Night Thieves

by Eric Schlich

Lyssa couldn’t sleep because she was afraid Jesus might break
through her bedroom window and kidnap her. Okay, she knew it
wouldn’t happen like that, but that was what she kept seeing anyway:
a white-robed, bearded man perched in the pine outside her window
like a hobo of a sweetheart come to whisk her away from a pair of
disapproving parents.

Only it was Heaven they were going to and not some late-night
greasy spoon with a jukebox where they could dance the night away.
Lyssa was almost eleven and had never even seen a real-life jukebox,
much less danced the night away to one. Now she was picturing Jesus
doing the Twist, swinging his hips while eating a hamburger,
then sucking down a strawberry milkshake. That cheered her up a
little. She liked picturing Jesus doing fun things, even if they were
fun things she wasn’t allowed to do. Mostly you just saw Jesus up on
a mountain somewhere with a big staff and maybe some lightning
flashing behind him to emphasize his points. That was the Jesus she
tried to shut out, pulling her pink and white, tulip-patterned bedspread
up over her head.

If she was going to be truthful, Lyssa had to admit that what
she was really afraid of, even more than being kidnapped by Jesus,
was not being kidnapped by Jesus. Maybe he’d come for all the others—
for her parents and her brother, Lee, for Becca May and Pastor
Deids, and all the other members of Providence Church in Salva, Texas—
and when she woke the next morning everyone she ever loved
would be gone, and all that would be left in the world were people
who hadn’t loved Him enough. Just like she’d seen in the movie.

Earlier that evening, before Lambkins, Lyssa had helped her father,
who was the youth minister at Providence, set up the film projector.
Her father lugged the dusty monstrosity up from the church
basement, delegating her the task of carrying the film itself—that
precious 8 mm cargo, coiled safely inside what looked like three
round cake tins that Lyssa balanced perfectly one atop the other as if
she had just removed them from the oven.

Lyssa’s father was a slender man with ruddy cheeks and yellow-
blond hair that he gelled in a wavy style, which Lyssa thought
made him look a bit like Hermey, the dentist elf from Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer. He was tall, but not very strong and not used to
lifting heavy equipment like the film projector, so by the time he had
carried it up the stairs, through the entryway, down the nave, and
to the front of the chapel, he had crumpled to the floor beneath the
weight of the load and had to set it down before heaving it up onto
the altar.

Lyssa held the film tins in front of her, careful not to get dust on
her green velvet dress. She lingered in the doorway to the chapel to
admire the stained glass behind the altar. This was the one place she
could make out every frame. Her eyes danced outward from the red
heart on the giant cross in the center panel behind the altar, along
the blue and green and yellow rays that emanated to the farthest corners
of the sanctuary. She felt then what she could never feel on Sunday
morning, no matter how hard she tried. During services, when
she had to sit in the front pew with her family or stand and sing with
the choir, her faith always felt like a performance for the congregation.
But when she was alone with her father in the great mystery
of the church, when colored lights from the windows shone on her
face and arms, making a pretty rippling effect, as they did now with
the late afternoon sun setting outside, she felt, with almost a violent
urgency, the desire to kick off her shoes and run down the center
aisle, sliding across the waxed floor in her frictionless tights. She
imagined Jesus sliding beside her in His socks and underwear, like
Tom Cruise in Risky Business—a movie her parents still didn’t know
she’d watched with Becca May. It was in moments like these that she
truly knew Jesus loved her with all His heart, and that she loved Him
too—if not as much as she loved her father and her mother and Lee,
then definitely at least fourth best.

Her father would not have liked that. Lyssa knew his order was
Jesus first, then her mom, Lee, and her. “How do you have J.O.Y. in
your life?” he’d ask the Lambkins. “By putting Jesus first, Others sec-
ond, and Yourself last!” Lyssa knew Jesus was supposed to be her
number one too.

Once she’d tried to find out Lee’s order. They were doing Bible
study at the kitchen table, having finished math—pre-algebra for
Lyssa, calculus for Lee. This week’s Bible study was on the temptation
of Christ.

Lee read aloud from Matthew, Chapter Four: “Then the devil taketh
him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the
temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself
down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning
thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou
dash thy foot against a stone.”

While Lyssa listened, she kept thinking about this scene in Spider-
Man in which Spider-Man had to choose whether to save Mary
Jane or a tram car full of hostage children after the Green Goblin
dropped both off a bridge. When Spider-Man saved both, Becca May
scoffed and said, “What a cop-out! That is so Hollywood. In real life
you’d totally have to choose. Those kids would be fish food.” Lyssa
didn’t know why that had upset her so much. Her first instinct was
to make a rebuttal: Of course he saved both, she wanted to say. How
could he not? But the more she thought about it, the more she realized
Becca May was right. After all, that was the whole point of a choice,
wasn’t it? You couldn’t have it both ways.

