Jessie knocked on the door of The Last Prophet with a cart full of cookies and a practiced smile.
“Hi! I’m selling Girl Scout cookies! My goal is to sell ten boxes of cookies to reach my goal of five-hundred dollars. Will you help me to reach my goal?”
Jessie smiled again as she finished the script her mother had downloaded off the internet. The Last Prophet stared thoughtfully at her little smile and nodded.
“Ten boxes?” asked Jessie, hopeful.
He nodded again. Then, held out his hand. She placed the clipboard and a pen into it and he began slowly jotting down his information. Jessie’s mother had told her not to come to this house. She said the man living there was a creep. He didn’t seem so bad. Even the house wasn’t all that odd. There was one of those little tube things attached to the inside of the door frame but, she’d seen that plenty of times. Even if this one was a particularly ghastly shade of purple.
“My mother says your strange.” She said from a place of boredom and curiosity, he really was taking his time.
“Your mother sounds like a smart lady.” The Last Prophet responded, still jotting. Jessie didn’t think so but she thought about it for a polite two seconds before asking “Why?”
“People aren’t fond of things they don’t understand.” The Last Prophet replied.
“Why don’t people understand you?”
The Last Prophet stopped his pen for a moment and looked almost lost in thought before chuckling. “I suppose if they tried, they might.” He went back to jotting.
“Can I try?”
“You really think you can?” He said it the way a grandfather might ask if you really can run that fast.
“Yes.” Said Jessie, standing her ground.
“Well okay then.” The Last Prophet handed the clipboard back to Jessie, the form all filled out. “I am The Last Prophet. Do you know what a prophet is?”
Jessie nodded, unsure. Something religious, she knew that much.
“Well you see, when a prophet is given a message from god his sole purpose is to deliver that message to the world. But you see, the message I am meant to deliver is the very last message, and it scares me. It scares me so terribly that I have never been able to utter a word of it. And so, I cannot die until I do. And, I never shall. So people will be thinking me rather strange for quite some time I suppose.” He smiled.
Jessie cocked her head to the side. “What’s the message?”
“Well, if I told you that I’d most likely keel over right here and there you’d be, traumatized for the rest of your days.”
“What does traumatized mean?”
“Means you’d be a lot like me.” The Last Prophet replied.
Jessie thought about it. “Well, you don’t seem so bad. But you are strange.”
“As I said, your mother is a smart lady. Now head home and order me those cookies if you don’t mind.”
Jessie eyed him suspiciously. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. But, you’re welcome to come by any time.”
“Will you tell me the message if I do?” Jessie asked.
She frowned. “You’ll tell me someday.” She said, awkwardly maneuvering her cart off the porch.
“Mark your words?” The Last Prophet sung after her in a girlish tone.
“What does that mean?” she called back.
“Oh nothing. It was lovely to meet you.”
“You too.” She said, smiling for real this time.
“Prove it.” Jessie demanded before the door was all the way open.
The Last Prophet raised an eyebrow to her. “Aren’t you supposed to say trick or treat?”
“Trick or treat. Now prove all that stuff you were saying. And candy if you don’t mind.”
“Are you holding my cookies hostage? They must be here by now.” The Last Prophet asked.
“Maybe, are you holding my candy hostage?” she accused. She stood in the door, wrapped head to toe in toilet paper carrying a pillow case stuffed full of candy.
“Maybe. Okay, if I prove it, will you go get me my cookies?”
“Alright then. Come in.” He said. Jessie didn’t move from the doorway.
“My mom has always told me never to go in a stranger’s home.”
“Your mother continues to impress me. Fair enough then, I’ll have to make do from here.” He leaned against the doorframe and started digging around in his head.
“Do you know John the Baptist?”
Jessie shook her head. A piece of toilet paper flaked off onto the porch.
“Well, John was the last prophet as far as anyone else knows. Do you know how long ago that was?”
Jessie shrugged. “A long time?”
“Correct! A very, very long time. Now, before John, there were many prophets. But, since him, there hasn’t been a single one. Except me of course. Any idea why that would be?”
Jessie shook her head.
“Well, have you ever read a book and suddenly decided to skip chapter fourteen?”
Jessie shook her head again. “Why fourteen?”
The Last Prophet smiled. “Arbitrary number. So-“
“What does arbitrary mean?” Jessie interrupted.
“It means pointless. Like this conversation if you don’t let me finish.”
Jessie glared at him but, sealed her lips.
