Saturday, December 15, 2012

Paperback Now Available! (plus sale)

The long-awaited paperback of Beauty and the Mark of the Beast is now available, just in time to make your apocalypse reading list!

 Also, check out the Gut Check End of the World Sale (all e-books, including Beauty and the Mark of the Beast just $0.99 for a limited time!)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Get Raptured...for $2.99

It’s finally available! Just $2.99 will get you all 27 chapters of our hysterical (in both senses of the word) end-times satire Beauty and the Mark of the Beast. It’s dispen-sensational and you can get it now by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

If you want to know how it all ends . . .

Dear reader-slash-footsoldier in the Gut Check Army,

Yes, it seems that we let this project go by the wayside, as if this serialized end-times thriller is now as irrelevant as The Late Great Planet Earth. But things are not always as they seem.

True, we did have a bit of a lag there—so much so that we're having to re-work the clever “whoops, the Mayan calendar really runs out in 2011” sub-plot—but we’ve also been working on this project behind the scenes. There are now four more chapters, each building this story to a ludicrously dispen-sensational climax.

Where are these chapters, and why aren't they posted, you ask? Because we’ll be wrapping this story up as a committee in the next few weeks (somewhere in a smoke-filled back room or spark-and-steam-filled alley) and offering the whole deal as an e-book for, oh let's say, three bucks.

Stay tuned at

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chapter Fifteen: Duke Morrison is the Consumate Competitor and Strongbow Might Be the Messiah (by Ted Kluck)

"He really is a beautiful runner."  Alex Roth is sure he's just thinking this, but as it turns out he's saying it out loud as Strongbow strides away down the concourse - his taut hamstrings straining against the white spandex of his Denver Broncos game pants.  This is where he would normally expect Kate to look at him with an eyebrow cocked.  Instead her eyes are affixed to Strongbow's hamstrings as well as the rest of Strongbow.  She sighs, audibly which (sighing audibly) is something she almost never does. 

"We've gotta hurry," she says, finally.  "Misty will be here in a minute." 


For James Wiles, being "outed" as a dispensational fundamentalist is akin to career suicide.  He's sweating as he maneuvers the vintage BMW (read: upscale English professor) off the highway and into the gridlock surrounding Dynex/LifewayExcellenceInChristianPublishing Stadium.  He pops the Indigo Girls "Live At Budokan" cd out of his car's audio system and tunes into a sports talk station, which is something he would absolutely never do in real life.  But this isn't real life.  This, he thinks, is Rapture Day and he needs to get a feel for what he's up against. 

He should be back in his office, sipping a glass of red wine, facebooking about how much he doesn't care about this afternoon's football game (subtext: he's too good/smart for sports), and preparing a white paper entitled "Phallic Imagery In Children's Public Television Programming: Fact or Fiction" - a paper he was excited to give at the Ingham/Eaton County Publicly-Funded-Arts-Initiative's First Annual Symposium on Issues Regarding Children in Literature.  It goes without saying that all of that hangs in the balance now. 

On the radio, a personality who called himself Mad Dog is interviewing Duke Morrison.  Morrison's voice is predictably low and raspy, even as he talks about the Duke Morrison/Budweiser Annual Golf Outing to Benefit Unfortunate Ethnic Children in Greater Denver.  "I'm just happy to be able to make a positive impact on ethnic children in greater Denver," he says.  Wiles knows that he doesn't mean a word of it.  Wiles happens to know that there are only two consuming passions in Duke Morrison's life:  Football, Dewar's Single-Malt Scotch, and The Rapture.  Okay, three. 

Morrison used to sit in Wiles's office for hours, florid faced, his meaty forearms brushing aside volumes of angry-girl poetry in order to spread out his collection of rapture-related ephemera.  The two men would talk eschatology for hours into the night.  Wiles grew out of it.  He had assumed Morrison had done the same.  Today he'll find out.  He will wheel into a parking lot, secure the gun in his waistband, overpay massively for a scalped ticket, and then find a way to get to Denver Broncos legend Duke Morrison. 


