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Beyond the Rapture
Signs of the end of the age are upon Kay’s college town. . .
I’ve never thought much about the apocalypse before. Much less the Rapture. Now I wonder if I’ve been blind on purpose, or just ignorant.
The end is coming.
I can taste it. I can smell it. I can feel it.
Hold on. . .
Kay Jameson just wants to be a normal college student. To her shock, two fellow students physically threaten her in the journalism lab during the first week of school. Thank goodness Mitch, an artist, comes to her aid. Why do the students hate her? And what is the meaning behind Mitch’s unusual drawings?
At home, her parents’ arguments are tearing Kay up inside, and her sister seems to hate her. No matter how hard she tries, Kay just can’t seem to do anything right. Even worse, her budding romance with the handsome Trent is creating an uncomfortable distance between Kay and her best friend, David. Kay is determined to do everything she can to salvage the relationships that mean so much to her.
The hate attacks on Kay and her church continue to intensify. Who is behind them?
Is it truly the end? Is the Rapture next?
Genre: Christian end times fiction
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ASH DARKENED the morning sky as Isola strode rapidly down the middle of the empty lane. It was quiet now. Sunday morning; her favorite day of the week. Everyone still slept in their sweltering beds, savoring the luxury of sleeping in late on their one day off.
But not Isola. She inhaled through gritted teeth, hating the burning taste of the smoky, bitter air which choked the city.
The desire to revisit the place had been building within her over the last month. It tugged at her empty soul. She wasn’t sure why, but it felt like something waited for her there. Something valuable…
With a sharp inhale, she jerked her head left. Acrid air seared her lungs. She’d taken a chance, walking out here alone, while everyone slept. But she saw nothing…yet.
The mechanical rumble jarred the asphalt beneath her feet. It was about to turn the corner.
She had to hide.
Heart thumping, Isola paused to weigh her options. The pavement radiated heat up through the worn soles of her tennis shoes. She scanned the buckled concrete sidewalks and the dingy, crumbling buildings beyond. The broken windows looked like gaping black holes. But the stores weren’t empty. Or safe.
Where could she hide?
The grinding, deafening roar made her want to run. Instead, she fought for the calm and logic that survival required. Outwit and outsmart. Don’t run like a rat into the nearest sewer.
Her gaze focused on the stripped metal autos littering the sides of the street. She made a leaping, rolling plunge and dove into one of the vacant cars. The driver’s side door was ripped off, the chassis bent double, seats gone. Its front end rested precariously on the tailgate of a rusted, dilapidated blue truck.
The hot metal seared her skin, and bolts ripped into her flesh. She yanked her knees to her chin and tumbled to the far, passenger side of the car. The back window revealed bits of her to the oncoming tank. And the leering, dangerous men inside.
The car swayed gently, cramming her neck uncomfortably into the crevice where floor and engine compartment met. She dared not breathe. Would the soldiers notice the car’s movement? Would they stop to investigate?
She waited. The adrenaline and fear pumping through her blood made her feel sick. If the tank stopped, she would scramble out and run. She wasn’t finished yet.
The familiar, cold lump of metal which dug into her waistband comforted her as the thundering rumble drew closer.
The olive green tank slowly heaved by, its nose dipping and falling as it rode the stationary waves of the demolished street. The American flag painted on its side said its soldiers were supposed to protect her. But she knew better. Oh, she knew better.
Knees touching her chin, she listened intently, waiting for the thundering rumble to fade. Soldiers liked to sport with their victims. They might stop a block away, and then creep back to take her… Nausea convulsed in her throat. She closed her eyes and drew a steadying breath.
She was sick of being afraid. Sick of the nightmare that had become her life.
When would it end?
Something wet rolled down her brown, dirty cheek. Was that a tear?
Stop it! Jerkily, she rubbed her work shirt sleeve over her aching eyes. She had to remain strong. Her life three and half years ago, versus her life now, was like comparing day and night. Life and death.
The rumble faded. Cautiously, she twisted her body into a kneeling position and peered over the dashboard. A hot breeze lifted a limp lock of brown hair from her forehead. Her gaze darted back and forth. Empty. The street was empty again. But not safe.
Carefully, Isola eased out of the car. She continued her journey, rapidly climbing and plunging over the broken pavement. Like a ghost slipping over her grave, she felt eyes following her, watching from the dark store windows. Squatters. They wouldn’t bother her, as long as she stayed in the middle of the street.
Keeping her breaths even and shallow in order to restrict the bitter air flowing into her lungs, she strode on. The rising sun shone a dull red through the ashen haze. Maybe she had another half mile to go. This was taking longer than she’d thought.
