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art by Steven R. Stewart

Like the Fourth of July

John Paolicelli is a new writer from Ridge, NY where he lives with his wife and 8 or 9 Rhodesian Ridgebacks. He spends his time cleaning up up after said dogs, writing, and watching too much Family Guy and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The Children of Chiron sat silent in prayer as they waited for their holy leader Joshua to enter the temple. The red-robed zealots bowed their heads as they genuflected, making the crowded hall look like a roiling sea of flames. Rebekah looked around at the undulating crimson and wondered if she was in Hell rather than the portal to Heaven.
"Mary," she whispered to the woman seated next to her. "Mary, I had a dream last night for the first time in a long while. It felt so real; it looked so vivid, so beautiful. I dreamed--"
"Shut up Rebekah. Please keep the blasphemy to yourself," Mary replied.
"I just thought it would be nice to talk to someone one last time."
"Please be quiet. There's no time for that now. You should be praying," Mary said.
The great door behind the gray marble altar creaked open. Joshua appeared from an inner sanctum and strode to the pulpit like a gunslinger on his way to a shootout.
"My children, the day of the Rapture has come," he exclaimed. "The Lord's message will be brought on the wings of an avenging angel, the comet Chiron. It will burst upon the Earth with great vengeance, taking the weak and wicked. We, the strong and faithful, stand ready for judgment."
He paused a moment to catch his breath.
"The cataclysmic explosion will light the skies like one trillion Fourth-of-July celebrations," he said, twanging each syllable like the Bible belt preacher he once was.
Rebekah turned and looked out the small side window at the clear blue sky. The words, like one trillion Fourth-of-July celebrations, resonated in her. They unearthed memories of long ago summers; memories she feared lost when she left her other life behind.
She closed her eyes and felt the warm, moist breeze blowing off Kahler's Pond. She pictured her family sprawled on picnic blankets waiting for night to fall and the fireworks to begin. She even heard her mother's excited voice call across the playground, "Cyndi, hurry or you'll miss the fireworks."
That's right; my name was Cyndi. When was the last time someone called me Cyndi?
Laughing children placed their hands over their ears as reports thundered above. She saw red, blue, and gold reflecting on the shimmering water, making the show twice as spectacular.
"Wow, a trillion fourth of Julys" she whispered to herself.
"We must prepare for our transport to our new world. Let us pray," Joshua bellowed as he began opening large, brown pill bottles.
As he blessed the Sacrament of Transformation, the congregation chanted, "Chiron, destroyer of evil, cleanse our souls. Take these vessels, our human bodies, and lead your followers to Heaven."
The masses stood and filed one by one past the altar to receive their blessings. Rebekah took her place in line and shuffled along with the other sheep.
"This is your transport to the Promised Land. Take these pills when the time has come," their shepherd said, handing a bottle of water and two pills to each member of his flock.
"Sir," she said as she stood before Joshua.
"Yes, my child?"
"Will it really be like a trillion fourth of Julys?"
"It will be beyond imagination," he said with a purposeful smile.
She shuffled back to her seat near the back of the hall. She waited anxiously for the procession of the damned to receive their blessings and make their way back to their seats.
"Ezekiel, what do you think Heaven is like?" she asked the cloaked man next to her.
"Please be quiet, Rebekah," he replied in a hushed tone.
"Please don't call me Rebekah; that's the name Joshua gave me. My real name is Cyndi."
"He saved your sorry soul. You should be grateful he took you in and gave you a home. And I really don't care who you are; just shut up." Ezekiel turned his back to her and resumed praying.
As the last of his followers found their seats, Joshua shouted, "The time has come. Lord, we join you now in the glory of your kingdom."
The flock raised their eyes skyward as one, opened their mouths and swallowed the pills, just as they had been taught; all except Rebekah. A sly grin formed on her face. And like a child slipping her vegetables to the family dog under the dinner table, she slipped her pills under her robe.
Women wept. Men continued to pray. Joshua chanted with manic conviction until he collapsed onto the altar. Bodies writhed in ecstasy and agony before they slumped to the floor. Within minutes, the temple was silent.
Cyndi stood, stepped out of her robe, and strolled outside as naked as the day she was born. She walked across the field to the tree on the hillside, the one she stared at through the temple window for countless years, and sat beneath it.
The summer sky was alight in the glory of the coming comet. When the brilliant blue-green ball of frozen gas collided with the stratosphere, it became engulfed in flames. A violent shockwave hammered Earth, knocking Cyndi flat on her back.
"Wow, just like the Fourth of July," she said as Chiron blazed over the horizon and crashed into Earth.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 4th, 2011


About the piece: the inspiration for this story came about after watching a show on the Science Channel about possible Earth-Asteroid collisions. If such an event were to happen, why not watch the fireworks? I started it on a Tuesday, brought it to my writing group on a Sunday, edited it as suggested, and sent it to this magazine a few days later. Honestly, most of my stories take longer to gestate than a baby, so this story was a pleasure to write.

- John Paolicelli

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