Sister Teresa woke up in a cold sweat. The sense that something was terribly wrong would not leave her. She bolted from her bed, barely taking time to pull on a robe before exiting her room. In the hallway, she saw that her sister Singers had also gathered. She wasn't sure if she should be relieved or worried that others had sensed it. She decided to be worried.
"What is it?" asked Sister Jeanne, but nobody knew the answer. By common consent, they checked everyone else in the chapter house. Most of the nuns were not Singers, and they had not been disturbed. Pere Etien, another Singer, joined them. Once they had verified that everyone was fine, they debated what to do next. Pere Etien suggested that everyone pray for guidance.
As they prayed, Teresa got a sudden vision. "The children! Check the orphanage."
"Just the two of us," said the priest. "No reason to go charging in like a herd of elephants." The two of them rushed over to the orphanage where they split up. Teresa went to check on the girls and Pere Etien went to check on the boys. Teresa found an eerie scene, a room that should have held perhaps two dozen children held three. Her gasp woke the one of girls up.
The girl looked around woozily. Teresa realized that this was one of the older girls. Then the girl noticed the empty beds. "What's happening? Where is everyone?"
"I don't know," said Teresa, "I'm trying to discover that. Now, please, try to go back to sleep."
The girl shook her head. "I don't believe I can. Let me help look."
Teresa asked her "Who's still here?" The girl identified them as Claire and Helene, both among the older girls. She herself was Celeste.
Teresa and Celeste went looking for Pere Etien and found him confronting a scene much like that in the girls' room. Mostly empty beds, four boys, none of whom had woken. Teresa beckoned the priest out into the hall where she reported her findings. By common consent, they went to wake the custodians, who had a fit.
By the time, the custodians of the orphanage and the nuns from the chapter house got a search organized, word was starting to trickle in of other children missing. It wasn't until morning that they realized the full extent of the losses. Every child under ten was gone. So were many of the children between eleven and fifteen. The Evangelical missionaries who had set up shop in town had also vanished and promptly got blamed for the disappearances. An angry mob headed into the hills to search for them, despite the protests of the priest and the nuns.
The Singers all quietly agreed that whether or not the Evangelicals were responsible for the missing children, no one was likely to see any of them again. Whatever had woken them up in the night, had spirited away both missionaries and kids. All anyone could do was try to pick up the pieces. Eventually, it would occur to someone to look for clues in the missionaries' house.
Chicago, IL, USA
The home of Reverend Michael McKinnon
Reverend McKinnon knelt in his bedroom praying, pleading to know why he had not been found worthy. His wife and four children had been taken by the Lord, yet he remained. Hadn't he preached the Gospel to the unbelievers? Hadn't he smote the enemies of the Lord, the creatures of the night and worshippers of technology? Why then, in the wake of the Rapture was he still on Earth, while his family and flock were in Heaven?
After several hours of praying and fasting, the Archangel Michael came to him as he often came to the reverend in moments of doubt. The angel told him that he was indeed worthy but that the Lord had a special task for him. He was to go among the unbelievers and bring them into a new church, raising an army of the faithful to oppose the Antichrist.
Of course! It made perfect sense. The children were too young to bear such a burden and his wife, too weak, which was only to be expected from a woman after all. The others from the church who remained must be others chosen for this purpose or sinners unworthy of the Rapture. He'd have to determine who was who and bring the sinners to God. He'd start on his mission as soon as he broke his fast.
Chicago, IL, USA
The People's Church
Before stepping up to the pulpit, Reverend Jebediah Whitmore took a moment to pray for guidance. Then he took his place at the front of the congregation.
"Brothers and Sisters, we are here tonight in response to the greatest tragedy the world has ever known. My wife and I share your losses. Our two beloved children vanished along with every other child under the age of ten in the world.
"Now, you are no doubt wondering what happened. So is almost everyone else in the world. And let me tell you, it's the ones who aren't wondering that have me worried. That's because the ones who aren't wondering are sure they know the answer... and I'm just as sure that they're wrong. Y'see, the ones who think they know the answer believe that what happened was the Rapture; that God gathered up all his faithful to his bosom, leaving the rest of us sinners to suffer through seven years of Tribulation.
"I don't believe it, and I have my reasons not to believe it. So let me explain it to you now, and you tell me if what I'm saying makes more sense than the Rapture."
He enumerated his reasons for disbelief one at a time finishing with a scathing rant about how he knew the people of this congregation were good, caring people and they were still on Earth while most of the congregation of a local megachurch which he described as some of the worst hypocrites he'd ever known had vanished.
Having listed his reasons for not believing that what happened was truly the Rapture, he then went on to suggest that some other entity that he identified only as the Adversary was responsible for the recent disappearances and wanted them to look like this alleged Biblical prophecy. He finished by saying "We must not be fooled by this Deceiver and we must resist its efforts to destroy us, the fate of the world is at stake!" As he wound up his sermon, he flared his aura. Most of the congregation lacked the magical awareness to recognize what he was doing, but found his words oddly compelling. Most of them.
After the service, one of the exceptions approached him. "Jeb, are you nuts?" asked a young man in a black business suit. "If you're trying to get yourself raided, I can save you some time and make a phone call."
"Zacharia, what are you doing in Chicago?" asked the reverend. "Come on, I think we'd better talk in my office."
"I came to express my sympathies in person, and update you on the rest of the family." said Zacharia, as they headed to the reverend's office. Jebadiah's wife joined them en route "Rosa lost her baby; she's taking it hard. So are Mama and Papa. On the plus side, they aren't nagging me about my failure to give them grandkids." Zach ducked the swat Jeb aimed at him.
"Don't make light of your family's troubles boy."
"Hey, it's that or have a complete breakdown. You've got a psych degree, you should know that."
"Okay, point. Maybe I'm just taking things too seriously." They entered the pastor's office, and he automatically activated the wards. Then a possible problem occurred to him. "Uh, is your employer going to have a problem with you being incommunicado?"
Zacharia looked thoughtful for a moment. "Depends on how long. Fifteen minutes, probably not. Two hours, definitely. In between, well, the longer I'm out of touch, the more likely they'll be upset."
"I'll try to keep it short, then. Before I say anything else, can you give me your word of honor that your organization didn't instigate this mess?"
"No problem. My word on it. Not only did they not instigate it, they're in a full blown panic over it. I'll tell you though, the Chorus is high on their list of suspects." Zacharia looked apologetic. "I'm glad to hear that you didn't have anything to do with it, but what about this 'pack of hypocrites' you were talking about?"
Jebadiah sighed with relief then said, "A bunch of Pre-Milennialist crazies. I know the Chorus as a whole didn't instigate this, and I don't believe that any factions within the Chorus did, but I do think that one faction and its Sleeper followers, ah, enabled it so to speak. That is they didn't actually plan this, but they set up a belief structure that made it possible." He looked straight at Zacharia, "I also don't think that your bosses took that threat nearly seriously enough even after the Shrub years. I'd hoped that man's disastrous policies would've woken them up."
Zacharia raised his hands, "Don't look at me, cuz. I tried to tell them, but I'm just a lowly minion in the Payroll department."
"Right, well, now that they've had their noses rubbed in their mistakes, I'm just gonna have to try to explain the problem to them. I think you'd better make that phone call, but I've gotta go on a little shopping trip first," said Jebadiah.
"What? You really are nuts." Zacharia looked at his cousin's wife. "Jess, did you know he was gonna do this?"
Jess said, "Yep. We argued about it for the last two hours before the service."
The argument continued for several more minutes.
Crossposted to Right Behind RPG