Exodus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
Four strangers on a freeway find spiritual redemption on nuclear doomsday

Submitted: November 04, 2016

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Submitted: November 04, 2016

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EXODUS

 

“Quatro tortillas de harina para los burritos!” yelled Senor Camacho to his helpers in the kitchen. 

 

Those words were music to the ears of Louie Santiago. They meant that he had finally made it to the take-out counter at  the front of the 100- person deep lunchtime queue for Senor Camacho’s delectable carnitas burritos.

 

No one made carnitas like Senor Camacho and his Nueva Aztlan restaurant. His  restaurant was open just four days per week, Thursday  through Sunday, and they sold over eight tons of the delectable, crispy, savory, tender and unctuous carnitas. It was at least an hour’s wait for a table, and at least 30 minutes in line for one of  his legendary burritos, made with carnitas-stuffed, homemade tortillas smeared with creamy, lard- rich frijoles, and dressed with a bright- green  and nippy cilantro/ jalapeno/ tomatillo sauce.

 

Louie wiped drool from his lips as he watched Senor Camacho roll his four fat burritos. Senor Camacho was a short, stocky, gray-haired, handsome man who resembled the late, great actor Cesar Romero. He had parlayed his grandfather’s recipe for Jalisco-style carnitas into a small fortune that enabled him to own the large, 30-store strip mall that  his restaurant occupied, as well as a 500 –acre  ranch outside of Bodega where he raised the hogs and produce  for his restaurant  The ranch was also where he stored his estimable collection of vintage cars and trucks. He was a philanthropist, who supported the local Catholic churches.

 

He called his palatial ranch “Nueva Aztlan,” the name given to California by Mexico before the Mexican- American war.

 

Louie had great respect for Senor Camacho, and told him so.

 

“ You’re the best!” He exclaimed as he was handed his four, foil-wrapped, over stuffed beauties. Senor Camacho smiled graciously. “ Gracias, amigo.”

 

Louie bought a Jarrittos soda to drink with his lunch, and returned to his work van for the 60 mile drive home to Oakland. He’d eat while he drove, and talk to his brother and business partner, Victor, on Bluetooth.  He needed to discuss the billing for the plumbing work he’d  done that morning at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown  Santa Rosa, one of their biggest accounts.

 

He smacked his lips before he took the first glorious taste of his burrito. He took a bite, and yelled  “Hot damn, this is good!” 

 

He’d eat two burritos now, then drop off the others to his mom, Millie, in Oakland.  Mom loved Senor Camacho’s carnitas, and eagerly anticipated Louie’s Friday service calls to Santa Rosa. Louie always returned with burritos for her. He was a devoted son.

Louie knew that his mother was an amazing woman. She was a life-long Christian Scientist and student of New Thought metaphysics, and at 75 years old, she looked 50, and had never been sick a day in her life. She refused to retire, and still worked a 30 hour week as an English tutor of Hispanic students for the Oakland Public Schools.

 

Louie ‘s late father Jaime, and his brother Victor had never warmed to religion and God, and mom didn’t push them to embrace God, belief, or Christian Science.  She’d tell them “Atheist, agnostic or believer, it makes no difference.God knows your heart and soul, because God is your heart and soul!”  Because of his business partnership with Victor, Louie led a secular lifestyle. But he strongly felt mom’s spiritual power and the security of his own oneness with God, and frequently applied the spiritual wisdom that mom had taught him.

 

It was mom’s unique belief system, intellect and beautiful persona that made it difficult for Louie to find a wife. He wanted someone just like her, but so far, no luck. 

 

Louie pulled the van onto busy  southbound Highway 101, took a bite of burrito, then punched the office phone number for his talk with Victor. Susannah, the pretty young brunette secretary answered. Louie figured that if he couldn’t have a gorgeous wife, at least he could have a gorgeous secretary.

 

“Santiago Plumbing. This is Susannah. How may I help you?”

 

“Hi, Susannah”

 

“Hi, Louie. You sound like you’re eating.  Since it’s Friday, I’ll bet it’s carnitas, right?”

 

“You got it!  Too bad you’re a vegan.. You’d love ‘em!’

 

“I’ll stick to my tofu. You want to talk to Victor?”

 

“ Yeah, thanks.  Hey, are you and your boyfriend coming to Victor’s A’s game tailgate party tomorrow?  Victor’s taking my nephew Eddie to the game for his seventh……”

 

Suddenly, there was a blinding flash, like someone had popped a flashbulb in Louie’s face. His Bluetooth made a deafening pop.

 

Louie dropped his burrito. “Jesus Christ!  What the fuck!” He yelled.

 

The flash had momentarily blinded him, even though he was wearing sunglasses.

 

As he gathered his wits, he realized that the van had stalled. He instinctively hit the brakes, but with the engine off, the power brakes didn’t work.  As his vision returned, he

saw that his van had veered to the right, and had barely missed  hitting the car in front of

 him, which was also stalled.

 

He tried to start the van. The starter cranked, but the engine wouldn’t start, and none of his dashboard lights came on.

 

“What the hell?” He said.  “I just bought gas this morning, and this van’s damn near new!”

 

He rolled his window down and looked around. All about him, all he could hear was engines cranking. A chill went through his body as he saw nothing but a procession of stalled cars everywhere, in both directions. Traffic was at a dead stop.

 

“What the fuck?” He thought.

 

A balding, big, husky guy in a blue work shirt  with an angry look on his face  jumped out of the car in front of him. He approached Louie’s van, bellowing.

 

“Hey! What the hell are you doing?  What did you do to my car?”

 

Louie had been raised street-wise in Oakland.  He reached in the glove compartment for his Smith and Wesson 40 caliber pistol. He stuffed it down the front of his pants and got out of the van.

 

“I didn’t do anything, dude!” He answered. “Look around, man! Everybody’s stalled!’

 

The big guy stopped and looked.

 

“Shit! You’re right!”  What the hell is going on?”

 

All around them, on both sides of the six-lane highway, cars and trucks were stalled,  with grumbling drivers cranking their starters, or staring at their engines under open hoods.

 

“ I’ve never seen anything like it!What the fuck?”  The big guy looked at Louie and asked, ”Do you think that bright flash had anything to do with it?”

 

“I dunno” Said Louie. “I’m gonna call my brother in Oakland and see if anything happened down there.”

 

Louie reached for his phone.  The screen was dark  He pressed buttons. Nothing happened

 

“Shit! My phones’s dead too!  Try yours!”

 

The big guy returned to his car, and got in. Louie heard him yelling expletives.

 

He got out of his car, holding his phone.

 

“It’s dead. Nothing. I just bought the goddamn thing. What the hell, man?”

 

A beautiful 20-ish  blonde girl in a blue nurse’s uniform climbed out of a Honda Accord that was stalled behind Louie’s van.  Louie and the big guy stared at her appreciatively.

 

“Holy shit, great ass!”  Thought Louie.

 

She walked up to them. She was gorgeous, with almond shaped, green eyes. “What do you guys think is going on?  My car, my phone and my laptop are dead!I’m gonna be late for work, and I can’t even call!

 

 She was wearing an ID badge: “Kristin Dupree R.N.”

 

“We don’t know!” Said Louie.

 

 Big guy spoke up. “It’s got something to do with that bright flash because…”

 

“Oh my God! Look!” Shouted Kristin.  She pointed to the sky.

 

Just west of them, gliding slowly and silently down, was a large jet airliner.

 

“It’s engines are dead! It’s got no power! Yelled big guy.

 

The jet was banking to the right and left and would then level up, while slowly descending

 

“He’s flying on stick control ! He’s gonna land it on Orchard Road!"

 

Louie suddenly recalled one of mom’s favorite New Thought sayings, something she told Louie to always remember;

 

“The  omnipresence of God, realized in consciousness, is the law of elimination to all forms of discord.”

 

“God is here. And all is well,” he thought.

 

They watched as the plane leveled off, then descended from view.

 

“All right!  There’s no smoke! He didn’t crash! He made it!  Said big guy.

 

“Thank God! Answered Louie

 

 Kristin was shocked and stunned by it all.

 

“ What’s happening, guys?  Planes coming down, cars stalling, and nothing works !  It’s crazy. It’s too much! What the hell is going on? 

 

“I don’t know, Kristin , but we can’t leave our cars out in the middle of the freeway. Let’s push them to the shoulder,” said Louie

 

Kristin got in her car and steered while Louie and big guy pushed it off the road.

 

She got out of her car and was about to step in Louie’s van to steer it when there was another flash of light, this time from the south.

 

“Oh, no, not again!” She screamed

 

She climbed into the van and sat still. Tears of fear were etched on her face.

 

Louie and big guy’s eyes were glued southward, because this time, the flash was accompanied by an ominous rumbling.

 

On the other side of the free way, a semi-truck driver had climbed to the top of his trailer for a better look.

 

“ See anything? Yelled Louie.

 

“Oh, yeah!  Jesus Christ! Look!”

 

Louie and big guy followed the driver’s gaze. Rising from the south was an enormous plume of churning black smoke. It was rising quickly, higher and higher, and began flattening out at the top

 

“Holy shit! Is that a mushroom cloud?”  Asked big guy, his voice cracking.

 

“I dunno, but whatever it is, it’s one helluva fire,” answered Louie.“Let’s get our cars off the road, and then try to find out what the fuck’s happening”

 

With the shell-shocked Kristin steering, Louie and big guy pushed the van and big guy’s car to the shoulder.

 

When they were done, Louie turned to big guy and stuck out his hand.

 

“ By the way, my name’s Louie Santiago. Santiago Plumbing.”

 

Big guy firmly grasped Louie’s hand.“ Jerry Simmons. I’d say I’m pleased to meet you, but I’d be lying my ass off.  I gotta get moving, ‘cause my kid’s expectin’ me to watch him play baseball this afternoon. He’s a star pitcher for Pinole Valley High.”

 

Louie tried to be friendly .“We’re both from down south. I’m from O-Town. Are you workin’ up here too?”

 

“Yeah. The construction outfit I work for is building a new extension at Kaiser Hospital.  I’m a foreman. I was headed home for a few beers and a relaxing weekend, but it looks like that just got shot all to hell.”

 

Kristin had been looking south at the ever- expanding cloud. She saw something else in the distance.

 

“Hey, guys!  I see a CHP car down there a little ways. There’s a crowd of people around it.”

 

“Oh, good!”  Said Jerry. ”Thank God.  Let’s walk down there and see if we can find out what the hell’s going on.” 

 

Louie tucked his pistol into his waistband and covered it with his workshirt.

 

They began walking toward the CHP cruiser and had gone just a few yards when they heard “Excuse me, are you a nurse?”

 

Kristin turned toward a large black SUV on their left.  Louie and Jerry followed her gaze.

Sitting in the driver’s seat was a stocky, middle- aged Filipino woman. She looked pained and distraught.

 

Kristin walked over to the passenger window and peered in

 

“Yes. I’m a nurse.  Can I help you?

 

“I hope so. I’m having chest pains, bad chest pains!  I’m afraid that I’m having a heart attack!”

 

Kristin spoke to her very calmly. 

 

“ It’s probably a stress reaction to what’s going on. I’ll go back to my car. I have a paramedic kit with some medicine in it.  I’ll bring you something.”

 

Kristin walked back to her Honda and removed a large medical bag from the trunk.

She fished out three pill bottles, and emptied one pill from each into her palm She put the bag back in the trunk, and walked to the SUV.

 

“Here- put this little pill under your tongue. In a few seconds, your chest pain should stop.” She waited.

 

“Yes, it’s much better!” Said the woman

 

“Now, swallow these two pills with some water from your bottle. They will help your heart, and let you relax “

 

“Oh, God bless you!”

 

“When you get home, make sure you call your doctor and have him give you a stress test. I’m sure it will turn out fine.”

 

Louie and Jerry watched, admiring Kristin’s gentleness and professionalism, as well as her beauty and great figure. She was inspiring.

 

Louie suddenly had the urge to give the woman a silent Spiritual healing treatment.

 

Louie whispered, “God is omnipresent, omnipotent perfection everywhere, now. All are one with God and perfect in God, now. I fully accept in consciousness the perfection of all God’s expressions, now. I give thanks that perfection is revealed everywhere,  now, by grace, in a perfect way. So shall the word be that goes forth from my Soul. It shall not return to me void, but shall accomplish the good that I intend.  And so it is. Amen.

 

He looked at Kristin and the woman and smiled.

 

 Kristin patted the woman’s hand, said “Take care.”  She turned to Louie and Jerry, and resumed walking toward the CHP cruiser.

 

“ That was great,” commented  Louie. What did you give her?”

 

“A nitro tablet for her angina, an aspirin for her heart, and a Valium to calm her down.”

 

“I gave her a spiritual healing treatment, too.”

 

“Oh, you’re into that stuff?  You sure don’t look the type! A mystic plumber?”

 

“Well, you don’t exactly look like a nurse, either.  A Playboy bunny, maybe?”

 

Kristin giggled. “ Yeah, looks can be deceiving, that’s for sure!”

 

She flirtatiously punched Louie on the arm.  He grinned.

 

 They strode up to the crowd that surrounded the CHP cruiser.

 

A tall, gray haired officer stood outside the vehicle. The ID tag under his badge read McGinty.  He looked tense, but he spoke in a calm, measured tone.

 

“ There doesn’t seem to be any other emergency services available, and since I’ve got no  communications working, and my car’s out too,  I’m going to walk to the Rohnert Park CHP station to see what happened  It’s about seven miles, so it’ll take awhile. “

 

“Excuse me, officer,” said Jerry. ”We just got here. What do you think has happened?”

 

“ It’s EMP, believe me!” Interrupted  a short, half-bald guy in jean shorts and an orange SF Giants shirt.

 

“What’s EMP?” Asked Jerry. 

 

The short guy loudly explained;“It means electro- magnetic pulse. When a nuclear device is detonated, especially at a high altitude, the electrical pulse it creates can destroy semiconductors, like transistors, diodes, integrated circuits, microprocessors, and even some types of electrical cable. In essence, just about everything electronic  we use today is wiped out.  The Internet, computers, phones, TVs, appliances, cars, trucks, planes, you name it.  That plane that went down a few minutes ago probably had some limited control because its backup system used lead acid- batteries, which are immune to EMP. That’s why your cars still crank; they use lead-acid batteries.”

 

 

“Well, let’s not assume anything,” said McGinty  I’ve heard that solar flares can cause  temporary electrical outages. Maybe all our stuff will come back on after awhile.”

 

“Bull shit, officer. Get  real!  That flash was no solar flare!” The short guy was red-faced with anger . He pointed to the giant black, roiling cloud that hovered to the south. “And that’s no solar flare.  It’s a nuke, a goddamn nuke!  Those Islamic fucks got their hands on a nuke, and  bombed San Francisco, just like Michael Savage, the radio commentator, said they would.”

 

“Oh, lord, lord!” Cried a large black woman in the crowd.

 

“So what do we do ? Asked Kristin

 

“Get used to living back in the 1880’s. That’s where we’ll be for a long , long time.”

 

Kristin looked frantic. “So all our cars, phones, computers and everything else electronic  is destroyed?”

 

“Yep,’ fraid so! And our fucking political leaders knew this was coming, and did nothing!”

 

“Well, I don’t want to get into that right-wing blame - game shit,” said Jerry. I just want to get home to Pinole and watch my kid play baseball.”

 

“Well, you better find a bicycle, a horse, or start walking. Then hope to hell that Pinole still exists!” Said the short guy.

 

“Oh! Fuck me!” cried Jerry. He knelt on the ground and buried his head in his hands.

 

Louie walked over and stood near him.

 

“I got your back, dude” He said.  We’ll all have to help each other get home.”

 

“If we have a home left, “ sniffed Jerry.

 

A pretty young brunette girl wearing a gold necklace, expensive designer sandals and abig red straw hat spoke up.

 

“Officer, if it was a nuke, should we be concerned about radiation?

 

“ I’m no expert on this stuff, but that big cloud seems to be blowing to the east.” Said McGinty.

 

The short guy responded. “It’s still a good idea for everybody to get indoors. For now, we should stay in our cars. But, the other thing we need to worry about tonight are bandits.

There could be a lot of opportunistic, lawless assholes out there tonight trying to break into cars and rob us. We’ll be safer if we stay in the cars that are right here and remain as a group.”

 

“ That’s a great idea” said McGinty, but I’d recommend that those who are able to walk the seven miles come with me to the CHP station.”

 

“That shoots me down” said Jerry.  I’m still recovering from foot surgery. Plantar fascitis.”

 

Kristin chimed in,  “ Yes, I’m a nurse, and I’d caution anyone with improper or ill-fitting  shoes to be very careful on such a long walk.  Bad shoes can cause a blister, a  blister can pop, bleed,  get infected and render you unable to stand or walk. I’ve seen it happen many times. So, if you go, please be careful.”

 

“Are you going, Kristin?” asked Louie.

 

“ No, I think I’ll say here, save my feet and guard my stuff.”

 

“Me too”, said Louie. “I’ve got about 20 grand worth of plumbing equipment in my van.”

