Today [Version 1]

Well it’s been far too long since my last update, but I like this one, so it might make up for that. I’m actually rewriting it at the moment, though, as there’s room for improvement. I’ll post version two when it’s done. Don’t let that put you off reading this version, though!

Any suggestions for a better title are welcome 🙂

_______

Today

Waking up this morning was different to how it usually is. Instead of yawning and stretching and stumbling over to the shower I woke up instantly. As soon as I sat up a thought that had been lying in wait all night ambushed me.

Rapture.

The word dominated my mind and in light of it I could hardly believe I’d been asleep at all. Had I really been wasting my last day on Earth this way?

I looked at the clock and saw it was 7:00am. Seven hours gone. Well, there was no use in moping about that and, in any case, there’s no point spending your last day tired out. You wouldn’t be able to enjoy it properly.

I got up, dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. I passed my calendar on the way into the kitchen. It was all blank except for the word ‘Rapture’ written in blue biro on the twenty-first of October, 2011.

I had a bacon sandwich for breakfast: an excellent way to start this particular day. Afterwards I wondered if the Bible says something about not eating pork. It’s been a while since I’ve read it.

I kept my eyes on the calendar while I ate. I checked what the date was on my mobile to make sure I had the right day. I don’t have a job at the moment and it’s hard to keep track of the days without one. It is the right day of course.

I didn’t do the washing up. It feels good not to have to worry about that kind of thing. I just sat there and wondered how I should spend my day. I was in no hurry; hurrying would only spoil everything. Today was going to be a day of relaxed happiness. No fuss over anything.

I’ve been thinking about that, actually. Maybe it’s not a good idea to get lazy now. Then again, I think God probably wants us to enjoy our last hours on Earth.

I continued to look at the calendar and thought about today. You know how if you look at a word for too long it seems to lose any meaning? Or if you say it over and over? That didn’t happen. That scribbled word ‘Rapture’ was as real and as important as if had been carved in stone for Moses to read out. The kitchen blurred around it.

Anyway, I thought that maybe I should give away all of my possessions, as I won’t be needing them. But, then again, neither will anyone else. They’re not going to do anyone any good so I decided that I wasn’t going to waste my day piling up all my stuff on the lawn so that other people could help themselves.

I left the house without locking the door. Left it wide open in fact. If someone wanted my old TV or my wife’s photo albums or my thirty year old malt whisky then they could help themselves. I bought the whisky last month, after I’d had the dream, especially for today. It took a bit of willpower to save it for so long, but that morning I didn’t really feel like a drink. Not because I’m abstaining to save my soul or anything. I’ve decided that I’m not going to bother with those kinds of rules. Last day, who cares if I have a drink? I just thought, ‘I don’t need that today, thank you very much.’

It’s funny, but being so close to the end makes me feel pretty good.

*

Don related this, more or less, to the barman. He was grinning and the stool he was sitting on was positioned so that a ray of sunlight shone through the window and warmed it. He had walked past this new bar, seen this stool in its perfect position and decided to sit down and maybe chat with the barman.

The barman walked off to serve a customer and Don broke off his story. It seemed he wasn’t interested in Rapture. Don didn’t want to annoy him but he thought the next bit might change his mind.

The barman was lurking at the other end of the bar but Don beckoned him over. He approached with reluctance.

‘Just a glass of orange juice, please,’ Don said. He took the barman’s hand when it strayed within reach. ‘I haven’t introduced myself properly. I’m Donald Taylor, but call me Don.’ He didn’t let go of the barman’s hand after shaking it but didn’t hold on to it too tightly either. ‘I know you think I’m just some religious nutcase,’ he said, ‘but I have a story that I think will convince you. What if I told you that I’m hardly religious at all? I couldn’t have told you what Rapture meant until a month ago. I read the Bible in school once but I don’t go to church. I don’t think any of that really matters. I have every reason to believe in Rapture now, though.’

The barman wasn’t impressed. His expression said that it wasn’t the ‘religious’ part of ‘religious nutcase’ that he was most bothered about.

‘I had a dream you see,’ Don explained. This destroyed any remaining chance that the barman was going to take Don seriously. He removed his hand from Don’s and waited while Don fumbled with his wallet for money and ploughed on with his story.

