Depths: My Short Story Of the Week

Depths

“Mr. Ben?”

“Yeah, Raph?”

“I prefer my full name, Mr. Ben.”

“My apologies, Raphael. What’s up?”

Children surrounded a plastic banquet table as they toiled away at a craft pertaining to Jonah and the whale. The Youth Ministry Team created an engineering marvel in which the Sunday school students could color a previously manufactured Jonah, affix him to a craft stick, and then connect that to the back of a large cardboard whale. With the help of a grommet, the children could force the whale to regurgitate Jonah and then swallow him whole again.

Luckily for everyone, Ben wasn’t in charge of developing projects. He simply facilitated class every Sunday morning in room 21 of the church basement.

Encouraged by Ben, Raphael asked, “Do fish utilize a digestive system comparable to that of a human?”

Baylee, Ben’s daughter, said, “See? I told you Raphael was smart, Dad.”

Another child, Kean, countered: “I’m just as smart.” Though he listened intently, Kean refused to divert his eyes from the shade of gray he hoped to achieve by alternating between the heavy application of a black crayon and the soft smattering of a white.

“Guys, it’s not a competition,” Ben said.

“That’s good,” Jay giggled, “because I’d lose big time!”

Baylee, Hattie, Malik, and Sammy joined Jay in laughter. Kean didn’t appear to find it all that funny while Raphael seemed not to notice the joke at all.

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael repeated.

“Right, Raph—Raphael—sorry. Fish. Um, yeah. I think fish digest food the same way we do …”

“I can check on my phone,” Baylee offered.

Kean muttered, “Cell phones are not allowed in Sunday school classes.”

“We can’t get a signal down here anyway,” Sammy added. “It’s like a dungeon.”

“Mr. Ben?” Raphael asked.

“Yes, Raphael,” Ben responded as he strolled along the perimeter of the room.

Raphael said, “Jonah could not survive in the stomach of a whale. He would have been digested by the third day.”

“Oh,” Ben began, “well, you see, the Bible is … um, we shouldn’t take everything the Bible says literally, right?”

“What?” Hattie huffed. “My mom says the Bible is truth.”

Nodding furiously, Ben replied, “Yes! It is. It is truth—that’s right.”

Sammy said, “But … you just said it shouldn’t be taken literally.”

“What does ‘literally’ mean again?” Jay asked.

Malik answered, “You know, like, word for word.”

Kean mumbled, “You were right about being the loser in the room …”

“Kean,” Ben said, “come on, that’s not nice.”

“You were saying, Mr. Ben,” Raphael prompted.

Perspiration seeped from Ben’s forehead. “Oh. Well, that was pretty much it. It’s just that, while—yes—the Bible is truth, most people agree that it also uses quite a bit of embellishment in order to make a point.”

Raphael asked, “So it’s possible Jonah did not actually find himself swallowed by a whale, fish, or any other aquatic life-form?”

Hattie’s eyes bored through Ben as he said, “… It’s possible.”

Malik leaned over to Sammy and whispered, “Mr. Ben is so fired.”

Having overheard the comment, Baylee declared, “My dad does this for free. He can’t be fired.”

“He could be asked to step down,” Kean said.

Ben and his wife joined Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church twelve years ago when they were engaged. They were young, new to the community, and felt an urge to assimilate. Though they were now longstanding members of the church, they still knew very few people. Ben thought that teaching his daughter’s Sunday school class could be a productive way to increase his connectivity to the congregation.

Forcing himself to laugh, Ben said, “I don’t think anyone is going to ask me to step down.”

“You look apprehensive, Mr. Ben,” Raphael said.

Ben asked, “Are you sure you’re only eight? You’re all eight, right?”

“Yes, Dad, we’re all eight, about to turn nine.”

“I’m already nine,” Malik said.

Hattie added, “Me, too.”

“Mr. Ben, may I ask you a difficult question?”

Sensing Raphael’s trajectory, Ben wanted to preemptively deny the child’s request. Unfortunately, he didn’t wield the ability to redirect or otherwise terminate Raphael’s impending enquiry.

Mistaking Ben’s silence as accordance, Raphael pressed on by asking, “Do you believe in God?”

“Duh!” Jay exclaimed. “He wouldn’t be teaching Sunday school if he didn’t.”

Ben moved his mouth, but nothing came out.

“I only ask,” Raphael continued, “because I find it very confusing. So much of the Bible is impossible. There is no evidence of God’s existence in modern day society. Yet, in Biblical times, God’s influence manifested regularly. I hoped you could provide some insight.”

The children grew quiet. Each one of them, even Keane, awaited Ben’s reply.

Ben thought for a moment, then said, “You’re all so smart. So much smarter than I was at your age. I’ll just be honest with you. I struggle with God all the time. I don’t teach Sunday school due to a calling or anything like that. I just wanted to spend more time with Baylee, help out the church, get to know some kids, and maybe meet your parents.”

The children remained silent.

“So do I believe in God?” Ben resumed. “… Yes, I do, but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because my parents raised me in the church? Maybe I’ve been conditioned to believe? I don’t know. And I won’t lie to you—I can’t say that I believe everything in the Bible to be true. A lot of it doesn’t make any sense at all. I guess it just comes down to … faith.”

