WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR:
Willie Goddard cannot find anybody in the town of Nutbush. As he wandered about, he found evidences of a quick departure, even in seeing Cabe's fresh footprints in a garden. The footprints stopped in the middle of the garden, with no sign of leaving.
Willie spent the next hour walking around the town, banging on screen doors and even daring to venture through the homes of some of the people he knew. The longer he searched, the more he felt a panic mounting in his soul. Was he the only person alive? The only other living being in this area was the Sheltie, Ginger, who plodded
along behind him, head down.
Doggone if he didn't check all six residences here in the main area of the rural burg called Nutbush. What was he supposed to do now? Willie leaned against the side of the building. Sweat rolled down the back of his neck even though it wasn't a warm morning. When he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief, he noticed that his hands were shaking uncontrollably. Can't have this, he thought. I'll crack up, and that's no good.
I'm the only one left alive in town. I gotta find out if anyone else is alive in the state. Hmmm. I'll stock up on some groceries and then head over to Barrington. In fact, I'll keep driving until I find someone, anyone who is alive and can tell me what is going on.
Willie entered the One-Stop Grocery and for some unexplained reason, allowed Ginger to come into the store with him. Maybe it was because he couldn't see the harm in letting a dog roam the aisles of an empty store, or it might be because he wanted another living, breathing being nearby. Picking up a paper bag at the cashier's
register, Willie walked down the aisle, shopping for food needed on a trip rather than for the farm. He filled the first bag and laid it next to the cash register and picked up a second bag. Don't know how long the trip is going to be, he figured. Good thing I gassed up the truck yesterday. He loaded the second bag with drinks. Who knows?
Maybe the water is poisoned. Better not take a chance.
He tossed in two bottles of vitamins and returned to the front of the store. Ginger sniffed around the aisle as Willie pulled out his wallet. He intended to tuck the cash into a crack under the counter along with a note, so he wouldn't be blamed for theft. Didn't want that. Of course, it would almost be worth it to be arrested if he could know that someone else was still alive on earth.
Willie was removing two twenty-dollar bills from his thick wallet when he stopped. Dead cold, he stopped. Now this time, his ears were tuned in to a noise that he had not heard since he pulled onto main street.
A phone ringing.
And a phone ringing meant that someone had to be on the other end, calling. Oh God, if You're out there, don't let them hang up. Don't let this be a recorded message.
Willie trotted throughout the store, searching for the location of the phone. The ringing was actually a beeping. One of those new-fangled jobs, not like the old bell-sounding telephones that would wake the neighborhood. Even though he was in his late fifties and anything but spry, Willie circled the store in good time. The phone kept beeping/ringing.
Ah, there it was, beside the rack of potato chips. Underneath the shopping basket. Willie pawed at it and pulled it from under the basket. Let's see, you unfold this earpiece, and..."Hello? Hello?" Willie sounded more frantic than he wanted, but the sound of a voice... Static punched in and out of the phone line, chopping up the conversation.
"...uncle...looking for my uncle" More noise and fuzzy
sounds. "I'm Joel, Ken's son, rememb-" Static. "-in Philadelphia. Can you hear me?"
"Yes! Yes! I can hear you! Your uncle isn't here! This is Willie. I -"
The voice continued as if the caller didn't hear him. "-car ran into a lightpole and they can't find the body. The family's gone. I mean, my family's gone. Vanished . Oh, dear Lord -" The caller sobbed. "I know where they've gone. It happened. Wrecks all over the city. Office building is on fire. Can I come see you?"
"Wha- see me? I don't know - look, son, your uncle ain't here. He's gone. I'm the -"
A wail sounded on the other end. "I knew it." Static. "- all the accidents and disappear - " More static. "He's come and I've been left. The trib-"
"What? What are you saying, boy? Who came?" Willie started shouting, trying to drive answers out of the boy, through the phone. He wanted to squeeze answers from the voice, to yank some sense out of the morning. Willie was shouting and couldn't stop.
