Margaret turned to face Victor, and looked him up and down with a sneer. She took a small, worn notepad from her cardigan pocket and opened it. She cleared her throat. “This test,” she said, “is comprised of three questions, which—” she glanced up at him “—if you were paying attention in Sunday school, you should have no trouble answering.”
“All right,” said Victor.
Margaret glared at him. “Let’s begin.” She looked down at her notepad. “Question one: Name the first five books of the bible.”
(As a child, Victor had near perfect Sunday school attendance for the six years his mother brought him to church. In that time, he earned four hundred and twenty-two gold stars and the coveted role of Gabriel in the church nativity play. He also learned a song reciting all sixty-six books of the bible in order. Thanks to excessive repetition, the song was seared into his memory.)
“Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy,” he answered.
Margaret raised an eyebrow. “Correct. Question two: To what city did God send Jonah to preach?”
“Hmm. Yes. Okay, final question (and the flames of Hell await you if you get this wrong): When Jesus fed the five thousand, how many—”
“Five loaves, two fishes. Matthew chapter fourteen.”
“Amen,” called a voice form the congregation.
Everybody nodded. Margaret stared at Victor.
“Well,” said the preacher. “That’s that. Let us now—”
“Bonus question!” blurted Margaret.
“What?” said the preacher.
“Yeah, what?” said Victor.
Margaret stood straight, her nose in the air. “There is a bonus question he must answer.”
“Bonus question?” said the preacher. “There’s no bonus question.”
Margaret shot the preacher a venomous glare. “There is a bonus question,” she hissed.
The preacher was dumbstruck. Margaret again consulted her notepad, and then looked at Victor.
“The bonus question,” she said, “is a little more difficult. How many men did Samson slay with the jawbone of a donkey?”
“A thousand,” answered Victor, without missing a beat.
Margaret looked confused. The preacher flipped the pages of his bible. The congregation sat quietly.
“Let’s see,” muttered the preacher, scanning the open book. “Samson… jawbone… here we go. Yep. A thousand. He’s right.”
The congregation nodded and gave their Amens.
“There is an extra bonus question,” said Margaret.
The congregation murmured. The preacher leaned over the edge of the platform near Margaret.
“You must stop this,” he whispered urgently. “Seriously—you’re only supposed to give three questions.”
“What I’m supposed to do,” said Margaret, “Is keep this pagan from escaping.”
“What?” said Victor. “Let me see that notepad.”
“No,” growled Margaret. “Next question.”
“Margaret,” pleaded the preacher.
“Next question! After Noah built the ark, how long did it rain?”
“Forty days and forty nights,” said Victor.
“No, wait,” said Margaret. “That wasn’t the question. The real question is, um… How tall was Moses?”
“What? Who knows that?”
“Ha! So you don’t know?”
“Nobody knows,” said Victor.
“Answer the question,” demanded Margaret. “Or you fail the test.”
“To be fair,” said the preacher, “the bible doesn’t actually say how tall Moses was.”
“Shut up!” said Margaret, her shoulders rising and falling with each exasperated breath. She pointed her finger at Victor. Her long red fingernail quivered in front of his nose. “I am the Sunday school teacher. This is my test. I say what the questions are.”
“You said it was the church’s test,” said Victor.
“SILENCE!” screamed Margaret.
“Shh! Margaret, please, we don’t want trouble,” said the preacher. “Keep your voice down.”
“I’ll do nothing of the sort.” She glared at Victor. “Now, answer the question.”
“You know I can’t,” he said.
Margaret’s expression warped into a wide-eyed, hysterical grin. “Ha! I knew it. You couldn’t pass the test. I did it. I did it!”
The church doors swung open and banged into the walls. Dark red light spewed forth from the doorway and filled the room; everybody gasped. There were murmurs in the pews, and Victor heard the name of Gary whispered with dread.
© 2019 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED