Bank Deposit…and a Plan

I felt a sense of apprehension as I walked to Jack and Dora’s house. I took the path through the Learen Forest on purpose. Retracing my steps from the day Joy died brought all my questions back afresh and reminded me why I was doing this. I was going to get answers, one way or the other.

“Sticky buns await,” Jack said with wide boyish eyes as I walked up his chantry’s front stoop. He’d been watching for me.

“Now, let me get this straight. You’re paying me with food to talk with you about death rays?” I said.

Jack laughed. “You’ve got it.”

“I’m starting to wonder what’s wrong with you. You’re a Peach after all.”

“A Peach?” Jack’s face twisted in confusion. “You keep saying that. What does it mean?”

“Long story,” I said. “I’ll tell you some day.”

“Wow! Already committing to a long-term deal. Good to see!”

My mouth dropped a bit until I realized Jack was playing with me. Then, I quickly relaxed because let’s face it, a Peach who can joke; I’d never seen it before. Peaches were so grave, so serious, so blah. But Jack, well, he was exactly what I had always hoped a Peach would be. His genuine nature appeared to still be, well, genuine. I wanted to be skeptical, but I simply couldn’t be. At least not very much.

After three sticky buns and a large cup of cold milk, Jack and I took a seat on his front stoop with the same basic seating arrangement from our last two discussions. I could see this was going to continue as a trend.

“Is this stoop your office?” I asked.

Jack nodded. “Can’t beat the outdoors, especially with the Learen all around. I find I feel more in tune with the world, with life. I remember better how small I am and feel more connected to…well, people who come to see me. And, if I’m to be honest, the outdoors is calming, peaceful.”

I nodded, but then my stomach turned upside down. I had to get this out of the way. I cleared my throat. “So, what’s the cost to get into your chantry, Jack? What do you charge for information to people other than me?”

There, I asked the worst question I could and I was afraid of the answer. I already liked Jack so much I didn’t want him to be like the other Peaches. A pit immediately appeared in my stomach hinting of a different kind of hunger—one food couldn’t fill.

Jack pursed his lips and then smiled through a hint of concern. “Fern, I don’t charge anything.”

“I don’t mean for me. You told me I was free. I know that now.” I said. “I meant for admission to your chantry. What do you make people pay for your sermons—for answers?”

Jack pointed to the gruff front façade of his house-chantry. “You see those wood shingles?” I nodded. “I made them myself from some timber out of the Learen. I did all the labor and construction, too.”

“You built your own home…I mean, your chantry?” I asked.

“Yes. And I didn’t solicit people to support me when I started my chantry. I started my chantry all by myself.”

I was shocked. “Then, how do you afford to live if you don’t charge for preaching?”

“Dora runs a local bakery. You’ve seen the Butter House, right?”

“Yah, I’ve been there loads of times. I love their sticky buns! But I’ve never seen Dora there… Well, actually I guess I might have, but I didn’t know it was her…at the time.”

“Dora provides all our income. She supports me single-handedly as a preacher. As you can see, we don’t live at the high end of the economic range.”

“What about your congregation? Do you have one? I mean, does anybody give you money to preach?” I asked.

Jack adjusted his seating and clasped his hands. “I have a congregation, but they can come with or without money. Some insist on donating and I don’t discourage them. To them it’s a sign of faith and though I don’t charge or ask for money, I’m a graceful receiver. But I make sure to use the money donated to give Dora a vacation here and there and to help my needy patrons. I track the donations and for those that request, I send them an itemized list of how their money was used. I want them to know what they are donating for—and it’s not me.”

I laughed. I didn’t believe it and yet, I couldn’t see Jack doing it any other way. I felt a sense of relief and chagrin. “But…why doesn’t everyone come to your chantry, then? If I’d known about it, I would have come here. Free preaching? It’s… I don’t even know how to process the idea.”

Jack sniffed and rubbed his nose. Then, he looked at me with an expression that looked and felt fatherly. I don’t know why I interpreted the nonverbal communication that way, seeing as I had never met my own father, or had a father figure of any kind, but that’s what it was.

