The Tempter Comes

11) Back in Church


11   Back in church


It takes ten seconds to sling an accusation;

perhaps a lifetime to refute it



That night Thomas slept uneasily. He never really woke but several times he faintly cried out. His dreams were full of eyes.


A few days later Toni’s mother, Toni, and Thomas were just finishing up another legendary Sunday breakfast. Of course Carl had managed to make other plans and so was customarily absent. Being so full, Thomas nearly had to crawl over to the couch.

The dining room and the living room were two sides to one room. The couch and one chair were in matching red and dark blue tweed. Most of the furniture had been inherited but everything was orderly and nothing was frivolous.

The three of them tidied up and as the approached the front door Thomas hesitated. He put his finger on a small box attached to the wall next to the door. “I’ve always wondered what this box is here for. Is it for an extra key? I’ve always wanted to check it out but never quite felt that I should.” In fact he had opened it several times when no one was around but never did more then look in and even then he could not figure out what that thing was that was in it.

Toni looked up at her mother to provide the explanation. “That’s there for security. We just hope that we never have to use it. Now come on, we don’t want to be late, after all, we won’t want someone else to take our seats behind the Fullman family now would we?” She gave an impish smile and ushered them out the door.

As they walked to church several others joined them. These were people whom Thomas had only the faintest remembrance of but they showed sincere enthusiasm in asking him how his previous year had gone. When they got to the church there was a one-second contest to see who would win the right to hold open the door.

As they were standing around waiting for the service to start Thomas asked, “Who is that person over there?” nodding to his left. “Is she new?”

Toni followed his nod. There were maybe twenty people in the area. Of course eliminating all of the males and those whom she knew Thomas would remember made the selection that much easier. “You mean the woman with the unkempt hair, the shoddy clothes, and the slouching stance?”

“Um, yes, that’s the one,” answered Thomas with a degree of apprehension. He could tell that this was not going to end in a gracious portrayal.

“That’s a church vampire,” said Toni with more than a hint of disdain.

“That description lacks a great deal of flattery although it might be a step up from church blood-sucker or church tick. Why do you call her that?”

“Her name is Janet. She showed up six months ago, but I know about her from my friend June who goes to another church in town. Janet used to go to June’s church.”

“OK, but what makes her a church vampire?”

“You know how a vampire flits from person to person sucking their blood?”

Thomas interrupted, “I don’t think that vampires exactly flit from person to person. I believe that they search out and obtain one good meal and then leave.”

Thomas got one of those “keep quiet” looks from Toni. This was not science they were discussing but character.

Thomas grimaced and hunched slightly to signal his acquiescence.

“Anyway,” continued Toni with a slight huff, “a vampire will glide through a crowd looking for the healthiest rube that he can find. Then he’ll isolate and seduce that person before draining her. Sometimes the person doesn’t even know that she was bit. She just wakes up one morning wondering why she is so pale.”

With a smile Thomas said, “So you’re saying that Janet is the undead?”

Toni’s agitation rose so quickly that Thomas quickly mollified her, “OK, OK, just kidding. So how is Janet like a vampire or, specifically, a church vampire?”

Toni narrowed her eyes at Thomas for a few seconds as to gauge his true interest and then continued. “Janet is too lazy and irresponsible to work so she goes to a church and plies her pitiable story of hard luck. She dresses like a street waif, her hair and face are never made up, and she carries well her hangdog look. The one question you never, ever want to ask her is ‘How are you doing?’ that is unless you don’t mind standing there for the next half an hour. All of her conversations start with ‘You don’t know how hard I have it.’ She will moan on about how rough her finances are, how her house is falling apart and is unsafe, how she can’t afford proper medication, and so on and so on. Most people just nod and beg with silent prayers for her to quickly finish… or for the earth to open and swallow them; either option is more merciful than being mired in her discourse.”

“It looks like she has some children orbiting around her,” observed Thomas. “What about them?”

“And if you notice, all dressed just as shabbily as she is. They are more like props than anything. All she has to do is mention the children and wallets fly open.” Toni continued, “Ultimately she’ll find at least one or two people in each church who will pay all of her bills or buy her food for a few months.”

Thomas replied, “I didn’t know that there were that many churches in this town. I mean, hasn’t everyone caught on to her by now?”

“Oh, she’ll go wherever she needs to. And besides, it takes her a couple of years to finish the circuit. By then, the first church has some new low-hanging fruit to pick so she can start all over again. Most people won’t warn others about her because they don’t want to appear to be cold-hearted. She does have her routine down quite well and, let’s face it, it does work. She has a husband but no one really knows what the deal is with him. Maybe he likes her bringing in the supplemental income.”

Thomas looked concerned, “But some people really are needy and a few dollars does make a huge difference. I know one woman with three young boys whose husband left them. She can’t work because of a car accident a couple of years ago. Do we ignore her because we have become paranoid that scammers, or vampires as you would call them, have infiltrated the church?”

“No, of course not. But we need to be wise. We shouldn’t just hand over the keys to a house without first doing some kind of background check.”

“Hire a detective?”

“No, but ask some pointed questions and make a few calls. Someone shouldn’t just walk in, say ‘I’m poor’ and expect the church to hand her $1,000 on the spot. Why is so poor? Did she gamble? Does she drink? Is she lazy? Or maybe life did smack her up with no fault of her own and as hard as she may try she can’t seem to get back up on her feet.”

“So where does Janet fit in?”

“I think that you already know that answer.”

“Has she been to this church before? Do people here know about her?”

“I’ve never seen her at this church before recently. She only started coming a couple of weeks ago.”

They were both watching Janet as they spoke. She appeared to have cornered one of the older—and better-dressed—women in the church. The older woman was nodding and appeared understanding. Thomas wondered when she was going to be bit on the neck so to speak.

“I doubt that you will be one of those cold-hearted people and warn others about her, but are you at least going to tell the pastor?”

“I probably will, but I don’t want to come across as mean. I just want to make him aware so that he can be more alert and not just be a softie. You know what a big heart he has.”

“It rather matches his ears.”
                “Thomas!” Toni scolded.


The service was ready to start so Toni’s mother started down the aisle. Toni and Thomas quickly followed. Toni was thinking, “Please pick a seat in the middle this time. Please, not the second row again.” But her mother kept going and going and finally stopped and turned down… the second row. Toni’s shoulders sagged. “Why has she suddenly developed a hankering for the second row?”

Sure enough, a minute later, down came Floyd Fullman, the two ducklings, and the mother hen and sat in front of them.

Toni and Thomas looked at each other. This was going to be another lost sermon.

Floyd regimented everyone into their places. There was an actual moment of calm. But then Floyd slowly turned around and stared right at Toni and Thomas freezing them with his eyes, “This is only the waves; the whitecaps are coming.” And then he turned back to the front.

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: