We all sat there stupefied. No one said anything for the first couple of minutes.
“Well, this changes things,” said Trail, finally.
“Well, it does and it don’t,” said Clyde, cryptically. “It’s gon’ make some o’ th’ thangs we need ta do a good sight easier, but only fer a while. An’ in some ways, it’s gon’ open up a whole new can o’ worms.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Of course, things are going to be better. We can drive!” I was a bit irritated. Frankly, I was over the moon that we had power back. My legs and rear end were already tired of riding my bike, and I was surely tired of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“I think I know what Clyde is thinking,” said Mitch. “Look, first off, we don’t know yet whether the power will stay on, nor do we yet know whether or not our cars will run. As we suspect, this was no ordinary EMP if that’s what it was, and I’ve got a theory about that. I’ll share it with y’all, but let me mull it over some more before I do. Even if the cars do run, and even if it looks like things might get back to normal, there’re a lot of variables we need to consider. Am I right so far, Clyde?”
Clyde was actually beaming at Mitch. “Right with Eversharp,” he replied, leaving the three of us looking at him and at each other with no clue what he meant or what an ‘eversharp’ was or what it meant. “See, I been thinkin’ that thar might be a possibility the power’d come back on, so I got to ponderin’ what thangs might be like iff’n it did. I had ta ask m’self, would we be better off iff’n it did, or might it open up a whole new set o’ problems we’d have ta deal with. Alright, young Master Graham, I see that you an’ me must be huntin’ th’ same trails. Enlighten t’others,” Clyde said. He was pleased as punch with Mitch (as Grandma used to say).
For the next two hours, we sat and talked. Well, Mitch and Clyde did most of the talking; the rest of us mostly listened. We began to grasp what Clyde and Mitch had already foreseen, as slowly and methodically, Mitch explained.
“You see, the problem is that we’re still thinking from the assumption that life will be returning to what it was pre-rapture. That’s not going to happen – not ever. The sooner we face this fact and accept it, the better off we’ll be. For one thing, we know from all that David told us in his letter that scripture teaches the coming Tribulation is a certainty and cannot be escaped or mitigated. Also, we have evidence from what we’ve already seen and experienced here in Norrisville that corroborates everything we’ve heard and learned so far from the Bible, and from what we’ve learned from David and Mama B. We know that a huge percentage of people here in this little town alone have vanished in what we are convinced was the rapture of the Church. We also presume that this event will not have been isolated to just Norrisville, or North Carolina, or even to the United States. Though we don’t yet have definitive proof that this was a global event, we are nevertheless persuaded that it will have been. Because we are believers, we are convinced it is so according to the scriptures.”
Mitch’s brow furrowed in thought for a moment before he continued. “…Now think about this from a much broader perspective. A global rapture would mean that there could be perhaps up to a BILLION – that’s billion with a B, possibly more believers worldwide who went in the rapture, if we count the world’s population of children, infants, and those who were not mentally able to understand sin and salvation – those not capable of making a conscious choice to believe or not for salvation. Even going with a more conservative estimate of less than a billion gone in the rapture, there will also be those like what we’ve found around here who’ve died after the rapture from health issues or…”
Mitch paused briefly, letting out a deep sigh. “…or those who’ve been killed in large cities by murder, and some from suicide. Then there are those who were awake and already going about their normal routines in places like London, or Germany, or Paris. There will have been people who would have been in cars and trucks, trains and planes, subways and such when the rapture occurred. Why, even in the US, it was 2:47 AM here in the East, but on the West Coast, it would have only been a quarter to midnight. In big cities that never sleep, that’s a lot of people who will have been out and about when the rapture event took place – driving, walking, eating, flying, whatever.”
Sarah, who had been quiet up to now, chimed in with questions. I could see she was badly shaken and a little defiant. She was emotionally in the same place Mitch and I had been just a day ago.
Has it really only been a day since I got into town? It seems like I’ve lived a week just from yesterday to today! At any rate, all of us were praying that Sarah would become a believer soon – especially me.
“What makes y’all think that this event as you call it, is even statewide much less nationwide or global?” Sarah asked Mitch directly. I was right; she did have some spunk to her.