 

McGinty listened, then added “ Well, those who are going to stay should get to one of the  stores nearby right away for food,  water and toiletries. They might be in short supply pretty soon.”

 

The small group began to break up. McGinty, the black woman, the pretty young brunette girl and six others began walking to the CHP station. Louie, Jerry, Kristin, the short guy and a woman driving a brand new BMW stayed with their cars.

 

The short guy walked up to Jerry and held out his hand.

 

“ Hi, I’m Don Zeno. Sorry I had to give you all that bad news. But, I’ m just as worried as you are.  I’ve got two kids and a wife myself. I’m hoping that this thing didn’t take out Emeryville, ‘cause I’ll lose everything- my family, my home, and my job. I’m an electrical contractor. Or, I was..”

 

He began to choke with emotion.

Jerry patted him on the back.  “Hang on, Don. We’ll all get home somehow.”

 

 Four of them walked to a freeway exit that lead to a 7-11 store. The woman in the BMW decided that she’d leave her car on the road, and rent a room at a nearby Ramada Inn.

 

The freeway traffic jam and remote roadside location of the store meant that it hadn’t yet been picked clean by the local populace. With no electricity, the interior of the store was very dim.

 

As the group stepped in, the proprietor, a frantic looking Indian woman, yelled at Kristin.

 

“Hello, miss. Are you a nurse?”

 

“Jeezus, here we go again! .” Mumbled Jerry

 

“ Yes, I am,” answered Kristin. “Something wrong?”

 

The woman grew more excited and began speaking loud and fast, with a heavy accent.

 

“My husband can’t see! He was looking up in sky when big flash come, now he can’t see!”

 

Kristin looked at the group and grimaced. “ Oh dear,” she muttered

 

“Where is your husband?”

 

“He’s in the back room. I have wet cloth on his eyes.”

 

Kristin followed the woman to the back room, while Louie and the others began filling a shopping cart with food. Jerry and Don headed straight for the beer, and began loading the cart.

 

Kristin saw a tall, neatly dressed and handsome man in his mid-forties. He had a wet white towel wrapped around his face

 

“Hello, sir, my name is Kristin. I’m a nurse. Your wife said that you were looking in the sky and saw the flash?”

 

“Yes, miss.  Now I am blind!  Blind!  Who would set off such a thing? Why are people so evil?”

 

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. My guess is that the flash burned your retinas. The best thing for you to do is to keep your eyes covered. Your sight might return in a few hours.”

 

“And if it doesn’t?”

 

“Well, you might require eye surgery, but let’s be optimistic. Time will tell.”

 

“So in the mean time, I pray, right?” Thanks for your advice, miss.”

 

“My friend will pray for you too. He’s a mystic.”

 

Kristin turned, and said, “Louie, could you come here for a minute?”

 

Louie put the big bag of Doritos and 12 pack of beer he was carrying into the cart.

 

“Coming, dear!” He chortled.  He walked to the back room and smiled at Kristin.

 

Kristin looked very somber, but tried to smile back. “Louie, this gentleman might benefit from one of your healing prayers. Can you help him?

 

Louie looked sympathetically at the man’s covered eyes. He glanced at Kristin. She forlornly gazed downward. He gently put his hand on the man’s shoulder.

 

“Of course I can,” he said.  “My mom taught me this special prayer when I was a kid. It’s called the Unity prayer of protection.  It’s a favorite of soldiers and policeman all over the world. It’s also a fine healing prayer, because it affirms our perfect Oneness with God. I’ll say it with you now.

 

“The light of God surrounds us. The love of God enfolds us.  The power of God protects us.  The presence of God perfects us. We and God are one, so all is well”.

 

“That’s very beautiful.” said the man. Please say it again so I can remember it.”

 

“Sure. I’ll repeat it, and I’ll also write it down for you and your wife. Thousands of people have claimed that the prayer has helped them.”

 

“Thank you, Louie. You are a kind man.”

 

“Well, like my mom says, “ Sooner or later, we all realize that kindness is our only strength”

 

The man sighed. “ If only those idiots who caused the flash knew that!”

 

“Tell me about it.” Lamented Kristin.

 

Louie grasped the man’s hand, and said. “All will be well”

 

“Thank you, sir.  And please pray for everyone else, too We’re all going to need it now!”

 

Kristin patted the man’s arm, then  returned to the store. She spoke to his wife.

 

“Keep his eyes covered for a few hours. He should be OK.”

 

“Oh, thank you, miss!” Shouted the wife. She took Kristin’s hand and kissed it.

 

Kristin gave her a small smile.

 

Louie, Jerry and Don rolled the beer, chip, sandwich and candy bar laden cart up to the counter.

 

Kristin laughed. “ Jeezus, guys, you managed to include the five most important food groups. Alcohol, salt, fat, caffeine and sugar.  Good work!”

 

The three men roared with hilarity. “Proper nutrition is about the last thing on my mind right now” Said Don “What I’m really thinkin’ is, how the hell do we pay for this stuff? All I have is a Visa card, and now, it’s totally useless.”

 

“I got cash,” answered Louie. The place where I bought burritos today is cash only, so I hit the ATM before I went there.”

 

“ Cash only! Burritos! Exclaimed Jerry. “Are you talkin’ about Nueva Aztlan?  Were you in line up there this afternoon? Jesus Christ, I thought you looked familiar! I was in there eatin’ with my crew. You were the guy that  yelled “You’re the best!” to the owner. One of the guys in my crew heard you and said, ‘Now there’s a dude who knows what’s good’ honest to God!”

 

Louie chuckled. “ If you ever fire that guy, tell him I’ll hire him!”

 

Jerry laughed and shook his head. “Jeezus, what a coincidence!”

 

 Louie shrugged. “ Well, like my mom says, ‘Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous’.”

 

 “Damn, your mom is full of wise little gems, isn’t she? Commented Kristin. ”I’d like to meet her.”

 

“Well, if you’re ever in Oakland..” Louie replied

 

“Assuming Oakland still exists.” Interjected Don.

Don’s tactless remark dampened the group’s good spirits. Louie dutifully paid for the supplies, and the group silently left the store with the cart. They began rolling it back onto the freeway to where their cars were stalled.

 

As soon as they left the store, Louie asked Kristin, “You seemed kind of down when you were helping that poor guy at the store.”

 

Kristin bristled with anger.  “ Well,  Jeezus, Louie, how can you tell somebody that they’re blind for life? His retinas got fried by the flash.  Unless he gets surgery right away, he’ll never see again! And, where’s he gonna get surgery, if what Don says is true! He’s fucked! We’re all fucked!

 

She began to cry. She picked up her pace to walk ahead of the group.

 

As she passed a black SUV, she heard “ Nurse! Miss nurse!

 

The Filipino woman that she had treated earlier was beckoning her over.

 

“Jesus H. Christ! Not again! Poor Kristin!  Jerry bellowed.

 

Kristin reluctantly stepped over to talk with her.

 

“I want to thank you, nurse! I’m feeling much better. I was going to leave my car and walk over to my church, St. Christopher’s. It’s just four blocks away.I was on my way over there for confession when that flash hit, and everything stopped. What do you think happened?”

 

“Nobody really knows.  I don’t know.  But going to your church is a great idea. You’ll have a lot of supportive, good people gathered there. It’s a safe place to be.”

 

“Do you want to go with me? If you don’t, where will you stay?”

 

“Well, I ‘ll stay in my car. I’ve got three good guys that will look after me.’

 

“With pleasure!” Yelled Louie, Jerry and Don, almost in unison.

 

“ Ay dios mio,” said the woman. If only I were young and beautiful again, I’d stay with you!”

 

They all laughed, and Kristin bent into the SUV and kissed the woman on the cheek.

 

“I’m Kristin”

”I’m Alejandra. If you have any trouble, please come over to my church. It’s right over there.” She pointed to a large cathedral building about a mile away. “Father Tony is my priest. He’s a wonderful man, very young, very handsome, very liberal and very accepting. He will welcome you all.”

 

“Well, thank you, Alejandra.  It’s good to have a plan B.  Take care.”

 

Kristin turned to face the guys.

 

“Well, if all else fails,” she quipped

 

“And only if the church has earthquake and fire insurance,” said Don. I’m a devout atheist. God will see me in there and knock the place down! “

 

“I haven’t been to church since I was ten years old” added Jerry. “The only God I believe in is money”

 

“Well, you know where I stand,” stated Louie. “How about you, Kristin?”

 

She thought for a moment, then replied. “I’m a nurse. I see spiritual miracles happen every day. I think that people like Louie and his mom are onto something, but I haven’t taken the time to think about it or understand it. Some day I will.”

 

“Let me know when you’re ready!” Offered Louie

 

“I will” She answered.

 

Jerry  interrupted .” Guys, the church thing is plan B. What we need to do right now is figure out which cars we’re going to stay in tonight. Since we’re parked together, I’d say that we put all our valuables in the middle vehicle, Louie’s van. I’d also recommend that we turn Kristin’s car around so that it faces north. That way, if what Don says is true,  and bandits show up tonight, we can watch from both directions.”

 

“Good thinking.” Louie raised his work shirt and showed the handle of his pistol.

 

Don and Jerry nodded appreciatively.

 

“Anybody else packing?” Louie asked

 

”I carry a baseball bat” Bragged Jerry. “  I use mace,” offered  Don.

 

“Jeezus , Louie, have you been walking around with that thing stuck in your pants all this time? My God!” Yelled Kristin.

 

“My brother bought it for me, Kristin. We’re from Oakland. Even nuns pack guns in Oakland!”

 

“ And I thought you were some holier- than- thou mystic,” she laughed

 

“ I am,” Louie answered .”We’re all holy, except some of us don’t know it yet. The unholy are the ones who cause all the trouble. They don’t feel God or spiritual consciousness, but they do feel this. He patted the gun. My brother doesn’t believe in God or metaphysics, so I carry this gun to make him feel better. He owns half of our business.”

 

“But with you, it’s pray first, shoot later!” Joked Kristin

 

“Exactly!” Agreed Louie. “And later, if you like, we’ll recite Psalm 91.  If you believe and accept what it says, you’ll never need a gun, mace, or a baseball bat .”

 

Kristin looked at Louie, and shook her head in confusion.

 

“This is all very interesting,” declared Don,” but I’m dyin’ for a sandwich and a beer!”

 

“Amen!” Shouted Jerry, sarcastically.

 

They pushed the cart to where the cars were parked. Jerry opened the driver and passenger doors of his sedan, and he and Don took seats. They each grabbed a beer and a sandwich from the cart. They opened their beers and clicked cans.

 

“To better days!” Don toasted.

 

They both looked south, to the massive black cloud that now obscured the horizon

 

“ And may God help us all,” muttered Jerry.

 

Louie opened the door to his van, reached in, and grabbed the two remaining burritos.

 

He smiled at Kristin.

 

“ Please .Tell me you’re not a vegan”

 

“Shit, Louie, are you kidding?  I’m a fucking omnivore! I’ll eat anything that’s not still breathing, as long as it doesn’t smell like shit.  I even ate a goddamn ghost pepper last week. Thought I was going to die.!”

 

Louie roared with laughter. He stared at Kristin affectionately. She was his type of girl.

 

“Well, Kristin, just because you’re beautiful, sweet, intelligent, a damn fine nurse and mainly because my van won’t run, I’m going to share something very precious with you. My last two burritos from Nueva Aztlan, the single finest Mexican restaurant in the world!”

 

Kristin stared at Louie with delight. “All right!” Thanks, Louie, I’m starved!”

 

Louie unwrapped both burritos, and gave one to Kristin

 

She bit into it hungrily.

 

Her beautiful green eyes opened wide with surprise.

 

With her mouth full, she looked at Louie and shrieked “ Oh my God, Louie,  this is fucking delicious!’

 

Jerry looked up from his sandwich, and said  “What’s delicious?”

 

“My last two burritos from Nueva Aztlan”

 

“Thanks for sharing., you asshole.” Grumbled Jerry

 

Louie and Kristin roared.

 

They all became quiet and pensive as they sipped beer and enjoyed their food.

 

An old, heavyset men with a pronounced limp walked by, heading north.  He looked over at the group and smiled.

 

“Making the most of a bad situation, I see! He quipped. “Any idea what happened?”

 

“Not sure,” answered Louie. “Some say it was a nuke.”

 

The man shook his head, and kept on walking while he spoke.

 

“Well, it had to happen, it was inevitable, with all the crazies around today. I just wish I’d been home at the time”

 

“ Don’t we all!” Said Don “Where’s home?”

 

“Ukiah. I’ve got a sixty mile walk”

 

Don shook his head. “Well, good luck!”

 

“Right” He kept on walking.

 

Kristin muttered, “Poor thing, he’ll never make it. I wonder if any of us will ever make it home?”  Her eyes teared up.

 

“ Wondering and worrying about stuff is futile and useless, Kristin. ” offered Louie. “What’s important is what’s happening now. Let’s enjoy our lunch and get some rest. When tonight comes we’ll deal with it then. When tomorrow comes, we’ll do what intuition tells us to. I have a rule that I live by, ‘Now is the only time, and God’s grace is sufficient for the needs of the moment’ To me, that’s all that life really means.”

 

“Wow, you really are a big ball of spirituality, aren’t you? Snapped Kristin, sarcastically.

 

“Am I getting on your nerves? Joked Louie.

 

“No, not really.  It’s just that I’ve been paying a shrink $200 an hour to help me with a worry problem that you just solved in ten seconds”

 

“Anything for a pretty girl,” he declared.

 

Jerry let out a huge beer belch to get attention. Louie and Kristin looked at him and laughed. 

 

 “Hey, you guys, it’s gonna get dark soon. We need to get organized.I think that Don and me should crash in my car, facing south, and that you guys should crash in Kristin’s

 car, facing north. If any shit happens, we can all get out and jump in Louie’s van.”

 

“Sounds good,” agreed Don.  “We should all take turns staying awake until morning.

I’ll take the four a.m to dawn shift. Ever since I was in the Army, I’ve gotten up at four a.m.”

 

“And I’ll go from dusk to four,” replied Louie. I’ll meditate. To me, it’s more restful than sleep”

 

“Jeez”, blurted Kristin, Jerry and Don, almost in unison.

 

The sun was setting at 8pm when they went to their respective cars and settled in. Kristin lay in the back of her Honda, while Louie reclined on the passenger seat. Jerry sprawled in the front of his sedan, while Don folded his jacket over himself and snoozed in the back.

 

At 10 pm, all hell broke loose. At first, the sounds of windows breaking, gunshots, yelling and screaming seemed far away. Then the sounds got closer, like a ruinous mob was approaching, leaving mass destruction in its wake. 

 

Kristin awoke from her nap, and sat up, trembling. Louie was already out of the car, watching a  motley, noisy crowd of men and women descend on a huge hardware store directly alongside the freeway. In the distance, at the Ramada Inn, smoke and flames billowed from the upper floors. Screams and yelling filled the air.

 

Kristin got out of the car and grabbed Louie’s arm. She gasped in horror as she saw a large black woman try to fling a huge rock through the store’s front window, only to be blown three feet in the air by the loud blast from a store owner’s shotgun.  The crowd began to scatter

as shotgun blasts and automatic weapons fire started mowing them down. Kristin  counted 12 bodies lying in the parking lot.  Four men exited the store. Two held shotguns and two held automatic rifles They kept firing at the crowd, then stopped to survey the carnage. Suddenly, more gunfire erupted. Louie pulled Kristin down to the pavement. One of the men from the store was hit, and cried out in pain.  The other men ran back inside the store, leaving the wounded man in the parking lot. His wails of agony soon mingled with the moans and screams of the other wounded that littered the parking lot. “Oh, dear God,” wept Kristin.

 

Jerry and Don ran up to Kristin’s car, crouching.  Gunfire sounded all around.

 

“Jesus Christ,” yelled Don. “This is worse than Iraq!”

 

Two flaming objects arced through the air and landed on the roof of the store. Soon, flames and smoke were visible from the store’s roof. A smaller mob attemped to break the store’s windows with bricks.  Five more shotgun blasts and rapid bursts of weapons fire mowed down another ten people. Their tortured screams of intense pain joined the cacophony of misery that echoed through the night.

 

The store’s roof was now completely engulfed in flames. Three men from the store ran to the parking lot, and dragged their screaming, wounded friend to an ancient Chevy pick-up truck. They tossed him in the back. One man with an automatic rifle crouched in the back of the truck, firing random bursts of gunfire in a circle, while the other men jumped in the cab, started the truck, and rapidly drove away.

 

Jerry crouched on his knees and looked on with amazement.

 

“What the fuck’s that all about? How come their truck still runs?”

 

 “It’s got an old Kettering ignition. Points,  plugs, condenser and coil. It’s EMP proof ” Explained Don.

 

  “Fuck me,” said Jerry ”My old 75 Ford truck has points. Why didn’t I drive it up here

today? I’d be home right now.”

 

“Don’t count on it,” commented  Don.

 

By this time, the store was completely on fire. Paint and chemicals began exploding inside, and the heat became intense.

 

“Everybody! Get in my van! “Yelled Louie.

