ChristianManuscript Submission Third Place George MacDonald Award to Richard Gibson
|June 12, 2011||Posted by admin under 2011 Winners||
The George MacDonald Award
(19 and Up Category)
Richard Louis Gibson is 22-years old and lives in Maplewood, Missouri. He can’t decide about college or about a day job or about most other major decisions in his life, but he is decided about at least three things: He loves YHWH, he loves his wife, and he loves writing.
by Richard Gibson
All Rights Reserved
The last day of school before Christmas break always made everyone a little extra raucous. High schoolers in a somewhat-small town are rowdy anyway because of their boredom, but the added excitement of both Christmas and Christmas break only served to increase it.
And that made eavesdropping so much more fun.
“This is the kid, isn’t it?” I heard a guy say behind me.
“Yep,” his friend replied. “The kid with the jackets.”
“What’s his name again?”
“‘Judah’, but he goes by ‘Jude’.”
Eavesdropping isn’t as much fun when you know who and what is being talked about, so I kept walking. I could hear that their voices grew quiet and their footsteps drew closer. They were getting as near as they figured they could without being heard over the din of the student body exiting the school building. They kept a good proximity, too far for me to hear their breathing, but close enough to examine me.
“Wow, look at this thing,” the first one said.
“Seriously, dude,” the friend responded. I recognized his voice as someone in my grade. “It is as cool as they say.”
I smiled broadly. I loved hearing that. It was basically the best compliment I had ever received, and I heard it maybe every other week. Sure, it was a compliment about my jacket, not directly about me, but it was a compliment about my handiwork, so that’s a good enough compliment for an artist. Since this was the only senior high school in town, and therefore rather large, it took a while for word to get around. As such, my jackets were still essentially folklore.
“Think he’d make me one?” the one in my grade asked.
I stopped and spun around, almost causing them to run into me. I immediately realized that he was one of the “popular” kids. What a joke. I held up a hand and wagged my finger. “Not a chance, buddy.”
His surprise quickly changed to sadness, then even more quickly to disdain. “Why not? I’ll hook you up with some gorgeous chicks in exchange.”
I laughed and shook my head. “No, you’re not getting one. This isn’t a label or a brand name. These are one-of-a-kind pieces of signature artwork.” I could see he was rather angry, so I persisted. “And, they’re mine.” With that, I spun on my heel and walked off.
Once outside the building, I sprinted towards David’s monstrous pick-up truck and jumped into the bed of it.
As soon as my heavy shoes hit the metal, he yelled, “Jude! Get in here! We don’t got time to waste!”
Thomas chimed in. “Yeah yeah, get in here.”
I laughed and got in the truck’s cab. “What’s the rush?”
“We’re running down to Stonewall’s,” Thomas said as he moved between David and me and buckled himself in.
“Jackson’s Junction?” I asked as I too buckled my seatbelt.
“No, we’re going to see a wall of rocks. Of course!” He quickly drove off the school parking lot, weaving in and out of cars, and flooring it as soon as he was on the main road. There was a reason both Thomas and I wore our seatbelts, and it had nothing to do with the law.
I put my backpack on the floor and said, “Assuming we make it there alive, what’re we going there for?”
David simply glared at me. “You just fulla questions, aren’t ya?”
I nodded. “You guys been saving your money?”
“No, we’ve spent it all on flowers and candy. Of course we have!” David said.
“Yeah yeah, we’ve been saving it,” Thomas said.
“Well, good,” I said. “I bet we’ll have enough after Christmas, so long as my parents don’t spoil my kid twin brothers again.”
“Jackson’s Junction” is pretty slow during the winter, what with it being an outdoor carnival-like place. However, the indoor go-kart track was open year-round, and there were two special attractions right now: For starters, there was a brand-new track, one that was only available to skilled drivers. All three of us qualified, but that may have just been because we had gotten on the good side of Phillip Jackson, the owner.
In addition to that, he had just bought a slew of brand-new, high-end go-karts and replaced all the older ones. He wasn’t going to let anyone use them until after Christmas, but we wanted to see if he’d let us, anyway, so we would be the first ones to drive them.
While driving new karts on a new track was basically the coolest thing ever, that wasn’t the real reason we were going. Not entirely. We wanted to see if he still had any of the older model go-karts available for sale. Mr. Jackson wasn’t one to throw things away, especially not when he could make a buck off of them. He had sold the rest of the karts to other track owners in other states, but he said he’d hold three of them for a while for us, but only if we could pay for all three at once and up front, that is.
