No Debate


First-Place Fiction
Earthquake! Here was something the hotshot debate team couldn’t talk themselves out of.

“Whose bright idea was it to come down in this dungeon?” Amy asked.

Just moments before, the debaters had been trying to study together in the school library, preparing for the state tournament that afternoon. The distractions became unbearable, so at Darin’s suggestion, they had relocated to the basement, in a secluded room the librarian said was only used occasionally, for tutoring.

Excuse me?” Darin questioned.

“She’s referring to your idea of coming down here,” Jodi said, looking up from her book.

“Do you have a better idea?” Darin snapped back. It was like that with the debate team. Sometimes it seemed they couldn’t have any kind of conversation without turning it into a discussion of pros and cons.

“Hey, we’re leaving soon anyway. At least now I can hear myself think,” Brent jumped to Darin’s defense.

“I don’t understand what the problem with the library was,” Matt added. The debate continued. First, about how ugly and cold the room was. Then about Social Security, the topic of the tournament. Then movies, then … They were the intellectually elite of the school, skilled at making arguments. Getting any of them to back down was next to impossible.

The classroom door slowly opened. A young man entered and observed them carefully. They seemed oblivious to his presence.

“Excuse me,” he finally said.

“Did you need something?” Jodi said. She acknowledged his presence but was too caught up in the group discussion to be bothered.

“Yeah, I’m supposed to meet my math tutor down here. The principal sent me.”

“We’ll be done in a minute,” Matt said without looking up.

The young man eyed the others, then found a seat on the opposite side of the room. He chuckled to himself as he listened to their arguments. He recognized Darin and Matt as two of the smartest students in the school. He was definitely out of his league.

The ground beneath his feet suddenly seemed to move. The arguing stopped. The lights flickered. Then things crashed around them. Amy screamed as a large beam dropped from the ceiling, forcing her to the ground. Her arms flailed out, grabbing empty air for some support.

“Get under something!” the young man yelled as he dove for the ground. A sharp pain took him by surprise as the corner of a desk crashed into his head. A pipe burst, showering the room with cold water. It was totally dark.

Almost as quickly as it had begun, the room stopped shaking. The teenagers sat petrified for a moment as the gushing water slowed to a trickle before stopping.

Everything was suddenly silent. Thick dust drifted in the cool air, making it hard to breathe. Finally someone spoke, “Is everyone all right?”

The voice was answered with a muffled groan, a couple of coughs, and someone crying.

“What happened?” another voice asked.

Jodi stood up, spilling ceiling tiles and other debris into the puddle below her. “I think we just had an earthquake.”

Amy whispered in quiet, scared gasps, “Help me!”

The young man heard her cry. “Where are you?”

“Please hurry!” came the weak reply.

He kneeled down and began searching. His heart jumped as his hand finally fell on her cold arm.

“Please help. It hurts so bad!”

“It’s okay. Everything is going to be all right!”

He found the heavy ceiling beam resting across Amy’s small frame. He tested its weight and lifted. Slowly it rose. Amy cried out.

“You’ve got to push yourself free!” he gasped.

He was answered by short gasps of pain and fear. The burning in his muscles was overwhelming, telling him he couldn’t hold the beam up much longer. Just then someone startled him.

“I can help.”

“Pull her out of the way,” he managed to gasp. “Be careful; she’s hurt!”

Amy let out another cry as she was pulled to safety.

“Amy, it’s Jodi. You’re going to be all right!”

The strength in his fingers gave out, and he let the wood crash to the floor.

Brent soon found his way to Amy’s side.

“Where does it hurt?”

“Everywhere. It really hurts to breathe,” Amy said softly.

Darin found his way to the others.

“The door’s stuck,” he informed them. “It won’t budge.”

“Looks like we’ll have to wait until someone finds us,” Jodi sighed.

“It better be soon,” Brent said matter-of-factly. “We need to get Amy some help.”

They became quiet as they contemplated their situation. Amy broke the silence with her quiet voice, “What’s your name?”

The young man realized she was speaking to him.

“Reegan.”

“Thank you, Reegan,” her voice trailed off.

“No problem,” Reegan replied, “just try not to talk.” He found Amy’s hand. It was cold and weak but still managed to close around his own.

“Where’s Matt?” Darin asked, suddenly remembering they hadn’t accounted for everyone.

