Journal Entry: Friday, April 3, 2020
Norrisville’s first major hit came from one person who came into town. This newcomer, although seemingly healthy, was nevertheless already a very sick man, but was as Sarah and Lilly would say later, asymptomatic (showing no visible symptoms) when he entered town.
Ironically, the man who brought death, Revelation’s rider on the pale horse, into Norrisville was a friend of Trail’s who was himself a fellow healer. Frank O’Rourke, a tall, skinny man of Irish descent in his mid- thirties – the man who before the rapture had been Trail’s EMT partner, came into town on the 13th of February. O’Rourke, a gregarious, outgoing, and compassionate guy, came into N’ville to join Trail and Brent at the clinic. He came bearing a gift for Trail, but he brought something else as well. Unbeknownst to him, Frank also carried within him a microscopic beast in the form of a virus that would take a tremendous toll on the population of Norrisville.
The day Frank O’Rourke came into town was as normal as any we’ve had. Frank, like all newcomers, was sent to the Town Hall to register and to have a wellness check. Trail happened to be on duty at the triage unit that day. It was the protocols that Trail and the nurses had set in place that likely saved Trail’s life. When Frank walked in, Trail was overjoyed to see his friend and fellow medical partner. He was even more thrilled to hear that Frank had come to help out in Norrisville. Trail told me later that he had been so tempted to remove his mask and gloves and just give Frank a big bear hug, welcoming him to N’ville; but thank God, for Trail’s sake, that his professionalism won out over his emotions.
Although we weren’t being overrun with people coming into town, Trail and the girls had set up an exam protocol for each person or group of people entering town. If anyone was obviously ill, feverish, or in any other way appeared obviously ill, as I said, they were escorted out of the town limits and sent back to Iverson or anywhere else that might take them in. Everyone, including Clyde and the other officers or registration committee members, wore masks and gloves now when dealing with newcomers. Clyde balked at this at first, but Trail was insistent; and eventually Clyde capitulated, especially when Sarah begged him to “suit up and do it for her sake.”
For those coming in who were showing no symptoms, Trail had designated six houses in the downtown area that were still empty after the rapture as sort of semi-isolation wards where newcomers lived for a week, staying away from the town itself. These six houses were kept well-stocked with canned food, over the counter medications, and other essentials. At the end of the mandatory seven-day isolation trial, if the newcomers were still without symptoms, then they were given a medical clearance. Then the houses were cleaned, and all bedding washed, disinfected, and made ready for the next occupants. This worked well since we really didn’t have too many coming into Norrisville. The most we’d ever had come to town at one time was nine, with four of those being in the same household. Mostly, people sort of dribbled in and out one or two at a time. Norrisville is out of the way even for out of the way.
The day Frank showed up, Trail followed protocol and kept his mask and gloves on the whole time they talked. Frank looked fine and said he felt fine. Trail took his vitals and checked him over, then explained the town’s quarantine policy, which Frank completely agreed with.
“Terry, even your sorry mug is a sight for sore eyes,” Frank said, not attempting to hug or shake hands.
“Well, my soul, look what the cat dragged in! Things must be a sorry sight for sure if you’re what constitutes help,” Trail said. “Good to see you man! You been in Iverson all this time?” Trail asked.
“I was for a while but then I thought I’d check out Asheville. My sister lived in Asheville, but she was one of the ones who went missing. I didn’t stay in Asheville long though. It was…” Frank paused. “…it was bad there.”
“Do you know what’s really happened, Frank?” asked Trail. “And not what that Draken dude says happened.”
“I know now,” replied Frank. “I know now it was the rapture of the Church. Is that what you mean?”
“Exactly!” said Trail, grinning. “I thought you were a dyed-in-the-wool-not-so-Catholic Catholic. What changed your mind?”
“Reality did, buddy – that and what your mama told me.” Seeing the look of shock and confusion on Trail’s face, Frank continued.
“Terry, do you remember last year when your Mama asked me over to spend Christmas with y’all since my sister and brother in law were on that holiday cruise and I was going to end up being by myself? Well, your Mama took every opportunity she could find to give me the truth, usually when you were out of earshot,” Frank said, shaking his head and smiling.
