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When the End of the World Comes... and Goes

An excerpt from the memoir ‘Apocalypse Child.’

Carly Butler 21 Jun 2024The Tyee

Carly Butler lives in Langley with her husband and two children. Apocalypse Child is her first book.

[Editor’s note: In the early 1990s, Carly Butler’s mom surreptitiously moved herself and her daughter to Canada from the United States to find a remote spot in B.C.’s north where they could hone their survival skills while waiting for the Christian apocalypse. It was sure to come any day now, Butler’s mother thought. ‘Apocalypse Child,’ out now from Caitlin Press, follows Butler’s story as the world fails to end — a few times, in fact — and she must instead find her own way in it and through it.]

Dec. 31, 1999. It was a day which will not live in infamy, except to those of us who thought it would.

Our friends Darryl and Lisa hosted a New Year’s Eve gathering with a special focus: God’s will for the New Year. A friend of theirs named Martin, a prophet, came to spend the evening with all of us, bless our feast, speak over our endeavours and welcome in the New Year.

The Ranch smelled amazing. Meat had been slow-cooking since the early morning, vegetables preserved from the garden were roasting, yeasty bread was rising high. My eyes widened when I saw multiple bottles of wine in the pantry. Maybe I was finally old enough for a Communion upgrade from grape juice.

The sun had set, and so was the table. Martin invited us to stand for the blessing, speaking a prayer in Hebrew, and then he pulled a gigantic ram’s horn out from under his seat.

A shofar. I had heard of them; God’s people were called to blow into them at various times throughout history — usually before battle, asking God’s Spirit to pour out and declare victory over the enemy.

I didn’t know that Martin was not in any way Jewish; I didn’t know that it should have mattered.

And no matter who uses it, I do not recommend being in an enclosed space when a shofar is blown.

My ears still ringing, we sat down to dinner. Luke and I sat directly across from each other, but his eyes avoided mine. I started to get annoyed; our lives were about to change forever, and he couldn’t even act like my friend? The wine poured freely, and with it, terrifying conversation. Martin shared about people he’d met around the world, dreamt about, preached to, prophesied over. Demons being cast out, angels disguised as hitchhikers, Christians in danger and being physically transported to a different part of the country for safety, through the God portal.

And if we thought people deceived by the Devil were all we had to worry about, it was time to watch the skies. Martin explained there was an underground facility in Alaska called HAARP — the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program — that was changing the weather but being covered up and sold as “global warming.” Those contrails that lingered in the sky long after the jets had flown over were actually “chemtrails” — streams of toxins coating the lungs of healthy citizens so they’d be vulnerable to any sickness the government decided to release.

Across the sea, Russia and China were preparing for war and had been secretly transporting guillotines and tanks on our Cosco train cars for years; America, the whore of Babylon, wasn’t ready.

Mom hung on to every word like Martin was Christ Himself.

As the hours passed and scriptures from Daniel and Revelation were pored over and the wine poured out, I felt like I wanted to vomit. After years of being prepared (desensitized, Mom called it), I was quickly losing tolerance for people who seemed to be excited at the thought of millions being lost to war and famine and disease.

Finally, feeling like something other than myself was possessing my body, I grabbed the nearest bottle of wine, drank a huge gulp and yelled, “Will EVERYONE please stop talking about this! I am ABSOLUTELY SICK of it!”

I slammed the bottle back on the table.

The atmosphere changed very quickly. The adults were gasping. Luke was smirking. Chairs were scraping across the floor frantically.

With a tinge of embarrassment, Mom said, “I think it’s time to go home.”

I felt ashamed. I knew everyone expected an apology, but I was still too angry. Stomping out in the snow brought cool relief to my heated cheeks.

Mom and I drove the 10 snowy kilometres home and went to bed wordlessly. I couldn’t sleep while I waited for midnight — for the end to begin.

Jan. 1, 2000

The dry wood cracked as fresh flames licked its edges, loud enough to shake me out of an empty dream. My eyes took a minute to adjust to the bright morning light, my body confused by the way I was lying and what I was covered in.

Oh, right. I wasn’t in my room. I’d taken a sleeping bag out to the living room and slept on the couch last night. I’d made myself stay up until midnight, staring out the living room window at the jagged backside of Hudson Bay Mountain. I’d seen the very slight tinge of orange outlining the peaks as the New Year’s Eve night glowed from town.