“Hey. You! Stop!”
Isola froze, seeing no one. Then the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gunfire peppered the still morning air.
She dove to the pavement. Her right shoulder hit first, and she rolled beneath a derelict bus, which was crazily parked half on the pavement, and half on the sidewalk.
“Get out of here! Get!”
The jeering laugh of a soldier. Pounding feet ran toward her bus.
Tattered shoes and flapping pant legs sprinted by her hiding place. Looters. A few stores were still in business, and the military vigilantly guarded them.
She heard the gasping, laughing pant of the rebels. Then a shrill cry sounded above her, and the bus shook.
“Go man, go!” Vagrants in the bus cheered on the gang.
The machine gunfire halted. Pressing her cheek to the pebble strewn asphalt, she spotted four greasy-headed looters a block away, panting and grinning back at the soldiers. One held up a bag of potatoes and screamed an epithet.
Machine gunfire exploded. The thug made a quick, insolent hand gesture and darted off.
Isola’s heart rate skidded to a gentle thud. Above, the vagrants muttered and thumped about to make their next hour of sleep a comfortable one. Finally, all was silent.
But fear dripped like poison through her heart. What was she doing out here? Why hadn’t she stayed at home, where it was safe? She closed her eyes tight and drew quiet, even breaths.
It wasn’t safe at home. It wasn’t safe anywhere. If she wanted to survive, she must be courageous, and right now, that meant continuing on to her destination.
Isola slipped out from under the bus. A swift scan proved the coast was clear, and she backtracked a block, and then cut around and up a block so she would miss the trigger-happy soldiers.
Back on track at last, her stride lengthened. This was the home stretch. Regular people ventured out now, including a few old women with kerchiefs knotted up about their heads. They scuttled toward the food distribution center.
Her empty stomach growled, and pain cramped her midsection. Unfortunately, she couldn’t visit the distribution center yet. Her food token was only valid after twelve o’clock. She would have to wait.
Wait. Always waiting. But for what? For order to her life? For meaning and purpose and an explanation for the destruction around her? What could possibly explain the state the world had fallen into?
Her steps quickened. Kay had known the truth; her life had proven it. And that was why Isola had risked this journey today.
The Chairman boasted he knew the answers, too. He made a lot of sense. But an unease that bordered on revulsion twisted through her soul when she thought about him. She didn’t like the man. He reminded her of a reptile—or better yet, a primordial fish; slippery, slimy, and scaly.
Isola trusted one person to tell her the truth; the absolute, painful, honest truth, and that was Kay. She would listen to Kay over the boastful proclamations of the Beast.
But Kay was gone. And had been for three and a half years. Why had she waited so long? Was it too late to find the answers? And even if she did find them, would it make any difference? She couldn’t step back in time. She couldn’t return to her old life. If only she could.
“Miss!” The harsh voice made her whirl.
A policeman stared at her. A lascivious smirk bared his teeth.
Straightening her shoulders, Isola hurried on, but fear squeezed her heart and stole a little more of the oxygen from her lungs. Casually, her hand slid across her abdomen and touched the cold metal weapon stuffed into the waistband of her dirty jeans.
The feel of it beneath her fingertips slowed her racing heartbeat. Her father’s gun. The only good thing he had left her. Along with six bullets.
Ears straining, she listened, but heard no footsteps. Her palm sweated against the smooth metal handle, but she didn’t let go. She swiftly walked another block before chancing a look over her shoulder.
The policeman was gone. She sucked in a relieved breath, and foul air burned her lungs. She coughed and gasped.
Slowly, the sharp edge of adrenaline dulled to a tight, constant tension. She’d never known State Street was so long. How much farther did she need to go?
Isola searched for a familiar landmark, but found none. She plodded on for more long minutes. Buildings on this side of Truesdale had all been thrown down by the great quake.
Her steps slowed. That earthquake had annihilated her old life; destroyed it as completely as it had demolished this house.
Isola had reached her destination. The skeletal tree in the yard looked just like Kay’s old elm tree had in the winter time, except now the bark looked like ash, as though burned from the inside out. The poor, wasted tree mirrored how Isola felt inside, too; charred, dead, as if one puff might scatter her, body and soul, to the four winds. She swallowed back the sudden ache of tears in her throat.
Stop it. You can’t go back. Face the future.
But to do that, she must finally face the past. Starting here. Right now.
Bizarrely, the rubble beckoned to her, urging her to step in and find something…anything.
What she was looking for?
Isola cast a quick glance over her shoulder. She saw no one. For this one moment in time, she was completely alone.
