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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Here it is! My Short story contest entry!

The guidelines:

One of the most crucial (and hard) things in writing Christian fiction is the "God talk"--making it sound authentic and natural. And one of the hardest things to write is a conversion scene. Yet, this should be the most powerful thing we should read--this should render us awestruck that a name has been written in the Book. (Metaphorically or literally, depending on how much Calvin you like in your theology.)

So, I'd like us to write conversion stories. Simple as that.

We complain a lot about bad conversion stories, so let's see if we can write something more compelling.

Rules (to this point, more may be added)
1. 3000 words or less.
2. I have no definition for what a conversion story is, but we're talking about some Christian salvific experience. It also needs to be fiction, no autobiography or memoir.
3. Deadline will be Friday, September 30, 5:00pm central time. Earlier is appreciated. You can email your entry. One story per writer. Please send it as an attachment rather than in the text of the email.
4. I haven't talked with anybody about partnering on this one, but I'll try to track somebody down. Let me know if you have suggestions or contacts at online journals.
5. There will be prizes for the chosen finalists. They will be more symbolic than impressive. Unless someone wants to give me a grant.
6. But remember, these things get read and a book contract emerged out of the last group.


By Michelle Pendergrass

Gina loved working her booth at the county fair. Normally she lingered while packing up on the last day, but today was strange. She just wanted to get home. That guy with the green eyes gave her the willies. His eyes were empty and spooky. He smelled like wintergreen when he said that she was “as close to God as he’d ever be”. She didn’t understand it and she dared not push.

“Bret, honey? Mommy can’t see you. Where are you?”

Bret peeked out from behind a box and yelled, “BOO!”

“Ah. You scared me again,” Gina tried to play along, but how many times can a mother be scared in one day? She continued, “ Now, please stay where I can see you, OK?”

“OK Mommy.” Bret sat down on the damp cement floor and emptied his pocket of treasures he’d won at the duck pond.

It was their family tradition. On the last day of the fair, Bret got to come to the fair with Daddy and they’d spend the day riding the rides and eating everything in sight. Tonight was only a little different in that Daddy was called in to work unexpectedly. They still rode the rides and ate the scrumptious food, Daddy just had to leave a little early and so Bret stayed by Mommy’s booth while she packed up.

“Ok sweetie. Let’s make a trip out to the truck. Can you carry this for me, please?” She handed him a little box. Just his size.

“Mommy? Are we almost done yet? I want some McDonalds. I’m hungry!”

“Hungry? After all you ate today? Come on, walk in front of me so I can see you. If we hurry we might be able to get to McDonalds before it closes.”

Gina packed the storage containers into the truck and Bret handed her the small box. She curled her nose at the smell of horse manure. That was something she wouldn’t miss. They went back into the expo building to finish packing up. Gina was getting tired and her mind was limp from the seemingly endless days of the fair. She enjoyed it, but it was a lot of work. She put the lid on the last container and clapped the dust off her hands.

“Ok Bret, We’re done. McDonalds here we come!” She bent over and picked up the container.

“Bret?” Gina looked around.

“Bret, come on. Let’s go. If you want McDonalds you’d better hurry,” she said in her no-nonsense, Mommy’s losing patience quickly voice.

She put the container down with a thump and spun around on her heels. “Bret Anthony!”

She turned again. “Bret? This is not funny. No more scaring Mommy. Let’s go.”

Gina fought the twinge of panic that took her breath away. She walked quickly towards the exit. “Bret? Where are you?” She yelled.

“Bret?!” Gina yelled again. She was starting to run and couldn’t shake the twinge any longer. Panic was setting in.

Gina slammed into something. “Ouch!” she cried.

“Take it easy, lady,” said the grey-haired officer as he pushed himself up off the ground and rubbed his elbow. “What’s the rush?”

“Oh my God,” Gina paced back and forth, “Thank God you’re here,” she talked in a threatened hurry, “I can’t find my son. He’s six. His name is Bret. He was right there with me at my booth and I can’t find him. He was right there. He likes to hide and scare me. I thought he was hiding but he’s not coming out. I can’t find him!” Gina wiped her tears away.

