“What in God’s name was that?!” thundered Reverend Waite from the front of the church.
Amy and Tom looked at each other. Neither had an answer. They turned back to the reverend with blank looks as he charged down the aisle toward them. Reverend Fogherty followed, falling behind his young associate.
“Just what exactly was that?” demanded Reverend Waite again. “What just happened?”
Billy huddled deep in his mother’s arms, clearly frightened. Tom still didn’t have an answer, but he leapt to his feet to insulate his family from the inquisition.
“Do you think we have any idea?!” Tom shouted. “Back off, you’re scaring my son!”
Reverend Waite caught himself short, realizing the boy’s father was right. He took a step back and a deep breath.
“What the hell just happened?!” Tom’s brain was screaming. No plausible answer to the question seemed possible.
Amy dropped to one knee between the pews, face-to-face with Billy. Tears rolled from her eyes. Tom could see his wife struggling to maintain composure as she whispered to her baby.
“Billy, honey, are you OK?” she asked.
Billy looked into his mommy’s eyes with a tear-streaked but reassured face, providing his answer non-verbally. He can’t even talk, for Christ’s sake, Tom thought. He knows three damn words!
Tom noticed his hands were trembling, and felt a wave of nausea sweep through his stomach.
Reverend Fogherty had crept up, and before anyone realized his presence, spoke.
“It was the voice of God. It was the voice of the Father,” Reverend Fogherty said, almost as an apology, as he looked down at the worn carpet of the aisle. The reverend seemed sad. “It was the Lord, speaking through this child.”
Tom whirled around to gauge Amy’s reaction to this theory. In response, she captured both parents’ thoughts.
“That’s ridiculous! God did not come down and speak through my son!”
Reverend Fogherty’s expression was lost, his head moving side to side, as if the debate were still going on within him. But when he spoke, he sounded even surer. “It sounds incredible, I agree,” said the older reverend. “But we all heard it. This little boy does not know more than a handful of words. What came from Billy was not of Billy. God has spoken through him. God chose him, chose this place, to speak to us.”
Tom was struck by the old preacher’s tone. If God just decided to make an appearance at Ol’ Fogey’s church, why did the old preacher look so depressed?
Reverend Waite was leaning back against the end of a pew now, eyes to the ceiling. Something was going on in the young man’s head as well, Tom could see.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” muttered Amy. With her shoulders slumped, Amy and her five-and-a-half-foot frame looked like it wouldn’t be able to carry the weight of this sudden situation.
All were lost in thought – even Billy, it seemed – and the sanctuary was still.
A distant, shrieking siren cracked the silence. One of the faithful must have called the police, thinking that Beelzebub was holed up in the church, holding the reverends and the two immobilized senior citizens hostage. Given the general panic that had occurred minutes ago, there was no telling what kind of mob scene or SWAT raid might come next.
“We gotta get the hell out of here,” said Tom, breaking from immobilized reflection. “Fogey, is there way out through the other end of the church, behind the altar, maybe?”
“Yes,” said the old reverend, startled at being called “Fogey.”
“Amy, take Billy out that way. I’ll get the van and pick you up.”
A nod from his wife sent Tom bolting for the main exit and out into the bright, frigid day. The scene in the parking lot stopped him cold. In front of the church, dozens of people lay prostrate on the grass and on the chilly asphalt, either injured from the rush for the exits or overcome by fear and excitement. Clusters of churchgoers buzzed about what they’d just witnessed, gesturing and shouting or talking into cell phones. Off to one side, Tom saw Jim Blake facing a camera with a microphone in his hand.
Just as Tom thought someone in the crowd might spot him, two fire trucks, an ambulance and several police cars came rocketing into the parking lot through several entrances, sirens screaming.
Thankful for the diversion, Tom bounded down the concrete stairs and toward his car, dodging and juking his way through the excited crowd, hoping he could make it to the minivan before anyone saw him.
As he neared the minivan, Tom heard shouts behind him. He’d been spotted. Without looking back, he jumped into the vehicle, fired it up, and hit the gas. Tires shrieked as the van spun around and headed for the door at the rear of the church. Tom’s head was also spinning.
“What the hell just happened?” was all he could think as he sped to his family’s rescue. “What the hell just happened?”
© Chuck Hansen – 2015