It was really a shame that my parents wouldn’t let me buy one, so I had to earn and save the money behind their backs. I figured once I bought it, though, Mr. Jackson wouldn’t take it back, so they’d have to let me keep it. Besides, maybe they’d be impressed that I actually worked for and saved my own money.
Once we got to Jackson’s Junction, Mr. Jackson wouldn’t even talk to us about them. “I told ya’ll ya can’t have ‘em until ya got the money for ‘em!”
“But you haven’t even told us how much they are,” I said.
“Yeah yeah, you haven’t,” Thomas said.
Mr. Jackson narrowed his eyes. “Ya don’t have enough, trust me.”
“Mr. Jackson, you don’t even know how much money we have,” I said.
“It’s not enough, now off with ya!” he bellowed.
Yes, this is considered being on his good side.
We did as he demanded and drove off. David was the first to speak. “What an ass!”
“Yeah yeah, a real jerk,” Thomas concurred.
“Hey now,” I said. “He’s probably right. We gotta make some more money and hope our parents give us some real cash for Christmas. There’s no other way we’ll have enough.”
“That only gives us three working days,” Thomas said.
“Better make ‘em count.” David said, and that was that.
Those three working days passed without event and without any sort of income, but that didn’t matter. Now the big day had finally arrived: December 25th, Christmas day.
“Merry Christmas, Judah!” my parents yelled too loudly as they handed me my final box. It was my last present of the year.
It had better be good, I thought as I took it from their hands and glanced behind me at my paltry assortment of gifts, then to my side at my kid brothers’ overflowing piles. This last box was about two feet long, a foot wide, a few inches deep, and rather light. Clothes. I smiled at them. “Thanks, guys.”
I opened it quickly, anyway. Opening a present is exciting, even if you’re entirely positive that it’s only clothes and nothing more.
“It’s a shirt!” I said as I lifted the lid.
My twin brothers laughed, but a look from me saying, “That’s not cool,” was all it took to shut them up.
My father tilted his head from behind the video camera. “No, it isn’t.”
“Take it out!” my mother cried. “Take it out!”
“Okay, okay.” I did so, and I realized it was a jacket. “Oh, it’s a jacket.”
“Do you like it?!” My mother was basically hopping. “Do you like it!?”
Dad shook his head. “Dear, let him look at it first.”
“Yeah, Mom,” I said. I held it up.
First off, let me just say that it was all wrong. It had that stupid, clearly-trendy-big-brand pre-ripped look. It had a thick hood, skulls drawn on it, a huge zipper, only one small pocket, and the thumb holes were in the wrong spot and not reinforced or padded. To top it off, it was thin and cheap-looking. The only thing it was missing was a huge garish label.
In addition to all of this, all the tags were gone and it smelled like the detergent Mom used.
I looked at them. “Did you–”
“We actually did all of that ourselves!” Mom squealed.
“I may as well have been cutting myself with that razor,” Dad added.
“Honey!” she scolded.
I was speechless. “Wow. It’s… uh–”
“We knew you’d like it!” Mom turned to Dad. “See? I told you he’d love it.”
“Yes, dear,” he replied. Even though I couldn’t see his face, I knew he rolled his eyes.
I tried to smile. “Thanks,” I said. I put it back in the box, but before I could close the lid, Mom spoke.
“Well, put it on, Jude!”
“Don’t you need to wash it first?” I asked.
She was more excited than I could understand. “We already did! It’s all ready for you to wear!”
“Put it on! Put it on!”
“Dear,” Dad said. “He’s already wearing a jacket.”
“Yeah, so, this one’s new. Besides, dear,” she said, glaring at Dad. “he needs to put it on.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, looking thoughtful.
She looked like she might flip her lid. “Come on, Jude!”
But I didn’t want the thing touching my skin if I could avoid it, so I changed the subject: I reached behind me and grabbed a box. “Here, Dad, this is for you.”
He was taken aback. “What? Really?”
Mom turned on a dime. “Don’t act so surprised, honey. You know we all love you.”
“Here,” I said. “I’ll take the camera. Open it!”
He laughed as he traded me the camera for the present. “It better not be a tie!”
The rest of Christmas day was uneventful and standard. My brothers both got not only exactly what they wanted and then some, but about twice as much as I did. I wasn’t surprised or hurt, though, because it happened every year. Well, maybe a little hurt.