When he paused to get an answer, he realized the line was dead. The caller had hung up.
Willie looked at the phone with all of its sleekness and fancy phone buttons. All that technology and it couldn't help him out a bit. Not one little bit. All that science and not a lick of help. Willie studied the modern lettering, felt the smoothness of this little cell phone, and did something he never did in his life. He lost his temper. With the strength of a man who has lifted hundred-pound sacks of feed and countless heavy planks of lumber and sheets of metal, Willie slung the cell phone into the grocery store wall right above the meat counter. The phone smashed against a sale poster, falling in pieces to the floor. Willie stood there, breathing heavily.
He turned and tromped up to the front. So Joel, or whoever he was, was having just as bad a time as he. Someone was taking over. By golly, they weren't taking over Willie Goddard. Not him, not his farm. If he had to take it to the limit, he'd keep this invader from taking over his life.
Willie reached under the front counter. He had been told - it was a secret - by the owner Parker himself about the shotgun. Kept it on two hooks right under the front counter. Parker said it was for emergencies. Well, now was an emergency. He reached under and lifted the shotgun from its pegs, breaking it open to inspect it. Yep, two shells. Ready and willing.
Smash. Sound of glass out on the street.
Willie trotted to the front and looked down the block. Walking in the middle of the street were two men, about in their twenties, walking in a cocky and arrogant lope. One had short close-cropped hair, black T-shirt, and those weird wrap-around sunglasses. The other had long hair, unbuttoned shirt, and a brick in his hand. They seemed totally unconcerned about the empty town. In fact, they seemed to be enjoying the scene. The long-haired one pivoted and heaved the brick through the front window of the hardware store. Both laughed raucously and changed direction. They were heading right toward the grocery store. This way.
Well, let 'em come, Willie thought. He closed the shotgun and rested it in the crook of his arm.
Willie set his jaw and tightened his grip on the shotgun.
The mid-morning sun reflected off of the grocery store window so that the two men couldn't see inside the store. Maybe they came to get some groceries and go, thought Willie. Then, all right. But if they want trouble, they've come to the wrong place.
The long-haired man picked up a piece of broken sidewalk and hefted it in his hand. The man with the wrap-around sunglasses wiped his hands on his black T-shirt and gestured toward the store window. After letting loose a stream of profane words, the man instructed his partner to throw the piece of concrete through the front window. The long-haired man took aim and wound up.
Willie stepped through the doorway and leveled the shotgun at the long-haired man's chest. "Throw that thing and I'll put a hole in you," said Willie, taking aim.
The men were not as surprised as Willie thought they'd be. The long-haired man didn't even drop the chunk of concrete.
Sunglasses guy spoke. "Say, Pop, you the only one in town here?"
Willie kept the shotgun raised. "I'd say that, yes."
Sunglasses glanced at his partner and licked his lips. "So, we the only ones left? We haven't seen anyone since this morning. Houses empty." He jerked his head toward the end of town. "On the way in here, we saw about three or four cars on the side of the road, nobody in them."
Willie raised his eye over the shotgun barrel. "That give you the right to go destroying other people's property?"
The long-haired man flinched and Sunglasses glanced down for a second.
"Uh, well, you know how it is. When you think you're all that's left in town - "
"You start acting like animals and think you can rip off every fool store and house in the county," interrupted
Willie. "Well, that ain't what I done, and that ain't what you're going to do. Get out of here. Keep your feet moving on out of town."
Sunglasses tensed. "I thought all the good people was taken away. You should be like us." Long-Hair gripped the chunk of concrete and flexed his arm.
Willie never wavered. "Got no idea what you're talking about. Don't know if I'd be called a good person or not, but I'll say this, at least I care about my neighbor's property. I aim to protect what's around here. You don't seem to care."
Long-Hair spoke for the first time. "No we don't, old man."
He cocked his arm to throw. Willie pulled the trigger and the roar of the shotgun filled the air.