So before she knew what she meant by it, she interrupted Lee’s
reading and asked, “If Jesus was hanging off the pinnacle of the temple
and I was hanging off the pinnacle of the temple, and you could
only save one of us, who would you save?”

Questions like these were not uncommon between them; they’d
always had a weakness for brainteasers. Since they were both homeschooled,
they often entertained themselves by trying to stump the
other with a trick question:

If a man’s peacock lays an egg in his neighbor’s yard, who owns the
egg?

If an electric train is going 80 mph, how fast is the smoke blowing
out behind it?

Which is heavier, a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers?
Lee tapped his pencil against his chin. “What do you mean, hang
ing off?” he said. It was his usual strategy: poking around for more
information before guessing. A premature guess could make you look
really stupid. Even more than coming up with the right answer, this
was the object of the game: to not look stupid.

“I don’t know,” Lyssa shrugged. “You know, if we fall, we’re dead.”
“But that doesn’t even make sense. Are you even listening? He shall
give his angels charge…and in their hands they shall bear thee up. If Jesus
fell, they would catch Him.”

“Well, I know that,” Lyssa said, blushing a little. “I just meant, you
know, hypothetically.” This was one of Lee’s favorite words; he prided
himself on his ability to stretch his imagination.

“Okay, then. Explain it to me.”

“I just meant, if Jesus wasn’t God. If He was human and you had
to choose.”

“But He wouldn’t cast himself down. He resists Satan’s temptations.
How would He be hanging off the pinnacle? Did Satan push
him or something?”

“Who cares! You have to choose: Him or me? That’s all that matters.”

“Okay, but it’s a tricky question. Because if Jesus wants me to sacrifice
Him to save you, He’d really be safe all along, so it wouldn’t
even be a sacrifice. Or maybe it’s a test, like Abraham’s, and I should
let you fall because really the angels will catch you?”

Lyssa sighed. “Forget it, okay? Just forget it.”

“Hey, come on, Lys. You don’t have to get so upset about it.”

She knew he was right. It was a dumb question. So why did her
eyes have to sting so dang much? Why did she have to shut herself
up in her dang room, pretending to read a dang book the rest of the
afternoon so he wouldn’t see? And why couldn’t she keep from cursing
in her dang head? What was wrong with her? If she had asked her
father the question, he would have answered Jesus without hesitating.
If she had asked her mother, she would have said it wasn’t polite
to ask such questions, that life was rarely either/or, it just wasn’t that
simple. If she, herself, had been asked in front of the congregation of
Providence, she didn’t know what she’d say.

At dinner she was too quiet, and when her mother pushed her too
far, she asked to be excused. Later that night, after she was in bed,
Lee slid a folded piece of paper under the door between their rooms.
They did this often; she had an entire shoebox of notes stashed under
her bed. But this time she wouldn’t read it. She wouldn’t even look
at it. She’d tear it in half and slip it back under the door and then see
what he had to say about it.

I’d choose you, it said in his leftward-slanting scrawl. She wished
she could believe him.

***

“How ’bout it, Lys?” her father said once he’d set up the portable movie
screen and tripod. She came down the aisle in the church to meet
him, holding the film tins before her as if she were in a processional.
She laid them out—one, two, three—beside the projector.

“How’s it work?” she asked, peering into the projector lens as if it
were a telescope.

He opened the tins to reveal the reels and showed her how to
thread them into the projector, how the tape spun and the glass
eye magnified the image. Lyssa absorbed the lesson with the same
reverence she felt during the sermons her father gave to the youth
group. His hands moved with the conviction of his speech, in fast,
deft gestures. His voice was high-pitched, as if he had inhaled helium
as a child and his vocal cords had been permanently damaged. As
with his sermons, when he came to the part of the demonstration in
which he was most passionate, his throat tightened, his Adam’s apple
bobbed like a yo-yo, and his voice leapt higher, not louder, jumping
an octave into a strained falsetto. It was a sound more akin to the
chicken squawks that left the mouths of startled adolescents than
the deep bellow of Pastor Deids that commanded the attention of the
congregation every Sunday. This was believed to be the reason he had
never been promoted to a more respectable position than youth minister—
at least, according to Lyssa’s mother and her mother’s friends.

“Why don’t you get the lights, and we’ll try her out?” he said, unwinding
an extension cord.

Lyssa forgot herself a moment, half dashing to the back of the
church before her father told her to slow down. She reached up and
flicked the switches one by one (there were seven of them), then
walked (slowly) back to her father. He plugged the projector into the
cord, pointed out the power button, and gave her the honors.

There was the dull clanking of metal on metal—a sharp rat-a-tattat!—
then the whisper and flick of film unspooling. Numbers counted
backward (6 … 5 … 4 …), Lyssa lipped them silently in anticipation
(3 … 2 … 1 …), and the show began.

