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Pastors Conference, 1972

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Chapter 9

Sunday felt good. Two weeks out from Easter, Sunday School attendance was at 92, a number the church hadn’t seen in at least two decades. The sanctuary was full enough for the morning service that Glynn and the deacons had a quick meeting after the service to discuss how they might handle a standing-room-only situation on Easter morning. Chairs down the center aisle, distributed as needed, was the agreed-upon solution. The evening numbers were still low, with only 36 returning for Training Union and only a few more for the service, but Glynn was okay with that. He was beginning to understand that asking farmers and ranchers to stop their evening chores, change clothes, and come in for church at 6:00 was an unrealistic expectation. Topping the day off had been an unexpectedly long nap that afternoon. Not only had both kids gone down without a fuss, but they also stayed asleep for a good two hours. 

Glynn drove to the Pastors’ Conference in Arvel Monday morning humming along with the radio, finding it interesting that Bread, Cher, and Donny Osmond were all singing about love. The sun was shining and while the air was still on the crisp side of cool, the pastor was comfortable in a light sport coat and was hopeful that he could soon put his parka away. A warm feeling that he was where he needed to be, doing what he needed to do, filled him as he drove and by the time he arrived at Olivet Baptist Church for the meeting, he had a smile he couldn’t wipe from his face. He greeted familiar faces in the parking lot, exchanging pleasantries and even lightly teasing one pastor who was still wearing a heavy overcoat.

Everyone’s mood changed inside, though. The pastor at Grace Church, Washataug, had resigned on Sunday with a fiery sermon that had directly accused a deacon of carrying on several affairs with married women both within and outside the church, including the pastor’s own wife. The pastor named names, catching at least two husbands off guard. A brawl had ensued. Four church members spent the night in jail. Emmit and two members of the ministerial services staff in Oklahoma City had spent the rest of the day working with the affected families, trying to convince husbands to stay with their wives and others involved in the brawl to not press charges against fellow church members. 

Rumors were flying as the pastors gathered around the room in small groups waiting for Emmit to arrive. When he did, ten minutes later than the appointed time, he looked tired. His customary smile was gone. Weariness covered his face. He quickly picked up on the conversation in the room and brought the meeting to order.

“Gentlemen, if you don’t mind, I would like to dispense with our normal routine,” the Director of Missions started. “Obviously, you are all aware of the grave events that happened at Grace, Washataug yesterday. I’ll clear up a few details in a second, but when I finish, we need to spend a lot of time in prayer. There is a whole church hurting this morning; not only a church, but a community. There isn’t much we can do at this point beyond lifting these people up in prayer, and ourselves also because what happened at Grace could just as easily happen in any of our churches.”

“How long were you aware of the situation?” Jerry Winston, pastor of Arvel’s Pick Creek church asked. Jerry had a reputation for being a tough, conservative, by-the-Bible, Old Testament-type of preacher. He had already been overheard referring to the women as harlots and suggesting that the Mosaic law had a strict punishment for infidelity.

“About six weeks,” Emmitt answered, setting off a buzz around the table. “Billy Clayton, the chairman of deacons, came over and told me he had discovered and confirmed that Merle’s wife, Colleen, was involved. He was certain that Merle had no knowledge of the affair and was concerned what would happen when he found out. As we all know, Merle Clinton never has been one to keep his opinions to himself. So, I called our office of Ministerial Services and Clyde Benning and Roger Welch came up and the three of us went together to break the news to Merle. He, understandably, did not take the news well, but by the time we left, we were all three of the opinion that Merle was going to quietly resign and he and his family were going to move into a house in Edmund that the convention owns.”

Glynn sat at the table astonished by what he was hearing. Emmit painfully laid out how that the pastor’s anger grew after they left and he decided to confront the deacon himself. The deacon called the pastor a liar and started rumors that it was the pastor, not him, who was having an affair. Other church members began calling Emmit and finally, someone called Clyde Benning directly. More meetings occurred. Each time, a truce and resolution appeared to be in place only to have it fall apart after the meeting ended. Joe Ingram’s meeting there on Thursday had been the final attempt to salvage the church. He had all but insisted that Merle leave a letter of resignation to be read on Sunday and leave town with his family immediately. The state convention would help provide a place for them to go until other accommodations could be established. Shortly after Dr. Ingram left, though, another woman in the church came to Merle and not only confessed that she had been having an affair with the same deacon but knew of five others as well. By the time Joe returned to Oklahoma City, there was a message waiting canceling the arrangement. 

Emmit, Clyde, and Roger had been in attendance for the morning service. They tried to talk with Merle but he refused to speak to them. When the fight broke out, Roger and Emmit had first tried to get the women and children out of the sanctuary to a place of safety. Clyde, who was tall and broad enough to be physically imposing, had literally grabbed Merle out of the crowd and carried him to the church office, barring the door so no one could get in. Roger had then rounded up Colleen and their children, taking them to a separate room. When all four of the town’s police officers showed up, Emmit had convinced them to go in without their weapons, making the argument that someone might attempt to steal a gun from its holster, creating an even larger tragedy. 

By the time Emmit finished relaying all the important details and correcting a handful of rumors, there wasn’t a pastor at the table who didn’t feel the pain of the tragedy. While opinions varied as to who was to blame within Grace church, everyone agreed that Emmit and the men from the state convention had done everything within their power to prevent Sunday’s melee. The question now was how they, as an association of cooperative churches, would handle the fallout. Being Sunday, the newspaper hadn’t had enough staff to put the story in the Monday morning edition, but it would certainly be in Tuesday’s. By that time, rumors would have spread all over both counties and most of the Northeast portion of the state. This wasn’t the kind of thing that anyone would keep quiet.

“My suggestion,” Emmit said wearily, “is that we not raise the subject from the pulpit. To do so would only give more fuel to the fire. Billy told me this morning that services there have already been canceled for at least the next two weeks. Those of you in the Washataug area may see some of their members in your services. If you do, greet them warmly and don’t make things awkward by addressing the matter in any way. This is Palm Sunday. We have plenty of positive things to preach about. Sermons about divorce, infidelity, or even forgiveness are going to be taken as opinion pieces and may ultimately do more harm than good. Please, for the sake of the gospel, be careful.”

Following a longer-than-usual prayer time, Emmit excused himself from the normal lunch gathering owing to the matters in Washataug he still needed to address. On his way out, though, he pulled Glynn to the side. “I understand Joe stopped by for a few minutes,” he said, a hint of his smile returning. “How’d it go?”

Glynn returned the smile. “Very well. He was warmer and more personal than I ever would have imagined. He had some fantastic advice.”

“He likes you, Glynn,” Emmit said. “He and I have talked several times since then and each time he’s mentioned something different he likes about you. Don’t be surprised if you get another visit after all this blows over.”

Glynn blushed. “Do you think it will blow over?”

Emmit shrugged. “I hope it will but this is such a mess… There’s a rumor now that women at First Church and a deacon at Emmanuel may be involved as well.” Emmit sighed heavily and shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets. “We’re going to lose Grace church,” he said quietly. “And every other Baptist church in the association is going to feel some of the pain.” He shook Glynn’s hand one more time and walked to his car.

Glynn decided to skip the lunch as well. He knew the pastors would hash and re-hash what happened at Grace and he didn’t care to be any part of it. He had sermons to prepare and church members of his own to visit. He drove back home with the radio turned off, praying quietly that no one from Grace would attend their services.

Glynn walked through the back door of the small home and slumped into a kitchen chair. Marve looked at him and said, “You’re ready to go back to Michigan, aren’t you?”

The pastor shook his head. “I’m sure things are just as bad there, I just wasn’t close enough to the action to know about it,” Glynn murmured. “Being a Baptist may be easier here than it was in Michigan, but people everywhere are sinners, and had I been full-time I probably would have known about all the bad things happening there as well. Being bi-vocational kept me insulated. Or blind. I’m not sure which.”

Marve pulled up a chair in front of him and took his hands in hers. She didn’t need to know what had happened. She understood Glynn’s discretion in not talking about other people’s problems. She didn’t like seeing what the weight of those problems was doing to her husband, though. “Listen, I know the next couple of weeks are kinda big with Palm Sunday and Easter, and I’ve got a long list of messages waiting for you as well. But right now? You and I are going to stop everything and go lie down. If you’re going to survive this, you’re going to have to rest.” She leaned forward and kissed him, easing up onto his lap, wrapping her arms around him. 

When they finally paused, Glynn asked, “I’ll go lie down but do we have to sleep?”

Marve giggled and shook her head.

The next two hours were as blissfull as any they’d had since moving to Adelbert. Once Hayden had them back up, Glynn started in on the long list of phone calls he needed to return before going to the hospital in Washataug. There were church members in the hospital in Arvel as well but those weren’t as critical and could wait until Tuesday. 

In an attempt to keep church and family life in balance, Glynn made sure to eat breakfast with the kids and to walk Lita to school each morning before walking down to the church. He quickly discovered that, with his car not sitting in the church parking lot, the number of bothersome calls he received diminished severely. He enjoyed the peace and quiet, knowing that those with real needs would either call anyway or call Marve who would tell them to call the church. The important messages would get through. 

Something about the approaching Spring, though, had seemed to ignite latent medical conditions for a good portion of his congregation. Front desk receptionists at both hospitals now knew Glynn by name and were good to alert him to patients from Adelbert he didn’t know. He didn’t care whether they were church members or not. Everyone in pain deserved a pastoral visit, in his opinion. 

A virus was going through the community as well. Lita came home from school Thursday afternoon with a fever and her dinner came right back up soon after eating. That meant she wouldn’t be going to school the next morning. Glynn couldn’t help feeling a little lonely as he walked to the church by himself the next day.

Over the course of the week, the pastor made three ambulance trips with Hub, had lunch with Alan and Horace at the diner twice, and visited with six families whose names were on the church rolls but he hadn’t met since arriving. Some were busy with too much farm and too little help, illness plagued a couple of others, but one couple admitted that they stopped going to church because they weren’t sure they still believed what the church was preaching. Glynn listened to their questions, thoughts deeper than he had anticipated or had sufficient education to quickly answer. He promised them if they would come to church Sunday morning that he would try to have as many answers for them as he could. 

By Friday, Glynn had also confirmed an evangelist from North Little Rock, Arkansas for the Spring Revival, one that came highly recommended by the state convention’s evangelism department. He felt anxious about turning his pulpit over to someone he hadn’t met but the man’s considerable experience and reputation for producing results were encouraging. 

Stepping into the pulpit Sunday morning, Glynn looked across the congregation, happy to see several new faces, faces of people he had visited in the hospital, people who hadn’t been to church in years. He noticed certain seats did not contain their usual elderly occupants; the virus was still plaguing the small town and while Lita was feeling better and sitting with friends, older church members were struggling to recover. No seat was empty, though, confirming that they would need folding chairs at the ready the next week.

“This morning, we come into what I think is the most misunderstood week in Christianity,” Glynn said as he began his sermon. “We celebrate today, Palm Sunday, and what we have come to refer to as Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We know that just four short days from now, Jesus ends up on trial before Pilate. The next day, he was hung on a cross and died. Was this descent from high praise to high treason all part of God’s plan? That’s certainly the easiest explanation for us. No one is at fault if God had intended for everything to happen in the first place. Let’s look at scripture. John’s account is, I think, worth examining. Chapter 12, verse 12.

12 The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written,
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on an ass’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Laz′arus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“What we see in these verses sets up everything that happens over the next week. There is a sense of God’s plan at work when, as the people crowd around Jesus, he somehow finds a young donkey and persuades its owner to let him borrow it for the trip into the city. When we look at just this portion, it appears strong and triumphant, but around him is chaos. His own disciples are confused. The Pharisees, leaders of the Jewish community, were frustrated. We know that God is not the author of confusion, so why isn’t everyone on board here?”

Glynn paused long enough for people to shift uncomfortably in their seats as they weighed the question. Then, he continued, “What we forget is that in Jesus’ day, just as it is now, perception is everything. What people thought they saw, what we think they saw, was not necessarily what was happening. At least half of Jesus’ disciples were zealots, Jews who were anxiously looking for a military Messiah who would drive the Romans from Israel and restore their homeland. When they saw what was happening, from their perspective, this was the beginning of a coup. The prophet Zechariah had said that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which Jesus had just left, riding on a donkey. They weren’t ready. Jesus had caught them off guard. And while they joined the celebration, they were unsure as to what would happen next.”

“From the Pharisees’ perspective, what they saw was evening more troubling because at the same time Jesus was entering Jerusalem through one gate, Pilate was returning from a trip to Rome through another. The other gate is where the big parade was supposed to be. Pilate and his massive entourage of soldiers, their standards raised, their flags flying, would have been an impressive sight. That was where everyone was supposed to be, but they weren’t. Instead, here was this crowd, however large or small it might have been, on the other end of town, welcoming this cult leader that threatened to upset the delicate political environment they had established. If we can imagine Fidel Castro coming into Washington, DC at the same time President Nixon is returning from a trip, that’s a bit like what the Pharisees were feeling. And while we have the advantage of hindsight and see Jesus as the ultimate savior, the Pharisees didn’t have that advantage. Their perspective is that they were the protectors of the faith, the ones tasked with the message of God. They were certain they were doing God’s will but no one was listening. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem played more like a protest march than the arrival of the Son of God.”

Glynn paused again. This wasn’t the Palm Sunday sermon his congregation was expecting. Husbands and wives looked at each other. Deacons exchanged concerned glances from across the sanctuary. The pastor saw them all and smiled as he continued. “While there was confusion and consternation on the ground, though, from God’s perspective, this was a critical transition point. Jesus left the Mount of Olives as a teacher and entered Jerusalem, not as a military king, not as a political troublemaker, but as the sacrificial lamb necessary to take away the sins of the world. Here, he stops being Jesus of Nazareth and takes on the role of Savior of the world. And while the people in the streets thought they knew what was going on, the disciples thought they knew what was going on, and the Pharisees thought they knew what was going on, only God, in His omnipotence, really understood the importance of this moment.”

“We look at the events around us, we see the sin of some, we see the failings of others, we see what appears to be churches being torn apart, we read of events in the newspaper and we think we know what’s going on, but we’re quite likely to be wrong. In the context of God’s agenda, the world doesn’t need a king, or a boss, or a great leader, or even a great preacher. We don’t need excuses or explanations or justification for the natural reaction to things that happen. The world needs a sacrifice. The world needs a Savior. God’s plan leads to one place, Calvary. Not Washington. Not the capitals of Europe. Not even Israel. God’s plan only leads to the cross.”

When the service was over, Glynn stood at the front door of the church shaking hands, noting the brevity of the greetings. Even Buck, who was normally talkative, left with an almost dismissive, “See you this evening.” The young couple with the questions promised to be back, though. 

“You made them think,” Marve said once they were home. “I’m not sure anyone is accustomed to doing that on Sunday morning.”

“I’m not sure some are accustomed to thinking at all,” Glynn said. “That’s going to have to change.”

Chapter 10

Sundays tended to be quiet following the morning service, the evening service often being little more than a footnote to the day. Monday morning found Glynn on the phone before he’d had time to finish his first cup of coffee. Marve was still in her housecoat, fixing breakfast, and the pastor was looking under Lita’s bed for the matching barrette for her hair when the phone rang. Glynn bumped his head on the bottom of the bed which led him to mutter something under his breath that no one else actually heard. 

The phone kept ringing until Glynn could get to it. He paused, took a deep breath, and answered, “Hello, Waterbury residence. This is Glynn. How may I help you?” The greeting was formal, to be sure, but Lita was tall enough to reach the phone now and they were trying to teach her some manners for the times she was allowed to answer it.

“Good morning, Glynn, this is Richard,” said the voice on the other end of the call. “Sorry for the early hour, but I wanted to call before leaving for school.” Richard Lore was the schools’ only music teacher, covering everything from Kindergarten music time to high school band and choir. He was also the church’s music director, which meant he was responsible for choosing the “special” music for each service, the song just prior to the pastor’s sermon. 

“Not a problem,” Glynn replied. Marve shot him a stern look, knowing he was lying. Phone calls before 7:00 were a problem unless someone was dying.

“I wanted to check with you about Sunday’s music,” Richard said. “The choir has been working on ‘The King Is Coming,” and I was wondering what you thought about them doing that one just before the sermon.

Glynn paused for the briefest of moments as the words of the relatively new song by Bill and Gloria Gaither ran through his mind.

“The marketplace is empty
No more traffic in the streets
All the builders’ tools are silent
No more time to harvest wheat
Busy housewives cease their labors
In the courtroom no debate
Work on earth is all suspended
As the King comes thro’ the gate…:”

“I don’t know, Richard,” Glynn said carefully, not wanting to hurt the musician’s feelings. “Would you mind holding onto that for about four weeks? That’s more of a ‘Second Coming’ song. It doesn’t really fit the resurrection, does it?”

It was Richard’s turn to pause for a moment before answering. “Perhaps not directly, but isn’t the resurrection of Easter a metaphor for the final resurrection of Jesus’ return?”

“I suppose you could look at it that way,” the pastor replied, his deeper, more authoritative voice in use now. “But that’s not the direction the sermon is going. I had given some thought to doing a heavy ‘Second Coming’ sermon the week following the revival. Didn’t I hear the choir working on an arrangement of ‘What Wondrous Love’ last Wednesday? That sounded pretty good.”

This elicited another look and a pointed finger warning from Marve. The choir had not sounded good. Everyone there knew it hadn’t sounded good. With the majority of choir members being over the age of 60, there was little chance it would ever sound good.

Richard paused again. “You’re right, ‘What Wondrous Love’ is probably the better choice.” The tone of the musician’s voice fell. “I’m sorry, the song is just exciting for me.”

“I appreciate that Richard, I really do. I enjoy that song as well, it’s very stirring,” Glynn said. “We have the Gaither’s album and enjoy it. I’ll look forward to hearing the choir sing it after the revival.”

“Okay, we can do that,” came the defeated reply. “Any other suggestions for this Sunday?”

“I think everyone kind of expects the standards. You know, ‘He Arose,’ ‘Power In The Blood,’ ‘Old Rugged Cross,’ and maybe ‘Jesus Paid It All’ for the invitation. ‘When I Survey The Wondrous Cross’ is always inspiring, but we did that one just a couple of weeks ago. What do you think?” Glynn was certain he had hurt Richard’s feelings and was trying to recover.

“How would you feel about ‘Amazing Grace?” Richard asked. “Even people who don’t go to church are going to know that one.”

Glynn winced. “Amazing Grace” was certainly popular, some would argue too popular. Glynn’s issue was that the song was not explicitly Christian, using the word “grace” in a more spiritual, universal sense without mentioning the elements that delivered grace—Jesus, the cross, or the resurrection. He had already shot down one of Richard’s suggestions, though. He could let this one slide. “Sure, that can work,” he replied. “Perhaps right before the morning offering?”

Richard’s voice seemed to perk up a little. “Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll have a final list for you Wednesday night.”

“That sounds good,” Glynn said. “I’ll see you then.”

As Glynn hung up the phone, Marve looked up from the kitchen table where she was getting Hayden set for breakfast. “Glynn Waterbury, you’re going to have to do some praying this morning, lying like that.”

Glynn sighed as he sat down at the table. “I know, and I’m pretty sure I hurt Richard’s feelings, but I couldn’t let him do that song this Sunday. It doesn’t fit.”

Marve picked up the coffee pot and refilled Glynn’s cup. “I agree with you on that part,” she said, “but when did you start planning your sermons out a month in advance? And you have got to stop telling people ‘no problem’ when they call this early in the morning. This house is not open 24 hours a day.”

“But I’m the pastor, and I am essentially open 24 hours a day,” Glynn countered. “It doesn’t matter when someone has a need, I have to be willing to answer it even if I’m not totally awake. That’s part of being a pastor.”

“There have to be limits, Glynn. Emergencies, sure, they need to call. But don’t tell me Richard couldn’t have called you during one of his smoke breaks between classes,” Marve said, her voice growing more irritated. “You’ve got to set some limits.”

“This wasn’t the time for that, Marve. I’ll try to set some limits where it’s appropriate, but we’ve barely been here two months, people are still getting to know us and we’re still getting to know them.” Glynn took a sip of his coffee. “Maybe we shouldn’t be so judgmental about people who smoke, either,” he added, knowing it was one of Marve’s pet peeves. Glynn wasn’t especially comfortable around smokers and it was a habit he had never found appealing, but it was still socially popular, especially in more rural areas like Adelbert.

“Sure, let’s let smoking slide,” Marve said as she sat down at the table. “I’m sure Jesus would have had a Marlboro hanging from his mouth during the Sermon on the Mount.”

Glynn was almost thankful that Hayden chose that exact moment to fling a spoonful of oatmeal across the table, hitting his sister. Lita screamed and dumped her entire bowl on her brother’s head. With both children now crying, the parental response was automatic. Glynn grabbed Hayden and went to the restroom while Marve took Lita to the bedroom. This would be the tone of the entire day.

Five minutes into the Pastors’ Conference, Glynn was wishing he’d skipped the meeting. Fallout from the situation at Grace Church, Washataug, remained the hottest topic with opinions differing on whether the deacon was responsible for the destruction of the church or the pastor or the many women involved. No matter how much Emmit tried to steer the conversation in other directions, the pastors continually came back one way or another. One Washataug pastor said his church had decided to refuse membership to anyone coming from Grace. Another recounted how a deacon had confronted one of the families from Grace directly involved in the matter and let them know they were not welcome. Others questioned whether Grace Church should be kicked out of the Association, a move that Emmit and Glynn strongly opposed but drew a lot of support from the other pastors. 

Glynn skipped the lunch portion again and went straight back to the church, his stomach too tied up in knots to be in the mood to eat. He had hardly sat down at his desk when there was a knock on the outside door and Alan Mayes walked in.

“Sorry to bother you, preacher,” Alan started, “but I saw you pull up and wanted to stop by just for a second. I was wondering about your sermon yesterday morning.”

Glynn looked up and motioned for Alan to take a seat. “Sure, what’s bothering you?”

Alan sat down directly across from the pastor. “Well, something you said about us not needing a king, or a great leader, or a great preacher kinda bothered me. Seems to me, we need all those things right now. We need strong Christian leaders everywhere, in our schools, in our elected officials, and as the situation over there at Grace Washataug proves, in our preachers. I don’t think now’s the right time to be presenting Jesus Christ or his followers as lambs being sacrificed.”

Glynn leaned forward on the desk, choosing his words carefully, knowing they would likely be taken out of context later. “Yes, we need strong Christian leaders, especially in the church, but the example that Christ gives us is that strength comes in yielding to God, even to the point of becoming a sacrifice so that others will come to salvation. Jesus says that we must first be a servant before we can lead. God’s kingdom isn’t one to be forced by might, but through patience, forgiveness, love, and grace.”

“So, you’d forgive all those people over in Washataug?” Alan asked.

“My forgiveness isn’t what they need,” Glynn answered, “and I’m pretty sure God has already forgiven them.”

“Uh-huh,” Alan said in a tone that conveyed his disagreement. “Okay then, preacher, I’ll leave you to your studies. Just wanted to check with you about that.”

“My doors always open, Alan,” Glynn replied as he stood to shake the deacon’s hand. “Feel free to stop by anytime.”

Tensions seemed to remain high all week and a massive Thunderstorm on Wednesday didn’t help. Marve kept the kids home from Bible Study as did almost everyone else. Glynn, Buck, and Richard sat on the front pews talking about The Godfather and other movies until it was obvious no one else was going to show up. They prayed, waited to make sure no one else came in for the non-existent choir rehearsal, then went home. 

Glynn spent Friday morning putting the finishing touched on his evening sermon then spent the rest of the day with his family. School had let out for the day as was customary, though none of the students were Catholic. The bank was closed as well. The kids were fairly quiet as another round of storms rolled through. Naps helped keep everyone in a decent enough mood that Glynn took them to the diner for a dish of ice cream.

Sunday proved to be everything the pastor had expected and dreaded. Sanctuary pews were half-filled before Sunday School let out. Deacons set a row of chairs down both sides of the wide center aisle, then more along the more narrow outside aisles. Glynn watched from the back of the sanctuary, thankful they weren’t using any candles or other materials whose misuse might prompt a sudden evacuation.

The first part of the service was sufficiently routine. The choir did its best despite both the lack of rehearsal and the fact that a third of the people sitting there never sang in the choir at all. Glynn felt confident as he stepped into the pulpit to begin his sermon.

“We have come here this morning, all of us in our own way looking for Jesus. We come with our expectations set high, sure of what we will find, what we will experience, and perhaps completely unaware of the surprise God has in store for us. We are like Mary and the other women who went to the tomb that morning. Matthew 28 gives us a familiar account.”

When the Sabbath was over, just as the first day of the week was dawning Mary from Magdala and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. At that moment there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven, went forward and rolled back the stone and took his seat upon it. His appearance was dazzling like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards shook with terror at the sight of him and collapsed like dead men. But the angel spoke to the women, “Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here—he is risen, just as he said he would. Come and look at the place where he was lying. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.

The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.

“When Mary and the other women close to Jesus went to the tomb that morning, all they expected was to finish the burial rituals that that Sabbath had prevented them from completing earlier, but the morning was full of surprises. They expected guards but the stone covering the tomb had been rolled away and the guards had passed out. They expected to be alone, but here sat this angel shining in all of Heaven’s glory. They expected to find a dead body, but he is not here—he is risen.”

“Like those women, we look for Jesus in the wrong places. We look for Jesus among the relics of overworked and over-wrought religion, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the catacombs of catechisms seeking to bring order to our religion, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the crypts of consumerism as television evangelists try to convince us we can buy our way into heaven by donating to their ministry, but he is not here—he is risen.
We look for Jesus in the sepulcher of spirituality as though our good deeds might save us, but he is not here—he is risen.
We look for Jesus in the tomb of tradition because lord knows we’ve always done it that way, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the pit of piety, trying to show the world just how religious we are, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the coffin of constraint, sure that if we simply don’t do the bad things we’ll be safe, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the grave of guilt, convinced that if we publicly and loudly confess every last one of our sins that we will be worthy, but he is not here—he is risen.”

“We look so hard to find Jesus where he isn’t that we miss him where he is. Jesus is not dead, so why would he continue to linger around our religious graveyards? Jesus is alive in the very things his resurrection secured for us.
  Jesus is alive in forgiveness for as he forgives us we are also to forgive others.
  Jesus is alive in acceptance for as he died for both Jews and Gentiles, so we are to accept everyone without condition.
  Jesus is alive in comfort for as he dries our tears so are we to comfort those who are distressed and in need.
  Jesus is alive in generosity for as he saw fit to leave the riches of Heaven for our sake so must we be willing to give to the poor and the hungry not only in our community but around the world.
  Jesus is alive in mercy for has he removed the eternal consequences of sin for us so also must we look past the grievances of sin done against us.
  Jesus is alive in the grace he has poured out upon those not worthy and it is that same grace we must extend to those we find most undesirable.
  Jesus is alive in the blood that secured our salvation and we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, our homes, our jobs, our desires, and perhaps even our lives for the benefit of others.
  Most importantly, Jesus is alive in the love that he has for us and the greatest commandment is that we love God and the second is that we love each other just as much as we love God.”

“My dear friends, if we are having trouble finding Jesus, perhaps the problem is that we’re looking in the wrong places.”

Glynn’s voice thundered through the sermon in poetic fashion. People responded. The Invitation, an evangelical addition to the worship liturgy where congregants feeling convicted walk down the aisle to confess and “be saved,” or respond to the message in some form of self-deprecating supplication, all while the rest of the congregation sings a theoretically compelling hymn, lasted nearly 15 minutes. After “Jesus Paid It All” was sung at as slow a tempo as humanly possible three times, Richard switched to the standard “Just As I Am,” also sung slowly so as to not run out of song before people stopped coming. 

Then, there was that point of the service, again unique to evangelical churches and given a particular twist by Southern Baptists, where those who had “come forward” stood in front of the congregation as the pastor explained why each person was there. Following that, the congregation was invited to “extend the hand of Christian fellowship,” to those standing there, something like a receiving line for the newly converted or those joining the church. All this extended the service by another 20 minutes.

Buck’s family had invited the Waterbury family to join them for Easter dinner, which they Waterburys were happy to do, but by the time they ate and chatted for a bit, it was 4:00 in the afternoon when they returned home. Glynn collapsed into the recliner while Marve tried to convince the children that they needed to take a nap. When all was finally quiet, Marve stretched out on the sofa and closed her eyes. “I’m glad this only happens once a year,” she said. “I don’t think I could hand this every week.”

“You know,” Glynn said quietly, “Full-gospel and A.M.E (African Methodist Episcopal) churches are probably still going. They’ll have dinner, play games, and then go right on into their second service.”

“I’m glad Southern Baptists don’t get quite so excited about church,” Marve replied. “And while your sermon was one of the best I’ve heard you preach, that whole Invitation process nearly had me asleep. You know, the Methodists were just as happy about the resurrection as we are but they were out by noon.”

“All seven of them, rushing home to their warm cups of broth,” Glynn said, poking fun at the small and elderly Methodist congregation that met just down the street from First Baptist. “I think I saw five cars in the parking lot at the Catholic church this morning. That’s double what they normally have. I’m sure Father Ridley was thrilled.”

Neither of them said anything for a while, their thoughts taking them different places as they tried to relax while they could. Several minutes had passed before Marve asked, “Do you think they did the full service?”

“Who did what service?” Glynn answered, jolted from nearly being asleep.

“Father Ridley. Do you think he did a full mass with only a handful of people there?”

Glynn thought for a moment. His knowledge and understanding of the Catholic mass and its variations was limited. He knew few still did mass in Latin and priests followed a set liturgical calendar but beyond that, he only knew what he had seen on television. “I don’t know. I think Easter Mass is kinda set in stone. He has to do communion and all that stuff.”

Marve replied with a soft, “Mmmmm. Sounds complicated.”

“We’re always finding ways to complicate God,” Glynn whispered as he drifted off to sleep.

Pastors' Conference 1972

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Chapter 7

Tuesday morning came early for the entire Waterbury family. Sure, Glynn and Marve tried being quiet and not waking the kids, but the sounds of breakfast being prepared and the fragrance of coffee brewing in the percolator couldn’t be hidden in such a small house. Hayden was up first, and he soon made sure his sister was awake as well. By the time Emmit arrived to pick up Glynn at 6:30, Marve was frustrated by the prospect of having to keep the kids entertained until time for school.

Just making the trip to Oklahoma City was exciting for Glynn. He and Emmit purposefully avoided “church talk” as they traveled across the Will Rogers Turnpike to Tulsa and then Southwest to Oklahoma City. Glynn found the landscape dotted by oil wells and derricks fascinating. Emmit filled Glynn in on the importance of Oklahoma University football and Oklahoma State’s basketball program and how the two were almost as sacred as the gospel when playoff time rolled around. 

Where the two disagreed was in the area of music. Emmit was wholly committed to country music while Glynn preferred the R&B sound that had grown in popularity over the past few years. They both admitted that Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Amazing Grace” was soul-stirring, but while Emmit thought Elvis Presley’s Grammy for covering Bill Gather’s “He Touched Me” was a win for gospel music, Glynn thought it was self-serving and hypocritical of an artist who, in every other way, demonstrated an un-Christian lifestyle. 

The drive passed quickly enough and before he knew it Glynn was staring at the broad Oklahoma City skyline with amazement. While the city’s population was considerably smaller than Detroit’s, its footprint was wider and not as tall. Emmit wound his way through the city to the Baptist Building on North Robinson Street, just a few blocks north of where a new federal building was under construction. The four-story limestone building was largely utilitarian in its architecture and design with the polished red marble of the lobby floor being the only hint of the building’s importance. 

Emmit and Glynn entered through the Baptist Book Store on the North side of the building, as did almost everyone else because that was the entrance adjacent to the parking lot. Emmit explained that the store stocked all the Sunday School, Training Union, Vacation Bible School, and other denominational materials that churches regularly used, including various record-keeping forms that made it easier to keep up with all the details of church life. That made the store practical and justified its existence within the building. What held everyone’s attention, however, were the new books of Bible philosophy, sermons, commentary, and exposition. The vast majority of Oklahoma pastors had no formal Bible training and for them, these books were the next-best-thing to going to school. 

After browsing a few minutes and acquainting Glynn with the layout of the store, Emmit took him on a floor-by-floor tour of the convention’s primary offices, covering missions, church growth and planning, ministerial services, evangelism, estate planning, education, and music before reaching the executive offices on the fourth floor. Glynn was impressed by the men he met in each office. No matter how busy they appeared to be, each stopped what they were doing and greeted him warmly. He would forever talk about the day he met composer Gene Bartlett, head of the church music department, whose immediate instruction was that Glynn call him “Uncle Gene.” It was the convention’s executive director, however, that made the biggest impact. His secretary had apologized that he was in a meeting, a fact verified by glancing through the open door and seeing the group of men seated at a table. As Glynn glanced through the office door, however, one of the men stood and excused himself, and came through the door with his hand out, ready to shake. 

“Hi, I’m Joe Ingram,” he said cheerfully. “You’re the new pastor at Adelbert, I’m guessing. Emmit told me you’d be accompanying him this morning. We’re glad to have you! You came down from Michigan, I hear…”

Glynn immediately felt as though he’d just made a new friend. The executive seemed to completely ignore the others waiting in his office for more than five minutes as the two shared the superficial information necessary at such a meeting. Ingram struck him as one of the most sincere people he’d ever met. He ended the encounter with a smile and, “Call me if you ever need anything.”

As Ingram returned to his office, Glynn turned to Emmit. “That was a lot more than I expected,” he said. “Is he like that with everyone?”

Emmit nodded. “He tries to get to know every full-time pastor in the state. He knows many of the bi-vocational pastors as well. He may not remember your name the first time or two, but he’ll make a point to ask. And when he says ‘call me,’ he means it. I’ve never called this office but what he didn’t return my call by the end of the day.”

“That’s… quite a change from Michigan,” Glynn said. “I pastored there for over ten years and can’t really say I knew anyone from the state office.”

“I’m sure there are a lot of differences,” Emmit replied. “Being Baptist in Oklahoma is easy. We don’t have to sell who we are like they do in some states. Just across the state line, up in Kansas, it’s a totally different story. They struggle just to let people know they exist. Here, that’s not a problem. I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a luxury. Other states feel more like a mission field.”

Emmitt soon excused himself to attend the meeting that had made the trip necessary in the first place. Glynn took the time to peruse the book store, looking through all the administrative materials he never knew existed. He would have to talk with the church’s treasurer to see what system she was using. If it wasn’t the one provided by the convention, then he would want her to change. The same applied to Sunday School and Training Union records. Everything he saw made so much more sense than scribbling down numbers on random pieces of paper, which was what he was pretty sure everyone in Aldelbert was currently doing. 

For the trip back, it was Glynn who was bubbly and excited, dominating the conversation with all he had seen and the changes he was hoping to make. 

Emmit encouraged the pastor to be cautious. “Norma’s been that church’s treasurer a long time. I know she uses the correct forms when she sends the Cooperative Program check each month, but she’s not going to take kindly to anyone messing with her books. Her late husband was an accountant for the county. She follows what he taught her and won’t be open to doing things differently.”