“I kept remembering all those things your Mama told me. At the time, I was just trying to be polite listening to her; just trying to humor her. But, man, she crammed a lot of Bible info into a few days’ time. She also gave me a Bible as a gift with passages marked about salvation and the rapture. She had given me the lowdown on what she called the ‘end times,’ but at the time, it was all a big muddle of gobbledygook to me. Honestly, I wondered if she was some kind of religious nutcase, but she sure didn’t seem as if she was nuts, and she certainly didn’t cook like she was a nutter. I’ll tell you, Terry, your Mama was a force of nature,” Frank said.
Still smiling and shaking his head, Frank went on.
“She told me not to mention this to you, because, how did she put it? ‘God ain’t finished working on Terry yet. He’s still being a fool, but you listen to me.’ I humored her, but I didn’t believe her. Not then. One of the last things she said to me was this: ‘Frank, if one day a whole passel of people from all over the world suddenly go missing, you remember what I told you. The answers are in there,’ she said tapping her finger on the Bible she had given me. I did remember, Terry, and now I know the truth.”
Trail told me later that he just shook his head, then he told Frank the story of how he came to salvation when his mama vanished right out of his arms.
“So Asheville is as bad as we feared,” Trail said, softly. “And Iverson, how’s it doing?”
“Iverson is in better shape overall than Asheville, but Iverson hospital is really just a waiting room for death. I’d been hearing rumors that a really nasty strain of flu was running rampant in Asheville. Then a few cases have recently popped up in Iverson too. This one looks like it could be bad. These triage protocols you’ve set up here? Keep them up. I stayed in Iverson as long as I could, but…” Here Frank’s voice just petered out.
“Well, buddy, let’s get you settled into your new digs for the week, then we’ll put you to work. It being cold and flu season, me, my two nurses, and the veterinarian who’s helping us out, we’ve all been busier than a one-armed carpenter,” said Trail.
Dipping his gloves into a bowl of bleach solution and drying them off, Trail said, “I gotta stay masked and gloved even taking you to the house – it’s our protocol.”
“It’s a really good idea,” said Frank. “Keep it up. Oh, by the way, I brought you something. You’ll want to wash them good, of course; but before I came, I raided the staff closets at Iverson Baptist and picked up some scrubs for you. I’d have brought supplies too, but there aren’t any. I did go through the closets and looked for scrubs that might fit you. I wasn’t sure what size you might need, so I just grabbed all the ones that were labeled Godzilla size.” Frank handed Trail a laundry bag full of scrubs. “Believe it or not, I actually found 5 sets of surgical scrubs that would fit the Jolly Green Giant,” he said with a laugh, “so you’re in luck, my man.”
After Trail got Frank settled into one of the isolation houses, he took the bag of scrubs by our house and put them and the laundry bag into the washer with some detergent and a bit of bleach. Then, still following the protocols he and the girls had set up, he removed the gloves and mask he’d been wearing and put them into a bio waste container in the clinic. Back at Town Hall, he got another set ready in case someone else came in. No one did.
Trail had told Frank that he’d be in to check on him in a couple of days’ time; but by then, Frank was definitely not well. What Trail didn’t know was that, entering town, Frank had shaken hands with Norm Baker and stopped to chat with Eva King who gave him directions to the Town Hall. He also gave Eva and Norm something more, which they passed on to whomever they came in contact with. Eva went in and browsed some clothes in the RR store and stopped to chat with Karen Parnell. Norm stopped a couple of teenage boys who were arguing in front of the Mellow Mushroom and gave them a talking to and something to do by telling them to grab some shovels and brooms and clean the downtown sidewalks.
That insignificant beginning was all it took. The entire epidemic that did such damage to our town began with a really nice guy who only wanted to help. This is our new reality. Through all this, we have learned that we can prepare as best we can, but the rider on the pale horse eventually rides into even the smallest, most out of the way places.
Still, after all that has happened, I’m so very grateful that Mama B had long ago planted a seed that eventually bore fruit in bringing Frank to salvation. Because of this, more people understand now how tenuous life has become and how much more so it’s going to get.