The movie was an educational film from 1972 called A Thief in the
Night. Her father screened it every year for the Lambkins right before
summer vacation, but this was the first time Lyssa got to watch.
Her mother disapproved of the film; she told Lyssa’s father it gave
the kids nightmares. There had been complaints among the congregation.
Nothing too serious, nothing brought directly to Pastor
Deid’s attention. The women talked amongst themselves about it,
mothers who saw their children grow quieter at the dinner table, who
lay down with them in bed to help them fall asleep.

“It gives them something to think about now that they’re distracted
without school,” Lyssa’s father had told his wife. “They need a
lasting impression in the weeks before Noah’s Adventure.” He meant
the Vacation Bible School that Providence led, the Monday through
Friday church retreat (sing-a-longs, tie-dye T-shirts, prayer collages)
that didn’t begin until mid-July.

“It scares them,” Lyssa’s mother said.

“There’s nothing to be scared of if they accept Jesus into their
hearts.”

“They’re children,” she insisted. “Good grief, Simon. You know
First Corinthian doesn’t show that film to kids under fifteen. And it’s
eighteen for UCC, unless the parents give permission.”

“Okay. I hear you. But it’s a good film. There’s nothing in it you
can’t find in the Bible, for crying out loud.” That always ended the
discussion. Better than anyone, Lyssa’s mother knew: you can’t outtalk
Scripture.

Lyssa’s father shut the projector off, and they went to set up the
snack tables. Soon the early Lambkins arrived, minivans pulling up
in the parking lot. Kids and teenagers untangled limbs from back
seats. The meeting began with the opening benediction and greeting,
followed by the group song, “Jesus Loves You, This I Know,” complete
with hand motions. Then Lyssa’s father began his sermon on the Second
Coming.

“In the Rapture, only the Chosen will Ascend,” he said. “That means
each and every one of you needs to take a good look in your heart and
decide for yourselves: will you be in the few Jesus takes with him or
one of the many left behind?”

Lyssa sat alone in the front pew, trying her hardest to do what
her father said. She closed her eyes and rested a hand lightly on her
chest—which, unlike Becca May’s, was still flat as any boy’s—and she
tried to find Jesus there. She envisioned the four-chambered organ
beating beneath her palm. Her homeschool group had recently taken
a field trip to the Museum of Natural Science in Houston, where
there had been a giant replica of a heart that you could walk into
and explore. Inside, the walls of the right atrium and ventricle were
painted blue to signify deoxygenated blood pathways, and the left
were painted red. There were also noise machines that mimicked the
lub-dub, lub-dub sound of the muscle moving and light projectors that
sent disco-like shards of light shimmering along the floor like blood
cells.

Lyssa’s father had declined the museum’s offer of a tour guide,
opting to lead the group through the displays himself. In the giant
heart he gathered the homeschoolers around him while a museum
guide leading the group next to them lectured on about the pulmonary
valve.

“Take a gander,” Lyssa’s father told them. He whistled loud enough
to draw a look from the guide. “Lordy mercy! How on Earth could an
organ as complex as this be created by chance?”

This was the heart Lyssa imagined Jesus standing in, holding His
arms out to her. Maybe if she went to Him, if she really felt Him
there, it would be like blood changing, blue to red.

But she was too distracted—by the itchy lace collar of her green
velvet dress, by the film projector and the stained glass windows, by
the murmur of the kids shifting in the seats behind her. Many were
older than her (technically), but they weren’t half as mature. Her
mother liked to joke and say that Lyssa was born an eighty-year-old
woman. She was a severe-looking girl with dramatic cheek bones and
dark, check-marked eyebrows that stood out on her forehead as if
she were perpetually skeptical of whatever was right in front of her.
She didn’t like being around kids her own age, or even those slightly
older than her (except for Lee), preferring the company of adults,
her father mainly, and a few of the older parishioners, who would
sneak her extra doughnuts after services. She wished Lee were here,
instead of at some dumb car show with Chase Garrett. Lee didn’t
even like cars.

Her father was talking again. His voice was like a fly in the room,
a shrill, piercing drone. Because he was rarely given the opportunity
to preach in front of an adult audience, he made use of his time in
front of the youth, continuing to make his points well after he had
lost their attention.

After they sang again, they took a break to get snacks from the
tables set up in the church entryway. Lyssa and her father had laid
out bowls of popcorn and pretzels and red paper cups filled with fruit
punch and lemonade. Lyssa wanted to snatch a handful of potato
chips and maybe say hi to Becca May before they started the movie,
but her father told her to wait. Once he had led the other Lambkins
out to the food and they were good and distracted by their treats, he
came back in from the atrium and shut the doors so it was only him
and Lyssa in the chapel again. He brought out from behind the altar
a large cardboard box. Lyssa thought it might be more parts for the
film, but after her father opened the box, she saw it was filled with
old clothes.