 

They all climbed in, as smoke, pillars of fire and explosions burst from the ruined building. While the heat outside was unbearable, the interior of the van was cool. 

 

Panicked cries for help and screams of agony streamed from the multitude of wounded that lay in the store’s parking lot, as they slowly burned to death.

Kristin covered her ears. “This is worse than hell! She shouted.

 

“The only positive thing is that the fire will keep the bandits from attacking us tonight .” declared Don.

 

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” answered Louie.

 

“Got any prayers that will get us out of this mess?” Asked Jerry.

 

“Yeah. I’ve been meditating on Psalm 91 ever since I heard the mob of bandits coming. It’s a prayer of protection.  I’ll recite it for you.”

 

“He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.  You shall not be afraid of the terror by night; nor of the arrow that flies by day.Nor by the pestilence that walks in darkness; nor by the destruction that wastes at noon..A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.”

 

“So how do we dwell in the secret place of the most high? Where the hell is that?”

 

“ The secret place of the most high is your own consciousness when it’s fully aware of  your oneness with the omnipresence of God.”

 

“But I don’t believe in God!” Interjected Don.

 

“Well, God believes in you, whether you believe it or not.” 

 

 Jerry pondered Louie’s latest sermon, then stated, “I think I’ll just hope for the best, keep my baseball bat handy, and leave the praying to you.”

 

“That’ll work.” Louie agreed.

 

Kristin sat on a toolbox in the rear of the van, with fingers stuck in her ears to drown out the tortured wails and fiery explosions coming from outside.  She gave Louie an anguished look.

 

“Louie, what kind of God would permit a living hell like this?” No wonder Don and Jerry are atheists!”

 

“It’s a long story, Kristin. And this isn’t the time to tell it. But I’ll assure you that God is here, in your consciousness, despite what you see appearing outside. Let’s just pray that this horrible stuff passes over us tonight. In spite of what we see, we are still One with God.”

 

  Debris from the fire began falling on the roof of the van. The sides of the van began warping from the heat, making a clanging sound. The interior of the van remained cool.

 

Kristin, Jerry and Don leaned back, covering their ears with their hands to try to smother  the endless cries of misery from the tortured, dying hoard that lay in the burning remains of the store. Louie sat with eyes closed, in meditation.

 

They remained in those positions for hours. By 3am, the fire had burned itself out. The screaming, yelling and gunshots had also ceased. Louie grabbed Kristin’s arm and led her out of the van and to the back seat of her car. “Lay down and sleep” He said. “You’re safe now.” Kristin kissed him on the cheek and lay on the seat. Louie covered her with his jacket, sat in the passenger seat and dozed.

 

With daylight at 7am and in  the still morning air, came the stench. The smell of burnt wood, paint and rubber mixed with the foul odors of scorched human hair, skin and  bloated, roasted corpses.

 

Jerry and Don climbed from the van and relieved themselves on the side of the road.

They both began retching from the smell.

 

“I can’t stand this shit!” Jerry wailed. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

 

Kristin exited her car, grabbed her bag from the trunk, and ran to the hidden shelter of some roadside shrubs to heed the morning call.  When she emerged, she had a rag tied over her mouth and nose.

 

She approached Louie and said, “When I was in medical school, we did an autopsy on some house fire victims. They smelled just like this.  Let’s get out of here, because that smell can damage us psychologically.”

 

They walked over to Don and Jerry. Louie winced when he saw the side of his van. The heat from the fire had bubbled off most of the paint. The only remains of his

“Santiago Plumbing” sign were a large  “S” and an “ing” 

 

“I like that”quipped Kristin. “S ing”

 

“Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling, that everything’s going my way.” Joked Louie

 

Don looked at Jerry with amazement “ See, Jerry? I told you that fucker was crazy!”

 

They all laughed, uneasily.

 

“We need to get out of here” said Louie. “ The smell is unbearable. We made it through last night ‘cause the fire kept the creeps away. Tonight we might not be so lucky. Any ideas?”

 

 

 

“I vote for the CHP station” said Don. We need the cop’s fire power against the bandits.

 

“ Well, what about Jerry? He can’t walk seven miles with his bad feet!” Argued Kristin

 

Don appeared irritated, then said “Well, we’ll put him in the shopping cart and push his fat ass over there.”

 

Jerry roared with laughter and yelled  “Now who’s crazy? Are you out of your mind?”

 

“Then let’s walk to the church that Alejandra talked about. It’s only a mile away, and maybe they’ve got coffee. I could kill for a cup,” offered Kristin.

 

“I’ll vote with Kristin” said Louie. Let’s load the cart with as much as we can carry, and walk over there. Any place is better than where we are.”

 

“Maybe there will be a drugstore along the way. I’m on blood pressure meds, and I’ve already missed two doses.” Revealed Don.

 

“That’s not good,” stated Kristin. “I’ve got a blood pressure reader in my bag. Come over to my car and I’ll check it.”  She fished the device from her paramedic bag, and clamped  the cuff on Don’s arm. She pumped it up.

 

Louie watched in silence, and prayed. “He is perfect in God”

 

Kristin monitored the device, and when it registered, she said ” 115 over 75, heart rate of 70.” Damn, Don, you’re blood pressure’s lower than mine, and I don’t take meds!”

 

“It’s probably because my wife and kids aren’t around to bug me!” Don jested.

 

Louie smiled at the results and said ” Let’s load the cart with just the essentials and get going. Maybe we can find more food and water on the way.”

 

Kristin tossed her paramedic bag in the cart. She bent over and kissed her Honda good bye. Louie added a flashlight, hammer and hatchet from his van. Jerry took his baseball bat, and Don his mace.

 

They rolled the cart off the freeway and headed toward St. Christopher’s Catholic church .

 

The commercial street they traveled was littered with damaged cars, broken glass and bullet casings. Most of the stores had broken windows and damaged doors. The only store that was intact was a large supermarket.  Three armed guards stood by the door.

 

Jerry yelled, “Are you open for business?” 

 

“Yeah, but cash only. And a five minute time limit inside ”

 

Louie counted his cash. He had $100. He and Kristin walked up to the store .One of the tall, burly guards lowered his shotgun and handed Louie a flashlight. “Make it quick.” He ordered.  Louie headed for the water jugs, while Kristin loaded up on canned goods and a can-opener.

 

“Get some more chips and beer!” Yelled Jerry  “And Tequila!” added Don

 

Louie and Kristen carried their baskets of goods to a checkstand, where a lone checker looked at all the stuff, and said “Give me $30.”

 

“$30? That’s all?” Objected Louie.

 

“I can’t scan any prices without power, so I just have to guesstimate,” replied the checker.

 

“Well, thanks!” Louie answered, as he handed aver the cash.

 

They bagged the food, left the store and crammed the goods in the heavily-laden  cart.

 

The remainder of the walk to St. Christopher’s was like walking through a bombed -out city.  The street was full of abandoned, plundered cars, torched buildings, broken glass and debris.

 

Right before they arrived at the church, they came upon a most gruesome sight.  Crumpled against the wall of a gutted auto-parts store were seven bodies. Spray-painted

on the wall above them was a sign- “Looters.”

 

“ Oh, shit! Vigilantes!” Exclaimed Don.  “They can be worse than the bandits. The sooner we get off the street, the better!”

 

They hurried their pace, and pushed to cart to the broad brick staircase that led to the heavy, ornate wooden doors of St Christopher’s church.

 

Jerry climbed the stairs and tried the doors.

 

” Shit. They’re locked,” he muttered. He pounded on them.

 

Louie whispered, “Father. Help us.”

 

“Let me try,” said Kristin

 

She mounted the stairs, grabbed a door handle and pulled. Suddenly, the door burst open  A short, stocky, black haired woman rushed past her, jumped down the stairs and ran up the street

 

“Get your ass back here!” Yelled someone from inside the church. An old, tall, skinny, tattooed and disheveled man with a long gray beard pushed past Kristin and began looking up and down the street.

 

“Fuck!” He screamed. “Where did she go? Who unlocked that fuckin’ door?” 

 

He was joined on the steps by an obese, tough-looking, tattooed and homely Samoan woman in a red straw hat. Beside her was a thin, dread locked African man in filthy, baggy sweat pants and a worn blue hoodie. Behind them stood a handsome, young, casually dressed, dark- haired man with a neatly trimmed goatee.

 

“Run!” Screamed the young man to Kristin.

 

The African yelled ”Shut the fuck up!” and backhanded the young man across the mouth with a loud slap. He fell down.

 

Louie’s group stood mesmerized and  speechless.

 

“Uh, maybe we’ll just keep moving,” said Kristin

 

The bearded man grabbed her arm. “The fuck you will, my cute little nursie.”

 

Louie, Don and Jerry started up the stairs toward him. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a Sig Sauer  pistol.  He pointed it at them.

 

‘Don’t get excited, boys. Just get your asses in here. And bring that fuckin’ cart. He looked at Kristin with a leer. ”And you too, sweet thing.”

 

“She sho’ is fine. Damn!” Said the woman. ”I wants me a little taste of that!”

 

The African man began pushing the three men into the church.Jerry turned around and grabbed him by the throat. Don kicked him in the crotch. He groaned and crumpled to the floor. Louie started for the bearded man but was met by the pistol against his forehead. The woman pulled a  buck knife and pointed it at Kristin .”Get yo’ fine little bootie in here, cupcake.” She licked her lips, then glared at the bearded man

 

“Waste’em, Gary!” She yelled.

 

Gary stared at Louie’s group. ‘You folks better calm down, and start actin’ like Father Tony over there, real peaceful, or I’ll blow you all away, one by one.” 

 

At gunpoint, Gary forced the group into the dim, cavernous chapel, with its ornate stained glass windows. 20 pews lined each side of the chapel’s broad aisle. At the head of the aisle was an alter, and above that a huge marble statue of the crucified Christ .Giant  gothic gold candelabras flanked the statue .The atmosphere inside the church was shadowy,  cold and eerie. 

 

The African man got up from his beating, rubbed his sore neck and mumbled to Gary, “Let’s take them out back before we shoot them. I don’t want to have to drag their bodies out of here”

 

“Good thinking, Darnell. That fat one weighs about 300 pounds.”

 

”Fuck you!” Yelled Jerry

 

“ Don’t waste’em outside, someone will hear the shots!”  The woman advised.

 

“Yeah, Amy, you’re right.”  Besides, I wanna fuck with them a little first, especially the priest and blondie over there.”snickered Gary.

 

“Me too !” Said Amy

 

 “Me three” Laughed  Darnell.

 

Father Tony was back on his feet. He stood behind Louie. He bellowed at Gary. “  You’re going to pay a steep price for the evil that you’re committing in this holy place. There was a reason why God let Alejandra get away!”

 

 

“Well, fuck God and Alejandra.” Answered Gary.  “God won’t do shit, and Alejandra’s  too old and fucked up to run more than a block. She’s probably dead of exhaustion already!”

 

Kristin was stunned at what she’d just heard. The woman fleeing the church was Alejandra!

 

She stared at the red straw hat and jewelry that the gross and smelly Amy had on.  It was the same red hat and jewelry that the pretty little brunette who’d walked away with officer McGinty had been wearing!

 

She felt sick.

 

Amy grabbed her by the arm. “Better search this bitch and those three motherfuckers before we do anything else, Gary,” she urged.

 

“Help me search em’, Darnell” Gary ordered.

 

“I’ll search the cupcake” Announced Amy.  She pulled  Kristin up by the hair,placed her hands on her butt and squeezed. “Feels yummy” She laughed. She began kissing Kristin’s neck and rubbing her all over. Kristin cringed her nose with disgust.  Amy reeked.

 

While Gary and Darnell searched Don and Jerry, they ignored Louie.  Louie quickly turned to Father Tony and handed him his money and his pistol. Father Tony stuffed them down the front of his jeans.

 

Don had also been staring at Amy’s red hat. He recognized it as the hat the pretty young brunette had been wearing,.  “Hey, Miss Piggy, where’d you steal that hat?”

 

Amy glared at him, and pulled her buck knife.  She walked over to Don and waved the knife under his throat. “Let me cut him, Gary,” she pleaded.

 

“Then you’ll clean up all the blood.”

 

“Fuck that!” she bellowed. I’ll wait till we take ‘em out back, then I’ll cut his little dick off.”

 

“You’re lucky you’ve got that knife, you fat, disgusting, stinking  pig, and that Hillbilly Jim here has that gun, otherwise the three of you would be dead,” snapped Don.

 

“ Give it time, Don.” Added Louie.

 

“What are you, a fuckin’ fortune teller?” Asked Gary

 

”No, I just know how Lady Karma works, and I’ve got a feeling she’ll be coming to see you soon.”

 

“Amen!” Exclaimed Father Tony.

 

“Well, maybe Lady Karma will keep her distance after I tell you losers how Amy got her hat,” explained Gary. “We was headed up north from Berkeley to sell meth to them kids at that big rock concert in Clear Lake this weekend. We got as far as Rohnert Park when that flash hit.  Me an’ Darnell are like ‘what the fuck’? but Amy sees that every other car is stopped, and that her phone is dead. She’s all like, ‘shit, this is big!’ So, we get out and start walkin’ and it’s plain to see that no one can call the cops, ‘cause there ain’t no phones. So we used Amy’s knife and started jackin’ women and faggy guys for their money and shit.. Amy cut one dude pretty good, and Darnell knocked  a couple of bitches out, but other than that, nobody got hurt. But then I thought, ‘ what we need is a gun.’ Now, I had to hock my piece to get cash for gas up to Clear Lake. So, I’m lookin’ for another piece.’”

 

“Anyway, as luck would have it, walkin’ towards us is a group of people with a CHP officer, with this cute little bitch in a big red hat..  Amy’s all like, ‘ I want that hat!’  I’m all like, ‘ I want that cop’s gun!” So Amy walks up to the cop real nice and says.’Excuse me officer, do you know what happened? ‘And before the cop can answer, she stabs him in the liver, then pulls the knife all the way up to his chin. The little brunette bitch in the hat started screamin,’ so Amy pulled the knife out of the cop, and got the little bitch in the throat, right through the jugular.  Shit, between her and the cop, we had blood spurtin’.everywhere!  The rest of the group ran like hell.  The cop was dead, so I reached down and got his piece. I even took his fuckin’ little name badge, McGinty. Darnell is a horny bastard, so he dragged the cute little brunette’s body off into the bushes, and fucked the shit out of it. When he was done, he pulled off her red hat and jewelry,  and gave them to Amy’”

 

“That little bitch was still a virgin!” Laughed Darnell

 

“And her hat looks good on me, doesn’t it?” Sneered Amy.”I looked good enough for Father fagbait here to let us into the church. I told him I needed confession. I said ‘Father, I just killed a cop and a teenager!’ Then I showed him my knife. Gary didn’t want to me to kill him, because he thought he was cute. Gary did time in Quentin, so he likes the pretty boys. That old bag Alejandra was the only other person in the church, and horny Darnell wouldn’t let me cut her, because he heard that Filipinos give good head’”

 

“You sick bastards!” Yelled Jerry

 

“Well, you wanted to know how Amy got her hat, so now you know. Tell Lady Karma to stick that in her pipe and smoke it.” chuckled Gary

 

“She’ll be smoking you, soon enough” said Louie.

 

”Amen,” added Father Tony, with revulsion.

 

“Fuck all this talk,” blurted Darnell. “I see me some beers in that cart! Ya’ll want some?”

 

“Fuck yeah,!” confirmed Amy.” And see what they got to eat in there. I already ate all of Father fagbait’s communion wafers. They tasted like shit.”

 

Father Tony glared at her.

 

“ Yeah, Father fagbait, you want a beer?” Teased Darnell. Might be the last one you’ll ever get! And tell me, Father, are all priests gay?”

 

“Of course they are!” asserted Gary. “That’s why, after we have a few beers and fuck little nurse nasty over there, we’re gonna fuck us a priest! I could go for a pretty boy’s tight little bootie. It’ll remind me of San Quentin!”

 

“Yowza, boss! Sounds good!” Shouted a joyful Darnell, He rifled through the cart, pulling out bags of chips and and cans of chili and spaghetti. ”Ooh! Look what I found!” He yanked out a quart bottle of Cuervo Gold Tequila

 

 “Jack pot!”

 

“All right!” yelled Gary “My favorite!  Pop that bad boy and pass it over.”

 

Darnell twisted the cap off the bottle and took a huge swig. He began to cough. He handed the bottle to Gary. Gary took an even bigger swig, draining almost a cup from the bottle.

 

“Aah, That’s good!  You want some, Amy?”

 

“No, fuck that. I gotta have some food in my stomach before I can drink that shit. I’m gonna open me up a can of that spaghetti. You want some?”

 

“No, fuck the spaghetti, I’ll have me a can of that chili. What you want, Darnell?

 

“Chili”

 

Amy began opening up cans of food.  She passed them to Gary and Darnell. “Give us each a beer” Gary ordered.

 

Amy handed each of them a beer, and they began eating. They scooped food out of the cans with their fingers, licked them, then tipped the cans to their mouths, and emptied the rest in.

 

“Ah yes, it don’t get any fuckin’ better than this!” Exclaimed Darnell.

