The Tempter Comes

2) The Picnic



2         The Picnic


Keep your friends close

because you never know when

they will get your tail out of a trap



While Mrs. Donnelee cleared off the table she said, “Don’t forget that today is our church’s kick-off-summer picnic. It starts at five so we should head out plenty before then, so don’t go wandering off too far or anything.”

As Toni and Thomas were leaving the house he said, “The church picnic is on a Friday? Isn’t that rather odd? Wouldn’t tomorrow be better?”

“There’s something going on at the church tomorrow and, besides, it’s summer, it stays light longer.”

From a short distance away they heard a hearty “hello” and loud panting. Coming eagerly towards them was Mr. Keskes and his two Great Danes Moses and Larry. The dogs in their enthusiasm to reach the two practically pulled Mr. Keskes as though he were on a sled.

“Well, hello there, Thomas, it’s so good to see you again.” Mr. Keskes tried to hold out his hand to shake Thomas’ but with a leash in each hand the task was beyond even a superhero. The dogs were all over the two. “And I see that I’m not the only one glad to see you both.”

Moses was all brown whereas Larry was a harlequin and both approached pony size.

Seeing that trying to hold a conversation while a tongue the size of a small island is constantly lapping up your face is near impossible Thomas and Toni excused themselves and continued on. Mr. Keskes cheerfully bid them goodbye and strained to wheel the two ponies around.

Toni spent a good hour showing Thomas the flower and vegetable gardens that she planted in the backyard. While they were sitting on the bench overlooking the tomato plants and swinging their legs Toni said, “Your parents are gone a lot aren’t they.”

Thomas tightened a corner of his lip, “Yea, rather than spending a lot of time with Mom and Dad I feel more like I’ve been parented by small curiosities: collections of plants and insects that I’ve observed on solitary walks, searching out the smallest and furthest room of a large building, walking a darkened neighborhood and seeing a slice of a living room through a lone lit window and imagining the family inside.

“My parents bring me lots games that can be played by one person. But probably one of my favorite times is to read in an old chair in the corner of the attic.”

“But I suspect that puzzle books are your favorite.”

Thomas brightened up and looked over at Toni. “You pegged that one.”

Toni continued, “Yet for all of the time that you spend alone no one would call you an outcast or unfriendly. In fact, I think that when you’re given that rare chance, you’re very loyal and quite interesting.”

“Gee thanks. My books and puzzles don’t compliment me very often. It’s just that being an only child whose parents are often gone have forced me to often invent my own pleasures rather than join those already in progress with others.”

They sat for a few more minutes in silence staring at the vegetable plants and then they both got up.

They spent the rest of the day futzing around the neighborhood. At 4:00 they headed back home to get Toni’s mom and head out to the picnic.


As they approached the church Thomas saw a crowd larger than he had ever remembered. “I guess that they are growing quite a bit,” he thought. Off to the left were a large inflatable Noah’s Ark and a fish (presumably with Jonah inside) for children to jump around in. There was a softball game on the far right. In the middle to the right near the front doors were three eight-foot tables covered with dishes of food. It reminded Thomas of Mrs. Donnelee’s breakfast that morning. If he did not know any better he would have thought that everyone in town eats every meal from tables stacked with food. There was an impressive array of folding tables and chairs between him and the food.

But what caught his attention were three tables close together about twenty feet to the left of the food. Each table had a red cloth completely covering what appeared to be a box underneath. He expected to see a magician stroll up, dramatically announce his intentions, and then whisk one of the covers off sending a flock of doves to fill the sky. With a whisk of the second cover a herd (pack, team, group?) of rabbits would bound into the delighted crowd. But with the whisking of the third cover he envisioned a very compressed elephant that would slowly pull its head out from its chest, extend out its legs that it had bent underneath it and rise up. Then it would shake itself until the rest of its body puffed out to normal size and its ears flapped like the paddles on a riverboat. The crowd would gasp, the table would break, the magician’s eyes would twinkle, and the elephant—much glad to be back to a normal shape—would raise its trunk and let out a gleeful trumpet. But instead the three boxes sat unaffected and unmoved. Thomas looked around but did not see anyone with a tuxedo and a top hat. He felt slight disappointment.

Speaking to Toni he asked, “What is this all about?”

She pointed at the sign that stretched across the front of all three tables, “Nearly Extinct.” She replied, “It’s three things that are nearly extinct, just as the sign says. At one point the pastor is going to unveil them and talk a little about each.”

“What’s in there-cages with Marine Turtles and Great Apes? That would be cool.”

“I don’t think it’s anything that heady.”

From behind them there was a distant greeting getting rapidly closer. “Hello Thomas. It’s great to have you back again.”

They both turned and saw Sarah and her parents who, having just arrived, were advancing quickly across the grass. Toni and Thomas met them half way. Sarah was grinning broadly, “Well, it’s about time you came back to visit us. And here I thought that this summer was going to be no fun at all.”

