Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Worthy Sacrifice

     The following story is one I wrote a few years ago. I don't think this will be the final draft, but I'm happy with it for now. It's based on a dream I had once. It doesn't really show in the story, but I've never been more scared by a dream in my life. I think that's the reason I'm so fond of the setting. There's a lot more going on than we see in this particular story. This won't be my last time visiting the Webster First Church of Christ in my writing. I have a lot of ideas I'm excited to play with. Enjoy.

A Worthy Sacrifice
James Jakins
Victoria Brown rapped loudly on the door.  She held her head with her nose in the air.  After a few moments with no answer she knocked again. Louder. She ignored the door bell.
She raised her hand a third time. Before she could bring it down the door opened.
“Ah, Sister Abigail. I was so afraid you weren’t home,” she opened her arms and enveloped the old lady in a hug.
“Oh,” the old woman said with a start, as the much younger visitor squeezed her, “Victoria, I haven’t seen you in ages.”
She tried to loosen the other woman’s grip.  Victoria released her.
“Oh, I know, Sister Abigail.  That’s why I’m here. We’ve missed you so much at church every Sunday. I was hoping I might convince you to come back to us.”
The old woman’s eyes narrowed, “Well, dear, I’d love to. But as you know I have a very hard time leaving the house anymore. My knees, you know. Plus I’m afraid to drive. My car hasn’t been doing so well lately.”
“Oh, that’s no problem, Sister, I was actually out today letting all of those with a hard time coming know that we have a bus now.”
“A bus?” Abigail’s eyes narrowed even more. Suspicion creeping into her voice.
“Oh, yes. The offering plate has been overflowing lately. We’ve been truly blessed.”
“What about Old Brother McDonald? Has he come home yet?”
“No, Sister Abigail. The Reverend McDonald has not returned yet. But my husband has been doing an amazing job. You just have to come and see for yourself. ‘By their fruits ye shall know them,’ Isn’t that how the scripture goes?”
“I suppose it is, Victoria. Maybe you’re right. I haven’t been back to church since Brother McDonald left. It’s just that for almost thirty years I’ve heard that man preach. Never missed a Sunday or a sermon. Did you know it was at his service that I was first saved?”
“I know, Sister. Reverend McDonald has done a lot to build up that church. He brought so many into the fold. But won’t you please give my Richard a try?”
“Oh all right, dear. I’ll come this Sunday. Who drives the bus?”
“Brother Mullen.”
“Oh the kind old dear. I’m glad to hear it. He’s always been so kind to me since my husband died. He knows about my bad knees. If you could just remind him. Make sure he remembers that I’m going to need help getting down my porch steps. I just hope he hasn’t lost the ability to walk like I have yet. He is catching up to me in years you know.”
“Don’t worry, Sister. His son comes with him to help some of the elderly folk.”
“Oh?” Abigail’s eyes shot open, “Danny? That little rascal is attending now?”
“Oh yes. I told you, Sister, my Richard is very good.”
“Well if he was able to get that Daniel Mullen to church, he must be. Now I have to hear him preach.”
“You won’t be disappointed, I can promise that.”
“Would you like to come in dear? I’m so sorry, I’ve been keeping you outside.”
“Oh no, Sister Abigail. It’s no problem, I actually must be on my way. I have a few more stops to make today. And I still have to pick Little Ricky up from pre-school.”
“Oh, how is the little charmer these days? How old is he now? Two? Three?”
“He turned four last week.”
“Oh my. Well, dear, I won’t keep you. Please be sure to stop by anytime.”
“Thank you, Sister, I will. I’ll see you on Sunday.”
“Yes, dear. Good bye.”
Abigail closed the door. She stood there a moment. One hand resting on the door the other over her fast beating heart. She tightened her robe around herself and shuffled into her kitchen. The kettle had steam coming out. She pulled out a teabag and a cup.
She sat silently in her kitchen, sipping her tea. For the past thirty years of her life she had been christian. Then one day the man who had guided her into that life had disappeared. Many had wanted to just let the church go after that. To just go and find new congregations. Abigail was old and tired. She opted to just worship from her kitchen table. At least until Brother McDonald returned.