“Look Sarah,” Mitch replied in a gentle tone, “I know exactly where you’re coming from. In fact, both Bobby and I were right where you are now with this rapture thing just yesterday. Let’s just say that we are convinced, both by the event itself; by what we’ve been taught all our lives but were too stubborn and too…I don’t know…too foolish to believe; and because our best friend David, both my parents, Trail’s mom, and more have been their own testaments to what we are convinced has happened. From what you said earlier, the possibility of the rapture is an idea that’s not exactly a foreign concept to you either. Besides, had this been just a localized event, someone would have come into town to check on us. Most of us work in either Iverson like Trail and me, or in Asheville like Jack does. No, we know what’s happened, and now that we have power restored, and if our vehicles run, then what we know we will find in Iverson, Asheville and elsewhere will confirm what we already know in our hearts to be the truth.
“I expect,” Mitch went on, “that once the grid is restored, or as much of it as can be restored, we will be hearing some kind of official announcement from the President or whoever is in charge of the government before too long. What I want us to consider is this: Norrisville’s got to become self-reliant as soon as possible. We are going to have to figure out how to deal with the dead now and in the future for as long as we can. We need to inventory what food supplies we have in the town. We need to form another town council and, if possible, beef up our police force. Clyde, Dewey, and Rod can’t possibly do all that needs to be done.”
Mitch pointed to Trail. “Clyde’s right; you’re the doctor now, or the closest we’ve got to one for the time being, maybe for good. And we need to bring Pastor Farrell – Will, into whatever we do. We may or may not have drivable cars now and a good store of food, but y’all, think! What’s going to happen when the supply infrastructure collapses? What happens when food delivery trucks can’t deliver; when trains no longer run? What about when gasoline tankers can’t fill up the storage tanks at gas stations? What happens when those trapped in the cities finally decide to ‘head for the hills’? And what do we do with the druggies and the junkies when they’ve cleaned out all their stashes and raided all the hospitals and pharmacies in the bigger cities, because they will, you know. What happens then? They will come into the little bergs like N’ville looking for stuff.”
Mitch continued relentlessly. “Because the Tribulation will soon be beginning, if it hasn’t already begun, then eventually the government – or some government will show up here; and when that happens, as David told us in his letter, those of us who are believers are going to be public enemy # 1 on their most wanted lists.”
We all looked at him with dawning horror. I mean, I knew the general gist of all this, even with my limited Bible knowledge and general knowledge of human nature; but to have it all spelled out in such a bold and unflinching manner was like an adrenaline dump in my veins.
One of Mitch’s strengths, and Clyde’s, is that both of them see not just the forest, but the individual trees in that old adage about those who can’t see the forest for the trees. Well, I was a forest seer, but Mitch and Clyde were tree and forest people. They could see individual issues and connect the dots of the trees that together make up that fabled forest. We were just beginning to grasp what, first Clyde, then Mitch had already foreseen about what life would be like in this post-rapture world that crouches poised on the brink of the Tribulation.
“Yer exactly right, Mitchell,” said Clyde. “We got a ton o’ thangs to work on. That’s what I want ta spend tomorrow doin’ afore th’ meeting Wensdey. But fer now, we got enough on our plates as t’is. Let’s all git a good night’s shuteye an’ meet back here t’morrow to iron out what we need ta go over at th’ meetin’. This includes you too, little lass,” Clyde said, smiling as he turned to Sarah. I could tell that he already had a soft spot for her. He had appointed himself her adopted grandfather. Sarah gave him a warm smile and told him she would love to be a part of the team.
“By the way Sarah,” I asked, “What did you do before Thursday?”
“I was wondering if any of you were going to ask,” she replied. “I am – was a trauma nurse in one of the biggest hospitals in Atlanta, Georgia. I was here in Norrisville on a two-week vacation to visit my brother.”
We were all quiet for a moment. I believe that each one of us recognized the hand of God in having Sarah show up here now. I know I did. I was still amazed at how differently I had begun to view circumstances and events just since last night. I could tell that we were different now that we had become believers. God was already at work changing us all from the inside.
Although it was her own fault, like it was ours, that she had been left behind, every single one of us in that room knew, except maybe Sarah herself, that this was the hand of God drawing her here to this place to be here and out of Atlanta when the rapture happened.
