Winning Ticket

For his 18th birthday, James’ little brother gave him a $5.00 bill. The other presents were very nice, and James did appreciate them. However, James treasured his little brother’s gift, as it meant the child had worked to save that much. Instead of writing a thank-you note, he decided to send the kid a computer card. He found a Spiderman card that would make the ten-year-old’s day, he hoped.

Then he sat, staring at the bill. It was a promise of possibilities, but had not the power to really make something happen. In other words, it was very much a mirror. James looked around his room. He would graduate next month, go to college in the Fall. His room reflected that. He was a “good kid” who rarely did anything wrong. He was a decent cross-country runner, had great grades, was liked by just about everyone, and lived a very boring, dull life.

All those fairy tales where the kid sets out and has a series of great adventures, saves damsels in distress and comes home rich. None of that for him. He was going to graduate, spend the summer working in The Plaza at the camping store and maybe get a degree in engineering. He was no Lancelot, nor even Richard Feynman. The two of them were everything he was not. Lancelot was a strong, muscular dude with all the good looks. The proverbial knight in shining armor who saved damsels in distress. Feynman won the Nobel Prize, but James was a great fan because Feynman was always doing crazy things. He had written an essay about Mr. Feynman when he was in the ninth grade. Richard Feynman was always having fun, creating something crazy, doing something odd, something wild. James wanted to be a little wild, a little spontaneous. He simply didn’t know how.

“You’ve got an engineer’s brain.” That’s what people told him. He could solve mechanical problems. He understood how things went together. He could see in his mind how to build something, how it should look. Beauty and efficiency were much the same to him. A girlfriend had told him this when she broke up with him. She wanted to be pampered with frivolities, not mechanical marvels.

He looked up, as if to Heaven, and said out loud, “I sure would love to do something wild, something crazy.” He would have said more, but his mom was knocking on his bedroom door, asking him to go to the store and get a few things.

Staley’s parking lot was rather full. He found a place on the far side of the lot, near the creek. As he entered the store it was almost as if it was his first time entering it. The grocery section was on the left, the deli on the right.

He studied the list as he walked up and down the aisles, picking the items from the shelves and putting them in the buggy. After putting the final item in the buggy, he headed to the checkout. Then he stopped, staring in disbelief: everyone was in line, they had all finished about the same time. He looked around. There was one guy sitting at a table in the deli. Hank was wiping things as if to show that he was busy, even if the deli had no customers. He took the milk and ice cream out of the buggy and returned them to their places. Then he ordered a vanilla malted shake from Hank.

There was one deli customer sitting in the table area. It was a guy James had been riding with a couple of times; his name was Kermit. The man was enigmatic. Apparently, he lived in Rockborough, but drove all the way up here to ride his mountain bike. Story was that he love to play in the rain, but James had only seen him on bright, sunny days. He had a perplexing air, or as some might put it, an aura of mystery. James thought it would be rude to ignore him, so he asked, “Hi, may I sit with you?”. Kermit looked up and nodded. James sat down. Kermit did not look at him, but sat with his eyes closed. He seemed to be muttering. James began to feel a little uneasy. Then he heard Kermit say, “Amen.” James grinned.

Kermit looked at James and asked, “Been riding lately?”

Shaking his head, James said, “No.” He wanted to give an excuse, but somehow he felt like that would be the wrong thing to do.

Nodding his head as if he understood, Kermit asked, “Do you ever have time to go riding after school?”

“Sometimes. But most of the time I have to watch my little brother.”

“Is he too young to ride?” Kermit asked, almost, it seemed, to be polite.

“Well, he’s ten. We usually ride around The Meadows. He struggles with Harrison Hill and Beaver Ridge Road. He has to walk up parts of PayDirt Trail to go the that little dam. But we have fun riding the trails around The Meadows.” James took a long drag on the milkshake. He wondered if he had said too much.

But Kermit seemed to appreciate his company. He looked at James and said, “I will be moving into my new home on Tuesday. I haven’t met many people up here. Steve and Cindy will be helping me move in. But I don’t know much about Beaver Ridge. It might be nice to have someone show me around. Would you be interested in doing that?”

Without thinking, James said, “Yes.” Then he blushed, as he realized he really did not know this guy. He could be dangerous. There were all sorts of horrid news stories.

Kermit seemed to read his mind. “I did meet a guy named Doug. We’ve been riding a few times. You know that house up by Tiny Falls? The one that sits up on a rise just above the falls?”

James nodded. Talking to this guy was making him uneasy. On the positive, he knew Doug, and Steve and Cindy. But the house he was talking about had been abandoned for years. Some said it was haunted. He tried the milkshake again. It was cool and sweet.

“Well, that’s my new home.” He paused for a bit, then asked, “Where do you go to church?”

Enigmatic was the right word for this guy. Kermit was going to move into the old Amos Harrison place. That was big news. But before he could ask more, He heard Kermit asking about church. James blushed again, embarrassed that anyone would ask about going to church. He took a deep breath and answered, “Well, we sometimes go to the Methodist Church. It’s not too far from our house.”

Kermit nodded, “Well, the line has cleared.” He picked up the shopping basket that was in the seat next to him, stood up and said, “As for your problem, pick the frog. Oh and, uh, see you in church on Sunday.” Then he walked up to the cashier.

James just sat there, stunned.

