Sam viewed writing as a solitary hobby until he discovered National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2006. He has taken part in this challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in November ever since and in 2015 became a Municipal Liaison for his region. As a leader of the region’s year-round writing group, he runs an editing accountability group, organizes weekly “Shut Your Trap & Write” sessions (which have gone virtual during the pandemic), provides critiques to fellow writers, and has presented workshops on the writer’s voice, editing, humor, and the use of naps to find your eureka moment. Sam no longer sees writing as a solitary activity and is now a firm believer that a writing community is essential for aspiring and seasoned authors.
Granny Get Your Gun
The absurdity of barnyard animals providing perimeter surveillance never occurred to me. I positioned the others in a U-formation around the tiny country church. My assignment, reconnaissance. I crouched outside a giant stained glass window, the best a cow can do. After a couple of deep breaths, I rose and peered inside. No one sat in the pews. No one roamed the back of the sanctuary. Stretching my neck gave me a view of the empty altar.
I trotted to the back and checked the rooms behind the altar. The pastor sat in his office staring at a laptop, while a small group of gray-haired ladies occupied the neighboring classroom.
“Cow, do you have a visual on the church interior?” asked Agent Orange, the director of Global Intergalactic Bureau of Defense (GIBOD). To respond, I needed only to tap my earpiece. Easy for Agent Orange and the other human agents to do, but not a cow. I scrunched my shoulder up but came nowhere near my ear. I lifted my right front hoof, but it only stretched slightly past my knee. “Cow! Do you copy?”
I smacked the side of my head into the windowsill. “Thhir, I’m here.” Dr. Hash Browns provided me and the other animals with a multitude of amazing enhancements, but he never completely got rid of my lisp. He blamed my enormous tongue.
“Give us your report,” said Agent Orange.
I positioned myself between the classroom and office windows. “I’m not sure what you expected to find inside a church on a Tuesday afternoon. The pastor is in his office and there’thh a group of old ladies knitting in the back classroom.”
“How many old ladies?”
“Five or thhix.” Dang, that lisp.
“Cow, I need an exact count.”
“They’re old ladies. What difference doethh it make how many there are?”
“Need I remind you that you are not officially an agent? This is a training mission. Your performance is being evaluated. Now, give me an exact count on the old ladies.”
I pictured the red marks on my evaluation form. Shut up and take orders, that’s how we’d been trained. Luckily, the other animals didn’t understand English. They would be unaware of my blunder. Except the pig. He’d know.
I raised my head and took another look inside the classroom. “Five. There are five old ladies knitting.”
“Cow, return to your surveillance of the sanctuary. Agents, it’s time.”
I made my way back to the large stained glass window, as oversized military-style trucks roared to life and lurched down the quiet country road. They approached the church from opposite directions and simultaneously turned into the church parking lot. Black military uniformed agents poured out of the trucks. Agents Black and Blue positioned themselves outside my window, while others paired up outside every window of the church. A dozen agents lined up on either side of the giant wooden front doors.
“Cow, why aren’t you invisible?” asked Agent Black.
“That’s your one superpower. That’s why they sent you to case the joint,” said Agent Blue.
“It only lastthh a few minutes. It must have worn off.” I lied. I completely forgot to activate it.
“Cow, go invisible. And everybody, cut the chatter,” said the director, as I glimpsed his black Suburban pulling on to the church’s front lawn.
“How is he hearing us?” asked Agent Black in a hushed tone.
Agent Blue pointed to my earpiece.
“Thhorry,” I said, as I smacked my head against the windowsill to turn off my mic. I closed my eyes, let out a deep breath and concentrated on activating my invisibility.
“Even though you’ve gone invisible, I can still make out an outline of a cow,” said Agent Blue.
“Yeah, I can see this weird distortion on the edges, which clearly forms the shape of a cow,” said Agent Black as he turned the safety switch off on his weapon.
“It’thh really more of a cloaking power. It’thh better if I stay perfectly still.”
Agent Blue turned to Agent Black and said, “It reminds me of the Predator. Remember that movie?”
“Yeah. Exactly. Cow, you’re like the Predator. That’s pretty cool.”
“Thankthh,” I said, with an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. I had the exact same conversation with the rabbit and duck at least a dozen times.
“This might not be the best time, but I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your lisp,” said Agent Black. “I’ve noticed it’s not consistent. Sometimes you pronounce your s’s just fine.”
“What’thh your point?”
“You blame it on your enormous tongue, but I think it’s more mental than physical.”
“I had a lisp when I was a kid,” said Agent Blue. “After some coaching from a speech therapist, I got rid of it.”
“Exactly,” said Agent Black. “With a bit of therapy, you can lick this.”
“Thankthh, guys. I’ll take that under consideration.” They had no idea how much therapy Dr. Hash Browns had put me through in his attempt to correct my lisp.
