John Holden/Unsplash

The Day the People Left

Imagining our pets after the rapture

Editorial note: In anticipation of Orion’s Pet Week, we recalled a curious flyer for a specialized business based on the question: Who will care for all the pets left behind after the rapture? So, we called up our old friend John Price and mumbled a vague directive—Want to write something about pets and the rapture? This is what he came up with.

Here is the true book of Revelation gifted to the Lord’s servant, John, that he might convey its wonder and warning to the (temporarily) living people of the world. 

Blessed are those who hear and keep what is written in it, for the time is near

The prophecy appeared as in dream, but not in sleep, for I awoke in my same bed, like any other morning. No lightning or earthquakes; no sulfur hurricanes or overflowing lakes of fire. And yet I knew it: the End had come. 

Or I smelled it. For a newly heightened talent of the nostrils—do not yet ask why—compelled my feet to cross the threshold of my familiar home, down the sidewalk, and into a day that yet appeared, and smelled, to be early May, floral and perfervid. I was alone; the people were gone, though the houses and well-groomed lawns remained, sprinklers spurting intermittently, like human justice. They left their usual puddles on the sidewalk, and before one of them I bowed low and took a drink. Do not ask why. I was thirsty and there was water. That is all. 

The people were gone, and yet I smelled them—sour, overripe—growing stronger as I approached, with trepidation, the little neighborhood park where I had spent many an earthly hour. They were indeed all there, the people from my neighborhood. The rapture had arrived like a thief in the night and none of us had ascended. Not even an inch. 

Register now for Orion’s May 9, 2023 Celebration of the Animal World, right here.

I smelled disappointment—like bitter, oldish chocolate—soon overwhelmed by an intense scent emanating from the center of the gathering: tangy and sharp, yet also spicy, musky. A touch of sweetness. And I knew: It was the Lord! 

Do not ask me why. I pursued that holy scent forward until I beheld upon my favorite picnic bench (where I wrote many a now pointless tome) a golden throne, partially concealed by royal purple drapery. The people waited—was it an hour or a thousand years?—before the drapery began to part, slowly, revealing first a tuft of white, woolen hair: the Lamb of God? The One foretold in scripture to sit in judgment over the quick and the dead, rewarding human Goodness? Then, with a mighty wind, the drapery withdrew fully and I perceived this was not the Lamb of God. 

It was a bichon frisé! 

He was incredibly cute, yet still, I smelled confusion among the people—like tomato pulp, coupled with vanilla—and there was much whining and gnashing of teeth. But when the Lord lifted his tiny left paw, with the soft brown padding, our hearts were quieted and I recognized the truth of scripture: 

The Lord’s head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow, his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace and his voice was like the sound of many waters

Indeed, his tiny eyes were alight and his yippy voice, like a wild stream, not a lawn sprinkler, flowed directly into the parched hearts of the people, and we drank from it an understanding that requires no spoken word: 

I am the alpha and omega . . . 

By him, the people were made to understand the rapture was indeed under way, many changes already unfolded. You will have noticed, the Lord said, the absence of your children. We had not noticed. We had assumed the children remained, as always, held by the usual arms and recesses of concern—we had, after all, brought them many times to this very park. Now, we looked around, sniffed the air, and could not detect them. There was more whining and gnashing of teeth. I smelled panic, like torched goat cheese, and the Lord made the people understand that though in life we had believed we cared for the children—had boasted of that care incessantly—there had nonetheless been, in our sinful longing for other things, including this rapture, some key forgetting of them. Cries had gone unheard. Needs unmet. Futures betrayed. For every child fed, countless were allowed to starve. For every child sheltered, countless were exposed to harsh elements and the weapons of war. For every child healed, countless—for love of gold—were surrendered to sickness. For every child loved, countless were betrayed unto hate, abandonment, and death.

And the Lord’s list of grievances rolled on—perhaps an hour, perhaps a thousand years—until the people cried out to him: Where have the children gone?

He replied, as in scripture: They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for the Lord, for in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless

Then the Lord made us to understand that the children were safe and happy elsewhere. They had been raptured. Yet he, in his merciful cuteness, proclaimed the good news: We might still be restored unto them! But only if the righteous work of this end time were completed, that we might learn to deserve them and the earth that sustains us all. 

The people cried: We shall learn! But who shall teach us? 

