Sunday, August 24, 2008


By Douglas J. Eboch

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. A rather large but perfectly harmless spider has made his home in the rafters of the little church’s sanctuary where he keeps himself fat and happy catching flies and mosquitoes. Last Sunday however, the spider decided to take a trip down to the floor. Perhaps the hunting had been bad in the rafters of late or perhaps he was moved by the hymn the choir was singing. Who can really understand the mind of a spider, after all.

Kevin and Jill Boyer were seated behind Henrietta Miggins that morning. Kevin had dozed off, as he frequently did during church service. Since he wasn’t snoring, Jill let him sleep. Meanwhile, Henrietta, a dignified and dour sixty-nine year-old wearing a wide brimmed hat topped by three large fake flowers, frowned at the hymn selection. Choir director Shane Reed favored bouncy, jazzy hymns. Henrietta thought “bouncy” and “jazzy” were attributes more suited to cheap dance clubs than to church service.

As Henrietta frowned and Jill tapped her feet happily to the music, the spider descended on his thin strand of web. His trajectory took him a few inches in front of Jill’s face. Jill was not a fan of spiders. When it came into her field of view, she jumped, barely managing to stifle a small squeal.

The spider continued his decent unperturbed. Jill shimmied and gyrated like a gymnast having a seizure to avoid the little arachnid. Her flailing right hand bumped the brim of Henrietta’s hat, tilting it at a rakish angle. Henrietta turned with an icy stare. She was not rakish and did not appreciate such an adjustment to her headwear.

Jill leaned in to apologize, being careful to give the spider a wide berth. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “there’s a…”

“Shush!” Henrietta hissed, cutting Jill off. Henrietta believed one should sit and listen respectfully in church no matter how outlandish the musical selection was.

The spider had reached the floor. Jill pulled her knees up to her chest to keep her feet away from it. She elbowed Kevin in the arm.

Kevin awoke with a snort and looked over at her. “What?” he hissed.

Henrietta turned and gave the Boyers another “shush.” When she turned back, Kevin stuck his tongue out at her.

Jill pointed frantically down at the floor where the spider was meandering around exploring this new territory. Kevin rolled his eyes and stepped on the spider.

The spider managed to slip into the small space between Kevin’s sole and heel, thus avoiding being crushed. The near death experience got the little creature’s arachnid adrenaline pumping on all cylinders. As soon as Kevin lifted his foot, it scurried forward as fast as it could.

Jill gestured frantically for Kevin to finish the job. The spider had vanished under the pew in front of them. Kevin rolled up the bulletin and slipped down on his hands and knees to pursue. He could see the spider crawling along the edge of Henrietta’s shoe. He reached forward to smack it with the bulletin.

He missed.

However he did manage to swat Henrietta’s foot. She looked down and saw his hand, but did not see the spider. She did not know what kind of shenanigans he was up to, but she was certain they were quite rude and inappropriate. She placed her foot on his hand, not firmly enough to cause pain, but firmly enough to trap him. Then she turned back to Jill with an expression that said a great many things, none of them particularly nice.

Jill opened her mouth to explain. Henrietta shushed her.

Thinking the issue resolved for the time being, Henrietta released Kevin’s hand. When she placed her foot back onto the floor, however, the spider climbed on to her shoe.

The spider did not stop there. He climbed up onto her ankle. Henrietta felt the ticklish pull on her panty hose and looked down.

Henrietta was no more a fan of spiders than Jill. The sight of the eight-legged creature crawling up her shin caused her to jump to her feet with a yelp.

The choir had just completed the hymn, so Henrietta’s outburst happened as the sanctuary fell quiet. Everyone looked at her. Startled and embarrassed, Henrietta did the only thing she could think of. She raised her hands and said “Hallelujah.” Then she quickly sat back down.

Choir Director Shane Reed smiled. He knew Henrietta was not the type to express enthusiasm in church, or anywhere else for that matter. He figured she must have really loved the hymn to do something so uncharacteristic. He made a mental note to pick similar upbeat music in the future.

Meanwhile, the spider had jumped off Henrietta’s leg and was scurrying toward a pillar to return to the rafters. He’d had enough of exploring the lower parts of the sanctuary to last him quite a while.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Practice Makes Miracles

by Douglas J. Eboch

Hear the story read by the author

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. This year, choir director Shane Reed organized a church softball team called The Miracles to play in the Normal Interdenominational Summer Softball League.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon The Miracles gathered at a city park for their first practice. Shane arrived early with a cooler of water and sports drinks. Del Winslow, a heavyset sixty-two year-old member of the choir, was already waiting for him.

“Great day for playing ball, eh coach?” Del called out as he approached.

“Sure is,” Shane agreed.

Del swung his arms vigorously from side to side to loosen up. “If you need any help today, I was captain of my college intramural baseball team, you know.”

Shane did know. Del had told him on at least three occasions. Shane thanked Del for his generous offer.

Pastor Henry O’Donnell’s car pulled into the parking lot. Henry, his fifteen year-old daughter Katie, her boyfriend Joe and her best friend Tabitha piled out. Katie and Tabitha looked excited to be there. Henry did not. Joe looked sullen and bored, but then he was a teenage boy so Shane figured that was probably his normal expression.

Del noticed the shiny, unblemished mitts the newcomers were carrying. “Are those new?” he asked Henry.

