Yeji Kim, A’22
The Preacher and his family entered into the land of Mellac, where bread and butter were plentiful. However, shortly after the family had moved, Mellac was hit with a great drought and depression covered the land. The shortage of bread and butter for his wife, three children, and himself devastated The Preacher.
During the rampant hunger, blighted crops, and stricken cattle, tales of God’s abundant mercy and love felt like a lousy band-aid. The Preacher still managed to convince his hollow-eyed and empty-stomached congregation that God’s word indeed proves more filling than vittles and provisions, and that faith would pull Mellac through the drought and depression. Despite his words, The Preacher questioned his faith as he clutched his own empty stomach and stared at his gaunt reflection in the mirror.
The Preacher awoke in the midst of a particularly troubled and restless night. Tip-toeing silently by his snoozing wife, he made his way out of his house, a shoddy, single-family home with a rusting tin roof whose leaking molded the drab, fraying carpets. It creaked when struck by any strong gust of wind, infested as it was by mischievous mice that savored the particular taste of preservative-laced compacted lumber. Despite The Preacher’s protests, the kids would often press their ears onto the decaying carpet to listen to mice disputing over a delicacy known as the foundation.
Staring at the house in the stifling, arid heat of the summer night only incensed The Preacher further. He had just gotten off the phone with the mean landlady who would not patch the roof, change the moldy carpet, or call the exterminator. When he inquired about lowering their rent due to the absurd condition of the house, she simply refused. He wanted to further argue the legality of her refusal, but couldn’t, because he was not fluent in Mellack. He knew that the landlady was taking advantage of his incompetence and ignorance, leaving him frustrated and depleted.
Now enraged, The Preacher decided to take a walk into the forest. It was twilight; birds began to sing their first songs and glimmers of light were seeping into the sky, but none of this was enough to calm his troubled soul. So, as the morning brightened into a clear day, The Preacher walked and walked and walked without giving much thought to his surroundings, like a robot. That is, until a rod of lightning struck a nearby tree.
Astounded, The Preacher looked up. The sky was as clear blue as it could be, without a trace of white cloud. He held his breath for a few seconds, anxiously waiting for the loud rumble of thunder. No such sounds were heard and the birds continued to chirp. Terrified, The Preacher turned and began to walk back home hurriedly until he heard a small groan near the very tree struck by lightning.
When he neared it, he was greeted by the sight of a being, lying unconsciously. It appeared human but there was something inherently inhuman about the figure. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?” The Preacher urgently said, shaking the figure. The figure groaned and opened its eyes and sighed. There was fascination in his eyes and The Preacher was intrigued. “Blessed be the Lord,” the figure said. “This is Earth.”
“You’re not human, are you?” The Preacher asked, trembling. “What are you? You are neither male or female, nor white, black, brown or yellow.”
“Oh human beings— such anxious, pathetic, know-nothing infants who care for the pettiest of conceptions!” the being said, rolling its eyes. “I am Shakran of the Heavenly Host, whom the Lord hath cast unto Earth for committing some grave, grave sin.”
“I need proof,” The Preacher said. “Are you really an angel?”
Shakran replied, “You and your three children dwell in a hovel as filthy as the Harlot of Babylon. Woe indeed to your abode — thine foundation is mice-infested and thine floors are moldy! And behold, thou hadst marched angrily through the forest before thou seest me fall from the firmament.”
Stunned, The Preacher stood and stared at Shakran.
“What sin have you committed, if you don’t mind me asking?” asked The Preacher, stammering.
“Surely, I have believed this day will never come! There lieth a sacred place up in Iocum, or Heaven, as ye heathens say,” said the angel, looking up. “I, Shakran, am— Oh, the error of my way! —was of the heavenly host who cleanseth traces of manure from the Streets of Gold, for the Lord rageth at filth. And behold, one day, I arose from mine post in the Streets of Gold and have departeth to The Chamber of Earthly Tallies, or The Chamber.”
“What is The Chamber of Earthly Tallies? Nowhere in the Bible is it mentioned,” The preacher asked.
“Ah, The Chamber, a place where elite cherubs lie and account for tallies. Tallies are created when mankind doth good with wealth, when virtue vanquisheth vanity through righteous spending. The Chamber doth lie on the green pastures, beside the Sea of Glass. A flock of cherubs laboreth within The Chamber, where Tallies are totalled in sacred ceremony. I have committed the grave sin of stealing into The Chamber for I sickened of cleansing the Streets of Gold,” said Shakran, frowning. “And lo and behold! While I looketh through the tallies within the chamber, which, I must remind you, are kept in highest confidence, The Chamber’s Head Cherub foundeth me, boundeth me, and alerteth the Almighty of my grave sin of breaching The Chamber.”