The next day, David and Thomas met at my place. We had decided even before Christmas break that we would meet at my house on the 26th to talk to Mr. Jackson again. We figured that our Christmas cash plus the Christmas spirit together would encourage Mr. Jackson to sell us the go-karts.
But I didn’t even get out the door before my plans began to go awry. I did my usual call-as-I’m-walking-out-the-door routine. “Mom! I’m going to hang out with David and Thomas! I’ll be back before dinner!”
“Ok!” she called back. “Oh, wait! Jude!”
I stopped with my hand on the knob. Something about her tone didn’t bode well.
She appeared at the end of the hallway with a garment in her hand. “Why don’t you wear your new jacket?” She tossed it to me.
I was already wearing one, but I caught it and nodded. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Well, then you won’t need that one you’re wearing, will you?”
What is her deal with this crummy jacket?! I hesitated. “Thomas usually gets cold.” I didn’t lie; I just didn’t tell the whole truth.
She smiled. “Well, that would be nice to share your jacket with him.” She turned away, but then back to me. “But, uh, just… make sure you wear that one, ok?” She pointed to the one she just tossed me, the new one she made for me, the awful one, the branded one.
Everyone else in the world knows I’d never let anyone else wear one of my signature jackets. But, as usual, my mother knew nothing about me. I was really starting to understand the whole teen-angst thing. “Sure thing, Mom. Bye!” I ran out the door before anything else bad could happen.
David and Thomas were already waiting at the curb.
“What took ya?” David asked.
“Aliens,” I said as I opened the door and climbed into the cab.
Thomas moved to the middle, as usual, and laughed. “The female parental unit, huh?”
He pointed at my new jacket. “What’s that?”
“It’s nothing, trust me,” I replied as I threw it onto the dashboard.
David noted it, but refrained from saying anything. Thomas, as usual, did not. “Since when were you into labels?”
I glared at him. “You’re kidding, right?”
David said, “Shut it up and let’s go!”
“Yeah yeah, let’s do this!” Thomas yelled.
No sooner had I shut the door than David was going fifty miles per hour, making a nigh two-wheeled turn out of my subdivision.
“Assuming we get there alive,” I said. “do you guys think we’ll have enough cash?”
David said nothing, and Thomas’s tone didn’t bode well. “I didn’t get any Christmas cash, not even from any relatives. They all sent gift cards.”
David roared, “Just a bunch of damn gift cards!”
His anger silenced us and got us to Jackson’s Junction in record time. When we burst in the door, Mr. Jackson turned on us with a glare that would have killed a normal man, but he brightened and relaxed when he saw it was just us.
“What do you hoodlums want?” he bellowed.
Thomas spoke first. “Do you still have those go-karts for us?!”
“I said I’d hold ‘em ‘til the end of the year.”
“You never put a time limit on it,” I said.
Thomas spoke up. “Yeah yeah, nor did you tell us how much they were.”
Mr. Jackson waved a hand. “I never told ya how much they were because you kids probably can’t make that much,” he shrugged. “Do you want me to get your hopes up and then break your fool hearts?”
“Well, is this enough?” Thomas asked, pulling out his wallet.
David and I followed his actions. We each pulled out all of our cash and spread it out on the counter so Jackson could see it. I noticed that Thomas and David each had about thirty dollars more than I did. Apparently I was more extravagant and had squandered more than I thought, though my parents were also stingier than theirs.
Mr. Jackson’s eyes widened a very small amount upon seeing all the green paper in front of him. Though it was a small reaction, we knew he was flabbergasted.
He glanced at it all, counting in his head, I suppose. Suddenly, he grew almost angry. “I told ya it was all or nothin’! I won’t have ya fighting over who gets them when. If ya can’t pay for all three of ‘em, ya don’t get any of ‘em!” With that, he turned and went into his office, almost slamming the door shut.
David turned on me. “Dammit, Jude!”
“Yeah yeah, man, what gives?” Thomas added.
I shrugged, pocketing my cash. “Yeah, well, if my parents hadn’t spoiled my kid brothers so much, I’d have enough.”
“Or if you hadn’t tried to bribe Madeline into being your girlfriend!” Thomas said.
I glared at him. “Hey, now, that’s not–”
“Let’s go!” David yelled. “We gotta get you some money, quick!”
We raced to his car and he sped off almost faster than he had driven here.
