Nothing To Be Afraid Of
by Catherine J. Link
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Before noon, as Lorna was vacuuming the living room carpet, there was a knock at the front door. She peeked out the window and saw a stranger and Betty Rawlins. She and Betty had gone to high school together. She opened the door a crack, then the wind ripped it from her hand and pushed it open wide, blasting her with hot air.
“Hi, Lorna. Are you busy?”
“Fighting the dust. What’s going on?”
“Hello, ma’am. Would you mind talking with us for a few minutes? I’m Pastor Clayton Dawney, a friend of Betty and her husband. She’s been telling me about you and your daughter, and I was hoping to visit with y’all.”
Lorna was startled to see this famous television evangelist at her door. Betty had an annoying habit of proselytizing whenever the opportunity arose, and often when it was inappropriate. Lorna wanted to say no, but seeing Dawney, she was curious.
“Carly’s gone fishing with her uncle. I’ve made coffee.”
Betty came through the door and gave Lorna a hug. The pastor stamped thick dust off his ostrich boots before entering.
Betty sat on the sofa, but the preacher did not sit. He paced in front of the fireplace, filling the room. He was a tall man, overweight and sweaty. He finally settled when he had a mug of coffee in one fist, and Lorna was seated.
“I’ve been telling Pastor Dawney about Carly’s dreams.”
Lorna felt betrayed, and it must have shown on her face.
“Of course, you’re uncomfortable knowing that your good friend broke a confidence, but these are dangerous times we live in, and she was just doing what I ask my flock to do. If you see something, say something. That’s more than a slogan to me, not just in the earthly realm, but in the spiritual realm as well. It’s my fault, ma’am, if there’s fault to assign.”
“We’re here to help,” Betty said.
“I don’t understand,” Lorna said.
“You do realize that we are living in the end times?”
“I’m not a religious person, Pastor. Surely Betty has told you?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t really concern me, ma’am. What does concern me is what your daughter has been seeing in her dreams. You realize that she is a prophet, don’t you?”
Lorna rose from her chair, angry, intending to ask Betty and the preacher to leave. Instead, she burst into tears.
Grasping opportunity, the preacher began praying in a loud voice. Betty threw her arms around Lorna, seizing her in a choking embrace. Lorna was afraid she had lost her sanity.
Crazy or not, it felt good to talk about it.
* * *
When Carly returned from fishing, she was happy. At dinner, she ate well for the first time in weeks. Even Andrew seemed to take notice of Carly’s improved appetite. What he hadn’t noticed was that most of a bottle of gin was gone.
“Your mom has a way with catfish, doesn’t she?”
Carly nodded and smiled.
“So, Sis, what all did you do today?”
I dusted and vacuumed, then cried my eyes out and confessed my darkest fears to a total stranger. Knowing I must sound like a lunatic, I went right on talking about aliens from outer space, and how I’m terrified of having a heart attack and leaving my disabled daughter to fend for herself in a dangerous world.
“Lorna?” Andrew’s voice broke the spell. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, just lost in thought. Thinking what a boring person I’ve become. I cook and clean, and occasionally I drink a Tom Collins, or two, or three.”
“There’s nothing boring about being the best cook in Texas. You’ve earned your gin.” Andrew laughed, but the laughter was forced. Lorna smiled, but her eyes were sad.
After dinner, they sat in the living room watching the news.
“Emergency rooms are being overrun by people suffering with asthma and bronchiolitis. Dr. Benson Top has agreed to speak to us. Dr. Top, what’s causing the increase in symptoms?”
“The Trade Winds have been picking up sand from the Sahara Desert and depositing it here in Texas and New Mexico. It’s not unusual, but what is unusual is the amount of sand being spread. This situation is problematic for people with lung disorders, COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis and the like.”
“What can people do to reduce their exposure?”
“I suggest staying indoors as much as possible until this phenomenon passes, and when you must go out, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf. Even better, go to the hardware store and pick up face masks.”
