Talmage McGoulager: A Short Story

Two years ago I taught 7th Grade Literature in YWAM’s Christian Heritage School. It was a wonderful season of completely different ministry. Middle schoolers are not quite adults, at least not usually, but their pain and need for Jesus was real. The following story was something completely fun and meaningless that I wrote at the request of one of my former Literature students.

Talmage McGoulager was not special. He was exceptionally normal and unimpressive. A sympathetic couple once suggested that perhaps his name was special. “Is it T-H-A-U-M-A-G-E  M-C-G-H-O-U-L-A-G-E-R?” His reply was an apathetic monotone, “No. It’s with an ‘L’, and my last name is one letter shorter.” They stared at him and lowered their inquisitive eyebrows, glanced at each other with bored smiles, and walked away at an average pace. Talmage was remarkably plain and uninspiring.

He was of average height. As a teenager he had dreamed of his growth one day halting an inch or two shy of the typical five feet seven inches. He slowly surpassed that somewhere in the middle of his Junior year in high school. He had sandy brown hair. Well, I think he did. It was either dirty blonde or sandy brown. I don’t remember. Why should I? Talmage could run as fast as most twelve year old girls. He could leap the height of a standard sized couch. He like pizza and breakfast cereal. He never had an interesting answer. “What is your favorite movie, Talmage?” His reply, “I don’t know. I like a lot of movies. If you were to ask what my favorite comedy movie of this Summer was I might be able to narrow it down to that one about the sweet couple who cared for their children…” On and on he would talk until people just quit listening and fake answered their cell phones.

He was boring…twenty-four years old and boring. A white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant male with no plans for his life outside of “going into business”. Most people didn’t even know that much about him.

And no one cared. No one cared about Talmage. No one was interested in anything about him. That is, except for one thing. He could juggle…souls.

Talmage McGoulager, the mumbling master of the mundane had a talent that few had noticed. Only a select few had ever made it more than three minutes into conversations with him. Most of his acquaintances never had a chance to witness the one unique thing about him. Those that did wished they hadn’t. Oh they were no longer bored by him. They no longer passed him by or looked through him. They feared him. Talmage was  a juggler of the fiercest variety. He was a juggler of souls. A manipulator of eternal destinies. A benevolent match maker. Oh yeah. He’s benevolent. He’s good, which means he is still boring. Even in his role as an arch-villain he is boring. He is the one villain who you hear about and quickly forget or that no one bothers to even warn you about.

Talmage discovered this talent on the fourth of May when he was taking his Latin exam in the eighth grade. Why do I know it was May 4th? Well, because he told me amongst other lame facts as he worked his magic into the fabric of my future. The first time he exercised his power was a bit of an accident. He locked eyes with an aspiring writer in his class. Josiah never expected what happened next. As he was gazing around at the students who were still writing he noticed Talmage staring directly at him. He should have glanced away. Instead he raised an eyebrow and offered a curious smile. That moment his future changed. Where before he had several career options, he now had one. He would be a journalist who would later launch into writing science fiction and fantasy. He would be mildly successful and gather a nice sized following by way of the internet. This is what Josiah was leaning towards, but Talmage secured it. It was guaranteed to happen unless he died earlier than expected.

Since then Talmage had developed his skill and affected many. He found that if he could talk to someone for longer than five minutes at a time he could discern their skills and passions. The next  part was harder to explain. I can’t tell you exactly how he would do it, but I can say that it involves hypothetical scissors and figurative tape. He would simply look at the most obvious paths their lives could take and remove the ones that would lead to excessive hurt or stress. He became very good at this magical art. Eventually he became excellent. After that, flawless. He never messed up a soul juggle session, that is, until he met me.

I saw Talmage sitting in his chair against the wall at the family owned coffee shop we frequented. Our schedules often  merged. I would see him in the egg section at the grocery store. Later that day I might pull up beside him at an intersection. He never saw me. I found it remarkable that this guy didn’t notice me. Perhaps it was because he didn’t look up when he walked. He didn’t look around when he drove. He didn’t even talk to his cashiers. I later discovered that this was because he didn’t want to find more clients. Clients. This is what he called his victims. This day when I saw him drinking his unsweetened medium latte I decided to approach him. I knew about his talent. At least, I thought I had a good handle on what happened to the people that sat down with him. They smiled, became confident and pursued success in an honorable career. I thought perhaps that this t-shirt wearing book reader was secretly a motivational speaker. So I did what anyone would do but shouldn’t. I sat down with Talmage.

What happened? I’m not going to tell you. It was an awkward conversation. I regret it. I still remember him crying and how people’s stares at me turned into glares. One person harrumphed. I am still not successful or driven. I’ve been stressed and had lots of pain, but at least I still have my future open to me. I can still make decisions. I can be successful later, or I can fail. I like that. I also like that Talmage was humbled. He won’t be messing up people’s lives. I secured his future, and I just secured yours. Now go study.

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