 

Louie, his group, and Father Tony looked on in silent disgust.

 

“Sorry we can’t share any with you losers, but we gotta have our priorities!” Proclaimed  Gary.

 

Louie stared at him in silence

 

Gary let out a huge belch. Darnell and Amy followed suit.

 

“Now, I’m ready for some tequila,” said Amy.  Then, I’m gonna eat me some cupcake! She smiled at Kristin. She had no front teeth.

 

“Ooh wee! Dessert!” Yelled Darnell.

 

Amy grabbed the tequila bottle and took a long swig. “Yum, good shit,” she mumbled.

 

She walked over to Kristin, slapped her in the face, and pulled her up hard by the hair. Kristin whimpered and tried to squirm free. Amy punched her in the face and jaw, then held her knife to Kristin’s throat. She leered at her, and said  “C’mon, cupcake, time to give up that cute little coochie.”

 

Louie, Don and Jerry bristled with fury.

 

 Gary chuckled, raised his pistol, and said, “Calm down, boys, and enjoy the show.”

 

Amy pulled Kristin by the hair up to the alter. When Kristin tried to fight her and wiggle free, Amy punched her in the face and kneed her in the stomach.

 

“Don’t mess her face up,” yelled Darnell. I want her to be pretty when I fuck her!”

 

“ You do, and you’re a dead man, said Jerry. “Guaranteed”

 

“Screw you, fat boy!.”Chided Darnell. “You’ll be shot before the sun goes down. Gary’s got a bullet with your name on it!”

 

Louie and Father Tony watched in silence.

 

“Quit arguing with that asshole and hold her down on the alter” screeched Amy. “I want Jesus up there to get a good view of me munchin’ that sweet little coochie.”

 

Darnell grabbed Kristin in a full Nelson and wrestled her down on the alter. Amy pinned Kristin’s legs to the alter, than kneeled and started to pull off  Kristin’s pants.

 

She licked her lips and moaned, ”Ooh, this is gonna be so good!”

 

Suddenly, Father Tony yelled, “God, forgive me!” He pulled Louie’s pistol from his waist and fired two shots at Amy’s back.  Amy screamed, stood straight up, turned to face Father Tony, then collapsed on the floor. The bullets had punctured her aorta.

 

Don and Jerry rushed Darnell.  Don grabbed his legs, while Jerry hit him with a vicious right cross and a left hook to the chin.  Darnell’s jaw cracked.  He  released Kristin and  collapsed to the alter, unconscious. Don and Jerry pinned him to the floor

 

Kristin ran for the doors and struggled to open them.

 

Gary was too drunk and stunned by the loud shots to react quickly. Just as he raised his gun to shoot Father Tony, Louie hit his arm. The gun fired, but the bullet missed, and shattered one of the church’s stained glass windows. Gary tried to shoot at Father Tony again, but he’d just used his last bullet.

 

“Fuck!” He screamed. He turned and hit Louie on the bridge of the nose with the pistol.

Louie went down to his knees, blood spurting from his face.

 

In the commotion, no one heard the sound of ancient engines approaching the church.

 

Gary kicked Louie in the head, and lunged toward Father Tony. Father Tony aimed the pistol and tried to fire, but Gary was too quick.  He punched Father Tony in the nose, and wrestled the pistol from him. He whipped Father Tony in the face with the butt of the gun. Blood spurted from Father Tony’s nose and forehead.

 

 

Gary was enraged. He ran over to Louie and pressed the pistol against his temple.

“You’re dead now, you spic fuck!”

 

He didn’t hear the banging on the church doors.

 

Kristin did. She unlocked them.

 

The doors swung open wide. Staring at Kristin were a short, dark- haired woman, a stocky, gray -haired Hispanic man,  and a younger Hispanic man holding a  double-barreled shotgun.

 

“Kristin!” Shouted the woman. Thank God you’re safe!”

 

“Alejandra! Yelled. Kristin. “Look out! That creep’s got a gun!”

 

 She pointed at Gary. Gary was distracted. He turned the gun away from Louie and toward the doors.

 

The younger Hispanic man with the shotgun was glaring at him. He raised his weapon.

 

“Hola, guero. Drop the gun “

 

Gary froze.

 

Outside the church was an old Ford pickup truck with four young, shotgun toting men. Behind the pickup was an ancient, beautifully restored yellow school bus. One of the  gun-toting men jumped off  the truck and ran to the back of the church.

 

Gary yelled at the gunman in the doorway. “I ain’t droppin’ shit, motherfucker! You drop your gun! I shoot faster than a cat can jump!  I’ll pick all of you off! 

 

He aimed the gun at the young man.

 

They stared at one another in silence. No one moved.

 

Inside the chapel, Darnell had awoke, and was struggling to stand up. Don and Jerry watched him. Someone slowly crept past them.

 

Gary aimed his pistol at the young man’s head, and prepared to fire.

 

“Drop it, pendejo,” came a voice from behind him.

 

Gary was startled. His arm dropped. The man behind him rushed over and stuck the barrel of his shotgun in Gary’s back, hard.

 

“The party’s over, cabron. ” He said.

 

He shoved Gary against the wall of the church.

 

Louie got off his knees, pulled his shirt up, and wiped the blood from his eyes.

 

He stared at the people in the doorway. He recognized one of them

 

“Senor Camacho! What are you doing here?”

 

Senor Camacho knew Louie as a good customer.

 

“Hola, amigo, we meet again,” he said, smiling at Louie.

 

 

Gary began yelling. One of the gun toting men had him by the throat.

 

The other man held Darnell by the dreadlocks

 

“Que hacer?” One of them asked Senor Camacho

 

“Dispareales. La parte de atras” He answered .

 

The two men began pushing Gary and Darnell to the rear of the church

 

“What the fuck are you doing? Bellowed Gary. “We got rights!”

 

“I ain’t done nuthin!” Screamed Darnell. “It was all Gary and Amy’s idea!”

 

The shotgun toting men pushed and kicked them outside the church into the rear yard.

 

 Inside, Alejandra hugged Kristin, then spotted the bloody Father Tony.

 

She ran over to him

 

“Oh, Father, look what they did to you!” She wiped his bloody face with her hands.

 

“I’ve got some hydrogen peroxide and bandages in my bag. It’s in the cart,”  advised Kristin “You patch up Father Tony, and I’ll take care of Louie”

 

Louie held his hand to the cut above his nose. He walked up to Senor Camacho

 

 

“ What made you come here, amigo?” He asked

 

“Alejandra,” said Senor Camacho.” I brought guards and a bus down to my parish, St Benedict’s, so that I could rescue Father Valdivia and the sisters from the desperadoes that are killing and stealing. As we were driving everybody back to my ranch, Father Valdivia saw Alejandra running toward the church. He yelled “Stop! She’s a Catholic,” so we did. Alejandra  told us that she’d run over from St. Christopher’s, because some desperadoes had taken over the church. If she had been one minute later, we would have missed her. It was a divine coincidence. It was God’s will that we saw her, and God’s will that we found out about you”

 

Don, Jerry and Kristin listened in amazement.

 

Kristin spoke. “Louie, didn’t you say that coincidence is God’s way of remaining  anonymous? I think I’m beginning to believe you!”

 

Louie nodded. He looked affectionately at Kristin as she cleaned his face and bandaged his wound.

 

Father Tony sat on a pew as Alejandra lovingly wiped his bloody forehead, then wrapped it with gauze and tape.

 

“What amazes me is that St Benedict’s is five miles from here! How did you get there, Alejandra?” He asked.

 

“I don’t remember, Father. Something just told me to run, and it gave me strength!”

 

“Praise God!” Added Father Tony. He reached for Alejandra and hugged her.

 

While Louie and Father Tony were treated, Senor Camacho walked to the rear of the church.

 

Suddenly, Darnell and Gary bellowed, “ No! Don’t!  Stop!”

 

Two shotgun blasts echoed through the chapel.

 

“Ay dios mio!” Shrieked Alejandra.  She looked skyward and made the sign of the cross.

 

Father Tony bowed his head and prayed.

 

Senor Camacho walked back into the church with a sad expression, shaking his head. He stopped and looked at Amy’s body.

 

“Que paso?” He asked.

 

Father Tony was about to tell him, but Louie spoke first.

 

“She was shot with my gun. She was about to desecrate this church with an unspeakable act.”

 

Father Tony stared at Louie, and mouthed, “Thank you!”

 

Louie held his index finger to his lips. Father Tony’s actions that day would forever be kept secret.

 

Senor Camacho turned away from the body and sighed, “ It’s for the best.”

 

He yelled in Spanish, and the two young gunmen returned to the chapel  One of them grabbed Amy’s legs, and the other her arms.

 

“Esta fea y gordo,” one said, as they struggled to drag her out.

 

Senor Camacho walked to the front of the church and addressed the group

 

“I had no choice but to eliminate those two, because there is no place for such degenerates at Nueva Aztlan, and  I couldn’t leave them  behind to prey on someone else.From what Alejandra told me, they were evil beyond redemption. Father Tony and Father Valdivia will disagree, but the peace and security we’ll all enjoy at the ranch is too precious to sacrifice for redemption that probably wouldn’t have happened.May God forgive me for what I had to do.” He made the sign of the cross, and wiped his eyes.

 

Louie stared at him, dejectedly.  Kristin patted Louie on the back.  “That Lady Karma’s a bitch, ain’t she?”

 

“She sure is,” Louie muttered. “Live by the sword, die by the sword. Live by Karma, die by Karma. I’ve never seen it fail. Thank God I don’t live that way, and you don’t have to, either.”

 

Kristin looked at him, blankly. Louie’s mystical ramblings were hard to understand. She had many questions for him.

 

Jerry and Don walked up to Senor Camacho, introduced themselves, and shook his hand.

 

He recognized Jerry from the restaurant, and was delighted to learn that Jerry was a construction foreman, and that Don was an electrical contractor. They would be valuable additions to his ranch’s community.

 

Don couldn’t wait any longer.  “Senor Camacho, do you have any idea what happened? Was it a nuke?  Have you heard anything on the radio at your ranch?”

 

Senor Camacho faced Don. “ I have an old Zenith Transoceanic vacuum tube radio at the ranch. It still works, in spite of the flash .But we’ve heard nothing but static on every band, shortwave, am, fm, and vhf. It’s like there’s nothing out there. My satellite system was fried, as well as all my computers, TVs and phones. There’s no communications at all, so we’ll just have to wait and keep scanning with the radio for signals.  I feel that it was a nuke, but from who?  Islamic terrorists, North Korea or Russia? We might never know. There is one curious and good thing. There’s. a lack of radioactive fallout. I bought a Geiger counter years ago because we have uranium ore deposits on the ranch . The Geiger counter is not registering abnormal levels of radiation. That makes me wonder if it was a nuke, or maybe another type of explosive?” He shrugged.

 

Don shook his head in bewilderment.

 

Jerry asked, “ Do you have any idea what happened to the Bay Area? I live in Pinole, Don lives in Emeryville, and Louie has a plumbing business in Oakland.  Are the cities still  there? That second flash and big cloud scared the hell out of us.”

 

“I commute from Forestville to San Francisco for work.” Kristin added. “Is San Francisco still there?” 

 

Senor Camacho shrugged again. “I don’t know. We’ll have to investigate. After the clouds down south disappear, my guards and I will go to Petaluma, find a boat, and row around the Bay. Then we’ll see if anything’s left. With all the desperadoes around, it will be very dangerous.”

 

“I’ll go,” said Jerry. ”So will I” Added Don. “Me too” Affirmed Louie.

 

Senor Camacho nodded his approval, then said, “In the meantime, you’re all welcome at my ranch..It’s got plenty of everything. Plenty of housing .Plenty of clothing.Plenty of electricity from solar power, plenty of fresh water, and plenty of food. I have cows, sheep, hogs and chickens. I have fresh lettuce and greens year round, and plenty of canned summer vegetables and fruits. I’m two miles from the ocean, so I have plenty of fish. I have 30 acres of vineyards, and my wine cellar has 5000 bottles of Cabernet. I’m even making brandy this year!”

 

“On second thought, maybe I’ll just stay on your ranch!” Joked Don.

 

“It’s my heaven!” Senor Camacho replied.

 

The two gunmen walked back into the chapel. Their T-shirts and jeans were splattered with dirt and blood.

 

“Enterrado?”  asked Senor Camacho.

 

“Si.”

 

He motioned for the gunmen to return to the pickup truck, and then addressed the group.

 

“Amigas y amigos, it will get dark soon, and the desperadoes will return.  We need to go now. Let’s all get on my bus and drive home to my ranch, which is now your home. God has blessed me today. I drove the bus down alone, and now I return with two priests, three nuns, a nurse, an electrical contractor, a plumber, and a builder! What a bonanza!

 

He laughed with joy and clapped his hands.

 

“Don’t forget Alejandra” interjected Father Tony. “ She’s a spectacular cook. Her lumpia and adobo are legendary at St. Christopher’s!

 

Alejandra hugged Father Tony.

 

Senor Camacho smiled, then said, “vamanos!”

 

He led the way to the school bus. Alejandra and Father Tony climbed aboard first.

 

They were greeted by short, plump, gray-haired Father Valdivia, and three nuns. All four were all dressed casually, like they were going camping.

 

They stared at Father Tony’s bandages. ”My God!” the nuns whispered. “We heard shots! Is everything OK?  Asked Father Valdivia

 

“ Yes, Father, all is well. God’s good has prevailed. I’ll explain more to you later.” Father Tony winked at him. Father Valdivia gave a knowing nod.

 

One of the nuns spoke up. “Father Tony, where are sisters Margaret and Ellen?”

 

“They left Friday morning, before the flash, for a retreat in Angwin. Given what happened at our church, it was a blessing. I’m praying that they are safe there”

 

“So will we,” responded the sisters. They bowed their heads.

 

Don and Jerry wrestled the shopping cart on board, and each grabbed a beer. They offered beers to the priests. Both priests smiled, but declined. They took seats, and admired the beauty of Senor Camacho’s perfectly restored bus.

 

“Amazing!” they said in unison. They popped their beers. 

 

Don sipped his beer, and watched the three nuns praying. Suddenly, he felt a twinge of fear as he thought about his family in Emeryville.  Something happening inside compelled him to speak.

 

“Excuse me, sisters. Could you pray for my family? I don’t know how, because I don’t believe in God.”

 

The eldest nun, frail, 85-year old Sister Catherine, raised her tiny, neatly coiffed, gray-haired head. She looked at Don and smiled. “Honey, you don’t have to believe in God to pray!”

 

The 40-ish, tall, brunette and beautiful nun beside her, Sister Gloria, chimed in.” My dear, your lack of belief has no effect on God. God loves you unconditionally, because He is you, whether you believe it or not. Realizing and returning His unconditional love is the highest form of prayer. You don’t believe and pray because you’ve let your intellect and ego get in the way. They’re shouting so loud that you can’t hear God’s still small voice calling you to prayer.”

 

Don was stunned by the sister’s insight, emotion and frankness.

 

Young and pretty Sister Marie, a 21-year old novice, smiled at Don and added “ You don’t need to believe in God to pray , because real prayer is listening  for  God and feeling his presence within.  God is always speaking within you.  Just quiet your mind and open your heart. He speaks to everyone, no matter what they believe, or don’t believe. Your consciousness, filled with God from prayer, can create miracles. The people that you hold in consciousness- your family- may receive those miracles. It’s mysterious,. but true.”

 

“Your loving desires are prayer, and God hears every one,” offered Father Tony

 

Father Valdivia laughed.  “Aren’t you sorry you asked?” 

 

Don sheepishly looked away, “I’ve got a lot to learn,” he mumbled

 

“Me too.” Added Jerry.

 

.Louie and Kristin climbed aboard, and sat together.  Senor Camacho went to the driver’s seat, and started the bus. He tooted the horn, and motioned for the gunmen in the pickup truck to lead the way.  He yelled, “vamanos a ir Nueva Aztlan!” He began singing a norteno ballad, and followed the pickup to the ranch.  He had a beautiful, majestic voice.

 

Kristin listened attentively to Senor Camacho’s pretty singing, smiled, then leaned her head back against the seat. The bizarre events of the last 36 hours were taking their toll. She was physically and mentally exhausted. She looked over at Louie. Two big bandages covered the gash above his nose. His gray work shirt was stained with blood. He was staring out the window. He seemed lost in thought.

 

She mustered the energy to speak.

 

“Meditating again?”

 

Louie was also very tired, and was startled by Kristin’s voice. He put his arm around her and squeezed. She snuggled closer.

 

“ Yeah, I was just thanking my mom for teaching me to always practice the Presence.She taught me that there’s no problem that can withstand the presence of God consciousness- the consciousness of Oneness. She’d say, “Where illumined consciousness is, there is liberty.”

 

Kristin listened, drowsily. She laid her head on Louie’s shoulder, and whispered,

 

“So that’s what got us through all this stuff, and got us on this bus to Senor Camacho’s  heaven? Oneness?

 

“ Seems so”

 

“When we meet your mom, we’ll tell her all about it.”

 

“We?”