“Thank you, Dr. Top. In other news—”
“Scary,” Lorna said. “Reminds me of stories Daddy used to tell us about the Dust Bowl. Remember, Andrew?”
“Yeah, I do. They had to put masks on babies to keep them from dying of pneumonia.”
Suddenly, Pastor Clayton Dawney’s face filled the forty-eight inch television screen. An announcer was talking about the pastor’s appearance in St. Louis, the day before.
“That’s him, Uncle,” Carly said. “He’s the one I told you about.”
Pastor Dawney stood before a pulpit, jacket off, sweat pouring down his face. His shirt was drenched around the armpits.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Lorna said. She was tempted to tell Andrew about Dawney’s visit but, remembering how she’d become hysterical and allowed herself to be anointed with oil while Betty spoke in tongues and Pastor Dawney took the opportunity to place one meaty hand over her heart or, as she thought of it, her left breast, she decided she had embarrassed herself enough for one day.
“The end times are on us. It is coming, brothers and sisters. Right on top of us. All around us, like an angry sea. We have been drowning in the iniquity of God’s adversaries for a long time, but all of that is coming to an end. The wicked will remain earthbound, but the righteous among us will be drawn up into the arms of the Lord, and we will be witness to the long-awaited rapture.”
The crowd exploded into shouts and applause, stamping their feet.
Cameras backed away from the pulpit, panned the crowd, then showed the outside of the Dome Stadium. Two male announcers discussed the event.
“This was a sold out crowd, which is amazing when you consider the stadium holds 70,000 people.”
“That’s true, Michael. This was the largest crowd since the Rolling Stones played here in 1997.”
“Actually, Jim, the Backstreet Boys held the attendance record, beating out the Stones by 20,000 people.”
“We have Janet there in front of the dome, being blown around a bit. It’s a windy day in St. Louis. What was the mood of the crowd?”
“The crowd appeared enthusiastic, but there seems to be a ripple of fear among Pastor Dawney’s followers,” the reporter said, pulling hair away from her face every few seconds. “They’re taking his warnings very seriously.”
In the background, as the reporter was speaking, a skeletal-looking man in filthy clothing entered the shot to the left of her shoulder. He sat down hard, slammed nearly prone by the wind. He clutched a bundle to his sunken chest, as though it held everything he owned. Wind blasted past him, and with one hand he began shoveling dirt into his mouth, time and again, until he convulsed and fell into the gutter. Crows landed near his head, and as the scene faded to black, the crows began to peck.
In horror, Lorna put her hand over her mouth to stifle a cry that never came. Neither Andrew or Carly reacted.
Didn’t they see it? Were they looking away? Or did I imagine it?
* * *
Lorna pushed an empty cart through the grocery store. The market was crowded with people, filling carts to the top with food, bottled water, and whatever else they could get their hands on. She witnessed a tug of war over the last few rolls of toilet paper; the conflict was on the verge of becoming violent. The store manager appeared on the scene.
“What in the world is the matter with you two?” He grabbed the large twelve-roll pack from their hands. “There’s more in the back. More’s coming on the delivery truck tomorrow. This is not the last damn toilet paper in the world.”
The two woman stared at each other, then headed in opposite directions.
Lorna went to the vegetable section and found mostly empty spaces. “Are you out of lettuce, too?” she asked one of the employees. “Any kind of lettuce, it doesn’t matter.”
“Sorry, ma’am. We seem to be selling out of everything today. It’s that damn preacher’s fault.”
“That preacher, Donny, or whatever. He was on TV again this morning, telling folks not to worry if friends or family members go missing. It’s the rapture and it’s happening right now.
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” Lorna said. “How irresponsible!”
“He’s scaring people. Even my grandparents. They’ve stocked up on ammunition, just in case there’s fighting in the streets, and not only with people, mind you, but with animals as well. The preacher said that the animals are at war with people, and armies of them are already invading towns in third-world countries, picking off the sick and folks too weak to fight back.”
