Seven: Chapters 5–6 :: By Alice Childs

Chapter 5

Same journal entry: Friday, October 25 – recollections of Terrell Tyler, Mitchell Graham and Bobby Thorpe


“Let me go back,” Trail said, “to late Wednesday night, early Thursday morning.

“I had just gotten off shift at midnight. I was tired, but not overly so. Even though I kept telling her not to, Mama most always waited up for me when I worked the three-to-twelve shifts. She liked making me something to eat when I’d get off and then sit with me, hearing about my day while I ate. So, Wednesday night I got home around 12:30-12:40 or so, and Mama was up just as I figured she’d be,” Trail said, his lead lowered, a small smile playing around his mouth.

“She decided that I looked hungry,” laughed Trail. Mitch and I both smiled too because that’s exactly what Mama B would say about all of us whenever we’d come over. “You boys look hungry! Git on in here an’ let me scrounge sumpin up,” she’d say as she waded into the kitchen, shooing us out. Mama Bertie’s ‘scrounged up’ meals were more like full spreads, complete with either hot homemade biscuits or fresh-baked cornbread baked in her old cast-iron skillet.

“Anyway,” Trail continued, “it hadn’t been too rough a day. We weren’t too busy. We had an addict who’d OD’d in downtown Iverson. He was lying on the sidewalk almost in front of your dad’s old bank, Bobby. It could have been bad if we’d gotten there a minute or two later. As it was, he was barely breathing and his vitals were just about non-existent. But we gave him a shot of Narcan and he responded immediately. Brought him right around. Amazing stuff, Narcan. Dan Turner from Iverson PD was there to escort him to jail after the guy refused any further medical aid.

“The only other incident that happened that afternoon was a rear-ender at the 4-way intersection of Ridgeland Road and Mountain Laurel Road. A young mother with three little ones was rear-ended while she was stopped and waiting for her turn to go through the intersection.

“Tommy Anderson worked that wreck. He called us out to check the mom over since she was kinda out of it at first and said she felt sick after smacking her head into the steering wheel. Tommy said it looked like maybe her seat belt didn’t lock on impact, but of course he couldn’t be sure about that; he said they were all belted in when he got there, and the mother seemed like she wasn’t thinking straight for the first minute or so. Frank and I got the call and checked her and the kids out. I thought the mom might be slightly concussed, so I assessed her and decided she needed to be checked out at the ER.

“The kids seemed to be fine. They were sweet as could be, but shook up by the hit and worried about their mama, naturally. The older two were twins – a boy and girl, looked to be about 6 or 7, and the youngest was a little boy about 3 or 4. I looked them over good, but I was confident that they were alright. It was the mom I was concerned about, but I decided that all four of them should be checked out. The driver of the other car said he was fine and refused for us to check him over. Tommy told me it appeared that the guy was uninsured. Wonderful. What a mess this is going to be for her, I thought.

“The kids were naturally scared and worried about their mom. All three were crying as we loaded her into the ambulance, but Tommy’s really good with scared kids. He told them that there wasn’t room in the ambulance for them to ride with her, but that they could ride in his patrol car. He told them he’d follow us all the way to the hospital where they could see their mom, just as soon as he moved the van to the side of the road and set some traffic cones around. They began to settle down a bit and were even grinning when Tommy told them they could each hit the siren for just a second before they left. That went a long way towards calming them down. Then he went back to the trunk of his car and got each one of them a small stuffed animal to hold. He keeps a bag of those in the trunk for times like this when scared, injured, or traumatized kids need something comforting to hold on to.

“So Frank and I got the mother loaded into the ambulance and calmed her down. I told her that her little ones were fine but that we’d have the docs at the ER check them over too just to be sure. She thanked me, and as Frank turned on the lights and pulled out, I heard her praying softly. She was thanking her “Heavenly Father” for keeping them all safe.

