Sunday, June 27, 2010

Locked Out

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. One Wednesday evening Associate Pastor Michelle Tellum was working late by herself in her basement office when she thought she heard the sound of glass breaking outside. “The raccoons are in the trash again,” she thought. She grabbed the squirt gun she kept to frighten the furry bandits away and headed upstairs.

But when she exited the rear of the church she found the trash bin lid tightly in place and no sign of masked troublemakers. She shrugged and turned to go back inside.

Only to discover the door had locked behind her.

That’s when she realized she’d left her purse with her keys and her cell phone down in her office. She knew Jose the janitor had already finished up for the night and would have locked everything down tight. But she figured the coffee shop down the block would still be open and would probably let her use their phone.

She was halfway across the lawn when the sprinklers came on. She dashed back to the church porch, thoroughly soaked. Now, Michelle was not overly vain but she didn’t relish the embarrassment of going into the coffee shop with a clingy wet shirt and stringy damp hair. She decided to look for an alternate way into the church first.

The sound Michelle heard was not raccoons. It was a man named Don who broke a window in the choir room door to gain access to the church. Don was not really a bad man but he was not really a good man either. Mostly he was lazy and an alcoholic. And when he was out of money and really needed a drink he would occasionally steal something. He figured the church would be easy to break into and would probably have something lying around that he could pawn.

If Michelle knew about the broken window she could have easily gotten back inside. But of course if she knew there was a prowler on the premises she wouldn’t have been so anxious to get back inside in the first place. Since she didn’t know about the broken window, she made a different plan.

She could see that the window of the teens’ room on the second floor was open a crack. There was a small lip of roof below it, just above a side door. Michelle rummaged through the garbage and found a crate. By using it as a step she was able to pull herself up onto the little bit of roof.

The window was small and only opened half way but Michelle thought she just might be able to slither through. With a little effort she wriggled her head and shoulders in. From there she easily slid the upper part of her body through. But as she squeezed her hips under the sash, the seat of her pants caught on a screw that had worked its way loose. As she pushed forward, she heard her pants tear. The more she pushed, the more they tore.

Finally, she decided she better back out and try again. She reached her foot down to find the roof and it slid into the gutter. As she shifted her weight back, the gutter tore away from the roof. Without its support Michelle hurtled backward.

Fortunately she didn’t fall directly onto the gravel path or she might have been badly hurt. Instead she landed in the bushes beside the path. Unfortunately they were rose bushes and full of thorns. She didn’t sustain any serious damage, but she scratched her face and arms up pretty good.

Michelle crawled out of the bushes and stood up. She craned her body around to try to ascertain how big the tear in her pants was. It was big. And then out of the corner of her eye she noticed the security camera. She knew the church had security cameras, of course, but was so used to them it had slipped her mind. Currently she was mooning this particular camera. She made a mental note to delete that tape once she got back inside.

Meanwhile, Don hit the jackpot. He had found his way to Michelle’s office and discovered her purse. He dug out her wallet and took all her cash. He left everything else. Cash was easy and untraceable.

Outside Michelle was beginning to get cold. She had to find a way back in. She circled the building and finally discovered the broken window. “That’s odd,” she thought, “Nobody told me this window was broken. I bet one of the kids did it and was afraid to say anything.” Regardless, it was a way in.

Don was just coming back to the choir room as Michelle entered through the door. He heard her in the nick of time and pressed himself against the wall of the hallway. He held his breath and peeked into the dark room. From his vantage point Michelle was silhouetted in moonlight. He could tell it was a woman, but not much else.

Then Michelle took the squirt gun out of her pocket.

All Don saw was the silhouette and his blood ran cold. It was not worth getting shot over a few twenties. He scurried back up the hall looking for any other way out and found the side door. He dashed through, glancing back over his shoulder to see if the woman with the gun was pursuing him.

And he hit his head on the dangling gutter that Michelle had broken. He let out a yelp and fell to the ground, out cold.

Michelle heard Don’s cry. She began to piece together what was really happening. She crept up to the suspiciously open side door with growing dead and looked out. When she saw Don sprawled on the walk she clamped a hand over her mouth to suppress a scream and ran downstairs to her office.

With her office door safely locked, she called the police. The dispatcher sent a patrol car to the church and stayed on the line with Michelle while she waited. That’s when Michelle remembered the tear in her pants. She put the phone on speaker and changed into some sweats she kept in her bottom desk drawer.