And the Lord made them to understand there were those who had come forward as intercessors on our behalf. Saints who had, despite our sins, loved us in life, waited for us in the night and in the day, suffered by our hand and been forsaken and yet forgave, again and again. And the Lord said of them: 

I know their works, their toil and their patient endurance.  

So he had listened to their petitions. Already, at the behest of these intercessors, the Lord had bestowed gifts upon the people, such as a heightened talent of the nostrils, along with that of the ears, tongues, and flesh, and the ability to know the meaning of what they receive. All that we might better know and attend the needs of our living kindred, in whatever form. For this limited capacity, this failure of sense and imagination and compassion, was among our most mortal sins. In this failure, we had condemned ourselves and nearly the world entire.

That must end.

And then the Lord brought forth in his tiny, cute paws a parchment scroll sealed with seven seals, and for a few seconds, or a thousand years, batted it around on the throne and shook it in his mouth, wagging his little holy tail, until suddenly he stopped and sat erect. Addressing the bridal veil shrubbery bordering the park, he proclaimed:

I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. . . . Come!

There was a great tumult in that same shrubbery and there came forth from whatever door a myriad of beasts! My thoughts were blunted by a blast of scent and sound too diverse and intense to describe! I smelled, as well, terror among the people, like petroleum sprinkled with red hots, though I soon discerned these creatures were not entirely foreign to us. They were, in fact, those who had served as companions to humankind, by will or by force, for many centuries. The pets! Like the children, we had not noticed they were gone. And the Lord made us to understand that these were our intercessors, our angels, and soon to be our teachers. We were, He revealed, to be “fostered” by those who, among all Earth’s creatures—raptured to the same happy, healthy place as the children—had returned that humankind might be redeemed, that we might learn from them to be worthy of our children and all the living of this earthly paradise we had near destroyed. As the scripture says: 

For God had put it into their hearts to carry out His purpose by agreeing to give their kingdom to the beast(s), until the words of God will be fulfilled. 

That Word was found in the scroll sealed with the seven seals, to be broken one by one, that each kind of creature might move among the people and deliver their teachings, according to their own proclivities. For the Lord said: 

I am the One who searches hearts and minds and I will give each of you as your works deserve.

Then the Lord reached forth his cute, yet powerful paw and broke the first seal, calling forth all manner of aquatic creatures. Among the myriads were crabs and tiny shrimp and great blossoms of anemone and a sparkling rainbow of fish (too numerous to name) floating in enchanted spheres of purest water. It was as if the colors of the world had taken flight, baubles alight, mesmerizing minds into reverie and repose. And deepest memory—for these creatures were harbingers of our earliest home, the waters that gave birth to all life, now defiled. Just as the Lord said:

You have abandoned the love you had at first

And I smelled shame among the people, like onion, provoking tears. Then the Lord made us to understand that over a week, or a thousand years, these creatures would restore to us that first love and worship of water—the seas, lakes, rivers, marshlands, and ponds. We would learn from them to move through our short lives with grace and gentleness, beauty, as if we were poetry or music. To move sideways from conflict, baring claws only in defense of what matters (in accordance with scripture): your neighbor as yourself. To widen our eyes—or elevate them above our heads—that we might better see others in peril and assist them. To fearlessly navigate the darkest depths of existence, bringing with us the light. Dropping our gold like scales. 

We would learn to become one with our surroundings, not always seeking to stand out and above.

Then the Lord made a tiny jump and pounced with hind legs, so cutely, on the second seal, which was broken, calling forth the reptiles and amphibians! Among their myriad were snakes and iguanas and turtles and geckos, frogs and salamanders and chameleons. Those that had been kept in glass prisons to be gawked at or handled for pleasure’s sake, yet who had once ruled Earth as giants and embodied many gods, cast wrongly as demons. The Lord made us to understand that over a week, or a thousand years, the people would learn from these creatures how to humble ourselves to the dirt, thinning the shroud between flesh and environment, that we might feel its pleasure and poison as our own. We would learn to become one with our surroundings, not always seeking to stand out and above. To savor a slower progression of time and know the relativity of age. To carry the world on our backs, instead of demanding always to be carried. We would learn from them to shed embittered, hateful selves, like old skin. To move between the elements, as home. To climb trees and drink the air, the water in the wind. To sing into the night and be born again every morning, in every season. 

