David Gilbert ~ The Rapture on Five Dollars a Day

The lawn chairs rose in the air as if the Rapture was leav­ing the right­eous behind. When the towns­folk saw their pas­tor in a chair, they won­dered why they were stand­ing in their back­yards. They shout­ed for an expla­na­tion but he was too high above them to be heard. Had he not taught them the good news?

This was what a stu­dent breath­less­ly told me when she ran into the dol­lar store with the news. Soon more stu­dents arrived from the direc­tion­al col­lege to buy snacks and beer for a chair-watch­ing par­ty. The stu­dents did look con­cussed, a claim made on a syn­di­cat­ed radio show. The alle­ga­tion was that they were con­cussed by the ambi­gu­i­ty ema­nat­ing from their stud­ies. Whatever their con­di­tion, they had fist­fuls of five-dol­lar bills to spend.

The chairs were vis­i­ble from the store park­ing lot. The stu­dents watched while I worked on the floor by the entrance spelling out dai­ly sales with let­ters from unstrung par­ty ban­ners. Customers often stepped on my work dis­rupt­ing the sen­tences that bring atten­tion to over­stocked items such as bleach, ammo­nia, cook­ies, and read­ing glass­es. The man­ag­er gives me the free­dom to adver­tise for an hour in the morning.

After lunch, Rick, a swarthy coun­cil­man, arrived and asked me to advise the con­gre­ga­tion on the chairs. They thought of me as a man ped­dling the dev­il’s apho­risms, a thought­less read­ing of my floor writ­ing. The pas­tor, accord­ing to Rick, got into his chair on his own accord and was seen ris­ing and con­verg­ing with the oth­er chairs. Before he rose beyond con­tact, he may have spo­ken in tongues which was good for rev­e­la­tion but not as an expla­na­tion. Since you will be left behind, said Rick with enthu­si­asm, could you help us fig­ure out what’s hap­pen­ing?  This sounds like a mir­a­cle, I said, espe­cial­ly if he is still alive. An expla­na­tion would be a mir­a­cle, said Rick. I agreed to a per diem to con­sult — pitch the far-fetched — but feared a bad result. I was­n’t going to catch the pas­tor if he fell.

The light illu­mi­nat­ing the clus­ter of chairs was dumb­found­ing and cap­tured my atten­tion as I walked the back­yards with the weepy faith­ful iden­ti­fy­ing their chairs with binoc­u­lars. I wrote in my note­book about faith with­out scape­goats, as if I were being paid by the inad­e­quate word. Later, as the evening bugs arrived, an infor­mant told me the pas­tor was a ladies’ man, a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion amend­ed to a for­ni­ca­tor of sopra­nos and secretaries.

The com­mu­ni­ty came to believe the risen chairs were a test run of the Rapture. I thought it was an inco­her­ent game of musi­cal chairs; I had to be care­ful not to jeop­ar­dize my per diem with poor­ly timed irrev­er­ence. I was no more than a foil for Rick’s ban­ter as the days passed and there were no reports of air­borne chairs else­where in the state, anoth­er miracle.

Eventually, the pas­tor returned to sight wav­ing as if he were about to low­er a rope for us to pull him back to earth. The town coun­cil, all church dea­cons, believed he was return­ing from a divine audi­ence in a tri­umph over grav­i­ty if not grace. Attempts to send water and a sand­wich by a weath­er bal­loon looked promis­ing until the bal­loon kept going. After the bal­loon, Rick thanked me for my work and asked for my notes. I’ll return them after I make a copy, I said. Incensed, Rick read a list of accu­sa­tions against me as lever­age. 1. Looking up Coed’s skirts while pid­dling on the floor. 2. Misspelling ammo­nia and Velveeta. 3. Eating pret­zels and then glu­ing the bag shut with Elmers. 4. Having too many books in my trail­er. 5. Entertaining a vis­i­tor from Boston. 6. Deliberately con­fus­ing Q‑Anon shop­pers by telling them that a church father believed that in the end every­one would be saved. Damnation is beau­ti­ful, said Rick, hand­ing me a check.

The stu­dents were wait­ing for me at the store with the claim that they’d sent a drone up into the chairs and found the pas­tor, but his con­tor­tions were so hor­rif­ic the cam­era mal­func­tioned and the video was lost. They want­ed to use my notes to write a script for an Indie hor­ror movie. I could not promise any­thing with the chairs still in the sky.

Later that week, the Pastor walked down the grav­el path of the trail­er park with a sound­less foot­fall look­ing fit enough to sur­vive anoth­er ordeal. He found me sit­ting in my lawn chair icing my knees. What did you know about the chairs? he asked. He accept­ed a beer and a bowl of gum­bo. For a start, I said, it is a mir­a­cle. I should have said spe­cial effects but that sound­ed like weak skep­ti­cism. We tried to brain­storm the par­tic­u­lars of the mir­a­cle but banal­i­ty quick­ly over­came us and the Pastor final­ly said that he had more press­ing prob­lems than mir­a­cle authen­ti­ca­tion. He did. My sec­re­tary is preg­nant, he said, and won’t go to the city for an abor­tion. So I need to get away for a few weeks and pray…maybe up north where the Pilgrims land­ed. I’ve nev­er had chow­der. Then I’ll come back and resign. I won’t ball my eyes out and repent. That’s in your favor, I said, almost a mir­a­cle. Anyway, we’ve got a good sto­ry but it’s not doing us any good as it is. It’s not any good, said the pas­tor as he left.

After the lawn chairs were found in the pub­lic swim­ming pool, Rick came to the store to see if I was in com­pli­ance with the new ordi­nance pro­hibit­ing sig­nage on com­mer­cial floors. I was work­ing out­side at a large white­board. Rick stopped with a roll of tin foil in his hand. You know where he is, don’t you? He’s com­ing back, I said. Not com­ing down, said Rick, point­ing to the sky. One way or anoth­er he’s com­ing back, I said. The chairs have returned and he’ll return soon.


David Gilbert has pub­lished sto­ries and poet­ry in the Mississippi Review Online, Blip, New World Writing, First Intensity, In Posse, Caliban, Screens and Tasted Parallels, and oth­er mag­a­zines.  He has coedit­ed with Karl Roeseler two col­lec­tions of sto­ries:  Here Lies and 2000andWhat? He is the author of four books and eBooks of sto­ries: I Shot the Hairdresser, Overland, The Third Bridge, and Central Casting.  He has also authored Five Happiness, an obstruc­tion-dri­ven narrative.