Below you will find the front matter and the first ten pages of my new novel, absolutely free. Enjoy!
A DREAM WITHIN
A Pastor Butch Gregory Novel
Jamie D. Greening
Thanks, is not enough, but alas, it will have to suffice.
I begin my gratitude with you—dear reader. There are so many other things you could be reading today, but you chose my novel and for that I am thankful. You will never know how much I appreciate that act of trust.
I also deeply appreciate Athanatos Publishing, specifically Anthony Horvath. His belief in Butch Gregory, from the very first short story in 2009 all the way to this volume, has been an encouragement that feeds my soul. I also owe a debt to the other writers in the Athanatos ‘stable’—specifically Joseph Courtemanche, Joe Shaw, Robert Cely, and Derek Elkins. After you buy two or three more copies of this book to give as gifts, you should immediately go buy their books. The same can be said of my little writer’s group: Patrick Shaub, Iris Macek, and Amber Jones continually remind me to shorten my overcomplicated, comma infused, compound, run-on, and pretentious sentences; avoid the echo of word echoes, as well as to not swing for the fences on fourth and goal by mixing my metaphors. My writing would be exponentially better if I listened to them more often.
Many people have read through this work at various stages, and I deeply appreciate their labor. My writing and grammar are always in need of improvement. This is particularly true of plane old homophones. I am convinced this was a section of grammar in grade school covered by my teacher when I had my tonsillectomy. If you find one or more in this book, it is no one’s fault by mine. These eagle-eyed people include Joe Courtemanche, Pastor Barbara Agnew, Sheila Cochran, and Elisha Pile. Another thanks to Pastor, writer, and theologian smart guy John Duncan for his assistance with tricky Greek transliteration.
A Dream Withinis the most pastoral book I have ever written, and as it pertains to that I wish to express my deep appreciation for Joe Chambers and David Caddell, both of whom share in the very difficult work of shepherding my soul even if they don’t know it. Related to this, the three churches I have been blessed to pastor—Walnut Springs Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Port Orchard, and now Fellowship Baptist Church, have helped me more than I have ever helped them. I owe these three congregations so much, and I am thankful the awful things that happened to poor Butch at Sydney Community have never been my own experiences. Although, there was that one time . . .
I am a crazy, insecure, neurotic writer, yet somehow my wife and daughters love me anyway. I can’t even imagine life without them. Thanks, FamSquad. I love you.
Texas Hill Country
This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or characterizations correlate to actual people living or dead. Nevertheless, this story is filled with truth. Let the reader understand.
For my father, Jack Greening.
The field is plowed, the corn laid by,
and the peas are picked.
Rest in peace.
While I weep—while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
Onefrom the pitiless wave?
Is allthat we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
From “A Dream Within a Dream”
Edgar Allan Poe
The crucible is for silver
The furnace is for gold, and
The Lord tests the heart.
Pastor Butch Gregory felt as dark and blue as the necktie he kept tugging.
The tie wasn’t tight. Tightness squeezed his throat from the inside out. It had been a long time since he’d felt this uncomfortable. It was warm, temperatures in the upper seventies. The sky was clear and blue. The sun felt good on his black suit.
The weather was not the reason for his discomfort.
Something wasn’t right.
Of course, things weren’t right. He was standing at the graveside service for a sixteen-year-old boy. A boy who had everything going for him. It was not just any boy, either. He was the boyfriend of his daughter’s best friend. The boy had been in his house.He had eaten at his table. He had watched countless movies in his living room. He had driven his daughter around town.
He was a boy who was almost a man.
And now he was dead.
What part did Butch expect to be alright, anyway?
He grunted as he tugged. The necktie loosened; the tightening increased.
Funerals are always tough, but he wasn’t the officiant at this graveside. Here, he was a mourner.
Butch’s wife, Lucy, stood with one arm around their daughter, Sarah.
What pain Sarah must be going through. Why hadn’t he spoken with her about it?
Sarah was between Butch and Lucy. Paul, their son and youngest child, stood on Butch’s other side. It was their normal family seating order at public events: parent, child, parent, child. Sarah always between her mom and dad, and Paul to the right of his old man. It was how they sat at movies, concerts, football games, airplanes, and now funerals.
The chapel service had been scriptural and uplifting, and his colleague from First United Methodist Church had done a good job dealing with the difficulties and trauma involved. Butch knew she would. Here, at the graveside the minister was reading a sobering and reflective text from Ecclesiastes. He listened, looking for hope. He’d always found hope in the Scriptures. Not necessarily the hope he wanted, but always hope. He listened with his aching heart, hoping to hear something positive. Anything to help.
He worked hard to not conjure the passage from memory, but instead to listen with fresh ears as each word was released into the air.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose.
The familiar text from Ecclesiastes should’ve comforted him. He could remember times when it had. It was the exact same set of verses he’d read at his own grandmother’s funeral. That was in the past. Today, though, the Bible agitated him. It mocked him. He felt as if he was always losing. When was it his time to win? His turn to get? When was his family allowed to dance? Why was their laughter always tempered with the weeping? And pain? Was the Gregory family ever allowed to heal?