In a somewhat-small town like ours where nearly everybody knows you, it’s easy to make a little cash doing next to nothing. At least for the retail stores in the mall on the south side, the day after Christmas was almost worse than Black Friday in terms of heavy traffic, but it was definitely worse in terms of sales. Instead of purchasing, everybody was doing returns or, at best, exchanges.
For kids like us, though, both days were the same: a time to help little (or large) old (or ancient!) ladies carry their packages to and from their cars. David, Thomas, and I had been doing this for years, so we knew which women were more likely to pay and, as such, we only talked to them. This isn’t charity work, mind you.
Luckily for us, Miss Martin was pulling up just as we arrived. I leapt from David’s truck to her car and put on the charmer’s mask. “Hello, Miss Martin! Do you need any help with your packages today?”
She laughed. “Did you know I was coming or what? Of course I do!” She opened the door and handed me three bags and took one herself. All were larger than normal, filled with name brand junk. “My spoiled brat grandkids are so damn hard to please!” She covered her mouth. “Excuse me, it’s just–”
I shook my head and said, “I understand, Miss Martin. Kids these days.” People like her typically love that line.
She patted my head and ate the line like it was saltwater taffy. “But you’re different, aren’t you, Jude?”
After about an hour of being her little slave, she handed me a good old Alexander Hamilton. “Thank you, Jude, for being the future of our country,” she said as she pinched my cheek.
Gag me. I quickly but gently took the bill and said, “Think nothing of it, Miss Martin. Have a good day.” I even opened and closed her door for her. It’s good customer service.
David and Thomas met me at the door to the mall. “How much more do you need, slacker?” David asked.
“About twenty will make me equal with you guys.”
They handed me roughly a buck eighty in loose change, and Thomas said, “I assume she paid you more than this.”
“Of course. Would I work for less?”
David spoke. “No, but we still need more. Come on!”
We scrounged the mall but didn’t find any of the usual patsies and only a few quarters in change, so I figured we needed a new plan.
“Perhaps something more honest?” Thomas suggested as we left the mall.
I shook my head and, as I did, something caught my eye. Our winters aren’t unbearably cold, but one needs at least a jacket, especially to stay out long in the cold. So, when I saw that obviously homeless man shivering, I knew he had been out in the open for some time, because his coat, though it looked like moldy Swiss cheese, was rather thick.
“Hold on, guys,” I said. “I got an idea.”
“What is it?” David asked.
“Unlock your truck, quick, come on.”
He did so with the remote. “What’s the rush? We got time, Jude.”
I grabbed my new jacket and ran over to the man.
“Oh, no. This won’t end well,” David said as he saw what I was doing.
“Yeah yeah, this is bad,” Thomas said.
“Sir?” I said as I approached the homeless man.
He turned to me, rather startled. He glanced around and realized I had to be talking to him. “Why are you calling me ‘sir’?” His voice was much steadier than I thought it would be, considering the shivering and all.
“Would you like this jacket, sir?” I raised the jacket so he could see it.
He looked as if he might cry. “You would give that to a man like me?”
“Well, no, actually.” I rubbed the back of my neck. I didn’t think this would be quite so uncomfortable. “You see, I’m in need of some money. Do you have ten bucks? We could… trade.”
He was understandably confused. He seemed like he might almost be offended, then shrugged and said, “Sure, we can ‘trade’,” he laughed. He reached into an inner pocket and pulled out two crumpled Lincolns, then held them out towards me.
I swiped them and held them away from him before extending the jacket to him. Once he took it, I nodded and said, “Thank you, sir.”
But before I could run off he said, “What’s your name?”
I froze. Nothing in me wanted to tell him, but I heard the name “Jude” come out of my mouth.
“Jude?” He laughed quietly once. “What a fine name. My name isn’t quite as nice, but it’s still good. It’s Michael.”
I nodded. “Nice to meet you, Michael. Thanks. See you later!” I waved as I turned to run.
“God bless you, Jude! God bless you!”
I reached my friends breathless.
“You ripped him off, and yet he still thanks you?” David asked.
“What a weird dude, right?” I replied.
“Yeah yeah, what a crazy guy,” Thomas said.
David slapped my back. “You’re halfway there now, slacker. I didn’t think you’d have it in your to charge a homeless guy for a jacket.” He laughed. “Come on! Let’s go get some more money.”
We finally found another lady like Miss Martin, and I labored for her for over an hour while David and Thomas tried to work their own luck. Unfortunately, she “didn’t have any cash on her”, which was bull because she got cash for several of her returns. As it turns out, David and Thomas also had no luck to work.
