He took a break from the preaching to distribute some gospel literature to people as they passed by. Standing slightly behind him leaning against a lamp post, watching with a smirk on his face was a young man in his 20’s. The old preacher was aware the younger man had been standing there for several minutes, and after handing out tracts to those passing by the preacher finally spoke to him, offering him a gospel tract.
“Young man, did you get one of these?”
The young man took it, and disinterestedly stuck it in his pocket. His eyes went from his pocket and back to the preacher.
“I really am surprised there are still people like you around.”
“People like me?”
“You know religious types.”
“Ah.” The old man continued to pass out tracts.
The young man came off the lamp post, warming to his target. “I mean really, in this modern age, with cell phones, and science, and MOD’s, the idea of guys like you still peddling your fairy tale book is, well kinda sad.”
The old man smiled kindly. “Got it all figured out, do you?”
“I don’t know what to tell you old man. The game is over. We know where we came from, and we know how we’re going to exit the scene. People like you are an anachronism.”
There was a break in the foot traffic and the old preacher turned back to the young man. “What’s your name?’
“Good name. So by ‘where we came from’ you mean..”
“You know, evolution.”
The preacher nodded with an amused smile. “..and the ‘how we’re going to exit the scene’ part?”
The young man looked at him like he was an idiot. “The Machine of Death, of course.”
“What about everything in the middle?”
The young man shrugged an annoyed shrug. The old man laughed gently.
“And things on the other side of death?” Daniel was silent. “Sounds like me like you’re missing some pretty important pieces of the puzzle there, Daniel. Tell you what, you read that tract I gave you and I’ll be praying for you.” The preacher turned and headed down the street. Normally he would have talked longer, but something told him this wasn’t the last time he’d see Daniel.
A week went by, and the preacher found himself back on that corner, and when he finished his first round, Daniel was there behind him, leaning on the same lamp post.
“Good to see you again.”
“Let me ask you a question. Are you one of those people that are opposed to the MOD’s?”
“Opposed, no. Unconcerned, maybe.”
“So you’ve never been tested?”
“ I assume you have?”
The young man nodded.
T he preacher watched Daniel’s countenance closely. “And the verdict?”
The young man shuffled around nervously, looking at the ground. There was an uncomfortable silence, but the old man waited. “Car crash.”
The preacher nodded solemnly. This was tricky business what happened next and he threw up a quick prayer for wisdom. “And, from what I’ve read, even though nobody knows how the Machines work, they’re always right?”
“Then why not move to the Sahara, to some place with no cars and live forever?”
“People have tried that. It never works out. Somehow, the machines are always right.”
The preacher nodded again. This wasn’t the first time he had had a conversation like this. “So you have absolute security in the accuracy of a machine that you don’t even know how it works? What faith!”
Daniel changed the subject. “You never told me whether or not you’ve been tested.”
“I have not.”
The preacher shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me. Especially if I can’t do anything about it.” He held up his Bible, pointing at Daniel with the spine. “You may know how you’re going to exit the scene, but that knowledge doesn’t do you any good. I know what’s on the other side of your car crash.”
Daniel waved the preacher off with a dismissive hand . “Yeah, yeah. Put my faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ to wash away my sins or I’ll be condemned to the Lake of Fire for all eternity.” He looked vaguely embarrassed at how well he’d recited it. “I read that thing you gave me.”
“And?” Daniel said nothing. “Look Daniel, you and I know that you’re going to die, and you say you know how you’re going to die, but yet you resist making any preparations for what comes after.”
Daniel tried again to change the subject. “I think you should get tested.”
“No thanks. Daniel, it’s been good talking to you, but I’m going to go back to preaching again.”
“Wait! You may not be curious, but I’m curious.”
“Curious about how another man is going to die? That’s a tad morbid, don’t you think?”
Daniel didn’t have an easy answer for that. None of the conversations with the old man had gone as he’d planned. He expected the preacher to be some wild-eyed simpleton, repeating parrot-like phrases from some book of mumbo-jumbo. He thought it would be like talking to a cave-man. Instead the preacher not only claimed to have some answers, but seemed very content with what the answers might be. His whole attitude, his demeanor, was like he was from some other world. He also looked at Daniel, really looked at him, like he was a person. Daniel personally found the preacher’s lack of concern about his own demise a tad offsetting. Everybody he knew had been tested as soon as they were of the legal age. “They have these portable units, you know? I can get one, and we can test you. And then, well, I’ll let you tell me some more about Jesus.”
The preacher watched the young man carefully. This was a most unexpected turn of events. He thought for a moment and then offered a compromise. “Ok Daniel. We’ll do this, but on two conditions. One is that I really don’t care anything about reading what comes out of the machine. I’ll let you do that. The second condition is that you come back out here next week and help me pass out gospel tracts. We’ll discuss Jesus as we work.” The preacher was pretty certain the kid would never go for it, and after holding the preacher’s gaze for a few minutes, Daniel looked down and quietly began walking down the street.
“Can’t win them all.” The old man said to himself and once again he cupped his hand to his mouth and began preaching to the passing crowd. He was surprised when he finished to find Daniel standing behind him with a small portable MOD in his hand.
They just stared at each other for a moment and the preacher finally relented . “A deal is a deal.” He offered up his finger to the machine, which pricked it, drew a small sample of blood and began various mysterious calculations. In less than a minute, a small piece of paper rolled out and fell to the ground. Daniel snatched it up and clutched it in his fingers. He read it and looked quizzically at the old preacher.
“ I don’t get it.”
The preacher smiled. “I expect you to meet me here at 3 pm this time next week to keep your end of the deal.” He turned and began heading down the street. Daniel took the small paper and turned it over as if the back of the paper would explain the front. He looked at the figure walking down the street and repeated to himself the mysterious phrase on the slip of paper.
“NO STING. I wonder what that means.”