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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Write in the MYSTERY genre (04/05/07)

TITLE: Happy Days
By Helen Paynter


Happy Days

‘Oh happy day!
That fixed my choice,
On thee, my Saviour and my God.’

The small congregation sang with genteel impatience. The sermon was over, just four verses and the benediction to go. Mrs Forrester’s fingers flew over the keyboard.

A clatter at the back made her miss an F sharp. She winced and bashed on. But the congregation had fallen silent. This was unprecedented! She stopped playing and turned around.

A tall black man in uniform was marching down the aisle, bearing the wasted form of a child. Clearing the altar with one motion, he laid her softly down and backed away, his face haunted.

Pastor Henderson’s mouth was flapping like his cassock, his accustomed eloquence quite fled.

The intruder turned to him politely. ‘Sergeant Melaku of the Addis Ababa police. Excuse the intrusion, sir. I am investigating a death.’

Pastor Henderson found his voice. ‘In case you haven’t noticed, Sergeant, we are a long way from Addis Ababa.’ Encouraged by a titter from Miss Pettigrew, he smirked and folded his arms.

‘Exactly so.’ The Sergeant was unruffled. ‘But my investigations have narrowed the field to three prime suspects.’

‘Then you had better proceed with your enquiries.’ Henderson glanced at his watch.

‘Very well. May I?’ Melaku straddled a chair. ‘This is Desta. Yesterday she died on the streets of Addis. She was eight. Her killer is in this room.’

A murmur rippled around the church.

Melaku consulted a notebook. ‘First, Ethel Pettigrew.’

She rose in bewilderment, the cherries on her bonnet shaking.

‘You are a one-woman campaign for cut-price groceries -yes?’

‘Well, yes, Sergeant. Everyone likes a bargain.’ Recovering a little, she preened herself.

‘And who did you imagine absorbs those price cuts? The supermarkets?’ Angry words bounced off the rafters. ‘The cuts are passed down the supply chain to the farmer, of course. So, on the 15th September 1994, you wrote demanding cheaper coffee. Am I right?’

She stared with a pale face.

‘Five weeks later, Desta’s father’s coffee crop was devalued overnight. Your work was successful. Sit down.’

Dazed, she obeyed.

Melaku resumed the story. ‘As a result, he left his family to find work in Addis. He was away for three years. Previously a faithful husband, this long separation proved too much, and he had a brief, guilt-ridden affair.’ Indifferent to the gasps, he proceeded, ‘From this liaison he contracted AIDS. When he finally returned home he infected his wife and fathered a child – Desta here. So we continue to our second suspect - Margaret Forrester.’

The organist rose slowly to her feet, holding on to the instrument with white knuckles.

‘You work for the pharmaceutical company Zadopen.’ Scarcely pausing, he continued. ‘In what capacity?’

‘I am secretary to the patents manager.’ She spoke in a sullen whisper.

‘I have here,’ he flourished a document, ‘two memos you typed in February 1998. Please read the sections marked.’ He handed it to her.

‘Provision of single dose antiretrovirals to pregnant women prevents transmission of HIV to most fetuses…’ She turned the page. ‘We must ensure that cheap versions of our patented drugs are not made available in the developing world, as this would be against our commercial interest…’ She looked up petulantly. ‘But I didn’t make the decision.’

‘Neither did the commandant of Auschwitz.’ He spat the words dismissively. ‘Sit.’

She sank back onto the organ bench, weeping.

‘On the 15th March 1999, Desta was born, infected with a time bomb. Her father was already dead. Her mother died five years later. For three years she has been existing on the streets of Addis like a feral animal. So to our final suspect. James Henderson, stand up!’

The clergyman blanched, but rose meekly.

‘I have here a letter, written by you, dated 3rd July 2004. Please read the part highlighted.’

Henderson put on his glasses and peered at it. ‘I am unable to help…. I do not support AIDS charities, as AIDS is God’s judgment on this generation of homosexuals and fornicators.’

‘The request was for a donation to an AIDS orphanage!’ Melaku shouted. ‘An orphanage of homosexual children, presumably.’

Henderson subsided to a chair, shaking.