Same Journal Entry
Three days after Frank O’Rourke had settled into one of the Q-houses, as we called the houses set aside for quarantine, Trail went by to check on him. Frank came to the door with a handkerchief covering his face. Trail said he was obviously ill; pale, dripping sweat and coughing.
“Don’t come any closer, Terry,” Frank said through the closed screen door. “I think I may have contracted whatever it is that’s running through Asheville like a hot knife through butter. It’s in Iverson too, but I thought I’d gotten out before I’d been exposed. I’m so sorry, man. I’d never have shown up here if I had felt even the least bit ill,” he said miserably, and turned his head to cough into his handkerchief.
“It’s alright, Frank,” said Trail. “Hold on buddy; we’ll get you to the clinic to check you out.”
“No!” said Frank, “I’ll stay here. You can’t risk letting me into the clinic. And Terry,” he said, “gown up if you can and double-mask or use face shields if you’ve got them. If this is what I think it is, it’s not just the run-of-the-mill flu.”
Looking at Trail from red-rimmed, haunted eyes, Frank continued. “Terry, do whatever you can to warn people. What I didn’t tell you is that the death rate from whatever strain of flu this is, is extraordinarily high.”
“Sure thing, Frank. Now try not to worry too much, okay? We’ll try to get this all sorted out. Listen, if you think you’ll be alright for about an hour or so, I’ll be back to examine you as soon as I can. I’m going to need you to tell me as much as you can about what we’re dealing with. For now, go back to bed and rest. Let me marshall our medical team and the Town Council, then I’ll come back here. Do you need anything? Aspirin or ibuprofen – anything?” asked Trail.
“Nah, I’ve got all that here. Y’all are as well-prepared as you can be. I’m so sorry I’m the one who’s ended up being your Typhoid Mary. I had no idea I was sick. The incubation period seems to be anywhere from three to ten days. I came here, I guess, eight, maybe nine days out from where I could have been exposed, but I had absolutely no symptoms, so I assumed I was clear,” Frank said with a sigh of misery.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about that right now, buddy,” said Trail. “We can’t wrap the town in bubble wrap. We’re gonna do all we can to get you through this. Go to bed. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
Trail said he knew we were in trouble the instant he saw Frank. He immediately called an emergency meeting with the medical team, Clyde, the Town Council, and with me, and Byllie included. We met at New Hope in their conference room. Vera and Amanda joined us too. After we were all assembled, Trail began. He wasn’t his usual lighthearted self. He was all business – and he was scared.
“Y’all, we may have a major problem on our hands. Frank O’Rourke, whom we just put into isolation for his mandatory week, has come down with some kind of particularly virulent flu that he says is decimating Asheville and Iverson. I don’t yet know the full symptomology of his condition; but from what I visually saw without having yet examined him, this appears to be a particularly potent strain of influenza, or it could be something else entirely. We just don’t know. Frank says the incubation period seems to be between three to ten days. He entered N’ville completely asymptomatic on day 8 or 9 after his possible time of exposure, so we know that it would be wise to extend the incubation time another three days just to make sure.
Y’all, this has been my greatest fear. For now, I’m going to leave him where he is. There are at least two other bedrooms in that house. If we need to, we can try to set up mattresses or whatever in the living room to make a sort of makeshift ward if need be. We can do this with the other isolation houses if needed. I know we said we could use Calvary Baptist, and we still can if the number gets too out of hand, but I really would rather keep that option as a last resort. If Frank is the only one who comes down with this, then we can deal with it; but if we get more than 10 cases, then, for a town our size, we’re going to consider that an outbreak. If that happens, Clyde, you and the PD are going to have to close the town off completely and post quarantine warnings coming into Norrisville from Iverson.
Bobby, can you build us some barriers? And Byllie, can you, and anyone else you can find to help, paint some wooden signs that can be posted – say, starting a mile out and closer in – that say DANGER: ILLNESS – TOWN UNDER QUARANTINE, or something like that? We need those signs and those barriers to be posted and visible to everyone coming into town. We need these as soon as possible. Even if this potential crisis passes us unscathed, then we will have them already finished and on hand if or when we need them in the future.