“Here,” her father said. He took a pile into his arms, then dropped
a pair of hand-me-down jeans on the floor. “Scatter these around.”

“What? Why?”

“You know, like when your room’s dirty.”

Lyssa looked at him. Her room was rarely, if ever, dirty.

“I mean, like Lee’s room. When Mom has to get him to pick up his
clothes.”

He was tossing clothes all around now. Winter jackets slung over
the backs of pews. Piles of T-shirts discarded up and down the aisle.
Lyssa just stood there.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” he said. He shoved a tangle of
gaudy sweatshirts at her, then went back to flinging pairs of basketball
shorts. Lyssa sat down on the floor and unraveled the knotted
sleeves. She folded the clothes, then lined them up in neat piles on
the pews.

“What are you doing?” her father said. “They’re supposed to be
messy. Just throw them on the floor.”

“But why?”

“So it looks like they’ve been taken.”

Lyssa was confused, but she did as her father asked. She unfolded
the sweatshirts, then meticulously arranged them on the floor so
they looked like they’d been dropped there. As she worked, she kept
thinking, taken by who? The clothes had been donated by church
members for the poor and homeless, but they hadn’t been given out
to anyone. They’d been stored in a box in the church basement for
who knows how long.

“All right, that should do it,” her father said, and he hid the empty
cardboard box back behind the altar. Lyssa almost asked if maybe she
could get some punch now that they were done, but her father was already
hurrying to let the Lambkins back in. He almost skipped down
the aisle, he was so excited to show the kids what they had done.

At first they were as perplexed as Lyssa. A few of the older kids
made jokes. “Looks like a tornado went through a strip mall,” they
said. And: “Where are all the naked people hiding?”

Lyssa’s father ignored them. “Imagine,” he said, rainbowing his
hands, “that everyone you ever loved disappeared. Imagine coming
into church one day and seeing nothing but a room full of empty
clothes. Where have they gone?”

“To Heaven!” It was a little girl in a pink tutu—either Soshanna or
Deedree, Lyssa wasn’t sure. “Jesus took ’em up,” she said.

“Yes,” Lyssa’s father said. “They’ve been taken. They’ve all been
taken. And now you’re all alone. Because you didn’t love Jesus with
all your heart.”

In the silence that followed, Lyssa couldn’t suppress a shiver. She
looked around the chapel at the clothes strewn about, only this time
they weren’t holey tank tops or mothball-ridden khakis. Instead she
saw Mrs. Krazinsky’s floral print dress and gaudy pink pearls. Mr.
Hughs’s flannel shirt and his leather boots with the horseshoes on
the toes. The Disney Princess costumes Soshanna and Deedree always
wore—blue and yellow, Cinderella and Snow White—their
plastic tiaras topping the frill like cake decorations. Lyssa’s eyes wandered
up to the altar where the robes and sashes of the choir would
be all in a line, as if discarded on the floor of a changing room. There
was a whine from the back of the chapel. One of the younger kids was
frightened.

“But I do love Him!” It was Soshanna, Lyssa was sure this time. “I
do I do I do!”

“All right!” Lyssa’s father laughed. He clapped his hands. “That’s
what I like to hear. We all need to love Jesus as much as Deedree
does.”

“You know what I think we should do?” Becca May stood in the
back. She was a pretty girl with light blonde hair. She was in the same
homeschooled group as Lyssa. “I think we should all pray together
and ask Jesus to come into our hearts right now. Just in case there
are any sinners in the room.”

Lyssa looked down at a ratty blue housedress at her feet when she
said that.

“I think that’s a great idea, Becca!” her father said.

“May,” Becca May corrected. She said it in a mockingly high-pitched
tone. “Becca May.”

“All right, everybody,” he said. “Let’s all pray with Becca May!”

Lyssa squeezed her eyes tight at first, but eventually she couldn’t
keep from peeking. Most of the other kids had their heads bowed
low, but Becca May was looking smack dab at her, playing with the
miniature gold cross that always hung between her collar bones. Lyssa
glanced away.

“Oh, Jesus, we just pray that you can come into our hearts and
bless us,” Lyssa’s father was saying. His eyes were closed and he was
rocking on his heels, his voice climbing the register. With every new
rung of intensity, Lyssa was afraid his Adam’s apple might pop like
a balloon.

She wouldn’t look at Becca May. She wouldn’t.

As soon as Becca May had Lyssa’s full attention, she performed
an exaggerated, slow-motion eye roll. Then she mouthed the words,
Pee-wee Herman. It was the name some of the older kids called her
father. Lyssa didn’t know what it meant, except that it had Pee in it,
which said enough.

