Uncategorized | July 28, 2004

An excerpt from Kris Lackey’s short story, “Father White in the Torrid Zone,” originally published in TMR 24:3 (2001) and now available online. Lackey’s fiction has appeared in a variety of journals and his non-fiction book, Road Frames: The American Highway Narrative, is published by the University of Nebraska Press.
A vision of his rectory at St. Jude’s, a beech-shaded, faux-Tudor cottage of black brick, sent a pang of nostalgic fury up the priest’s neck. In the Michigan version of summer, its large windows let in cool breezes from Lake Michigan, fragrant with Broaddus’ Queen Elizabeth roses. In winter—he would see no more winter or children—its steep, slated gables shed snow like rain; they stood black and signal against the town’s pallid gloom. Deep in his paneled study he sat, through all sea-sons, beating down his robust heterosexuality with Nietzsche and Niebuhr, Camus and Mann. Snug among his books, he had matched wits with atheists and believers alike. He considered himself an enlightened Christian, well versed in the secular thought of his age—a man who could reconcile faith in Christ with what passed, in his books, for the Absurd.
But there were more things in Louisiana than were dreamt of by Father White’s philosophers. With the helipad in sight, the priest stopped in the manicured cemetery to pull out his handkerchief and mop his face. He cast a worried look toward the orange-vested convicts, some of whom did indeed seem to be clustered near the lagoon. Replacing his wet hankie in his hip pocket, he suddenly felt a crawling sensation on his calves. "Formication." The word drifted into mind as he stared toward the lagoon: the sensation that ants are crawling on the skin. He imagined it to be a harbinger of heat stroke. But the very instant he looked down and saw that his shoes looked wet, hundreds of fire ants—creatures whose existence was known in Michigan only to television viewers—heeded a mystic signal in unison and injected his legs with venom.