It wasn’t long before the dispatcher informed her that the patrol car had arrived and apprehended the intruder. Michelle went out to meet them. She was greeted by a tall and rather handsome officer. “I’m Officer Johnson,” he said. Michelle wished she’d also taken time to fix her hair and put make-up over the scratches on her face while she was waiting.

Michelle told handsome Officer Johnson what had happened, leaving out the part about her pants ripping. He took notes then complimented her on her bravery.

“What do you do here at the church?” he asked.

“I’m the associate pastor,” Michelle told him.

“I didn’t know pastors could be so pretty,” he said with a wink. “I’ll have to start coming to church.”

Michelle’s cheeks reddened. She tried not to grin like an idiot.

“Well, I’m done here,” Officer Johnson said, flipping his book closed. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“I hope so,” Michelle said.

Officer Johnson started to turn away, then stopped. “One more thing. I notice you have a security camera above that door. We’ll want a copy of the tape for evidence.”

Michelle cheeks went from red to pale.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Tale of Three Fathers

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. The congregation includes many fathers and sons and daughters, of course. And on Father’s Day the sons and daughters celebrated their fathers in many different ways. These are three of their stories.

Katie and Henry

When Pastor Henry O’Donnell came down to breakfast, his teenage daughter Katie was waiting for him with a gift and a joyful greeting of, “Happy Father’s Day.”

She followed that up with, “Oh Dad, you’re not going to wear that tie again, are you?”

The tie in question was green with a pink cartoon duck on it. Katie had given it to him when she was five, proudly telling him she had picked it out herself. Henry had worn it to preach every Father’s Day since. He always used the story of Katie giving him the tie in his sermons. During coffee hour many of the congregants would compliment Katie on her taste.

But by the time Katie was ten, she’d realized the tie was extremely ugly and the compliments were meant ironically. She begged her father to dispose of the tie. Henry always refused, just as he did this year.

Katie’s gift this Father’s Day was a box of golf balls. She also announced that she would be taking the family out to dinner. “Where?” Henry asked.

“It’s a surprise,” she told him.

That evening Henry, Katie, and her mother, Jennifer, drove to a new steak place in Tenor Falls called Buckeye Pete’s. Jennifer informed Henry that Katie had picked it out herself and made the reservation. What Jennifer didn’t know was that Katie chose this restaurant because of a particular tradition they had. If anybody came in wearing a tie, they would cut it off and hang it on the wall. Katie knew her father would wear the pink duck tie all day and figured she could finally be free of the embarrassment.

Katie led the family into Buckeye Pete’s. “Reservation for three under Katie O’Donnell,” she told the hostess. Then she stepped aside so the woman could see her father’s tie.

Only he wasn’t wearing the tie.

Katie’s mouth dropped open in amazement. Henry leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I’ve heard of this place, too.” Then he patted a bulge in his jacket pocket. Katie sighed. But the steak was terrific so it wasn’t a total loss.


“What’s that?” four-year-old Mary Boyer asked. She was sitting with seven-year-old Tyler Park during coffee hour after church and looking at the Father’s Day card he had drawn in Sunday school. It showed a man in a black hat and trench coat engaged in a gun battle with some criminals.

“That’s my Dad,” Tyler replied. “He lives in Chicago. He’s a spy.”

“Really?” Mary asked, wide-eyed.

“Yep,” Tyler said, “but it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone. He’s saved the world forty-two times. He’s a hero and has a big chest full of medals that the President gave him.”

“Wow,” Mary marveled.

“What does your Dad do?” Tyler asked.

“He works in an office,” Mary said, with just a hint of jealousy in her voice.

Just then Mary’s father, Kevin Boyer, came to get her. Mary wondered how many times he had saved the world. She doubted it was more than half a dozen. The family headed out to the car, Mary’s parents laughing about the pastor’s tie. Mary didn’t get the joke. She thought the pink duck was kind of neat.

Meanwhile, Tyler showed his Mom, Audra, his card, explaining it in great detail.

“Do you think he’ll like it?” Tyler asked.

“I’m sure he will,” she replied, smiling. But Tyler noticed her eyes looked kind of sad.

They mailed the new card on the way home. After lunch, Tyler called his Dad. They talked for twelve minutes before Tyler’s Dad said he had to go to work at his job at the pizza joint. It was about seven minutes longer than Audra thought her ex would last.