“But this method seems so much more transparent for the church,” Glynn insisted.

Emmit chuckled. “Stop and think about what you just said,” he warned. “Small churches like yours already nit-pick over every dime spent in the first place. About three years ago, that church almost got into a knock-down, drag-out fight over the cost of replacing the fluorescent light bulbs in the sanctuary. If anything, I think a little less openness might help you get things done.”

Glynn thought for a moment before responding. He hadn’t considered the downside to church members knowing how their tithe money was spent. “You may be right,” he admitted. “They really got into a fight over light bulbs?”

“That was a big one,” Emmit said. “Your predecessor had only been there a couple of months and when a bulb went out he just went over to the hardware store in Washataug and bought a couple and replaced them. He gave Norma the receipt and she reimbursed him in his next check. Of course, that got listed on her monthly statement and when Alan Mayes and some other church members saw that change in the amount of Harrel’s check, things got heated in a hurry. Took three months and a lot of meetings for things to die down.”

Glynn sat back in the car seat and sighed. “I’m really beginning to get the opinion that Alan Mayes is a bit of a trouble maker.”

“He’s either your strongest ally or your biggest enemy,” Emmit said. “He likes to say he runs the county, and that includes the church and the school.”

“The school?” Glynn asked, confused.

Emmit nodded. “Yep, he’s on the school board as well. I’m pretty sure he’s on the bank’s board of directors, too. You’ll want to be careful about crossing him.”

Glynn shook his head. This wasn’t a situation he had encountered before. Sure, there was always someone who didn’t like what the church was doing, but they could usually be placated easily enough. Someone with as much influence as Alan Mayes could keep Glynn from making any progress with the church. “So, how are we supposed to grow as a church if everything as to go through Alan Mayes?” he asked.

“The same way his wife convinced him to buy her a new car last year,” Emmit said, laughing. “Make him think it’s his idea. She kept talking about how much it cost to repair her old car and that a new one would save them money. After four or five months of that, Alan drives off in her car one morning and comes back with a new one. He called it a gift, but Trixie had out-maneuvered him. She had even talked to the car dealer in Arvel so that he would know which car to sell him. You can keep him on your side, you just have to think ahead and plan carefully. Don’t be impulsive in making any changes.”

By the time Emmit dropped Glynn back at home, the excitement of the trip had been tempered. Glynn still sounded excited when he told Marve who he had met and how they had treated him. He stayed quiet on his plans for changing the administrative processes, though. 

Marve waited until Glynn finished telling about the trip before hitting him with her own report. “I got a call from Lita’s teacher today,” she said quietly. “She’s not adapting well. Apparently, the reading and math systems they use here are considerably different from what they use in Michigan and she’s having trouble adapting. Math doesn’t surprise me so much, but you know as well as I do Lita’s a strong reader. I don’t understand what the problem is there.”

Glynn poured a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table. “What does her teacher suggest?” he asked.

“Maybe some tutoring,” Marve answered. “She said she’s going to try spending more time with her, be more direct in explaining what she needs to do. If that doesn’t work, though, she says it might be to Lita’s benefit to holding her back in fourth grade another year.”

“That doesn’t make a lick of sense,” Glynn said. He felt angry and defensive at what seemed to be an attack on his little girl. “She’s a good student. We know she’s a good student. Her records prove she’s a good student. The problem isn’t with Lita, it’s with the school system here.”

Marve sighed. She knew how stubborn Glynn could get when he felt a member of the family was being attacked. She loved how he always came to their defense but wasn’t so enthused at his lack of willingness to listen and compromise. Talking to him about the subject now would be futile. So, she changed the topic. “Oh, Joanne Lyles, Horace’s wife, is in the hospital in Arvel. Rose Everett said she passed out on her kitchen floor and Horace couldn’t revive her. Rose called here looking for you, thought you might want to ride in the ambulance with Hub.”

Glynn looked at his watch. “It’s 4:30 now. Evening visiting hours at the hospital start at six. What are we having for dinner?”

“I already have a chicken in the oven,” she said. “It’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

Glynn continued looking at his watch, looking at the second hand as it ticked its way around the face as though he were timing his next action. “So, we can eat and I can still have time to get over there and see her. Horace is a deacon. I don’t think I need to wait until tomorrow.”

“You’ll miss putting the kids to bed,” Marve said quietly. “You know how Hayden is about his routine.”

“You can handle that, can’t you?” Glynn asked as he leaned on the table, his hand propping up his head. “I don’t think Hayden’s going to mind for one night.”

“You won’t be here tomorrow night, either. You have a deacon’s meeting after the prayer service,” Marve reminded him.

“That’s right,” Glynn replied. “I don’t want the Lyles’ to think I’m snubbing them, though. I really think I need to go over there.”

Marve walked over from the stove and kissed the top of Glynn’s head. “Of course you do,” she said softly. “This is part of being a full-time pastor. We’re all still adjusting. I’ll take care of the kids. You go.”

The rest of Glynn’s week stayed busy. The doctor said Joanne Lyles had suffered a heart attack, that this one had been small but that there would be others if she didn’t slow down. Glynn made a trip to the hospital every day to see how she and Horace were doing. He had also ridden in the ambulance with Hub when another church member fell and broke her elbow. While at the hospital, he had discovered there were three other church members there for various reasons. He made sure he took the time to see each of them.

By the time Saturday morning arrived, Glynn realized he didn’t have a clue what he was going to preach the next day. He kissed Marve and headed to the office right after breakfast, staying there until well after dinner.

When he stepped into the pulpit the next morning, he began with an apology. “I have to admit that I stand here this morning feeling a little tired,” he started. “We are all busy people leading busy lives and being busy takes its toll on all of us, myself included. Yet, for all the things we think we have to do, there is something more important that God calls us to do. In his letter to the church at Phillipi, Paul tells them,

4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

“Who, in all of heaven, could have been any busier and more important than Jesus Christ himself?” Glynn continued. “I can just imagine that his day planner was always full, listening to and answering prayers, running the universe, managing angels. And yet, when we needed a Savior, he stopped what he was doing in heaven, came to us in human form, and delivered to us the salvation we so desperately needed. If Jesus can take time out of his schedule to minister to us, it is equally important for us to make time in our schedules to minister to each other.”

Marve’s position in the church choir put her directly behind Glynn so not many could see the look of concern on her face and those who could have seen her paid no attention. Marve knew that Glynn hadn’t been home for dinner four of the seven nights that week. She also knew that this new schedule was more than just an “adjustment.” She could already see the dark circles beginning to form around her husband’s eyes. She could feel the weariness as he fell into bed, exhausted, each night. As she listened to his sermon, she began to wonder if there was such a thing as ministering too much. 

As Glynn prepared to leave for Pastors’ Conference the next morning, Marve asked, “You know, when you worked at the plant, you would at least take Saturdays off. Do you get any breaks or are you always going to be gone seven days a week?”

Glynn shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I had kinda planned on Saturdays still being my day off, but I guess it depends on what all is going on. Why?”

“I miss you,” Marve said. “The kids miss you. There were too many days last week where the only time we saw you was when you ran home to eat quickly before running back out the door again.”

“I think last week was a fluke,” Glynn said as he bent down to tie his shoes. “Joanne went home yesterday and the hospital gave me a minister’s pass so I don’t have to wait on visiting hours to check up on church members. I can work that into my day. This is the only meeting I have scheduled all week. I’ll be home so much you’ll be sick of me.” He smiled and reached over to kiss his wife. 

“You’re forgetting the associational Vacation Bible School meeting Saturday,” Marve reminded him.

“Oh yeah, I am,” Glynn admitted, “But they’re providing child care, and you’re helping with the five-year-olds, aren’t you? So, we can all go. Make it a family outing.”

Marve smiled, though her heart wasn’t exactly in it. “Sure, that could be… fun. Maybe not as much fun as you and I having dinner one night, but… fun.”

Glynn kissed Marve again and then kissed the top of Hayden’s head. “I’ll be back a little after one. Maybe we can get in some cuddle time while someone naps,” he said, nodding toward Hayden.

“Yeah, let’s see how that goes,” Marve replied. “Have a good time.”

Glynn rolled his eyes. “Yeah, let’s see who’s suffering the most for Jesus this week.”

Chapter 8

Pastors’ Conference went pretty much as Glynn had expected. Only two other pastors had anything positive to say about their churches. Some were disturbed that divorce rates seemed to be increasing among younger couples. Pastors around Arvel reported smelling “marijuana and other drugs” around the portions of the church building where high school and college students tended to congregate. Everyone had an opinion on the Equal Rights Amendment, which Congress seemed ready to pass along to the states for ratification. The general consensus was that Oklahoma would never ratify such an open-ended law but they feared what might happen if enough other states did ratify the amendment. More than anything, the pastors were concerned that it would force the churches to accept women as deacons and pastors, something the convention as a whole vehemently refused to consider.

Among Emmit’s list of announcements was a reminder that church camps were just around the corner and that the camp committee was accepting suggestions for the camp’s pastor. This was new information to Glynn. He was aware of the state convention’s campground about an hour south of Oklahoma City, but no one had bothered to tell him yet about the smaller camp utilized by churches in the Northeast corner of the state. As soon as the meeting was over, he found Emmit and started asking questions.

“I can’t believe no one in your church has mentioned Camp Universal,” Emmit said. “Ya’ll have a nice cabin down there, just down the hill from the tabernacle. One of the most convenient locations on the grounds. They usually bring a full load of kids, too.”

“Really?” Glynn asked, astonished by the news. “We’ve been having fewer than a dozen kids under 18 in Sunday school.”

Emmit thought for a second then said, “You know, I think they use Vacation Bible School kind of as a recruitment for camp. I think ya’ll normally schedule VBS like two weeks after school lets out and Junior Camp is two weeks after that and Youth Camp is two weeks after that.”

Glynn pulled the pocket calendar from his shirt pocket and checked the dates. “So, what you’re telling me is that the entire month of June is either spent at camp or recovering from it.”

“Oh, it’s worse than that,” Glynn said. “The Southern Baptist Convention falls between the two camps. It’s in Philadephia. We’ll probably try to book a block of rooms at a hotel for associational messengers. Have you talked with your church about going?”

Glynn shook his head. “I’ve never been that involved in the denomination at that level. And Philadelphia, of all places? I don’t think that would be a wise use of my time. Not this year, at least.”

“Yeah, not many of our pastors ever go,” Emmit admitted. “It’s always so far away. Denver, St. Louis, and it’s all the way up in Portland, Oregon next year! I’m not sure anyone from here can afford to make that trip!”

“Why does the convention do that?” Glynn asked. “Are they trying to make it more difficult for us to come so they can do whatever they want?”

“Oh, I don’t think it’s anything quite that sinister,” Emmit said with a grin. “I know it’s easy to think the folks up in Nashville are forcing things down our throats but they’re really not. Now, I have been hearing some rumors about the staff at First, Dallas having some meeting with a judge down in Houston, but I think that’s just a lot of noise, too. The convention is pretty responsive to the churches.”

“So why put the annual meeting out in ten-buck-too where we don’t have many churches?” Glynn asked. “Seems to me it makes more sense to keep the meetings convenient to the most people.”

“It’s an outreach opportunity,” Emmit answered. “The week before the convention, a number of pastors and staff from all over the country go to the host state and hold revivals or conduct religious surveys to let people who have never heard of Southern Baptists know who we are and what we believe. So far, I think we’ve managed to win over more people than we’ve alienated. Of course, not many Oklahoma pastors can go because almost all of us are at one camp or another. At least, those from smaller churches are. The guys in Oklahoma City and Tulsa have staff to handle the camps.”

Glynn nodded. He was just starting to feel comfortable not going to another job every morning. He couldn’t imagine what it might be like to actually have a staff. “So, I suppose I need to ask Alan about camps, too.”

Emmit couldn’t help laughing out loud. “Would you believe Alan’s not in charge of this one? I think Buck handles it from the deacon’s side and Joanne Lyles actually does the bulk the work.”

Glynn sighed. “Not sure Joanne’s going to be up to handling that task this year. She just got out of the hospital after having a heart attack at home last week. She’s recuperating well but the doctor’s made it clear to her and Horace that she’s got to slow down and stop trying to do everything herself. Does anyone else have any experience, at least help her out?”

The Director of Missions thought for a moment. Adelbert always seemed to have a smooth-running operation so he hadn’t given them a lot of attention at camp. “I think Carmella Thomas helped cook one year, and Buck’s wife, Ramona, usually goes down to help with Junior Camp. And the pastor’s wife. Always the pastor’s wife. I don’t think there’s ever been any exception there.” He paused again, trying to think of anyone else he had seen at camp even for a day. His memory was blank. “How’s Marve settling in? Think she’s ready to martial forces to help?”

“I’m not sure I want to ask,” Glynn replied. “So far, she’s been asked if she wants to take over the WMU, the GA’s, VBS, the nursery, and the pulpit flower committee, that I know of. She’s turned them all down. Participating is one thing, running anything other than our house she’s not so enthusiastic about. She’s not much on ‘roughing it,’ either. If I ask her to take on camps I’m likely to have to duck a frying pan.” 

“My wife’s the same way,” Emmit says. “She goes and helps because it’s expected, but she does what’s needed then retreats back to her bunk. She rarely even makes it up the hill for evening service more than a couple of times.” Emmit chuckled, “She and Marve would probably get along well.”

Glynn smiled. Marve needed a friend. He could tell she was beginning to feel isolated in the small house. Still, this didn’t sound like a situation where she would flourish. “What about kids? Marve will use Hayden as an excuse to stay home if she can.”

“Oh, that’s never a problem,” Emmit said, somewhat dismissively. “Several of the pastors have young children. There are always activities to keep them busy. Same for Lita during youth camp. There’s plenty to keep them from being underfoot. They even get their own swim time at the pool.” 

A pool raised the stakes. Marve liked to swim. That might be the camp’s only selling point for her. “Okay, I guess I’ll talk to Marve and Joanne, see what we can come up with. If I show up here with a black eye next Monday, though, you’ll know it didn’t go well.”

Emmit patted Glynn on the back. “You wouldn’t be the first one, brother.”

Glynn drove home dreading the conversation he would need to have with Marve. She had already reminded him a couple of times that pastoring the church was his job, not hers. She would bristle at the notion that anything was “expected” of her without her consent. He would have to carefully time what he said, make sure she wasn’t exasperated with the kids or feeling overwhelmed by the lack of space to do anything at home. Marve was not happy with their living situation and that seemed to perpetually keep her on edge.

That talk about camp wasn’t going to happen today, though. Neither was the nap he had been hoping for. As he walked through the back door into the kitchen, Marve handed him a sheet of lined paper with several messages on it. She kissed him on the cheek and said, “Sorry, but while you were out gossiping with your preacher buddies, a church member died. You need to go talk to Hub.”

Glynn stared at the list of messages. “Who? I didn’t know we had anyone that ill!”

“Her name is Mattie Dean, I think,” Marve answered as she turned back to the laundry stacked on the kitchen table. “Rose said she was 84, has pretty much been an invalid the past several years so she hasn’t been to church in quite a while. She may not have even known that the church changed pastors. Apparently she was once really faithful, though, and her family says the pastor of First Baptist Church is the only one that can bury her. Go, talk to Hub. He has all the details.”

Glynn groaned and slumped against the wall. He was tired. He was anxious. He was feeling that perhaps he wasn’t up to the task of being a full-time pastor. Working 40 hours on a factory floor was so much easier by comparison. He looked down the list of messages and calls he needed to return. “What did Buck want?” he asked, noticing the deacon’s name on the list.

“Something about a camp committee,” Marve answered as she continued folding laundry. “He said something about a cabin. I don’t know. Hayden was yelling the entire time.”

Glynn nodded. He wasn’t opening that can of worms just yet. He looked on down the list. “Joe Ingram called?” Glynn’s voice showed his surprise. 

Marve came over and looked at the list to job her memory. “Oh yeah, that convention guy from Oklahoma City. Yeah, you’ll want to call him back. I guess he’s in the area Thursday and wanted to know if he could drop by the church around 2:30.”

Glynn’s head began to swirl. The Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma? Here? In Glynn’s office? He had never even dreamed of such a thing. Before he could worry too much, though, he noticed Alan Mayes’ name on the list. “What did Alan want?” he asked, not expecting a pleasant response.

“Something about setting the dates for the spring revival around calf sales,” Marve said, returning again to the laundry. “He just called a few minutes ago. You can probably catch him at the diner around 3. But go, see Hub! The family’s waiting to set up this whole funeral thing! Alan can wait! Get!” She threw one of Hayden’s rompers at him playfully. He tossed it back and headed toward the bedroom.

“I need to put on a tie and jacket,” he said. “Doesn’t seem too respectful to show up looking casual.” Glynn quickly grabbed a tie and a sport coat. He looked over at the well-made bed, longingly. He had really needed that nap. He wasn’t going to get it.

The pastor rushed over to the funeral home. Sure enough, Mattie Dean had once been a powerhouse within the church, but once her husband died her health began to deteriorate and she had been completely house-bound the past seven years, dependent on a nurse and a daughter-in-law from Arvel for her care. The funeral would be Wednesday morning in the church sanctuary.

After finalizing the funeral plans, Glynn drove the 150 feet around the corner to the church office. He called Buck who confirmed that Camp Universal was a big thing and that yes, they would need to recruit help for Joanne. Buck had already talked with her and she insisted that she would still be there, but a couple of extra people would be needed to help. Buck asked if Marve might be available. Glynn waffled and said she probably could help a bit.

Glynn had completely forgotten about needing to schedule a spring revival. He drove over to the diner and, sure enough, Alan was there fussing to anyone who would listen about oil prices going up. The deacon’s concern with the revival was that it was generally scheduled for the second week of April, but this year that conflicted with the annual calf sale, an important event for every rancher in the region. Alan was thrilled at how easily Glynn was persuaded to move the revival. Glynn didn’t admit that he hadn’t given the matter any thought. 

The preacher drove back to the church wondering who he should invite to be the preacher for the week. He considered possibly one of the other pastors from the association but no one he had met so far had really impressed him much. He spent the rest of the afternoon returning the remaining phone calls. It was almost 5:00 when he dialed the number for Joe Ingram’s office in Oklahoma City. He was expecting to have to leave a message and was surprised when the secretary buzzed him on through.

“Glynn! Glad to hear back from you!” the church leader exclaimed. “Has Monday worn you out yet?”

Glynn wondered if it was experience or intuition that prompted the question. “It’s doing its best,” he answered. “I understand you’re going to be in the area later this week?”

“Yes, I’m going to be over in Washataug on Thursday,” Ingram answered. “Grace Church there has encountered a rather unsettling problem and we’re going to try and meet with the church leaders and help them find a solution before it explodes on them and the community. I should be finished there around 2, though, and thought, since I’m in the area, I might head on up your way for a bit. We didn’t have long to chat when you were at the Baptist Building last week. I’d like to talk with you a bit more, see how you’re handling the transition. I expect you’re starting to feel a bit fatigued about now.”

“Yes, sir,” Glynn replied, shocked by the apparent insight. “Exhausted is probably the best way to describe it.”

There was a chuckle from the other end of the line. “I’m not surprised, Glynn. Not only is this your first full-time position, but you’ve also completely changed environments, from Michigan to Oklahoma. There’s a lot that’s similar but there are a lot of differences as well. Believe it or not, there are resources to help.”

“That sounds fantastic,” Glynn said. “I would very much appreciate the visit.”

“Fantastic! I’ll look forward to seeing you Thursday!” Ingram said. 

Glynn hung up the phone feeling slightly encouraged that perhaps there was someone who understood what he was experiencing and could perhaps offer some tips for surviving what seemed to be a constant onslaught of people needing his attention.

Thursday morning arrived and Glynn was more anxious than ever. Not only did he have Joe Ingram arriving that afternoon, he still didn’t have either sermon prepared for Sunday. He had already given up on composing anything new and was looking through the notes of sermons he had preached in Michigan, hoping to find one that could be easily revised to fit. He wanted something motivating as much for his sake as his congregation’s. 

Dr. Ingram’s dark blue sedan pulled into the parking lot promptly at 2:30. Glynn greeted him happily and the two settled down on the front pew of the sanctuary to talk so there wouldn’t be a desk between them. As Glynn laid out his worries and anxiety, the executive director was calm and reassuring. Dr. Ingram offered the assistance of the convention’s evangelism office in finding an appropriate evangelist for the spring revival and suggested that dealing with power-oriented church members like Alan Mays wasn’t much different than Jesus trying to keep a head-strong Peter under control.  

An hour passed quickly and as Glynn walked the denominational leader to his car, Dr. Ingram offered one last piece of advice. “You know, we have a disadvantage that, unlike Jesus, we cannot see into the hearts and intentions of our church members. I just came from a church that may yet not only fall apart at the seams but in the process could discredit Southern Baptists throughout the community all because of something that happened right under a pastor’s nose but he was too busy with sermon prep to notice. Preaching great sermons is what everyone expects but being a good pastor is what’s truly important. Don’t be afraid to let God have control of your sermon, Glynn. Focus on being a pastor first.”

Glynn walked back into the church and sat at his desk. He flipped through his Bible and it fell open to Jeremiah 32. His eyes fell on verse 36.

36 “Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: 37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation; I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Glynn thought of a sermon he had once read. The outline was clear enough: 

  1. An EVERLASTING covenant
  2. An UNCHANGING GOD of the covenant
  3. A PERSEVERING PEOPLE of the covenant

Glynn turned around and looked at the books on his shelf. He opened the book by Charles Spurgeon and found the sermon. The final paragraph rang home.

“To use an old figure: be sure that you take a ticket all the way through. Many people have only believed in God to save them for a time; so long as they are faithful, or so long as they are earnest. Beloved, believe in God to keep you faithful and earnest all your life: take a ticket all the way through. Get a salvation which covers all risks. There is no other ticket issued from the authorized office but a through-ticket. Other tickets are forgeries. He that cannot keep you forever cannot keep you a day. If the power of regeneration will not last through life, it may not last an hour. Faith in the everlasting covenant stirs my heart’s blood, fills me with grateful joy, inspires me with confidence, fires me with enthusiasm. I can never give up my belief in what the Lord hath said, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”

Glynn closed the book and his Bible feeling surprisingly refreshed. Now, if he could just do the same for his church.

pastor's conference 1972

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Chapter 5

chapter 5

Glynn sat at the desk in his church office shivering, wishing the parka sitting in the chair across the desk from him wasn’t so bulky. The small electric heater was doing its best but it was no match for the harsh winter wind managing to make its way under the office door. He felt the wind was an apt metaphor for all the distractions that kept creeping into his mind as he tried to work on Sunday’s sermons. 

Already, the pastor had decided that he would use Phillipians 2:14-18 as his text. He stared at his open Bible. He had an opening comment about the cold and that no one seemed to enjoy what was a normal and natural part of the creation God had called good. Beyond that, though, he was stuck. He re-read the passage again.

Do all things without grumbling or questioning,  15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

Nothing. Nothing at all was coming. At least, nothing he could actually use. He considered all the depressive grumbling he had heard from the other pastors, but that was all “insider” conversation, things said with presumed confidence. The same held true for many of the other detailed complaints he had heard during the week. Carmella Thomas, the local leader of the Women’s Missionary Union, had rebuffed Glynn’s suggestion that the group meet monthly rather than quarterly with the complaint that organizing the meeting once a quarter was too stressful. “Just finding a type of sandwich that won’t kill half the women there is difficult enough,” she said. Pearl Morgan, who was church organist on the Sundays she wasn’t too tired to attend, threatened to quit completely if the piano wasn’t tuned. She complained it made the organ sound bad. And Rosetta Commerce, who held the lofty title of Nursery director despite the fact there were only two children of nursery age in the entire church, complained that the animal crackers kept disappearing from one Sunday to the next. None of those were examples Glynn could dare use in his sermon.

After sitting at the desk for the better part of an hour writing a sentence or two then scratching it out, Glynn decided that perhaps a trip down to the diner for a cup of coffee might help. Some of the “retired” men in town met there regularly around 10:00 each morning, telling tales and recounting local history. Perhaps there would be something in their conversation that might prove useful. He pulled on the parka and headed out the door, choosing to drive the two blocks rather than walk. Just because it wasn’t as cold in Oklahoma as it was in Michigan didn’t mean he didn’t feel like he was freezing in the wind.

The men at the diner greeted Glynn with a hearty, “Hey, Preacher!” and pulled another chair up to their already overcrowded table. Alta Groves, a widowed church member with a serious heart condition that her insurance failed to cover adequately, smiled as she brought Glynn a cup of coffee. The white porcelain mug was identical to the mugs everyone else was using, making it difficult to tell who was drinking from which cup. Glynn spotted a chip in the handle of his and decided that would be his marker if it ever became confusing.

As Glynn thanked Alta and began removing his coat, Cecil Eddie, a retired railroad worker trying to live off his pension, called across the table, “Hey, Preacher, whadda ya’ think about that young lady over in Arvel gettin’ killed? There’s a neighbor out there says her old man’s truck never left the house to go after her. Do you think maybe that deacon had anything to do with it?”

“Well, I don’t …” Glynn started.

“Could have been some other fella she was a-cheatin’ with,” interrupted  Calvin Wallace, a thin rail of a man who constantly reminded people that he had been farming the same land since the dust bowl.

Junior Patrick, a stout man whose wardrobe never changed from the denim overalls, red and white checkered shirt, and feed company ball cap, dumped in with, “I still think it was the deacon’s wife or someone’s wife. Those women, you know, they get a might fussy when someone starts going after their men.”

“Yeah, they’d rather kill us all by themselves,” Calvin responded. The men at the table all laughed while across the room Alta rolled her eyes and shook her head. 

Cecil sat up suddenly and put his mug on the table. “That sounds like Hub Everett’s siren, doesn’t it?”

The others set down their mugs and strained to listen. Sure enough, the sound of the town’s ambulance was growing louder as it approached the diner. Much to everyone’s surprise, the white converted funeral herse with a magnetic red light on top pulled into the diner’s parking lot and Hub Everett hopped out and ran toward the diner’s door. He opened it just enough to stick his head in and yell, “Jimmie Hulbert’s tractor done turned over on him. I’m gonna need some help!”

Immediately, every man at the table jumped up, placed a quarter on the table (ten cents for the coffee, 15 as a tip for Alta) and rushed toward the door.

“Preacher, why don’t you ride with me,” Hub suggested. “Your services may be needed more than mine.”

Glynn nodded and followed Hub back to the ambulance, getting into the passenger seat. He considered Hub one of the town’s most interesting residents. Like many, he had lived in Adelbert since he had returned from WWII. A decorated Army veteran, Hub had found he had some skill in dealing calmly with death and had opened the town’s only funeral home, settling down there with his wife, Rose, who handled the business side of things. As cars became more popular, resulting in an increase in non-lethal accidents, it had made sense to put a gurney in the back of his second hearse and start an ambulance service. CB radios would allow the county sheriff and the town police officer to quickly communicate with them when they needed transportation for a wreck victim. Hub would then radio back to Rose when he saw how challenging the patient’s condition was and she would, in turn, call the appropriate hospital to let them know Hub was coming. While Hub wasn’t able to provide any direct medical care, the service was one that local farmers considered invaluable and there was little question that Hub had helped save more than a few lives.

Hub himself wasn’t an especially big man, a little over 5’4”, a little bit of a paunch around his belly, his thin grey hair causing him to look older than his 64 years. His black suit with a white shirt was the mandatory uniform of his trade and he never strayed from it. He was also rarely without a cigar in his mouth. He said he had started smoking them during the war in remembrance of buddies he lost on the field and it just seemed like a good idea to continue. His personal rule was that he wouldn’t smoke during a funeral service, but he was quick to light one up immediately afterward. The funeral business had been good to Hub, enough so that his two sons had each opened additional funeral homes over in Arvel. As Hub was getting older, though, he was finding that he needed help more frequently, and this was one situation where all the old men following him likely wouldn’t be enough to save poor Jimmy Hulbert.

As the ambulance screamed down the dirt county road, Rose radioed to Hub, “Gloria says the gate along Miner’s Road is as close as you can get. Everything else is too soft to hold a vehicle.”

“10-4,” Hub replied. “I don’t suppose there are any cattle in that field, is there? Come back.”

“No cattle, but you’ll have about 200 yards of muddy pasture to cross,” Rose answered.

Hub looked over at Glynn. “Looks like we’re going to get our suits muddy today, Preacher.”

Glynn nodded. “That seems small compared to saving a man’s life.”

“Yes sir,” Hub returned. “Although, to be quite honest with ya’, I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot we can do. Lifting that tractor enough to get him out from under it is going to be quite a chore, especially in the mud, and it’s been darn-near 30 minutes since we got the call already. All you may have time for is last rights, or whatever you Baptists do.”

“We can pray,” Glynn said. “Try to provide some comfort.”

Hub nodded as the ambulance pulled up to the pasture gate. “This here’s the gate to his pasture. It’s just fastened up there with a piece of barbed wire across that post. If you can get the gate open I’ll grab the gurney and we’ll head on up.”

Glynn jumped over the small ditch and walked up to the wrought-iron gate. Sure enough, a simple strand of barbed wire was all that was keeping the gate shut. He lifted the wire and opened the gate as Hub pulled the gurney out of the back of the ambulance. The steel gurney was heaving and it took both men to carry it across the damp, plowed field. They both stumbled frequently as the clumps of earth gave way beneath their weight. 200 yards quickly began to feel like 200 miles as mud stuck to their shoes, making it all the more difficult to walk. Glynn couldn’t help hoping that the dry cleaner in Arvel knew what they were doing. His navy blue suit was already splattered with mud. 

By the time the two men reached the tractor with the gurney, most of the other men from the diner were already gathered around trying to figure out how to safely move the tractor. Everyone had an idea.

“If we tie a rope around it and pull with my truck I bet we can get it off him,” said one.

“Your truck would get stuck in the mud before it could get close enough,” countered another.

“We don’t need to completely upright the tractor,” Hub said as they approached. “We just need enough space to pull Jimmie out from under it. A few inches is all that’s necessary.”

Glynn looked into the face of the young man grimacing from the pain. The old, red Alis Chalmers tractor, with two small tires in the front and two massive wheels in the rear, was lying across Jimmie’s legs at an angle, giving him room to kneel down in the mud and try to talk to the boy. “Hi, Jimmie, I’m Glynn Waterbury. I’m the pastor at First Baptist Church. We’re doing to do everything we can to get this tractor off you, okay?”

Jimmie nodded. Tears rolled down the side of his face. Despite the cold, he was drenched in perspiration. Glynn instinctively took off his suit coat and wrapped it around the boy. “Here, let’s tuck this around you, keep you from going into shock.”

Jimmie Hulbert was 32 years old. Like many of the young men in the area, he was lean, lanky, with sandy hair, and was sporting a heavy “farmer’s tan” that marked where his shirt collar and sleeves stopped. He was married to Gloria, a local girl he had started dating in high school. She stood just off to the side, a neighbor trying to comfort her as she watched her young husband writhing. Jimmie’s legs were obviously crushed. The family had just let their insurance lap so they wouldn’t miss the mortgage payment on the farm. Back up at the farmhouse, another neighbor was trying to keep their two- and four-year-old boys occupied. Only a week ago, Gloria had told Jimmie she was pregnant with their third. They were excited. He was hoping for a girl. 

As the men stood arguing over the best way to get Jimmie’s legs free, Glynn stayed by his side, letting Jimmie squeeze his hand. “How much land are you farming out here?” Glynn asked, pretending to know what he was talking about.

“Just a couple hundred acres,” Jimmie replied. “My daddy gave us the homestead and fifty acres when we married, then we bought 150 off old man Phillips so we would have enough to actually make a decent crop. We did okay with corn last year, but with the way the market’s shaping up, I was thinking about soybeans this year.”

“Sounds like quite an undertaking,” Glynn said. “You have anyone out here helping you?”

The young man shook his head while biting his lower lip. 

To this day, no one who was there can explain exactly what happened next. Some said Gloria simply grew tired of the men fussing and not doing anything. Others insist they saw angels by her side. A doctor would later try to explain it as an extraordinary rush of adrenaline. Whatever the reason, Gloria suddenly pushed passed all the old men, straddled her husband’s legs, put her right shoulder against the tractor and began to push until she had it moving upward. In that instant, Glynn grabbed Jimmie under the arms and pulled him free. By the time Glynn had Jimmie clear of the tractor, Gloria had the tractor upright.

The men stood there with their mouths agape, then collectively rushed over to “make sure the tractor was stable and wouldn’t fall again.” 

Everything after that was a blur. Glynn rode in the ambulance with Hub to the hospital in Washataug. The small hospital there would later transfer Jimmie to a hospital in Tulsa. While standing in the waiting room, Gloria approached the pastor sheepishly and said, “I appreciate what you done, pastor. I should pro’ly tell you that we’re Assembly of God, though. I’m sorry.”

Glynn smiled. “We’re all children of God,” he replied, “and that’s what matters right now.”

Gloria nodded and slipped back to the hard plastic chairs to wait with Jimmie’s parents. Glynn understood the inference, though. His services as a pastor were no longer needed here. 

As soon as Hub retrieved the gurney they returned to Adelbert. By that time, word had gotten around town what had happened. Glynn was still covered in mud when he walked through the door at home. 

“So, this is what an angel of mercy looks like?” Marve teased, smiling from across the kitchen. She then rushed over and gave her husband a big kiss.

“Ewww, Dad, that suit’s trash!” Lita exclaimed. “Where’d you get all that mud?”

“The telephone has been ringing non-stop,” Marve told him. “Rose called first to let me know you were riding in the ambulance. Then, every other woman in town has called with their version of what happened. So, what happened? Did you really see an angel out in that field?”

Glynn thought for a second. Angels would definitely make for a good story, but he had been looking at Jimmie, not the tractor. “I don’t know,” he finally replied. “What I saw was a miracle any way you look at it.”

By Sunday, the entire county was convinced there are been angles helping Gloria lift the tractor. She had even said so herself. The Arvel Herald-Times ran the story on the front page of Friday’s edition. They quoted Junior Patrick as saying, “That preacher was a hero, right down there in that mud, pulling that boy out from under that tractor.” That was enough fame to fill the sanctuary as everyone came to hear the new pastor.

Marve stood next to Glynn at the back of the Sanctuary before the service started. “What to do you think? Do you change your sermon, all things considered?”

Glynn shook his head. “No, I’ll just tweak it a bit. I definitely have a good illustration.”

Marve smiled and whispered, “You know the mud’s not coming out of that suit.”

Glynn chucked. “Who knows, maybe there will be another miracle at the dry cleaners.”

Glynn’s celebrity status carried over to the Pastors’ Conference the next morning. For the second week, pastors crowded around him the instant he walked through the door. 

“We gotta know, the angels, what did they look like?”

“Did an angel help you pull that boy from under the tractor?”

“Was your sanctuary really standing-room-only yesterday?”

“Bet you’ll have a lot of people joining your church after that!”