Then the Lord pounced again, ever so cutely, upon the scroll, breaking the third seal, calling forth the rodents! Among their myriad were hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, and guinea pigs. When they first moved among us, there were primal screams among the people and soilage (I will not describe its smell), but the Lord soon made us to understand that, from these once lowly creatures, we would learn the true meaning of intelligence. We would learn to use all our senses, our creativity, to navigate the seemingly unsolvable mazes of the world. Making our homes from what has been discarded, already dead, rather than upon the bodies of the living—accepting the bounty of the world, like a gift, even among what is not valued by others. We would learn to explore kingdoms beneath the surfaces, roaming freely behind and within all manner of wall, defying their inevitability, their arrogance. To escape seemingly hopeless traps, within and without. To find sustenance in seeds.

Read more from John Price about Goethe’s trees here and feral animals here

Then the Lord hopped very cutely into the air and fell backward onto the scroll, breaking the fourth seal—calling forth the birds! They flew and darted among the people, smelling like leaves and bark, treetops and the cold, crystalline elevations. And the Lord made us to understand that from these creatures we would learn to better seek the long view. To ride storms and invisible rivers of warmth, below and between. To sing through the bars of whatever cages contain us, yet never hesitate to escape them. To listen for the music of others. To speak in tongues not our own and rest gently on the shoulders of those who properly adore us. We would learn to build better nests and share in the caregiving of our young, offering them only what has been softened, not sharpened, by our experience. We would learn to seek out others with whom to fly, taking the lead when requested, the rear when required. To be guided in that flight by the moon and stars and magnetism of no nation, but of Earth entire, our true home.

Then the Lord ran in a small circle upon the scroll—so cute!— breaking the fifth seal and calling forth the cats. They darted among the people, rubbing against our feet and legs, or prostrating themselves upon their backs, contorting to better lick themselves. And the Lord said this would be among the lessons we would learn from these creatures, to cleanse the self, inside and out, even unto the foulest regions. To soften emotions and embrace naps. To seek out those who hate us and convince them otherwise. To appreciate a gentle caress, kneading and tenderizing what at first seems unforgiving. We would learn to pursue curiosity, relentlessly, even unto the tops of trees. To relish solitude and private pleasures, yet never deny those who worry over us—returning to their doorstep, sooner or later. Sharing with them what we have acquired or been given. Seeking, without apology, their active affection. Then giving it back.

Then the Lord lay prostrate on the scroll, cutely wiggling with legs askew, breaking the sixth seal and calling forth the dogs—closest kindred of the Lord! Those who have known and loved us since the infancy of our species. In primordial, frozen wastes, they had circled our fires, watched the dark, protected and warmed us. Even now. Yet many are tortured and imprisoned, twisted by the cruelty and violence of our kind. Every day, countless of them are martyred for our sins. And the Lord made us to understand that these creatures would remind us of the meaning of loyalty and faith. From them, we would learn to better sense the pain and sorrow of others, and in their midst, listen without fail. To be there, without judgment. From these creatures, we would learn the dignity of patience and persistence. Waiting for those who are missing; searching for those who are lost. Expressing, without shame, the gyrations of love—our bodies shaking, jumping, our hearts overflowing. Understanding, as they did millennia ago, the sweet rewards of bonding with those not entirely our kind, expanding the boundaries of affection. Enlarging, against the infinite cold, the circle of warmth beyond the fire. 

And the Lord declared of all these creatures, first to last: 

They sing a new song—for they were slaughtered and by their blood you have been ransomed. They will make a new kingdom and will reign on the earth. 

And so it was, over the course of a week, or a thousand years, we learned a new and better existence, fostered by creatures over whom we had believed, in our sinful arrogance, to have been given dominion. Together, they taught us all that the Lord promised, and more. They led us toward a new intimacy with Earth and freedoms we had never fully known—or even thought possible. To play without shame. To leap and roll and fly. To pant and whine and hiss and screech. To truly, really sing. To drink from sidewalk puddles, swim naked in ponds, soar high above rooftops, crawl or slither beneath the rocks and bushes, in a neighborhood that had become wilderness—grass and flowers growing tall, beckoning butterflies and bees. Trees growing tall, as well, freely bearing their fruits, nurturing all, for as scripture says: The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. We lived happily with these saints, comfortably, in shelters of straw and stick, burrows of clean earth, nests of dead twigs from the already fallen. We were never alone or afraid. Always, there were bodies to snuggle against or coil or school with, safe in the darkest nights, the freezing winters. 

