Blue police lights pop as torches lead the way off a dusty trail outside the city. The October sky is filled with stars, and underneath the heavens all the regulars have assembled: Jesus, Satan, the Four Horsemen, and Jared Swilley.
It's that silly time of year to celebrate the ghost, goblins, and Halloween hocus-pocus, so in a break from the typical Barfly, I'm tagging along with Black Lips' lead and rock 'n' roll bad boy, Swilley, as we try to scare some religion into his heathen bones with some help from John the Apostle.
Every fall, the good congregation of Mount Vernon Baptist Church orchestrates an elaborate evangelical haunted trail of sorts. About 350 volunteer do-gooders transform some tax-exempt Stockbridge acreage into a winding drama of epic, good vs. evil proportions. But none of that Ten Commandments and water-into-wine Sunday school lesson-plan stuff; this is the Tribulation Trail, and the Rapture is upon us.
It's an OTP Saturday night and Henry County's finest are waving us into a church parking lot overflowing with hundreds of bubbly Christian 'tweens, teens and chaperons. With the carnivorous carnival smell of hot dogs and hamburgers, and an on-site broadcast of the Fish 104.7, all the meats are covered for some righteous revelry.
Swilley smartly nixes the uncouth tailgating idea and off we go to get the bejesus scared out of us. The Trib, as a hip youth minister might call it, is a guided 30-minute walk through the woods, with a Jerry Bruckheimer-esque live action retelling of the seven years after the Rapture. As a delinquent preacher's son, Swilley is likely better versed in the good book than most claiming Christianity. "The whole Book of Revelations is like some dudes acid trip," he explains in rock 'n' roll terminology.
Sensing our hell-raising abilities, no doubt, they usher us past the three-hour line of good souls and up to the group of 50 that are about to start the journey. A 74-year-old granny soothsayer with a spooky Southern grumble forewarns everyone, "This current economic situation is definitely a sign of the Apocalypse."
"She's right," Swilley concurs with a hint of sarcasm, "that Bubonic Plague was just child's play."
Throughout the intricate trail, the painstaking effort of these not-ready-for-primetime players is apparent. A 7th grade art-teacher-looking Jesus swoops in and shepherds away the saved. The New World Order they have created for us left behind nonbelievers is like a white Tyler Perry movie — intense, lesson-laden, and not really for everybody. But it's comedic, nonetheless.
Through a staged town of chaos, we spot tattoo parlors, abortion clinics, and a juke joint named Player's Club with three black teenagers in wife-beaters lingering about. No sign of Bishop Eddie Long, though.
In a nutshell, the world is a mess and it's getting worse, as explained by the Skeletor Antichrist with the Lil' Wayne vocoder voice. But another Jesus in Tevas saves the day by casting He-Man's nemesis away.
We're some 1007 odd years past the Rapture when the most badass antagonist ever, Darth Maul Satan, returns for one final scare tactic. This time Marshall Tucker Jesus shuts him down before explaining that just being a "good person" isn't going to get us into heaven. Christianity is the only way. Sorry, Jews.
Swilley's agnostic heart isn't swayed as he retreats to use the port-o-potty during the final group prayer. Lord, help his bladder.
Whether you believe organized religion is hocus-pocus superstition or the lighted path is your business; I'm just pissed they didn't think of having Jehovah's Witnesses chase us to our car. Now that would've been some scary shit.