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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

A to Z - 8. Church

No warnings necessary for this chapter.

On Memorial Day, the Town Pool opens. This is where a bunch of us work over the summer, lifeguarding and giving swim lessons. It’s possible to sit in the lifeguard chair and pretend to watch what’s happening through your sunglasses, while your mind is miles away.

It was at the pool that the doubts first bubbled up the summer before. Unwelcome, insistent doubts. The boys were there. Other guys watched the girls. My attention focused on the boys. It should have been on the girls. But no.

What did that mean? Any answer was unsettling. Or a lie.

This summer, I was going back to the pool, closer to an answer that I didn’t like, but couldn’t deny. There would be no summer girlfriend this June. No July romance. Parties and social life, sure. But I wasn’t going to lie to anyone or to myself. Not anymore.

Instead, it would be a quiet summer. Maybe if this feeling, this persistent tug, was allowed to lie quiet for a while, it would go away.

 

May 30

I have taken a break from walking for today – and most of yesterday, too. I didn’t mean to skip yesterday, but kind of got trapped. For now, I am under cover, listening to the rain pelt down on the roof of the United Holy Brethren Church of Cord’s Junction. Wherever Cord’s Junction is. How did I get trapped in a church of all places? I can’t think of the last time I’ve been in a church.

I don’t think we went as a family when Mom was around. Dad sure as hell never went anywhere near a church. Anyhow, I guess this is as nice a church to be stuck in as any other one on a rainy day – especially when the alternative is to spend the day getting soaked walking along the road. I don’t understand the whole Jesus thing. I wasn’t here for church yesterday, so it’s not like I could raise my hand and ask.

Question number one: If I pray to Jesus, am I praying to God? Follow up question: And if I pray in a church, will my prayers have a better chance of being answered? In a lot of ways, this place has been an answer to a prayer I never made – I’ve had some free food, and a dry, clean place to sleep for the first time in a few days. And I’ve added to my supplies, but I’m not very proud of that.

So how did all this happen? Well, I just walked away from Carlsberg, the only place I ever knew. I walked all of Friday, and all Saturday. I kept my eyes on the mountain ridge, which got bigger and nearer so very, very slowly.

I discovered I had walked into a maze of country roads, side roads and access roads that had few signs and no plan that I could make out. Even though I used the mountain ridge as my landmark to steer by, I ran into a bunch of dead ends.

The first time, I thought I had missed a sign. I noticed the road getting worse and more badly patched. I worked my way up a hill, my leg and ankle protesting with every step. At the top, I discovered a big concrete barrier and a tattered looking “ROAD CLOSED” sign. Just beyond, there was an 8 – foot fence with barbed wire strung across the top. Discouraging notices hung on the rusty wire. NO TRESPASSING. HAZARDOUS WASTE AREA.

I doubted very much that the police took much interest in what happened out here. I would probably be safe on the other side of that fence. I thought long and hard about trying to get over the wire.

Stupid isn't it? What's more hazardous? What could happen to me if I get arrested, or what could happen if I fall in a toxic waste pond?

In the end, I turned around and walked away. I just didn’t like the idea of hanging around a place that could poison me without me knowing until it was too late.

The second time I hit a dead end, I walked along until there was a house at the very end of the road. A house with a very large, unfriendly dog. Without a chain or leash. I backed away, carefully, to the sound of nearly hysterical barking. Why it didn’t attack me, I don’t know.

I spent some of Dad’s beer money on a big bottle of water and a box of Raisin Bran cereal at a tiny convenience store out in the middle of nowhere. Why that store even exists is a mystery. There wasn’t another customer in the place, and the storekeeper was glued to the television hanging over the counter. I doubt she even saw me, though she took seven dollars and forty six cents from me quick enough.

I slept underneath a big truck trailer parked in a side road near a farm. Who knows why it was there, but I wasn’t complaining.

Saturday was little different from Friday, The roads were quieter and I hit fewer dead ends. Still lots of little roads and byways, and chances to get totally turned the wrong way. The countryside was still pretty open, and I kept my eyes on the mountain that was slowly looming larger with each passing hour.

I walked by a huge farm, which looked to be growing some kind of crop under acres of white coverings. The rows of white tubes looked like ripples of fabric on the land. At the farm, there was activity. I could see people driving tractors in the distance, hauling what looked like tanks of liquid or piles of equipment from place to place.

