Fantasy, General Fiction, Short Fiction

Rapturous by Marco Etheridge

The Rapture came to pass on an Easter Sunday and the irony was lost on no one, except perhaps the two and a half billion people who were vacuumed off the face of the earth. What exactly the departed experienced, ironical or literal, remained a mystery. None of them ever returned.

Those of us left behind were awash in a sea of irony, first that the evangelicals had been right about the basic premise of the Rapture, but more so by how wrong they had been about most of the details. As the greatly diminished population of the world tried to sort out exactly what had happened, I had bigger fish to fry. Contrary to years of disappointments and all of my abandoned hopes, it was during the Rapture that I met the man of my dreams.

My name is Brian Phillips. To say that I am unlucky in love is to say that elephants lack streamlining. My remaining friends will tell you that one of my defining characteristics is a long-running series of romantic failures.

I am the perpetual odd man out at gatherings, the single man with no loving arm to cling to. Always the groomsman, never the bride. Until now, that is. Love smacked me upside the head in the weirdness of the immediate post-Rapture world.

I am not some hideous monster who has taken on a human form. Most people would call me reasonably attractive, which means I wasn’t the worst choice when the closing bell rang. My appearance wasn’t the crux of my problems in love. The real trouble sprang from my disastrous judgement.

If I fell for a guy, it was a sure bet that he was damaged goods. I ran through the list like I was on a shopping trip to cupid’s hell: cheaters, narcissists, drama queens, dopers, and drunks. You name the psycho, I dated him. But as the bizarre phases of the Rapture began to unfold, my love life took on a whole new look.

That the Rapture occurred at all was a huge surprise to the entire world, as was the lack of holy announcements. There were no trumpets, no heavenly hosts singing on high. The Rapture was silent. In the blink of an eye, the span of a single heartbeat, a full third of the world’s population simply vanished.

In some countries, that last true Easter Sunday wasn’t much of a change. In Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Iran, it was just another day, while Ireland, Greece, and Latin America were virtually emptied. In the USA, two hundred fifteen million people vanished, leaving behind shocked secular humanists and confused atheists.

While the exact moment of the Rapture may have been silent, the aftermath was noisy chaos. A lot of believers were not in church that Easter morning. Drivers and their passengers disappeared from moving cars and trucks. The now driverless vehicles careened down roads and highways until they lodged themselves against something solid or rolled into a ditch. It made a hell of a mess of the freeways.

This was the beginning of phase one, but those of us left behind didn’t know that. Those first few minutes following the Rapture largely involved ducking, dodging, or catching runaway machines.

Unaccompanied lawn mowers cut swaths through flower beds. Vehicles crashed into stationary objects or each other. Aircraft were left without pilots. Plucky non-believing volunteers attempted landings, aided by whomever was left manning the consoles at ground control. These impromptu landings came off with varying degrees of success.

Folks were just coming to grips with the new reality when we were gobsmacked with phase two. How were any of us to know that the infinite has a thing for the number seven? Maybe there’s a divine craps table in an alternate dimension of the universe. Whatever the reason, seven days after Easter, on that next Sunday, the dead believers emerged from their graves. They weren’t the quick nor were they the undead. They were just late.

That was the first glitch in the Rapture. Everyone assumed that the dead Christians had vanished along with their living brethren. The second glitch was that the newly-risen didn’t rise any further than the surface occupied by those of us that remained behind. There was no ascending to the heavens after that initial pop from the grave. The dead milled about and generally made nuisances of themselves.

That’s how I met Jamie. Or rather, that is how Jamie came to rescue me. It happened on that second, fateful Sunday.

There is a lovely plaza at the top of our shopping street. With no need to beat the après-church café rush, I strolled across the cobbles without a soul around me.

Without the simplest of warnings, without fanfare or choirs of angels, a silent throng materialized out of the cobblestones. One heartbeat I was alone, the next I was surrounded by a multitude attired in all manner of strange costumes. The dead arrived wearing clothing fashionable decades or even centuries ago. There were young men in knickers and newsboy caps, milkmaids in calico, and confused men in horsehair wigs.

The shuffling crowd blocked my path on all sides, standing with their hands clenched as if in prayer and eyes raised to the sky. They looked as if they were appealing for a lift from a flying saucer. Then a young woman in a gown and nightcap bumped into me, and I began screaming like a little girl.

The not-quite dead took no notice of me or my screams, but someone did. I saw a hunky blond man shouldering his way through the shuffling crowd of new arrivals. The sight of him pushing past the silent mob was enough to still my shrieks. I had never been rescued before and I certainly never had a rescuer as cute as Jamie Sussex.

He was tallish and blond, thirty-five at a glance, hair cut short and his face clean-shaven. Jamie wasn’t leading-man handsome, but his body moved in a confident and determined manner that was both attractive and reassuring.

He gave me a smile as he drew nearer. I think that was the moment I fell for him, even before he spoke to me. He was smiling and his eyes were locked on mine, as if I was the only person that mattered. Death’s own costume ball had sprung out of thin air around us and yet he was focused on me.

Then, as if by magic, he was standing before me, one gentle hand laid on my shoulder. His voice was deep and resonant. “Let’s get you out of here, shall we.” Those were Jamie’s first words to me.

His hand still on my shoulder, Jamie guided me through the confused crowd of erstwhile Christians. He led me to the café table where he had been sitting when the mob sprang from the pavement. I fell into a chair and Jamie lowered himself more gracefully. I took a long look at the crowd, and then a longer look at him. I found my voice and managed something clever like, “Thank heavens that doesn’t happen every day.” Jamie threw back his head and laughed. I knew I was a goner for this guy.