As she stepped carefully into the ruins, she questioned her sanity for the first time today. Why had she walked all the way out here? Nothing remained of the house, except for rubble and a crazily tilted, drunken half of the brick chimney. Surely looters had already picked Kay’s house clean.
Concrete and mortar crunched beneath her shoes. A short beam that poked up through the rubble caught her toe, and she almost fell. Catching herself, Isola crept forward again, toward the back of the house. It was hard to believe this had once been a two-story house, and filled with people she’d cared about.
Memories seared her mind. How could life possibly have been so good just three and a half years ago? And now be so horrible?
She groped for a broken piece of chimney that rose from the ground. The warm, rough mortar rasped against her skin.
It didn’t make sense. But then, in a confused way, wasn’t that why she had come?
Isola brushed the sleeve of her faded, blue and gray shirt across her eyes. She didn’t care how stupid this was. She’d keep looking until she found something. Anything to explain why she had felt compelled to come here.
Four steps brought her to the place where Kay’s room would have been, had it been on the ground floor. Nothing distinguished the first floor from Kay’s room. It was all a jumbled, twisted mess.
With determination, she bent and sifted through the gritty rubble.
The sun beat on her back and sweat trickled from her armpits. Isola kept digging, but found nothing but plaster and broken bits of wood. She swiped her hand across her brow and sat back on her heels. The red sun blazed down, burning her skin like fire from hell. How much longer should she look?
Despair, her all too familiar friend, told her to give up.
No. One last time, she would try. She hadn’t talked to God in ages, but figured it couldn’t hurt now.
“God,” she whispered, “if I’m supposed to find something here, please help me find it.”
No voice from heaven spoke, but she did hear muffled shouts down the street. She’d better hurry up, before soldiers caught her digging through the rubble. Looting was a crime, even if nothing was left to loot. She became aware that her fingers absently rubbed on a smooth piece of wood. It felt like the curved corner of a desk.
Kay’s desk? Excitement quickened her spirits, and Isola dug beneath the jutting edge. She scooped out great handfuls of gray, gritty plaster and debris. Then she touched something flat and smooth. It felt man-made. Her fingers scrabbled, digging to free the slim plastic rectangle from the pile of plaster.
An electronic notebook.
So now what?
Compelled by a force she did not understand, she dug deeper into the crumbling mound, beneath where the notebook had been buried. The dust felt coolly refreshing against her fingers.
And then she touched smooth leather.
A book? Her fingers dug deeper to get a better grip on it. She tugged it out and rubbed the slender, tan volume against her shirt. A Bible.
Puzzled, she surveyed this, and then the red electronic notebook. These were what she had come for. This certainty filled her soul.
But why would she want either one? And why was her heart hammering with excitement?
Isola stuffed the small Bible into the back waistband of her jeans, and stumbled to the remains of the fireplace, which offered a flat chunk of concrete to sit upon. Again remembering the danger, she scanned the dusty, deserted street. Still safe… but for how long?
She smoothed a hand over the scratched plastic and glass notebook. It whispered almost audibly to her, urging her to fold it open.
She did. A clear black screen greeted her. Wonder of wonders, it wasn’t scratched or cracked. The “On” button mesmerized her, and she pushed it. Immediately, a lone icon popped up on the screen.
The battery still worked. Why wasn’t she surprised? She rubbed the grime off of the tiny solar cell in the top corner, so it could recharge. It couldn’t have much power left after all this time.
She double-tapped the icon, and black words rushed across the screen.
“Week One. Wednesday. Two guys tried to attack me today…”
It was Kay’s diary.
She stopped. Guilt seared her conscience. How could she possibly read this?
But Kay wasn’t on Earth any longer. Surely she wouldn’t mind.
And when had Kay been attacked? Isola didn’t remember that happening.
Knowing it was Kay’s diary made her want to read it all the more. Events from three and a half years ago were recorded here. Perhaps memories of her old life, too, before her world had crumbled.
It would be so wonderful to escape, just for a little while, and remember the way things used to be, and to remember her old life and her old friends.
Surely Kay wouldn’t mind. Isola wanted so much to remember.
She glanced about, feeling nervous and more than a little guilty. No one was near. No one cared.
A hot breeze touched her brow, and above, two vultures slowly circled, searching for their next victim. She’d read…just for a little while, she promised herself.
“Well, whether you are pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, or pan-trib (all that End Times stuff will just pan out in the end!) don’t let theological matters keep you from reading this book! I have to admit, the beginning is some high-intensity story telling, and there is a lot here to simply enjoy for story’s sake. The setting is imaginative without being outrageous. Plot elements are well incorporated, characters are intriguing, likeable, and diverse. But it also is a very thorough and easily digested presentation of Christian life in the Modern Age, and thoughts on the End Times, and I found myself edified by reading it.”