Later, when the sun was higher, I passed a big pond in the middle of some fields. There were trucks parked at the edge, and a party of kids were clearly having fun enjoying the first splash of the summer, hanging out together and enjoying one another’s company. They had a cookout going. I wondered what it would be like to be part of a group like that. Accepted.

By day’s end, I had walked enough. My bruises and hurts were receding, but my feet and knees complained. I got close to the mountain, and walked up a road with a thickening number of homes. It was almost suburban. The road climbed and climbed, only to peter out in a dead end after a mile or two. The walk back down was tough, knowing that I’d have to go back up the mountain someplace else. I drew a few idle looks from people in their front yards, but not many.

When I passed a small elementary school, I walked across the parking lot and back behind the building where I would be less visible. I huddled in a shadowed corner against the bricks, and looked out at the deserted ball field and farms beyond. It was pretty here. I reflected that I’d been lucky so far. I’d passed pretty much unnoticed through quiet roads and small clusters of houses. I think I had put more miles between me and Carlsberg today than the previous two combined.

I hadn’t seen a police car all day long.

Yesterday, I had planned to find my way up and over the mountain. I’d walked about a couple of miles when I spotted this church, with a full parking lot. It looked like a big building for being out in the middle of the countryside. I noticed a sign “Memorial Day Picnic. All Welcome.” A big tent was set up beyond the parking lot and church building.

I was tired of eating handfuls of cereal and my water bottle was empty. I figured I’d walk farther on for a while, then come back. By then church would be over, and I could maybe find a little extra food. My plan worked perfectly.

By the time I got back, there was a mob of people lining up by the tent. I walked closer, looking around carefully. I slipped into the church building to look for a bathroom. I found one and tried to clean myself up. I realized I was pretty ripe. I hadn’t showered since, what, Wednesday? There was no way I could go out there and mingle. My clothes were dirty, and my smell would give me away. This had been a stupid plan, after all.

All I had to do was slip out of the church unnoticed, and I could just keep walking. As I neared the church entrance, I heard voices approaching. I did not want to be seen, so I ducked into a doorway. Looking behind me, I saw the doorway really led to a set of carpeted stairs, leading upwards. I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could, away from the voices. At the top, there was a balcony, overlooking the main church.

The voices I heard belonged to a boy and a girl, definitely older than me, but not by that much. I had to duck down behind a bench to avoid being seen. I couldn’t hear their conversation, and as long as they didn’t come up the stairs, that was fine by me. From the quiet rustle of clothes, and the occasional giggle that carried up to my loft, I could guess what they were doing, and it didn’t take much talking. And in a church.

The smell of cooking meat wafted in the open windows. It was torture for my empty stomach. I couldn’t even try the last of my cereal, because I was afraid the noise of opening the bag would give me away to the people downstairs. The sound of laughter and bright conversation outside told me that everyone was having a wonderful time. I sighed and made myself comfortable on the carpeted floor. I used my pack for my pillow, and took a nap.

I woke to the sound of a door being slammed and then silence. A car started, then I heard it drive away. The lights in the church were off, though there was plenty of sun coming through the windows. I listened carefully, for a long time. I heard nothing. Finally, I dared to raise myself up and look over the edge. Nothing. Nobody.

I heard a clock chime four times. Four o’clock! I’d slept for hours! Now my stomach reasserted itself. Time for supper – and lunch. I got out my pack and opened up the Raisin Bran, and finished it off, being very, very careful not to let any bit of it go to waste.

I could go now. At least I had gotten a good rest. I stood up.

I was incredibly thirsty. As I descended the stairs, I figured I would look for a rest room, so I could pee and then refill my water bottle. Instead of heading back out the main door, I headed to the end of the church by the altar. A little sign pointed the way downstairs: “Restrooms. Kitchen.”

When I had finished my business, I stopped in the hall outside the restroom. Kitchen? Food, maybe? I turned that way. It was dark and shadowy in the basement, with a little light from half windows at ground level. Still, I found the kitchen easily enough. I found myself looking at a large fridge. I couldn’t resist.

