The Pastor walked back from his car, brief case in hand. The storm had brought on an early darkness. He watched Bert’s van pull out of the church parking lot and head off through the evening’s pelting rain. Blue exhaust mixed with swirling ground fog. He watched until the van’s tail lights faded into the rainy darkness. He stepped onto the sidewalk. Though the relentless rain was mercilessly beating on his umbrella, he paused to watch the runoff flow into a dizzy whirlpool at a storm drain. He was mesmerized by the whirling water disappearing into the dark cavity.
Lightning ripped the darkened sky and there was an immediate report of deafening thunder. In the instant the flash lit up the evening, movement at a distance caught the Pastor’s eye. He squinted through the rain and darkness toward the blurry street intersection a block away. In the glow of a street light, he saw an indistinct person running toward him.
Panic gripped the Pastor’s heart. He turned and walked hastily toward the main entrance of the church. Pain shot through his left leg and caused him to slow his gait. He limped on toward the church, several times glancing over his shoulder.
Once inside the foyer, he frantically locked the double glass doors while anxiously peering outside. Seconds later, he saw a man running along the sidewalk that bordered the street. And he kept on running until he was past the church and out of sight.
Only a jogger! The Pastor sighed with relief. In this rain, too! Crazy people these days. He turned around and leaned back against the glass door, his heart still pounding. His leg throbbed with pain. Will I always be haunted by that night? The recurring, tormenting nightmare was all too real.
Having caught his breath, the Pastor limped across the foyer toward the hallway leading to his study. Something new on the bulletin board caught his attention. Amid the clutter of tacked-on announcements were two large posters, one of which he did not recognize and therefore had not authorized to be posted.
He walked over for a closer look. It pictured Geno, tomorrow’s guest concert pianist. The handsome young Italian had become a celebrity through his record sales, concerts, church appearances, and many guest appearances on Christian television.
The other poster—the one the Pastor never authorized —announced a contemporary Christian music program at the Denver Convention Center tomorrow night. It pictured a singer named Jonathan. Humph! Never heard of him. He thought the guitar-wielding young man looked like a long-haired hippie from the ’sixties or ’seventies. What a contrast, he thought, a concert pianist and a guitar-playing hippie. He prided himself that Mile High Community Church was hosting Geno and not the hippie. Just wait till I find out who’s behind this!
Back in his study, the Pastor brewed a pot of tea and neatly arranged some cookies on a saucer. He settled down at his desk and turned on his computer. The screen lit up with green text on a black background.
It had been a trying day: His painful leg, the encounter with Curtis, the annoyance of Bert’s visit, Annabelle, the storm, the panic over seeing the man outside....
One more obstacle stood in the way of starting on the sermon: the discomfort and distraction of the throbbing pain in his bad leg. He took a vial of tranquilizer tablets from a desk drawer and downed two of them with a gulp of tea. He rarely resorted to the pills because they had a tendency to bring on drowsiness and even nightmares. On the other hand, the troubles of the day just might be setting him up for a sleepless night. Regardless, the preparation of his sermon took priority over a good night’s sleep. He opened his brief case and took out his sermon notes.
Bong! chimed the grandfather clock. He glanced at the antique timepiece: It was seven o’clock. He looked around his dimly lit chambers. An eerie feeling came over him. He listened as the clock chimed a total of seven bongs and watched the pendulum swing back and forth. One second at a time was slipping away, gone forever.
Enough of this, he thought. He was pressed for time to prepare his sermon. His mind was troubled, his leg ached, and his whole body was weary and begged for rest.
He switched on the radio, hoping for some soft classical music to soothe his nerves. But no, it was Wagner’s Gotterdammerung. Humph! “Twilight of the Gods.” Hardly soothing.
He recalled that it was about that future time in German mythology when pagan gods are destroyed in a final battle with evil powers. The Pastor once had an interest in mythology and even enjoyed some of Wagner’s music. Then he heard that Wagner had been an adept of theosophy, and ever since held the composer and his music in contempt. But it went still deeper. Another theosophist—Adolf Hitler—had been a rabid fan of Wagner. The Nazi madman had been fond of enjoying the mystic solitude of listening to Wagner while sitting on an outcropping of rock, high in the Bavarian Alps, surrounded by dense clouds, and immersed in esoteric thought.
Listening to Wagner and thinking of Hitler chilled the Pastor. There was nothing at all he liked about them—or clouds. The thought of suffocating clouds triggered remembrances of that night. He angrily switched the radio to a Christian music station and reset his mind to his sermon.
The Pastor would do little research for the sermon. In earlier years he devoted twenty hours a week to preparing a message. But anymore, he rarely gave more than an evening’s effort, and usually at the last hour on Saturday night.