“Fern,” he said. “People pay to hear what they want to hear. I don’t preach what I think will make people pay me money. I preach what I believe to be true. The moment I ask for money as a precursor to my preaching, my passion for what I believe to be truth will be compromised, even if it’s only a little, and I don’t want that. Dora doesn’t either. That’s why I don’t ask for donations from my congregation. But, on the other hand, even though my preaching is free, people don’t always like what I say, and I don’t change it to please them. Then, often they don’t continue coming. They’d rather pay to hear what they want to hear than to get truth for free.”

I sighed and threw up my hands. “This is a real problem, Jack. Don’t you see? I can’t call you a Peach anymore. I’ll have to come up with something else. Because…you’re not one of them after all!”

“Since from your tone it seems that Peach is a derogatory term, I’m grateful to have liberated myself from it.” Jack replied. “Call me the Teacher. I like how that sounds.”

I nodded. It fit. I liked it too. “Very well then, Teacher.”

“Now, next question. But we’ll limit it to three questions per session. Too much religious philosophizing will only fatigue us mentally and turn counterproductive. It’s the kind of thing that must be served in doses so that the mind has time to cook it into something. Overeating always sounds good but never ends up well. So, three questions. That work for you?”

I smiled. “Okay, tell me about the white pillar. What is the white Utopia like?”

Jack shrugged. “I wish I knew what all the Utopias were like, Fern. But all I know are the living requirements to get there which is a very different answer. The ones for white, well…they’re quite difficult.”

“And they are?”

“Okay,” Jack said. “Let’s do it this way. Answer me this. When you get a job and they pay you money, whose money is it?”

“My money, duh.”

“Are you sure?” Jack asked. He gave me a measured glance.

“Well, I have to pay a load of taxes, so that money isn’t mine even though I earned it. It belongs to the government. And, then, technically, I would probably give all the rest to my mother for what she needed, since we’re pretty poor, and then she’d probably give me some back to spend on myself…if there was any left.” I swallowed. I couldn’t believe I’d just admitted to Jack how poor we were.

“So, you’re saying you earned the money but that it belongs to others more than yourself and you’re willing to give it to them and to work with only what they give back to you?”

“I…I guess so. But I choose to give it to them, so it’s mine to start. Technically, I don’t have to pay taxes yet…though, that would go badly long term and I’d end up a criminal. I don’t have to help my mother, either, but I want to. So, what does this have to do with the white Utopia?”

Jack grinned. “One of the laws supposedly lived in the highest utopia is universal ownership of property. It belongs to everyone no matter who earns what or who grows what. All your talents and skills belong to the community. All you do is focused on lifting, sharing, and contributing to the whole in its common purpose.”

“What is the purpose of the white Utopia?” I asked.

Jack shrugged. “That’s a mystery. But happiness is definitely the most important part, I believe.”

“So, happiness equals perfect unification and selflessness?” I gulped. “That’s tough. Doesn’t anyone up there get possessive? Does anyone try to cheat the system?”

“How would I know?” Jack asked. “But to get taken by the white pillar, most of the chantries preach this law of community. To be happy in that Utopia you’d have to be selfless in every part of your life, not simply money or material possessions.”

“They preach being selfless so people will donate more,” I said, rolling my eyes. “But, no seriously, does being selfless mean losing myself completely? Is there no individual identity in this white Utopia, or is it all swallowed by the community? That sounds positively miserable.”

Jack sort of nodded and shook his head to the negative at the same time which ended up in a side to side tilt. “I don’t know. But I can tell you what I believe.”

“Yes, tell me.” I said.

“I believe that individual personality and identity are actually magnified by such a society. Even though a person’s unique talents and gifts are given to the whole, those individual gifts and talents become all the more important in their benefit to others who don’t have them. Imagine a doctor and a grocer. The doctor needs the grocer’s skills in growing and producing food and the grocer needs the doctor’s skills for healing. If one held back their gifts the other would suffer. Not that they couldn’t learn of course, but some people really are suited to certain things. Of course, those are examples from this life. I don’t know what or if people eat in Utopia and I would assume there is no sickness or death. So, to sum it up, in my opinion, selflessness is not about losing self, it’s about giving of self. If you think about it, there is a distinct difference.”