When we met up again, I looked at my phone. “David, I gotta be home in seven minutes. Can you get me there in time?”
“Who do you think I am? Of course I can!”
Thomas said, “But we’re still about ten dollars short. Can you borrow some from your parents?”
I turned to him. “What are you, stupid? It’s December 26th! They just spent a fortune on my kid brothers, and you think they’re gonna lend me ten bucks?”
He shrugged. “I guess we’re coming back tomorrow.”
I shook my head. “How about this: let’s forget this place and see if any of the other shops need help with something.”
“Not a bad idea,” Thomas replied. Then he snapped his fingers. “Why don’t we see if Mr. Jackson needs any work done?”
“Mr. Jackson?!” David said.
“It won’t happen,” I sighed. “He’s too stingy as it is. He’d much rather do something himself than pay anybody else to do it. Why else do you think he’s always alone?”
Thomas just frowned.
At the other end of town, about fifteen miles north of the mall, there were several large blocks with numerous local mom-and-pop shops. Small, signature, unique stores. Exactly the kind I’d like to have. They stayed in the black solely because this town is nostalgic and traditional, and while they were family-owned-and-operated, they appreciated any help they could get. As such, they were a primary target for people like me, those wanting to make a quick buck with little commitment.
The morning of the 27th, David and Thomas picked me up and dropped me off in that district, then went to get breakfast. They somehow figured they could spare a few bucks.
I ran from store to store, desperate for just one task, with no luck whatsoever. Around the blocks I went, darting to and from the various shops, haggling and begging for a quick ten-dollar job.
No matter how I tried, though, I couldn’t get anything. Not one shopkeeper was willing to put me to work for even a paltry wage. After about an hour or two of trying, I sat down on a bench to think my options over.
I called David and gave him my location and told him to come and pick me up.
It was December 27th, and if Mr. Jackson was only going to hold the karts for us until the end of the year, that meant I had scarcely three days to make the money.
My parents weren’t going to fork over the dough, the local grannies were being stingy, and the store owners were being penny-pinchers. My only other money-making option was to try other small towns in the area, and that would never work. The closest one was over an hour away, and I wouldn’t be able to get out there, find a job, get paid, and get back before Mr. Jackson closed up shop on December 30th, much less do it without my parents’ knowledge.
I had only one option left: haggling with Jackson himself. That was something that, according to the local folklore, had never been done. Even veteran insurance peddlers and legendary roadmen couldn’t get Jackson to budge on a price or buy something he didn’t want. That’s why he was called “Stonewall Jackson” by sales reps. Eventually, everyone gave up the idea of selling to Phillip Jackson and he hasn’t been bothered by salesmen since.
Needless to say, the odds were against me. But I had no other choice. I steeled myself, gathered my courage, and renewed my resolve. I stood up from the bench, and my confidence exuded from me like an heroic aura.
“Judah? Judah Taylor!”
Those three words shattered my defenses. Rather, it was the voice that spoke my name that did it. I turned towards the sound and saw Michael, the homeless man from the other day, running towards me, wearing the jacket I had sold him.
He stopped when he reached me, breathless. Then he saw the bench and fell upon it.
I stared at him, utterly speechless, while he tried to regain himself. During that time, David and Thomas pulled up. They didn’t recognize Michael and David yelled at me to get in the truck, but I couldn’t get my feet to move. They were rooted in place, in front of the bench, next to Michael.
He finally looked up at me. “Judah, right?”
Thomas stuck his head out of the car. “Hey, Jude, isn’t that the–”
“Yes. Yes it is,” I replied slowly.
“We don’t have time for this, Jude!” David yelled. “Come on!”
But I didn’t hear him. This run-down homeless man had once again captured my attention.
“Jude,” Michael said. “You left this in the pocket of the jacket you gave me.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I never wore the jacket, so I definitely never put anything into its solitary pocket. “Surely you’re mistaken?” I asked.
He shook his head. “You are Judah Taylor, right?”
“You told me your name was Jude before you left. This envelope was in the pocket.” He handed me a plain, white envelope of standard size.
I took the envelope. Sure enough, it had my name on it, and it was written in my father’s signature calligraphy. I looked back to Michael.
He panted a bit more and shrugged. “Well, you didn’t give me that envelope, you just gave me the jacket. Besides, I assume it’s a personal thing, so it’s not mine to have.”
I realized that he hadn’t opened the envelope. “Michael, I sold you that jacket. I didn’t give it to you.”
