Story-A-Day May #28: Pulpit Pandemonium

Today’s storyaday.org prompt is to incorporate a specific paragraph into the story, which appears to involve a character objecting to a marriage — I’ve chosen to use it as the opening paragraph to my story, though I interpreted it in a different way.

Pulpit Pandemonium

Loretta’s face was hidden by the wide brimmed hat boldly covered in ribbons and one rose. Rising slowly from the fourth pew, she raised her chin towards the minister and declared, “I object.”

The reverend’s sermon trailed off as the congregation gasped and tittered. A few elderly parishioners were startled awake and peered about the church, trying to figure out what they’d missed. A fidgety child’s ziplock bag ripped and cheerios scattered everywhere — though this was probably inevitable, rather than a result of Loretta’s bold proclamation.

Groaning, the reverend gathered up his vestments and stepped down from the pulpit for a less formal chit-chat. “Mrs. Beckwith,” he said, like a man who had grown very tired of saying it. “To what, pray tell, do you object?”

In her Sunday finest, white-and-purple floral print, Loretta towered above the seated congregation and fanned herself. “All of that business you were just saying.”

A few scattered giggles broke the otherwise deathly silence in the nave.

“All of it,” the reverend flatly echoed. He took off his spectacles and roughly massaged the bridge of his nose. By the time he replaced them, his eyes were watery and red. “Perhaps if you were more specific…?”

“Well now, I’m a god-fearing woman, who’s read the Good Book from cover to cover. And I seem to remember something about ‘Love thy neighbor’, isn’t that right?” She looked around for confirmation and received a few nods.

“Certainly,” said the reverend, waving for her to get on with it.

“And I also remember something about giving to the poor, isn’t that true?” A few more heads bobbed.

“Of course, but how is that-”

“What I don’t remember is anything about him.” She pointed at the bloated golden statue behind the altar.

The congregation erupted into an immediate uproar. “Oh, come on!” “Who doesn’t remember the parables of Gleebleglork?” “He’s mentioned in, like, half the songs we learned in Sunday School.” “Sit down, ya kooky old bat!”

Loretta weathered the storm with resolute grace, fanning herself at a calm, steady tempo.

“Now, hold on, everyone,” said the reverend, waving them back down to a simmering silence. He grabbed something off the pulpit and strode down the aisle to Loretta’s pew. Thumbing to a particular page, he offered the book to her. “I know you’ve got a lot of, let’s say, controversial opinions on theology, Mrs. Beckwith. And we’re all a little forgetful sometimes. But just look here, it’s printed in black-and-white: ‘Gleebleglork descended from the heavens in his flying saucer’.”

“I’m not talking about that book you got. Or you got, or you got.” Loretta’s finger jabbed accusingly around the pews at every parishioner who currently held a leather-bound tome. “I’m talking about the book that I’ve got in here.” She patted her heart. “It doesn’t have any New, Revised, Improved, Standard, Revised, With Bells and Whistles On Version. It’s old and it’s rugged, and some of the pages are ripped or dog-eared. The binding’s coming loose and it’s got coffee stains. But I trust it more than some slick-talking city preacher.”

“I think I understand now,” said the reverend with a certain smugness. “Seems to me this is really about pride. We’re all suitably impressed with your special, special, heart Mrs. Beckwith. And we treasure you, and your very vocal opinions, as we do all our elders. May I have your permission to resume my sermon?”

Loretta didn’t think he had her measure at all. But doubts visited her. Having made such a spectacle, she found herself unable to further articulate her objections — even to herself. Something about this Gleebleglork business just didn’t feel right.  “Hmph.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

She returned to her seat and frowned through the rest of the service. Something wasn’t right, and she was going to get to the bottom of it, by hook or by crook.

Later that night, when most of the cozy town was long asleep, Loretta parked her car at the bottom of the hill, where it wouldn’t be noticed. In a warm wool coat, she made a long trek up the sidewalk with her purse looped around her elbow. Her knees groaned all the way to the church’s front door.

It was locked, as expected, but Loretta still wore hatpins and knew how to use them. The lock clicked, the door swung open, and she cautiously advanced into the darkened narthex. She didn’t know exactly what she was looking for, but that reverend had to be hiding something.

At the far end of the nave, an open door to the sacristy spilled a rectangle of light toward the altar and the coldly gleaming statue of gold. She quietly slipped through a door and crept down the aisle. There were voices talking in the adjoining sacristy, but she couldn’t quite make them out.

Halfway through the nave, her shoe loudly crunched a cheerio to dust. She paused for a moment to see if she’d given herself away.

The voices went quiet. A shadow appeared in the doorway.

Loretta scrambled into a pew, folded down a cushioned kneeler, and hunched low out of sight. Her eyes, and her more modest evening hat — with only one ribbon — were just barely visible.

The reverend emerged, glancing about suspiciously, and then stood before the bloated golden statue. “Oh, Gleebleglork, I have zapped them all with the brain-scrambler as you commanded. None of them suspect a thing. Except maybe that old Mrs. Beckwith, but no one pays her any mind.”

Loretta’s knees creaked as she rose to full height. “I object.”

The reverend whirled around. “Mrs. Beckwith! You nosy busybody… You’re in big trouble, this time.” He confidently marched down the aisle toward her, intending who knew what.

The first thunderous swing of her purse put the fear of god back into him. His eyes got big and he backpedaled. His palms turned outward. “Come now, you wouldn’t hit a man with glasses would you?”

“You. Ought. To be. Ashamed. Of Yourself.” She punctuated each word with another blow from her purse. The final swing laid the dishonest reverend flat.

She’d hardly caught her breath before the huge statue began to move. On gleaming metal limbs, it stepped over the altar, stomped closer, and loomed above her, wearing a cruel, twisted expression.

Loretta readied her purse.

“You think your little bag can dent my immaculate golden form?” Gleebleglork’s rumbling laughter shook the whole church, and her fillings.

The next Sunday, the congregation — and Loretta, in her finest hat, adorned with ribbons and three roses — enjoyed a whole service conducted by a guest minister, without a single mention of Gleebleglork, or any sign of a golden statue. Only a careful observer may have noticed about the altar a faint smattering of pulverized gold dust.

***

Thanks for reading!

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