“Mitch,” asked Clyde, “kin you or Bobby ride out early ta that new preacher’s house or church an’ ask him iff’n we kin all meet thar, say ’round lunch time? Tell ‘im we’ll brang sumpin ta eat. Might be green beans though.” Clyde winked at Trail who just shook his head and grinned.
“I’m gon’ bring Eva along too, as well as Dewey. Might brang that young farm hand too iff’n he’s got the time. Since Eva’n Carter got the farm, they need ta be thar. I’ll leave Rod ta kinda keep a eye on thangs in town. I don’t thank they’ll be any trouble t’morrow. Kin y’all thank o’ anyone else who might ought ta join us?” Clyde looked around at each of us.
We all shook our heads, then Mike spoke up. “I thank Lilly Duncan, Doc Barnett ‘s nurse, ought ta come.”
“Thats a good suggestion, Mike,” Clyde said. “I’ll go over an’ ask her in person t’morrow. A’ right then, Mikey, kin you see iff’n yore truck’ll run? Iff’n it does, we kin load up all th’ kids wheels an’ carry ’em over ta the Pines. I know the boys have rooms thar, an’ I’m bettin’ Vinnie’ll have another room fer this little gal. First though, let’s eat a bite. What’s on th’ menu fer t’nite, Mike?”
Mike got up and headed behind the counter to see what he could come up with. Let’s see,” he said with a smile, “we are eatin’ I-talian t’nite. We got SpaghettiOs, canned corn, an’ Little Debbie cakes.”
We all groaned inwardly, and Trail rolled his eyes; but in truth, we were grateful to have it. As it turned out, Mike’s big Chevy long-bed truck did indeed run. That gave me a surge of hope for Bertha and for David’s jeep. I hadn’t talked it over with Mitch yet, but I was sure he’d go along with me. I wanted Trail to take David’s jeep. Mitch had his car, and I had Bertha, my delivery van; and if we could get it running, I had Grandpa’s 65 Chevy truck that probably would have run this whole time if it had been running to start with.
After supper, we loaded up and made our way back to The Pines for the night. Sometime soon we would all need to decide whether to go back to our own places or to stay closer in. This caused a good deal of anxiety for me because I’m sort of a loner. I like my space. I love being on my own. That’s why I love living on Yellow Top surrounded by my 10 acres, and beyond that, the thousands of acres of national forest land. I decided to ask God to show us all what we needed to do and to try not to worry about tomorrow until it got here.
As we figured it would be, the third-story room at the Pines was still available, so Sarah took that one. Mitch gave her David’s letter to read, and I gave her his Bible.
“We aren’t trying to pressure you, Sarah,” said Trail. “Just read the letter that Dave left us. Really consider what the letter says and what you’ve seen with your own eyes. That’s all we ask.”
As both Mitch and Trail headed up to our room, Sarah put her hand on my arm, halting me on the second-floor landing. A bit shyly, she said, “I want to thank you, Bobby. Thank you for…well, for taking me in. I was really afraid of being stranded out there all alone. I didn’t know who y’all were or what kind of people you were or what you wanted. Even though I tried to come across as tough, I was terrified of being stuck in a place I was only visiting, among people I don’t know. Then, finding myself alone, not knowing where Danny and Kristen and Claire went, with nothing working and none of the cars running… well, I was getting close to the edge of panic. I thought if I acted tough that I’d…I dunno, scare y’all off or something,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. I noticed that her hair was almost black and that she had a widow’s peak.
“I’m really sorry I pulled a shotgun on you, an empty shotgun, mind you,” she said, smiling her beautiful smile at me; and oh man! Were those dimples in her cheeks? I felt my heart knock out of rhythm again.
“It’s okay,” I said. “If it’s any consolation, you pulled off the most believable bluff I’ve ever heard. You sure convinced me you were calm and collected and meant business. I believed you 100%. Besides, if I’m going to be almost shot, I can’t think of anyone more beautiful to try to do it.” I immediately felt stupid. Way to go, you dork. Shakespeare you ain’t.
She actually blushed a little, and that made my heart beat even faster.
“Goodnight, Bobby. I promise to read the letter, and I’ll make sure you all get it and the Bible back tomorrow morning. I – I do need to think about things. I’ll see y’all tomorrow,” she said as she headed up the stairs to her room.
