Belting the Bible

Belting the Bible was initially written as a linear story. I then turned it into a piece of non-linear fiction using twine. You can read the linear version below or play the interactive version here:

John stared at the collar on his bed, it looked slightly less white than yesterday, almost cream set against the black of his clerical shirt. Today was D-Day +1, the day after Richard Davis came to town. He was on tour promoting his new book, Belting the Bible. Davis had taken to hiring out local town halls in the various small towns along the Bible belt, debating anyone who would challenge him. John was never one to shy away from a good scrap, and being a reverend of some 40 years he was well established. The day prior, he had stood on stage and defended his faith in front of a crowded, but familiar audience. Although he put up a good fight, the road-hardened Davis demolished him. Not one for deluding himself, even John could feel the room leaving him after about 20 minutes.

John tied on his collar and drove to work. He knew today would be hard. He recognised many of the faces in the audience of the debate and was certain to see them again today. He opened the heavy church door and stepped inside. Mary was there and… That was it. He would freely admit that his wasn’t the most popular church, but he expected more than one. Despite the vacancy, he made his way to the pulpit, cleared his throat and began to speak. To his surprise his collar was not only less white than it was yesterday, but somehow tighter.

Mary considered not attending today, it was a brief but very real moment of doubt. Since losing her dear Michael, her faith had been questioned. She found herself arguing with God almost daily, but consoled herself with what John had once said “Doubt is an intrinsic part of faith.” and that “Belief was a constant struggle between self-doubt and certainty.” Mary glanced at her cross over the bed, bowed her head and left for her 10 minute walk to the church. After 5 minutes, she stopped, frozen to the ground. She stared straight ahead. The world seemed to speed up exponentially the longer she was still. Her mind was flooded with thoughts of Michael, his voice, his face, the day he surprised her at the station with roses in his hand and love in his eyes. Slower this time and with a view behind tears, she began to walk again. Mary had heard of the debate, but wanted no part of it.  Already riddled with doubt, she vaguely remembered seeing Richard Davis debating on the news and found the red-faced narrow man thoroughly unlikeable. She secretly worried for John but resolved herself not to show it. She opened the church door and entered the empty void, sat in her usual spot and prayed for Michael.

Just as the words were about to leave his lips, John looked at Mary and folded his Bible. Placing his notes firmly inside he stepped down from his pulpit and sat beside her.

“Hello,” He said with a familiar calmness.

“Hello reverend, just us?” Mary replied.

“Looks likely,” John said shifting in the pew, his hands wringing slightly, “Were you at the debate last night?”

“No,” Mary said, almost before he had finished the question, “The idea of seeing that man on stage with you just felt wrong, ever since Michael I can’t…”

John pulled Mary close and whispered “It’s alright, I understand.”

“How did it go?” She inquired hopefully.

“Well…” John paused and evaluated his performance, “Take a look.” He turned to look at the vacant pews behind them, gesturing with his eyes “Could’ve been better.” He said smiling.

Mary gave the usual consolatory words she was known for, she somehow always knew what say to everyone else but herself. After a brief moment of silence John made his way to the pulpit to gather his notes, returning quickly he unfolded them onto Mary’s lap.

“That’s it, that’s what I had planned to say.”

Mary looked down, flipped the paper over and back again.

“There’s nothing here?” She puzzled.

“I had nothing prepared. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Whenever I began to write, the words felt like they were someone else’s. I was ready to speak about belief and how faith can overcome all obstacles, how faith can carry you further than you could ever think possible.”

“And?” Mary questioned.

“The debate,” John sighed, “I just can’t stop thinking about what Davis said.”

Richard sat in the vacant airport, the carpet stretched into the horizon, grey with anonymous detail throughout. Focussed steely on his laptop he read the comments section of his website to gauge the reaction to his brief, but memorable visit “Charitable Correspondence” he liked to call them.

“Haha bitch, no you are not an Atheist you are a GAYtheist lolol, they should call you Richard Dickins cuz you’re so busy sucking off Bill Maher and those Labour party dipshits, you can’t do anything else. Oh and your science books are shit, but not as shit as God Diluted, dude it was so poorly written it was a waste of toilet paper motherfucker lol and your website sucks ass big time biatch, don’t worry I will be back trolling your stupid ass website hahahahahaha.”