As Timothy Strongbow strides through the lower concourse of Dynex/LifewayExcellenceInChristianPublishing Stadium he draws a few strange looks from security personnel, but for the most part they just think he's warming up.  As he jogs, he is confronted with a thought that has been recurring lately - namely, what if I, Timmy Strongbow, AM the messiah?  What if all of those newspaper editorials are true and I really am, like, the second coming?  Strongbow is about 60/40 in terms of the odds of him actually being the Messiah...the "40" being based on the fact that if he were actually the messiah he'd probably completing more than 48% of his passes, worst in the NFL.  He would never share the Messiah fantasy with anyone out loud, besides, maybe, the guy he's running to meet - Zach Van Shrimpy. 

Strongbow has almost reached the rendezvous point, a custodial closet in Sub-Basement C.  He signs a few autographs for Morrison's Budweiser Ethnic Children's Coalition (he's a board member), and poses for a few smiley photographs just to deflect attention. 

The rest of the team is out for warmups.  He can hear the stadium's testosterone-laden classic rock mix over the loudspeaker.  He presses the security code into his contractually-mandated awesome locker and enters his also contractually-mandated private bathroom. The duffel is still there.  Then he scuttles down a dark, abandoned stairwell and into Sub-Basement C.  Van Shrimpy, he suspects, is probably already there. 


Actually, Van Shrimpy isn't there because he's holding a 9MM pistol to the temple of Duke Morrison.  While belly-crawling through the stadium HVAC system, Van Shrimpy ended up directly above a shaken Morrison, who was taking a moment to change is blood-spattered officially-licensed team polo in a deserted equipment room.  Van Shrimpy jimmied open the air vent and descended, literally, onto Morrison.  He cocked the gun and chambered a round, cinematically, as he fell.  The lapels of his soiled suitjacket billowed as he fell from the sky. 

"How'd you get out of the athletic tape Zach?" Morrison growls.  Van Shrimpy thinks he should be more worried, given the gun at his temple.  But Morrison is halfway into a bottle of Dewars and he also has absolute faith in his own physical abilities and general awesomeness. 

"It's Doctor Van Shrimpy to you," says Dr. Van Shrimpy, doing his best to sound dangerous.  Shirtless, here in the bowels of the stadium, Morrison's physique still intimidates him.  "You do one thing for me, Morrison, and I'll let you live." 

"What is it?"  Morrison asks, newly aware of the cold steel at his temple.  His life - all the trophies, golf tournaments, spokesmodels, gameplans, and comped Cadillacs - flashes before his bloodshot eyes. 

"Strongbow starts today's game," Van Shrimpy whispers into his florid ear.  He jerks the pistol into the side of Morrison's head, snapping it over.  And with one smooth motion he is back up and into the HVAC system. 

"But Strongbow sucks," Morrison says, to nobody in particular. 


Strongbow grabbed his shoulder pads, helmet and shoes on the way out of the locker room, just in case.  He is now dressed like an NFL player, and his Reebok shoes (he's got a multi-year endorsement contract) clack-clack on the concrete floor.   Even though it may be the rapture, he still stopped to check out his tailored number 15 jersey in the mirror for a few minutes.

Strongbow fumbles through the duffel to find an old key taped to the inside of the bag.  He uses it to open the door to the janitor's closet in Sub-Basement C - now, he knows, transformed into the Rapture Command Center.  He knows because he helped Van Shrimpy transform it - being the only member of the rapture society with access to the stadium and its elaborate technology, including state of the art satellite hookups and armaments. 

He swings the door open, slowly, to reveal an entire wall full of computer monitors, flashing lights, and buttons.  Van Shrimpy wheels around in an office chair, a pistol in his right hand.  Their eyes meet. 

"Congratulations Timmy.  You're starting today." 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chapter Fourteen: On the Run (Erin Bartels)

The chopper blades rise to a fever pitch as Faustus helps Carol Anne climb aboard the medical helicopter. The girls settles herself on a narrow bench seat next to the gurney that holds the form of her father. Rev. Ironsides is unconscious. The door closes. A sudden sinking feeling in the pit of Faustus's stomach and the chopper is airborne. The pilot turns toward the southwest and heads for St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver.