Long-Hair stumbled back a few steps. Sunglasses was on his knees. "Why, you-"
Willie lowered the shotgun for a second. "I aimed that over your heads on purpose. I may be a stupid farmer, but I'm one that knows how to use this thing. By golly, you try anything and I'll pepper you good. Now get on, I said."
The two young men looked at each other and slowly rose to their feet. Sunglasses rubbed the back of his head and put his hands in his pocket. Long-Hair dropped the chunk of concrete. Nobody said anything for a few moments.
Finally, Sunglasses looked down the street, gesturing with his thumb. "You'd like to know what happened to all these people, wouldn't you? The whole lot of 'em just up and left. Got you puzzled, hasn't it, Pop? Vanished into thin air could be a Holocaust, or even Russian abduction. Might even be ET stuff."
Willie nodded. "Got me puzzled. Don't see that you'd have an answer."
Sunglasses raised his hand. "Oh, but I do, I do. You see, there's this part of religion that talks about a disappearance of people in the world. Whoosh! One day these people who are looking for a Deliverer finally get their answer. He comes and takes 'em away. I know." He punched his chest. "Studied up on it. I didn't think it would happen, but it did."
"What're you talking about?" Willie was puzzled.
Sunglasses took a step forward. "You know the Bible, right? The Good Book? In the back, right where the end of it all comes together, wrapping everything up, it talks about Jesus getting His people out of the world so that God can shake things up. God even lets Satan step in and run around for a while."
"No, Pop, not loco. If you'd have spent less time dancing in your soybean patch and a bit of time reading the Book, you'd have read the same thing. The Book said it would happen and it happened. Heck, it's not like we weren't warned. Those who were wanting to go, were taken up. Must've happened either late last night or earlier this morning."
"You're saying everyone in this town was waiting for Jesus?"
"I'm saying that everyone who wanted to go had to follow some rules laid out in the Bible. Like giving their sins to Jesus, stuff like that. Following Him, listening to Him - I guess that means reading what He said in the Bible. Acting like a follower. It's a big step, but they did it. Every person who was taken had to do it. Jesus took 'em to Heaven, yep."
Willie licked his dry lips. Couple of weeks ago, that church meeting brought just about the whole community into that building.
There was talk of whole families getting 'saved.' People's lives were changing. Wait. That Bible in the cafe booth table in a small town like this, it's possible that this many people could have become Christians that way.
Willie cocked his head toward Sunglasses. "Well, boy, if you're all so full of information, how come it is that you been left?"
Sunglasses spread his arms and twirled around slowly. "Are you kidding? Lookit what we got here, old timer. These do-gooders that have been a pain in the backside all these years are finally gone! GONE! Man, I love this world - and now it's finally ours! No more 'religious right.' No more 'revival meetings' and school fights over whether there's got to be prayer. Think of it! No high-falutin' don't-do-this-don't-do-that. We're finally FREE."
Willie shook his head. "If what you say is true and God's not around, then that means Satan is. How's that any better?"
Sunglasses laughed. "Because I'm on his side! If Satan means more personal power and a change to live on an earth free of Christians, I'm in! So is my buddy here. And guess what, Pops -" Sunglasses pointed at Willie. "So are you."
"Still," said Willie, "there has to be an order of some kind. There must be rules."
"The only rule and the only order I know center around me," yelled Sunglasses. "And that means I can eat what I want, take what I want, sleep where I want, do what I want. And old man," he said, as Long-Hair picked up the concrete chunk, "what I want to do is get in that store and have fun. What I want to do is get you out of the way. And I believe in how I feel, and I feel that you don't have the guts to shoot that shotgun at us, so me and my buddy are going to walk on over you." As Sunglasses moved forward, Long-Hair heaved the chunk at Willie. It narrowly missed his head, smashing through the door window behind him in a resounding crash. Willie raised the shotgun and fired.
Sunglasses staggered back into the street and fell down, gasping.
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