Locusts and Wild Honey
by Beth LaBuff 3/20/2014 / Short Stories
The aged pastor stumbled as laughter erupted from onlookers. Whether he was shoved or merely misstepped mattered little to the crowd whose gladiator-cravings were satiated by this entertainment. A muscle-bound youth bravely approached the elderly man, and with high drama connected his steel-toed boot to brittle ribs, sprawling the victim onto dusty splintered planks and nearly overturning a table full of old coins. More laughter erupted from the assembled rabble that bonded in this shared amusement. Despite being a self-proclaimed enlightened society, we still possessed one flaw. We tolerated and often sanctioned harassment of His followers.
Perusing the wares, I shuffled from table to table. Besides coin venders, there were tables heaped with plush beanie critters, wooden carvings from artisans, and tinselly holiday decorations that cast shimmering reflections on nearby objects. Raucous voices vied for patrons, and like Pavlov's canines, they salivated when one approached.
Then I saw him again; I watched as the old pastor gingerly lowered his dusty and bruised frame onto a three-legged stool. In front of him was a folding table with a sunken top that mirrored his hollow cheeks. Stacked on the table was a collection of ancient scrolls. Aged crumblings peppered the table like yellowed confetti from some ancient birthday celebration. Nailed to the front of the table was a sign that appeared to be as old as the scrolls themselves, "A free-gift--to whomsoever. To remedy heart ailments. To grant peace." How odd, I thought, as I tried to sort through this. Did words on a parchment have the power to mend hearts, aright their rhythms, and bestow peace to the recipient?
I handled the brittle manuscripts, skimming their contents. One titled "Isaiah" had phrases that confused me: "a voice of one calling in the wilderness" and "prepare the way of the Lord," then further on "like sheep gone astray" and "everyone turned to his own way."
The scent of camel wafted through the space. I turned and seemingly off the pages of the parchment, out of time and place, stood one who had the appearance of a prophet. His coarse garment was cinched with a leather belt, and long matted dreadlocks cascaded over his shoulders and down his back. His eyes skewered the crowd. One word was all he uttered: "Repent!" Momentary silence followed, yet the crowd neither heeded his warning, nor were they bewildered by his advent. The hush was short-lived, the man and his terse message forgotten as some new amusement claimed their attention.
A small child pulled a middle-aged couple ear the old pastor's table, eager for the free gift. Their eyes were moist as they received a scroll. They mouthed their gratitude and thanks to the aged soul-shepherd for the Hope the scroll revealed.
Neither the antiquated pastor, the ancient scrolls, nor the messenger clothed with camel hair had little appeal to anyone else. I, myself, was almost persuaded, but we are a progressive society, no longer held captive by ancient commandments.
Copyright Beth LaBuff 2014
Before Beth LaBuff and her husband, Tilman, moved to the high desert of Arizona, she lived most of her life surrounded by the cornfields of Adair County, Iowa.