Sunday, June 2, 2013

Digital Lottery

Faded ink on browning paper proclaimed "City annex proposal goes to vote tonight" and "Hit and Run Still Unsolved". The city had been threatening to annex Sheffield for water rights to the lake since October. It was hardly news anymore, but people were worried about their houses and taxes.

Of course there was no photograph to describe the stories. Don Chambers, the editor of the town's small gazette, always said the old printing press had been good enough for nearly a hundred years, and he always said he would be damned if he was going to get some gadget to replace it. Of course, hearing Don talk about it, you'd think it was the eighth deadly sin.

Elmer Goodwin spotted the paper while walking across the front porch of the general store. He bent over and squinted to read it, then spit some tobacco juice over the rail. "Woody! Did ya see the gazette?"

The door to the store was propped open with a stack of old phonebooks, and inside Woody was moving bags of bird seed out of the way of the door. "Ayup," he said. "Probably some damn kid on his cell phone waren't paying attention again."

"Yer probly right. Edith said her sister Agnes got one of them things."

"A gadget?"

"Yes sir. Said she was trying to keep up with her grandbabies. Pictures and what not. Edith said Agnes was walking down the street staring at it, not paying attention, and tripped. Fell and broke her hip."

Woody stepped through the doorway shaking his head. "Tain't right that is."

"S'getting worse, I figure. Everyone's got the things now. Can't take ten feet without tripping over one. They got games on 'em and everyone's spending all their time clicking their fingers and beeping they don't even talk anymore."

Woody grunted. "Ain't gonna be like that here."

"We're too old for all that, you think?"

"Too old and too ornery."

Elmer grinned, sucking on the the black gap between his front canines. "Don't know about that. Lots of youth coming up in these parts. They're already trying to get gadgets in the high school. Something about new reg-yoo-lay-shuns from the school board."

"I tell you, I'd rather kill my kid than have them turn into that. Not thinkin', not talkin', barely can spell any more, cause they're too busy staring at some gadget to do real work." Wood shook his head.

"Wonder if it'll come to that," Elmer mused.

"To what?"

"That's what they did in the old days, you know."

"What are you on about?"

"You know, when bad things happened too much," Elmer said. "The old churches used to stone people as a sacrifice or what not. To make the crops come back, or the diseases go away."

Woody grunted again.

"Suppose you're all good, right? If you're good, you're in church. Praising the lord, and what not. But the heathens, the kind of heathens that are making all the gadgets, you don't figure they're in church."

"No, I don't reckon you do," Woody said. "But I still don't see what you're saying."

"What if it's a test of our faith? What if God wants us to shun these gadgets and the people what use them? If we don't, before we know it, we're going to all be in some home somewhere. And they're going to pave over this place and it'll be swarming with gadget walkers staring into nothing and being plum stupid as they can get."

"Grandkids been talking about getting me to move out of here," Woody said. "They say they worry about me alone. I don't ever see 'em here, though. They worry from yonder a lot."

"I'm saying it's the way it is."

"What you going to do," Woody shrugged his shoulders.

"Kill 'em. Make a sacrifice."

"You're serious about this, ain't you?" Woody eyed Elmer but Elmer didn't budge. "Crazy, you are."

"It's in the Bible. I read it. Just another plague. Just another test."

"So, how you going to pick who to die? Killing people ain't in there."

"Sure it is. Sacrifice. Test of faith. God won't let anything bad happen if it ain't meant to happen. We'll just... Whoever ain't pious about it on Sunday. At the church. First one what leaves. I got a cattle mallet. Right in the forehead. Painless as can be. Quick, too."

Woody looked a little sick.

"God ain't gonna let nothing happen that ain't meant to happen," Elmer said. 

"I don't want no part of it. You do what you got to do. But you talk about it with the Reverend before you go do anything. You hear me?"

"Yeah yeah. Reverend's got to know anyway. He'll know we need a sacrifice to keep our home pure."

Woody shook his head and shuffled into the store to finish moving the bird seed.

On Sunday, everyone gathered in the little white church to listen to the Reverend speak. The weather was something fierce hot, so everyone was fanning themselves. Everyone, that is, except for Jilly Gentry. Little Jilly, just turned fourteen and pretty with her doe-brown hair and bloodshot blue eyes, was too busy crying and looking out the door.

Everyone knew her daddy been sick. Cancer, they said. The kind you get in your head when you spend half your life with a gadget to your ear. The girl ain't had a mother, no one knew why, just that Jilly and her daddy lived over by Carver alone. Wasn't right having a man and a little girl living by themselves, most figured. But, they were church going folks, so most of them left things well enough alone. The ladies would stop by with a pie or a basket of biscuits now and again to check on her. Jilly had her hands on her lap and kept checking her phone. Each time she would put it aside, she would look a little more red-eyed, or a little more nervous, but she would put it aside and listen to the Reverend.

Halfway through the singing, though, little Jilly's voice broke into a sob, and she pushed her way out of the pews. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Duffy. Daddy needs me."

Elmer caught Woody's eye from across the aisle and nodded. Woody looked away. Three other men near the back followed Jilly out the door. The choir director got everyone to sing louder, and it was only Elmer, at the back, who heard the girl scream.

Ten years later, Woody still runs the general store, and Elmer still spits his tobacco off the porch. They're not quite using horses and buggies, but Ma's restaurant still hasn't got a jukebox, lights are all out by 9:30, and Sheffield is still the kind of place where people would rather picnic and read a book. "I told you we didn't need none of them gadgets," Elmer said.

No comments:

Post a Comment