Agent Orange, wearing a black suit, white shirt, and tie stood beside his Suburban surveying the scene through his dark sunglasses. “Agents. On my mark… GO!”
Windows and doors on all sides of the church flew open. Agents poured into the church. From my perch outside the opened stained-glass window, I admired the precision of the agents weaving through the pews with assault rifles ready. Knitting needles clanged on the tile floor as a team of agents dragged the old ladies out of the classroom. The old ladies watched the tiny red dots bounce around their chests and bob up and down their faces, as agents herded them across the stage toward the choral risers in the back. One lady sat down on the first step of the riser with her knitting bag resting next to her and returned to knitting her shawl.
“ON YOUR KNEES!” said Agent Purple as he whacked the needles and shawl out of her hands.
The old woman smiled at Agent Purple as she flexed and stretched her fingers. “Honey, I don’t know what this is all about, but I haven’t been able to get down on my knees since the Clinton administration, and I ain’t about to start now. I’m going to stay right here while you boys do whatever it is you all came here to do.” She picked up her knitting and got back to work.
The eyes of the tiniest little old lady darted from Agent Purple to her friend knitting, to the other agents who had formed a circle around the knitting club, to the red dots that danced on her blouse. “Marjorie,” she said, “I don’t think it’s wise to provoke these gentlemen.”
“Oh, relax, Blanche,” said Marjorie, as she picked up her knitting bag. “I’m sure these fine men and women are not here to arrest the evil Town and Country Baptist Church Knitting Club.”
Agent Purple raised his weapon as she fumbled through her bag but lowered it once she pulled out a new ball of yarn. He then motioned for Agents Burnt Sienna and Sky Blue to check out the room labeled Pastor’s Office.
The two agents positioned themselves on either side of the door. Agent Purple gave a single nod. Agent Burnt Sienna stepped out, kicked the door in, and she and Agent Sky Blue stormed inside. Several crashes, a couple resounding thuds, and one high-pitched scream later, the agents dragged the church’s pastor out. They threw him to the floor at the feet of Agent Orange, who had slowly made his way to the front of the altar stage. As soon as the doorway cleared, a team of four agents rushed the office and ransacked the contents.
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the middle-aged pastor as he wiped blood off the corner of his mouth. “This is a place of worship. What could you possibly want with us?”
I had the exact same question. A briefing on mission objectives would have been nice, but Agent Orange insisted that was classified.
“Yes, a place of worship. What a perfect cover,” said Agent Orange as he paced over to the organ on the left side of the stage and wiped a speck of dust off the keys.
“Cover? What are you talking about?” asked the pastor. He ran through the motions of straightening his hair. A pointless act, since despite being roughed up by the agents, his hair remained perfectly groomed.
“You are Pastor Johnson, correct?” asked Agent Orange with his back turned to him.
“Yes. Yes, I am, and who are you, may I ask?”
“So, as the leader of this church, you are responsible for all the operations of this church, am I correct?”
“Yes, as the church’s pastor and leader of the congregation I oversee all operations.”
“I see. So then, Pastor Johnson, would you care to explain to me why such a tiny church in the middle of these farmlands needs three enormous satellite dishes?” I ducked when the director pointed toward my window. As Agents Black and Blue had pointed out, my cloaking power didn’t make me totally invisible, and I had been given strict orders to remain unseen. I glanced at the three industrial-sized satellite dishes on the edge of the church grounds near where the cat patrolled the neighboring cornfield.
“Absolutely,” said the pastor. “It would appear you’ve done your homework, so I am surprised you are not aware we broadcast our sermons worldwide. The sermons are viewed in over a hundred countries. The satellites are how we broadcast our message of hope and salvation. I don’t believe that’s a crime. At least not in this country.”
“Correct, that is not a crime, but it takes only one satellite to broadcast your sermons. Why three?”
“The second is backup, in case the first malfunctions.”
“And the third?” asked Agent Orange.
“With the third, we broadcast the message of the heavens to the universe and if that is a crime then lock me up and throw away the key. The word of God is not meant solely for this planet. It is meant for all beings in all worlds. We want his message of peace and love heard in every inhabited world in every solar system in every galaxy in the universe.”
“Nice speech, pastor, but we both know what you’re doing with that third satellite. We’ve intercepted your communications with the intergalactic terrorist organization known as the Havarti Travel Bureau.”
I rose to view the action with my cloak still activated.
“What? That doesn’t even make any sense. Are you suggesting I’m using the third satellite to make some sort of star trek travel plans?” The pastor showed off his perfectly straight and unnaturally white teeth.
“Very cute, Pastor Johnson, but you’re not fooling anyone.” Agent Orange paced with his hands folded regally behind him. “We know it was you who sent and received the messages and we know only you can decrypt the encoded messages.”