‘I had a dream where I was in some museum, or at least I thought it was a museum at the time. Looking back it might have been a mansion. There were lots of rare things in glass cases. I was in a big room with a gallery going around the top. All the walls were lined with books but I don’t think it was a library. I climbed up this narrow metal staircase that spiralled way up to the gallery. I got to the top and there was a calendar on the wall. It was the same as the calendar in my kitchen and it had ‘Rapture’ written on the twenty-first of October, 2011. I walked outside but I can’t remember what the building was like. Maybe it was a library.’ Don paused for a second, while the barman drummed his fingers on the bar, waiting for his money. ‘Actually, I do remember. It was like a church. Makes sense. A church filled with books.

‘Anyway, that’s not all the story. I came outside today and saw the streets were filled with people who also think it’s the Rapture. But I didn’t know about that before today. I dreamed that the Rapture was today without knowing that other people thought it too! Do you see?’

Don had his money clenched in the hand he was gesticulating with. This stupid story irritated the barman and he wrestled the money from Don’s hand. Don kept smiling and wished the barman a good day. He left his orange juice and his change behind and walked out of the bar.

It was a nice day. It was an amazing day. It was unusual at this time of year, but why wouldn’t the last day on Earth be a sunny one? Don was willing to bet that it was sunny all over the world today. He walked past a bookmaker but decided that today wasn’t the day for gambling; he wouldn’t be able to do anything with his winnings.

He walked down the streets and admired everything. The sun felt good. Lots of people were out shopping and the streets were busy.

He passed a group of people who were standing outside a bank, preaching about the Rapture. He admired them for spending their last day trying to help others, especially as it didn’t look like there were many sympathetic people, but he didn’t really think that stuff like church and the Bible would help. Definitely not church: there were no Sundays left. That was a technicality that could leave some people disappointed.

He walked past the group and someone approached him. They were carrying a placard with ‘Judgement Is Nigh’ written on it in fiery red letters. ‘Have you repented?’ the man asked Don.

‘I suppose?’ Don replied.

‘Today is your last chance! By the end of today all those destined for Heaven will be on their way. Repent or suffer eternally!’

‘Seems a bit harsh,’ Don said.

‘The Lord doesn’t ask for much,’ the man said. ‘All you have to do is follow his Word and you’ll be saved.’

‘Yes but there isn’t much chance for that now is there?’ Don said, amused.

‘Your whole life has been a chance. All God asks for is this one day of obedience.’

‘But what if I was ill today? What if I couldn’t go to church and repent?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ the man replied. ‘You must only open your heart to the Lord to be saved.’

‘But if that’s all that matters what are all those rules about going to church for?’

The man with the placard glowered at Don’s grin, taking it for mockery rather than cheerfulness.

‘Before ten hours are up you’ll regret being so flippant,’ the man said in a sombre voice.

‘Ten hours!’ Don said. He hadn’t been checking his watch. He assumed that the Rapture would come right at the end of the day to give people the chance to enjoy themselves. He didn’t want to waste any of his ten remaining hours planning out what he was going to do; he was just going to see what happened.

He went to the park and walked up to the top of the hill to look over the city. He could see churches peeking over the skyline, the library, shops, lots of traffic and lots of people. A billboard on the side of a building read ‘Mankind: 4,000 BC–21st October 2011’. That made him think. Wasn’t the Rapture slightly different from the end of the world? He hoped that people who weren’t raptured today wouldn’t all be destroyed.

The smell from a nearby bakery drifted over to him for a second and he realised he was hungry. He’d try out that new Chinese restaurant he’d been meaning to go to for a while, and then… Well, who knew?

*

Don spent most of the day in the park, walking about or sitting on a bench, enjoying the sun and watching people pass. He watched the sunset and felt at peace. The bright colours in the sky slowly faded into a soft red and then to darkness.

He hadn’t wanted to come home then and had started wandering the streets. He had no destination in mind and wasn’t sure if he’d go home at all. He found himself outside the Queen’s Head and went in. He sat down next to a regular and told him about his dream and the Rapture. The man just nodded all through Don’s story. Don asked him how his day had been and the man offered to get Don a drink to celebrate his last night on Earth.

Don left after a while and headed home.

He reached his house and all he could think about was that he really wanted a drink. The bottle of thirty-year old scotch malt whisky was prominent in his mind as he walked up the path through his front garden. He expected to find that all of his stuff had been taken, or at least the television, but it was still in the front room. He walked into the kitchen and there were two guys, students by the look of it, helping themselves to his beer.

‘Oh, sorry man, is this your house?’ one of them asked.

‘Yeah, but it won’t be for long,’ Don replied.

‘Yeah, sorry, we figured you’d be off getting raptured or whatever,’ the other said, ‘Hope you don’t mind that we helped ourselves to a few of your beers.’

‘Not at all,’ Don said. ‘Pass me one, would you?’