Alex can't believe his luck. There, in front of him, is The Timothy Strongbow. Tall, ruggedly good-looking, filling out his uniform perfectly. What he wouldn’t give to look like that, to be like that. One glance at Kate and the feeling intensifies. She is obviously attracted to the football star in a way she is not attracted to Alex. She’s never looked at him like that or been so flustered in his presence. Of course, that could have something to do with the head-on collision and subsequent shower of notes.

Timothy hastily scrapes together the papers, shoving them into Kate’s waiting arms. He spies one last sheet that drifted halfway under a garbage can and leans over to retrieve it. In that moment his eyes rest upon an underlined note that reads, “TS scared/someone’s controlling him.”

And in the same moment Alex spies the gun tucked into Strongbow’s pants.

Though he wants to confront Kate about the note, to set her straight, Strongbow hasn’t the time. Van Shrimpy will be waiting for him and he must get to that duffel. He pushes the paper at Kate’s full arms, crumpling it in his meaty fingers, and glares at her.

He never once looks at Alex.

Then he is gone, running swiftly down the concourse, his un-shod feet making slapping noises that fade into the distance. When he is no longer in sight, Alex turns to Kate. “Here, let me help you with those.” He reaches under her arms for the pile of papers, hoping to brush his hand against her body. Instead Kate thrusts the papers forward, away from her chest, practically dropping them in Alex’s waiting hands, and then fishes around in her purse for her cell phone.

“I have to make a call.”

But deep beneath the stadium she can’t get a signal.

“Shoot! I wonder if I can get a text through.”

Kate types furiously, checks a number written on the back of one of her business cards, then hits send. Alex kneels at her feet, trying to read the papers he is carefully stacking. But her feet are so distracting.

“That’s good enough,” Kate says, pulling him to his feet. “We have to get to one of the back entrances now. We’re meeting someone.”


“A girl. Some college chick Tim Strongbow was making out with.”

“I’m sure he’s made out with lots of girls,” says Alex, hoping to get some sort of reaction out of Kate that will indicate whether or not she was one of those girls.

“Yeah, but this Misty chick is the only one he gave his tracking chip to.”

“Wait—did you say Misty?”


Emma drags a large black garbage bag down the steps in the west stairwell of Walden Hall. Throwing her weight against the crash bar on the heavy steel door she shies at the intense rays of the setting sun that assault her eyes. She hauls the bag across the gritty sidewalk and flips open the large black plastic cover of the dumpster. With some effort she manages to push the load up over the side and it lands with a thwump amid the detritus of the week—beer bottles and pizza boxes and pregnancy tests. It all disgusts her. She can smell old beer wafting up from the dumpster. She wants nothing more than to incinerate it all. But not being a smoker, she of course carries no lighter or matches. Luckily, a full 80% of students on campus do smoke something and a group of sort of slow-looking skateboarders is shuffling down the sidewalk carrying their boards.

“Any of you guys have a match?”

A shaggy kid in ripped jeans reaches in his pocket and produces a box of matches. He tosses it to her.

She stands there with it, wondering how to use a match and return the box but not be identified in case someone called campus security.

“You outta smokes?” the shaggy kid asks.

“Um, yeah,” Emma replies lamely.

“Here.” The shaggy kid pulls a cigarette out of the package in his pocket and hands it to her. After a moment she puts it in her mouth and tries to light it, holding the end of a lit match to the end of the cigarette. Her hand shakes so badly the match goes out.

“Here, I got it,” says the shaggy kid as he draws closer to her. He lights another match and cups his hand around it, holding it to the cigarette. Emma doesn’t know that she needs to breathe in to get the cigarette to light, but she is beginning to hyperventilate with the knowledge that she is willfully sinning at that very moment. The cigarette catches, Emma coughs, the shaggy boy laughs.

“Take it easy,” he says, and rejoins his friends.

