This is the 23rd round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “W“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “W” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — (added after voting closes)
(3,910 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Suffer the little children…Matthew 19:14
“Cheese and Rice!” Gerald sputtered as salsa squirted onto his rumpled white shirt and pale yellow tie as he noshed into a number 6, the breakfast burrito. Newton is right again, he thought. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Gerald, ever the educator, made a mental note to tell his only friend Ronnie Chavers, the tenth grade science teacher, about his scientific observation as he crammed the remaining burrito into his mouth.
Steering and stuffing with his left hand, Gerald probed the open sack on the passenger’s seat with his right: Extra napkins, three sticky burrito wrappers, slick salsa packets…“Excelsior!” he shouted. His hungry fingers connected with two errant hash rounds buried in the bottom of the bag. Nothing better than stray tater tots, he thought, and smiled. Gerald tried to be an optimist, even when life sucked.
Gerald’s classroom was a gray-slatted portable structure set apart from the main building. While Sanford High School boasted brick-and-mortar capable of withstanding Cat-4 hurricanes, Gerald’s temporary trailer, set on concrete blocks, was the straw house built by the laziest of the three proverbial pigs. But he didn’t mind, so long as the big bad wolf stayed away from his door. The further away from Assistant Principal Wilson, the 9th grade administrator, the better. Sometimes he thought he was completely forgotten out there, and then she would pop in, uninvited and unexpected, sit in the back row with a clipboard where she would take notes, lots of notes.
Today she could just come right on in. As a matter of fact, Gerald thought, I should have invited her. Everyone loves a good play and I could sure use a good evaluation. Perhaps he would catch her in the hallway on his way to check his in-box, and he just might offer her a personal invitation to his language arts class’ adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. This production, he knew, would be tragic, literally and literarily. The kind of raucous romp more suited for Vaudeville than the vaunted Globe Theater. Every second semester, after enduring sonnets, soliloquies, and suicides in Shakespeare’s most famous play, Gerald’s students were treated with rowdy reenactments of famous scenes; produced, written, directed and played by themselves.
On Gerald’s way to the front office, he didn’t run into Ms. Wilson, but he had a near collision with Daniel Weatherby, the school janitor, sometimes referred to as Weatherman. Daniel had earned this meteorological moniker during a nasty squall five years previous. A small twister, unpredicted by local forecasters, had descended from the afternoon storm clouds like the gnarled finger of God. Daniel had pulled the fire alarm ten minutes before the automated sirens went off, thus giving the teachers and staff adequate time to herd every student into position for the oft-practiced drill. Some damage was done to the portables, but no students were injured. Daniel had been hailed a hero by the school Superintendent.
Daniel was exiting the girl’s restroom after mopping up a puddle of puke that he imagined resembled the beatific face of Jesus. For a tiny eternity, he contemplated this minor washroom miracle, wondering if this was perhaps The Sign. He waited, heard the flush of a toilet and settled for the more practical notion that it was merely a case of morning sickness from one of the 14 pregnant students that attended Sanford High; that’s when Gerald nearly kicked the bucket, Daniel’s mop bucket.
“My bad,” Gerald apologized, side-stepping the orange caution cone. “Day dreaming.”
“Me too,” Daniel muttered. Avoiding eye contact with Gerald.
“Looks like rain, Weatherman,” Gerald offered, feeling he owed Daniel a quick conversation as this was, after all, the Christian thing to do; even Jesus consorted with the lame and lepers.
Daniel brightened. “We’ve got an 80 percent chance of afternoon thunder boomers. There’s a low pressure system building in the Gulf. Wind bands are sweeping in from the south today, expected to gust from 25-35 knots. Tomorrow, you can…”
“Great, thanks,” Gerald interrupted. “And I forgot my umbrella.” He hurried down the hallway, checking the wrist watch that he had also forgotten. The fight last night with Doris had been a doozy. Ever since she had started Jenny Craiging she was a real bitch-kitty about Gerald’s weight and eating habits.