She’d first heard this after her father forfeited her solo in “Amazing
Grace” to Becca May. Sometimes Lyssa’s father stood in for
Providence’s music minister, Mrs. Miller, who was also Becca May’s
mother. She was always calling in sick last minute. Lyssa’s father said
this was because she had a “weak constitution,” but her mother said
that was just an excuse for her to spend Sunday mornings at the spa,
which Mrs. Miller insistently called a “homeopathic remedy.” Lyssa’s
parents fought over it, because her father didn’t get paid any extra
for putting together all the music, lyrics, and equipment, or for leading
the choir, and the church kept paying Mrs. Miller’s full salary so
she could cover her “medical bills.”

Three Sundays ago, Becca May and her mother showed up at Providence
an hour before the service while the choir was going through
their last practice run. In mid-song, Mrs. Miller tapped Lyssa’s father
with a pink, acrylic fingernail attached to the end of a long, bronzed
finger and told him she had it from here.

“Really, I don’t mind,” Lyssa’s father said, but Mrs. Miller just
smiled at him.

“Lyssa can sing the harmony,” she told him, as if this was his motivation
all along: the chance to put his daughter in the spotlight.

But Lyssa had been relieved to give up the solo. She’d only agreed
to it because she knew her father would be disappointed otherwise.
So she was surprised by how she felt when Becca May stepped forward
in front of the congregation during the service and let forth a
sound more beautiful than any Lyssa was capable of making. Just
from the looks on their faces in the front pew, she knew how her
family would compliment Becca May afterward. Her mother used the
word “divine.” Lee, who Lyssa had suspected had been in love with
Becca May for years now, could only nod and grin like a dope. Her
father, however, took Becca May’s hand, held it to his heart, and said,
“Can you feel that? He’s in there. I felt him when you sang. It was so,
so beautiful. Thank you for that.”

Before Lyssa could stop herself, she tried to imagine the worst possible
fate for Becca May. She willed herself to think something mean
and cruel and hateful so that she wouldn’t have to see her father
standing there, loving Becca May like he could never love her, knowing
she would have to swallow her pride and parrot her father, telling
her best friend—whom she didn’t even like, not even a little—that
she thought her song was beautiful, a word that had never been used
in context for anything Lyssa had ever or would ever do.

But she couldn’t think of anything terrible—or her conscience
wouldn’t let her—not while she mouthed the words to the harmony,
not after the service while her family was mooning over Becca May,
not even the next day when the homeschoolers broke for lunch and
Becca May whispered in her ear, “Your dad gives me the creeps. He’s
like in love with me or something. And he sounds like Pee-wee Herman.
It’s totally obnoxious.”

Only later, in her dreams, did Lyssa’s brain provide her with the
image of a freak puncture wound to Becca May’s gullet, golden shrapnel
from her exploding cross pendant lodged in her windpipe so that
she could never talk—much less sing—again.

But when Lyssa awoke, she felt so guilty she’d had to close her
eyes and invent a miracle cure: a syringe filled with purple liquid that
was stabbed into the white bandage around Becca May’s throat. And
when that didn’t work, she imagined a voice-box transplant, which
still didn’t quite make up for her guilt, since Becca May would be
stuck with Lyssa’s nasally voice, the one she had inherited from her
father, and Lyssa would be forever mute, although it might be nice to
have an excuse not to say things she didn’t really mean, like she had
to do in church that day.

“Lyssa?” her father said after he returned Becca May’s hand to her.
“Aren’t you going to tell Becca what you thought of her singing?”

“It was pretty,” she said, wanting to say okay, but not going so far
as beautiful, and secretly proud of herself for it.

***

The movie screening was saved for last. After the Lambkins were done
praying—Becca May’s cry of Amen! ringing out over the rest—Lyssa’s
father finally signaled for the lights, and beckoned Lyssa forward to
start the reel. They took their seats together in the front pew, and
Lyssa felt much safer with her father by her side. Even though she’d
liked helping him set up the movie, she was scared to be watching it
for real. Lee had tried to prepare her.

“It’s like a horror movie,” he’d said. “Except without all the gore,”
which had relieved Lyssa a little, until he added, “and God’s the serial
killer.”

A Thief in the Night opened with a black screen and a loud ticking
sound. Lyssa felt that ticking in her breastbone. It was like standing
in a shop filled with clocks all in time together—already her heart
was pounding. A blurred image appeared, clarifying into a yellow
alarm clock next to a radio. A voice on the radio clicked on and began
discussing an event that had occurred the night prior, strange disappearances.
A woman sat up alone in bed. She rubbed sleep from her
eyes. Her hand paused on her face, trembling out of nightmare. She
spoke a name: “Jim? Jim?”

Lyssa tightened like a band. Without knowing it, she drew in close
to her father until her leg was pressed right against his. Lee had been
right. This was scary.