I opened it up, and there was an assortment of bowls and plates of leftovers from the picnic. I took one out at random. Potato salad. I looked around for a spoon. I searched and searched, and found one at last in a drawer full of utensils. I made short work of the potato salad. Meatballs in a bowl. Gone too soon. A plastic container full of baby carrots. I ate them slowly, savoring the crunch. A half-gallon of milk!

In the back of my mind, I was sorry. These church people had saved these leftovers for another day. Maybe for the poor, maybe for somebody else? But my stomach overruled my finer feelings. I stuffed myself as if I might never get the chance to eat again.

Feeling way too full, I decided to explore a little more. I found several rooms that looked like classrooms; was this a school, too? In another room there were piles of things that looked like stuff from a yard sale. I shifted in my clothes.

I never bought anything new. I usually had to scrounge from the Carlsberg Charity Thrift Store or the leavings of yard sales. Once a year, Dad would hand me a $20 bill and tell me to go buy clothes, and that I’d better make them last.

I started to look around the room in the fading light. If I was really going to be on my own, I would need underwear. That was always the most expensive of my purchases when I had to shop – nobody sells used socks or tighty-whities. I often got my socks from the school lost and found box near the gym lockers. I could wash socks. There weren’t any here. If there was anything that might fit a scrawny sixteen-year old, I’d be interested. Then again, it’s not as if I could carry much. All I had was a tattered backpack from school.

It was pretty dark by the time I found a few useful things that I could fit: a pair of basketball shorts that I could use as underwear, a pair of khaki pants that were a little big, but OK, several tee shirts and an old button-down shirt that I only discovered to be plaid this morning. I also found a towel that had seen better days.

And that towel gave me an idea.

Lugging my pack and my new clothes, I headed to the kitchen. In the eerie red glow of the Emergency Exit sign, I started to fill one of the sinks with water. I added some dish soap. Before I thought better of what I was doing, I stripped down to nothing, emptied all my pockets and put my smelly clothes in the soapy water.

I swooshed them around and did my best to get the dirt out of them. I left the clothes to soak, and used a dishrag to clean myself off with the soapy water, too. I was making a mess out of the United Holy Brethren’s kitchen, but I didn’t care. I was going to go to sleep clean and fed.

After rinsing and wringing out my clothes, I tried drying off with my new towel. I slipped on the basketball shorts and headed back to my balcony for the night. Question two for today: What happens when you go naked in a church? I didn’t want to find out. I might not have set foot in a church in years, but it sure didn’t feel right going naked in one.

It was hotter in the balcony than I remembered, but I was comfortable enough on the carpet up there. Lightning didn’t strike me, either for being almost naked in church, or for taking Holy Brethren clothes and food. Instead, I had an incredible dream. I had the sensation of being held, embraced by two strong arms. But even though I couldn’t see who was holding me in my dream, I felt comforted. Somewhere, if only in a dream, someone loved me.

This morning when I woke up, my newly washed clothes were mostly dry on the bench where I had draped them to dry. The rain was pouring down outside. I could hear it on the roof. No walking today. Rest. Leftovers for breakfast.

An ideal time to write.

A huge thank you to Craftingmom for her generous and tenacious editing.

Please feel free to review. A review of any kind is most welcome.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

And like that, he got a place to rest and heal. And eat! I just hope the church is run by truly nice people. They might let him stay a while. Get his bearings.

 

And who is that lifeguard talking in the beginning...?

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You're on the street, you take what you can get, when you can get it. Food, clothes, sleep. it doesn't matter. Stephan has learned that no one cares about you, well not until they catch you stealing. And the whys of that don't matter when they do catch you. At least not often.
Stephan is learning he's invisible and all the usual rules seem to apply less and less.
Good job Parker.
tim

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On 10/12/2015 05:59 AM, Mikiesboy said:

You're on the street, you take what you can get, when you can get it. Food, clothes, sleep. it doesn't matter. Stephan has learned that no one cares about you, well not until they catch you stealing. And the whys of that don't matter when they do catch you. At least not often.

Stephan is learning he's invisible and all the usual rules seem to apply less and less.

Good job Parker.

tim

And it seems that the rules for rural invisibility may differ slightly from what you find in the city. Stephan/Eric got lucky, and you're very right about the rules. He just doesn't understand what the rules might be in this broad new world he's in.

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On 10/12/2015 05:59 AM, Mikiesboy said:

You're on the street, you take what you can get, when you can get it. Food, clothes, sleep. it doesn't matter. Stephan has learned that no one cares about you, well not until they catch you stealing. And the whys of that don't matter when they do catch you. At least not often.