Richard closed his laptop, quite proud of himself. He was used to this kind of reaction by now, especially any received anonymously. He looked up at the departure board, his plane was scheduled to leave in 10 minutes. After packing his things he made his way to the gate and joined a rather glum looking attendant. “Passport please.” She said instinctively. Richard handed over his tattered passport, heavy with the ink of hundreds of airport stamps. She gave it a cursory glance, as if longer might turn her to stone, and allowed him onto the plane. He took his seat and carefully placed his belongings in the overhead compartment. As his head touched the headrest of his chair, the glum looking flight attendant appeared at the front of the plane, looking resolutely less glum. Her face appeared bright red, panic carved across her face.

“WE’RE DOOMED!!!” she shouted with a viscerally high pitch.

John and Mary sat with each other in silent prayer, doubt filling their minds as they tried to make sense of the thoughts they were having. John was changed, he felt it this morning, he was different. The world at least for him, had changed. Mary felt it too. The usual kind reassurances she had come to expect from him were absent and instead a contemplative solemnity overwhelmed him. Davis had not only won the debate but had also taken John’s faith. He felt unable to reconcile the crushing doubt he was experiencing with the symbol he was clutching in his hand. As these thoughts lingered, it became a book, with words, pages and ink, bound together with lies and superstition. He released his grip on it and it fell open as it hit the wooden floor of the church. Bitter liberation swelled inside him, tears came to his eyes and he looked at Mary.

“Can it be?” He said begging for an answer.

“Have I been wrong this entire time?” He rested his head in his hands and stared through the floor.

“I have felt the same for some time.” admitted Mary, “Michael was taken from me, the cancer… played with us, in remission it let me hope he would be ok, why did God toy with us like that?”

John could only manage a brief return to his position of reverend before the habit gave up, at which point he placed both arms around her and said “It’ll be ok,” He lied to her, and for the first time on purpose.

Richard sat fixed to his seat, his eyes transfixed on the argument and hysterics taking place in front of him. It was then that a tsunami of panic and fear swelled through the fuselage, dilating the pupils of those in its path. News of an impending asteroid impact flooded the cabin. Imminent cataclysmic destruction was reported through Chinese whispers to where Richard sat. Richard grabbed his belongings from the overhead compartment and then threw everything on his seat as he realised the pointlessness of burdening himself. He looked around at the other passengers frantically fumbling for their phones and removed his from his pocket, then sheepishly slid it back inside his trousers and made his way sideways through to the front of the plane. After managing to convince the unresponsive flight attendant to leave too, he succeeded in making his way off the plane. Somehow he found himself being the last person to leave the tunnel despite being one of the first to leave the plane. Standing at the exit of the tunnel he waited as the 30 or so passengers tumbled ahead of him. NASA vectors and trajectories emanated from a screen above the gate. The local news reporter, who chaired Richard’s debate, was sitting in front of a diagram featuring concentric circles with fading shades of red expanding from the middle. At the centre, the point of impact, the reddest point, was the town Richard Davis found himself in. “Running would be even more ridiculous than trying to call a loved one.” he thought, “There isn’t enough time to get clear of the blast.” If the reports were true he had about 20 minutes left on the planet. The thought turned his hands cold with terror. He was quite calm on the plane, comparatively at least, but now with the last of the passengers trailing off into the distance he just stood there. It was the first time since touring his new book that he had been truly stumped. He had no answers, no quick rebuttal; no quip, turn of phrase or joke could save him. “What could?” he whispered.

John was still sat with his arms around Mary as Richard entered the church. News of their impending demise had reached them by way of the hundreds of people now crawling around inside the church looking for answers. Some asked “Why?” Others asked only for forgiveness. Richard navigated his way through the “I told you so!” glances of the congregated masses to John.

John’s world had already come to an end. His asteroid was now stood in front of him looking for answers.

“What happens now?” Richard said with a begging reluctance. “What should I do?”

John picked up the bible from the floor, opened it and handed him his notes for the day’s sermon.