Reverend Whitecroft’s last “amen” hung on the thick, sticky air. Ceiling fans turned lazy circles that barely moved the air that hot Sunday morning. In the last row of the little wood church, Billy Ross drifted in and out of sleep, head dropping to one side then jerking back up. Midway up the aisle, on the right, the Evans twins had giggled and whispered through the whole sermon.
George Whitecroft looked at his little congregation and shook his head. Every Sunday he stood up here and preached his heart out and every Sunday it was the same. No one listened. No one cared. He raised his Bible into the air and all eyes in the congregation stared. All expect Billy Ross who was once again asleep.
A collective breath was held until the reverend opened his hand and let the book fall to the pulpit. The book landed with a thump while the walls of the little church shook. Mrs. Hattie Cleaver squeaked out a little moan and clutched her massive left bosom. The reverend closed his mouth without saying a word.
In the back of the church, the double doors leading to the little porch bowed inward as something crashed against them. Mrs. Hattie Cleaver clutched at Miss Emily Bond with her right hand and squeaked out another moan.
Bobbie Sue giggled in the front row and yelled, “Boo.” Her mom hushed her with a finger lifted to her lips.
Another crash and the double doors splintered into the little church and sprayed the people in the back rows. Bobby Ross jerked awake and looked around, confused and disoriented.
All eyes in the room watched as a huge alligator shuffled forward into the main aisle. A deep, rumbling growl erupted from the creature’s throat. Right and left people shuffled backwards against their pew mates in an attempt to get out of the beast’s way.
Mrs. Hattie Cleaver moaned for a third time, bent over and rolled into the aisle. Miss Emily Bond grabbed her arm and screaming, attempted to pull the rotund woman back into the pew. No one else moved to help.
“Help me, you fools.” Miss Emily was wild eyed and still pulling against the weight of her friend.
The slight man sitting just across the aisle stepped out and attempted to push the woman back into the pew. Between the two, they were able to move her, but couldn’t get her out of the path of the beast who continued forward.
Bobbie Sue looked at the gator and yelled, “Puppy.” And, before her mother could stop her, scampered down the aisle toward the animal.
Cries of terror filled the church, but not one person moved to help the child. Frozen in fear, they all watched as the beast ambled towards the child with his mouth open.
When the toddler and the gator met they stared at each other for a moment. Then the child lunged forward and tapped the animal on the nose. Again a collective gasp whispered through the church.
The alligator closed his mouth and opened it again. Bobbie Sue smiled and held out her bag of gold fish crackers. She pulled a cracker from the bag and tossed into the large mouth. The gator chomped down and wagged his tail like a dog, thumping wildly against the pews on each side sending congregants scurrying further back against the walls of the church. Bobbie Sue clapped her hands and giggled.
The child moved closer to the gator and he shuffled back. She gave him another cracker and moved closer. The animal moved back again and got another cracker.
When the two reached the back of the church, Bobbie Sue held up her empty bag. “All gone. Bye-bye.”
Turning, the gator clumped down the stairs. Looked one last time over his shoulder to see Bobbie Sue waving, and then shuffled slowly away, tail wagging as he went.
To this day, no one from the little church will speak of that Sunday except Bobbie Sue who grew up to be a zookeeper. Mrs. Hattie Cleaver seems to have no memory of the day she almost became a meal for an alligator. And Reverend George Whitecroft has ever since resided at the Whispering Palm Trees Psychiatric Hospital.