He squinted his eyes and tilted his head a bit. He didn’t appear to remember or comprehend the way he had been basically cheated just yesterday. Then he nodded and said, “Oh, right. Well, whatever. Either way, this is a nice jacket. I’ve been looking it over, and it’s really unique!”
I grew somewhat bitter, but just nodded. “Right, well, I’ve gotta–”
He took a closer look at me and said, “Actually, it looks kinda like yours.”
I snapped at him. “No it doesn’t!” I grabbed a part of my jacket. “Mine’s truly unique! I made these modifications myself, not some stupid machine or money-hungry faux-artist! This is my work and my statement!” I spread my arms, showing off my handiwork. “This is my signature!”
Michael walked around me as I said this, examining my handiwork. “Hm. You’re right. You’re jacket is really cool.”
“Don’t patronize me!”
He shook his head. “I’m not, not at all. That’s about the coolest design I’ve ever seen. Hammers and lions are a rather odd combination, but they look great.” He pointed at the one he was now wearing. “So, what’s with this one?”
I could tell that his compliments were sincere, and they placated me. I shrugged. “My parents’ sad attempt at making one like mine. I don’t know why they took razors to it or bought one with skulls on it. Clearly that’s not my style.”
He looked at the sleeve. “The skulls look like iron-ons,” he said.
I blinked, then dismissed the whole thing. “Whatever. Either way, it isn’t my design and it isn’t my jacket, so I’m not gonna wear it. That’s why I sold it. OK?”
“Your individuality is really important to you, isn’t it?”
I took a step back. “What’s your point?”
“‘Jude’ is a pretty Christian name. Are your parents very religious?”
David yelled from his truck. “Crap, Jude! This guy’s insane!”
Thomas did, too. “Yeah yeah, nuttier than a fruitcake.”
I ignored them. “They’re too religious, if you ask me,” I said quickly. “But why are you asking me these things?”
His head nodded backwards once, as if he was soaking this all in very deeply. “Ah. So, you don’t really like that they make you go to church, and so you skip out a lot. Am I right?”
I took another step back, towards David and Thomas and away from this weird old guy. “Uh, yeah, listen, I’m gonna get going now, so see ya.”
He waved me towards him. “Stonewall Jackson’s at lunch right now. He said he’d be taking a long one, too, so you’ve got a minute to talk to an old man.”
David revved his truck’s engine loudly. “Jude, this dude’s messed up! Come on, let’s get outta here!”
“Yeah yeah, come on!” Thomas called.
My curiosity won out over my sense of survival. “How did you know I was going there?”
He shrugged. “While I didn’t open that envelope, I did read the back.” He looked to the sidewalk. “Sorry if that was improper.”
I suddenly remembered that I was holding an envelope. I looked back at it and turned it over. My mother had written, “This should convince that rascal ‘Stonewall’ Jackson to sell you those go-karts! You know what they say, ‘money talks’! Love you bunches!”
While I was reading it, Michael said, “And I know about Stonewall because I went there looking for you.”
I didn’t know which was more shocking: the distance this man walked or his unwillingness to counter-gyp me.
David threw the truck back into gear. “If you ain’t leaving, Jude, you’re on your own!” With that, he and Thomas was gone, and I was alone with Michael.
I looked back to Michael. “You do know what’s in here, don’t you?”
He continued to examine his feet. “Probably, yes.”
I quickly glanced inside, just to confirm my own suspicions. “There’s a hundred dollars in here, and yet you walked over fifteen miles and tracked me down all day to return it to me, after I gypped you for that lousy jacket.”
He shrugged again. “I like the jacket,” he said.
“Michael, sir.” He finally looked at me when I said his name. “Why on Earth would you do that for me?”
He gave an odd half-smile that showed no mirth, but rather great weariness. “Do you want the long answer or the short answer?”
I looked behind me for a moment. “Well, considering my ride just left, the long one’s fine.” I sat down on the bench beside him. “Tell you what, you give me whichever answer you want. I mean, I can at least have a conversation with you as thanks for… well, being a nice guy.”
Michael chuckled at that. “You might regret giving an old man permission to talk all he wants. The short answer is this: My Saviour did more for me than I can fully fathom, so the least I can do is show His love however possible to whomever possible.”
I didn’t really react to this.
He seemed at a slight loss. Then he said, “Oh, right, ‘overly’-religious background. That probably seemed like a cliché answer to you, didn’t it?”