Once they are out of sight behind the building Emma yanks the cigarette from her lips and eyes the contents of the dumpster. She opens the top of the garbage bag containing all of Misty’s offensive posters and clothing and magazines. She gingerly reaches for a half empty bottle of tequila stuck among some fiesta-themed plates and a smashed sombrero. Trying hard not to get the stink on herself, she pours the contents of the bottle into the bag. Then she drops in the still burning cigarette. Instantly flames lick at the sides of the bag and she smells a putrid mixture of alcohol, melting plastic, and what can only be day-old vomit. After a furtive glance around at the dorm windows surrounding her, she hastens back inside.

Time to call her Bible Study group and confess about the smoking before any rumors start to fly. She is sure they will understand.


James Wiles walks swiftly down the hall, briefcase in hand. He must find Duke Morrison, the only former member of the Rapture Club whose whereabouts he knows. His plan is simple. Get in the stadium and down to the sidelines where Morrison will be yelling into his headset and find out if he knows anything, if anything has happened. The gun in his briefcase is a small comfort, but Wiles knows that if this stuff is real he will need more protection than just a firearm. He considers the wisdom of asking God for help after decades of ignoring him. He decides against it. For now.

He is almost to the stairs when Ronald Markstrom calls to him from his office.

“James! James! Wait a minute. I have to talk to you.”

Wiles halts and turns. Ronald, his considerable mass jiggling with each labored step, is closing in on him.

“I’m in a bit of a hurry, Ron. What can I do for you?”

The big man breathes heavily.

“It’s just…I got…this note…in my box…and I thought…youshouldknowaboutit.”

He hands James an envelope with a broken wax seal.

“I’m sure it’s just a prank,” Ron says, rallying, “but I wanted you to be aware of it. I checked all the other boxes and it looks like every professor in the English department got one.”

James unfolds the single sheet of paper and, to his horror, reads the following lines:

To Whom It May Concern:

Let it be known that Dr. James Wiles, professor of English, is not who you think he is. He is an Undercover Operative in the Tribulation Fellowship, an elite group of Conservative Fundamentalist Christians who are charged with tracking the coming Judgment of God on this Sinful World.

The note went on to explain, in detail, the various stages of the rapture and tribulation in all their literal glory (with convenient slips into symbolism when advantageous). James feels his stomach drop as he reads the name at the bottom. He can feel Ron watching him intently.

“This is just a joke, right James?”

James stumbles a bit. “Yeah, yeah, yeah…um…I’m sure some student with a grievance whipped this up…You said everyone got one?”

“Yes, every box had one.”

“Listen Ronald, can you do me a favor and gather them all up and shred them? Even though it’s a joke, you know how rumors get started. I’d do it, but I have to meet someone and I’m running late.”

“Oh sure, I can do that.”

“Thanks, man. And would you mind please keeping it to yourself?”

“No problem. I’ll take care of it.”

James rushes off, remembering that night back in 1974 when he’d confided in Dr. Van Shrimpy about his worst nightmare—that people would someday find out he’d been part of that silly Rapture Club. He’d said it half in jest at the time, just to get under Van Shrimpy’s skin. He never realized it would come back to haunt him. He hopes Ronald Markstrom can manage to keep his trap shut about it.

James skids to a stop at his car and gapes. Someone has spray painted “The End Is Near!” in bright red across the entire hood of his BMW and “R-Day” across the trunk. But with no alternative, he jumps in and squeals off to the stadium, hunched low in the car to avoid being recognized by anyone.

The university newspaper would have a field day with this.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chapter Thirteen: Enraptured (Zach Bartels)

Zack Van Shrimpy's powerful old-man fingers are straining to reach the razor blade secured within his belt buckle, but his mind is firmly lodged in the past, replaying the events of that fateful night in 1974 . . .

Taylor University’s chapel was intentionally plain—indiscernible from your average hotel conference room. So the Rapture Club kids had tried to set the mood by lighting some candles and hanging an old tapestry behind the altar. Unfortunately, the tapestry was of a Cherokee Indian in the process of taking down a buffalo, so it really didn’t do the trick.

