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"Beginning the End" book 1 of The End Series

The "zombie apocalypse" had happened right before our eyes.
Some of us had a clue about what was to come. We were Christians, followers of The Way. Scripture had warned us of the end times and the signs were there in front of us. It was coming; we just didn't know when. 


prologue

When the end began, no one even noticed. At least, no one knew the end was approaching. Not for sure, anyway. And it was just an ordinary, everyday act that caused the end to begin—one that thousands of people in any given day performed.

In late autumn, Aleixo Comis went in to his bank in Patras, Greece and closed his account. It wasn't a huge account, certainly not an amount that should have caused a financial avalanche. But the bank was already in trouble, as was the entire Greek economy. When Aleixo removed his small account from an already extremely troubled financial institution, it was the proverbial back-breaking straw.

Aleixo, of course, had no idea of what his one decision would cause. He only wanted to get his life's savings so that he could buy a sailboat. He and his wife, Zenia, wanted to see the world. The couple had never even been out of the country of Greece, and Aleixo had spent the past six months taking sailing lessons from a friend. They thought the time was now right for their adventure—the kids were grown with families of their own; Aleixo had recently retired from his job as a cabinet maker; Zenia's widowed mother had recently passed and Aleixo's parents had moved in with his sister. The couple was ready to leave; all they needed was the transportation.

The economical demise of the entire world was started over one man's desire for a holiday.

That account closure was the pebble in a pond that eventually caused a tsunami that wiped out first Greece, then Spain, then moved on to France and Italy. The whole of Europe quickly followed suit and soon the rest of the world was drowning under a tidal wave of economic ruin.

The only countries that weathered the storm were those that had always been considered "third world," the places that were already adapted to living in abject poverty. The world economic collapse was barely a hiccup for them.

In just weeks, food prices skyrocketed astronomically. Gasoline was so costly that most people simply abandoned their vehicles and walked wherever they needed to go. In a brief time, things we had always taken for granted—such as electricity and heating fuel for warm homes and hot showers and meat for our meals—became luxuries we could no longer afford.

As the economy continued to decline, the American dollar was literally no longer worth the paper it was printed on. Always proving to be resourceful, people once again took to the old fashioned barter system and, in a sad testament to our culture, the commodities that were worth the most were cigarettes, booze and drugs. Regardless of the world's economic downfall, people still had addictions. It had just suddenly become even harder to satisfy them.

Those who were dependent and/or addicted could no longer easily acquire their fixes and became violent and almost inhumane in their quest for their drug of choice. The "Zombie Apocalypse" we Americans had joked about for so long happened, but when it occurred the zombies weren't flesh-eating subhumans. Instead, the zombies were those desperate addicts bent on obtaining their next fix at any cost.

The zombie horde also included those who had always relied on the now non-existent welfare system, the "entitlement" dependents who no longer had resources for food and other necessities. They preyed on those of us just trying to survive, killing and stealing without much thought.

Shortly after the collapse, the U.S. president and all of his cabinet mysteriously disappeared. No one could fathom what had happened to the entire leadership team, as most had become well-respected and trusted. Most especially the president: although the man had started his presidential term with animosity and strife as his constant companions, he had quickly proven that he was not only capable of running the country, but that he truly loved doing so. He had ingratiated himself into the hearts of nearly every American, even those who were so vehemently against him at the first.

And so it was a great surprise to those already struggling with surviving the troubled times to find themselves suddenly without a leader. Speculation was that the president and staff had been murdered, or at the very least kidnapped. Others wondered if they had left the country, knowing how bad things were going to get.

Unfortunately, the unpopular former president stepped up to take over once again. He had left his own presidency on a bitter note, and had far fewer supporters when he left than when he had started. Americans were dumbfounded as to how the man could just come back and take over, but no one knew just what they could do about it. A political coup wasn't possible or feasible, not with it being so difficult just to find food and survive each day.

No one was safe, at least not those living in cities. Gone were the days when you could hide out in your home behind locked doors for safety. The home was where food and supplies might be, and the first place the zombies were going to look to burglarize, often thoughtlessly murdering innocents in their quest.

After months of this chaotic crime spree, the self-declared president instated martial law, enacting curfews and strict municipal boundaries. Without proper paperwork you couldn't even leave the city where you lived. Officials claimed it was for our safety, but those of us trying to survive in those cities without causing harm to others were the victims; we suffered the most. The criminals—the zombies—just went around the system, as was the usual way.

In a desperate attempt to survive, many people grabbed what they could and took to the woods, farmlands, mountains—anywhere they could to get away from the criminal cesspool the cities had become.

But most were especially anxious to get away from the heavily armed soldiers who were ordered to detain and imprison citizens for the smallest infractions—and they were given orders to terminate at will and without prejudice for more heinous crimes. The justice system had been reduced to a soldier with an automatic weapon who became judge, jury and executioner.

The new military law enforcement group was named the "Neo Geo Task Force," or just "Neos" for short, and had been built mainly from three former Federal agencies—the DEA, Homeland Security and the FBI, although the CIA and others also joined the group. Some former municipal police were also forced into service. The power given to them was unprecedented in the United States and indefensible, especially since the true military had all been disbanded and were actively hunted by the Neos, who claimed the former armed forces were "militants," and therefore, criminals.