“I got the materials,” said Mike. “Bobby, Byllie an’ me’ll take care o’ all that. Jest tell us what y’all need and we’ll build ’em an’ put ’em up.”
“Brent,” Trail said, turning to his partner, “you, me and the girls are going to be on the front lines here. I want all of us double-masked since apparently this thing is airborne, and I want us double-gloved. When we inventoried the clinic a month or so back, I was shocked but happy to see that we have on hand about 20 or so clear face shields that we can reuse if disinfected, 8 boxes of head and shoe covers, and about 10 pair of paper gowns. That won’t be nearly enough to last in case of a real outbreak, but Doc Barnett does have about 25 cloth exam gowns that he used in the clinic, so we can wash those and reuse them. I want anyone who comes into direct contact with any sick patient to be wearing full protective gear at all times.
Mike, I want all the bleach, peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, even apple cider vinegar you have at the store brought over to the clinic. Vera and Amanda, I need y’all to get the town roster and start making phone calls. Tell each person that we may have a medical crisis in the making, but tell them not to panic. Tell everyone to shelter in place and to stay away from others as much as possible. If they need anything from Mike’s or the RR store, tell them to wear a bandana over their nose and mouth and to wear rubber cleaning gloves if that’s all they have when they come into town to get their supplies. Tell them to get what they need and go straight home; no congregating in cliques or groups, and no stopping to chat.
Will, I’m really sorry, man, but we simply cannot have any meetings where a group of people are all gathered in one place together until this whatever it is runs its course, so all town meetings and church services will need to be canceled for the foreseeable future.
Lilly, you call Pete Grey and tell him to meet us at the clinic. We’re going to need to have a burial plan in place if people start dying. I should have had him meet us here; I should have called him!” Trail was, for the first time, quite agitated.
“Son, slow down an’ take a breath. Yer doin’ jest fine,” said Clyde. “Yer thinkin’ on yer feet an’ yore doin’ a fine job o’ it. Cain’t nobody thank o’ everthang, but you jest about have.” Clyde’s words immediately put Trail at ease.
“Thank you, Clyde,” said Trail, rubbing his face in his hands. “This all may be a tempest in a teapot. Frank may just have the regular flu or maybe he’s got food poisoning or something. He may recover, or even if he doesn’t, then maybe he will be the only casualty. However, this may well be the thing we’ve been dreading.”
As it turned out, it was the thing we were dreading. Over the next several weeks, one after the other, people fell ill. Frank died three days after he became symptomatic. We were able to make use of the six Q-houses or isolation houses, plus a couple more. We cleared furniture out and used mattresses on the floor in bedrooms and dens and sometimes hallways; but no one, thank God, had to go to the old church and use it as a ‘waiting room for death.’
Because of Trail and his medical team’s excellent planning and their quick thinking, a lot fewer people died than might have. Still, our little town of Norrisville took a big hit. All in all, over the six or so weeks that the superflu epidemic ravaged our little town of about 620, we lost a total of 104 people from the flu. We lost two others but their deaths were not from the superflu. One was Vern Sadler, one of the newly trained police officers. Vern fell off his roof while trying to patch a leak. He broke his neck when he hit the edge of the railroad ties he was using as a border for his flower bed.
The other non-flu related death was old Mrs. Christine Morris. Trail said it looked like her heart had just given out. Izzy found her one morning in early April when she went by to check on her. Izzy said she found her sitting in her rocker with her Bible open on her lap and her reading glasses on top of her Bible. She said Mrs. Christine was laid back as if resting her eyes, and she had a small smile on her face. Since she lived so far out from town, Trail and Pete Grey okayed it for her to be left in her own home. Izzy and Trail carefully wrapped Mrs. Christine in one of her own handmade quilts and carried her over to her bed. They placed her Bible with her, closed and shuttered her house and locked the door, leaving the body of everyone’s ‘mountain granny’ to rest there in the house that had been her earthly home for so many years. Her immortal spirit, we all knew, was safe at home with Jesus.
