anchors did to get ready to read a teleprompter.
There was a brief flash of white teeth, and the anchor assumed a more serious expression, befitting the situation.
“This is Chip Stone at the GNBNC News Vortex in Atlanta. We are getting late-breaking news at this hour from Richmond, Virginia. A religious service there, at St. Tobias church in a suburb north of Richmond, has apparently been the scene of some sort of disturbance.”
Bobby Ray recognized the newsreader. Stone had been the host of one of those syndicated trash talk shows for some time, but had hit the skids when he’d been arrested for solicitation. Seems one of the “prostitutes” that he’d booked for a show on “Hookers with Hearts of Gold and Buns of Steel” had turned out to be an undercover cop.
After taping the episode, Stone had suggested a little consensual adult activity. And before he knew it, his chiseled features were splashed across Internet sites, tabloids and television screens worldwide, but not the way he’d always intended. It was his mug shot, and he became a laughing stock.
Now, according to the show business Web sites, Stone was engineering a comeback, striving for respectability again. The GNBNC weekend anchor position was a significant milestone on this long road back.
As the recovering anchor spoke, the image on the screen switched to a blotchy red representation of Richmond inset into an outline of Virginia (minus the Eastern Shore, as usual). A star on the northern outskirts of Richmond marked the disturbance site.
“We have on the phone a reporter from WSSS-TV in Richmond, a Mr. Jack Blake, who happened to be at the service when this disturbance occurred. Jack, are you there?”
On screen, the name “Jack Blake, WSSS-TV” was superimposed under the star on the map. A quavering voice crackled over a bad connection. “Y-, yes, Chip. Ah, it’s Jim, not Jack, Chip.”
“Jack,” continued Chip, “can you tell us what has occurred there at St. Tobias church?”
“Um, it’s Jim, Chip. Jim Blake.”
“Right. Good. Can you tell us what happened… uh, Jim?”
“Ah, yes, Chip,” Blake replied. “During this morning’s service at St. Thomas’s Church here in the Lakeside area of Richmond, a child in the congregation apparently was seized in some fashion by a supernatural spirit of some sort. I wouldn’t have belie--”
Chip broke in, the tightening lines on his perfect face revealing irritation. “I’m sorry, Jack. I thought I just heard you say that a child was taken over by a spirit or ghost or something. Can you please correct that for us?”
“No correction, Chip,” said Jim. “It’s Jim, by the way, not Jack.”
“Yes, right, okay, Jim, whatever,” said the aggravated anchor. Obviously, GNBNC was the victim of a prank that now was being broadcast to all corners of the globe, and Stone appeared to be horrified that his reputation-salvage operation might be bumped off track by this developing debacle.
“No, I was right there in the church, Chip, and I saw it myself,” insisted Blake, scrambling to save his national news debut. “The kid — he couldn’t have been two years old — this kid started talking as good as you or me, and he was saying that he was God, and that he’d created the world because he loved us, and...”
“All right,” Chip cut in again, appearing determined to end this spectacle. “I think we’d better go to a break before...
“I’ve got video, Chip!” Blake shouted. “We’ve just sent you video! You should have it right now!”
Chip Stone opened his mouth to respond, then sat quietly for a moment.
Back in his spectacular Nashville mansion overlooking the Cumberland River, Bobby Ray Jones, a show business veteran, knew someone was talking to Stone at that moment through his ear piece.
Jones was riveted. Certainly, he enjoyed seeing the media screw it up — after the way they’d treated him a few years back, Jones had no love for the national news organizations. But as enjoyable as the fumbling going on right now was to watch, this story also seemed to be heading right down Bobby Ray’s aisle from a business standpoint.
After his workout, though, the big man was hot and somewhat uncomfortable. He stood up from the stool and moved around to the fun side of the bar to pour himself a giant gin and tonic, and then took a seat in the recliner a few feet away, facing the television.
As Bobby Ray relaxed, the handsome face on the screen gave a quick nod, and spoke up.
“I’m told we do indeed have some footage of the disturbance at St. Tobias Church in Richmond,” Stone said. “We’re going to run that video now.”
A few more seconds of Chip’s tense face followed, and then the network abruptly cut to video of what appeared to be an elderly preacher in a time-worn church. He seemed confused, rambling on about children, or his children, or...
“What the hell is this guy talking about?” Jones wondered to himself. A second later, he didn’t care.
Whatever that was, it must have happened right next to the camera, because the volume overwhelmed the camera mic and caused distortion. Whatever it was also brought the old minister’s sermon to an abrupt end — every head in the picture turned to the rear of the church, left of the camera. Some kids began to giggle.
“I AM THE LORD GOD!” someone shouted off-camera. Immediately following this outburst, the picture frame spun sideways, and there was a loud thud. For a split second, the camera, still sideways and pointing up the aisle from the floor, showed the visible congregation’s collective expression turn to terror. Now Jones was really curious.
The camera swung back up and around to the left, coming to rest on a man just a couple feet away, holding a little boy. The boy was standing in the man’s lap, and the man had a nasty bump on his forehead, over his right eye. Jones couldn’t quite read the expression on the man’s face, but every other face down the pew to the man’s left was locked on the kid, and each wore the same look of shock and fright.
As for the boy himself — well... he was standing in the man’s lap, and he seemed to be the right size for a little boy, but the look in his eyes seemed... different… deeper… something...
“See here young man,” came a thin, shaky voice from off-camera.
“I AM THE LORD GOD,” the little boy proclaimed in an unnaturally low, loud voice.
“GOD ALMIGHTY!” shouted Bobby Ray, his legs pin-wheeling and his drink spilling as he tried to pull himself up and out of his recliner.
The little boy continued.
“I SET IN MOTION THE UNIVERSE AND THE WORLD FOR YOU, AND CREATED YOU, OUT OF LOVE FOR YOU, MY CHILDREN. I ASK ONLY THAT YOU LOVE EACH OTHER AS I LOVE YOU.”
“God almighty!!” Bobby Ray repeated. “God almighty!!”
As Jones watched, the boy seemed to waver, then fell backwards into the man’s arms.
Then the kid opened his eyes and sat up. Now he was a little boy again. Looking around, he began to smile, paused, and then shouted out, in a squeaky but loud little kid’s voice: “BIG TRUCK!!”
The room detonated behind the kid. The screen was filled with screaming people running toward the back of the church. The camera was jolted, then tilted sharply left, and the picture went black.
“God almighty,” Jones said to himself one more time.
Just then the door on the far end of the workout room burst open.
“Reverend Jones! Did you see that?” shouted a well-groomed, attractive young woman as she ran in.
“Susan, pack a bag. We’re going to Richmond.”
As the click-click of his assistant’s high heels faded down the hallway, Reverend Jones considered the implications of what he’d just seen. If this was a hoax, then there was profit to be made for the Lord in the old Capital of the Confederacy. And if it wasn’t a hoax… well¼
Jones recalled the joke where a cardinal runs excitedly into the Vatican one day to inform the Pope that Jesus was, at that moment, entering the Holy City’s front gate. “What should we do?” cries the cardinal.
“Look busy!” shouts the Pope.
“Time to look busy, I suppose,” the famous reverend said to himself as he switched off the television.
© Chuck Hansen - 2019