Scripture is clear that the rapture is an ever-imminent event. No one can predict the day or hour of the actual event. In this novel, for purposes of the story, I have given the rapture a date and time. This book is a fictionalized account of actual events that one day will occur. The date I’ve set for the rapture in this book is for purposes of the story only. Neither I nor anyone else knows the day or time the rapture will occur, although we can know from scripture that we are certainly well into the season of it. The rapture date and time given in this book comes strictly from this author’s imagination. The pre-Tribulation rapture of all believers in Christ is an actual, imminent event that will happen at any moment, but the actual day, date, and timing of it is known only to the Lord.
Journal Entry: Sunday, October 6
Well, here I am again, journal. It must be around 6:30 a.m. Sunday. I woke early. In truth, I hadn’t slept well anyway – too keyed up, I guess. I’ve been thinking ever since last night about what to do next. Truthfully, I had hoped that maybe this had all been a bad dream, or that I’d fallen and hit my head and dreamed it all like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz or something – anything other than what appears to have happened.
Last evening, I oiled up the chain on my old 10-speed bike and put air in the tires so I can make the 30-mile trek into N’ville to either confirm my worst fears or feel like a dang fool if I get there and everything is fine as frog hair, as Grandpa used to say. I sure hope I’m going to feel like a fool though. Can what I think happened really have happened? Being isolated up here, I can’t know for sure till I check out the town. For the first time ever, this place seems really out of touch. Maybe I’ve just had some kind of electrical problem with the wiring in the cabin? But then, that doesn’t explain the charged iPad and laptop, or Bertha – and David keeps Bertha humming. He’s really fond of the old girl, even if he does complain about her being one step up from Fred Flintstone’s car.
I spent yesterday morning putting the perishable foods from my fridge like eggs, sandwich meat, milk, the leftover soup and the mayo into those sealable plastic tubs, and then put those into a big cooler. I emptied ice from the freezer into the cooler and iced everything down, then took the cooler down to the creek and put it into the coldest part and anchored the cooler to a tree. I figured that ice and cold water might keep everything cold enough and save what I had in the fridge from going bad. The freezer should be okay for a day or so if I don’t open it, and there really wasn’t much in there to worry about anyway. Then I fixed the bike, ate ham sandwiches for lunch and dinner, and went to bed early.
It’s early morning now, and I need to get a move on. I’d really like to be back before the sun sets tonight.
I ate another Poptart and packed me a couple of pb&js, my big thermos of water, and an apple in my backpack. If N’ville is normal – as I really hope it is – then I’ll just eat at Nan’s (gladly) and feel like 10 different kinds of a fool. If not…well then, I’ll try to find Harp, Mitch, David and Trail and see what they think. I’d better “git while the gittin’s good,” as Grandma always told me when I would “lollygag” around (another of her words) because I was putting off doing some chore I didn’t want to do in the first place. Catch you later, Journal (or whoever it is I’m writing to).
Journal Entry: Friday, October 25
Long time no journal entry. It’s been a wild couple of weeks. A lot has happened, and I’ve just not had the time (or the heart) to relive it all again. But since I’ve started this record, I ought to keep on top of it, I guess; although, I can’t for the life of me think why it’s going to matter or who is ever going to read it.
Okay, let me back up and start with my trip into Norrisville on the Sunday after my birthday. Once my old 10-speed got going, I made good time down the mountain. There was no traffic on the roads, but there were a couple of cars just stopped dead in the road on a couple of streets as I got close to town. One of them was Teddy Pendergast’s Honda. Teddy is the high-school kid who delivers the Asheville Citizen/Times and the twice-monthly Norrisville News (as if N’ville ever has any real news).
I stopped and checked out the Honda. Keys were in the ignition, papers rolled and bagged. Looked like the car had just stopped dead. No sign of Teddy anywhere, except one weird thing; there was a rolled-up, bagged paper in the driver’s seat. The driver’s-side door wasn’t completely shut. It looked Iike Teddy might have been about to open the door when whatever happened occurred. Probably he was already out of the car, and the door didn’t shut completely? I don’t know, but this sure didn’t put my mind at ease.
