It was precisely 4:17 and 39 seconds, PM, Eastern Standard Time, of that same day, when the suggestion was first made (I was flipping, dazedly, through news channels at that point, otherwise I probably would never have even turned to Fox News, and of course that's where they said it first) that what had happened that morning was the Rapture. I was livid.
I didn't doubt it for a moment. Of course, after the panic of that morning, the searching and the screaming and the realizing that the neighbors were dealing with the same problem, and the calling around and finding out that all my friends and family were as well, and then the despairing sobs of the early afternoon, followed by the aforementioned emotionally-drained zombielike state - well, you probably could have told me that my daughter had been kidnapped by Lovecraft's mole people and I would have believed you, no problem. It was being that kind of a day. But more than that, it just made sense, in that not-making-any-sense-at-all kind of way. You know? It seemed appropriate. As if this were, had I thought about it, exactly the sort of thing I'd have expected the Christian God to try sooner or later. And that's why I was so pissed.
We're Pagan, you see. At least, I'm Pagan - Eclectic, mostly Celtic influences but not afraid to shamelessly steal from other traditions as well. (I'm particularly fond of Hindu philosophy and aspects of Native American shamanism.) My husband... well, call him a congenial agnostic, no real faith of his own but no particular opposition to faith either, willing to happily go along with the beliefs of those around him so long as they don't require him to be a jerk to anybody or get out of bed early on the weekends. Maeve, so far as she'd been raised in any faith, had been raised in mine. She'd danced happily in drum circles since she was big enough to get away from me at festivals, we'd made flower wreaths at Beltaine and lit candles for the dead at Samhain, before her daddy took her trick-or-treating. She had a Gods and Goddesses coloring book; she could recite whole pantheons by heart. And she always got so excited when she got to point out to us that it was full moon...
Gods, look at me, I'm getting teary-eyed again. Stop it.
So to think that this God, this Christian God whom I've had nothing to do with since college, to think that He decided, because He didn't think that my daughter was old enough to decide for herself, that she was somehow fair game and He could just take her, could just lay claim to her like that, regardless of what she thought or what we thought or what the Gods and Goddesses she was being raised to honor thought... it was infuriating. It was maddening. I saw red, I literally saw red, like a bloody film over my vision, for a good three seconds when the smarmy (and I don't know how they learn it, that knack of looking sympathetic and smarmy all at once, all I know is that they do it and I felt like punching her right then) newsanchor offered up this Rapture theory.
The upside of this was that it broke through the stupor. I reached for my phone.
I'd already talked to my family, during the round of panicked phone calls that marked the transition from frenzied searching to frenzied sobbing. I knew that my brother's 1-year-old son was missing from his crib, but all the adults were intact and accounted for. That didn't prove anything though; my mom had abandoned Christianity even before me, becoming Buddhist while I was still in high school. Dad had continued for a while, but eventually even he had fallen by the wayside. My brother - I don't think Steve ever believed in anything religious, even when we were kids and attended church regularly. And his wife's family was Jewish. Come to think of it, in fact, I didn't really know too many people at all who considered themselves Christians.
Wait, actually... yeah. Two. I knew two.
I hadn't called either of them earlier, even though they were both friends. You have to understand, at first, the main concern was the missing children. Neither of these guys had kids; one was still single, the other had been trying for years with his wife with no success. In my earlier state of super-concentrated focus, it just hadn't occurred to me to call either of them - obviously they wouldn't have any new facts to add. I've never claimed to be a genius while panicking.
I tried Hector first. He answered the phone on the second ring, sounding about as spacey as I had a moment ago.
"Hey," I said, feeling awkward. "Just... checking in on you."
"I'm fine," he said dully. "My parents are fine. My sister's not answering her phone." He paused. "Maeve?"
"Gone," I said, my throat tightening. That one monosyllable made it somehow far more real. Behind that, also, was the guilt - this guy, whom I'd claimed to love like a brother, was asking about my little girl - and I hadn't even thought to call him until now, until I had a theory to check out. Most of my friends thought I was the nice one. Guess this proves them wrong, huh?
There was a pause; I envisioned Hector nodding. "My roommate's kid too," he finally said. Then: "Look, Suze, I should go. I gotta try my sister again, and some other people. You know."