“We headed out – lights but no siren, toward Iverson Baptist Hospital as Tommy followed us in his squad car with the little ones. After we got them all deposited at Iverson Baptist, as we were leaving, I glanced back and saw Tommy and the mother of the kids, both of them with heads bowed and saying a short prayer together as she thanked God and Tommy for taking care of her babies. I knew Tommy needed to be headed back to the accident site to wait for the wrecker. He’d already put out traffic cones, so I knew he’d have to hurry back. Still he took the time to say a quick prayer with that mother. That’s Tommy. The mother thanked me too before I left, very appreciatively, but I didn’t offer to pray with her. I smiled because I knew Tommy was a Christian, and apparently, she was too. Both shared a bond even though they’d never met before.

“I’ve been thinking about that last call a lot. I’m certain that that mother, her kids, and Tommy aren’t here anymore either. Yep, I’d bet the farm, if I had one, that they’ve all gone missing too,” Trail said with a sad smile.

“What do you me… ” I interrupted, but Trail held up his hand to silence me.

“Let me get there my own way, Bobby. It all ties together, but let me get there on my own.”

I was agitated and more than a bit irritated with Trail. I thought he was going around the world to get to the point about what happened to Mama B. I didn’t want to hear about people I didn’t know, and honestly, his seeming nonchalance about Mama’s whereabouts was really getting under my skin. Still, I also knew that Trail loved his mother more than anyone else in the world. He would have been tearing this town apart if he thought somebody had taken her or if he’d thought she had wandered off; so all I could do was try to be patient and see where all this was going, although I sure wished he’d get from point A to point B in a straight line. “Okay,” I said; “go on.”

“Anyway,” Trail resumed, “those two events were the only calls we had Wednesday afternoon, so when I got home after midnight, I wasn’t too tired. As I said, Mama was up and wanted to fix me a ‘little sumpin’ to eat, so she mixed up a pan of biscuits, scrambled me some eggs, and fried me up a few rashers of bacon and brewed a fresh pot of decaf. As I ate, she cleaned up the pans, bowls, and wiped down the bread board, and then she sat down at the table to talk with me while I ate. I was telling her just what I told you about the mother and the children, and about how Tommy Anderson and the mom had been praying together and talking about God and grace and such. I told her that Tommy was going to get in trouble one day for doing that.

“She told me, “Terry, Tommy and that mother and her children are more of a family than even you an’ me are. Seems clear to me they’re all part of God’s family. In fact, that sweet little mother and her babies is family with me too. I wish and pray with all my heart that you would become part of that family too, son. It’s what my heart longs for most in all the world,” she said, reaching out and taking my hand.

“Mama, please don’t start up about that believing in Jesus stuff again. I know it means a lot to you, and one day I probably will, but not tonight. Now that you’ve fed me and taken such good care of me, I’m tired and I just want to get to bed. Thank you for the biscuits and eggs. I’m going to hit the sack,” I told her, getting up to put my plate and stuff in the sink. “Don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll wash up the rest of the stuff and put it away, Mama.” I said, “You go on to bed – and thank you. I love you, Mama.”

She came around the table and hugged me, looking me full on, and said, “Terry, you’re my baby, the only child God gave me, and I love you with everthin’ that’s in me. But son, you can’t keep puttin’ off makin’ your heart right with God. Times runnin’ out, baby. I’ve told you all your life about eternity an’ about how important salvation is.

“Son, at any moment we can draw our last breath. At any moment our hearts can beat for that final time. You, of all people, understand how fragile the ties are that bind us to this life. After that last breath is drawn and that last heartbeat stops, it’s too late then to do what you should have done when you could. After death, whatever choice you made in life regarding God’s offer of salvation is set for all eternity. And then there’s the rapture. Son, how I wish with all that’s in me that you’d believe and be saved right now. Time’s running out, Terry; I feel that in my very bones. Beyond that, God’s word tells us about how things are gon’ be in the times leadin’ up to Jesus comin’ back to git His bride – all those who believe in Him and who are part of the family of God – like me, and like Tommy, and like that precious little mother and her babies.

“Son, only those who have been saved can be part of God’s family, and even though you’re my son, my flesh and blood son that I gave birth to, those other people – all believers in Jesus, are part of a family that you ain’t part of because you don’t think you need salvation.