“Yeah,” Henry replied. “We swung by a sporting goods store on the way over.”

“Make sure you oil them,” Del instructed, “And tonight put a ball in each one and put rubber bands around them. It will help shape them.”

“Will do,” Henry said, but in fact the mitts would spend the night forgotten in the trunk of his car.

Before long the rest of the team had arrived: hard core amateur athlete Kevin Boyer, his new coworker Thad Wheeling, and bubbly, rotund Missy Moore. Missy brought homemade brownies to celebrate their first practice. As a result, they didn’t get started quite as quickly as Shane had planned.

“All right, let’s warm up,” Shane called out when the pan of brownies was reduced to a pan of crumbs. “Pair up and toss the ball around.”

As the players began warming up, Shane got his first look at his team’s skills. There was some cause for concern. Katie was playing catch with Tabitha. Katie could throw the ball okay, but whenever Tabitha threw it back, Katie would squeal and dodge instead of catching it. Shane had the two girls move closer together and instructed Tabitha to throw underhand until Katie wasn’t as afraid of the ball.

As he turned away from them, he noticed that Del was red-faced and sweating. “You all right, Del?” Shane asked.

“Oh sure, Coach,” Del responded. “Bit warm today, isn’t it?”

Shane actually thought it was pleasantly cool but he agreed with Del’s assessment just to be polite.

Kevin and Thad were a bright spot, making crisp, clean throws back and forth. And Joe looked like he might be pretty decent, even if his method of communication consisted mostly of annoyed grunts.

After twenty minutes or so, Shane called for a break. Del hustled over to the cooler and downed a bottle of bright red sports drink. After he finished, he whispered to Shane, “We’ve got some work to do to get this team in shape, eh coach?”

Shane smiled and nodded, then called for everyone to gather around. “We’ll take it easy since it’s our first practice,” Shane told them. “Let’s take the field and we’ll rotate through hitting.” He then assigned them each positions.

Shane put himself on second base. Del had insisted on playing first base as he had in college. They jogged out to their places. When Del reached first base, he bent over, hands on his knees, and sucked in big gulps of air.

“You okay, Del?” Shane called out.

“Fine,” Del responded, quickly straightening up. “Boy, I’ve missed the ol’ ball park.”

Pastor O’Donnell came running up to Shane.

“You’re supposed to be in right field,” Shane told him.

“I know, but there’s a bee hive over there,” the pastor said.

“Don’t be a wimp,” Del said between gasps, “bees won’t sting unless provoked. Don’t bother
them, they won’t bother you.”

Pastor O’Donnell didn’t look convinced but he returned to his position.

They each took turns going up to bat. Kevin, the pitcher, threw in pitches until each batter hit one, at which time the fielders practiced throwing to the correct base. Usually that base was first which meant Del was getting quite a workout. Shane grew more concerned as Del’s face grew more red. “Do you need a break,” he called over.

“Me?” Del asked. “No, no. I’m just beginning to get into the groove.” He flashed Shane a thumbs up and grinned as sweat dripped from his nose.

Most batters got a hit within two or three pitches. Then came Katie’s turn.

Katie’s fear of the ball was not just limited to catching it. Kevin took it easy on her, tossing pitches in as gently as he could. Still, she yelped and ducked every time. After a few dozen attempts, Shane could tell the team’s patience was wearing thin.

Shane jogged over to Katie. She was clearly embarrassed.

“It’s okay,” he told her. “Just relax. Kevin’s going to pitch nice and slow. The ball won’t hurt you. Just try to keep your eye on it and swing when it gets close. Think you can do that for me?”

Katie looked into Shane’s big blue eyes. Shane didn’t know it, but Katie had a little crush on him. She nodded.

Shane jogged back to second. Katie took a deep breath and planted her feet firmly. She was going to swing at this pitch no matter what. Kevin tossed the gentlest, slowest lob he could manage. Katie closed her eyes and swung.

Amazingly, the bat connected right in the sweet spot. Katie hit a nifty line drive right down the first base line. Del waved his glove half-heartedly toward it, but it skipped past him. Katie opened her eyes and asked Missy, the catcher, “what happened?”

“You hit it!” Missy shouted. “Run!” Katie took off toward third base.

Meanwhile, the ball bounced toward pastor O’Donnell. He scrambled forward to catch it. It rolled between his legs. He reached back, snagged it, and turned to throw toward first. But as he released the ball, his legs got tangled and he fell on his backside. The ball sailed off in a completely unintended direction - right toward the bee hive.

The ball struck the beehive and it exploded in a shower of honeycomb and bees. The buzzing of the angry swarm could be heard across the entire field as the bees spread out in an insect mob looking for vengeance.

“Run!” Shane shouted, though he needn’t have bothered. Every player was already dashing for the cars. Even Del.

Shane dived into Kevin’s car because it was closer than his. As they sat there catching their breath, they saw Del open the door to his car, lean out, and throw up red sports drink.

“I guess practice is over,” Shane said. “But I think we got off to a good start for our first time.”

“We’re gonna get killed,” Kevin muttered.

“It’s only a church league. Maybe all the teams start out like this.”

All the teams did not start out like that as they were soon to discover.

The Little Church Stories will take a break from the Miracles, but they’ll be back soon for “Game One.”