This story is by Lynne Lanning and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Judith hit the brake as she pulled the car back onto the road, over-correcting and momentarily swerving into on-coming traffic. Angrily she swiped the tears from her eyes deciding she needed to find a place to stop and gather her wits.
Moments later, she parked in a dark corner of the thrift store’s lot. Squeezing the steering wheel so tightly it made her hands hurt, she screamed, “How could you let this happen, God?” Loosening her grip, she layed her head against the wheel, sobbing until feeling weak and sick.
Nearly thirty-five years of dealing with her own demons from the past, it had finally become somewhat easier…until today. She knew God had forgiven her and changed her life all those years ago, but her mind kept bringing all those bad memories back to haunt her, especially now.
“God, please help me. I’m so confused. I don’t know what you expect from me, but I know my thoughts of murder are not part of your plan. Take away the evil thoughts and please show me what to do!
“I know you have forgiven me, but…” she choked back another sob, “people aren’t so willing to forgive. David is the most wonderful husband, father and preacher. This could ruin our family and make him lose his church, when none of this is his fault. I pray that you’ll be merciful to my dear, sweet David and our children.”
Earlier that afternoon, Judith rushed back to work after a lunch meeting with ladies from church. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw John, her ex-boyfriend from nearly forty years ago, standing in her office.
Quickly regaining her composure and knowing not to show any fear, she walked around to her desk, unloaded her arms and sat down. “What are you doing here, John?”
“I thought you would be glad to see me after all these years. I mean, we were tight once upon a time.” He smiled subtly as he moved around the room, touching each of her certificates of achievements hanging on the walls, then gazing at every detail of her bookshelves.
“State your business then leave. I have an appointment in a few minutes. I don’t have time for foolishness.” She spoke with authority, having no tremor in her voice, while her heart beat so hard she thought it would explode.
He picked up the framed picture of her family while making his way to the chair across from her. “Looks like hypocrisy pays more than I thought. Impressive. You’ve been busy.”
“I’ve worked hard and earned everything I have,” she snapped as she rose from her chair, snatching the picture out of his hands. “I have changed, John. God changed me. Now, I will ask again, what are you doing here?”
He chuckled sarcastically. “You can thank your God for helping me find you. I spent the last twenty-five years in prison for, well, it doesn’t matter. Most of that time was spent thinking of you and all the fun we used to have; best years of my life.
“I wondered what happened when you disappeared. Then one day some Bible thumpers came to the prison, handing out packages of Bibles, magazines and all kinds of junk. Guess what was in my junk package…a magazine that had a picture of my little Judy with her perfect family, telling me everything I needed to know in your author bio.
“It just made me wonder how much your perfect little world means to you.” He leaned forward with his eyes showing nothing but evil. “I know everything you have done. Wonder what your family and church would think?”
Judith glanced at her watch then looked at him with incredible confidence. “I have an appointment. Get out.”
He smiled and nodded as he stood. “It was good to see you, Judy. I will see you again real soon.”
She ran and locked the door as it closed behind him, then proceeded to fall apart. She needed to pray. She needed to talk to David. She couldn’t do this on her own.
David knew some of her past; not nearly all of it, but her children knew nothing except that she had been a little rebellious. Their congregation knew nothing.
People exclaimed about how wonderful she was with counseling. God had allowed her to counsel people going through things she could identify with…they didn’t realize she had been just like them. Through her difficult experiences she was able to have compassion and strength with them, knowing all the excuses and weaknesses. She was now able to help many people with things that used to plague her; drug and alcohol addiction, rebellious teenagers, lying, cheating, gambling, abuse victims and worst of all…grief counseling due to the loss of a child through abortion or otherwise.
Now, with John wanting to expose her, it would destroy everything she and David had built together for over thirty years; their church, their family and maybe even their marriage. Everyone would see who she used to be and judge her for it, not allowing any chance for explanation. John would expose her as a fraud and he was evil enough to hurt anybody in his way, as long as he was able to hurt her.
That evening, David had meetings until late, so she used that time to pray. She would talk to him tomorrow, knowing what she had to do. The Bible verse repeating in her head was, “the truth shall make you free.”
She called each of her grown children, talking pleasantries, letting them know she was thinking about them and talked to her two, precious grandchildren.
The next afternoon when she arrived home, she noticed David in the yard on his knees, tinkering with the lawn mower. As she got out of the car and shut the door, she saw John walking across the yard toward David, with a toolbox in his hand.
David stood, smiling as she approached. He kissed her cheek and put his arm around her waist. “Let me introduce you. Judith, this is…”
Without warning, Judith hissed, “I know who he is. This is John, my long lost ex, who was in my office yesterday attempting to blackmail me!
“Why are you here, John?” She stared at him vehemently, while his mouth gaped open in shock. “Perhaps you came to tell David all my sins of the past? Too late buddy. He knows everything.” Her rage made her bluff believable. “He’s glad I was able to survive from all you put me through. You are despicable!”
David let go of her as he turned and asked, “This is the man that abused you? The one that you lived with when you were so wild?”
“Yes,” she answered quietly. “He threatened to make all my sins public, to you, our family and our church. He wants to ruin me completely, even if it means hurting countless others.”
David’s face was red with anger. He pointed in John’s face. “Let me tell you this,” he paused and blew out a deep, calming breath, “if you continue to torture my wife and family, you will be the true victim. You are treading in very dangerous territory; God destroys His enemies. Leave my wife alone.”
John stood there in silence not able to believe that Judy had come clean with her husband. Maybe she had, so he would threaten them together. “That’s all you’ve got preacher man? Threatening me with a supernatural creature?” He laughed. “I will leave you for now, but this is far from over.” He continued to laugh all the way to his car, then waved as he pulled away.
Judith was visibly shaken as David guided her into the house. They talked and prayed together, with David reassuring her that God would take care of everything.
The remainder of the week there was no word from John, even though Judith jumped at every noise and sudden movement. Friday afternoon, she and David took a much needed overnight trip to their secluded cabin. They loved to get away occasionally. A full thirty-six hours of peace, no one knowing where they were, no cell phone or internet service, no interruptions.
Later the next week, Judith answered a knock at the door during supper. A moment later, David joined her, finding two police officers introducing themselves.
“Folks, sorry to bother you. We pulled a man out of the river yesterday. While investigating, we found a note in his apartment saying, if he died a suspicious death, we should look at both of you.
“The coroner said he died sometime over the weekend. Could you tell us where you were?”
David pulled Judith behind him while answering, “We were at our cabin, sir.”
“Do you have any witnesses to that? Maybe someone who saw you there?”
“No, sir. It’s completly secluded.”
“Sorry folks,” the officer apologized. “I have to ask that both of you come with us.”