All the attention made Glynn uncomfortable. “I really don’t think it’s right to focus on what I did or what anyone else did,” he told them. “What happened is an example of the miracle of God’s grace. He provided strength from unlikely sources. Like I told the church yesterday, if there’s any praise it has to go to God. He saved that boy. He may have used Jimmie’s wife, he may have used angels, but at the end of the day it’s all God’s doing.”

Emmit stood back and smiled. The Association needed this. “Even preachers need a hero they can see,” he thought to himself. 

Chapter 6

chapter 6

Rain moved across Oklahoma the next week and the Waterbury family got their first taste of the legendary Oklahoma weather as the small house shook with every clap of thunder and strong winds rattled the windows so hard Marve worried they might break. A very frightened Hayden had huddled in bed with his parents the first night. Lita joined him the next night. The result was that neither Glynn nor Marve were getting a lot of sleep.

Glynn sat at the kitchen table Wednesday morning reading the newspaper while Marve prepared the kids’ breakfast. The President was in China, something Glynn had never thought he’d see in his lifetime. The North Vietnamese had walked out on peace talks in Paris, though, and that felt like a more pressing concern.

“I’m not so sure about this world we live in,” Glynn said to no one in particular.

“I’m not so sure about this mudhole we live in,” Marve countered. “Have you seen the front yard this morning? I’m not sure I can even get the kids to the car without everyone getting wet.”

Glynn put the paper down and walked to the front window. Sure enough, the night’s rain had left a small lake surrounding the house. “We’ll have to form a chain,” he said. “I’ll put on my galoshes and wade out to the car. You can hand me the kids from the porch, I’ll set them in the back seat.”

“That works for the kids,” Marve said, “But I’m not about to let you carry me that way. And how did your galoshes get unpacked but no one else’s?”

“I’m not sure about that,” her husband answered. “I can take Lita to school this morning, though. No need for you to get out.”
Marve set plates of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of the children. “In that case, Hayden can just stay here with me. No need to get him out in this mess.”

“Does that mean I can ride in the front seat?” Lita piped up.

“I suppose so,” Glynn replied.

“You want to drop by the store and get some milk and ground beef for me while you’re out?” Marve asked. “We’re obviously not walking in this mess.”

“Sure,” Glynn said as he pulled the giant rubber boots over his dress shoes. “I hadn’t expected to need these here,” he admitted. “We’ll see how waterproof they are.” 

The morning looked to be a fairly quiet one. The preacher dropped off his daughter at the elementary school then went to Walker’s Grocery, stopping by the post office to retrieve the mail before returning home. He didn’t pay much attention to the copy of the Baptist Journal that was buried between the stacks of envelopes. It was Wednesday, after all, and the Journal always came on Wednesday.

Dropping the groceries and relevant mail off at home, Glynn drove the three blocks back to the church building. He was mildly concerned about the water standing in the courtyard between the sanctuary and the education wing, but the rain was supposed to stop late in the day. There didn’t seem to be any immediate threat to anything inside. Dropping the church’s mail on his desk, he had just removed his galoshes when the phone rang. 

“Mornin’, Glynn,” the cheerful voice said on the other end of the line. “How are things over there in Adelbert this mornin’?”

“Good morning, Emmit,” Glynn replied, amused at the constant level of excitement Emmit seemed to have. “Things here are a bit damp but otherwise pretty quiet. How are things in Arvel this morning?”

“Good to hear,” Emmit said. “We’re staying busy enough over here. Have you seen the Baptist Journal this morning?”

Glynn shuffled through the mail sitting on the desk and pulled out the 16-page magazine. “Just picked up the mail. Something in there I need to read?”

“You might want to pay attention to that article on page three about the church and politics,” Emmit suggested. “It’s going to be a big topic at Pastors’ Conference on Monday and you’re going to have a couple of church members who likely disagree with the stance they present.”

Glynn quickly opened the magazine to page three and looked at the headline, “Why Churches Should Stay Out Of The Election.” Glynn found the mere presence of the article rather confusing. The line between Church and State seemed rather clear. He had never let politics creep into his sermon. “Seems rather straight forward,” Glynn said. “Our job is to save souls and provide spiritual guidance, not talk politics.”

“I know that’s how most of us see it,” Emmit said, “But there’s a growing number of people in our churches, and among our pastors, who feel we need to take a stronger stance. Alan Mayes and Horace Lyles, a couple of your deacons, are among those who have already been vocal about the church being more involved.”

“That’s… good to know,” Glynn said hesitantly. This wasn’t a conversation he wanted to engage in. No matter which side one took, it inevitably muddied the message of the gospel.

“Just a heads up, since you’re still getting your feet wet over there,” Emmit said.

“Literally,” Glynn interjected, disappointed to discover that his galoshes were not as waterproof as he had hoped.

“What I really wanted to call you about was a couple of denominational matters,” Emmit continued. “First, Ollie Ramone over at Hillside Church in Wolf Creek resigned Sunday. He’s going to Calvary Church down in Mannefort. That leaves an opening in our associational missions committee and I was wondering if you’d be willing to take his place.”

Glynn paused. A place on an associational committee? He hadn’t even considered such a thing. “I guess,” he finally answered. “I mean, I’ve never really thought about anything like that. What all does it involve?”

“Not much,” Emmit answered. “We meet once a quarter over here at the associational office just to make sure we’re doing what’s best for the churches, whether we need to help start a new church, things like that. Nothing earth-shattering, usually.” 

Glynn felt uncomfortable. He had never been too terribly involved in associational activities before, it just wasn’t practical. Here, it seemed as though Emmit knew just about everything going on in all the churches and was somehow connected to each one. Distractions were not what he needed. At the same time, though, being a team player could be important for both him and the church. “I guess I can do that,” he finally said. “Doesn’t sound like it should take away too much time.”

“Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours every three months,” Emmit said. “Like I mentioned, it’s not likely to be much. We go over what the association is doing to help churches and discuss whether we need to add or subtract from that list. Most of the time it takes longer to list everything than it does to discuss anything.”

“Okay, put me down,” Glynn said, hoping he was making the right decision.

“That’s wonderful!” Emmit exclaimed far too loudly for the phone. “Having you on the team will be a real boost, I think.”

“A real boost to what?” thought Glynn. Already he was wondering if he’d made the wrong decision.

Emmit continued. “While I have you on the phone, I’m going to the Baptist Building in Oklahoma City for a meeting next Tuesday and was wondering if you’d be interested in riding along. Since you’re new to the state, it would give you a chance to meet some of our denominational people over there, look around, there’s a giant Baptist Bookstore there, maybe see how they can help your church meet some of your goals.”

Glynn was caught completely off guard. Oklahoma City? Baptist Building? He had never been terribly involved in denominational activities in Michigan, primarily because it would have involved taking time off from work to attend anything, something he couldn’t afford to do. Here, though, his schedule was more flexible. The trip could be interesting, but he worried about how it might look to his congregation. Still, the offer was exciting to think about. “Mind if I hold off answering until I see how Sunday goes? I’m still new enough to this whole full-time thing. I’m sorry if I’m being overly cautious.

“That’s just fine,” Emmit said. “You can let me know Monday at the Pastors’ Conference. If it helps any, I know several of your church members have asked about the church being more involved in denominational activities. The past couple of pastors haven’t been too terribly engaged and I think there are some in your church who feel they’re missing out on some of the benefits of the Convention. But you’re right to be cautious. Winds change quickly it seems.”

“Thank you for that insight,” Glynn said. “I’ll definitely have an answer for you by Monday at the latest.”

“That’s just fine. I’ve taken up enough of your time this morning, though,” Emmit said, his quasi-business voice switching back to full-bore cheerfulness. “Ya’ll have a good weekend over there and if I can do anything don’t hesitate to call.”

“Thank you,” Glynn replied. “I hope you do as well.” He hung up the phone and sighed. The call hadn’t been all that long, but there was a lot to think about. He leaned back in his office chair and looked at the Bible lying open on his desk. He was ready enough for the evening’s Bible Study, and he was recycling an old message for Sunday night, but Sunday morning was still eluding him and time was getting short. He needed something.

Glynn prayed. He read through favorite passages of the Bible. He browsed through the various books of sermons he had on his shelf. Nothing was sticking. Nothing seemed to fit what his congregation needed to hear, but he couldn’t quite put a finger on exactly what it was that he needed to be saying.

Before he knew it, noon had arrived. Glynn looked out the small office window and noticed that the rain had paused for now. There would still be plenty of standing water, though. He looked at his galoshes slumped on the office floor. One small hole had been enough to make his left foot a bit uncomfortable for the morning. He considered that was better than his feet and legs being completely soaked and put the galoshes back on before leaving the office. He was about to put his coat on when the phone rang again.

“First Baptist Church,” Glynn said as he picked up the receiver.
“Hi, honey,” Marve said on the other end, her voice soft and low. 

“Hello, beautiful,” Glynn replied, his face breaking out involuntarily in his widest smile. “How are things at home? I was just about to leave here for lunch.”

“That’s why I was calling,” his wife said quietly. “I just got Hayden down for a nap. He’s running a low-grade fever. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but would you mind maybe eating lunch at the diner? Can we afford that?”

Glynn pulled the checkbook from the inside pocket of his suit coat and looked at the balance. They had $28 to last them until Monday. The bills were paid, groceries had been bought, and the car had a full tank of gas. “Yeah, I think I can afford the lunch special,” he said. “Want me to get you anything?”

“No, I have leftovers from the past three nights. I can find something. I just don’t want to risk waking Hayden,” she replied.

“The diner it is then,” Glynn said. “I’ll see you around 4:30?”

“That sounds good. Have a good afternoon, baby. I love you,” Marve purred. 

Glynn loved the soft sound of her voice. He would have much rather gone home and spent his lunchtime with his wife. “I love you,” he said softly.

The small diner was already crowded by the time Glynn found a parking spot and walked through the door. He was immediately greeted with multiple calls of, “Hey, Preacher!” He smiled and waved at the faces he recognized as church members. As he scanned the room for an open table, another voice called out, “Hey, Preacher! Why don’t you sit with us? Let me buy you lunch!”

Glynn looked over to see Alan Mayes and Horace Lyles sitting together in a booth along the wall, their food already in front of them. He also recognized a copy of the Baptist Journal sitting on the table as well. There was little secret about what the topic of conversation would be. Glynn walked over to the table, smiling, trying to be the good pastor he knew he had to be. “How are you gentlemen doing today? I would think all this rain is causing a few problems.”

“It’s always in weather like this that cows decide to have calves,” Horace said, scooting over in the booth to make room for the pastor. “I was hip-deep in mud this morning trying to save a breech.”

“Did the calf make it?” Glynn asked, not exactly sure what all was involved.

“Yeah, just messier than usual,” Horace said. “This is one of those days where you take a shower to wash off the mud from one thing then go right back out and get muddy doing something else. I’ve had three showers this morning. I think even my soul is a little damp at this point.”

The men laughed briefly. Glynn thought to remember that line about damp souls as it might come in handy in a sermon at some point. The server came over and took Glynn’s order, coffee and the lunch special. She was barely out of earshot when Alan got down to business. “What do you think of that nonsense in the Journal this morning, Preacher?” the rancher asked. “Can you believe the audacity of them liberal college-boys up in the Baptist Building trying to tell us what we can and cannot say?”

Glynn glanced over at the magazine on the table, thankful that Emmit had warned him about Alan’s stance on the topic. “Honestly, I’ve not had time to read it,” Glynn said. “I’ve been busy trying to get ready for Sunday. The Convention can’t actually dictate what we say, though. Southern Baptists are all independently autonomous churches. There’s no set liturgy or set of scriptures that I have to preach from. What I say from the pulpit is between me and God.”

“I always wondered about that,” Horace said. “You have to come up with everything on your own, huh?”

Glynn nodded as he sipped from the coffee mug the server had just sat on the table. “They might suggest themes every once in a while to go with things like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, or Annie Armstrong at Easter, but it’s up to me whether to actually use any of those materials.”

“So, it’s up to you if you want to preach against that communist-sympathizing Republican in the White House,” Alan ask forcefully enough to make Glynn thankful that his food had arrived.

“Yes, it’s up to me, what I feel God’s message is for our church,” Glynn said as he unwrapped the utensils from the thin paper napkin. “If national politics are posing a significant issue for members of our church, then I might consider that. But for the most part, I think we need to stay true to the core purpose of the Church, and that’s preaching the gospel. Don’t you?” Glynn posed the question knowing that the men couldn’t disagree without looking foolish and petty. He quickly shoved a bit of meatloaf smothered in brown gravy into his mouth.

Both men nodded in agreement. “I just wish those boys up in the Baptist Building had a better understanding of how we see things,” Alan said. “They keep shoving these books and ideas at us and none of it does us any good. A lot of the time, it’s just flat wrong.”

Horace leaned in. “I don’t even understand why we have a Convention in the first place. We ain’t like them Catholics takin’ orders from some Pope. I’m not about to set still for them saying we shouldn’t talk about the election.”

Glynn smiled as he shoved another bite of food in his mouth. The mashed potatoes were salty to the point he was having difficulty swallowing them. 

Alan leaned on the table. “Honestly, Preacher, I’m worried Nixon’s getting a little too comfy with them Commies over there. They’re godless heathens, you know, and he’s over there eatin’ and drinkin’ with ‘em like they’re his best pals. The Bible tells us to stand up against godless unbelievers like that.”

“And that’s what the gospel does,” Glynn said. “We stay focused on the gospel and communism and its allies don’t stand a chance.”

That answer seemed to sufficiently satisfy the two deacons and the conversation soon turned back to cattle and flooded pastures. The banter was largely out of the pastor’s realm of knowledge and more than once had had to ask for clarification, which the men seemed quite happy to provide. 

By the time Glynn returned to his study, he had the sermon half-written in his mind. Sunday morning came quickly and Glynn was happy to see that, while there was some attrition from the previous week, the sanctuary was still mostly full. He stood in the pulpit feeling somewhat anxious, wondering exactly what it was they expected of him.

“This has been a challenging week for many of you,” Glynn started. “All the rain has produced a number of problems and we’ve all had to make adjustments to our lives and our patterns in order to work around those obstacles and distractions. The writer of the book of Hebrews had a message for us at times like this. There are going to be distractions, but our focus is to never change. In Chapter 12, he writes:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

“There are two points there deserving our attention, ‘lay aside every weight,’ and ‘run with perseverance the race … looking to Jesus.’ We may be distracted by rising water and flooded pastures and trucks getting stuck in the mud and the President said one thing while a magazine said something else. What we have to keep in mind, though, is that those problems are to never distract us from what matters most: the gospel of Jesus Christ. From that, we can never swerve or sway, no matter what or who might try to push us off course.”

The sermon was well-received, though Glynn was not sure he was forceful enough for everyone in his congregation. Another family joined the church. Alan Mayes was smiling as he shook Glynn’s hand.

When Glynn arrived at the Pastors’ Conference the next morning, he headed straight for Emmit. “I’d like to take you up on that offer for tomorrow if it’s still open,” Glynn said.

Emmit smiled. “Of course it is! It’s a good three-hour drive from here, so can I pick you up around 6:30?”

“I’ll be ready,” Glynn replied. He wasn’t sure what he was getting himself into, but pastoring this church was going to take a lot more effort than he had anticipated.

Pastors' Conference 1972

Miss the first two chapters? Click here to start at the beginning.

Chapter 3

James 5, chapter 4

Monday morning’s bright sunshine belied the cold temperatures and the wind whipping around the cracks in the ancient window frames had the entire Waterbury family reaching for jackets the moment they got out of bed. Glynn turned on the electric space heater in the small living room and gave it a moment to warm up before helping the kids out of their pajamas. Marve started a pot of coffee in the percolator that had been a wedding gift then made hot cereal for breakfast. The radio on the counter was tuned to the one local station they could get clearly, providing weather forecasts and livestock reports between upbeat country songs that kept Hayden dancing in his chair. Lita slumped forward, slowly spooning the cereal in her mouth, the scowl on her face showing her objection to the current arrangements.

Settling into the small, four-room house was going to take some time. Glynn and Marve tried hard to not complain in front of the children but with most of their belongings still in boxes, they felt as though they were missing something they needed at every turn. The toaster had not been among the kitchen items unpacked. Lita couldn’t find her favorite hair barrettes. Glynn was missing a brown shoe. Only a couple of Hayden’s toys were unpacked which inevitably resulted in tears every few minutes.

“Are you all ready to start at your new school this morning?” Glynn asked Lita, trying hard to sound upbeat and encouraging as he shivered at the kitchen table. 

“No,” was Lita’s emphatic answer as she scowled even harder.

Marve reached over and put her hand on her daughter’s arm. “C’mon now, honey, I know it’s a big change but you got to meet your teacher and a couple of girls in your class at church yesterday and they were nice, weren’t they? Everything’s going to be fine.”

Lita didn’t look up. Instead, she put another spoonful of cereal in her mouth and took her time swallowing before charging, “I thought Oklahoma was supposed to be warmer than Michigan.”

Glynn smiled. “It is,” he said. “It’s negative three degrees in Michigan this morning. The temperature here is a whopping 34! That’s practically a heatwave!”

“Sure doesn’t feel like it,” Lita said. “I hope the bus is warm.”

Marve looked quickly at Glynn, her expression letting him know to prepare for a negative response to the news about to be broken. “Oh, baby, I’m sorry, you’re not taking the bus. The school is only two blocks over. Hayden and I will walk you to school this morning.”

“WHAT?” Lita screamed. “I have to WALK to school?” She looked over at her father with pleading in her eyes. “Please, PLEASE let us move back to Michigan! Please?”

Glynn reached over and pulled Lita from her chair, setting her on his lap as she broke down crying with the massive, body-consuming sobs only a child can produce. “I know it’s not what you’d hoped,” he said softly as he held her close. “Things aren’t quite what we expected. But it’s going to get better. You’ll get to school, you’ll make new friends, and before you know it you’ll forget all about Michigan.”

Lita pushed back, gave her father a stern look, then slipped off his lap before yelling, “I’m never going to forget Michigan!” and running to her room.

Glynn looked at Marve who looked back at him sympathetically. “I need a user’s manual for her,” he said.

His wife stood and patted his shoulder as she headed for the children’s bedroom. “It wouldn’t do any good. They all come with too many customizations.”

The pattern repeated itself throughout the week. Mornings were cold and Hayden was the only one who didn’t seem to mind. Lita would throw a fit, Marve would walk her to school, and by the time Lita returned in the afternoon, she would be all smiles, babbling non-stop about her days’ adventures. During the day, Marve would try to balance unpacking and attempting to organize the house with keeping Hayden entertained, which was never easy. She was pleased that she would be able to walk almost everywhere in town, though quickly learned that walking to the grocery store with a 4-year-old in two was probably not her best option.

The small grocery store was a far cry from the supermarkets Marve had known in Michigan. The family-owned store was small, it’s concrete floors cracked and bare, its shelves dark and a bit dusty, and the selection limited. Cattle feed was sold from the back of the store and the butcher’s blood-stained white apron let everyone know he was cutting their meat fresh to order. Marve wasn’t too surprised to find that the owners were church members. So far, it had seemed that almost everyone in town was. What caught her off guard was what happened when she went to pay for her groceries.

“Oh, honey, put your money away,” Gladys Walker told her. “We put everyone on account here,” she explained. “We settle up once a month, based on what everyone’s able to do. Ya’ know, middle of the winter like this, not many folks are exactly flush with money right now so we’re fine carrying them a few months until the spring calving season kicks in. It also gives us the chance to help out a little bit, ya’ know? Takin’ a little bit off some people’s accounts when you know they’re runnin’ lean is just bein’ Christian. So you just don’t worry. You buy whatever you need, let me know if you need something we don’t have, and we’ll let you know when we need to settle up, ‘kay?”

Marve stared back in astonishment. She had heard of such arrangements back when the West was still being settled but found it hard to believe such a thing still existed in 1972. She managed a smile and a polite “thank you,” as Gladys handed Hayden a lollipop.

“Oh, and every once in a while,” Gladys added, “it tends to get a little icy around here. We don’t get all that much snow, but these roads ice over in a hurry. When that happens, just give me a call and I’ll have Bill bring you whatever you need, dear. He has them studs on his tires and can get just about anywhere in town.”

Marve walked back home wondering if she had somehow slipped into a time warp and had fallen back a hundred years or so. She was completely unprepared to have complete strangers smiling and saying hi as they passed. Housewives would step out on their front porch and wave. Even the gas station attendant yelled hi and waved at Hayden. If she hadn’t fallen into a time warp then almost certainly she was caught in a Frank Capra movie.

Glynn was finding it equally awkward settling into his new role as a full-time pastor. His study was a small room just off the sanctuary with its own outside entrance and a space heater so that he wouldn’t have to heat the entire building when he was the only one there. He didn’t have a lot of study books and after he put them all on the bookshelves he felt that his collection of Pulpit Commentaries and a couple of concordances was inadequate. 

He was delighted to actually have a desk from which to work. Marve had always complained when he took over the kitchen table in the evenings to work on his sermons. This gave him more room to think, to compile ideas, and to consult multiple sources, limited as they were. For Glynn, it wasn’t enough to be inspirational in his sermons, he also felt that he needed to be authentic and precise in how he interpreted scripture for his congregation. A seminary extension course he had taken emphasized the need to consult the original languages, languages he couldn’t read. Fortunately, he had books that helped with that challenge as well.

Monday passed fairly quietly. Unpacking his books hadn’t taken long and Glynn wandered through the church building wondering what he should do for Wednesday evening Bible study. He preferred these meagerly-attended meetings to be more focused on prayer and teaching, but he didn’t know the people well enough yet to feel comfortable with anything too involved. 

Tuesday was a little more involved as Buck Edmonds, who was also chairman of the deacons, dropped by with church treasurer Norma Little to go over the budget and the church’s finances.
“We want to do right by what the Bible teaches,” Buck said, “But people’s income around here fluctuates quite a bit from season to season. Winter can be especially lean.”

“How lean are we talking?” Glynn asked.

“We have arrangements with the utility companies, as most people do around here, to only pay half our electric bills from January through April,” Norma said. “We catch up then in May and June. July’s a little tight as folks are on vacation and giving takes a dip but August through November is usually strong enough to set us up nicely for the winter.”

“We don’t want you to have to worry, pastor,” Buck said. “We’ve been getting by like this for a long time and we’ve never missed paying who we need to pay, including you.”

Glynn shifted uncomfortably in his seat, certain that there was about to be an exception added to Buck’s statement. There was, coming from Norma.

“All that was before we had a parsonage payment,” she said firmly. “That extra $200 a month is significant, especially during the winter. Plenty of people pledged to increase their giving when we voted to buy the house, but it has yet to start showing up in the offering plate.”

“That does sound like quite a challenge, given your income variations,” Glynn said. “So, why did you decide to purchase a new parsonage now?”

Buck looked at Norma and pulled at the fingers on his farm-worn hands for a few seconds before answering. “To be honest, it was one of the reasons Pastor Harrell left,” he said softly, his head bowed. “We’re not proud of it. We passed by the house every day and it always looked good from the outside, but the heater didn’t work half the time, it was impossible to cool in the summer, his utility bills were higher than the church’s, the plumbing was a mess, and the roof was leaking somethin’ fierce. Tryin’ to fix everything just got too expensive, and, truth be known, that stirred some trouble in the church.”

“Trouble? What kind of trouble?” Glynn asked, his concern growing the more he heard. 

Buck looked at the floor. Norma sat straight up in her chair, pulled tightly at her floral-print dress, the sliver-blue in her hair catching the sunlight coming through the window. “He won’t tell you, pastor, but I will. It’s all Alan Mayes, chairman of the country cattlemen’s association. He’s a big mouth and thinks he knows everything and he stirs up trouble every chance he gets.”

Glynn mentally rolled his eyes. There was someone like this in every congregation he had encountered. “Is he a church member?”

Buck nodded. “Yeah, though he’s not here on Sundays too terribly often. He runs a heard of about 250 Charolais and Angus out West of town and with a heard that size there’s always a problem of one kind or another. He sometimes makes it in on Sunday nights, though he wasn’t here this week.”

“But he’ll sit down there at the diner at noon every day, holding court, actin’ like he’s the county boss, tellin’ people what they should do,” Norma added. “He’s our county commissioner as well and he seems to think that gives him power to run the whole town. Pastor Harrell wasn’t the first person he’s run out of town.”

Glynn sat forward in his chair. “Wait, he ran the pastor off?”

The tension in the air was palpable now. This clearly wasn’t a topic in Buck’s comfort zone. “He didn’t really run him off, in so many words,” Buck said quietly. “But he complained, loudly, that the repairs on the parsonage were costing too much and accused the pastor of pocketing some of the money. Attendance started dipping as did tithes. We reached a point where we had to tell Reverend Harrell that we couldn’t make any more improvements to the parsonage. Next Sunday, there was a pulpit committee from someplace in Arkansas sitting in the third row from the back. You know how it works from there.”

Glynn did know. There was no hiding a group of four or five well-dressed strangers showing up on a Sunday morning in a small church. When a church liked their pastor, the presence of a pulpit committee was a warning sign that he wasn’t happy and they needed to do more. When the church was feeling more ambivalent it signaled that change was coming and they needed to prepare.

Pulpit committees were unique among Southern Baptists at the time and are still widely in use in more rural areas. A church would select a group of five or six members to go out and listen to a prospective pastor, sometimes with notice, but not always. If they liked what they saw and heard, they would report back to their home church who would then, typically, extend an invitation for the pastor to come and speak in their pulpit, “in view of a call.” The pastor would preach, talk at length with the pulpit committee and sometimes other church members, then the church would vote whether to issue an invitation to the pastor. Careful pastors, like Glynn, would insist that the vote be unanimous—they didn’t need people publicly against them before they started. Others would accept a two-thirds majority if they felt the move would help their career.

“Tithes shot up the Sunday after he left,” Norma said. “It’s shameful and unChristian and there wasn’t a deacon in the church who would stand up to that bully.” Her voice conveyed her anger over the topic. She looked at Buck and added, “We’ve had this conversation, Buck Edmonds. You’re chairman of the deacons. You should have done something before it got out of hand.”

Buck’s posture reminded Glynn of how Hayden slumped when he was in trouble. 

“Let’s focus on where we are now,” Glynn said, retaking control of the conversation. “Are we behind on anything?”

Norma shook her head. “No, cattle prices have stayed surprisingly high this winter and corn futures are looking really good. This was the best January we’ve had in a few years.”

Glynn smiled. “Okay then, let’s run with a positive outlook for now. Perhaps we can draw some new people into the church and folks will start feeling better about the direction we’re going. Is Mr. Mayes still upset about the parsonage?”

“Oh no,” Buck answered. “He’s on the banker’s back now. Word got around that ya’ll are havin’ to live in that little house and Mayes is sayin’ the banker renigged on his deal. He’s got folks talkin’ about moving their accounts to the bank over in Washataug. Don’t think that’s likely to happen, though. Everyone’s cattle loans are with the bank here.”

Glynn nodded. “I can appreciate that,” he said. “Buck, can I ask a favor of you?”

The deacon looked up and nodded. “Why, sure, pastor! Anything you need!”

“I’m new to this whole area. I’m not up on cattle futures and crop prices or who’s who in the county,” Glynn explained. “Can you help me with that? Kinda keep me in the know when folks might be having a rough time, any community events I should attend, people that need attention, that sort of thing.”

“Why, sure!” Buck answered, enthusiastically. “You wanna do lunch down at the diner tomorrow? It would be a pleasure to have you as my guest.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Glynn said, effectively ending the meeting.

The rest of the week sailed by quickly. By Friday, Lita’s morning tantrum had lost its steam. Marve had the kitchen arranged the best she could. Everything was starting to fit into place.

Sunday morning, Glynn stepped into the pulpit, looking out over an eager congregation that seemed slightly larger than it had the week before. “You know, I’ve been learning a lot this week,” he said as he began. “I’ve learned that it’s okay to park in the middle of Main Street. I’ve learned that the blue plate special at the diner is a deal that can’t be beat. And I’ve learned that the Adelbert Tigers are sure to win the Class B state baseball championship this spring.”

The comment met with some chuckles and a couple of hearty Amens from some of the men in the congregation.

“As I’ve walked the streets and talked with many of you, it’s easy to get excited about the possibilities of what we can do. But when I open my Bible, I find there some very important instructions about being patient. Let’s look together at the book of James, Chapter 5, starting in verse 7 where we read:

7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States 

Glynn continued, following an outline and borrowing heavily from the contents of a sermon he had found by the 19th-century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, encouraging his congregation to not be discouraged when things didn’t happen exactly the way they had planned. “Living in a small house is better than no house at all,” he said. “Lesser profits are better than no profits. What seems to be a step backward, for now, may yet prove to have been God’s way of saying, ‘Hold on, I’ve got something better coming.’ It is God’s plan, not our own, that sets our course. Be patient, be patient, be patient. ‘You have heard of the patience of Job:’ imitate it. ‘You have seen what the Lord finally brought about:’ rejoice in it. ‘The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:’ Yield yourselves to him.”

At the end of the sermon, two families who had left the church two or three pastors ago returned to the congregation. Glynn took this as a sign of encouragement. Word was already getting out of his arrival and the small town was feeling excited.

On the way home from church, Marve said, “I met Alan Mayes this morning. Think he heard a word of your sermon?”

Glynn smiled. “He was there, which is apparently a big deal. I’m sure I’ll know by noon tomorrow how he took it. Perhaps he’ll find a different target than the banker to fuss about.”

“As long as it’s not you,” Marve warned. 

“I’m still new,” Glynn said. “He’ll give me a couple of weeks.”

Chapter 4

James 1, chapter 4

Glynn had barely walked into the church office the next morning when the phone rang. He reached across the desk to answer the phone. “Good morning, First Baptist Church,” he said, hoping his tone was the right mix of friendly and authoritative.

“Mornin’, Glynn! This is Emmit Watkins. How are things going this mornin’?” the overly-cheerful voice practically yelled through the phone.

“Good morning, Emmit!” Glynn returned, trying to match the positive tone without quite as much volume. “I’m having a pretty good day so far. I’m looking forward to coming over to the Pastor’s Conference this morning. Grace Church, correct?”

“That’s good to hear! I was hoping you’d be able to join us, and your lunch is on me this week!” Emmit said. “There has been a change in the location, though. We’ll be meeting over at Calvary Church on 34th street. Apparently, there was an incident at Grace following the evening service and the pastor there, Charley Edmonds, great guy, you’ll enjoy meeting him, suggested this might not be a good time to have a bunch of preachers in. I guess the police are involved and there’s some kind of investigation going on.”

“Oh dear,” Glynn said, immediately concerned for his fellow pastor. “No one was hurt, were they?”

Emmit paused for a moment and lowered his voice to what would be a normal level for anyone else. “As a matter of prayer, Brother Glynn, it appears that one of the young women in his church may have been murdered. From what I understand, her husband, who is not a church member and a known alcoholic, pulled into the parking lot soon after the service let out and confronted one of the deacons, claiming that the man was having an affair with his wife. Now, I happen to know the deacon involved rather well. He’s a fine family man with a precious wife and three lovely children. There’s no way he’s involved with any wife other than his own. Still, the accusation was made and the man’s wife naturally came to the deacon’s defense. Her husband started slapping her around, so the deacon and a couple of other men from the church stepped in to try and stop the scuffle. The man ended up throwing his wife into his pickup and driving off. The men had a few cuts and scrapes but nothing a little bit of mercurochrome couldn’t fix up so everyone went home.”

“Then, along about 4:00 this morning, the police call Charley, wakin’ up him and his wife, asking what he knows about the scuffle. Well, Charley was still in the sanctuary when all this happened so all he knew was what the deacon had told him. He repeated the story to the police and that’s when they told him the young woman was dead, lookin’ pretty much like she was beaten to death. They arrested her husband, but he’s claiming she ran off after they got home and he had nothing to do with it. So, now there are police all over the church and the parking lot, asking questions, looking for clues and all. I’m sure it will be in the paper this evening. Of course, it’s really upset folks over at Grace.”

“I can only imagine,” Glynn said, completely taken back by the incredible story. “That is so very tragic.”

“Anyway,” Emmit said, his voice returning to its normal volume, “Calvary is just off Highway 64 as you’re coming through town, a couple of blocks South of Jasper’s Farm Implement on your right. There are signs. You can’t miss it. The parking lot’s in the back and we’ll be meeting in Fellowship Hall. See you around 10?”

“I’ll definitely be there,” Glynn said. “I look forward to meeting everyone.”

“Wonderful!” Emmit yelled. “See you in a bit!”

“In a bit!” echoed Glynn. He hung up the phone and sat in his office chair, still trying to absorb the story he had just been told. He had assumed that Oklahoma would be free from the sort of domestic violence that continually plagued the cities up North. Obviously, he was mistaken, though he hoped that this was an anomaly and wouldn’t happen with any frequency.

Glynn putzed around the office for a while, typing up the Sunday attendance report to send to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), located in Oklahoma City, then recorded the same numbers in the church’s record books. He was careful to take note of the numbers. 64 for Sunday School with another eight joining for the worship service. The numbers were twice what his church in Michigan had on their best Sunday. Yet, looking across this sanctuary, it still felt empty. He was sure there was more they could do to bring those numbers up. 

After a few more minutes of administrative detail, Glynn set everything to the side and left the office to make the trip to Calvary Baptist Church in Arvel, about 11 miles East of Adelbert. His departure time meant he was going to be early but he had not yet had an opportunity to explore the county seat for Mishawaka County and thought this would be a good time to do so. Arvel was closer and a bit more convenient to Adelbert than was their own Ridell County seat in Washataug, which was 20 miles to the Southwest. Between either town was nothing but pasture and farmland with hardly a house to be seen from the highway. 

Arvel was still a relatively small town by comparison with county seats in more urban areas. Its population of 3,200 was enough to dwarf Adelbert but was still several times smaller than what Glynn had known in Michigan. He drove slowly through the Main Street area, taking note of the different shops, including a Sears that he knew would make Marve happy, and a dime store that would be perfect for all the school supplies and office trinkets that one inevitably couldn’t find when needed. Arvel also hosted a small junior college that seemed to be bustling with students despite the cold temperatures.

Glynn finally pulled into the parking lot at Calvary Baptist Church at five minutes before 10:00 and, observing the other men stepping from their cars, immediately felt overdressed. He had worn a suit, assuming that this was a smaller version of the denominational conferences he had attended in Michigan. What he saw were men in blue jeans and heavy winter coats, some wearing western-style boots, none of them wearing a tie. Glynn quickly undid the tie around his neck and traded his suit coat for the parka he had sitting in the back seat. He still felt overdressed in his slacks and dress shoes, but he hoped he wouldn’t stand out quite as much.

Following the other men into the church’s Fellowship Hall, he was impressed by the large, open space. Built of concrete block with white patterned vinyl tile on the floor, the acoustics reminded Glynn of a gymnasium. Heavy sound-muffling curtains used to divide the space had been pulled back and four long folding tables had been pushed together with 30 folding chairs placed around them. The smell of freshly percolated coffee filled the room and Glynn’s eyes were immediately drawn to the group of men standing around a large six-gallon coffee pot. Before he could move in their direction, though, a massive voice pierced the chatter.