“Over here,” came a reply from across the room. “I’m trying to find my backpack. My flashlight’s in it.”

The group settled down in the dark, listening. The floor was wet and cold, and the dark, dirty air stuck to them.

“Do you think they’ll find us?” Jodi asked fearfully.

“Oh, sure. They’ll have us out of here in no time,” Brent responded, a little uncertainly.

“Hey, Reegan, way to pick the right time for tutoring!” Darin said.

“No kidding,” Reegan said. “If I had known it was going to be like this in here, I’d have stayed upstairs.”

“I found it!” Matt cried.

Suddenly a large circle of light appeared on Reegan’s head. He squinted. The light bobbed around the room. The ceiling tiles were now all about them on the floor, exposing old pipes, beams, and wires. Then with a clank the light disappeared.

“Oh no, I dropped it!” Matt said. He reached for the flashlight, found it, and pushed the button. Nothing happened. He pushed it again, and his spirits dropped.

“Way to go, klutz!” Brent grumbled.

“Hey, Houdini, why don’t you pull a flashlight out of your hat,” Matt shot right back.

The fireworks began. The room, no longer silent, echoed the irritation as the debaters took turns blaming each other for their predicament. Finally Reegan let out a piercing whistle. The room quieted immediately.

“Hey, you guys. I know we’re all scared, but I really don’t think anyone here caused the earthquake,” he said.

“Well, God sure picked a nice time to give us a jolt,” Jodi said smugly.

“Oh, please. Do we really need your religious mumbo-jumbo to explain why the ground started shaking?” Brent asked.

“You believe what you want; I’ll believe what I want,” Jodi answered.

“Show me some proof, and I’ll believe anything,” Darin said.

Reegan chuckled. His memory returned to a few nights before when he sat in the home of a young couple. He’d been with the missionaries on splits. In the home he remembered hearing the same statement about showing proof.

“What’s so funny?” Darin asked.

“Nothing. I was just thinking it would be tough to show you guys anything,” Reegan said.

Time seemed to stop in the empty darkness. The group sat impatient and anxious, each engrossed in thought. Reegan closed his eyes as he silently prayed for help.

“Someday when we’re out of here, you’ll have to show me your proof of God, Jodi,” Darin finally said.

“Maybe we won’t get out of here, and you’ll be able to see him yourself.”

“What do you think, Reegan? You a churchgoer?” Brent asked.

“Well, yeah,” Reegan said.

“What church do you go to?” Brent asked.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

“Hey, I’m a Mormon too,” Matt said excitedly. “But I haven’t been to church since I was little.”

“That’s too bad. It’s an all-right place to be.”

“I think anyplace would be better than here,” Darrin moaned. “So what exactly do Mormons believe?”

“You want the condensed version?”

“I don’t think we’re going anywhere soon.”

Reegan took a deep breath. Then he recited the Articles of Faith. The group sat in silence and let the statements sink in.

“You know, I don’t mean to be rude or arrogant,” Jodi said, “but I am one of the top students in the school. I’ve studied all kinds of religions, and science just doesn’t seem to support any of them. What does that tell you?”

“I think it’s wonderful that you’ve become so knowledgeable about things of this world,” Reegan answered. “But you’d be even wiser to keep in mind that maybe—just maybe—there’s some truth to what I’ve just told you.”

“Only an idiot would believe something just because someone tells them it’s true,” Darin said, building a defense. “We’re debaters. We’re skeptical by nature. We want cold, hard facts.”

“Let me ask you something then, Darin,” Reegan said. “Who taught you how to read?”

“My parents.”

“How do you know they taught you the right way?”

Darin laughed. “Because when I open a book and see all those letters, my mind can transform them into words. Where are you going with this?”

“Patience, Darin. When you were learning to read, you had to trust your parents as they taught you the alphabet. Also, when they taught you the sounds and uses of each letter and then taught you to recognize those letters and words in simple sentences, you had to believe them. How long was it before you could read without their help?”

“A while. So what?”

“There weren’t any cold, hard facts involved in learning to read. You learned because you initially trusted that your parents knew how and would teach you. Now look at the great advantages you have gained through reading; it’s opened many doors for you. My church’s beliefs are kind of like that. We don’t start out with a complete knowledge. We learn it and earn it. I can’t debate truth with you, and I can’t make you believe what I believe—nor should I be able to. What I can do, what we can all do, is share what we know with others. Take them by the hand for those first few steps and let them see for themselves if it’s right or wrong.”