Greatest of all, the pets taught us to give love unceasingly and willingly, even joyfully receive it—the latter being more difficult for our kind than expected. Indeed, some among us refused themselves such gifts, standing apart. These pitiful souls lived out their allotted time, inside invisible cages of their own making, then perished into the eternal peace of dust and stone—for they had already known hell. Of such are the mercies of inanimate earth.

. . . the return of the children was not for the sake of us alone, but for these other creatures, the pets, our intercessors, for whom the little ones had always been the greatest of friends—never hesitating to love or mourn them.

Finally, at the end of this blessed time, we heard again the yippy voice of the Lord, calling us to gather in the park that, like us, had been profoundly transformed. Its boundaries had expanded, becoming many places at once, wild habitats that had been there all along but that we had never sensed or appreciated, and thus ignorantly destroyed. We lay down in the tall grass with the pets, beneath trees and a friendly sky, as there was now, finally, room for all. 

Upon the golden throne, at the center picnic table (still my favorite), sat the Lord, the holy bichon frisé, holding again in his cute little mouth the ancient scroll. Suddenly, with gyrating joy, he tossed the scroll into the air, leaped, and caught it again with his tiny teeth, breaking the seventh seal. There was great tumult in bridal veil bushes, now beautifully overgrown, and I smelled all manner of candy… the children! They ran and leaped into our arms, and among the beasts, and there was a cry of joy and I smelled much happiness, like wild strawberries. In the midst of these revelries, the Lord made us to understand that the return of the children was not for the sake of us alone, but for these other creatures, the pets, our intercessors, for whom the little ones had always been the greatest of friends—never hesitating to love or mourn them. For, like the Lord, they noticed the fall of each sparrow. 

And then the Lord himself leaped from the throne, into our very midst, running, chasing, licking his mark on our foreheads and cheeks, declaring to all: 

See, the home of God is among you. He will dwell with you, and you will all be His and God himself will be with you; He will wipe every tear from your eyes, and death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

Then the Lord paused before me, placing a dainty paw upon my bare foot, which slightly tickled. I did not laugh. For lo, from beneath that cute and curly head, his fiery eyes spoke directly and with purpose into my mind: 

See, I am making all things new. Write what you have seen and share it with the people.  Remember what you have heard; obey it and repent.


I awoke in my bed, in my house, the mid-May sun still shining through the window. Even so, I was disoriented. But then there came to me a familiar smell, perhaps waffles, and the voices of children, my children, in the kitchen. They were here. I was here. None of what I had seen of the end time had yet come to pass, if ever. And in that moment, I was sore tempted to arise and move forward with my existence, as if it had been mere dream. Letting it dissolve, like most dreams, in the light of an ordinary day, amid the ordinary sins of the human world. 

To forget.

But then I felt a heavy stirring at the end of the bed, and a great red hound—a stunning mix of pit bull, spaniel, and pointer—rose above the sheets, where she had been sleeping patiently beside me. She placed both of her big, yet still cute paws on my chest, holding me in place, bringing her familiar face close to mine. I smelled her hot breath, which had no sweet associations, no meaning, in my once again limited nostrils. She was simply our dog, our Sadie. But then, with fierce intention, she licked upon my forehead what I knew was the seal of the Lord, for it all returned to me, what I had seen and learned from him and the others, seared into my soul. Do not ask me why. Perhaps because here was the One who had, against all human reason, chosen me, or would, when the end time inevitably arrived. My intercessor. My angel. 

And so, she held me there, as the pets hold most of us, somewhere, no matter how undeserving—for a week or for a thousand years. Our true saints. Pouring into our hardened, parched hearts the words of scripture: Let everyone who is thirsty come.  Let everyone who wishes take the water of life. 

As a gift. 

John T. Price is the author of the several books including Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships and All is Leaf, and the editor of the nature anthology The Tallgrass Prairie Reader. His nonfiction writing about nature, family, and spirit has appeared in many journals, magazines, newspapers, and anthologies including OrionThe Christian Science Monitor, Creative NonfictionThe Iowa Review, and Best Spiritual Writing 2000. He is a Professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he directs the nonfiction writing program. He lives with his wife, Stephanie, and three sons in the Loess Hills of western Iowa.