“Hey,” came Toni’s quick retort, “what about the rest of us? Aren’t we any fun?”

“Oh yes, of course. I was just referring to, umm, extra fun.”

Sarah’s father reached over and energetically shook Thomas’ hand. “Always good to see you, son. How long are you here for this summer?”

“I’m glad to see you also, Mr. Paterich. I’m actually going to be here all summer this year. My parents have to go to several countries on business and it is going to take them longer than usual.”

“Well, we’ll make sure that you are well looked after. You have plenty of good friends here. We’ll have to have you over for dinner sometime in the next couple of days,” affirmed Mrs. Paterich.

“That would be great,” Thomas responded. Sarah smiled broadly.

Mrs. Paterich said, “We’re scheduled to help cook. We’ll talk to you later and firm up some plans.” Then she leaned over to Thomas and whispered, “Avoid the sausage; they got a cheap brand this year. But everything else is good.” They both walked away leaving Sarah with Toni and Thomas.

Sarah turned to Thomas. “So you’re here for the whole summer. That’s great. It’ll be the whole gang again. So what countries are your parents going to this year?”

“I actually can’t remember. They told me and I have it written down somewhere in case I need to call them, but every year blends into the next and I lose track.”

“I’ve never been to another country,” mused Sarah. “My parents don’t go on many vacations so I’m pretty much stuck here in bustling Jabesh.”

“You have great parents, Sarah. You are really lucky.”

“Well, they’re not bad.”

“Not bad?” Thomas corrected. “Most kids would kill to have parents like yours.”

“Well, it’s not like they’re perfect. I mean, my Dad’s really cheap. For my birthday I asked them to get me a desk. I gave them the exact color, make, and what store they could buy it at. It fit perfectly in my room. It wasn’t even a lot of money. So for my birthday what do I get? No, not the desk that I asked for, but some cheap thing. It was the wrong color, it was too small, but it was on sale. I don’t know if I ever got exactly what I wanted but I know that whatever I did get was cheaper.

“And my mother, if she ever agreed to anything on the first go around I think I’d faint. Her first response to everything is ‘no.’ ‘Mom, can I get a new pair of shoes?’ ‘No.’ ‘But, Mom, I put a playing card in the bottom of my shoe to cover the hole so that my socks don’t get wet.’ ‘No.’ ‘Mom, do you want to have lunch today?’ ‘No.’ ‘Mom, would you like me to cook you dinner for your birthday?’ ‘No, just make me toast. You don’t even have to put butter on it.’ It drives me crazy. She ought to tattoo an ‘N’ on one palm and an ‘O’ on the other and every time that I ask her something she can just hold out her palms in front of my face. At least then I wouldn’t have to hear it.”

Thomas held his left hand in front of him palm-up. Starting with the pinky he touched each finger while ticking off the following. “Let’s see, they constantly praise and encourage you, they spend a lot of time with you, they are always honest with you, they give you reasonable boundaries, even when you are at your worst they are always patient and calm with you…”

“Hey!” Sarah butted in.

“Looks like I ran out of fingers on that hand.” The he looked up with a grin. “Like I said, most kids would kill to have parents like yours.”


Sarah saw Thomas looking back over at the three tables with the hidden boxes. “You want to know what is under there?” she said quietly.

“You know?” asked Thomas.

“I helped build them so, yes, I know,” she answered.

“Build them?” Thomas said with emphasis. “If they are something that you can build then how could they be nearly extinct? If we are running low on them then just build some more.” He paused and then said with excitement, “Unless its cages. Did you build cages to hold the animals?”

“Animals?” She looked momentarily confused. “What’s there is just symbolic of what is nearly extinct. They aren’t the things themselves. In fact, they couldn’t be the things themselves.” Sarah was being a bit cryptic. She knew how much Thomas liked puzzles.

Thomas thought that he knew what was going on. “I didn’t know that the pastor was getting into the environment.” So many groups were becoming environmentally aware and this church was following the trend he surmised. “That’s a good thing, mind you. I just wouldn’t have thought that he would have gotten this dramatic with it this quickly. I would guess then that they’re pictures or cutouts of animals who are on the endangered list. Hmm, you never struck me as good with a jigsaw…”

“I am too pretty good with a jigsaw, I’ll have you know.” Sarah broke in with her hands on her hips and her jaw fixed firmly, “and several other power tools to boot.”

“OK, I believe you. But I’d still guess that they’re pictures of animals.”

Sarah, however, dispelled that confidence. “Though you’re right, nature is important, this is more of a—umm—spiritual nature.” Thomas clenched one side of his mouth tightly. He was caught off base.

Sarah dropped what she thought was a good hint. “These are things that you don’t experience much anymore. They used to be much more common but now it’s rare if you come across any of them. You’ll never find them around someone who is arrogant and self-centered.” She looked hopefully at Thomas. But he seemed more confused then ever.