Losing Mrs. Christine was not the only blow we took. Out of the 104 people the superflu took, were three of the town’s five teenagers – the two boys that Norm met and had clear the sidewalk, and Shelly Cooper, a 16-year-old girl who was the only female teenager we had. We also lost many of the town’s older people. We ourselves were not left unscathed. Our gang also lost some of our own; some of those very dear and close to our hearts. We lost Norm Baker, Karen Parnell, Dewey Upshaw, Mayor Roy Potts, both Vera and Brent Tolbert, and Vinny Sawyer. We also lost Eva, and Big Mike.
We came close to losing our Byllie, but God was merciful and spared her and Carter Grant who also became very ill for a time. They were among the few who did recover.
As far as we know, Eva never became a believer. How that tears at our hearts.
Journal Entry: Saturday April 25, 2020
Sorry, Journal. I had to take a break for a bit. My heart is still too raw. I suspect that it may take me several tries to get all the events of the past several terrible weeks set down here, but, by God’s strength, I will do my best; although, I still have no idea why I feel compelled to keep this record. However, for whatever reason, I do sense that this is what God has called me to do, so do it I will.
The epidemic hit hard and spread quickly. Vera and Amanda’s quick response in getting the word out very likely saved many more from dying. At the height of the outbreak, those of us in town all pitched in wherever and however we were needed. There really wasn’t much we could do except try to keep each person as comfortable as possible and pray for them, and to do our best to try to ward off any germs and minimize our own risk.
Ironically, Eva, who was one of the first to be exposed, was one of the last to die. Both Carter and Eva got sick out at the farm. It was Big Mike that volunteered to go and take care of them as much as was possible. It became clear after about a week’s time that Carter was beginning to rally, but Eva was not. Carter told us later that Mike tended to them both as if they were his family, which, in Mike’s heart, they were. As Carter’s condition slowly improved and his strength somewhat began to return, he was gradually able to help Mike who almost never left Eva’s side. After the worst was over, a much thinner, paler, and more frail Carter told us what happened at the farm.
“Bobby,” said Carter, “Mike did everything he could do for us. Not only did he watch over Eva and me, nursing us almost 24/7; he also took care of the animals and livestock as much as he could. He literally wore himself out caring for the two of us and the animals. In the few times when Eva was lucid and I was aware enough to know what was going on, Mike did his best to give Eva the gospel. He begged her to become a believer.”
As we all sat in the girls’ den, Carter continued to tell us what went on.
“I guess Eva must have been one of the first to be exposed but one of the last to come down with it. Whatever strain of flu this is, if it is the flu and not something else, it comes on suddenly and powerfully. One day you feel fine, and within hours, you can barely stand. So when Eva got sick, I called Trail, and he gave me the lowdown on what to do. He told us that we were better off staying at the farm because it was already really bad but seemed to be winding down in town; and, of course, he was right. I did my best to take care of Eva, but once the fever started, things progressed very quickly. Within four days after she began to run a fever, she was only lucid for short periods of time afterwards. On about the third day, Mike drove out to check on us; and as soon as he saw Eva, he realized how bad she was. He went back to his apartment, packed a bag, and came back out to help me care for Eva.
Mike seemed to be everywhere doing everything. In the first several days, we both shared the responsibility of taking care of Eva and taking care of the farm as much as we were able. Then one day as I came in from milking Flossie and feeding the hens, Mike looked hard at me and said,
“Carter, sit down and let me look at you.”
“I was so tired, I didn’t realize that what I really felt was feverish and nauseous. He checked my temperature and sent me to bed. After that, what I remember is hazy. All I do remember during the time I was so ill, is that Mike was always there.” Carter voice became hoarse; his eyes filling with tears.
“After I recovered enough to be aware of where I was and what was happening,” Carter resumed, “I could see that Eva was fading fast and Mike too was now obviously sick. As much as I was able, Mike and I took turns attending Eva till she drew her last breath. Just before she died, she rallied a bit and was sorta conscious – conscious enough to understand poor Mike when he pleaded with her to believe in Jesus. Bobby, she looked at him and said,
‘Maybe later.’ But for Eva, there was to be no later. Her ‘laters’ were all used up,” said Carter.
