Sunday, September 21, 2014

Excerpt from ONE SWEET DAY

(Though this book has been out since January of this year, I realized I've never offered an excerpt. In anticipation of the release of LEFT BEHIND, starring Nicolas Cage, here it is.)

Why was he driving the hearse? That was Jason Nolan’s job. Tremayne worked in the office, consoling families and helping them with the arrangements. Mark Wagner had also been training him to do other things, but driving wasn’t one of them. Now, for some reason, he had the keys to the hearse.
“Tremayne, come here—look at this! Something’s wrong.”
He followed his boss’ voice to the rear of the vehicle. What was Mr. Wagner doing there?
Even stranger, the funeral director and three other people Tremayne didn’t recognize were surrounding an open casket, which had been tossed unceremoniously onto the floor. The carriage that was supposed to transport it to the grave was nowhere in sight.
“Oh, Lord,” Tremayne said as calmly as he could manage. “Where is the deceased?”
“He was in the casket.” One of the other men sounded nervous. “You saw him, didn’t you? I know I saw him. He was in there. Now he’s not. He’s not there, but he was…”
Tremayne squinted at him. What sort of roundabout, nonsensical talk was that? And who was the man, because he didn’t recall ever seeing him before?
Was this even really happening? Or was it a dream? It couldn’t have been a dream because a woman on a bike swerved just in time before colliding with him. A biker disrespecting a funeral procession? So, so strange.
“Hey!” he hollered. “Be careful!”
An older gentleman passing him stopped and pushed his hat further back on his head.
“Hurry, son,” the man urged him. “He’s coming, He’s coming! Hurry.”
“Who’s coming?”
Tremayne didn’t wait for an answer, and even if he had, the man was gone.
And he knew the answer. He knew it instinctively.
With the funeral forgotten, he followed the crowd. His heart beat faster with fear and anticipation. Anticipation, because he was starting to understand what was happening. Fear, because he couldn’t believe his eyes: Several of the graves he was passing had been disturbed. Headstones had been toppled over. Graves were open, revealing fresh, soft earth, with rocks strewn in between. Caskets, long buried, torn open.
Open…and empty.
This was it. Tremayne knew it in his heart. He moved from a fast walk to a sprint.
He recognized that hill. It was actually nowhere near the cemetery; it was the same hill that had been behind his childhood home, where he and his brother had been raised together. By his estimation, there were tens of thousands of people—or more—on that hill, hurrying to climb it. Even with all those people, he spotted Lita in the distance. She smiled and waved at him.
“Wait for me, Lita!” he cried. Her face was almost angelic, beaming, and she was dressed in a pristine white robe.
“The blessed hope, Tremayne!” she called back. “The rapture. Oh, Jesus, my Lord—”
For that moment, he looked away from her to the sky.
It looked like the heavens were opening like a scroll. That brought to mind the words of an old hymn: “And Lord, haste the day, when my faith shall be sight; the clouds be rolled back as a scroll…”
It was as if the clouds were pushed away by an invisible hand and ribbons of color appeared in the sky. Ribbons of gold, of red, purple, every shade of blue, green.
Tremayne couldn’t move. His feet might as well have been bolted to the ground. He had never seen anything so beautiful in his life as that sky.
The rapture. This was the rapture.
The blessed hope.
The day that had come, as Jesus had told His disciples, as “a thief in the night.”

Abruptly, Tremayne opened his eyes. He swallowed hard and found that his throat was dry. His right arm was hanging over the side of the bed, and Duke was licking his hand. The puppy wanted to be let out in the backyard to do his business.
“Okay, boy, okay. Give me a second,” Tremayne mumbled with a sigh.
He always wore his checkered pajama bottoms and a short-sleeved T-shirt, that one bearing the name of a local apple orchard, to bed. Tucking his feet into his slippers, Tremayne shuffled down the stairs with the dog in tow.
Opening the back door, he let Duke out and looked out into the backyard. He and Lita had talked about buying a grill for the patio, along with one of those outdoor table and chairs, so they could have friends and family over for hot dogs and cheeseburgers. Eventually, they’d put up a swing set when their children came along.
No rapture yet, he thought, surprised by that flicker of disappointment.
No rapture. Just that present life, with its pain and its suffering, with its wars and hunger and violence and hatred.
But that life wasn’t without its blessings, too. Life on earth had brothers whose big dreams sometimes managed to come true, and mouth-watering, seven-layer cakes were baked by loving, beautiful future brides. And a job that perhaps wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but which he enjoyed because it allowed him to help families, treating them with respect and kindness, during a difficult and heartbreaking time in their lives.
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul.

“Not time yet, I guess, Father,” he prayed under his breath. “But maybe in our lifetime. Only You know.”

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