Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Gifts (of the Spirit or service)( 11/22/07)
By Larry Elliott
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The frail woman dressed in clean, but worn clothes, appeared to be in her late twenties. She also seemed as frayed as her attire.
A hush descended the crowd as everyone strained to hear.
Sister Lillian cupped her hands as though concealing a captive butterfly. They began to tingle, itch then burn as if the invisible insect had become a hot coal. She placed her palms gently on each side of the child’s soft, but sallow, face. She murmured some repetitious chant. The steady whimpering stopped, color returned to the toddler’s face and she immediately relaxed into a peaceful sleep.
“It’s a miracle.” The mother shouted again and again while leaping up and down.
The crowd cheered.
Another miracle. Or was it?
The small, twisted, invisible creature assigned to torture the child hesitantly withdrew its gnarled, battle damaged talons from the little ones head. His superior, who had ridden unnoticed atop Sister Lillian’s shoulders for several years now, commanded it to do so.
This scenario had played out hundreds of times in small towns across four states- and her following was growing fast.
And Sister Lillian actually believed she had some magical power, some gift of healing. While in fact it was simply her demon temporarily releasing one of his subordinates from their pleasured duty.
The next person in line was a handsome young man, maybe thirty.
“What is your problem, sir?” Lillian asked slowly.
“I came to help you. My God can truly heal.”
“Help me? I need no healing. I am perfectly fine.” She chuckled realizing his meaning.
The hush was deafening now. The people had not seen Sister Lillian laugh or so much as smile the past three nights of her services.
“Your disease is far worse than any of these you think you have resolved.”
“Ridiculous! I’ve healed hundreds of people.”
“That’s the point, you haven’t. God is the only one who can bestow that kind of gift. The one you serve has no such power. Through slight of hand he might make it appear as a miracle, but he cannot heal. You cannot heal. Your master has led you to believe a lie, which is one of his better tricks.”
“Master? I have no master.”
“Then where does your… power come from?”
“My gift comes from nature herself, from the very essence of the universe, from the… core of my existence. I was born with it.”
“Sorry, no such luck.”
“Leave my presence immediately. I’m done with you.”
“I can’t do that- not just yet.”
“Then I curse you.” She reached for his arm.
“Ahh!” She screamed in pain. So did her invisible puppeteer.
Jerking free she scowled, “Who are you?”
“I am just someone who wants to help you and put a stop to this deception- someone who has the truth.”
She stared at her palms. They felt suddenly greasy, like de-boning a thanksgiving turkey bare-handed. Though they were clean she wiped them incessantly on her robe.
“Go away! Get out!” Lillian screamed flailing both arms like opposing windmills.
“Here is the number where I am staying. Call me when you calm down.” The young man slipped a piece of paper in her hand and left.
She crumpled the note and tossed it into the crowd screeching profanities at his back.
“That’s all for tonight folks.” Lillian’s assistant, Brother John, addressed the stunned and murmuring congregation. “Come back tomorrow night, eight o’clock. Don’t forget the donation buckets at each exit. Bless you, friends. Go in peace.”
When the room was empty he turned his attention to Lillian. “What the…? What are you doing? Do you want us to lose everything we’ve worked for. Are you listening to me?”
“Yes I hear you. Now leave me alone. I’m not feeling very well.”
“Well then- healer, heal thy self.” He mocked.
“Someone might be listening, preacher.” He goaded.
“I hate you!” Her hands burned. She slapped him hard. He dropped to his knees tearing at unseen claws that painfully seized his airway.
“Stop.” She screamed to the emptiness between them. “Stop it. John, get up.”
She touched his head and whispered her healing chant.
He dropped lifeless at her feet.
Somehow she knew the truth now.
She fell to her knees searching frantically beneath the jumble of folding chairs.
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