The officer interrupted Gina and told her to wait at her booth. He talked into his collar and soon a handful of officers surrounded her. It was hard to hear them. She felt as if she had been locked in a steel box and could only hear faint echoes of words. Everyone moved in slow motion. She felt someone take her arm and lead her outside. It was chilly and she felt her body shiver. She smelled the horse manure again. She was nauseated. Someone draped a blanket over her shoulders. How could this happen? He was right there. He was helping. How could he just disappear? How many hours had her baby been missing now?

Gina was rarely scared. Which is probably why Bret liked to “scare” her so much. The only time she could remember being this frightened was the time at the lake when Bret was two. Bret was up near the shore with Daddy looking for fish and she was in chest-deep water with a little net trying to catch one. When she turned to see if they’d found any, Bret was face down in the water floating. She thought he was dead. The same panic overtook her and somehow, she was lifting Bret out of the water before Daddy even took a step. Turns out that Bret had only been under a couple seconds and he wasn’t phased by the incident. It took Gina days to recover and her memory was seared with the image of death that swallowed her son.

God, if you’re there, please save Bret again. Oh please, God.

“Mrs. Halak? Mrs. Halak? Gina?” The tall officer was staring at her.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” Gina snapped back into the realm of fear that she’d rather run from.

“Mrs. Halak, tell me again everything that happened. It’s important you remember everything that happened,” said the tall officer. His cologne was refreshing. It was the same as her dad’s. It comforted her.

“We were packing up. We made a trip out to the truck and came back in for the last load. Bret was right there next to me. I put the lid on the container. It’s still sitting there. See?” Gina said as she turned back to look into the building. When she did she saw a black minivan pull up.

Gina and the tall officer stopped talking and watched as the minivan crept forward, barely stopping before hitting them. The side door slid open but the dome light didn’t come on. She smelled his cologne again as he pushed her away from the road and put his hand on his revolver.


“Bret?” Gina struggled with the officer. He held her back until he saw the boy come barreling out of the van. She dropped down and scooped up the boy.

She stood up as the driver got out of the van. Gina was gripped by anger unnatural to her when she saw the driver.

“Laura Jassing?” Gina’s anger was momentarily replaced with utter confusion. “Why did you have my son? Who gave you permission to take him from me?” Anger built to an explosion of fury. Gina growled through gritted teeth, “How dare you take my son?”

Laura smiled that sickening-sweet smile of hers, “Oh my word, Miss Gina, aren’t we overreacting just a teensy-weensy bit? I meant no harm.”

Gina cringed and clamped her jaw tighter. She wanted to attack. She wanted to make her pay for the torment she went through. The searching. The crying. The agony. The guilt.

Laura nonchalantly chanted, “Well he needed someone to take care of him. I didn’t figure you’d mind me watching him for awhile. Like I said, I meant no harm.”

“How dare you!” Gina hissed.

The tall officer stepped between the women, “Mrs. Halak, do you know this woman?”

Gina had Bret positioned on her hip, even though he was really to big to be carried like a toddler. “Yes sir, I do. Laura Jassing. She is...was...Bret’s Sunday School teacher.”

“Ms. Jassing, would you please come with me?” The tall officer sternly directed the woman into the building. “I have some questions for you.”

* * * * *

Gina was still shaky, but now at least a peace had settled over her. With Bret in the back seat sleeping soundly, she could finally breathe. The road home was silent except for Bret’s occasional snore. It was late, or early, depending on whether or not you had slept.

Dawn was breaking and the fog was thick. Gina shivered and turned on the defroster.

God, I don’t understand why this happened. But thank you for saving my son again.

Laura Jassing was a woman many people at First Baptist loved. She was a teacher to the children, a mentor to young women, and a breath of fresh air to the elderly. But she always had that smile on her face. She just seemed too happy. And she thought she knew everything. She, however, laid the sugar on so thick most people couldn’t tell she was being arrogant. But Gina could and that’s what bothered her. The woman would get away with scaring the life out of her—taking her son— because she was an admirable woman. A “Godly woman”. She would get away with taking Bret because she “meant no harm”.