“Every day, I got a little better if not a lot stronger. By then, Mike was going downhill fast. Finally, I don’t even know what day it was or how long it was, but one day Mike just couldn’t get up any more. I sat by his bed as his fever raged like a savage beast and the virus invaded his body like some microscopic invading horde. He asked me to read to him from the Bible, so I read from the Psalms and from Revelation 20-22. I remembered Will telling us that those chapters in Revelation give a glimpse into Jesus’ coming kingdom. At the end, Bobby, he looked past me as if he could see something or someone in the room that I couldn’t see. His face – it lit up with a look of just indescribable joy. He broke into the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen, and I clearly heard him say,
‘Oh, the throne! – the throne! The green rainbow!’ And then he just stopped breathing,” finished Carter.
By now we were all weeping. Sarah, Lilly, and Byllie were openly sobbing; in both sorrow and joy for Mike, in bitterness and despair for Eva, and in gratitude and relief for Carter and Byllie.
It was Izzy who moved into the girls’ extra bedroom and cared for Byllie when she fell ill. Lilly was torn between wanting desperately to stay home and take care of her twin, and doing her duty as one of the very few medical help we had. Izzy took Lilly aside and said to her,
“I know your heart is torn. I know that, within you, duty is fighting a battle with love. Your heart and mind are warring; but deep down you know that at least until this crisis has peaked or passed, you must do your duty. But know this, dear one: I love all three of you girls as if you were my own. I never had the joy of being married or having children; but in my heart, you three girls and Mitch, Bobby, and Trail are my children, Carter too. So you go do your duty, and I will stay right here and do all I can, by God’s mercy and grace, to nurse our Byllie back to health if God allows it, or if He so wills, until He takes her Home. I’ll care for her as if she were the child of my body. All of you are already the children of my heart.”
And so she did. Izzy stayed by Byllie’s side the entire time, caring for her physical needs: putting cool, wet cloths on her forehead, changing her bedding and clothes, getting Byllie to sip some tea or bouillon when Byllie was awake and conscious, and reading to her from the Bible. A few times, Byllie said, weeping, she’d awaken or return to consciousness and find Izzy sitting beside her holding her hand as she sang to her some of the hymns she had learned or some of the old mountain ballads and Scottish lullabies.
After Byllie recovered, both girls began calling Izzy Izzy-Mom. This made the stoic Izzy – whose personality and manner was always in such control that she rarely shed a tear – cry at their adoption of her.
Byllie, like Carter, is recovering. Both are still weak and have lost a lot of weight; but both, praise God, are on the mend.
“I was thinking back to Burial Day,” said Trail one day as we were sitting in our den in Doc Barnett’s house after the flu epidemic was over. “I remember thinking that 28 bodies was a lot, but this was so much worse. Thank God for Pete Grey,” Trail added. “He came up with the best solution possible under the circumstances; although, soon, I guess, it won’t matter much in the long run.”
In the end, what Trail and Pete Grey decided was best to do was this: out past Mrs. Christine’s little house in a small clearing in the back of Bootstrap Holler, about 5 miles out from town, Pete Grey and a few other guys: Jet Reese, Rod Weaver, Bert Hollis, Chief Little-John, myself, Will, and Mitch took Grey’s backhoe and dug a huge 10′ deep, 50′ long, X 8′ wide trench as a community grave. All those who were able donned our protective gear and transported the bodies of family, friends, and loved ones to the newly dug town grace site. As respectfully as possible, we put our dead there.
There, in a place as far from town as we could get and still be in Norrisville, we buried all those we loved and lost – all but Eva and Mike.
When Carter called us to tell us of Mike’s death, Sarah, Lilly, Izzy, Trail, Mitch and I were at the girls’ house. Byllie had joined us downstairs for the first time in a couple of weeks, but she lay on one of the sofas, still weak. Carter was still at the farm.
“Bobby,” said Sarah, when she learned that Mike had died, “please don’t put Eva and Mike way out there in that big grave; please don’t. Not…not Mike,” Sarah sobbed, her shoulders heaving, her hands covering her face.
