The Sign of the Virgin
The town of Wayford, population 491, is a quiet rural farming community, where the law is respected and family values are held with the utmost respect. Corn, wheat, pigs, cows, and chickens are the usual produce of the land. Mr. Johnson knows how to plant tomatoes that are the best in the land, it is said. Mrs. Olson still bakes her own bread, compared to no other, and is obliged to make a batch for anyone who asks. Communion has more than once been served with a batch of her bread. "If it is good enough for the Lord's service, its good enough for anybody", she is known to quip to the occasional townsperson who has occasioned to ask of how good it is. At the coffee shop it is common to hear the old phrase that there are more tractors using the roads than cars. Indeed, life moves along at a slower pace there, with the greatest crime being a farmers herd getting out of a pasture and collectively proceed to graze where the grass is presumed greener.
Then one day after mass, of which the whole town attends, an ill wind blew in to town. The day started off looking to be warm and sunny. But by late afternoon, a storm moved over the town with a certain eeriness. It was not the greatest storm to ever hit, but the old timers can't recall anything like it since they were kids. But it is a certain feeling that blew in with it that nobody speaks much about.
The townsfolk battened down the hatches and the farmers secured their lot. It would prove to be quite a storm, to say the least.
Dawn the next day broke with the usual cock crowing. Although nobody was seriously hurt by the storm (except maybe for Big Jim, who cut his hand closing a barn door in the midst of down-poor blasts and needed a couple stitches), there was property damage that needed to be repaired and cleaned up. Old Mike's corn crop was partially hit, but not too bad. A couple families had cracked windows in their homes. Garbage and mud and weeds sprawled around the yards, and flickered some in the gentle breeze. Bob, whom everyone referred to as the new guy, although he's lived here for twelve years, found his chickens roosting over about three acres of field. Jerry's herd of cattle escaped through a stint of fencing that was downed by the storm.
It was discovered on this morning, after Jerry, with the help of his neighbor, spent a couple hours rounding the herd up, there appeared to be was is likened an image of the Virgin Mary on the backside of his tattered and storm-battered old red barn. Indeed, on closer inspection, Jerry and his neighbor both saw it: a roughly five foot tall Virgin Mary praying (looked just like the picture of Mary hanging in church!), which sparkled in the glistening of the sun on the rain that washed down the side of the barn!
It just so happened that on this day, a stranger was passing through town on his way to the big city, and stopped for a shot of coffee at the coffee shop. Jerry's son Tom ran to the shop and informed the folks there that a sign of the Virgin Mary was found on the backside of his father's barn. Almost immediately, the seven or eight people in the arid coffee shop got up and left to go see it. They would be right back to pay the bill, they said, but the manager, who was also the church deacon, decided he needed to have a look, and so they all left together. Except for the stranger. He decided to sit there and finish his coffee first. When he was done, he dropped some change on the counter, and headed out to have a look for himself.
The word spread through the whole town like a wildfire, and it appeared as if all 491 townsfolk, young and old, were arriving to view the Virgin Mary. The crowd grew large, and the mob was abuzz with the sighting. People were laying down flower bouquets, and there were already a picture or two of Mary leaning against the barn. Jerry stood close, telling the visitors the particulars of discovering it. It seemed everyone was giving the sign of the cross and knelt down to pray. Someone even brought a box of rosaries from the church, and was selling them. Even the priest responded, and was reciting verses from the bible. It was said once or twice that it was a glorious sign that the storm is over. The mob was ecstatic and babbled on about what this could possibly have meant.
The stranger walked up to the back of the crowd and gently eased his way towards the front, in order to view the sign. It is not known what he was thinking, as he said not a word to anyone except a friendly "I'm sorry, excuse me" to whomever he happened to bump into along the way.
Now, in certain societies and close knit groups, it should be noted, that things become engrained into their ways of living, and are no longer openly recognized. In the big cities, for example, homeless people are common fixtures. It would be noticed if there were no more homeless people on the sidewalks. And it would also be noticed if not a single car was found on what had always been a busy street. With Wayford, it is the non-catholic who is noticed. What is not noticed, coincidentally, is anything farm related.
The stranger, now finding himself at the front of what the celebration was about, finally saw it with his own eyes. It indeed looked like something, but he was not filled with glee over the design. A few in the crowd noticed, too, that he did not pay homage to the sign. One lady of the church asked if he was going to say a prayer, to which he responded:
"I think this is just bullshit."
And with this, a hush fell over the crowd. There were gasps of surprise. One gnarled old man in overalls scolded the heretic in a hoarse voice that hinted he did not have many years left. And with this, the stranger turned to depart, but to do so, he had to find his way through the crowd. He managed to get about halfway through the slowly enraging crowd, until a couple of strong farm-boys blocked his exit. They yelled at him, and grabbed him, and pushed him. The mob joined in. At this point, the focus was no more on the Virgin Mary, but that of this poor wayfaring stranger who had moments before so ferociously attacked and denounced their faith with only a handful of words. He managed, surprisingly, not to fall and ran towards his vehicle. Someone threw a rock and hit him in the back. Another threw a rock and dented his car. The crowed yelled at him to get out and never comeback. The stranger left, and to this day, was never seen again passing through Wayford.
It was still to be awhile until the crowd dispersed completely, but the preacher stopped preaching, and the mood of the crowd was less ecstatic than before. It was the storm that made that image of the Virgin Mary, and it was made on the side of the barn in the pasture of what Jerry's prized bull called home. Although no one spoke of this, but it became apparent, after the fanaticism died down, that the sign of the Virgin was in fact bull feces splattered by rain and wind from the previous night's storm that sprayed the wall and, when glistened from rain and sun, formed the image. With this, then, the stranger was simply being honest, seeing what they could not.