In a fringe fashion, Gerald had known Daniel Weatherby for over 20 years. The two had gone to Sanford High together. Gerald was one or two years younger and had revered from afar the popular sandy-haired boy; he was everything that Gerald wasn’t. Then there had been an accident. Or was it an incident? Gerald could scarcely recollect how the newspapers had phrased it that summer before his sophomore year.
There had been a lightning strike. From there, the story had quickly morphed from fact-based news into urban legend, but Gerald still recalled the gist of it. Heck, he had even added some of the more salacious details to the account while sitting around a campfire the following summer when he had been bussed off to fat camp.
Young Danny Weatherby had been at bible camp in Tennessee, riding a horse along a narrow Chattanooga trail, and had been struck by lightning on a day with 0% chance of showers. It had fried the pony and had left Danny scarred for life. The random bolt had also scrambled some of the boy’s cerebral circuits. Danny had never been quite right after the accident…incident?
The tardy bell ceased its shrill tintinnabulation; Gerald brought his class to order. “Amanda?”
Just then the intercom crackled and a throat cleared throughout the school. “Saints, let me have your attention.” It was principal Gaff. His voice was shaky but unmistakable. “Some of you may have already heard the horrible news, but it is with a heavy heart I must report the demise of one of our own. Theresa Hodge was killed in a car accident last night. May she rest eternal in the arms of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.”
He cleared his throat again and continued. “Give a huge Saints’ high-five to the JV boys’ basketball team that beat the uptown Blue Devils last night.”
Twenty-seven students stared at Gerald as he stood behind his desk waiting on a girl to reply that never would. A collective sigh followed by sniffles pervaded the classroom. Two of the girls that sat next to Theresa reached for tissues from their padded bras.
“Jeremy?… Jeremy?” Gerald continued roll call. Jeremy finally waved his hand like a sad white flag. “I can’t hear your hand, Jeremy.” No reply.
Gerald closed the spiral notebook. He walked to the center of the room and stood next to the only empty desk in the classroom. “It’s a Gosh-darn shame. Just breaks my heart. This was the second time I had the privilege of teaching this troubled young lady. She had a really good spirit and a really good chance of passing this year.” He placed a meaty hand flat on the empty desktop, closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I don’t know how it happened—probably texting. But it just goes to prove that life is short and sometimes unfair.” Seizing a teaching point, Gerald raised a single finger. “Shakespeare knew that, and we learned that lesson in the play we’ve been studying—Romeo and Juliet. Now, I want each and every one of you to get up; I want you to file by Theresa’s desk, touch it, and I want you to say farewell. Ahh, parting is such sweet sorrow,” Gerald whispered theatrically. Desks creaked as unsteady students began to rise up to pay final respects. “And when we are done, gather your props and scripts, for the play must go on.” He proclaimed this in his best thespian voice.
* * *
“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore out thou Romeo?”
“Here I is.” Andrew Jones, a popular athlete and class clown popped up from behind a garbage can that was doubling as a grove. He grinned with all his white teeth contrasting spectacularly against his dark skin as the class roared its approval.
Juliet, standing on a chair that served as a balcony, her finger pressed into her dimpled cheek, looked down at her Romeo and then out to her audience. “I don’t think daddy is going to like this,” she said in her most Southern Bell drawl. More laughter, as portable 128 inched further away from Theresa’s tragedy and closer to the fate of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers.
Time flew and the lunch bell broke the Shakespearean spell. Gerald would normally have remained in his classroom and eaten from his secret sack of goodies, but this was his week for lunch duty. He was assigned to stand in the corner of the cafeteria and monitor students—a deterrent to mischief, is how AP Wilson had described it. Gerald locked the portable door and marched off to duty.
Five minutes prior to the bell, Gerald ambled back to the portable to prepare for Act V of the play. It also gave him a chance to wolf down a sleeve of Oreos he had stashed in his desk drawer. Anticipating the cream and crunch delights, Gerald unlocked the portable door and stepped out of the clouding day into the cool dark room. Just as Gerald licked the icing from the fourth Oreo, he heard a chair creak near the back of the classroom. AP Wilson was his first thought, and he swept the ransacked cookie bag into his open desk drawer.
