I’ve felt pulled in so many directions lately, but I have not, for one moment, stopped writing this novel in my head the last few weeks. Today, I finally got to put pen to paper (literally: Pilot 7.0 gel and a yellow legal pad) and began the next chapter, in which Norea, about 10 years old in this section, will spend the day with someone who may be Satan. The following is the first excerpt I’ve released publicly in a while. I like to offer my growing audience some tantalizing insights without giving away important plot points, and this scene is perfect for that, I think. I hope you enjoy it. In this scene, you get to see Norea as a child, interacting with a friend from her neighborhood as they play a game that seems to hint at something much greater than simple play.
Slender fingers rummaged among tri-folded white briefs, poking the narrow gaps between soft cotton to explore the solid cedar beneath.
“Here it is.” Norea pulled a small silver ring from the depths of Isaac’s crowded underwear drawer. “This was Papa’s wife.”
Suzie cocked her head to one side, hands on her hips. “Who?”
Norea: “Isaac’s mom.”
Suzie: “Not your mom?”
Norea: “I don’t have a mom. Come on.”
Norea fled the bedroom giggling, leaving Isaac’s drawers open. Suzie followed and they ran to the chapel to get married.
Norea, Bill and Isaac lived in a ten-bedroom Plantation style house. At Bill’s request, a small Baptist sanctuary had been constructed alongside its eastern wall, connected by a long, narrow hallway. The chapel’s steeple barely reached the eaves of the homestead’s third floor, and the two-dozen handcrafted pews within it would barely fit one hundred fifty congregants, a far cry from the thousands who regularly visited Inspiration City’s primary fellowship hall.
It was intimate, however, as Bill had intended. He had hoped to use it for small community services, perhaps on Saturdays and during the week, and for weddings, funerals and the like. This had never happened, however, as Isaac’s church kept the community busy every day of the week with a full schedule of social activities, while Bill’s small chapel sat forgotten, all alone behind the white-washed mansion.
Norea had been inside the church a number of times because Bill enjoyed coming here to pray. She enjoyed sitting beside him on the bright red pew cushions, her feet kicking through the air below as she studied the detailed crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar.
She did this now as Suzie explored the chapel for the first time.
“Give me the ring.” Suzie stepped up to the altar, found herself unable to see over the angled podium, and so dragged a massive armchair to the stand. Again she approached the altar, leaning over the top of it from her perch on the deacon’s chair. “Ladies and gentlemen. We are gathered here today to witness a union of love in holy marriage, sacred in the eyes of God.”
Norea stood still, her back turned to Suzie and the phantom congregation, rapt in her meditation on the suffering Christ hanging from the church wall.
His agony frozen in polished pine, he rolled his wide eyes longingly to an unseen heaven beyond the low grid of water-stained ceiling tiles. The ropes of his flesh faltered against death in a terrible struggle, his lips curled by the overwhelming horror of an inescapable moment. A paint too bright attempted to render the artifice of the statue’s blood, running from his wrinkled brow, the holes in his curled hands, the gap carved in his limp feet, and from the gaping wound in his side. Frozen in time between life and death, earth and hell, mortality and divinity, the imaginary and the real, the felled tree and the artist’s vision, in a limbo pregnant with heightened emotions and little understanding, the sculpture of a dying god pretended to bleed, suspended from a cross painted on the wall of an unused chapel, before an inattentive, imaginary congregation.
Slowly, Norea turned to Suzie. “Huh?”
Suzie held out her hand. “The ring?”
Norea looked at her own empty hands. “You have it.”
Suzie rolled her eyes. “Of course I have it, you dork! It’s time for you to do your vows and get the ring. Aren’t you paying attention?”
Norea looked at Suzie and then at the crucifix. “Why do you think they put that in here?”
Suzie: “Because it’s a church, duh. Come on, let’s play.”
Norea turned to her and shrugged. “But Jesus rose from the dead. He’s not like this at all.”
Suzie: “Everybody knows that. Are you going to play with me or not? I’m going home if you don’t stop acting so weird.”
Norea turned to look at the dying man again and peered into his sad blue eyes. “Not to us, El-Shaddai, not to us but to your name be the glory, because your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their god?’ Our God is in heaven. He does whatever pleases Him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak; eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats.” Norea approached the man carved from wood and reached for him, hesitantly. She heard Suzie draw a deep breath and hold it. Norea’s tiny fingers hovered over the curled toes of her messiah. She laid her soft palm against the gnarled wood of his polished feet. She tested its solidity before gripping it with confidence.
Suzie slowly released her breath.
Norea turned and smiled. “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”
Suzie: “And there goes Alice, down the rabbit hole again.” She held the ring for Norea. “So are we going to play or what?”
Norea: “Okay.” She took the ring, walked down the carpeted steps away from the pulpit, and turned back to the altar. “Shouldn’t I walk down the aisle?”
Suzie: “You mean start over? If you wanted to do that, you should’ve done it already.”
Norea: “Are you going to be my husband?”
Suzie: “No, obviously I’m the preacher.” She looked around. “Why don’t you marry Jesus?”
Norea looked into the carving’s eyes and smiled. She walked slowly toward him, holding the ring between her fingers.
Suzie turned to the empty chapel and called out in a loud, reverberating voice: “Norea, will you take Jesus to be your husband? Will you love him, be there for him and forsake everyone else to remain true to him only, forever and ever?”
Norea: “I do.”
Suzie: “And Jesus, do you take Norea to be your wife and promise you’ll love her and be there always and forsake everybody else for her, forever and always?”
Norea’s eyes grew wide. “Did you hear that?”
Suzie turned from the podium. “Hear what? I didn’t hear anything.”
Norea: “He said I do.”
Suzie sighed. “Don’t do this, Norea, I hate it when you act like this. Stop making things up.”
Norea: “But I heard it.”
Suzie put her hands on her hips. “You know what my mamma says every time I tell her a lie?”
Suzie: “Mamma says God could destroy the whole world tomorrow if he wanted to, or even next minute. God’s going to take all of this from us someday, anytime he wants, and not even Jesus or the angels know when it’ll happen and not one of us can change his mind or hide the truth, so we better spend our every waking minute trying to get right with God.”
Norea: “I wasn’t lying.”
Suzie: “You weren’t telling the truth. That happens a lot.”
The double doors at the front of the chapel opened and Isaac strode quickly down the aisle. “There you are! What are you doing in here?”
Suzie glanced at Norea and ran down the hall, back to the house.
Isaac: “Do you have my mother’s ring? It’s missing.”
Norea lowered her head and nodded, holding the ring for him.
Isaac snatched it from her, grabbed her arm, pulled her past Jesus and dragged her down the hallway.