– Deborah L. Alexander, Amazon Reviewer
TWO GUYS TRIED TO ATTACK ME today in the journalism lab…
Wait. I guess I’d better write my standard paragraph first. Just in case someone else ever reads this—though I’m not sure why anyone ever would.
Anyway, my name is Kay Jameson. I’m a third year journalism student at Truesdale State University in California, and I live at home. I keep a journal like this because writing my life down in detailed story form helps sharpen my journalism skills. Besides that, it’s fun to read over later. And maybe I shouldn’t say “write.” I talk, and my new notebook writes it down. It’s pretty awesome.
Okay, enough of that.
Today was scorching and muggy. Even for late August, the heat this afternoon felt oppressive as I hurried over the deserted sidewalks for the journalism lab. The still air felt like a physical presence. It had a breathless quality to it; as if waiting for something sinister to happen.
Or maybe that was just my overactive imagination.
The computer lab was empty when I arrived. Since it was after four, and the first week of classes, that wasn’t a surprise. In fact, I had counted on it.
My backpack slid to the floor, and the cool, air conditioned breeze bit through my teal, scooped-neck, Truesdale First Gospel T-shirt. It felt deliciously cool on my damp shoulder.
Truesdale State won’t allow us to use our personal computers to gain access to the paid news subscriptions and services we need to research assignments. That means hundreds of students fight over the school computers each day. It’s a prehistoric policy, as far as I’m concerned.
I flipped on the computer, tapped in my code, and set to work accessing information for my first journalism assignment. We were supposed to read the lead story for the Middle East from seven different papers, and then write our own article, pulling facts from each newspaper source.
I accessed the first newspaper, published in Britain, half a world away.
Two hours later, I relaxed back in my chair as the whirring printer spit out my two page report. I was glad to be done. I hate to have projects hanging over my head. Maybe that’s a little obsessive compulsive, but I don’t care.
The rich tenor voice startled me. As my head jerked left, a strand of sun-streaked hair slapped my face. I relaxed when I recognized the young man. And I quickly tucked the straight lock behind my ear.
Trenton C. Johns III. He was a new transfer into Truesdale State’s journalism program, and we shared the same M, W, F Current Affairs journalism class. I’d never spoken to him before, and felt flattered he knew my name.
“Hi.” With a smile, I retrieved my pages from the printer. “Are you here to work on Dr. William’s assignment?” I felt pleased by the casual sound of my voice.
Trenton C. Johns III was very good looking. He was medium height, with a slim build, and he wore his light brown hair cropped short in back, and stylishly cut. Today he wore creased tan slacks, and a crisp, expensive looking white shirt. His features were classic, movie star handsome. But the first thing I’d noticed about him were his eyes. A brilliant, flashing royal blue.
“Yeah.” Those incredible eyes drifted to the papers in my hand. “Hey, is that the assignment? Did you finish it already?”
“Yes.” I reached for my backpack. “Decided to do it early.”
He smiled and I blinked, mesmerized by his dancing blue eyes and even white teeth. “How long did it take you?”
A sharp movement near the door drew my attention back to earth. Two more guys from my current affairs class shuffled into the room. Tim and Randy. They were new, too. One was tall and thin, and the other broad and muscular. Both possessed a hungry, wolfish look.
I glanced back at Trent’s handsome, smiling face. “Two hours. You could do it in less, though. I got sidetracked reading other articles.”
“Could I buy it from you?”
Shocked, my whole body froze.
Trent’s grin widened. He was only joking.
“I don’t think so,” I bantered back, and reached for the zip to my backpack.
Dark-haired Tim prowled up to me. “I want to see it.”
I glanced at him, still smiling. But his flat gaze sent a flicker of unease through me. My smile faded. “Sorry, no. Dr. Williams wants us to do our own work.”
Randy invaded my personal space next. His heavy forearms glinted gold in the fluorescent light. He wore a knotted black band around his bicep. Tim wore one, too. Some new, tough guy fashion statement?
“Maybe you ought to reconsider, girly.”
I glanced at Trent for moral support, but his tanned features had paled.
Randy and Tim’s faces appeared oddly expressionless, but their eyes glittered. Sudden fear licked through me, because I realized they didn’t want to see my paper at all. They wanted to scare me.
Tim stepped closer. His eyes looked like black marbles. I took a step back, and felt the computer table press into my leg. What was going on here? It was bizarre.
I glanced quickly around the room, looking for an avenue of escape, but saw none. What should I do? Who would help me? Obviously not Trent. More fear welled in my heart.