“Then what happened? Are you a fallen angel like Lucifer?” Inquired the preacher.
“Lucifer? How darest thou? I and Lucifer?” Shakran screamed, shaking. After regaining composure, Shakran continued. “Oh Lucifer, what a shameful name! The Almighty, after casting out Lucifer onto Earth and seeing what treachery Lucifer hath committed, ruled that absolute punishments are thus unsustainable. He therefore granted a boon to mankind, any Angelic indulgence performed in charity. Hence, my appearance to render you some kindness.”
“Why me? And what good could you possibly do with me?” Asked the preacher.
“Because thou art the most miserly man Iocum has deemed to be. Hell, the Lord Almighty agreeth,” said Shakran, looking above. “And what good! Behold, thy life is as a bud set to blossom, but for that cankerous stinginess that afflicts your soul! Doth good in thy life interest thee?”
The Preacher nodded and Shakran jumped in joy.
“Ah, wonderful, my miserly man!” Shakran yelped, then suddenly stooped down and began to whisper into The Preacher’s ear. “The secret lies in The Chamber. As the Scriptures say, the punishment for sin shall be death because of that damn Lucifer. However, The Chamber doth exist to judge a human’s ability to be happy in Iocum. Thy life shall be miserable till the end of time. However, thy life in Iocum, beyond the pearly gates where lions lie with infants and sheep and infant-sheep, on the golden pavements, and on the sea of glass; thy life in Iocum shall be granted once tallies are henceforth gathered under thy name! Now, I understand that this land is depleted and provisions are low. But fear not, The Lord rejoices more in the pennies of the poor than the dollars of the rich. Thus, thy tallies shall accumulate far quicker now, when milk and honey are low.”
“Unbelievable! Praise Him for his unwavering mercy, even in the midst of trying times,” cried out The Preacher as he embraced Shakran. “So how do I spend righteously in the sight of The Lord?”
“Go ye therefore, give all thine treasures to the poor, weak, and hungry. Abstain from spending on any earthly pleasures or activities, for The Lord is the one who granted thee such treasure. All spending must be done in his glory, not thine,” Shakran declared. “When thou spendest for The Lord’s glory, thou must submit thine receipts to I, Shakran, and only I, for you will receive the most tallies through me. I shall appear before you promptly before dawn every Tuesday, before the birds sing their first songs.”
With that, Shakran disappeared with a loud rumble, leaving The Preacher both terrified and electrified. At once, he dashed through the woods, back to his humble, crumbling abode.
Upon The Preacher’s arrival, his wife scurried him into a corner, where the children could not hear. The upcoming meal, breakfast, was to be the last meal she was able to prepare before his next paycheck arrived twenty-two days later. His wife inquired into perhaps using the tithes to purchase food for the family. God, sure in his mercy, would understand.
“You wretched woman!” The Preacher screamed as he struck his wife. “How dare you challenge God’s love, twisting it in your sinful, wicked understanding?”
The Preacher’s three children ran towards their mother as she groaned in pain, sprawled on the floor. They looked at him in confusion and horror, afraid of what he next might do.
“Look children,” The Preacher spoke, pointing to his wife. “This is what the wages of sin and greed look like. I met an angel today and that encounter, my little ones, has altered my perspective in our lifestyle. The good angel told me that every penny spent and every droplet we sweat in the glory of our Lord will thence accumulate in heavenly riches, which we may enjoy in celestial perfection, free of sin. We must endure these harsh times, dear family, by giving away our all for the glory of God, through generosity for the hungry, sick, poor, and the church.”
The Preacher spitefully looked down at his wife, who was sitting on the floor, surrounded by the three children. She begged for his forgiveness; her thoughts were indeed wicked to claim what belonged to God. The Preacher, happy with his wife’s compliance, felt immense joy for the riches he and his family would enjoy in Iocum.
“Well done, my faithful wife. God will surely reward our efforts in heaven,” he said, beaming.
Over the next few days, The Preacher and his family did everything they could to spend righteously, such as using half of their savings to purchase food for the beggars in the streets; opening up their pantry to their neighbor who had just given birth; giving not just a tenth, but a third of their income to the church as tithes; and preaching the gospel of righteous spending to the congregation. However, there was only so much the family of five could do, as they did not have much. The Preacher had only a few receipts to submit to Shakran, who, as promised, appeared before him on Tuesday, promptly before dawn, before the birds sang their first songs.