I slowly nodded, not wanting to offend him.
“That’s why that was the short answer. The short answers are rarely interesting, but that one was true, nonetheless.” He took a breath, then went on. “The long answer is more like this: My current mission, my calling, whatever label you want to give it, appears to be to walk where God leads me and aid those whom He gives me. I never know where I’m going, I never know who they are, and I rarely even understand that I’m helping someone until it’s all over.”
I spoke my mind. “That’s odd.”
Instead of being offended or put out or anything of the sort, Michael nodded. “I agree. It is very odd. I’ve never heard of anyone doing something quite like this.” He turned from me and looked away, but he wasn’t looking at anything visible. “Sure, I’ve heard of an ascetic wandering around spreading goodwill, but he typically had some sort of plan or direction or target or something. I’m basically running on auto-pilot, only it’s more like God-pilot or something. I don’t even know when this will end or why this started or what the aim of it all is.” He paused.
It was a long pause, and I didn’t know what to say. I just waited for him to speak again.
He seemed to remember that I was listening to him, and he looked back at me. “I guess it wasn’t that long of an answer, huh?”
A thought came to me. “So, wait, you mean that you’re a–”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m a born-again, Bible-thumping, go-tell-it-on-the-mountain Christian. Yeah, yeah, label me what you will. All I call myself is someone who preaches Christ crucified.”
“You don’t know of any other Christians that have done what you’re doing?”
“Not really, and definitely not to this extent.” He shrugged, then smiled. “It’s like this is my signature service or something.”
And then it dawned on me. “So, not all Christians are the same?”
He raised an eyebrow. “How much of a religious background have you had? Have you heard of Daniel or Gideon or Paul or Lydia?”
Most of those sounded familiar, and I nodded.
“Peter or Esther or Solomon or Philemon?”
I stuck my hands into my pockets and thought about this for a moment. “They were all pretty different, weren’t they?”
Michael just nodded.
“And I guess those differences let them do some pretty cool things.”
“Indeed. Paul couldn’t have done what Peter did, nor Daniel Gideon.”
“Huh. Well, I least I know I don’t have to turn into some kinda zombie or something.”
“Zombie?” His eye grew wide. “I’ve never heard that one!”
I laughed, but continued thinking for a bit. Michael respected my silence and said nothing.
Shortly thereafter, David pulled up again. “Can’t believe you’re still here,” he said.
Thomas leaned out the window. “Yeah yeah, we thought you’d be dead.”
“Now, that’s not a nice thing to imply.” I stood up from the bench and stretched. “On the contrary, I’ve never felt so alive.”
“Weirdo,” David snorted.
I turned back towards Michael. I took my hand out of my pocket and offered it to him. “Thank you, sir. I had a nice conversation.”
He shook my hand and said, “Me, too, Mr. Taylor. I’m glad God brought me here and to you.”
“Me, too, brother.” We ended the handshake, and I climbed into David’s car. “Thanks again, Michael.” I looked at David and said, “Let’s go.”
Michael watched us drive off. Once we had turned the corner, he looked into his right hand and saw two crumpled Lincolns.
We assumed Mr. Jackson wouldn’t still be out to lunch when we got there, so David parked the truck and jumped out almost before shutting it off. “Come on! Now we’ve got enough money for the go-karts! What are ya’ll waiting for?!”
“Yeah yeah, why wait?” Thomas followed David into the shop.
I was left alone in the truck. I stared at the envelope, once again realizing what I was holding. Five Andrew Jacksons were neatly tucked together inside. “Thanks, guys,” I said as I ran to catch up with my friends.
David, Thomas, and Mr. Jackson were all waiting for me, the latter of which didn’t appear too happy. I stepped up to the counter and laid the envelope on it, face up, so David and Thomas wouldn’t see the sappy message on the back.
Mr. Jackson looked down at the envelope, read the two words gracefully written in blue ink, and smiled. He winked at me and then took the envelope. Still smiling, he held out his hand to David and Thomas, who handed him their cash. Three hundred dollars total. “Good job, lads,” he said as he patted my shoulder. Or, rather, as he nearly killed me. “They’re all yours.” He motioned broadly with his left hand, towards a black tarp that clearly had three go-karts underneath it.
David reached it first and grabbed a corner of the tarp. Thomas and I did the same, then we pulled it off in one smooth, uniform motion. Obviously, the go-karts were there, but that didn’t make seeing our go-karts any less wonderful. The three identical go-karts were full of gas, polished, and buffed. They also were re-upholstered in our favorite colors and had personalized keys in the ignitions.
