“You are too predictable with your writing” said Ms. Prunelly, peering over half-rim glasses at the disinterested students slouched over their desks. “One week from today I want three to five hundred words about something that is true. Do not put your name on the paper. We will read the papers in class and you will try to guess who wrote it.
“The person receiving the least number of correct votes will get the highest grade. Whoever correctly guesses the most authors will get a high grade. Another high grade will go to the best written paper, based on how well it is written. To make it interesting, if you don’t fool me you get a ‘D’.”
No one realized it at the time, but a stick of dynamite exploding would not have rocked the community as much as one student’s paper did the following week. It was fifteenth in the pile, following a piece titled The Truth About Jockey Itch, likely written by the captain of the football team.
Quint had read only part of the first paragraph; it had the makings of being really humorous, when Ms. P interjected, “Enough!” She pointed at Ginger. “Read number fifteen.”
Ginger picked up two sheets of paper stapled together; flipped dark tresses away from her eyes with a head shake, lifted the paper with a thumb and index finger, and began to read. “The Truth About Ms. Prunelly.”
The teacher’s dark eyes widened perceptibly, her lips parted -- she may have been breathing through her mouth. “Bring it on” someone hollered above a chorus of delightful yips.
Ginger continued, reading with a suddenly dramatic ten-p.m.-breaking-news voice, “She asked for truth, so here it is. She thinks no one knows her secret, but I do. The School Board would fire her; the Police Chief would …”
“Let me see that!” Ms. P commanded, snatching the paper. Tilting her head back to see through her glasses, she read quickly, intently. Flipping to the second page, her shoulders slumped. The sound could have been, “Noooo!…”, or a pressure valve popping and venting boiler steam. Ms. P rushed, sobbing and stumbling out the door, crushing the paper in her left hand.
She was never seen again. Two classes later someone told the principal Ms. P was absent. He went to her home and found the front door open. Forbush, a neighbor, said she skidded her red convertible into the driveway, ran inside, and came out with an armful of stuff. She threw it in the back seat and burnt rubber leaving, ignoring his neighborly wave. Years later someone saw an older look-alike working on a shrimp boat in Pascagoula. “Might not have been her at all” was added as an afterthought.
No one ever admitted to writing whatever lit Ms. P’s fuse, though people had their suspicions. Afterwards, the story continued in alarming fashion, maybe through copy-cats, but there too, theories populated like guppies in a fish tank.
A doctor committee suicide: a handwritten note was found on his car seat saying, I’m going to tell your darkest secret to the world next Friday. Penelope Venters lives on tranquilizers, dealing with paranoia. Her symptoms appeared after she received a note saying, I have a photograph of you, Mrs. High Society. Soon, I’m going to nail it to poles all over town.
Others received notes, the rumor mill declared. A changed demeanor fueled many speculation feeding frenzies. Several families moved away without leaving forwarding addresses. Maybe the summer was just hotter than usual, but don’t try to fly that explanation by the old codgers at Tommy’s Domino Parlor. Fear stalked the streets, vacuuming up joy.
The town eventually righted itself after a young enthusiastic preacher named Dugan took up his first pastorate. When he began to boldly advertise, Be Sure, Your Sins Will Find You Out, the betting money said he wouldn’t last long enough to get run off. The next week the church’s marquee proclaimed, All Have Sinned --- Repent And Be Forgiven, Each And Every One. Dugan talked to anyone he met, befriending all that would let him. It wasn’t easy for folks to give their fears to God. But when they did, revival broke out. Joy returned over the following weeks as burdens were laid at the foot of the cross.
Today, the message most likely to be found on a car seat in that little town beside a bubbling brook is, God loves you, and so do I.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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