When I opened the door to our room, both Mitch and Trail were acting over-the-top nonchalant.
“Don’t even start you two,” I said, unable to suppress a grin.
“Not a word; not a word from us, Romeo ” said Trail. He was holding up both hands, grinning like a hyena as Mitch threw a pillow at me. We talked for a while, and prayed together. Then all three of us fell asleep, ready to see what the next day would bring.
We got up later than usual, and after waiting on Sarah to join us, we got an even later than usual start. Once again we rode our bikes over to Mike’s store, more upbeat than we’d been for almost a week. Having lights and power and hot and cold running water was heaven. As soon as we walked into the store, our noses told us that we were in for a treat. Mike was up in his apartment cooking scrambled eggs and making toast to go with them. We all filed into his little apartment to better savor the aroma of real cooked food – and coffee – real brewed coffee, not instant!
“Where’d you get fresh eggs, Mike?” asked Trail, near to gastric rhapsody.
“Well,” I been going out ta Amos’ farm whenever I’m able to; milkin’ his cow an’ gathering eggs. There’s a farm hand named Carter Grant, a young single boy ’round y’all’s age, I reckon. He lives down the road a piece from Amos’ place. I met him out there on Fridey evenin’. I was worried about Amos’ cow. Ya cain’t leave cows unmilked,” Mike said, seriously. “I wadn’t sure if she’d been milked a’tall. After I walked out there, I met Carter. He was already there. He’d been concerned ’bout Amos and the animals too, an’ since he helped Amos out anyways, he come by to check on thangs. He’d already milked Flossie an’ was putterin’ around feedin’ the horse, the pigs, the chickens, an’ that little border collie Amos had. We both knew whar Amos kept his house key, so I decided ta stay out to th’ farm that night an’ walk back home next mornin’. Carter’s a good ole boy, an’ I was glad an’ grateful ta see him takin’ care o’ thangs.
“Ya see,” Mike continued, “when I hadn’t heard from Amos or Joe by midafternoon, I was beginnin’ ta suspect this was a whole lot more’n an EMP. I been tryin’ ta git over ever day since Fridey iff’n I can. Carter’s been seein’ to the milkin’ and chores. Besides, Eva’s been staying over ta the farm since yesterdey afternoon, helpin’ Carter do the chores and readyin’ th’ punkin squash, turnip greens, and th’ late summer corn fer harvestin’. Course th’ two of them cain’t handle the whole farm by theirselves. Amos has a right big spread, but they’s both doin’ what they kin ta help keep it goin’. We’re gon’ need fresh produce, eggs, an’ milk long as we kin git ’em.
So, I run out thar early this morning in the truck and helped ’em with the milkin’. I gathered these eggs then. Hens won’t be layin’ too much longer once the weather turns cold, but fer now, we got fresh milk ta go with the eggs an’ toast.” Mike, proudly portioned out a plate of scrambled eggs onto paper plates for each of us and brought the coffee pot to the table.
“How on earth did Eva get out to Amos’ farm before the power came back on?” I asked. Amos Brazele’s farm was a good two, almost three miles from town. I’d guessed that maybe Mike had found a bike somewhere to ride, but the thought of him riding it at his age was a sight I’d have liked to see. But the thought of EVA on a bike flabbergasted me. That prospect was something I’d have paid money to see.
“Eva left here yesterdey after she helped us put some fliers up aroun’ town,” replied Mike, as he poured us all a cup of coffee and set a pitcher of milk on the table. He’d poured the milk into a black and white ceramic dairy creamer in the shape of a cow. The message across the little pitcher read ‘Moo Jooce.’ It looked ridiculous, but it made us all smile.
“She didn’t ride no bike,” Clyde responded. “She walked out ta Amos’ place. She tole me’n Mike what she was gon’ do. We tried ta talk her outta doin’ it, but y’all know Eva King. Once she makes up her mind ’bout anythin’ she’s gon’ do it or die tryin’; which is exactly what she said too. Even as big a old girl as she is, she’s as strong as a ox an’ as stubborn as a mule. She tole us in no uncertain terms that she was gon’ walk out to th’ farm, an iff’n she died doin’ it, that she’d a heap rather die outside in t’middle o’ th’ road on th’ way ta doin’ sumpin useful than ta be sittin’ at home watchin’ fungus grow – I thank is how she put it. When she set out, she had on a ole floppy straw hat, a big bag full o’ clothes, and she had her late husban’ Jerry’s huntin’ rifle slung over her shoulder, ” said Clyde, smiling at the memory.