The Neos' logo was imprinted on everything from their vehicles to their uniforms. It wasn't long before they required citizens to receive implanted microchips that also bore the logo; it was the only way a person could acquire food and supplies. Christians suspected and feared that this logo was the "mark of the Beast" the Bible spoke of in the Book of Revelation, and most chose to flee the cities to try to survive on their own.

Those believers who weren't able to escape the cities but who still refused to take the chip were sent to FEMA camps—those places that even long before the collapse we'd been warned were put in place for Christians. At the time we'd scoffed and cried paranoia, laughing at the doom sayers' assumptions. But we should have listened to them.

Not just Christians, but also Jews—anyone who didn't fall into the government's way of thinking—were subject to imprisonment and, considering that the government's way of thinking had become the antithesis of traditional Judeo-Christian values and morals, it turns out the doom sayers were right.

Those camps were originally designed to be used for detainment, a place to keep under the thumb those in society who might speak out against the wrong doings of the government. But the camps soon became no better than the Nazi death camps of WWII, and many were martyred there for their beliefs.

Most of mankind was totally unprepared for what happened, and how quickly it came about. But there were plenty of "preppers," those who fell into the doom sayers' category, who had been predicting the world's demise for years and had been making preparations for it. They stocked food, toiletries and ammo, came up with clever ways of storing and gathering water, read up on herbal medicine and edible plants, investigated solar power and wind generators. But those people were few and far between…and unfortunately, they were the only ones who were even close to being prepared for what was to come.

Then there were those we thought were the crazies, the guys who holed up in compounds, stockpiling firearms and ammo and shooting at anyone who approached their heavily fortified gates. They were the people who had instigated the anti-government campaigns, those who first warned us of what was coming, of what our government would turn in to.

For decades, we had laughed at them, calling them conspiracy theorists and militants. We argued that since the beginning of time, men had thought the world was going to end and time and again were proven wrong. What made this generation any different?

If only we'd listened, heeded their ramblings about the government, about the coming takeovers and unjust imprisonments…and later, the execution of the innocent. And if we'd paid attention to the doom sayers—mostly Christians who warned of the end times approaching and our need to accept the Savior—well, maybe then more people would have had a better time of it, been better prepared for what was coming.

We ourselves fell into the prepper group. Sort of. Only we were late comers, and we went through a heck of a time trying to meet the needs of our own family, much less all those who would eventually come to us for refuge, for sanctuary, from the chaotic mess the world became.

This is our story of the beginning of the end.

 

chapter 1

 

Dang, is he ever handsome.

Maybe not in a conventional way, but certainly in a way that made Nikki's heart beat just a bit faster. He had all the attributes that she most admired—big strong shoulders, thick muscled arms, and a head of thick strawberry blond hair, much lighter than her own auburn. His hair color didn't matter, but the fact that it was long, well past those oh-so-broad shoulders, was just the icing on the man's yummy appeal cake…and his Trace Adkins goatee was the cherry on top.

His voice was deep and a shiver went down her spine at the sound. "Good afternoon. How can I help you?"

Hazel eyes that surprisingly matched her own stared at her from beneath a heavy brow. Her eyes traveled to his mouth, noticing that his lips were plump, the only soft-looking feature on a very masculine face.

Nikki suddenly felt a wave of embarrassment come over her as she felt her face heat and mentally kicked herself for acting like a teenager. She cleared her throat. "Hi. Um, I need, uh, a, uh…"

Oh no, what the Sam Hill is that thing called again? Oh geez—I'm such a dork! Now at least she had a reason for her face to be red.

Mr. Handsome Parts Guy grinned at her, as if he were used to women stumbling around him, stuttering and stammering, completely forgetting what they wanted to say. Well, she certainly wasn't one of them. She reminded herself that she was not interested in him—or in any man, ever. Not again. Lesson learned the hard way.

Her mental reminder helped. She cleared her throat again. "Uh, sorry. I need an ignition switch for an oh-five Chevy Suburban."

The man stared at her for a second longer than was necessary, his hazel eyes crinkling at the corners. Her eyes flickered to his beard and mustache, noticing a little gray amongst the dark red strands. She thought he was probably about her age, maybe a little younger.

Not that it matters how old he is…forget it!

His eyes finally shifted to his computer screen and he punched at the keyboard. She glanced down at the name tag on his red shirt. "Reg" it said, along with "Manager." Well, the fact that he was in charge didn't surprise her at all; the man all but radiated authority. Just his powerful build alone was enough to proclaim that he was the big dog on the porch.

Her eyes moved to his fingers as he continued to enter info on the computer. She smiled slightly as he used just his forefingers to punch the keys. His hands, like the rest of the man, were large. Impressively so. She shuddered then, remembering how male hands that were much smaller had been the cause of so much pain for her in the past.

Stop. Just stop.

Nikki mentally shook herself, needing to get off the slippery slope she was in danger of sliding down. She didn't need to keep reminding herself of the poor choices she'd made in the past. It was over and done with.