I rolled into town around 8:30, quarter to 9, best as I can guess. Downtown looked a little more quiet than usual, but not too much, because downtown N’ville is slow and always half empty anytime; so I headed to Nan’s Kitchen first to see if any of the regular old codgers were there eating breakfast.
Nan’s opens early, and the old guys – the regulars – are always there the minute Eva opens the door. There’s a regular crew of the retired brigade who spend at least the first 3-4 hours of the day sitting in the back at their table. These old guys know everything there is to know that goes on around town. A couple of times a month, Grandpa would drive into town to join them. I guess he was an honorary geezer. Most people think old ladies are big gossips, but the OG (old geezer) brigade is worse. I mean no disrespect to them. They are (were?) a solid, salt-of-the-earth lot.
Usually, you would find Joe Cummings, the town barber – and I mean the old-fashioned barber: swivel chair, striped barber pole, and hot towel and shave – the whole 9 yards. Think Floyd of Mayberry. Then there was Clyde Norris, a retired cop – gruff, sharp as a tack, but honest as the day is long; Mike Harper, my buddy Jack’s grandpa who owns Mike’s General Store – a real old-fashioned country store that carries everything from produce to a small selection of clothing (mostly jeans, overalls, shirts and such), sporting goods, fishing tackle, ammo, kitchen and camping gear and such. You name it and Mike’s has probably got it, and a bit of everything else. Walking into Mike’s is like stepping into a time machine. Also, there’s Amos Brazele, who has a small farm just outside of town. A lot of Mike’s produce comes from Amos’ farm. This was the OG brigade.
Sorry, I guess I’m running rabbit trails again. Get back on the road, Bobby.
Anyway, I headed for Nan’s first to see if what I thought had happened really had. If N’ville was okay, then I was ready even for some of Eva’s congealed grits and soggy bacon. Mostly though, I wanted to see what the OG’s might have to say. Nan’s was open, but only Eva and Clyde were in there.
Clyde was sitting at the counter just staring into a cup of instant coffee. None of the other OG’s were anywhere around. There was no power on either. Apparently N’ville was just as dead as my place. Eva was sitting in the front booth smoking a cigarette (completely out of the ordinary since there’s a big NO SMOKING sign on the front door. But I guess if the apocalypse has come, what difference does it make now whether she smokes inside or not?).
Eva, too, was drinking a cup of instant coffee that was so full of milk, it looked khaki. Eva runs Nan’s Kitchen. Nan was Eva’s great aunt who owned the diner that bore her name from 1964 until her death in 1996. Eva is no spring chicken herself, and she’s certainly no great cook, but she is kindhearted, a hard worker, and honest. Even though she, like Clyde, comes off as gruff, inside she has a soft spot for kids who need a place to start a resume. Many a kid in N’ville got their first work experience taking orders, bussing tables, or washing dishes for Eva – including me. Eva glanced up at me when I came in and announced in her loud mountain brogue,
“Hey Bobby. Can’t cook ya no food, par’s been out since Thursdey. I ken fix ya a cup o’ instant iff’n ya want that. I got water heatin’ on a kerosene heater in back. I ken do that much fer ya.”
“Thanks Eva; that’d be nice if you don’t mind,” I replied, taking a bar stool next to Clyde.
“Aw, ain’t no trouble, Bobby. This place been deader’n a morgue the pass few days. Tha whole town’s a morgue,” Eva replied glumly as she stubbed out her cigarette and heaved her considerable bulk out of the booth.
“So, what’s up, Clyde?” I asked as I seated myself on the stool, propping my arms on the counter. “Where is everybody?”
Clyde looked up at me with a strange little half smile and said, “Well ain’t that the sixty-five-million-dollar question?”
