In his dream, he’d been in a shootout for his life. That’s all he really remembered, the details were fuzzy; gossamer threads still hung around his mind, but unlike spider silk, they broke quickly, leaving more questions than answers.
In the dream, after his gun emptied, his pursuer had dropped her gun, then walked over to him and kissed him on the cheek. Already the face of his pursuer had gone, his fear-drenched mind worried about a real-life threat instead.
But who kisses someone after a gunfight?
Jacob glanced over at his wife, who seemed to be breathing heavily. His immediate reaction was guilt—he was married and shouldn’t be kissing other women in his dreams—but then he realized she wasn’t privy to his nightmare.
He listened closely, and as he did, he became aware of a another sensation. The bed he was lying in, the air around him…the entire room seemed to be vibrating. It was as if something was producing the exact resonance frequency of not only every fixture in the room, but of his body as well.
His wife’s breath quickened and took on a whimpering quality, and Jacob thought for a moment maybe she was aware of the vibrations as well, but she slept soundly. Jacob found pride to be an effective blockade; he couldn’t reach out for her, and he couldn’t call her name. He was afraid that any movement or sound would wake him further, and he would discover he was still dreaming, and would look foolish for waking his wife for something as simple as a nightmare.
Besides, she’d only make him go get a glass a water, and that would mean getting out of bed at six a.m.
The vibration intensified.
Jacob lay there, unmoving, in a paralyzed panic, while the pulsing vibrato in his ears reached a feverish level, drowning out everything, reducing his world to a staccato timpani. Anxiety took hold. Short, ragged breaths escaped him. His temperature rose and his sweat turned icy.
For whatever reason, Jacob decided The Rapture was happening.
He had no idea why his thoughts led to The Rapture. Having been raised in church, he was no stranger to the concept, and he believed it fully, knowing one day it would happen. But on a Wednesday morning in August? And just before he was about to start a new job? Surely not.
His mind raced to pull up the details of The Rapture and what he’d been taught. Wasn’t there supposed to be a trumpet? Where in Revelations was the part about weird dreams leading to vibrations? Maybe he’d slept through the trumpet. Maybe he was left behind. But why was his wife left behind too?
He’d played poker the night before. Was that a sin? Did that cost him his soul? Surely not. Would his Internet history give him away? That gave him a nasty knock. Was it too late to ask forgiveness for a few things? How did Kirk Cameron handle this? Wait, how did Nic Cage handle this? Would he be able to get his hands on a copy of The Omega Code?
The last thing to go through Jacob’s mind—besides a blade from his malfunctioning ceiling fan—was that maybe he was being silly, and nothing was wrong after all.
Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion. – Calvin CoolidgeI’m pretty much a normal guy.
I like my coffee black, I have a penchant for Mexican food, I’m obese, I love Nic Cage, and I love Jesus.
I never asked to be a hero. Some men have heroism thrust upon them in the heat of the moment, like Nic Cage in Con Air, and some choose heroism at great risk to their lives, also like Nic Cage in Con Air.
I was swimming by myself in our pool the other day, when I noticed something struggling to free itself from the waters. I grabbed my net, ready to absolutely murder a wasp or bumblebee, and swam (floated) over to check it out.
Lo and behold, a lightning bug was on the surface, paddling rapidly with its tiny stick legs and making no progress whatsoever. The struggle was real. My heart twisted with sympathy for the little guy, and I knew I had to act. My time for heroism had come.
I lifted him gently out of the torpid waters and placed him gingerly on the rail of the pool. I’m going to be completely honest with you, it didn’t look good. He appeared to be quite waterlogged, and had difficulty standing.
Obviously CPR was out of the question…but was it?
Determined to save my little lightning bug friend, and realizing that even the lightest of chest compressions would produce a messy end, I did the only part of CPR I could manage. I blew on it.
Between you and me, I didn’t really regulate that first breath, and I dang near blew the little bugger smooth off the edge of the pool. But he held strong, and his little wings spread out as though to dry them off, and I thought, “This is it, this is my moment,” and “One Shining Moment” started playing in my head, and I blew on that little lightning bug (gently) until…
The lightning bug took off! Into the breeze he flew, and I could swear he did a little dip as he did, thanking me for my service. I was intensely moved by the experience, and may have even shed a tear at the thought of being so intimately involved with nature.
The story should end there, but it doesn’t.
Two days after resuscitating the lightning bug, I was once again swimming (floating) in the pool when I saw something else struggling in the currents.
Looking closely, I saw it was a butterfly, and it was in real bad shape. Its wings were soggier than the unfinished Raisin Bran that sits in my kids’ bowls when they realize they don’t like Raisin Bran. Its feeble attempts to free itself from the water induced panic in my nature-loving heart and I immediately lifted it out of the water and sat it on the edge of the pool.