“Glynn Waterbury! Good to see you!” Emmit called across the room. The room went silent as everyone stopped to look at the figure standing in the doorway looking as though he’d just returned from an arctic adventure. “Gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Reverend Glynn Waterbury, the new pastor at First Church, Adelbert. He and his dear family just moved down from the greater Detroit area about a week and a half ago. I’ll leave it to you to introduce yourselves and make him feel welcome before we start.”

Glynn had taken advantage of Emmit’s introduction to move a few more steps inside and shrug off the heavy parka that had almost induced a sweat just walking from the parking lot. He was immediately besieged by the host of other men whose names he would never remember and whose questions he found stereotypically gratuitous.

“Detroit? I bet you’re glad to get away from all the crime up there,” said one.

“Have you adjusted to all this heavy traffic we have down here,” laughed another.

“What size church did you come from?”

“Why move all the way down here to the middle of nowhere?”

“You aren’t one of those seminary preachers, are you?”

“That certainly looks like a mighty warm coat. You likin’ the weather down here?”

Glynn did his best to answer the questions sincerely despite knowing his responses were already falling on deaf ears even as he spoke. They wouldn’t remember his answers any more than he would remember their names. Still, there was a universal protocol to maintain. He smiled a lot, kept his handshake firm, and laughed at jokes that were not remotely funny.

As the group began to disperse and take their seats around the tables, a smaller, dark-haired man with wavy black hair that almost looked greasy came up and offered his hand. “Jerry Weldon,” he said as an introduction. “Pastor over at Bluebird, your closest competition. I understand you got one of our families yesterday, the Billets.”

Glynn paused for a moment. Jerry wasn’t smiling. Instead, he looked weary. Dark circles surrounded his black and bloodshot eyes. His handshake was weak and his palm felt as greasy as his hair looked. Glynn fought against the instinct to wipe the moisture onto his pants leg. “The Billets, yes. I hadn’t met them before yesterday. I assure you, I’m not out to recruit your members.”

“Oh, I’m not concerned about that,” Jerry said. “I don’t think you’ll find the Billets the most faithful family in your congregation in the first place. They’ve not been in any of our services in over six months. They didn’t even make it Christmas. Rumor is that they’ve been attending that Full-Gospel church out County Road 16.”

Glynn felt relieved and concerned at the same time. “Full-Gospel? I didn’t realize there was one of those congregations in the area,” he said.

Jerry shrugged. “There are little churches all over the backwoods out here. None of them are very big, usually, a couple of families who got their feelings hurt somewhere else and decided to start their own church. All of them unaffiliated with any real denomination. They’re not a problem until one of their families decides to join one of our churches. Then, they bring with them a belief system that might sound good but is Biblically unsupported and the next thing you know they’re getting Sunday School classes divided over nonsense and causing a rift in the church.”

“Do I need to worry about the Billets, you think?” Glynn asked, suddenly feeling concerned about the potential growth of his congregation.

“The Billets? Nah, they’re the kind that just go along with whatever,” Jerry said. “Most Sundays they just stay home.”

Glynn nodded his understanding.

“Okay, if everyone will have a seat, we’ll get started here,” Emmit called. As the men filled the chairs around the table, he continued. “Now, Glynn, we’re all pretty laid back here. Our purpose is to share both the victories and the setbacks so we can rejoice together when appropriate and support each other through the trials. So, what we do is go around the table, everyone introduce themselves, and tell us how your Sunday went.” He paused and looked at the pastor seated to his left. “Brother Roy, why don’t you start us off and we’ll just go around the table.”

The pastor stood and wiped the perspiration from his balding head with his bare hand then wiped his hand on the checkered shirt he was wearing. His face was perpetually red and he seemed out of breath, almost struggling to speak. “I’m Roy Winston, pastor of First Church, Maseekwa. I guess the cold kept a lot of our people home this week. We were down to 42 for Sunday School and only had 18 for Training Union. There was a good spirit in the services, though, and we actually had a couple younger than 60 visit Sunday morning. I’m praying that they’ll join us and maybe help us reach some other younger families in the area.”

A soft chorus of Amens whispered across the table as Roy took his seat and the next pastor stood up, giving a similar report with slightly different numbers. As they circled the table, the only change was the numbers and the perceived problems. Older congregations with no young couples was a common malady. One pastor complained that three couples in his congregation had gotten divorced in the past two months, despite his fervent preaching against the sin. There was nearly unanimous agreement among the group when he blamed the influence of the “godless programming on television.” 

Another worried that he was having more church members die than joining the church. “I buried three church members last week,” he complained. “I can’t tell you the last time we had a wedding at the church. Unless God intervenes, the church is literally going to die.”

A third, from one of the larger churches in the association, posed a problem to the group. “We’ve got a new school superintendent who claims he’s a Christian but apparently he’s a Catholic or Episcopalian or something. Anyway, he’s told the Junior and Senior classes that they can have dances in the school gym as a way of raising money. Now, we all know where Southern Baptists and all the other god-fearing churches stand on the subject of dancing, but he’s got all our kids excited and they don’t seem to understand how those movements and that music leads to sins of the flesh. The next thing you know, we’re going to have a bunch of these girls in trouble. But no one seems to be listening to me, not even their parents.”

The response from the group was fierce. If one school in the area started having dances, that would put pressure on the other schools to do the same. All the youth in both counties were sure to be corrupted.

The furor eventually died down and in short order, it was Glynn’s turn to speak. “I think we’ve all met by this point, but we did have 64 for Sunday School and 27 for Training Union. I’d really like to see that Training Union number come up so if any of you have ideas that worked, I’m all ears.”

Around the table, the pastors nodded but no one said anything. Glynn sat down and listened to the next complaint, a congregation whose offerings were insufficient to pay the electric bill. He paid attention as best he could but found the perpetual depression mind-numbing. Even the “word of devotion,” delivered by the host pastor, seemed to serve the woe-is-me attitude as he spoke self-serving words to accompany James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”

The final 45 minutes of the meeting was spent in a “season of prayer.” Pastors whose bodies enabled them to do so piously knelt on the hard tile floor, a mistake Glynn realized only after he had followed the example and done the same. His knees were soon hurting, his attention pulled away from any spiritual intent as he wondered whether he could sit back up in his chair without looking both physically and spiritually weak. The audible prayers started simply enough, brief words of thanks, prayers for the sick, for missionaries, and the Church at large. As time passed, though, the prayers grew longer, the words more religious, and the details more elongated. Glynn found himself involuntarily yawning as one pastor droned on about the sins of his congregation, information that Glynn found too personal to be shared in such a public manner.

By the time the prayers had finished, Glynn’s knees had gone numb. He pulled himself up into the metal folding chair and waited for feeling to return to his legs. The meeting was effectively over, but there was still the matter of lunch. Of course, Glynn had already agreed to be Emmit’s guest, something the Director of Missions was not about to let him forget. He would have much rather gone home, though, both his body and his mind exhausted from the experience.

Conversation over lunch proved to be more light and hospitable, though rumors of the young woman’s death and possible murder fueled considerable gossip and postulating. Some were genuinely shocked at what had happened in the parking lot. Others voiced concerns over the effects the crime might have on the church body. Two older pastors, however, were quick to demonize not only the victim but all women in general, condemning them for “their flirtatious manner,” and “sexual innuendo” through things such as wearing pants, miniskirts, and open-toed shoes. Such behavior, they surmised, led men to do inappropriate things “because of their fallen nature.” Glynn felt disturbed by the direction the conversation took but decided that, as the new guy, it wasn’t his place to say anything. Not yet.

Glynn’s original plan had been to return to the office for the afternoon before paying visits to some church members he’d yet to meet. Instead, though, he headed home and dropped wearily into the recliner generally recognized as his appointed seat in the living room. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples wearily.

“Pastors’ Conference that rough?” Marve asked as she came in and sat playfully on Glynn’s lap.

“They’re going to take some getting used to,” Glynn said. “Definitely not the church-focused or even God-focused meeting I was expecting. I was hoping the meeting would be uplifting. Instead, it was exhausting.”

Marve leaned into him and kissed him on the cheek. “Are you sure some of that exhaustion isn’t because you’ve been running non-stop since we got here? You’ve missed dinner twice this week.”

Glynn leaned his head back and closed his eyes as he wrapped his arms around his wife. “I just want to do well here,” he said softly. “If this is truly what God has called me to do, called us to do, then we have no choice but to give it our all.”

Marve snuggled in a bit tighter. “Yes, but don’t forget God called you to be my husband and the head of this family first. That’s never been a problem before. Please don’t let it become one now.”

Glynn squeezed his wife tightly in response. With Hayden down for his nap and Lita at school, it felt safe to relax for a moment. It would prove to be the only moment they would have for a while.

Pastors' Conference 1972


1972 was a pivotal point in United States history, religious history, and my personal history. Not only was the whole Cold War/Space Race thing going on, but bumbling crooks also broke into the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Building, the Space Shuttle program was started, The Apollo program ended, the Equal Rights Amendment was sent to the states for ratification, women achieved several major firsts, and Nixon bombed Vietnam on Christmas.

That same year, I started Sixth Grade, bombed most of my piano lessons, started my first job (paper route), bought my own bicycle, crashed the same bicycle resulting in scars that exist to this day, survived a tornado, and most importantly for this story, accompanied my father for the first time to a gathering called the Pastors’ Conference.

Religion was kind of a big thing in our house, given that my father was a Southern Baptist pastor for over 40 years. It was important within my family to note that we were not just Baptist, we were Southern Baptist and that made a tremendous difference because we were right and everyone else was wrong. There was also an important distinction that we were not to be labeled as Protestant, because Baptists trace their history along a separate timeline that does not involve Martin Luther or the Roman Church. All that was really a big deal.

So was the implied assumption that I was going to grow up with all the proper training so that in some form or fashion, I would go into the ministry as well. I did not fight against this assumption too much, despite my core interests being elsewhere. I looked up to my father, respected what he did, and literally took notes about anything that seemed religiously important. I’ve no idea whatever happened to those notes and I’m sure I would be embarrassed to see them now, but I was serious about the whole matter at the time.

Attending the weekly Pastors’ Conferences that summer was important because it opened my eyes to what was happening within the denomination and, to some degree, the greater scope of religion, outside our own very small congregation. Each week, the pastors of Southern Baptist churches within a two-county area would meet, share their successes and challenges, someone would deliver what was supposed to be an inspiring devotional (that “inspiring” goal was not always achieved), and then they prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more. I really had difficulty staying awake during this part. Then, they’d go eat lunch together and gossip. Seriously. They were just as bad as any stereotypical group of older women. 

This book is centered around those events, the people attending them, and how they impacted lives well outside those in attendance. Pastors’ Conferences were important for a number of reasons. At the time, Southern Baptists were fiercely proud of the fact that any adult male who felt “called of God” and led a life relatively void of sin, could be the pastor of a church. Sure, there was an ordaining process, but it was largely ceremonial. I attended several with my father and never knew anyone to “flunk” the tests. The basic rules were that one had to know how to read, had to largely agree with the basic Southern Baptist doctrines, if they were married they couldn’t have been previously divorced, and that was pretty much it. Anything else could be overlooked as long as no one said anything. This approach would later prove to be a problem and the denomination has gotten a lot more careful in the decades since then but in 1972, quiet complicity worked. 

The stories in this book are works of fiction. The people, the places, and anything not documented by news media are all made up. I’m not even using actual town names except for major cities) out of concern that doing so might lead some to guess at real identities of the characters, resulting in judgments that are unfair and inappropriate. 

That being said, many of the subjects approached in the following chapters are based on actual events, real conversations, that happened throughout the 1970s. Honestly, most weeks Pastors’ Conferences were pretty boring, but when I look back across that decade and compact the most interesting and impactful events into the space of a 12-month calendar, a clear storyline begins to emerge and we see patterns of deceit, manipulation, abuse, racism, sexism, alcoholism, and fraud that, spread out over a decade were barely noticeable. Looking back, I am frightened by what seems so clearly apparent now, but no one seemed to notice then. 

Our characters are not based on specific individuals. Each one is developed in a way that best serves the story. I say that in hopes, again, that no one inappropriately assumes that certain stories are about specific people. One may find similarities between these stories and actual events, but to accuse specific people of undocumented activities would be wholly inappropriate.

In writing this book, I bring you, dear reader, into a closed group of people committed to a unifying cause with a legitimate earnestness to do good, to be a positive influence on people’s lives, and to save the world from the firey damnation of hell. Sometimes they were successful. Many times they weren’t. They acted many times on the assumption that no one would ever know what they said or did in private. That assumption was wrong and I do not apologize for the manner in which reality is revealed. There are conversations that need to be had, increased transparency that needs to take place, and a denomination that needs to be held accountable. 

At the same time, though, I want you to be entertained. Remember that before leaping to any conclusions. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

Glynn Waterbury stood in front of the small bathroom mirror pushing an electric foil razor over the barely-existent stubble that had grown on his face overnight. At the intermediate age of 42, Glynn had never even attempted to grow a beard. He instinctively knew it wouldn’t look good on his face and had avoided well-meaning endeavors to get him to try. The dark red tone of his skin might have betrayed the indigenous heritage that predetermined his difficulty in growing facial hair but he fought hard to keep that a secret. If anyone ever asked if he was “Indian,” he replied that he was “Black Dutch” and the inquisitive person would nod their head as if they had a clue what that meant. 

Glynn wasn’t especially tall, standing about 5’ 8” when he convinced himself to stand upright. An inescapable paunch of a stomach kept his weight around 180 pounds and that put him in a very normal category for men his age. Sure, he was sort of fat, but not the real fat that plenty of other men carried around. He felt good about himself, good about this day, and excited about what was going to happen.

“Think you’ll shed any tears this morning?” Marve, Glynn’s wife of 13 years, asked as she slipped behind him to wipe her hands on the towel hanging from the bar on the wall. Marve was significantly more petite, barely coming up to Glynn’s shoulder in her stocking feet. Her blue eyes sparkled with excitement this morning, a welcome change from the weariness they had shown the past three years. 

“I suppose there’s always that chance,” Glynn answered as he turned off the razor and reached for the aftershave that defined his personal fragrance two feet before anyone met his personality. “I mean, I am leaving my home state, sort of. I’ve been up here in Michigan for 20 years. I don’t hate the place or most the people.”

Marve rolled her eyes and gave him a knowing “Hmpf” as she adjusted the straps on her slip. The light reflecting off the pink walls of the bathroom gave her skin a soft, attractive glow that she thought was impressive for a woman in her late 30s. She was actually more native in terms of ancestry than Glynn but her father’s French heritage dominated her appearance. She knew as well as Glynn that their shared race was a liability in his line of work. This was a white person’s game and success meant pushing down the culture in which she’d been raised. 

“The kids seem excited,” Glynn said as he finished his grooming routine, giving his jet-black hair an extra shot of Brylcream to keep it in place against the wind. “Although, I’m not sure Hayden actually knows what’s going on.”

Marve pushed Glynn out of her way and stood on her tiptoes to see her full face in the mirror. “I’m not sure Hayden ever knows what’s going on. He’s four. Every day is a new adventure for him. Lita, on the other hand, is feeling a lot more anxious. This whole changing schools in the middle of the year thing has her worried. She’s very much afraid she won’t make new friends.”

“I didn’t realize being nine years old was such a socially delicate age,” Glynn said. The starched white shirt felt extra stiff this morning and he pulled at it in hopes of getting the fabric to relax a bit.

“She’s a girl,” Marve responded. “They’re all delicate ages.” She turned around and helped Glynn finish buttoning his shirt. “She’ll be fine. She’s bright, she’s pretty, and as soon as everyone gets over her Yankee accent they’ll love her.”

Glynn pulled a bright red tie off the doorknob and tossed it around his neck. “You don’t think they’ll get that horrible Oklahoma drawl, do you?”

“I’m sure of it,” Marve said as she turned back to the mirror. “It’s inescapable. We’ll come back to visit your parents and they won’t be able to understand a thing either child is saying.”

A scream from the kitchen stopped them both and they ran toward the sound. The little house was barely 800 square feet so it didn’t take long for them to respond to the apparent terror.

“What’s wrong?” Marve asked as she rounded the corner first.

Lita looked up at her mother with tears streaming down her face. “He got butter on my brand new dress! It’s ruined!”

Marve knelt down to examine the effects of the crime while Glynn lifted the culprit from his chair. “You’re coming with me, little man,” Glynn said, carefully holding Hayden away from his own clean clothes. “Let’s remove the evidence from your hands.”
“Mommy, I have to change now! This dress is ruined!” Lita continued to wail.

“Just calm down,” Marve instructed. “Daddy, hand me a damp rag, I think the dress is recoverable.”

“It will leave a stain,” Lita objected.

“Not once it dries,” Marve assured her.

“But it will still smell like sink. I can’t go to church smelling like sink!” Lita maintained.

Marve fought the urge to roll her eyes again. The child had her father’s flair for the dramatic. “I’ll give you a spritz of my perfume so you won’t smell like the sink,” she told her daughter. “If I were you, I’d worry more about what those tears are doing to that pretty face. That’s how you get wrinkles, you know.”

Lita immediately stopped crying and looked up at her mother with spirited blue eyes. “Does your face cream make them go away?” she asked.

“Only sometimes,” her mother replied. “You see, there’s a chemical in our tears that changes depending on why we’re crying. Happy tears soften your face and make you look young. Sad tears cause your eyes to droop just a little but can be fixed by smiling. Angry tears, though, those tears have acid in them and they leave lines on your face that are very difficult to remove, even with the best face cream.”

Glynn turned from the sink and met Marve’s eyes briefly, shaking his head at the fib she was telling Lita. He didn’t approve of lying but considered it sometimes necessary to get children to change their behavior. This myth was no worse than invoking the name of Santa Claus. He set Hayden down, the child’s hands temporarily clean from the butter he had joyously squeezed as though it were clay. “Where are your shoes?” he asked the child.

“On the roof!” Hayden answered.

Glynn looked quickly at Marve who shrugged in response. “What are your shoes doing on the roof?” he asked, certain he didn’t want to know how they got there.

“Holding it down so that Rocky doesn’t knock it off with his tail,” Hayden said innocently.

Both parents laughed as they realized the roof to which Hayden was referring was the one on Lita’s dollhouse. Rocky, the family’s springer spaniel, frequently knocked off the unsecured roof, as well as other objects around the house, with the enthusiastic wagging of his tail.

“Well, we better get the down from there,” Glynn said, playing along. “We don’t want to be late for our last day at Grace Baptist Church!”

Hayden ran off toward the small bedroom he shared with his sister. Lita, satisfied that her dress would survive the morning’s terrorist attack, followed Marve to her parents’ bedroom. “Mommy, are you sure I can have my own bedroom when we move to Oklahoma?”
“Yes, dear,” Marve assured her. “We’re getting an almost brand-new house. It’s only a year old. So you and Hayden will have separate bedrooms that you can decorate however you want, within reason.”

Lita sat on the edge of her parents’ bed. “That sounds great for a big girl like me,” she said, “But do you think Hayden’s ready for the responsibility of having his own room?”

Marve smiled. “No, I’m sure he’s not. That’s why he’ll need a lot of help keeping his room clean. We wouldn’t want any of his clutter invading your space, would we?”

Lita shook her head, her black ringlets bouncing around her face. “Nope, no boy stuff in my room, ever!” she said emphatically.

That made Marve laugh. “You’ll have to help him make sure his toys get back to his room, then. You know how Hayden’s toys tend to end up all over the house. Can you do that?”

Lita sat looking into the distance as though peering into the future before finally answering, “Yeah, I suppose so. If I don’t have better things to do.”

“Well, right now, you need to get your shoes on,” her mother responded. “Wear the black boots you got for Christmas. We had  more snow last night.”

“Does Oklahoma have snow?” Lita asked as she jumped off the bed.

“Yes, dear, they have snow, just not as much as Michigan does,” Marve said. “Move, quickly! No more distractions.”

Lita darted from the room only to crash into Glynn’s legs in the hallway. “Woah, careful there!” he warned. The playful tone in his voice was different than the normal stress of a Sunday morning. The pastor seemed almost playful by comparison. He walked into the bedroom and gave his wife a playful pat on the backside while she fastened her earring. 

“I’ve not seen you this upbeat on a Sunday morning in several years,” Marve said. “Are you really that anxious to leave?”

Glynn stood in front of the mirror over the dresser and adjusted his tie. “I’m anxious to leave the plant, do this full time, and maybe make a change in the world for once.”

Marve stepped behind him and put her arms around his waist. “I understand you wanting to be a full-time pastor and all that, but doing that and leaving your home state, going from your family being close to my family…” She paused and sighed. “Dad’s already talking about how much he wants to visit. I’m not sure you understand how disruptive he can be.”

Glynn turned and kissed his wife on the cheek, careful to not smudge the makeup she had so carefully applied. “There’s no way he can be more disruptive than my spending 8-10 hours a day at a parts plant 50 miles away. I’ll be home for dinner every night. I’ll be able to help put the kids to bed. I won’t be so exhausted every evening. Your Dad coming to visit isn’t going to take away all the good things that are going to happen.”

“I know,” Marve agreed as she leaned in against his chest carefully, still being mindful of her makeup against his white shirt. “We’ll adjust. We always do.”

“Lavon Brady called after you went to bed last night, by the way,” Glynn said quietly. “He said they have a love offering gift for us but he wants to give it to us privately, not make a big deal about it during the service.”

Marve pulled away and checked her dress in the mirror. “Lavon can go… “

“Marve…” Glynn interrupted. “We agreed, we keep our attitudes about people here to ourselves. The kids have loved it here. We don’t need to spoil their memories.”

“Sure,” Marve huffed. “Thanks to Lavon, our kids think peanut butter and jelly on the same sandwich is a luxury. You’ve not had a raise from here or the plant in three years and he’s responsible for both of those.”

“Things at the plant have been tight since Ford changed their engine design,” Glynn said. “Lavon didn’t have much choice there.”

“Still, I’m not going to miss him,” Marve said. “And I’m not going to miss all this snow. Did you put Hayden in his rubber boots?”

Glynn laughed. “Yes, he’s excited to be wearing them.”

At that moment, Hayden wandered into their bedroom, his feet completely bare.

“Hayden, where are your shoes and socks?” his dad asked.

The four-year-old looked down at his feet and shrugged. “I put them in the snow.”

His parents looked at each other and sighed. 

Chapter 2

The moving van pulled up to the front door of the small parsonage at exactly 7:00 AM the next morning. Glynn already had their light blue 1964 Impala packed with what they would need for the three-day trip to Oklahoma. Marve had the kids bundled in their snowsuits for now but had stashed a slightly lighter set of clothes in the back seat in hopes it might get warmer as they traveled South. The plan was to go eat breakfast while the van was being loaded, then they would say one last goodbye to the house before leaving.

“Adelbert, Oklahoma, huh?” The van driver said as he brought Glynn a clipboard with the required paperwork to be signed. The driver was a bit shorter than Glynn and probably a hundred pounds heavier. His partner was slightly taller but older and was putting out a cigarette as he stepped from the other side of the cab. “Never heard of it. They got much goin’ on down there?”

“Mostly farming,” Glynn replied. “A little bit of ranching. Pretty quiet for the most part.”

“Small town, huh?” the driver asked.

Glynn carefully read over the limitation of liability before signing his name at the bottom of the page. “Yeah, a little over 400 people. A bit of a change.”

The driver nodded. “And I call this number, 918-555-2311 when we get close?”

Glynn pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and checked the phone number he had written down. “Yeah, that’s it. You’ll want to talk to Buck Edmonds. The houses down there don’t have street numbers on them, so he’ll have to give you directions.”

The driver wrote Buck’s name next to the phone number. “If you don’t mind me askin’, why would a nice young couple like you guys move out to the middle of nowhere like this?”

“I’m going to be the pastor of First Baptist Church there,” Glynn explained.

“Oh, you’re a preacher, huh? Baptist? I’m Episcopalian myself but I’m usually on the road most Sundays,” the driver said. “I go when I’m in town.”

Glynn smiled and nodded. Everyone had an excuse.

The diver handed Glynn a business card. “That’s the office with the boss’s phone number right there,” he said. “We’ll be checking in with them a couple of times a day so if you have any questions or concerns you can give them a call. Which route are ya’ll taking down?”

Glynn stuck the card in his shirt pocket before answering. “We’re going to try and make it to Indianapolis today, then stop at Joplin tomorrow night. I don’t want to go into Adelbert too late. They don’t have any hotels.”
The driver nodded. “They have us stopping in Muncie and St. Louis. We should arrive in Adelbert around 4:30 Wednesday afternoon.”

Marve stepped out the front door and called to Glynn, “There’s a Rev. Watkins on the phone from Oklahoma. He’d like to talk to you before we leave.”
Glynn handed the clipboard back to the driver and smiled. “If you’ll excuse me, please. The house isn’t terribly big. Just ask Marve, my wife, if you have any questions.”

“Thank you, Reverend,” the driver called as Glynn walked into the house.

The preacher picked up the phone, “This is Glynn Waterbury. How may I help you?”

“Mornin’, Glynn,” said a cheerful male voice on the other end. My name is Emmit Watkins. I’m the Director of Associational Missions for both Ridell and Mishawaka counties here in Oklahoma. I understand you’re taking the pastorate at First Church, Adelbert this week?”

“Yes sir,” Glynn replied, trying to match the level of enthusiasm coming from the other end of the phone line. “We’re moving in Wednesday afternoon and then Sunday morning will be our first service.”

“That is absolutely wonderful to hear,” Emmit said, nearly shouting into the phone. “You know, I’ve been a bit concerned about that church, what with them having gone so long without a pastor. Those are salt-of-the-earth people over there.” Emmit pause for less than a second before asking, “I was wondering if you’d be bothered any at all if I were to attend the worship service this Sunday and join in their celebration of your arrival. I’m looking forward to meeting you and your lovely family, and I want the church to know that we’re supportive of their decision.”

“Certainly!” Glynn said. “I would consider it an honor to have you in attendance. Up here, our Director of Missions has to cover seven counties. We don’t get to see him too often. It will be nice having someone a little closer.”

“I tell you what, we’re here to help in any way we can,” Emmit replied. “And you know, we have a pastors’ conference over here every Monday at 10:00. I wouldn’t expect you’d have time this first Monday, but I’d dearly love to have you join us the following week. We’re meeting over here at Grace Church in Arvel and then we’ll probably all go have lunch together at the Luby’s cafeteria afterward. I’m sure money’s tight with the move and all, so I’d appreciate it if you’d allow me to buy your lunch as well.”

Glynn couldn’t help smiling into the phone. This was exactly the sort of fellowship he was hoping to have with other pastors. “I would be honored,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the fellowship.”

“That’s just wonderful to hear!” Emmit yelled into the phone. “Look, I know you’re busy with the move and all so I’ll let you go, but take down my number here, it’s area code 918, 555-7611. Now, once you’re down here, all you have to do is dial the 5 and 7611, but you know, long-distance being what it is and all. You run into any problems between here and there and can’t get a hold of Buck, you just give me a yell and we’ll take care of you. Ya’ hear?”

“I appreciate that,” Glynn said. “Thank you for the call. I’ll look forward to seeing you on Sunday!”

“Ya’ll drive safe now,” Emmit said. “See ya’ll Sunday!”

Glynn hung up the phone and nearly ran into Marve as he turned toward the door. “That sounded like a rather enthusiastic call,” she said. “Director of Missions, huh?”

Glynn nodded. “Sounds like a rather excitable person. He’ll be coming over for the service Sunday morning.”

“That’s a first,” Marve noted. “The last time Harold was through here was what, four years ago, right after Hayden was born?”

Glynn had to think a moment. Harold Parsons was Director of Missions for the South Lakes Baptist Association. There were only 24 churches but they covered seven counties South of Detroit. On any given Sunday, one of them was in crisis. Glynn’s small church in Dooley was one of the few that was reasonably stable so Harold hadn’t bothered to visit too often. “Yeah, something like that. I saw him briefly at the state convention last November. Those churches over in Harm and Tuskert counties have kept him busy. They can’t seem to keep a pastor down there.”

“I’m not surprised,” Marve said. “When we were at First Church, Wamsley for the annual meeting the reception was so frigid you almost had to chip ice off the pews.” She turned and picked up her purse. “The kids are getting restless. We should go eat before Hayden starts gnawing on the back of the seat.”

“Yeah, I could use a pancake or five myself,” Glynn said, patting his stomach.

The family drove to the only diner open on a Monday morning, ate without incident, then went back for one last goodbye to the house that had been their home the past six and a half years. The moving van was almost packed by the time they returned. To no one’s surprise, Lavon Brady’s car was parked along the curb.

Marve sighed. “He just can’t wait for us to leave, can he?”

“I have to give the keys to someone and he’s the person responsible,” Glynn said. The resignation in his voice was enough to let Marve know he wanted to get the whole matter done and out of the way as quickly as possible. He parked the car at the end of the driveway and the kids hopped out and ran into the nearly-vacant house.

“Glad I caught you before you took off,” Lavon said. The smile on his face tried to be friendly but the disdain present in his eyes made him look more sinister. “Of course, I assume you would have just left the keys on the kitchen counter if you had needed to go.”

“That was my plan,” Glynn said. “The kids wanted to say goodbye to the house before we left. I figured you’d be at the plant this morning.”

“Oh, I probably should be,” Lavon said as he pushed back the graying grease-slickened hair on his head. “You know, Glynn, you’re probably getting out at a pretty good time if you ask me. The company’s looking to automate the lines for the ‘73 Falcon and Thunderbird piston assemblies. Probably lay off about 300 people or so. No one’s job is safe anymore.”

Glynn slipped the house keys off of his key ring as the Chairman of Deacons, and the plant’s accounting manager talked. “I assume your job is safe, being management and all,” Glynn said.

Lavon shook his head. “I don’t know anymore. Ford wants them to start using some big accounting firm out of New York. Says they only hire folks with Masters Degrees. Think they’ll help the company save money.”

“I’m sure it will all work out according to God’s plan,” Glynn said, smiling as he handed Lavon the house keys. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to round up the kids and get on the road.”

Lavon nodded and started walking toward his car. “Good luck, Pastor. It’s been good having you.”

Glynn turned and waved, then continued toward the house.

Marve met him at the front door. “I hope I never have to see him again,” she said, her voice nearly growling. “What was he blathering on about?”

“Something about layoffs at the plant,” Glynn replied. “He thinks they’re going to replace him with some bean counter from New York.”

“That would be an odd justice,” Marve said. “Let him see how it feels to get by on nothing for a while.”

Glynn shook his head. “That’s not Christian and you know it. Besides, the scuttlebutt on the plant floor is a lot worse. Rumor is they’re going to shut down the plant and move everything to Mexico.”

“Mexico?” Marve asked, surprised by such a ridiculous idea. “Why would they do that?”

“Avoid the union wage increase scheduled for next year,” Glynn explained. “They’re trying to renege on the deal Hoffa’s guys brokered last year.”

Marve shook her head. “I’m glad you’re out of that mess.”

Glynn nodded. “Let’s grab the kids and get moving.”

Marve shuffled Lita and Hayden off to the car while Glynn made one last check with the van driver. Everything was in order. As he got into the car, he reached over, grabbed Marve’s hand, and prayed, “Dear God, thank you for the six-and-a-half years you gave us here, keeping food on our table, a roof over our heads, and adding to our family. Be with us now as we continue on the journey you’ve set before us. Keep us safe and in your care. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Amen,” echoed Marve.

“All men!” shouted Hayden.

“Amen, you goofball,” Lita said, eagerly correcting her brother. 

Driving from Michigan to Oklahoma with two children in the car was its own adventure to be chronicled at another time. Lita did not want to sleep in the same bed as Hayden. Hayden didn’t want to sleep. Road construction slowed their path across Indiana. Too many hot dogs had Lita throwing up outside St. Louis. 

When they finally got to Arvel, just on the South side of the Oklahoma/Missouri line, they stopped and Glynn called Buck Edmonds from a payphone at a truck stop to get directions to their new house.

“Welllll,” Buck said with a slow drawl that hinted at bad news to come. “We seem to have run into a bit of a hiccup there, Pastor. You see, the banker who built that house is still livin’ in it while he’s building himself a new one next door and it seems that new one isn’t going to be ready for another couple of months or so, depending on the weather.”

“Excuse me?” Glynn said in disbelief. “I thought the church had already settled this.”

“We thought we had, too, Pastor,” Buck said. “We didn’t know there was a problem until I went by the bank this morning to pick up the keys. Apparently, he misunderstood when we told him we’d hired ya’ll. He didn’t think you’d be moving until the end of the school year.”

Glynn leaned his head against the phone booth, a wave of desperation and doubt sweeping over him. Where were they going to go? Had he made a mistake in accepting this position? “What about the former parsonage? Could we move in there for a couple of months?”

Glynn could almost hear Buck grimace on the other side of the phone line. “Welllll, you see, Pastor, we sold that house to pay for this new house and there’s already someone living in that one.”

Glynn sighed as the knot in his stomach grew larger.

“Now, I did some checking around town, and there is a house available for rent down by the ballfield if you all wouldn’t mind staying there for a couple of months until Mr. Baker gets his house finished,” Buck offered. “It’s a touch smaller, only two bedrooms, but maybe it could get you by for the time being.”

“Doesn’t sound as though we have much choice,” Glynn said, trying to not let the despair creep into his voice. 

“The other option was to have ya’ll move in with Widow Augustine there right across the street from the church. It’d be convenient and she has enough rooms but Ms. Augustine’s been a’livin’ by herself in that big ol’ house for some 30-plus years now. Not sure how well she’d get along with small children running around, especially with all those antiques she has,” Buck said. “We just thought ya’ll would be more comfortable with your own place, and we’re puttin’ plenty of pressure on Mr. Baker to get his family moved out just as soon as possible.”

“Yes, definitely,” Glynn said. “We’ll meet you at the church in a few minutes.”

“Sounds good, Pastor,” Buck said. “See ya’ in a bit.”

Glynn pulled his hand through his hair slowly before walking back to the car. Marve had been watching from the car and could tell from his body language that something was wrong. She steeled herself for the worst-possible news—the church had rescinded the offer, leaving them with nowhere to go. By comparison with what she had imagined, the mixup with the housing seemed minor. 

It wasn’t. The house was four rooms and a tiny bathroom squeezed between the two small bedrooms. Lita was livid that she wasn’t getting her own room. What little furniture they had wouldn’t all fit in the 700-square-foot house and had to be stored, along with most of their other belongings in a church member’s barn. With Glynn’s urging and a constant stream of church members offering to help, they made do.

By the time Sunday came around, everyone was reasonably comfortable with their arrangements except for Lita, who refused to accept having to live another day in the same room as her brother. She slept defiantly on the sofa and her parents didn’t object, figuring that was better than listening to her fuss all night.

Glynn chose as his scripture for the morning, Isaiah 43: 18-19. As he stood in the pulpit made of blonde wood, looking out over a congregation of some 70 people, he knew he was going to have to lean heavily into his faith, hoping God knew what he was doing. He began tentatively.

“We are, together, embarking on a new beginning, all of us. I am new to you, you are new to me, and my family is new to this place called Oklahoma. Our journey here was not quite what we expected as many of you know, but perhaps God is saying to us as he did to the prophet Isaiah,

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

Oklahoma is not the wilderness and Adelbert is definitely not a wasteland, but God is doing a new thing here, with you, with me, with all of us working together.”

