Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Help (02/20/06)
TITLE: The Shortest Prayer
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“Jonathan Baxter! Do you have an answer to the question?”
Johnny never heard the question because he had been busy daydreaming. He looked around at his classmates with hazel eyes that pleaded for help. After a few awkward minutes Kimberly know-it-all answered for him, “It was Benjamin Franklin, Mrs. Clarke.”
Johnny had been preoccupied thinking about what happened at the grocery store the previous day. His mom needed some ingredients to make her famous apple pie and she had given him a list. While shopping Johnny spied gummy worm candies behind the cash register. It was then he decided to remove the apples from his basket so he could afford to buy the candy. After he paid for the items he mulled around until Mr. Joseph was busy serving another customer. He then headed back in the direction of the apple stand. He looked around to make sure no one was watching then he filled his knapsack with apples. He left the store in such a hurry that he bumped into the display of oranges. The sound of the crashing fruit didn’t cause him to stop or look back. He ran all the way home.
That drama took place yesterday and now Johnny was walking home from school consuming handfuls of the candy. Although he felt bad about deceiving Mr. Joseph he rationalized that it really wasn’t stealing, he had only “helped himself” to apples that probably would have rotted in the store anyway.
As he rounded the bend to his house he saw Mr. Joseph’s red truck parked in his yard. Johnny was petrified and suddenly the gummy worms he had enjoyed minutes earlier felt like they were entangled in his stomach. He sneaked in the back door of his house and tiptoed up the stairs to his bedroom. His heart was pounding as he curled up on his bed. As he contemplated his fate his mother barged into his room causing him to jump.
“Johnny, I thought I heard you come in. Why didn’t you say hello to Mr. & Mrs. Joseph? That’s no way to treat our dinner guest.”
Johnny whined, “Mom, I don’t feel well. Can I be excused from supper tonight?”
His mother had pity on him and allowed him to stay in his bed. After a short while Johnny tiptoed to the top of the staircase to eavesdrop. He heard his mom offer Mr. Charles another helping of mashed potatoes. He declined because he wanted to leave room for her apple pie.
Johnny was overwhelmed with guilt. He returned to his bedroom filled with remorse over what he had done.
In desperation he knelt at the side of his bed and prayed, “Lord, I’m in big trouble now. Please forgive me for being so bad. I promise I will never help myself, I mean, I’ll never steal again.”
After the Joseph’s truck pulled out the driveway he heard his mom clearing the dishes. Normally he would help her with chores, but he didn’t dare go downstairs.
Minutes later he heard the three most dreaded words to his ears, “Jonathan Durwood Baxter!”
The sound of his mother’s voice made the hairs on his back stand up and he began to wring his hands and sweat. He slowly dragged himself down the stairs.
His mother met him at the bottom of the stairs and said, “Boy didn’t you hear me hollering at you? I’m about to pack the food away and I want to know if you’re hungry.”
Before he could tell her that he was not hungry, his mom disappeared into the kitchen and returned holding a slice of apple pie. Johnny’s eyes widened as he noticed that the pie was filled with gummy worms instead of apples. He covered his eyes and screamed help! help!
His eyes shot open as he heard his mother’s voice calling “Jonathan Durwood Baxter!” This time his mother was standing over his bed with her hands on her hips and a stern look on her face. He had fallen asleep when he got home from school. His mother had awakened him from one nightmare in order to face another.
His mother said, “You have a lot of explaining to do young man! Mr. & Mrs. Joseph are downstairs in the living room waiting for you.”
As his mother stomped down the stairs ahead of him, Johnny closed his eyes, looked heavenward and mouthed the word Help! This was the shortest prayer of his life.
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