“Why do you strike the fish above the eyes,” Emma asked her dad.
Jace remembered what he said to his beautiful daughter those many years ago. “That’s a good question, Emma. The reason is that you want to stun the fish into unconsciousness so when you bleed him out, he doesn’t suffer.”
“Oh,” she said as she watched.
His wife edged over to Emma. “There’s no need to traumatize her,” and she redirected Emma’s attention elsewhere.
Emma was only ten then, and it was her first fishing trip. Kate, his wife, had reluctantly agreed to go. She wasn’t the outdoor type, but Jace, having no sons, hoped to instill the value of living off the land into his daughter before she grew up and a lucky man stole her heart. Sometimes he would say to her when she was a teenager, “I hope your future husband loves hunting and fishing.”
Kate was right. Jace had performed the bludgeoning act so often that he didn’t even think about it. After throwing the unconscious fish into the ice cooler, the survivalist steered his new Stealth 210 aluminum crappie boat to the dock on Lake Istokpoga. After a successful day fishing, he remembered how he looked forward to eating crappie for the next week. Nostalgia swept over him. That seemed so insignificant now.
As Emma grew up, Jace made sure she had a survivalist mentality. “You never know what the future holds,” he would say. “Better be prepared for anything.”
Kate, his wife, wasn’t the least bit interested. She was only interested in the Bible regarding those topics. She would tell him, “I trust the Lord to take care of us,” and Jace would reply, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
What if Jace had known then what he knew now? What would he have said to her?
But Jace was a pragmatist. All the religions in the world wouldn’t put food on the table, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see food shortages were coming. Grudgingly, Kate agreed to stock up on food and other necessities just in case the worst scenario unfolded. Still, Jace reasoned, as long as they had the 27,000-acre lake stocked with crappie, the family should never go without food.
In return, Kate asked Jace to go to church. Jace kept his part of the bargain for several years, but when the church started teaching about the rapture, he and Kate had a blow-up. “Nowhere in the Bible does the word ‘rapture,’ appear,” Jace said, and he quit attending.
While dismissing his wife’s urgings to read the Bible and pray, Emma was different. “You need Jesus,” she would say. “Suppose the rapture happens. You might have a lot of skills and be able to survive all seven years of the tribulation, but you don’t have to go through it if you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins.”
Jace had replayed those memory tapes in his head ad nauseum. Now he couldn’t stop them. They ran on autoplay. His focus returned to the present as he reached his destination. The last time he was here, a small stream percolated through the sandy forest. Now it was just a barren wasteland hemmed in with dead, bearded trees from lack of rain.
He sighed. He had spent the last three years in the Ocala National Forest after he lost his home because he couldn’t pay the property taxes. “The water table must be near zero,” he mused. The rains had been sparse for a year or more. Where would he go for water?
Depression sank into his soul. He was in this predicament because of the choices he had made. Now those conversations, a distant memory, tortured him. Jace trusted his skills as a survivalist with total disregard for the Bible.
The media and globalists blamed the disappearance of millions of people worldwide on aliens who came in UFOs and “beamed” them up. They said the aliens took all the bad people and left the good people behind.
Why did he listen to those liars? His wife and daughter weren’t bad people. He believed the news headlines for a long time, but eventually, he started to ask questions. Did that make sense? He had been duped, like an ostrich with his head in the sand.
Since Emma and Kate’s disappearance, the hour hand of time swept faster as the days and nights decreased in length. While it bothered Jace not knowing what day, month, or year it was, the speeding up of time was the least of anyone’s problems. People made it whatever day they wanted, just like they made up everything else.
Jace stared at the empty riverbed. Where had all the water gone? The dead trees made him sad because so many creatures had called the forest their home. Soon a sandy desert would reclaim the land.
It was so subtle and bizarre how it all began. Jace returned from work to an empty house one day, turned on the news, and heard the headlines.
“Do not panic,” the religious guru said. “We’ve been tracking the skies with the VATT telescope at Mt. Graham, Arizona. Our observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, is in
contact with astronomers, and our sources have assured us everything is going as planned.”
“What does that mean?” a reporter asked. “Millions have disappeared.”
“We should know by tomorrow what the aliens’ demands are, but we’re confident their intentions are peaceful. They wanted to remove all the troublemakers on the planet to allow a more peaceful coexistence for those left behind.”
The interview lasted a while, but Jace tuned it out. Were they really aliens? Where was the evidence? Or was this the rapture? Which story was more believable?
At first, Jace believed what the government said. The media seemed so sincere; after all, they had all the facts, right? What did the aliens want?
Because of the speeding up of time, Jace began to mark on paper each night he slept, but there were so many Xs now he didn’t bother to count them. However, if he had to guess, he would say it was eight years since the day millions disappeared.
As the pain of surviving intensified, memories of Emma and Kate became more dream-like, and every time he thought about them, he sunk into a cavernous depression. Great effort and skill were the only ways to survive in a world without adequate food and water, and his depressed state of mind made it harder.
Initially, after the disappearances, life was relatively easy and calm, perhaps to give people time to grieve for their loved ones, but that didn’t last long. Soon a reset took place. A one-world government took control of all the countries and implemented a digital currency. That was how they controlled people, initially, through a phone app. Control was at the core of the globalists’ agenda. Then they wanted the app inside of people. Once they rolled out the mark of the beast, hell followed. There was no other way to describe it; eight nightmarish years steeped in persecution, suffering, and torture.
It began with destroying Bibles. They wanted anything of a religious nature on the internet purged, like Christian blogs, devotionals, stories, and testimonials.