 

“ I’ve got to meet the woman who raised such a brave, sweet, kind and wise son. You’re  like that dude in that movie “The Ten Commandments.” What was his name?

 

“Moses”

 

“Yeah, Moses.  He met God, then lead his people out of danger and bondage  to the promised land .He  performed miracles. Kind of like you with that plane, Alejandra, last night, Don’s blood pressure,  the stuff at the church, and now this beautiful bus to heaven. I’ve got to read Mose’s story some day. What’s it called?

 

“Exodus”

 

 

fin

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EXODUS

 

“Quatro tortillas de harina para los burritos!” yelled Senor Camacho to his helpers in the kitchen. 

 

Those words were music to the ears of Louie Santiago. They meant that he had finally made it to the take-out counter at  the front of the 100- person deep lunchtime queue for Senor Camacho’s delectable carnitas burritos.

 

No one made carnitas like Senor Camacho and his Nueva Aztlan restaurant. His  restaurant was open just four days per week, Thursday  through Sunday, and they sold over eight tons of the delectable, crispy, savory, tender and unctuous carnitas. It was at least an hour’s wait for a table, and at least 30 minutes in line for one of  his legendary burritos, made with carnitas-stuffed, homemade tortillas smeared with creamy, lard- rich frijoles, and dressed with a bright- green  and nippy cilantro/ jalapeno/ tomatillo sauce.

 

Louie wiped drool from his lips as he watched Senor Camacho roll his four fat burritos. Senor Camacho was a short, stocky, gray-haired, handsome man who resembled the late, great actor Cesar Romero. He had parlayed his grandfather’s recipe for Jalisco-style carnitas into a small fortune that enabled him to own the large, 30-store strip mall that  his restaurant occupied, as well as a 500 –acre  ranch outside of Bodega where he raised the hogs and produce  for his restaurant  The ranch was also where he stored his estimable collection of vintage cars and trucks. He was a philanthropist, who supported the local Catholic churches.

 

He called his palatial ranch “Nueva Aztlan,” the name given to California by Mexico before the Mexican- American war.

 

Louie had great respect for Senor Camacho, and told him so.

 

“ You’re the best!” He exclaimed as he was handed his four, foil-wrapped, over stuffed beauties. Senor Camacho smiled graciously. “ Gracias, amigo.”

 

Louie bought a Jarrittos soda to drink with his lunch, and returned to his work van for the 60 mile drive home to Oakland. He’d eat while he drove, and talk to his brother and business partner, Victor, on Bluetooth.  He needed to discuss the billing for the plumbing work he’d  done that morning at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown  Santa Rosa, one of their biggest accounts.

 

He smacked his lips before he took the first glorious taste of his burrito. He took a bite, and yelled  “Hot damn, this is good!” 

 

He’d eat two burritos now, then drop off the others to his mom, Millie, in Oakland.  Mom loved Senor Camacho’s carnitas, and eagerly anticipated Louie’s Friday service calls to Santa Rosa. Louie always returned with burritos for her. He was a devoted son.

Louie knew that his mother was an amazing woman. She was a life-long Christian Scientist and student of New Thought metaphysics, and at 75 years old, she looked 50, and had never been sick a day in her life. She refused to retire, and still worked a 30 hour week as an English tutor of Hispanic students for the Oakland Public Schools.

 

Louie ‘s late father Jaime, and his brother Victor had never warmed to religion and God, and mom didn’t push them to embrace God, belief, or Christian Science.  She’d tell them “Atheist, agnostic or believer, it makes no difference.God knows your heart and soul, because God is your heart and soul!”  Because of his business partnership with Victor, Louie led a secular lifestyle. But he strongly felt mom’s spiritual power and the security of his own oneness with God, and frequently applied the spiritual wisdom that mom had taught him.

 

It was mom’s unique belief system, intellect and beautiful persona that made it difficult for Louie to find a wife. He wanted someone just like her, but so far, no luck. 

 

Louie pulled the van onto busy  southbound Highway 101, took a bite of burrito, then punched the office phone number for his talk with Victor. Susannah, the pretty young brunette secretary answered. Louie figured that if he couldn’t have a gorgeous wife, at least he could have a gorgeous secretary.

 

“Santiago Plumbing. This is Susannah. How may I help you?”

 

“Hi, Susannah”

 

“Hi, Louie. You sound like you’re eating.  Since it’s Friday, I’ll bet it’s carnitas, right?”

 

“You got it!  Too bad you’re a vegan.. You’d love ‘em!’

 

“I’ll stick to my tofu. You want to talk to Victor?”

 

“ Yeah, thanks.  Hey, are you and your boyfriend coming to Victor’s A’s game tailgate party tomorrow?  Victor’s taking my nephew Eddie to the game for his seventh……”

 

Suddenly, there was a blinding flash, like someone had popped a flashbulb in Louie’s face. His Bluetooth made a deafening pop.

 

Louie dropped his burrito. “Jesus Christ!  What the fuck!” He yelled.

 

The flash had momentarily blinded him, even though he was wearing sunglasses.

 

As he gathered his wits, he realized that the van had stalled. He instinctively hit the brakes, but with the engine off, the power brakes didn’t work.  As his vision returned, he

saw that his van had veered to the right, and had barely missed  hitting the car in front of

 him, which was also stalled.

 

He tried to start the van. The starter cranked, but the engine wouldn’t start, and none of his dashboard lights came on.

 

“What the hell?” He said.  “I just bought gas this morning, and this van’s damn near new!”

 

He rolled his window down and looked around. All about him, all he could hear was engines cranking. A chill went through his body as he saw nothing but a procession of stalled cars everywhere, in both directions. Traffic was at a dead stop.

 

“What the fuck?” He thought.

 

A balding, big, husky guy in a blue work shirt  with an angry look on his face  jumped out of the car in front of him. He approached Louie’s van, bellowing.

 

“Hey! What the hell are you doing?  What did you do to my car?”

 

Louie had been raised street-wise in Oakland.  He reached in the glove compartment for his Smith and Wesson 40 caliber pistol. He stuffed it down the front of his pants and got out of the van.

 

“I didn’t do anything, dude!” He answered. “Look around, man! Everybody’s stalled!’

 

The big guy stopped and looked.

 

“Shit! You’re right!”  What the hell is going on?”

 

All around them, on both sides of the six-lane highway, cars and trucks were stalled,  with grumbling drivers cranking their starters, or staring at their engines under open hoods.

 

“ I’ve never seen anything like it!What the fuck?”  The big guy looked at Louie and asked, ”Do you think that bright flash had anything to do with it?”

 

“I dunno” Said Louie. “I’m gonna call my brother in Oakland and see if anything happened down there.”

 

Louie reached for his phone.  The screen was dark  He pressed buttons. Nothing happened

 

“Shit! My phones’s dead too!  Try yours!”

 

The big guy returned to his car, and got in. Louie heard him yelling expletives.

 

He got out of his car, holding his phone.

 

“It’s dead. Nothing. I just bought the goddamn thing. What the hell, man?”

 

A beautiful 20-ish  blonde girl in a blue nurse’s uniform climbed out of a Honda Accord that was stalled behind Louie’s van.  Louie and the big guy stared at her appreciatively.

 

“Holy shit, great ass!”  Thought Louie.

 

She walked up to them. She was gorgeous, with almond shaped, green eyes. “What do you guys think is going on?  My car, my phone and my laptop are dead!I’m gonna be late for work, and I can’t even call!

 

 She was wearing an ID badge: “Kristin Dupree R.N.”

 

“We don’t know!” Said Louie.

 

 Big guy spoke up. “It’s got something to do with that bright flash because…”

 

“Oh my God! Look!” Shouted Kristin.  She pointed to the sky.

 

Just west of them, gliding slowly and silently down, was a large jet airliner.

 

“It’s engines are dead! It’s got no power! Yelled big guy.

 

The jet was banking to the right and left and would then level up, while slowly descending

 

“He’s flying on stick control ! He’s gonna land it on Orchard Road!

 

Louie suddenly recalled one of mom’s favorite New Thought sayings, something she told Louie to always remember;

 

“The  omnipresence of God, realized in consciousness, is the law of elimination to all forms of discord.”

 

“God is here. And all is well,” he thought.

 

They watched as the plane leveled off, then descended from view.

 

“All right!  There’s no smoke! He didn’t crash! He made it!  Said big guy.

 

“Thank God! Answered Louie

 

 Kristin was shocked and stunned by it all.

 

“ What’s happening, guys?  Planes coming down, cars stalling, and nothing works !  It’s crazy. It’s too much! What the hell is going on? 

 

“I don’t know, Kristin , but we can’t leave our cars out in the middle of the freeway. Let’s push them to the shoulder,” said Louie

 

Kristin got in her car and steered while Louie and big guy pushed it off the road.

 

She got out of her car and was about to step in Louie’s van to steer it when there was another flash of light, this time from the south.

 

“Oh, no, not again!” She screamed

 

She climbed into the van and sat still. Tears of fear were etched on her face.

 

Louie and big guy’s eyes were glued southward, because this time, the flash was accompanied by an ominous rumbling.

 

On the other side of the free way, a semi-truck driver had climbed to the top of his trailer for a better look.

 

“ See anything? Yelled Louie.

 

“Oh, yeah!  Jesus Christ! Look!”

 

Louie and big guy followed the driver’s gaze. Rising from the south was an enormous plume of churning black smoke. It was rising quickly, higher and higher, and began flattening out at the top

 

“Holy shit! Is that a mushroom cloud?”  Asked big guy, his voice cracking.

 

“I dunno, but whatever it is, it’s one helluva fire,” answered Louie.“Let’s get our cars off the road, and then try to find out what the fuck’s happening”

 

With the shell-shocked Kristin steering, Louie and big guy pushed the van and big guy’s car to the shoulder.

 

When they were done, Louie turned to big guy and stuck out his hand.

 

“ By the way, my name’s Louie Santiago. Santiago Plumbing.”

 

Big guy firmly grasped Louie’s hand.“ Jerry Simmons. I’d say I’m pleased to meet you, but I’d be lying my ass off.  I gotta get moving, ‘cause my kid’s expectin’ me to watch him play baseball this afternoon. He’s a star pitcher for Pinole Valley High.”

 

Louie tried to be friendly .“We’re both from down south. I’m from O-Town. Are you workin’ up here too?”

 

“Yeah. The construction outfit I work for is building a new extension at Kaiser Hospital.  I’m a foreman. I was headed home for a few beers and a relaxing weekend,

but it looks like that just got shot all to hell.”

 

Kristin had been looking south at the ever- expanding cloud. She saw something else in the distance.

 

“Hey, guys!  I see a CHP car down there a little ways. There’s a crowd of people around it.”

 

“Oh, good!”  Said Jerry. ”Thank God.  Let’s walk down there and see if we can find out what the hell’s going on.” 

 

Louie tucked his pistol into his waistband and covered it with his workshirt.

 

They began walking toward the CHP cruiser and had gone just a few yards when they heard “Excuse me, are you a nurse?”

 

Kristin turned toward a large black SUV on their left.  Louie and Jerry followed her gaze.

Sitting in the driver’s seat was a stocky, middle- aged Filipino woman. She looked pained and distraught.

 

Kristin walked over to the passenger window and peered in

 

“Yes. I’m a nurse.  Can I help you?

 

“I hope so. I’m having chest pains, bad chest pains!  I’m afraid that I’m having a heart attack!”

 

Kristin spoke to her very calmly. 

 

“ It’s probably a stress reaction to what’s going on. I’ll go back to my car. I have a paramedic kit with some medicine in it.  I’ll bring you something.”

 

Kristin walked back to her Honda and removed a large medical bag from the trunk.

She fished out three pill bottles, and emptied one pill from each into her palm She put the bag back in the trunk, and walked to the SUV.

 

“Here- put this little pill under your tongue. In a few seconds, your chest pain should stop.” She waited.

 

“Yes, it’s much better!” Said the woman

 

“Now, swallow these two pills with some water from your bottle. They will help your heart, and let you relax “

 

“Oh, God bless you!”

 

“When you get home, make sure you call your doctor and have him give you a stress test.

 I’m sure it will turn out fine.”

 

Louie and Jerry watched, admiring Kristin’s gentleness and professionalism, as well as her beauty and great figure. She was inspiring.

 

Louie suddenly had the urge to give the woman a silent Spiritual healing treatment.

 

Louie whispered, “God is omnipresent, omnipotent perfection everywhere, now. All are one with God and perfect in God, now. I fully accept in consciousness the perfection of all God’s expressions, now. I give thanks that perfection is revealed everywhere,  now, by grace, in a perfect way. So shall the word be that goes forth from my Soul. It shall not return to me void, but shall accomplish the good that I intend.  And so it is. Amen.

 

He looked at Kristin and the woman and smiled.

 

 Kristin patted the woman’s hand, said “Take care.”  She turned to Louie and Jerry, and resumed walking toward the CHP cruiser.

 

“ That was great,” commented  Louie. What did you give her?”

 

“A nitro tablet for her angina, an aspirin for her heart, and a Valium to calm her down.”

 

“I gave her a spiritual healing treatment, too.”

 

“Oh, you’re into that stuff?  You sure don’t look the type! A mystic plumber?”

 

“Well, you don’t exactly look like a nurse, either.  A Playboy bunny, maybe?”

 

Kristin giggled. “ Yeah, looks can be deceiving, that’s for sure!”

 

She flirtatiously punched Louie on the arm.  He grinned.

 

 They strode up to the crowd that surrounded the CHP cruiser.

 

A tall, gray haired officer stood outside the vehicle. The ID tag under his badge read McGinty.  He looked tense, but he spoke in a calm, measured tone.

 

“ There doesn’t seem to be any other emergency services available, and since I’ve got no  communications working, and my car’s out too,  I’m going to walk to the Rohnert Park CHP station to see what happened  It’s about seven miles, so it’ll take awhile. “

 

“Excuse me, officer,” said Jerry. ”We just got here. What do you think has happened?”

 

“ It’s EMP, believe me!” Interrupted  a short, half-bald guy in jean shorts and an orange SF Giants shirt.

 

“What’s EMP?” Asked Jerry. 

 

The short guy loudly explained;“It means electro- magnetic pulse. When a nuclear device is detonated, especially at a high altitude, the electrical pulse it creates can destroy semiconductors, like transistors, diodes, integrated circuits, microprocessors, and even some types of electrical cable. In essence, just about everything electronic  we use today is wiped out.  The Internet, computers, phones, TVs, appliances, cars, trucks, planes, you name it.  That plane that went down a few minutes ago probably had some limited control because its backup system used lead acid- batteries, which are immune to EMP. That’s why your cars still crank; they use lead-acid batteries.”

 

 

“Well, let’s not assume anything,” said McGinty  I’ve heard that solar flares can cause  temporary electrical outages. Maybe all our stuff will come back on after awhile.”

 

“Bull shit, officer. Get  real!  That flash was no solar flare!” The short guy was red-faced with anger . He pointed to the giant black, roiling cloud that hovered to the south. “And that’s no solar flare.  It’s a nuke, a goddamn nuke!  Those Islamic fucks got their hands on a nuke, and  bombed San Francisco, just like Michael Savage, the radio commentator, said they would.”

 

“Oh, lord, lord!” Cried a large black woman in the crowd.

 

“So what do we do ? Asked Kristin

 

“Get used to living back in the 1880’s. That’s where we’ll be for a long , long time.”

 

Kristin looked frantic. “So all our cars, phones, computers and everything else electronic  is destroyed?”

 

“Yep,’ fraid so! And our fucking political leaders knew this was coming, and did nothing!”

 

“Well, I don’t want to get into that right-wing blame - game shit,” said Jerry. I just want to get home to Pinole and watch my kid play baseball.”

 

“Well, you better find a bicycle, a horse, or start walking. Then hope to hell that Pinole still exists!” Said the short guy.

 

“Oh! Fuck me!” cried Jerry. He knelt on the ground and buried his head in his hands.

 

Louie walked over and stood near him.

 

“I got your back, dude” He said.  We’ll all have to help each other get home.”

 

“If we have a home left, “ sniffed Jerry.

 

A pretty young brunette girl wearing a gold necklace, expensive designer sandals and abig red straw hat spoke up.

 

“Officer, if it was a nuke, should we be concerned about radiation?

 

“ I’m no expert on this stuff, but that big cloud seems to be blowing to the east.” Said McGinty.

 

The short guy responded. “It’s still a good idea for everybody to get indoors. For now, we should stay in our cars. But, the other thing we need to worry about tonight are bandits.

There could be a lot of opportunistic, lawless assholes out there tonight trying to break into cars and rob us. We’ll be safer if we stay in the cars that are right here and remain as a group.”

 

“ That’s a great idea” said McGinty, but I’d recommend that those who are able to walk the seven miles come with me to the CHP station.”

 

“That shoots me down” said Jerry.  I’m still recovering from foot surgery. Plantar fascitis.”

 

Kristin chimed in,  “ Yes, I’m a nurse, and I’d caution anyone with improper or ill-fitting  shoes to be very careful on such a long walk.  Bad shoes can cause a blister, a  blister can pop, bleed,  get infected and render you unable to stand or walk. I’ve seen it happen many times. So, if you go, please be careful.”