At the end of the service, Buck Edmonds asked Marve and the kids to join Glynn at the front of the sanctuary so that everyone could file by and introduce themselves. Emmit Watkins proved to be just as excitable and enthusiastic in person as he had been over the phone. Each of the older ladies in the congregation insisted that the pastor and his family would have to drop by soon for dinner. Younger women were anxious to meet Marve and fill her in on all the social opportunities she would certainly want to participate in, if not chair. Lita politely shook everyone’s hand while Hayden swung off his father’s left arm, anxious to get to the pot luck dinner he knew was waiting in the fellowship hall. 

Glynn looked over at Marve and smiled. Maybe this wasn’t going to be too bad, after all. 


This is it. This is where it all ends. 20 weeks this has gone on. I’ve been amazed that anyone at all as read every week. What I’ll do now is dump everything in a massive file, print it out, and take a red pen to it all. I know there are a number of discrepancies and a few elements that might not be needed. Once I get it edited down, we’ll decide whether to submit it for publication or just do a limited edition quick run sort of thing.

Next week, I’ll go back to shorter topics for a while, get some things off my chest, probably for the remainder of the year. I have a new book concept and it would work well if I start the first Sunday of 2020.

Thank you for reading.

Prologue: Five Years Later

They sat around a group of tables pushed together at the only diner large enough to accommodate them. Among them this time were children. Ravie was now seven. Devin was nine, Gwen’s Hannah Grace was precocious at four-and-a-half, and Miranda was six weeks from delivering Darryll Adam Kirshner. Cam, no longer a child at 19, was tall, lanky and had developed Reesie’s grace and tone to the degree that people on the street assumed they were mother and daughter. There were smiles and hugs and tears as they each arrived, taking places around the tables, then getting back up to hug someone else they hadn’t seen when they first arrived. 

A little extra space was cleared for Adam who now needed a walker to get around and required oxygen at the ready. Amber brought him with her but he still insisted on getting himself and his equipment into the restaurant and set up on his own. 

They all cheered when Barry arrived. He had dropped 150 pounds, partly due to starvation he claimed, and had taken up a rigorous workout schedule in an effort to stay fit. He was relatively well-known now for speaking out against body shaming and advocating for people to take responsibility for their own health. 

The gathering had all the trappings of a family reunion. Amanda had made t-shirts with the slogan, “Together We Survive” across the front of them, making sure she had them in colors that matched everyone’s size and personality. Gloria had insisted on name tags out of fear that she might embarrass herself by forgetting someone’s name. 

As a group, it had been over four-and-a-half years since they’d all been together. It had taken two days of floating after leaving the apartment building before they found another living human. After the floodwaters went down, they still used the boats as “home” and helped look for other survivors. All told, just over 1,000 people were left in a city that had once been home to over 600,000. 

Six months had passed before life returned to anything that resembled normal and normal had been completely redefined. They had electricity, most of which was now solar powered because there weren’t enough people left to run the power stations or string new lines across the country. They had internet because an enterprising young Russian had figured out a way to capture and re-purpose the hundreds of “dead” satellites that no longer had anyone controlling them. Travel was possible if one could find a vehicle that hadn’t been completely ruined by the flood but it would still be years before a fraction of major roads were paved again.

Gloria and Toma had been the first to leave town, having decided to head for New Jersey and see if any of Toma’s family had survived. Only her younger sister, Mary, had managed to find a place of safety. They set up a home built from the debris they found and began helping others recover.

Natalie and Miranda had moved Chicago a few weeks later as Natalie was offered an editorial position at a new media company composed of every journalist, photographer, and media production person that could be found. The company was still small, a scant 25 people, but the work was exciting and Natalie felt she was doing something important. Their decision to add to their family had come with the President’s encouragement that it was the responsibility of those who could to help the country grow. A new federal program covered all the necessary medical costs for artificial insemination and Miranda had proven to be the better recipient. They were both excited and terrified by the prospects facing them.

Everyone else had stayed local but as time had gone by they saw each other less and less. Lives became busy. There were new places to live, new jobs to create, a new city to build. With so few people left, only those genuinely disabled weren’t employed in some helpful manner. Everyone did everything they could and what they couldn’t do they learned. 

Gathering now was exciting. They felt as though life was finally moving forward again. They could hold conversations without breaking down crying. Memories, while still sad, didn’t leave them all depressed for the next week.

“Hey, Ressie,” Amanda half-yelled down the length of the table, “Did you hear that the new doctor has a background in neurology?”

Reesie’s face lit up. “Yes!” she said. “I met her at the market the other day. She looked at Ravie and thinks she might be able to help. We have an appointment next week. This is the first good news for him since he was little.”

“You guys are such great parents for him,” Miranda said. “Is he handling all the changes okay?”

“Changes are all he knows now,” Timora replied. “We spent so much time moving from one place to another that when we did finally stay in one place more than a couple of weeks, he got upset and wanted to know when we were going to move again. He’s adapted so much better than we have.”

“Oh, you all might want to know, the President’s coming for the wreath-laying at the memorial next Wednesday,” Amber said. “Apparently she’s trying to make as many of them as she can. I’ve heard she’s amazingly empathetic with survivors.”

“I’m not surprised,” Gloria responded. “Didn’t she lose her entire family as well?”

“Everyone on her staff lost their entire family,” Natalie answered. “I was down there two weeks ago and was amazed at how much they’ve changed the way government works. I suppose it helps that there’s not as many of us now to manage, but it was a lot friendlier than DC ever thought about being.”

Barry was making his way around the table, refilling everyone’s coffee cup for the harried server who wasn’t accustomed to having this many guests at a time. “Moving the capital off the East coast might have had something to do with that,” he said. “Although, building a whole new city from scratch where none had existed before still feels a little imperialistic if you ask me.”

“It makes sense if you ask me,” Gwen responded. “There’s less clean up involved. You’ve seen how long it’s taken to just get things to a place where we can build anything here. It’s been five years and every time someone digs a foundation for something they’re finding more pieces of someone. I’m not sure we all shouldn’t have just moved out and started over in a pasture somewhere.”

“How’s the new White House coming along?” Amanda asked. “Is it going to be anything like the old one?”

“It’s kind of tough to tell,” Natalie replied. “They’ve finally made it to the point they have exterior walls going up, but there’s so much new tech being built into this place that visual progress is moving slowly. They’re not going to call it the White House anymore, though. It’s just ‘The Residence’ and the President will live and work from one side and the Vice President will live and work in the other. Then, the cabinet-level departments will all be in something of a circle around The Residence.”

Adam removed his oxygen for a moment so he could speak loud enough for everyone to hear. “What I don’t get is that there’s not a Capitol building anymore. They have the House of Representatives in one place and the Senate in another. What’s up with that?”

“They’re afraid of losing them all again,” Reesie said. “The fact that what, only two representatives and one senator survived and that’s because they were not at the Capitol, factored strongly into that decision.”

“They’re also redefining the powers and roles of each body,” Natalie said. “They’re preparing to announce proposals for Constitutional Amendments next month and I think it’s going to be a positive move. We saw how the partisan bickering made everything impossible last time. They’re looking for solutions to that problem.”

“I feel so much like we’re kind of pioneers now, starting our own new country,” Toma said. “I mean, it’s nice we have the Constitution to define limits and such for now, but we have an opportunity to make things so much better, remove the encoded biases that were there before, make a point of being equal as the default.”

Miranda pushed her chair back a little and put her hands on her stomach. “Whew, this little guy seems to have an opinion,” she laughed. “I went with Nat to Democracy Center and I feel sorry for those guys. They’ve got something like 400 people trying to do the work of 400,000. Half of those are like my age, no real experience, just trying to do the best they can. I mean, the kids in the state department can speak like a total of ten languages combined. They have the major languages, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean covered, but anything for the Middle East? Forget it. Africa? Not a chance. And there are no translators. Fortunately, everyone’s still like trying to rebuild their own countries so no one’s being pushy yet, but you know it’s going to come.”

“That sounds like you might have an interest in helping out there,” Amber said. “I think there are chances for all of us to participate at a higher level than we would have otherwise expected. Personally, I’m considering running for Governor. No one else seems to be stepping up and we’re starting to grow enough we really need someone in that position.”

“I’d love to serve on your campaign!” Barry immediately volunteered. “Although, I have to admit it’s nice having you as Mayor and not having to worry about a lot of state government.”

“I totally understand,” Amber said, “There are twenty-five towns across the state now and we need to start making cohesive decisions about things such as land management, what’s suitable for farming and what isn’t, how we deal with the contaminated material we continue to find, Do we go all-in on solar energy or do we try to add wind back into the mix again? Are cities responsible only for their own energy or that of the region around them? Who is going to support those brave souls willing to try their hand at farming? There’s a lot to think about and I want to make sure we don’t repeat previous mistakes.”

“You can totally count on Devin and me,” Amanda said eagerly. “We’ve been talking in ‘school’ about what a government is and how they’re supposed to work. It would be good for him to watch the process up close.”

“What do you think, Devin?” Amber asked.

“I dunno,” he mumbled as he stared at his gaming device. “Do  you think we can get global servers back like Mom says they used to have?”

“Well, I …” Amber started, looking at the others for help answering the question.

Barry smiled and jumped in. “I think there’s a set of servers scheduled to connect to the satellite system next month,” he said. “And they’re big new ones, not monster servers made of recycled parts. They’ll be able to handle the volume.”

“Sweet!” Devin exclaimed, never looking up from his game. Ravie walked over and watched over his shoulder.

“How’s the whole school thing going?” Gloria asked. “I know I kinda miss being in class.”

“It’s … interesting,” Amanda said. “There are online curriculums that are helpful, but they were all developed for a different world than what we have now. They talk about cities with millions of people living in them and, from what I understand, those don’t exist anymore. A lot of the social references they make exist anymore.”

Natalie nodded her head in agreement. “We’re having to completely re-write everything. It seems crazy that over four billion people could die in the span of about 48 hours. Our best information is that Mumbai has about 80,000 people and Beijing may have as many as 120,000, but it’s difficult to be sure because both countries had their governments completely wiped out and there’s a lot of fighting about who gets to control things. Our best guess is there are about 2.5 billion people living in communities under 1,000 people, all self-governed, and getting along amazingly well that way.”

Adam coughed hard as he removed his oxygen tube again. “Seems to me, one of the lessons we should be learning is that layers of large government do more harm than good. Hell, large government helped create this mess we’re in now. Why would we ever want to go back to that kind of system?”

“Because there are some things we can only do as a larger unit,” Amber replied. “I agree, though. I think we have to put a lot more limits on what governments at any level can do. Like, the President’s program for replacing the old Interstate system with high-speed rail. That’s something only a federal government can facilitate. It doesn’t need to be altered as it runs from one state or region to the next. But we don’t need the federal or state government messing around in our coffee shops and grocery stores. Different regions have different needs and need the power to address those needs without interference.”

Miranda gave a short scream as the baby kicked. “Oh, that was a hard one! I’m going to assume that means he agrees with you.”
“Hey, Reesie,” Gwen started, leaning over to look down the table. “What’s the word on you getting back into the coffee business?”

“It’s still going to be a couple of years before there’s really any fresh stock of beans,” she answered. “I mean, what we’re drinking here is artificially produced, and it’s okay, but we all prefer beans so I’d rather wait until I have good stock. However,” she smiled and pulled Cam close, “This young lady is a whiz at baking, so we’ve been talking about opening up a pastry shop for her and then when the material is ready I’ll open a coffee shop attached to it. I’m thinking of naming it Another Tuesday.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful!” Gwen nearly shouted. “We’d be in all the time! Hanna Grace loves pastries.” 

The little girl looked up from her book. “Mom, there you go again, applying human emotion to an inanimate object. I love you. I devour jelly donuts.”

The group roared with laughter.

At the other end of the table, Barry’s, Nat’s, and Miranda’s cell phones dinged at the same time. They looked at each other cautiously, wondering if they should check them. Barry looked at his first, then said, “Nat, this looks like something in your area. Colonel somebody died.”

“Perry Dawkins?” Natalie asked as she looked at her phone. “He was head of the project that accidentally knocked all the satellites out. He was also responsible for getting everything back online. The guy lost both legs when a plane crashed into their research facility. He never stopped blaming himself for all the deaths, though. I’ve never met someone more tormented.”

“Didn’t everyone who was really responsible die either somewhere during the storms or the aftermath?” Amanda asked. “I mean, every politician for as long as I could remember talked about ‘draining the swamp’ but those storms eliminated the whole swamp and almost everyone in it. There were what, less than 200 survivors from DC?”

“The entire East Coast had its shoreline adjusted,” Toma responded. “All the boardwalk casinos and barrier islands are completely gone. My favorite family vacation spot in Connecticut doesn’t exist anymore.” She paused and wiped a tear from her eye. “My first girlfriend lived in Rhode Island. The entire state disappeared.”

Gloria and Miranda both reached over and put an arm around Toma. The rest of the table was silent for a moment, leaving only the sounds of the children chatting, video games playing, and spoons clanking as they swirled the creamer inside coffee cups. None of them had escaped deeply personal loss. Childhood memories, early romantic relationships, and favorite places were all gone. While federal programs for rebuilding were strong and generous, there weren’t enough people left in any one place to rebuild cities anywhere close to the state they had been before the storm.

Amber seemed to be the last effected, though she was so well-practiced at keeping her composure that no one could really be sure what she was feeling. After staring into her almost-empty coffee cup for a sufficient amount of time, she restarted the conversation. “We have a couple of large construction teams hitting town next month,” she said. “They’ll build a municipal building, something that’s safe and functional, capable of holding our entire population plus a few if necessary. Then, they’ll make sure everyone has a decent home to live in. We still have too many people living in tar-paper huts without running water or toilets. We’ll have a decent sewage system by the time they leave.”

Gwen looked up. “What about trees?” she asked. “It really makes me sad that there are so few trees left. And Roscoe would really like the shade.”

The mention of Roscoe was enough to make everyone smile. 

“I think we want to get through the winter first,” Amber said. “With all the changes in weather patterns, it’s hard to know what Nature is going to throw at us in terms of snow and low temperatures. We’ll want to be careful to choose trees that are going to survive year-round. But when we order, we’ll get shrubbery and flowers, too.”

“Bring me a shrubbery!” the entire table responded in unison, which made everyone laugh and for several minutes, the room was full of smaller conversations as everyone had a comment or memory. The young waitress, who knew them all but had a separate survival experience, brought them their food: veggie nuggets for the kids, various salads and manufactured soy products for the adults. Looking at the plates, one might have been fooled into thinking that everything was back to normal, but the food tasted nothing like what they had enjoyed before. There was no sugar or other sweeteners, few spices, and even basic grains were in short supply. Because of the limits in resources, food production of any kind was tightly controlled and that inevitably led to a sameness no matter what one was pretending to eat. Still, after two years of near starvation, no one complained. 

As they sat there talking and eating, Amber saw a familiar shadow pass the diner’s window. She set down her fork and stood up. “Excuse me for a moment, please,” she said. “I think I saw someone I need to speak with. I’ll be right back.” 

No one seemed surprised. Amber was mayor, after all, and such interruptions were to be expected. The group excused her with a chorus of mixed platitudes and continued their conversations.

Amber stepped around the corner and was not surprised to find Djali standing there in the shadow, still wearing the same perfectly-pressed suit he always wore. “You know, wearing a suit like that around here is really going to make you stand out. What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I heard we were having a reunion,” he said. “I thought I’d drop by and see how everyone’s doing.”

“Everyone’s just fine,” Amber growled. “There’s nothing for you to do here.”

Djali smiled. “I know. You’ve made sure everyone here has plenty of protection. You’ve grown a nice little town. You don’t even need a police department … yet.”

Amber took a threatening step closer to the demon. “And you’re not going to mess that up, are you? Every one of these people has been through incredible trauma. They’ve lost everything and are struggling to rebuild their lives. You and your kind can just stay the fuck away.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, mockingly raising his hands in front of his face as though he might need to defend himself. “We have strict orders to stay away from almost the entire continent. Tribalism hasn’t set in here like it has in Africa and South America. Those places are keeping us busy. They don’t have many people as it is and they still keep killing each other because those who survived don’t trust anyone. The only trouble spots here are out in the new deserts of the Dakotas, Colorado, and Kansas. Just little pockets where all the less-than-cooperative people seem to have gathered. They’re not wanted anywhere else.”

“So why, the fuck, are you here?” Amber asked again. 

Djali sighed and dropped his head. “Seriously, Amber, I just wanted to see how everyone was doing. I waded through the water with these people, remember?”

“And killed three of them,” Amber reminded him.

“They slipped,” he said defensively. “I just didn’t do anything to stop them.”

“You fucking son-of-a- …”

“Stop, Amber,” Djali interrupted. “You keep forgetting that I do have a conscience. I’m capable of feeling compassion, it’s just not in my nature to act on it. Just like we both know you have the ability to spew some real vile when it’s warranted; you’re just good at keeping a lid on it. I really feel for these people and I’m a bit sad they didn’t all make it. That wasn’t my doing, by the way.”

Amber sighed. “I know. The clouds were boiling over that fight. It must have been intense up there.”

Djali nodded his head and winced at the memory. “You know, we all get into fights every once in a while, but I don’t remember one that bad since that last European war. And you know what? The guys at the top just laughed. We were mere amusement for them.”

“Hopefully they got their fill for a century or two,” Amber said. “It’s going to take at least a couple hundred years before anything down here starts to resemble what it was before.”

“Just be careful,” Djali warned. “While we may be taking a well-deserved break, humans are still going to be humans. All the greed, the lust for power, the lying, it will all come back. You can’t keep it away forever. We have nothing to do with that.”

“I know,” Amber admitted. “I’ve already made plans for a police department when we need it. I can do a lot but I can’t keep people from being people.”

There was a sudden rush of wind as Destefana appeared suddenly behind Djali. “Get out of the way, Squirt,” she ordered. “I need a hug.” 

Djali obediently stepped to the side as Amber rushed to wrap her arms around the angel. She enjoyed the warmth and power emanating from her celestial friend. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“This pipsqueak created a bit of a disturbance when he decided to pop down for a visit,” Destefana replied. “His boss is concerned he’s too soft. I’m concerned he’s a fucking little liar.”

Amber giggled. “If people knew that angels drop F-bombs …”

The angel laughed. “Child, you know us, we’re the ones who created the language after having to chase after all these human asses down here. Although I’ve got to say, it’s a lot easier to manage for the moment.”

“You’re welcome,” Djali quipped.

“Shut up!” Amber and Destefana commanded in unison.

The demon flinched and took a couple more steps back. “Obviously, I’m no longer welcome in this conversation. I really am pleased to see everyone’s doing well, though. Maybe you could find a way to let them know that.” A warm breeze accompanied his quiet departure, blowing Amber’s hair back for a moment.

“He’s a complicated little one,” Destefana said. “But you’ve no worry from him or anyone up the chain. All’s good here.”

Amber smiled. “It’s nice to know you’re watching.”

Destefana reached out and pulled Amber close. “You make me happy,” the angel said softly. “You make the universe happy. Now, get back in there with your friends before they start to miss you.”

Amber nodded and smiled as another gust of wind took her friend to another plane of reality. Walking back into the diner, the conversations momentarily paused as she returned to her seat.

“Everything okay?” Reesie asked.

“Damn near next to perfect,” Amber said with a smile. “For all the hell we all went through, for everything we lost, you guys are just wonderful.”

Natalie leaned over and whispered, “Why is it you always have a bit of a glow to you after you have those mysterious conversations? You never have explained any of that to me and it’s still one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever witnessed.”

Amber smiled. “That’s another story for another time,” she whispered in return. “And not one suitable for children’s ears.”

“Always an excuse,” Nat teased.

The conversation returned to normal as the group chatted back and forth about everything that had changed and what they were doing to adjust to their new reality. While challenges continued, their shared experience had given them all the courage and confidence to step up to each new difficulty and find a solution. They knew they could survive no matter what was thrown at them.

Perhaps, most importantly, they had learned that complete strangers could become friends, that differences in background and culture, skin color and sexuality, were too often nothing more than defensive mechanisms people use to avoid getting close, risk the potential of getting hurt, and making new friends. It was a lesson they shared and applied wherever they went. They each told the story to whoever would listen. They not only survived the Great Extinction, but they were also better for having done so.

And for the most part, they were happy.

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. 


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.

Another Tuesday In Another Coffee Shop

We’re only two weeks away (I think) from finishing up our story so don’t give up on me now! If you’re just now joining us, though, you’ll want to click here to start from the beginning!

I did have to make an adjustment this week as I realized I left out a critical portion of the story that should have come a week or two earlier in the timeline. So, we’re starting with that and then jumping back to where we left off.

Lost In The Clutter

Long before the storm took its toll on the nation’s capital, Roger Mukaski had resigned himself to the darkest booth in a corner of Old Ebbitt Grill. The Victorian aesthetic with its dark paneling and frescos on the wall made it a perfect place for hiding his disappointment. He had failed. The SUV carrying Rod Hammond had already driven away by the time he reached the portico of the West Wing. He didn’t recognize the special agent in charge but felt no reason to doubt him when he informed Roger that all the Secret Service agents that were on duty that morning were being taken in for additional questioning. That seemed, on the surface, like a perfectly logical response to everything that had happened up to that point.

What Roger knew that the agent didn’t was that Hammond was carrying an extra revolver, one modified to take a noise suppressor. The extra bulge in the back of his suit was visible in the surveillance tapes. He could easily hand in his service weapon without any worry because that was not the gun he had used. If all they tested was the gun he handed in, he would get away with the murders. Roger couldn’t let that happen. At least, he didn’t want to let that happen. At the moment, he didn’t see any way to stop him.

Old Ebbitt Grill was one of the few places still open. They were sufficiently equipped with candles on all the tables so the space had a romantic glow that would have had guests standing in line for tables on any other night of the week. Tonight, though, the place was all but empty. Without power, cooking anything ranged from impossible to dangerous. Gas stoves still worked but without any light cooks and chefs were having to guess at spices and other ingredients. Management had made the decision that they could serve cocktails and if anyone really insisted, day-old bread. 

Roger sat in the corner nursing a glass of bourbon, wondering what he would need to do next. Everything he might need in his office was now off-limits. He officially had no title so he had no real authority to walk into someone else’s office and demand to see Hammond or anything else. Options that had been available to him a few hours ago simply weren’t there now.

He felt a slight tingle in his left elbow followed by a tinge of pain in his left hand. Arthritis. He applied pressure as he rubbed his hand, trying to keep the pain from getting any worse. The weather was about to change, and he reasoned, given the way the day had gone, that it probably wouldn’t be for the better. He could physically feel the pressure dropping. There were storms coming, both the meteorological and political kind and Roger had no place to hide from either. 

Across the room, the sound of wind whipping around an open door momentarily distracted Roger from his thoughts. In the shadows, he couldn’t tell who had entered, but neither could he miss the hostess pointing in his direction. He was momentarily nervous. Was this someone he could trust or was he about to die? Roger instantly chided himself for being so damned dramatic. This was Washington. Chances were higher that it was someone sent to deliver him a message.

As the figure drew closer, Roger could finally see that it was Adrian Campbell. Roger shifted to his left to give the Secret Service agent room to sit down. Standing from the back position in a corner booth was impossible, but by this point, formalities weren’t necessary. “Figured you’d be over at Treasury by now,” Roger said as the agent sat down next to him.

“I was,” Adrian said. “Got there right as the White House team was arriving. I gotta admit, Rod was one cool cucumber. His back holster was customed made so it almost never showed under his jacket …”

“Until he bent over,” Roger said, finishing his sentence. “Like when you get out of a vehicle.”

“Exactly,” Adrian confirmed, then he laughed. “I’m pretty sure everyone else on the team thought I had gone nuts when I tackled him in the doorway. I know I caught Hammond by surprise, which was a good thing. His hand didn’t have a chance to reach and grab his weapon. If he had, I’d be dead and probably four or five other agents.”

“It will make a great scene in that book you get to write now,” Roger said. “With the president dead, there’s nothing to stop you from making millions on a tell-all. As long as you don’t reveal any state secrets”

Adrian shook his head and ordered a dry martini from the waiter who had been standing at a polite distance, waiting for a pause in their hushed conversation. “There are still loose ends,” the agent said. “We took Rod’s phone because events happened quickly enough we assumed he had gotten his orders before service went completely out. We were right. There were two calls before the test this morning. One came from a Virginia-registered number, government facility, though not we anyone immediately recognized. We’re assuming it had something to do with the failed test. Perhaps someone out there knew it was going to fail and was trying to cover their tracks. The second one, though, you’re not going to believe.”

Roger drank the last bit of bourbon in his glass, milking the pause in the conversation. “Goddamnit,” he thought to himself, “I’m a fucking drama queen.” He motioned for the waiter to bring him another then said, “Okay, shock me. Who called? The first lady? Gloria What’s-her-name, the attorney? Justice Kreuger, perhaps, that’d be an unexpected twist, wouldn’t it? Maybe Nancy did it herself, though she’d have to be a helluva magician.”

“Almost. Try Senator Graham Norman,” Adrian said. “Mind you, we have no idea what the content of that call was. I’ve sent a couple of agents over to the Capitol to try and find him. There’s a helluva storm whipping up, though, and more than ample opportunity given the situation for the Senator to dump any evidence that might connect him to the shootings, if there was ever any evidence in the first place.”

Roger shook his head and looked down into his empty glass. “You know, in a way, I’m not too terribly surprised. Norman has always played a little dirty with the politics. I’ve never thought he’d go to this extreme, but if he did, my guess is he was playing some angle to put himself in the White House.”

“He knows the succession path, though,” Adrian said. “Not only would he have to get rid of the president and vice president, but he’d also have to eliminate Nancy as well. What I’m wondering now is did something or someone thwart his plan or is he simply not done yet?”

“That’s a disturbing thought on multiple levels, Adrian. Did he know the test was going to fail and what its consequences would be? Did he know that the First Lady was going to poison the President, and if so, to what extent is he complicit? Just being connected to that incident would likely keep him out of the Oval Office. Or was he the lynchpin in this whole fucking shitload of nonsense today? Did he organize this entire disaster?”

Adrian looked up, saw the waiter standing at a distance, and motioned him over. The waiter set the drinks on the table and then quickly disappeared into the shadows of the restaurant.

“You know,” Agent Campbell said, “This place has always struck me as the kind of place where you guys make deals you don’t want anyone else to know about.”

Roger took a long sip of his bourbon while deciding how to respond to the charge. Sure, Adrian was friendly, but he was still a Secret Service agent. There was no such thing as “off the record” with him. “You are not incorrect,” he said carefully. “There are a handful of places around here. Upstairs at Joe’s Seafood on 15th. Bobby Van’s. Mirabelle. The rookies have taken to The Exchange for some reason. I don’t think they realize just how many people overhear their conversations in that place. There’s a fucking reporter at every other table. Still, more bills are passed over expensive wine and pan-seared halibut than anywhere inside the Capitol. If you want to actually get something done, you have to take someone to dinner. That’s why I’m so fucking fat.”

Adrian absent-mindedly played with the olives in his martini. “We know,” he said. “We play a lot of the same games. There’s always someone out to kill the president, no matter who the president is, and there’s always someone willing to talk. At least, most of the time. The public would be scared shitless if they realized how many assassination attempts we stop each year. We have good people who listen, take people to lunch or a nice dinner, something they wouldn’t be able to afford on their own. Justice is good about working on immunity deals with us so when we make that offer, 98 percent of the time we can back it up. It’s interesting, though, how many times an agent tracking down one attempted crime inadvertently foils another. We overhear something, we see some Representative’s aid where they’re not supposed to be, a server tips us off, and we bag a two for one.”

Roger sipped at his bourbon then rolled the glass between the palms of his hands. “Not unlike what happened in the waiting room this afternoon,” he said. “They might have gotten away with everything had the acoustics in that room not been working against them.”

“Not unlike a meeting that happened early this morning,” Adrian said. “All the way out at Tyson’s Corner, long before the rest of us were aware this wasn’t going to be a normal day.”

“Someone in the hotel staff?” Roger asked.

“Please, Roger, stop and think for a moment. No one in that meeting drove themselves all the way out there, especially the Vice President.” Adrian said. “We didn’t even have to strain to listen. I had the full report before you and Terri were half-way back to the White House.”

“We weren’t trying to kill the President, though,” Roger insisted. “What we talked about in that room was wholly constitutional. The 25th amendment …”

“I know, I know,” Adrian said. “And I don’t think Andrew would have had any difficulty getting the votes he needed. The problem is that short exchange between you and Senator Norman on your way out.”

Roger gave Adrian a bewildered look as he tried to remember what he had said to the Senator who had been oppositional the whole meeting. So much had happened during the day that he was having difficulting recalling the details.

Adrian smiled. “I know, it’s been a helluva day, hasn’t it? Let me help you out. When General Lang informed you of the number of planes down, everyone was rushing back to their vehicles and Graham grabbed you by the elbow. Remember what he said?”

Roger’s face went pale. “ ‘You better watch yourself, son, there’s a natural order to things and it’s our job to keep that order in place. You just stay out of the way and let me handle things.’ “ He gulped hard. He hadn’t considered the senator’s comment as anything more than his usual blustering. “That son of a bitch. He never was going to let Andrew become president, was he?”

Adrian shook his head and drained his martini. “Nor Norma, if he could help it. What bothers me is that he seems to think that you were in on the plan, Roger. Were you?”

Roger felt the muscles in his abdomen clench as he tried to not puke on the spot.
“That’s what I thought,” Adrian said. “You were being played and didn’t realize it any more than the president did. Having a gay Vice President may have been a large part of what got Mr. Blackstone elected, but neither you nor the Senator nor several other members of Congress were shy about voicing your opinions. You hadn’t trusted Andrew on the campaign trail and you didn’t trust him in the Eisenhower Building, either. You and Senator Norman had already tried talking to the President about not including him in the next elections. He shot you down. Graham left that meeting even more angry than he did this morning. He called you later, said he had a plan.”

“But he never revealed that plan, at least not to me,” Roger objected. He looked at Adrian, fearful of what was about to happen. “You’re thinking I’m part of the conspiracy?”

Adrian smiled and ate one of the olives in his glass. “I considered it,” he said. “I think Senator Norman thought you were part of the conspiracy, that’s part of why he was so upset with you this morning. You were getting in his way.”

Roger looked around the dark room. He could count three other people sitting at booths some distance from them. He caught the attention of the waiter and motioned for another round. “You’ve just given me another reason to get drunk, Adrian. I thought I was on the inside of everything that happens in this town. Now I find out I’m a schmuck.”

“That’s not the worst thing to happen to you,” Adrian said quietly. “If you weren’t that schmuck I’d be arresting you about now. You were the planned fall guy all along. And here’s the part where I offer you immunity in exchange for your testimony. We obviously can’t go after President Blackstone now, but Senator Norman and likely a few other members of Congress need to go to jail.”

As if to underscore Adrian’s words, a large clap of thunder shook the building. Both men instinctively looked upward, then toward the nearest exits, just in case they needed to escape. 

“Yeah, no problem,” Roger said nervously, though I’m not sure how you’re piecing all this together.”

“I’m not sure we have an accurate picture yet, either,” Adrian said as another clap of thunder shook the windows so hard they felt the breeze back at the corner booth. “I think the President was in on the test failure today because he wanted to be able to circumvent Congress and essentially become king. The problem there was that the president was incapable of understanding what the consequences would be. He thought the White House would be immune from the outages. I think Senator Norman knew about the test’s failure as well. He was one of the few people on an intelligence subcommittee that authorized funding for the facility in Virginia that funded the lab. If we’re ever able to trace the number on Hammond’s phone, I’m willing to bet it belongs to a plant at that facility and that Senator Norman helped make sure that person was in the position to sabotage the test.”

Roger nodded that the waiter was again a few paces away, holding their drinks. Adrian paused long enough for the drinks to be delivered and both men to indulge themselves before continuing.

“I’m also guessing that the Senator is the one who contacted the First Lady’s friend to get her involved. I don’t know what kind of deal he was offering Mrs. Blackstone, but obviously it was substantial for her to take that risk. Maybe they didn’t intend to kill the president, just get him out of the way long enough to eliminate Andrew without the President being implicated.”

“What About Hammond?” Roger asked. “I’m not sure I understand where he fits into this whole thing.”

Adrian stared into his drink as heavy rain began to lash at the front of the building. The flame on the candles flickered with each clap of thunder. He felt the pressure begin to drop and knew they would soon have to take cover to avoid the wrath of the storm. “I don’t think Rod was the spy he thought he was. There are a number of calls and texts on his personal phone that implicate him with the facility in Virginia. We’re still investigating those. I’ll send someone out there in the morning after this storm blows over. I don’t think he knew about the Vice President until he got the call, though. He would have tried harder to not have to kill anyone other than Andrew. Every additional bullet he fired risked identifying him. Rod wasn’t someone who wasted ammunition, not even at the range.”

Roger stared into the bourbon swirling in his glass. He was at that point where if he stopped drinking now, he would still be functional. If he kept drinking, he was going to need a ride home—and there were no rides available. He listened to the storm and decided to keep drinking. “So, what do you do now?” he asked.

“Try to put the pieces of this fucking puzzle together and then make a report to President Watkins,” the agent replied. “I need to find this person in Virginia, see how they plug into everything without arousing too much suspicion from Senator Norman. And I need records of any conversations you’ve had with the Senator since the President took office.”

“I think the Chief Justice has all those under lock and key,” Roger said.

Adrian waved him off. “We’re doing that investigation anyway. That will be another thing to negotiate, the whole Supreme Court involvement. I’m pretty sure the Senator didn’t see that coming. It may spook him.”

Roger looked up to see a figure standing a short distance from the table, waiting to interrupt. Roger motioned him over and quickly recognized him as the owner of the restaurant. 

“I’m sorry Mr. Mukaski,” the man said, “But the storm is getting considerably worse. We have a basement downstairs. Perhaps you both would like to join us?”

As if to underscore the urgency of the invitation,  lightning hit a tree directly across the street, momentarily brightening the room and it shook with the thunder.

Roger looked at Adrian. Adrian nodded. “Thank you. We’d be happy to join you.”

A Basement Full Of Surprise

The SitRoom at the White House wasn’t the only intensely secure location in Washington. Almost every federal building constructed since 1948 had one, sometimes two. None of them were regularly portrayed in movies as was the SitRoom, though, so their whereabouts were less well known, even by the staff working in those buildings. At the moment people began to realize that the storms represented a serious danger to everyone above ground, those who did know about the secure facilities began sending people toward them as quickly as possible. This alone ensured that there would be survivors to tell the harrowing tale of all that had happened this day. Their stories would eventually become books that would become movies that would serve as stern reminders of all the mistakes made leading up to this situation.