“Oh rejoice, for it is I, Shakran! How hast thou fared? Righteous spending indeed bringeth joy,” exclaimed Shakran, with a radiating smile, as he descended from the dark purple sky. That smile quickly faded when The Preacher reached into his pocket to produce the week’s receipts.
“By biggest apologies, Shakran. We gave away everything we could, but you see, we are a family of humble means. Like you said, God rejoices at the penny of the poor, right?” said The Preacher, guiltily.
“My miserly man,” Shakran said, sighing. “How thinkest thou our Lord Almighty created the heavens and the earth? He was creative! Shame indeed, for humankind was His pride and joy — created in His image, my ass!”
“How then, shall I be creative? Oh Shakran, please show me the heavenly ways, I beg you!” The Preacher cried out, kneeling.
“The Lord shall inspire you, my miserly midget. Pray, and pray without ceasing. His divine creativity shall descend upon you, I’m sure,” Shakran said, before disappearing for another week, with a loud rumble.
Frustrated, The Preacher rushed home and rallied his wife and three children.
“I am mandating a day of fasting. While we fast, we must reflect on God’s divine creativity, so we may do more good with more means,” declared The Preacher.
The family, as obedient people they were, fasted for the day and begged for their heavenly father, hallowed be Thy name! They repented, asked for deliverance from evil, and pleaded for prudence and divine creativity. Sometime in the afternoon, after hours of prayer, The Preacher was struck with a brilliant idea. God was on their side when they prayed; they were prayer warriors! What if he sold prayer tokens for the poor souls who need thoughts and prayers during this trying time? Or even better, what if he sold heavenly tallies to those who also wanted to accrue heavenly riches while on Earth? They would be stocking heavenly riches when purchasing such tokens, since they were doing good through the funds accumulated by token proceeds.
“To God be the glory! His mercy is boundless,” cried out The Preacher.
The rest of the day in the household was spent in token production. They were to release their two — Prayer Tokens and Earthly Tallies — out in the town square, by the grocery store. The Preacher’s wife cut junk mail magazines into rectangular pieces, which were then handed to the eldest child. The eldest child used an old tin of white paint to cover up images of scantily dressed women and political news then left them in the sun to dry. After the tokens dried, the middle child drew clasped hands for Prayer Tokens and two cherubs, standing side-by-side, for Earthly Tallies. The pre-drawn tokens then went to the youngest child, who filled in the drawings with colorful streaks with a box of half-melted crayons older than him. Lastly, once the tokens were ready, The Preacher blessed each one, kissed it, and signed his name on the back.
The next day came and the family erected their booth, complete with their wobbly dining table, an empty oatmeal tin for collecting money, and a Bible. The Preacher had his children edify the neighbors about the Gospel of Righteous Spending and lead them to the town square, where they themselves could righteously spend at the booth. The booth soon began to attract a crowd of skeptical neighbors who yet could not refuse the pleading children.
After closing the booth for the day, The Preacher spent the rest of the night counting how much they had earned. They amassed $150 that day.
The next day, shortly after the family set up camp in the town square, flocks of people, many of them returning from the day prior, surrounded the booth. One claimed that he felt sudden peace in the assurance of the blessed hope in Earthly Tallies and another professed that she received a call from her long-estranged brother, all because of the Prayer Token. There were others with positive testimonials and many brought family, friends, neighbors so they may taste the Lord, through these tokens, and see that he is good.
Rumors of the divine token spread like wildfire, causing more and more, from lands near and far, to gather each passing day. On some days, The Preacher had to send excited newfound token-believers back home because they depleted their daily token supply. On such nights, The Preacher’s wife and three children had to sacrifice their nightly rest to keep up with demand. When they complained of fatigue and migraines from the lack of slumber, The Preacher reminded them that such complaints were blasphemous, as they were doing the Lord’s work.
“Just listen,” The preacher said. “Can you hear the sound of cherubs marking your tallies and heavenly riches being stockpiled in heavenly storage units? A sinful heart prevents one from being attuned to the sounds of heaven; why don’t you take a break and go to your room to repent? Perhaps you’ll be able to hear afterwards.”
Although The Preacher’s token business boomed, the household was beyond depleted. 30% of total sales went to the church as a mega-tithe, 40% was used to purchase groceries for the local food bank, 25% was spent as donations for persecuted Christians abroad, and the last 5% went to the homeless who resided in the town square. Most of The Preacher’s monthly income went towards purchasing a new table for the booth and supplies for token production. As a result, the family ate only once every other day, if they were lucky.