Lorna thought of Carly’s nightmare. Owls attacking people, wolves ripping the elderly apart. Elephants crushing babies, horses running wild. Unborn human fetuses falling from the mares’ wombs.
“My poor mom’s terrified. She’s had to go on tranquilizers.”
Dread crushed Lorna. Had she told Pastor Dawney about the animals? She could not remember. She staggered beneath the weight of guilt, that and the growing pressure in her chest. She abandoned the shopping cart and as she fled from the store, wind gusted, blowing sand in her eyes. She could barely see.
In the parking lot, two men were having a fist fight. They seemed to be fighting over a bag of groceries, but she didn’t stop to find out for sure. She walked past them quickly, then was startled when an elderly woman was shoved to the ground by a teenage boy, landing near her feet.
“Stop that!” Lorna yelled at the boy, knowing he would not stop. He snatched the old woman’s purse and ran away. Lorna helped the woman get to her feet. She was bleeding from a cut on her forehead. Someone came and led her away, but not before several grackles hovered over the old woman, pecking at the blood in her hair.
People in the parking lot were panicked, eyeing each other suspiciously, running to reach their cars before they could be robbed, too. There were sirens in the distance, getting nearer. The pressure in Lorna’s chest worsened.
It took a while before Lorna could drive. She avoided heavy traffic, in case she blacked out, taking the long way home. As she rounded a curve, Lorna noticed tumbleweeds blowing across empty lots. She heard the rustling of fallen leaves being scattered along the road, and the sound of sand when it thrashed parked cars. A child, in the path of a dust devil, yelped when grit stung her bare legs.
Approaching her own neighborhood, she was horrified to see a dog rip the leash from its owner’s hand and attack a little boy. The black lab knocked the boy to the ground and went for his throat.
Lorna’s heartbeat sped up. Pain was spreading to her neck. She feared she might have a heart attack before she could get back home. “Dear God, if I die, Andrew will look after Carly. Won’t he?”
He would try, but he wouldn’t know how. The answer came to her, like a revelation, and she knew it was the truth. “Trying to keep her safe, he would suffocate her.”
Lorna’s heartbeat became irregular. She coughed hard, over and over, stripping moisture from an already too dry throat, in an attempt to reset her heart rate. She dug through her purse with one hand for a coin pouch where she kept a vial of nitroglycerin. She put a pill under her tongue and began taking deep breaths to calm herself.
She slowed her breathing to near normal, and felt more in control, until she almost rear-ended an SUV. The vehicle had stopped abruptly in front of her after hitting a small truck. The accident was nothing more than a fender-bender, but the drivers lunged from their vehicles, both in a rage, and started punching each other. One pulled out a gun. She heard the shot as she drove past.
A few blocks later, she was crippled by vertigo and had to pull to the side of the road. That’s when she saw a toddler sitting in a sandbox, pounding her head bloody with a garden trowel. The baby’s mother screamed as she rushed to the sandbox, then continued screaming when she saw her child’s bloodied face.
Lorna’s tires screeched as she sped off. She pulled into her driveway and hurried into the house, locking the door behind her. She checked all the windows, closing and locking the ones that were open, then she secured the backdoor. She turned and was startled to see Carly standing behind her.
“Oh! You scared me! What’s wrong, Sweetheart?”
Carly’s eyes looked glassy; her face was red. She’d been crying. “Mother, I saw it again. It was a vision.”
One more episode might kill me, Lorna thought. Then my daughter will be alone and helpless.
“I’m sorry. Not now, dear. Please leave me alone for a just little while, then we can talk about it.”
Lorna pushed past Carly, hurrying to her bedroom before she lost her composure. Then she threw herself down on the bed, and as she sobbed, the phone rang. Caller i.d. read RAWLINS, BETTY.
She let it ring, five rings, then she heard Betty’s voice: “Lorna, pick up. Pastor Dawney is dead.”
Lorna found her heart medication in the drawer and opened the vial. She took another pill. How much is too much? she wondered. How much is just enough? She decided to call the druggist first thing in the morning.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by Catherine J. Link