God felt a million miles away.
He tugged at his necktie.
Sniffles and sobs filled his ears. Butch felt like the entire high school student body was at the funeral. He knew some, most he didn’t. He’d baptized a few of them. His heart ached for them and the world they lived in. This was not the time in the lives of these children when they should be weeping. They should be laughing, dancing, studying, exploring, dating, learning, and living. They should be asking big questions about their place in the universe, thinking about love and God and eternity and politics and philosophy, and what college to go to. It wasn’t fair. The young man would never experience these again, and Sarah would have to face life’s bitterness far too soon.
His heart hurt for the boy in the coffin. A coffin which would soon have pall bearer boutonnieres placed upon it. Then dirt. And then not a small number of tears.
Butch looked at the sky through his sunglasses and imagined how he might be more comfortable if Roberto had died in a car crash. Or kidney failure. Or a sudden aneurysm. None of those would have eased the grief, but any one of those horrible things would have at least made some sense. People die. It was part of life. Accidents happen. Illness steals away years. Medicine fails everyone, eventually. Even kids. It was the human condition.
But Roberto didn’t die in a car crash. He didn’t have kidney failure. His brain was fine—there was no aneurysm. The limitations of medicine or science had nothing to do with why Roberto would not be in class Monday morning.
Roberto had opened the veins on his wrists with a razor blade. He bled to death on the floor of his bedroom. His mom found him when he didn’t come down for dinner.
What a horrible experience it must have been for her.
Butch tugged at the necktie.
The more he stared upward into the sky, the more bothered he became. He’d been bothered since it had happened, but he’d blocked the whole unpleasantness from his thoughts. The ability to compartmentalize came in handy for pastoral ministry, and he’d successfully used this skill to shelter himself from thinking about Roberto. Instead, he thought about work, the landscaping of his backyard, and the book he was reading. He diagnosed himself with classic denial.
He’d not even taken the time to sit with Sarah and talk to her about her friend’s death. How could he have neglected her spiritual needs? Was it a mental block? Defense mechanism? Professional distance? Why had he ignored her? Had she been anyone else’s daughter, he’d have made an appointment to specifically speak to her as she went through this. Yet under his own roof was a teenage girl with enormous pain, and he hadn’t even talked to her. That this girl was his daughter made his heart even sicker. His shoulders slumped. His left knee buckled. Failing his family had always been his fear, and now he saw he’d done the exact thing he’d never wanted to do.
Butch drew his left hand from his pocket; he draped his arm around Sarah’s shoulder.
He moved to pull her close to him, but Sarah stepped to the side, pulling away. Without ever looking up at him, she clutched her mother’s arm instead. Only two feet separated him from her, but it was an emotional Grand Canyon.
Butch’s arm fell empty to his side He looked at her; she never looked at him. He felt as though he gazed at a stranger.
He clutched at his necktie, but this time he didn’t tug at it. He tightened it.
After the minister had declared the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life and the funeral director gave brief instructions, Sarah and Lucy stepped up to the casket. Sarah took a necklace from around her neck and placed it atop the silver casket. Lucy held her daughter tight. Butch stood helpless beside Paul. He didn’t know they’d planned that. When had they talked about it? He tried to remember if they’d talked about it, but he couldn’t focus.
The car ride home was quiet. Butch held Lucy’s hand, but neither spoke. Sarah and Paul doubled down on their parents’ silence.
The weather outside was warm for a spring day, but the atmosphere inside Butch Gregory’s home was cold.
Tommy Bothers brought the meeting to order.“As you know, this is a special board meeting called to discuss the sorry state of our church.”
“Come on, Tommy!” Dr. Gerald Land said. “You’ve not made a fair characterization at all of what our situation is. Your pejorative term is not appreciated.”
“Appreciated or not,” another voice chimed, “Tommy’s words are spot on. Things ain’t good.”
Tommy enjoyed this moment. He’d anticipated it, or something like it, for years, for as long as he could remember. It was his destiny. Tommy carried a mood about the whole arrangement. Last year he was elected board chairperson. His father and mother had politicked hard for him to earn the position, and their work paid off. He had endured the troublesome Butch Gregory long enough. Tommy knew how church should work. He knew what Sydney Community Church needed. He knew the solutions to their problems, and the solution started with removing the old preacher and finding a new one.
A younger one.
A smarter one.
A professional one.
A sensible one.
A compliant one.
But he had to be careful. There were difficult waters yet to navigate. Tommy knew he needed to be cautious. It couldn’t look as if he was working solely to get Butch fired. He had to make a logical case for a change in direction. It must look as if he was doing the hard things and saying the hard things for the church’s sake. Most people in the church loved Butch more than words could express, and the old guy had allies on the board. But the preacher’s power had waned
[to keep reading, you can purchase the novel for Kindle ($3.99) or paperback ($14.95) by clicking here]
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