He glanced back at her then. "Sorry, hon, we don't have it in stock here, but I can order it from our other store in Abilene and have it here by this afternoon."

The term of endearment caught her off-guard and she had to concentrate on the rest of what he'd said.  She screwed her face up when she realized what he told her.

"Oh, shoot. Um, that doesn't really work for me, cuz I live forty miles away. I'd hate to have to make the trek back up here again."

Normally it wouldn't be such a big deal and she could just pick the part up the next day since she worked in San Angelo, but tomorrow was Sunday, which happened to be the only day her brother could work on the Suburban. She really needed to get that part today and wished she could have taken care of it sooner, but she'd had to wait on her paycheck that she didn't get until yesterday and by the time she'd gotten off work last night, the parts store had been closed.

Nikki thought about calling her dad and asking if she could keep his truck just a little longer and then find something to do in the city until the part arrived, maybe even go in to work and finish up a few loose ends. But she knew asking her dad was a lost cause, since she'd had to beg the man to let her use the truck in the first place. He had always been a bit difficult, but even more so in the years since her mom had passed.

She then considered driving to Abilene herself to get the part, but since her dad had written down the odometer reading before she'd borrowed the truck, he would know if she'd gone farther than she had told him she would. And then the stink would definitely hit the fan. Her father certainly wasn't known for his charitable contributions to society and those contributions fell completely by the wayside when it came to his only daughter.

Nikki sighed and fought back tears. Life hadn't been too easy on her lately, not with the latest divorce and then having to quickly find a place to live when her soon-to-be-ex had thrown her out of the house—literally. "It's my house," he'd shouted in her face as he'd shoved her out the front door after a heated argument.

They'd bought the three bedroom house in San Angelo just before they got married and while it was in his name only due to some credit issues she'd had thanks to her other divorce, she'd always held a job throughout their marriage and contributed to the bills. Since their money was pooled together, she'd obviously contributed to the house payment.

Nikki had only asked Matt to let her stay in the house until she could find her own place. She told him she wouldn't fight him over the equity in the house, but he didn't want to hear it—he wouldn't hear it. Nikki was frankly shocked at just how selfish the man truly was.

The only place she could find that would accept her pets and didn't cost more than she made was forty miles southeast of San Angelo. A widow owned the tiny ranchette and she wasn't asking very much at all for rent of the place. It was two bedrooms and sat on five acres of dry Texas land. And Mrs. Chalmers didn't mind her dog and cat at all, saying she was just thankful to have someone occupy the property for a change. Even though it was so far from her work in the city, Nikki still felt the little house was a blessing.

Another unexpected blessing came when Nikki had explained her situation to the kindly woman and told her how she didn't have enough money for both the first and last month's rent. Mrs. Chalmers had waived the fees and had even hugged Nikki and told her she'd be praying for her.

With the huge yard that her retriever, Zeke, loved to romp through chasing doves and the old farmhouse with the wrap-around porch complete with rocking chairs, Nikki had thought the place was a true godsend, despite the long commute she now had to work and the extra gas money she hadn't budgeted for. She'd had to reconcile herself to eating beans and rice until she could get some bills paid off.

At least her daughter, Anna, wouldn't visit often—the girl didn't like what she'd termed "ghetto hick living" and wanted to stay with her dad in San Angelo where there were such teenage necessities as Starbucks and shopping malls. At the time Nikki had been hurt by her youngest kid's abandonment, but she'd also realized that it was for the best—she really wouldn't have been able to afford to feed a growing teen on top of everything else. Thankfully her other children were grown and living their own lives.

Forcing herself back to the issue at hand, Nikki tried a different tactic.

"Do you think any other parts stores would have it?"

He lifted his massive shoulders in a slight shrug.

"I can call around for you if you'd like, but if I remember right there was a recent recall on a Chevy OEM ignition switch on quite a few makes and models, so it's likely they'll be out of stock in most places. In fact, my Abilene store only had two on the shelf."

Nikki sighed, feeling defeated and helpless. She was caught in yet another situation that was out of her control, yet affected her in such a profound way. Without a vehicle she wouldn't be able to make it to work come Monday. Being a contracted employee meant no time off, no sick leave, basically no money if she didn't show up. Her bills were paid for the month, but she still had to eat and buy fuel for her gas-guzzling Suburban.

The tears were gathering yet again and she blinked furiously, desperately trying not to embarrass herself in front of the man. She cleared her throat before speaking.

"No, it's okay, don't bother calling around." She shrugged then.

"I'll see if maybe my brother can pick it up tomorrow on his way to my place. He's the one who's going to install it."

Nikki mentally groaned to herself then, wondering why she was giving the man so much information. He smiled sympathetically.

"Hate to say it, but we're closed on Sundays. Owner is a devout Christian." He grimaced over the last word.

Nikki felt her hackles rise a bit over that and hurried to defend the unknown owner.

"Hey, actually that's a great thing to hear, even if it is inconvenient for me. A Christian-owned business should be closed on the Sabbath. It shows a lot of integrity."

He snorted. "It shows a lack of business sense, if you ask me."