The group—which had formed three months earlier—usually munched on corn chips and cheese puffs, while informally swapping prooftexts and matching them with newspaper headlines about Soviet Russia. But not tonight. Tonight was special, and not just because they were breaking curfew. Anticipation hung thick in the air, as the handful of college freshmen sat solemnly in two rows of chairs, facing forward, drinking Welch’s from plastic goblets and waiting for their special guest.

They were silent, save for the midget, who was quite intoxicated. He pointed a stubby finger at James Wiles. “Who let the N-E-R-G-O in here?” he slurred.

Duke reeled and smacked him in the head. “If you could spell, I’d have punched you in the nose!” He addressed the group: “Who brought this zero?”

“He’s sort of with me,” Silvia apologized, smoothing her ankle-length dress. “I thought it might be good for him to come tonight and meet—”

“Will you please be quiet?!” Ironsides demanded. “I’m praying silently for this meeting, since no one thought to say grace before breaking into the grape juice. Seriously, this is the least pious rapture club I've ever belonged to!”

They all eyed each other annoyedly for a moment, as they always did before a fullscale verbal brawl broke out. But before they had a chance to lay into one another, something grabbed their attention and hushed them all. It was the sound of heals clicking on tile floor, and the sound was getting louder and louder.

Dr. Van Shrimpy had arrived.

The Bible scholar stepped up to the podium and looked from one far corner of the dim room to the other, as if speaking to the kind of packed-house to which he was accustomed.

“Thank you for inviting me here.”

The group wanted to applaud, but they couldn’t. They were enraptured, sucking air, hearts working double-time.

The famous Bible teacher gestured at Josh Vandersma, who was feeling a bit sheepish about what Van Shrimpy may have overheard from the undisciplined group. “When this young man told me he’d started a secret rapture society and that he wanted me to come and speak to you, I have to be honest; I laughed in his face. But when he began to reveal his plans, his vision for what you might accomplish and become, I knew I had to brave the cornfields and see you with my own eyes. And standing before you now, I am not disappointed.”

Josh felt the knot in his gut start to loosen. “We’re honored to have you here, sir,” he said, voice cracking.

“Perhaps introductions are in order,” the religious celebrity said pleasantly. “I am Rev. Dr. Zack Van Shrimpy, but you can call me Dr. Van Shrimpy.” Please, tell me your names, if you would be so kind.”

“He means Reginald. I’m Silvia.”

“I am pleased that there are seven of you. That just confirms for me that I’ve chosen the right group.”

“Actually, Dr. Van Shrimpy,” Josh interrupted, “the little guy isn’t actually with us. He just comes sniffing around Silvia from time to time and eats all our pretzels. We were kind of hoping that you’d be number seven.”

“No, the midget was meant to be here.”

“Like, predestined, you mean?” Josh asked.

“Oh, Gawd, no. Nothing like that.”


“Don’t worry. You have to understand, my friends. This meeting tonight is a fulfillment of prohecy.”

Max Darby half-raised his hand. “Which prophecy specifically, sir? I'm compiling lists of confirmed prophetic fulfillments.”

“Um, some stuff from Ezekiel and a few verses in Habakkuk. I haven’t fully memorized those yet; let me get back to you later on that. But listen, the main reason I wanted to get you all together tonight is to help you understand that the stakes have been raised. You’re no longer a simple rapture club. Starting tonight, you are a Tribulation Fellowship.”

James Wiles snickered. “What exactly is the difference?”

The doctor ran a hand through his jet-black hair. “James, right? Have you learned anything in Rapture Club, James?”

“Sure,” he answered with a smirk. “Last week, Josh told us that, when the rapture happens, our clothes will be left behind in a pile, so it's important that we always wear clean underwear.”