‘And so she died.’ The Sergeant shrugged and turned towards the tiny corpse. ‘Who killed her? Decide for yourselves. I have a funeral to arrange.’ The doors swung briefly and were still.

An appalled silence hung for a moment. Then Mrs Forrester collected herself and began to play.

‘Oh Happy Day
Oh Happy Day
When Jesus washed my sins away…’

With apologies to J B Priestly

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Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 04/12/07
I think I know who wrote this. But, whether or not I am right about that, this is a wonderful piece of writing. I wish what it says weren't true, but I suspect it is. It only leaves me to say: "May God have mercy on us for our arrogance and neglect."
Jan Ackerson 04/12/07
Wowsers! From the wonderfully ironic title to the last word, this is a work of art! What a creative way to write on the topic!

Linda Germain 04/13/07
Beautifully done! My heart aches...
Anita Neuman04/13/07
Well, I'm going to baffle everyone and admit that I didn't write this one! But I DO love it!!! Yes, the face of AIDS has so many facets and the effects are far-reaching. I hope this story gets a lot of attention so more people will consider their part in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

(P.S. - even the names are culturally correct. Either you did your research well, or you have some experience here.)
Sara Harricharan 04/13/07
Powerful writing. This story packs quite a punch and the message is one that will stay for awhile.
Venice Kichura04/14/07
I agree, this is powerful stuff! Professionally done...think this will place high.
Verna Cole Mitchell 04/16/07
A powerfully written story that is such a reminder of our personal responsibility as Christians!
James Wood04/17/07
Terribly written nonsense, from a very humanistic, holier-than-thou perspective rather than a Christian one. I find it interesting that the father "could not help himself" in his affair, but the secretary passing on notes is guiltier than a nazi? Remove the beam before you remove the mote.
dub W04/18/07
I was somewhat taken aback, this is a reality reflection of the logic in certain cultures, this story could be told again in Latin America. While this may be fiction, it is the face of the only hope we have at that crisis time. An interesting read. Thank you.
Joanne Sher 04/18/07
Oh, Helen - this is amazing! You had me holding my breath (and looking VERY closely at my own motives) all the way through. An absolute masterpiece.
Rita Garcia04/18/07
Masterwriting from beginning to end! You're a writer I read so I can grow as a writer!
Cheri Hardaway 04/18/07
This is an incredible piece of writing. It is a show-stopper. Wow! You have done a masterful job.

Pay no attention to the one negative comment you received above; seems to me this man has a beam to remove from his own eye before he comments on anymore entries. This is not the first comment I've seen from him this week; comments that do more to tear down good efforts rather than bring constructive criticism. Many blessings, Cheri
Julie Arduini04/18/07
WOW! This is dynamic and exceptionally well written. The names and dialogue just shine here. This is a gem, an absolute gem. Great work!
Lauren Bombardier04/18/07
Helen, I'm shaken. This was excellent writing, and you know why? Because you got the response you did, from the negative (which I think it nonsense in and of itself) to the positive. Evidently you reached many people, and that's the goal of writers.
Loren T. Lowery04/18/07
This is profound in that it reminds us that each of our acts have consequences. As Christians we are blessed that God sees the intent of our hearts.
Betty Castleberry04/18/07
Very creative, and beautifully done. This deserves recognition, not tearing down. The message is heard loud and clear as well. Big thumbs up to you.
Verna Cole Mitchell 04/18/07
I had to comment again to say the harsh criticism is wrong, wrong, wrong. Your mystery is a challenge to all of us to examine our attitudes in the view of God's love.
Shari Armstrong 04/18/07
Val Clark04/18/07
Pierces my heart. You really made an impact. yeggy
Catrina Bradley 04/18/07
An excellent example of how every move we make has consequences. A heartbreaking, but enlightening piece. And beautifully written, as always.
Angela M. Baker-Bridge04/18/07
I'm touched for different reasons. You poured yourself into this... allowing yourself to be an instrument God could speak through. His heart breaks when He sees the way His creation treats one-another.

Trying to defend others, you yourself were attacked in the worse possible way... public humiliation before your peers. Apparently words you penned were for your attacker to read. They cut too deeply so he lashed out at you (which was safer than being angry at God). Your work was not critiqued, you were assassinated.