Beneath the ticking there was another sound now, this one softer,
as if coming from a distance, and just as Lyssa was aware of it, the
ticking seemed to fade into the background, and this new sound, a
buzzing, filled the space it had left behind. The woman rose from the
bed. She was wearing a gaudy pink nightgown. Her hair was long and
wavy in the style of the time.

She was kind of pretty, Lyssa thought. Although part of her allure
was a fabrication, a disguise. It was the haziness of the film, its melancholic
feel; it was a fondness for the past that her mother called
nostalgia. She said it in such a way that Lyssa knew it wasn’t a good
thing.

She thought of watching old movies with Becca May, who would
sometimes invite her to stay over after they had class in the Millers’
living room. The actors would all be young and beautiful, so glamorous
that Lyssa often floated in a daze for hours after the movie—as
if life had been reinvented into a movie itself, the world made universally
kinder and infinitely more interesting.

Becca May, however, would prop up her feet, pop a kernel of popcorn
into her mouth, gesture at the screen, and say, “Wow. And to
think they’re all dead now.” A group of new characters would walk
in the door, and she would point and say, “Dead. Dead. Dead. Hey!
You’re dead too.” It was a kind of revenge: to be living when they, the
celebrities of a previous generation, were no longer. But Lyssa didn’t
always see it that way. They were in Heaven. They were with Jesus,
and so it didn’t matter that they were dead and gone.

The woman on the screen was only half as pretty as those old actresses.
She looked a little haggard, making her way down the hall
toward that incessant buzzing. It was coming from the bathroom
and, though she had never seen one in real life, Lyssa couldn’t help
picturing a chainsaw.

As soon as the actress threw the door open, the camera cut into a
close-up of an old-time electric razor, plugged into the wall, rattling
around in the sink.

The voice on the radio made sense now. Jim had been taken. He
was one of the Chosen. And this woman, this girl, poor little Patty, as
Lyssa would come to know her in the next hour, and think of her in
the resulting days, was not.

Patty screamed like she was being stabbed.

Lyssa flinched next to her father, and he took her hand. The rowdiness
among the Lambkins sitting behind them had finally quieted
down. Lyssa felt a warmness spreading in her lap that she thought
was blood. Was she hurt? Had she been the one stabbed? Was that
scream coming out her own open mouth? She leaned over to tell her
father, but stopped when she realized what it really was that was
staining her tights, darkening the green of her dress, and then she
was too embarrassed to say anything. Too embarrassed even to go to
the bathroom and clean herself off.

Instead she sat and endured it, the puddle of urine cooling in her
lap, slowly drying as the film spun on its wheel and the movie played
on, Lyssa too afraid to move, praying hard to Jesus to please take her
and take her now.

***

After the movie, Lyssa cleaned herself off in the church bathroom.
Her father had to take home several stray Lambkins whose parents
hadn’t come to pick them up. Lyssa was grateful for the other kids
in the van; her father kept asking questions about the film, and she
didn’t feel much like talking. She was afraid they could still smell pee
on her.

When they finally arrived home, Lyssa’s mother was curled up on
the couch under an afghan, watching a news program about an astrological
phenomenon that was supposed to take place that night, a
meteor shower or eclipse or something. As soon as they were in the
house, Lyssa went straight to hug her. She crawled into her lap, even
though it made her feel a little childish.

“Someone’s affectionate tonight,” her mother laughed and kissed
her on the head. “Was it the movie?” she said, and Lyssa fought back
tears. “Did it scare you?”

Her father was unlacing his shoes in the armchair beside them.
Lyssa shook her head. She nestled deeper into the dish-soapy scent
of her mother’s nightgown. She tried to focus on the newsman, who
kept blabbing on about the stars.

“Simon,” her mother said. “I told you she wasn’t ready. You know
she’s sensitive.”

“Aw, don’t start, Sarah. She learned a lot tonight. You should have
seen her. Helping the old man out. What a champ.”

The newsman, who had grown a full beard in seconds and was now
Jesus, said, “This only occurs a handful of times every century, so you
don’t want to miss out!”

“We really reached them, Sarah. You should have seen them, the
way their faces lit up. I mean, goodnight, Little Deedree. Can you believe
it? She’s got spunk, that one. Just like Lyssa. She’s gonna be a
real firecracker. I can already tell.”

“You don’t have to scare them to teach them, Simon.”

“Aw, nothing doing. Lyssa’s not scared, now are you, Hon?”

“Repent!” Jesus was saying on the TV, jabbing a finger through the
screen. “Repent, Lyssandra Marie Darby. I have seen the truth inside
your heart, and grace does not lie there.”

But before Lyssa could answer either Jesus or her father, the front
door opened and Lee came in. Headlights flashed across the living
room window as his ride took off down the street. As soon as she
saw him, Lyssa knew something was wrong. His face looked smudged
and his eyes sunken, but he forced a smile and neither of her parents
seemed to notice.