We spent the rest of the afternoon observing the slow shuffle. We weren’t alone. On all sides of the plaza, the non-raptured gathered to watch this new phenomenon of the partially-raptured.

We the living were able to make sense of who these new arrivals were. Rapture Phase One had prepared us for most anything. What didn’t make sense was the why of the thing. They wanted to ascend, that much was obvious. We wanted them to ascend, and quickly too. They were a nuisance and very much in the way. So, what was the cosmic holdup?  

Jamie and I alternated between theorizing about the dead and falling crazy in love. That evening, as the sun sank beneath the horizon, we sat sipping wine on his balcony. The gloaming turned to darkness as the bizarre costume drama played out on the streets below us. It was the most wildly romantic evening of my life.

As we were to learn, I was never in any danger, but I’m very glad that Jamie thought I was. The freshly disinterred believers had no interest in the living. They were completely harmless expect for being constantly underfoot.

They wandered about looking remarkably healthy while we the living tried to figure out what to do with our new neighbors. Various schemes were proposed and abandoned. Herding them proved to be impossible, as were attempts to communicate. Speech did not work, nor did pantomime.

There wasn’t much of a government left, what with all of the disappearances, so no drastic measures were put into place. Another week passed before the rusty gears of the Rapture began to turn again.

It was the next bright Sunday morning, precisely seven days to the dot from when the costumed crowd had appeared. There came the briefest shimmer, a momentary stillness, then the milling mob raised their hands as one and vanished.

In the shaky days that followed, the remnants of the social media network were ablaze with dire warnings, predictions, and prognostications. Post-Rapture pundits gave expert commentary on what we could expect to happen next.

The new non-Christian talking heads told us that this was the beginning of the Tribulation, and that it was going to be really, really bad. There would be disasters and famine, war and persecution. The people of the world would experience fear, pain, and suffering. This Tribulation thing sounded to me very similar to the old pre-Rapture world.

So far, the social media experts and the pundits have gotten it all wrong. There has been no sign of the apocalypse, the four horsemen have not ridden forth, and the seas have not turned red with blood or anything else. There was a red tide reported in the Gulf of Mexico, but that is considered normal for this time of year.

And so it was that the Tribulations failed to materialize. Contrary to the stark predictions, fewer people meant that there were fewer problems. It’s true that various wars continued to sputter along, but they lost a certain amount of their fervor. There was more room for those of us left behind. There was also more food to go around. Hungry folks were quick to learn where the foodstuffs were stored and made short work of liberating the edibles.

I moved in with Jammie because he had the bigger apartment, and also because we loved the balcony. We could have kept both our places and a few spare apartments if we felt the need. There are a lot of vacancies these days.

While Jamie and I adjusted to our new blissful life together, the outside world was busy adjusting as well. The disappearance of a third of the world’s population took some getting used to. Atheists and secular humanists were left scratching their heads. The leaders of the remaining great religions held conferences and quorums. In the end, they decided that the best course of action was to ignore the whole Rapture episode and continue on as before. It was a case of dogmatic inertia.

A year has come and gone, and with it a new and somber Easter Sunday. The anniversary was marked with gatherings, speeches, and the complete absence of children hunting for coloured eggs.

Jamie and I watch the proceedings from our balcony. We sit close together, his strong arm across my shoulder holding me safe and tight. My mind drifts back over the momentous year just passed. I have so many things to be thankful for.

Life and chance are the most wondrous mysteries. What if my Jamie wasn’t an atheist? What if I had not been born into a Jewish family? One or the other of us might have been hoovered off of the planet and then Jamie would never have rescued me. We might never have found each other, or the true love that waited beyond the finding.

On the plaza below our balcony, the speeches have drawn to a close. The band strikes up a tune. I snuggle closer under Jamie’s arm and he turns his face to smile at me. That beautiful smile fills me with a rapturous joy.

Marco Etheridge

Image by isfara from Pixabay 

5 thoughts on “Rapturous by Marco Etheridge”

  1. Hi Marco,
    What really impresses me is that you have taken on two self-prompts and made a cracking fist of them. And lets be honest they have not been the easiest.
    I am so impressed by your imagination and ability to take these topics on.
    There is a sweetness to this and the acceptance was quite clever due to how quiet the religious leaders were. To me they didn’t have a clue what was going on and for once didn’t make up what they wanted to be heard. I thought that part was very subtle but actually quite cutting.
    For inventiveness and imagination I put you, Leila and Dave Henson all together. That is some club to belong to!!!
    All the very best my fine friend.
    Hugh

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Very interesting. I imagine there would be a hell of a scrum for the abandoned Catholic properties. I’d be somewhat wary of lakes of fire and of the seven headed whatever it is. And yet there is humanity. Well struck piece.
    LA

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A good use of “what if”. To make this all about me, “Reprieve” also suggested that the world would be much better without so many humans. Happy that the the risen from the grave didn’t go for brains or blood as the undead usually do.

    Question for author Etheridge – did unbaptised children get an E ticket to heaven?

    Now write the risen want to come back because there is no beer in heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A good question, Doug. Failed dogma does not supply us with an answer as to what happened to the little unbaptized Tykes. I suppose I will have to leave that up to the individual reader.
      Thanks for commenting!
      marco

      Like

  4. A love story of a different ilk. I thought for a minute we might have some zombies added to the mix, but the risen were peaceful. Really liked how the last line resonated with the title. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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