Friday, September 08, 2006

So I got some requests to post what I wrote during the 3 Day Novel Contest, because...Oh hell I don't know. Some people are gluttons for punishment. So here is the First Chapter...More to Follow. Hell Maybe we'll turn this into a Dickensian Serial, only not as well written.

Finding Faith

Chapter 1
“What’s past is prologue…”

It was one of those mornings Norman Rockwell would put on a Saturday Evening Post cover, a study in bucolic Americana, except that this was a Sunday Morning in March of 1978, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, North America, Western Hemisphere, Earth.

A joyful noise was emanating from the locally celebrated St. Simon’s choir , well, most of them. The 7 year old tenor in the second row was periodically nodding off and hitting whatever note felt right when he came to. The choir master would glare at him, but the kid could barely keep his eyes open, so it was to no avail. There would be retribution at the next practice the choir master muttered to himself. Believe it.

Meanwhile, in the Sunday School class being held in the church basement, Philson Lawrence was confused. This was not an unusual state of mind for him. First of all he was 8 and 8 year olds tend to walk around in a state of confusion. This generally goes on from birth ‘til the teen years when the powers that be bestow total omniscience. But at this particular moment in time he was years away from all knowing status, and he didn’t get it.

“I don’t get it”, Philson Lawrence said.

He was sitting next to his new best friend Matthew Blessing, also 8, who obviously hadn’t heard him. They had met when Phil had transferred to Rose Avenue Public School in January, after Marigold had ditched the latest in a series of soulmates. Matthew Blessing was quite simply the perfect kid. He was handsome. Not cute. At 8 years old he was handsome, and possessed of a confidence and attitude none his peers seemed to possess, particularly Phil. Phil was none of those things.

He was shorter than most of his classmates, with dark brown hair down the middle of his back Peter Frampton style, which would have been fine 5 years earlier, but at this moment in style time, short hair was in. Then there was the matter of Phil’s wardrobe. First off it was home made, and there was nothing wrong with that, except that Marigold’s fashion sense left something to be desired. Her clothing tastes had been codified in the mid to late 60's and, consequently, every article of apparel she produced was an homage to that era. Secondly, Marigold had fairly liberal ideas as to what constituted suitable materials for the aforementioned clothing articles, so jeans may or may not have been made from denim, or a peasant shirt or dashiki might have a pattern of brightly colored balloons, butterflies or Superman symbols covering it. As a result Philson Lawrence spent most of his childhood looking like a hippie clown in the midst of a dacron, polyester, and hair gel circus. Still Matthew Blessing was his friend, and that was yet another thing that made Matthew perfect, at least in Phil’s eyes.

On that Sunday, Phil was wearing red denim jeans, tan mocassin boots , a black leather fringed vest and a dark blue peasant shirt with a lifesaver print.

And he was still confused.

“ I don’t get it,” he repeated. It was a phrase Destiny had apparently decided would be his lifelong mantra.

“ Don’t get what?” Matthew asked back. Both boys were whispering for fear of drawing the attention of Miss Navely, the Sunday School teacher, in the midst of the today’s lesson, The Resurrection.

“If he was dead, how could he come back?” Phil thought it a reasonable question.

“He’s Our Lord Jesus, he can do anything” Matthew explained , patiently. In addition to all his other attributes, Matthew was the poster boy for patience and tolerance. It could really get annoying, or it would if he weren’t so..well…Matthew.

“He can do anything?” Phil repeated, in question form.

“Anything” Matthew confirmed.

“What, you mean like Superman?”

“Yeah, well…kinda”

Phil tried to roll this one around in his head for a moment in his head, but it seemed to have a flat. After little while he came to this conclusion, “I still don’t get it”

“What don’t you get?” Matthew asked

“Well, if he was like Superman, why did he let himself get nailed up on that thing in the first place? I mean were they using kryptonite nails or what?” The concept of a super being allowing himself to tortured and killed just didn’t work for Phil.

“Boy, you really don’t get this, do you?” Matthew was genuinely awestruck.

“I guess not” Phil shrugged.

He tried again to focus on the lesson, and yet again found his eyes wandering over to the other side of the class and The Blessing Triplets. The Blessing triplets were Matthew’s little sisters. They were identical. Their parents went out of their way to keep them identical, by dressing them alike. Today they were in pristine white church dresses with blue ribbons in their brunette hair. Given the spiritual leanings of the Blessing family their names were, of course, Faith, Hope, and Charity. But Phil had no time for Charity or Hope. He was stealing a glance at Faith. Still another question reared its head.

“Do your parents always dress the girls alike?” Phil inquired.

“Yeah, they think it’s cute or something but the girls can’t stand it, to tell the truth” As if Matthew Blessing could ever tell anything else.