Nikki was somewhat relieved to know the man obviously wasn't a Christian, or at least not a practicing one. She thought of the Scripture that spoke of not unequally yoking yourself and reminded herself of the painful price she'd had to pay for ignoring that directive in the past. It was easier to ignore her ridiculous attraction to the man now. At least, that's what she kept telling herself every time her heart sped up just a bit when he looked at her.

She shook her head slightly. "Well, thanks anyway. I'm not sure what I'm going to do now. I guess I'll try begging my dad to let me keep his truck for the rest of the day…" She let her voice trail off, realizing she was once again divulging unnecessary information.

He got a speculative look then and cocked his head to one side.

"Um, where do you live? You said you were forty miles away, but where exactly?"

At her alarmed look, he held up his hands. "Now, don't be gettin' your feathers ruffled.  I'm just asking cuz we have a delivery driver and I could have him run it by to you this afternoon if you're near his route."

Nikki almost sagged in relief. When he'd asked where she lived, it felt like a massive invasion of privacy. Warning bells had even gone off in her head. It sometimes felt like she was in the Witness Protection Program with how secretive she had to be with everything, thanks to her ex and his penchant for causing trouble with her.

She swallowed before answering and knew her face was red, hoping the man didn't notice.

"Oh, um, well I live in Barnhart," she answered as she darted a glance at him.

He grinned at her. "Well, you're in luck. Turns out he's gotta go to Witco, so he can drop it off on his way there."

For the first time, Nikki smiled back. "Oh, that's great! That helps me so much!"

A sudden thought removed the smile from her face. "Uh, is there an extra charge for delivery?" She was going to barely be able to afford the part as it was, not to mention her hopes for possibly eating during the next two weeks until she got paid again.

He smiled sympathetically. Or at least that's what it seemed like to Nikki—but she also knew she tended to be a bit defensive lately, bouncing back and forth from thinking that everyone was either out to hurt her, or else feeling sorry for her. Either scenario didn't sit well with her pride.

"No, darlin', no extra charge. Like I said, it's on the driver's way."

Vastly relieved, Nikki paid for the part and gave the man her exact address, telling herself that it was okay—he was the manager of a store, after all. He couldn't be a weirdo who was just after her address, could he?

 

A Dodge truck pulled up to the ranchette just as Nikki had started boiling water for pasta. She knew it had to be the delivery truck from the parts store—no one else knew where she lived, not even her pastor. The secrecy was necessary for her safety. She just couldn't trust anyone to not tell Matt where she was.

Tossing the package of rotini into the pot, she hurried to the front door and opened it. Shock reverberated through her as she watched the manager of the parts store climb down from the tall truck.

What is HE doing here? Her previous thought of him being a weirdo came rushing back and she suddenly felt very vulnerable and defenseless. Heck, she didn't even own a gun, much less know how to shoot one and her little ranch house was by itself in the middle of five acres, too far away for neighbors to hear anything bad going on.

He waved at her as he sauntered up her walk, stopping to pet Zeke, who was doing an overly enthusiastic tornado spin around the man. The two shared a mutual admiration for a minute, then the man continued walking toward her, holding out a small box.

"I have a special delivery here for a Miss Nicole Jackson."

Shock that he knew her name shot through her, before she remembered that she'd given him her name when she'd ordered the part. Nikki took the box and looked at him warily.

"Uh, thanks…but you said you had a delivery driver, so why are you bringing it?" She cringed at her rudeness, but she just couldn't help it. Her defenses were on alert.

He hooked his thumbs in his front jeans pockets and leaned his shoulder against the post on her front porch, grinning in that utterly charming way Texan men seemed to be born with.

"I lied," he admitted matter-of-factly without a trace of remorse, then shrugged.

"Well, we do have a driver, but he wasn't coming anywhere near here. I just thought you needed…you seemed so…well, you just seemed like you needed some help, honey. And I never mind playing the knight in shining armor to the pretty damsel in distress."

He grinned again and Nikki noticed he had twin dimples on each side of his dark reddish gold mustache. The thought that he really was a handsome devil ran through her mind again, but her conscience focused on the word "devil"—reminding her once again that the man seemed to be anti-Christian.

"'Sides," he drawled as he stared at her while absently scratching Zeke's head, who had parked himself on the man's boots, "I live in Witco, so this is on my way home."

The fact that the man was "just down the road a ways," as Texans say, was really disconcerting, not to mention the fact that he now knew where she lived. She once again reminded herself that she knew where he worked and shrugged her fears aside.

"Well, I do appreciate it, uh, Reg." She forced herself to smile at him.

He thrust his hand out and she automatically took it. "Albert Reginald Erskine the fourth. And yeah, just Reg."

Her grin got wider. "That's quite a mouthful. And you already know my name, although I go by Nikki."

Reg held her hand longer than was necessary and Nikki realized with a bit of a shock that she didn't feel intimidated by the man. Normally she would have been, though, just based on his size. He has tall, meeting her eye to eye even though she was standing on her porch step. He was also thick with muscle, but had a little middle-age paunch that she thought actually made him even more attractive. It somehow softened a body that would otherwise be overly intimidating.

The man no longer threatened her—on the contrary, she suddenly felt like being wrapped up in those big ol' arms. She cleared her throat against the confusing emotions roaring through her.