They sat down in his sitting room. Don could tell that the students were feeling a bit awkward. They probably thought this Rapture business was a bit of a laugh and now they’d met someone who was taking it seriously they didn’t know what to do. Or maybe they were just scared that he’d call the police. He thought they could be here on a dare. He told them to help themselves to another beer and after a few false-starts managed to get a conversation going. Their names were David and John. They talked about football for a bit.

‘So what happens if the Rapture doesn’t happen?’ David asked after a while. ‘You’re lucky you didn’t sell your house or something. I heard some people did that.’

Don shrugged and finished off the rest of his beer. He got up to get another from the kitchen, leaving David and John to exchange glances behind his back. He came back with his beer and pointed to the photos on his mantelpiece. ‘That’s my wife.’

‘Yeah?’ David said.

‘She wouldn’t approve of me drinking but I suppose this is the one time she’ll forgive me, don’t you think?’

‘Sure she would.’

‘I had a dream about the Rapture.’ Don told them what he’d told the barman and the guy in the Queen’s Head earlier. The students nodded and John got up and said they had probably better go but thanks for the beer.

‘Hold up,’ Don said as David got up too. ‘Do you boys mind toasting our last day?’

‘Er, sure,’ David said.

Don went over to the cabinet in the corner of the room and took out the thirty-year old scotch and three glasses. He poured a generous amount in each and handed them out.

‘This looks like expensive stuff,’ John said, admiring the colour of the whisky. It glimmered a hopeful gold.

‘It is.’ Don raised his glass and the students did the same. ‘To our last chance,’ he said.

‘To our last chance,’ David and John echoed, and they all drank.

The students left after that. Don offered them his television but they declined. They said they couldn’t afford a television license.

Don was left alone. He poured the whisky left in the students’ glasses into his own, almost filling it, then he sat in his armchair and waited. He looked out of the window. Occasionally he looked at one of the photographs and then out of the window again. The stars were quite clear outside.

One of the photographs on the mantelpiece showed his wife holding a camera and smiling. There was a pile of her photo albums in the corner of the room, and more in the cupboards upstairs. Another picture showed her with Don on their wedding day, outside a local church.

Don had never been very religious. She had persuaded him to read the Bible but he hadn’t really understood the appeal of it at the time.

He sipped the whisky and waited. It was eleven o’clock. The whisky was good. It was worth all the money he’d spent on it. Money unspent wasn’t much use now, though she wouldn’t have approved.

Don wondered what she would have thought of this whole Rapture business. She wouldn’t have believed it from whoever had predicted it for those people in the street; she wasn’t impressed with people who acted like prophets. The only religious fellow she really liked was that local priest, what was his name? Don thought he was alright; he went down to the Queen’s Head sometimes.

What would she have thought of his dream? She’d trust him. Weren’t there lots of prophetic dreams in the Bible?

It was twenty-five past eleven. Don got up. He refilled his glass and brought the bottle over to the table beside him, then turned out the light and sat down again. He didn’t move for a while. Everything around him was still and dark. After a few minutes he got up and went into the kitchen. He turned on the light and looked at the calendar. ‘Rapture’ and today’s date.

It was really happening. It was really now. The last chance for everything. He took another sip of whisky. He couldn’t feel it. He felt unreal except for an overpowering anticipation. Oh God, it was really going to happen. He looked at his watch.

Seventeen minutes.

His hand was trembling. He sat back down but couldn’t sit still. He restrained himself from getting up even though he wanted to turn out the kitchen light. It was distracting.

Fifteen minutes.

He stood up and began pacing around the room, whisky in hand. The realisation struck him that this was the last time he was going to see his house. He turned the sitting room light back on and began walking back and forth between the other rooms. He looked at everything one last time: the untidy bathroom, the under-stocked kitchen, the bedroom, where the bed sheets were only rumpled on one side.

He sat on the bed and looked around the room, taking everything in. Her things and his. It was overwhelming. He lost track of time. When he came back to himself he looked at his watch.

Five minutes.

He felt faint. Was it the right thing to do, to stake everything on one hope like this? One dream? He got up and went into the bathroom.

When he sat back down in his chair in the sitting room he put down his last glass of whisky and a tumbler filled with round white pills on the table. He turned out the lights and waited for the ones in the sky to start. That’s how he imagined it happening.

Two minutes to go.

Whatever happened, he was going to see her tonight.

He settled back in his chair and waited.

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About lemonmachine

I am Kieren McCallum, a third-year English Literature student at UEA, Norwich. View all posts by lemonmachine

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