Stephan is learning he's invisible and all the usual rules seem to apply less and less.

Good job Parker.

tim

And it seems that the rules for rural invisibility may differ slightly from what you find in the city. Stephan/Eric got lucky, and you're very right about the rules. He just doesn't understand what the rules might be in this broad new world he's in.

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On 10/12/2015 05:41 AM, Puppilull said:

And like that, he got a place to rest and heal. And eat! I just hope the church is run by truly nice people. They might let him stay a while. Get his bearings.

 

And who is that lifeguard talking in the beginning...?

Our lifeguard spoke to us at the very beginning of Chapter 1. The church is a lonely country church, so Stefan/Eric may not be bothered much while the rain comes down.

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Thank you Parker, for giving us a little hope!
So the lifeguard is the other part of "us" from the beginning of the story. It seems their paths will soon cross, unless LG isn't in the same town where Stefan is eating and recovering. A very good description of rural roads and lanes! I've had a few similar experiences of a road I thought was going somewhere suddenly being gone ...haha.
The one thing in the back of my head is that Stefan needs some medical attention pretty soon. Those hidden injuries could prove fatal.
Great chapter Parker!

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On 10/12/2015 09:33 AM, skinnydragon said:

Thank you Parker, for giving us a little hope!

So the lifeguard is the other part of "us" from the beginning of the story. It seems their paths will soon cross, unless LG isn't in the same town where Stefan is eating and recovering. A very good description of rural roads and lanes! I've had a few similar experiences of a road I thought was going somewhere suddenly being gone ...haha.

The one thing in the back of my head is that Stefan needs some medical attention pretty soon. Those hidden injuries could prove fatal.

Great chapter Parker!

Let's hope he escaped without something that only leaves scars, and nothing more. For now, he's out of the rain, and that's something.

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Somehow I don't think that God would mind anything Stefan did in that church today. Naked or not. Hopefully the people won't either. More food and rest, if he has to be on the move again, at least he'll be in better shape. Also, those roads wherever he is seem to be less populated so hopefully he will stay off the grid and manage to keep going.
Knowing that somewhere the lifeguard is waiting, and their lives will intersect at some point is my hope that things will look up for Stefan.
Well done Parker...

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On 10/12/2015 02:34 PM, Defiance19 said:

Somehow I don't think that God would mind anything Stefan did in that church today. Naked or not. Hopefully the people won't either. More food and rest, if he has to be on the move again, at least he'll be in better shape. Also, those roads wherever he is seem to be less populated so hopefully he will stay off the grid and manage to keep going.

Knowing that somewhere the lifeguard is waiting, and their lives will intersect at some point is my hope that things will look up for Stefan.

Well done Parker...

Thanks for the review, and for sticking with Stefan/Eric. It's good the church had something in the fridge for him. Interesting, but more than could be portrayed, would have been the reaction of the United Brethren pastor and congregation. Would they be in an uproar at an intruder, or would they celebrate that the kingdom of God came near in a nameless someone who needed their help? Couldn't have Stefan/Eric ask that questions, so I'll put it out there. Tim and SD both had interesting comments on the Forum, too.

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I was a little confused at the beginning, but it makes more sense knowing that it's a different person. I can't imagine that the churchgoers would mind Stefan's actions. The ending was a beautiful way to show God's presence. I wonder what's next for him.

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It seems like Stefan is healing, both physically and mentally. I think it would be interesting to see him interact with the church congregation. The sign said "All are welcome" - he was expecting the worst, but he might have been pleasantly surprised by his reception.

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On 10/13/2015 02:48 AM, Diogenes said:

It seems like Stefan is healing, both physically and mentally. I think it would be interesting to see him interact with the church congregation. The sign said "All are welcome" - he was expecting the worst, but he might have been pleasantly surprised by his reception.

It's almost as if Stefan is a survivor of a some sort of explosion. In some way, it's a good metaphor. He's wandered out of the wreckage, kind of stunned. Now he has to figure out what to do or where to go.

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On 10/13/2015 01:01 AM, Valkyrie said:

I was a little confused at the beginning, but it makes more sense knowing that it's a different person. I can't imagine that the churchgoers would mind Stefan's actions. The ending was a beautiful way to show God's presence. I wonder what's next for him.

