“Take that, Satan’s minion!” cried Moe.
Three Days of Darkness!
“Good grief!” exclaimed Moe Hardee as he perused the latest Parish Post. He ran his fingers through his blonde hair and cast a worried glance toward his brother, Hank. “It says here that Padre Pio has prophesied Three Days of Darkness!”
“Gee,” remarked Hank, dark-haired and one year older than seventeen-year-old Moe, “that will sure put a crimp in our boating plans!” Hank and Moe were the sons of famous detective Denton Hardee, and they had been looking forward to a weekend expedition on Bartlett Bay with their Mayport High chums. “Read me the details.”
“Well, according to Padre Pio, an enormous cross in the sky will signal the imminence of three days of darkness, during which the sun will not shine and demons will run loose throughout the streets.”
“Holy moly!” reacted Hank, whose customary reserve and lack of impulsiveness had been rattled by the startling news.
“And that’s not all. The faithful are required to take shelter in a windowless room stocked with adequate provisions, lest they accidentally make eye contact with one of the demonic marauders or personally witness God’s wrath, which will condemn even believers to an eternity in hell.”
“Gosh! We better tell Dad!” concluded Hank. The boys rushed through the house on their way to Denton Hardee’s second-floor study, but their progress was halted by their superficially tart yet fundamentally affectionate Aunt Bertrude, who would always put the kibosh on anyone running through the kitchen.
“And just what do you two boys mean by tearing through the house like a pair of reckless hooligans?” demanded acid-tongued Miss Hardee, sister to Denton. Though she had no tolerance for nonsense, Hank and Moe loved her, for they knew that underneath her crusty and rather unattractive exterior beat a heart of gold.
“Why, Aunt Bertrude,” explained Moe, “we’re only on our way to tell Dad some vitally important news!” He turned to his brother and gave a sly wink. Hank grinned secretly behind a façade of non-grinning.
“Not just now, you’re not!” thundered the old witch. “Your father left for New York this morning on another important case. So you can take your spoiled behinds right back where they came from, only this time walking.” The boys drooped their heads and trudged out of the kitchen. “And no sleuthing!” added Aunt Bertrude lovingly.
Hank and Moe decided to take refuge in their well-equipped crime laboratory on the second floor of the detached garage. Here they could formulate a plan without further intrusion from Aunt Bertrude. “We could tell Mother,” offered Moe. Mrs. Hardee was a small and attractive woman who quietly went about her business keeping the Hardee house. Often she would pack delicious picnic lunches for the boys when they were about to embark on an afternoon of detective work.
“We could,” allowed Hank, “but we better not. I think demonic marauders and condemnation to an eternity in hell would only upset Mother.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” admitted impulsive Moe, who was grateful for his brother’s habit of thinking things through before acting. “Let’s ask some of the gang what they think.” The young amateur detectives raced down the steps and mounted their motorcycles. With the enticing aroma of a fresh adventure in the air, they kicked their starters and zoomed off toward the outskirts of Mayport. Soon they were pulling up the dusty drive at the Horton farm, home to their friend Shep.
Shep happened to be squatting down on the front porch studying an array of small objects spread around him. He was so absorbed in his task that even the roaring of the Hardee boys’ motorcycles did not distract him. When Hank and Moe neared the porch, they both grinned at their stout friend’s inattention. At length, Shep looked up and noticed his company. “Oh, hi fellows! You’re just in time for the first-ever display of my newest collection: food that resembles other things!”
“Why, who would have guessed that you would take up an interest in food?” joked Moe, and all three chums laughed heartily. Shep was known throughout Mayport as an enthusiastic eater.
“Ah, but not just any food, you see. Consider this potato, which I dug out of the ground myself. See how it looks quite a bit like the head of our principal?”
“Say, he’s right!” smiled Hank. “What else do you have, Shep?”
Their porcine pal rummaged among the other foodstuffs. “Well, there’s this carrot that reminds me of a Saturn rocket, and you can see how this gourd is not unlike my jalopy’s carburetor, and that stubby little zucchini over there is just like my —”
“Hey!” interrupted Moe. “Look at this rhubarb!”
“Oh yeah,” said Shep, “it’s like a little cluster of red Ticonderoga pencils, right?”
“No, Shep, I mean the leaves. Look at the vein in this leaf!”
“Holy moly!” exclaimed Hank redundantly. “It looks like a cross!” Shep’s bulbous eyes darted quizzically between Hank and Moe, both of whom had suddenly become quite solemn.
“What’s wrong, fellas?” queried the rotund one.
“Listen, Shep,” explained Hank. “This rhubarb leaf reminds us of why we came here in the first place.” Both brothers recounted the news they had just learned from the Parish Post. Shep’s frightened eyes protruded even further from their sockets, and were it not for the constraint of his skull, they might have popped entirely out of his head.
“G-g-gee w-w-w-willikers!” stammered Shep. “I better grab my scapular collection!” Breathing laboriously what with his accumulated layers of fat, he disappeared into the house and returned shortly with a shoe box filled with various sacramental scapulars. “There’s enough for everybody! This one gives you the Sabbatine Privilege, which will get you out of Purgatory so long as you’re wearing it on the first Saturday after you die. Oh, and you have to be pious, too. This one is a fivefold, so in addition to the Sabbatine Privilege, you get more plenary indulgences than you can believe. This one —”
“What’s all the fuss?” came a gentle voice from behind the screen door. Moe looked up to behold Shep’s sister Viola, who was as slender and pretty as Shep was not. Viola was Moe’s favorite date, and it occurred to him that should he be confined in a windowless room for three days during an apocalyptic conflagration, he could do worse than to spend it at the Horton farmhouse. Hank was having similar thoughts, though he envisioned himself piously ensconced within the fortified home of pretty, blonde Keri Pshaw, whom he dated regularly.
Suddenly Viola cast her gaze above and beyond her brother and his chums. “Say! Look up there in the sky!”
Shep, Hank, and Moe turned around and looked up at the cloudless summer sky. There, plainly visible against the vibrant blue atmosphere, was an enormous white cross!
Confounded by Contrails!