And then I remembered I wasn’t alone. God was here too, even though I couldn’t see him. I glanced up and silently prayed. Help me, Lord, please!
“What are you doing, praying?” Hatred snarled through Tim’s voice.
“Looks like we’ve got a Christian here, Tim.” Randy jabbed a finger into my midriff. “Says Truesdale First Gospel.”
“Stop it!” I slapped at his hand.
“So that’s why she won’t give us the paper. It’s the Christian thing to do.”
Terror prickled. They hated me, just because I was a Christian?
Why? Help me, Lord, please!
Suddenly, cool calm slipped into my heart. God had heard me. He was with me. He would help me.
I spoke before thinking, “Yes, it is the Christian thing to do. It’s also the right thing to do. I won’t do your work for you.”
Randy’s florid features convulsed. He pushed his face close to mine, and my confidence wavered under a curl of fear. Was God really with me? Why hadn’t I shut my mouth, for once in my life?
Randy drew a mighty breath. I imagined hatred inflating his lungs like a balloon. He exploded, “Don’t force your Christian way of thinking on us, girl! We’ve got rights. And one of those rights is to see that paper!”
“Hey.” Trent spoke up at last.
Randy ignored him. His meaty fist painfully clamped around my wrist. I twisted my arm, futilely trying to free myself.
“Give me that paper,” he hissed. His breath smelled like rotten eggs and day old fish patties. Panic threatened to overwhelm me. Where are you, Lord? Please help!
“Let her go.” The new voice sounded quiet and authoritative. Deep, too
All eyes in the room swiveled to stare at the intruder.
The guy was a stranger to me. He had short, wavy dark hair, and a knapsack over one shoulder. Of medium height and build, he wore a plain white T-shirt, blue jeans, and topsiders with no socks. The shirt clung to his well-defined muscles, which gave the impression he worked out.
His unusual face arrested my attention. He had piercing black eyes, a nose that was a little off kilter, and dark brows, the left of which tilted slightly higher than the right.
An odd, concentrated energy radiated from him. He advanced further into the lab, and gestured with the rolled up paper in his left hand. His muscles rippled. “Let her go, guys.”
Randy’s lip curled. “A Jew. Come to help a Christian. Now, isn’t this a pretty sight?”
To my surprise, I found myself free. Randy had transferred his attention to the newcomer. Hands shaking, I snatched up my backpack. I had no clear idea what might happen next, but I was ready to run.
“Leave her alone.” The stranger stood relaxed, with his feet slightly apart. A ready stance, should Randy or Tim try to rush him. But they didn’t.
Long moments ticked by. Then a surprising thought crossed my mind; Randy and Tim were afraid of him. They were brave enough to bully a woman, but not someone who’d offer them an even fight.
With a disgusted snort, Randy jerked his shoulders. “We’re outta here. We know her paper’s trash.”
Tim’s black eyes slitted, but he swung away from me, too. Both men shouldered past the stranger and vanished into the hallway.
I leaned against the table, feeling shaky with relief. God had answered my prayer. He had sent this stranger just in the nick of time.
“Hey,” Trent’s wobbly voice drew my attention. “I’m sorry. I never thought…” He looked shaken.
“It’s okay.” But I wondered why he hadn’t spoken up sooner—but that wasn’t fair. Who knew Randy and Tim would back down if confronted?
“It wasn’t your fault,” I told him.
Movement caught my eye as the stranger slipped from the room. Knees still feeling a bit wobbly, I moved toward the door. “See you in class Friday?”
“Yeah! See you then.” Trent’s voice sounded over-eager.
The stranger swiftly strode down the hall. I trotted after him, determined to thank him for stepping up for me. Seconds later, I walked quickly beside him.
Up close, he topped my five foot six by only a few inches, and he wasn’t good looking. He had seemed bigger in that small room. Maybe it was the force of his vibrant, tightly leashed personality.
“Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t…”
“Forget it.” His mouth was straight and unsmiling. Striding rapidly ahead, he held the door open for me, and we both stepped outside. Humid, hot air enveloped us.
“I’m Kay Jameson.” I said, unperturbed by his uncommunicative silence.
Did his mouth twist up slightly? It did. “Mitch Rubenstein.” He glanced at me. “Where are you headed?”
“The parking lot.”
“Good, I’m headed that way, too.” His bass voice sounded casual.
But my back suddenly prickled. Did Mitch feel the danger, too? If so, the relaxed set of his stocky shoulders gave no indication. Randy and Tim were watching us. Watching me. I was glad Mitch was with me.
“So, you’re a Christian?” His question caught me off-guard.
He did not look at me. “You’ll want to be careful, then. Those two belong to a Christian/Jew hate club on campus.”