“Why do they do that? They don’t really look that much alike”

Matthew stared at Phil incredulously. “Are you kidding? They’re identical. I can’t tell them apart. My parents can’t even tell them apart. They look exactly alike”

Phil shook his shaggy head “Not to me”

Matthew was about to protest when the wrinkled face of Miss Olivia Navely suddenly appeared before them. Both boys started backward and nearly fell out of their chairs.

“Will you boys please stop that chattering?!” She rasped, “Our Lord Jesus wouldn’t like it.”

“Yes ma’am, we’ll be quiet” Matthew apologized, but Phil wasn’t as contrite.

“How do you know?” He asked, blankly

“I beg your pardon?” Miss Navely responded. She wasn’t actually begging , in Phil’s eyes, nor did she really seem to want his pardon. In fact she seemed annoyed at being spoken to at all. But Phil pressed on.

“How do you know Our Lord Jesus wouldn’t like it? Do you talk to him?” There was no sarcasm or guile involved it. Phil simply wanted to know.

Miss Navely puffed herself up proudly, and baring a perfect set of false teeth in a broad, but not especially friendly smile. “Why yes! As a matter of fact I do. I talk to him everyday”

“How do you talk to him?” Phil asked, “On the telephone?”

The rest of the class erupted in laughter, a sound which bothered Miss Olivia Navely’s ears, so she was quick to silence it “Children! Please!” She growled then, turning on Phil “No. Not on the Telephone. I pray to him”
Phil stared back at her “What does that mean?”

“You don’t know what praying is?” The confrontation was suddenly gone from her voice. She stared at Phil as though he were some strange alien life form. Meanwhile Phil had the song from that movie about the deaf , dumb, and blind pinball player Marigold had dragged him to suddenly running through his head. ‘And Tommy doesn’t know what praying is’ He suddenly felt more freakish than usual.

“Only what they do at school before the announcements, but I have to go stand out in the hall for that” He was growing increasingly uncomfortable at where this was going. He glanced over in the triplets direction only to lock eyes with Faith, who was smiling at him in sympathy. He suddenly felt much better.

“And why do you stand out in the hall during morning prayer?” Miss Navely seemed truly shocked that such a thing was possible.

“Cause Marigo…My Mom says we don’t believe in this stuff, you know, the whole Jesus and God thing.” There was an audible gasp in the room, and Philson Lawrence felt like one bug under 30 different microscopes.

Miss Navely swiveled her jaw, pursed her lips, and then through gritted dentures, sounding for all the world like Clint Eastwood, had he been playing an old woman “Your Mother says that, does she?”
“Yes, ma’am” he managed. This old lady was beginning to scare him.

She paused for a moment, then moving within an inch of his face, her breath smelling of the odd combination of old cigarettes and cherry Halls cough drops, said “Well, I think you’re a big boy and it’s up to you whether you want to believe in something or not” She glared at him for special emphasis and added “Don’t you?”

Phil swallowed hard. He felt trapped. He gave the only answer he could given the circumstances. “I guess so” he whispered.

Suddenly the smile was back, but it had a distinctly shark –like aspect to it. “Very Good” she purred “Why don’t we teach you how to pray right here and now? Would that be all right with you?”

Again the feeling of being an animal caught in a snare. Desperately he looked around for some escape route, only to see the smiling face of Faith Blessing. Now instead of a trapped fox, he became a deer caught in her headlights. She was nodding.

“Sure” he heard himself saying, “Why not?”

“Excellent!” Miss Navely positively chirped, then turned to the class, “Attention Children! We are now going to help Matthew’s young friend learn to participate in the joy of prayer. Let us get down on our knees…”
Practically as a unit the rest of the class, followed her directive, except for Phil who slowly joined them, and Miss Navely who was taking her own sweet time due to arthritic knees…

“Let us close our eyes. Let us clear our minds…” She intoned when she finally was able to assume the position. Her voice was taking on a hypnotic quality Phil was finding hard to resist. He tried to clear his mind by thinking of blank paper , but it always ended up with the image of Jesus in a Superman costume on it.
“Let us talk to God…”

Phil snuck a peak upward to see if God might actually show up, but all he saw was that the Sunday school classroom ceiling needed the services of a good plasterer. He closed his eyes again.

Miss Navely began an emotional recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, joined by the children of the St. Simon’s Sunday School. Phil listened to the words, and tried in his own way to make sense of them.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven…” That meant that God, presumably all of our fathers, was in Heaven (wherever that was) and not that his name was Art. So far, so good. Yet he thought he heard something else. Underneath the words, in the distance was a disturbing sound, but he couldn’t quite make it out.

“Hallowed be thy name…” There, you see! His name wasn’t Art, it was Hal… Hal Owed! No, that wasn’t right. And there was that sound again, like a low rumbling freight train that was picking up steam.

“Thy Kingdom Come…” Okay, Kingdom I get. He has a castle up there, presumably a big one, and eventually we’re supposed to come to it. Phil could deal with that, but he now feared that he was never going to get to see the Disney style fortress in the sky because he suddenly knew what the threatening sound was. In fact, it called him by name.

