Saturday, June 7, 2008

taken

Jeff Martin had never liked sleeping alone. It was, he supposed, one of the reasons it had taken him so long to walk away from the farce that had been his marriage. That, and the kids. The fear of hellfire hadn’t played much of a role in it all. He’d lost that fear long ago, around the time he’d actually picked up a Bible for himself and started comparing its contents to the good Pastor’s weekly “messages.” No, religion had played no real part in the messy decisions of his younger self, only a desire to be normal.

And what could be more normal, he thought now, than to miss your family when they’re away? Stan had flown out two nights ago for a big medical conference in London, and Brandi had the kids this week. The little townhouse was quiet, far too quiet for sleep. And so, he was sitting up at the kitchen table, leafing listlessly through a three-month-old People magazine when the phone rang.

“Jeff? Jeff, are you there?”

“I’m here.” Jeff didn’t bother asking whether Stan had any idea what time it was in Ontario. He sounded frantic. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“You need to turn on the news. Right now. And then you need to call Brandi.” When Jeff didn’t immediately respond, Stan shouted into the phone. “Jeff! Jeff? Do you hear me?”

“Yeah,” said Jeff, reaching for the TV remote. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Is this about the girls? I really don’t think Brandi . . .” His voice trailed off as the words of the CNN reporter registered. For several long moments, he just sat where he was, phone in hand, staring at the TV.

“Jeff!?”

His throat felt like sandpaper. Slowly, thickly, he forced himself to swallow, and to take a breath. “Yeah.”

“Call Brandi. Go over there if you have to.”

“Is it true?” Stupid question. If it wasn’t true, would Stan have called him in the middle of the night? “How do I stop it?”

Stan’s voice was suddenly very quiet. “I don’t know,” he said. “Just get over there. Take your cell. You’ve got hours still. I’ll call you as soon as I find out anything else.”

“Right,” said Jeff. Then, he stood up. No time to sit here numbly. He had to get to Brandi’s place. Had to see the girls. “Right,” he said, more decisively this time. “I’ll grab my cell. Call me as soon as you can.”

“I will,” Stan promised. “God, that sounds lame, doesn’t it? But I will. I’ll call you every hour and tell you what I’ve found out.” A short pause. “Whatever happens, I love you.”

Jeff nodded silently, but couldn’t bring himself to say it back before he hung up the phone. Not now. God, what if those horrible pastors had been right all along? He grabbed his coat and his cell and ran for the door. “Hang on girls, I’m coming.”

He called Brandi from the car, and before she could snarl at him for calling in the middle of the night, told her to turn on the news. “I’m on my way over,” he said, and hung up before she could say anything.

The drive to his ex-wife’s place normally took less than twenty minutes, but with every precious second counting down to the end of the world, he ignored the posted speed limits and made it there in exactly twelve. When he pulled up, Brandi was standing out on the street, loading up her shiny little two-door car. Maddie and Emily were already in the back seat, looking sleepy and confused. He called out to them as he flung open his car door, but Brandi ignored him. Maddie saw him and waved.

“You know what this is, Jeff,” said Brandi as he approached.

“I know what it might be,” he replied. “Where are you planning on going?” He himself had had some vague idea about driving west to buy some time, maybe keep the girls safe until someone could figure out for sure what was happening, and if it could be stopped.

Brandi planted herself between him and the car. Between him and his daughters. Hands on hips, she met his gaze squarely. “The Lord is calling his people home,” she said, “and we’re driving east to meet Him.” After a moment, her face softened. “You don’t have to stay behind, you know. There’s still time to get right with God.”

“You can’t know for sure it’s the Rapture!” Jeff said. She was going to take them. Going to take Maddie and Emily and drive them into the very danger they should be running from.

Brandi’s voice was calm and cool. “Are you willing to risk your soul on the possibility that it isn’t?”

“Are you willing to risk our daughters’ lives on the possibility that it is? Maddie was watching them. Seven years old, she had already seen her parents fighting more times than Jeff had ever liked to consider. She never liked to see it, but this time was worse. She would see the fear in his face, hear it in his voice.

“We’re going, Jeff.” Brandi had opened the driver’s door and was getting into the car now. Not believing what was happening, Jeff hesitated for one second too long before reacting.

“No!” he cried, flinging himself forward just as the door slammed shut. He grabbed at the handle, but Brandi had already locked the door. In the back seat, Maddie was crying, confusion and fright etched on her innocent face. He couldn’t see Emily at all, just the hump of her favourite yellow blanket, under which she often hid when she was scared.

“You can’t just take them!” he cried. “They’re my kids, too!”

Brandi rolled down her window just a crack. “You’ve still got time,” she said. “If you get right with God, you’ll see them again.” She smiled as she turned the key in the ignition, her expression as close to affectionate as he’d seen it since well before the divorce. “We’ll all see each other again soon. Goodbye, Jeff. And good luck.”

She turned around and murmured something soothing to the girls as she pulled out of the driveway, doing her best to distract them from the fact that their father was running alongside the car, banging on the windows and yelling. As she picked up speed, Jeff fell behind. The last thing he saw before they turned the corner was Maddie’s face, wide frightened eyes and tousled hair.

And then they were gone.

6 comments:

Abelardus said...

I found this to be a very chilling tale in the "Rapture Wave" genre.

The Ridger, FCD said...

If it's the Rapture, it'll get her kids no matter where they are; if it's not, she's dooming them. And yet she goes ahead... and she would, wouldn't she?

Chilling is a good word.

borealys said...

Thanks for the comments!

I started out wondering about those families that would inevitably disagree about what to do in the face of the rapture wave. The emotional blackmail part slipped in and surprised me ... but, after all, isn't emotional blackmail what LB's theology is all about?

Nenya said...

Oooh. Very well done.

Poor Jeff, afterwards. Is he going to "do the deal" and convert in hopes of seeing his kids? :(

Anonymous said...

"Rapture Wave" not only looks like it's taking off (hee hee), it's shaping up as a series of flashfics along a greater story arc. When you all get to 60,000 words or so total, you might want to ship it around for professional publication in the mainstream horror genre (Not repeat NOT the CBA).

I would advise to have one or two continuing story arcs (like the "End of the World, Part X") interweaving through the series, dropping in every few flashfics. These would provide a skeleton for the entire collection and give it purpose and direction, not just a chaotic stew of flashfics.

The obstacles I see in reaching professional publication are:

1) Finding an agent and/or publisher, as per any new writer(s).

2) Friction between the myriad authors; I've seen two-writer collaborations blow up into blood feuds, above and beyond the "herding cats" problems with multiple authors.

This might be lessened by doing it as an anthology, with an actual editor.

3) A collection should build up to a climax; so far, we have first chapters and flash vignettes; as Rapture Wave grows, some of the linked-list arc authors might want to give some thought to The End (hee hee), where they are taking it and how their arcs will climax.

I belong to two Christan genre writer YahooGroups; would anybody mind if I tipped them off to Rapture Wave?

borealys said...

I can think of another, more significant obstacle to professional publication, namely the fact that it's all been posted publicly right here. Not a lot of publishers are going to buy something, particularly from unknown authors, if they can't get first publication rights. That's not to say that a group of interested people couldn't write up a collection of new stories and vignettes on the same theme and try to sell it as an anthology.

Heck, I'd buy it.