I must have been walking across campus when it happened.
It was a small bible college on the edge of Appalachia - pretty scenery, naïve girls, stolid minds. I hated the place, and it hated me, it and I were a poor marriage from the moment we’d met, but I’d made my bed and had no choice but to lie, cheat, and steal in it. I’d gone to a bigger, better state school before a nervous breakdown landed me here, the victim of loving parents who felt a Christian environment would be better for me than a secular one, I’d meet a better class of people, I’d get in less trouble, my mental wounds would heal more quickly here.
Wrong on all counts, of course, and I suspected as much before I’d agreed to come, but among my ailments at the time was a profound crisis of faith. The prospect of a few answers to life’s more profound spiritual questions had no small appeal for me in that state of mine. I quickly learned the truth, however: that you can no more have a Christian School than you can have a Christian Toaster or a Christian jar of Mayonnaise. Schools are organizations, things, and Christianity is a belief. Organizations tend to perpetuate themselves, regardless of what they teach, and beliefs - well, they’re altogether too easily trampled by organizations whether they want to or not. And in this case, their main purpose was preaching to the choir. If you had a crisis of faith, they’d just as soon you left.
I had nowhere else to go, so I stayed and kept my mouth shut, and prayed “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.” I suppose I was lying to God: I didn’t actually believe at all. I wanted to, I tried to, I begged to, but I was always a Knower, not a Believer. Whatever trick there is to faith, I never quite mastered it. Not that it matters now.
As I said, I was walking across campus, down hill from the classroom building, and on to the gravel shoulder of the road when I heard screaming, frantic, unhinged screaming coming from the College President’s house. ‘house,’ they called it, really more like a neo-Georgian mansion. Finest building on the campus. Meanwhile, I lived in an eighty-year-old condemned and heavily water-damaged building, and most of the rest of the students lived in tiny little concrete boxes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Chinese prison camp. Am I bitter? Yes. No point in denying it now. No point in denying anything. I walked on, curious about the bedlam, but not curious enough to check it out. I kept seeing things out of the corners of my eyes, but when I turned to look they were gone, or simply not there to begin with. ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘I’m hallucinating again, just like at the other school’ but as it turns out, I wasn’t.
As I climbed the small hill to my dorm/hovel, the unhinged laugher stopped and I heard a gunshot out of the president’s house. It was muffled a bit by the library between his place and where I lived, so I didn’t really recognize it at the time, but thinking about it since, I realize that’s what it was. I went in to the dark, dusty lobby. There, sitting on the smelly old couches, and standing in every free space was damn near everyone from my dorm, all watching the one TV. A basketball game, I assumed. Lots of Hoosiers in my dorm, and they seem constitutionally incapable of thinking of anything else. I ignored them and the electric feeling of fear emanating from them and went upstairs. I took a nap in my room.
I didn’t dream. Isn’t that odd? No, I don’t guess it is now that I think about it: The time for dreams is done. Anyway, I was rudely awakened by a polite man shining a flashlight in my face, despite it being broad daylight. I was startled, but unafraid. I’d never seen him before, but somehow he didn’t seem like a threat. Maybe it was the toga he was wearing? He told me to come downstairs.
“Everyone has to go. It’s mandatory.”
“Fire drill?” I asked
“Something like that,” the man said.
I relented, pulled on my pants, slipped on my shoes, and followed him down the three flights of sagging stairs. He pointed out the front door, so I went, and he headed back up for whoever else was still up there. On my way out, I caught sight of what looked like New York City burning, with people with jet packs flying around between the buildings. A science fiction movie, I figured, until I realized it was CNN. What the hell? I looked closer. The jet packs looked more like wings, now that I paid attention.
Another man in a toga yelled for me to come outside, so I did, distracted and curious, but still not terribly frightened. Nearly everyone from the school had been arranged in a single-filed line. I dutifully stood in the back of it. Looking way far ahead, I could see the seminary students from the school on the hill across the road at the head of the line. Behind me, people from the apartment complex behind the campus were lining up. The wind was coming up the valley from the road, and carrying the smell of the stagnant, algae-filled creek.
