Natszal: "Left" (6:1) LAHAYE & JENKINS

The Rapture Series

Why Do you Believe?          What Do you Believe?             How Do You Believe?              Who Do You Believe?

“Reason to Believe

Natszal: "Left" (6:1)

“LEFT”

THE EARTH'S LAST DAYS

TIM LAHAYE & JERRY B. JENKINS

CHAPTER SIX

It had been ages since Rayford Steele had been drunk. Irene had never been much of a drinker, and she had become a teetotaler during the last few years. She insisted he hide any hard stuff if he had to have it in the house at all. She didn't want Raymie even knowing his daddy still drank.

“That's dishonest,” Rayford had countered.

“It's prudent,” she said. “He doesn't know everything, and he doesn't have to know everything.” “How does that jibe with your insistence that we be totally truthful?”

“Telling the whole truth doesn't always mean telling everything you know. You tell your crew you're taking a bathroom break, but you don't go into detail about what you're doing in there, do you?”

“Irene!”

“I'm just saying you don't have to make it obvious to your preteen son that you drink hard liquor.” He had found her point hard to argue, and he had kept his bourbon stashed high and

out of sight. If ever there was a moment that called for a stiff drink, this was it. He reached behind the empty cake cover in the highest cabinet over the sink and pulled down a half-finished fifth of whiskey. His inclination, knowing no one he cared about would ever see, was to tip it straight up and guzzle. But even at, a time like this there were conventions and manners. Guzzling booze from the bottle was simply not his style.

Rayford poured three inches into a wide crystal glass and threw it back like a veteran. That was about as out of character as he could find comfortable. The stuff hit the back of his throat and burned all the way down, giving him a chill that made him shudder and groan. What an idiot! he thought. And on an empty stomach, too.

He was already getting a buzz when he replaced the bottle, then thought better of it. He slipped it into the garbage under the sink. Would this be a nice memorial to Irene, giving up even the occasional hard drink? There would be no benefit to Raymie now, but he didn't feel right about drinking alone anyway. Did he have the capacity to become a closet drunk? Who doesn't? he wondered. Regardless, he wasn't going to cash in his maturity because of what had happened.

Rayford's sleep had been deep but not long enough. He had few immediate chores. First he had to connect with Chloe. Second he had to find out what Pan-Con wanted from him in the next week. Normal regulations would have grounded him after an overly long flight and a rerouted emergency landing. But who knew what was going on now?

How many pilots had they lost? When would runways be cleared? Flights scheduled? If he knew anything about the airlines, it would all be about dollars. As soon as they could get those machines airborne, they could start being profitable again. Well, Pan-Con had been good to him. He would hang in there and do his part. But what was he supposed to do about this grief, this despair, this empty ache?

Finally he understood the bereaved who complained when their loved one was too mangled to see or whose body had been destroyed. They often complained that there was no sense of closure and that the grieving process was more difficult because they had a hard time imagining their loved one actually dead.

That had always seemed strange to him. Who would want to see a wife or child stretched out and made up for a funeral? Wouldn't you want to remember them alive and happy as they were? But he knew better now. He had no doubt that his wife and son were gone as surely as if they had died, as his own parents had years before. Irene and Ray would not be coming back, and he didn't know if he would ever see them again, because he didn't know if there were second chances on this heaven thing.

He longed to be able to see their bodies, at least—in bed, in a casket, anywhere. He would have given anything for one last glimpse. It wouldn't have made them any less dead to him, but maybe he wouldn't feel so abandoned, so empty.

Rayford knew there would not likely be phone connections between Illinois and California for hours, maybe days. Yet he had to try. He dialed Stanford, the main administration number, and didn't even get a busy signal or a recorded message. He dialed Chloe's room. Still nothing. Every half hour or so he hit the redial button. He refused to hope she would answer; if she did, it would be a wonderful surprise.

Rayford found himself ravenous and knew he'd better get something in his stomach before the few ounces of booze did a number on him. He mounted the stairs again, stopping in Raymie's room to pick up the little pile of clothes by which he would remember the boy. He put them in a cardboard gift box he found in Irene's closet, then placed her nightgown, locket, and ring in another.