Taking her into my arms, I did my best to soothe her broken heart. I knew that, to her, both Mike and Clyde had become the grandfathers she never knew. Mike’s death hit her hard, as it did all of us.
“Sarah, my love,” I said, raising her face to make her look at me; speaking as gently as I could, I said to her, “We’ve known that things like this are coming, and that none of us are immune from disaster or death. Do you remember that day last fall when we sat on the merry-go-round behind the school and talked about how we already knew that our little period of respite was coming to a close?” She nodded, tears streaming down her face. “Sarah, my Sarah, we knew then that Death was already on its way to Norrisville. Still, what the head knows can happen, the heart never quite believes will. The heart always hopes. But see, we do have hope, not just a wish, but the knowledge, the absolute certainty that we will see all of our family in God again in just seven short years’ time.
“Babylove,” I continued, “it’s not Mike that we’re going to bury – it’s just his shell. Mike, – the real Mike, the Mike we knew, and loved, his spirit is now with Jesus. We also know that at the end of this short time, he and all those who have become believers post rapture, all who will have died, will get their new immortal bodies when Jesus returns. At that time, we will see Mike as God intended him to be. Oh Sarah, I won’t dare tell you not to grieve. Grieving is so very human, and my own heart is breaking too; but as we grieve, we must also rejoice, my love. We’ll see him again, so it doesn’t matter where his shell of flesh ends up.”
“But Bobby,” said Sarah, her body shaking with her sobs, “there’s Eva. We will never see her again.”
“No,” I said, my insides feeling cold and hollow and my heart breaking, knowing that Eva’s eternal destiny is now set and irrevocable, “we never will; but, Sarah, that was by her own choice.”
In the end, we buried both Eva and Mike on the farm. On a warm Spring day in mid-April, a day after Mike died, we all gathered at the farm. The girls, Lilly and Sarah aided by Izzy, wrapped their bodies and prepared them for burial. Byllie and Carter were both still very weak, and we didn’t want to risk their health. Byllie stayed home; and even though Carter wanted to be at the farm, Trail was stern and ordered Carter to remain at his own home just down the road and rest; not to accompany us to where we were going to bury Eva and Mike.
Lilly, Sarah, and Izzy wrapped the poor, wasted bodies of Eva and Mike in sheets, just like the old- fashioned winding shrouds. Then they covered the bodies in quilts and in plastic tarps that Mike had kept at the store. Izzy stitched the quilts, closed and tied the tarps. The ladies gathered dogwood boughs and greenery to adorn their graves. Mitch, Trail, Will, Clyde and I brought our shovels; and while the ladies prepared the bodies, we prepared their graves.
Clyde went to Amos’ barn and hitched Balaam, Amos’ old mule, to the flat buckboard; on it we placed their bodies. Clyde drove the buckboard carrying Mike and Eva’s bodies across the back field to the graves we had dug.
There, in a small copse of trees behind Amos’ back pasture, underneath a massive, majestic old elm tree, we guys had taken turns hand-digging two graves. Into them we placed the bodies of Eva King, a strong and kindhearted, generous woman, and Mike Harper – a gentle, tenderhearted man who, once saved, loved Jesus with all his heart; a man whom we dearly loved and respected, and whom we would miss every living day.
Will led us in prayer as we said goodbye to our beloved friends: one who we knew we would soon see again, to be reunited with him in the coming Kingdom and onward into eternity; the other we knew we would never see again because her choice to refuse salvation destined her to eternal torment in Hell. Although we grieve for both, it is for Eva that we truly grieve.
Slowly, over the month of April, our little town began to recover from the long winter of loss we had endured. Still, even as spring brought a renewal of life to the earth and to our hearts, the losses we sustained stay with us like a scar upon our souls.
Although the town made it through the long, sad months of February, March, and April, we didn’t come through unscathed. Spring has arrived, but so has the Tribulation. The painful lesson before us always is that the losses we have endured are only the beginning. More losses will come. Of that, we are now certain.
Oh, Lord Jesus! Please carry us through this pain and the horror and loss that is yet to come!
TO BE CONTINUED