I took a deep breath. The way Jack had explained that was nothing short of beautiful. “Jack…How? …you make this Utopia sound sort of wonderful. Which is funny, because my first reaction was to resist the idea that a life of selflessness could make me happy. You just turned my initial impression about selflessness into a desire to be selfless. Wow…you’re good!”

“Well, what I preach has to make sense to me. I have to believe it. How else could I feel so passionately about it? Utopia is about being happy. That much I know. So, if a law seems like it will bring unhappiness, I have to ponder it and figure out how it could actually bring joy before I can testify about it. I’ve puzzled out—for myself anyway—quite a few good ideas over the years.”

Dora interrupted our meeting with two glasses of ice water and then bustled back inside. I watched Jack guzzle the water. Then, he began chewing the ice.

“Hey, I do that too!” I said. “My Mom hates it; says it’ll destroy my teeth.”

Jack finished crunching a piece and nodded. “It probably does, but I find that it’s a great way to snack without gaining weight. And trust me, being Dora’s husband that is a constant battle.”

I laughed. Jack did too.

“How did you meet Dora? I mean, she’s…amazing.”

“Is that question number two? Or are we on three now?” Jack asked.

I shook my head. “No, those other questions were questions within a question. This is definitely number two and I’m dying to know.”

Jack leaned against the pole to the side of the stoop. He looked up into the sky as if the blue sea filled with puffy clouds held all his memories.

“Ah, my dear Dora. I’m afraid the story is too long to tell in detail, but we did grow up together and her feelings toward me were not altogether agreeable. Her dislike was not unfounded, I have to admit. I was quite the prankster and didn’t care much for others’ feelings. My parents always threatened me with the silver death ray, but it made no difference. I didn’t care about the rays at all. Teasing others entertained me. I got very good at it.”

I squinted at Jack. “You, a bully? That’s so hard to imagine.”

“Then don’t. That’s the old me, anyway.”

“So, what changed you?” I asked.

Jack grinned boyishly. “Dora. She’d been the victim of many of my pranks, and one day she’d had enough. Her censoring screams were courtesy of me dropping a bowl full of eggs onto her head from a tree as she walked beneath. The shells and yolks stuck like glue to her tight black curls, and her beautiful mane of hair was a nasty, crispy, yellow mess tangled with eggshell fragments. She looked up at me and delivered the most effective lecture I’d ever received. It changed me instantly.”

“What? What did she say?” I bit my bottom lip as I sat on the edge of the stair.

“She said, ‘Jack, there is no death ray for you. You’re not even good enough for silver. Instead of some heaven, you’re going to rot here for all eternity. You’ll be stuck here. You know why? Because nobody could be happy if you were nearby. Ever.’”

My mouth dropped. I could totally imagine Dora’s sweet demeanor glowing with righteous indignation. “So, what did you say? What did you do?”

Jack shook his head as he focused on that distant moment in the past. “Nothing. I simply stared at her, dumbfounded. The idea of being totally alone, with no one, not even anyone to prank, filled me with dread. Even being taken by the silver ray had always meant people being around. But Dora had threatened me with something I hadn’t realized I was afraid of. Loneliness. I didn’t want to be alone.

“Something inside me changed that day. So fearful of being by myself I decided that if I didn’t want to be alone, I’d have to become the kind of person people wanted to be around. All that energy and ingenuity spent on my own selfish entertainment turned to figuring out how to be the most likeable person possible. Of course, I was only ten at the time. But Dora’s censure was also a sign to me of love. I had immense admiration for her goodness and fire. I fell in love with her that instant, and of course, from that time onward she was one of the most important people I wanted to make like me. And, as you can see, I won her eventually. Though, she didn’t make it easy.”

