Ray was not surprised when Bruce greeted him at the door with a shotgun at his side, but still the sight of the cold metal shocked him deep inside. The whole world had gone to Hell in only a matter of hours.
He had been lucky enough not to run into too much trouble on his way to the church. A couple of youths threw a brick at his car but that was the extent of the damage.
His neighbourhood had been gutted and raped by pillagers. He was about the only one still left in the neighbourhood, the rest having fled. Only a bunch of unruly youths stayed around, looting and pillaging, delighting in their wanton destruction.
He had gone to the church not because he believed, but because Irene did. Irene had been a faithful parishioner at New Hope Village for years and he knew that if their positions were reversed and he had been taken that's where she'd be: at the church praying for answers. So he went, clinging to the futile hope that maybe he'd find his own answers.
The preacher who greeted him was not the young-faced boy who stood beside Rev. Billings every Sunday; this Bruce was a different creature all together. His face looked hollow, haunted, and gaunt; the circles around his eyes so dark that they looked like bruises. He trembled as he stood in the doorway, one hand still wrapped tight around the barrel of his shotgun.
Ray raised his hands. "It's okay, Bruce. I'm Ray, Irene's husband. You know, Irene Steele." He was babbling and he knew it but part of him was still a little scared that Bruce would blow his head off his shoulders. He wouldn't blame him if he did. The world had gone to hell and everyone had to do what they could to protect themselves.
Silently, Bruce opened the door and let him in. "If you're coming here to use our phones, I've got to warn you: they're disconnected. All our power's out, but I'll try to find a place for you. I'll find a place for everybody," he mumbled.
Ray tiptoed through the rows of bodies that lay on the floor. Nearly every square inch of Fellowship hall was crammed with bodies, huddled masses of human refuse weeping and moaning. Some paced nervously like sad ghosts. Others merely sat on the floor and wailed. None acknowledged Ray as he tiptoed through the hall.
Everywhere he went in the church, it was the same thing: masses of people huddled together, their eyes frightened and gone. Some prayed but most just sobbed or stared off in the distance. There was a dead look in their eyes, a frightening look, of someone who had just had something very important peeled away from them. Ray knew that look; he had seen it himself when he looked in the mirror to shave. "Chloe," he murmured, "Oh god, Chloe." He still hadn't heard from her—phones were out everywhere and she was on the other side of the country. He hoped she was all right.
He had hoped for a few minutes alone in the sanctuary but when he went in there, it was crammed with bodies too. The air stank of sweat and waste, so strong it made him gag. He knelt at the altar, next to an old lady he knew as Loretta. He smiled. He used to have fond memories of seeing her every Sunday back when he used to go to church.
"So what are you here for?" she said in a dull voice. He remembers how she used to sit in front of them in church. She used to give Chloe peppermint candy. He doubts she has any right now.
"Same as you. I want answers." He could barely get the words out of his mouth before he felt like crying. Irene. Ray-Ray. Chloe. God, how he missed them.
"We all do." He looked up to see Bruce standing over him. He gestured to the huddled masses that lay on and between the pews. "They've been arriving non-stop since it happened. I've done my best to be there for them—I've listened to more sob stories in five minutes than most preachers hear in a lifetime—but I don't know anymore. I just can't do it. They're counting on me for answers, and I just don't have them." He choked. The people in the pews turned and murmured in response.
"Preacher..." Loretta mumbled, but she didn't know what to say any more than Ray did.
Bruce waved around a black videocassette. "Rev. Billings prepared this as an 'In Case of Rapture' tape. Guess he in his infinite wisdom didn't count on there being no electricity should the rapture occur." He threw the tape against the podium.
"So do you think this is the rapture?" Ray clutched his head. He knew about the rapture. Lately it had been all Irene could talk about was rapture, rapture, rapture! She would buy every book she could get on the subject, and constantly lectured him, Ray-Ray, and Chloe about it. He had gotten rather sick of hearing about the rapture and sometimes had wished it would come so he could have a little peace and quiet.
"I don't know." Bruce choked. "I don't know anything anymore." He burst out weeping and Ray turned away. He didn't know how to deal with his own emotions, let alone someone else's. Loretta walked up to him and offered him a Kleenex. "Preacher, preacher," she murmured. "If it is the rapture, than what are we? We can't be all bad people. What about the children?"
"I don't know," he said. "I know I should know this stuff—I went to seminary for it and I spent years serving Rev. Billings—but I really don't know. I came here because I have a duty to protect my congregation and I am going to do the best I can to feed and shelter all these people, but I can't give you the answer to anything."
Ray sat at the altar and wondered. Was it really the rapture? Sure seemed like it. All the children were gone and in only minutes, everything had gone to hell. What did that mean for Irene though? Was she in heaven laughing at him at this very minute?
He remembered the last sermon he had attended with Rev. Billings. Billings was new to the congregation, had only been in for a month, when he started preaching on the rapture. He remembered sitting there in the pews as the man's voice thundered to the heavens about the sufferings sinners faced and remembered how for the first time in his life, he felt like rebelling against God. The feeling was further deepened when he noticed Ray-Ray crying. Is it really doing the Lord's work to terrify a child into heaven? After that, he couldn't bring himself to go, couldn't bring himself to face that smug face that calmly proclaimed the damned from the elect. He'd lost count of the number of arguments he and Irene had had about it.
Now as he knelt at the altar, he still felt like rebelling. If this was the Lord's work than God was a cruel, vicious tyrant who needed to be overthrown. Was this some kind of joke of his, ripping away families and innocent children? He did not claim to know who or what God is but he knew who he was and knew he could never bend the knee to such a tyrant. If it meant he would go to Hell, than he'd go to Hell.
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