There were several men in togas marching up and down our line, occasionally talking to people. The man who’d gotten me out of bed came out of the rickety old dorm and motioned to one of the other togaed men, who came up to him. I noticed absently that what I’d taken to be a flashlight before was a halo hovering above his head. How the hell had I missed that? While I watched, two dove-white wings unfurled from his back somehow - he was facing me so I didn’t see the mechanics of it - and he rose up and flew away. I tracked him as far as I could, and was rather startled to see several holes in the sky, empty spots, tunnels that went somewhere, and broke off at some crazy angle other than the three directions people were supposed to see. It gave me a headache to look at it.
I blinked and looked away. Our line moved slowly forward. There was a lot of talk and speculation and fear in the queue, of course, but I was strangely calm. “I’m dreaming,” I said.
“Actually, you’re not dreaming” one of the angels said to me. He was walking by with a large tray hanging around his neck, handing out sandwiches and juice boxes to the people in line. “It’s really the end of the world.”
“So what’s going on?” I asked as he handed me some oreos.
“Judgement. You’re all being lined up for that.”
“Oh,” I said. What do you follow up a revelation like that with? “Can I have a napkin?” I stupidly asked, “I promise I won’t litter.”
“Doesn’t matter now,” the angel said, handing me one and moving on to the guy in front of me.
The sun set. The line was moving slowly. There were a lot of people to be judged, presumably. The other angels came by and handed out dinner - Kentucky Fried Chicken, actually. The sun went down. The angels themselves were looking rather bored by this point. It was an uncommonly pleasant night, weather-wise.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said to one of the angels as he walked by.
“Sure, you name it, sport.”
“Weren’t there supposed to be all kinds of signs and things before the end of the world? An Antichrist? A Tribulation?” I asked.
“Youbetcha,” the angel said.
“Well, where were they?” I asked, “I never saw any of that stuff.”
“Oh. Well, you’ve got to remember that stuff was written down by a guy in the first century, right? So what was shocking to him is pretty commonplace to you, right? Space Shuttles, internet porn, endless brush wars in Asia, frozen foods?”
“You’re saying that I’ve been living through the tribulation, and somehow didn’t realize it?” I asked incredulously.
“Oh, sure,” the angel replied, “I mean, given his background and culture and all, John - oh, you might get to meet him later, by the way - John was the kind of guy who’d find a kid on a Big Wheel kind of shocking. But you, coming from a more cosmopolitan background, you found his horrors passé.” He stared pleasantly at me while I connected the dots. Presently he lit a cigarette and took a drag on it.
I had a sudden moment of panic, and the idiot hope that somehow if I could logically argue him in to submission, this dream would end and I’d wake up and be back to normal, but at the same time I was increasingly realizing that I was more awake now than I had ever been before. The line moved forward slightly. The angel turned to leave.
“Wait, wait wait,” I said in a rush blurring the words together, “What about the Rapture?”
“What about it, Chum?” He said.
“All the true Christians were supposed to be caught up to heaven in the twinkling of an eye, right? Snatched away from whatever they were doing? Planes crashing for want of a pilot, cars careening driverless out of control on the highway? What about that? How can you have the tribulation without the Rapture? How can we be in this situation without the signs we were promised?” I was frightened now, yammering.
“Oh, that,” the angel said. “Yeah that happened, but there were only like five or six real Christians in the world. Nobody even missed ‘em.”
I found I couldn’t speak. He walked off to do angel things. The line moved slowly forward.
Copyright 2009, 2011 Republibot 3.0
PLEASE NOTE: This story, and several equally-disturbing-but-longer ones by the same author, have been compiled in an anthology called "Ice Cream and Venom." It is available on Amazon for only 99 cents. If you enjoyed this one, why not give the other a chance? You can purchase a copy here http://www.amazon.com/Ice-Cream-Venom-ebook/dp/B004XNLU8Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=... What the heck, why not? I mean, it's cheaper than a snack from a gas station. Well, excepting the 7-11 Kettle Chips, of course. Those are only like 79 cents, and they're pretty good....but, uhm, you know, if maybe you want something to read while you're eating your snack...