He Says There Will Be Fire || Jessica Ripka

          He says there will be fire. Tongues of fire raining down from heaven. He says this into a microphone – nearly spitting while pacing the same stretch of stained carpet. I am ten and shifting in a folding chair while smoothing the hem of my cotton shorts. Shorts I’m allowed to wear in church because it’s a weekday. Because it’s Bible Camp. Because it’s just me and my dad performing as musical guests for a week at a low-slung church in Smithtown, WV. The man keeps pacing and spitting. The microphone cord trails behind him like a trained snake and I shift my tongue in my mouth trying to picture it as a flame licking the ground.

          He says yawning is from the Devil and we need to wake up from our sleep. He has us stand in a wide circle and close our eyes with our small palms facing up towards the flickering fluorescent lights. want to hold the hand of my friend next to me because I want whatever is happening to happen to both of us at the same time. She is my age and has the same color hair but has more siblings than I do and is homeschooled. Earlier in the day we had visited another girl our age down the street who had blond hair. The blondhaired girl and all of her siblings took swigs of PeptoBismol straight from the bottle while watching daytime television. They’d kick their heads back with each gulp then wipe the pink from their mouths – offering me the bottle like some kind of holy communion I couldn’t accept. Her older sister had remained under a blanket on the sofa with a boy, shifting slowly and making sounds. We’d invited all of them to church but only the blondhaired girl had agreed to come.

          He says we need to be filled with the holy spirit and speak in tongues. His hands hover above each of our foreheads, trembling and damp. The blond girl falls over backwards as though she were a door hinged open, swinging flat to the floor. A woman who teaches Sunday School catches her quickly and eases her to the ground, whispering prayers I can only hear because of the s sounds. Yesssss Lord. Praissssse you Father. My friend next to me lets out a disappointed sigh – as though she has been passed by. I sigh, too, and wait to feel the power like the blond girl. We want to fall to the floor and be baptized. We want the tongue of fire to come and lick us clean. We want to believe.