Just like she got away with nearly killing Kristopher Steward last summer. Gina heard Kristopher tell Laura, “Momma say no. Ice cream hurt Kris” And Laura kept on coaxing the boy until he gave in and took the ice cream. At the hospital, she had that smile on her face while she was telling Kristopher’s poor mother, “I didn’t know it would really hurt him. I meant no harm. All kids should enjoy ice cream on a hot summer day.”

Yeah, all kids except the one who go into anaphylactic shock because they’re deathly allergic to dairy.

She tried to concentrate on the road. The fog was still thick, like her brain, and she needed to pay attention. What was that? Was that a body? She slammed on her brakes and peered out the window.

It was face down on the right shoulder. It looked dead lying on like that. Then just a few feet away was another one! Gina shook her head. No! This can’t be. I must be seeing things. To her left in the grass, two more bodies. What is going on? She was coming up on a viaduct. It looked as if someone had decorated the bridge with twinkling red, white and blue lights. They cut through the smoky fog that was slipping away. She then realized all the bodies were dressed in “county mounty” tan uniforms. They were all cops.

The top of the bridge was moving. She could now make out the S.W.A.T team dressed in black. There were more than she’d ever seen running in a single file line. Is this a movie set? She slowed down wondering what to do. She couldn’t turn around in the middle of the road. She was either going to get mess up somebody’s movie or she was in serious danger. Either way, she was sorry she’d gone this far. But she also knew she couldn’t stop where the dead cops were, if they were dead. There weren’t even live humans near the dead ones yet so she presumed it wouldn’t be very safe for her to stop. And it’s always best to err on the side of caution, right?

She kept driving. Slowly. Hunkered way down so she could just barely see over the dash. She felt silly and scared. Scared again. Twice in one night. God, I need you again. Please help me.

There was a building to her right and a driveway. It looked like a factory of sorts, but she couldn’t find any signs. There was a roadblock just past the driveway. More flashing lights. And not a man anywhere with big camera. Not a good sign.

Then people up by the building waving her in. Lots of cops who looked shaken and upset. She turned into the driveway and officers came running at her. They yelled at her to open her door. When she hit the unlock button, without a second’s hesitation, she was being carried out of the SUV.

“Wait!” Gina screamed. “My baby’s in the back!”

Officers whisked Bret out of his seat and rushed them both up to the front of the building. There were about fifty people huddled together under the green awning that spanned the front of what looked like main office.

Bret was too scared to cry. He just clung to his mother’s leg as his eyes drank in all of the chaos.

A woman put her arms around Gina and hugged her tightly. “Thank God you’re ok. We saw you driving and prayed you’d make it to us.”

“I was praying, too,” said Gina. “What is going on here? I saw...I saw dead cops,” she stuttered.

Fear was finding it’s home in Gina. For the second time in one night her son’s life was in jeopardy. She couldn’t rationalize which event was worse. She couldn’t think about living without her son again. Her brain could not process that information. It shut down. She prayed out loud, “Oh God, please help.”

Gina turned to the lady, “Why are we out here?”

Gunshots rang out and officers everywhere started running towards the building and yelling. Then Gina saw him.

A man ran from around the corner of the office. His eyes fixed on hers. She instinctively shoved Bret back and she felt the arms of her new friends around him pushing him back as well. She never took her eyes off the man.

He stopped about a car’s length away from the crowd that was huddled under the awning.

He stared at Gina. His eyes were void of emotion. He walked toward her. Gina whispered, “God help me.”

He snapped when he heard that. “God?!” he yelled. “God can’t help you!” He slammed the revolver’s barrel into the side of her head.

Gina froze.

He lifted the gun to her head and it happened again. She felt like she was in that stupid steel box. She could see the cops closing in. She knew the cops were talking. She could hear faint words. Not sentences. Just words. Gun. Shoot her. Sniper. Danger. Crowd. Kid.

Gina came back to reality again, this time with no movement. Thoughts raced through her head. She did not want Bret to see her die. Bret could not see his mommy get shot in the head.

She took a deep breath. Is that wintergreen? He was still staring at her. His green eyes still void. Oh my God. It’s the guy from the fair.

The cops told him to drop the gun. He didn’t. He knew he was going to die. She knew that and he knew that. He had nothing to risk. Shooting her would bring about his death quicker.

He just kept staring at her. Then something flickered in his eyes. “Do I know you lady?”