“Terry, one reason I waited up tonight was because I felt like I needed to tell you somethin’. It’s been layin’ hard on my heart like a stone for a long time, but the weight’s been ‘specially heavy today. What you need to understand, Terry, is this: time’s runnin’ out! Jesus is comin’ soon, son. I don’t know when, but I do know it’s soon. I don’t want you to be left behind when He comes to git His family – what the Bible calls His body – His bride. I want all my boys – you, and Bobby and Mitch and Jack – to get saved now. Now, Davy, I don’t worry ’bout him. He’s already in the family of God. He’s ready for the rapture or for death if it should come for him first, praise God. But I want you and all my boys to be ready too so’s y’all can all go with me when Jesus comes callin’ for us – if the rapture happens before I die.

“Will you let me tell you one more time about how to be saved? Please, son? I know you’re tired and all, so I won’t take long; I promise. Besides, you already know what to do; you just don’t think you need to. That scares me more’n anything. Please, son?”

“Bobby, Mitch,” Trail said, huge tears making glistening twin tracks that slid down his dark brown face, “those words will haunt me till the day I die, even though I’m 1000% positive now that I’ll be seeing Mama again soon. But, oh, if I’d only listened before! I glanced at the clock as Mama hugged me and kissed my cheek. I noticed that it was 2:47 AM.

“I kissed her cheek and hugged her, telling her we’d talk tomorrow, buying myself some more time, I thought, like a dang fool. As it turns out, my time, at least my chance to go with her, was up. See y’all, as I was hugging her and glancing at the clock, my time to be ready to go with her – with all the believers as she always called the real Christians – finally ran out. At 2:47 AM Thursday, October 3rd, as I was hugging my Mama goodnight, she just vanished right outta my arms. One second she was there hugging me, and the next second, quicker than I could blink, she was gone. Just gone. Right outta my arms.”


I sat there stunned. I looked over at Mitch who had obviously already heard this. Still, Mitch’s face was pale, and he too looked haunted. I wondered if my own face looked the same as his. Mitch didn’t say anything, and neither did I. I looked back at Trail to see what he’d say next. I wasn’t sure what I thought or what I believed, but long-forgotten memories were beginning to stir in the dark corners of my mind, memories that I thought I had neatly buried away because they made me uncomfortable. I thought I’d buried these troubling thoughts when I buried Grandma and Grandpa; but, dang, here they were again, crawling out of some dark cobwebby corners in the attic of my mind, stirring back to life – resurrected, you might say, from the grave of my past…

“Bobby, son, I want to warn you about what’s coming. Unless you get saved, son, bad – evil times are comin’, an’ ain’t none of us guaranteed the next five minutes of life anyway. Life is uncertain, but death for most of us and eternity for all of us are sure things. There’s this life, an’ then there’s eternity. Bobby, there ain’t no such thing as a good person. We’re all vile and guilty sinners next to God’s holiness. Even though most of us do good things and try to be good, being good ain’t the same thing as being righteous. We’re still sinners who need a Savior.

“See, against God’s perfect holiness, the very best we can give looks like filthy rags next to God’s righteousness. Mankind is infected with sin. That’s why all men need a Savior. You need to be considerin’ eternity son, an’ iff’n the rapture happens while yo’re still livin’, then if you ain’t saved afore it happens, then, son, what’s comin’ will be worse than you can ever imagine. Please, Bobby, hark to what I’m tellin’ ya. I love ya an I want ta reach you like I wadn’t able ta do with yer dad.” 

More memories of Grandpa’s Bible-reading and little talks we’d have while fishing, or doing chores, or Grandma’s gentle instructions began to awaken, filling my conscious mind with conversations long buried but apparently not really forgotten; conversations that made me uncomfortable then, and remembering them now, were making me feel even more uncomfortable – and what? Guilty? I mentally shook my head, trying to shake off those old memories like a dog shakes water off his back. I came back to the present, waiting for Trail to finish.