“What do you mean?” I asked Clyde as Eva set a steaming mug of instant coffee on the counter in front of me. I hate instant coffee but Eva had done a good job with this one. The coffee was black, hot, strong, and good.
“I don’t guess you’d know much, being up there on Yellow Top an all,” Clyde responded, taking another sip of his coffee. “Just what do you know? Anythin’ happening up on Yellow Top? Or I guess the better question might be what ain’t happenin’, since I seen you come ridin’ into town on yer two-wheeler instead of drivin’ in that behemoth Lincoln you usually drive? Noticed you ain’t drivin’ Clayt’s old van you deliver furniture in either,” Clyde said, squinting at me.
His gaze made me feel a little uneasy. Clyde’s piercing “Clint squint” as we all called it (when he squinches his eyes like that, he looks a lot like Clint Eastwood in all those spaghetti westerns). Anyway, his squint and his odd, almost interrogation made me feel slightly guilty.
“It’s not against the law to ride a bike, Clyde,” I said, a little defensively. His steady gaze was piercing and a bit unnerving, and I was already a bit strung up.
“No ’tain’t, and don’t go gettin’ ya dander up. I just was wonderin’ iff’n you was havin’ the same problems on the mountain that we’re havin’ here. Seems ya are.” he replied mildly.
Somewhat mollified, I relaxed and said, “Let me guess; the whole town’s without power, cars won’t start, and electronics won’t work; am I right?”
“Right as rain, but that ain’t all,” Clyde said, cryptically finishing up his coffee.
“What do you mean ‘that ain’t all?'” I asked.
“Bobby, they’s sumpin’ downright strange goin on,” Eva said, leaning over the counter from her side.
Clyde held up his hand to silence Eva, and I thought he looked just like he did when he pulled traffic duty at the school. I was beginning to feel disjointed – like I’d walked onto a set of The Twilight Zone.
“What me and Eva mean is that there’s somethin’ more than just the power being out and the cars not runnin’. Tell me, what did you notice when you came into town?” Clyde asked me.
“Well, the town seems a little more quiet than usual; not much activity,” I said. “I saw Teddy Pendergast’s car stopped in the road on Brooks Lane and a couple of other cars stalled – one on Ruhamah Road and another on Old Mill Road, but….” I paused, wondering where he was going with this.
“Yup. I seen ’em too. Think there might been an EMP. Is that what you been thinkin’?” asked Clyde, smiling slightly.
“Yep; that’s my guess,” I replied, remembering again that despite his mountain brogue and his Wyatt Earp look, his mind was sharp, keen, and missed very little. That’s what made him a good cop.
Clyde laughed a bit, making me feel a little embarrassed.
“What? Did you think I didn’t know nothin’ about EMPs?” he said genially. “Well, I do. And, yeah, as a matter of fact, I do think that’s what’s wrong with the cars, the power and stuff, but the power and such ain’t all that’s gone. What day is it today, Bobby?” Clyde asked.
“It’s Sunday, and what do you mean by ‘that ain’t all that’s gone’?” I asked a trifle shortly. I was getting irritated, both with the old Colombo routine, and because I couldn’t figure out where he was going with all this interrogation; because an interrogation was what it was. Still I didn’t think I was the culprit being questioned. Clyde was leading me up to something that I ought to have noticed, but missed. That Twilight Zone feeling was getting stronger.
“That’s right. And where are most of the good people of Norrisville on Sundays?” Clyde asked patiently.
“At church, I guess, but not this early,” I said, completely lost as to the point he was trying to make.
“That’s right. It is a bit early for church to be startin’, but I want you to find out what I’m getting at yerself. You likely wouldn’t believe me iff’n I told you flat out. What I want you to do, Bobby,” said Clyde, leaning in towards me and fixing me with his gray, steel-eyed gaze, “is this: I want you to get on yer bike and ride around town. I want you to ride by all three churches, ride down the streets of ya buddies’ houses; just ride the town. Then come back and meet me at MIKE’S when you get done. Mike’ll fix us up some lunch and we’ll talk.”
