They stood on the porch, scrubbed faces impossibly clean, teeth impossibly white and framed by painted-on smiles. Painted-on smiles that did not quite reach their eyes. This pair was not here to make friends. They were con artists in search of marks. They were the guy with a whiskey sour looking for a quick fuck at last call. They were sharks on the hunt.
Well, maybe. Things had been pretty weird since the disappearances. It had been increasingly difficult to trust strangers. The number of con artists who had hung out shingles and started missing people finding businesses was depressingly large. Business was booming for people willing to look past human misery and focus on human fallibility, though. Business always seemed to boom for heartless bastards.
They weren’t the only traffickers in misery out there. They weren’t even the worst.
“May we come in?” the one on the left asked. “We’d like to talk to you for just a moment.”
“No, I’d rather you don’t, actually.”
“But we have news of great importance,” the one on the right said. “We’re sure you’d like to hear it.”
“No, thanks, I’m good.”
The one on the right reached for the handle of the screen door. “I think you’d like to hear this,” he said.
Katie reached over and clicked on the lock. “Go away,” she said. “I’m not interested and if you attempt to enter my house without my permission I will call the police.”
“Very well,” said the one on the left, “But just know that if you don’t invite the Lord into your house then the Lord will not invite you into His.” He held up the Bible in his hands. “But the Lord still is willing to let you repent. For a limited period of time.”
The two then spun on their heels and stepped off the porch in unison.
Katie closed the door, threw the deadbolt, and slumped back against it. She sighed and rubbed her forehead, trying to get rid of the headache that had been plaguing her for nearly a week. Unfortunately for her, though, she knew the reason for her headache was Joe. The new evangelists who were circling her neighborhood like vultures weren’t helping.
She pushed off against the door and headed back to the kitchen. Joe was sitting at the table with his laptop open. Stacks of printed paper were scattered all over the small wooden table and haphazardly dumped on the chairs. A pair of giant, vertical timelines were taped to the shelf on which she kept teapot and tea cup collection. A grotesque diagram of fantastical animals and disturbingly – almost lovingly – rendered pictures of disasters and death covered most of the wall. She did not consider it an improvement over the set of her grandmother’s china plates that they’d spent the previous summer mounting there.
Joe paused his YouTube video of some preacher or other as she walked in. “Who was at the door?” he asked without looking up.
“No one,” Katie replied. “Well, no one we knew. Someone looking for family who had the wrong address.”
“Oh,” Joe replied. “Okay.” He grabbed a piece of paper off one of his stacks. “Hey, look at this, I think it’s proof that that Anwar Al-Saafi guy from Iraq is the Antichrist. Someone should do something about him.”
Katie walked over and started rubbing her husband’s shoulders. “Honey, you know I think this stuff is a load of total bullshit, right?” she asked.
“I know that’s what you think,” he replied, “But I need you to believe me. This shit is real. It’s right there in the Bible.”
“I told you, Joe. It’s not in the Bible. It was invented by some Scottish girl with mental health problems in the 1800s. It only went mainstream because someone figured out they could use it to sell books back in the ‘80s.”
Joe slammed the paper down. “No, this is real,” he said. He stood up, turned around, and grabbed Katie by the shoulders. “If it’s not real how do you explain the fact that all of this is happening?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “Maybe it’s aliens or something. All I know is that there was never a real Bible prophecy for any of this stuff.”
“It has to be true,” Joe said, gripping her shoulders tighter. “It has to be. There’s no other explanation for any of this that makes a damn bit of sense.” He stared at her, eyes wide, nostrils flaring. “If it is true we can use it to survive to the end of this. We can see Eddie again.”
Katie’s shoulder muscles began to tremble under Joe’s tightening fingers. She felt his thumbnails begin to dig into her flesh. But she stayed fixed on his eyes. His wild, angry, frightened eyes.
“Stop it, Joe,” she finally said. “Please.”
“You have to believe me.” His grip tightened.
“Please, Joe.” She whimpered slightly. “You’re hurting me.”
His grip relaxed. Joe closed his eyes and his hands slipped from her shoulders. “Oh, god, I’m sorry, Katie. It’s just…”
“I know,” she said, “It hasn’t been easy.”
He tentatively lifted his hands back to her shoulders and rubbed them for a moment. Then he sighed heavily and slid his arms around her. “I just know there has to be an answer out there and I want to find it so bad,” he said.
“I know. But you also haven’t slept for nearly a week.”
“I can’t. I have to keep looking. There’s not much time.”
“There’s enough time to sleep, Joe. And things will make more sense if you’ve slept.”
She reached up and pushed his arms away, then grabbed his hands with hers and backed out of the kitchen, leading him towards the bedroom. “C’mon,” she smiled and cocked her head, “Let’s get you to bed.”