“I know Mama knows now that I’ll be joining her one day soon,” Trail said, smiling and crying at the same time. “But y’all, it tears my heart out that the last words Mama heard me say was putting her off yet again and telling her ‘We’ll talk tomorrow, Mama,’ and me knowing that I would almost certainly try to arrange to be too busy to have that little talk with her; knowing in my heart that I’d try to avoid sitting down with her to listen to her pour out her heart about her worry over her only son. But see, when tomorrow came, Mama was safe in Heaven, and I was left here – just like y’all are left here.

“I’m telling you, I know where Mama is. I know who from around here is most likely with her. I feel sure that little family in the fender-bender is with her as is Tommy Anderson and David, and well, likely a whole lot more people from town. They’re the ones who are safe now. It’s us – those of us who’ve been left here that need to worry.

“See, I’ve been reading Mama’s old Bible. She had marked certain passages in the flyleaf of both covers. In the front, she listed a heading called SALVATION. Under that heading, she’d listed all the verses about salvation. Then she made another heading she titled THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH. Under that heading, she wrote down the passages pertaining to what she called the rapture. Then she made one last list: AFTER THE RAPTURE – THE TRIBULATION. Beneath that heading, she listed passages pertaining to the nation of Israel, and to a seven-year time period she called The Tribulation. I’ve learned since that this seven-year time period goes by other names as well in scripture, but I’ll tell y’all about that later.

“Y’all need to listen up and don’t continue to be the fools we’ve all been up to now. I need to tell y’all what I’ve learned so far. There’s still a lot I don’t know, but I’m going to learn, and y’all better too because if what I’m learning about is true, and obviously it is – the Bible’s sure been right about the vanishing of true believers – then we are about to enter a time unlike any that’s ever been in history. Guys, what’s coming, according to the Bible, is going to be worse than anything we can even imagine.

“Ever since Thursday morning, I’ve been holed up here reading every single verse Mama left in the flyleaf of her Bible. In fact, I’ve read even more. I’ve been reading and cross-referencing stuff and marking passages on my own. I finally did what I should have done long ago: I believed and accepted that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I’m part of God’s family now, but I missed my chance to be part of His Church. If I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid, I coulda been, and then I’d have gone with Mama when Jesus called her up,” Trail sad sadly.

All this religious talk was making me extremely uncomfortable. I could tell Mitch was feeling the same way, but we didn’t butt in. We let Trail continue to talk.

“Early this morning just after sun-up, Mitch showed up, and I told him just what I’ve told you,” Trail resumed. “He said he wanted to wait to tell me his story, so I’ve not heard what he has to say yet. And that’s it for me,” Trail said quietly, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Okay Mitch-man, whenever you are ready. You too, Bobby.”


Before Mitch began, I told him and Trail about meeting Clyde at Nan’s and his telling me to ride through town. As I told them what I’d found, Trail’s head was bobbing up and down like one of those bobble- head things some people stick on the dashboards of their cars. Mitch was very quiet; and as I was telling him about all the seemingly empty houses, he looked more and more shaken. I told them that Clyde wanted me to ride back into town and meet him at Mike’s Store when I got finished with my exploration of the town. By now it was already edging close to 2 in the afternoon, judging by the sun. I asked the guys if they wanted to ride into town with me. I already knew I wasn’t going to make it back up the mountain today, but I wasn’t worried because I knew I could crash with either Mitch or Trail.

“Trail, I know you have that bike with the big tires on it,” I said grinning. “Is it in good shape?” I asked him. Trail is a big guy who needs a big bike. Earlier this summer we finally talked him into getting a good, reliable bike big enough to hold his 6’3″ frame and his weight so we could all bike some of the trails on my land or on the national forestry land that abuts my ten acres. He found a good one at a sporting goods store in Asheville. It’s has an extra-sturdy frame with extra-big tires made to carry a 300 lb. person. It cost him a good chunk of change, but, man, it’s a beauty. I, of course, have my old 10-speed which looks like a dog but is still in really good shape. Mitch’s bike was about done for, so I wasn’t sure his’d be able to make the trek into town. I said as much to Mitch.

“Mine’s in good running order,” Trail said.

