Devlin James sat in a stalled car on the Los Angeles freeway, gaping at the swirling dark cloud rising from the horizon. This phenomenon represented the first instance that gave credence to the latest reports from the scientific community. The world was coming to an end. The citizens of earth had days before the earth’s atmosphere became completely unbreathable.
As other motorists sighted the ominous sign in the sky, they lost control of their vehicles. Each impact grated against his senses with every explosion of straining, tearing metal then jammed horns in a continuous cacophony of nerve-splitting wails.
Devlin absently massaged the back of his neck, thankful his own fender-bender had been mild. From the continued sound of screeching tires and shattering glass around him, other motorists weren’t faring so well.
He couldn’t see much past the eighteen-wheeler in front of him, so he opened his door and leaned out. His nose wrinkled with the smell of burned rubber and leaking gasoline. The interstate had become a powder keg just waiting to ignite.
Fragments of blown tires and twisted metal littered the landscape. Across the median, he saw a shiny, red Fiat crushed under the trailer of a semi. The driver was climbing out of his window.
As far as the eye could see, people scrambled from their wrecked vehicles, some bloody, a few crying, all bewildered or afraid. The various lanes of the Los Angeles freeway had become a junkyard. Obviously, Devlin would miss the special prayer service at church. He couldn’t go anywhere, but maybe there were people he could help.
Others now stood along the highway, staring into the sky. He followed their gaze, and his mouth dropped. White clouds whirled around a growing circle of charcoal, blue, and purple, until a gigantic hole developed in the sky. Lightning flashed along the rift, revealing the spinning motion of the hole. It crouched over them, like the calm before a storm, like the mother of all thunderstorms about to break loose.
A baby’s squall in the car next to him pulled Devlin from his stupor, and he rushed over. In the driver’s seat, a young mother lay against an airbag, oblivious to the calamity around her. Devlin yanked the twisted car door open and felt for a pulse. She was alive, but he hesitated to move her neck in case she had a severe injury. Instead, he squeezed her shoulder, calling to her.
Another insistent wail brought his attention back to the baby. Devlin peered over the seat and smiled. “Chubby little fellow, aren’t you? Hang on. I’ll have you out in a minute.”
The mother stirred as Devlin reached past her to unlock the baby’s door. He dropped to his knees beside her. “Ma’am, are you alright?”
Her right hand rose to massage her bloodied forehead. She blinked several times then turned her head to Devlin. “Who are you? What happened?”
“Devlin James. You’ve been in a car accident, which involves most of the vehicles on the interstate. I heard your baby crying so I came to see if I could help.”
The persistence of her baby’s cries seemed to rouse her, and she struggled. Devlin held out a hand to help her, but the woman never made it out of her seat. Her face froze in horror, then she let forth a blood-curdling scream that made him flinch in pain before his gaze followed hers to the manifestation in the sky. His hand dropped to his side, unheeded, and he watched in fascination as the sky opened.
The atmosphere changed as charged particles snapped all around them. A slight breeze lifted sand, leaves, and bits of litter, while cries of dismay and shrieks of terror rent the air.
Devlin glanced from one vehicle to another then across the median. Where was the crowd of people he’d seen not five minutes ago? He turned to the car behind him, expecting to see the woman and her baby, but they were gone. They’d vanished without a sound.
All the air rushed from Devlin’s lungs as he sank to the ground. They were gone, and he’d been left behind. Was this the rapture? The Lord had left him. He gasped as he struggled to bring air in his tight chest. He pounded against his ribs until nausea gripped his stomach, then he rolled to the ground in a fetal position and closed his eyes. Why had he been found unworthy?
Tears stung his eyes, and he shook with the violence of his weeping. Lord, I love you. Why have you left me? Was I unfaithful? What have I done to displease you? Holy Spirit, please don’t leave me.
The aching in his chest was nothing compared to the sense of emptiness he felt. Sobs racked his body, and rational thought became impossible. Incoherent sounds rattled through his brain as he strove to beseech God, for what, he didn’t know. He heard a keening wail and realized it was his own. He closed his mouth and gripped the door of the car as he tried to pull himself up.
The grief felt so intense that at first he didn’t heed the gentle presence. The knots of pain in his stomach receded. He reached in his pocket for a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. He hiccoughed as his sobs diminished. After several deep breaths, the weight left his chest. His stomach settled, and his eyes focused. He felt peace. He felt loved. He just needed a few seconds to collect himself, then he could think about helping the other traumatized motorists he heard.
Warmth crept over him like a cocoon, wrapping him in joy. He laughed in surprise. Joy really does bubble up from your belly. He sat on the side of the road, arms wrapped around his middle, leaning against a stranger’s car and laughing with abandon. He was no longer afraid, but others were. He heard their cries as they discovered their losses.
Devlin rose to render aid while questions of a rapture, or lack thereof, racked his mind. It looked as if some of the Christians were gone. He glanced again at the wormhole, or whatever it was. It gaped open. The Lord might call him home. There was hope for him yet. But, was there hope for humanity?
He turned his head to look back across the six-lane interstate, now impassable from crashed vehicles and stranded, crying pedestrians. A deep rumbling signaled another earthquake.
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