I brought some pb&j’s with me,” I said stupidly, interrupting him.
“That’s good. Mike’ll have some other stuff to add to ’em. You go ride and see what you see.” He paused again; then, more intently, Clyde said, holding me with that unblinking stare, “and more important, what you don’t see.”
With that enigmatic remark, Clyde got up, put a dollar on the counter, and left. Eva shook her head but would say no more either. She went back to the first booth, lit up another cigarette, and stared out the window at the changing colors of the maple trees that line Main Street Norrisville. I offered Eva a dollar, too, as I was leaving, but she waved it away. I went out, got on my bike, and began to ride through the little town I grew up in.
Journal Entry: same day, October 25 continued
Sorry, had to take a break for a bit. Mitch, Trail and me have been cooking some mountain trout we caught earlier over the fire pit. Oh wait, I haven’t gotten to the part about how we all got back here to the cabin or what I found out, have I? This chronicling is still unfamiliar and awkward to me, so let me back up and tell what happened from the time I left Nan’s.
After I left the diner, I veered left off Main Street and headed down Highland Road toward Center Street where the oldest Baptist Church in town, Calvary Baptist, is located. Calvary Baptist is a moderately sized building that has the old sanctuary at the back of the church facing Dogwood Lane, and the new sanctuary facing Center Street. The whole thing is off kilter because Center Street isn’t the center of anything, and the “new” sanctuary was built in 1946. In the past, Calvary Baptist boasted a good-sized congregation – about 350 at the height of its glory in the 1970’s, or so I was told. Today, I think of it as the Church of the Almost Dead. That sounds awful, I know, especially since David’s grandad, George Johnson, is the pastor there, and David goes there when he’s not having to work on the weekends, which he usually does.
Preacher Johnson, as he’s called, is a very kind old gentleman whose sermons are anything but gentle. He preaches hard and (to me) long. His sermons are about sin, Hell, and coming judgment. Of course, he does preach a lot about Jesus too. I don’t really know for sure. I only go occasionally. I went a lot when I was little with Grandpa and Grandma. This was their home church. I think the last time I went was to a Christmas program a year or so ago. I went with David since he practically begged me to go with him. The singing was atrocious, but the church had a big dinner before the service; and let me tell you, no one puts on a spread like little old Baptist ladies. The church ladies had also decorated the sanctuary for Christmas with sweet-smelling pine boughs, holly berries, and fresh wreaths handmade by the church ladies, all bedecked with red and green plaid ribbons. The candles, the quiet piano and organ music of Christmas carols was soothing and nostalgic.
I remember Preacher Johnson didn’t give one of his Hellfire and brimstone messages that night, as I was half fearing he would; instead, he talked about how the Manger of Bethlehem led to the cross of Calvary, and the cross led to the empty tomb, and that for those who believed in Jesus, the empty tomb leads to the resurrection and eternal life. I remember that service because I got a peculiar feeling hearing all that. It reminded me of all those Bible passages that Grandpa used to read. I actually found myself with my palms sweating and my heart pounding. I left that night and went home thinking about what all Preacher Johnson had said. I actually didn’t sleep much that night, I felt so peculiar – like I needed to do something. But by morning I felt kinda foolish. I figured it was just the Christmas season, the ambiance of the candlelight and Christmas decorations – and the nostalgia making me feel weird and kinda guilty.
But now after all that’s happened, maybe there was something to it after all. I don’t know. Maybe I need to… think more about what I once heard and knew.
Anyway, the reason I call this particular church the Church of the Almost Dead is that the membership dropped down to no more than 40 or so, and every single one of them, except for David, not a day younger than 65. I kid you not.
As I rode into the gravel-covered parking lot, the whole street felt wrong. There was NO movement anywhere. Most of the houses along this street, Dogwood Lane, Center Street and Bannister Street, are all elderly people, most of them members at Calvary. Suddenly, goose flesh broke out all over my arms, and I got this crawling feeling that something was very wrong. At first, I couldn’t identify what it was that was creeping me out; then I realized what it was. All the cars were still in the driveways of the houses (to be expected if an EMP hit), but in all the houses around, the blinds or curtains were drawn and closed up. There was absolutely NO SIGN of life. The street, the whole area, felt like the morgue Eva had said the town was. It was eerie.
