The first time Cole ever heard of rapture children was at the orphanage, where there were three: a boy and two girls. Rapture children had been around before, but since the pandemic there were lots more of them. Rapture children were children who’d been sent by God to be lights in the coming dark. They would be among the first of the living to be caught up to Jesus’ side (right after the holy dead). God had endowed them with special spiritual powers so that they could lead others in the countdown to the Final Battle. Though Pastor Wyatt says there is nothing in the Bible to justify this, his wife Tracy is among those who believe it.

Tracy has a niece named Starlyn who is a rapture child.

The rapture children at the orphanage got so much attention, naturally everyone wanted to be one. Some kids declared themselves raptures and would do almost anything—including lie through their teeth—to prove it. But only grownups could say who was or was not a rapture child.

Cole has heard about rapture children performing heroic deeds and even miracles—the boy at the orphanage was said to have run into a burning house to rescue a baby when he was hardly more than a baby himself—but Cole has never seen anything like that. The older of the two girls said that every night when she knelt to pray Jesus came and stroked her hair. But Cole has learned that seeing Jesus, or at least conversing with him, is not such a rare event.

Some rapture children are unusually gifted. Michaela can read music without having been taught and sings like an angel (there are those who insist rapture children are angels). But though everyone says Cole is gifted, too, no one has ever said he might be a rapture child.

One thing all the rapture children Cole has met have in common is that they are good-looking. Almost every one of them is blond. (Michaela’s hair is so pale it’s more white than yellow; from the back, you might even mistake her for an old woman.)

The biggest difference Cole can tell between rapture children and other children is that raptures have a way of making adults happy without even trying. He has seen Starlyn walk into a room and people light up as they do when dessert is set in front of them. He has heard grown men and women pour out their hearts to twelve-year-old Michaela, asking for her advice about grownup things—should they take this new job, should they have another baby—or for her blessing. The same kind of thing that had happened at Here Be Hope. Some of the other orphans were a little afraid of the rapture children because of this power they had with the adults. And Cole is a little afraid of Michaela. The way she always seems to be either laughing or crying. The way, in church, she is able to keep singing out strong even with tears streaming down her face. A girl with almost no meat on her bones and enormous hungry-looking eyes. There would not have been enough hours in the day for her to fill all the requests she got from people to pray for them.

Cole is afraid of Starlyn, too. But that is love (and a secret).

“Did you used to be one?” Even before he asks Pastor Wyatt this, Cole knows the answer is yes. But Pastor Wyatt gives a loud whoop as if Cole had said something crazy.

“Me? Oh my, no, no, no. I was—my mama would tell you—I was more of a—of a reptile child.” And when Cole looks confused Pastor Wyatt stops laughing and says, “It don’t matter, Cole. It don’t matter what kind of child a person is. Like the song goes, Jesus loves all the little children.” And he opens the Bible to Mark 10:13, to show Cole where it is written.

At first glance anybody—not just the kids in Bible group—would have found the group leader scary. One of his eyes is dead and lies buried under a patch of purple scar tissue. He has some fierce tattoos—snakeheads, skulls—and his head is shaved like a skinhead’s. A silver stud through his right earlobe reminds Cole of a bullet.

Everyone knows Mason Boyle’s story because he has told it during the part of Sunday worship when members of the congregation are invited to testify. They know about the fight in the bar where he lost his eye to “this other punk” wielding a broken bottle, and how that was even worse luck than it sounded. As a child Mason had been afflicted with lazy eye, and the vision in that eye had always been blurred and weak. The eye he lost in the fight was his other eye, the one with 20/20 vision.

“I was cast down so low, I hoped to die. I was so mad at the world, if I could’ve seen ’em I’d have punched out everyone who dared cross my path.”

But then Mason started noticing something.

“My left eye—my bad, lazy eye—seemed to be getting stronger.”

It took about a year, Mason’s hard-working eye making a little more progress each day, until it was as good as his dead eye used to be.

“And then, man, it just kept going! I mean, my left eye actually got better. Doctor said she never saw anything like it.  Today this here eye is twenty-ten!”

Even if they’d already heard the story, people would roar when Mason got to this part. And they would hoot and stomp and clap as he told the rest, so that he had to raise his voice louder and louder.

“It was like God had taken pity on me, and not just a little pity but enough to forgive the fact that I had only myself to blame. Because, don’t you know, I picked the fight in the bar that night. And I started thinking it was a miracle, and that within that miracle was a message for me. A message about blindness and healing. A message about laziness and strength. A message about work—about doing double duty and being rewarded with brand-new vision.

“And I knew that God was calling on me to put aside all my lazy, shameful, devil-delighting habits and to receive what he was holding out: a chance to accept his love and forgiveness and make myself worthy of the vision with which he’d blessed me. Mason the sinner had a new life, and Mason had a mission. Mason was blind no more. Now he must help the blind.”