The local authorities had had no luck in finding the old preacher. She knew because her son was a police officer. She so wished he would find religion. He kept her updated. They had even brought in Federal officers. No one had any luck.
A group of the church’s deacons decided they didn’t want to find a new church. And they couldn’t really afford to hire a new preacher. Abigail supposed there had been a small amount of legal issues, but they somehow gained shared ownership of the church. She had, to this point, refused to hear any of them preach. None of these deacons were trained preachers. Brother McDonald had graduated from, somewhere, she wasn’t sure where, and had a degree stating he was authorized to preach the Bible.
After a short time Abigail rose from her seat and went into her living room. She sat down and picked up her phone. She dialed her son’s phone number.
“Oh, hello, Cindy. Is Jacob in, dear?” She waited for the response, “Wonderful. May I speak to him?”
She sat silently. Her free hand was trembling slightly in her lap. “Oh, Jacob dear! How are you?” An answer given, “Oh wonderful. I’m glad to hear it. So when am I going to see some grandchildren?” she laughed, “Just teasing you, dear, I was actually calling about Brother McDonald. Has there been any more news? No? Nothing at all? I see. No no, I was just wondering. Victoria Brown came by this afternoon... Yes I suppose that was sweet of her. Well she invited me to the service this Sunday. I suppose that just got me thinking about poor Brother McDonald. Yes I know it’s been a long time since I’ve attended, but you know how I felt about... Really? You’ve been attending Richard Brown’s sermons? Well why didn’t you tell me? You’re right, I didn’t ask, but I’ve been trying to get you to church for years. I’d just given up I suppose. That’s terrible of me I know. Did you know they have a bus? Yes I suppose it is a necessary luxury. I’m just curious to know how they are doing so well. You don’t say. Well it must just be blessings from the Lord I suppose. No no, dear, that’s all I was calling about. Good bye.”
Abigail hung up the phone.
John Mullen was getting on in years. His back had always had the permanent slope that came with a life of hard labor. However his shoulders had only recently lost their broadness. They now bent at a pitiful angle. Overall the effect was one of a body persecuted by many long years. Long years occupied by dangerous, unforgiving work.
However his eyes were still friendly. His white beard framed his welcome smile as Abigail Thomas climbed inside the small bus. Her hands clasped tightly on Daniel’s arm.
“Thank you, Daniel,” Abigail said as he helped her into the front bench.
“Good to see you again, Abi,” John said.
“Oh, John,” She began, a genuine smile spreading over her face, “It has been too long, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, it has.”
Abigail turned in her seat and inspected the other women in the bus. “Carol? Oh my goodness! When did you begin attending?”
“Abigail? My, I didn’t even recognize you. I am so sorry, I feel foolish. I’ve been attending Brother Brown’s sermons for about two months now. He really is quite amazing.”
The women talked and gossiped while John Mullens drove down the holler that led to The Webster First Church Of Christ.
Abigail had to admit, Richard Brown could preach. Now there was nothing out of the ordinary in his sermon. At least nothing on the surface. Brother McDonald would have preached circles around the man. But still, Abigail could see the appeal in his sermons. Could even understand why so many would now attend.
Abigail had not enjoyed the sermon. The main message had seemed to be to live a life without regrets. He had quoted the New Testament. So that wasn’t the problem.
There had even been several shouts from the congregation. Amens and hallelujahs. All seemed perfect. But something under the surface bothered her. He had even taken a few lessons from Brother McDonald and attempted to look every member of the congregation in the eye. Abigail had avoided the gaze the second time it fell on her. When she had joined in one of the amen cries she had looked down at the floor, and felt his eyes inspect her again.
She decided it was guilt that made her feel so anxious. She had after all been absent for an entire year. No true Christian should go so long without attending church. She committed herself to being better. To attending church. But in her gut she knew she would not attend this one.