In the church parking lot, there were no cars at all. This too was odd because I judged the time to be close to 10:00 a.m. which would be Sunday-School time. One thing you can say about old people is that, not only are they punctual, they are usually early. My grandparents always were. But there was no one anywhere around (shades of the Twilight Zone again), and my heart beat a little faster.
I started up to the door of the parsonage. I hesitated because I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture from Preacher Johnson about my total neglect of church attendance – especially since my grandparents were regulars all their lives. Grandma sang in the choir, and Grandpa was a deacon or elder or something. Still, I thought, Preacher Johnson is elderly and alone since his wife died; I probably ought to check in on him.
Steeling myself for a rebuke, I knocked on the door. No answer.
Maybe he’s in the church already. He’s probably half deaf; he sure yells when he gets going in the pulpit.
I went to every door to the house, and the church. All doors and windows in both were locked up tight. The preacher’s car was in the driveway though, and his windows had all the curtains drawn. Another disquieting thing.
What if the old guy is hurt or dead? Should I break a window and check on him? If my cell phone worked, I’d call Clyde or Sheriff Porter. I can’t just leave though. If I break in and he’s okay, or just running late, or if church was called off today or something, I can just see Clyde looking at me through a cell door at the jail, saying, “Dang Bobby, I just told you to ride around and LOOK, not to go breakin’ into churches and preachers’ houses!”
Yeah, that’d be my luck alright – to get busted for breaking and entering and maybe giving an old man a heart attack. Still, what if he’s already had one or is having a heart attack or stroke or something right now?
I decided I had to do something; so, feeling like a criminal, I took out my debit card and decided to try the church first. I’d already noticed the locks weren’t all that great, so I slipped my card in-between the lock and the jamb, and sure enough, the door popped open pretty as you please.
I must have a knack for this, I thought as I began to laugh a bit hysterically. If the world is going to hell, I’ll just become a professional burglar.
That not-quite-right laugh tried to slip out again, but I sobered up fast, worrying about what I might find. I found…NOTHING. Feeling a little bolder, I went back to the parsonage. I banged on every door and window, yelling loud so that if Preacher Johnson was in there and hurt, he’d know I was coming in to help, not to do him harm.
The locks on the parsonage were a lot better than the ones on the Church, so I had to actually break a window pane. Yelling as I entered, I searched every single room, and found again – nothing. I left a note on a whiteboard that was hanging on a wall in the kitchen, telling the Preacher who I was, why I’d broken in, and that I’d pay for the damaged window. I found a cardboard box and some duct tape and fixed the window as best as I could. Fortunately, the kitchen window I had broken was in the back of the house and not noticeable from the street. I left and then went to knock on other doors. I didn’t break into any other houses though. After knocking on doors and windows all over the neighborhood for the better part of an hour – 30 or so houses in a three-street radius around the church – I stopped.
There was NO ONE answering the door in any of them. Not one soul.
I climbed on my bike, and this time as I rode towards Briarwood where Mitch and Trail lived, I paid more attention. There WERE some houses where the curtains were open or where smoke was coming from chimneys, but not very many. There would be a cluster of houses that looked occupied, and there were more in the newer sections of Briarwood. In a few of them, I could hear muffled voices. The electronic interferences of TVs, cell phones, and other such devices was absent, so I guess sound carried better or something. But I couldn’t make out anything anyone was saying. I passed one house where it sounded like a young woman was weeping long, hard sobs that tore at the heart to hear; but more often than not, the houses were quiet, closed in and looking – deserted.