Over the years the Pastor developed a formula for his sermons. His approach was to attack a specific act of sinfulness, then preach an emotional call to repentance and godly living. His sermons were all structured in the same way, only the topic changed from week to week. It did not take a great deal of time to prepare such sermons. Especially with Annabelle doing much of the research for examples gleaned from magazines and newspaper exposés of wayward people.
But tomorrow’s sermon was special because it was the ministry’s twenty-fifth anniversary on television. The Pastor was resigned to spend a long evening preparing his message.
How do people think they can be good Christian soldiers when they’re disobedient to God’s Word? the Pastor lamented. Look at Curtis! He intends to disobey the Lord by marrying a divorced woman! The more the Pastor thought about it, the more he felt inner confirmation that the urgent message of the hour was a fresh, new denouncement of divorce. It was a timely message for his flock. Particularly for Curtis.
A weather bulletin came over the radio: A tornado watch had been issued by the National Weather Service for parts of Denver.
The Pastor groaned. What more could happen to make things worse? First Curtis, then Annabelle, then Bert, then the man running in the rain...and now a tornado watch!
Of all times for Annabelle to visit the VA hospital, the Pastor fretted. She knew the research files like the back of her hand. Now, where would she keep clippings on divorce? It was ironic, he had to admit, that, after all these years, he was not the least bit familiar with her filing system. Regardless, he had to find some titillating clippings from the supermarket tabloids on divorce among the rich and famous. Juicy tidbits of gossip about celebrities were always a hit with the congregation.
He went to the outer office and began searching through file drawers. To his surprise, he soon found the subject files, and then a file labeled “Divorce.” It brought a smile to his face. Annabelle had everything so well organized.
The Pastor returned to his desk with the file folder, pleased to see that it contained some recent magazine clippings. Good!—has to be timely stuff.
He spent the next half hour scanning the stories, making notes on his computer. The pain in his leg was subsiding, and he felt more relaxed—weary, but relaxed. He credited the tranquilizers.
He was jolted by a sudden crash of thunder. The soft lights in the study flickered, then went out. The green type on the computer screen dimmed to total blackness.
The Pastor waited for a moment, anticipating the lights would come back on. But they did not. The seconds ticked away. Still no lights. Cursing the darkness, he blindly fumbled through a lower drawer of his desk. His probing fingers found a flashlight. He turned it on and started to rise from his chair, when lightning flashed against the trophy wall. There quickly followed another peal of thunder—and much louder than before. A gentile breeze stirred the papers on the desk. Then the study was still and nearly silent again in the darkness. The only sound was the muted rat-a-tat-tat of rain drumming on the roof and the ticking of the grandfather clock.
The Pastor froze. Lightning? A breeze? In a windowless room? A chill swept over him. He searched the darkness with the flashlight. All appeared normal—dark, but normal. Small beads of perspiration formed on his forehead. His heart was pounding. It had been along day, he reasoned, and he must be more tired than he realized. Or maybe it was the tranquilizers.
Yes! The pills are playing tricks with my mind!
He left his study and walked into the hallway. The lights were out everywhere.
Making his way with the flashlight, he went into the sanctuary. He walked down an aisle to the front and up onto the chancel altar. It was pitch black, except for the dim yellow beam of his flashlight. The dark sanctuary was eerie. He had never before seen it darkened like this. He scanned the sanctuary with the flashlight. As best as he could see, nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. He took candles from two ornate candelabra on floor stands that graced either side of the chancel alter, then left the sanctuary.
Back in his study, the Pastor lit a candle and dripped hot wax onto an inverted teacup, then mounted a candle on it. He made a half dozen more of the crude candle holders, then placed them around his desk. He lit them all and was satisfied they gave off sufficient light.
He sat down to work on his sermon. He could not remember ever working by candlelight. It would be time-consuming and laborious without the computer. But he found pleasure in the notion to mention it in his sermon. It will be a warm, human interest touch, he thought, smiling.
The minutes passed. The day’s toil, combined with the tranquilizers and dim, flickering candlelight, found his fatigued eyes begging for sleep. He decided to recline on the sofa and close his eyes for a few minutes. He had all night to finish the sermon. But it was his mind more than his eyes that needed rest. It occurred to him to read for a few minutes to get his thoughts off the day’s troubles. He went to his desk for the book Bert had given him.
Reading about Ebenezer Scrooge for a few minutes might clear his mind, he thought. And he took A Christmas Carol back to the sofa with him.
Continue to Chapter 7 >
© Frank Allnutt. All rights reserved.