 

“Are you going, Kristin?” asked Louie.

 

“ No, I think I’ll say here, save my feet and guard my stuff.”

 

“Me too”, said Louie. “I’ve got about 20 grand worth of plumbing equipment in my van.”

 

McGinty listened, then added “ Well, those who are going to stay should get to one of the  stores nearby right away for food,  water and toiletries. They might be in short supply pretty soon.”

 

The small group began to break up. McGinty, the black woman, the pretty young brunette girl and six others began walking to the CHP station. Louie, Jerry, Kristin, the short guy and a woman driving a brand new BMW stayed with their cars.

 

The short guy walked up to Jerry and held out his hand.

 

“ Hi, I’m Don Zeno. Sorry I had to give you all that bad news. But, I’ m just as worried as you are.  I’ve got two kids and a wife myself. I’m hoping that this thing didn’t take out Emeryville, ‘cause I’ll lose everything- my family, my home, and my job. I’m an electrical contractor. Or, I was..”

 

He began to choke with emotion.

Jerry patted him on the back.  “Hang on, Don. We’ll all get home somehow.”

 

 Four of them walked to a freeway exit that lead to a 7-11 store. The woman in the BMW decided that she’d leave her car on the road, and rent a room at a nearby Ramada Inn.

 

The freeway traffic jam and remote roadside location of the store meant that it hadn’t yet been picked clean by the local populace. With no electricity, the interior of the store was very dim.

 

As the group stepped in, the proprietor, a frantic looking Indian woman, yelled at Kristin.

 

“Hello, miss. Are you a nurse?”

 

“Jeezus, here we go again! .” Mumbled Jerry

 

“ Yes, I am,” answered Kristin. “Something wrong?”

 

The woman grew more excited and began speaking loud and fast, with a heavy accent.

 

“My husband can’t see! He was looking up in sky when big flash come, now he can’t see!”

 

Kristin looked at the group and grimaced. “ Oh dear,” she muttered

 

“Where is your husband?”

 

“He’s in the back room. I have wet cloth on his eyes.”

 

Kristin followed the woman to the back room, while Louie and the others began filling a shopping cart with food. Jerry and Don headed straight for the beer, and began loading the cart.

 

Kristin saw a tall, neatly dressed and handsome man in his mid-forties. He had a wet white towel wrapped around his face

 

“Hello, sir, my name is Kristin. I’m a nurse. Your wife said that you were looking in the sky and saw the flash?”

 

“Yes, miss.  Now I am blind!  Blind!  Who would set off such a thing? Why are people so evil?”

 

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. My guess is that the flash burned your retinas. The best thing for you to do is to keep your eyes covered. Your sight might return in a few hours.”

 

“And if it doesn’t?”

 

“Well, you might require eye surgery, but let’s be optimistic. Time will tell.”

 

“So in the mean time, I pray, right?” Thanks for your advice, miss.”

 

“My friend will pray for you too. He’s a mystic.”

 

Kristin turned, and said, “Louie, could you come here for a minute?”

 

Louie put the big bag of Doritos and 12 pack of beer he was carrying into the cart.

 

“Coming, dear!” He chortled.  He walked to the back room and smiled at Kristin.

 

Kristin looked very somber, but tried to smile back. “Louie, this gentleman might benefit from one of your healing prayers. Can you help him?

 

Louie looked sympathetically at the man’s covered eyes. He glanced at Kristin. She forlornly gazed downward. He gently put his hand on the man’s shoulder.

 

“Of course I can,” he said.  “My mom taught me this special prayer when I was a kid. It’s called the Unity prayer of protection.  It’s a favorite of soldiers and policeman all over the world. It’s also a fine healing prayer, because it affirms our perfect Oneness with God. I’ll say it with you now.

 

“The light of God surrounds us. The love of God enfolds us.  The power of God protects us.  The presence of God perfects us. We and God are one, so all is well”.

 

“That’s very beautiful.” said the man. Please say it again so I can remember it.”

 

“Sure. I’ll repeat it, and I’ll also write it down for you and your wife. Thousands of people have claimed that the prayer has helped them.”

 

“Thank you, Louie. You are a kind man.”

 

“Well, like my mom says, “ Sooner or later, we all realize that kindness is our only strength”

 

The man sighed. “ If only those idiots who caused the flash knew that!”

 

“Tell me about it.” Lamented Kristin.

 

Louie grasped the man’s hand, and said. “All will be well”

 

“Thank you, sir.  And please pray for everyone else, too We’re all going to need it now!”

 

Kristin patted the man’s arm, then  returned to the store. She spoke to his wife.

 

“Keep his eyes covered for a few hours. He should be OK.”

 

“Oh, thank you, miss!” Shouted the wife. She took Kristin’s hand and kissed it.

 

Kristin gave her a small smile.

 

Louie, Jerry and Don rolled the beer, chip, sandwich and candy bar laden cart up to the counter.

 

Kristin laughed. “ Jeezus, guys, you managed to include the five most important food groups. Alcohol, salt, fat, caffeine and sugar.  Good work!”

 

The three men roared with hilarity. “Proper nutrition is about the last thing on my mind right now” Said Don “What I’m really thinkin’ is, how the hell do we pay for this stuff? All I have is a Visa card, and now, it’s totally useless.”

 

“I got cash,” answered Louie. The place where I bought burritos today is cash only, so I hit the ATM before I went there.”

 

“ Cash only! Burritos! Exclaimed Jerry. “Are you talkin’ about Nueva Aztlan?  Were you in line up there this afternoon? Jesus Christ, I thought you looked familiar! I was in there eatin’ with my crew. You were the guy that  yelled “You’re the best!” to the owner. One of the guys in my crew heard you and said, ‘Now there’s a dude who knows what’s good’ honest to God!”

 

Louie chuckled. “ If you ever fire that guy, tell him I’ll hire him!”

 

Jerry laughed and shook his head. “Jeezus, what a coincidence!”

 

 Louie shrugged. “ Well, like my mom says, ‘Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous’.”

 

 “Damn, your mom is full of wise little gems, isn’t she? Commented Kristin. ”I’d like to meet her.”

 

“Well, if you’re ever in Oakland..” Louie replied

 

“Assuming Oakland still exists.” Interjected Don.

Don’s tactless remark dampened the group’s good spirits. Louie dutifully paid for the supplies, and the group silently left the store with the cart. They began rolling it back onto the freeway to where their cars were stalled.

 

As soon as they left the store, Louie asked Kristin, “You seemed kind of down when you were helping that poor guy at the store.”

 

Kristin bristled with anger.  “ Well,  Jeezus, Louie, how can you tell somebody that they’re blind for life? His retinas got fried by the flash.  Unless he gets surgery right away, he’ll never see again! And, where’s he gonna get surgery, if what Don says is true! He’s fucked! We’re all fucked!

 

She began to cry. She picked up her pace to walk ahead of the group.

 

As she passed a black SUV, she heard “ Nurse! Miss nurse!

 

The Filipino woman that she had treated earlier was beckoning her over.

 

“Jesus H. Christ! Not again! Poor Kristin!  Jerry bellowed.

 

Kristin reluctantly stepped over to talk with her.

 

“I want to thank you, nurse! I’m feeling much better. I was going to leave my car and walk over to my church, St. Christopher’s. It’s just four blocks away.I was on my way over there for confession when that flash hit, and everything stopped. What do you think happened?”

 

“Nobody really knows.  I don’t know.  But going to your church is a great idea. You’ll have a lot of supportive, good people gathered there. It’s a safe place to be.”

 

“Do you want to go with me? If you don’t, where will you stay?”

 

“Well, I ‘ll stay in my car. I’ve got three good guys that will look after me.’

 

“With pleasure!” Yelled Louie, Jerry and Don, almost in unison.

 

“ Ay dios mio,” said the woman. If only I were young and beautiful again, I’d stay with you!”

 

They all laughed, and Kristin bent into the SUV and kissed the woman on the cheek.

 

“I’m Kristin”

”I’m Alejandra. If you have any trouble, please come over to my church. It’s right over there.” She pointed to a large cathedral building about a mile away. “Father Tony is my priest. He’s a wonderful man, very young, very handsome, very liberal and very accepting. He will welcome you all.”

 

“Well, thank you, Alejandra.  It’s good to have a plan B.  Take care.”

 

Kristin turned to face the guys.

 

“Well, if all else fails,” she quipped

 

“And only if the church has earthquake and fire insurance,” said Don. I’m a devout atheist. God will see me in there and knock the place down! “

 

“I haven’t been to church since I was ten years old” added Jerry. “The only God I believe in is money”

 

“Well, you know where I stand,” stated Louie. “How about you, Kristin?”

 

She thought for a moment, then replied. “I’m a nurse. I see spiritual miracles happen every day. I think that people like Louie and his mom are onto something, but I haven’t taken the time to think about it or understand it. Some day I will.”

 

“Let me know when you’re ready!” Offered Louie

 

“I will” She answered.

 

Jerry  interrupted .” Guys, the church thing is plan B. What we need to do right now is figure out which cars we’re going to stay in tonight. Since we’re parked together, I’d say that we put all our valuables in the middle vehicle, Louie’s van. I’d also recommend that we turn Kristin’s car around so that it faces north. That way, if what Don says is true,  and bandits show up tonight, we can watch from both directions.”

 

“Good thinking.” Louie raised his work shirt and showed the handle of his pistol.

 

Don and Jerry nodded appreciatively.

 

“Anybody else packing?” Louie asked

 

”I carry a baseball bat” Bragged Jerry. “  I use mace,” offered  Don.

 

“Jeezus , Louie, have you been walking around with that thing stuck in your pants all this time? My God!” Yelled Kristin.

 

“My brother bought it for me, Kristin. We’re from Oakland. Even nuns pack guns in Oakland!”

 

“ And I thought you were some holier- than- thou mystic,” she laughed

 

“ I am,” Louie answered .”We’re all holy, except some of us don’t know it yet. The unholy are the ones who cause all the trouble. They don’t feel God or spiritual consciousness, but they do feel this. He patted the gun. My brother doesn’t believe in God or metaphysics, so I carry this gun to make him feel better. He owns half of our business.”

 

“But with you, it’s pray first, shoot later!” Joked Kristin

 

“Exactly!” Agreed Louie. “And later, if you like, we’ll recite Psalm 91.  If you believe and accept what it says, you’ll never need a gun, mace, or a baseball bat .”

 

Kristin looked at Louie, and shook her head in confusion.

 

“This is all very interesting,” declared Don,” but I’m dyin’ for a sandwich and a beer!”

 

“Amen!” Shouted Jerry, sarcastically.

 

They pushed the cart to where the cars were parked. Jerry opened the driver and passenger doors of his sedan, and he and Don took seats. They each grabbed a beer and a sandwich from the cart. They opened their beers and clicked cans.

 

“To better days!” Don toasted.

 

They both looked south, to the massive black cloud that now obscured the horizon

 

“ And may God help us all,” muttered Jerry.

 

Louie opened the door to his van, reached in, and grabbed the two remaining burritos.

 

He smiled at Kristin.

 

“ Please .Tell me you’re not a vegan”

 

“Shit, Louie, are you kidding?  I’m a fucking omnivore! I’ll eat anything that’s not still breathing, as long as it doesn’t smell like shit.  I even ate a goddamn ghost pepper last week. Thought I was going to die.!”

 

Louie roared with laughter. He stared at Kristin affectionately. She was his type of girl.

 

“Well, Kristin, just because you’re beautiful, sweet, intelligent, a damn fine nurse and mainly because my van won’t run, I’m going to share something very precious with you. My last two burritos from Nueva Aztlan, the single finest Mexican restaurant in the world!”

 

Kristin stared at Louie with delight. “All right!” Thanks, Louie, I’m starved!”

 

Louie unwrapped both burritos, and gave one to Kristin

 

She bit into it hungrily.

 

Her beautiful green eyes opened wide with surprise.

 

With her mouth full, she looked at Louie and shrieked “ Oh my God, Louie,  this is fucking delicious!’

 

Jerry looked up from his sandwich, and said  “What’s delicious?”

 

“My last two burritos from Nueva Aztlan”

 

“Thanks for sharing., you asshole.” Grumbled Jerry

 

Louie and Kristin roared.

 

They all became quiet and pensive as they sipped beer and enjoyed their food.

 

An old, heavyset men with a pronounced limp walked by, heading north.  He looked over at the group and smiled.

 

“Making the most of a bad situation, I see! He quipped. “Any idea what happened?”

 

“Not sure,” answered Louie. “Some say it was a nuke.”

 

The man shook his head, and kept on walking while he spoke.

 

“Well, it had to happen, it was inevitable, with all the crazies around today. I just wish I’d been home at the time”

 

“ Don’t we all!” Said Don “Where’s home?”

 

“Ukiah. I’ve got a sixty mile walk”

 

Don shook his head. “Well, good luck!”

 

“Right” He kept on walking.

 

Kristin muttered, “Poor thing, he’ll never make it. I wonder if any of us will ever make it home?”  Her eyes teared up.

 

“ Wondering and worrying about stuff is futile and useless, Kristin. ” offered Louie. “What’s important is what’s happening now. Let’s enjoy our lunch and get some rest. When tonight comes we’ll deal with it then. When tomorrow comes, we’ll do what intuition tells us to. I have a rule that I live by, ‘Now is the only time, and God’s grace is sufficient for the needs of the moment’ To me, that’s all that life really means.”

 

“Wow, you really are a big ball of spirituality, aren’t you? Snapped Kristin, sarcastically.

 

“Am I getting on your nerves? Joked Louie.

 

“No, not really.  It’s just that I’ve been paying a shrink $200 an hour to help me with a worry problem that you just solved in ten seconds”

 

“Anything for a pretty girl,” he declared.

 

Jerry let out a huge beer belch to get attention. Louie and Kristin looked at him and laughed. 

 

 “Hey, you guys, it’s gonna get dark soon. We need to get organized.I think that Don and me should crash in my car, facing south, and that you guys should crash in Kristin’s

 car, facing north. If any shit happens, we can all get out and jump in Louie’s van.”

 

“Sounds good,” agreed Don.  “We should all take turns staying awake until morning.

I’ll take the four a.m to dawn shift. Ever since I was in the Army, I’ve gotten up at four a.m.”

 

“And I’ll go from dusk to four,” replied Louie. I’ll meditate. To me, it’s more restful than sleep”

 

“Jeez”, blurted Kristin, Jerry and Don, almost in unison.

 

The sun was setting at 8pm when they went to their respective cars and settled in. Kristin lay in the back of her Honda, while Louie reclined on the passenger seat. Jerry sprawled in the front of his sedan, while Don folded his jacket over himself and snoozed in the back.

 

At 10 pm, all hell broke loose. At first, the sounds of windows breaking, gunshots, yelling and screaming seemed far away. Then the sounds got closer, like a ruinous mob was approaching, leaving mass destruction in its wake. 

 

Kristin awoke from her nap, and sat up, trembling. Louie was already out of the car, watching a  motley, noisy crowd of men and women descend on a huge hardware store directly alongside the freeway. In the distance, at the Ramada Inn, smoke and flames billowed from the upper floors. Screams and yelling filled the air.

 

Kristin got out of the car and grabbed Louie’s arm. She gasped in horror as she saw a large black woman try to fling a huge rock through the store’s front window, only to be blown three feet in the air by the loud blast from a store owner’s shotgun.  The crowd began to scatter

as shotgun blasts and automatic weapons fire started mowing them down. Kristin  counted 12 bodies lying in the parking lot.  Four men exited the store. Two held shotguns and two held automatic rifles They kept firing at the crowd, then stopped to survey the carnage. Suddenly, more gunfire erupted. Louie pulled Kristin down to the pavement. One of the men from the store was hit, and cried out in pain.  The other men ran back inside the store, leaving the wounded man in the parking lot. His wails of agony soon mingled with the moans and screams of the other wounded that littered the parking lot. “Oh, dear God,” wept Kristin.

 

Jerry and Don ran up to Kristin’s car, crouching.  Gunfire sounded all around.

 

“Jesus Christ,” yelled Don. “This is worse than Iraq!”

 

Two flaming objects arced through the air and landed on the roof of the store. Soon, flames and smoke were visible from the store’s roof. A smaller mob attemped to break the store’s windows with bricks.  Five more shotgun blasts and rapid bursts of weapons fire mowed down another ten people. Their tortured screams of intense pain joined the cacophony of misery that echoed through the night.

 

The store’s roof was now completely engulfed in flames. Three men from the store ran to the parking lot, and dragged their screaming, wounded friend to an ancient Chevy pick-up truck. They tossed him in the back. One man with an automatic rifle crouched in the back of the truck, firing random bursts of gunfire in a circle, while the other men jumped in the cab, started the truck, and rapidly drove away.

 

Jerry crouched on his knees and looked on with amazement.

 

“What the fuck’s that all about? How come their truck still runs?”

 

 “It’s got an old Kettering ignition. Points,  plugs, condenser and coil. It’s EMP proof ” Explained Don.