“How was the show?” their father said. He always had to drag Lee
to car shows; Lyssa was more of an auto aficionado between the two
of them. Lee drove a Dodge Ram, but she doubted he even knew that.
Their parents had bought it for him for his sixteenth birthday. He’d
had it three months now, and still whenever someone asked what he
drove, he’d answer, “a green truck.” So they were all surprised when
he begged their father to let him skip Lambkins just this once, so he
could go with Chase Garrett to a show in Houston.

“It was okay,” Lee said. He shrugged. “Kind of tired, though. I think
I’ll hit the hay.”

“Well, wait a minute, what did you see?”

“Cars,” Lee said, heading down the hall. The door to his room
closed without a click. He wasn’t ignoring them; he was just upset.
But Lyssa knew her father didn’t see it that way.

“Oh, leave him be, Simon,” her mother said as he left the room.
“Let him sulk.”

“The end is nigh,” Jesus said, adjusting the microphone clipped to
his lapel. “The time of judgment draws forth. You are not pure of spirit,
Lyssa Marie. Let me heal you.”

There were no locks in the house, but her father banged on Lee’s
door anyway, waiting for him to open it. Lyssa couldn’t hear exactly
what he was saying, his voice was too high, but she was sure it was
the lecture on honoring thy father. She’d heard it before.

“Lyssa,” her mother said, holding her in her arms. “Please. Say
something, Sweet.”

“The stars shall fall from heaven,” Jesus said. His face now filled
the entire screen. “The moon shall not give her light. Be ready, Lyssa.
Be ready.”

***

In her bedroom that night, Lyssa pressed her face into her pillow.
After Jesus did the Twist, she made Him do the Mashed Potato, the
Macarena, and the Funky Chicken, but eventually the novelty of the
dances wore off. She gave up waiting for Lee’s response to her note
(You OK?), and snuck into his room to see for herself.

His bedside light was on, and he was sprawled on top of the covers,
fully clothed, staring up at a water stain on the ceiling with his
arms tight across his chest. She didn’t say anything. She just sat pretzel-
style at the base of the bed next to his feet, and looked up at the
same patch of ceiling.

“Any idea how fast a Laburgunny can go from zero to sixty?” he
said finally.

“Lamborghini,” she corrected him, and immediately hated herself
for it.

“Right. Whatever. Under three seconds. Chase showed me that
tonight.”

“I didn’t know the Garretts had a Lamborghini,” Lyssa said.

“They don’t.”

“Oh.” She waited, but he didn’t explain. “What color was it?”
she said.

“Canary yellow.”

Lyssa laughed. That was just like Lee. Canary yellow. She could
see it.

“What?” he said. “What? You think that’s funny?”

“No. I guess not.”

“Oh, ha-ha. That’s so funny. Lee doesn’t know anything about cars.
Ha-ha. What a pussy.”

Lyssa had never heard that word before, but she liked it even less
than Pee-wee Herman. Why was he so mad at her? What did she do
wrong this time? Why did she have to mess everything up so dang
much?

“Okay,” she said. “Sorry.”

“You don’t know anything, do you? You just follow Dad around like
he’s the Second Goddamn Coming, don’t you?”

Lyssa’s mouth went dry. She looked back at the watermark, which
gaped at her like an angry mouth. She could hear Jesus’s voice on the
TV inside her head: Repent, repent, repent.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You can tell them. I don’t
care. Why don’t you go pray for a better brother? Isn’t that what you
want?”

She couldn’t stop thinking of her question about the pinnacle of
the temple. She imagined herself on trial in front of Providence’s congregation
and her father asking her for the hundredth time, Lee or
Jesus? Jesus or Lee? She’d probably say what her father expected her
to say. But, secretly, she wouldn’t have hesitated. She pictured herself
reaching over the side of the temple’s roof, gripping her brother’s
arm, pulling him to safety. That’s what she wanted to tell Lee. That’s
what she wanted to share with him, that image in her head: the two
of them, standing atop the temple, looking out at the setting sun, Jesus
plummeting far below, the echo of His cry unheard, His landing
sending up a volcanic cloud of dust like a cartoon.

“Go on, I said!” Lee was shouting. “Go cry to Jesus, but leave me
out of it.”

Her face was hot, but she wasn’t crying. She went back to her room
and sat for a while on the bed. Then she knelt down beside it, but she
couldn’t pray. She just couldn’t. She got back in the covers and looked
at the ceiling. Who was she supposed to talk to if she couldn’t talk to
Lee, or to her parents, or even Jesus? She pulled the bedspread up
again, closed her eyes, and waited for the voice from the TV to tell her
what to do, but it didn’t come. It didn’t come.

