Chapter 1:



Katsuma Pharaoh is going to hell.

She rings in another customer, and another. Their faces blur together, she thinks. They all do. She checks her watch. Closing time is long-gone, and she’s working overtime.

The last customer in line. Katsuma sighs with relief and scans his books. He says some words she doesn’t hear. Rather, she hears them, but she doesn’t comprehend.

“Mmhmm,” she says vaguely. “That’ll be $10.99.”

The man is bewildered. “It should be 9.”

Katsuma looks up. The man seems young— early twenties, about her age. That he would be in a bookstore this late at night confuses her. His dark skin is drenched in sweat. He’s been running.

“Are you sure?” she questions.

He nods. “Just scan them again.”

She scans them again, more carefully this time. The total comes out to $10.99. Again. “Dumbass,” she mutters.

“What?” the man snaps.

“Nothing. Your total’s still $10.99. You gotta pay, bud.”

He fishes through his jean pockets. “I swear them books cost nine. I did the math, ‘cause I only got a ten.”

Katsuma gives up. “Just gimme the ten.” She knows the books cost $10.99, she’s sure of it. She just doesn’t think the extra dollar is worth fighting for. And perhaps her generosity might come around.

The man passes her the ten, and she slides the books to him. “Thanks,” he says, clutching them. As he runs out the sliding doors, Katsuma hopes she never sees him again.

She sighs, fiddling with the ten in her hands. No one will mind if she just pockets it, right? She considers it a tip for her generosity and stuffs it in her back pocket.

Katsuma flips off the lights. The custodians will clean the store up later, she tells herself. She slides the door closed behind her and walks to her car in the frigid night.

She turns the keys. Sprrrt! The engine doesn’t turn on. She kicks the car and tries again. Still nothing. She groans and looks to the sky in frustration.

Huh. That’s weird. The stars are brighter than normal. She tries her keys again. Nope, it’s not happening. She looks to the sky again— the stars are brighter still. Actually, it looks like they’re approaching. The dark sky is getting lighter every second.

Katsuma throws the keys in her car and runs back to the bookstore. She knows something’s wrong. She hasn’t done drugs in years. Is she just hallucinating?

She peeks through the window. No, she’s not hallucinating. The stars have come so close she can see they’re not stars at all. They’re angels, swooping through the streets, grabbing people by the wrists.

The end of times. Armageddon. The Rapture.

But if this is the Rapture, where are the demons? Katsuma asks herself silently. She feels a tickle on the back of her leg. From the shadows of the aisles, shadowy claws trace the form of her calves. Not what she’d imagined.

If I’m being judged, I’ll accept my outcome, she thinks. The demons lick at her legs and tear her from the window. She submits. She knows what she’s done.

She feels the warmth beneath her feet. Ah, yes, the warmth. Searing, scalding, just as terrible as she’d imagined. She braces herself for her endless torture, closing her eyes.

But it stops.

She opens her eyes and looks around. No demons, no angels. Not a sound. So I was hallucinating, she thinks. The silence is deafening. She just has to know what’s happened. She opens the doors and steps out again to see.

Outside, it’s soundproofed, but what a spectacle it is. All colors blind her eyes. Red, orange, yellow, of the cars crashed into one another. Green of the malfunctioning traffic lights, blue of the fading sky, purple of the night behind it. What is all this?

She runs over and checks the cars. No one is hurt— only because no one is there at all. The only human in sight is herself. Was it real, after all?

The eerie silence gave way to a majestic boom. She listened intently.

“Fear not, ye who remain. For he who would slay his compatriots for salvation’s promise will be given such! Ye who remain, prove thyself to thine Heavenly Father. Only one shall attain his worthy salvation!”

She can’t help but let a smile spread on her face. Her final chance at eternal life, and all she has to do is kill the rest? What challenge is there to that?

Katsuma Pharaoh refuses to go to hell.