“Check this out!” Cody said, dropping a newspaper on the table. “How did we all miss this?”
Tina looked at the headline and the date. “I guess we weren’t thinking about newspaper deliveries at the time.” Charles, Kelly, and Johnny laughed.
Johnny laid out the yellowing paper, dated Friday, September 16, 2011 — the final edition of the Gwinnett Daily News:
‘No Terrorist Connection’ to Disappearances“Like their guesses were any better than ours, right?” Charles chuckled. He began skimming the subheads and other headlines: “Disappearances Hampering Investigation. Worldwide Phenomenon. Commerce Paralyzed. Sporting Events Cancelled. Cody, is this the whole paper?”
An Obama administration spokesman ruled out any terrorist connection to an ongoing spate of disappearances, but would not speculate who or what was behind them.
“Yeah. Eight pages.”
“Looks like they just printed what they had Thursday night,” said Johnny. “Anything in there about the trucks?”
“Um… yeah.” Charles poked the article about halfway down, and read: “When asked if the mass disappearances were connected to a sudden appearance of white pickup trucks on the roads, the spokesman said ‘There is no hard evidence, but much suspicion.’ Yeah. Hey, this is good: ‘Plant Vogtle Placed on Standby.’ I’ve worried about that.”
“That’s a nuke plant, ain’t it?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah. Down in Augusta. I hope all the other ones got shut down, too.” Charles thumbed through the paper. “You have to hand it to these guys — it was getting pretty chaotic by then, and they still got a paper out. Heh… and they put the comics in, too.”
Kelly pointed at an article across from the comics. “Religion: ‘Rapture’ Speculation Unfounded. What’s that about?”
“Reverend Steven ‘Hitch’ Hitchman, pastor blah blah, weekly commentary on religion, blah blah. ‘No Biblical parallel’ —”
“What’s not parallel?” Patterson peered over shoulders to look. “Is that a newspaper?”
“Yeah,” said Cody. “Me and Tim were going through some of the local construction places to see if they had any stuff for Kelly’s pipeline. This was sitting on a table in one of them. I thought people would be interested.”
“Their religion columnist probably got a few too many people asking him if the trucks were part of the Rapture thing,” said Charles. “He was saying there’s no parallel to the trucks in the Bible.”
“Ah. I used to say, if the brethren put half the effort into feeding the hungry and healing the sick as they did speculating about the Rapture… but that’s no longer an issue.”
“What was that Rapture thing about anyway?” Cody asked.
Patterson shrugged. “There were several end-times interpretations, but the most widely accepted was that all Christians would be taken up to Heaven — raptured — at the beginning of the Tribulation. That was a seven-year period in which the Antichrist — Satan in human form — would be free to wreak havoc on the earth. After seven years, Christ and all the saved would return to earth, defeat the Antichrist, and rule for a thousand years. That’s the heart of it, anyway. If I went into details, we could be here until bedtime.”
“A lot of different people jumped in those trucks,” said Johnny, “including a couple atheists I knew — and you’re living proof that some Christians were ‘left behind’. I read those books.”
“Yes. And the Rapture was supposed to happen all at once — ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ — not spread out over three or four days.”
“People actually spent time studying this?” Charles looked incredulous.
“Oh yes. And any time there was an extended crisis, especially in the Middle East, there were people proclaiming the End Times were upon us. Rapture Fever really took hold in the ’70s, during the various conflicts of the time, then died back with the conflicts themselves through the 80s, and re-emerged as the millennium drew near. But as I said, I could talk about this all afternoon and not cover it all.”
“Cody, did you find anything that will help with the pipeline?” Tina asked. “This paper is certainly an interesting find, but…”
“Oh yeah. We might have. How much gas we got left?”
“A few hundred gallons, maybe,” said Kelly. “Why?”
“We found a Ditch Witch,” Cody said. “If it works, we can just bury your pipe. Once we’re sure it’s not leaking or anything.”
Johnny sputtered, then laughed.
“You — you gotta see this!” Inside the paper was a half-page ad for Perry Adams Chevrolet/GMC/Hummer. Some laughed, some gasped at the headline: OVERSTOCK! PICKUP CLEARANCE! Below the headline was a photo of the proprietor, standing with two thumbs up in front of a line of pickup trucks — all white.
“I’ll be damned,” said Tina. “The end of the world, and that shady quick-buck artist was still trying to pull in a few more suckers.”
“With any grace, you won’t be damned,” said Patterson. “But I wonder what happened to this particular individual. Did he drive off in one of those trucks? Did he die, by his own hand or starvation or murder? Or is he still living on the fruits of his dishonest labor?”
“I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I went there last year before I bought my Impreza. Mister Perry Adams himself waited on me. He tried to push me into a Tahoe, after I told him what I was looking for, and it wasn’t a gigantic SUV. He ignored everything I said, then he wrote up the papers and told me to bring my husband in to close the sale!”
Charles snorted. “I can imagine that went over like a lead balloon!”
“I let him know I wouldn’t doing business there, and would tell everyone I knew to avoid them like the plague, then I walked out. That SOB tried to physically bar me from leaving and jabbered at me until I told him — loudly — I was calling the police if he didn’t let me leave that instant. I had my phone out and had 911 punched in before he got enough clue to move!”
Charles and Johnny laughed, and Patterson grinned. “Yeah, that sounds like Mom!” said Kelly.
“We should give this paper to Ben,” said Cody. “He’s trying to write our history or something. He’ll want to see it.”