 

  “Fuck me,” said Jerry ”My old 75 Ford truck has points. Why didn’t I drive it up here

today? I’d be home right now.”

 

“Don’t count on it,” commented  Don.

 

By this time, the store was completely on fire. Paint and chemicals began exploding inside, and the heat became intense.

 

“Everybody! Get in my van! “Yelled Louie.

 

They all climbed in, as smoke, pillars of fire and explosions burst from the ruined building. While the heat outside was unbearable, the interior of the van was cool. 

 

Panicked cries for help and screams of agony streamed from the multitude of wounded that lay in the store’s parking lot, as they slowly burned to death.

Kristin covered her ears. “This is worse than hell! She shouted.

 

“The only positive thing is that the fire will keep the bandits from attacking us tonight .” declared Don.

 

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” answered Louie.

 

“Got any prayers that will get us out of this mess?” Asked Jerry.

 

“Yeah. I’ve been meditating on Psalm 91 ever since I heard the mob of bandits coming. It’s a prayer of protection.  I’ll recite it for you.”

 

“He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.  You shall not be afraid of the terror by night; nor of the arrow that flies by day.Nor by the pestilence that walks in darkness; nor by the destruction that wastes at noon..A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.”

 

“So how do we dwell in the secret place of the most high? Where the hell is that?”

 

“ The secret place of the most high is your own consciousness when it’s fully aware of  your oneness with the omnipresence of God.”

 

“But I don’t believe in God!” Interjected Don.

 

“Well, God believes in you, whether you believe it or not.” 

 

 Jerry pondered Louie’s latest sermon, then stated, “I think I’ll just hope for the best, keep my baseball bat handy, and leave the praying to you.”

 

“That’ll work.” Louie agreed.

 

Kristin sat on a toolbox in the rear of the van, with fingers stuck in her ears to drown out the tortured wails and fiery explosions coming from outside.  She gave Louie an anguished look.

 

“Louie, what kind of God would permit a living hell like this?” No wonder Don and Jerry are atheists!”

 

“It’s a long story, Kristin. And this isn’t the time to tell it. But I’ll assure you that God is here, in your consciousness, despite what you see appearing outside. Let’s just pray that this horrible stuff passes over us tonight. In spite of what we see, we are still One with God.”

 

  Debris from the fire began falling on the roof of the van. The sides of the van began warping from the heat, making a clanging sound. The interior of the van remained cool.

 

Kristin, Jerry and Don leaned back, covering their ears with their hands to try to smother  the endless cries of misery from the tortured, dying hoard that lay in the burning remains of the store. Louie sat with eyes closed, in meditation.

 

They remained in those positions for hours. By 3am, the fire had burned itself out. The screaming, yelling and gunshots had also ceased. Louie grabbed Kristin’s arm and led her out of the van and to the back seat of her car. “Lay down and sleep” He said. “You’re safe now.” Kristin kissed him on the cheek and lay on the seat. Louie covered her with his jacket, sat in the passenger seat and dozed.

 

With daylight at 7am and in  the still morning air, came the stench. The smell of burnt wood, paint and rubber mixed with the foul odors of scorched human hair, skin and  bloated, roasted corpses.

 

Jerry and Don climbed from the van and relieved themselves on the side of the road.

They both began retching from the smell.

 

“I can’t stand this shit!” Jerry wailed. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

 

Kristin exited her car, grabbed her bag from the trunk, and ran to the hidden shelter of some roadside shrubs to heed the morning call.  When she emerged, she had a rag tied over her mouth and nose.

 

She approached Louie and said, “When I was in medical school, we did an autopsy on some house fire victims. They smelled just like this.  Let’s get out of here, because that smell can damage us psychologically.”

 

They walked over to Don and Jerry. Louie winced when he saw the side of his van. The heat from the fire had bubbled off most of the paint. The only remains of his

“Santiago Plumbing” sign were a large  “S” and an “ing” 

 

“I like that”quipped Kristin. “S ing”

 

“Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling, that everything’s going my way.” Joked Louie

 

Don looked at Jerry with amazement “ See, Jerry? I told you that fucker was crazy!”

 

They all laughed, uneasily.

 

“We need to get out of here” said Louie. “ The smell is unbearable. We made it through last night ‘cause the fire kept the creeps away. Tonight we might not be so lucky. Any ideas?”

 

 

 

“I vote for the CHP station” said Don. We need the cop’s fire power against the bandits.

 

“ Well, what about Jerry? He can’t walk seven miles with his bad feet!” Argued Kristin

 

Don appeared irritated, then said “Well, we’ll put him in the shopping cart and push his fat ass over there.”

 

Jerry roared with laughter and yelled  “Now who’s crazy? Are you out of your mind?”

 

“Then let’s walk to the church that Alejandra talked about. It’s only a mile away, and maybe they’ve got coffee. I could kill for a cup,” offered Kristin.

 

“I’ll vote with Kristin” said Louie. Let’s load the cart with as much as we can carry, and walk over there. Any place is better than where we are.”

 

“Maybe there will be a drugstore along the way. I’m on blood pressure meds, and I’ve already missed two doses.” Revealed Don.

 

“That’s not good,” stated Kristin. “I’ve got a blood pressure reader in my bag. Come over to my car and I’ll check it.”  She fished the device from her paramedic bag, and clamped  the cuff on Don’s arm. She pumped it up.

 

Louie watched in silence, and prayed. “He is perfect in God”

 

Kristin monitored the device, and when it registered, she said ” 115 over 75, heart rate of 70.” Damn, Don, you’re blood pressure’s lower than mine, and I don’t take meds!”

 

“It’s probably because my wife and kids aren’t around to bug me!” Don jested.

 

Louie smiled at the results and said ” Let’s load the cart with just the essentials and get going. Maybe we can find more food and water on the way.”

 

Kristin tossed her paramedic bag in the cart. She bent over and kissed her Honda good bye. Louie added a flashlight, hammer and hatchet from his van. Jerry took his baseball bat, and Don his mace.

 

They rolled the cart off the freeway and headed toward St. Christopher’s Catholic church .

 

The commercial street they traveled was littered with damaged cars, broken glass and bullet casings. Most of the stores had broken windows and damaged doors. The only store that was intact was a large supermarket.  Three armed guards stood by the door.

 

Jerry yelled, “Are you open for business?” 

 

“Yeah, but cash only. And a five minute time limit inside ”

 

Louie counted his cash. He had $100. He and Kristin walked up to the store .One of the tall, burly guards lowered his shotgun and handed Louie a flashlight. “Make it quick.” He ordered.  Louie headed for the water jugs, while Kristin loaded up on canned goods and a can-opener.

 

“Get some more chips and beer!” Yelled Jerry  “And Tequila!” added Don

 

Louie and Kristen carried their baskets of goods to a checkstand, where a lone checker looked at all the stuff, and said “Give me $30.”

 

“$30? That’s all?” Objected Louie.

 

“I can’t scan any prices without power, so I just have to guesstimate,” replied the checker.

 

“Well, thanks!” Louie answered, as he handed aver the cash.

 

They bagged the food, left the store and crammed the goods in the heavily-laden  cart.

 

The remainder of the walk to St. Christopher’s was like walking through a bombed -out city.  The street was full of abandoned, plundered cars, torched buildings, broken glass and debris.

 

Right before they arrived at the church, they came upon a most gruesome sight.  Crumpled against the wall of a gutted auto-parts store were seven bodies. Spray-painted

on the wall above them was a sign- “Looters.”

 

“ Oh, shit! Vigilantes!” Exclaimed Don.  “They can be worse than the bandits. The sooner we get off the street, the better!”

 

They hurried their pace, and pushed to cart to the broad brick staircase that led to the heavy, ornate wooden doors of St Christopher’s church.

 

Jerry climbed the stairs and tried the doors.

 

” Shit. They’re locked,” he muttered. He pounded on them.

 

Louie whispered, “Father. Help us.”

 

“Let me try,” said Kristin

 

She mounted the stairs, grabbed a door handle and pulled. Suddenly, the door burst open  A short, stocky, black haired woman rushed past her, jumped down the stairs and ran up the street

 

“Get your ass back here!” Yelled someone from inside the church. An old, tall, skinny, tattooed and disheveled man with a long gray beard pushed past Kristin and began looking up and down the street.

 

“Fuck!” He screamed. “Where did she go? Who unlocked that fuckin’ door?” 

 

He was joined on the steps by an obese, tough-looking, tattooed and homely Samoan woman in a red straw hat. Beside her was a thin, dread locked African man in filthy, baggy sweat pants and a worn blue hoodie. Behind them stood a handsome, young, casually dressed, dark- haired man with a neatly trimmed goatee.

 

“Run!” Screamed the young man to Kristin.

 

The African yelled ”Shut the fuck up!” and backhanded the young man across the mouth with a loud slap. He fell down.

 

Louie’s group stood mesmerized and  speechless.

 

“Uh, maybe we’ll just keep moving,” said Kristin

 

The bearded man grabbed her arm. “The fuck you will, my cute little nursie.”

 

Louie, Don and Jerry started up the stairs toward him. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a Sig Sauer  pistol.  He pointed it at them.

 

‘Don’t get excited, boys. Just get your asses in here. And bring that fuckin’ cart. He looked at Kristin with a leer. ”And you too, sweet thing.”

 

“She sho’ is fine. Damn!” Said the woman. ”I wants me a little taste of that!”

 

The African man began pushing the three men into the church.Jerry turned around and grabbed him by the throat. Don kicked him in the crotch. He groaned and crumpled to the floor. Louie started for the bearded man but was met by the pistol against his forehead. The woman pulled a  buck knife and pointed it at Kristin .”Get yo’ fine little bootie in here, cupcake.” She licked her lips, then glared at the bearded man

 

“Waste’em, Gary!” She yelled.

 

Gary stared at Louie’s group. ‘You folks better calm down, and start actin’ like Father Tony over there, real peaceful, or I’ll blow you all away, one by one.” 

 

At gunpoint, Gary forced the group into the dim, cavernous chapel, with its ornate stained glass windows. 20 pews lined each side of the chapel’s broad aisle. At the head of the aisle was an alter, and above that a huge marble statue of the crucified Christ .Giant  gothic gold candelabras flanked the statue .The atmosphere inside the church was shadowy,  cold and eerie. 

 

The African man got up from his beating, rubbed his sore neck and mumbled to Gary, “Let’s take them out back before we shoot them. I don’t want to have to drag their bodies out of here”

 

“Good thinking, Darnell. That fat one weighs about 300 pounds.”

 

”Fuck you!” Yelled Jerry

 

“ Don’t waste’em outside, someone will hear the shots!”  The woman advised.

 

“Yeah, Amy, you’re right.”  Besides, I wanna fuck with them a little first, especially the priest and blondie over there.”snickered Gary.

 

“Me too !” Said Amy

 

 “Me three” Laughed  Darnell.

 

Father Tony was back on his feet. He stood behind Louie. He bellowed at Gary. “  You’re going to pay a steep price for the evil that you’re committing in this holy place. There was a reason why God let Alejandra get away!”

 

 

“Well, fuck God and Alejandra.” Answered Gary.  “God won’t do shit, and Alejandra’s  too old and fucked up to run more than a block. She’s probably dead of exhaustion already!”

 

Kristin was stunned at what she’d just heard. The woman fleeing the church was Alejandra!

 

She stared at the red straw hat and jewelry that the gross and smelly Amy had on.  It was the same red hat and jewelry that the pretty little brunette who’d walked away with officer McGinty had been wearing!

 

She felt sick.

 

Amy grabbed her by the arm. “Better search this bitch and those three motherfuckers before we do anything else, Gary,” she urged.

 

“Help me search em’, Darnell” Gary ordered.

 

“I’ll search the cupcake” Announced Amy.  She pulled  Kristin up by the hair,placed her hands on her butt and squeezed. “Feels yummy” She laughed. She began kissing Kristin’s neck and rubbing her all over. Kristin cringed her nose with disgust.  Amy reeked.

 

While Gary and Darnell searched Don and Jerry, they ignored Louie.  Louie quickly turned to Father Tony and handed him his money and his pistol. Father Tony stuffed them down the front of his jeans.

 

Don had also been staring at Amy’s red hat. He recognized it as the hat the pretty young brunette had been wearing,.  “Hey, Miss Piggy, where’d you steal that hat?”

 

Amy glared at him, and pulled her buck knife.  She walked over to Don and waved the knife under his throat. “Let me cut him, Gary,” she pleaded.

 

“Then you’ll clean up all the blood.”

 

“Fuck that!” she bellowed. I’ll wait till we take ‘em out back, then I’ll cut his little dick off.”

 

“You’re lucky you’ve got that knife, you fat, disgusting, stinking  pig, and that Hillbilly Jim here has that gun, otherwise the three of you would be dead,” snapped Don.

 

“ Give it time, Don.” Added Louie.

 

“What are you, a fuckin’ fortune teller?” Asked Gary

 

”No, I just know how Lady Karma works, and I’ve got a feeling she’ll be coming to see you soon.”

 

“Amen!” Exclaimed Father Tony.

 

“Well, maybe Lady Karma will keep her distance after I tell you losers how Amy got her hat,” explained Gary. “We was headed up north from Berkeley to sell meth to them kids at that big rock concert in Clear Lake this weekend. We got as far as Rohnert Park when that flash hit.  Me an’ Darnell are like ‘what the fuck’? but Amy sees that every other car is stopped, and that her phone is dead. She’s all like, ‘shit, this is big!’ So, we get out and start walkin’ and it’s plain to see that no one can call the cops, ‘cause there ain’t no phones. So we used Amy’s knife and started jackin’ women and faggy guys for their money and shit.. Amy cut one dude pretty good, and Darnell knocked  a couple of bitches out, but other than that, nobody got hurt. But then I thought, ‘ what we need is a gun.’ Now, I had to hock my piece to get cash for gas up to Clear Lake. So, I’m lookin’ for another piece.’”

 

“Anyway, as luck would have it, walkin’ towards us is a group of people with a CHP officer, with this cute little bitch in a big red hat..  Amy’s all like, ‘ I want that hat!’  I’m all like, ‘ I want that cop’s gun!” So Amy walks up to the cop real nice and says.’Excuse me officer, do you know what happened? ‘And before the cop can answer, she stabs him in the liver, then pulls the knife all the way up to his chin. The little brunette bitch in the hat started screamin,’ so Amy pulled the knife out of the cop, and got the little bitch in the throat, right through the jugular.  Shit, between her and the cop, we had blood spurtin’.everywhere!  The rest of the group ran like hell.  The cop was dead, so I reached down and got his piece. I even took his fuckin’ little name badge, McGinty. Darnell is a horny bastard, so he dragged the cute little brunette’s body off into the bushes, and fucked the shit out of it. When he was done, he pulled off her red hat and jewelry,  and gave them to Amy’”

 

“That little bitch was still a virgin!” Laughed Darnell

 

“And her hat looks good on me, doesn’t it?” Sneered Amy.”I looked good enough for Father fagbait here to let us into the church. I told him I needed confession. I said ‘Father, I just killed a cop and a teenager!’ Then I showed him my knife. Gary didn’t want to me to kill him, because he thought he was cute. Gary did time in Quentin, so he likes the pretty boys. That old bag Alejandra was the only other person in the church, and horny Darnell wouldn’t let me cut her, because he heard that Filipinos give good head’”

 

“You sick bastards!” Yelled Jerry

 

“Well, you wanted to know how Amy got her hat, so now you know. Tell Lady Karma to stick that in her pipe and smoke it.” chuckled Gary

 

“She’ll be smoking you, soon enough” said Louie.

 

”Amen,” added Father Tony, with revulsion.

 

“Fuck all this talk,” blurted Darnell. “I see me some beers in that cart! Ya’ll want some?”

 

“Fuck yeah,!” confirmed Amy.” And see what they got to eat in there. I already ate all of Father fagbait’s communion wafers. They tasted like shit.”

 

Father Tony glared at her.

 

“ Yeah, Father fagbait, you want a beer?” Teased Darnell. Might be the last one you’ll ever get! And tell me, Father, are all priests gay?”

 

“Of course they are!” asserted Gary. “That’s why, after we have a few beers and fuck little nurse nasty over there, we’re gonna fuck us a priest! I could go for a pretty boy’s tight little bootie. It’ll remind me of San Quentin!”

 

“Yowza, boss! Sounds good!” Shouted a joyful Darnell, He rifled through the cart, pulling out bags of chips and and cans of chili and spaghetti. ”Ooh! Look what I found!” He yanked out a quart bottle of Cuervo Gold Tequila

 

 “Jack pot!”

 

“All right!” yelled Gary “My favorite!  Pop that bad boy and pass it over.”

 

Darnell twisted the cap off the bottle and took a huge swig. He began to cough. He handed the bottle to Gary. Gary took an even bigger swig, draining almost a cup from the bottle.

 

“Aah, That’s good!  You want some, Amy?”

 

“No, fuck that. I gotta have some food in my stomach before I can drink that shit. I’m gonna open me up a can of that spaghetti. You want some?”

 

“No, fuck the spaghetti, I’ll have me a can of that chili. What you want, Darnell?