At the moment, however, no one was thinking of writing anything other than perhaps their last will and testament. Nowhere was that more the case than in the lowest level of the Treasury Building. Those occupying offices had long heard rumors about the third subbasement and its impossible-to-breach security. Just being able to push that button on the elevator had required a level of authority only a handful of people had, including the Secretary. With power out, they had taken the long trek downward through darkened stairwells not lit by the generators covering the rest of the building. They knew everyone in the building wouldn’t fit which led to no small amount of pushing and shoving in the initial burst, but that was quickly halted as Secret Service agents up and down the stairwell enforced a more orderly progression. 

What surprised the few hundred people who crammed into the tight space was that the subbasement was a jail. 40 nearly-bare cells held presumed criminals waiting to be interviewed by Treasury agents before being handed over to whichever law enforcement agency could best address their crimes. No one down here had gone to trial. No one down here ever would.

Before letting the building’s staff into the secure basement, however, they had made the decision to group the alleged fraudsters, counterfeiters, currency manipulators, and others into only two of the 40 cells—men in one, women in the other. While agents didn’t particularly like the situation, they admitted that their immediate need was to save as many lives as possible. Freeing up the other 38 cells meant that approximately 150 more people would survive. 

Not knowing where they were going nor what they were walking into created some confusion as Treasury staff entered the secure facility and were immediately escorted to cells. The three-inch thick plexiglass walls that facilitated better security also allowed them to see out. Doors were jammed open to help reduce any feeling of claustrophobia but the press of people trying to get in was so great that the prisoners had more room to move than did any of the staff. 

Former First Lady Tasha Blackstone and her attorney, Gloria Fastbaum were pleased to finally be back in the same room together. The Secret Service had been very adept at not only keeping them in separate cells but out of sight of each other, preventing them from being able to coordinate their stories. The results had been helpful as each quickly turned on the other, attempting to minimize their own roll in the President’s attempted murder. They anxiously huddled together in the back corner of the cell, hidden by the other women in the cell who all-too-happily ignored them. Being held in a secret federal facility meant no one there had yet spoken with an attorney. There were no alliances, no watching out for each other. Everyone was worried about their own situation and trying to watch their own back.

As Tasha and Gloria stood together in a corner of the cell, another member of the First Lady’s former staff was led in: Ann Morrow, her former Chief of Staff. Ann had still been giving her statement to Secret Service agents when the order was given to evacuate everyone to the subbasement. Thinking ahead, Ann requested that she be placed in the cell with the prisoners to “save on extra life.” Agents saw an opportunity and not only agreed to put Ann in the cell but also a couple of female agents who were wired with battery-operated recording devices. Knowing that people tend to talk more freely when they feel their lives are threatened, the agents were hoping someone might open up and confess, saving everyone time later. 

The fluorescent bulbs routinely flickered as the generators varied in their support. Unlike the SitRoom, which operated on its own independent power source as equally secure as the room itself, the secure rooms at Treasury relied on external diesel-powered generators, located in a ventilated room a floor above them. As the storm grew in intensity and the crowd in the basement felt the building shake above them, speculation grew as to whether they were in a truly safe place or if they were merely standing in their own mass grave. Managers and supervisors in the crowd, as well as Secret Service agents scattered throughout, did their best to keep the group calm. Panic in such a tight space would inevitably result in the space being breached as some tried to escape. Any break in the security of the space would threaten the safety of everyone there.

Ann moved closer toward Tasha and Gloria, still undetected as the two women were fully engaged in their own conversation. Neither had considered for a moment that other members of the First Lady’s staff might be present. In fact, there were three, Ann, Tracy Holloway, Mrs. Blackstone’s secretary, and Charlotte McGuigan, Mrs. Blackstone’s social advisor. Ann had taken the opportunity upstairs to speak with them both and was convinced that not only had neither of them been part of the First Lady’s plan, they all felt betrayed and blindsided by what had happened that day. She had no trouble convincing them to help her and the Secret Service to expose the First Lady’s treachery.

With all the accumulated chatter throughout the subbasement, listening in on the whispered conversation was more difficult than it had been in the more acoustically live setting at the hospital. Still, the duo was so convinced that they were alone, their voices gradually grew louder than they realized. Ann was standing, still unrecognized, directly behind Gloria when she finally began to hear enough of the conversation to make sense of what they were saying. 

“We can still get out of this, and possibly still gain the control we are wanting,” Tasha was saying. “At this point, no one outside Washington even knows that Rudy or anyone else is dead. Everyone is focused on themselves. By the time this storm thing blows over, they’ll be in a hurry to get rid of us. All we have to do is keep our story straight.”

“You shouldn’t have been so fast to order Andrew’s hit,” Gloria said. “We should have waited at least a couple more hours. You were a bit wreckless back at the hospital. I don’t think your staff was buying your act.”

“My staff is a bunch of idiots,” she said. “I’ve known most of them since college, handpicked them because of their willingness to go along with whatever I say. They are blindly loyal. If we play our cards right we can probably pin Rudy’s poisoning on one of them. I did not order the hit on Andrew, though. I assumed you did.” 

Gloria looked up for a brief moment before continuing. “Wasn’t me,” she said, “But I’m not complaining about the outcome. That totally works in our favor and there’s no way they can pin it on us. Don’t let that be a distraction. The fact that they’ve moved so many people down here tells us something is wrong. We play it cool, fade into the background for the moment, and maybe no one will remember we’re here when it’s all over.”

All conversation paused and everyone in the subbasement looked upward as the walls shook around them. They had no way of knowing the top floors of the building had just been obliterated as though a bomb had gone off. Years’ worth of critical financial information was lost in an instant. There were backups for most of it, of course, but assuming that the building housing the backups, based in California, was still operational was more dangerous than anyone knew at this point. It had, in fact, been completely swept into the Pacific. 

Ann looked over at Tracy and Charlotte. The expressions on their faces echoed the same panic being felt by every other person in the room. None of them had asked to be here and they all worried whether they would survive and see their families again. Given the opportunity, any of them would have rather taken their chances with the storm. They would have died, of course, but at the moment that seemed preferable to the uncertainty and drama playing out around them.

A couple of minutes passed before anyone in the subbasement said anything. Only after the building stopped shaking completely and the lights stopped blinking did anyone say anything and that was someone questioning whether the storm was over. The negative response resulted in groans and cries throughout the cramped space. Had they realized the severity of what was going on above them, of course, they would have been thankful to be in that subbasement. They had no way of knowing, though and as is often the case, ignorance leads to acts of stupidity as one group attempted to storm the door only to be immediately turned back by Secret Service agents whose own anxiety made punching the aggressors almost enjoyable. 

People accustomed to persistent and pervasive access to information don’t respond well to being completely cut off. Everyone in the subbasement wanted to know what was going on above them. They yelled at the Secret Service. They yelled at each other. At one point, the lead Secret Service agent complained that Treasury employees were behaving worse than the criminals being detained. 

In both of the cells, those charged with crimes were carefully watching the increasing tensions outside their enclosures. One didn’t have to be a seasoned convict to understand that were conditions to continue to erode, they would likely be able to escape without anyone noticing. After all, they hadn’t been fitted with orange jumpsuits just yet. Other than being placed in less-crowded cells, they looked much like everyone else around them. They could blend in and ride a wave of unrest all the way to freedom. All the needed was that one opportunity.

Several more minutes of relative quiet passed before conversation finally resumed its calm level of babble, just loud enough to be heard by the person standing next to you, not enough to capture the attention of anyone else in the room. Not that anyone else in the room was trying to listen. Everyone was too concerned with their own situation, their own fears, to care what anyone else around them was saying.

When Tasha and Gloria felt it safe to continue talking, it was Tracy who was standing closest to the couple. Her recording device was able to capture every word.

“I’m not feeling especially safe here,” Tasha confided to her friend. “These wretched people in their cheap suits and bad shoes are more dangerous than terrorists. They will only continue for a while before they completely revolt. Perhaps then we escape.”

Gloria shook her head. “No matter what anyone else does, you and I stay right here. We’re telling everyone we’re not guilty, right? We rush out of here like the rest of these morons and the immediate assumption is that we have something to hide. We are better off staying here. Who knows, if Secret Service gets distracted long enough, they may completely forget that we’re down here.”

Tasha sat quietly for a while. She hadn’t felt the need to hide like this since she was a little girl running from the abusive Uncle that had raised her. She was more accustomed to being the center of attention and for a moment considered that all she would have to do is stand up, straighten her suit jacket, and begin speaking. She would immediately have the attention of everyone in the subbasement. She knew of no one who could counter any statement she might make. She could rally them behind her. 

Tasha had learned the danger of speaking extemporaneously, though. Her gaffes during Rudy’s campaign had been severe enough that he had nearly ordered her to shut up. Any questions the press might direct toward her were handled by her own press secretary, someone who was not currently present. She would have to wait and Tasha was not good at waiting.

“Too bad there’s not a punch bowl I could spike,” Tasha whispered. “It wouldn’t take that much to put everyone here to sleep for a few minutes.”

Gloria glared at her. “Are you kidding? Do you realize how dangerous that could be? Besides, I left all the poison at the White House. I slipped it into Rudy’s nightstand in one of his empty blood pressure medicine bottles. If it’s ever found, it won’t be traced back to us.”

“Not all of it, you didn’t,” Tasha said. “I kept a small vial with me, just in case Rudy needed a booster.”

Gloria grabbed Tasha by the lapel of her jacket and turned them both toward the concrete wall, not realizing that only made the conversation easier to hear. “How the fuck did you get that past the pat-down? What the fuck were you thinking? You should have ditched that in the ride over here!” 

It was taking all of Gloria’s effort to not yell at Tasha. Being caught with anything, especially the drug that had possibly killed the president, was enough to assure them both a trip to federal prison. She needed to get Tasha under control.

“Listen, give me the poison. I’ll slip it into someone else’s pocket. I don’t think they’re going to search everyone when we finally get out of this fucking hell hole but even if they do, we don’t want that shit on either of us. Give it to me!”

Tasha shook her head. “It is my emergency backup. I am not going to prison. If they try to take me, I just put a little under my tongue. I get sick with the same poison that Rudy had. It looks like someone tried to silence me. I’m presumed innocent, no?”

“And what if you take too much, Tasha? You’re not exactly adept at dosing that shit. You were only supposed to put a little in his soda and look how that turned out!” 

“The Secret Service agent bumped my arm,” she said. “I couldn’t let him see what I was doing. Besides, it was Rudy. It’s not like half the people in the country don’t want him dead. When all is said and done, people will thank me. They’ll thank you. I know what I’m doing more than you think I know.”

“You’re going to get yourself killed,” Gloria warned. “You’re playing much too dangerous a game.”

Tracy looked at Ann who looked at Charlotte. They have more than enough evidence to convict Tasha. No matter what else she might say later, the First Lady had poisoned the President.

Harsh Winds Of A Lonely Reality

Perry laid in the dark wondering what might happen next. While the immediate danger of the tornado had passed, high winds still whipped across the now-exposed Virginia valley. Rain showers coming through would beat mercilessly for two minutes, soften, then dissolve into nothing. The pattern repeated itself over and over through the night. In the distance, he could still hear the thunder. If he propped himself up on his elbows, he could see the lightning. His elbows couldn’t handle holding his weight for long, though. Everything hurt. There were splinters of wood and plastic all over his body. He considered that if he were going to die out here that he would rather go ahead and get it over with rather than lying there and suffering, but fate didn’t seem to want to cooperate with that desire.

In the howling of the wind, as wayward pieces of tin rattled against what was left of concrete walls and steel girders groaned without support, Perry repeatedly thought he heard other voices. “Help!” he would yell. “Is anyone else out there?” Each time, there would be no answer save more wind, then more rain.

Perry wasn’t sure if the tears in his eyes were from his own physical pain or the emotional torment of realizing everyone around him, all his friends, everyone he had worked with for the past 15 years, was now dead. Their work had failed. Their effort was meaningless. When everything was pieced back together, the weather would get the blame, not the project. No one else would know that they had been the victims of sabotage at the highest levels. There seemed to be no one left who could corroborate his story, this seemingly impossible story how that a line of code, maybe two at the most, had shut off the world’s satellites leading to the elimination of the entire communications system and global power grind. All the witnesses were dead. All the evidence was scattered across this Virginia valley. When they found him, if they found him, he would be treated as a trauma victim. No one would ever believe the story. More likely, he would live out the rest of his days is a psych ward somewhere, talking with a therapist about the nightmares that were surely coming.

“Help!” he yelled again. “This is Lieutenant Colonel Perry Hawkins! Can anyone hear me?” 

Still, there was no answer. In the darkness, he had almost no sense of direction. Only the lightning gave him hints as to which was direction was East or West and Perry wasn’t entirely sure about that. Pieces of debris would blow across his body, mostly paper or light plastic, but he couldn’t see what any of it was to know whether there was any value in the scraps that were left.

Had Perry been able to see, the scene around him would have been all the more devastating. The tornado had cut a path more than two miles wide. Only the extreme anchors of the hangar’s concrete pad had allowed any of it to stay intact. The administration and operations buildings were completely gone, only a hint of their foundations remaining. Asphalt from the tarmac had been dug up and turned into gravel that scattered across the valley. Perhaps, hundreds of years from now, some archeologists might come across the site and assume that a great war had taken place here. What else could account for such a complete ruination of the entire area, such tremendous and sudden loss of life? 

With the wind came strange fragrances. Diesel. Excrement. A woman’s perfume. Strawberries. Rubber. Rust. Each would come through and assault Perry’s senses for a moment, sometimes to the point of stinging before moving on with the next round of rain.

Perry hated rain now. He would hate rain for the rest of his life, however long that might be. Rain represented not only defeat but the insult of being continually beaten down, not allowed a chance to recover, perpetually stepped upon by nature in her quest for total dominance of the planet. The soothing sense that came with rain falling on a roof in the spring was lost to him now. Every drop that fell from the heavens represented a new drubbing, for it was not enough to have been defeated. His soul had to be crushed, his will to create, to try again, had to be driven far from his mind. No matter what the task might be, he would not, could not, participate. His will and his drive were gone. The rain had washed it all out of him.

Lightning. Close enough this time that Perry could feel the ground shake beneath him. He worried for a moment that another storm might be moving in his direction but the wind assured him it would remain distant. That storm was meant to annihilate someone else’s life. Perhaps it would wreak its havoc on the small towns along Interstate 66. Perhaps it would run along the opposite side of the mountain, turning towns like Sperryville and Graves Mill into mud. 

Perry had been to each of those small towns. Early in the project, they had considered tunneling under the mountains, setting up communities for analysts and their families. In the end, the security risks were considered too great. It was better for everyone to stay concealed in the valley. Of course, the folks at Stony Man and Whitehouse Landing knew they were there, but they didn’t know what really went on. Conspiracy theorists had a field day guessing, but none of them were ever close enough for Perry’s security team to worry.

“Did anyone in those towns survive?” Perry wondered. He knew it wasn’t likely. Even in a place where strength and security were built into the construction, nothing was left. Small towns composed mostly of clapboard houses and 80-year-old brick storefronts had no defense against a storm of this magnitude. Whole families were likely slaughtered as they struggled to hold on to each other against the winds, just like Major Davis had attempted to protect Perry. 

“Someone out there answer me!” Perry screamed into the darkness. As if in direct response, the wind through a handful of rain directly into his face. How dare he challenge nature in this way? She had spoken strongly and sufficiently. She wasn’t going to suffer the babbling of this lone human.

Perry momentarily considered attempting to crawl on his stomach toward someplace safer. The darkness was prohibitive, though. Debris was scattered everywhere and much of it was sharp. Perry could spend hours carefully crawling through the dark only to discover at dawn that he had done nothing but maneuver himself in a circle. Every survival lesson he’d ever had told him his best move was to stay put, let rescuers come to him. The problem was, no one knew he was there. No one knew the base nor the lab was there. How could anyone go looking for a place they didn’t know existed?

“Hello? Is anyone out there?” he yelled one more time. He tried with everything in him to hear a response. A groan. A murmur. Anything that might lead him to the assurance that he wasn’t the only one alive in all this mess. 

Perry leaned back on the ground, exhausted, wondering why he hadn’t been ripped apart as well. Surviving the storm only to be left out here in the darkness, unable to move, unable to secure any form of help, was a worse fate. Mercy had shined on those who died in an instant, who had the very breath sucked out of them as their bodies were snatched skyward. A moment of fear and then blackness was all they had experienced. That end would have been preferable.

Now, here he was, alone, with no one knowing that he even existed, unable to move, left to starve to death in the middle of the wreckage that represented his entire life’s work. Over 2,500 people had died in this valley today. Most of them had families. None of them had any reason to think that working here would put their lives in danger. Perry was sure that, traitor or not, he was the one who had let everyone down. He had failed to provide a secure environment for them.

Of course, it seemed to go without saying that if the bunker had not been attacked, they all would have survived the storm. In fact, the bunker had been large enough they could have evacuated everyone’s families into the underground space and kept them safe as well. Had the bunker not been breached, everyone would have lived. Sure, the test failure was bad, but the test wasn’t what had put everyone in danger. 

Perry realized that, if he wasn’t hearing any other survivors, that likely meant Tom was dead as well. Or escaped. He had no way at the moment of knowing. What if he was still out there, running for his life, looking for other ways to bring down the government? That seemed doubtful, though. 

The wind picked back up. Splatters of rain fell in small patches that seemed almost as though nature was throwing water balls at him. Rain was nothing at this point. He couldn’t be any wetter. Wind, though, could be rough. Perry looked through the darkness as though perhaps this time he might see some form of a nearby shelter. Then, he realized, the wind had changed direction. This was coming from the East. Perry felt a chill that wasn’t from the rain.

Never Have I Ever

Amanda and Reesie explored the contents of the cabinets in the new apartments looking for food. They found rice and pasta, a few cans of tomatoes and green beans, and a bag of dried beans, all of which could come in handy if they could preserve enough fuel to actually cook. 

Darrell, Carlson, and Adam carefully navigated their way through the dark bedrooms, looking for anything that might help, though they didn’t really know what that might be at this point. 

“Seems pretty ordinary,” Darrell said. “I was hoping to maybe find a flashlight or something along that line, though.”

Carlson looked through the closet in the master bedroom. “Surprisingly neat and reasonably organized,” he said. “Even the drawers with the sex toys are labeled.”

Darrell looked up so quickly he bumped his head on a shelf. “What? Sex toys?” he asked.

Carlson and Adam laughed.

“Don’t act so shocked,” Adam said. “I’d be surprised to find a bedroom that doesn’t have a toy of some kind.”

“Toys?” Natalie asked as she entered the room. “Do I even want to know what you guys are into back here?”

The two older men laughed again. “Your boyfriend seems surprised that we found sex toys,” Carlson said.

“That’s because he’s scared of them,” Natalie said, giggling. “He leaves the room when I pull mine out to clean them.”

“It’s not normal,” Darrell said. “And it’s not like I ever turn you down for sex. I don’t get why you need them”

“It’s not like you’re always around when I get horny in the middle of the afternoon,” Natalie shot back, still giggling. “I don’t suppose you found anything that lights up, did you?”

“Not yet,” Carlson said from inside the closet. “Though, given the luck we’re having, I’m probably right next to one and don’t know it.”

“If there’s nothing obvious then you might as well come back to the living room with the rest of us,” Natalie said. “But leave the toys. I don’t want to have to explain them to Cam … or Gwen.” She giggled again and left the room.

The men followed her back down the hallway to the living room. There was more furniture here than there had been in Natalie and Darrell’s apartment. Everyone was able to find a seat somewhere that didn’t involve sitting on the floor in some fashion. Between a sofa, a love seat, two overstuffed chairs, and nicely upholstered chairs from the kitchen, even Barry had a comfortable place to sit.

“We should play a game to pass the time,” Gloria said, a bit too happy, as though they were on some kind of urban camping adventure.

Amber walked over from the kitchen and sat at the end of the sofa. “We should probably try and get some rest. Who knows what we’re going to discover once its light.”

Reesie was at the other end of the couch with Cam snuggled in her lap. “I think this poor child already took the hint. This baby is exhausted.”
“I’m not surprised,” Toma said. “Just think of everything she’s been through today, and she’s so young.”

Gwen shuffled in one of the overstuffed chairs as Roscoe laid across her lap. “I’m not sure I can sleep now, though. Every time I start to relax a little bit, something happens.”

“You’re not alone,” Hannah chimed in. “As long as this day has been, I’m afraid to let my guard down even for a minute. A game might be a nice distraction.”

Miranda giggled as she sat backward in a kitchen chair facing the group. “How about ‘Never Have I Ever?’ “ she suggested. “We play it at work when things are dead. It’s fun.”

“Isn’t that more of a drinking game?” Darrell asked. “Alcohol is one thing we’ve not come across, though I certainly wouldn’t mind if we did.”

“We can do the sober version,” Gloria said. “Just raise your hand if you’ve never done whatever they’re asking and give yourself a point. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.”

Barry shifted in his seat. “I’m with Darrell, this would be a lot more fun with alcohol. Did we check the fridge? Are sure there’s not some vodka in the freezer or something?”

“Trust me, first thing I looked for,” Amanda said. “I didn’t even find wine glasses. These must be really boring people who live here.”

“Let’s go then,” Natalie said, excited to be doing something different. “Whose going to ask the questions?”

“Miranda sounds like she’s played in the most,” Toma suggested. She leaned forward to look over at her. “You think you can keep us entertained?”

Miranda laughed. “If that doesn’t work, we can make the guys strip.”

There was a chorus of groans and general objections from the guys as the women laughed and warned that such an event would surely lead to blindness. For the first time all day, everyone was smiling, the horrors and trials and losses not gone but momentarily set aside.

“Okay, first one, Miranda said, pausing for the group to calm back down. “Never have I ever smacked my face pulling on a push door.”

They all looked around at each other as no one raised their hand and then laughed.

“Wow, we’re all a bunch of klutzes,” Amanda said. “This could be a close game.”

Laughter filled the room again, loud enough that Cam stirred in Reesie’s lap but not enough to wake. 

“Okay, let’s try this one,” Miranda said. “Never have I ever …” She paused, looking carefully around the room. “… been invited to a threesome.”

Barry and Hannah were the first to raise their hands, followed by Gwen and Amanda. Everyone else looked around the room and laughed.

“So, we’re all just a little bit kinky?” Gloria asked.

“Invited doesn’t mean participated, “ Carlson responded to another round of laughter. 

As the chuckles and side jokes died down, Gwen lowered her hand and asked, “Okay, I’ve never been asked, but I’m curious, are we talking two girls and a guy or two guys and a girl, and does it mean the two people of the same gender are gay or bi or how does that work?”

“All of the above,” Toma answered. “It really depends on the people involved, and honestly, it doesn’t always work. There are times it can be a real cluster fuck. When it works well, though … wow! Amazing.”

Gwen leaned back in the chair and scratched Roscoe’s muzzle. “That sounds interesting.”

Miranda bounced on her chair, excited. “Okay, now that we know who’s out, never have I ever driven a car naked.

Again, Barry’s hand was the first up, followed by Darrell, Carlton, Gwen, Amanda, and Natalie.

“At this rate, I’ve got this game in the bag,” Barry said, chuckling at his own lack of adventure. 

Gloria leaned forward. “Wait, Gama, your hand’s not up! Uhm, you want to let me in on this story?”

“Ooohh, intrigue!” Toma said. “Was someone a bit wild?”

Had there been more light they could have seen the degree to which Hannah was blushing. As it was, the amber glow of the fuel can added some mirth to her smile. “It was a very long time ago,” she said, “before your mother was ever part of the equation. Your grandfather and I had gone on a picnic down on a secluded spot along the lake where we knew no one else would be. We ate our lunch and while we were lying there in the sun we started getting a little frisky and decided to go play in the water for a bit. Well, your grandfather had this 1946 Chevy Fleetline convertible. Oh, it was a sweet-looking thing, a shiny gray that he kept polished and nice, white leather interior. And we were in the water, both of us naked as jaybirds when I look up and notice that something, probably a possum, had knocked the chucks from under the wheels and the car had started rolling. It wasn’t on too big of a slope so it wasn’t going very fast but it was going to get away from us if we didn’t do something. 

“So, we both jumped out of the water and Bobby, your grandfather, ran for his clothes and I just ran straight for the car and since the top was down I jumped in, slid into the diver’s seat and got the car stopped. I look over and Bobby’s still down there fiddling with his shoes so I turn the car around and am driving back to our picnic spot, wasn’t but maybe 20, 30 yards at most, when who should come along down the road but the Preacher, Rev. Leonard, and there I am in the car, with the top down, naked as the day I was born, and oh my, the look on his face as we pass!”

The group roared as Hannah told the story.

“Gama, what did you do?” Gloria asked.

“What could I do?” Hannah responded. “I just smiled and waved. I gotta tell you, though, it made communion really uncomfortable for the next few weeks!”

As the group laughed and continued on with the game, Amber slipped away and stood at the glass door watching the rain. While the game was a fun distraction, she could feel more trouble gathering around them. She wasn’t sure what could possibly be heading their way now. They’d already endured floods and tornados and earthquakes. There didn’t seem to be much left for the natural world to throw at them. They weren’t in a location where they had to worry about wild animals. With all the water a horde of insects was out of the question for the time being. That more than likely meant that any challenge now was likely to come by human hands.

Lightning flashed in the sky and Amber could see the shadows of those gathering, waiting. She looked back over at the group. In many ways, they were all so innocent. They had no reason to worry about anything more than weather. As they laughed about mysterious bruises showing up from nowhere, she wished she could protect them all. She would do her best, but there was something out there stronger than all of them and it was in a bad mood.

Ed. Note: We’re probably two, three weeks tops, from being done with our story! This has me wondering what to do next. Should I start another story or go with some solo articles for a while? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Just now joining us? Click here if you want to start at the very beginning.

Falling Apart At The Seams

“I hardly smell anything at all,” Carlson said.

“Same here,” added Adam.

Miranda sniffed hard. “It’s like the person next door burned their dinner or something.”

Amber shook her head. “See Hannah’s reaction? She’s crying for a reason. Hydrogen Cyanide is a killer. It works quickly and without gas masks, we’re all vulnerable. We need to quickly find a way to protect ourselves until the source is depleted.”

A new wave of panic swept across the group that, by now, was beginning to experience a sense of adrenaline fatigue. The day had been a continual chain of one disaster after another to the point that some in the group were running out of the energy necessary to fight off this newest threat. Everyone talked at once expressing their own frustration at having to deal with yet another threat to their lives, not realizing that in doing so they were potentially ingesting more of the poison gas.

Finally, Amber whistled loudly to get everyone to be quiet. “Hold on here,” she said loudly. “Look, I know this has been a trying day and I get that we’re all tired but given how few people seem to be left alive in this town I think we have an obligation to at least try to survive!” She watched the eye rolls and heard the disgruntled murmurs. “We have options we can try to at least minimize the effects of the gas. We need t-shirts and either lemon juice or some kind of vinegar, preferably not straight white because that’s a bit harsh as well.”

Darryll and Natalie looked at each other. Finally, someone was asking for something they actually had. “T-shirts aren’t a problem,” Natalie said. “Between us, we probably have a couple hundred.”

“Lemon juice isn’t an issue, either,” Darryll added. “We buy a gallon at a time because I use it to clean the bicycle grease off my clothes and Natalie uses it all over the kitchen. I just bought a new case a couple of days ago.”

Suddenly, everyone realized that Natalie was naked. While sitting in the dark she had become accustomed to her state of undress and the urgency with which she was summoned inside had overridden any sense of needing to get dressed. Her clothes were still in the dark on the landing outside the front door. She attempted to cover herself with her hands. “Oh shit, it’s not completely dark in here, is it? Uhm, let me run get those t-shirts!” she exclaimed as she ran toward the bedroom.

“I’ll help,” Miranda said, taking off after her.

The group watched as the two young women slipped into the darkness of the hallway, some enjoying the humor in what had just happened, others somewhat stunned by suddenly being yanked out of crisis mode. They heard Darryll say that the lemon juice was in his room, but no one paid any attention as he, too, walked into the darkness.

Amber tried keeping the group calm and together. “Look, the t-shirts are only going to help with breathing. Our eyes are still at risk. If you feel them begin to itch or water, don’t rub them, that will only make it worse. Hopefully, the source burns itself out quickly. Once it does, it should only take a couple of hours for the air to clear.”

“How do we even know for certain that it’s poison?” Amanda asked.

Amber looked at Hannah, still crying as Gloria and Toma stood tightly on either side. “I guess we can’t be one hundred percent certain without tests,” she said, “but Hannah’s been here before—she knows that smell and she knows what it can do. I think we’re better off taking what precautions we can, don’t you?”

Amanda nodded in agreement. 

“It is a slow death,” Hannah said, her voice weak and weary. “Once it is inside you, inside your lungs, there is nothing you can do. There is no medicine that can fix it. I was sick for weeks after my parents died. I survived because they thought I was going to die. They left me alone.” She coughed hard and teetered into Gloria’s arms. Her granddaughter held her tightly and helped her stand upright. “I’m not sure my body can go through that again. I’m not sure I want my body to go through that again. I’m old. Maybe I don’t want to fight anymore.”

A chorus of disagreement rose from the group as they circled closer to her. 

Gloria pulled her small grandmother into her chest. “We will have no talk of that,” she told her. “Remember all those stories you told me when I was little, the ones about dreaming of daisies so you could forget you were in prison? Or pretending that mush was paté? You were the one who taught me to find ways to survive even when surviving seemed impossible. I will not give up now. I will not let you give up now. We’ve lost too much today. I need you.”

Toma wrapped her arms around them both. “You know, in every disaster, there is someone who survives, some group who bands together and defies the odds so that someone else can make a crappy movie about their lives thirty years later. If you don’t survive, you don’t get to choose who plays you in the crappy movie. You don’t want that, do you?”

Hannah tried to smile. She knew the girls meant well. She also knew what she was already feeling in her lungs. Surviving might not be a matter of will but a matter of strength—a strength she wasn’t sure she had.

“I’m not sure I want to think about who’s going to play any of us in a crappy movie,” Amber said. “Hollywood doesn’t have enough awesome to handle this group, anyway!”

Barry laughed especially loud, taking a couple of steps away from the group as he coughed a couple of times. “Can you imagine,” he started, between coughs, “some poor casting agent trying to find someone to play me? They’d have to put like three guys inside a padded suit!” He laughed more at his self-deprecation. 

“They’ll have to get the prettiest girl in Hollywood to play me,” Cam said as she clutched Reesie’s leg. “Or maybe I’ll just play myself. Hollywood’s going to need some new people and maybe the movie won’t be so crappy if I’m in it.”

There was a collective sigh of relief and Amber was especially glad that the group had backed off the panic. She knew that the stressed breathing of fear would cause more of the poison gas to enter their lungs. Already, the fragrance was so light that their noses had adapted and they were no longer consciously aware of the danger.

In the darkness of her bedroom, Natalie fumbled around trying to find her dresser. “I know it’s here somewhere,” she told Miranda. “There’s underwear in the top drawer but everything under that is t-shirts.”

“Do you really have that many?” Miranda asked. “I have a few but my Mom said I was wasting my money on them.”

“Yeah, she’s not wrong,” Natalie said, laughing. “I only have so many because of all the bands I’ve covered. They think if they give me a t-shirt I have to be nice to them in my review. Most of them I’ve never worn. I save them just in case one of the bands happens to make it big. After a while, I use them as dust rags.”

There was a thump and an “ouch!” as Miranda collided with something in the dark.

Natalie laughed again. “I see you’ve found my bed!”

Miranda laughed as well, despite the pain that was shooting up her leg. “Is that what is meant by stumbling into bed?”

“I guess so,” Natalie giggled. “Here, if you can follow my voice, I found the dresser.”

Miranda felt her way across the bed toward Natalie, trying to use her hands to avoid bumping into anything else that might be there. With one hand in the air, it wasn’t long before she found Natalie’s shoulder. “Mmmm, you’re soft,” Miranda said. “Are you sure you want to get dressed? Maybe we just stay in here and I get naked with you.”

Perhaps earlier that day, before she had left for the coffee shop, Natalie would have pulled away, but the gentle touch of Miranda’s hand on her shoulder felt warm and tender. She stood quietly as Miranda’s hand moved gently down her arm, carefully across her breast, and toward her stomach. She leaned back, possibly instinctively, and let Miranda wrap her arms around her and kiss the back of her neck. She felt her nipples tighten and the beginnings of desire. It had been months since Darryll had aroused these feelings and he never had been this gentle. 

Natalie turned, using her own hands to reach under Miranda’s shirt and feel the younger woman’s delicate skin. She could feel Miranda’s warm breath on her face. She leaned in for the kiss.

“You guys find the t-shirts?” Darryll’s voice felt like it was being pushed through a loudspeaker as it interrupted the moment.
“Yeah, just loading up to bring them out,” Natalie replied, hoping the anxiousness didn’t show in her voice. “You find the lemon juice?”

“Yeah, with my feet,” he said. “I’m going to need steel-toed boots if we don’t get power back on.”

The women both laughed in an attempt to normalize the situation. “Let’s explore this later,” Natalie whispered into Miranda’s ear, giving her a soft kiss on the cheek. “I like the way you feel.”

Natalie turned back around and pulled a stack of t-shirts from the dresser drawer and handed them to Miranda before grabbing another stack herself. She was thankful for the darkness at the moment. She felt her face go flush. She wanted the intimacy Miranda was offering. She didn’t care whether it was practical or meaningful in any way. Miranda’s touch had been electric. Natalie hadn’t felt that way since college. 

Darryll was waiting for them at the bedroom door. They felt their way down the hallway toward the single light in the living room. As they approached, Natalie started tossing t-shirts as if she were at a sporting event. “A t-shirt for you! And a t-shirt for you!” she shouted, not too loudly but enough that it elicited a few grins from some in the group. “Don’t ask me about any of the bands, please,” she added. “I don’t even remember most of them.”

Darryll walked around and set the plastic gallon jugs of lemon juice next to the sink. “I hope no one’s allergic to lemons,” he said, but the group wasn’t paying attention as they ripped the shirts in an attempt to fashion reasonable covering for their faces. In a way, it felt like they were having a party. Even though they could barely see and the light from the single can of fuel was growing dim, anything that took their minds off the danger they were in was better than the panic they felt just a few moments ago.

As they finished created their face coverings, Amber instructed them, “Go see Darryll and soak it in lemon juice then wrap it as tightly around your face as you can. Try to not leave anything dry and make sure your nose and mouth are completely covered.”

Gloria was the first to rush over to Darryll with a t-shirt. “This one’s for my Gamma,” she said. 

Darryll smiled as he took the ripped t-shirt and poured lemon juice over it, making sure the fabric was soaked to the point it was almost dripping. “Make sure it doesn’t cut off her breathing,” he reminded her.

Adam was next. “This may be the strangest thing I’ve ever done,” he said as he handed Darryll the t-shirt. “Do you really think it will work?”

Darryll shrugged as he doused the shirt in lemon juice. “It makes sense I guess,” he said. “Lemon juice is acidic so I suppose that does something to whatever’s in the air.” He was handing the shirt back to Adam when the building shook with the force of a nearby explosion.
“That wasn’t thunder!” Amanda exclaimed as she reached out to Barry for support.

Cam screamed and wrapped her arms tightly around Reesie. “Don’t let me die!” she screamed. 

