This is an excerpt of Nicholas Deitch's story from Volume 7: Oh, Fortuna!
On the edge of the CalTrans embankment, from under his makeshift shelter of tarp and frame, Willem Wiley sat in prayer, as he did most every evening, below him the streams of traffic whooshing by, taillights and headlamps beginning to glow. Children of the world, thousands of them, suffering, caught within their contraptions of metal and glass, too busy and fearful to notice the altar looming huge above the 405, the shape which, as a child, he had likened to a gigantic toasted Cheerio, set upon the roof of an innocuous little building.
The sun slipped lower across the sky, to wash the great torus in a darkening silhouette, until at last the rays of light pierced the altar’s void, winking brightly through the perfect circular hole to reveal the eye of God in all His Glory. In this, Willem took much comfort, and in the painted words of promise that arced above the sun-struck iris of the Maker’s watching gaze: RANDY’S DONUTS, 24 Hours.
He stared at the glowing eye and felt the heat of God’s presence on his person, burning him from within, purifying his bent and twisted soul, until at last the eye winked out as the sun slipped lower on the horizon, beyond the buildings and the tops of distant trees.
Willem sighed as God’s purifying heat slipped away, to leave him wanting of something more. A growling in his stomach, he stood and hoisted his dirt-stained pants and cinched his belt tight at the waist. He ran his fingers through his unwashed hair and tucked the loose strands behind his ears. He straightened his thread-worn tweed, and with his painted sign held beneath his arm, he started up the slope along the path that wound through trees and clumps of ice plant that edged the off-ramp, thick with cars of tired souls trying to make their way home.
At Manchester, he took his place along a narrow strip of curb and presented himself, gaunt, grizzled, and unshaven, before his congregation, strutting slowly past the idling cars, his parish of familiar faces, waiting for the light to change. Willem held his sign for each to see:
Hear the word of God
Your personal message, spoken through
The Right Reverend Willem Wiley
Complimentary blessing, 25 cents
A bow to each driver, the Reverend presented his sign with a flit of his outstretched hand, and a turn of his head. He called out, with a hand cupped to his mouth, “God’s blessing is yours, friend. The word of God, your personal message. Know his word, for you and you alone.” Most looked away, but some held his gaze, considering perhaps, his sanity or the horrible truth of his proposal.
A change of the light, and another wave of cars. A woman in a tan Lexus, familiar as she was, came to an abrupt halt and stared at him, a look of pain in her eyes. She cracked her window and he stepped closer, hopeful.
“You wish to receive God’s word, good woman?”
She nodded and pushed a bill through the opening and their fingers mingled as he freed the money from her grasp and turned his gaze skyward, his eyes rolling back, the clouds above skimmed with the red dust of the fading sun. A tremor ran through him, rising from the base of his spine up through his body into his arms. He shook and exhaled and bent close to look into the woman’s troubled eyes, beyond the curvature of the glass. She drew back.
“Dear woman, God speaks through me to you, that you must let go of earthly things, the lust in your heart, your coveting of your sister’s husband!”
“Oh!” She gasped, eyes wide, her lips moving.
“Hear God’s word, heed his command.”
The signal changed and the cars lurched forward, and she with them, glancing back in disbelief.
He watched her go, the car pushed forward by the chattel of impatient commuters. He looked down at the bill, a crisp twenty. A windfall, unexpected.
He turned toward the great altar beyond the freeway’s gash, glowing bright in the twilit sky, and a terrible hankering fell upon him, of bread and sugar. He set his sign in the shrubs and bent toward the altar and made his way across the bridge to stand before the giant O, looking up with arms outstretched.
“We give thanks to you, Great Maker of all that is good and right.”
Anxious and near-overcome with anticipation, he stood at the edge of the flock awaiting their turns at the small window illuminated from within. Willem paced about and mumbled and stood too close, and several of them stepped back, or glared and turned away.
At last he stood at the window of communion, almost trembling before a pimpled young man with a paper hat, who regarded him with some disdain.
“You got money to pay for something?”
Willem straightened. “Oh yes, Randolph.” He held the bill up, close to his chest, and considered the marvelous seduction of smells escaping through the window, of cinnamon and burnt sugar and bitter coffee. He could feel those behind him pressing closer with impatience.
“Name’s not Randolph, dude.” He wiped the counter between them with a dingy hand towel.
“So whatta ya want?”
“Ah, Randy! Good fellow.” Willem fingered the bill as he considered his request. “Please, provide us with a palette of your finest pastries.”
...to read the rest of Willem's tale, please purchase Volume 7 from Amazon or from our bookstore.
Nicholas is a writer, teacher, architect and social activist. Originally from Los Angeles, he now lives in Ventura, with his wife, Diana. Nick is an annual participant at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. In 2019, he was honored with the award for Best Work of Fiction, for his short story, “Grace Eternal.” He has been published in the Luna Review, the London literary journal, Litro, and the Santa Barbara Literary Journal.