Ben watched the children nod in agreement. Only Hattie seemed dissatisfied with Ben’s analysis.

As they returned to their crafts, Raphael said, “Thank you, Mr. Ben. I appreciate your candor.”

“Um, you’re welcome.”

Raphael worked on his project for a few more moments, then looked up and asked, “Could we discuss Santa Claus?”

At that point, Jay erupted, “Dude! Don’t even go there!”


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Promise: My Short Story Of the Week

Promise

 

“Why did I ask you to stay after class?”

“Because you’re a punk.”

“No, Sam. Try again.”

Mr. Hardy could see the surprise on Sam’s face. He figured that “punk” comment would get him sent straight to the office.

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do. The test.”

“What about it?”

“You played on your phone the whole time. You didn’t answer a single question.”

“I didn’t read the book.”

“Sam, we listened to it on audio as we read along. You at least heard it.”

“Don’t you have another class coming in or something?”

“No, this is my conference period. We’ve got plenty of time.”

“I need to get to my next class.”

“I’ll write you a pass.”

“Ms. Johnson gets pissed if students come in late without a pass. I don’t want to be on her bad side.”

“I’ll write you a pass when we’re done. I promise.”

“Come on, Mr. Hardy. I need to go.”

“Tell me why you didn’t take the test, and then I’ll let you go.”

“I didn’t know the answers.”

“I watched you. You didn’t even try the first page.”

They both stood at the front of the class. Sam ran his hands up and down his backpack straps. He looked everywhere but at Mr. Hardy.

“Sam?”

“ … There’s no point.”

“To what?”

“To the test.”

“The test is how I assess your knowledge.”

“I don’t mean it like that. The test doesn’t make any difference.”

“Look, Sam, I know you’re failing, but you’re right on the edge. This test could put you over the top.”

“You know I’m not going to graduate, right?”

“What? We’re only halfway through the first semester. Of course you’re going to graduate.”

“No, I mean, I’m not going to graduate. Like, it’s not going to happen.”

“You’re quitting school?”

“No.”

“Sam … I’m confused. You’re a senior on track to graduate.”

“Can I go now?”

“No, Sam, I want to get to the bottom of this.”

“You’re being a total dick.”

Sam locked eyes with Mr. Hardy. He hoped that one would send him to the principal.

“Call me whatever you want. We’re having this conversation.”

After throwing his head back, exasperated, Sam slid off his backpack and plopped down into a nearby desk. He took out his phone.

“You can graduate. It sounds like you’re making a conscious decision not to graduate.”

Sam scrolled with his finger. He left his earbuds out, though, so Mr. Hardy knew he had Sam’s attention.

“Don’t you want to graduate?”

“What’s the point?”

“College. Junior college. Trade school. A job.”

“I can’t pay for college.”

“There are scholarship opportunities, grants, that kind of thing.”

“That’s what you all keep telling me, but I don’t know where to find that stuff.”

“Our guidance counselors can help you. They want to help students take advantage of those things.”

“Yeah. I went down there. Mr. Vonn found a few for me, sent me the links, then told me to come back when I looked at them.”

“Did you look at them?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know how to answer half the questions.”

“Like what?”

“Like how much my mom makes in a year. How am I supposed to know that?”

“Did you ask her?”

Sam glared at Mr. Hardy like he was an idiot.

“Okay, how about we make arrangements for you to come in after school and I can sift through it with you. We can figure it out together. We’ll ballpark those numbers they want.”

“Then what?”

“Then we maybe get you into a junior college or trade school or something.”

Sam didn’t blink as he asked, “Then what?”

“Then you’re off and running.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m serious.”

“What makes you think I know how to do college?”

“It’s very similar to high school in terms of structure—”

“I’ve got friends at college. They say it’s not like high school at all. I know a guy getting kicked out, and he’s not even getting his money back.”

“Well, that may be true. You have to maintain a certain grade point average. If you don’t, they can make you leave.”

“Nobody in my family has ever gone to college. I can’t pay for it, I don’t know how to do it, and I wouldn’t fit in.”

“I can help you with all that.”

“Really? Are you going to be there for me the whole time? All four years?”

“I … I’ll do my best. Of course, I have two kids of my own. This job demands a lot of my attention as well. I can’t promise—”

“Exactly. People like you love to make promises to people like me, but people like you never make good—not all the way through. People like me? We have to face reality.”

“Which is?”

Sam emitted a chuckle. “The best I can hope for is some minimum wage job. That’s my life, Mr. Hardy. That’s what the future has in store for me. I’m always going to worry about food, rent, money—everything. I bet your kids have a nice house, a yard, their own bed. Hell, they probably even have their own bedrooms …”

“ … They do.”

“Here? I like it here. There’s no one from the outside. I see my friends. The place is clean. There’s food. The teachers can’t mess with me. Why would I want to go out there when it’s so good in here?”

“But … but your future …”

“Look, can I go now or what?”

Mr. Hardy appeared dumbfounded. He whispered, “You’re only a kid …”

“Can I go now?”

Snapping back to attention, Mr. Hardy said, “Yeah. You can go.”

Sam kept his phone in his one hand and snatched up his backpack with the other, then hustled out of the room.

“ … I forgot to write his pass.”


Copyright © 2019 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

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