Pull up a chair and hearken to the tale of the Great Drought of ’94
“Skeptical?” piped up the old timer. “Of course I’m flaming skeptical, ye addlepated mudfish!
“Aye, but it wasn’t always so. I was a dour and solemn Presbyterian from birth onwards, and bar the whisky, gossip columns, loose floozies and muckraking, a devout one too! But all this changed suddenly in the winter of ’94, twenty years ago, when Auckland was struck by drought.
“It was a fearful time. The people were downcast and grimy, and dirt and dust grew on the city like a blight, until you could scarce tell a regional authority from a whorehouse, resulting in all manner of dire ruction and scandal, driving middle-management to the limits of despair and provoking the wrath of the waterblasting community.
“I sought spiritual comfort during the crisis by moving into the Protestant and Trumpet Pub, where I followed the drought’s progress by radio and word of mouth, buttressing myself against evil with 17 barrels of ale and religious austerities.
“It might have been a straightforward drought, but a gimp appeared in the scenario when the North Shore City Council imported a wizard from the pagan South Island wop wops to perform rain-making ceremonies. A simple measure, you might think, to divert the suffering masses from their woe.
“But plagues from heaven upon me if as soon as the news broke the blasted Christians didn’t arise in a spluttering fit of hellfire and damnation, claiming that such heretical pranks were proof that the country had gone to the Devil, and forthwith raised such an almighty hullaballoo of scriptural vociferation that by the time the wizard landed the Council had already taken heed of the Christian catchcall, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” and quelled the pitchfork and torch uprising by cancelling the performance.
“I was flabbergasted, and even the publican, Haggis McDonnagle, was visibly shaken, stating right then and there that he was considering changing the name of the pub to the Secular Humanist, for in all his born days he’d never seen a witch, wizard or soothsayer with any more flair for the miraculous than a card shark, and to ban such blarney was nothing short of idiocy multiplied.
“But the wizard wasn’t unemployed for long. The barbarian villages north of the city thought it madness to let an available wizard slip through their fingers and thereupon hired him, leaving the North Shore City Council looking like a prize-winning jackass.
“By now the Christians were nigh delirious with joyous condemnation. It wasn’t often they got a chance to go rabid over devil worship and they meant to make the most of it.
“For days the talkback lines ran hot with seething Born Agains, witnessing for the Lord and staking their souls on the blood of the Lamb that the whole country was in the grip of Satan, and unless we clung to the True Vine and threw ourselves down at the feet of the Lord, the Deceiver himself would drag us into the black pits of Hell wherein we would rot in unspeakable anguish until the end of time.
“By now it had been raining for several days. I tell you, if the cat wasn’t among the pigeons now it would never get much closer, for lo and behold — both sides claimed responsibility for the miracle!
“The Christians held that the extra energy they had to put in to counteract the forces of darkness brought forth the Mercy of God. And forsooth, the Presence was strong! The halls of the pentecostals were abuzz with the Unknown Tongue, and rumour has it even non-pentecostals were heard to glossolate, and I’d be prepared to bet money — I take that back, Haggis would be prepared to bet money — that the Graph of Visions and Apparitions showed an upward curve through this period.
“The wizard himself took no credit; the peasants did it for him. He departed secretly, as fast as possible, saying little but to remark that if fools were kiwifruit we could start a new export industry, or something to that effect, for between the jet engines, caterwauling Christians and the Morris dancers it was hard to hear much of anything, and all told the whole dadblanged circus was such an unearthly blaze of flailing sticks and Biblical injunctions that objective observation may not even be applicable in this case.
“Me and Haggis drank a tragic amount of whisky thinking about these things and ten days later resolved, as witnessed by Mrs McDonnagle, to suspend judgement on the Tree of the Unseen until it yielded a visible persimmon; arguing that invisible anti-persimmons didn’t constitute enough evidence to lynch tarot card readers.
“As I say, it was many years ago and the details are hazy; but by crikey, I’ve been on the alert ever since. So hark ye doorknocking gospelizer — if you or any other evangelical hot-air agent ever darkens my front porch again, I’ll flatten your cursed head with a spade.”