“Well, my old Schwinn won’t make the trip, not even around town,” said Mitch, “but I’ve got an idea. My bike will get me to David’s house – I think, if y’all don’t go too fast. I want to go by there anyway just to make sure he’s not there, even though I’m nearly positive he’s not after what you’ve both said. Trail, I don’t know what to think about what you’ve told us, but let me just say that I’m almost positive Mom and Dad are gone too, although what that means and what the explanation for all of this is, I’m not ready to say. IF all of this is somehow related to religion…”

“Not religion, Mitch, Christianity – the Bible,” interjected Trail, seriously.

“Whatever, Trail,” replied Mitch, a trifle impatiently. “That’s one of the things we need to determine – what are the factors that link this event? Who exactly are among the missing, and what is the common denominator for those who were and weren’t taken? What about that EMP? Also, I want to know about the children.”

“Trail, you mentioned children too; why?” I asked. “What makes you think the children are among the missing? What ages? Why children? What about teenagers?” I was asking questions rapidly. I hadn’t noticed that the town seemed to be devoid of children as well. I was beginning to realize that I’d make a lousy detective.

I don’t know for sure,” said Mitch. “But the town seems to be empty of them – at least Briarwood is, and there are several families on my street alone who have kids. I’ve seen several sets of parents going door to door asking if anyone has seen their kids – and some houses where I know there are kids, everyone is missing. It’s kinda like a patchwork quilt.” Mitch’s brows were deeply furrowed in puzzlement. “IF there’s a connection to what all these people believed or to the Bible, or church or something, then that’s something we need to establish, if possible.

“You both know my parents didn’t go to Calvary Baptist anymore. They went to that new community church; what’s it called?” asked Mitch, looking at Trail and me.

“New Hope Community Church,” replied Trail.

“Yes, that’s it. They weren’t entirely thrilled there, but they went. I don’t think they wanted to go to the – what did you call it, Bobby – Church of the Almost Dead?” Mitch asked, grinning. I nodded.

“Anyway, they’d been visiting this new one for about a year since the only other alternative was a tiny Kingdom Hall where Norrisville’s tiny population of Jehovah’s Witnesses gather. There couldn’t be more than 75 of them, if that many.

“Bobby, did you ride by the other two churches – New Hope and the Kingdom Hall to see if either of them were open?” asked Mitch.

“No, I didn’t; sorry. After finding the Church of the Almost Dead, well, dead so to speak, it spooked me so bad all I wanted to do was find y’all and talk to Mama,” I replied to Mitch.

“That’s okay. We can ride by both on our way into town. I don’t think the KH has services until the evenings anyway, and we’ll see what, if anything, is going on at New Hope. Probably the KH won’t be meeting with no power on. But first I want to go by David’s. My bike will go that far, I think. And if David’s not there, as both of us think he won’t be,” Mitch said, turning to Trail, “then I’ll grab his mountain bike and ride into town with you both.”

“Guys, David might be there, or he might be coming back. Maybe he’s checking out the town on foot, or maybe he’s on his bike and we’ve just not seen him,” I said.

“No, he’s not Bobby. I have a key to his place. I keep an eye on things for him when he’s up in the hills at the ranger station working or out hiking or whatever. I haven’t been by there yet, but I know he was home Wednesday night because I talked to him around 10 PM. He was going to be off from Thursday through the rest of the weekend. He said he was planning to work around in his yard Thursday and Friday raking leaves and cleaning gutters on the house and such, then meet up with us all at the Mellow Onion Friday evening for your birthday. Then he said he was planning on going into Asheville on Saturday. Wednesday night when I talked to him, he said he was already headed to bed since he’d had a long day. He said he was beat and he’d see us all at the Mellow O on Friday. If David was here, he’d have already been by either my house or Trail’s,” said Mitch.