After the conversation Tyler retreated to his room. Audra watched TV and tried not to worry about him. An hour or so later Tyler came out with an armload of drawings. “Mom, can I show you what I drew?” he asked.

“Sure,” Audra said. Tyler spread the papers out. They turned out to be a rough comic book featuring Audra as a superhero saving the world. As Tyler was finishing up his narration of the story he noticed there were tears in his Mom’s eyes.

“Are you sad, Mom?” he asked.

“No, honey,” Audra replied and gave Tyler a big hug.

Mary and Susie and Kevin

Like Tyler, Mary had made a card in Sunday school featuring a picture of her Dad. She had drawn him sitting on the couch watching TV. Kevin didn’t quite know how to take that. His wife Jill thought it was hilarious.

Mary didn’t draw the picture because Kevin was any more of a couch potato than the average guy – in fact, he spent as much time playing sports as he did watching them – she drew the picture because the gift she and her two-year-old sister Susie were giving their father was to wait on him hand and foot while he watched a stock car race on television.

When they got home Mary and Susie ordered Kevin to sit on the couch. Mary tucked a cozy blanket around him despite the fact that it was actually a fairly warm day. Then the two girls headed for the kitchen to get him a drink.

When they returned a few minutes later, Mary carrying a can of soda and Susie a glass of ice, Mary saw that the blanket was bunched up on Kevin’s lap.

“Your blanket fell,” she observed. She climbed up on the arm of the couch and pulled it back in place, making sure to tuck it in extra tight this time.

“Thanks, sweetie, but it’s a little warm,” Kevin gasped.

“I’ll fan you!” Mary cried with delight. She grabbed a magazine and began waving it vigorously.

“Thanks,” Kevin said after the fourth time she had accidentally swatted his ear. “I’m much cooler now.” He noticed Jill peeking in from the kitchen with a smirk on her face.

The girls joined their mother in the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a big bowl of microwave popcorn.

“Look Daddy,” Mary said, “We made it ourselves.”

“Very impressive,” Kevin said. He took the bowl from them and noticed that half of the popcorn was scorched black.

“Eat it, Daddy!” Susie shouted. Kevin took a handful and tossed it in his mouth. He could just barely taste the butter under the overpowering flavor of charcoal. The girls watched expectantly. He took another handful.

Mary observed a bead of sweat trickle down Kevin’s temple. “You’re hot again,” she declared and picked up the magazine.

“It’s my turn to fan him!” Susie wailed. She grabbed the magazine and the two girls engaged in a tug of war. In the process they spilled Kevin’s soda in his lap. To his disappointment they completely missed the bowl of blackened popcorn.

“Sorry, Daddy,” the girls said in unison. Kevin took a deep breath. He knew they meant well.

When Kevin returned from changing his clothes, he could hear the girls in the kitchen arguing about who got to bring him his new drink. He turned off the TV just as they returned to the living room carrying a dangerously full glass of soda between them.

“Why did you turn the TV off?” Mary asked.

“The race is over,” Kevin lied. Mary and Susie looked disappointed. “You know what I’d really like to do now? Go to the park. Do you want to come with me?” The girls’ faces immediately perked up.

While they were getting ready Jill pulled Kevin aside and asked if he wanted her to take the girls to the park so he could enjoy the rest of the race in peace. “It’ll be my Father’s Day present to you,” she said.

“No, that’s okay,” Kevin replied. “I really do want to take them.”

A short time later he was sitting on a hard wooden bench by the playground with no snacks and no drinks and thankfully no cozy blanket watching his daughters play spies instead of watching cars going around in a circle really fast on TV. Most days he would have considered this a chore but today he found he was enjoying himself.

Then Mary fell and skinned her knee. As Kevin fussed over the slight wound Mary thought about Tyler’s Dad. Mary decided she was pretty glad that her father was just a businessman who lived in Normal instead of a hero spy that lived in Chicago. She gave Kevin a big hug and said, “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.”

11 p.m.

At 11 p.m. Katie and Tyler and Mary and Susie were all in bed. Kevin was watching highlights of the race he had missed, Audra was leafing through Tyler’s drawings and Henry was hanging up his favorite tie until next year. It had been quite a fine Father’s Day for all of them.

For my Dad.