***

In her dream, Lyssa stands on the front lawn in her nightgown. The
grass beneath her feet as dry as any summer. The pines along the side
of the house browned and brittle in the heat. The stars sown above in
the great firmament, slivers of seeds in the night sky.

The woodpile’s burning. A bonfire in the side yard. Her father
chops logs on a block—each stroke making a loud ch-tick! ch-tick! chtick!—
then he tosses the splintered wood, piece by piece, into the
blaze. Lee’s on the porch swing, swaying back and forth, a Bible in his
lap. Her mother’s at the mailbox at the end of their drive. She shuts
the lid with a snap, then waves at Lyssa, letters clutched in her hand.

Her family’s not alone outside the house tonight. All down the
street, Lyssa can see neighbors, homeschoolers, and churchgoers, all
of them, out on their lawns: the Ryles and their six kids, Mrs. Krazinsky
and her little dog, Pastor Deids and his wife, Becca May and her
parents, the Garrett boys, Mr. Hughs, Soshanna and Deedree. They
huddle in groups, talking animatedly, waving their hands, crying,
embracing, pointing excitedly up at the stars.

The sky’s tearing—it makes a loud buzzing noise like a zipper.
Seeds sprout, spreading their silver roots in the black soil overhead,
growing like lightning, fracturing every which way. A strange pressure
fills Lyssa’s ears and all the sounds of the ticking and buzzing,
the shouting and barking and weeping are forced out of her head.

Then feet leave the ground: Pastor Deids rising majestically overhead,
Becca May floating upward with supreme grace, Soshanna and
Deedree twirling together like lit sparklers.

Lyssa’s mother is running up the driveway, trying to get to her
when she is suddenly ripped from the ground, letters scattering, her
housedress blowing up as if in a gust, her pale legs dangling like two
branches stripped from a birch. Lee goes next. He stands on the Bible,
balancing it like a hoverboard beneath his feet. Her father, following
close behind, extends the axe down to Lyssa, blade first, and she tries
to leap up and take hold of it, but she can’t. She’ll cut herself.

She falls back as others flock over her. Holes explode in the ground
all around her, and out come body parts—solitary legs and arms,
livers and kidneys, eyeballs and ears—floating above her as if suspended
in a gelatinous substance. Muscles flex, fingers clutch, nerves
quiver. Somewhere in the distance she hears the faint muffle of a
trumpet, a shout. Then she, too, begins to rise.

Not far behind, Lyssa struggles to catch up, but it soon becomes
clear to her that she is not flying, or even swimming, through the
air, that she has no control over the speed of her ascent. Far below,
she can make out the entire town, receding into darkness. Above
her roots and sprouts are tangling together; there’s more light than
dark left in the sky. A field is growing, rows of silver wheat. When
the neighbors who were taken first, the tiny specks way above her,
touch the light, they disappear; or, perhaps, they become the light.
Eventually, her mother reaches the light and is gone. Then so do Lee
and her father. The organs that touch the light knit together before
vanishing.

The light is almost blinding now. Lyssa can make out nothing but
a dark smudge. It looks like a human heart. She focuses on it until it
clarifies: It’s Jesus’s head. He is the Light.

As soon as she realizes this, her head bangs against something
hard, like glass. Her body tries to keep rising, but there it is again,
some glass barrier, between her and the Light.

He smiles at her. Then laughs at her. He shakes His head. The glass
barrier, the dome, whatever it is, lowers, sinking her down. She cannot
pass. She will not be taken.

Then whatever has held her up until that moment leaves her. The
sky darkens once more and she falls back to the Earth, where no one
she has ever loved remains.

***

The house was deathly quiet when Lyssa awoke. She was cold and she
was terrified, but she got out of bed immediately and went to Lee’s
room. She didn’t care if he was mad at her. She didn’t care if he hated
her. She needed to see him tangled in his sheets. She needed to feel
his breath against her hand. She needed to touch him to be sure he
was still there.

But he wasn’t. The bed was empty.

Lyssa went across the hall to her parent’s room. They had to be
in their bed. She had to see them. Their chests rising in their sleep.
Her father’s mussed-up hair on the pillow. Her mother’s sleep mask
askew on her forehead.

But they weren’t there either.

It had happened. In her sleep, it had happened. They were gone,
all of them, and they were never coming back. Outside her parents’
window, the moon darkened as the Earth moved between it and the
sun. She could not watch. She climbed into their great bed and pulled
the covers up so she could surround herself in their scent.

If only her dream had ended sooner, she might have wrapped her
arms around her mother when she’d tried to wake her to come see
the eclipse.

If only she had gone over to the window and seen the three of
them, standing together on the front lawn, heads bent back, watching
the Earth’s shadow steal light from the sky.

If only she had loved Him more than she had loved them, then
maybe she could have kept them a little longer.