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.
Of course, when the cops came, they’d never seen anything like it. They sat at the crime scene for a while, discussing the worst things they’d ever seen on the job and off, in that joking way that cops sometimes use to keep the gruesome mortality of their duties from affecting them too much.
“Did you see the way their necks were bent?” asked one of them.
“Yeah, that was a 90 degree angle,” replied another. “Like that street light after Roberts hit it with his patrol car last week.”
Another, presumably Roberts, jumped in to defend himself. “The perp’s in jail isn’t he? Besides that light was wonky. It didn’t work half the time.”
“Doesn’t work at all now.”
They all laughed and started heading for their cars. There wasn’t anything they could do now, this was a job for the guys who showed up in fancy black suits driving fancy black Suburbans with no identification on them whatsoever. The kind of guys who you didn’t argue with if you wanted to keep your job.
Even though, after tonight, most of them were wondering why they’d even want to keep their jobs.
Stephen “Bear” Williams was a tough man. Not only was he as physically grizzled as his nickname suggested, he also had the temperament of a bear who’d just woken up from a long hibernation only to find his normal hunting spot had been turned into a Burger King with a sign that specifically said “No Bears.”
Stephen approached all of life with a bad attitude. He hated his job, he hated his wife, and he hated his kids. He had a reputation for being an abusive husband and father, although “abusive” didn’t exactly cover what he could be in a bar on any given night, be it Tuesday or Saturday. No one knew exactly what Stephen’s problem was; his wife Marie was beautiful and had a passive demeanor that would have to be possessed by anyone who loved Bear, and his children were well-behaved and mild-mannered.
Only Stephen knew the reasons for his behavior, and Stephen wasn’t exactly the type to tell you all about it over a beer or on a psychologist’s couch. Stephen was the type to explain his anger with two large, ham-shaped fists thrown any direction he could see a face.
In fact, the only redeeming qualities Stephen possessed were not actually qualities at all. They were people, and they were his brothers, Jeff, who was older; and Wallace, who was younger. Each of them could do what no one else could; they could calm Stephen down when he was at his worst. Every bar and tavern owner in the town had their numbers saved in their phones, and local policemen didn’t hesitate to pick either of them up from work to go diffuse a situation that would normally take a truncheon and a taser to get a handle on.
In spite of their onerous father, the Williams family thrived. The oldest, Sarah, was eight years old and at the top of her class in school, and Brandon, who was six, was athletic and charming, sometimes a little too much of both. Neither displayed the typical character traits of an overbearing father, and both loved their daddy with the pure and unequivocal love that only young children and Jesus are capable of.
The only real problem the family had of late was Brandon’s lack of interest around mealtimes. No matter what Marie fixed, Brandon would get a couple of bites in and refuse to eat anymore. This often prompted angry outbursts from Stephen, demanding “You got a tapeworm boy?” Without fail, Brandon would always ask, “What’s a tapeworm?” and dinner would be completely derailed by Stephen pounding his fists on the table and sending Brandon to his room where he would “deal with him later.”
The Williams were active in church, inasmuch as “active” meant that they attended semi-regularly and didn’t mind helping out once in a while as volunteers were needed. Stephen’s reputation followed him like his shadow, but many church members were content to let that ride as long as his temper never flared inside the doors of the church and as long as he was kept away from children and the sacramental wine used for communion.
So when it happened, no one was really surprised. The talk of the town was that they all knew it would happen one day, and someone really should have called protective services when there was still a chance, and how each was really too busy to make the call themselves, because that’s how people will deal with passing blame in the face of tragedy. But, just like in any other small town or city, a lot of people can talk, but only a few know the details.
And the devil was certainly in these details.
“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”