"Um, I was just starting dinner. You're, uh, welcome to stay if you'd like. Just spaghetti and salad. Uh, rotini and salad." Ugh, you're rambling again, dork.

His grin was back. "I'd love that, darlin'. I live by myself and don't cook, so dinner usually consists of whatever heat 'n eat I can find in the freezer, or whichever fast-food joint I stopped at on the way home."

Nikki turned and led the way into the house, trying to ignore the way her heart skipped a bit at his obviously deliberate inference that he was single.

 

Nicole Jeannette Jackson and Albert Reginald Erskine IV were married one month later by a woman judge in the county courthouse.

Nikki had fallen in love with the man that very first night when they'd had dinner—and Reg ended up staying almost the whole night. Not because things had gotten intimate, but because they talked. And talked. And talked some more. They just couldn't seem to get enough of each other, finding out each other's likes, dislikes, pasts, hopes for the future.

She'd told him about her previous marriages—and he wasn't even frightened off by how many there were. When she'd told him that she'd left each marriage knowing it had been wrong to divorce but just couldn't stay because the marriages were so bad, Reg had responded with "sometimes things just happen when we make the wrong decision, then make another wrong decision cuz it looked right at the time and we were hoping to fix the first wrong decision. Then life just has a way of snowballing out of control."

Reg had also helped her feel even better about her past when he'd told her that she'd probably jumped from marriage to marriage because she was unconsciously hoping to somehow fix her parent's disaster of a marriage and her own difficult upbringing and probably even subconsciously was trying to find the love her parents hadn't given to her.

He'd proposed to her that first night, although in a joking way, when she'd promised to make him chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes the following evening, after she'd gone to church and her brother had fixed the Suburban. After he jokingly proposed, Reg told her to call her brother and cancel, that he himself would put the part in for her while she made dinner. He'd even offered to take her to church the next morning, which she'd taken him up on, since it was a pretty far walk from her house.

"Just don't blame me if the roof caves in when I walk through the door," he'd teased.

Reg proposed in earnest a week later after they'd spent every single evening together. She'd laughed and told him "no." She tried to explain that there was just no way she could or would consider getting married again. She had too many failed relationships to even think about trying again. Her denial didn't stop him though and he persisted in trying to get Nikki to change her mind.

He'd also tried to get intimate with her, but she'd explained that she just couldn't "go there," not morally anyway. It was bad enough that she was a several-times-divorced woman; she didn't need to add adultery to her "record."

Nikki was honest with herself and admitted that it sure wasn't easy denying him sex. She wanted it too. She prayed to the Lord every night to help keep her strong, but she could feel herself losing the battle.

One night she was crying to Jesus about how hard it was to stay celibate at her age and with her past experiences. She admitted she didn't want to get married to a man who wasn't a Christian, but that Reg sure was an easy man to love.

"I don't know what to do, Lord," she'd cried.

The Lord had answered—audibly. Well, in her head, anyway.

"Marry him."

It wasn't often that He actually spoke to her—most often, she'd get her answers to prayer from Scripture, or from conversations with friends or even from messages on billboards along the highway. So when she heard a voice in her head telling her to marry a man she would certainly be unequally yoked with, Nikki naturally assumed it was the enemy trying to lead her astray.

"Lord, I want to marry Reg. You know my heart and know that I do. But he's not a Christian and Your Word is clear that we're not to unequally yoke ourselves. I'm confused. Is that really Your voice I'm hearing, or the enemy's…or even my own wishful thinking?"

"Marry him."

"But he's not a Christian…"

"Trust Me."

So Nikki finally broke down and married Reg, but she refused to have a church service, just in case she was wrong and it wasn't the Lord who had told her to marry the man. She'd stupidly told herself that if she were making another mistake, it wouldn't be as bad if she didn't marry before God. But then she noticed the marriage license wording as she signed it—at the top in bold fanciful letters were the words "IN HOLY MATRIMONY," and she had halfheartedly laughed to Reg that she "was doomed."

Reg continued to go to church with her every Sunday and even accompanied her to Wednesday night Bible study when he could get away from the shop early enough. He seemed very interested in what the pastor had to say and when Nikki received a rebate check in the mail, she used the unexpected money to buy him a study Bible, which he read often.

Five months and three days after they were married, Reg shocked her by walking down the aisle during invitation and giving his heart to Jesus. As tears streamed down her face, Nikki was reminded of the Lord's words months before…"Trust Me."

She sure was glad she had.

 

Six months after they were married, Nikki found out exactly what kind of man she married. She was frankly a bit shocked.

One night the couple sat on the front porch and discussed life. In getting deeper into their respective pasts, Nikki discovered that Reg, who she thought was a San Angelo parts store manager, was actually a rancher. Or had been, in a former life. He knew everything and anything there was to know about livestock, farming, repairing tractors, et cetera. Before he'd moved to San Angelo, he'd had a several hundred acre ranch in Colorado. After a mild stroke, he'd left everything behind—including a very bitter and angry soon-to-be-ex-wife and two nearly adult kids—and moved to Texas to start over.

