Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: EMBARRASS(ED) (11/03/16)
TITLE: The Offense
By Hannah Gaudette
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I didn't want to see this happen. Not here. But with Craig working the day shift, I had no choice but to bring Riley with me. No babysitter in their right mind would have taken the job, which I knew when I posted it.
My hand on Riley's arm, I careened around the next corner with the grocery cart. Please be empty . . . But of course it wasn't. This was the weekend rush.
“Mom, it's a fat lady!”
I cringed and hauled my little girl away from her victim – a stocky elderly lady who quickly eluded Riley's sharp eyes and pointing finger. “Hush, Riley.”
I had only to get the bread and go.
Another woman brushed by with her own groceries, a young boy toddling after her. He tripped as he passed, landing on the floor in just the right place to force my daughter to sidestep.
“Watch it, half-wit!” she hissed in a voice unnaturally cruel.
Heat exploded on my face. “Riley, that's enough.” I glanced at the other woman. “I'm sorry, ma'am.”
She regarded my daughter with a curious frown while helping her lad to his feet, questions darting through her eyes. I couldn't blame her. This wasn't your normal childhood phase. It had been like this for far too long.
Not waiting for her to accept my apology, I plunged on. Craig and I didn't know what to do anymore. We didn't even take her to meals at friends' houses, the way we had when she'd first come home after the adoption was final. She would make some mortifying comment there, too. We'd scold her, completely mortified ourselves, as well as shocked.
Lord, You know our child. You can right whatever makes her like this around people. Please . . . let us get through this store.
We made it to the checkout without further catastrophe, but the only line open to those with more than fourteen items was a line of at least five other people.
I was about to turn around, pretend to keep shopping, when the man at the rear of the line turned to us.
I froze. “Come on, Riley, let's keep going.”
But he'd already recognized us. “Suzanne, right?”
“I'm Jack. The assistant pastor at Cornerstone.” His bright smile blazed in his kind amber eyes.
“Uh, right. Hi.”
He asked after Craig, then focused on Riley as she pulled against me. I followed his gaze, my heart pounding frantically. Here we go. Riley's childish struggle escalated. She yanked harder, grunting, panting. She was fairly screaming. But if I released her, that scene would be worse than this.
I could feel my control slipping as though I held naught but dust. “Riley Elizabeth Conner, you stop this right now!”
Her eyes went wide. “Never! I won't listen to you!”
I put my other arm around her shoulders to discourage her kicking. She dug her teeth into my skin. I cried out and released her. No!
She stumbled, took a couple steps, then bolted. Another pair of much stronger hands grasped her body. Jack's gentle, but firm grip held her crazed rebellion at bay.
By now we had an audience. Customers and employees gathered around. My face was on fire with shame. Was I crying? I wasn't sure.
Jack's voice wrenched me from self-consciousness into near horror. Did he just . . .
He repeated the words I feared. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her, evil spirit.”
Murmurs flitted through the air. Riley's rigid form went lax, though her eyes still blazed.
I snapped from my shock. “My daughter is not possessed by anything, Pastor Jack.” I briefly eyed the astonished faces around us. “What are you thinking?”
Jack glanced back at me, not at all apologetic. “There's more, Suzanne. The power of Jesus can free her right now if you let it.”
“Demons can't hold a nine-year-old girl. I don't know where you get your information from.”
Shying away from judgmental crowds and forsaking the groceries, I grabbed Riley's hand and fled. Demons. Jack was rebuking demons from my daughter in public! I would never go back into his church.
Only when we were in the car, still fleeing, did the truth stop me cold . . .
Riley was dead silent.
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