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, baby,” Reesie whispered, trying to calm the girl. She wasn’t convinced that she wasn’t lying, though, and she felt her own legs struggle to maintain balance.

“That was too close!” Natalie said, rushing toward the door.

“Wait, don’t open that!” Amber warned. “If that was the source of the hydrogen cyanide, there’s even more poison in the air than there was before!”

Natalie stopped and leaned her back against the door. “Do you think that’s what it was?”

“I don’t know what else it could be,” Amber said. “Most likely someplace close by had chemicals stored and when they got wet it released the gas. Then, as more of the chemicals were exposed, maybe mixed together with the floodwater, it caused an explosion. The good news is that it should eliminate the danger. The bad news is that for the next hour or so, there’s enough poison in the air to kill us. We need to get these t-shirts on quickly!”

Everyone rushed toward the sink. Darryll was pouring lemon juice over the scraps of t-shirts as quickly as he could. Each person secured the material around their face and attempted to breathe as normally as they could with a face full of lemon going up their nostrils. When they looked around and saw each other, though, they couldn’t help but laugh.

“We look like a bunch of really bad bank robbers,” Cam said. 

Roscoe didn’t like having his snout covered and began barking and pulling at Gwen’s shirt. “What’s wrong, boy?” she asked. “You don’t like the smell of lemon, do you?” The dog barked more loudly, pushing Gwen away from the sliding glass door where she had been standing.

The building shook again and everyone reached for a piece of furniture to steady themselves.

“That didn’t feel like an explosion,” Toma said. “That felt deeper.”

“It wasn’t an explosion,” Carlson said. “That was the Wabash Valley fault line making some readjustments. That’s what Roscoe was trying to tell us. Hold on, there’s going to be more.”

He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when the ground shook again, this time for several seconds, forceful enough that everyone in the apartment was on their hands and knees, looking to hide under the too-small kitchen table.

“Why?” Amanda yelled. “Why can we not get over one fucking disaster before the next one clobbers us?”

The ground shook again for nearly a minute this time. Dust fell from the ceiling and if there had been more light they would have noticed the cracks running up the walls. They all laid on the floor as one tremor after another rocked the entire apartment building giving them all reason to wonder if this was how they would die.

“Get to the doorways,” Carlson yelled. He began crawling on the floor until he reached the bathroom doorway. Cautiously, he stood, his back against the facing, his hands firmly gripping the top support.

Others soon followed. Reesie and Cam joined Carlson at the bedroom door. Amber followed Darryll to the door of his bedroom. Natalie grabbed Miranda’s hand and they made their way to the door of her bedroom. 

“Everyone else get in the hallway,” Carlson urged. 

The others gathered as close to doors as they could get, huddling in groups. Roscoe pinned Gwen to the floor near the bathroom, lying protectively over her, growling as though he were daring the ground to move again. Toma and Gloria huddled over Hannah just outside the hallway door. Barry took Amanda by the hand to the far corner of the hallway. “Stay close,” he told her. “If anything falls just let it bounce off me so it will miss you.”

Roscoe began barking loudly again, trying to push Gwen as tightly as possible against the wall.

“Look out,” Carlson warned. “We may have a complete plate separation coming.”

The next tremor was the strongest. The building moved back and forth like a tree limb caught in a wind storm. Plaster and dust fell from the ceiling. Dishes fell from the kitchen cabinets, breaking on the floor. Pictures fell off walls. The glass in the sliding door cracked, then shattered. For over a minute and a half, the tectonic plates supporting the earth’s surface moved nearly ten inches apart, opening large wounds in the ground, severing buried cables and pipelines.

When the shaking stopped, Carlson warned, “Don’t get up just yet. Stay put. There are likely to be consequences coming next.”

They waited in the dark, no one daring to say a thing, though curious as to how Carlson knew what was coming. They would need to ask questions later, providing they all didn’t die.

The next explosion they heard was some distance away, but it was followed just a few seconds later by another a little closer, and then a third even closer, and almost immediately by a fifth that couldn’t have been more than a couple of blocks away.

“What’s going on?” Gloria asked, fear and desperation in her voice reflecting the emotions they were all feeling.

“Gas lines,” Amber replied, intentionally taking some of the pressure off Carlson. “The earthquake caused them to sever and that set up a chain reaction of …”
She didn’t get to finish her sentence as the next explosion ripped up the pavement directly across the street from the apartment building, creating a crater nearly fifteen feet in diameter. The building shifted and began leaning as the ground around the South end of the building began to give way. Metal beams creaked and groaned as they began to buckle under the weight.

Roscoe barked loudly, this time grabbing Gwen by the shirt collar and pulling her toward the door. “Roscoe seems to think we need to leave,” Gwen said. “But it’s dark out. We can’t see!”

“He’s not the only one,” Reesie said. “No offense, but I’m not feeling like this is the safest place to be at the moment.”

“But it’s dark,” Gwen emphasized, “and the streets are still full of water that is even more dangerous now because there are huge holes in the ground! We can’t just go out and choose a new apartment building. There aren’t any others standing!”

“We can at least move down a floor,” Amber said. “We know the door’s open in the apartment where we found Cam. Even if this end of the building starts to crumble, that end of the building might stay intact a bit longer.”

“Definitely can’t stay here,” Darryll said. “My whole room’s a wreck now.”

“I’m not sure there’s anything in here that’s salvageable,” Natalie added. “Maybe a few clothes, but I don’t want to kill myself trying to find them.”

“Anyone opposed to switching apartments?” Amber asked. 

The group was unanimous in their decision to leave. They grabbed the remaining fuel cans and head for the door, their faces still wrapped in the lemon-juice-soaked t-shirts, making their way carefully down the now-tangled stairs to the second floor and the apartment on the far end. Once everyone was inside, Amber shut and locked the door. Natalie lit another fuel can.

And then it began to rain.

Flooding The Swamp

For well over a century, scientists had warned that the District of Columbia was in a precarious position that could easily be overwhelmed by a major weather event. As a result, almost every building had deep foundations and some protections against flooding. Estimates were that the city could likely handle a category three hurricane and the resulting storm surge with minimal damage to public buildings and monuments. While there were always those who warned existing precautions were insufficient, the majority of scientists and politicians agreed that the provisions and safeguards in place were reasonable enough. After all, a hurricane was the most dangerous threat they faced and those didn’t just show up without warning. If the city was evacuated in a timely manner, the loss from a direct hit would be minimal.

None of the models were close to anticipating what was happening at this moment, however. Massive tornadoes coming across Virginia and Maryland had already decimated Alexandria, Arlington, Bethesda, Silver Springs, and College Park. The storms seemed to have endless energy. Where one funnel would seem ready to give out, another would appear alongside it and the two would combine in a force capable of taking down anything in its path.

At the same time, a category five hurricane with sustained winds in excess of 250 miles per hour was coming ashore at Chincoteague, heading toward the capitol with even greater fury. Had climate scientists been aware of the impending collision between the two sets of weather phenomena, they likely would have evacuated the city hours ago, but with both radio and satellite communications down, they didn’t even know exactly what was coming at them until it was too late.

A storm surge over 20 feet high had consumed everything along the coast from Atlantic City to Chesapeake for 30 miles inland. The Boardwalk had crumbled, popular tourist sites vanished underwater, vital defense bases were either swept away or rendered useless. Ships docked at Norfolk and other nearby ports were tossed about like toys and overturned. They might have had a chance to survive on the open sea but there wasn’t enough warning to get them launched in time.

No one who was stuck in the traffic on the Beltway would survive. Bridge supports disintegrated. Vehicles were blown off the highway, picked up and tossed into buildings that crumbled with them. The effect was like an angered toddler who had grown upset with a game and tossed the board and its pieces around the room. Nothing was left anywhere close to where it was supposed to be.

In the darkness, no one could watch the destruction of national monuments as each was systematically obliterated. The Washington Monument, fittingly, went first. After several lightning strikes to its pinnacle, the strong winds severed the obelisk, carrying the top two-thirds over 15 miles away before shattering its massive limestone on top of a strip mall in Temple Hills. The columns of the Lincoln Memorial were sucked out one at a time, causing remaining portions of the memorial to crumble. The famous statue of the sixteenth president remained intact until the combination of high winds and pounding rains knocked it on its side. The image of the president broke into pieces that were then picked up and scattered across the region. The president’s head would eventually be found outside Baltimore. 

The Jefferson Memorial fared far worse. With its massive columns ripped from their base, the inner portion of the memorial magnified the winds. The statue of the president was like a toy bouncing off the engraved walls before finally being smashed into dust. The memorial’s massive dome might have looked like a flying saucer as it was lifted up and then smashed into the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

So it went around the city. Nothing survived. The treasures of the Smithsonian were scattered, some pieces of historical artifacts carried as far away as Philadelphia and Morgantown. Other museums similarly had their buildings destroyed and their contents ripped to shreds as they were carried miles away by the winds.

When the storms reached the Capitol, they were merciless. With no consideration for its proud history nor its incredible architecture, floodwaters breached the basement more quickly than anyone would have expected, trapping those who had taken refuge in what was supposed to have been the safest place in the building. Two different tornados took turns picking away at the massive limestone structure, slamming parts and pieces from other structures into its walls until the massive stones finally moved the slightest bit out of place. The cupola was gone, deposited in the Potomoc South of Alexandria. That left the rotunda area unprotected and even pieces of the massive marble floor took to the sky. 

The Capitol could have survived that attack, though, and could have been rebuilt. There was a respite of about 20 minutes where surviving members of Congress and their staffs rejoiced to still be alive, not yet aware of the numbers of their colleagues who weren’t. Had they been able to find champagne in the dark, they would have been drinking it. They couldn’t see anything but lightning to their East and thinking that tornadic activity tends to move West to East, they assumed they were in the clear.

No one was terribly worried when winds began to pick back up. They were more concerned with trying to salvage what they could find than getting themselves to a place of safety. By the time they realized they were still in danger, it was too late. Wind speeds increased rapidly from 10 miles per hour to 20, then 50, then 80. Walls of rain carried by the wind slammed into the building with a force exceeding anything its architects could have ever imagined. Windspeed passed 300 miles per hour and even the massive limestone walls could no longer stay in place, but the hurricane was not done. Estimates calculated posthumously would claim the hurricane got up to unheard-of speeds over 500 miles per hour. There was nothing that could withstand such a destructive force. The size of the storm was so broad that it lingered over the Capitol unrelenting in its wrath for nearly two hours. By the time it moved Northward to obliterate what was left of Baltimore and Philadelphia, even the building’s foundation had taken damage that could not be repaired.

The Situation Room of the White House (officially part of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center) constructed specifically to keep the President safe and block out any external distractions. Buried deep below the subbasement, the concept had been that the room should be able to withstand a direct hit from a nuclear weapon. Getting there took time and access was limited. So when Director Raddison, at the President’s insistence, opened the door and pulled the security detail and a handful of low-level aides into the room with them, he was effectively deciding who among those in the White House were going to survive.

To some degree, the White House fared better than most of the structures around Washington. The hurricane took out the East Wing first, taking with it any evidence of the former First Lady’s attempt to poison President Blackstone. As it made its way across the building, the residence and third-floor amenities were wiped off as though some almighty being had brushed its hand over the structure. The West Wing partially survived with part of two walls left standing, but anything, and anyone, left inside was gone. 

Across the entire District, basement shelters proved to be death traps. The whole concept of the shelters had been that even in the event of a nuclear disaster, most of the building, at least the portion of floor directly above the basement, would remain intact. No one expected rain on top of that attack. Nature proved to have more destructive force than any bomb, however. While the hurricane winds toppled buildings, tornados of monumental proportion dug down, creating trenches in the ground, ripping up the floors that protected the basements that now, as unending rain poured upon them, caused the basements to fill with water. Those who had taken shelter were not able to escape. They could either drown or risk being blown away.

Terri was among those who chose to take her chances with the hurricane’s winds. Unable to see through the torrent of water, she stumbled across the rubble of the White House, she tried to stay low to the ground, hiding behind pieces of limestone and any other large element that could provide her a moment’s escape from the wind. Nothing held for long, though, and she kept moving horizontally to the hurricane, crawling over shards of glass, torn pieces of metal, splinters of trees, and shattered remnants of office furniture. 

The rain left her cold and wet. Her hands and knees were bloody. Pieces of office supplies were stuck in her hair. Dramatically low air pressure made it difficult to breathe. No matter how many times she tried wiping the water from her eyes, she still couldn’t see. Terri finally reached a support stone at a corner of the White House. These were titanic pieces of limestone more than six feet thick in any direction. She was sure she would be safe lying low behind this stone. For several minutes she was correct. As long as she stayed down at the center of the stone, both the wind and the rain went around her. She had a chance to catch her breath and try to plan for what to do next. If necessary, she would stay right there until the whole thing finally blew over, however long that might take.

Nature was hurling everything she could find at the other side of the stone. A cherry tree that had looked so beautiful in spring hit the limestone, its branches reaching over and slapping Terri on top of the head before they were snatched up and moved elsewhere. A pickup truck carried from some unknown parking lot fell on top of the stone, narrowly avoiding crushing Terri beneath it. For several minutes, Terri sat there shivering and shuddering every time something new hit the other side of the block. 

Finally, another piece of limestone smashed into the corner block with all the fury of a freight train. Pieces of gravel flew everywhere, embedding themselves into Terri’s skin. The corner block crumbled then gave way to the wind, taking the shelter Terri needed to stay alive.

Terri had no choice but to start crawling again. Making her way across the lawn, she would occasionally think she saw the shadow of another person, and perhaps she did, but there was no way to get their attention and before she could find the energy to scream they would be gone. She kept moving, ignoring all the pain, fighting off the urge to stop and give in. She felt the ground beneath her transition from grass to concrete to asphalt to dirt. She was well away from the White House now. She wasn’t sure if it was 17th street or H street that she was crossing, but she knew she hadn’t seen any sign of the buildings and statues that should have been close by. There might have been tears in Terri’s eyes as she thought of the hundreds of thousands of lives already lost, she couldn’t tell. No matter which way she turned, the rain was constantly in her face, obscuring her vision. 

Terri knew her only hope out in the open was to keep moving. Sooner or later she would have to come across something—a piece of a wall, the base of a statue—anything solid enough to give her a moment’s respite from the storm. She never made it. Mercifully, she neither saw nor heard the SUV before it landed on top of her. She might have known the two Secret Service agents inside but they were already dead as well. No one outside was going to survive.

Throughout the darkness of the night, the endless wave of tornados and hurricanes persisted. There was little difference felt between the departure of one and the arrival of another. Each one brought another tidal surge and several more feet of water. Annapolis, Fort Meade, and Joint Base Andrews were all under several feet of water. Philadelphia looked like Venice without the benefit of gondolas. New York’s towering skyline was completely dismantled. The only parts of buildings still standing were those under water.

For six unrelenting hours, the storms took their toll, wreaking Nature’s vengeance on those who had exploited and misused her resources.  She didn’t care if anyone survived. Humans were an infestation and reducing their number was necessary to maintain the balance she needed. She wouldn’t stop until she felt the scourge of humanity was put in its place.

Conversations In The Face Of Disaster

The SitRoom felt crowded, but it was a welcome and necessary condition given everything that was going on outside. The Presidential Emergency Operations Center was located deep beneath the East Wing of the White House. Had this been a typical tornadic situation, even a strong one of F4 or F5 classification with deep trench-digging capability, the entire underground facility would have been safe. But nothing about today had been typical and the combination of storms with 20 to 30-foot storm surge created a deadly plight even in this safest of places. Everyone inside the situation room was safe. There were no windows and the doors sealed so no water was coming in. Outside that room, however, water had rushed in as soon as the ground-level portions of the East Wing had been destroyed. Panicked staff members had fled only to be caught up in the unrelenting winds, tossed about like rag dolls, their lifeless bodies deposited across the region. 

Four Secret Service agents had stayed outside the SitRoom door, guarding the President and Vice President. The water they could handle; its volume, though rushing in quickly, never grew beyond knee-deep levels. Random debris coming through the ceiling was a greater problem. Massive chunks of lead-lined concrete killed two of the agents. Jagged pieces of rebar flung through the air with the force of a cannon violently pierced the body of a third. The fourth, a senior agent with almost 30 years of dedicated service, ducked and dodged the debris, doing his best to maintain his commitment to protect the president. The up and down of the air pressure was more than his body could handle, though, and as the pressure dropped with a third tornado, his lungs collapsed. He dropped to his knees, struggled to breathe, and finally gave in to the darkness.

Inside the crowded SitRoom, there was no way of knowing the specifics of what was happening outside, but the frequency with which the ground beneath the room shook was enough to let them know they had never experienced anything like this before. While the President and Vice President tried to remain calm and the Secret Service agents maintained their stoic demeanor, the young aides and interns, none of whom were older than 30, were terror-stricken, a couple on the verge of hysteria.

President Watkins almost-instinctively switched into “Mother” mode. “Looks like we could be down here for a while,” she said. “We might as well get to know each other. I’ll start. My name is Norma Watkins. When I woke up this morning, I was Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, through a bizarre and disturbing set of circumstances, I am President of the United States. I didn’t ask for this job and I’m still not sure I want this job, but for the moment it’s mine and going to do my damndest to make sure the United States of America survives and rebuilds from this horrific tragedy.” The President paused and turned to her right. “Will, you’re up next. Give these young friends a fair warning.”

Will smiled, partly in acknowledgment of the President’s jab at his reputation as a by-the-book attorney, and partially knowing that the audience of aides were not likely aware of the reference. “My name is William Vincent Tucker,” he started. “I had the position of White House Counsel until late this afternoon and now I’m suddenly Vice President. If you knew me at all, that would probably cause you to pray that President Watkins doesn’t die while in office. I believe that the Constitution is a hard and fast set of rules for how the country should be run and is not subject to loose and wild interpretation. That opinion tends to not make me popular in the building because I spend a lot of time telling powerful people like the President that no, they can’t do what they want. Now, I’m one of those people. This is going to be an interesting experience.” He looked across the table. Katy was shaking her head, not wanting to go next. Will gave an evil grin and said, “Perhaps Ms. Lamb should go next. I think you’ll find her somewhat easier to work with.”

Katy tried giving Will the harshest glance she could muster, but even at her angriest, Katy’s pleasant demeanor still dominated. She looked around the table before speaking, taking in the terrified faces. “I’m Katy Lamb,” she started, then paused. She glanced nervously at the President who nodded for her to go on. “I guess I’m now Chief of Staff to the President of the United States and if we’re all being totally honest, I’ve no clue what I’m doing. I’m accustomed to managing a team of about 40 aides, and it’s nice to see a couple of familiar faces in this group. When this all finally shakes out, though … whew, the White House staff is huge, the responsibility to the President is overwhelming, and I’m not sure I’m ready for this. So, uhm, Director Raddison, I guess you should go next.”

Raddison’s expression was a different kind of uncomfortable. He was accustomed to dealing with department heads, people with education and experience, professionals with years of experience in their fields. He looked around the table and, from his perspective, they might as well have been a group of six-year-olds on a school field trip. Looking up, he saw both the President and Vice President chuckling at his predicament. “Uhm, I’m Roger Raddison,” he began slowly. “I’m Director of National Security, which means I’m supposed to keep all the agencies of the federal government working together to keep America safe from bad people.”

Will snickered at Roger’s reference to “bad people.” Roger rolled his eyes in response.

“What’s making me nervous at the moment is knowing that outside this room, millions, maybe even billions of people are dying and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I wish I could. Every fiber in my being wishes that I could have stopped whatever happened. I couldn’t, though. And now that it’s happened, everyone in this room, everyone who survives, shares responsibility for what we do moving forward. In a way, I guess, you all are lucky. You have a chance to shape what we become more than any generation since our founding. You’re important. You’re important to this country.”

Sensing that Roger was about to launch into patriotic speech mode, the President interrupted. “Thanks, coach,” she said. “Now I know who to send out when we need someone inspiring.” Norma smiled as she spoke. 

Roger blushed. He would be happy when he was dealing with “real” adults again.

Norma looked around the table and settled on the person sitting next to Will. “Young man, why don’t you go next?” She asked.

Fear immediately crossed the young man’s face as the President addressed him. He was accustomed to keeping his head down, saying “yes, sir” when spoken to, and, as much as anything, keeping his opinions to himself. “My name is Mohammed Ashir,” he said quietly. “I am an aide to Undersecretary Greyson of Health and Human Services. I was sent to the White House to ask whether the Center For Disease Control should prepare emergency services. I’m guessing the answer is probably yes.”

Norma, Will, and Roger all laughed at Mohammed’s understated recognition of the obvious. 

“Mohammed, you may have to handle that roll out yourself,” Roger said. “Think you can handle it?”

Mohammed’s eyes grew large. “Uh, Director Raddison, sir, thank you, but I’m not even sure who to contact!”

Roger smiled. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. I’m concerned we may have lost a lot of resources across the country. I need a point person. How long have you worked here?”

“About seven months,” the young man replied. 

“I hope you paid attention,” Roger said. “You may be the most experienced person over at HHS now.”

Mohammed looked more frightened than he had when he first started talking. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Norma smiled in the kindest, most motherly way she could. “Mohammed, I’m glad you’re here. I’m sure your skills will grow and you’ll be an invaluable part of our growth.” She looked to the other side of the table where a young woman sat slumped in her chair, trying to hide behind the file folder she was carrying. “Let’s jump to the other side of the table,” the President said. “The young woman next to Director Raddison, why don’t you let us know who you are?”

The anxious girl slowly lowered the file folder, looking over the top at the President through eyeglasses whose designer frames did little to hide the fact that the girl was almost blind without them. She sat up, put the file folder on the table, and gathered her composure. “My name is Olivia Jackson,” she said. “I’m originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’m an intern for Senator Garibaldi and was supposed to deliver these papers to the White House but I’ve never been here before and when I got here I was just kind of shoved downstairs here and now I’m not really sure I know what I’m supposed to do.”

“May I see the papers, Olivia?” the President asked. 

Olivia nodded and handed the folder to Katy who passed them on to Norma. The President looked through them carefully, skimming her way through the major points. “Seems Senator Garibaldi was concerned that President Blackstone’s policies on food assistance were adversely affecting a disproportionate share of people of color.” Norma paused as she finished looking through the papers. “Where did you go to college, Olivia?” she asked.

“UNC, ma’am,” Olivia answered. “I majored in Social Policy Development.”

“Do you agree with the Senator’s assessment of the situation?” Norma continued.

There was a moment of anxiety that passed across Olivia’s face before she realized what was happening and composed herself as she had when defending her thesis at school. “I don’t have enough information to speak to the situation in whole, ma’am,” she said, “but I do know that in the neighborhood I grew up in, food stamps were the only thing that put any food on anyone’s table. Those that couldn’t get it, like, because they had just gotten out of jail or something, they’d only have what people with food stamps could give them, like maybe some bread and some peanut butter. The cuts President Blackstone ordered last year made it even worse so that, like, if both parents weren’t living in the same house the benefits the mom might need to feed her kids were cut in half. They don’t have enough to feed themselves, let alone share. The entire neighborhood is starving, which often leads to theft and violence.”

Norma closed the folder and set it on the table in front of her. She folded her hands and leaned forward. “So, if you were in charge, what changes would you make so that everyone had an equal chance?”

Olivia thought a moment then said, “I think, Madam President, that the program needs to be revised to recognize that people who live in impoverished communities and neighborhoods, especially urban neighborhoods that also tend to be food deserts, often feed more than their own direct family members. Where food is less accessible, it’s the community’s need, not just the family’s need that should be considered.”

Norma nodded in agreement. “I like that concept,” she said. “Perhaps Senator Giribaldi should have talked with you. Your idea makes more sense than what she put in this proposal.” Norma passed the file folder over to Katy. “I think we’ll be able to find an important place for you, Olivia,” she said as she smiled. “I like the way you think.”

Young people who are successful at landing the highly competitive jobs as aides and interns are inherently bright and intelligent people and those in the SitRoom with the President quickly picked up on what was happening. More than just killing time, the President was essentially conducting interviews to fill positions in her new administration. By the time her conversation with Olivia was complete, no one was left slouching in a chair, the looks of fear and intimidation were gone. In their place sat a group of sharp, attentive people who were anxious to share what they could bring to the administration.

Norma picked up on the change in attitude and smiled. “Vice President Tucker, the next choice should be yours, I believe.”
“Thank you, Madam President,” Will said as he smiled and nodded. He looked carefully around the room. “There,” he said motioning to the corner of the room opposite him, “the young woman in the back there in the blue dress. Why don’t you step up a little where we can see you and tell us your name?”

The young woman stepped between to others and into the light. “My name is Sophia Ameretto Wattenberg,” she announced. “I’m an aide to Secretary Kaiser at the State Office. I was sent over to provide a briefing on the status of our trade treaty with Japan that is set to expire next year.”

“That’s certainly important,” Will said. “I understand negotiations have been going on for some time. Have you been a part of those negotiations?”

“No, sir,” Sophia answered. “The negotiation team is still in Tokyo. They did send a report over yesterday and that is largely why I was sent over this morning.”

Will nodded. “Abbreviate for me, please,” he said. “How are things going?”

Sophia took a big breath, not sure exactly how her planned statement would go over. “Well, Mr. Vice President, at Secretary Kaiser’s insistence, the team has been pushing Tokyo to important more American goods and products so as to dimish the size of the deficit. Initially, they seemed open to the proposition, but then, Secretary Kaiser suggested that perhaps a tariff on some products, such as smaller electronics, and that was not received positively.”

Will looked over at Norma and rolled his eyes. She nodded her agreement. “Tariffs are a difficult bargaining tool. Do you agree with the Secretary’s opinion?”

“No, sir,” Sophia wisely answered. “Tariffs are a punitive measure that ultimately hurt consumers on both sides. I think it might be more appropriate to suggest possibly reducing existing tariffs on US products and let supply and demand balance out the deficit.”

“You have a background in economics?” Will asked.

“Yes, sir,” Sophia answered. “I have a Master’s degree in Global Economics and Trade from Stanford. I’ve been an aide for Asian Relations for the past two years.”

Norma sat forward to insert herself into the conversation. “Why Asian Relations, Sophia? Do you have particular skills in that area?”

Sophia swallowed hard before answering. “No, Madam President, I was just assigned here. My expertise is centered more around global economic policy. I believe the United States is, or at least has been, in a position to use its dominant status to create a more level playing field, especially in regard to South American countries who end up consuming a large amount of humanitarian aid because we destabilize their economies with our prohibitive trade agreements. I think the more effort we put into building South American economies the less humanitarian assistance they are likely to need.”

Conversations like this continued into the night, conveniently taking all attention away from the storms that still caused the room to rock every once in a while. Each aide and intern did their best to convince the President and Vice President that they could be suitable and appropriate additions to her administration once the storm was over. For her part, President Watkins treated the young people respectfully as though they had more experience than was actually the case. She was beginning to see some of the potential leadership they would need to piece the country back together and begin moving forward. 

Only Roger remained keenly aware of how long the storms were continuing. He knew that when they did finally open the door to the SitRoom, the disaster they were likely to find would be heart-wrenching for everyone. He also worried that their ability to defend the country was severely compromised. Fortunately, there was no one who still had the resources to do any damage, but he didn’t know that yet and it was cause for him to spend most the night looking as though he hated everyone in the room. 

A couple of hours into their introductions, the room was shaken yet again, this time hard enough to cause everyone to hold on to the table or the wall for support. “The world’s not going to look pretty when we leave here,” Norma said. “We’ve got to be ready to take the worst and turn it into the foundation for what can be the best.”

If you’re just joining us, you may want to click here to start from the beginning.

Into The Night

As darkness closed in on the small apartment, only a single can of fuel provided a source of light. The orange glow on the kitchen counter was enough to allow movement without people tripping over each other but the shadows ran deep and long, especially in the corners. Despite overwhelming fatigue, no one really wanted to sleep. The earlier unseen explosion, somewhere off in the distance, had both Miranda and Adam on edge and they stood quietly gazing out the glass door of the patio into the darkness. Cam stayed close to Reesie, bothered by both the apparent loss of her family and the anxiety of being surrounded by people she was afraid to trust. Gwen was stretched out on the floor next to Roscoe, lost in thoughts of what motherhood might be like in this new environment that was taking shape around them. Hannah, wrapped in a blanket, her knees up to her chest, sat on the couch worried that she had alienated perhaps the only family she had left, arguing with herself whether such steadfast devotion to her faith was worth the loss. Barry and Amanda were the only ones making any noise, talking quietly about what opportunities might lie in front of them after something resembling “normal” started to return. 

Carlson leaned against the counter, close to the light. He was feeling an unexplainable fear of the darkness now that he realized that his failure to make yesterday’s meeting in Milwaukee likely fed, at least to some degree, into the day’s disaster. He continued rolling the chip in his pocket between his fingers. To some degree, the disaster bought him some time. It could be months, possibly even years before technology returned to a state where the chip could be read and its contents fully explored. Between now and then, though, there were consequences that, as far as he could tell, were unavoidable. Being in the Midwest would help some, to be sure. At least they would be spared from the direct impact of the super hurricanes already building in both major oceans. What they wouldn’t be able to escape would be the earthquakes that, by Carlson’s estimates, were no more than a few hours away.

More than twenty years had passed since the problem first began. Geothermal energy had long been touted as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels but resources had seemed to be limited to a few places in the Western United States, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Africa. Then, new technologies allowed companies like ThermoDyne to tap deep resources, the kind that could only be located with thermal satellite energy. Suddenly, the entire planet was open to a powerful source of cheap and infinitely renewable energy waiting to be tapped.

Unfortunately, oil-producing countries feared that the utilization of such resources would upset their economies. Geothermal energy didn’t require near the manpower, was universal enough to provide nationalistic autonomy, and might dramatically upset the global balance of power as third world countries had the potential to lose their dependence upon foreign assistance. As a result, geothermal exploration and development were regulated to the point that it was financially prohibitive to bring the energy to the mainstream. At least, that’s what the politicians were being told.

Secretly, ThermoDyne had gone ahead and started what they called “Tap and Cap” operations where hundreds of powerful deep geothermal stores were tapped and prepared for resourcing then capped, stop valves placed on the structures, keeping the thermal energy below ground until it was needed. The plan was to wait until the next oil crisis, which was inevitable, and then release a global supply of cheap energy, completely sinking oil economies and allowing ThermoDyne-funded politicians to take over entire countries. The coup had the potential to be bloody on the front end but ultimately would serve the planet better while making billionaires of everyone at ThermoDyne.

That was until Carlson started taking a closer look at thermal maps around the capped sites. It appeared that the caps weren’t all working properly, allowing pressure to build to dangerous levels and in many cases causing the thermal energy to leak into the environment. Only Carlson and a handful of other ThermoDyne employees around the world were aware of how severe the problem had become. For all the talk of greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions, much of the problems with global climate change were actually being fueled by these leaks in the global geothermal system. Ocean-based caps were significantly warming sea waters causing ice caps to melt at an alarming rate. Land-based caps were altering ecosystems resulting in mass die-offs of bees and migratory birds. 

Gathering all the data necessary to convince ThermoDyne executives to take any action at all had consumed the past three years of Carlson’s life. He had flown all over the globe personally checking and double-checking reports from the most problematic sites. He had test results not only from internal scientists but independent studies proving the effect the capped sites were having. 

Carlson had finally convinced his boss, Greg Morris, that the problem needed immediate action. The problem was getting the attention of ThermoDyne’s CEO, Boris Kostenrawki, a jet-setting billionaire who didn’t like spending two nights in the same place. Greg had finally managed to get Carlson 15 minutes in front of the boss to convince him that the pressure valves needed to be released on the caps immediately and the sites allowed to cool before cataclysmic weather events started to take place. By Carlson’s estimates, they should have had three months to get the sites shut down. But then, the rental car fiasco caused him to miss the meeting. Kostenrawki was impatient and moved on, then fired Carlson when he heard about the incident at the airport.

Now, adding insult to all the injury, Carlson’s estimates appeared to be wrong. He knew storms of this magnitude didn’t just happen. Tornadoes the size of the one they had seen that afternoon could only be fueled by massive amounts of thermal energy. The caps were likely hours, days at the most, from completely blowing and when they did a literal thermal hell would break loose across the planet. The first one, likely deep in the Pacific off the coast of Korea, would set off a chain reaction that would ignite long-dormant volcanoes and geothermal geysers and triggering massive earthquakes across every continent. The devastating effects would have the impact of a major extermination event the likes of which the planet had not seen since the ice age.

Carlson wished more than ever for a working smartphone from which he could access satellite images. He knew that somewhere in the Caribbean multiple tropical depressions were forming. They would combine to create a massive hurricane that exceeded anything the Saffir-Simpson scale could measure. None of the islands would survive. The storm would likely power its way up the East coast of the US ripping up everything in its path and spawning hundreds of tornados that would carry the terror inland. By the time the first one died somewhere near the North pole, another would have formed and been following an almost identical path. There wouldn’t be time to recover and with communications down people would never know what was about to hit them.

For where he stood now, the greatest danger would likely come from the West. Massive pools of deep geothermal energy were centered in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado. As Pacific-based energy rippled outward, earthquakes would take out the existing sites and the sudden release of energy would send dormant heat sources, such as those barely beneath the surface at Yellowstone National Park, into cascading overload. The more the earthquakes triggered explosions, the explosions would then trigger more earthquakes. Simultaneously, with massive amounts of heat and carbon released into the atmosphere, storms such as what had flooded them out this morning would seem small by comparison.

Exactly how the earthquakes would respond East of the Rockies was a geological mystery. None of the mapped faults had been especially active in the Quarternary period, meaning nothing had broken the ground. That was likely to change now and the lack of any available modeling would put major cities such as Chicago, Cincinnati, and Nashville at risk. Existing emergency resources would be inadequate to respond even partially to all the disasters. People in rural areas were likely to be completely ignored. Millions of people would die as a result.

Even standing as close as he was to the light, no one saw the tear roll down Carlson’s cheek. Sure, they were all fine now, but he knew the odds of them all surviving decreased with each passing minute. With the sound of every distant explosion or the rumble of what was assumed to be thunder, he knew a greater disaster was approaching and even if he told everyone there was nothing they could do to stop it, no place they could go that would be any safer than where they were right now.

The ding of an old school wind-up timer signaled the end of the first watch period. Barry and Amanda would take the balcony, Carlson and Reesie would take over for Natalie and Darryll. Carlson felt embarrassingly uncomfortable. While he had coffee in her shop every day he was in town and always sat at the counter and chatted, he knew next to nothing about the young woman. Carlson considered it a strength that he could develop a business relationship with someone without ever getting terribly close. The sad reality was that he never got too close with anyone, including his wife and daughters. He wondered where they were, if they had survived the initial storms, and if they had whether or not they might be frightened. Over the past five years, they had all gotten accustomed to getting by without him. On a recent in-and-out trip home, his wife had half-way joked that she felt a bit like a widow. Even when he was home, he was distracted, little more than a memory of the person she married. He hoped they were all safe. He doubted they cared whether he was.

“I’m gonna come with you,” Cam announced as Reesie stood up and headed for the front door.