“PHILSON!! PHILSON! Where are you?!” it roared.

Of course it was Marigold. And the true horror of what was about to happen came to him. He began his own fervent prayer.

“Oh God, if you’re there, please don’t let this happen…”

“Thy will be done” the class continued, still blissfully unaware of the impending danger.

“PHILSON! You better not be in here, or I’ll find you!” The voice moved relentlessly closer.
“On Earth, as it is in Heaven…”

And now Phil began pleading with desperately with God, who he’d only just recently began talking to, and yet now was begging for a miracle. “Please God. Not her. Not now. Not in front of the rest of the kids. Not in front of Matthew! Not in front of Faith! I’ll do anything you want. Just don’t let this happen!” Of course none of this was said aloud, but in his mind Phil was screaming.

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

And still the voice of doom advanced, “I’M COMING FOR YOU, PHILSON!!”

Now everybody heard that. All eyes snapped open and looked towards the door to the room beyond which the monster seemed to be bellowing, for what else could it possibly be? Phil saw the fear in some of the eyes. It was a fear he was all too familiar with.

“God, if you’re up there, I could really use a favor here.” Phil actually said out loud.

Uneasily, the class returned to the prayer. “And forgive us our trespasses…”

“PHILSON!!!!” The Creature screamed, as only a true demon can.

Again the prayer stopped. The terror was real now, and it was close. And just as before it began again, but the conviction was now shaky.

“C’mon God…” Phil whispered, but in his heart he knew it was too late.

“As we forgive those who trespass against us…”

The door slammed open. Some of the children actually screamed.

She stood there in the doorway. She was all of 5’1”, maybe 120 pounds, but the energy emanating off of her made her seem much larger. Her puffy blonde hair streamed down to the middle of her, and she wore a floral print caftan that made it look as if the Sixties had thrown up on her, but at present she looked like nothing less than a professional gunfighter from the old west. Steely-eyed, she sought out her prey. Bowing to the inevitable, and possibly to save the others he wasn’t quite sure, Phil stood up and stepped forward.

“Hi, Mom” he said, pretending a calm he did not actually come close to feeling.

Marigold stepped forward, and one still expected to hear the chink of spurs on a dusty road. It was enough to cause the rest of the class, Miss Navely included, to scatter for the perceived safety of the surrounding walls. At least they would be out of the direct line of fire. Phil’s attempt at familiarity had done nothing to calm the storm of her rage.

“Hi MOM?!! Hi MOM?!! Don’t you ‘Hi Mom’ me, Buster!! You goddamn well know my name!” She yelled.

“Okay… Marigold” Phil replied, softly.

“Okay who? I can’t hear you!” She suddenly sounded like Sgt. Carter from Gomer Pyle.

“ Okay, Marigold” he said more forcefully, then gathering courage for the inevitable battle he continued “I was just trying to let these nice people know that you were my Mother, and not just some crazy lady who bursts in Sunday Schools shrieking like a banshee for no apparent reason”

“I don’t give a flying fuck what these ‘nice people’ think. As far as I’m concerned these nice people can go straight to the goddamn Hell that they’re so goddamn afraid of…”

With each swear word there had been a gasp from the spectators, then at the curse of the fiery pit, one girl burst into tears. Miss Navely took a step forward, then thought better of it. The little blonde with the foul mouth intimidated even her, and she had worked in a frontline hospital in Europe during World War II.

“I told you I didn’t want you hanging around these places!” She continued.

“It’s a Church” Phil countered.

“I know it’s a Church, asshole! That’s the Point! Come on, we’re going home!”

Again Miss Navely took a step forward, but this time Marigold saw her and glared at her with such power that the old woman found herself genuflecting, despite the fact that she was a devoted protestant.

As he was being dragged from the room, Phil managed to get one last longing look at little Faith Blessing standing between her sisters. She smiled again and even gave him a little wave. He only had time to lift his free hand before he was yanked through the door by the other.

Once outside, Marigold continued to hold Phil’s hand in a vice like grip, even though he had ceased struggling once Faith had smiled at him again. It gave him enough residual courage to confront the lioness again.

“I don’t get it. What’s wrong with going to church?” he asked, simply.

She stopped and rounded back on him, releasing his hand and getting into his face at the same time. “You know very well what’s wrong with it! We’ve discussed this at length at home. We don’t believe in Organized Religion. We don’t believe in abandoning personal responsibility to a convenient mystery deity! We don’t believe in the God compromise!”

“Well, what do we believe in?” He really wanted to know.

She glared at him and then, quite simply, said “We believe in us” She turned and stormed down the street away from him. She looked like a runaway psychedelic parade float. Phil watched her walk out of view and then sighed.

“Then ‘We’ are in big trouble” he said to no one in particular, and began to trudge home.

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