Yes, the second speaker is a little odd, but hang in there. I beg you. In the meantime, Stefan/Eric is going to get some real sleep.

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The God I believe in intended that food and those clothes for Stephan and granted him sanctuary in His house ...

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On 12/31/2015 05:43 AM, dughlas said:

The God I believe in intended that food and those clothes for Stephan and granted him sanctuary in His house ...

Oh, you said it so very well. Thank you for being patient as I try to catch up on reviews and posts.

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well i did say that i would give it two more chapters,glad i did as it is now looking hopeful for stefen,Thank god.

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On 03/03/2016 06:42 AM, bubby1234 said:

well i did say that i would give it two more chapters,glad i did as it is now looking hopeful for stefen,Thank god.

You were good to keep going. Stefan is limping away from a horror nobody should have to endure. Life will still be hard, but nothing could compare to what happened already. He is a survivor. Thanks for staying with the story, and I hope you enjoy what follows.

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The first time I read this chapter, I didn't really pay much attention to the foreword (or whatever it's called) in the lifeguard's voice. I often don't understand the little forewords. But I rarely understand the deeper meanings hidden in stories and only understand the surface. I'll pay more attention in the future, Parker.

 

I think A2Z would have been too intense if Eric weren't given a break from what has so far been a pretty bleak existence.

 

I'd like to think that Eric was mistaken and that he would have been welcomed with open arms and that the church would have not only fed him, but clothed him, given him a place to bathe, and a place to sleep. Unfortunately, individual congregants are real people with very real flaws. It's likely that even if he hadn't been rejected outright, he would have been preached at for his perceived sins (unwashed, poorly dressed, hungry, poor, etc) rather than given unconditional support.

 

In an ideal world, Eric would not have been reported to the police for theft and trespassing if he had been found.

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On 06/02/2016 11:06 AM, droughtquake said:

The first time I read this chapter, I didn't really pay much attention to the foreword (or whatever it's called) in the lifeguard's voice. I often don't understand the little forewords. But I rarely understand the deeper meanings hidden in stories and only understand the surface. I'll pay more attention in the future, Parker.

 

I think A2Z would have been too intense if Eric weren't given a break from what has so far been a pretty bleak existence.

 

I'd like to think that Eric was mistaken and that he would have been welcomed with open arms and that the church would have not only fed him, but clothed him, given him a place to bathe, and a place to sleep. Unfortunately, individual congregants are real people with very real flaws. It's likely that even if he hadn't been rejected outright, he would have been preached at for his perceived sins (unwashed, poorly dressed, hungry, poor, etc) rather than given unconditional support.

 

In an ideal world, Eric would not have been reported to the police for theft and trespassing if he had been found.

Poor Eric; the Brethren might have taken him in and cared for him. However,in the end, he would have been turned over to the police, or the courts, and a new hell would have begun, I suspect. Thank you for writing a review and leaving your comments. They are thoughtful and reflective.

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The dream that he describes at the end of the chapter really had me feeling sorry for him. In very bad conditions and he finds something which makes him happy, he has hope.

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6 hours ago, Higster said:

The dream that he describes at the end of the chapter really had me feeling sorry for him. In very bad conditions and he finds something which makes him happy, he has hope.

 

While it sounds odd, Stephan / Eric has had some luck. He’s safe enough, out of the weather, and fed. For once, his rest is easier, and perhaps that was the source of  his dream. You are kind to comment, and I’m grateful you have read the journal. 

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That was a good chapter. Stephan found somewhere safe to rest and recover, he was also able to get food and clothes. Hopefully his dream gives him hope.

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4 hours ago, chris191070 said:

That was a good chapter. Stephan found somewhere safe to rest and recover, he was also able to get food and clothes. Hopefully his dream gives him hope.

Stefan is running but he was under cover and was able to rest for a day. He may not really know what to do with his good dream; he has so few. Thanks again for reading.

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Well, I don't know what will happen now. Stefan's got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter now, because he's on his way to the mountaintop.

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@BlueWindBoy Stefan has stumbled into a place of vast riches: leftovers and castoff clothes. He’s equipped for a journey outside of the cage his father kept him in. But where that might take him is anyone’s guess. 

Edited by Parker Owens
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