Exchanging a quick glance with Carlson, Reesie responded, “Nah, I think you’d best stay in here and try to get some rest. It’s only a couple of hours and it’s not likely to be very interesting. Just a bunch of adult talk, you know?” She took off the jacket she’d been wearing and wrapped it around Cam’s narrow shoulders. “Here, that’ll keep you cozy until I get back.”

Cam wrapped the large coat around her and huddled back in a lump on the floor. Reesie and Carlson stepped out front and found Natalie and Darryll sitting near the railing, their backs leaning against each other. 

“You guys look cozy,” Reesie said. “You can go back inside if you’d like.”

Natalie smiled. “The breeze out here is kinda nice. It’s been pretty quiet. Now that it’s dark, I don’t know that we’ll see anyone.”

Reesie looked out into the inky blackness around them. “I think I worry more about what I can’t see. This feels off, weird in a way that’s difficult to describe. Not having street lights is one thing, but no light at all, looking out there and seeing nothing, makes my skin crawl.”

Carlson walked over to the rail and leaned out, trying to see if there was anything visible in any direction. There wasn’t. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel vulnerable out here. You know we can’t be the only people who survived, but I don’t imagine many were able to find apartment buildings like this. People who are desperate do desperate things.”

“After being out here a few minutes, your ears start to pick up on subtle sounds,” Darryll said. 

“I guess it’s that same kind of adaptation that comes with being blind. There’s so little noise out here and nothing to interfere. You hear every little sound.”

“Have you heard anything odd?” Reesie asked. 

“No, not really,” Natalie said, looking at Darryll. They had already decided to not mention the people who had floated to their deaths earlier. There wasn’t any point.

“Occasionally a piece of wood or something will slam into a car or one of the supports downstairs,” Darryll added. “It’s always a bit startling when that happens. What we’ve been trying to listen for is anything on the stairs or hitting the walls at either end. We’ve not wandered far from the door, though. We lose sight of each other too quickly.”

Carlson turned around, leaned against the rail, and sighed. “It’s going to be a long night. I’d give almost anything for a glass of 12-year-old scotch.”

Reesie turned and leaned on the rail as well. “Make mine a Moscow Mule.”

“Beer, here,” Natalie added.

“Same,” Darryll concurred.

The four of them sat in the darkness, waiting. Longing. Remembering better times, drinking with friends, moments of pleasure that, for now, seemed gone forever.

The Power Of Frustration

Perry sat on the table trying desperately to move his legs. “Mind over matter,” he kept telling himself. “This is all psychosomatic. There’s nothing wrong with your legs. You just have to tell yourself they can move. That’s it. Just move them.” But nothing happened. Nothing had happened for a couple of hours. He sat there on the table, trying to get some feeling, jabbing and poking at his legs, things he knew should have caused some level of pain, but no matter what he tried there was nothing.

Shifting his weight around on the table had almost caused him to fall more than once. While the table was fully capable of holding his weight, its legs were not designed to endure the added pressure of being jerked around in different directions. The momentary panic that came with nearly falling off the table had convinced Perry that sitting still was probably his safest option. Still, the longer he sat there the angrier he became. He had devoted the past 15 years of his life to a project that should have saved people. Instead, hundreds of thousands, at least, had been killed because someone, perhaps more than one someone, had slipped under his radar and sabotaged the whole thing.

One advantage of not being able to move around was that it gave Perry a lot of time to think back over conversations he had with Tony Briscane and others. Tony had seemed to be aware of the potential dangers more than Perry was. He had been reluctant to add the FBI’s specialist at first. Keeping out any type of bias had been important in making sure that no possible threat was ignored and Perry considered both the FBI and CIA to be among the most biased organizations in government. Tony had proven himself, though, and had been an important leader in getting the project test ready and meeting what everyone had considered the ridiculous demands of the president.

The president’s insistence that the test be public and take place at the White House was considered ridiculous and inappropriate by everyone on the team. Tests needed to be conducted under controlled circumstances and while there was no question that the White House was about as secure a location as possible, it was still dramatically more open than the systems at the bunker, creating new and unknown dangers for interference or interception. Tony had made it his job to go through every aspect of the White House communications system with a fine-tooth comb before agreeing to conduct the test there, and only if he were the one conducting it. There were too many options for trouble.

Of particular concern was the possibility of espionage on the part of foreign governments, particularly the Russians and Chinese. Tony, Perry, and others on the team had looked at the schematics Tony had created and found numerous points where the system was potentially open to being hacked. While electrical components of the system were all manufactured by US companies, Tony had discovered that critical elements within those components were made in China, components that had the ability to store data and share information independently of the components themselves. Replacing those pieces was not practical so the team had code to shut down the external communication functions of those pieces, code that Tony was constantly tweaking right up until the last minute.

The team had also conducted their own tests within the bunker. They had purchased hundreds of cell phones from every manufacturer on every service provider available in the US, set those phones all over the base in varying conditions, and checked to make sure that every phone received the message at the same time. That aspect alone had taken over two years of testing before they were convinced that they could reach 99 percent of the cell phones in the United States. 

Still, there were limitations for which they could not account in the bunker or on the base. Cell phones depended on relays and towers being in operation. Data from service providers themselves showed that, at any given time, 18 percent of all relay equipment was not functioning for one reason or another. For the major providers, that fact was offset by redundant overlapping from other towers. They had spent billions of dollars to make sure that calls and text went through no matter where one was in the continental US. Communities primarily served by smaller providers, though, did not enjoy such redundancy. Outage complaints were frequent which meant that there were some people who might not receive the messages, especially if they were, for example, riding a tractor out in the middle of a field or driving a semi across the often desolate areas of Interstate 40. 

Tony had helped the team find solutions to all those problems. By the time he left for the White House, Tony had convinced Perry that there was less than .00001 percent chance of failure and that there was a backup to account even for that. By all reasonable estimations, there was absolutely no reason for the test to fail.

Yet, the test did fail, and the results of that failure had been unlike anything Perry had ever seen. He was aware that the government had emergency contingency plans in case there was ever an attack on the nation’s power grid. However, that plan largely relied on communications systems still being intact. Engineers in major cities needed the ability to communicate with each other in real-time as they brought systems back online in order to prevent another cascading outage that would further damage the equipment. They had just killed every cell phone in the US. The contingency plan was worthless.

Lightening hit near the hangar and the resulting thunder shook everything inside, including Perry’s table. He held on to the sides, not sure but what he was going to yet end up on the floor, unable to pull himself back up without assistance. The failure of the test was one disaster. This never-ending storm was a whole other matter, one so severe that no contingency plan, of which the military seemed to have endless quantities, fully covered what was happening at this juncture.

Perry saw Major Davis a few yards away and motioned for him to come over to his tent

“Yes, sir, what can I do for you,” the officer said as he saluted.

Perry returned the salute as best he could before answering, “What’s our status with this storm, Major? It’s been hitting us nonstop for a few hours now. How’s everything holding up?”

The Marine shuffled his feet nervously and asked, “Permission to speak candidly, sir?”

Perry nodded, “Of course.”

“We’re doing everything humanly possible to hold things together, but we’re getting close to the limit of what we can reasonably do. The cover over the bunker is only partially holding out the rain. The other explosion sites are likely severely flooding by now and that is likely impacting any survivors who were able to make it into the tunnels. We’re measuring winds at 70 and 80 knots per hour. I can’t send people out into that for any reason, I don’t care what’s blowing away. The exterior of the facility is taking a pretty severe beating. Again, it’s holding together for now, but if this keeps up we’re going to start seeing some issues soon, probably starting with the roof pieces on the exposed West side. If we could get out there, we could fix it, but again, I don’t dare send people out in this. Our current status is grave.”

Perry grimaced. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that the weather might clear anytime soon.”

Davis shrugged. “Who knows? We don’t have satellite. We don’t have radar. The best we can do is hang a sock on a pole to see which way the wind’s blowing. We’re sitting blind here, Colonel. And it’s dark now so we can’t even see what’s coming at us next.”

“How are our people holding up?” Perry asked as he watched the non-stop activity across the hangar.

Major Davis followed Perry’s gaze. “We’ve set up three shifts of rotation but most of our people are volunteering for double shifts. The downtime makes them more anxious so it’s better to keep busy and keep working. We lost a couple more of the injured and there are maybe ten others I’ll be surprised if they survive the night. We are doing everything we can but with such limited resources, we can’t really give everyone the level of care they need. Were we able to get them to a hospital, things would be different. One of my engineers says if we can get him to the garage he can fix transports to get people out, but, yet again, that means going out in this storm and there’s no way one of those trucks would stay upright in this wind.”

Perry sighed. He wanted, needed, to be up and walking. He needed to talk to the survivors. He needed to encourage the troops. He was an ineffective leader as long as he was sitting on this table. “Major, I have a favor to ask of you,” he said.

“Yes, sir, anything you want,” Davis responded.

“I need a way to be mobile, to get around, talk to the survivors, inspect things for myself. Preferably something that doesn’t involve a motor,” Perry instructed.

“A wheelchair,” the Major said, simplifying the request with the obvious answer.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Perry chuckled. “I just assumed we didn’t actually have one around.”

“I think we can probably rig up something similar,” Davis said. “There are various parts and pieces lying around. The back tires may be a bit broad, but I’ll see what we can cobble together.”

Perry shifted uncomfortably on the table. “Thanks. I’m feeling too damn useless sitting here. I also want to interview that fucking traitor you’re holding. I need to know what’s really going on here and why before I beat the living shit out of him.”

Major Davis leaned in and lowered his voice. “There are plenty of people willing to help you with both parts of that,” he said. “We’ve got a team with experience in Afghanistan. Just say the word …”

Perry nodded. He had wondered in the past whether there might be an interrogation unit attached to security detail. He didn’t want to have to use such drastic tactics if he didn’t have to, but at the same time, it wasn’t going to bother him any if Tom proved less than cooperative. A part of Perry wanted to beat the traitor within an inch of his life.

Another close lightning strike caused both men to instinctively duck as the ground shook beneath them. Dust fell from the rafters, resulting in distant calls for making sure the wounded were sufficiently covered. 

Perry could see the concern on Major Davis’ face. “What are you thinking, Major?” he asked.

“I grew up in Kansas, sir,” Davis started, “and this is starting to feel like pre-tornado conditions. If we start getting hail, even a small amount, I’m moving everything in away from the walls and set barricades in front of the doors. I don’t want anyone being sucked out if a door goes.”

“Think the building can sustain a direct hit?” Perry asked.

David shook his head. “There’s no way. Too much air under here. Anything larger than an F2 is going to yank the roof right off this hangar and suck out anything that’s not tied down, including people.”

Perry didn’t like this prognosis at all. After everything else they’d been through, the thought of people being sucked outward by a tornado felt as though the earth were directly punishing them for something they had no part in causing. “Find me a wheelchair, Major,” he said. “If I’m going to get sucked out of here I don’t want to be strapped to this table when it happens.”

“Aye, sir,” Davis said as he saluted and trotted off.

Grasping The Situation

The light in the re-inforced basement bunker known as the Situation Room had been reduced to two bulbs in an effort to extend the life of the diesel-powered generators. Similar moves had been made throughout the White House, giving the entire building a somewhat creepy feeling. Some remarked that it must be similar to what it was like before the first electric lights were installed in 1891, during Benjamin Harrison’s presidency. Others dared to wonder aloud what ghosts or spirits might be incited to walk among the shadowy corridors. In the SitRoom, however, there was no time for speculation.

Admiral Grace Tennant, acting on behalf and with the consent of the joint Chiefs of Staff, was going over hand-written notes with Rick Angel, president Blackstone’s National Security Advisor, Roger Raddison, director of National Security, and a very frustrated President Norma Watkins, who had been whisked away from the Capitol the instant she had been sworn in, much to the objection of several members of Congress who still had questions they wanted to be answered. 

Admiral Tennant sighed heavily and put the papers on the table in front of her. “We’ve gone to a lot of trouble in an attempt to create a picture of as much of the continental US as possible. We were able to get a limited number of planes back in the air around 1400 hours this afternoon. Considerable care had to be taken since they were having to fly without any satellite or radio support, something these pilots are not trained to do under most circumstances. Fortunately, there were enough pilots with experience over Afghanistan and the Middle East that the lack of resources wasn’t that big a deal. We sent them on a domestic surveillance mission to see what the state is across the country. They took pictures but they were with traditional film cameras. We’re having some challenges finding the chemicals necessary to process them, but they’ll be brought over as soon as possible. What you have in front of you is a written report compiled by the pilots, co-pilots, and flight navigators on those planes. We knew we would be looking at a dire situation, but I don’t think anyone was expecting what these pilots have seen.”

“How much of the country were they able to actually observe?” Norma asked. “I know they can see a lot, but did they get over some of the less-populated regions?”

“I’m confident they had eyes on at least 96 percent of the country,” Grace replied. “In most cases, we had some duplication over some of those least-populated regions. Although, based on what I’m seeing here, it looks as though we may have a whole lot more wilderness than we did when we woke up this morning.”

“Madam President, I’m not totally comfortable being part of this conversation,” Rick Angel said. “This is classified information and, technically, I’m a civilian now. I’m not sure it’s legal or appropriate for me to be here.”

“Roger, your opinion, please,” Norma said. “Is Mr. Angel a threat to the security of this country?”

Roger and Grace both laughed, though Norma’s expression didn’t change. “With all due respect, ma’am, we’ve often asked that same question about your predecessor, may he rest in peace. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Mr. Angel, but legally he’s correct, his presence in this room is problematic unless you want to appoint him to a specific position.”

Norma buried her face in her hands a moment before responding. “Fuck, guys, I don’t know. I’m not ready for all this,” she said. “Rick, I need all the intelligent opinions I can get and I’ve heard more than once how you managed to get Rudy to backdown off some incredibly stupid ideas. How ‘bout you continue as ‘acting’ security advisor until I have time to figure out what the hell I’m doing?”

Rick smiled at the jab Norma had taken at the former president. “I serve at your pleasure, Madam President,” he said.

“Good, let’s get on with this,” Norma said. “I’m looking over these notes and I’m not seeing a damn bit of good news here. Do we have any casualty estimates?”

Admiral Tennant shuffled through the notes to confirm her answer before speaking. “No ma’am, there are none included. However, given the severity of this report, I think it’s safe to say that there are not going to be as many members of Congress next session. Our country has taken a pretty big hit.”

Norma looked through the notes for the third time. “Roger, can we be sure none of this is the result of some form of foreign attack? How much of this is a natural disaster and how much did we do to ourselves?”

“The worst definitely appears to be a natural disaster,” Roger confirmed. “I can’t say that the whole mess wasn’t started by China, though. I’ve talked with people at the National Weather Service and they say there was absolutely no indication of these weather patterns 24 hours prior to the first events. According to their information, the only way this could happen would be for there to have been a sudden, large-scale underwater event that dramatically warmed the oceans by over 50 degrees. That could be consistent with an underwater nuclear detonation.”

Feeling her stomach churn, Norma put her forehead on the table. “Great. I’ve been in office how many minutes before we have a nuclear war scenario? Are we sure China has that capability?”

“They have two 093-type subs,” Grace answered. “They’ve been working on a naval base near Sanya in the Hainan province for at least six years. Previous satellite imagery has shown they’re working on at least four more subs but we don’t have confirmation on how close those are to being in service.” 

Rick absentmindedly drummed his fingers on the tale, causing Norma to sit up and glare at him. “You have something to say, Mr. Angel?” the President asked, her voice tense and tired.

He smiled a half-hearted apology. “Roger, help me remember here, but didn’t you say something about a year or so ago about putting down some mines somewhere along there? I don’t remember it being an actual mission, though, just something we discussed in regard to that portion of the South China Sea. Am I remembering that correctly?”

Sitting back in his chair, Roger sighed as he gave the matter some thought. He knew the answer but he didn’t want to be the one to say it out loud. He didn’t know the new president well, but he was certain that she wasn’t going to like what she was about to hear. “Admiral, you want to handle that one?” he asked, artfully passing the buck to avoid inevitable ridicule.

Grace glared at Roger, well aware of what he had just done to her. “You chicken-shit son-of-a-bitch,” she said, then turned to the president and added, “I apologize Madam President, but he just threw me under the submarine, in a manner of speaking. Yes, we did discuss the possibility of putting down mines in the South China Sea. China has been particularly aggressive in their attempts to lay claim to many of those islands, land that Japan claims is theirs.”

“Mr. Raddison, if you insist on continuing misogynistic behavior I won’t hesitate to ask for your resignation,” Norma warned. “Admiral, so there’s a chance our mines blew up their subs and that caused this whole mess?”

“No ma’am,” Grace responded, shaking her head. “First of all, even if we had mines in place, they would have had to blow up both subs at the same time. Our last recon imagery shows they were nowhere near each other nor that area.”

“Do I even want to know where they are?” Rick asked. 

“One’s about 80 miles off the coast of Japan and the second is near the Bering Strait, giving the Russians something to worry about,” Grace said. “But there is some related information that could be important. We sent the Montana down there to take a look and possible mine locations and they discovered several structures on the surface apparently installed by ThermoDyne, the US energy company. We don’t know exactly what they are but they seemed to be capping something as best we can guess.”

Norma was sitting up and paying careful attention now. “Wait, you’re telling me a US company, ThermoDyne, the one based in … where is it, Indianapolis? That they have some kind of operations going on in the China Sea? How does this even happen? Why is this the first I’m hearing about this and why hasn’t the CEO of the company been subpoenaed to provide information?”

Uncomfortable glances were exchanged around the room. No one wanted to answer the question.

“I’ll take the hit on this one,” Rick finally said. “Admiral Tennant brought the matter to President Blackstone as soon as she got the information. I remember the meeting well. She was visibly upset by the time she got to the Oval. The President, on the other hand, was in one of his “look how funny I am” moods. She told him what the Montana had found and almost demanded that we push ThermoDyne for some answers. Their equipment was directly in the way of a US military operation. We needed to know why.” Rick paused to take a deep breath before continuing. “Rudy tried making a weak joke, something about ThermoDyne doing our job for us. He then went off on a tangent about how he personally knew the CEO, that he had donated to the President’s campaign, ‘really nice guy,’ and on and on, something about how they were going to change the nature of energy one day. When Admiral Tennant tried pushing him that we needed to do something, he essentially said she was stupid and that ThermoDyne was probably just gathering information.” Rick paused again and looked at Grace. “Do you want me to go on?”

“That’s okay,” Admiral Tennant said. She sat forward in her chair. “This is one of the reasons I’m not crazy about taking the positions as Joint Chief. When I told President Blackstone that we needed some answers from ThermoDyne, he called me a bitch, said I was stupid because ThermoDyne is based in Indiana and Indiana doesn’t have an ocean, and then told me to go make sure everything in the Navy was ‘ship shape’ in case he wanted to ‘take a cruise,’ then said he’d bend me over his lap and spank me if I didn’t drop the matter. Had General Lang not stepped between us I was ready to kill the President myself. I’ve not been back to the Oval Office since until you called for me this afternoon.”

Norma slammed both her fist on the table and stood up, forcing the other three to stand as well. “I don’t normally condone speaking ill of the dead but that goddammed mother fucking sonofabitch had better be glad he’s dead,” she fumed. “Admiral Tennant, on behalf of the United States of America, I apologize for the manner in which you were treated. I will personally make sure that you are given an official commendation for your service and effort. No one should have to put up with that bullshit from anyone, especially the President of the United States.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Grace said quietly.

“Now, let’s begin re-thinking these possibilities,” Norma continued as she began pacing around the room. “We know that a sudden warming of waters in the Pacific is likely responsible for some if not all the dramatic weather we’re seeing. We know that ThermoDyne has, or possibly had, some kind of equipment at the bottom of that ocean. We know that China had no nuclear devices in those locations. Is there anything else out there that I don’t know about?”

As if in answer to the question, there was a knock on the outside of the SitRoom door. Since she was the closest, Admiral Tennant walked over and answered the knock, taking a piece of paper from the person on the other side and responding, “Thank you, ensign,” as she shut the door. Grace looked at the note and said, “Ma’am, this is not good news.”

“Of course it isn’t,” Norma said, throwing her hands in the air. “Why would there be any good news? That fat fucking bastard left us a mess that will take forever to correct!” She walked back around the table and sat in her chair before saying, “Go ahead, have a seat and drop the bomb. And please tell me it’s not a literal bomb.”

Grace and the two men took their seats.

“No ma’am, it’s not an actual bomb, but it might as well be one,” Grace said. “Our planes have been searching the islands South of Miami, into the Caribbean. Nothing is there that is supposed to be there.”

Roger sat forward in his chair. “Excuse me?” he asked. “Are you saying that all those islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Aruba, all of them are gone?”

“That seems to be the case,” Grace said. “Pilots say there’s nothing there but ocean, and …” she paused for effect, “Seven hurricanes in various forms of development.”

“What the fuck!” Roger exclaimed as he leaped to his feet, knocking his chair over backward. “We’re not in hurricane season! That’s not even supposed to be possible!”

“Wait, it gets better,” Grace said as calmly as she could. “US Geological says that their instruments, which all operate on batteries and buried cables in the first place, are picking up seismic activity off the West coast. You’re not going to believe these numbers.”

“Numbers tend to be meaningless. How much damage to where and when?” Norma asked. 

Grace looked carefully at the paper, turned it over, then took an ink pen from the inside pocket of her uniform to draw a rough map of the Western Coast of the United States. She then made a small circle about half an inch off the coast of Oregon. “That’s where the epicenter appears to be,” she explained as she continued drawing additional circles down the coastline. “Each of these circles represents a place where seismic activity is peaking. They’re radiating out with a strength in excess of 9.4. By the time they reach Portland, San Francisco, and all the way down to San Diego, they’re going to be around 8.5. Not only is there not a building standing that can hold up to anything more than an 8, anything jarring the coast that hard is going to trigger all the other faults in the area.”

This was devastating news. Military attacks they could handle, there was an appropriate response to that. Earthquakes that hit a city were challenging but could be managed. This was different. California had never seen anything larger than 7.9 and even that had been all the way back in 1857 when the state was considerably less populated. Oregon and Washington had never felt anything close to what was about to hit them. Millions of lives were at risk and they had no way of even warning them.

“I’m open to any ideas, even if they’re stupid,” Norma said as she leaned on the table. “At this point, I’d send elephants to hold down the ground if I thought it would work. I … I just can’t fathom … all those people.”

Admiral Tennant moved her chair over and took Norma’s hands in hers. “Madam President, this is when the American people need us to be the strongest. We can’t always stop bad things from happening no matter how much we try. We can’t take back what’s already done. As much as it feels like it’s our job, we don’t control the world. We don’t control much of anything, it turns out. Things happen and we respond. We respond with medical assistance. We respond with security We respond with financing. We respond with food and water. We respond with more than thoughts and prayers. When the United States of America sees people in need, anywhere in the world, we respond with boots on the ground, often on the same day, doing everything we possibly can to help those lives. If we do it for every other country in the world, how much more do we need to do it for our own? You have the power of martial law. You can put the full weight of the US military wherever it needs to be. The Navy and Marines are already in San Diego. We’ll take care of them. There are other forces all up and down that coast. We do a lot more humanitarian missions than we do military and I’m happy that’s the truth.”

Norma smiled at Grace as a tear rolled down her cheek. She was glad she wasn’t having to make these decisions on her own.

Grace wasn’t finished. “Now, the sad reality of the situation is that there aren’t as many people to save as there was this time yesterday. You’ve read the summary. Wildfires have already consumed everything from Carlsbad to the Olympic National Forest. They’ve not left much in their path. What hasn’t burned is flooded. Everything docked at San Diego had to move out into the ocean by ten miles. All our desert bases had to evacuate. Mud and rock slides are completely reshaping the coastline. The only reason our military bases have largely survived is that they’re designed to be mobile and they have the tools to protect themselves. Most people don’t have that luxury. They were caught off guard with no warning. They were on their way to school, to work, to the beach, and already, before this earthquake ever gets close, they’re gone. None of LA’s freeways are still standing. There’s not a building anywhere in the country taller than five stories. Anywhere.” 

“I’m sorry Madam President, but we’re witnessing the largest extinction event to hit this planet in tens of thousands of years. There will be survivors, but they won’t be many and it may take us months to find them all. When these earthquakes hit, they’ll open up some cracks in the ground, they’ll rearrange the rubble, they might even change the flow of some rivers. But they’re also going to bury the dead. They’re going to stop some of the mudslides. They’re going to consume a lot of the detritus that is currently sitting on the surface. Look at is as nature’s way of helping to clean up.”

Norma was sobbing hard by the time Grace paused. Roger took the handkerchief from the breast pocket of his suit coat and handed it across the table for Grace to give the President. They waited, quietly, until Norma composed herself enough to respond.

“I’m sorry, I guess that’s not very presidential of me, is it?” Norma said as she dapped at her eyes. “Roger, I’ll have to buy you a new pocket square. This one’s going to be covered in makeup.”

The National Security director laughed. “Don’t worry, Madam President, I get them by the dozen. I’m always leaving one somewhere.”

Sitting back in her chair, Norma tried to compose herself. As much as she hadn’t wanted to be President, had even worked up a plan to avoid the situation, here she was, facing a crisis larger than any world war. No matter what she did, good or bad, history would remember and define her by this moment and nothing else. She could already feel the wrinkles deepening on her face from the strain.

“Okay,” she said with a sigh. “The West coast is about to get hit with the force of a nuclear attack. Let’s start working up a rescue plan. Roger, have the geological folks communicate directly with Grace’s people so they know when to expect aftershocks. If we get hit with anything over 8, the aftershocks are still going to be as strong as anything we’ve felt previously. Let’s try to make sure they have some warning.” 

Pausing to look through the report again, Norma added, “I’m not seeing much around the Baltimore, DC, Arlington area. Have we been spared?”

“No, we’re just on the backside of what’s hitting everywhere else,” Roger said. “That line of devastating storms is already crossing Virginia and tearing everything up as it does. We’ll likely see it here within the hour.”

As if on cue, one of the massive trees outside the West Wing took a direct lightning strike. The percussion was strong enough to even shake the SitRoom.

“I think your estimate may be off by a few minutes. What are our options?” Norma asked.

“Protocol calls for all federal employees to take shelter in the basements of their facilities. It will be a little crowded in places like State and Interior, but they should all be secure enough to protect their staffs,” Grace said.

“What about everyone’s families, though?” Norma asked. “We have an obligation to protect them, too.”

Roger and Grace both nodded but it was Roger who spoke first. “Remember that pen you were given a couple of years ago, the one you were told to activate if you were ever threatened?”

Norma instinctively reached for her purse before remembering it was now in the care of a Secret Service agent. “Yeah, I remember. I’m guessing most members of Congress might have forgotten or even misplaced them, though.”

Roger smiled. “They did. However, we have an override that, fortunately, uses old-fashioned low-wave radio bands. We activated the alert system with the first reports we got this morning. I can’t speak with great certainty, but I know we’ve moved several hundred thousand people in the past few hours into military bunkers. We’ll save more here and within a three-hundred mile radius than we were able to do elsewhere.”

“That being said,” Grace interrupted, “We’d best buckle up. As crazy as today has been, it’s about to get a lot worse. Madam President, for reasons I’m sure you now understand, I request that you stay put right here in this room until everything is over. We’re going to need your leadership.”

“But, what about my family?” Norma objected. “Is anyone bringing them here?”

Grace looked at Roger who shook his head. “No ma’am, we didn’t have time for that. We’ve moved them to a secure bunker outside Alexandria. We’ll bring them here when we’re absolutely certain it’s safe to do so.”

Norma gave a heavy sigh. “They don’t even know …”

“Yes, they do, ma’am,” Roger said. “Our driver said your husband was thrilled and that your eldest daughter seemed upset to learn that she’ll now have a Secret Service escort on all her dates.”

Everyone in the room laughed, breaking the tension that had steadily grown over the past several minutes. No matter how serious the situation might be, humor is consistently the one trait that allows all humans to survive even when the odds are heavily stacked against them. Grace and Roger both knew this and knew how to use the tool effectively to inspire those under their leadership. At the moment, that included the President.

The View From The Outside

As horrific as matters appeared from inside the White House, those with a view of the global situation saw something even worse. No country was spared Nature’s wrath or ThermoDyne’s error. Once the caps in the Pacific began to pop, the unstable effect on the planet’s tectonic plates caused others to burst as well. The destruction and chaos were universal. 

Across Africa, desert tribes that were accustomed to only a few inches of rain a year were especially unprepared. Flash floods swept across the plains taking everything in their path. Entire villages were wiped out without a single survivor. Rivers that barely trickled outside of the sparse rainy season lept from their banks and consumed massive swaths of land, forever altering the terrain. In Egypt, Cairo was inundated first by the rain then caught by surprise as tornadoes, something no one alive had ever seen, seemed to spring from nowhere, completely wiping out the city. Terrorist cells across Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Botswana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were not merely rendered powerless but eliminated along with their weapons. Explosives that had been stockpiled were either drowned or, in some surprising instances, accidentally detonated as they were being moved to higher ground. Worshippers praying in mosques died clutching their prayer blankets. From South Africa up the Western coast to Namibia, Angola, and all the way to Guinea, cyclones of previously unknown power ripped apart port cities with winds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour and rain falling as much as half a meter per hour. 

The few thousand on the continent that did survive were among the oldest of tribes, those who still understood how to watch the movement of the animals and make adjustments accordingly. The wild birds and animals had started migrating three days before anyone knew of the impending danger. Some headed for deep caves, others took to the highest parts of the mountains, and others created barriers that would protect them. Tribal leaders took the warning signs seriously and moved their people, saving countless lives. Unfortunately, those that had been polluted by outside religions and modernism failed to pay heed and died not understanding what had gone wrong.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdulla bin Salman al Saud was standing on a balcony in his palatial estate watching his young son playing with a ball in the courtyard. He was smiling with the knowledge that he had an heir who would one day inherit the rule of the country. As the skies above them grew dark, he worried not so much for the weather but the fear that the cover might be just the thing that Iran would need to bomb the city. Rumbles of distant thunder he mistook for distant bombs. He called everyone inside to the inner and most secure part of the palace and began attempting to call the country’s defense ministers and others only to find that no one’s phone was working.

Still convinced that the outage was the work of Iranian fighters, Prince Abdulla took to his laptop, hoping that social media would inform him what was going on. When he discovered that there was no Internet service, he began cursing at everyone around him. He walked out into the middle of the courtyard in an effort to hear the planes he was certain were flying just above the clouds. He had no reason to suspect the storm that was bearing down on the city. He was still looking upward when a massive bolt of lightning hit the top of his head, leaving only a three-meter crater and scorched cloth where he had been standing.

Over the next several hours, storms and tornadoes thoroughly ravaged all of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Israel along with all the other surrounding countries. Oil operations were not merely disrupted but completely annihilated with massive fires burning so hot that firefighters were consumed and died before they could ever get close enough to challenge the flames. Ports were left in tatters. Tankers were overturned, their crude spilling into the ocean. The initial response in each country was exactly the same as Prince Abdulah’s and as a result, no one made any moves to protect their people. First came the floods, then came the tornadoes, and by the time the rain finally stopped, there were fewer than 100,000 people left in the entire region.

In Ho Chi Minh City, trouble had taken a different route. Long before there were rains or storms, there had been a steady rising of the tide along the coast. The cities of Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, and Phan Thiet had been among the first to report a problem. The streets were already filled with water and people were leaving for shelters further inland when the first Tsunami warning was issued. Then came the second warning, and the third right behind that, then a fourth and fifth. Communist officials were sure that there couldn’t possibly be that many massive waves headed their direction. Something had to be wrong with the equipment. Scientists in Ho Chi Minh City refused to certify the threat and order full evacuations. 

By the time those same scientists and communist officials felt the rumble under their own feet, more than half the small country’s population was dead. Centuries-old buildings crumbled. Waves more than 30 meters high crushed everything and everyone beneath them. What the waves didn’t take, the earthquakes did. Less than 10,000 people survived.

Earthquakes also played a heavy roll in the destruction of India and China, the two most populous countries. Coastal cities that never seen a tidal wave were swept into oblivion. Earthquakes brought down tall buildings and ancient temples. In the mountainous regions of China’s Xinjiang province, the unprecedented earthquakes caused massive avalanches and opened a web of crevices large enough to swallow entire villages.

Neither Russia nor Europe faired any better despite their advanced warning systems that rivaled those of the US. Large portions of the Kremlin had crumbled. The Tower of London had been shattered by a lightning strike. The islands of Sardegna and Palma were gone. Nice, Cannes, and Marseille were under six feet of water. Large portions of the Netherlands would never be recovered. All around the world, people were dying not by the thousands but by the millions as the planet heaved and groaned as deep pockets of thermal energy exploded to the surface.

Sitting back, watching it all, were Raphael and Caim, the two celestial beings who had at first thought this would be a chance to gain considerable power but were now exhausted by all the work that Nature had created for them. Just as none of the human leaders had been ready for what happened, both beings had misjudged the severity of the death toll and their ability to manage it.

“I don’t think she’s done yet,” Raphael said to no one in particular, though Caim was the only other being close enough to hear.

“I’m sure she’s not,” Caim responded. “Though, I certainly wish she’d take a fucking break. I never thought I’d see the day when this hoard of demons would complain that there was too much death and destruction.”

Raphael waited as hosts of angels zipped back and forth past him in their attempts to account for everyone. “The last time she got this pissed there weren’t nearly this many people involved.”

Caim nodded. “Do you think we let it get too far out of control?”

“Oh heavens, yes,” his counterpart said. “When this is over I think we’re going to make some adjustments, emphasize the whole birth control thing.”

“Because that’s worked so well for you in the past,” Caim sneered. “You know that’s going to make abortion that much easier to sell if having children becomes a social pariah.”

“You have a better idea, smart guy?” Raphael challenged.

“Let’s talk to Nature, both of us. See if she’ll make more of the planet uninhabitable,” Caim said. “Maybe they won’t breed so much if they don’t have as much room.”

Raphael nodded and then had to move quickly to avoid being run over by a phalanx of demons racing toward an explosion in Ukraine. “All she has to do is leave the water where it is. Humans never did evolve well enough to work with that, did they?”

Caim stretched and shook his head. “You would have thought regaining gills would have been a natural part of the process, given that’s where they started. Not sure how that got so fucked up.”

“We let them grow too large a brain and then they never have figured out how to use the damn thing,” Raphael responded. “They have no clue what they’re capable of doing. If they had, this never would have happened.”

“You’re guys were the ones who introduced them to wine,” Caim grumbled.

“And then your brilliant cohorts took it a step further and taught them how to make liquor,” Raphael shot back. 

“But they came up with beer on their own,” Caim reminded him. “We really should have zapped them then.”

Dozens of angels and demons flew past in neat rows. “Do you think they’ll learn this time?” Raphael asked.

“Sure,” Caim laughed. “Right about the same time they stop doing my work for me. Seriously, they have turned killing into a fetish.”

Raphael sighed and began walking away. “You never cease to disappoint me,” he said before he disappeared.

Caim looked around at the temporarily empty space. “I’ve turned disappointment into an art form,” he said to himself, and then laughed hard and loud so that every human on earth was startled by what they thought was the sound of thunder.

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