We admired our new purchases for maybe a full minute before we heard a gruff voice behind us. “What’re ya doing, lads? Drive ‘em on outta here! On the double!”
We jumped into our go-karts and drove out of the shop, waving to Mr. Jackson as we did. We stopped at David’s truck where he and Thomas loaded theirs into the truck bed, but I was still in mine, idling.
David said, “Well, come on! Lift her in here!”
“Yeah yeah, we gotta take these for a spin!” Thomas added.
I shook my head. “I’ve got something else I’ve gotta do first. I’ll catch up with you guys later.” I waved to them and floored it. The tires squealed and smoked, and I was off, my hair and jacket waving in the wind.
Not only did Mr. Jackson fix-up the outside of the go-karts, he gave them a fantastic tune-up, as well, so it handled great and got me all the way to the mall in good time. It felt odd to park a go-kart at the mall, but I was proud, so I welcomed the odd feeling. I ran in to the mall, bought a single item for about eighty dollars, and drove as fast as my little go-kart could take me to the other side of town.
I drove straight to that bench where I had been not even two hours ago. It was right in front of a diner, so I went inside and asked the first waitress I saw, “Did you see a homeless guy out there earlier today?”
“I did, yeah,” she said. “He came in, too. Got some food, said he was going north.” She shrugged. “Seemed nice.”
“Great, thanks!” I ran out, got back into my go-kart, then sped north out of town.
The roads outside of town are windy, and somewhat treacherous when compared to the ones in town. They’re bordered by many trees, most of which are not maintained very well, and some extend over the road rather low.
But that was no problem for an expert driver like me, so I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t even worried when I turned a sharp corner and saw a large branch at eye level. I wasn’t even worried when I swerved and barely missed it.
But I was worried when I heard a loud rip as I passed it.
I stopped and looked at my go-kart. What could have ripped on it? Nothing, obviously, so I checked my face, my hair, my pants… nothing was damaged. What was that sound?
I drove back to the branch, mostly just to break it off so that wouldn’t happen to anyone else, and saw my answer. I realized then that I should have zipped up my jacket once I got out of town. A good and vital section of it, the lower right-hand part of where the zipper would have been, was hung on the end of the branch.
I took the scrap, broke the branch, and drove on.
Michael had made much better time than I thought he would have, but I did eventually catch up to him. He heard the engine and quickly stepped off the road, expecting a full-size car. When he turned and saw me, he almost fell over in surprise.
I stopped the engine, grabbed the bag from the mall, and approached him. “You’re a fast walker, Mr. Michael, sir.”
He laughed. “Again, why do you call me ‘sir’?”
“Would you like to make another trade?”
He looked at me out of one eye, obviously confused. “I’m listening.”
“I’ll give you all that’s in this bag if I can have that jacket back.”
“I thought you didn’t like this jacket.”
I sighed. “I don’t, but… I can’t just give it away. I’m sorry. I need it back.”
He grinned. “You know, they have a term for people like you.”
“Desperate?” I suggested.
“Yes, but I was thinking of another,” he smiled. “Sure, Jude. Let’s ‘trade’ again. The first one turned out to be such a nice event, so I figure, why not have another?”
I handed him the bag, then he took off the jacket and gave it to me. He shivered as he did so.
“Thank you, sir.” I said. “You’ll be needing what’s in there if you’re heading north this time of year. It gets much colder up there.”
He looked inside the bag. His eyes grew large, as he looked at me.
I shrugged. “I don’t like that it’s a name brand coat, but it will keep you warm.”
Michael shook his head and tried to return the bag. “No, I can’t.”
I held up my hands away from it. “Sorry, pal, a deal’s a deal.”
“It’s yours.” I extended my hand to him. “Deal”?
He looked at it for a moment, then smiled and shook it heartily. “Deal!” He reached into the bag and threw on the coat. He looked down after putting it on and saw an Alexander Hamilton and a scrap of cloth still in the bag. He reached down and picked them up, paying more attention to the scrap.
It was a perfect specimen of my signature artwork: A scrap of a red jacket with no zipper, a hammer-wielding lion, an outside pocket, and a hand-sewn inside pocket.
I got back in my go-kart. “So long, Michael.” I started the engine and drove off.
“But, wait, Judah!” He chuckled. “Didn’t even let me thank him.”