Yup, it's me, here at last. I've succumbed.
A couple of things that most of you probably know, but that I should get out of the way for anyone who doesn't know me very well. I belong to the Church of Christ, and I'm writing what I know, as they say. While the CoC is fundamentalist in a broad sense, we're amil rather than premil, and don't believe in salvation by faith alone or use the Sinners' Prayer. (We do require baptism by immersion.) As a result, though we're sometimes allied politically with other fundies, we've been at odds with them for a very long time. (There may be other concepts you don't recognize. Feel free to ask. We can be wacky at times.)
How Firm a Foundation
Rating: PG (some bad language; cosmic horror, by some people's definitions)
Crossposted at my LiveJournal
That Janice was waiting for him at home was the final straw. Nathan broke down and cried like a baby while she held him. It didn't help, really, because her attempts to whisper comfort to him--"We don't know. It could be...well, something else. Aliens. A government plot..."--were such blatant lies. She didn't believe in aliens any more than he did, and what sort of government plot could make people vanish into thin air? Finally she gave up the pretense and just wept with him, which helped. A little.
"How?" she said, at last, scrubbing at her reddened eyes.
"You remember Ralph Hardeman?"
Of course she did. Janice said nothing, only nodded. It was hard to forget a man who hadn't been to visit in ten years.
"That argument we had, where I finally lost my temper. I told him, no, I didn't believe he was going to heaven, I was sorry, but it just wasn't what the Bible taught. I was looking right at him, thinking of that, how it was never the same after that between us. It's the code, you know? I'd broken it. The Baptists don't turn on the Assemblies of God folk, the Nazarenes don't tell the Presbyterians they're going to hell. Not usually, anyway, not any more. And they don't understand why we don't follow it. They don't see how we're different.
"I was thinking about that--no, dwelling on it, wishing I had the guts to try inviting him to dinner one more time, maybe iron things out at last. And I blinked, and he was gone, and I was seeing his clothes collapse into the seat. I guess I sort of expected him to look smug, you know? But there wasn't time.
"That's how we're different, Janice. We were wrong. They were right and we were wrong. And I don't...don't...I don't understand!" That last came out almost in a wail. "I've been a deacon ten years. I've explained this subject a thousand times. Hell, I was on that panel back in college. I'm not some asshole making fun of things he doesn't understand; I know the Scriptures on the subject backwards and front. Damn it, I thought I did."
"Don't what? Don't curse? What's it matter? What's anything matter? We're still here, Janice. We're still here and we're damned, so what the fuck does it matter if I curse? What..." he grasped frantically for something, anything, "...does it matter if I hit you? Or go screw your sister? Or anyone I want? It's over. It's all over."
"It matters," she said simply. After a moment... "Do you want to hit me? Not that that's an invitation, you understand."
"No," he said, trying to keep the sharpness out of his voice. Trying and failing. "But I want to hit someone. I want answers, and if I had to beat them out of someone.... But not you. Never you."
"Then that's a reason, of a sort, isn't it? You don't want to."
Nathan took a quick, heaving gulp of air. A little calmer. "How'd it... I mean, can you talk about it yet?"
"I...I suppose. I was on the phone with the branch manager, and he stopped talking in mid-sentence. I thought, well, he's been cut off, and I rolled my eyes and redialed. You know how those things are. And then I heard Kathy scream, and I got up and cut off the call before I had time to realize it was still ringing, because you know she was going to have her baby in another couple of months, she was so excited, and I was afraid something had gone wrong. I was going to dial 911 for her. She was standing in front of her seat--she'd jumped up--with her pants around her ankles. I'm afraid I nearly laughed--there's Kathy half-naked in the bank, for no reason!--only then I realized she was, her stomach was flat as a board."
Janice ran a hand straight down her stomach at this, indicating. "The baby, she was just gone. As if Kathy'd never been pregnant at all. And then this man started shouting, 'Danny! Danny, where'd you go?' His son's clothes were on the floor, and a balloon, one of those we give the kids, and I thought for a moment, is he crazy? But he didn't know, of course, not like we did. He didn't know, and he was scared to death. And I wanted to fall back into my chair and, I don't know--just sit there, or cry, or something. But I made myself go over to Kathy and sit her down. She started mumbling to herself--in shock, I suppose--and I went ahead and called 911, but the lines were all busy by then. So I talked to her, tried to keep her calm, until finally her husband came in and picked her up. The roads weren't that badly jammed out by the bank, and I was able to drive home."
Janice fell silent. Her eyes were red, but dry, as if she'd run out of tears. Nathan stepped into the empty space. "I guess I hadn't really thought about after. All those cars.... There was a pileup right in front of the office when I came out to look. I didn't think anyone was hurt bad, because I didn't see any ambulances, and then I realized they weren't coming. There was this guy screaming--his arm was just hanging--and I thought I should help him, but..." His voice failed him for a moment. "I couldn't do it. Just the idea of trying to do anything with his arm, I nearly threw up. It looked like...like jelly. I never saw an arm look like that. Do...d'you think that's the real reason? The folks who could've made themselves help, maybe they're all gone."
"I'd be gone," she murmured, and Nathan nodded. She'd done what she was best at. It was just him, then. He'd failed, and that was all.
"We had to walk home," he said at last. "That's what took me so long. No one could get their cars out of the lot, past the wrecks, but there wasn't going to be any more work that day, not for us. Some of my co-workers were afraid there'd be riots, so we got together and walked each other home."
"Well, then," she said. "That was something. You did what you were able to do. You're not so bad. And I didn't see anyone else with you, so you were the last, weren't you? You finished the trip alone."
"I suppose I'm bad enough. We both are. I keep asking myself, how many people did I stick here with us, teaching them what I did. I thought we were right, for...for Pete's sake. I thought I was telling them the truth. Only I wasn't, and it's my fault."
"Nathan," she began, and the telephone rang. He picked it up, hands shaking. "Who's this?" he asked, more roughly than he'd meant. Then he didn't say anything else for a long while, not even before finally dropping the receiver back into its cradle, or afterwards either.
"Nathan," Janice said again, finally. "Who was that?"
"It was the university," he said flatly, unable to find anything left to put into the words. "About Christine."
"Oh," she said. "Is...is she gone?" She sounded hopeful, and ashamed to be.
"They were having the students, the ones who were able, try and help. Getting people to the hospital, talking some of 'em down, looking for people who might be trapped...I don't think it's going to be enough, you know. And they took names as they went, trying to get a sense of who was still there. That was...that was a volunteer, she said it looked like less than five percent of the students were gone. Maybe much less. Most of them, ah...not us. Other churches. And--oh God!" He dropped his head into his hands and began to sob. "She was in her room. She'd taken some pills. They tried to revive her, but she was cold, Janice. She'd been in there for hours. God, Janice, our little girl. Our daughter." Nathan fell to his knees, not praying, just...helpless.
He felt her arms go around him. It was all they could do.
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