Mason earns his worldly living fixing cars. But, as part of his selfless service, he helps make Braille Bibles.

Cole likes Mason—all the kids do—and feels foolish for having found him scary. But secretly he wishes he did not have to study Bible with him.

Whenever Pastor Wyatt talks about the Bible, whether he’s preaching a sermon or talking on the radio or studying at home alone with Cole, he always makes it sound as if it had all just happened yesterday and he himself had been there. When he tells the story of Jesus, it’s as if he’d seen it all with his own eyes—the miracles, the Crucifixion—and Cole is captivated by his big voice and the way he moves his hands, floating them up and down like white birds.

“I’m too deaf to catch most of what he’s saying,” Cole once heard an old lady in the pew behind him say. “But I feel blessed just watching him.”

“You want to teach folks, you got to hold their attention,” says Pastor Wyatt. “Won’t do if they’re bored.”

But in Bible group Cole is often bored. In fact, Bible group reminds him a lot of being back in regular school and the kind of assignment he never liked. (Imagine that you, like the narrator, are drafted into the army to fight a war that you think is wrong. What would you do?) There is always a topic with a peppy title (“The Beatitudes vs. Bad Attitudes”), and though Mason picks the topic he has a rule about not doing much of the talking. He has another rule, about everyone having to write something about every topic.

“Okay, dudes, listen up. Say a Martian lands on Earth and this Martian comes up to you and he goes, What’s this thing you Earthlings call Gospel? How would you define it for him? Say a secular kid tells you his mama told him Jesus’ story is nothing but a myth. How would you prove to this kid—without dissing his mama!—that she’s wrong? Cite verses but use your own words.”

But the worst assignments are the ones that are supposed to be fun. Rewrite the Beatitudes as hip-hop verses. The kind of thing that used to make Cole hate school.

But the other kids do have fun writing the hip-hop verses. And even when they might not like an assignment, they never get sullen or sarcastic or make a big show of how bored they are. And in this way Bible study is totally different from school. The other kids are happy to be there, and most of them throw themselves into the work. They want to please Mason, and they want to please God. Doesn’t Cole?

Mason sees all. Mason is not fooled. Mason teases Cole for not paying attention, for not really trying, and though he does it gently Cole is humiliated, he is ashamed, he knows it’s his same old problem. He has always been a bad student. Lazy, like Mason’s left eye.

Mason sees all. “Never give up on yourself, little bruh.” He texts Cole a message: “Moses was once a basket case.”

Cole pictures the Bible that had belonged to his parents, its place on a shelf with other big books: reference books. He remembers his father saying that a person couldn’t understand the history of art without some knowledge of the Bible. He remembers his parents and some of their friends playing charades one night after a dinner party, his father having to act out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

He has no idea how much of the Bible either of his parents had read, but he knows that the things that are sacred in Salvation City were never important to them. What Jesus said on the Cross, what happened to the preborn, these were not matters of concern to them.

His parents did not know the truth. They lacked the information. There was no one like Pastor Wyatt to explain the Good News to them. Cole does not understand why it had to be this way. Now that he knows the story of Jesus by heart, he loves Jesus, but he does not believe his parents were treated fairly. Whenever he thinks about it, it’s as if some spiny, muscular creature began thrashing around inside him.

Tracy says, “I love this great big beautiful world and I know my life has been blessed. But when I see what’s happening out there, all the violence and greed and perversion, well, I understand why it’s time for this chapter of the story to end. I want to go where evil can’t get its filthy hoof in the door. I want to be with all the people I’ve ever loved and all the good folks that ever lived, all of us happy together forever with the angels and saints and the Lord.”

Everyone in Salvation City talks about being rapture ready. They even joke about it. (“Don’t cry. It’s not like it’s not the end of the world.”) They talk about the Second Coming and the Resurrection and being reunited with loved ones who’ve already gone home.

Mason tries to comfort Cole. How did they know his mother and father hadn’t seen the light? Who was to say that, at the very last minute, they hadn’t taken Jesus into their hearts? How could anyone say for sure that wasn’t the way it went down?

Cole could say. For sure, his parents had not done that. And Mason cannot tell a lie. Unless that miracle occurred, Cole’s parents would never be with God. And he opens the Bible to John 14:6 to show him where it is written.

Cole would like to talk about it, about why God would have wanted to save him but not his mother and father. He would ask Pastor Wyatt—except it’s as if there were an agreement between them not to talk about his parents. Cole has the feeling that, if he himself didn’t bring them up now and then, his parents would never be mentioned again. Whenever he starts talking about his life before Salvation City, everybody acts as if the room had suddenly turned too hot or too cold. Now he is learning to be silent. But the spiny, muscular creature goes on thrashing inside him.