“This is some kind of joke, right? I mean, this has to be some sort of hidden video show or something, because you’re really not making sense.” The pastor still grinned as he glanced around the sanctuary in search of cameras, but only found a team of agents methodically searching up and down the aisles of pews.
“I assure you, Pastor Johnson, when it comes to matters of the intergalactic terrorist organization known as the Havarti Travel Bureau, I do not joke.”
“Look, I have no idea what you’re talking about. We broadcast into space. We don’t receive messages.”
“Pastor Johnson, let me put it to you this way. You have a choice. You can make this experience pleasant and help us voluntarily or you can help us the hard way. Personally, I prefer the hard way, but mark my words, either way, you will decrypt those messages.”
“What messages? I honestly don’t understand any of this.”
“So, you’ve chosen the hard way. Good.” With his first smile in over a week, Agent Orange grabbed a chair from the back of the altar stage.
Agents Burnt Sienna and Sky Blue walked up to the pastor and lifted him off the floor. As soon as Agent Orange placed the chair in front of the podium, they shoved the pastor into it. Agent Orange pulled out a pair of rubber gloves from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and snapped them on. The room fell silent except for the footsteps of Agent Periwinkle, who walked up the center aisle with a small medical bag in his hand. With military precision, he marched up to Agent Orange, opened the bag, and held it for the director’s inspection.
I scanned the other human agents searching the church. Their faces showed no signs of the concern I had about Agent Orange rushing to the use of torture. The situation must be dire. GIBOD did not waste time or worry about collateral damage when the fate of humankind was on the line.
As the tools clanged inside the bag, the pastor’s smug smile disappeared. “Seriously, there’s no need for this. I’m telling you the truth. I, I, I…, I know nothing about any encrypted messages. You’ve got the wrong guy. The wrong church.”
“So, you still deny your collaboration with the known terrorist organization?” asked Agent Orange as he pulled a large needle out of the bag and then motioned for Agent Periwinkle to step back.
“All I know is we blast the sermons out into space. I don’t know how any of it works. You’ve got to believe me. We’ve got a tech team who takes care of that stuff,” said the pastor.
Agent Burnt Sienna grabbed the pastor’s head and tilted it back, as Agent Sky Blue pinned his arms to his side. Agent Orange brought the needle within inches of the pastor’s neck.
A door opened at the back of the sanctuary and shifted everyone’s attention. A young boy strolled in and headed toward the side aisle. His eyes never left the screen of his smartphone. He controlled it with one hand and adjusted his earbuds with the other. He stopped a step away from my window when he realized agents were everywhere. “What the -?” he said as he pulled the earbuds out of his ears with a tug of the cord.
“Him,” said the pastor. “Talk to him. He’s part of the tech team. He’ll know what’s going on.”
The boy’s eyes darted up, down, and all around. The agents stopped searching the pews and raised their weapons toward the boy. He stared at the red LED lights concentrated on his chest and backed up against the wall.
Agent Orange calmly took off his gloves and stuffed them back into his coat, as he walked toward the boy. He got halfway to him when a faint pew-pew came from the choral risers, followed immediately by the church organ exploding. I dove below the windowsill as splinters of wood and ivory sprayed out the window and across the church in a barrage of tiny arrows.
Agents scrambled as Pastor Johnson shrieked like a teenage Elvis fan and his folding chair banged to the floor.
The last chords of the organ faded as I peeked back inside the church. The little old lady named Marjorie had dropped her knitting and stood holding what looked to be a toy water pistol. She aimed at Agent Purple and laughed. “You’re gonna die. You’re all gonna die.” She pulled the trigger of her tiny gun. Pew-pew. Bits of Agent Purple showered onto Agents Burnt Sienna and Sky Blue as they body crawled toward the pastor’s office. I found it hard to take my eyes off the only part of Agent Purple left, his empty boots.
Agents Black and Blue ignored the action at the front of the sanctuary and kept their weapons aimed at the boy. They slowly moved in on him. With his back pinned to the wall, he eyed an exit sign near the smoking fragments of the organ.
The old woman chuckled again. The faint pew-pew of the little old lady’s laser gun preceded the explosions of Agents Black and Blue’s heads. I ducked just in time to avoid a face full of brains. Spitting up cud from my first and second stomachs is a normal part of my digestion, but the sight and sound of the agent’s heads splattering across the stained-glass window like the contents of a pail of slop tossed against a wall and the stench of their laser roasted brains brought remnants from my third and fourth stomachs into my mouth.
“They’re dead now. And soon you’re all gonna be dead.” She blasted several shots at the pews. Agents who had taken aim at the old woman dove to the floor as shards of the wooden pews shot into the air reminiscent of confetti cannons announcing a sports champion. “You’re all gonna die.”
What were we thinking? Why did we want to be special agents? We’re just a bunch of misfit lab animals who should have never been let out of our cages. This job is way to do dangerous. We shouldn’t be here. We’re all gonna die on our training mission.