He wanted to get up and ask what the problem was, what the frog was, and all sorts of other half-formed questions. But he just sat there, sucking his milkshake through the straw, as his mind went blank. Suddenly, he heard a loud crazy noise, only to realize it was the sound of his almost empty milkshake. He looked around and realized he was the only customer. So he noisily sucked the remaining milkshake and pushed the buggy toward the checkout. Then he saw the list in the bottom of the buggy. He started, remembering the milk and ice cream. He retrieved them and headed to the cashier.

Martha was ringing up the groceries. James was looking around the store. Suddenly his eye caught the lottery display. He stared at it. One of the tickets had a frog on it. He was eighteen now, he was legal. He could buy one. After paying for the groceries, he took out the five dollar bill his brother had given him. Then he asked Martha to get the ticket with the frog on it. She gave him the ticket and four dollars in change.

Carefully scratching the coating off the ticket, he studied it. Suddenly he yelped in surprise. “It’s a winner! I think it’s a winner.”

Martha looked at the ticket. He had won three hundred dollars. Hank came over and checked it. Then he gave James four fifty dollar bills and five twenty dollar bills.

And the only thing he could think of was putting it in the bank. That’s what his parents would say. Yet, deep inside was this anxious longing to do something insane. He was not sure what. Just something wild, crazy, completely irrational; but safe. He didn’t want to die trying to do it.

He pushed the cart with the groceries to the car, loaded it and sat down in the driver’s seat.

James was not an actively spiritual person. His family did go to church on occasion, maybe once a month. They always went on holy days like Easter, Christmas and Mother’s Day. He went because they went. He really knew very little about God, the Church or anything associated with it. So when he sat down in the driver’s seat and heard a voice, he jumped nearly out of his skin. He actually banged his head on the roof of the car. Recovering, he looked in the back seat and all around the car. No one was anywhere nearby.

“James!” The voice came again. Only this time he realized it was in his head, not actually audible.

“Huh?” was all he could say.

“James, that blue Ford sedan straight in front of you. Give the lady driving it seventy-five dollars. That’s what she needs. That will be your tithe on the lottery winnings.”

“Huh?” He looked around again. No one was nearby. He said out loud, “Is this God?”

“James, go do it now.”

“God?” There was no answer. “Okay, God, I will. But I only have twenties. Can I give her eighty dollars?”

There was no actual answer, but James felt an urgency in the air. He pulled out his wallet and took out four of the twenty dollar bills. Returning his wallet to his pocket, he got out of the car, locked the door and put the keys in his pocket. Then he walked over to the blue sedan.

The lady had been crying. When she saw him, she looked a little frightened. He made a motion for her to roll down the window. He smiled at her. Then he said, “I have something to give you. Only take a moment.”

She rolled down the window.

“This is weird,” he said, “but I just won some money from the lottery and I think God told me to give you this.” He held out a folded wad of cash. She shook her head and stared blankly at him, as if he spoke Chinese.

“Here,” he said nervously, “God told me to give this to you. Please take it.”

Fear in her eyes, she reached out through the window and took the cash. Then she said in a very weak voice, “Thank you.”

James was sure that an inquisition would be held if he mentioned winning the lottery. Besides, how was he going to explain about giving a stranger the eighty dollars. No one would believe he heard God speak. So he said nothing.

When he went to bed that night, just before he fell asleep, he heard God speak again, “James, was that crazy enough?”

He answered softly, “Yes.”

Sunday morning he decided to go to church. If God did tell him to give that lady some money, then maybe he should go and find out more about God. He started to ride his bike, but it was a rather cool and refreshing morning. He decided to walk.

The walk was invigorating. The church was a bit intimidating. The pastor and a couple of other people asked where his family was. Other than that, it was a wonderful morning. He actually enjoyed the proceedings, feeling like he was worshiping and not just there to please his parents. At one point he thought he saw Kermit sitting on the other side of the church a few pews in front of him. That made him smile. The man did come to church.

The sermon was about Jesus and Nicodemus. He’d heard something about them before, but today he felt like he was actually understanding some of it. The “born again” part was a bit confusing, but obviously, Jesus meant something about getting spiritually renewed. James understood that much.

As the congregation left the sanctuary, James saw Kermit and laughed. He was dressed for serious bike riding. Kermit greeted him and asked about going for a ride. James said he was walking, but asked about helping Kermit move in after school on Tuesday. Kermit was pleased, said his little brother could help, too.

Then he saw the blue Ford sedan. For a moment he froze, then shook it off. Maybe it wasn’t the same car. But it was. The lady came out with her three little children. There was a boy about his brother’s age and two younger ones. Kermit seemed not to notice, asking the whereabouts of his family. James explained that he was alone. Kermit nodded, looked straight at the blue Ford, and then smiled at James, but he was saying something about seeing Steve and Cindy.

Walking home he distinctly heard the voice again. “Put it in the bank.” There was no one around. The voice continued, “She is fine. Put it in the bank.”

So, Monday after school, James and his little brother rode down to The Plaza and opened a savings account in the bank. James put the birthday money his family had given him and his winnings in the account.

That night he realized that he had been fighting a dragon, that he had helped a damsel in distress and that he had come home rich, just like the heroes in the stories. He made sure he prayed a thank-you prayer. Then he opened his Bible and read about Jesus and Nicodemus.

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