Months passed, trees lost their foliage, and snowfall began to accumulate. In the midst of digging the mailbox for junk magazines, The Preacher’s wife stumbled upon an envelope from the landlady. Although she wasn’t fluent in Mellack, she knew the language well enough to recognize an eviction notice. She asked the middle child, who was the most fluent, to interpret the letter. It mandated that the family leave the house in three weeks for nonpayment of rent.
While the middle child interpreted the eviction, the youngest child, who had been coughing and complaining about an ear ache for the past few days, collapsed. His cold body trembled.
“He has been sick for a few days, so this can’t be good news. We are going to the hospital — can you grab some cash from the tin,” instructed the startled mother.
The middle child looked at her, wide-eyed. “I thought this was God’s money, not our’s. What if father gets upset and beats you again,” she asked.
“God will understand. We have to go now,” the mother urged, rushing out with two of her children.
When The Preacher arrived at the hospital, he found his wife weeping. “What is wrong? How did you pay for this?”
“How could that be the first thing you ask,” said the mother, weeping. “The doctors say he has pneumonia, severe fungal ear infections, and malnutrition. They also say that his condition will worsen without treatment because he is malnourished. I took some money from the tin to pay for the diagnosis. Can we please just use today’s proceeds to save our son? He desperately needs treatment.”
“You wicked woman, far more wicked than Delilah and Jezebel combined! How dare you covet what is rightfully His? I can only pray that the Lord above strikes you with his mighty arm,” cursed The Preacher.
At that moment, the alarm blared on the child’s heart rate monitor; his heart had stopped. The mother stared at her young child and wailed as all the floor’s medical staff flocked the bed to resuscitate him. But the child was too weak and shortly after, passed away. The autopsy showed a septic fungal infection, probably through the ear, that stopped the heart suddenly, because of an immune system compromised by malnourishment.
“I should have fed him better and never let him put his ears onto the damn carpet,” the mother cried out.
“No need to blame yourself, for this is all a part of God’s plan,” The Preacher responded. “At the very least, the next thing he will see will be the face of God and his kingdom. Imagine how wondrous the sight of our youngest child mingling with lions and sheep on the green pastures will be!”
“Enough with this,” she snapped. “Enough with all of this. If it weren’t for your maddening obsession over righteous spending and tallies, my child would still be alive. I am done with you and your absurd ideas. I cannot let my two other children get evicted and rot with you.”
“How dare you mutter such words to me? Do you not know that the Bible requires wives to submit to their husbands?” The Preacher angrily barked. “God has a way of bringing His people back to him through tragedy. Perhaps our son is dead because you were drifting astray from Him. Instead of helplessly weeping, I will go back to my booth and continue to accrue heavenly tallies, for I have faith in the Lord and my everlasting future with my son. I pray that the Lord deliver you from your sinful ways.”
The Preacher returned home that night to find no one waiting for him. His wife and two remaining children had packed up their meager belongings and disappeared. Although he had lost his family that day, he was still happy, for he had the divine assurance of heavenly riches.
The Mother and her two children relocated to a far-away town to rebuild a life of their own, away from God, tokens, and angels. The three of them tried their best to unlearn their past and strived to thrive in their new home. As years went by, Mellac slowly recovered from the economic depression and its soil began to produce fruit again.
One day, the middle child was emptying out the mailbox when she stumbled upon a newspaper article about the Miracle Token Preacher. The Miracle Token Preacher, a saint, sold products like ‘Prayer Tokens’ and ‘Earthly Tallies’ to benefit the poor during the economic depression. The Miracle Token Preacher was found dead in the storage room of a church due to a sudden heart attack. The whole town was grieving after his death and purchased a beautiful gravestone in his memory for the funeral, which was set to take place the next day.
Immediately afterwards, the middle child visited her local stonemason to request the most ostentatious gravestone available, as well as his biggest sledgehammer.
At the funeral, as the congregated lowered The Preacher’s casket, a car came to a screeching halt. Then the middle child, with the most lavish gravestone imaginable, made her way through the crowd to catch a glimpse of her father’s gravestone. Embellished with engravings of cherubs, it read: “Here lies the most humble, generous man that has graced the earth. May he rest in peace.”
With a scream, the middle child swung her sledgehammer towards the gravestone, smashing it to pieces that fell into the open grave. The crowd murmured in shock but no one dared to stop her, for her fury was felt by everyone. Fueled by rage, she carried her slab of white marble with red inscriptions and planted it where the original gravestone once was. Everyone marvelled at the beauty of the new gravestone, then stopped in shock after reading the inscription that read:
Here lieth a sick coward, a worthless wretch, who sold his family for Earthly Tallies.