He took the boxes downstairs, along with the two cookies she had mailed him. The rest of that batch of cookies had to be around somewhere. He found them in a Tupperware bowl in the cupboard. He was grateful that their smell and taste would remind him of her until they were gone.

Rayford added a couple to the two he had brought down, put them on a paper plate, and poured himself a glass of milk. He sat at the kitchen table next to the phone but couldn't force himself to eat. He felt paralyzed. To busy himself, he erased the calls on the answering machine and added a new outgoing message. He said, “This is Rayford Steele. If you must, please leave a very brief message. I am trying to leave this line open for my daughter. Chloe, if it's you, I'm either sleeping or close by, so give me a chance to pick up. If we don't connect for some reason, do whatever you have to, to get home. Any airline can charge it to me. I love you.”

And with that he slowly ate his cookies, the smell and taste bringing images to him of Irene in the kitchen, and the milk making him long for his boy. This was going to be hard, so hard.

He was exhausted, and yet he couldn't bring himself to go upstairs again. He knew he would have to force himself to sleep in his own bedroom that night. For now he would stretch out on the couch in the living room and hope Chloe would get through. He idly pushed the redial button again, and this time he got the quick busy signal that told him something was happening. At the very least, lines were being worked on. That was progress. He knew she was thinking of him while he was thinking of her. But she had no idea what might have happened to her mother or her brother. Would he have to tell her by phone? He feared he would. She would surely ask.

He lumbered to the couch and lay down, a sob in his throat but no more tears to accompany it. If only Chloe would somehow get his message and get started home, he could at least tell her face-to-face.

Rayford lay there grieving, knowing the television would be full of scenes he didn't want to see, dedicated around the clock to the tragedy and mayhem all over the world. And then it hit him. He sat up, staring out the window in the darkness. He owed it to Chloe not to fail her. He loved her and she was all he had left. He had to find out how they had missed everything Irene had been trying to tell them, why it had been so hard to accept and believe. Above all, he had to study, to learn, to be prepared for whatever happened next.

If the disappearances were of God, if they had been his doing, was this the end of it? The Christians, the real believers, get taken away, and the rest are left to grieve and mourn and realize their error? Maybe so. Maybe that was the price. But then what happens when we die? he thought. If heaven is real, if the Rapture was a fact, what does that say about hell and judgment? Is that our fate? We go through this hell of regret and remorse, and then we literally go to hell, too?

Irene had always talked of a loving God, but even God's love and mercy had to have limits. Had everyone who denied the truth pushed God to his limit? Was there no more mercy, no second chance? Maybe there wasn't, and if that was so, that was so.

But if there were options, if there was still a way to find the truth and believe or accept or whatever it was Irene said one was supposed to do, Rayford was going to find it. Would it mean admitting that he didn't know everything? That he had relied on himself and that now he felt stupid and weak and worthless? He could admit that. After a lifetime of achieving, of excelling, of being better than most and the best in most circles, he had been as humbled as was possible in one stroke.

There was so much he didn't know, so much he didn't understand. But if the answers were still there, he would find them. He didn't know whom to ask or where to start, but this was something he and Chloe could do together. They'd always gotten along all right. She'd gone through the typical teenage independence, but she had never done anything stupid or irreparable as far as he knew. In fact, they had probably been too close; she was too much like him.

It was simply Raymie's age and innocence that had allowed his mother's influence to affect him so. It was his spirit. He didn't have the killer instinct, the “me first” attitude Rayford thought he would need to succeed in the real world. He wasn't effeminate, but Rayford had worried that he might be a mama's boy—too compassionate, too sensitive, too caring. He was always looking out for someone else when Rayford thought he should be looking out for number one.

How grateful he was now that Raymie took after his mother more than he took after his father. And how he wished there had been some of that in Chloe. She was competitive, a driver, someone who had to be convinced and persuaded. She could be kind and generous when it suited her purpose, but she was like her dad. She took care of herself.

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