Then the burning of print books began. It was easier to burn all books than to sort through those that were Christian and those that weren’t. Jace’s wife had purchased many religious texts, and Jace, being a good citizen of the New World Order, purged every book from the house and took them to the tax collector’s office. The collection center reimbursed his property taxes for the following year, which allowed him to keep his home a while longer. When he lost his job selling boats, he couldn’t pay the mortgage or taxes.
He asked himself, “What would I give to have that Bible I gave to the tax collector?” Everything he once treasured, like his boat, was in a trash heap somewhere. The water was gone, so nobody needed a boat. “Meaningless, meaningless,” Jace muttered.
He remembered when pastors preached about survival, it was a different kind of survival, called salvation. Specific trigger words were forbidden in this new world, like saying, “Jesus.” 5G listening devices were everywhere, so if you uttered his name, drones would come after you. Jace had seen what the drones did to people. It was impossible to talk about God, listen to a sermon, or read Scripture. Even if you quoted a Bible passage in the privacy of your home, somehow, the globalists knew.
Jace couldn’t remember when the worst part began, but when it did, everything changed. Without the mark, you couldn’t function in society. It was worse than the infamous ESG scores in China. These new ESG scores functioned on steroids. The drones hunted down everyone who refused to receive the mark and killed them. And that’s when Jace knew the truth. Emma was right. Aliens had not taken them; God raptured them. That was when Jace fled into the Ocala National Forest.
While Jace embraced some Biblical truths, he wasn’t sure about others. He knew the mark of the beast was true. He had lived through that nightmare. Emma warned him, “If you get left behind, don’t take the mark.” But could everything else in the Bible regarding prophecy be true?
Jace sat beside the dried-up riverbed feeling useless and unimportant. Who cared if he died? The survivalist set up his tiny one-person tent and crawled into his sleeping bag. What would he give for running water, a cup of coffee, and some decent food? Fortunately, in Florida, there were insects, dandelions, and succulents to eat when the hunger pangs became overwhelming.
His mental funk was debilitating, so Jace crawled out of his sleeping bag and set up his small ham radio and antenna. He had charged the solar panels earlier. The radio was his only link to the outside world. He turned the dial to listen, but there was nothing except static.
Jace had not seen a human being or heard anyone’s voice on the radio in months. It had been a shorter time since he heard someone sending Morse Code, but he didn’t have his straight key to reply to the sender—it quit working a long time ago—and it probably would have been stupid to respond anyway. The government would have tracked down the signal, and since he didn’t have the mark, a drone would have sought him out and killed him.
Still, hearing CW on the radio assured him that at least one other human being was alive. The CW operator sent CQ, CQ, CQ, followed by his call sign and the words, “I haven’t seen anyone in over a year.”
Jace thought about the fish he used to catch. Unlike their quick end, he felt himself bleeding out, painfully, a little bit at a time, aware that there was nothing he could do to stop it.
That night, he dreamed he was in a desert and desperately needed water. When all hope seemed lost, an oasis of percolating water shot up from the sands. “Oh, if I could only reach it,” he whispered, but he was too weak. As he lay in the sand, breathing his last, water droplets edged closer. When he reached out to touch one, an unfamiliar sound startled him.
He got up on his hunches and looked out the tent. Was he dreaming? Next to the dried-up riverbed, a man was cooking fish over an open fire. Jace recognized the smell of crappie. Should he stay hidden in the tent or meet the visitor?
It didn’t take him but a few seconds to decide. The smell of fresh fish on the open fire was a lure he couldn’t resist, and to see another human being was surreal.
He stepped out of the tent, speaking as he approached the fisherman, “Hi, I’m Jace.”
The man looked up and motioned, “Sit, and I will give you fish.”
The visitor had deep-set brown eyes with a head covering framing his face, and he wore a white robe tied around the waist. His clothing was not American, although his Floridian accent was familiar. Right now, Jace didn’t care about any of that. All he cared about was food.
The man handed Jace a large container of water, and Jace drank every last ounce of it. Then he felt guilty. He should have saved some for the man who offered it to him.
The stranger gave Jace all the fish, saving none for himself. When Jace was full, the foreigner said, “You’ve been in this wasteland for five years. The remnant of believers in Florida might be a thousand—if I include you in that count.”
He seemed to be hinting at Jace’s indecisiveness. While he had not received the mark as described in the Bible, neither had he fully embraced Jesus as his savior. Jace was a survivalist.
“The word of God is even rarer than the remnant,” the visitor shared. “There might be a thousand Bibles hidden away in the United States—in strange places, but none near you.”
“Who are you?” Jace asked.
The stranger didn’t answer his question but asked Jace one. “Remember your dream?”
Jace nodded, perceiving the man must be an angel in disguise.
“I gave you spring water for your physical thirst, but what about your spiritual thirst?”
“What do you mean?” Jace asked, but he knew the answer before he even asked the question.
The angel replied, “I must go. Even though the days have been cut short, two years remain.”
Jace threw his hands in the air. “Two years of this living hell?”
The supernatural creature nodded.
“This is how it all ends?” Jace asked again.
The angel shook his head. “No, Jace, this is not how it all ends. “The Lord wants to give you living water. The water I gave you is only temporary. It’s passing away. You need the living water of salvation.” Your wife and daughter have prayed unceasingly for you.”
Jace knew the angel’s purpose was singular, and God’s patience must be running out. When Jace drank the spring water, he saw the goodness of the Lord in the desert of death.
“Will I survive two more years?” Jace asked. “Will I make it? Please tell me.”
The angel seemed saddened that Jace asked the question. “Exercise your free will.”
Could he survive two more years? Did he even want to?
Jace bowed and uttered the words that would change his life for eternity. “Today is the day of salvation. I believe, Jesus, I believe. Please give me living water for my spiritual thirst.”
When the new believer looked up from his encounter with God, the visitor from beyond the grave was gone.