Sarah tried to think of another clue but then finally looked around and lowered her voice. “Why don’t I just tell you what it is? Besides, it’s almost time to eat.”

Thomas appeared pleased. “OK” he whispered. “What is it?”

“It is three phrases that you rarely hear anymore.”

“Phrases? How can a phrase be nearly extinct?

“Let me tell you what they are and then you tell me. Under the drape on the first table is the phrase ‘I’m sorry.’ The second table has ‘I was wrong’ and the third table is ‘It was my fault.’” She crossed her arms and looked at him rather pleased. “Well, when was the last time that you heard any of those phrases?”

It finally clicked. “Yea, I see what you mean. It’s true although a bit anti-climatic. After all I had visions of compressed elephants and…”

“Compressed elephants?!”

“I mean, marine turtles and great apes.”

“Well, what did you expect from a church in the middle of nowhere? Besides, the pastor has a way of making everything seem interesting. I’m sure that he’ll do a great job when it comes time to whisk off the clothes.”

“So what part of it did you make?”

“I made three boards, covered them with felt and stood them up. Then I cut the letters out of wood and painted them and nailed them to the board.”

“How did you cut out the letters?”

“I used a jigsaw. I already told you that.”

“Wow, I’m quite impressed. I didn’t know that you had it in you.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

“You mean you used two jigsaws at once?”

She gave him a look of “come on now.”

“Sarah!” They turned to see Sarah’s mother coming towards them. “Sarah, it’s almost time to eat. Why don’t you and Thomas come sit with us? Toni and Mrs. Donnelee are also at our table.”

Sarah pushed gently on Thomas’ back. “Come on and join us.”

Her mother added, “And I invited Gary from your class and his family to sit with us also.”

Sarah’s face twisted. “What, the Prince of Darkness was unavailable?”

“You be nice now,” her mother scolded.

After dinner they played games: softball for the adults, an egg toss and water pistol tag for the teens, various activities for the children including face painting and animal balloons.

When all of the activities were over there was a loud sustained whistle. Everyone turned towards it to see the pastor standing there with a smile on his face. “If I could get everyone’s attention for the next 15 to 20 minutes I would like to share something very exciting that we have planned for the church.

Motioning towards the three tables with the boxes he said, “We’ll get to those at the end. But first I’d like to present something very exciting.

“For the last six months a number of us have been discussing what direction we’d like to go as a congregation and we believe that God wants us to take a three-prong outreach. We are asking that every one of you seriously consider becoming involved in some manner. If this comes any where near to what we are hoping then not only will this church have a great impact in this community and beyond but everyone who is involved will have tremendous joy and satisfaction.

“As you know, each person consists of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. The body is our physical part, what we can touch and see. Our soul is our personality, creativity, and emotions. And our spirit is that part of us that communicates with God. We want to set up teams that will reach out and help people in each of these areas. It will be challenging but, believe me, it will be worth it. Now here’s what we want to do…”

The pastor then shared his plans. When he finished everyone was charged up and talking about what part they would like to play. It had the markings of a great success.

On the way home Toni and Thomas talked excitedly about the church’s plans. Then she suddenly broke that conversation and asked, “So what would you say is your strangest habit?”

“Strangest habit?”

“OK, oddest habit, if that makes you feel better.”

Thomas slowed his walking. It was hard to consider an answer to that question and still walk at a normal pace. “Well,” he said slowly. “OK, here it is. Whenever I go to sleep, no matter where it was, I always start out by lying on my right side.”

Toni raised an eyebrow.

“When I was younger, my parents did not allow any lights on in my bedroom when it was time to sleep. OK, that’s not so bad, but there was a problem. To the right of my bed was the door to the hallway, which my parents insisted stay open at night. As any child would know, within the terrible darkness of that hallway some evil could sinisterly be lurking, standing unseen just feet away, watching me and waiting for that moment when my eyes finally sank shut and I was ripe for attack. However, I could maintain vigilance for a long while.

                “But it was not as easy as simply never falling asleep. On the opposite wall were windows; my bedroom was on the first floor. Anyone—or anything—could easily stare at me through those windows and in the summer there was only a nylon screen that could be cut quietly and without effort.

                “I could not watch both at once and though I could cross my eyes I could not push them to the outer edges like a space alien. There were many nights of swiveling my head slowly back and forth until I finally fell asleep just from the headache alone.

                “That was, until I noticed that the street light outside the windows created perfectly lit rectangles on the wall next to the door. So by lying on my right side I was able to watch both. If anyone tried to enter my room by either the door or the windows, I would catch him. What exactly I would do in that case was a situation not comfortably contemplated since it only aroused more anxiety. The fact that I had all entrances covered was sufficient in itself. Vigilance was still required but somehow knowing that the enemy was frustrated in all directions gave me a quicker peace and a longer night’s sleep.

                He turned toward Toni’s with expectations of a reaction. He was not disappointed.

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: