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Pastor's Conference, 1972

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Chapter 27

Chapter 27

The rain at the end of the week was just what was needed to put a few more people in the pews on Sunday morning. Not that 86 was all that thrilling of a number, but it was a welcome change of direction from the 70s and 60s that occupied most of July. Farmers, of course, were still in the fields, but ranchers had a chance to relax a little. Wives and children were at least present. Glynn took this as a positive sign that things were turning around and was able to relax a little after the evening service, taking time to play in the yard with the kids before they had to go to bed. He was beginning to feel as though he might, finally, be settling into this full-time pastorate thing.

The pastor was still feeling that same confidence as he drove to Arvel for the pastors’ conference on Monday. Morning temperatures weren’t quite as hot so he drove with the car windows down and the radio blasting as he drove as fast as he dared down the highway. He even dared to sing along with Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” something he would only do when no one else was within possible earshot. 

The meeting was at a different church this morning. Olivet Baptist Church was on the East side of Arvel, a smaller church whose regular Sunday morning attendance was just a little less than Adelbert’s. Glynn pulled into the small parking lot noting the usual pastors who were present, and curious by a couple of newer vehicles he didn’t recognize. Unlike their meetings at other churches, this one was taking place in the church sanctuary, which felt a little more formal. A lectern stood in front of the left section of pews as pastors stood in the aisles talking. At the front, Emmit seemed to be in serious discussion with a face Glynn only partially recognized. He knew the man was from Oklahoma City but couldn’t remember what he did there and was curious that he would be all the way up in Arvel on a Monday morning. Oklahoma City was a good four-hour drive away.

Emmit called the meeting to order and the pastors took seats in the first four rows of pews, Glynn and Carl choosing the fourth row, visibly separated from the others. After the usual roll call, Emmit introduced Bruce Haggard, the state convention’s director of religious education. Bruce was present to explain some significant changes coming to the Sunday School curriculum starting with the next quarter in October. It was especially important to push the new curriculum because the association had the lowest rate of using the convention materials in the state.

Glynn yawned. He couldn’t help it. From his perspective, Southern Baptist churches used Southern Baptist materials and if someone in a Sunday School class wanted to challenge the content of that material on any given Sunday then that just made for a more lively and in-depth discussion. He knew too well that adult classes were often little more than gossip sessions using scripture as a cover. He also found it disturbing in his own church that men’s and women’s classes were separate except for the “young adults” class from which one was ejected when they turned 40. Trying to change that tradition, though, was something Glynn had elected to not undertake for fear that the resulting turmoil might create more problems than it would solve.

As the meeting ended, Carl couldn’t resist teasing Glynn about his apparent lack of interest. “The morning’s topic a little dry for you?” he chided.

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Glynn confessed. “I don’t see what the big deal is. I appreciate the changes they’re making but was that really worth him making the trip all the way up here from Oklahoma City on a Monday morning? Seems a bit excessive to me. Why the over-sell?”

“Because more than half these churches use curriculum from nondenominational publishers and there are three churches I know of that don’t use any curriculum at all, they just let their teachers wing it,” Carl explained. “You’d be surprised at what’s being taught in some of these Sunday School classes.”

Glynn shook his head. “Is that something we can really control, though? Our women’s classes are little more than gossip sessions. The men sit around and talk weather and farming and second-guessing Coach Fairbanks, who had better have a good season this year or I’m going to have to preach on anger management.”

Carl laughed. Oklahoma University football was almost as much a religion across the state and there wasn’t a Southern Baptist church in the state that didn’t experience Sunday morning attendance fluctuations based on how well the Sooners were playing. “I’m thankful for away games,” he said. “We have a couple of diehard Crimson and Cream fans who are in Norman for every home game and don’t make it back until late Sunday afternoon. It amazes me how seriously they take their football.”

“It was one of the first topics raised to me when I moved here back in February,” Glynn said. “February and they were thinking about this fall’s football season. Something about a set of brothers in the defensive lineup.”

Carl was still laughing and nodding his head. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. Lucious, Lee Roy, and Dewey Selmon. They’re already calling them the Selmon Wall. My last deacon’s meeting was nothing but that and how we’re going to beat Nebraska.”

Glynn had started walking up the aisle toward the door as he said, “Too bad we can’t turn that enthusiasm into more excitement for the church.”

“Maybe we can,” Carl responded. “That guy from Houston a couple of weeks ago, you remember we said he talked about meeting people where they are? So, what if we find a way to make the result of Saturday’s game affect something on Sunday morning? Not anything critical, mind you, but some kind of contest.”

Glynn paused and gave the idea some thought. Certainly, the men in his church were competitive enough that the right tactic might work. “Any specific?” he asked.

Carl shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think it needs to be something fun, something that won’t actually distract too much.”

“And what happens if the season doesn’t turn out as good as everyone seems to think it will?” Glynn asked.

“Then Chuck Fairbanks is going to be looking for a new job,” Carl laughed. “I don’t know, just an idea. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.”

Glynn said careful and hasty goodbyes where he thought necessary and then made his usual rounds at the hospital. There was no one in critical condition this morning, just a couple of minor surgeries for older people who would be back up and ignoring their doctor’s advice by the end of the week. Despite the weekend’s rains, the weather was still hot and Glynn was hoping to spend most of his afternoons in the air-conditioned office. The books Clement had given him provided plenty of new and interesting material to read, much of which challenged his long-held beliefs, forcing the preacher to either justify what he had been telling people from the pulpit or consider changing his views. 

For the most part, Glynn got what he wanted. Marve was busy getting the kids ready for school in a few weeks, an extra chore with Hayden starting kindergarten. Afternoon heat kept most everyone indoors. What pastoral visits needed to be made were done earlier in the day when breezes were still cool. Wednesday’s prayer meeting was still lightly attended but Glynn was beginning to enjoy the conversations he would have with the few who did attend and walking home by himself afterward was calming.

It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that disruption came calling. Glynn had been so deeply engrossed in the book he was reading that the was startled by the ringing telephone. Hearing Emmit’s voice on the other end of the line immediately made him curious. The Director of Missions was rarely in his office on Friday afternoons. 

After briefly exchanging pleasantries, Emmit quickly got down to the purpose of his call. “Glynn, I’d like to ask you to do me a favor. Normally, I would send something like this over to Clement or Bill but they’re both out of town this afternoon. I have a couple sitting just outside my office who are wanting to get married but they’re having difficulty finding someone to perform the ceremony for them. They already have their wedding license and blood test, but the court clerk refused to marry them and they’ve not been able to find a pastor here who would. Do you think you could do a quick ceremony for them? You’d need a couple of witnesses.”

The question caught Glynn off guard. He hadn’t done too many weddings over his career because the churches he pastored tended to not have young people of marrying age. There had been none in the Adelbert church since he moved there. Performing the ceremony wasn’t really that big of a deal but it seemed strange that no one else was willing to marry the couple. “I guess I can,” he replied. “I don’t understand why they’re having so much trouble getting married, though. What’s causing the problem? Are they both divorced or something?”

“Worse,” Emmit said, being careful to keep his voice soft so as to not be overheard. “The groom is a negro from Joplin.”

Glynn immediately understood the challenge. Racism in Oklahoma ran deep. While he had grown accustomed to working with and around black people on the plant floor in Michigan, even there everything was largely segregated. There simply were no black people living in most Oklahoma towns. They weren’t welcome and people, even churches, weren’t hesitant about letting their stance be known, sometimes with threats of violence. “Just make sure I’m clear, you are asking me to marry a mixed-race couple?” Glynn asked. 

“Yeah, if you think you’re up to it,” Emmit responded. “I’d do it but everyone here in the office has already left. I don’t have anyone to act as a witness.”

Glynn thought carefully before responding. This was the sort of thing that could be bigger than it should. He had heard the foul language being used around town to describe black people whose names ended up in the news. While he had never bothered to ask, he was fairly certain that even Buck would be less than welcoming. He let out a long sigh. “I guess I can. I’m not sure I can find any witnesses either, though. I suppose Marve might be willing to come down but doesn’t the license require two signatures?”

“It does, but there’s a way around that. I can sign one of the spaces before they leave here. No one is going to know that I’m not actually in the room and I don’t think anyone is going to snitch on us,” Emmit said. “And you don’t want to do this at the church. Word gets out that you did and you’ll have more trouble than either of us want to handle. I would recommend taking them to the parsonage, marry them in your living room.”

Emmit was asking was a lot. Glynn’s own opinion was that love was love. The Supreme Court had struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriages in 1967 but there were still a large number of preachers and churches, especially in the South, who refused to perform the ceremony. This was the sort of thing that could get a pastor run out of town in a hurry. “Go ahead and send them over,” Glynn finally said. “We’ll get them married one way or another.”

By the time the pastor hung up the phone, the breeze from the small air-conditioner in the window sent chills across his skin. He knew the risk he was taking not only with the church but with Marve as well. He dialed their home number and waited for his wife to answer. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t until the eighth ring that she picked up. “Hi honey, I have a huge favor to ask and I’m sorry it’s last-minute,” he started.

The conversation was surprisingly brief. Marve not only agreed to be the necessary witness but said she would send the kids to play next door so that they wouldn’t be in the way, or accidentally snitch on them later to a church member. When she offered refreshment Glynn questioned whether that might be too much, that the couple’s safety depended in part on covertly being able to slip in and out of town without being noticed. Marve insisted that they at least offer them something cool to drink.

Glynn was waiting outside the church when the couple pulled into the parking lot. He told them to follow him to the parsonage and instructed them to pull into the garage so that it wouldn’t be evident that they had company. The couple nodded, understanding the risks everyone was taking.

Once they were seated in the parsonage living room, Glynn and Marve found the young couple to be quite charming and obviously very much in love. The bride was a young woman just 22 years old and fresh out of college. Her long, blonde hair flowed down to the middle of her back, a light contrast to the short, white dress she was wearing. He was a couple of inches taller than Glynn and fit, his hair cut short, close to his head. He was a med student about to enter his first year of residency. His light blue slacks with the flared legs and brightly patterned shirt looked sharp but definitely stood out in the rural environment.

The couple had met in college at the University of Chicago where many of their friends were interracial couples as well. They knew coming back to the bride’s home in Arvel would be controversial but they hadn’t anticipated the outright hostility shown by the bride’s family. The couple had briefly considered getting married in Joplin, but the groom’s family had threatened to disown him if he walked through the door with a white woman. Even after they finally decided to elope, every step of the process had presented a new challenge. 

Under more normal conditions, Glynn would have insisted on at least some brief marital counseling before agreeing to marry someone, but after hearing the couple’s story he was convinced that he was ill-equipped to offer them any substantial advice. They had already encountered more challenges to their relationship than most couples would experience over a lifetime and they knew there were more to come. He prayed with them briefly, asking God’s blessing on their union and safety as they traveled back to Chicago.

Asking the couple to stand facing him in the middle of the living room, Glynn began the brief ceremony. 

“We are gathered here in the sight of God to witness the union of Lamar and Elizabeth in holy matrimony. This is not a matter to be entered into lightly. Marriage is prescribed and ordained by God and is not meant to be taken with a deep and abiding love founded in our faith in the Creator, fully aware of the obligations and responsibilities we have both to God and to each other. 

“Lamar, do you take Elizabeth to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, through good times and bad, sickness and health, whether richer or poorer, to be faithful to her in all things and to love her as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Lamar said firmly.

“Elizabeth, do you take Lamar to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, through good times and bad, sickness and health, whether richer or poorer, to be faithful to him in all things and to love and support him as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Elizabeth answered with a soft smile.

“Then without the presence of any objection and by the authority invested in me by the state of Oklahoma, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Glynn looked at Lamar and added, “You may now kiss the bride.”

The newlyweds wasted no time getting on the road, hoping to make it as far as St. Louis where they had secured a hotel room for the night. Glynn watched carefully as they backed out of the garage and drove down the hill. He felt certain that they had sufficiently pulled off the event without anyone noticing. It was still early enough in the afternoon that none of the neighbors who might have cared were home. Their path out of town avoided being seen or noticed by anyone curious. The pastor sighed in relief, quietly wishing the couple a happy life. Glynn tucked the marriage license in his Bible to mail to the court clerk the next day.

Saturday mornings always started earlier than Glynn would have liked. Lita was up at the crack of dawn, turning on the television to watch cartoons. Inevitably, Hayden wouldn’t be far behind. There was no such thing as sleeping late. Glynn made coffee while Marve made breakfast. While waiting, he stepped out on the front porch and picked up the morning newspaper, neatly rolled and bound with a rubber band. The pastor casually opened the paper and looked at the headlines. The man convicted of shooting Alabama Governor George Wallace had been sentenced. Bobby Fisher won game 10 of the World Chess Championship. It wasn’t until he had sat down in his recliner that he read the headline below the fold, “Arvel Woman Murdered In St. Louis.”

Glynn’s stomach turned and wrenched as he read the too brief article. The paper said that Elizabeth and a “colored man from Chicago” were shot and robbed as they walked back to their motel after dinner. There was no mention of the couple being newlyweds. They hadn’t made it a day. Their marriage license was still in Glynn’s Bible.

Angrily, Glynn stormed into the kitchen, slammed the newspaper on the table and shouted, “God has a lot of explaining to do!” He thundered out of the kitchen and into the garage, beating the hood of the car with his fists. How could a just God allow this? Was this God’s way of objecting to interracial marriage? Glynn refused to believe that. He kicked at the tires as tears streamed down his face. God had made a mistake. There was no infallibility here. A perfect God could not have allowed this to happen.

Glynn’s sudden actions shocked the rest of the family. No one was accustomed to him raising his voice about anything. To do so while invoking the name of God was something even Marve had never seen him do. 

Both kids came running into the kitchen. Marve assured them that everything was going to be okay. Only after placating them with toast and butter did she look at the newspaper and see what had been so upsetting. 

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she returned to fixing breakfast. In her brief time away from the stove, the bacon she was cooking had burned to the point of being inedible. She dumped the bacon into the trash, slammed the pan onto the stove, and sank to the floor sobbing.


Chapter 28

chapter 28

Glynn found it difficult to stand in the pulpit on Sunday morning. For the first time in his ministerial career, he didn’t feel as though he was serving God. This felt just like any other pointless job, work performed for a boss who really didn’t care. He waded through his sermon with the same level of enthusiasm he might have had for cleaning up after one of Hayden’s frequent toilet accidents. His heart wasn’t in it and he didn’t care. Still, as he stood at the back of the church after the service, his congregation had only praise with “Great sermon, pastor,” being said so frequently that by the time the last person left the sanctuary Glynn wanted to scream, “No, it wasn’t!” at the top of his lungs.

He was in a bad mood, feeling at times abandoned by God and at other times questioning whether God was sovereign at all. Taking a nap didn’t help. Playing outside with Hayden, something that could usually snap Glynn out of any bad mood, didn’t help. He plowed through the evening service even more frustrated and detached than he had been that morning. Instead of the calm, steady voice that his congregation was accustomed to hearing, his tone was aggressive and at times accusatory. He considered it some form of religious perversion that the tactic actually moved a couple of people to come forward during the invitation for “rededication.”

Not that Glynn actually believed in this thing Southern Baptists looked at as some form of spiritual re-purposing or confession after a particularly bad sin. Baptists held strongly to the doctrine of the Security of the Believer; in short, once saved, always saved, no matter what. Glynn looked at the doctrine as a spiritual safety net. It removed the need for confession or any actual acknowledgment of one’s sins beyond the point of salvation. Should an alleged Christian commit particularly heinous acts, such as murder, then it was excused as the person having never truly been saved in the first place. 

The doctrine was riddled with holes that could only be explained away with an academic twisting of scripture that explained away passages such as Hebrews 6, which specifically states, 

4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

Ever-changing definitions of “apostasy” enabled pastors to convince church members that no, they hadn’t lost their salvation, but simply needed to re-dedicate, spiritually double-down and try harder.

Right now, Glynn hated that doctrine. Of the two women who came forward, one was merely convicted that she hadn’t been reading her Bible enough, not something Glynn considered an actual sin given that there was no concrete determination as to what “enough” might be. The other admitted to having difficulty getting her mind off “impure thoughts.” The pastor didn’t dig for details. He didn’t want to know. The young woman was married and he knew the couple was trying to start a family. From his perspective, it was unlikely she was doing anything wrong. He prayed a hollow prayer with both women and sent them back to their seats, doubting that either would actually change anything in their lives. 

After the service, which again drew “good sermon” accolades, Glynn sent Marve on home with the kids so that he could stay behind and do some reading. Marve could tell her husband was struggling with more than the unjustness of the young couple’s murder. She kissed him on the cheek and promised to wait up for him.

With everyone else gone, Glynn turned off the lights in the sanctuary and walked into the small office. He leaned against the desk and pulled his hands through his hair. He still wanted to scream, to yell at God for having messed up, to erase the wedding ceremony from his memory, to pack up the family and run away, abandoning the pastorate for a calm, predictable 40-hour-a-week factory job that might not pay much but at least made sense. 

This made twice within a month that death had gotten too close. At least Jerry’s death, however ill-timed it might have been, made sense. He knew he had cancer. He had time to prepare. Elizabeth and Lamar didn’t get that chance. They didn’t see what was coming. All their discussion of dealing with the anger of their families didn’t prepare them for the hate they encountered on a St. Louis street. Glynn could excuse God for Jerry’s death as an act of mercy. There was no excuse for the cold-blooded murder of the young newlyweds and that tore at every fiber of Glynn’s soul.

Looking over at the box of books still sitting on the folding chair, he angrily picked up the box and dumped its contents into the floor. What good were they? What wisdom could any of them possibly have?

In the instant that the books hit the floor, Glynn knew he couldn’t leave them there even if he wanted to. He couldn’t throw them away. Even badly written books full of nonsense were still a record of someone’s thoughts or creative effort. Destroying books was, in Glynn’s opinion, a worse sin than what either woman had confessed to during the invitation. Looking at the small pile scattered at his feet, one of the heavier-weighted books with the title Letters and Papers from Prison on its spine. The author’s name sounded vaguely familiar, he recognized it as belonging to a theologian, but the pastor wasn’t familiar with the work or the person. He picked up the book wondering if there was anything of value. Starting on the page that naturally fell open, he read:

God is teaching us that we must live as humans who can get along very well without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who makes us live in this world without using God as a working hypothesis is the god before whom we are standing. Before God and with God we live without God. God allows Himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which God can be with us and help us. Matthew 8:17 (he took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our sins) makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and suffering.

This is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a deus ex machina. The Bible, however, directs us to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help. To this extent we may say that the process we have described by which the world came of age was an abandonment of the false conception of God, and a clearing of the decks for the God of the Bible, who conquers power and space in the world by his weakness. . .

Humans are challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. One must therefore plunge oneself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transform it. . . To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism. . . but to be a human being. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Letters and Papers from Prison. Translated by Reginald H. Fuller. London: SCM, 1953; as Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

“Participating in the suffering of God?” Is that what was happening? Was the whole purpose of death and disease in the world to help Christians identify with the suffering of God? Glynn wasn’t convinced he was ready to buy that argument. He flipped over a few pages and read more.

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

“I’m not sure anyone even knows what simplicity and straightforwardness are anymore,” Glynn thought to himself. He thumbed across a few more pages in the large book, wondering if there was any way he could ever read through the whole thing. He read more:

Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Glynn flipped to the back of the book, reading the author’s biography on the inside flap of the dustjacket. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, imprisoned and hung by the Nazis for his association with a group plotting the assassination of Hitler. Martyr. Yet another of God’s own that had been allowed to die violently at the hands of cruel and vicious hate.

Glynn set the large book on the desk then bent down and picked up the others one at a time, placing them carefully on the bookshelf. There was obviously a lot here that he needed to read. He felt ignorant and uninformed. Perhaps he should quit and go to college, even seminary. Clement certainly seemed to know a lot more about everything. He hadn’t hung around Bill all that much but he appeared much more enlightened than Glynn was feeling at the moment. 

The pastor turned off the lights in the office and walked home in the dusky dark alone, his tie loosened, his suit coat slung over his shoulder. Too many questions were swirling in his mind. If evil and stupidity walked hand in hand in the seats of great power, what chance did anyone have? How could God possibly be sovereign in that situation? Could it be that the key to control was no control? Or was it more likely that God needs chaos to force people to turn to him?

Answers weren’t coming. All week long, Glynn continued to wrestle with the questions burning in his mind. By the time Thursday evening rolled around, he was wondering if there was any point in taking Marve out to dinner. Even Claire remarked quietly to Marve how grumpy and angry the pastor seemed that week.

The couple drove over to Arvel for dinner at a restaurant known locally for the quality of its fried catfish. Marve wasn’t a fan of the bottom-feeding fish and opted for fried chicken instead. The lengthy cooking time of both gave the couple plenty of time to talk.

“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on in that muddled head of yours or are you happy being so cantankerous that everyone in town is starting to think they’ve done something to make you angry?” Marve asked once the server had taken their order.
Glynn looked out through the floor-to-ceiling window at the birds gathering around the large pond stocked with the catfish that furnished the restaurant its fresh catch. “What do you mean?” he responded, not yet fully plugged into the conversation.

Marve reached across the table and took Glynn’s hand. “Look at me,” she said firmly, waiting for him to redirect his attention before continuing. “You’re letting whatever is bothering you get in the way of you doing anything. You’ve snapped at the kids all week, which I can sort of understand. Lita’s been a bit of a brat. But you also snapped at dear Mrs. Walker when you saw her at the post office yesterday. She was so worried she had offended you that she actually called me to see what she had done wrong. You were sharp with the guys at the gas station, you totally pushed off Claire’s questions, which, by the way, the child is asking some tough ones that if you don’t answer she’s going to make the wrong assumptions and get herself into trouble. You’ve ended multiple phone calls without even saying goodbye. Glynn, you’re about to completely undo everything you’ve worked hard to build here. What the sam hill is going on?”

Glynn looked at his wife, then looked down at the table, the white linen cloth catching the fading sunlight through the window and turning everything around them a warm amber. “Those kids, Elizabeth and Lamar,” he said. “Part of me wants to ask God what he was thinking, why he didn’t stop the violence or misdirect them away from it. How could that in any way have been God’s will? There is nothing good that can come out of such a horrible tragedy. At the same time, I can’t stop wondering if the reason I’m having such a problem getting over this is because I’m not really the person who needs to be answering those questions. That’s why I keep putting Claire off. I don’t have any answers. I’m no longer sure of much of anything. I don’t know if I need to go back to college and maybe seminary, try to get to a place of deeper understanding, or if I just need to give up and move back to Michigan.”

“You need to get your head back in the game,” Marve answered, giving him the stern look she usually reserved for the children. “Maybe stop chasing the answers and give them a chance to come to you. You’re answering one question by asking another and all that’s doing is making you and everyone around you a little more crazy. You need to focus more on meeting the needs of the people who are right here, people who are still alive and need your help. There’s nothing you can do for Elizabeth and Lamar now. God’s done what he’s done. So you have questions. Fine. You can’t let the absence of a ready answer get in the way of at least being civil.”

Glynn looked across the table at his wife and felt his face flush. “Why would I be civil in the face of such horrible crimes like this?”

“Glynn, you’re acting as though someone killed your own children,” Marve charged. “You know as well as I do, if not better, that two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s not what the Bible teaches.”

“What if what the Bible is attempting to teach us turns out to be false? I have believed all my life that God is sovereign, that God is in control, that nothing escapes the vision nor the will nor the plan of God.” Glynn paused and took a drink of the water sitting in the crystal glass near his left hand. “Nothing in the past month has supported any of those theories. Instead, everything I’ve believed, everything I’ve preached, seems to be a lie and I just can’t stuff that in my pocket and ignore it. Either God is wrong or I’m just too stupid to see where he’s right.”

Marve released her grip on Glynn’s hand and sat back in her chair. This wasn’t the response she had expected. Her husband was normally calm and understanding, the kind of person who would apologize before knowing what he had done wrong. As much as she wanted to be supportive she couldn’t let this stubborn streak go unchallenged. “You’re not stupid, Glynn. And right now I’m concerned. I think you should see the doctor and have your blood pressure checked. Something. Talk to Emmit or someone. If you can’t find a solution to that mess you’ve got going up there, you’re going to have bigger problems than the deaths of two people you hardly knew. Focus on Adelbert, not the rest of the world.”

Glynn ran his hands through his hair, a move Marve recognized as a sign that he didn’t know how to put into words what he was feeling. “I’m sorry, but I need God to tell me what’s going on,” he said. “I’m done with this game. I need simplicity. I need God to be straightforward and stop hiding all the clues.”

Marve gave an exasperated sigh. There was no point in arguing with him any further. She changed the topic and they spent the rest of the evening with mindless banter about things they both knew were substitutes for real conversations. The drive back to Adelbert was quiet and after Glynn drove Claire home he came back to find that Marve had gone to bed without him. He sat on the edge of the recliner, buried his face in his hands, and prayed. Someone in the universe had the answers. He needed to know what they were.

Reading time: 32 min
Pastors' Conference 1972, ch. 21-22

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Chapter 21

With the help of Joanne and Ellen, Marve finally had everything unpacked and in place by Friday, though not without the shedding of more tears as several boxes revealed broken dishes, picture frames, and family heirlooms handed down from her mother and grandmother. This fueled a level of anger and resentment that was felt across town as not only did Marve blame Glynn, but Joanne kept the heat on Horace and Alan and Ellen blamed her husband, bank president Virgil Stone, for not having had the house ready sooner. Not having had any advanced notice, the phone company did not arrive to connect the phone at the parsonage until Thursday, which meant Marve had to go to Ellen’s every time she needed to contact Glynn or anyone else. Conversations around town became even more heated when the U.S. Supreme Court banned the use of DDT for any reason. Some farmers had long worried that the pesticide was dangerous while others were certain that bugs would devour their corn without it. By Friday, moods across town were so sour that Glynn opted to take a cold sandwich with him and eat his lunch alone in the church office. 

Sunday’s services seemed to Glynn to be a waste of time and energy. With almost all the men out in fields, the small congregation of 70-something was mostly either women struggling to keep their children contained or more elderly members who either couldn’t hear or kept nodding off during the service. Even Richard was on vacation, which left Eddie Aubrey, a young insurance field agent assigned to the county, to lead music for the services. Eddie had been enthusiastic right up to the point that he stepped behind the pulpit and had to announce the first hymn. His voice was so soft he had to repeat the hymn number three times before anyone picked up a hymnal and the pianist began the introduction. Glynn felt that his sermon on worry fell on deaf ears, an opinion Marve confirmed with the casual comment that he could probably preach the same sermon next week and no one would notice.

Against that harsh backdrop, Glynn was happy to be returning to Camp Universal the following Monday. He was hopeful that spending the week with teenagers would require a little less oversight and might possibly be as if not more relaxing than Junior Camp had been. They weren’t taking quite as many people this time. Only six girls, including Claire, were on the women’s side and only one other thin, bookish boy, Roland Hughes, joined Russel on the men’s side. Still, the group was bubbly and excited as transistor radios blared everything from Sammie Davis’ “The Candyman” to Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Joanne was careful to do a wardrobe check before parents left to make sure none of the girls’ skirts or shorts violated the dress code, which a couple of the girls found discriminatory but went along with nonetheless. Glynn made a point of being equally public in checking the boys’ suitcases to make sure their shirts all had sleeves, which, given the two boys involved, was a humorous satire on the biased nature of dress codes. 

One difference this time was that Hayden had decided he wanted to sleep on the same side of the cabin as his daddy. The child had slept on a canvas cot right next to his mother during Junior Camp, partly to calm his own insecurities and largely out of Mave’s concern that Glynn might sleep too soundly to notice if the boy rolled out of bed during the night. Both Glynn and Marve agreed, though, that the atmosphere wasn’t nearly as threatening as they had initially anticipated and that Hayden was likely safe on his own bunk so long as it was right next to Glynn’s. The exception would come if Glynn was assigned a night safety patrol shift.

When they arrived at the camp, Glynn made a big deal of helping Hayden make up his bunk, getting his pillow and blankets just right, and helping him get settled down for a nap after lunch. Hayden would be turning five years old in a couple of weeks and had amazed Glynn at how much he seemed to have grown and matured over the past couple of months. His hair wasn’t quite as blonde, his feet weren’t nearly as clumsy, and it was almost impossible to “short cut” his bedtime story by skipping words or pages. He enjoyed being with his Daddy, was full of questions, and at times could be belligerent about accepting any assistance with tasks not quite yet within his grasp.

Convinced that Hayden was asleep, Glynn slipped out of the cabin and grabbed an umbrella from the car before heading up the hill for the required meeting. The clouds that had formed overhead were not unexpected and the forecast for rain across the region was not unwelcome. Wind from the northwest blew swirls of dust around the pastor’s feet and the fragrance of approaching rain was refreshing.

Bill and Clement joined Glynn just before they reached the top of the hill. They couldn’t help but notice a group of the pastors standing under the tabernacle, circled around a pudgy man with curly, auburn-red hair, splotchy red complexion, and expensive-looking clothes who was gesturing as he talked. 

“The Resolution wasn’t meant to undermine the King James Version of the Bible at all,” the man was saying. “The problem is that people aren’t reading the Bible and a large part of that is because it is not readily available in their own language. That’s what the Resolution is addressing. Our relationship with the American Bible Society goes back a long way and we feel that they are more faithful in their translations than those created and endorsed by other entities such as the National Council of Churches. There’s good reason we’re not part of that organization. We want to partner with a Bible publisher that does not give in to the liberal misinterpretation of scripture.”

Clement shook his head. “You know, there’s a chance I may have pressing matters back in Washataug that I need to attend to.”

“Yeah, there may be a crisis or two in Arvel as well,” Bill said. “If he’s going to hold court like that very often I’ll have to find somewhere else to be. And after last week there are probably plenty of places I should be. I never did get caught up.”

“So, that’s our camp pastor for the week?” Glynn asked, embarrassed that he didn’t know the person speaking.

“Unfortunately,” Clement said. “Leslie Patterson, one of the dozen-or-so associates at First, Dallas. All around big-mouth. He’s started some group within the convention to, in his words, ‘root out the evil that has infiltrated our sacred trust.’ It’s nothing more than an effort by conservatives to take control of the convention. He practically begged the committee to let him come this week. Even halved his fee, making it well below our budget, so that no one else would make fiscal sense.”

As they neared the old church building, a tall, broad-shouldered young man dressed in well-pressed grey slacks and a starched short-sleeve powder blue dress shirt, came toward them. His dark, wavy black hair was the kind that had teenage girls wondering if he was married (he was). He seemed friendly but unsettled and out of place. “Hey guys, you catch that malarky over there?” he asked with a deep southern drawl. 

Clement and Bill nodded then Clement said, “Max, have you met Glynn Waterbury? He’s the new pastor at Adelbert. Glynn, Max Franklin, First Levi.”

Max was quick to reach out his hand and smiled, “It is a gen-u-ine pleasure to meet you, Glynn! Although, your choice of company here is a bit questionable.” He laughed and patted Bill on the shoulder. “I went to seminary with this ya-hoo. I know what he’s capable of so I try to not let him too far out of my sight. I suggest you don’t either.”

The four men laughed and chatted lightly a bit before Bill said, “I’m surprised to see you down here. Didn’t you just get back from Philadelphia?”

“Not to mention the fact that you seemed to have said something once about camp being a good way to keep your youth and music director our of your hair for a week,” Clement added with a grin.

“Yeah, the boy did not weather the storm well while I was gone last week. We’ve got a power-hungry deacon who rode him pretty hard,” Max answered. “I thought I’d come down for at least a couple of days, let him get the week started without any interference. I’ll have to be back by Wednesday afternoon, though.” He looked over at the group assembled under the tabernacle. “Looks like Leslie has a fan club already,” the pastor added. “He’s like a little religious leprechaun doin’ his dance while he steals the gold from everyone else’s pockets. He’s going to have these kids so confused by the end of the week that I’ll have to explain to half of them why they don’t need to be baptized again.”

“I’m hoping that’s the worse thing we have to explain,” Clement said. 

A gust of wind blew a sheet of dust across the top of the hill, causing the men to turn and guard their eyes. “That’s probably a signal that we need to get inside,” Bill said, looking up at the grey sky. “I’m not feeling convinced that this is going to be a light rain.”

The four preachers walked into the old church building and waited for Bing to start his routine. Carl Roberts soon joined them and Emmit popped in just before the meeting started, waving at the group but with a sense that was distant and preoccupied. The meeting itself was just as dry and boring as it had been for Junior Camp and the sound of rain falling on the roof didn’t help Glynn in his struggle to keep his eyes open. None of them were selected for Safety Patrol duty, which made it easier to plan a midweek escape. They quietly watched the spectacle around Leslie Patterson wax and wane then darted toward their church’s cabins the moment the “amen” sounded on the final prayer.

Rain was still falling when the evening service started. Gusts of wind blew rain in from the open sides, driving everyone to sit tightly in the center of the tabernacle. Much of what was being said or sung was lost as heavy downpours of rain on the tabernacle’s tin roof drowned out everything else. Finally, just before the sermon, the service was canceled and campers were instructed to go directly to their cabins. 

Just as Bing made the final announcement, though, a torrent of water fell from the sky like a wall of water placed between the tabernacle and the roads back to the cabins. Most stayed huddled together under the edge of the tabernacle, waiting for the rain to let up enough to run for safety. Some, however, were huddled under a large oak tree. Teens from rural churches knew better but about 30 kids, mostly from Levi churches, and a handful of adult counselors, were standing there when it seemed as though the top of the hill exploded. A bright flash of light momentarily blinded everyone. The percussion alone was enough to knock everyone under the tree and several under the tabernacle to their knees. The entire hill shook. Debris flew from the top of the tree onto the roof of the tabernacle just before pellets of hail began to fall from the sky. 

Everyone under the tree was knocked to the ground but no one appeared to be seriously hurt. Chairs were knocked over and pushed aside as 2,000 teens and their counselors and pastors pushed toward the center of the tabernacle. Glynn was happy that Marve had kept the kids at the cabin because of the rain but was now concerned for their safety. Another lightning strike somewhere among the cabins caused everyone to scream again and made it clear that it wasn’t safe to leave. Heavy wind left no place dry under the tabernacle. From the center of the group, someone started praying but everything after “Dear God” was drowned out by the storm.

Ten minutes felt like hours as the storm kept the entire camp huddled together, cowering from the unrelenting force of nature. 

At the first sign of a break, several older teen boys, particularly those who were more athletic, took off running for the cabins. Slowly the rain subsided and more groups would leave the embattled worship structure, many slipping and falling in the mud. 

Glynn found it interesting that Russel and Roland were among the calmest of the campers and the last to leave the tabernacle. “You boys about ready to head back to the cabin?” he asked, feeling a little anxious to confirm that everyone was safe. 

Russel looked at Roland and said, “Wait another minute and you won’t get any wetter.”

Sure enough, within a matter of seconds, the rain completely stopped. “That’s some good forecasting, Russel,” Glynn commented. “How did you know it would stop?”

“The barometric pressure went back to normal,” the teen answered. “We don’t have a basement at our house so I’ve learned to pay close attention, give us time to run to the neighbor’s shelter.”

Glynn nodded and the three walked calmly back to the cabin. Just before they reached the open grass in front of the cabin, Roland spoke up, catching Glynn slightly by surprise. “You know that’s just the beginning,” he said softly. “We should probably make sure everything around the cabin is tied down. We’re in for a rough night.”

Glynn looked at him not sure whether to believe what the young man was saying. “How do you know?” he asked.

Roland shrugged and Russel answered, “That tends to be the way big storms work. We get a line of low-pressure cells. The first one scares everyone and when it’s gone they think everything’s over. Then, a few hours later, the second one hits without warning. That’s when people get hurt.”

Glynn looked at them with concern. He knew what they said made sense and wondered if anyone else at the campground had the same information. “Okay, can ya’ll help me get the windows covered and everything?”

The boys nodded and the three of them began lowering the covers on the windows and securing them as if they were leaving for the season. They hadn’t been there long enough for there to be much trash lying around but they went ahead and removed some of the clutter the first storm had left around the cabin.

Inside, Glynn discovered that the beds near the windows on the girls’ side of the cabin were all soaked. Joanne suggested that perhaps the girls could switch sides with the boys for the night. The boys both shrugged. 

“Would it be okay if we just pulled our mattresses under the dining tables?” Russel asked. “That’s probably the safer move.”

Glynn looked at Joanne and she nodded her approval. “Go for it, boys. I’ll get my things and join you,” the pastor said

Marve quickly made the decision that Hayden could stay where he was. The storm already had him scared and as much as he enjoyed hanging out with Daddy it was Mommy he wanted when he was frightened. That made it easier for Glynn to move his mattress with Russel and Roland. They moved the mattresses from the dorm to the kitchen, the boys rather excited about the whole thing, and were almost settled in when Glynn heard a commotion outside. Looking out the cabin’s front door, he saw Bing and several pastors gathered in the road a few yards from the cabin. Glynn wasted no time joining them.

“The sheriff isn’t giving us any choice, guys,” Bing was telling them. “Everyone’s saying there’s a line of tornadoes headed right at us. We can’t take any chances. We have to evacuate the camp.”

“How are we going to do that before the storm gets here?” someone asked.

“Four churches have full-sized busses and plenty of room. They’ll keep making trips until we have everyone.”

“Where are we going?” asked another voice in the growing group of pastors. 

Bing seemed impatient that no one was moving to get their campers ready to leave. “Again, we have two separate facilities. Half will go to the city’s civil defense shelter and the other half will go to the Corp of Engineers facility under the dam. Please, though, get your campers ready. They all need to be dressed appropriately when a bus pulls up to your cabin. They can take a pillow or a blanket with them but nothing else. We don’t have room for everyone’s luggage.”

“What order are we evacuating in?” Bing was asked. Glynn recognized Larry Winston’s voice.

“The order that buses get to you,” Bing answered, his voice showing obvious signs of exasperation. “Gentlemen, we need to stop standing around here talking and get busy getting our campers ready! The buses have already left with their first load and will be back for others soon!”

Glynn wasted no time getting back to the cabin. He explained the situation to Marve and Joanne and they began helping the girls get their things together. Russel and Roland had seen the group outside and were already dressed and prepared to go. Glynn was glad that Lita was happy to stay close to Claire so that Marve only had to keep up with Hayden, who didn’t appreciate being awakened. Joanne suggested that the girls quickly pack their things and put their suitcases under the dining room tables. This added to the girls’ anxiety but for Roland especially it became a game to figure out how to get all the suitcases into such a limited space.

The group had finished getting ready and was waiting near the door when it began to rain. Thunder rumbled in the distance, causing a couple of the younger girls to whimper. Sounds from other cabins rushing to get everything together echoed across the campground. Glynn felt relief when the bus from First, Levi pulled up and Max stepped out, motioning for the group to join him.

“We need to hurry,” Max told Glynn as the kids quickly boarded the bus. “They’ve spotted two funnels on the other side of the lake. It’s going to be close getting everyone to safety.”

Glynn instructed the teens to sit as close to each other as possible, three people per seat so that they could fit as many people on the bus as it could possibly hold. The bus slowly moved from cabin to cabin until it was full of people stacked on top of each other, standing in the aisles, and even lying in the luggage racks above the seats. 

The Levi bus had been assigned to take people to the Corp of Engineers facility below the dam, which required first crossing the dam. Strong wind rocked the bus as rain beat down so hard that it sounded like small stones against the metal frame. Fear was palpable but no one was making a sound. The trip took little more than five minutes to make but felt considerably longer. Glynn wondered if everyone else was praying as hard as he was. 

The bus crossed the dam and made a somewhat precarious left turn to maneuver through the gate to a small parking area never intended for vehicles as long as the bus. The Levi church’s youth and music minister, a young man only two years out of college, struggled to turn the bus around in such limited space, his passengers anxiously waiting to disembark. Engineers at the dam were waiting to guide the group down into the cavernous space opposite the massive hydro-electric generators. Teens and counselors were instructed to take a seat along the wall while Glynn and the other pastors waited near the entrance.

The youth minister started to take the bus back for another trip to the camp but was stopped. “It’s too dangerous crossing the dam,” he was told. Everyone else at the camp would have to go to the city’s facility. No one at the dam knew that the city’s facility was already full. Late-arriving campers were instructed to take huddled positions with their heads covered between the town’s fire trucks and throughout the small office adjacent to the building. 

Glynn looked around and realized that Max was the only pastor he knew at all. Most everyone under the damn was from Colquitt Association. As the men stood just outside the doorway, they had a clear view of the large lake that provided power for most of Northeastern Oklahoma. With each lightning flash, the dam’s engineers were watching for signs of funnels and tracking their movement.

“We’ve got two confirmed on the ground,” one of the engineers said. “One at 19 degrees and the second just ahead of it at 24 degrees. Neither looks especially large but they’re kicking up a lot of debris.”

Max walked over to the railing where Glynn was standing. “Times like this make you wonder if God’s trying to send us a message, don’t they?” he asked. “Like, maybe we need to re-examine our motives here.”

“Like maybe I should have stayed in Michigan,” Glynn answered. “The storm earlier was enough. This is all a bit unnerving.” 

Lightning hit nearby, shaking the ground and lighting the sky.

“And there’s number three at 12 degrees moving North by Northeast,” the engineer called out.

“Three tornados?” Glynn questioned. “I didn’t know that was even possible!”

Max chuckled. “This is Oklahoma. Anything’s possible. The number of funnels may actually be a good thing. They’re small, not really capable of doing much damage. They might knock down a tree or two, upend a chicken hutch, but they don’t do a lot of damage.”

“Any chance of them combining into something worse?” Glynn asked. 

“I suppose,” Max answered. “Like I said, this is Oklahoma. You never know what’s going to happen. Each storm is an exercise in trusting God and, unfortunately, there are times when that trust seems misplaced.”

Glynn’s stomach turned as he took in Max’s statement. Trusting God? Sure, he understood that concept well. God’s divine will trumped all of man’s plans and creations. That one’s trust in God’s plan would be misplaced felt wrong but Glynn couldn’t find the words to challenge the concept or ask more questions.

Another lightning strike across the lake brought another declaration from the engineer, “There’s number four at 32 degrees. Man, four funnels in a row! And a fifth one hanging! This is amazing!”

Amazing was not the word that Glynn would have chosen. While the sight was certainly incredible to watch, his concern for everyone’s safety muted his fascination. 

The rain picked back up, sending everyone except the engineer down into the shelter of the dam. Glynn found Marve and the kids and tried to assure them that everything was going to be okay. Marve could tell by the expression on his face, though, that Glynn wasn’t convinced. She smiled at him, knowing that there was nothing any of them could do to make the moment more comfortable. They had already tried praying. Attempts at starting a sing-a-long had failed. The continual hum of the generators blocked most of the outside noise but the concerned response of the engineers and other workers as they ran back and forth was enough to keep everyone on edge.

After another hour, the rain finally let up, the wind gradually died down, and radio conversations between the dam’s supervisor and the county sheriff confirmed that there was no serious damage to the campground or the roads and that everyone could return. By that point, many of the younger teens had fallen asleep on top of each other and everyone was feeling groggy and a little grumpy. It would take the busses three trips each to get everyone back to their cabins and several more minutes to get everyone and everything settled. 

With everyone back at the campground, Bing quickly huddled with both Directors of Missions and the camp’s executive committee (made up of pastors who were present anyway). They decided with little discussion that it was in everyone’s best interest to push the morning schedule back by an hour, dropping one of the two class periods so that everyone could get more rest. Word was quickly distributed to the cabins and pastors and counselors made sure everyone still awake was aware of the change. No one complained.

Morning dawned with heavy fog rolling softly across the campground, slowly burning away as the summer sun came out in full force to dry everything that had been soaked the night before. By noon, only a handful of mudholes remained and afternoon athletic activities were able to go on as normal. Pastors gathered in groups of three and four to discuss how the night’s evacuation might have gone more smoothly but given the limited transportation options no one came up with a better plan. 

No one expected they would have a repeat of the night before. Thirty minutes before the evening tabernacle service the clouds began to roll over the campground. Glynn talked with Marve, Joanne, and Irene and agreed that anyone who wished could stay in the cabin rather than endure the anxiety of being caught in another storm. Only a couple of the youngest teen girls took them up on the offer but they helped keep Lita and Hayden calm and distracted when the wind eventually did start to pick up again. 

Several other cabins had a similar idea and no one cared to sit in the chairs closest to the edge of the tabernacle. The moment it began raining, several ran back to their cabins. When small-sized hail began pelting the tin roof once more, the service was effectively over. The instant the hail stopped, the worship space emptied. Few people other than Glynn and Emmit, who were standing together waiting for a break in the rain, noticed the anger with which Leslie Patterson stormed from the platform and back to his VIP cabin. Even if others had noticed, few would have cared. 

“Two days and a person might make the leap that God has blocked his opportunity to spread his propaganda,” Emmitt remarked. “That has to be rough for someone whose ego is as fragile as Leslie’s.”

“Do you think that’s actually what this is?” Glynn asked, feeling naive and uncertain. Associating God with acts of nature, or blaming him for them, seemed wrong. Only in the most drastic of circumstances had the Old Testament God employed weather as a means of achieving his goal. Jesus had calmed storms, not caused them. 

Emmitt shook his head. “No, I know better, but I’m not sure Leslie does. He’s one of those ‘take the Bible literally’ guys. Probably doesn’t help that they almost forgot to evacuate him last night.”

The surprised expression on Glynn’s face caused Emmitt to laugh. “You have got to be kidding,” Glynn said.

“Nope. They had to send a police car back after him when they realized he wasn’t at either evacuation point,” Emmit explained. 

At the first break, both men ran as quickly as they dared across the wet grass back to their cabins. The dirt roads were little more than muddy creeks at the moment. Darkness seemed to fall across the camp quickly and the rains seemed to be letting up when the tornado sirens sounded once again. This time, there was no question or debate as to what to do. Busses started running quickly. 

Once again the camp was evacuated but without the fear level of the night before. Almost everyone had experienced soft warnings like this and while there was plenty of wind and rain no funnels were ever spotted on the ground. After a couple of humid hours below the damn, everyone was returned to their cabins without any excitement and most of the teens expressing a mixture of boredom and fatigue. Still, the next morning’s schedule was delayed again and by this point, the whole experience felt off-kilter, as though all the fun and excitement had been sucked out of the week.

No one paid any attention when a car arrived to take Dr. back to the airport in Tulsa the next morning. He claimed that an urgent matter had come up in Dallas, but Bing later confirmed that the preacher had been the one to place the call, not the other way around. A pastor from a mid-sized church in Oklahoma City was called in to finish the week. No one seemed to care. Few seemed to pay attention. The week finished with the kind of whimper that caused even the teenagers to question why they had bothered coming. Joanne remarked that she couldn’t remember when a week of camp had been so flat and lifeless. 

By Saturday morning, everyone was anxious to go home. Cars were loaded quickly and Glynn noticed that there wasn’t the usual chatter. Even Claire was quiet. 

They returned back to the church without incident. Parents were hugged, equipment was put away, and empty promises of, “see you tomorrow” were made. Normally, Sunday’s evening service would have been given over to campers to share about their experience. Glynn overheard a group of girls expressing their reluctance, a couple saying they probably wouldn’t show up. After asking everyone individually, he decided that they would skip the tradition for this year. The kids were visibly relieved. 

This allowed Sunday to pass quietly. Two days of rain early in the week meant farmers were all taking advantage of the dry weather. Several other members were on vacation. Glynn was moderately concerned about the church’s finances but Iris assured him they had sufficient surplus to make sure everything was paid. Glynn was happy to go home and take a nap. This had not been the week he had anticipated and was not one he cared to repeat.


Chapter 22

Carol Stanley died. Edith Wilson called Glynn from the hospital Tuesday morning to let him know that her daughter’s condition had worsened. He rushed to Tulsa and spent the night praying with and attempting to comfort Edith and her family. He stayed with them when the young mother took her last breath. He held her children in his arms as they cried. He placed the difficult call to Hub and was still there to help him load the body into the hearse a couple of hours later after the family had returned to Adelbert.

For Edith and the rest of Carol’s family, this outcome wasn’t a surprise. For the past two weeks, doctors had expressed little hope of her ever recovering. There was no meaningful brain activity. As a result, funeral arrangements were already decided upon. The service would be Friday afternoon at 2:00 in the funeral home chapel. Glynn had politely offered the church sanctuary but Edith had turned him down. 

“She wasn’t a member there,” the grieving mother said. “There were too many who didn’t want her there. They still have to answer to God for their part in this. The chapel will be fine.” She asked Glynn to officiate and Richard to sing a couple of songs, but she chose men from the extended family for pallbearers and specifically asked that Glynn not mention the service at Wednesday’s prayer meeting.

The service was hardly attended by anyone outside the extended family, though there were enough of them to fill a quarter of the small chapel. A handful of Carol’s former co-workers from Washataug came over as did a smattering of former members of Grace church. Her former husband was nowhere to be seen, though. If he had even stopped by the funeral home to pay last respects he had managed to do so without Hub or Rose noticing and he hadn’t signed the guest book. Enough tears were shed to be appropriately respectful but by now the family had grown weary of crying. While they would have rather she recovered, Carol’s death was, in its own way, a relief. They could pick up the pieces and continue with their lives. By the time the graveside portion of the service was complete, the children were fidgety, ready to change clothes and play. Edith slipped Glynn a twenty-dollar bill and said that she and the kids would probably see him in a couple of weeks. 

Glynn drove home quietly after the service, gave Marve a hug, and settled back in his recliner to read the day’s newspaper. The Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the death sentence was causing an uproar among state politicians. County roads were set to receive a new covering of gravel. Planning was underway for a new, higher capacity grain silo in Washataug. The pastor could feel his eyes begin to close. 

The newspaper had fallen onto his chest and he was seconds away from sound sleep when Glynn felt a soft tug on his shirt sleeve. “Daddy, are you awake?”

Glynn opened his eyes to see Lita standing there, her light brown hair still partially pressed to her face from having just woken from her nap. Her soft blue eyes looking up at him were something he had not been able to resist from the moment she was born. He smiled. “Sure, baby girl. What do you need?”

She climbed up into her father’s lap and laid her head on his chest before asking, “What happens when we die?”

He had wondered when these questions would begin. Lita was a sharp-minded person who caught onto things quickly. Despite a misdiagnosed reading issue, she had finished fourth grade with straight A’s in all her subjects. Not much escaped her gaze but she preferred to find most answers for herself, spending a lot of time in front of the encyclopedias that were purchased before she could read. Glynn knew that how he answered her question would affect her frame of reference on matters both spiritual and biological possibly for the rest of her life. He suddenly felt very nervous and unprepared.

“Well, if we love Jesus…” he started.

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” Lita said, cutting him off. “I know the stuff about Jesus and Heaven and all that. But what is it like to die? What happens to our brains?”

Now Glynn was truly stumped. A spiritual answer was something he might have managed to get through relatively well. A biological answer was beyond his grasp of knowledge. Fortunately for him, the pause gave Lita time to fill in her own perspective.

“We learned in school that people are made of carbon. Carbon is matter. Matter is energy. So, people are made of energy,” she said, surprising Glynn with her matter-of-fact attitude. “But energy doesn’t die, it transitions from one form to another. So, if energy doesn’t die and people are made of energy then how can people die? It doesn’t make sense.”

Glynn opened his mouth to answer but no words were coming out. He felt his brain go blank. Science had never been his best subject even when he was in school. Trying to remember any of it now was proving to be painful. He needed to answer without sounding stupid or giving her false information. 

“You know, Dad, you should probably brush your teeth more often,” Lita said as she gazed up into her father’s open mouth. “I can still see part of your salad stuck in your teeth.”

“Yes, you are correct,” he answered, happy for the change of subject. “I definitely should brush my teeth more often. Maybe you could help remind me?”

The child sat up in his lap and gazed out the front window. “If I were you, I think I would just take them out and brush them while I’m in the shower,” she said. “That’s what makes the most sense. Why can you take out your teeth and I can’t?”

“Because Daddy didn’t take good care of his teeth when he was your age,” Glynn said, feeling self-conscious and embarrassed by the dentures he’d had since he was 25. When Lita was younger, she would laugh when he would push his tongue against the roof of his mouth and cause his top teeth to push forward. That didn’t seem terribly appropriate for this moment, though.

Lita sighed. “Yeah, I guess life was really rough back in the olden days, wasn’t it?” she asked. She squirmed around so that her body was directly on top of his, looking up at the ceiling. “I’m glad you survived all those plagues.”

This piqued Glynn’s curiosity. Just how old did his daughter think he was? “What plague are you talking about?”

“You know, the Black Plague and the dust bowl and smallpox. We read about them in Social Studies,” she answered. She was fully awake now and couldn’t help but fidget, her arms stretched out toward the ceiling, her fingers intertwined and curving around to make various shapes.

“That was all before I was born,” Glynn said. “I’m not that old.”

“I know,” Lita shot back as she sat up again. “You’re not as old as Mrs. Wallace. She’s really old and could probably die any day now. You may have to do her funeral next.”

Glynn had to think quickly as to who Mrs. Wallace was and whether she was a church member. She wasn’t, as far as he could remember. “Is Mrs. Wallace sick?” he asked.

“I dunno,” Lita said. “She has these big brown spots on her hands, though, and that can’t be good. I think her skin has been out in the sun too long and she’s probably starting to mold.”

Glynn laughed at the image he got from Lita’s description of the elementary school’s receptionist/secretary. “People don’t mold, silly,” he said, “Though I do know some who are spoiled.” He playfully poked at his daughter’s ribs and she giggled as she squirmed.

“Daddy!” she exclaimed. “I’m not spoiled! Hayden’s the one that’s spoiled. Mommy shouldn’t give him so much food. He’s going to get fat, like you.” She paused for just a beat then added, “Daddy, you’re not going to die, are you?”

The moment suddenly turned sober as the conversation was once again serious. “I will one day,” Glynn said quietly. “We all will one day. That’s not something we control. I hope I live for a very long time but that’s up to God, not me.”

“Maybe God has one of those calendars with all the lines on it like Mr. Hiddleman has on his desk,” Lita expounded as she hopped down from Glynn’s lap. “One side tells him when people are supposed to be born and the other tells him when people are supposed to die. Only, you’re not going to die because I’m going to erase your name from the calendar.”

“I don’t think that’s the way it works,” Glynn said, amused at her perspective. He wondered how long it would be before her philosophy of life was too deep for him to keep up with her.

“I know,” she said as she wandered toward the window. “People can’t really die because we’re energy. We transition. I’m going to transition into a star because they live millions of years and then become black holes. Hayden’s probably going to transition into a dragon, but not today. Dragon’s have to be able to tie their own shoes. Can I see if Karrie can come out and play?”

Glynn smiled, simultaneously thankful and sad that their conversation was apparently over. Lita didn’t give him many moments like this and he cherished each one, even if answering her questions was becoming dramatically more difficult. “Sure, just be careful. It’s pretty hot outside.”

“Yeah, that’s okay,” the child said as she bounced toward the door. “We’ll just play school in the shade and make up the answers we don’t know. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it works.”

Glynn watched out the window as Lita bounded down the porch steps and took off toward the neighbor’s house. Lita would be turning ten next month. His little girl was growing up and he didn’t particularly like that part. Soon enough there would be boys and puberty to deal with. He wasn’t ready.

Marve walked in from the bedroom and saw Glynn standing at the window. “What’s so interesting?” she asked.

“Oh, just watching our little girl grow up and become smarter than me,” he said. 

Marve walked over and put her arm around her husband. “I’ve got bad news for you. She was smarter than us five minutes after she learned to read. We’re both doomed to complete ignorance by the time she’s 13.”

Glynn looked at his wife and kissed her. “At least I have you to keep me company.”

Marve hugged him a little tighter. “Yeah, about that. I’ve been thinking about maybe going back to school, working on my Masters. Hayden starts school this fall. I’ll have the time.”

Glynn returned the hug but continued gazing out the window. “Sure, make me the dumb one in the family. No one likes a smart preacher anyway.”

They laughed together, thankful for the moment yet both dreading the days to come.

Reading time: 35 min
Another Tuesday In Another Coffee Shop

Ed. Note: This is it! This is the last installment for the main part of the story that now simply has to be turned into a book somehow. Next week I’ll add an epilogue so you’ll know how everything turned out with your favorite characters. If you’re like me, you’ve likely become a bit attached to a few of them. Just letting everyone go off into an unknown horizon doesn’t quite provide enough closure.

After that, I’m going to take some time on some single topic pieces while I edit this mess. There have been a number of interesting sciency things the past 19 weeks so I want to take some time to explore those.

Eventually, there’s another story brewing in my head centered around a group of pastors I knew while growing up. Interesting group of characters they turned out to be. I’ll make fiction of everything, of course. No real names. I think all the original players are deceased now anyway. So we’ll start that up maybe in December or something.

Thank you for taking the time to hang with me and read all this. I know I’ve had fun. Maybe I’m the only one who has. But thanks to those who have stuck with the whole story. Now, let’s finish this thing up.


One More Mountain

Rain fell all night, varying in intensity but never to the extreme that it had earlier. With the rain came additional shifting at the other end of the building. One tremor was large enough that Natalie and Darrell were pretty sure that their apartment was now rubble but neither of them wanted to go outside to check. There was a common resignation that this situation was what the universe had given them and there was no point in objecting. They were keenly aware that there were so many others, including the original residents of the apartment they occupied, who had not made it this far. No one was going to complain now about something relatively insignificant as the loss of a few clothes. 

The group had enjoyed the personal revelations that had come with playing Never Could I Ever. Not only did Hannah reveal that she had driven a car naked when she was younger, but she had also chased chickens across a cow pasture and gotten knocked over backward when firing a shotgun. The sometimes intimate looks into their previous lives bonded the group together even more than the day’s tragedies had done. They were friends who had saved each other’s lives and finding that the more they shared the deeper those relationships became.

Everyone had a story. Barry told of the time he had gotten stuck in the doorway of a city bus, requiring first responders to come and un-wedge him before the bus could continue. Toma told of a time when, as a young teen, she pretended to not speak English so that a kindly shop owner would give her free ice cream. Amanda related an incident where she had embarrassed her husband by serving roast beef to a client visiting from India. Natalie recalled an interview where she called the CEO of what was now a major high-tech firm by the wrong name for the full interview—an error he never bothered to correct even when they met again after he was famous.

Framed in the innocence of self-deprecating humor, no one had judged Carlson admitted that he hadn’t always told his wife when he was traveling with an attractive co-worker because his wife was jealous of the co-worker’s red hair. Neither did anyone degrade Gloria when she admitted to being homeless between semesters and stealing food in order to say alive. Everyone laughed with the way Darrell told of getting arrested for filming skateboard stunts on private property after he had broken his arm and collar bone and was in the hospital. 

The group agreed that Adam’s stories of being wild and raucous in the 1960s were the best. Gwen was voted most innocent and it didn’t take long for everyone to notice that it was rare for Miranda to not raise her hand, especially if the topic involved sex. Under this umbrella of shared adversity, no one criticized anyone else for momentary lapses in judgment. No one condemned anyone else for holding a morality different than the generally accepted norm. Instead, they gave each other hugs, provided encouragement after stories of failure, and claimed each other as family. They barely noticed that Amber remained by the glass door keeping watch. When they did, she reassured them that all was well and they continued playing.

Eventually, one by one, they gave into the day’s fatigue and fell asleep. Only Adam was still awake when Amber carefully slipped out onto the balcony. He quietly got up from his chair and joined her.

“How you holding up there, big guy?” Amber asked as Adam shut the glass door behind him. 

“Eh, feeling the effects of no medicine,” he said, “but since I know nothing’s coming I’m taking precautions, getting up and moving around, avoiding the snacks Amanda seems to keep finding.” He paused for a moment then asked, “You’re still doing that thing you always do, aren’t you? Watching out for everyone else, keeping us all safe?”

Amber nodded. “It’s instinctive at this point. We’ve had a day where just about everything that could possibly go wrong has and you know as well as I do that shitstorms like this don’t just dry up and blow away. There’s more coming, I’m afraid.”

Adam followed Amber’s gaze into the cold blackness of the rainy night. “Are we all going to make it?” he asked quietly. “I won’t be upset if this is the end, you know. I’ve had a long and interesting journey.”

Turning around and smiling, Amber looked at Adam and said, “You still miss her, don’t you?” She reached over and wiped away the tear on his cheek. “It’s impossible not to, I know. She was an amazing person and an unbelievable partner.”

“I’ve thought about her so much today,” he replied. “Had they just left me in that coffee shop, perhaps I could be with her now. I’d be okay with that. The world is going to be different after today. I’m not sure there’s any place left for me now.”

Amber stepped to his side and put her arm around him, pulling him in close to her. “The fact that they didn’t leave you or Hannah or anyone else shows that there is a place for you. This changed world needs the wisdom of your experience, the lessons you’ve learned from your mistakes, the things you wish you’d done differently. You can help make this world better by helping us avoid repeating the same stupid errors. Besides, I happen to have it on good authority that your name isn’t on anyone’s list at the moment. I’m afraid you’re just stuck here with me.” She squeezed him again and smiled.

At first, Adam found her words comforting, then pieces between the lines became evident. “Wait, you’re telling me there’s a list?” he asked. “We’re not all going to make it?”

Amber smiled. “Nothing is ever final until it happens, you know that,” she answered. “I’ll do what I can, but there’s a limit and I’m not sure I can keep everyone together. There will be some decisions made later today and the consequences of those decisions are not something I can undo.” She paused for a while, then added. “The good news is I’m pretty sure Nature’s done throwing her tantrum. She’ll want to do some cleanup but that will come later.”

“So, where’s this trouble coming from that’s got you all worked up. I can feel your muscles flexing and relaxing. You’re anxious. It’s like you’re sitting in a foxhole waiting for the enemy to make a move.” 

“Upstream quite aways,” Amber said. “I heard a commotion about an hour ago, something that sounded a lot like gunfire. Still a few miles away that point.”

“Looters?” Adam asked.

“Or gangs,” Amber replied.

Adam felt his stomach turn. The day’s events to this point had been the type of thing no one could avoid. Nature would do her own thing and everyone else would have to go along with it. Person-to-person violence was a choice, though, one Adam had experienced far too often. He had lost too many friends because someone else made a stupid decision That it might happen again was sickening. He sighed. “I should probably try and get some rest then, shouldn’t I?”

Amber nodded and hugged him again. “Just try to not go comatose on me, okay? I don’t have the stuff to revive you again.”

“You know, there’s an old hymn …” he started.

“Go take your nap, old man,” Amber interrupted, laughing. She was relieved to see Adam smile before he turned and sauntered back inside the apartment. Perhaps she had told him too much, admitting that there was a list, that there was a chance not all of them would make it. Yet, of all those in the group, she knew Adam could handle that information responsibly.

There was the sound of a flutter of cloth and the gentle thud of something landing on the balcony behind her. Amber turned around fully expecting Djali to have returned. Instead, it was the raven-haired angel, Destefana, one of Michael’s charges. Amber relaxed her fists and smiled. “It has been a long time, sister,” she said. “I was expecting that creep Djali to be trying to stake a claim.”

“Oh, he’s been trying all night,” Destefana said. “At the moment, he’s trying to undo himself from a tangle of thorns that seems to have mysteriously trapped him on the other side of the street.” She smiled knowingly, the kind of smile that would have sent chills up the backs of most mortals.

Amber laughed at the thought of the minor demon struggling against thorns that blocked his every move. “I’m sure he’s only getting what he deserves. He’s been hanging around here all day. Although, seeing you here isn’t exactly good news, either, is it?”

“Is it ever?” asked the angel. “I just dropped in a couple of minutes early to say hi. I’ll be taking your friend Hannah with me, I’m afraid.”

Amber turned and looked into the nearly dark apartment. “Poor Gloria, she’ll be devastated.”

Destefana followed Amber’s gaze. “I suppose, but for Hannah, it’s a relief. Today’s been exhausting both physically and emotionally. She got to see her granddaughter laugh, tell a few more tales, and feels good about the future. She leaves smiling if she goes now. That may not be the case later.”

Looking back out into the night, Amber asked, “How bad is it?”

“Were this a normal day, your police would have stopped the whole thing by now with no one getting hurt. As it is, you’ve got an entire phalanx of protectors about half a mile upstream and Michael’s sending backup now.” Destefana paused, turned and took Amber’s hands in her own. “At no time will you be alone. Your armor protects you so fight fiercely and bravely. The people you protect are more important today than they could have possibly imagined themselves yesterday. They are brave but they are not invincible,” she paused and looked toward the apartment, “and a couple of them are not especially bright.”

Amber giggled. “Don’t you say that about most mortals?”

Destefana shrugged and pulled Amber into a hug that felt like being wrapped in a blanket of sunshine and hope. “I have to go, sister. The power of love be with you.”

“And also with you,” Amber replied softly.

The angel disappeared and in the next second Amber felt a soft breeze blow across her face. “Godspeed, Hannah,” she said softly.


Preparing To Lead

Seven hours after being locked into the SitRoom with Will and Katy and Roger, along with a number of aides and interns, the chatter had finally died down. Norma looked at her watch and realized she had not only been awake but moving from one event to another for well over 24 hours. Food had been limited. Rest had been non-existent and it showed. The dark circles under her eyes looked as though someone had misapplied her makeup to disastrously resemble the look from a fashion runway of the mid-2000s. Her light brunette hair, normally well-styled and coiffed each morning by her personal stylist, looked more like a disheveled haystack in which children had played. Her gray Prince of Wales checked suit was wrinkled. She neither looked nor felt like a president. 

Norma looked to her left and Katy wasn’t faring any better. Katy was a fitness buff who frequently could be seen walking the halls of Congress with a water bottle in her hand. Somewhere through the days’ activities, she had lost the water bottle and the jacket to her pink Marc Jacobs suit. Her leg was subconsciously bouncing non-stop, using energy she didn’t have to spare. Her usually well-manicured nails had been bitten down to stubs. The day’s excitement was now nothing more than exhaustion. She considered how frequently Chiefs of Staff had resigned mid-term in previous administrations and felt she was beginning to understand why. If every day was going to be this intense, and it certainly seemed for the moment that they might, she knew it would only be a few months before she would burn out completely. 

Roger didn’t wear his worry and anxiety any better than the President. He worried not only that the White House had likely been destroyed, but also that much of the country’s defense infrastructure had likely been put out of commission, at least for the short term. He had been aware that the severe weather was having a global effect but didn’t know to what extent Russia or China might still have sufficient troops and weapons capability to reach them. Perhaps even worse, Roger realized that with communications down, stopping terrorists was almost impossible. The only positive thought was that the situation also made it impossible for any large-scale attack to be sufficiently coordinated. 

Will had managed to calm himself enough earlier in the evening to nap for about 30 minutes. Only the interns closest to him noticed and they knew better than to say anything. Will’s approach to everything tended to be more pragmatic than most people’s. His philosophy was that there was no point worry over anything that couldn’t be controlled and the storm that was dismantling the District of Columbia at the moment wasn’t something that could be controlled. They were safe. He had to be thankful for that despite knowing that his wife and two daughters were likely caught off guard and could possibly be victims of the killer storm. He sat at the table now mentally devising a plan for how the government and the city would have to be pieced back together. Will desperately hoped that perhaps the storm had knocked some of the partisanship out of the survivors and that they would be able to move quickly, but at the same time, he knew there were too many in Washington who enjoyed a good fight and would never let a bill pass without opposition of some kind.

Norma looked at the various emotions on the young faces around the room. Most were as exhausted as anyone else. She knew her own interns were typically up an hour or two before she was, preparing briefings of international events and the day’s agenda long before she usually got out of bed. They were constantly pushed to do more, given responsibility for tasks they were ill-equipped to complete, and severely demeaned and punished when they failed to complete them to someone’s satisfaction. Some were obviously worried, biting at nails, twirling hair, anxiously re-organizing the contents of purses, messenger bags, and briefcases for the 30th time or more. Others were frightened, huddled on the floor in some variation of a fetal position, still not convinced they were as safe as Roger had assured them they were.

“We’re going to have so much work to do when we leave here,” Norma said to no one in particular. “There is no precedent, even after the Civil War, for rebuilding after a disaster of this magnitude.”

“The first thing we’ll have to deal with is shock,” Roger said as he wiped his hands across his eyes. “No one’s ever seen anything like this. They’re not going to believe how that places and things that have existed for their entire lives are now gone or forever altered. The security of a place, a home, the landmarks with which we identify is gone.”

Will sat forward and folded his hands together as he leaned on the table. “They’re going to be scared,” he said quietly. “Where will they find food? Are their families safe? How will they rebuild their lives if everything is gone? They’re going to be asking a lot of critical questions and they’re going to be looking to us for the answers.”

Norma reached over and touched Will on the arm. “I know this isn’t protocol, but I don’t want you to be an inactive vice president, Will. I need you right by my side. In all the chaos and confusion we’re about to face, I need you to help make sure we maintain the rule of law; compassionately, to be sure, but after all the lying and corruption of the past few generations, this is our chance to re-align ourselves and the country with the law, even if we have to change laws to do it.”

Will nodded in agreement.

Katy listened nervously, wishing she could crawl beneath something and hide. “People are going to be angry,” she said. “There’s no agency in Washington that has a public approval rating above 30. They’re going to look at everything that’s gone wrong the past 24 hours and blame us. They’ll want to know how we managed to fuck up this bad. It won’t matter that the people in charge now had nothing to do with it. The anger is directed at the government and we are now the government. They’re not going to like us and they’re not going to trust us. They’ll want answers we don’t have.”

“We’ll need to roll out some form of emergency aid,” Norma said. “If we have anything left to give.”

Will and Roger started to speak at the same time and Will nodded for Roger to go first.

“Food and water are the most critical,” Roger said, “And every state has disaster preparedness stores capable of addressing the needs of that state for about a week. Our larger cities have additional resources on top of that. The first question we’re going to need answered is how well those stores weathered the storm. Those facilities were designed to handle moderate disasters, like a hurricane or tornado, not multiples of everything all at once.”

“We’re going to need to complete overhaul economic policy as well,” Will said. “People need to go back to work to make money to rebuild their lives. Insurance companies aren’t going to be able to handle this hit. We’re going to need complete debt forgiveness, wipe the slate clean for everyone so that they can all start over. Provide no-interest loans to employers so they can get facilities back up and running as soon as possible. Large-scale grants not only to large cities but the small ones who were probably all-but eliminated.”

“Complete debt forgiveness?” Norma asked. “I’m progressive, Will, but that’s a bit much even for me. How do you plan to sell that one.”

“Madam President,” the Vice President began, “where none of the things for which that debt was incurred still exists the debt becomes an unnecessary burden to rebuilding. Companies and individuals have no choice but to take on new debt before they can start putting things back together.” He paused and gestured at the ceiling. “We’re going to need new debt to repair and rebuild the White House. Imagine if you had to pay for that out of your own pocket when you don’t even have a job. Our nation depends on a tax base of financially secure citizens. If we saddle them with their previous debt we’re not going to have that.”

Norma nodded, admitting that Will’s argument was compelling. Getting such a bill through Congress would be difficult and banks would almost certainly fight back hard, but she knew his point was valid. She sighed, paused, then said, “We’re going to need to plan funerals, and they’re going to be touchy.”

“The whole nation is going to be in mourning,” Roger said grimly. “At this point, we don’t even have a grasp of how severe the loss is, but we know it’s significant.”

Katy leaned on the table and drew abstract patterns with her finger. “I think the state funerals are highly symbolic. The nation has suffered a very deep and personal loss. It’s not about whether anyone liked or didn’t like President Blackstone or Vice President Abernathy. Those two funerals become representative of every person who has died today. This isn’t just about patriotism and fallen leaders, this is personal. We’re mourning our own lives, our lifestyle, and all the people connected to them. We can’t make either funeral celebrations of the persons, they have to be the focal point for the mourning of a country.”

The emotion behind realizing how humongous the loss was, became clear as she talked and a tear rolled down Katy’s cheek. Norma reached over and took Katy’s hand. “Where we mourn can also become a point for healing to begin,” the President said. “We may have to rewrite some protocol here as well. I have a feeling we’re going to be writing new protocols just about everywhere over the next several days. I’m so completely overwhelmed by the size of this challenge I hardly know where to begin. We get food and water, get electricity restored, and then we plan state funerals that mourn the passing of an old country and the beginning of a new era, with a pledge to rebuild stronger, better, and more equal than ever before.”

Will smiled. “You sound like you’re already running for re-election, Madam President.”

Norma glanced at Katy and winked, then said to Will, “If we do a good job, the people won’t give us any choice but to run will they?”

The conversation at the table had caused the interns and aides to stir, most of them sitting up and taking notice at talk of the President running for election. Some stood and stretched, others tried twisting the kinks out of their compressed spines.

Roger looked up at the ceiling and then at the door. “You know, I’ve not heard or felt anything in a couple of hours now. Perhaps its time to break the seal on the door.”

Will cocked his head to the side and tried to listen for any sound then remembered where they were and realized any sound he heard down here would have to be significantly large. “We’re in a subbasement,” Will said. “You don’t think the room is going to fill with water if you open the door?”

“Meh, maybe a little,” Roger admitted, “but draining was built into the design. It’s not fast, and not designed to be complete, but there should only be a few inches of water, not a few feet.”

“What do you think, Madam President?” Will asked, catching Norma slightly off guard. 

Norma looked around the room at the young faces eagerly awaiting her response. None of them were excited. They were scared and anxious, unsure of what might happen next, of what they would find on the outside. “Okay,” she said, attempting to smooth the wrinkles from her suit jacket, “let’s give it a try. We can’t move forward if all we do is sit on our asses.” 

Norma stood and everyone else in the room immediately stood along with her. “Go ahead, Roger, lead the way.”


Killer Reality

Across East Executive Avenue from the White House, the secure basement of the Treasury building was in the dark. Generators powering the basement had failed in the middle of the night, not only leaving them without any light, but also opening the magnetic locks on the cells holding those the Secret Service had been questioning. Agents standing near the door knew this meant they would be mixing with everyone else in the basement and that, with only a couple of notable exceptions, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

No one was in any hurry to leave, though. As the lights went out, the basement shook. Unlike the White House, the whole basement wasn’t soundproof. Only interrogation rooms had been outfitted with that option. There was little question as to how serious the storm was above them. Massive claps of thunder repeatedly shook the ground. Sounds of metal bending and screaming were eery and frightening. Not everyone in the room was convinced that it was as secure as claimed and expected the ceiling to be removed at any moment.

Hours passed. Conversations dwindled. People went from standing around anxiously to sitting on the floor, huddled together like so many small children during an active shooter drill. Some made new friends. A couple of new romances blossomed. In the dark, however, most preferred to stay where they were, keep to themselves, and wait, hoping that the storm wouldn’t last forever, which it seemed to be doing. 

Time ceased having any meeting. No one’s cell phone had any remaining power. Battery-powered smartwatches had died. More traditional digital watches had stopped working when the test failed. The few older people who still had analog watches couldn’t see them in the dark. The sounds of the storm rolled through in waves, taking time with them. Just as it seemed as though there might be an end, another burst of thunder and wind would arrive.

Those whose nature was to investigate everything noticed that with each iteration, the sounds of metal, glass, and concrete being ripped and broken diminished. By the time the last burst of fury passed, only the storm was heard. Agents and others took this to mean that there was little if any building left above them. Had they been able to see who they were talking to, perhaps they would have come up with a plan for what to do when the door was finally open. They couldn’t, though, and Treasury employees were inherently suspicious of things that were not obvious. 

Only after the silence had persisted for what felt like a second eternity did the Secret Service agents finally decide to risk opening the door. Their plan wasn’t complicated. Two would stand at the bottom of the stairs to make sure the departure remained orderly. The other two would stand at the top and try to identify those who were being held for criminal investigation and detain them, though they were unsure exactly where they would be detained.

The most senior agent made the announcement everyone had wanted to hear. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to begin the departure process. There are three sets of doors to be opened. Please stay where you are until all the doors are checked and we are certain that it is safe to leave this facility.”

There were a few cheers, but most of the response was concerned with whether it was actually safe to leave. Were the storms over or was this just an eye-of-the-hurricane type of intermission? They all stood, talking with whoever was close, waiting to see what would happen next.

Agents warned those closest to them that there might be water on the other side of the door. Those closest tried to move back but the pressure of those behind them allowed little space for retreat. 

The first door opened to more darkness. The barriers had held and the stairs were dry. When the second door was opened, however, gathered water rushed down the stairs and across the basement floor, catching many by surprise. There wasn’t a lot of water, just enough to soak everyone’s shoes, eliciting grumbles from those who had paid too much for footwear that could do nothing to help them at the moment.

What the agents opening the door saw was something more bothersome. The third door wasn’t there. After the second door, nothing was above them but a menacingly gray sky. Strange odors of distressed metals and petroleum products and burnt rubber filled the air chilled by a stiff wind that had nothing to challenge its movement. Feeling a sense of unease, both agents drew their service weapons, not having any idea who or what to expect as they emerged from the basement. As they climbed above the base floor, the scene before them was so horrific that they rushed back down the stairs. Agents whispered quietly among themselves and then gave everyone else a fearful warning.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to go ahead an let those who wish to leave to do so. However, be aware that there is nothing remaining above us. The Treasury building is gone. The Assets Regulatory Board is gone. All the shops and restaurants across 15th street are gone.” He paused a moment, not sure how the crowd would respond to the next statement. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he started, a lump in his throat making it difficult to speak as he tried to hold back his own emotion. “The White House is gone.”

Across the basement, there were screams and cries of disbelief. Under no reasonable circumstances would anyone have believed that the entire White House would be wiped off the planet, but it had.

The agent continued, “Obviously, we don’t know if the President or any of the White House staff survived. We know there was secure space available and assume that they utilized that space sufficiently.” He took a deep breath, wiping the tears from his eyes. “If you wish to leave, you are free to do so. If you wish to go up the stairs and look around then return, you are free to do so. The Secret Service agents will remain here, on duty, until we are relieved by the appropriate authority. This is a safe space and at this point, we don’t know how many places remained intact. You are free to return here at any time until authorities determine otherwise. If you choose to exit, please use extreme caution. Assume that everything you see is contaminated. Don’t touch metals or glass, especially, if you can avoid it. You are free to go.”

The survivors debated among themselves whether it made any sense to leave the basement or not. Many sat on the wet floor and cried. Knowing that everything, including the White House, had been destroyed brought a level of devastation both physical and emotional. Realization of so many hundreds of lives lost, friends and family whose existence was now brought into question, left several to weak to move.

Those who did choose to explore the outside could not have imagined the post-apocalyptic scene that awaited them at the top of the stairs. Even before they completely emerged from the basement it was obvious that the landscape had been virtually wiped clean of any reliable structure. For as far as anyone could see in any direction there was nothing but rubble and waste and flooding. 

The White House grounds were littered with pieces of metal and wood, sheetrock and insulation, crushed blocks of marble and mangled remains of statues from all over the city that had been picked up and randomly deposited on the once-pristine grounds. To their south, the White House Visitor Center, the Commerce Department Child Development Center and, most ironically, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were all gone.

In the back cell at the rear of the basement, Tasha took Gloria’s hand. “Come on,” she whispered, “We many not escape but I have to have a look.”

“They’re not going to let you go,” Gloria warned. “Of all the people here, you’re the most recognizable.”

“I know,” the former first lady said, “but I have to see this for myself. The White House is the most secure building in the world. I can’t believe that the entire thing is gone.”

The two women slipped out the cell door and started toward the stairs. Ann, Tracy, Charlotte, and the two wired Secret Service agents waited a few seconds and then followed. While none of them expected the two agents at the top of the stairs to willingly let them leave, no one was willing to trust what either of the women might do.

Tasha paid no attention to who was behind her as she climbed the stairs. She didn’t really care at this point. Spending hours in the darkness listening to the storms above them had shaken her resolve. Had agents been able to interrogate her at that moment, she likely would have confessed to everything she had done and possibly even some things she hadn’t. She was feeling more frightened and desperate than at any other time in her life.

She didn’t want to believe the tale the agent had told. Tasha couldn’t conceive of a city that had been laid bare after it had been built of limestone and marble reinforced by concrete and steel. She was convinced that the agent was exaggerating and only seeing for herself would convince her otherwise.

None of the women could have been prepared for what they saw as they emerged from the stairwell. The two agents immediately recognized Tasha and stood to block her exit, but she never made it that far. As soon as her head cleared floor level, she was able to see that, if anything, the agents had understated the extent of destruction across the city. Not only was the White House gone, so was the even larger Eisenhower Executive Office Building and all the federal buildings and moments beyond that. There was nothing standing between them and the horizon. 

The sight was more than Tasha could stand. She covered her face with her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Gloria put her arms on Tasha’s shoulders, attempting to comfort her while still trying to accept the reality for herself. Grief-stricken, Tasha collapsed, falling backward against Gloria. The attorney wasn’t prepared to balance bother herself and Tasha’s weight on the stairs and they both began to fall, tumbling into the women behind them, Ann and Tracy caught Gloria and helped her back to her feet. Gloria recognized Ann and instinctively knew that nothing they had said in the basement was secret. 

Charlotte and the two wired agents thought they had Tasha. They stopped her roll and were in the process of helping her to stand back up. Tasha recognized Charlotte and was startled, causing her to slip on the wet concrete. As Tasha slipped, one of the agents lost her footing, causing her to let go. The former first lady began to tumble again. This time, there was no one behind her to stop her fall. She hit the landing with a thud and didn’t move.

Of course, everyone rushed to Tasha’s aid. Personal animosities aside, none of the persons assembled wanted her to die. They would have much rather she lived to explain things and then be put to trial for her crimes. There was nothing they could do. Tasha’s neck had snapped on the third step down. The remained of the fall only added cuts and bruises that would have looked horrible had there been anyone with a camera to record the scene. There wasn’t. Tasha Blackstone was as dead as her husband. 

Word quickly spread through the basement that the former First Lady had died from the shock of the devastation, which, in part, was true even if it was a little more forgiving than what she deserved. In moments like this, there are few bad guys. Human nature leads us to look for the redeemable qualities of a person’s life once that life has ended and those redeemable qualities no longer really matter. No one wants to speak ill of the dead even if ill was all there ever was.

In the confusion and melee that followed, Gloria slipped away. Ann might have seen her but if she did she didn’t care. The Secret Service Agents might have known what was happening but they were not immune to the emotions any more than any other person who spent the night in the dark basement. There was no one who cared about anything other than the death of Tasha Blackstone. 

In that moment, leaving the basement hardly seemed like an intelligent choice. Those who remained chose to stay until a more stable situation presented itself. 


Rescued

Marine Staff Seargent Gary Willis and Corporal Patrick Wu were in the front seat leading a 20-member search and rescue team. They were soaked, muddy, and each would have sold the other for a reasonably fresh cup of coffee. Orders had come down the night before to head toward a set of top-secret coordinates in the middle of Virginia. Finding enough operational vehicles to carry the team had been the first challenge. Batteries had to be replaced. Radios still weren’t working so team members had to be quickly trained in the use of hand signals normally reserved for combat situations. Vehicles were loaded with emergency medical supplies, food, and fresh water, in addition to ropes and pulleys and climbing gear.

From the outset, the team’s orders were limited to rescue operations, not recovery. That they would find deceased remains was a given and appropriate protective gear was issue to avoid contact with possibly contaminated human tissue. Emphasis was on rescuing human personnel. No equipment or data was to be removed from the site. This was going to be an emotionally difficult trip, so a mental health professional was added to the team.

They were all set to leave when the first wave of the storm hit. As secure as the Marine Corps base at Quantico was, it was no match for the severity of storms coming at them from both east and west. Everything above ground was flattened. Thousands of lives were lost. The impulse of the team was to stay and help with rescue and recovery there or in the area. The acting base commander was emphatic, however, that they follow orders. He expressed urgency that any remaining personnel at the location be extracted as quickly as possible. To underscore the important, the General added that their rescue was a matter of “grave national security.” They were to bring back whoever they could find, no matter what.

Making their way westward across Virginia had been an experience not covered by any of their training. Entire towns had been flattened. Huge chunks of roads were missing. Bridges were out. Flooding was severe and frequent. The area was still battered with hurricane-force winds from the east and tornadoes circling the regions from the west. With each challenge, the team would take shelter, weather the storm, repair damage to their vehicles, and move forward.

By the time they reached what calculations said was supposed to be their destination, daylight was creeping over the horizon. There still was no sun but even cloudy light was better than none at all. Corporal Wu checked his map and calculations a second and third time, then had them checked by another team member. All the math said they were where they were supposed to be. The problem was that there was nothing here but a field littered with every manner of debris imaginable. Even team members with front line experience admitted they had never witnessed such complete ruin.

Sgt. Willis ordered the team to dismount and divided them into four groups. They had barely started, though, when a severed arm was found. They quickly returned to put on HazMat suits and re-started their search for anyone still living. Their expectations were low.

Perry had fallen asleep as the rain had stopped. His voice was hoarse from yelling. The only parts of his body that didn’t hurt were the parts he couldn’t feel at all. When he heard the unmistakable whine of HumVee engines, though, he sat up and started looking. He was surprised that anyone had come for them. He was surprised that anyone had survived to be able to come for them.

Perry assumed that any coordinates a rescue team was using had taken them not toward the bunker but the gate nearest the Marine facility. That had always been the coordinates used to identify the area. Starting there, using that point as the center, they would work slowly outward, addressing situations as they came to them. They would have no expectations for how many survivors they might find so they would have to move slowly. The team was just over a mile away from him and lying on the ground would make him difficult to see until they were almost on top of him. Still, he had heard them arrive. Someone was here. For the first time in almost 24 hours, he had hope.

Corporal Wu was heading the team heading due west from what had once been the front gate. They stepped carefully, trying to make sure they didn’t accidentally step on human remains that would later, possibly, need to be identified. Already on this trip, they had observed so much death and destruction he couldn’t imagine how any meaningful identification of the strewn bodies could ever take place. Still, out of respect for the lost humanity if nothing else, they needed to be careful. Each step was considered before it was taken. Eyes carefully searched what was immediately around them before looking at the broader landscape. 

The team had been walking slowly for over an hour when Perry saw them. He sat up as far as he could and yelled with everything left in his voice, “Help! Man down! On your two!” he cried, trying to give what had to be a military search team some direction. He repeated his call a second and third time, then, exhausted, leaned back to catch his breath.

Patrick heard the yell and picked up on the directional help. He looked where he thought the yell had originated but by that point, Perry had leaned back and Patrick couldn’t see him. Still, he knew that someone was there and motioned for his team to move to their right. They looked carefully, still stepping with precision to avoid error.

Perry set up and yelled again, finding a little more force to his voice. This time, the entire team heard the call and could see Perry’s outline in front of them. They quickened their pace as they headed toward him.

The ten minutes it took the team to reach Pery felt more like an hour. He desperately wanted to move toward them but at this point could barely find the strength to sit up. By the time the team reached him, there was no holding back the emotion and tears filled his eyes. “I wasn’t sure anyone was going to come,” Perry told the team as they knelt down to check on him. “We’ve been compromised. The nation’s under attack.”

“Yes, sir,” Patrick said through the HazMat cover. “We have orders to get you back to Washington as quickly as possible. Are you aware of any other survivors in the area?”

Perry shook his head. I’ve not heard anyone else since the storm passed.”

The team unfolded a compact stretcher and carefully lifted Perry onto it then began the slow trip back to the vehicles. As it would turn out, there were three other survivors, two analysts and a Marine private who had, as miraculously as Perry, someone managed to not be blown away by the storms. 

Sgt. Willis warned the survivors that the trip back was going to be difficult, aided somewhat by the fact that it was daylight, but still with the challenges of crossing flooded rivers and streams and deep chasms where roads once were. The ride was not going to be quick or smooth. When Perry asked about the possibility of a helicopter extraction, the sergeant shook his head. What few aircraft were available were out on other missions. 

Perhaps, under different circumstances, Perry might have complained. He might even have tried to pull rank and order the deployment himself. But right now, at this particular moment, Perry didn’t care. No matter what happened next, he was one of the lucky ones. He had survived. He lied back on the cot with tears in his eyes, grateful to be alive, heartbroken over the thousands who weren’t. 


Starting Over From Scratch

Roger and Will had insisted on going first. Roger had been correct that the rush of water into the SitRoom would be minimal. Still, there were dead bodies and incredible destruction between them and any safe way out of the subbasement. A couple of overly eager male interns joined them in clearing a path that would be safe for the president and everyone else. Along the way, they found others who had survived hiding in closets and small rooms with heavy walls. They were all relieved to know they were not alone.

The view on the surface, however, brought everyone to tears. They knew it had been bad, but Norma looked at what should have been the East Wing of the White House and was engulfed by a wave of grief she had never known possible. She had lost family members before, including her parents, but the enormity of this disaster put any personal loss to pale. There was nothing here but rubble. One of the noblest and important pieces of architecture was gone, completely demolished. She looked to the west and saw nothing between her and the horizon. Looking Southeast, she hoped to at least see the dome of the Capitol Building, but there was nothing. Not even a random tree.

As the group stood stunned by the view, some began to cry, others collapsed to the floor in silence. All the movies about nuclear destruction and post-apocalyptic life had gotten it wrong. There was nothing left. There would be no looting, no creative re-engineering of burned-out vehicles, no appropriating of weapons. Civilization hadn’t been the victim. This was the mass extinction climate scientists had warned about for the past 50 years. 

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Norma finally said, “Okay, folks, this is a new day, a new game, and a new country. For all we’ve lost, and we’ve obviously lost more than any generation before us, we’re still here. This is still the United States of America. I’m still President and I’m officially making each of you part of my administration. We’ll worry about who plugs in where later, but this is like re-booting the entire country. We still have the Constitution as our operating system, but we’ve been given the opportunity and the responsibility to build on that and make everything better.”

“True equality under the law,” said one intern.

“No person is valued more or less than any other,” said another. 

“No institutionalized hate,” offered a third.

Will sighed. “There’s so much to do. Where do you want to start, Madam President?”

Norma looked around once more, taking in the horrendous enormity of the calamity, deprivation, and waste. “I think we start by declaring this hallowed ground, a symbol of what was, of the sacrifice and determination that brought us this far.” She paused a moment then, added, “Then we find a better place to rebuild. Perhaps somewhere more in the center of the country. This isn’t 13 little colonies fighting for independence. This is a great and mighty nation that stretches from coast to coast. We need to lead from the center, I think. The new capital needs to truly be a place for everyone, not just the elite.”


Where To Go From Here

Adrian Campbell and Roger Mukaski went through the night in the basement of Old Ebbitt Grill without more than a dozen words passing between them. Staff chatted amongst themselves at first while managers tried to keep everyone calm with bottles of wine they had brought down with them. No one had expected they would be there all night. The three other patrons that joined them were obviously federal employees, one of them still wearing his state department credentials around his neck. Neither Roger nor Adrian recognized them, though everyone knew who Roger was, or had been. 

For the moment, the information blackout worked in Roger’s favor. Only he and Adrian knew that President Blackstone was dead, that there had been a conspiracy involving the First Lady, or any of the other chaos from the day. Roger was okay with that. The truth would come out soon enough and when it did there would be people wanting answers. Roger didn’t especially want to be around when that happened.

The small generator that had lit a single lightbulb in the basement didn’t last long enough to finish the wine and no one felt especially safe drinking in the dark. Some slept, as was made obvious by their snoring. Most sat their quietly in their own thoughts, worrying about family and friends, whether they’d have a job the next day, or if the restaurant would still be operational the next morning. 

Unlike others across the city, though, who waited to make sure it was safe before emerging from their places of safety, Adrian and Roger were anxious to leave the moment the ground stopped shaking. Light rain still dampened the air and daylight tentatively peeked above the horizon as they came out of the basement and observed the same carnage others would experience several minutes later. While those around them cried over obvious loss, the two men quietly walked away, heading South on 15th street, past Treasury, in view of the White House and the Eisenhower Building. Neither said anything for several minutes as they each considered the monumental elimination of the city.

As they reached what had been the entrance to Pershing Park, Adrian asked, “So, where do you go from here?”

Roger stopped and considered the question for a moment. He had no job, everything he’d had in the White House was now scattered all over Virginia and Maryland, and he instinctively knew that his brownstone and everything in it was gone as well. “I don’t really know,” he said. “I suppose I should stick around and see if my wife or either of my daughters survived. I’m not especially hopeful on that front, though. I mean, look around, Adrian. We got lucky. Most people didn’t. You and I both know there’s not going to be an investigation now. Any evidence has been blown to bits. Witnesses are likely dead. And honestly, for all those who walk out to see this mess, who’s going to care? Survival is going to be the only thing on anyone’s mind.”

“So, do you stay around and help rebuild or do you disappear, maybe change your name, and start over somewhere else?” Adrian asked, then added, “Asking for a friend.”

Roger chuckled at the social media trope. “Tough question, isn’t it?” he replied. “Do you stay and help rebuild, maybe influence things so that we don’t make the same mistakes again, or do you enjoy the anonymity of being just another face of someone who lost everything? I’m not sure I’m ready to answer that question.” He paused then asked, “What about you?”

Adrian shoved his hands deep into his pockets and kicked at a piece of limestone from some unknown monument. “My first challenge is deciding whether I give a damn anymore. My wife left years ago, said the stress of my job was too much for her. Never had any kids, no siblings, parents are gone. So, what do I have left? I have a gun and five bullets. That’s pretty much it.

Roger immediately caught the anomaly. “Wait, I thought you guys carried nine-round clips.”

Adrian smiled and turned back to where the White House had been. “Let’s just say there was a traitor who needed those bullets more than I did.”

Roger knew better than to press the matter any further. He smiled, patted Adrian on the back and said, “Thank you for serving your country.”

Silence passed between them as they wandered through the detritus of downed trees and construction rubble and random body parts. As they crossed the street toward where the White House Visitor’s Center had been Adrian sniffed the air and remarked, “It stinks more than usual down here.”

Roger stopped, sniffed the air, and looked around. “I don’t think that’s going to improve any time soon. All the death that is here now, bodies decomposing, lord knows what kind of chemicals have been released. It’s definitely going to get worse.” He looked around. “You know, I’m heading in the opposite direction of where my home was.”

Adrian turned around and looked at the former chief of staff. “Maybe your mind has made the decision so your heart wouldn’t have to.”

Roger looked at the ground around him and shrugged. “Never in my life have I taken the easy way out. Seems rather ridiculous to do so now. Who knows, maybe she survived. Maybe they all survived. And even if they didn’t, maybe there’s someone who needs me.”

Adrian shook his head. “I’ve had enough. I’m not sure even a storm of this magnitude changes human nature any. There will still be those who want to grab all the power There are still going to be those who want all the money. Humans are fallible and I’m rather over being the person who is supposed to take a bullet for the worst of them.” He paused. “I’m heading toward the Potomac, see what’s on the other side.”

Roger held out his hand and smiled at Adrian’s firm grip. “Good luck out here,” he said. “And if I ever see you again, I don’t know a thing.”

Adrian smiled back. “Neither do I.”


One More Battle

By the time daylight crept slowly around the corners of the slowly dilapidating apartment building, Amber knew what was coming and what she would have to do to stop it. The next couple of hours wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone inside still thought Hannah was sleeping and breaking that news to Gloria wasn’t going to be the highlight of anyone’s day. There wouldn’t be time to properly grieve, though. Patrons of death were coming straight at them. They didn’t know yet that the group existed, but they wouldn’t pass without wanting to explore the building, looking for food and weapons as they had done at every other partial structure they had encountered through the night.

Stepping to the door, Amber looked to see who was still awake. She motioned for Natalie, Reesie, and Adam to join her on the balcony, shutting the glass door behind them to reduce the chance of being heard. She spoke softly as they gathered around her. “We’ve got a couple of challenges this morning and one of them may be more dangerous than anything we experienced yesterday,” she said. “First off, Hannah passed during the night. It was peaceful, she was content, but Gloria’s going to need time and space to grieve.”

“Let me handle it,” Natalie said. “I’ll pull her and Toma into the side bedroom and let them cry it out.”

“What do we do with the body?” Reesie asked. “It’s kinda creepy just leaving her like that.”

“Perhaps we move her to the side bedroom as well,” Adam offered.

Amber shook her head in agreement. “That’s about all we can do because we’ve got bigger problems heading our way.”

“What do you mean?” Reesie asked. “I’m not sure I have anything left to handle another day like yesterday.”

“Looters,” Amber said, “And they have guns and they don’t mind using them. I’ve been listening to them whoop and yell for a while now. They’re not moving fast, but from what I can tell they’re taking what they want and not being terribly kind about it.”

For Natalie and Adam, this was not good news, but Reesie didn’t seem surprised. “The only surprise here is that it’s taking them so long,” she said. “I’d bet its part of that gang that’s been robbing stores along 86th street the past few months. They’re crackheads and metal freaks who go around talking about overthrowing the deep state and shit like that. I bet they’re loving this whole mess.”

“I’ve heard of them,” Natalie said. “Didn’t they try moving in down here a few times?”

Ressie nodded her head. “Yeah, about four months ago. They didn’t account for the fact store owners down here carry guns and know how to use them. They backed off after they lost a few people. You know they’re going to be looking for revenge down here.”
“Damnit, my guns would be at home, or where home use to be,” Adam said. “What do we do? Think we can be quiet and they’ll just go away?”

“Not a chance,” Reesie said.

Amber nodded in agreement. “We have to run them off before they get here. Make them waste their ammunition shooting at nothing, then do our best to dump them in the water before they start up the stairs.”

Natalie looked justifiably frightened. This was sounding too much like a bad movie plot, one where everyone except the hero died. “This sounds a little too incredible,” she said. “We haven’t even seen them yet. What if they have like assault rifles and military-style shit? How are we supposed to fight against that?”

Amber put her arm around Natalie’s shoulder. “You’re a college girl, how much do you remember about the properties of sodium?”

Natalie shrugged. “It’s one of the most common elements on earth, necessary for life …”

“And … “ Amber prompted.

Natalie thought for a moment before it dawned on her. “And it responds violently to water! But where would we get any?”

“There just happens to be a box of it under the counter across from the sink,” Amber said. “I found it when we were looking for food. It’s medical-grade metal so I assume whoever lived here was either on dialysis or administered it in some way. That’s the only non-criminal explanation for having that much of it. Either that, or we had terrorists in the building.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Adam admitted. “We’re going to throw salt at them?”

The three women laughed and Adam blushed at being the ignorant one of the group.

“This isn’t sodium chloride,” Amber explained. “This is a variant that has been turned into soft metal, a very unstable metal. So unstable, that it doesn’t naturally occur in this form in nature. It would blow up. It’s a great heat transfer method for nuclear medicine, though, especially dialysis. One just has to be careful handling it.”

“So, how are you thinking we use it?” Reesie asked.

Amber paused a moment as she thought she heard a noise behind them. She looked over the edge of the railing to make sure there was no one below them before saying anything. “There’s a fire escape at this end of the building. It’s not exactly the easiest thing to use as it requires climbing over the porch-side railing to get to it. However, when they build it, they made it go all the way tot he roof as well so they could do maintenance on all the colling unites up there. I’m thinking we carefully take the box to the roof and set the water on fire.”

“Holy shit!” Reesie exclaimed. “You don’t think it will set the building on fire?”

Natalie shook her head. “There’s no exposed wood that would burn,” she said. “And even if there was, it would have to catch quickly. The water isn’t actually burning, it’s the gasses in the air around it. If you were to drop some into a sink, for example, it would only burn for a few seconds, b not even long enough to roast a marshmallow.”

“Of course, too much of it would blow a hole in the sink,” Amber added. 

“And we’re going to give them too much of it, I assume,” Adam said. 

Amber smiled at him. 

“You knew,” he said quietly. “No one here is on Dialysis, you knew and you hid the sodium up here because you knew whoever lived here wouldn’t bother it. How long ago?”

“Two years,” she said calmly. “It’s been building for a while, I just didn’t know when or how it would all blow. Carlson knew. He tried to warn people but no one would listen. We’ve been prepared for a few years.”

Natalie looked at Reesie then said, “Wait, you knew all this was going to happen? How did you not warn people? How many people died today because you didn’t say anything?”

“We’ve been saying something for the past 30 years,” Amber said. “The way the planet has been treated made this day inevitable. However, the company Carlson worked for sped it up by about 20 years. And don’t be mad at him. He tried. He almost got arrested trying to get his bosses’ attention yesterday.”

“That’s what that whole car rental thing was about?” Reesie asked. “He walked in fuming about that this morning.”

“Exactly, not that I’m defending the point where he stepped over the line and broke that poor girl’s nose,” Amber replied. 

Natalie looked out over the railing. “A broken nose compared to the near-extinction of humanity hardly seems of consequence now.” She listened to the wind and looked up toward darkening clouds. Turning around, she asked, “Okay, so this is where we’re at. Looks like another storm is coming in. How do we handle this?”

“In teams,” Amber answered. “First, Adam, you take Barry, Amanda, Gloria, Gwen, Miranda, and Cam to the back bedroom. Lock the door and do your best to keep them quiet, especially Roscoe. You’re not in as much danger is no one knows you’re there.”

She turned and looked at Reesie. “You, Carlson, and Toma join me on the roof. You all have the best arms and can hurl the sodium well away from the building. We can’t risk any of the explosions getting too close The building’s already shaky. A big blast too close could bring the whole thing down. We have to keep them as far away from us as possible.”

“What about me and Darryll?” Natalie asked.

Amber looked at her sternly. “I need you to be badass. We’re going to try and knock these idiots out of their boats. Some of the boats will sink, but with any luck, at least a couple of them will still be usable. We’re going to need a way to escape when we’re done. We’ve got to get everyone out of here and to safety. I need you and Darryll to go to the bottom floor, wade in the water, and try to secure at least two of those boats, even if they’re just rafts. This is critical. Do you think you can handle it?”

Natalie looked nervous. The last thing she wanted to do was wade through the water again, but she understood the danger. There was no way the building was going to last much longer. They needed to get away. “Yeah, we can do it,” she said.

The group went back into the apartment knowing the next several minutes would not be pleasant. There wasn’t time for Gloria to mourn her grandmother sufficiently and the idea of needing to leave her body behind made her angry. She yelled. She screamed. She cried in Toma’s arms. 

Cam ran to Reesie, scared both by the site of Hannah’s dead body and the instructions they were being given to hide. Reesie assured the girl that she would be okay in the back bedroom with Adam and promised to come and get her as soon as the looters were eliminated.

“Were going to do what?” Darryl asked when Natalie told him their assignment. “First you tell me we have looters with guns coming right at us and then you want me to get in the water and steal their boats? I’m sorry, that sounds like a whole lot of crazy.”

Natalie wasn’t having any of his attitude. “Do you have a better idea, mister know-it-all?” she challenged. “You’re all the time cutting down everyone else’s plans but you never have a decent idea of your own. You pick and you sigh and you groan and roll your goddam eyes at everything anyone else suggests, especially if that anyone else is me. I’m tired of your bullshit, Darryll. This is an emergency. Either get your shit together or go hide under the bed.”

Miranda walked up and put her hand on Natalie’s shoulder, hoping to help her calm down. Natalie turned around quickly and yelled, “What the fuck do you want?” then, in a moment of passionate impulse, kissed Miranda hard and long. “You go to the bedroom with Adam and stay safe. We have some talking to do when this is over.”

Miranda blinked hard from being caught off guard, then took Natalie’s face in her hands and returned the kiss. “Don’t you go drowning or anything on me.”

Darryll’s face burned with embarrassment. Everyone in the room had just witnessed him being dumped and yet he still had to work with Natalie to keep everyone safe. “Fine, he said, trying to keep his emotions in check. “I’ll just …”

“No,” Adam interrupted, “I don’t think that works. “ He looked at Amber. “I’ll go help Natalie. I think I still know a thing or two about boats anyway,” he said. “Perhaps Darryll can help you up top.”

“I need someone to keep things calm in here, though,” Amber objected.

Amanda cleared her throat loudly. “Excuse me, Mom here. I’ve got this. You guys go get rid of the looters before they have a chance to sneak up on us.” She turned to Gloria and Toma. “C’mon, let’s take our tears to the back room, okay?” 

Amber looked around the room. “Okay everyone, let’s get this done. Reesie, help me with the box?”

There wasn’t a lot of chatter as everyone moved toward their new assignment. Getting the box of sodium to the roof proved to be a bit more challenging than expected as there was only room for one person at a time on the ladder. Natalie and Adam cautiously made their way downstairs and waded carefully into the cold water. The current wasn’t as strong as it had been, but there was still plenty of debris to avoid. Amanda gathered the others in the back bedroom, thinking to grab a jar of peanut butter for Roscoe as they went.

Amber took a lookout position on top of one of the cooling units. From there, she could see anything that might be coming at them from any direction.  Dark clouds boiled overhead and she knew it wasn’t merely rain and wind they were holding. She shivered. She had fought a lot of people and a lot of things but this felt different. There was more at risk than anyone could imagine. She knew that to fail would dramatically alter the course of humanity. 

The instant Amber caught sight of the first boat coming over the horizon, she jumped down from the air conditioner and warned the others to take cover. “We don’t want them to know how many of us there are,” she said. “We work in waves. Carlson, Toma, and myself through first. We fall back and then Darryll and Reesie take a shot. Try to get as close to the side of the boats as you can without actually hitting them. The sodium has to hit water to have any effect. At the same time, if there’s water in the boat, it could destroy the whole boat and we need at least two of them to carry us all out of here safely.”

“What kind of boats are we talking about?” Toma asked. “Are they like rafts or canoes or what?”

“Fishing boats and such,” Amber said. “Whatever they could steal from the marina I suppose. Not anything too large or it was scrape bottom too often.”

“Unless they found a pontoon,” Darryll said. “There’s that sunset tour place on the East side of the lake. If they got to those boats, it could be tough to tip them over or anything.”

Carlson looked out at the water as the wind began to whip up small white caps. “What happens if it starts raining?” he asked. “We’ve got that whole box of sodium up here with us.”

Amber looked at the box then back up at the dark sky. “I don’t think that’s rain,” she said, but you’re right, we should take precaution. She thought for a moment and said, “Okay, change of plan. We work two and two. Carlson, you’re with me, Reesie, you’re with Toma. Darryll, you hand off the sodium. Keep the box under one of these units and when a team falls back you load them up.” She paused and looked up at the sky then added, “And let’s all hope I’m right about those clouds.”

As if prompted, thunder rumbled above them. As the echo died down, they could hear the whoops of the looters as they approached. Amber motioned for them to remain quiet as the boats approached. She and Carlson took position at the end of the building and waited. Carlson carefully weighed the sodium in his hand, looking for the grip that would give him the maximum distance to his throw. Amber counted the number of boats. She raised her hands to let the others know there were six craft coming at them. The first three were flat-bottomed fishing boats. Those would be easy enough to tip without severely damaging them, but they couldn’t hold more than four people each. Two 20-foot sporting boats with outboard motors followed them and, sure enough, a 27-foot pontoon boat with at least eight people on it was bringing up the rear.

“Hey, look!” one of the looters yelled. “There’s part of an apartment building still standing! Let’s see what they’ve got!”

The others yelled and whooped in response. Someone fired a gun into the air.

Amber and Carlson looked at each other as they waited for the boats to move within striking distance. The boats were about 70 yards away when lightning lit up the sky with a massive boom.

“NOW!” Amber yelled and she stood up and hurled the sodium at the lead boat, landing it just off the starboard bow. Carlson’s throw landed a little further back between two boats. Both explosions were strong enough to tip the two boats, dumping their occupants into the water.

The looters were caught off guard and hadn’t had time to recover when Reesie and Toma made their throws, both of which landed about ten feet behind the first two. The third flat bottomed boat tipped, the current shoving it out of reach as it glided toward the apartment building.

Standing in the water, hiding carefully behind the corner of the building. Adam and Natalie watched as the small boat scooted toward them. Adam crouched down so that his eyes were barely above the surface, eased out away from the building, and grabbed hold of the boat’s tie line, pulling it back to the building. He tied it to the railing on the stairwell so it couldn’t escape. “That’s one,” he said smiling.

The looters in the front boats gave up on trying to get back into their own boats and climbed into the larger sporting boats behind them. These weren’t going to be as easy to upset. Amber motioned for Reesie and Toma to be ready. Amber and Carlson threw together, the blast from the sodium ripping the ladder off the boat, killing two of the looters. Reesie and Toma threw into the same spot, isolating the boat from the others. When Amber and Carlson threw again, it heaved heavily to port, dumping its remaining crew. Reesie and Toma followed up to make sure no one would be climbing onto another boat.

Adam and Natalie crept out together to snag the empty boat, pulling it to the side of the apartment building and tying it off.

The attacks from the top of the apartment building had come quickly and were unexpected but now the looters were starting to shoot back. Amber and Carlson ducked as bullets whizzed past their heads. Reesie, Toma, and Darrell winced as the bullets hit or ricocheted of the cooling units shielding them. Being elevated still helped protect them but the sound was unnerving as relentless volleys of gunfire were aimed their direction. They could tell the boats were getting closer and Amber was especially concerned about what might happen if they made it to the fire escape.

“Let’s try to put some space between the boats,” she shouted above the noise. “You can’t look up while they’re shooting, though. Let me go first then you hit them with two bars.”

Carlson nodded his understanding and watched as Amber quickly toss a couple of bars of sodium between the two boats. The explosion was all the opportunity he needed, tossing a stick near the hull of each boat, causing them to rock away from each other. Two more people fell off the smaller boat. Reesie quickly tossed another bar to eliminate them while Toma dropped one near the front of the pontoon, knocking their shooters off their feet. 

Amber made a quick decision. “Sink the sports boat,” she shouted. Toma and Reesie joined her and Carlson at the corner of the building. All for tossed bars of sodium at the same time. The resulting explosion raised the bow of the boat into the air, causing the stern to rapidly fill with water. Another blast had the boat hull up and sinking quickly. 

They had barely ducked back down when a spray of gunfire sent fragments of concrete scattering just above their heads. Toma and Reesie belly crawled toward Darryll to retrieve more sodium. Darryll raised his head just enough to look at the two women when a piece of shrapnel hit him square in the forehead. Two more pieces hit his shoulder and then pierced his spine. He dropped onto the black tar paper that covered the roof, his eyes open but no longer seeing.

Tears stung Reesie’s eyes as she took the sodium and moved carefully back toward the wall. When she made it back she told Amber, “Darryll’s down and he’s not getting back up,” she said. “I was scared when we started, but now I’m just fucking pissed. These fuckers need to die.”

Amber looked at Reesie and could tell that her attitude and motivation had shifted. She’d seen the look before. People fight differently when they’re fighting for a cause versus fighting for self-preservation. Ressie no longer was content to survive. She wanted to win. She wanted to make the looters pay, preferably with their lives. “Stay down, don’t move,” Amber said. She motioned for Carlson to duck lower and then started crawling across the roof. The other three watched as she instinctively moved back and forth in a zig-zag pattern across the roof until she reached the box of sodium. She pushed the box out in front of her and then altered her pathway back so the cooling units could protect the volatile metal. Pieces of bullets and brick fragments peppered the tar paper around her. Amber winced as she felt something hit the back of her left thigh. She moved as quickly as she could across the small distance of roof. 

Amber was beginning to perspire as she pushed the box toward Reesie. “Take this,” she shouted above the gunfire. “My hands are sweaty. You hand them out while I rub my hand in some dirt.”

Reesie pulled the box close, handed two bars to Toma and two to Carlson. Amber was still rubbing dirt on her hands and arms when the three dropped all six bars at the front corner of the pontoon. The boat dipped hard as the reverse corner raised high into the air, dropping two more looters into the water. The trio raised up again to finish them off but were surprised with gunfire from a small boat they hadn’t noticed, peeking out from behind the pontoon. They dove for cover, doing their best to shield themselves from the shrapnel that was bursting in clouds just above their heads.

Amber dove back in close, covered in dirt and looking more like an Amazon warrior on a rampage. There was a fierceness that was frightening as her tense muscles rippled, anxious for action. 

Reesie started handing out more sodium. They were still less than half-way down the box. The bars didn’t need to be large to do a lot of damage. They were packed tight and threw easily. When she tried to hand more to Carlson, though, he didn’t move. She nudged him, not seeing anything wrong. 

Amber moved in close and pulled Carlson away from the wall. His back was soaked in blood. She couldn’t find any evidence of a bullet but the shrapnel from the wall had eventually pierced enough arteries that he had bled out. Amber knew that he had to have been in pain for several minutes but he had never said anything. He kept his focus and continued fighting. She fought back tears as she moved his body out of the way and leaned close into the wall that was quickly disintegrating around them. 

“Four at a time,” Amber yelled. “We’re not losing anyone else!”

Twelve sticks of sodium hit the water at the same time. The blast sent spray fifty feet into the air and shook the apartment building hard enough that  Amber could hear the screams of everyone inside the apartment. Adam and Natalie ducked behind the 20-foot boat as the waves rolled over the bow. Most importantly, the pontoon rolled a full 90 degrees, dumping everyone into the water. 

The looters started swimming, anticipating what was about to happen. Toma and Reesie did not miss their target. The third, though, had escaped around the corner of the building. Unsure whether it was safe yet for them to get up and move.

Natalie and Adam were ready, though. She pushed the flat bottom boat to block his path as Adam took him from behind. Natalie’s fists pummeling the man’s face might not have hurt him all that much given the height advantage he had over her, but it was enough to keep him distracted until Adam achieved enough leverage to break his neck. The looter slipped into the water and floated away.

Natalie stood with her hands on her hips, watching the body disappear into the water. “Wasn’t that the guy who ran the bike shop up on 82nd street?” she asked, not really expecting an answer. “He always was a little bit creepy.”

Adam grabbed the pontoon boat and Natalie helped him tie it off. They exchanged high fives as they finished then turned to head back upstairs.

“Don’t you think someone probably needs to stay with the boats?” Amber asked as she dropped into the water at the end of the building, catching them both off guard.

Natalie rushed forward and wrapped her arms around her. “Thank you!” she said. “I don’t know who you really are or what you really are, but we couldn’t have survived any of this without you!”

Amber held Natalie close for a second, then stepped back, looking the young woman in the eyes. “I’m not going to sugar coat this for you,” she said softly. “Darryll didn’t make it. Neither did Carlson.” 

Natalie stepped back, increasing the distance between them. “Oh no,” she sobbed quietly. “And the last words he heard from me were how wrong he was about everything. I embarrassed him in front of everyone.” The tears came quickly and Natale collapsed into the water. 

Amber picked her up and set her in the flat bottomed boat. “Wait here,” she instructed. “From this point forward, nothing that happened, nothing we said, nothing we did can drag us down. It was all experience preparing us for who we are now and what we are going to be. Just sit still until I get everyone else.”

Natalie nodded, no longer sure what was real nor what to feel. 

“Hey, Adam,” Amber called from the second-floor landing. “I think we can help people onto the boats better from up here, or at least from the stairs. Are they tied off well enough for  you to come up and help?”

“Sure thing,” Adam said as he headed up the stairs. He didn’t want to tell her how weak he was feeling. He needed something to eat, and he needed his medicine. 

Inside the apartment, Reesie and Toma had gathered everyone from the bedroom and they were looking for any food that made sense to carry with them. Amber walked through the open front door, put her hands on her hips and called, “Everyone ready for a new future needs to come with me!” There was a mixture of cheering and laughter as they ran toward the door and down the stairs to the waiting boats.

“Why can’t we all just go on the same boat?” Gloria asked as Adam helped her and Toma onto the 20-foot Bayrunner sporting boat. 

“Because I take up one all on my own,“ Barry teased as he came down behind them. “I assume you all want me on the pontoon boat,” he suggested. 

“Every craft needs ballast,” Amber joked back at him. She then turned to Adam. “I know you’re an old Army grunt, but you think can figure out how pilot that flat slab of fiberglass?”

He chucked. “My dad had one almost exactly like her. This will be like being a teenager again.”

“Then climb aboard, Captain,” Amber told him. “Those explosions shook the mortar look on this place. We don’t have long.”

Amber helped Gwen, Roscoe, and Amanda on to the pontoon, then Reesie and Cam onto the Bayrunner. Life jackets were secured for everyone, something the looters had failed to employ. 

Miranda stood plaintively on the steps, not sure where to go. She looked at Natalie still wiping tears from her eyes. The flat bottom boat looked so small compared to the other two. 

“Hey, Natalie,” Amber called. “I think this might work better if you tie that boat on behind the pontoon then you and  Miranda can help Adam.”

Natalie looked up from the boat and said, “You know, I think it’s okay if you just call me Nat. I know it sounds like a bug, but I’m a pesky little bug who isn’t going away.” 

Miranda and Amber laughed. Natalie hopped out and tied the smaller boat to the back of the pontoon, then climbed up the ladder in the back. “Permission to come aboard, sir!” she called. 

“Permission granted,” Adam called back. 

Amber hopped aboard the Bayliner and checked the controls. “Damn, this thing has nearly two tanks full of fuel! How is that one looking?”

Adam checked the gauges and yelled back, “Pretty much the same here. Why don’t you think they used them?”

“The sound would have alerted people they were coming,” Amber said. “They wanted the element of surprise. Let’s see if they’ll start.”

Within seconds, three outboard motors roared to life. The entire group cheered and as they did the last of the apartment building shifted and splashed down into the water. They all laughed at the timing. They were alive. There were no regrets in that.

Amber walked over to the side of her boat, next to where Adam was standing in the middle of his. She held out a plastic bag full of power bars. “Eat two of these now,” she instructed, “And then another every two hours. We’ll find your medicine soon.”

Adam took the bag and smiled. He walked to the bow and untied it from the railing that now went nowhere. When he returned to the controls, he turned the boat and began to float downstream with Amber right behind him.

The soft sound of the idling motors was all that could be heard for miles. As they sailed away, the skies began to lighten and the clouds began to break up. Slivers of sunlight began to peek through.

High above them, two solemn figures watched with interest. 

“Well, they managed to survive,” one said.

“Somehow they always do,” mused the other.

“Think it will be any better this time around?”

“It could be, I suppose. Anything can happen.”

There was a silence between them that, on earth, would have lasted several days. Finally, the first said, “Maybe this time they’ll learn how to make a decent cup of coffee without burning the roast.”

The other laughed. “You know she’s already designing the coffee shop in her head. She’s thinking of naming it Another Tuesday.”

They both laughed, knowing it would be a hit.

Reading time: 73 min
Old Man's Guide To Fall Fashion

For the past several years, I have spent the months of February and September writing runway reviews during the ready-to-wear fashion seasons. I cover the four major cities: New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Honestly, those are the only ones that matter. All the top-selling international brands show in one of those four cities. If one wants to know what’s going on in fashion, those are the shows one needs to watch.

Of course, I don’t publish those reviews here. They’re all published over at PATTERN because they’re a fashion magazine. What you are reading now is not a fashion magazine. I just happen to be talking about fashion at this moment because this is what is on my mind as it has occupied every single waking hour of my existence for the past month.

When I first started, it was fun. The shows are in concise order, most were at the same location, and it was easy enough to see all the shows that really mattered. What has happened in recent years, though, is that retail sucks, fashion shows are expensive, and the whole freaking model was turned upside down when Rebecca Minkoff and some others decided it would be cool if instead of showing a season ahead, which is how this monster has worked for almost a century, they would show current season clothing that would be for sale immediately. Boom. Everything fucking fell apart.

Yes, I’m oversimplifying the matter. There were actually several factors contributing to the chaos that is now the ready-to-wear runway season, most of them having to do with the fact that fashion shows are expensive to produce and smaller brands lose money on the whole proposition. In New York, once Mercedes Benz dropped its primary sponsorship and the location contracts expired, the costs skyrocketed. In London, the British Fashion Council responded to increasing costs there by cutting services, such as live streaming all the shows. The ability to live stream on social media, especially Instagram where most labels have several thousand followers, forced a change in tactics for some, and others, notably Alexander Wang, moved everything to the men’s schedule, showing in July and December. It’s become a mess.

I still enjoy a well-considered runway presentation. Models walking at a sensible pace down the catwalk and back is enough time to see how a garment moves, how it sits on a person, and what it communicates. Every ensemble, every piece, says something. An eight – nine-minute show of about 40 looks is all one needs and when a label does that well most people respond affirmatively.

Unfortunately, some have felt the need to create spectacles of their shows (looking at you Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors) in an effort to hide the fact they’ve run out of ideas. Those distractions got a lot of attention for a couple of years but now people are beginning to see them for what they are: an attempt to hide incompetence.

I’m chosing to write these things here rather than offering them to PATTERN because when I’m writing for the magazine I have to be careful in addressing their audience which they’ve worked so hard to gather and maintain. Here, I don’t have that restriction. I can say exactly what I’m thinking without having to worry about offending anyone because, on any given week, I’m lucky if ten people read this stuff. Hey, we’re up from three, so that’s good, right?

I also want to make very clear that in the grand scheme of things fashion is not the more important topic in the world. Getting upset over some event or happening in fashion is rather liking losing the top scoop off an ice cream cone. Yes, we might be upset and disappointed for a moment, but maybe we didn’t need that anyway and there’s still another scoop for us to enjoy.

Let’s take a look at what happened last month.

Streetwear is out, bourgeois is in

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Streetwear has been ruling fashion for the past four seasons with labels like Vetements and Off-White taking the lead in creating a look that comes straight out of the hood. Sort of. Assuming folks in the hood are paying $500 for a damn hat. As a result, major mainstrream labels all rushed to compete where they could. We saw denim and clunky work boots and baggy pants and oversized coats that couldn’t help but hang off one shoulder. The concept felt cool enough for the first season or two, but then we slowly came to realize something: the looks are fucking sloppy.

This season’s fashion corrects that move in a way. We saw it first with Ralph Lauren, who last season celebrated his 50th anniversary in fashion with some great ready-to-wear that actually was ready to wear. This season, though, he returned to his flagship store on Madison Ave. and the looks coming down the runway were pure glamour. They were trim, they fit the models well, and they had a polish to them that said, “Hi, I’m here and I’m not playing around.”

This wasn’t necessarily new ground for the designer, he’s definitely covered this area before, but it has been several years since we’ve seen this much effort and commitment to quality. I would be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t surprised to see that trend carry through all four weeks of fashion shows. Typically, any trend that starts in New York has run its course by the time we’re half-way through the Milan schedule, if it even makes it that far. This was different. We saw a strong shift toward refinement, tailoring, professionalism, and statement clothing all the way through to Alexander McQueen and Miu Miu.

What’s pushing this surprising turn of events? Millennials are getting older. The largest shopping demographic in the world is now largely over the age of 30 and starting to realize that there are times when they need something other than that torn pair of jeans they’ve been wearing since their sophomore year of high school. They’ve turned their back on streetwear and started buying button-down shirts, pleated trousers, and masculine-tailored suits.

Driving the point home more than anything was when Off-White walked without so much as a single pair of sneakers in the whole collection. None. Zero. This bastion of streetwear took a huge shift toward tighter tailoring and refined looks this season, and if that doesn’t put streetwear in the backseat for now I don’t know what does.

I have to admit, I like this trend. I like seeing people who look good when they exit their house in the morning, or afternoon, or evening. Seeing someone dress well communicates that they care about themselves and how they look. It doesn’t mean they dressing to please anyone else but rather that they have a specific image they want to portray and that image isn’t sloppy and slothful.

The question is whether the trend can actually catch hold off the runway. Showing a higher quality of fashion doesn’t mean people will buy it. WIth the greater attention to detail and trim and fit comes a higher price tag. How many women can afford to drop $3,500 on an outfit to wear to work? For how many people is that even appropriate? Just because I like the trend doesn’t mean it translates well to the real world. We’ll see come October.

Sustainability is the buzzword of the season

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Sustainability, being concious of how materials are sourced and the impact that fashion has on the environment and the people who make it, has been one of those words kicked around on designer’s notes off and on for quite a while, but this season we saw it actually beging to take hold. Where it shows up most often is with younger designers such as Natasha Zinko who has an arrangement with Wrangler for putting their castoff jeans, specifically those that weren’t sold after five seasons, to use in her designs.

This is a shift that’s been a long while coming. While designers would routinely acknowledge that sustainability is important, they’ve been reluctant to actually incorporate it into their clothing because of the fear that people wouldn’t want to buy clothes made from something other than brand-new materials. One can rather understand why people might feel that way.

However, thanks primarily to Stella McCartney, who has been actively incorporating upcycled and recycled materials in her collection for several seasons, the concept has finally caught hold. Brands have actual numbers and shopping data to show that yes, those coveted Millennials will actually shop for sustainable clothing over traditional materials when given the opportunity to do so.

Sustainability has had an impact beyond just upcycling and recycling materials, however. This is the first season where large-scale bans on the use of fur have come into play. While there’s still some debate over whether faux fur is worse for the environment than the real thing, only the most defiant holdouts in New York continued to show real fur, and the fact of the matter is that no one who has a lick of respect is paying any attention to those holdouts. We also saw a strong move toward vegan leather in a number of places, once again an animal-rights issue that has found a more solid hold in the area of sustainability.

What really surprised me, though, was to hear that fast fashion retailer H&M is taking sustainability seriously. Now, before anyone gets overly excited about that statement, let’s remember that fast fashion is largely rresponsible for the whole problem of buying too many clothes and then throwing them away. Exactly how they’re going to maintain their business model while talking sustainability is something that has more than a few skeptics. Still, the fact they realize the issue is important is at least a step in the right direction.

When it comes right down to the crux of the matter, though, sustainability is about buying fewer clothes and when a fashion label starts talking about buying fewer clothes while trying to sell us more clothes it tends to hint at a bit of hypocrisy. Consider what happened with the Vivienne Westwood collection that showed in London. This is what used to be known as Westwood’s Red collection, the lesser important stuff. The show was a nightmare that involved environmentalists and actors walking around a stage yelling about how we need to take global warming seriously right now or else we’re all going to die. And by the way, buy fewer new clothes but make sure they’re ours.

While the industry has a lot of tolerance and respect for Dame Westwood and her support of environmental causes, the show was largely panned by those who even bothered to review it. By contrast, the collection that showed in Paris, Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, formerly the Gold collection, whas much more refeined and actually made use of materials left over from previous collections. The response was much more supportive from everyone except US Vogue, which now seems to have a feud going with the label.

What matters is that sustainability has proven to have some real market power and labels are finally taking it seriously. This is not only a good thing for fashion but for the entire planet.

Put a little shoulder (pad) into your style

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Shoulder pads, either one loves them or hates them but apparently part of this whole shift toward glamour/bougeous thing means one has to have shoulder pads of one kind or another. No one agrees on what size they should be, but almost everyone agrees that women should be wearing them and in some cases men, too.

Shoulder pads have been a part of contemporary womenswear off and on since the 1920s. They are most frequently used as a means of helping to define shape. One’s waist looks thinner if the shoulders of a garment are broader. Somewhere around 1978, though, they started getting a bit larger than normal and by 1984 they were out of control, going large in every directino: diagonally, horizontally, and vertically. We saw the size calm down a bit in the 90s only to have them come back around 2002. That revival was short-lived but low and behold they came charging back in 2008. We started seeing some hints that they were making a return last season but this time around they were everywhere as though it had been ordained by deity.

Of course, as always, how large they go and the shape they take depends dramatically on the designer. In New York, Prabal Gurung went broad but rounded, most notably in his coats. Bibhu Mohapatra, on the other hand, had an opening piece that was large and rectangular, reminding one more of an airfield. In London, Matty Bovan probably had the most obviously broad shoulders while in Milan Karl Lagerfeld’s last collection for Fendi has some serious shoulder work going on.

What’s interesting is how the tone shifted by the time we got to Paris. While Balmain and Kochè started with fairly broad shoulders, by the time we got to Maison Margiela there were looking considerably more trim and with the exception of the final flower-based pieces the shoulders were incredibly trim in Sarah Burton’s collection for Alexander McQueen.

Here’s where things get interesting. See that whole discussion about sustainability in the previous section? Shoulder pads often mean having to use more fabric not only in the shoulders but the rest of the garment. Several designers prefer a rather boxy look to their jackets especially and when one has to drape from broad shoulders the amount of fabric used can become excessive.

Remember when I said Andreas Kronthaler used leftover material from previous collections for this one? He said that forced him toward more trim silhouettes. “One tends to throw things around and be a bit unsure, but this time I had to be careful not to waste anything and not make anything I didn’t need,” he said. Although, it’s worth noting that carefulness did not keep him from sending some coats down the runway that looked like the behemouth coat New Englad Patriot quarterback Tom Brady wears during the playoffs. Even the concept of “being careful” is a subjective matter.

Still, when it comes to sustainabiliy one of the more important aspects is that desigenrs begin using less material in their clothes and it’s clear that those with the broadest shoulder pads aren’t quite getting the message. Those are also the designers that tend to have the largest coats and massive skirts on evening gowns. I’m not going to be the least bit surprised if we see a trimmer silhouette come spring.

The ugly shoe contest

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Did you know that accessories account for roughly 80 percent of a fashion brand’s revenue? Primarily purses, to be honest, but for a number of houses footwear plays a big role. Think Salvatore Farragamo and Prada (the devil’s favorite shoe). While options were all over the place, which is expected, there seemed to be an ongoing contest for who could have the absolutely ugliest shoe in all of fashion. It’s not unusual to see an ugly shoe here and there every season, but this time around there were some real doozies and everyone seemed to be trying to get in on the act.

I should probably mention that one of the long-term trends has been away from anything with a high heel. Two-inch pumps are about as high as most designers go now because women are too health conscious to risk the myriad problems that come with four inch stilettos. Ashley Williams, for example, put flats on all her models this season and did a fantastic job of making them look fantastic.

Then there are the designers like J W Anderson who think it’s cute to leave fabric or fur trailing from the back or along the side of a shoe. No. Obviously, no one who has ever had to actually walk more than fifteen feet wants a shoe with anything trailing. While they might look good on the runway, they’re just not practical. In real life, one walks through all kinds of shit from puddles on the sidewalk to whatever that is in the floor of the bathroom stall. We’re not asking what it is but we’re damn sure no one wants to carry that around on the back of their shoe the rest of the day.

What really takes the cake this season, though, are the ugly as fuck boots. Again, we’ve seen combat-style boots for several seasons, but this time several designers seemed to go out of their way to make the tops flat and broad, often with some kind of modification that makes them stand out egregiously from the rest of the ensemble. I don’t really want to take the time to list everyone who had a bad boot, but Miuccia Prada won the contest with the god-awful clodhoppers she sent downt he runway for her MiuMiu collection. As much as this fantastic desigenr knows about footwear, these boots are an absolute eyesore. The ones showing a few minutes later at Louis Vuitton weren’t much better.

I get that everyone wants to create a show that stands out and for many people a combat-style boot is comfortable and fun to wear even with more formal clothes. I understand where that sentiment comes from even if I don’t agree with it (and I don’t).

However, don’t be surprised if we start seeing the same backlash from millennials when it comes to footwear as we’ve seen with clothing. There comes a point where the look is too demeaning and disrespectful of oneself. If one is going to drop several hundred or thousands of dollars on designer clothes does it really make sense to wear some ugly-assed footwear? No, it odesn’t. I’m really hoping that this is one trend that doesn’t take hold.

Karl Lagerfeld died

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

The whole tone of the fashion season changed on Tuesday, February 12, when it was announced that Karl Lagerfeld had died, leaving both Fendi and Chanel without their primary designers. Lagerfeld had been a force in fashion since the 1960s and there was a collective gasp across the entire fashion world when it was announced he had passed.

Naturally, all the tributes came pouring in and both Fendi and Chanel made special points of mentioning his contribution to their label. On Instagram, every designer who had one shared their picture of themselves with Lagerfeld, implying at least visually that they were friends. Reviews and articles for the remainder of the season made continual reference to his influence and talked about the “genius” that he was.

I’m here to call bullshit and yes, this is the primary reason I couldn’t post this on PATTERN. Contrary to what everyone else seems to think of the man, I didn’t like Karl Lagerfeld. I had occasion to meet him twice, once in 1991 and again in 1993. Neither were pleasant exchanges. I found him rude, self-centered, narcissistic, and self-serving. I consider him an opportunist who ultimately made his fortune manipulating the work of Coco Chanel rather than actually coming up with any great new ideas for himself.

I’m not necessarily the only one with this opinion, but views like mine are shoved to the bottom of every search result. Fortunately for me, I’m rather accustomed to being at the bottom of every search result so I’m not too terirbly upset by the whole idea. Sure, Lagerfeld was a marketing mastermind, and I suppose he was a great friend to those he actually liked. Since I wasn’t a friend, however, and he quickly let me know I would not be achieving that status, I can’t really say. All I experienced was the negative.

Going beyond my own experience, though, Karl could say some very hurtful things. Perhaps the ones I found most hurtful were those regarding the size and appearance of women. He considered size 2 too large for a model and wouldn’t use any that weren’t a size 0. He called Princess Diana stupid, said Pippa Middleton (Kate’s sister) should “only show her back,” and said that singer Adelle was “too round.”

He also said: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Funny, the very next season Cara Delevigne came down the runway in a pair of Chanel-branded sweats.

On another occasion he said, “I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. Its simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything.If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent. They’re recruiting even!”

The Karl Lagerfeld I saw was a bigot, a misogynist, an opprtunist and a backstabber. He was a contemporary of Yves Saint Laurent who preceeded him at Chanel and never missed the oppotunity to skewer the late designer’s legacy. For that matter, he never missed an opportunity to say something insulting about almost any designer who died except Coco Chanel, who herself did some rather dispicable things during WWII.

The fact is Lagerfeld held Chanel back because there was no one there to push him. Looking at the difference between his Chanel collections and his work for Fendi, where he had at one time FIVE strong, opinionated Italian women over him, one can see the extreme difference in the progression between the two labels. Fendi moved forward, Chanel did not. Chanel stuck with the same boxy suits and the same tweeds that were the hallmark of the labels’ founder nearly 100 years ago.

It will be interesting to see how both brands proceed now that Lagerfeld is gone. I have to say, his passing was only a surprise in the sense that one didn’t know exaclty which day it was going to happen. He’s been shuffling rather than walking for three years now. When his notoriously clean face suddenly sported a beard it was a sign that he was no longer able to attend to his own grooming. The last sign was when he missed the couture shows in January.

Karl Lagerfeld is gone and by this time next year his memory will have begun to fade. Sure, there will be a museum tribute here and there because for the moment there is money to be made off his memory. His eponymous label, however, is likely to disappear and both Chanel and Fendi will move on without him, possibly more successful than ever.

Inclusion and a few other things

Old Man's Guide to Fall Fashion

Finally, there’s the ongoing matter of inclusion. I’m happ to say that we saw many more models of color and many different sizes and ages on the runways of American designers. New York shows were “woke” to the topic of inclusivity thanks to the ongoing attention to the subject of brands such as Chromat, whom I dearly love.   It’s nice to know that casting directors and designers are paying attention.

However, it’s rather sad that we lose that momentum completely when we jump “the pond.” While some are doing better, for far too many of the labels all we see are token non-white models, sometimes only one, in the midst of a sea of white faces. I honestly don’t know what it’s going to take to change this. With immigration and nationalism both such hot topics all across Europe, fashion houses seem relctuant to expand their vision beyond what they see immediately around them.

Larger models faired better than did models of color. We saw several plus-sized models throughout a number of the shows, including Dolce & Gabbana whose collection was so pared back and wearable as to give one whiplash with the doubletake. And there was a point in Milan where it seemed that everyone did their best to bring back a “legacy” model from the 80s, most of whom are now in their late 50s or ealy 60s.

As much as I harp on Tommy Hilfiger for subjugating the popularity of young women to further his brand, the all-black cast at his show in Paris did a lot to remind Parisian designers that the world is multicultural and multicolored. Of course, Hilfiger actually gets none of the credit as it was Zendaya’s insistence that dominated the casting. Left to his own devices, I’m sure that Hilfiger would have simply given us more white, elitist looking models on the runway.

I should also mention the role that protests had in this season’s shows. From Vivienne Westwood’s hijacking of her own runway to yellow vest protests outside several Parisian venues. People inside and outside of fashion are quite upset about the state of things and don’t mind commandeering a fashion runway to make their point.

Fashion has changed so very much and it’s going to continue to change. It must change. What is going to be most important, though, is that we find a way to make and buy fewer clothes without bottoming-out the whole industry. Do we need fewer clothes in our closets? For many people the answer is yes. How we get there, however, is a problem for which we’ve yet to find a solution.

By the way, before you take off to more enjoyable things, would you consider making a donation to help with our operational expenses? Or maybe buy some of our swag? We’d greatly appreciate the assist.

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