The Night of the Rapture
by John W. Steele
Now an old man, Joseph lived alone. Helen, his wife of forty years had died nearly a decade earlier, and he buried her at the top of the hill on the farm.
Sometimes, Joseph still talked to Helen as he read his Bible in the evening by the light of an oil lamp. When a scripture seemed to reveal its meaning, he’d look at the top of the hill from the picture window of his cabin and speak to her as if she were still alive. “Now isn’t that something, Helen. I’ve often wondered about that. At last I understand.”
Then he’d return to his studies, and once again become absorbed in the scriptures. There was little left about the old man now that could be called human: he’d evolved into a living spirit. Joseph lived in the spirit, and knew the Bible could only be understood when considered in the spirit.
The old man’s body had been at one time powerful and robust. But as he grew old he shrank and was now a mere shadow of his former self. Joseph could no longer lift or carry heavy things as he did when he was younger, and his once solid frame had grown wrinkled and bent.
His eyes were the color of the soil he had farmed for decades. Deep, dark eyes filled with light, like the distant stars. Eyes that revered and adored God. Although he no longer possessed the stamina he once did in the days of his youth, Joseph was still strong and able to care for himself. The old man was attuned to the seasons of life, like the hardwood forest that surrounded him, and he knew he’d entered the winter of his final decade.
Joseph was well acquainted with the whirlpools of life. Trials and faith had refined and purified him, like the sugar distilled from the sap of a maple tree. All that was meaningless and dualistic about him had boiled away long ago, and he’d grown natural and complete like an essence from another time.
He lived in a comfortable dwelling concealed in the hills of his beloved farm, nestled away in the pristine wilderness at the foot of a large mountain. Joseph leased most of the acreage of his farm to the corn brokers. He didn’t need money and lived off his land. The profits he made from his land lease he secretly donated to the county orphanage. Joseph didn’t care about money, or power, or things of this world. He only cared about his bees.
For over fifty years Joseph had cared for his bees, and he established more than a hundred hives throughout his apple orchard. He knew his bees like friends, or rather like children. Over the years, the gene pool of the bees had become refined and perfected; the bees were an extension of the old man himself. Joseph loved the bees; they were his guardian angels.
Early every morning the old man walked the trail on the side of the mountain that lead to his hives. He had no need of a smoker or protective clothing. His bees were docile and content. He couldn’t remember being stung in years.
An altar of limestone made from the rock of the mountain stood near the hives. Joseph had built the altar years ago when, Helen was alive. Sometimes he would go there to pray or just sit with his bees. The bees would land on his head and arms. The old man talked to the bees, and called them by names he accorded to them by their markings. As the years passed, Joseph developed his own language to communicate with his bees, and the bees obeyed him.
One day while tending his bees, a rabid wolf entered the hives. The vicious beast growled at Joseph. Foam dripped from the animal’s mouth, as it exposed its wicked yellow canines. Sensing that Joseph was in danger, the bees attacked the savage animal, surrounding it like an angry cloud. The little yellow guardians enveloped the beast in a swarm an inch thick. In a matter of moments the bees stung the wolf to death. All the while a battalion of bees surrounded Joseph protecting him from harm.
“Etuah palimiano etusu mendro,” he said, and the bees arose from the wolf and swarmed in the air before Joseph like a shield. He dragged the pathetic carcass of the rabies-infested creature into the woods and buried it.
One beautiful evening on the thirteenth of August, Joseph sat at his table sipping a glass of ginger mead he had made from the honey in the hives. The old man sensed this was an auspicious evening and that his journey in this world was now complete. Gazing at the top of the hill he said. “ I think it’s time, Helen. Soon we shall be together again.”
He arose from his chair, walked outside, and lit a kerosene lantern. Joseph walked barefoot up the path on the side of the mountain and seated himself on the limestone altar. A million stars now shone down upon him. For a long time the old man gazed into the heavens as he contemplated his life. Joseph looked at the planet Venus as she shone resplendent with her promise of endearment and benevolence. He admired her luminous beauty, and thanked her for sharing with him the many tribulations of his life. A smile now graced the old man’s face.
Joseph felt a skip in his heart, and then another, and he drew his last breath. With no pain or struggle, the old man’s head fell forward, like a ripe apple falling from a tree.
* * *
The morning broke clear and magnificent. The endless sky was the color of turquoise and the glorious sun shone through the trees, reflecting light from the leaves creating a panorama so vivid it was dazzling. As the temperature began to rise, the bees became active. When the bees discovered Joseph they swarmed over him, covering him completely from head to toe. They knew that the time of their master’s departure had arrived, and they understood exactly what they needed to do.
Bees by the millions now attended their beloved master. With sincere veneration the bees painted Joseph with honey, saturating every inch of his body with the finest new apple blossom honey in the hives. Then the bees completely entombed the saint in a blanket of golden beeswax. Joseph now sat on his limestone altar, like a gilded icon.
The bees then rested, knowing their labor was now complete. The hive became peaceful and serene. Only the warrior bees remained vigilant as they guarded the embryo. The children of Joseph now waited patiently, for they knew that soon a miracle was about to occur.
Three days passed. On the third night the full moon bathed the valley in a soft, white glow. Bees fear the night and never venture into the darkness, but tonight they swarmed through the skies. The hum of their beating wings sounded like a deep, eternal mantra, echoing the essence of the primal mind.
When the glowing yellow moon reached its zenith, an intense light began to shine through the translucent cocoon. Lines of stress appeared in the skin of golden wax surrounding the entity. Gradually the lines grew into cracks, and the cracks, into holes. The life form within struggled to free itself from the protection of the cocoon. First exposing an arm, then its head, and then a wing.
Joseph emerged from the shell of wax now resplendent and shimmering with glory. An angel was born. The heavens opened revealing a vast, opalescent portal. The angel flew toward the shimmering beacon in the sky to begin the new life that now awaited him.
That night in the small village near the farm a beautiful meteor could be seen sailing majestically through the heavens. Following in the wake of the meteor, was a glorious swarm of sparkling particles numbering in the millions. From that day on August thirteenth was known in the little hamlet as The Night of the Rapture.
Copyright © 2006 by John W. Steele