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“Baptized” by Dan Crawley

Elijah is next to climb into the baptistry tank, the kind of tank you would see at a carnival that dunks your obnoxious sister, or dorky dad, or clowns, and he knows his mother is bananas over him being baptized by The Cross and the Switchblade pastor, probably the most famous pastor in the country, probably the whole world, and there is his mother now in the front row, her goofy grin threatening to split the rest of her wide open, with all of her arm waving and glories to God, and Elijah wishes she would stop making a scene, thank you very much, mostly because he notices Heather Dampier a few seats down from his mother in the front row, and realizes he is naked under the long white robe the deacon had given him to wear, along with a new pair of tighty-whities so his own underwear would stay dry, but Elijah hates tighty-whities, only baggy boxers for him, never thinking about how thin the robe is when wet, as it is now floating around his half-submerged naked body like a billowing parachute, or how it will stick to his skin when he climbs out of the water, like it stuck to that old man baptized before Elijah, giving the whole congregation a gross show of the old man’s droopy tighty-whities before the deacon handed him a towel no bigger than a washcloth, or about the possibility that she, Heather Dampier, the only one who calls him Eli and buys him the brand new Bubble Yum at the church bookstore after services, would see everything before Elijah had a chance to grab the towel, realizing what a little kid he is, a little baby, really, and leave the service with the forever image of Elijah’s little baby EVERYTHING, but even worse is that her brother Tony Dampier, a boy constantly bragging about his boner this and boner that, also will see his little baby EVERYTHING from somewhere out in the crowd, and the unmerciful teasing Elijah will endure for eternity is too much, although Tony’s bragging does give Elijah an idea how to stay in the water until Heather and Tony and everyone else goes home, but only if The Cross and the Switchblade pastor cooperates once he is done praying with what his mother calls the smooth, buttery voice before the dunking, but Elijah can not wait another second and interrupts the smooth, buttery voice, calling out, Oh, save me, save me, save me and clutches the pastor’s arm, noticing the most famous pastor in the world wears a hawaiian printed shirt and swim trunks under his flimsy robe, and whispers close to the pastor’s ear that he has popped a boner, a really big one, and no way can anyone see it, especially in a church, and Elijah begs the most famous pastor in the world to Save me, save me, like you saved those gangsters without a gun, or a knife, or anything but a cross, and then Elijah whispers, Please, make them all leave, please, which causes the pastor’s wincing eyes and gleaming smile, the smooth, buttery voice, to turn to the congregation and ask everyone for their Patience and forgiveness but you all need to go out into the foyer so I can minister to the boy, which causes Elijah’s mother to burst out in a thunderous, guttural cry, which causes Heather to wipe her own eyes, which causes everyone in white robes waiting in the super long line behind Elijah to shake their heads and glare at him, which causes Elijah to dunk his own head under the water to escape, hearing only the muffled drone of sin and shame and how Hell will probably sound once he is there, but soon realizes being under the water is not so bad, really, with the warm surroundings bobbing him around like a jellyfish in a smooth, buttery current, his safe place for the rest of his life, sure–then suddenly, cruelly, Elijah is yanked back up to the surface as if caught in a net to face the smooth, buttery voice and wincing eyes, an empty auditorium, a glowering deacon thrusting a tiny towel into his face, and after covering as much as he can, Elijah scrambles into the office and changes back into his dry clothes, hoping to sneak out and maybe hitchhike to another state, or country, any place to avoid his mother’s thundering, guttural cry, but, of course, there she is waiting for him outside the office door, her eyes red-rimmed, her arms reaching and reaching out to grab him, going bananas over the glorious awakening the whole congregation beheld that holy night, how everyone in the foyer buzzed about witnessing the Holy Spirit overcome Elijah, how the most famous pastor in the whole world took the time to minister with the boy in the divine presence of God and Jesus and the angels and My Elijah, my miraculous boy, my Abram transformed and renamed Abraham, prompting Elijah to say he would rather have his name changed to Eli, not Abraham, thank you very much.

Dan Crawley is the author of Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019) and The Wind, It Swirls (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2021). His writing appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Milk Candy Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere.


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