“Wow!” I said, impressed. Trail whistled. We were beginning to catch glimpses and facets of character we’d never noticed before in all these older people who had lived and scratched out a living for generations up here in the North Carolina mountains.
Most of the people around here, me included, are descended from the hardy Scots. A great many others have both Scots and Cherokee blood coursing through their veins. These stubborn mountain people have always been a tough, hardworking, pragmatic bunch. I felt ashamed of my arrogance and ignorance in calling them ‘old geezers.’ If we survived for any length of time, it would be first because of God’s grace, but also because we were blessed to share a heritage with and live among such people.
“So she’s out doing farm work,” I said, still amazed.
“Do you think she will come back here and reopen the diner now that the power is back on?” Mitch asked.
“Dunno,” said Clyde, “but iff’n we’s takin’ bets on it, my bet would be no. See, Eva grew up farmin’, and Eva, like all o’ us, wants to be needed – ta have a reason to live – sumpin to contribute. You younguns’ll see that when hard times come, us old timers remember our roots, an’ we ain’t afraid ta meet anythang head on.
“Oh,” Clyde said as if he’d just remembered something. I was sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, and wondered what was coming now. His face wore a sardonic expression that I immediately distrusted. “By th’ by Bobby,” he said, “Did you happen ta notice anythin’ missin’ from ’round here?”
“Noooo. I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know,” I replied, suspiciously.
“Well, when Eva come by here yesterdey afternoon afore y’all got back, she noticed yer ma’s ole bag, Terrell – th’ one Bobby was carryin’, the very one that was a’layin’ out on the back stoop. Eva took a right shine to it an’ wondered iff’n you’d mind her takin’ it. Said she din’t smell nuthin’ a’tall wrong with it. She thought it was right attractive,” said Clyde, grinning like the Cheshire cat. I allowed as how I din’t think y’all’d mind one bit. That was th’ bag she took home an’ packed her stuff in an’ took out t’Amos’ farm.”
We were all howling with laughter. Mike was shaking his head, and Clyde was grinning like a donkey. Trail was laughing so hard he was crying. And Mitch and I, all we could do was point at each other and at Trail. Poor Sarah was clueless; so while we enjoyed fresh scrambled eggs, hot toasted bread, coffee, and milk straight from the cow to the table – barely cool since it had only been in the fridge for an hour or so – while we ate this feast, we filled Sarah in on the whole saga of Mama B’s skunk bag. It was the best- tasting, happiest meal I’d had in a long time.
Big Mike packed us a basket of stuff to take to the church for lunch. Right after breakfast, Mitch had ridden his bike out to New Hope to try to find Will and ask if we could use his church for a planning meeting. The rest of us helped Mike clean up and gather the things we thought we would need. After about half an hour, Mitch called Mike to let him know that everything was set up for us to come over as soon as we were ready.
It was strange having telephones that worked and drivable cars again. I was amazed at how quickly we had adapted to being essentially thrust back into the 1800’s over the past week. That ability to adapt, I mused, would serve us well in the coming days.
We rode over to the church in Mike’s truck: Big Mike and Sarah in the cab, and Trail and me riding in the back truck bed. Clyde drove by the PD and asked Dewey Upshaw if he’d join us and if he’d drive out to the farm and pick up Eva, and Carter Grant if he was willing to come. Clyde said he’d swing by and pick up Lilly Duncan and her twin sister Byllie who had asked if she could join us.
We were met at the church by Will and Mitch. After about 20 minutes, Clyde, Lilly, Byllie, Dewey and the others arrived, Carter was with them. After the introductions, Pastor Will or ‘just plain Will’ as he said he’d like to be called, ushered us into the church’s conference room.
