Yes, I know, fourth post in a row about the end of the world. I can’t help but find the subject of a failed Rapture fascinating. The following story came out of the idea of a calling that worked, but not quite in the way that anyone expected.
Them first few days, afterwards, I mean, they was hard. Everything was just all over the place. The teevee, well that was just a blue screen with some writing on it and sad music. There was a phone number the teevee said to call, but that was always busy. We used Billy’s laptop, mostly, though the Good Lord only knows how that was still working when the teevee weren’t. “Runs on different lines,” Billy said, and I pretended like I understood. Billy got on Facebook and Sky-pee (that always made me giggle) and talked to his friend Kaysey in Denver and Uncle Bard in Texas and Jonas in Kansas City and they all said pretty much the same.
“We all thought the preacher was lyin’”, Uncle Bard said. “Truth be told, we all thought the man was an idiot. He showed his working-out on the Monday show, on a blackboard like a teacher, but it all seemed like bullpucky to me. Like how the number 5 means peace, and the number nine means something else, and you add this to that and take away Jesus’ age and square that with the date of the great flood. I tole Loretta, it’s like he took the date and worked backwards from that. I tole her…” And then Uncle Bard broke down and started crying right there on the laptop, and he hung up soon after.
The preacher’s website just kept coming up with a blank screen. “Too many people trying to talk to him all at once,” Billy said. His face was set in that mean look he gets when someone tries to take him for a fool. “I’ve got a few words to share with him myself.”
If it weren’t for Pa, Billy was all for us getting into the station wagon and driving over the state line to Fort Collins ourselves, maybe picking up Kaysey on the way. But we couldn’t leave Pa, and besides we were almost out of food. Ma had been running the food cupboard down to almost nothing. “No point in shopping if we’re just gonna leave it all behind,” she said. Fine for her to say. She’d been in the middle of forgetting all about us as soon as the preacher started up about the End Of Days.
Wal-Mart was closed, and the Circle-K had just about nothing on the shelves, but the Korean place on Bear Creek Road had milk and eggs and bread, enough to keep us going. The guy that served us didn’t seem to know or care what was going on, even when we tried to explain. “Not my god,” he said. “Not my god.”
Billy found a gas station that would let him fill up the wagon, and that seemed to settle him some. It was plain as the mole on my hand that he was busting to cut loose, to get out, to go anywhere. Billy was all spark and firework even when things were going well, and this whole situation had just about lit a fire under him. He didn’t give a damn about Pa, but he cared for me and Ruthie and we told him straight we weren’t going anywhere. All the same, I didn’t like the way he looked at the signs that pointed up the Evergreen Parkway to Route 70. Like he was a second away from stomping on the gas and leaving all this behind.
“Billy,” I said. “This is not just us, and it’s not just Evergreen, Colorado. It’s everywhere, and we have to deal with it. And the best way to do that is to look after ourselves. After everyone that’s left.” And Billy looked at me, and the flame ebbed a little, and he nodded.
“I’m glad you stayed,” he said after a quiet while. “I don’t think I could have stood it if…” He had to stop the car, then, and for a while my brother Billy was rain instead of fire.
We were there for the best part of a half an hour, right in the middle of Bear Creek Road, and not another car passed us that whole time.
We told Ruthie to watch Pa close, and to call my cell if anything happened. The lines were still up, somehow. It was just the teevee that weren’t showing anything, even Fox News and that was a surprise. We thought we could always depend on them. Anyway, Ruthie didn’t call, and she came out to meet us as we pulled up.
“Same as ever,” she said. “He just sets on the couch, looking at the ceiling.”
“Like he’s watching for a stain,” Billy said. But we all knew what Pa was looking for.
Slowly, the news came back. Fox suddenly come on with a blare of trumpets that made Pa startle clean out of his chair. For a second, I swear he thought there was another chance. He started crying when he realised, but he wouldn’t let any of us hug him. “This is you,” he spat. “Somehow, this is your fault.” It was anger and grief talking, and we knew that he’d lost more than any of us, even though you’d have to be smart in the reckoning of it to know for sure.
The news was bad as we thought. Millions of people gone in an eyeblink, all at the same time. Not the rolling wave of Rapture that the preacher had talked about, allowing for the clocks and international dateline. 6pm Eastern Standard Time, as predicted, to the second. As if a great hand come down and plucked the chosen up all at once. No earthquakes, neither, or tribulation. Just a moment when twenty million people were filled with an inner golden light, and then vanished.
There was a crowd outside the preacher’s compound at Fort Collins, and they drug him out to talk to them. He didn’t make much sense. There was no sign of the calm gentleman that had carefully laid out how the end of the world was going to go. This was a sad, scared old man who couldn’t stop crying. “I never knew,” he kept saying. “I never thought it was gonna be real.”
In the background, angry-looking men were building something, hammering together lengths of wood. It looked like those hanging trees they used back in the old days.