During Jack’s story I forgot completely about Joy and the death rays. For a blissful span of minutes, I was filled with real happiness. I hadn’t yet been able to figure out why Jack radiated so much contentment and peace. But whoever he was and however he came to be this way, during his story I wanted desperately to be like him.

Yet, when his story ended, my pain and anguish returned. Joy had still been robbed of life at a young age. I was still without the answers I sought on her behalf. I was still fatherless. My mother was still a struggling single mother. And, I still had a pact with my friends, Zoe and Manny, to never give up on finding the truth—the real truth—and that included the rest of our secret plan. The one nobody knew about.

“Okay then, last question for today.” I said.

“What’s that?” Jack asked.

“Who teaches Peaches what to preach? How did you learn the rules?” I made quotations marks with my fingers.

Jack furrowed his brow, bent over to lean on his knees, and clasped his hands. “I was certain you’d ask that. I’d heard around that the other preachers…”

“Peaches…”

“Okay, Peaches had dodged your question on this without…”

“A donation.” I finished for him.

He smiled. “Yes, a donation.”

“Well?”

“There are schools, you know. Schools that people like me go to in order to learn the religious basics. Mind you, they cost a good deal of money—though that shouldn’t surprise you—and they aren’t all the same. All of us preachers have to attend and pass rigorous training at one of them to be able to be certified to preach. That’s what’s required if we want to charge money. Without certification, it’s illegal to preach for money.”

“Do all the schools have the same information?” I asked.

Jack nodded. “More or less. There’s a load of books, videos, and other items. Even we preachers never see it all. That would be impossible in the short time we’re there. What information we are taught is colored and tweaked in its output by the owners of the school. They shape the preachers in the way they believe.”

Jack’s mention of books, videos and things sent me off on a side thought. It had never occurred to me that most of my questions could be answered without attending the chantries. All I had to do was get my hands on the preacher-school records! A plan began to unfold, but I pulled my brain back to focusing on Jack. “So, that’s why there are so many chantries. The people who fund the religious schools don’t all believe the same things?”

“Yes, and no.” Jack replied. “It’s incredibly complicated.”

“Are you certified, Jack?”

“Yes.”

“So, why don’t you preach for money?”

“I told you.”

“Then, if you were never going to charge, why get certified?”

“Aha, you finally come to it, and I’ll tell you. Credibility.”

“Credibility?”

Jack pursed his lips and shrugged. “Like you I wanted all the information available on the Utopias. I knew the limit of what knowledge was available was in the schools. But, more importantly, people are hardly going to listen to me if they don’t think I know what I’m talking about. Having the certification allows me to teach, period. People wouldn’t come and listen to an uncertified preacher. They’d think it was a hoax.”

I giggled. I couldn’t help it. But even though it was sad, and true, it was funny because that’s exactly what I would have thought if I’d come to Jack’s chantry, before meeting him of course. I would have thought he was a fraud. I wondered how often he had to show his credentials to incredulous investigators when he told them he didn’t charge.

Then, I gathered myself. “No, you’re not a Peach anymore, Jack. The Teacher, remember? The Teacher.”

Jack smiled. “Yes, the Teacher.”

“So, can I tell people about your chantry?”

“Of course, Fern. Word of mouth is the only way I proselyte.”

“Next time I come to talk to you, Jack, can I bring friends?”

“If you think they’ll add to our discussion. I’m not up for arguing. I’m as much about discovering truth as the next person. I don’t want it to be a “me against them” mentality…you know, like you have about the Peaches.”

I nodded. “I’ll only bring them if they agree to your terms.”

Jack stood and held out his hand. I took it and he pulled me to a standing position. “Until next time, Fern?”

“Sure, when?” I asked.

“I’m always here. Come when you like.”

“Deal.” I said.

I turned slowly and hopped down the steps. Then, I headed through the border of the Learen until it joined with town and then I turned toward the financial district. Manny worked at the local bank and Zoe at a nearby ice cream parlor. I had to update them on the next step in our brilliant plan. Jack’s information had given me the idea. We were going to sneak into a Peach School.