The idea of a church having a conference room was still a radical concept to me. No church I’d ever been to had had a conference room. Honestly, the whole church complex looked like some weird hybrid. The sanctuary looked more like a theater than a church sanctuary. It had these big screens on both sides of what could only be called a stage. There were stage lights, footlights, and what could only be spotlights mounted high up pointing towards the stage. A bar stool, or something like one, stood in the center of the stage area. Flanking this stool on the stage were two enormous amps on either side of where the pulpit would have been if there’d been one. Behind the stool was a set of electric drums, two guitars, one bass, and the other an electric lead. There was also a huge keyboard. Instead of pews, the sanctuary had individual padded chairs. In the back behind the sanctuary/stage, there was a suite of offices and a huge conference room that would have been perfectly at home in an executive boardroom.
Until Will had given us a tour of the sanctuary on Monday when we first met him, I had no idea that a church like this even existed, much less that one was in Norrisville. I tried not to gape now like I did then. I overheard Carter whisper to Mike, “This is a church?”
“I ain’t never seen a church like this,” said Mike, answering Carter and looking about frankly awed as we all were.
“Yeah, I know,” said Will. He looked chagrined and embarrassed. “It really wasn’t a church in the true sense of the word. The true Church is, was the people who were believers, not the actual buildings in which they met. I’m ashamed to admit that we, me in particular, like the majority of modern churches, had as our main goal the entertainment of those who came here; not to preach to them – give them the inconvenient truth that could have saved their souls. Nor was teaching sound doctrine high on my priority list. The reason it wasn’t my passion was because I was as lost as many of my members were – still are, I guess. Hank Brock, my assistant pastor, was here for the right reason. He cared about the souls of the people in this church… he cared about my soul as well, but I’m afraid I blew him off. In truth, I ridiculed him,” said Will.
“The entertainment atmosphere here disturbed and disgusted him, but he loved the people. I was the fool, the buffoon, the big-shot wannabe. I was afraid to offend anyone by bringing up unpleasant topics like sin, Hell or eternity. As you can see by my still being here, I was as flippant and spurning of the truth as you guys were – even though I, of all people, should have known better. I bear on my shoulders the responsibility of those of my congregation who’ve been left behind. I knew instantly what had happened after I’d talked to the guy at the Whispering Pines. I came back here, locked myself in my office, and got on my face before God. I mean I actually lay on the floor with my face buried in this nice expensive carpet and cried out to God, praying like I had never done before. I wasn’t a true believer before the rapture, obviously, but when I left my office that afternoon I was. I also asked God that if He would allow me an honor I didn’t deserve – that if He would allow it, that by His grace I would become the pastor I should have been all along to whoever He brings to this church.
Will pointed to Mitch. “Mitch, here has told me what you would like to do, so I’m offering New Hope to be the center of the post-rapture community. You can use it any day of the week for whatever you need – any day, that is, except Sunday. That day, God willing, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before; I’m going to preach the gospel and strengthen, edify, and prepare those of us who are now Tribulation believers for what we are all about to face.”
All that afternoon we hashed over all the things we wanted to address the next day; how we thought we could best organize the town. We were fully aware that whatever plans we made would only be temporary. The majority of us realized that we are already staring down the barrel of the Tribulation. We decided that we would do what we could for as long as we could. Nothing matters more from now on than the salvation of as many as will believe. Nothing else even comes close during these last seven years. Not everyone, we knew, would choose to become believers. In fact, among all of us gathered there in Pastor Will’s office that day were some who still weren’t believers – those who said they just weren’t ready to accept all of this rapture and Tribulation stuff. All we could do was continue to pray for them that soon they would believe for salvation. Both Clyde and Mike having become believers themselves would be a huge witness to many in town – especially big, gruff, no nonsense Clyde.
There was one person there, though, who was deeply moved; one who did pray for salvation in front of the entire group of us; one person among us who – having seen all that has happened – listened intently as Will spoke and gave his testimony; one whose heart was stirred, broken, and convicted. The one person who became a believer that day and joined God’s family was our Sarah. When she prayed and finally believed the gospel, I’m not ashamed to say I wept with joy and relief. This girl I’d only just met already meant more to me than my own life did. This realization both terrified and thrilled me. Still, come what may, I knew that, at least now, I would spend eternity with her; with all those who were part of God’s family whom I love more than I can say. That is what matters most.
(to be continued)