I looked towards the heavens.
“WHY GOD?” I screamed.
And I did the only thing I knew how to do.
I blew on it.
Again, I didn’t really regulate the force of that first blow, and this time it was almost a deadly mistake. The butterfly caught the full gale, and flipped off the edge of the pool, but somehow managed to grip the side of the rail and hang on. Mentally chastising myself, I pulled the butterfly back up on the railing and very gently continued my life-giving efforts.
Eventually, the butterfly was dry. He flapped his wings, testing them, and then soared into the heavens (about five feet above the pool) and looked as though he would take off.
But he paused, right above my head, hovering there. What happened next took me completely by surprise.
The butterfly landed on my nose, tickling it, but I didn’t sneeze. I knew this was a moment, and I didn’t want to sneeze the thing right back into the pool. That just seemed counterintuitive.
I looked into its tiny little butterfly eyes, and I swear it winked at me. Then, gently, it reached out a tiny butterfly leg and brushed my cheek in a gesture I can only assume was a thank you for services rendered.
A single tear rolled down my face. At that moment, I felt more complete than I ever had before. And then the butterfly took flight, free at last, swooping into the wind and into the Great Beyond.
Alright that last part is a lie, but I saved a lightning bug and a butterfly from drowning last week and not a single one of them thanked me, so I’m allowed a little creative license.
Travis couldn’t see it, but the battle for his life was being prepared for as he was driving home. Angels and demons were gearing up, dressing for battle in the way soldiers did in ancient times.
If he could have witnessed the preparations, he would have noticed they started their armaments at the bottom and worked their way up. Lightweight sandals were put on, then greaves, made out of a metal he’d never now the name of. A belt buckled around the waist, then a breastplate, something that looked heavy, but didn’t appear heavy in their experienced hands.
Finally, a helmet went on. The helmets looked Corinthian, and again, heavy. Once on, the angels each grabbed a shield and a longsword.
One of the angels – Jeff – was on the hood of his truck like an ornament, and he was obviously the leader. Jeff was crouched low, and wind should have been whipping through his hair, but with a helmet on, whipping hair was hard to achieve, and he was not happy about it. He had amazing hair.
There were two angels on the roof of the truck, one on the driver side and one on the passenger. The one on the passenger side was supposed to be riding shotgun inside the cab, but he had eschewed that duty for the roof because, simply put, he liked it better. His goofy grin hid the nervousness he felt about the coming battle.
The last four rode in the bed of the truck, heads low, discussing tactics and potential scenarios. These were the footsoldiers, the untested, the “bullet-stoppers.”
It was dark, and Travis had just worked a sixteen-hour day. He was exhausted.
The road he was driving home on was monotonous, traveled thousands of times since he was first given a license.
Nothing exciting ever happened on the road, except that one time when a deer jumped unexpectedly in front of the car he and his family were traveling home in. He had dodged the deer expertly, earning rare praise from his wife. “Good job, Travis, that was close.”
But tonight, no deer.
The road climaxed in a one-lane bridge. The bridge was ancient, and had recently been the subject of an investigation that had ruled a new bridge should be built. Construction would start any day. But tonight, the bridge would be traversed.
Travis had the windows down and the music blaring, blissfully unaware of the passengers congregated across his truck. He was singing along unashamedly to Taylor Swift’s “22,” because it was 11 p.m. and not a soul was on the road with him.
The proverbial troll under the bridge sat just a quarter mile away…under the bridge. He spoke in hushed but firm whispers to his troops.
“Tonight’s the night,” he said. “Tonight we take him. He’ll cross the bridge momentarily, and we attack. His truck will be defended with…” he spat on the ground, “…His people. They’ll know we’re here. Prepare yourselves.”
His soldiers nodded quietly. They rarely won these battles. There was a running joke among their kind that the least-wanted demons were used for these battles, and the word expendable was tossed around a lot. But tonight, they had a leader who had fought many of these battles. While his success rate was mediocre, he’d never been killed. That had to count for something, right?
They took their positions.
“Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel was next, something Travis would always sing along with as well. He sang a lot. In fact, recently, he’d taken to recording himself singing on Snapchat and posting it for his friends to see.
It was 11 p.m., but some of his friends might be bored, so why not?
He pulled his phone out of the cup holder it had set in most of the drive home, and he opened the Snapchat application. His iPhone was big, but then again so were his hands, so tapping the screen at the top to switch the cameras usually wasn’t a big deal. Tonight though, the long day caught up with him, and he dropped his phone in the floorboard of his truck.