She had seen her Jacob and Cindy sitting in the front pew. Normally she would have joined them with a happy heart. At least if they had been sitting in that same pew listening to another man preach. But as it was she had seated herself in the back.
As everyone else rose at the end of Richard Brown’s sermon Abigail Thomas watched. This was the final test for her. How did the members of the church treat each other now that their loving shepherd was gone?
Again she was pleasantly surprised. There seemed to be real smiles passed between everyone. Heartfelt handshakes. She could hear the laughter being shared, well meant gossip. Her greatest shock of all came when she saw her son speaking with the preacher.
It seemed almost as if Richard were counseling with Jacob. Then she knew why. They both glanced her way. Richard Brown had a look of determination. Her son a look of indifference.
Abigail Thomas stood. She prepared herself for the coming questions. The inevitable invitation by the new preacher to commit herself to the fold. She had no real argument on why she would not be attending, but still she planned on letting them know she would not be back.
“Shall I wait for you, Abi?” John Mullens asked, as he walked towards the door.
“Oh,” she started, “No thank you, dear, I think I’ll convince Jacob to take me home.”
A look of concern crossed John’s face. He looked back towards the pulpit. Jacob and Richard still deep in conversation. He then nodded. His face taking on the same indifference as her son’s.
“It was great seeing you again, Abi,” his face was indifferent, but his voice sad.
“Oh, you too, John. Thank you so much for the ride. I do wish I could keep attending, but I don’t think I can without Old Brother McDonald. It’s nothing personal. I would so love it if you still came for a visit one of these days.”
“I would like that too, Abi,” his eyes seemed wet. He hurried outside. Pulling his keys out of his pocket.
Abigail watched him go. Many of the congregation filed past her. Several of the men stayed behind. Abigail recognized them as the deacons that had decided to keep the church going.
Abigail caught Cindy by the arm as she was walking out, “Cindy, dear, do you suppose I could get a ride home with you and Jacob?”
“Oh, Abigail. Um...” She glanced at her husband across the room. The man nodded, “Well, Jacob and I drove separately, and I think Reverend Brown wanted to speak to you.”
Abigail flinched. Reverend? The prideful fool.
“Of course. I was planning on speaking to him,” She placed her hand on her daughter in-laws shoulder. The younger woman pulled her into an embrace.
“Jacob didn’t want me to tell you... I’m pregnant,” Cindy said. Her voice broke slightly.
“Oh!” Abigail exclaimed, “That’s marvelous. Why on earth wouldn't he want me to know?” Across the room Jacob frowned.
“Surprise, I guess,” Cindy said, “I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
Cindy hurried out. Abigail turned towards her son and the preacher. The news from Cindy had made her day. Had made up for many sad days. She was happy as she walked down the pew lined path.
“Jacob, dear, I can’t believe you didn't tell me,” She exclaimed, pulling him into a hug.
“So Cindy told you the good news?” Richard Brown asked. A friendly smile claiming his features.
“You knew?” Abigail asked. Her joy retreating slightly.
“Well, I prayed with them. Fasted and sacrificed for them that this great blessing might be granted.”
“Oh, well I suppose. I just wish I had been allowed to know,” She said.
“Yes. The only problem now is the doctors say the child may be born with certain defects,” Jacob said. His voice cold, his words too precise. Abigail almost felt the coldness coming from her son.
“Yes,” Brown said, “That is why the Elders and myself have decided that another sacrifice is necessary. This time something more important.”
“I’m sorry?” Abigail began, “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand.”
“I wish Cindy hadn't told you,” Jacob said, his voice almost sad, “But hopefully you knowing will make it easier for you. Help you accept it. It’s for a good cause, mom. I’m sorry.”
The deacons had all been seated in the front pew, behind Abigail. They all rose in unison and approached. She turned her head to watch the approach. Stood in shocked silence as two of them grasped her arms.
Mutely she allowed herself to be directed into the back of the church. Before they pulled her into the back room she cast her gaze to the stained glass. Behind the image of the cross she saw lightning flash.

The End

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A Worthy Sacrifice by James Jakins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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