The man also had a great interest in alternative energy—everything from wind turbines to solar collectors. He'd studied and designed amazing systems for first collecting water and then heating it. He knew how and when to plant everything from sorghum to corn. He could take a John Deere apart and have it running as good as new in a few days. Reg even knew all about alternative fuels and how they were processed.

Until he'd left his wife and home, his cattle ranch had turned a profit every year. Reg knew how to pull a breech calf and then castrate and brand the same calf a few weeks later. He could vaccinate livestock, pregnancy test cows, and could even tell by an animal's eyes what minerals it was lacking. He knew how to shear sheep and shoe horses. The man could run a quarter mile of barb wire fence in a morning, then turn around and cut a field of alfalfa that afternoon.

In Nikki's eyes, her husband was nothing but amazing.

While she herself had no special skills or training, she and Reg both admitted that it felt like they'd been born "out of time." Nikki had always been interested in homesteading skills—everything from bread making to vegetable canning. She had even researched how to make soap, going so far as to find out just how lye was processed. A folder sat on her desk with printouts for using herbs for medicinal purposes, how to gather yeast for bread making, what wild plants were edible, how to smoke meats, and even how to make cheese.

She shared her interests with Reg that night and they both were a little stunned to find that they had in fact married a kindred spirit, both who were interested in surviving "off the grid." That realization just added to their growing marital bliss.

A few nights later, again after dinner, Nikki had tentatively broached a subject she'd been thinking a lot about:  End time prepping. While they were curled up on the sofa together, she read Scripture from the Book of Revelation, emphasizing the parts that spoke of just how difficult things would be "in the end."

"Revelation chapter six, 'Two pounds of wheat for a days' wages, and six pounds of barley for a day's wages…' And here: 'They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild Beasts of the earth.' And also here: 'There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.' It goes on to talk about how everyone, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, will try to hide from God."

She sighed and closed her Bible and hugged it to her chest. "I always hoped we'd be spared from those hardships. All my life I was taught about The Rapture, but I discovered recently that what I always believed may not be exactly accurate."

"What's 'The Rapture'?"

Nikki smiled. Sometimes she forgot that Reg was still new to Christianity and its teachings, although he never failed to read his Bible every chance he got, even at work during slow times.

"It's what most evangelical people believe—uh, evangelical are the Christians who are considered 'born again', like us. Anyway, it's the belief that Christians are going to be taken away—caught up in the air—by Jesus before the end times start."

Reg looked skeptical. "So we're supposed to be spared from the end stuff, all that stuff you just read about, the famines, diseases and things?"

Nikki nodded. "Yeah, so they teach. But I started having a lot of doubts about that recently—"

"Why?"

She frowned. "Why what?"

Reg cocked his head to the side. "Why were you having doubts?"

She sighed. "Well, for one thing, I've been having a lot of dreams about preparing—storing food and getting things ready for housing strangers. Like I was going to be helping a lot of people survive the end or something. It didn't make sense according to what I'd always been taught, so I started researching The Rapture. I was shocked to find out that it's a fairly new teaching, recognized just a few hundred years ago. It's not something that's been around since Jesus' time, anyway."

He took a drink of his iced tea. "Then where did the idea come from?"

Nikki shrugged and took a drink from her glass as well before answering. "Well, there are some verses in the Bible that describe a changing, or taking away."

She picked up her Bible again. "Here, I have them all marked."

Thumbing through her sticky notes, she continued. "First Thessalonians, chapter four, 'For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…'"

She took another drink of her soda before continuing, flipping back in her Bible. "There are other verses that talk about the trumpet sounding, too. From First Corinthians chapter fifteen, '…We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.'"

"Okay, so those verses aren't exactly saying 'God's going to quietly bail you out before things get scary, so don't worry, be happy.'"

Nikki laughed. "Yeah, I know."

She tapped her Bible. "And these verses talk about the last trumpet. What I'm thinking is that, yes, The Rapture will happen because Scripture speaks of it, but it's not before the Tribulation, but just before Judgement Day. I always hoped for a pre-Trib Rapture, but it doesn't seem like that's the way it's going to go. And even if I'm wrong and it does occur pre-Trib, how bad are things going to get here on earth before we're raptured? That's really something to think about."

Reg nodded his head in agreement and Nikki stared at the coffee table. "I'm just starting to doubt that we'll be out of here beforehand. The Bible even talks about the last days being shortened for the sake of the elect—believers—or else we wouldn’t survive it. So how are 'the elect' still here if we're supposedly raptured?"

She shook her head at her own question. "I honestly think that we might very well be here for the end times."

Reg was quiet for a minute, then he cleared his throat before speaking. "I had wanted to tell you about a dream I had a few nights ago, but I figured you'd think I had blown a head gasket."

She chuckled over his expression. "Nah, wait 'til I tell you some of mine. Go ahead—you first."

He got a faraway look as he stared past her. "Well, I thought it was really weird, so I just kinda forgot about it, but now that you're talking about end times and stuff, maybe it's not so weird after all. I dreamed that we were living on a farm, or a ranch; somewhere it was really green. There was a lot of acreage and I was working in a field. I think I was plowing, or planting, I'm not sure which. Anyway, I looked up and saw all these little kids walking toward me—young kids, the oldest being maybe ten or so. They ran up and started speaking in Spanish. I'm guessing they were all Mexican. For some reason I could understand them, even though I can barely order a taco plate without messing it up."

