Terp swayed with the rhythm of the pounding piano, the well-melded bass voices and the ethereal sweeter-than-birdsong women’s voices. As they began the jubilant Hallelujah part of the refrain, an angry roar swooped in. Singing stopped and children screamed as the freight train roar deafened them. They watched the roof over their heads lift and swirl away into the yellow-tinged black sky as they held hands and prayed aloud. Easter Program announcement flyers flutter down among them. Hail started stinging faces, hopping and popping on the littered paper.
The tornado twisted up into the ominous clouds and soon the adventurous folks of the congregation went outside as others swept and assessed the interior. Terp joined the outside crew and they found the only damage to the church was the missing roof. He stared at the broad car-less strip across the middle of the parking lot, with intact cars and pick-ups on either side. The Preacher’s house, the two beyond it and the little post office were piles of splinters and porcelain fixtures with clothing strewn everywhere like bizarre ornaments.
Terp wiped tears with the swipe of his sleeve. He jerked from the destruction and walked behind the church to look past the cemetery. The farmhouse across the dale looked untouched. A ray of sun shined on a brown and white cow that returned his gaze. He heard the Preacher and his wife walking among their wrecked home sobbing with the twin girls held at the edge, screaming that they needed to find their Nintendo games. His mind felt blown to the four winds at the same terrific force as the tornado; he could not think. There seemed to be nobody hurt, a miracle. He said a few goodbyes and walked swiftly up the road until out of sight. He went home.
Argento, the Choir Master, appeared at the pavilion arch and marched over. “Terpsander, you missed the singing in of the newest Archangel. You know your voice is unmistakable and quite conspicuous by its absence. The effrontery!” He crossed his arms and tapped a toe. “Have you naught to say?”
Terp had sat on the cold, hard stone floor too long anyway. He arose stiffly and bowed to the shorter man. “I apologize Master Argento, I got lost in thinking about something that happened recently. I missed the event without malice or hubris, only from carelessness.” He stood straight. “Do you think I should go tell Yownay how sorry I am?”
“Your attitude is uncalled for. I doubt she’d appreciate your brazen mockery.”
He shrugged; he’d been sincere. “I honor her promotion. May I make amends some way?”
Argento started to pace on the tessellated paving. He stopped abruptly in front of Terp. “I have been granted permission to go down and aid a small group of Kentucky faithful. Seems their church is missing a roof and some houses are kindling. Do you know anything about that?”
Terp peered into his eyes seeking evidence of a cruel ruse or tease. “I do, yes. I held hands with the others in that church as it happened. You knew?”
Argento relaxed a little. “Terp, I cannot reveal my source. We may go help.”
“We? That’s a real surprise.”
“The one who is aware of your above-the-law activities suggested it.”
“Are you going to supervise me?”
“You are going to clue me in on how to move, how to communicate, the vernacular in use. I have never been down there, not anywhere. I trust you are willing?”
Grinning, Terp held out his hand and they made the deal.
On a beautifully cool and sunny Spring Wednesday morning, two angels descended to Earth, stuck their hands into their brown jacket pockets and hiked toward the church in question. They heard the commotion before they saw it. Rounding the corner, Terp saw ladders lined up on the wall of the building. Each ladder had somebody on it with a rock in one fist, clutching the top rung with the other. The rocks appeared to be tethered to a huge blue tarp bunched up in front of them.
Terp recognized the Preacher running the activity. “Not until I say ‘throw’, okay? We all have our rocks back? Great. Over the top and all the way across, right? Like pitching baseball! One, two, three, throw!”
They’d erected rudimentary truss over the roof that might hold the weight of the tarp. Terp and Argento strolled up and joined in the applause as the tossers climbed down.
“Excuse me, Reverend Barlow, I don’t know if you remember but I got hailed in the face with the rest of you last Sunday, I’m Tom. This is my friend Gene. We came by to see if you needed any help.”
“Let me get this cover pulled over and fastened down and we’ll have a chance to talk. Don’t go away!”
As he trotted to the far side of the building, the woman with a silver-gray braid to her waist that had played the piano waved at them, motioning them to the food table.
“Sister Dolores! Meet Gene, a friend from school. Gene, you should hear this woman make one piano sound like six.” Terp nodded toward the roof work. “The money is spread too thin ’cause of the extensive damage from Pikeville to St. Louis, isn’t it?”
Dolores held out a tray with a few cinnamon rolls left on it, but the men shook their heads. “You know it, son. Y’all get any damage up your way?”
“No ma’am, you wouldn’t know there’d been a storm. Isn’t that right, Gene?”
“We were thinking about having a big fundraiser. Gene’s a great singer and I can carry a tune, so we can join in if you allow us.” Terp’s smile fell as she poked her bottom lip out.
“Boys, where you going to have that fundraiser? How you going to get the word out? What can we do that everybody around here hasn’t heard before? Have you ever run something like this? I played session in Nashville for years and I know good and well that you can’t wish a show into reality. Do you have a real plan or just pie in the sky?” She gave them a ‘you idiots’ look when they didn’t reply and shouted, “Verna! Verna, we need you!”
A magenta-haired young woman in a bright pink pair of overalls left the clothes gathering excitement at the Preacher’s house and put her phone in her front pocket before getting very close. “Dolores, I can text and look for panties in the woodpile at the same time. And gentlemen, how do you do?” She took Terp’s hand and held it. “I remember you, Tommy.”
Dolores persuaded a connection in Nashville to bring up their outdoor soundstage package. They set it up with the pine green backdrop between the tarped church and the house remains such that when the camera pulled back to view the crowd, both would be in the frame. KET set up the filming, and said the show might be shown on public stations across the country. Verna arranged for seventeen church groups from all over the state to get transportation and coordinated twelve local church groups. Four local restaurants and seven chains with banners that fought for attention provided food for all starting on Good Friday.
“Well, Gene, have you learned anything about these folks yet?” The church grounds were kept clear for the eager audience. The farmer across the way allowed his fields to be filled with rows and rows of tents. Terp and the Choir Master sat behind the church on the pews that had been taken from inside for the singers.
“Do you think all the ones who committed to be here will actually make it here?”
“Sure. Verna’s posting all the names and places and progress, and most groups are posting from where they are. She said she had over 1200 followers as of dinner. Who would renege with all of that?”
“So many services and businesses have donated. Where did the speakers from here to Farmer Bob’s come from? The Red Cross is here, the National Guard for security, and the money for rebuilding is pouring in. We did nothing!”
“I heard a children’s choir sing a song once, it was about how a mere spark can get a fire going. That’s how it is with love, my friend.” He leaned back and surveyed the grand arrangements. “The weather report forecasts a magnificent sunrise.”
“I’d love to see them sing in the dawn on Easter morn. Alas, we must get back and attend our own duties. I have to coordinate the transmissions of worldwide Easter celebrations for the Archangels’ grand exhibit at the Promenade.”
Oh, how Terp resisted that awful thought. In a few scant hours one church after another would sing about their love of Jesus Christ, all with joy and energy. He wanted the visceral experience of the wind and the laughter and the miscues that always accompanied live performances, not an edited set-piece. “You go ahead; I’ll come back in plenty of time for our next service.”
Argento raised a pointed finger at Terp. “I’ve been warned that you come down here and get into trouble. Don’t! And we had best not see you on exhibit!”