“Anyway, Friday morning after the power still hadn’t come back on, and my car still wouldn’t start, I walked over to Mom and Dad’s to check on them. I found just what you did, Bobby. Their car was in the driveway, but their curtains were drawn, doors locked, with the place looking deserted. I went inside and everything looked normal. The TV remote was by Dad’s chair; the house was neat. The only odd thing was that their bed was rumpled like they had been asleep, but there was no sign of them anywhere. This was odd, the bed I mean, because Mom always made their bed. It was sorta a family joke,” Mitch said with a smile. “I’d throw mine together in a slap-dash way when I was a teenager living at home, but she always made their bed neatly. She’d no more go out without her bed made than she’d go out without her shoes on,” said Mitch, as his smile faded.

“Also, she’d never leave town without her or Dad trying to get in touch with me or my sister Laurie. If they’d left, she’d have left a note or something. And, obviously, I can’t call Laurie either. I’d sure like to know what’s going on in South Carolina where she and James are,” said Mitch, pensively. “I didn’t go by David’s; I just hung around between home and Mom’s, waiting to see if they came home. Finally, I just came here.”

“Mitch,” Trail asked, “Laurie and James, they were believers, weren’t they?”

“Geeze, Trail, I don’t know!” shouted Mitch, in an uncharacteristically angry outburst. Mitch is one of the most laid-back people I know, but even his equilibrium, I saw, has been knocked off kilter by all this.

“Calm down, buddy,” said Trail, soothingly; “I’m just trying to piece things together.”

“Sorry, Trail. I know you are – we all are. And I know that you think you’ve got this all figured out, but I’m just not sure myself, okay? Look, if what you think and believe makes you feel better – gives you some comfort – then that’s great. I’m just not there with the whole rapture thing, okay? There could be another explanation, you know,” said Mitch, leaning forward and looking intently at Trail.

“Mitch, I’m telling you, Mama DISAPPEARED! I was holding her and she just vanished!” Trail said, his voice beginning to rise as he jumped up from his chair and towered over both of us. He wasn’t angry yet, but he was getting there. I felt that sense of unreality slamming into me again like a big ocean wave that you don’t see coming; one that comes out of nowhere and knocks you flat. If two of the most laid-back people I knew were strung this tight, then I knew things were going to get a whole lot worse if we didn’t find out what’s going on soon.

“Look,” I said, trying to placate both of them; “let’s just take one thing at a time, okay? First, let’s ride over to David’s and see what we find. If he’s not there and if his place is deserted and still locked up like all the other places are, then we’ll take his bike, leave him a note telling him where we’re going, and then head on over to Mike’s to see what Clyde and Big Mike have to say. We’ll grab some stuff to make pb&js or whatever we can find to take with us. Clyde said Mike would feed us and maybe tell us what’s going on, or at least as much as they know. I know Clyde already knew that people – a lot of people in N’ville – have gone missing. That’s what he wanted me to find out on my own, and he was right. I wouldn’t have believed him; wouldn’t have believed the…magnitude…the number of those who are gone if I hadn’t seen it for myself. So let’s load up some grub, go check on David, and then head into town to see what Clyde and Big Mike have to say. We’ll reserve judgment until we get more facts. Agreed?” I asked, looking at both my friends.

“Yeah; Okay,” they both replied.

Trail went into the kitchen and came back out after about 10 minutes with four plastic grocery bags crammed full of stuff. In one were two loaves of bread, an unopened jar of peanut butter and another already opened jar of Skippy still three quarters full. In a second bag, he had three jars of jelly – a jar each of store-bought peach and grape jelly – a pack of paper plates, plastic forks, napkins, and a quart of Mama’s home-canned apple butter. In the third grocery bag, he had three cans of SpaghettiOs, two cans of baked beans, and a couple of cans of canned peaches – the giant-sized ones. The last bag had a plastic tub full of homemade peanut butter cookies, a box of those Little Debbie oatmeal cream-filled cookies, a box of vanilla wafers and about three fourths of a huge pound cake that Mama had baked that Wednesday morning. Mitch and I both looked at those bulging blue plastic bags for a minute, wide-eyed, and then we both burst out laughing. We couldn’t help it.

“Dang, Trail, you’re gonna blow out the tires even on that tractor-size bike of yours if it has to carry you and that laundry-bag-sized pile of food!” Mitch laughed.