 

***

 

Zoe handed me a two-scoop pistachio waffle cone for free but it came with a look of sincere displeasure. “You’d better enjoy that,” she said, “because I’m totally mad at you. Manny told me what you’re up to. Are you crazy? It’s a swindle-job. I know it. You’ve got to stop going to see this…uh, Jack, right? Ya, you gotta quit—“

I waited for Zoe to finish her rant, but when it appeared she wasn’t going to breath I reached out and tugged on her bright red-haired ponytail.

“Hey!”

“I have our next move.” I said.

Zoe furrowed her brow. “From Jack?”

I smiled and inclined my head. “Yes, from The Teacher. He’s so not a Peach.”

Zoe squinted. “I still can’t believe that.”

“You will. Trust me.”

Finally, she relaxed and all her freckles seemed to fade back into her face allowing her prominent turquoise eyes to show. “So, what is it?”

I looked about to make sure the other ice cream customers were not listening and then whispered my idea into her ear. Suddenly, Zoe grinned from ear to ear. I looked into her eyes and nodded. We understood each other.

“We’re so going to get busted!” she whisper-shrieked.

“Well, I figure it’s worth it. If we’re going to go through with our plan, at some point we’ve got to figure out how to predict and locate the things. Right?”

Zoe nodded. “Have you told Manny?”

“On my way now. But since you didn’t know about Jack and heard it from Manny I thought I owed you.”

“You so did.” Zoe said.

Another few customers entered the parlor and got in line. I smiled, waved good-bye to Zoe and headed to the bank. I dug around in my pockets for any hint of loose change. I needed a reason to be at the bank before the doorman would let me in. Luckily, I found a few quarters and several dollar bills. When I arrived at the bank, I held them out in my hand for inspection.

“Deposit.” I said.

“Name please.” Said the doorman.

“Fern Franksdaughter.”

“Age?”

“Fifteen.”

“Is this a joint account with your mother?”

“Yes.”

“Hold out your hand, please.”

I held out my hand and the doorman scanned my prints. A low-frequency beep sounded and a green light appeared over the bank door. I stuffed my money back into my pocket and entered the lobby.

The bank was big. But I knew right where Manny worked. He was a low-level bank teller which meant he took deposits, but that was it. Only older employees with higher security clearance could actually give out money.

“Only two-dollars and fifty-seven cents?” Manny said.

“Hey, I know it’s not much but I had to talk to you.” I replied. Luckily, tellers were inside sound-proof booths. No one else would be able to hear my account information and they didn’t record what else was said either. They didn’t need to since door security was so high. They knew who came in, when, and why. No bank robberies like in the old days. “Jack and I just had a great discussion. It gave me an idea.”

Manny arched a brow. “Well, go on.”

“Well, we knew the Peaches got their information from somewhere. Jack told be about their schools! Jack says that’s where all the available information about the rays and Utopias exists, in the whole world. We’re going to break in one and steal the information we need.”

Manny pursed his lips and looked as if he’d rather be pumping iron or giving his thumbs a workout on his Playstation. “If Jack has been there, doesn’t he already know it all?”

I shook my head. “He studied there. It’s the owners that control what is taught and how. He said there is too much to really see. I know there’s got to be books, papers, maybe even videos and stuff none of the Peaches has ever seen. I know there’s got to be something on the rays. Come on, Manny, we can get what we need!”

Manny sighed. I knew by the look on his face he liked the idea, but he had to put up a professional show for the bank cameras.

“Here is your receipt, Miss Franksdaughter. We’ll meet up after work? Say 6:00 p.m. at the usual spot?”

I grinned and took my receipt. “I’ll see you then, Mr. Tomsson.”

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Angela Tempest
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Angela Tempest

Fiction Author

Hi! My name is Angela Tempest. I write fiction that entertains, takes you to another world, and fills your life with truth. I hope you’re enjoying A Search for Utopia. If you love it, there’s more. Check out my author page to read my other stories!