“Josh is right. Dirty underwear would be a very bad witness. But that kind of stuff is just the milk of end-times teaching. I want to bring you the solid food. And I know you're the right group for my teaching. You will study, you will learn, and you will wait silently, biding your time, and then spring into action when the moment is right. ”

He gestured at Silvia. “Your group includes both men and women;” at Faustus, “the very short;” at Darby, “and incredibly tall;” at Wiles, “black;” at Ironsides, “and very, very white;” at Duke, “athletic;” at Lewis, “and bookish.

“You will leave this school and head out to very different lives in different places. But when the time is right, you will be activated, and you will come back together.”

They were all sold. Even Faustus found himself nodding earnestly.

“When, Dr. Van Shrimpy?” Josh asked. “When will we strike against the Dragon?”

“Precisely seven weeks before the Rapture occurs, a day we shall call: R-day.”



Zack Van Shrimpy is halfway through the tape restraining his wrists, methodically sawing back and forth with the tennuously awkward upside-down hold he has on the razor blade. From the other side of the office, he can hear Duke Morrison giving a thunderous interview, incredibly bright and optimistic, despite (or perhaps because of) the beating he just handed out. Van Shrimpy redoubles his efforts.



Silvia was the first student to come back down from the moment. “But, sir, how will we know when R-Day is here? What will be the sign unto us?”

Van Shrimpy smiled. “Good question, child. But before I answer it, let me warn you: not all of you will remain true. Even though you will all sign your names to our pact tonight, some of you will stray from the Dispensational Faith. For those who do, my wrath will be poured out on you—figuratively, like the completely literal vials will be completely literally poured out on the earth during the seven-year Tribulation.” His gaze shifted from student to student, studying their eyes, as if to discover any traitorous intentions in advance.



Duke is talking in an outdoor voice, echoing in from the hall. He had insisted on taking the TV crew out to the public trophy case where his many Donor of the Year awards are displayed. Van Shrimpy knows he has to work fast.

He pulls the remnants of athletic tape from his face, sleeve, and $349 shoes. Balling it up, he tosses it contemptuously into the trash. From the inside pocket of his suit coat, he retrieves an envelope, which he perfectly squares on Duke’s leather desk blotter. It is sealed with a disk of red wax, bearing the image of a shield, inset with the letters “VS.”

From his other coat pocket, he pulls out a schematic of the stadium—the same schematic he gave to the rabbi-formerly-known-as-Josh this morning. He indulges in a dark laugh, thinking of what has undoubtedly become of the whelp. He quickly studies the diagram, refreshing himself on the path from here to Point B, before roughly refolding the paper and stuffing it back into his jacket.

One more thing before he goes mobile. He pulls out his cell phone and pages young Timothy with another code, the one that means, Phase Two initiated. I'm in.

With an incredible leap from his spring-loaded titannium knees, the doctor sails up to the wall vent and, grabbing it by the edges with his powerful fingers, yanks it to the floor. Another catlike leap and he is within the network of tunnels, en route to the rendezvous point.


Tim Strongbow looks sidelong at his buzzing pager.  He is helping gather the files he just accidentally launched into the air.

His pulse quickens. Phase two! His rifling becomes frantic. He needs to get clear of the pretty young reporter giving him the sly bedroom eyes and the college kid giving him an unsettling version of same. He needs to get to his Rapture Preparedness Duffel, like, yesterday.



It was almost three AM when Dr. Van Shrimpy finished explaining all the signs and formulas involved in pinpointing R-Day. It would probably be twenty to thirty years down the road, he explained, but probably not in the year 2000, as that would be too obvious.

“Now is the time for you to swear allegiance to our Holy Quest,” he intoned, his pomade glistening in the candlelight. “You will rise and come forward, one at a time, lay your right hand on the sacred Scofield notes, and whisper into my ear your greatest fear. The one thing that terrifies you, the subject of your most horrific nightmares. Then you will sign the parchment.” He gestured to a quill pen and inkwell laying on the stand where the mandatory chapel attendance forms were usually kept.

Duke grimmaced. “Is that . . . blood?”

“No. But that would have been cool. Who’s first?”

Josh rose. “I am, of course. I would follow you anywhere, Dr. Van Shrimpy.”