2019 Short Story Winner

AN ACT OF GOD  by Peter Hilton
When the meeting was over my wife went home, but I stayed to help pack away the chairs.
”Tricky meeting Vicar,” said the caretaker.
“Always tricky, trying to persuade people to part with their money, Sid,” I replied, “even for such a good cause.”
“The whole village wants to hear the bells again, Vicar.”
“I know, but getting them recast is expensive and nobody’s keen to put their hands in their pockets. I can’t see how we’ll ever raise enough. I’ve been praying every night for a solution, but the good Lord has not yet answered.” As I lifted the last chair and placed it on the stack, a slip of paper fluttered to the floor. “I wish people would take their litter home with them,” I said, picking it up and slipping it into my pocket. “Goodnight, Sid.”
Back in my study, I took out the paper slip to throw it away, and saw it was a lottery ticket, with numbers clearly written in the boxes. I was disappointed. Don’t they listen to my sermons? I thought. How many times have I preached about the evils of gambling? Perhaps they don’t regard this as gambling, but that’s what it is. If I knew who’d bought this ticket, I’d chastise him severely. Well, the lottery would be drawn that evening, so the ticket owner had lost his chance of winning. Serves him right, I thought, but what shall I do with it?
I decided to destroy it. If these numbers should win, I couldn’t keep the prize. It wasn’t my ticket so claiming the money would be illegal. It would also be a prime example of greed, something else I had spoken out against more than once, from my pulpit. Greed, after all is one of the deadly sins. On top of that, how would I explain the sudden advent of so much money to my congregation? Manna from heaven? They’d never fall for that!
Anyway, the chances of winning were so remote, it wasn’t worth worrying about. I had no idea how much money was at stake, so I thought it might be fun to check. Just out of interest, you understand. I booted up the PC and googled The National Lottery. I was astonished when the figure of a hundred thousand pounds came up. A hundred thousand? Just think what could be done with that! That was when Satan whispered in my ear, “It’s almost time for the results. Why not check them?”
No! I thought, I must resist this temptation, so I slapped the ticket down hard on my desk. I meant it to land face down but when I looked at it, the six numbers were grinning up at me impudently. Then the devil guided my unwilling hand to the remote and switched on the TV and I watched with a mixture of excitement and guilt, as the lottery results began.
The first number announced was two – my first number! It sent a shock right through me. I picked up a pencil to make a note of the numbers, but I really don’t want to win, I told the Lord. My hands trembled and the tension mounted inside me as, the TV presenter read out, one after the other, five of the numbers in front of me. This was incredible. And awful. I was winning and only one more to go! There was a crack and the pencil suddenly snapped in my hands. I dropped to my knees and prayed, Dear Lord, don’t let me be tempted any further, please don’t let me win. I checked the last number on my slip; forty-nine. I covered my ears, but the sound from the TV came through, loud and clear, as the last number was announced; “FORTY-NINE!”
I heard someone shriek and I realised it was me. “Forgive me Lord. I’ll give it all to charity,” I called aloud. The door flew open and my wife rushed in.
“What’s all the commotion, Alfred?” she asked.
I got up from the floor. “Nothing Gladys,” I replied, trying to look nonchalant.
Her eye fell on the lottery ticket, still lying on my desktop and she looked sheepish. “Oh, so you found it.” she said.
“What?”
“You found my lottery ticket. I’ve been looking for that.”
“You mean this belongs to you?”
“Yes. I buy one every week. Been doing it for months now, but I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t approve. Just a harmless flutter. I’ve never won anything.”
“Fuck me! You have now!” I told her. I threw my arms around her and hugged her close.
“Alfred, what on earth’s got into you? She said.
So I told her how I’d found the ticket and suspected it might be hers. I assured her I wasn’t the least bit cross and to prove it, I’d even checked the results for her. I said how delighted I was that the money had been won by such a generous, community-minded person as herself and advised her to consider carefully how the money might best be used.
******
It gladdens my heart to hear the church bells ring out across the village again, on Sunday mornings, calling people to worship, as they have done for generations. I was truly proud to inform my parishioners that my own wife had donated the funds we needed, and they all joined in expressing their gratitude. I sometimes mention Gladys in my sermons, as an example of generosity and unselfishness. I never speak of my part in the affair and I rarely express my views on matters such as gambling. Or greed. It no longer seems appropriate to do so. God moves in mysterious ways.