“So, you wouldn’t just up and skip a chapter and, if you suddenly decided to, chapter fifteen wouldn’t be making a whole lot of sense would it?”
“I guess not.”
“I’m chapter fourteen.”
“I thought you said fourteen was pointless!” Jessie said, pointing an “aha!” finger right at his nose.
“It is, it’s a metaphor.”
“What is a metaphor?” Jessie asked.
“Well, I guess when you figure that out you’ll have your proof, won’t you? Now, can I have my cookies?”
Jessie didn’t like being beat but had too much to think about to put up a fight.
“I will bring them tomorrow. Now, trick or treat.” She held open the bag.
The Last Prophet laughed. “Sorry, I do not have any candy.”
Jessie closed the pillow case and glowered at him. “I’m going to ask my Mom what a metaphor is. If it isn’t proof, I’m eating all your cookies.”
The Last Prophet gave her a thumb up. Jessie turned and walked off the porch, her face scrambled and crunched under the weight of her thoughts.
The Last Prophet opened the door to find a woman wearing a clean pair of jeans, a white T-shirt, and Jessie’s eyes. They were narrowed. She held a stack of Girl-Scout Cookie boxes.
The Last Prophet smiled.
“My how you’ve grown,” he said.
“Here are your cookies.” The woman shoved the boxes into The Last Prophet’s arm.
“Thank you very much.” He placed the cookies down on a small table inside the door.
He turned back to the woman. “You must be Jessie’s Mother. Pleasure.” He held out his hand.
“Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused?” She said through her teeth.
“With Jessie. I am her mother.”
“Yes, as I said. What–”
“All she has been doing is spending her time digging through the bible and asking all sorts of stupid questions. Come to find out it is your fault. I told her not to come here.” She told the last part more to herself.
“She mentioned. I simply told her the answer to the questions she asked. I meant no harm.”
Jessie’s mom laughed. It was a harsh laugh. “Bullshit. You are trailing around this poor girl with your bullshit stories because you’re a sad lonely old man.”
The Last Prophet stared at her, startled. Startled not at her words but because as she said them she had begun to cry.
“Would you like a cup tea?” The Last Prophet offered. Jessie’s Mom nodded. He stood back and allowed her inside.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
The Last Prophet smiled gently as he placed a warm mug in her hands.
“It’s okay. Perhaps I deserve it. Worse, maybe.”
“No, no” She shook her head in self fit of self-remonstration. Then poured her words out all over the table. “It really isn’t. We’ve had some hard times lately and Jessie, well she didn’t take it well. So, I thought maybe joining the Girl-scouts would help. You know? Get her focused on something else, something, a distraction? And now she’s completely abandoned it. Spends all her time trying to figure out whatever it is you told her and I just, it is my fault. I, well, nothing. It is my fault. I am sorry.”
The Last Prophet stayed silent while she spoke. They both stayed silent for a good while after. Finally, Jessie’s mom spoke again.
“Look, I need you to put this to bed. I need you to tell her something so she can stop obsessing over this. I need a reset. Her and I need to find a way through this together. And I can’t do anything as long as she is like this. Please.”
The Last Prophet smiled. “Of course,” he said.
Jessie opened the door.
“My mother talked to you didn’t she?” Jessie accused The Last Prophet on her doorstep.
He smiled and nodded. Jessie rolled her eyes.
The Last Prophet entered the home.
“Very nice home you’ve got here.”
“Enjoy it while it lasts, Mom can’t afford it on her own so we have to sell it.”
“I see. Aren’t you going to offer me some tea?”
Jessie frowned, “why should I?”
“You’re old enough to know about manners I’m sure, especially with a mother like yours.”
“Yes I’m old enough, not quite 2000 years old, but old enough.” She eyed The Last Prophet in search of a reaction.
“You’ve been doing your homework I see.”
“Quite the opposite,” Jessie replied smiling, “and, I’ve decided I believe you.”
“How about that tea?” The Last Prophet replied.
Jessie glared at him. “Didn’t you hear me? I said I believe you.”
“And I heard you.”
“So why are you asking about tea?”
The Last Prophet shrugged. “Because I want tea.”
Jessie growled at him. He growled back, sarcastically.
The Last Prophet followed her into the kitchen. She took an iced tea out of the fridge and slapped it down on the table. The Last Prophet picked it up and eyed it suspiciously.
Jessie crossed her arms and smirked.
“Beggars can’t be choosers. You like my mother so much, that is her favorite thing to say.”