I’d been waiting. For what, I wasn’t sure. A giant cosmic light? A booming sound? Anything different to indicate that the clock had struck midnight and Y2K was indeed here.

But I’d seen nothing. Maybe I fell asleep and missed it? Surely, that must be it.

The rest of my senses came to life in an instant when I heard the camp kettle start bubbling, sending wafts of fresh coffee steam in my direction. I didn’t actually like the taste of coffee, but I’d wear it as perfume if I could.

The realization hit me: Mom was awake. She’d started a fire and made coffee. Maybe she knew more about what happened last night.

What happened last night is that you lost it on everyone, and Mom had to bring you home, remember?

I rolled over in the sleeping bag, my face wrinkling into a chagrined expression. I sat up, preparing myself for a lecture, but she was just sitting in front of the fire, poking it occasionally with a long piece of metal. I looked out the window; it was a clear day and our farm animals were already eating contentedly. Everything looked exactly as it had for the past two years.

“Morning, babe.” Her calm voice broke the silence. “How did you sleep?”

I got up and walked over to warm my hands in front of the fire and smell the coffee closer. “Not bad. What time is it?”

“After 10. You were tired. I couldn’t sleep, too much to think about today.”

Drip. Drip. Drip. I could hear the water coming out of the faucet ever so slightly and I sighed with gratitude. The spring had been running all night, and we’d have water today. I wanted oatmeal for breakfast.

But first. “Did anything happen at midnight? I stayed out here to see, but I must have fallen asleep.”

Mom got up to rinse a mug in the sink and pour herself a cup of coffee. “I don’t think so. The roads weren’t bad coming home last night, though, so I was thinking maybe we could drive to the ski hill entrance, put on the radio and see if there’s anything on the news.”

That made sense to me. Close enough to town, but not too close, just in case folks were already rioting in the streets.

As we made breakfast, I felt like we were playing Chicken about the night before. Who was going to bring up my outburst first? Was I going to apologize? Did I even want to?

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I said, “Are you mad about my behaviour last night?”

She paused in eating her oatmeal and looked at me for a moment, almost with a gaze of sadness. “No. We adults get pretty caught up in everything sometimes, and you’re already so mature for your age, I forget that you’re still a kid.”

I stirred my oatmeal, not able to do anything except stare at the gluey grains.

“The next time we see the Davis family, you can say you’re sorry, though. They really did make such a nice evening for us.”

I nodded. Right now, I didn’t really ever want to see the Davis family again, but what choice did I have?

Within an hour, we were bundled up and ready to drive the 20-odd kilometres to the ski hill. Mom let me drive, as she knew I needed more practice in snowy conditions. I loved driving, but I couldn’t fight the dread that filled my arms and legs the closer I brought us to our new reality.

The first day of the new year was half over by the time we parked in the gravel quarry next to the ski hill turnoff. I took a deep breath, we looked at each other, and I turned the radio on.

“This is your 12 o’clock news... first of all, congratulations to the first babies of the New Year born in B.C. today! This is perhaps the most unique birth announcement we’ve had in a while. The Miller family in Vancouver welcomed a baby last night at 11:58 p.m., Dec. 31, 1999... and then moments later, a second baby was born on Jan. 1, 2000! So not only were these twins born on different days and different years... but different millenniums.”

This was today’s top news? I mean, it was extremely neat, but... what?

Mom and I decided to go into town, so we switched seats. Even if I’d been old enough to drive within city limits, my head was so full of confused thoughts I would not have been able to focus.

Smithers did look a little different since the last time we saw it. All of the Christmas decorations were gone, and the streets were quiet. But it was New Year’s Day and just about everything was closed, just like it was any other year. People were staying warm in their homes, soaking up what remained of their days off with family. We drove through neighbourhoods still lit up with electricity and TVs and computers. Cars new enough to have computer chips in them were roaming freely. Kids were playing, dogs were barking, cats were snoozing.

The world was still here.

Now Mom and I were playing Chicken again. Who was going to break the awkward silence and state the obvious?

This time, she beat me. “The date must have been wrong. It’s still going to happen this year. It’s just... going to happen slower than we expected. That must be it.”

There’s a verse in the New Testament where Jesus says even if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it is enough to plant and grow an entire tree of belief.

I wondered if the same could be said for a seed of doubt.

Excerpted from ‘Apocalypse Child’ by Carly Butler. Copyright 2024 Carly Butler. Published by Caitlin Press. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.  [Tyee]

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