“What?” I stopped dead in my tracks. “Are you serious?”
Unsmilingly, Mitch met my gaze. This wasn’t a joke. And why would he joke? People hated him, too.
“I can’t believe this.” I fell into step beside him again. “Why would anyone hate Christians that much? Or Jews? It seems so Naziish.”
“I don’t know.” The slight inflection in his tone dismissed the topic as unimportant.
We reached the parking lot a few silent moments later, and stopped beside my old brown Mustang.
“Thanks again.” I felt awkward now. He was an odd guy. Withdrawn, and obviously complex.
He smiled, surprising me. “Glad to be of help.” He stepped away and snapped the rolled up paper in farewell. “See you around.”
But he must have snapped his wrist harder than he’d thought, for the paper cylinder flew from his hand and curled open, fluttering to rest on the hot asphalt, inches from my feet.
With a smile, I bent to retrieve it. A corner of the thin, curled open paper caught my attention as I straightened. It was a charcoal drawing.
“Are you an artist?”
“Yeah,” his face flushed as he accepted the drawing back. “I draw what I see. Sometimes I don’t understand what that is. Guess that doesn’t make much sense.”
“Sure, it does.” Incredible curiosity gripped me. “Could I look at it?”
He hesitated, but unrolled the roughly textured paper. “I understand this one a little.”
His comment faded as I stared at the spare, bold black strokes covering the page. Two eyes in heaven watched the earth. I couldn’t look away from them.
Vaguely, I heard Mitch speak. “It’s God watching the earth, and man, whom he created.”
Feeling oddly befuddled, I tore my gaze from the page. “He looks angry.” I don’t know why I said that. The eyes didn’t look angry. They looked loving, patient, and watchful. And yet anger lurked around the corner. In their depths.
“I know,” Mitch looked at the picture again. “I get that feeling too. Strange, isn’t it?”
I nodded, and my gaze returned to the sketch. It was odd.
“A verse kept coming to mind when I drew it.” Mitch slowly rolled up the sketch again. “Jeremiah seventeen, verse nine. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’” He glanced at me; maybe wondering how I felt about him quoting scripture.
I stared at him, fascinated and surprised.
He slowly went on. “And I also thought of a verse in Isaiah. ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…’”
“‘And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,’” I finished.
What a strange conversation to have in the middle of a hot, muggy parking lot. I said, “That verse is a prophecy of Jesus Christ.”
Mitch’s piercing black eyes shuttered, and he hefted his knapsack more securely up on his shoulder. “Of course you’d think that. You’re a Christian.” His shoulders twisted away. Clearly, the conversation was over. The realization filled me with disappointment.
“Thanks again, Mitch.”
When he glanced back, a smile twisted his lips. “See you around, Kay.”
My car coughed long and hard, as usual, before starting, and then I pulled out of the parking lot. When I entered the smooth flow of traffic east on High Street, my thoughts returned to Mitch, his picture, and the scene in the journalism lab.
What a strange afternoon. Frightening. Very frightening. And yet the time with Mitch had eased my fear.
Why did Randy and Tim hate Christians? And what did Mitch’s picture really mean?
I turned the corner onto West State Street. The street is home to one of Truesdale’s upscale neighborhoods. Each house is built on a half acre of land. My own home is no different. It’s two stories tall and painted white, with brick trim and pillars. Dark strips of wood frame the windows and the huge, mahogany front door. Brass lamps adorn each side of the garage.
I knew the garage was full, so I parked on the street. Grabbing my backpack, I stepped over the clean gutter and onto the sidewalk. With the rolling green lawn, and stately elm tree gracing the front yard, it looked like the picture of peace and tranquility.
On the outside.
I pushed open the door and stepped inside. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until my lungs protested. It was almost seven, but silence enveloped the house. My spirits lifted with hope.
I slipped by the gargantuan living room, decorated by my mother in soft earth tones, and followed the short hallway to the kitchen.
That’s when I heard voices. The television murmured in the den, to my left. Dad was home, watching T.V. And Mom and my eighteen-year-old sister, Theresa, spoke quietly in the kitchen.
I turned right, into the kitchen.
The low-voiced conversation at the expensive teak table, near the French doors, stilled instantly. Two heads swiveled toward me. Mom’s was a fashionable silver blond cap, and my sister’s a dark, artistically curled wave to her shoulders. The expression on each of their perfectly made up faces was identical: frowning, and pinched with displeasure.
Mom rose gracefully to her feet and smoothed her sliver pantsuit with wrists encircled by slim, fashionable bracelets. She was thin. Thinner than me, and that wasn’t good.