Nikki laughed. "Mexican kids, huh? Well, back before I walked away from God, I had felt kind of led to start an orphanage in Central or South America. Maybe your dream was confirmation from the Lord about that."

"No. Like I said, I could understand them and they told me that they had crossed over the border and needed help, that their parents had all been killed. There were like twenty kids. You would think I would have been shocked or something over that, but in my dream it was like a normal occurrence or something. Anyway, all of a sudden you and some other women were there and took the kids to this big white house. And then I noticed there were kids all over the place—Mexican, White, Black, Natives. Some were running around playing and laughing and others were doing chores, like weeding a garden. But there were lots of adults too, more women than men."

He rubbed his forehead, trying to remember everything. "The dream was just so real, so detailed. It was like I was there, you know? Most dreams when you wake up you know you were dreaming, but this was more like…like…"

"A vision?"

Reg looked up at her, a surprised look on his face. He reluctantly nodded. "Yeah. A vision."

He seemed hesitant to admit to that, so Nikki hurried to reassure him. "The Lord often speaks to us in dreams, you know. Maybe He's trying to tell us something here."

Reg shrugged and took a drink of his iced tea. "Maybe. I'm just not sure what it is."

Nikki was quiet for a moment. "I think He's telling us to prepare."

He looked back at her. "Prepare? Like for the end times?"

He sounded so incredulous, Nikki laughed. "Yeah, exactly. He told us in His Word how hard things were going to get. He also told us that in those times young men would have visions and old men would dream dreams."

Reg snorted. "And which category do I fit in—young or old?"

Nikki grinned teasingly at him. "Both—you had a dream that was a vision."

He snorted and shook his head, obviously doubting what she was telling him and Nikki hurried to reassure him before his doubts took root.

"Don't shake your head. The Lord's Word is truth, honey. He gave us lots of warnings of what's to come."

Reg frowned as he stared out the window past the front yard fence. "Oh, I don't doubt His Word. What I doubt is Him using someone like me to tell His secrets to. I mean, why didn't He tell you? You're way better than me."

He looked back at her then, eyebrows raised in question and Nikki rolled her eyes in response to his comment.

"Oh yeah, I'm sooo good," she replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"I was married five times before you, had a kid out of wedlock, used to party like there was no tomorrow. And this was all after I'd gotten saved at twelve!" She shook her head, as if in disbelief at her own actions.

Her voice softened as she continued. "But none of that matters to the Lord, not when we ask Him to forgive us. He can use whomever, whenever, for whatever. Look at all the examples we have in the Bible of the people we would have said weren't 'good enough' to serve Him, yet they were the ones HE chose. There were liars and cheats, adulterers, murderers, even a whore or two."

She smiled softly at her husband. "He knows we're not perfect and are never going to be, honey, but He just needs us to be willing to be used by Him."

Reg was quiet, mulling everything over. They both sat in silence for a long time and then he finally spoke. "Well it's pretty danged humbling to think the Creator of the whole universe is speaking right to me, a nobody with a shady past and nothing to offer Him."

Nikki reached over and laid her hand on his arm. "I agree it's very humbling when He talks to us. But you, Albert Reginald Erskine the fourth, have a whole heck of a lot to offer Him…your heart. That's all He's ever wanted, all He ever asked for."

She lightly slapped his arm where she had laid her hand and sat back. "So quit thinking you have to be worthy, or good enough, or whatever. God doesn't tell us to clean ourselves up to come to Him—He does the cleaning. We just have to be willing to let Him."

Reg nodded, but Nikki could tell he was going to take a lot more convincing. She decided to take her own advice and pray, asking the Lord to do the convincing.

 

THANKS FOR READING! To continue the book, please order from Amazon 



The Tapestry Series...True-to-life stories that just might help answer life's questions.


chapter 1

Doctors' offices always smell strange. Like a combination of disinfectant, floor wax and rubbing alcohol. Usually, the smell bothers me. A lot. Saying that I dislike going to the doctor is like saying that the Beatles were just a wee bit popular. That the Grand Canyon is a cleft in a rock. The Great Pyramid is a cute little hut. Or that too much sun exposure is maybe just a little bit responsible for skin cancer.

Cancer. That word strikes terror in the lives of innocent people. Just the mere mention of the word gives most the willies. And that heinous word was the reason I was unwillingly sitting in the pale blue exam room at the doctor's office right now. I just knew the pains I had been experiencing were going to lead to a diagnosis I was so very terrified of.

I'd been having stomach pain and nausea for weeks. At first I thought it was something I ate, probably at some restaurant thanks to a cook who didn't wash his hands properly. Yuck. Just the thought of that was enough to make me feel the need to toss up the cereal I'd eaten just an hour earlier. I swallowed convulsively to fight the bile back down. I really didn't want the embarrassment of having the doctor come in just as I was barfing Lucky Charms into his trashcan. Plus, I could do without a lecture on the horrors of eating sugary cereal and what it can do to one's endocrine system.