“Pray,” the voice was not AP Wilson’s.
“Pray?” Gerald queried the janitor seated in Theresa’s empty desk as he flipped on the fluorescent lights. He wore his blue Dickies pants and neatly ironed gray work shirt with his name stitched over the left breast pocket. Danny held up a playbill depicting a large red heart, a dagger piercing the back, its tip protruding from the front dripping blood. Bold type announced Romeo and Juliet, Portable 128, with Shakespeare’s stolen and distorted line in sego script: 2 be there, or not 2 be there, that is the question.
“Oh, plaaay.” Gerald over-corrected, the way English teachers do without even realizing it. “You’ve come to see our play. Yes, I have the students print flyers and invitations but it’s just part of the rubric, nobody ever really comes to these things.”
Danny’s eyes dropped, his crooked smile bowed down. “Pwease?”
The million-watt lightning strike had dimmed Danny’s bulb and had left him with a pronounced speech impediment. But this morning, Gerald recalled, Danny had been so articulate when giving the weather forecast. How odd, Gerald thought.
“Well, I suppose it’s okay. I’m sure the kids won’t mind. They are all little hams and Hamlets, anyway,” Gerald snorted at his own pun. Danny smiled angelically causing Gerald to flashback to 2001, Sanford High School, when Danny had been a rock star athlete, an A student, and Homecoming King. He was dating a goddess in those days, Jenny Woodruff, cheerleader and his Homecoming Queen. That had all ended that summer when two cumulous clouds collided and generated a spark that drilled into Danny’s skull and came out Old Smokey’s hooves, turning them to factory-grade glue. That was one of the salacious details that a young and chubby Gerald Bovington had crafted around the campfire while munching on smuggled S’mores.
Danny was the perfect groundling. He gasped audibly when Friar Lawrence explained the plan to drug Juliet into deathlike sleep; he laughed a little too loud when the Nurse made a bawdy pun; and he wept when Juliet, played by Melissa Rutherford, kissed Romeo a final time and then turned her bosom into a dagger’s sheath. Danny gave a standing ovation as the teenage troupe took their curtain call.
Gerald clapped and made his way to the front of the room, where he began to direct the breakdown and cleanup of props and sets. During the commotion, Danny continued his praises; clapping like a trained seal as he stepped into the aisle making his way to the door as if to leave.
Gerald glanced up from a pile of hats, robes, and swords as Danny neared the portable door. He was about to shout thank you and farewell when Danny pulled a large silver Master padlock from his pocket and clamped it shut through a hasp that had not been there this morning.
After locking the only means of entry or escape to portable 128, Danny took to the stage. He clicked the Smartboard remote to ‘on’ as he positioned himself beside Gerald’s faux oak podium. Behind him, the Wi-Fi Smartboard, came to life displaying a live Doppler radar regional view of South Florida. As Danny had predicted that morning, green bands accompanied by angry orange blobs raced from the Gulf eastward toward Sanford County.
“What’s going on?” Gerald asked. “Danny, err… Mr. Weatherby, it’s almost time for the final bell. No time for a weather report today.”
“Shitdown,” Danny slurred. He glared at Gerald. “She wasn’t texting.” It came out Thee waznunt thexxing.
“What? You can’t just barge…”
Danny reached beneath his shirt and pulled out a Colt revolver.
“Heavens to Murgatroyd!” Gerald squealed. “Is that a prop?”
Danny answered his question by firing a round into the ceiling causing a fine mist of tile powder to rain down in front of the projector. The classroom screamed like a rock band until Danny put his non-firing finger to his lips. “Shhhh.” As they quieted, thunder rolled in the distance.
“A storm is coming,” Danny said, his lisp now gone. “Not only here,’ he pointed to the weather screen behind him, “but there,” pointing to the ceiling of portable 128 and beyond. “They call me Weatherman because I can feel changes in the weather. A gift, you could call it, side effects from a lightning bolt hurled by God.” He took off his janitor cap revealing a palm-size pink patch of skin above his left ear; his hair had been seared away never to return. It bubbled and pulsed, alive.