“Dinner is in the oven.” Her voice sounded brittle, as usual. “We’ve already eaten.”
I dropped my backpack on the counter and turned away from those frosty blue eyes. “Thanks, Mom. I’m hungry. Had to finish up a paper for journalism class.”
I offered a smile over my shoulder, but it faltered when I saw her expression—tight, disappointed, sad. Because I had missed dinner? I glanced back at the oven. Had I missed it on purpose? I hadn’t considered it until this minute. Maybe I had.
Silent moments ticked by while I fixed my plate, poured a glass of milk, and joined Theresa at the table. She eyed me. Her light blue eyes looked hostile, and slightly contemptuous.
“I can’t believe you’re working so hard. This is the first week of school. My professors haven’t even given me homework yet.”
Familiar resentment surged. Luckily, I’d just popped a forkful of meatloaf in my mouth, so I couldn’t spit back the irritated reply that flew to mind.
I hate it when she talks down to me.
Swallowing at last, I said evenly, “Things will be different when you’re a junior.” You’ll be taking harder classes than Dance 101 and English 1a, for one thing. But I didn’t say that.
The artificial highlights in Theresa’s hair gleamed red as she turned. “Momma? Can I have twenty bucks for my date tonight? We might stop by the mall, and there’s this to die for scarf I’d love to pick up.”
“Ask your dad, honey.” Mom’s voice sharpened. “You know he controls the finances in this house.”
“Okay.” My sister’s full face dimpled. Long ago, she’d learned how to wrap Dad around her little finger. He never refused her—or me, either, to be honest—anything. We were his weaknesses.
Long, silent moments dragged by. Theresa’s red nails rapped, rat a tat rat a tat, on the table. Annoying in the extreme.
“So,” I broke in. “Who are you going out with tonight?” I tried to sound interested, although I didn’t quite feel it. Theresa dated a different guy every night. My parents said it was okay, as long as she kept her grades up.
“Tom.” Theresa eyed me with disinterest. “I suppose you’ve got that church group tonight.”
“Yes. We’re going to watch a movie.”
“That’s nice.” Theresa glanced at her watch and jumped up. “Gotta go. Tom will be here soon.” She sneered this last bit over her shoulder. I couldn’t help but glare at her as she swept from the room.
This was her constant taunt. She went out on tons of dates, and I barely dated at all. She thought it was completely abnormal. She also thought I was strange because I loved going to church activities with my best friends.
“Do you need anything else, dear?” Mom hovered near the door. Her eyes looked soft for the first time that evening. And there, just for a second, I saw the unhappiness glimmering in them.
“No. But thank you, Mom.” I offered a quiet smile. I knew she loved me. It’s just that we seemed to have so little in common these days. I dug again into my meatloaf.
“Come to Burger B. . .”
My fork faltered when the volume of the T.V. soared in the den.
“Would you turn that down, Winston?” My mother’s shrill voice tried to drown out a honking fast food commercial. “I’m trying to talk to you!”
My father rumbled something unintelligible.
“I have a woman’s auxiliary meeting tonight. Remember? Did you put gas in the car?”
A small silence ensued. I heard only the voice of the newscaster cutting in, announcing a dozen murders in the city today, compared to fifteen yesterday, and the sound of my teeth slicing through mushy green beans. I hated to listen to Mom harangue Dad. But I was stuck in the kitchen until I finished my supper.
“What about the brakes?” Mom charged. “When are you going to fix those? I’ve asked you a thousand times! You know they make that awful squealing noise. I tell you, I’m embarrassed to drive it anywhere.”
“What? I can’t believe you, Winston. It’s not like we’re poor, for heaven’s sake! Why can’t we just buy a new car? I…”
“There’s gas in the car, Helen!” Dad’s angry voice cut her off.
The newscaster blared into the sudden silence, “And Senate challenger Woodward is coming in October…”
“Fine. I can see how important I am to you. Go ahead, listen to your stupid news.”
Rapid footsteps crossed the carpet. Then Mom’s heels clattered down the hall. The front door slammed. And with it, the volume of the T.V. dropped to a murmur.
Feeling sick to my stomach, I swallowed one last time, and then rose and scraped my plate into the sink. Not even the harsh, grinding noise of the garbage disposal could erase the sound of my parents’ quarrel from my mind.
I hate it when they fight. It doesn’t matter who starts it. This evening was Mom. Tomorrow would be Dad. It never seems to end.
Thankfully, tonight I could leave the house. I just wanted to escape and have fun with my friends. First, though, I would see how Dad was doing.