But my symptoms continued far past the point of thinking it was food poisoning and my worried mother urged me to make an appointment. Normally, I would have balked at such a suggestion—I was an adult, by golly, and could decide such adulting things on my own. But the unspoken fear I had over just what exactly could be wrong made me agree with Mama.

I did, however, make sure the overbearing know-it-all who birthed me knew the appointment was my idea. I was my own woman—I made my own way now, had a career, my own house, paid the bills on my own and I chose which church I attended and it certainly was not the stuffy, ritualistic, churchy place she and Daddy had dragged me to throughout my childhood. I even got to choose if I even went to church. Which hadn't been too often since my career as a court stenographer took off.

A stab of guilt over that thought hit me then like a sharp knife between the sternum and diaphragm. Right where my heart was.

It was physically painful to think of how unfaithful I'd become over the years. Once you could have called me a "faithful Christian" and my friends called me Church Lady. But I'd fallen so far from where I had been that I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to crawl out of the pit I found myself in. I'd run away from the path the Shepherd had been leading me down, tumbling headlong down a rocky hill and crashing into the fence where the wolves lie in wait for stupid, wayward sheep like me.

I sighed then and rubbed my forehead. Maybe, just maybe, if I had stayed on that path, stayed close to the Lord's side, maybe then I wouldn't be where I was right now, sitting on a paper covered table in a cold examining room with ugly linoleum tile and walls the color of something I upchucked the day before. Waiting for the wolf in the white lab coat to come in and tell me I was dying.

I didn't really believe the Lord punished us for going astray, though. I had always been aware of His love and mercy and grace, which never wavered no matter how far His prodigals wandered. But I wasn't fool enough to not realize that He allowed life to take its natural course when we did take off away from the path He set us on. And sometimes that natural course meant suffering the consequences of our bad decisions. Heck, call it what it is—sin.

I snorted at myself. I'd certainly done my fair share of sinning, especially over the past several years. I'd been downright hedonistic at times, living for self and pleasures of the flesh. Which was most likely why I found myself in the cold room waiting for the death sentence.

But I wouldn't just roll over and let it be a death sentence. I was going to fight, no matter what it took—removing my innards, losing my beautiful blonde hair, whatever. I just didn't want to die. Not yet. I was, after all, only twenty-nine. I hadn't even started to live.

My self-pitying thoughts were interrupted when the wolf knocked on the door, two brisk raps. Without waiting, he opened the door and stepped into the room. The jerk was actually smiling, a big toothy wolfy smile that I thought was wholly inappropriate when one was delivering fatalistic news. I was already mentally preparing the letter I was going to send to the medical board regarding the jerk's actions.

"Okay, kiddo—" geez, I hated it when he called me that "—we got the test results back." He held up his furry paw then.

"Before you start jumping to more conclusions, no, Misty, you don't have cancer." With that sudden announcement, Doctor Crane suddenly looked less like something out of a certain red hooded little girl's story and a lot more like the goofy doctor I knew so well.

I let out the breath I didn't even realize I'd been holding. My heart started beating again—well, I'm sure it hadn't actually stopped, but it sure felt like it—and I found the first smile since I'd self-diagnosed myself, obviously incorrectly, several weeks back.

"So, what is it, then? I mean, stomach cramps and nausea aren't exactly normal. I checked WebMD and it said uterine cancer was one of the potential suspects."

Doctor Crane smirked at me. "No, really? And to think I went to eight years of college when I could have just googled." I really hated it when others were sarcastic. I mean, seriously, that was my forte.

He opened the folder he had in his hand. "Well, it turns out that your hCG is elevated."

I frowned. "So, what does that mean? Is there some pill I can take, or do I have to have something more heinous like surgery?"

That was definitely not something I wanted to contemplate. Sure, just a few minutes ago I was willing to go through whatever it took to prolong my life, but now that I knew I wasn't dying—well, at least not from cancer—then I was having second thoughts about the more invasive stuff the docs liked to pull on unsuspecting patients.

Doctor Jerk once again grinned while I frowned back at him. "It's really too late for a pill and personally, I never recommend surgery in cases like yours. But on the bright side, you should feel better in about a month. Well, at least you should be relieved of these symptoms. But then you'll have weight gain, water retention, the constant need for urination and sleepiness. Seven months from now, you should be feeling right as rain."

My frown turned to a scowl. How could the man be so specific about the length of time for my symptoms? I mean, seriously, that was a little over the top, wasn't it, to be able to pinpoint exactly when something was going to happen? Unless...

Eyes bugging, my hand flew to my flat stomach. He laughed and rolled his eyes at me.

"Ding, ding, ding...give the lady her prize! Congratulations, kiddo, you're officially knocked up. Based on the date of your last period, you should be expecting little junior or juniorette about Mid-September. But when you're a little farther along we'll schedule you for an ultrasound to get a more exact date."

 

"Mama's Heart", book 1 of the Tapestry Series. Now available on Amazon.


Coming December 2017

A humor/satire about the sometimes dumb things that guys will do...you know, those decisions that usually end with a trip to the ER. Or to the police station. Almost always the doghouse.

The book that will keep you in stitches while your man is getting his!

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