I did. Something in his voice, I suddenly got the idea that he'd heard the Rapture theory too, or come up with it himself. Come to think of it, he'd never been that devout a Christian, had he? Claimed to be one, sure, but didn't do much about it - plus he hung out with all us bloody unredeemed heathens. What would that do to a guy, I wondered? To believe that the Rapture had come - your God's Rapture - and you hadn't been chosen? "Hey," I said suddenly. "Why don't you come over here? I just think we should..." I trailed off, not sure where I was going with that. "I'd just like to see you," I concluded lamely. I didn't have to force the quaver in my voice; I just had to relax my grip on the tears that had been threatening for hours.
He sighed; I knew he would. I knew him, you see - he wouldn't accept comfort from me, no matter how much he needed it, unless he felt like he was also giving comfort in return - and unless he could act as if the giving of said comfort was some kind of a burden on him. It was a machismo thing, engrained below the level of conscious thought. And to be honest, it wasn't much of an act on my part. Even with my new fury-fueled strength, I felt like I was going to fall to pieces at any given moment. "I'll try to come by later today," he said.
"Good," I said softly. We said our goodbyes, and hung up.
So. One Christ-follower accounted for; but, as previously stated - it didn't prove much. By my lights, he was a good guy - one of the best. But by the church's standards, I doubt if he would have passed muster. The man I was about to call was different. Heavy-hearted, like I knew the answer already, I dialed the phone again.
Alisa answered, like I knew she would. Even though I'd called his private cell. I had to go through the protocol, though; I told her I was calling to check on her and Brandon.
Understand - I like Alisa. Very much. But I was friends with Brandon first; I met her through him. I guess that shouldn't matter, but it did, in that moment, when she told me - in that deadened, shellshocked tone that I was coming to hate - that Brandon had vanished that morning, leaving his crumpled clothes behind.
"I'm sorry," I said, not knowing what else to say. "My daughter too," I volunteered, then immediately felt stupid. She had to know that already, she wasn't dumb.
"I'm sorry," she replied.
We sat there on the phone in silence for a moment, unsure how to proceed. Each of us suffering unspeakable loss - her husband, my little girl - each unwilling to say what she felt: that our own loss was the greater. Even if we believed it, we couldn't say it. Because we loved each other.
After about a minute, I realized that was the only thing to say - the only thing that was both important and true. So I told her I loved her; she told me the same.
Afterward, I sat in silence (I'd regained the presence of mind to turn off the television, thank all the powers that be,) thinking. Brandon was gone. I wasn't entirely shocked by this. If you'd asked me to pick the one person on this earth most likely to be taken by the Christian Rapture, after a moment's thought I would have probably said "Either the Pope or Brandon." He was easily the gentlest man I'd ever known; he had this knack, when hanging out with all the rest of us, of not exactly approving, per se, but not condemning either - just of loving us all for who and what we were. The very few times I'd gotten into religious discussions with him, he'd been quiet but adamant in his beliefs, but he never shoved it down your throat either. He was happy - which, I suppose, in this day and age, was as stirring an advertisement for his particular brand of faith as you'll find anywhere. If I put much store in the story of Jesus Christ, I suppose I'd say he was Christ-like.
I got up unsteadily from the couch. I'd reached the maudlin point that demanded tears, or a long rambling speech, or a drink, or all three. I could put up a good front over the phone, maybe, but no more. Heading to the bar we had set up in the corner, I poured myself a shot of Crown Royal scotch. Lifting it up to some unseen point in the far distance, I intoned, "To Brandon," and downed it. It did not burn like fire; it smoked. And in the smoke was clarity.
If it was all true, then Brandon was well-off. He was with the God he loved and served; I would not begrudge him that. I could mourn the loss of his gentle presence in my own life, but I recognized that as a selfish emotion. He himself was where he wanted to be. Good on him.
But I could not find that same emotional reserve when it came to my daughter.
I poured myself another shot of scotch; this was the good stuff, the 18-year-old. Can't celebrate Raptured friends with anything else, now can you? I raised it, said the words: "To Maeve" - but couldn't bring myself to drink it. After about 30 seconds I finally poured it down the sink.
Because she wasn't where she wanted to be, was she? I mean, Uncle Brandon was there, and I had no doubt he'd take care of her... but my daughter was on her own. Without her family, without her friends, without even the Gods and Goddesses she'd been raised to worship. In the words of the old song, "Someone else's Heaven is your Hell."
I'd been raised my whole life to accept the twists and turns that life gave me; to believe that it was just the Gods' way of testing me. And had it been me taken, I most likely would have continued the same way. But this was my daughter. This God, this Christian God, he'd messed with my own Gods and Goddesses, poached on their grounds without so much as a by-your-leave, and in the process He had taken my daughter.
And by all the powers that be, or that ever have been, or that ever will be - I was going to get her back.
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