“Hi, Dad.” The television flickered in the far corner of the dimly lit room. My father sat in his favorite recliner with his back to me, and the sports section of the newspaper open before him. All I could see was the top of his silver, neatly styled head. And his stocky arms, encased in a crisp white shirt.
Theresa has inherited her body type from him, and she hates it. Maybe that’s another reason why she hates me so much. I take after Mom. Both of us are thin. But Theresa has inherited Mom’s classic beauty. I look more like Dad.
“Hi, kid.” Dad lowered the paper when I slipped toward the couch, to his right. His patrician features softened for a moment, and his hazel eyes glinted behind his reading glasses. “How was your day?”
“Okay.” I didn’t tell him what had happened in the journalism lab. He had enough to worry about.
“Dad.” Theresa popped in, her tone wheedling. Bright gold baubles hung from her ears and dripped from the necklace around her throat. She wore a ruffled designer dress. “Can I have twenty dollars? Mad money, you know. In case Tom decides to dump me.” She let loose a small, self-deprecating giggle.
I mentally rolled my eyes. What had happened to that scarf she’d just told Mom about? She probably still meant to buy it. But she knew how to play Dad to get what she wanted.
Dad smiled at his youngest daughter. “That won’t happen to you, honey. But here,” he extracted a bill from his wallet and winked at her. “Go buy yourself something pretty.”
Theresa flushed, and smiled. “Thanks, Daddy.” She gave him a kiss just as the doorbell rang, and whirled from the room.
Dad sat very still and listened as Theresa shrilly welcomed “Tom.” His faint mumble blended into a T.V. commercial attacking Senator Gilroy.
Dad’s gold watch flashed when he raised the paper again. “Sounds like a nice guy.” He’d given up checking out all of Theresa’s boyfriends. It took too much effort.
“Bye, Dad.” I brushed his scratchy cheek with my lips. “I’m going to church.”
“Okay, honey. Guess the old man gets a little peace and quiet tonight.”
Truth lay behind his joking tone. Dad treasured his quiet time. That was one reason why he took long, solitary walks every afternoon after work.
I ran upstairs, brushed my hair, brushed my teeth, dashed on a natural rose lipstick, and then scampered downstairs again. It was almost seven-thirty. I would be late.
“See you, Dad!” I called out, and slammed the front door behind me.
It was dusky outside, and I halted on the front doorstep, battling the familiar feeling of unease. Dark figures hurried west along the sidewalk, toward the college.
Evenings were dangerous, even in the nice neighborhoods. Especially in the nice neighborhoods. I knew gangs patrolled our street, because I had seen the graffiti. And last week an old lady down the block was assaulted and robbed.
I slipped quickly down the walk to my Mustang and locked myself inside. The car coughed again and again, but finally started. Engine roaring, I pulled away from the curb, zipped around the block, and headed east for the church, which was located two miles away and a few blocks south.
I parked in the lot behind the small, steeple-topped church and hurried to the front entrance. I had attended Truesdale First Gospel ever since I’d become a Christian, four years ago.
I sniffed deeply as I entered the sanctuary. I loved the smell of this church. Warm wood, furniture polish. And love. People here loved God, and loved other people.
“Kay!” A flash of bright red hair and a waving arm beckoned me. “Come on, you’re late. Bobby’s about to start worship.”
Trotting after Joyce, I slid down a smooth wooden pew.
“Hi.” David’s lanky form scooted in after me. “Looks like we’re both late.”
“Shh!” Joyce touched a manicured finger to her lips. “Bobby’s about to speak.”
David grinned and leaned forward, well used to Joyce’s focused, no-nonsense manner. “You guys want to get coffee afterward?”
Joyce sent him an annoyed look. “Fine, but would you please…”
“Sounds like a great idea,” I said, sending a quick, quelling look to my two best friends. I was not in the mood for a petty squabble tonight.
Thankfully, Bobby spoke into the microphone.
“Good to see everybody tonight!” His enthusiastic tone sounded a bit artificial, which was strange, but his grin widened to encompass the college students who dotted the sanctuary. “We’ll start off with worship, led by my lovely wife, Laura.” A smile for her. “Then we’ll see the movie. But first, let’s have a word of prayer.
“Father God, we ask that you bless this evening, and use this worship and the movie tonight to minister to our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I poked David’s T-shirted torso with my elbow. “You’re not playing the guitar?”
He shook his dark head, his brown eyes gleaming. “Bobby wanted to keep it short and sweet.”
While Laura played the piano, we all stood and sang a few of our favorite praise songs. Then the movie started.
The lights dimmed, and the title flashed across the screen which hung behind Pastor Warner’s glass pulpit. Red block letters on a black background read, “Are We Living in the Last Days?”
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