Short Fiction - 'The Faith Healer'

"This is stupid".

The voice was heard first. Then, a moment later, empty space was filled by the presence of two men. Each of these two men seemed to simply step into existence, as though passing through a door – though, of course, there was none to be seen. The two men stood side-by-side, now – one elderly, with greying hair and features weathered by the passage of time, the other younger and smooth-skinned. Despite their differences, the one trait they seemed to share was that each could probably best be described as really sort of bland. Each was the proud owner of that truly unremarkable sort of face, whose features would begin to blur in a person's mind the moment they were out of sight. And, the best that a person could ever hope to say after an encounter with them was that there were two men – one old and one young.

They called themselves Mister Smith and Mister Jones, for no particular reason other than the air of mystery they liked to imagine it gave them. They had once called themselves Mister White and Mister Black, but found that it only ever lead them to rather heated arguments. Later, they tried to call themselves Mister Grey and Mister Gray, but had just ended up horribly confused. Smith and Jones balanced well against each other, they thought – and, they had had no real trouble since. Smith was the older of the two, and Jones was the younger. At least, based on appearances.

The two found themselves standing side-by-side toward the back of a stage in a large hall. In front of them, a podium had been set up – at which a speaker currently stood. Heavy-set and balding, red faced and sweating, the speaker stood tall and proud at the podium, basking in the sound of enthusiastic applause.

"Really", Jones said to his older partner, "this is stupid. What are we even doing here?"

Smith's only response was a quick motion for silence, though – his attention currently focused elsewhere. "Blast", he said, a moment later, "looks like we missed the sermon".

Beyond the speaker, rows of chairs had been laid out – cheap-looking plastic things that were each currently occupied. A length of carpet had been rolled out along the center of the hall, creating an aisle that neatly sliced the rows of chairs into two halves. At one end of the strip of carpet where the set of doors that lead outside and at the other, the stairs that lead one up onto the stage.

The audience gradually fell silent. The speaker took a handkerchief from his short pocket – dabbing at the sweat coating his brow. And, Jones once more turned toward Smith, seeming to study his older partner – their sudden appearance seemingly unnoticed. "So", he said, "are you going to tell me why we're here?"

Smith smiled. "Just watch, boy", he said, "enjoy the show".

"I ask of you, now", the speaker said, his voice clear and strong, though with a distinctly hoarse quality to the sound, as though worn from use, "who among you is prepared to accept our Lord's blessing? Who among you is prepared to ask for His divine mercy?"

The audience remained silent. There was an air of tension in the hall, now – an obvious uncertainty. Each sat silent – as though afraid to speak. "Those of you in pain", he said. "know that there is nothing to fear. Step forward, now, and let the love of our Lord ease your burdens".

A soft murmur of conversation could be heard throughout the audience – each seeming to turn to their neighbor. "Our Lord has love enough in His heart for all of his most faithful children", the speaker voiced sounded clear even over the murmured conversations, "step forward now, and be healed!"

Throughout the audience, hands began to rise – though, the motion seemed tentative. A younger man moved down the aisle, eventually pausing by the side of a young woman and drawing her to her feet. She moved slowly and tentatively as she was lead toward the stage – keeping close by the young man's side, with one hand resting on his arm.

As the young woman came to stand before the speaker, Smith turned toward his young partner once more. "It's time", he said, speaking softly now, though it seems to serve no real purpose – no one had yet given any sign that they were even aware of the presence of the two men. "Just watch".

"What is it that troubles you, dear?", the speaker asked, a comforting hand coming to rest on the young woman's shoulder.

"It's my eyes", the young woman said, "my sight's been getting worse. The doctors tell me I'll be completely blind, soon enough."

Mister Smith stepped forward, then – moving to stand beside the speaker. His presence unnoticed by either. "Do you have faith in the Lord, dear?", the speaker asked.

"I do", was the young woman's response.

"Do you accept his blessing?"

"I do."

The speaker reached out, then – laying his hands upon the young woman. One covered her eyes, and the other resting against the back of her head. And, Mister Smith reached out, also – laying his own hands over the speaker's. No one seemed to notice. "Father in Heaven", the speaker's voice rang out clearly once more, his eyes closed and his face turned upwards, "I ask that you show this poor young woman mercy. Heal her, Lord. Restore her sight".

Both pairs of hands were drawn away, then. Smith moving back to stand beside his younger partner once more. Jones, who had been watching with a vaguely bemused expression, could only give a faint shrug of his shoulders – I still don't get it, his expression seemed to say, though Mister Smith simply smiled. All was silent in the large hall, now. A tense sort of anticipation had settled over the gathered crowd as the young woman opened her eyes. She blinked, and her gaze seemed to settle on the speaker directly for the first time. "I... I can see!"

A soft murmur ran through the crowd. Then someone, perhaps a member of the girl's own family, began to clap. Another joined. Then, soon, the sound of applause swept through the crowd. The young woman almost seemed to throw herself at the speaker, then – her arms around his neck. He stumbled back a step under her weight, but simply laughed. She broke away a moment later, and the speaker took her by the hand. Her cheeks clearly wet with tears, now, as the speaker lead her to the edge of the stage. The young man met her there, and led her back to her family.

"Alright, I don't get it", Mister Jones said. He spoke out against the cheering of an enthusiastic crowd yet, strangely, his voice was still clearly heard by his older partner. "Why are you wasting your time on someone like him? Since when do we do things like this?"

Smith just smiled. "Have a little faith, boy. It's all part of the plan".

Mister Smith and Mister Jones turned to watch the crowd once more. The sound of applause had begun to die down, now. Out in the audience, the young woman stood surrounded by her family. Jones watched silently, though his expression still clearly revealed his confusion.

Mister Smith simply laughed, though there was something a little off about the sound. It was a studied sound, with little genuine amusement. It gave the impression of something that was practiced in private. "Look at him", he said, "it's a pity we missed the speech. It would have been something special. 'God hates this' and 'God hates that'. Honestly, he thinks he's on their side", Smith points upward, "but, actually listen to him talk, and you'd swear he was one of us, already".

"Well, sure", Jones said, "he's heading downward. So what? We've already got him. We don't actually have to do anything".

"You really need to learn to think a little bigger, boy", was Mister Smith's response, "he's ours, sure but what about them?" Smith made a motion out toward the audience.

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, it's what we used to call a 'long con' back in the day, boy. He's already got himself a decent little group that listens when he talks", Smith allowed himself another smile, "but, if it starts to look like he actually does have a direct line up there, how many more people are going to start listening?"

"Huh?" Mister Jones was silent for a moment, "So, this isn't actually about him, then?"

"No. Try to catch up, boy", Mister Smith laughed – the sound was just as unnatural as the first time. "He's already ours. But, we can get some good use out of him, before the end".

The audience had fallen silent. The young woman and her family had taken their seats once more. The speaker returned to the podium, looking out over his audience, "who else is willing to receive the blessing of our Lord..."

© 2014 Dallas Matier

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