“Let’s just say for argument’s sake that there is a God and that this gospel you describe is true. Then why doesn’t everybody know it?” Brent asked. “It doesn’t seem fair that only a few people should be privileged.”

“You guys know what foods are good for you and which aren’t,” Reegan said. “You probably even know what size portions of certain things to eat to help you remain healthy, right? But do you suppose there are people in this world who are so hungry that they’ll eat anything, even if it’s not good for them?”

The group agreed.

“Well, that doesn’t make the knowledge of nutrition that you have untrue. But it does give you the opportunity to share it. It’s the same with the gospel. People are hungry for truth, so hungry they just want to be fed. Unfortunately there are others who take advantage of that hunger and use it for their own gain.”

“That’s kind of a cool concept,” Brent said.

“Hey, I’m completely serious when I tell you it’s just what I know,” Reegan answered. “I don’t want to debate or argue about it. If there’s one thing that can’t be argued, it’s the truth.”

“Come on, guys,” Darin said. “You’re not buying this, are you?”

No one responded.

“Listen, I didn’t mean to offend anybody,” Reegan apologized.

“You didn’t,” Amy added quietly. “We’re used to opposing points of view.”

Darin sighed his disgust in the darkness. Just then Reegan felt a cold hand on his arm.

“Will you please pray for us?” Amy asked weakly.

Suddenly fear sprang into Reegan’s heart. They were all so much smarter than he was. How could he pray in front of them? But quickly the hesitation vanished. Of course he would pray.

“Is that okay with everybody?” he asked.

The response was affirmative, even from Darin. “It can’t hurt, I guess,” he said.

Reegan took a deep breath then began. He gave thanks to Heavenly Father for their safety. He asked for comfort and strength, that Amy might be all right until help arrived, and that she would recover quickly and fully. He then asked that they be found. He also asked that they each might learn to put their faith in God and recognize his hand in all good things. When he finished, Reegan felt the presence of the Holy Ghost. He hoped the others did too.

As the hours continued to pass, the gloom and hopelessness began to settle back in. What was happening on the outside remained a mystery. Stomachs growled from hunger. Parched lips burned for water. The musty air was turning stale. Amy’s labored breathing continued as each person slowly dozed off.

Then they heard a horrendous crash beyond the door. In an instant they were sitting up wide-eyed as could be. What sounded like a muffled chain saw ripped through the air. A thin sliver of light appeared under the doorway. Those who were able jumped to their feet. They pounded on the large steel door, hoping that someone on the other side would hear them.

The chain saw stopped. Then, after some tugging, the door swung open. They all squinted as bright light entered the room.

“He’s here!” a voice called out. There was a brief pause before the same voice called out in confusion. “And there are more!”

They were rescued.

A couple of weeks later Reegan opened the mailbox. The large goose egg on his forehead had all but disappeared, erasing the only evidence of the excitement of the weeks past. As he walked back toward his house, he opened an envelope addressed to him. He pulled out a large thank-you card and began reading.

“Hey, Reegan, thank you so much for saving my life. The doctor said that with my punctured lung it was a miracle I lasted as long as I did. If it hadn’t been for your faith, I wouldn’t be here today. Love, Amy.”

Another note read, “Reegan, you showed me your religion by your example, and what an impression it has made. Thank you for what you taught me that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Matt.”

He continued reading. “Hey, Reegan, I just wanted to thank you. I hear the principal suddenly remembered she sent you down to the basement. Had she forgotten, we’d probably still be there. At any rate, we were the ones who needed tutoring that day. I’ve learned that love and compassion are more important than man’s knowledge. Thanks, Brent.”

Jodi had also scribbled a short message. “It’s amazing how my outlook on life has changed since our adventure. I think it really helped to get my world ‘shaken’ up. Love, Jodi.”

The final words were from Darin. “Hey, Reegan. I have to admit your example has taught me that, believe it or not, I don’t know everything. I’m beginning to see that there are things in life we just can’t learn about in school. I’m going to try to listen better. It’s nice to know a person like you. Oh, one more thing. Can I really debate with the two missionaries you’re bringing over?”

Reegan smiled to himself as he returned the card to the envelope. He envisioned himself on Darin’s porch with the elders.

“No, Darin. There’s no debate. But you can talk and listen all you want.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Greer