Fred is an arsonist—and, Fred is not an arsonist. Let me explain: Fred has thought of fire, its power and grace, for a long time. Perhaps since he was a child. He often watched fires, mesmerized ... [+]
It had started earlier in the week. Most people think it happens all at once, but even God can't be expected to run on the precision of manmade clocks. This trickle effect gave us time to prepare. Any moment it would be us.
I stayed up late at night, peering through the blinds. Lit by the moon, neighbors shot up into the air, one by one, each with a whoosh and sometimes a howl. Seized from their earthly toil—grocery lists, taxes, and the need to mow the lawn. Their central organs magnetized to the sky and their limbs hung loosely behind them. Some faces were thrilled, others misshapen by terror. Each one floated up, up, up into the dark clouds. The Rapture was here.
There had been scares before. Last September, I was the last kid left at soccer practice. I was certain that was the beginning of it all. As I walked home, my mind snowballed with the thought of being left to torment as the world burned—a horrific reality for a ten year old. It turned out my grandmother had just fallen asleep while watching her afternoon stories. Close call.
But on this morning, the house was still, blanketed by an eerie sense of calm. I tiptoed into the kitchen to see a half-made PB+J on the counter and a puddle of large clothes on the floor. Dad's gone! This was good. Progress was being made. I had to tell my sister. We would surely be next.
I found Margie in her room, cherub face illuminated by the TV guide channel. She wriggled on the floor like a worm, no doubt pretending the Holy Spirit had taken over her vessel. The toys on her shelf rattled like the cars outside during an ascent. We had spent our entire lives hoping and planning for the joy and privilege of Rapture. No one knew how it would take shape, so physical preparedness was key.
"Dad's gone." I said.
"I know. I saw him just before he ascended. He left his sandwich," she said.
"You can't take sandwiches to Heaven. Everyone knows that."
With no time to waste, we made our formal preparations. We unplugged all of the appliances and fashioned hats from aluminum foil so we could be easily located by the powers above. We stacked Capri Sun pouches and bologna sandwiches in a cooler. I thought it best to make use of the deli slices—anyone left behind didn't need further suffering from the smell of rotting lunch meats. Margie agreed. We dressed in our most comfortable pajamas—Margie in blue and me in purple—and sprawled out on the lawn to wait. We would be beamed up before the world ended.
After fifteen minutes, Margie was impatient. With the fiery passion of an eight-year-old girl, she opened her arms and pleaded her case to the sky: "O, Father! Take me away from here! Lift me from this forsaken land and float me to the moon!"
"I don't think it's the moon, Margie," I said.
"How would you know, Lisbeth. The farthest you've ever traveled is the mall." She was right. I knew nothing of what was to come, but silently feared the worst. My mind assembled a list of all the things that could keep me from paradise:
- When I flushed my green beans down the toilet and told my dad I finished them so I could have dessert.
- When Margie and I were gifted a doll set to share and I told her she wasn't old enough to play with them.
- The time I stuck my tongue out at Darla Whitmore and made her cry.
In the distance, a rumble began like an incoming freight train. Another neighbor was snatched into the sky. We heard the clamor of dropped pots and pans and the ripping of drywall before we saw him. The man rose with speed, letting out a little yelp—his last earthly song. He rocketed into the clouds and was swallowed by the sky. Blink and you'd miss it. The neighbors were hushed as we left one by one, everyone wordlessly fearful of being forsaken. The power lines audibly throbbed with extra current—an ominous heartbeat that kept us waiting, hanging on for the next to rise. All of this was different than was taught to us on Sundays. There wasn't so much a "coming" of Jesus but a "going" of us. Suburbia slowly shrunk into an empty husk. We would rebuild our white-picket utopia in the sky. Or on Mars. Wherever paradise was.
The day ticked by and evening enveloped us. I practiced my ascending faces in the small compact mirror I brought with me, lit by a rogue streetlight. Aiming for a delicate balance of surprise and grace, I previewed my beautiful rise. No one ever said so explicitly, but I believed the prettiest climbs to heaven were the most fortunate ones. Something special waiting for them on the other side.
Margie and I didn't speak, but kept looking each other up and down, checking for floating limbs and sporadic electrical sparks. I didn't see any signs of departure. Exhausted by hours of worry, I finally drifted off in the grass.
When I woke in the morning, I was alone save for a puddle of child-sized blue pajamas.