He murmured a profanity and bent down to grab it.
The loud clank of his tires striking one of the steel plates on the bridge was his only indicator that this whole driving thing might be something he needed to pay attention to.
“NOW!” cried the demon and angel leaders simultaneously.
The battle began.
Jeff launched himself off the hood of the truck, not yet seeing the enemy, but knowing they would appear. In the moments after the battle, Travis would assume his quick reflexes had taken over, and he’d applied just the right amount of braking power.
As Jeff was flying through the air – a feat greatly helped by the fact that he had wings – he spotted the first demon clambering over the bridge. Unfortunately for the demon, he was paying too much attention to clambering, and as he looked up, the first – and last – thing to go through his head was, “Wow, I’d like to look through that armory.”
That was the only easy kill of the evening. The rest of the battle went back and forth, and the demon leader made short work of two of the angels who were so busily preparing in the bed of the truck.
Then Colin, the grinning roof-rider, met up with the demon leader as Jeff was finishing off five or six of the expendable guys whose only legacy would be to perpetuate the rumor currently circulating that it was absolutely not better to rule in Hell than it was to serve in Heaven.
Colin and the demon leader’s swords clashed. Sparks flew. Later, Travis would think that his truck had kissed the steel beams of the bridge ever so slightly and had thrown a shower of sparks. But when he got home, his truck would be untouched.
What Colin lacked in swordplay, he more than made up for in confidence. Confidence tended to come easy when you spent your off days in the presence of Him. He never took a defensive stance, constantly staying on the offensive, persistently moving toward the demon leader, pushing him back.
The rest of the battle had stopped. Angels and demons gathered and watched the swordfight as it continued. This temporary truce was interrupted only once by one of the more subversive demons trying to sneak around Jeff and cut his throat.
It didn’t work.
As Colin backed the demon leader to the end of the bridge, things began to look bleak for the demons. But the demon leader had not survived thus far without gaining an intimate knowledge of angel tactics.
Angels didn’t get tired, per se, but they did get sloppy. In his constant and confident offensive, Colin got sloppy.
And a few moments later, he paid for it with his life.
An audible gasp rippled through the crowd of onlookers equipped with the eyes to see the killing. Travis would later mistake this for a gust of wind bringing a thunderstorm.
He was wrong.
The demon leader roared, and his comrades roared with him. Travis would attribute this to the thunder on the horizon.
He was wrong.
The demon leader looked at Jeff, pointed at Travis, and said softly, “He is mine tonight. I’ve won.”
Jeff hadn’t yet taken his eyes off Colin’s lifeless form, but after the demon leader spoke, he raised them slowly, in a manner calculated over many eons to bring fear to anyone on the receiving end. The gaze alone had been known to kill, and was, in fact, responsible for several deaths of humans in biblical times when angels had been allowed to comingle visibly with mortals.
The demon leader didn’t die, but immediately recognized that he soon would if he continued his present line of thinking. He murmured something under his breath, something that sounded an awful lot like “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and promptly disappeared.
Alerted by the loud clank, Travis jerked his head up just in time to see the oncoming car at the other end of the bridge. He braked, remarking silently on his amazing reflexes, then felt a bump and saw sparks at the front of his truck.
“Crap. It’s new,” he said.
He backed his truck up and allowed the other car to pass.
By the time he fished his phone out of the floorboard, Sister Hazel had been replaced by Family Force Five, and the feeling of singing self-promotion on Snapchat had passed.
Another loud clank signaled that he had crossed the bridge, and to those with the eyes blessed – or cursed – to see, he appeared to drive right through the ghostly figure of a man crouched low, cradling the limp body of someone else.
They weren’t visible when the truck drove away.
With Sister Hazel in his head, and the recent lesson of paying attention to the road flying ungratefully right over his head, Travis grabbed his phone and called up Twitter.
“Nightmares don’t last.” – C.S. Lewis
It was a bad day for the boy, behaviorally speaking. His father had to be called at lunch, when he had a minor meltdown in the middle of a restaurant during his mother’s “last day on the job” party. He begged and pleaded as his mother picked up the phone, but it was too late.
His father had yelled at him, threatened him, and told him he was in all kinds of trouble. The boy said “Yes sir,” a lot and nodded enthusiastically, even though his father couldn’t see that. He made up his mind to try harder, and maybe his father would forget about the misbehavior after his long day at work…
Then, in the evening hours, the boy had continued his misbehavior, and had earned himself an early trip to bed. As he tossed and turned, trying to fight sleep because of the injustice of it all, he thought about how fun it would be to live in a world without parents, a world where he could act how he wanted all the time without consequences.