Just as in your piece, the heart of God has again been broken, as I'm sure yours was too, dear Helen. Heal quickly and forgive ignorance liberally.
william price04/18/07
I'm proud to be the 200th reader of this literary rubbish:)
Kidding. One of the best I have read this week. This is why I like to read. A true gem. God bless.
Joanney Uthe04/18/07
Great lesson on how our actions effect others. I also enjoyed the culture clash. Wonderfully written peice.
Sara Harricharan 04/19/07
Congrats on a wonderful entry and win! ^_^
Shari Armstrong 04/19/07
Julie Arduini04/19/07
Helen, I just wanted to come back and say congratulations. God has found favor in your work, and I sure hope this beats anything else you endured this week. Congrats!!!!
Rita Garcia04/19/07
CONGRATULATIONS! I am sooo thrilled you won!
Jacquelyn Horne04/19/07
Congratulations! What a wonderful win. And well deserved.
Emily Ritter04/19/07
I echo what one person said, "my heart aches" from this story. So well done, very deserving of this win.
Bonnie Derksen04/20/07
Certainly your double win is well-deserved. I am so impressed with the quality of your entry, and all your writing for that matter. You challenge and inspire me as a relative newbie to know what I am writing about and do so concisely.
Congratulations to you, Helen. I agree with all but one of your commenters and would like to echo that surely God's favor is upon this creation.
Jeffrey Snell04/20/07
Moving and effective. I believe the criticism we give here must be directed toward improving the author's skills, not challenging their views--except perhaps in terms of Christian essentials. So be encouraged! You plunged everyone into a present reality and caused all to consider where we stand! What better outcome could there be for us writers?
Chrissi Dunn04/20/07
Wow. What a challenge. I'll not forget this piece for a long time. What an impact!
Sharlyn Guthrie04/20/07
What a gripping, powerful message here. Your 1st place win is well deserved.
Amy Michelle Wiley 04/21/07
Wow, powerful story. I had a moment of confusion wondering where this was set, so a small comment explaining that may have been helpful, but that is a minor thing in a awesome story. Well deserving of the win.
Jessica Schmit04/23/07
Hey Helen!
I like to pop in once and a while to see how your stories are coming along. WOW!!!! Loved this one. You tackled my favorite subject. This story reminded me of "The Constant Gardener" meets "Babal." (the movies)

The only part I didn't like was the end. I thought you didn't need the push on the forgiveness. I think you drove that message home by the entire story. Beautifully written. Awesome job and I'm so proud of you!!!
Lisa Holloway06/03/07
This is--no doubt--an article that could tweak a lot of people, mainly because it reminds us of our own barely-noticed hypocrisies. What I like best is the way you connected the dots between our "innocent" little actions and the end result. If we set a cause in motion, then certainly we bear some responsibility for the effect. The central message of this piece is very good, in my opinion, and hope that readers don't focus so narrowly on the particular "political" points that they miss the larger message. Good writing!
Dixie Phillips06/09/07
Oh Helen, not only are you a doctor, but you are a preacher. MY! MY! MY! I am over here in the U.S.A. reeling from this profound story. This really should be in Sunday school take-home papers so help expose some of those dark crevices in each of our souls. This was a grand prize winner HANDS DOWN... INTENSE APPLAUSE!!!!
Gregory Kane03/12/09
I'm writing this comment almost two years later. But what an emotionally charged and incredibly challenging story. Loved it.
Living in Africa, I can identify with the themes raised by your haunting tale. And I can see why that one man took offence - although I also felt that several of the later commentators were unduly harsh.
Speaking from a position of some understanding, I feel slightly uncomfortable with your use of the term 'killer.' True, many contributed to the girl's death, but the one most culpable in my opinion was the father. I do appreciate however that the idea of murder fitted in well with the theme even if it's not strictly the case in law.
That's my tuppence worth. I'm so pleased that this came first. Maybe one day I'll be as good a writer.

Chong Shipei12/30/10
I like your ending, about how Jesus forgives all the sinners that are responsible for the child's death.