Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Outbreak (04/07/11)
TITLE: Outbreak of Kindness
By Melanie Kerr
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Hank O’Reilly slammed his left hand hard on the table. In his right hand he grasped the arm of a boy. He looked harmless, but then all of them did. Hank had taken steps to protect himself. Detective Inspector Harris looked carefully at the strip of grey parcel tape across the boy’s mouth, merely checking that he could still breathe. He resisted the urge to remove the tape. The latest updates on the situation said the boy didn’t need to be able to talk to inflict any damage, but Harris felt safer with the tape in place.
“His name is Eric Knightly. He is one of them.”
“How do you know he’s one of them? Did you catch him in the act?” asked the inspector.
“If I did do you think I would be here right now? I would probably be climbing up some tree rescuing a stranded cat!” Hank snapped irritably.
The inspector was running out of cells to put the boys in. Eric was the ninth boy brought in since the outbreak began. They all belonged to the youth group from St Mary’s Church. There was something different about the church since the new minister arrived. The outbreak started a month or two after he came.
Harris himself had been a church goer for much of his life. He believed it was important to be seen to be rooted somewhere spiritual. He checked in most Sunday mornings.
It was the Friday night youth meetings where the rumblings began. The new minister called it a “move of the Spirit”. Harris didn’t know whether the pool table and the dart board had been moved out of the room. There were certainly fewer football games on the stretch of grass beside the church hall than there used to be. Apparently, so his sources told him, the youngsters studied the Bible and they prayed.
“Can you really study the Bible and pray and have nothing change?” his wife asked him one evening when he was unloading his troubles at the tea table, something he usually made a conscious effort not to do. “Better that than the high jinks they used to get up to.”
Harris agreed that he didn’t want to go back to those days…but was this outbreak any better?
“Look here!” Hank whispered keeping his arm on Eric Knightly but trying to create sufficient distance for privacy, “I don’t want to be nice…No, what I mean is, if I wanted to be nice I want it to be my decision. I don’t want him,” he flicked an eye at Eric, “to pray me into being nice. I know what prayer can do! I have seen the effects…and your know what? If he is allowed to pray indiscriminately, like his friends in the youth group, well, who knows how different this town could become.”
Harris looked at Eric. Could Eric and his friends really pray people into being kind? Hank seemed to think so. There had been an outbreak of kindness throughout the town. Tolly Hardgreaves had trimmed Shelly Henderson’s hedge without being asked and without charging her a penny. Lily Munro had baked Jethro Williams a cake to celebrate his promotion at the bank – the same bank that drastically cut the mortgage payments on Cissy Longhorn’s farm. Elsie Hathaway…well, she didn’t really count as she was always kind anyway.
Everybody being kind made Harris feel uneasy. It wasn’t human nature to be nice to people and yet that’s exactly what the residents of the town of Constance were – kind. The petty spitefulness and backbiting had stopped. Smiles were genuine and people expected an answer to the question “How are you doing?”
“It’s just not natural!” Hank said. “These kids should be throwing bricks through windows or shoplifting…you know, things that normal kids do. Are they doing that? No!”
“Trouble is, Hank,” Harris sighed, “Even if we wanted to I don’t see how we can stop them praying. Even with that parcel tape over his mouth I bet Eric here is praying.”
“Maybe the solution is not to stop them praying, but tell them what needs to be prayed for.”
“My sister, Betty, lives in Fortune. She’s just had knee surgery. They could pray for her to get better.” Hank pulled himself up sharply. He didn’t like Betty much, but he felt kind towards her.
Hank sighed. Eric had prayed him into being nice after all.
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