Danny turned to Gerald who was standing behind his desk thinking this might be a good time to use the phone. “I cut the landline, Gerald, err…Mr. Bovington.” He slapped the wire cutters secured to his belt. Gerald’s eyes betrayed him by turning to the basket of cell phones he had collected from his kids and placed under the podium where Danny now stood. Gerald hadn’t wanted any tech-savvy students posting play pix on the internet. Danny followed Gerald’s gaze to the stash and laughed.
“And, she wasn’t texting.” He pointed to Theresa Hodge’s empty desk with the pistol. “She committed suicide, like Juliet. She had an argument with her boyfriend and she drove off Old Roosevelt Bridge.”
“That’s not what was reported,” Gerald interrupted.
“She killed herself and their unborn baby. Her soul is now roasting in hell but their innocent child,” his eyes turned upward, “is with God. This, I felt when I sat at her desk.”
Danny then waved the gun across the classroom, his eyes brightened, his smile stretched as he announced: “And you too, can be with God today.” The student body groaned in unison, unsure of Danny’s implications.
“Please, Danny. Please tell me this is a joke. Did someone put you up to this?” Gerald asked.
“No joke, Fat Ass.” Danny walked over to the large man behind the desk and grabbed his stained tie. He pulled Gerald close, so close Gerald could see his own reflection in Danny’s clear, crazy blue eyes. He saw his own fear and the Oreo mush wedged in his teeth like the black keys on a piano. “This is about as funny as your pal Ronnie Chavers banging your whore-wife Doris after the JV basketball game last week. They talk about you Gerald, and they laugh. Objects at rest tend to remain at rest. Does that sound familiar?” It did; Gerald suddenly recalled Doris recently using Newton’s first Law of Motion to goad him into exercising as she dashed out the door to an aerobics class.
Gerald snapped. In one lumbering motion, he picked up and threw the Swingline stapler that sat on his desk. It flapped like a wounded bird. Danny reacted like a Wild West gunslinger, crouching and firing as the stapler sailed over his head striking the Smartboard behind him.
Before feeling the pain, Gerald noticed the shocked and frightened looks on his student’s faces as he peered through the nickel-sized rictus Danny had shot through his palm.
“The next one goes here,” Danny said, staring at Gerald but pointing between his own eyes.
For the next two hours the storm outside pounded the portable as Danny Weatherby preached the gospel. He started with John 3:16—For God so loved the world… He traveled up and down the Romans Road, dragging 27 students along like a chain gang, starting with Romans 3:23—For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Once he established that everyone was a hell-bound sinner he launched right into the punishment phase, no time for pretty platitudes. Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death…In that same breath he revealed a loophole—but the gift of God is eternal salvation. Even to a 9th grader, this was a no brainer but it was late and they were physically and emotionally exhausted. Periodically Danny pointed the revolver at a student that nodded off or whispered something to a neighbor.
“The next obvious question should be; how do I get this amazing gift? Romans 10:13—For whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
“No one knows the hour… but I swear to you, I can feel it coming. It may not be today,” lightning flashed through the slatted blinds as they rattled to the beat of appended thunder, “but soon. It will be very soon. Will you,” Danny put the gun into his waistband and held out open palms to the class turned congregation, “will you take the next step to salvation?”
Danny stepped in front of the Smartboard projector; red, yellow and green splotches danced across his face and shirt making Gerald think absurdly of Disco Danny the gun toting, preaching janitor. His silhouette on the wall-size screen appeared dark and demonic.
“Now, let’s put our heads down and pray.” Students looked at one another and then back at the Weatherman, heads still raised. “Put your goddamn heads down!” Danny roared, “And pray for your immortal souls.”
Every student, and Gerald Bovington, bowed their head. Several sobbed, some even prayed. Gerald pressed a prop scarf into his wounded palm and clenched it tightly. Danny removed the revolver from his belt and walked to the front row of desks.
“Thomas Branson, how old are you?”