The Last Prophet cracked open the iced tea. “I didn’t say anything.” He took a sip and let out a long “ahh”.
“So?” Jessie demanded.
“So what are you here for? What has Mother decided is best for me now?”
The Last Prophet was silent for a moment. “She wants me to lie to you.”
Jessie gave a rude snort of laughter. “Of course she does.”
“And why should I not?” The Last Prophet asked.
“Because I want to know, because you wouldn’t have told me your story if you didn’t want to finish it.” Jessie couldn’t hide how proud she was of her own cleverness. She smiled.
The Last Prophet chuckled. “Interesting point. But that is not the reason I am going to tell you.”
“And, also, because–oh?” Jessie gave him a skeptical look. “Why then?”
The Last Prophet went about reading the ingredients of the ice tea in his hand. “Do you have any idea what is in this stuff?” He said, looking up at Jessie.
Jessie stared, expectantly. “So, are you going to lie to me, or have I actually convinced you?”
The Last Prophet laughed. “Neither. I’d like to say you’ve convinced me or moved me but, honestly, I am just tired and very old and you’ve given me a excuse.”
Jessie let her arms fall and she gave him a hurt look.
“Oh don’t look at me like that. You’re an exceptional girl. Convincing an old man to spill his secrets should not be the metric on which you base your self-worth. But, knowing this, do you still want to know?”
Jessie stayed silent for a moment. Then responded, “what does metric mean?”
“A way of measuring something.” The Last Prophet said.
Jessie took a minute to think about it. Then said, “Okay, tell me.”
The Last Prophet swirled the remains of the ice tea around in the can, sucked it down, and told her.
Jessie knocked, with one foot in the room, as people do in hospitals.
The Last Prophet was curled up on virgin white sheets looking like the last cigarette to be brushed from an ashtray.
“Oh, don’t do that.” He said as Jessie walked in the room.
“Do what?” Jessie asked.
“I’m not crying,” Jessie said, drying her cheeks.
“Well, if you’re not crying then I’m not dying but, at least we can make a nice poem.” The Last Prophet laughed. It sounded somewhere between a giggle and pneumonia. Jessie sat down in a chair next to the door and didn’t cry. The Last Prophet caught his breath and rolled to look at her. She read through all the new lines and blotches of old skin that had flourished around his eyes and under his nose. His mouth sagged to one side.
“You’re dying,” she said, with half a question mark.
“Not your most clever observation but, correct.” He smiled, or tried to.
Jessie looked up the sleeves of the room but found no tricks. “Why?” she asked.
“My purpose for existing is over. I told you.”
Then, Jessie felt a sadness. It began in her stomach and before she could catch it, it was running in every direction. She hid under the ends of her sleeves and wept. The Last Prophet waited. When it died down, she looked up.
The Last Prophet smiled. “Where is your mother?”
Jessie blinked her red eyes and tested her soggy mouth. The Last Prophet waited, “She doesn’t like coming to hospitals since, my dad,” she said. She might have cried more at the thought but, even tears have their end.
The Last Prophet nodded. “I see.”
Jessie got up and moved closer. “You look terrible,” she decided.
“Too many girl scout cookies, I think,” he said. Then, after a pause Jessie burst out laughing. He laughed with her, his old laugh.
“You were supposed to lie to me,” Jessie said, her sadness waking back up.
The Last Prophet sighed. He looked down at his own hands and shook his head. “No, I shouldn’t have been here at all. I was a coward. But, I have now fulfilled my purpose. And, it was my choice, my purpose,” he looked up at Jessie, “do you understand?”
Jessie shook her head.
“Does this mean I am a prophet now?” She asked.
The Last Prophet shrugged, wincing with the pain. “You are whatever it gives you purpose to be.”
Jessie scowled at him. He smiled “Oh, I’m dying I am allowed to pontificate.” He laughed.
“What does pontificate mean?” Jessie asked.
The Last Prophet closed his eyes. “Look it up,” he said softly. Then, the room was still. Somewhere an alarm went off. Nurses bustled in. Jessie was pushed into a corner where she sat and watched.
The Last Prophet was taken away.
At the end of the commotion a nurse found Jessie sitting in the corner. The nurse took the chair next to Jessie and placed her hand on Jessie’s back.
“He is with God now,” the nurse said, reassuringly.
Jessie turned and smiled.
“God doesn’t want him,” she said, “God doesn’t want any of us anymore.”