The church sanctuary exploded in panic.
Worshipers, screaming and pushing, drove for the doors like runners at Pamplona, carrying along in the crush anyone too young, slow or infirm to keep up. Babies cried, children called for their parents, and the elderly fought to hold on against the current. The local news cameraman and his gear knocked over in the rushing current of freaked out humanity, and he fought to get himself and his equipment out in one piece. The house of worship vomited its contents through every doorway, out onto the sidewalk and into the parking lot.
As the crowd roared past, Tom Smith yanked 18-month-old Billy down between himself and his wife Amy, and they leaned together over their child, trying to protect him from the chaos.
After what seemed like an hour but in reality had been three minutes, the clamor of the evacuation subsided to a low roar, filtering in through the doors at the rear and front corners of the church. Tom tilted his head upward to get a peek at the nearly empty sanctuary.
Coats, hats and even shoes were strewn about the pews and aisles like tornado debris. Here and there an elderly worshiper huddled in pitiful fear, unable to rise and retreat and abandoned by their fellow congregants. The rest of the church was deserted.
“What in God’s name was that?” thundered a preacher from the front of the church.
Amy and Tom looked at each other, then at their sweet, frightened little boy. Just minutes earlier, his cherubic face had taken on a bizarre, otherworldly countenance, and his words had driven several hundred people into a frenzied, terrified stampede for the exits.
What in God’s name had happened?
Tom and Amy had no answer.
© Chuck Hansen - 2019