He vaguely remembered a life like that, but it was getting so hard to remember…
…The dream started normally. It was a sunny day, the sky was blue and clear, and he was in the yard doing his favorite thing, playing. The grass was green and crisp, and he could smell the earth underneath it. Trees waved gently in the breeze, dropping the occasional leaf, which he chased. He was full of fun, and most importantly, he was not “in trouble.”
He was now with his friends. Not just the friends he had made on his street at his new house, but every friend he’d ever made, in both of his lives. They were all there, laughing, talking to him, telling him how much they loved him.
Now they were playing a game, and he was winning. He was beating everyone, running faster than he ever had before, scoring more goals, a perfect performance. His friends admired him, cherished him. They pounded him around his shoulders, telling him how awesome he was. Every team wanted him first. Every little girl cheered his name as he dominated the other boys. He even engaged in a little trash talking, and he was not rebuffed by his fellow competitors. On the contrary, each one smiled and lowered their head in respect, giving him the adoration he wanted.
The thought entered his mind that he’d like his parents to see his performance, because their approval was something he desired. Images flashed through his mind; faces, so many different faces. He ignored it, and searched the periphery of his vision for the people he called mom and dad now.
He turned his head, and that’s when he first noticed something was wrong. He couldn’t find his parents anywhere. He swiveled back and forth, searching desperately, finally resorting to asking his friends if they had seen them. His friends were willing to help of course, and asked what his parents looked like. He opened his mouth to tell them, and when he tried to describe what they looked like, he couldn’t remember. He tried to recall their faces in his mind, but it wouldn’t work. He kept seeing heads with no faces on them. Smooth, hollow orbs, with no distinguishing characteristics, just glossy polished discs of terror.
He didn’t want to cry in front of his friends, but the tears started to fall anyway. He tried to explain what was happening, but couldn’t get the words out. His friends suddenly turned on him. Each mouth transformed from a helpful smile to a sneer, then the laughter started.
“He doesn’t know who his parents are!”
“Haha! Why can’t you tell us what they look like?”
“He probably doesn’t even have parents!”
Then their faces vanished too.
His world slowly dissolved around him. He shook his head to clear it, but it didn’t improve his vision. He needed a superhero right now. Superman, with his blazing eyes and bright blue suit. Superman would help him. He had seen Superman help so many other people, and he thought for sure the faces of his family and friends disappearing qualified him for some super-support.
Where is Superman? Iron Man? Spiderman? Where is the hero?
The voice that answered surprised him.
The man paused briefly at the side of his son’s bed.
He had been getting ready for bed, and the scream had grabbed his attention. He knew the house was devoid of intruders, and was certain a bad dream was tormenting his son.
He watched as the boy tried to shake off the nightmare, his head moving back and forth, murmured words lost in translation as they rolled into his pillow. It appeared as though the boy was asking questions, trying to explain something.
The turbulent head tossing proved to be too much for the man to watch. He wanted to intervene, needed to intervene, and save his son from the terrors of the night. He stooped down with gentle hands to work his heroism.
“Son. Wake up,” he said, shaking the boy gently.
More head tossing. More murmurs. Desperation was etched on the boys face, sweat glistening on his skin, eyes quivering with random movements, the hallmark of dreams both good and bad. The man tried again.
Where was Superman? Why wasn’t he helping?
In the midst of the dream, the darkest hour, he felt a strong hand on his arm. The darkness lightened, but only a little. Then another hand, and a shaking sensation. He heard the voice again. Why was he talking about the sun? He looked for the sun, rotated his head around until he found it, a dim circle in this persistent darkness. If the voice wanted him to look at the sun, he would try…
Light — harsh, preternatural light — filled his eyes. The sun seemed to be right there.
The boy looked up blearily. He wiped his eyes.
The man laughed.
“Hi son,” he said. “It was a nightmare. You’re okay.”
“You’re welcome, son. Go back to sleep.”
“I love you Dad.”
“I love you too, son.”
His friends slowly swam back into view, each one wanting to know what had happened. There was no teasing, only genuine concern and the unconditional love of fellow playmates.
Warm laughter once again filled the air as he told them everything was okay, a hero had come.
“My dad fixed it,” he told the children. “Mom was there too. I found them.”
His friends surrounded him, hugged him, told him they loved him. Then, in the blink of an eye, he was on the field again, playing hard, and winning.
Everything was wonderful. He was the best again.
“When enemies are at your door, I’ll carry you away from war, if you need help, if you need help. Your hope dangling by a string, I’ll share in your suffering, to make you well, to make you well.” – Phillip Phillips, “Gone, Gone, Gone”