“Bobby,” laughed Mitch, “did big Mike tell us to move in with him? Cause that’s the only reason I can think of for Trail to be hauling this load all the way into town!”

“Boys, you each carry a bag, and I’ll carry two. We can’t go in empty-handed, so we are going loaded for bear,” replied Trail, grinning like a hyena.

“You’ve got enough there to FEED a bear!” I said. “Trail, you big dummy; you’d better triple-bag that stuff or it’s not going to hold, and there’ll be busted glass and canned beans all the way into town. You better wrap those glass jars in dish towels or something too,” I told him, laughing.

“Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that,” said Trail, looking around for a better solution. “I know,” he said, snapping his fingers. Coming back a few minutes later, he had with him two gym bags and another bag. Ooooh, heck no, I thought, as I started laughing even harder. This last bag was a huge two-handled bag made out of some quilted material. It looked for all the world to me like what I’d imagine a carpet bag might look, except this one was uglier than sin, as Grandma used to say when something was ugly beyond description. This thing had a bright orange background with these huge, gaudy, pink, yellow and orangish-red flowers all over it. It was, without a doubt, the ugliest thing I have ever seen.

“What is that thing?” I wheezed out, laughing so hard I was crying.

“This, my good buddy, is what you are going to be carrying your part of our provisions in,” winked Trail as he tossed that big ugly thing at me. “Mitch and me get the gym bags,” he said, grinning wickedly.

“Why do I get this butt-ugly thing?” I cried, laughing so hard I could barely stand up. “Besides, Trail, this thing stinks! What is that smell? It’s all over the bag!” I said, trying to throw the ugly thing back.

“This was Mama’s ‘overnightin’ bag as she called it, and the smell is a little bit of old perfume that got spilled in it. A glass bottle cracked and spilled a little inside,” replied Trail, having to hold back his laughter.

“Mama NEVER smelled like this!” I said, laughing. “THIS smells like dead cow patties.”

“Naw, no cow patties, dead or alive. Just some old spilled perfume,” Trail said, plopping that cavernous, stinking thing at my feet.

“Okay, it smells like dead cow patties covered in moldy perfume; now get me a real bag,” I said, laughing hard, but having a sinking suspicion that this wasn’t going to end well for me. I looked over at Mitch for help, but that traitor had fallen back on the couch with his head thrown back, laughing hard, his face red. He was incapable of speech. He just sat there pointing at me.

“No, no, you were right, my quick-thinking friend. Trying to use those grocery bags would have been a disaster. So, here’s the solution: Mitch, you take this bag. Fill it up with the bread and jelly and paper goods and stuff. Here’s some towels; Genius over there was right; we need to wrap them so they don’t break. I’ll take the bigger of these two fine, manly looking bags, and I’ll fill it with all the good STUFF. YOU, my far-sighted good buddy,” Trail said, wickedly shoving that ugly, stinking, flower-covered bag into my hands,” YOU, Bobster, take the canned goods. We can’t have the bread and cookies and stuff smelling like perfumed dead-cow dung, so get to packing boys,” Trail said, smiling, as Mitch just continued to point, his face getting redder.

“Traitors,” I grumbled, as I began packing that monstrosity with all the canned goods I had, plus a few more Trail scrounged up from somewhere.

“Green beans?” I asked, looking at Trail, open-mouthed. “Four cans of green beans? Frenchcut green beans, two ton-sized cans of peaches, and Little Debbie cakes – for real, Trail?” I said, now laughing so hard I tripped over that dang bag, nearly landing on top of Mitch, who was sliding off the couch he was laughing so hard. Mitch and Trail were high-fiving each other as they zipped their normal-looking bags. I packed that ugly, odiferous bag (it smelled worse than cow patties; I decided it smelled like rancid cow patties) and zipped it shut. It held everything. It could have also held the dead dog it smelled like; it still stank.

I was laughing so hard my eyes were watering; and, oh, did that laugh feel good – feel normal. But as we were to soon learn, normal was about to acquire a whole new meaning.