She gasped. It was him. She kept staring. She said a silent prayer. God what am I supposed to do?

She could feel the connection. There was a connection. There was a glimmer of hope in his eyes. She saw it. It flickered. It was dying out. A smoldering ember. But it was there. She prayed again silently, God save him. Here am I. Send me.

She felt his gun dig deeper into her temple. She took another deep breath and without moving her head looked up.

“Your God can’t save you,” he snarled.

She brought her eyes down to his and said, “He loves you, too.”

“What?!” he laughed. It was a real belly laugh. It scared her. He inched his body closer to hers, never moving the gun. She smelled the wintergreen again as he whispered, “Your God doesn’t want somebody like me,” his eyes dropped to the ground in shame and disgust, “he likes the good ones, like you.”

Gina said softly, “Someone has been lying to you.”

He looked up quickly.

She continued, “I’m sorry they didn’t tell you the truth.”

His eyes softened. He listened. There was something going on in his head. This is not as close to God as you’ll ever be. You will be His.

The cops were tense. On edge. Gina could see them moving closer but she didn’t care. She lifted her hand slowly to his arm and touched him.

He said, “No one has ever loved me.”

Gina whispered, “God has always loved you.”

He looked her in the eyes again and this time, he was there. The void was gone. No more emptiness. He was feeling again. Or maybe he was feeling for the first time ever.

He stared at her for what seemed like an eternity. “I’ve done some bad things lady. Really bad things.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Gina said.

Gina whispered again, “It doesn’t matter.”

His green eyes met hers and he whispered, “How can I change it now?”

She still had her hand on his arm and she said, “He’ll forgive you if you ask,” Gina said.

Sarcastically he came back, “Just like that?” and he snapped his finger. The cops jerked, but held back. “I don’t know if I believe you,” he said.

“I’m not the one you need to believe,” Gina said.

He looked up and whispered, “Will you forgive me if you can?”

Tears were coming down his leathered face. He let the gun fall and Gina stiffened as she heard the simultaneous clicks echo in the silence. He looked at Gina again and then closed his eyes.

They grabbed him. Yanked his hands behind his back. Shoved him to the ground. Threw on the cuffs. Guns were pointed at him. No one said a word.

Gina’s eyes never left him. She was still trying to see him as they drug him away. She could hear them reading him his rights. She tried to make eye contact, but there were just too many police.

“Mommy, can we go home now?” he yawned.

“Yes,” she said.


“What honey?”

“I love you mommy.”

“I love you too sweetie.” She said as she took his small hand.


“What honey?”

“Is McDonalds still open?”


Anonymous said...

Michelle, this has a scary halloween feel to it. I enjoyed reading it.

I know that fear of losing the kid. I did lose my daughter at a crowded fair, in fact. Maybe the longest forty-five minutes of my life. A terrible feeling.


Anonymous said...

Michelle, I could feel your character's terror!


Anonymous said...

Great story. The McDonald's part at the end. Dead on. Just like my daughter:)

Anonymous said...

Michelle, I read your story a while back and loved it then. The second time through was even better. You did a great job making me feel the terror you’re protag went through. Excellent story!


Anonymous said...

Michelle, I loved your story. It reaches into a mother's heart and chills. But I don't understand why the woman put her arms around Gina and said, "We saw you driving and prayed you’d make it to us."

However, I fully understand the word constraint!!! And with those few words you did an excellent job of making me feel Fogbound!

~michelle pendergrass said...

Thank you all for your kind words!

Gina -- the word constraint nearly did me in! LOL This is the first fictional story I've ever written (that wasn't a jr. high assignment, know what I mean?) And for a contest to boot.

It may not be the best (and from some of the others I've read, I aspire to write as beautifully as they) but I know without a doubt, this was the story God put in me for this.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work. Like Curm, I liked it better this time around.

And like Dee, the last line is perfect!

And if this is really your first work of fiction...well, that's just not fair, is it?

Unknown said...

WOW that was amazing Michelle. When you first told me it was Christian horror I was confused, but now I completely understand. I felt like I was right there under the awning with all of those people. You are a wonderful writer and would enjoy reading the complete work! Good job Michelle!