I peddled on, hoping with all my heart that I’d find Mitch and Trail at their homes. Mitch lived in a neat little Cape Cod on Briarwood Lane. Trail lived with his mother on the next street over, on Wildberry Circle. Trail’s mom had had a small stroke about nine months back. It hadn’t affected her speech or anything, but Trail moved back in to help out with the house and to keep an eye on her since his Daddy was dead. Trail’s mom, who we all called Mama Bertie or Mama B, was as big as Trail and just as kindhearted as her son. (Mama B smiles with her whole face. She’s always been “mama” to all us boys. In fact, Mama Bertie is who I named Bertha, my old Lincoln, after; and didn’t Mama B laugh at that! She said that Lincoln was as big and fine and as WIDE as she was and that both of them could get whatever job needed doing done, “and do it with style,” she said. She was pleased as punch over that homage.)
As it turned out, Mitch wasn’t at his house, which gave me a bad turn at first, but I found them both at Trail’s. My joy at seeing them was short-lived though, because both of them looked shaken and subdued – especially Trail. His eyes were red-rimmed as if he’d been crying, and my heart squeezed as finally I asked, “Trail, is something wrong with Mama?”
Shaking his great head and then putting his big hands on my shoulders, my best buddy since childhood looked me in the eyes and said, “Bobby, Mama’s gone.”
I felt my heart flutter in my chest as Trail pointed to Mama Bertie’s recliner and told me to sit. I hesitated, and he smiled gently, saying, “It’s okay, Bobby. Mama won’t mind one bit.”
Looking from Trail to Mitch, I managed to croak, “What happened? When? Does Gray’s (N’ville’s only funeral home) have her body?”
Shaking his head, Trail said, “Bobby, Mama’s not at the funeral home.”
“She’s still here?” I asked, shocked and worried.
“No, Bobby, stop and think. Nothing’s running; no cars, no ambulances – no nothing.” said Trail patiently.
“Oh, right, yeah. Sorry, it’s just that I don’t understand. Did she have another stroke or maybe get scared or confused and wander off somewhere? And if that’s what happened, why aren’t y’all out looking for her?” I asked, feeling more and more like I was in some nightmare.
“Mama’s not dead, and she hasn’t wandered off. That I know,” Trail answered quietly.
I looked at Mitch, asking with my eyes, What is going on? Is he okay?
Mitch shrugged and shook his head, saying nothing.
“Then what is going on here? What’s going on everywhere? Have we been sucked into another dimension, or DID I fall and hit my head, and now I’m lying on the floor of the shop in a coma dreaming all this? Maybe I’m still asleep, or maybe there was something wrong with the vegetable in that soup I made and it was bad, and now I’m having hallucinations, or maybe I’m in some hospital in Asheville or – WHAT? What do you mean ‘Mama’s gone‘? Gone where?”
I realized I was nearly shouting, and made myself calm down. I held my hands palms out in front of my face, taking a deep sigh. “Look, please just tell me what’s going on. Has the world gone berserk, or have I?” I nearly pleaded.
“Chill, Bobby,” said Trail. “I’ll tell you what I know. Mama’s not dead; she’s gone – vanished.”
“She’s WHAT?” I yelled.
“Ice out, Bobby, and hush for a bit so I can explain. Mama didn’t have a medical episode. She didn’t wander off, and she wasn’t kidnapped – nothing like that,” answered Trail; but he had the oddest look on his face – something between awe and fear, and what? – joy?? I was becoming more concerned by the minute.
Again, I looked at Mitch, who sighed and said, “Bobby, it’s Trail’s story to tell. Let him tell it in his own way.”
“Does this have anything to do with the EMP that happened some time Wednesday night?” I asked, more calmly than before.
“Yes and no,” Trail said, holding up his hands, as he saw I was getting ready to, I don’t know, yell or something.
“Bobby, I’m not trying to be evasive or jerk you around; I’m just trying to tell you as best I can what I know, and what else I think I know. See, I don’t think this was an EMP, or at least not just an EMP. I think, I’m almost sure, that what happened is not an EMP, but something much bigger.”
(To be continued)