So many people. And it made no sense. There was no reason as to who had gone and who stayed. All of the Mexican family who run the diner down the way, all except little Carmelita, just two years old. Rabbi Krumholtz and his two boys. Max, who played bass in that death metal band Billy sang with. Aunt Loretta down in Galveston.
Lindsey Lohan. Beyonce, right in the middle of Crazy In Love at Madison Square Gardens, along with half her audience. One of Charlie Sheen’s goddesses, the little one. William Shatner. President Obama’s two girls.
And the guy on Fox News kept talking about Glenn Beck, and about this British guy, a scientist, Dawkins. They had video of him, in the middle of a lecture. He stopped mid-sentence, and looked puzzled. Then he said “Bugger,” in this real matter-of-fact voice, like he’d just been caught at a red light, lit up golden, and vanished.
And then there was us, in our shabby little house, with the teevee tuned to the preacher’s channel just like always. Ma and Pa on the couch, holding hands and smiling. They’d already forgotten about me and Billy and Ruthie. We weren’t part of the church, so we were damned. They said it was tough love. We’d have to get used to them not being around, so it was better to start then and there. They stopped cooking and cleaning for us, stopped paying the bills and Ruthie’s tuition. They spent all they had – all we had – on posters and flyers for the preacher’s church. They weren’t interested in leaving us a future. We were doomed anyhow.
And six o’clock rolled around, and there was a golden light in the room, the most beautiful thing I ever saw, brighter than the sun and sweeter than a field full of sunflowers. And when it faded, there was Pa on the couch with his hand outstretched and smoking and Ma was gone. You could see the impression on the cushions where her weight had been.
And Pa looked around, the smile dropping out of him like the blood from a stuck pig, and he looked at his children, at Billy, at Ruthie, and me, and he said, “You must be demons.”
Billy saved us that day. Pa would have killed us all in his rage if Billy hadn’t knocked him down and fed him some of Ma’s happy pills. Sometimes, I think it would have been easier if he’d just let Pa take us all to hell with him.
That was five years ago, and the world’s changed. We spend all our time trying to find the reason for what happened. We don’t call it The Rapture. That makes it sound like something good took place that day. The preacher went up on his hanging tree, begging for forgiveness even as they pushed him off the platform. But there are plenty of others willing and able to take his place. Every year about this time, they come out and claim that this year, for sure, there will be a Second Calling, that this time only the righteous will be bought to light, and that all you need to do is call this toll-free number to book your place.
There been so many murders and disappearances that people have tried to blame on what happened. So many people that just needed an excuse to leave their old lives behind and start again. So many people that couldn’t bear the losses, or the way things collapse because the props that held them up were no longer there.
Billy lasted a year. He couldn’t stand the way Pa would spit at him, call him names. One day he just left in the station wagon, pointing it up the Evergreen Parkway. He ended up in Denver. He married Kaysey. They had a boy, Ethan. I seen a picture, and he looks like his daddy.
Soon after, Ruthie left. She packed a bag and went in the night. She been crying since Billy left, and nothing I could say made a difference. I had one text message from her a week later, just said, I’m fine, dont worry about me, sorry. That was all. I ain’t heard from her since. She gone, as quick and callous as Ma, and that guy Dawkins, and Sasha Obama.
Five years later, and the world gets sadder and stranger every day. Seems like we spend all our time worrying about them that’s gone, and less and less on everyone else. We keep asking questions and trying to make up the answers. All the preachers add up their numbers, but I can’t tell where they get them from in the first place.
I started getting emails from Billy, after a silence of about a year and a half. Long emails. He tells me about all the reading he done, and how he finally figured out where the preachers had gone wrong, and what the true story was, and what was going to happen this July. He always says how he sorry, and how he wants to help, but there’s just no room for me in the ark he be building. I can’t ever finish his emails. They too long, and they always make me wonder what it is about me that make everyone in my family want to move on and leave me behind.
It’s just me and Pa now. I work hard in the old Mexican place, and the family that took over are nice to me. They took in Carmelita, and she growing up fine and strong. She call me auntie, and that’s the one thing these days that always make me smile. Pa still gets his moments where he calls me devilspawn and threaten to kill me, but I know to keep Billy’s old baseball bat close and I can soon keep him quiet. Most of the time he’s just Pa, watching the preachers and nodding along, smiling at me when I bring him his supper and beer.
And every May 21st we sit together, Pa and me, on the couch. I sit where Ma used to, and he’ll reach out after a while and take my hand. The burns never healed and the doctors took his thumb and index finger. The skin of his palm be like the rough paper I used to draw on at school. And then we sit and wait as the preachers point at the clocks and show us the sums again. Just like Pa now, I pray for the golden light to come. I don’t care if it take him or me. Either of us would do. Just so the waiting can end. Just so somehow we can come to a kind of peace.
© Rob Wickings 2011