“I just turned 13 over the summer, sir”
Danny cupped the boy’s chin and lifted his face until their eyes met. “You son, have not yet reached the age of accountability. You, like Theresa’s unborn babe, are innocent.” With that Danny put the barrel against Tommy’s temple and squeezed the Colt’s trigger.
“Nooooo!” Gerald screamed.
Thunder rattled the windows and Tommy Branson’s brains and blood spattered his desktop and Jessica Wales’ new summer dress.
Salsa, Gerald thought hysterically, his mind stretched to the breaking point.
Danny continued down the aisle, he put his hand on the Jessica Wales’ head and asked her: “Jessica, do you take the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” Jessica raised her hands; eyes tightly closed and shouted, “I do, I believe. Thank you Jesus.” She then lowered her head and cried hysterically into her folded arms.
The Weatherman smiled and looked to the heavens. “When the roll is called up yonder, you’ll be there Jessica. Amen.” More thunder punctuated his praise. Brightly colored amoebas on the Weather Channel grew larger and moved faster towards Sanford County. “It’s coming…He’s coming. We need to hurry.”
“Danny, please stop,” Gerald implored from behind his desk. He was just about to launch his full weight at the madman when…
The pistol fired again, and again, and again, and again. All ears were still ringing like the tardy bell when Danny hailed “Hallelujah! We saved the innocents. To be absent with the body is to be present with the Lord.”
“But what about you?” Gerald asked, desperate to divert Danny’s attention away from the onslaught. “Murderers don’t go to heaven.”
Danny wheeled around and marched directly to Gerald’s messy desk like a summoned student. “Me? Me? This isn’t about me. Jesus Christ said to suffer the little children unto him. I’m just a delivery boy, thending thertified thouls to heaven, Federal Express,” his lisp returning. “Ith snot about me. I can’t go to heaven anyway. After God electrothuted me, I lotht everything: my girlfriend, my tholarship, my friends, my future. I curthed God, an unpardonable thin. I can’t, I won’t forgive Him for what he did to me. I was too weak. But these children, they can have what I never will, eternal life with God almighty.”
Gerald stood erect, tired of kneeling, his knees creaked audibly. He wrapped the bloody scarf tighter around his fist. He eyed the plastic light saber as he spoke. “Let these children go. I’ll stay. I’ll be your hostage, if that’s what you want. Listen, the police sirens are getting closer, Danny. Let them go.”
Distant sirens, like mad banshees, swirled in the wailing winds, creating a sound eerie and otherworldly. The crawler on the bottom of the Weather Channel frame read: Sanford High School students held hostage by unknown gunman.
“Those aren’t thirens, Gerald. They’re trumpets. It’s time.”
A window crashed inward, glass fragments shotgunned the room. Wind and rain surged in, stray papers danced around the room like waltzing ghosts. The remaining students slipped bonelessly down and hid under their desks. The violent wind thrashed the hair and clothing on the dead students, reanimating them momentarily. It’s only the wind, Gerald thought.
Then he felt a tug deep within his heart. All that fast food, Gerald belched. It’s finally catching up to me. This is the heart attack that Doris warned me about. That cheating bitch was right.
The swirling wind slowed to baby’s breath. Dancing papers and shattered glass froze in midair. The room began to glow, buttery yellow light emanated from each student, dead and alive. Several stood as bright beams of light shot out from within collars and shirt sleeves and then their clothes just fell to the floor and across desks. The lights began to spin and form into golden funnels gaining speed and refulgence.
Gerald, too, lost his clothes and his weight as his mountain of flesh melted into the golden light. He was being made new in the likeness of God. It was almost too bright for Danny to look at directly. Gerald’s eyes were wide and excited as he looked first at Danny and then heavenward. As he rose from his desk, the smaller, spinning souls gravitated toward him. Gerald reached out to the lights and they became a part of him. And then all were gone.
Danny, now completely alone and having witnessed the Rapture, had no desire to stay for Act VI. He knew how this play would end; he had read the book of Revelation. He placed the revolver into his mouth and squeezed the trigger.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Wild Things <<Link
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