 

“Chili”

 

Amy began opening up cans of food.  She passed them to Gary and Darnell. “Give us each a beer” Gary ordered.

 

Amy handed each of them a beer, and they began eating. They scooped food out of the cans with their fingers, licked them, then tipped the cans to their mouths, and emptied the rest in.

 

“Ah yes, it don’t get any fuckin’ better than this!” Exclaimed Darnell.

 

Louie, his group, and Father Tony looked on in silent disgust.

 

“Sorry we can’t share any with you losers, but we gotta have our priorities!” Proclaimed  Gary.

 

Louie stared at him in silence

 

Gary let out a huge belch. Darnell and Amy followed suit.

 

“Now, I’m ready for some tequila,” said Amy.  Then, I’m gonna eat me some cupcake! She smiled at Kristin. She had no front teeth.

 

“Ooh wee! Dessert!” Yelled Darnell.

 

Amy grabbed the tequila bottle and took a long swig. “Yum, good shit,” she mumbled.

 

She walked over to Kristin, slapped her in the face, and pulled her up hard by the hair. Kristin whimpered and tried to squirm free. Amy punched her in the face and jaw, then held her knife to Kristin’s throat. She leered at her, and said  “C’mon, cupcake, time to give up that cute little coochie.”

 

Louie, Don and Jerry bristled with fury.

 

 Gary chuckled, raised his pistol, and said, “Calm down, boys, and enjoy the show.”

 

Amy pulled Kristin by the hair up to the alter. When Kristin tried to fight her and wiggle free, Amy punched her in the face and kneed her in the stomach.

 

“Don’t mess her face up,” yelled Darnell. I want her to be pretty when I fuck her!”

 

“ You do, and you’re a dead man, said Jerry. “Guaranteed”

 

“Screw you, fat boy!.”Chided Darnell. “You’ll be shot before the sun goes down. Gary’s got a bullet with your name on it!”

 

Louie and Father Tony watched in silence.

 

“Quit arguing with that asshole and hold her down on the alter” screeched Amy. “I want Jesus up there to get a good view of me munchin’ that sweet little coochie.”

 

Darnell grabbed Kristin in a full Nelson and wrestled her down on the alter. Amy pinned Kristin’s legs to the alter, than kneeled and started to pull off  Kristin’s pants.

 

She licked her lips and moaned, ”Ooh, this is gonna be so good!”

 

Suddenly, Father Tony yelled, “God, forgive me!” He pulled Louie’s pistol from his waist and fired two shots at Amy’s back.  Amy screamed, stood straight up, turned to face Father Tony, then collapsed on the floor. The bullets had punctured her aorta.

 

Don and Jerry rushed Darnell.  Don grabbed his legs, while Jerry hit him with a vicious right cross and a left hook to the chin.  Darnell’s jaw cracked.  He  released Kristin and  collapsed to the alter, unconscious. Don and Jerry pinned him to the floor

 

Kristin ran for the doors and struggled to open them.

 

Gary was too drunk and stunned by the loud shots to react quickly. Just as he raised his gun to shoot Father Tony, Louie hit his arm. The gun fired, but the bullet missed, and shattered one of the church’s stained glass windows. Gary tried to shoot at Father Tony again, but he’d just used his last bullet.

 

“Fuck!” He screamed. He turned and hit Louie on the bridge of the nose with the pistol.

Louie went down to his knees, blood spurting from his face.

 

In the commotion, no one heard the sound of ancient engines approaching the church.

 

Gary kicked Louie in the head, and lunged toward Father Tony. Father Tony aimed the pistol and tried to fire, but Gary was too quick.  He punched Father Tony in the nose, and wrestled the pistol from him. He whipped Father Tony in the face with the butt of the gun. Blood spurted from Father Tony’s nose and forehead.

 

 

Gary was enraged. He ran over to Louie and pressed the pistol against his temple.

“You’re dead now, you spic fuck!”

 

He didn’t hear the banging on the church doors.

 

Kristin did. She unlocked them.

 

The doors swung open wide. Staring at Kristin were a short, dark- haired woman, a stocky, gray -haired Hispanic man,  and a younger Hispanic man holding a  double-barreled shotgun.

 

“Kristin!” Shouted the woman. Thank God you’re safe!”

 

“Alejandra! Yelled. Kristin. “Look out! That creep’s got a gun!”

 

 She pointed at Gary. Gary was distracted. He turned the gun away from Louie and toward the doors.

 

The younger Hispanic man with the shotgun was glaring at him. He raised his weapon.

 

“Hola, guero. Drop the gun “

 

Gary froze.

 

Outside the church was an old Ford pickup truck with four young, shotgun toting men. Behind the pickup was an ancient, beautifully restored yellow school bus. One of the  gun-toting men jumped off  the truck and ran to the back of the church.

 

Gary yelled at the gunman in the doorway. “I ain’t droppin’ shit, motherfucker! You drop your gun! I shoot faster than a cat can jump!  I’ll pick all of you off! 

 

He aimed the gun at the young man.

 

They stared at one another in silence. No one moved.

 

Inside the chapel, Darnell had awoke, and was struggling to stand up. Don and Jerry watched him. Someone slowly crept past them.

 

Gary aimed his pistol at the young man’s head, and prepared to fire.

 

“Drop it, pendejo,” came a voice from behind him.

 

Gary was startled. His arm dropped. The man behind him rushed over and stuck the barrel of his shotgun in Gary’s back, hard.

 

“The party’s over, cabron. ” He said.

 

He shoved Gary against the wall of the church.

 

Louie got off his knees, pulled his shirt up, and wiped the blood from his eyes.

 

He stared at the people in the doorway. He recognized one of them

 

“Senor Camacho! What are you doing here?”

 

Senor Camacho knew Louie as a good customer.

 

“Hola, amigo, we meet again,” he said, smiling at Louie.

 

 

Gary began yelling. One of the gun toting men had him by the throat.

 

The other man held Darnell by the dreadlocks

 

“Que hacer?” One of them asked Senor Camacho

 

“Dispareales. La parte de atras” He answered .

 

The two men began pushing Gary and Darnell to the rear of the church

 

“What the fuck are you doing? Bellowed Gary. “We got rights!”

 

“I ain’t done nuthin!” Screamed Darnell. “It was all Gary and Amy’s idea!”

 

The shotgun toting men pushed and kicked them outside the church into the rear yard.

 

 Inside, Alejandra hugged Kristin, then spotted the bloody Father Tony.

 

She ran over to him

 

“Oh, Father, look what they did to you!” She wiped his bloody face with her hands.

 

“I’ve got some hydrogen peroxide and bandages in my bag. It’s in the cart,”  advised Kristin “You patch up Father Tony, and I’ll take care of Louie”

 

Louie held his hand to the cut above his nose. He walked up to Senor Camacho

 

 

“ What made you come here, amigo?” He asked

 

“Alejandra,” said Senor Camacho.” I brought guards and a bus down to my parish, St Benedict’s, so that I could rescue Father Valdivia and the sisters from the desperadoes that are killing and stealing. As we were driving everybody back to my ranch, Father Valdivia saw Alejandra running toward the church. He yelled “Stop! She’s a Catholic,” so we did. Alejandra  told us that she’d run over from St. Christopher’s, because some desperadoes had taken over the church. If she had been one minute later, we would have missed her. It was a divine coincidence. It was God’s will that we saw her, and God’s will that we found out about you”

 

Don, Jerry and Kristin listened in amazement.

 

Kristin spoke. “Louie, didn’t you say that coincidence is God’s way of remaining  anonymous? I think I’m beginning to believe you!”

 

Louie nodded. He looked affectionately at Kristin as she cleaned his face and bandaged his wound.

 

Father Tony sat on a pew as Alejandra lovingly wiped his bloody forehead, then wrapped it with gauze and tape.

 

“What amazes me is that St Benedict’s is five miles from here! How did you get there, Alejandra?” He asked.

 

“I don’t remember, Father. Something just told me to run, and it gave me strength!”

 

“Praise God!” Added Father Tony. He reached for Alejandra and hugged her.

 

While Louie and Father Tony were treated, Senor Camacho walked to the rear of the church.

 

Suddenly, Darnell and Gary bellowed, “ No! Don’t!  Stop!”

 

Two shotgun blasts echoed through the chapel.

 

“Ay dios mio!” Shrieked Alejandra.  She looked skyward and made the sign of the cross.

 

Father Tony bowed his head and prayed.

 

Senor Camacho walked back into the church with a sad expression, shaking his head. He stopped and looked at Amy’s body.

 

“Que paso?” He asked.

 

Father Tony was about to tell him, but Louie spoke first.

 

“She was shot with my gun. She was about to desecrate this church with an unspeakable act.”

 

Father Tony stared at Louie, and mouthed, “Thank you!”

 

Louie held his index finger to his lips. Father Tony’s actions that day would forever be kept secret.

 

Senor Camacho turned away from the body and sighed, “ It’s for the best.”

 

He yelled in Spanish, and the two young gunmen returned to the chapel  One of them grabbed Amy’s legs, and the other her arms.

 

“Esta fea y gordo,” one said, as they struggled to drag her out.

 

Senor Camacho walked to the front of the church and addressed the group

 

“I had no choice but to eliminate those two, because there is no place for such degenerates at Nueva Aztlan, and  I couldn’t leave them  behind to prey on someone else.From what Alejandra told me, they were evil beyond redemption. Father Tony and Father Valdivia will disagree, but the peace and security we’ll all enjoy at the ranch is too precious to sacrifice for redemption that probably wouldn’t have happened.May God forgive me for what I had to do.” He made the sign of the cross, and wiped his eyes.

 

Louie stared at him, dejectedly.  Kristin patted Louie on the back.  “That Lady Karma’s a bitch, ain’t she?”

 

“She sure is,” Louie muttered. “Live by the sword, die by the sword. Live by Karma, die by Karma. I’ve never seen it fail. Thank God I don’t live that way, and you don’t have to, either.”

 

Kristin looked at him, blankly. Louie’s mystical ramblings were hard to understand. She had many questions for him.

 

Jerry and Don walked up to Senor Camacho, introduced themselves, and shook his hand.

 

He recognized Jerry from the restaurant, and was delighted to learn that Jerry was a construction foreman, and that Don was an electrical contractor. They would be valuable additions to his ranch’s community.

 

Don couldn’t wait any longer.  “Senor Camacho, do you have any idea what happened? Was it a nuke?  Have you heard anything on the radio at your ranch?”

 

Senor Camacho faced Don. “ I have an old Zenith Transoceanic vacuum tube radio at the ranch. It still works, in spite of the flash .But we’ve heard nothing but static on every band, shortwave, am, fm, and vhf. It’s like there’s nothing out there. My satellite system was fried, as well as all my computers, TVs and phones. There’s no communications at all, so we’ll just have to wait and keep scanning with the radio for signals.  I feel that it was a nuke, but from who?  Islamic terrorists, North Korea or Russia? We might never know. There is one curious and good thing. There’s. a lack of radioactive fallout. I bought a Geiger counter years ago because we have uranium ore deposits on the ranch . The Geiger counter is not registering abnormal levels of radiation. That makes me wonder if it was a nuke, or maybe another type of explosive?” He shrugged.

 

Don shook his head in bewilderment.

 

Jerry asked, “ Do you have any idea what happened to the Bay Area? I live in Pinole, Don lives in Emeryville, and Louie has a plumbing business in Oakland.  Are the cities still  there? That second flash and big cloud scared the hell out of us.”

 

“I commute from Forestville to San Francisco for work.” Kristin added. “Is San Francisco still there?” 

 

Senor Camacho shrugged again. “I don’t know. We’ll have to investigate. After the clouds down south disappear, my guards and I will go to Petaluma, find a boat, and row around the Bay. Then we’ll see if anything’s left. With all the desperadoes around, it will be very dangerous.”

 

“I’ll go,” said Jerry. ”So will I” Added Don. “Me too” Affirmed Louie.

 

Senor Camacho nodded his approval, then said, “In the meantime, you’re all welcome at my ranch..It’s got plenty of everything. Plenty of housing .Plenty of clothing.Plenty of electricity from solar power, plenty of fresh water, and plenty of food. I have cows, sheep, hogs and chickens. I have fresh lettuce and greens year round, and plenty of canned summer vegetables and fruits. I’m two miles from the ocean, so I have plenty of fish. I have 30 acres of vineyards, and my wine cellar has 5000 bottles of Cabernet. I’m even making brandy this year!”

 

“On second thought, maybe I’ll just stay on your ranch!” Joked Don.

 

“It’s my heaven!” Senor Camacho replied.

 

The two gunmen walked back into the chapel. Their T-shirts and jeans were splattered with dirt and blood.

 

“Enterrado?”  asked Senor Camacho.

 

“Si.”

 

He motioned for the gunmen to return to the pickup truck, and then addressed the group.

 

“Amigas y amigos, it will get dark soon, and the desperadoes will return.  We need to go now. Let’s all get on my bus and drive home to my ranch, which is now your home. God has blessed me today. I drove the bus down alone, and now I return with two priests, three nuns, a nurse, an electrical contractor, a plumber, and a builder! What a bonanza!

 

He laughed with joy and clapped his hands.

 

“Don’t forget Alejandra” interjected Father Tony. “ She’s a spectacular cook. Her lumpia and adobo are legendary at St. Christopher’s!

 

Alejandra hugged Father Tony.

 

Senor Camacho smiled, then said, “vamanos!”

 

He led the way to the school bus. Alejandra and Father Tony climbed aboard first.

 

They were greeted by short, plump, gray-haired Father Valdivia, and three nuns. All four were all dressed casually, like they were going camping.

 

They stared at Father Tony’s bandages. ”My God!” the nuns whispered. “We heard shots! Is everything OK?  Asked Father Valdivia

 

“ Yes, Father, all is well. God’s good has prevailed. I’ll explain more to you later.” Father Tony winked at him. Father Valdivia gave a knowing nod.

 

One of the nuns spoke up. “Father Tony, where are sisters Margaret and Ellen?”

 

“They left Friday morning, before the flash, for a retreat in Angwin. Given what happened at our church, it was a blessing. I’m praying that they are safe there”

 

“So will we,” responded the sisters. They bowed their heads.

 

Don and Jerry wrestled the shopping cart on board, and each grabbed a beer. They offered beers to the priests. Both priests smiled, but declined. They took seats, and admired the beauty of Senor Camacho’s perfectly restored bus.

 

“Amazing!” they said in unison. They popped their beers. 

 

Don sipped his beer, and watched the three nuns praying. Suddenly, he felt a twinge of fear as he thought about his family in Emeryville.  Something happening inside compelled him to speak.

 

“Excuse me, sisters. Could you pray for my family? I don’t know how, because I don’t believe in God.”

 

The eldest nun, frail, 85-year old Sister Catherine, raised her tiny, neatly coiffed, gray-haired head. She looked at Don and smiled. “Honey, you don’t have to believe in God to pray!”

 

The 40-ish, tall, brunette and beautiful nun beside her, Sister Gloria, chimed in.” My dear, your lack of belief has no effect on God. God loves you unconditionally, because He is you, whether you believe it or not. Realizing and returning His unconditional love is the highest form of prayer. You don’t believe and pray because you’ve let your intellect and ego get in the way. They’re shouting so loud that you can’t hear God’s still small voice calling you to prayer.”

 

Don was stunned by the sister’s insight, emotion and frankness.

 

Young and pretty Sister Marie, a 21-year old novice, smiled at Don and added “ You don’t need to believe in God to pray , because real prayer is listening  for  God and feeling his presence within.  God is always speaking within you.  Just quiet your mind and open your heart. He speaks to everyone, no matter what they believe, or don’t believe. Your consciousness, filled with God from prayer, can create miracles. The people that you hold in consciousness- your family- may receive those miracles. It’s mysterious,. but true.”

 

“Your loving desires are prayer, and God hears every one,” offered Father Tony

 

Father Valdivia laughed.  “Aren’t you sorry you asked?” 

 

Don sheepishly looked away, “I’ve got a lot to learn,” he mumbled

 

“Me too.” Added Jerry.

 

.Louie and Kristin climbed aboard, and sat together.  Senor Camacho went to the driver’s seat, and started the bus. He tooted the horn, and motioned for the gunmen in the pickup truck to lead the way.  He yelled, “vamanos a ir Nueva Aztlan!” He began singing a norteno ballad, and followed the pickup to the ranch.  He had a beautiful, majestic voice.

 

Kristin listened attentively to Senor Camacho’s pretty singing, smiled, then leaned her head back against the seat. The bizarre events of the last 36 hours were taking their toll. She was physically and mentally exhausted. She looked over at Louie. Two big bandages covered the gash above his nose. His gray work shirt was stained with blood. He was staring out the window. He seemed lost in thought.

 

She mustered the energy to speak.

 

“Meditating again?”

 

Louie was also very tired, and was startled by Kristin’s voice. He put his arm around her and squeezed. She snuggled closer.

 

“ Yeah, I was just thanking my mom for teaching me to always practice the Presence.She taught me that there’s no problem that can withstand the presence of God consciousness- the consciousness of Oneness. She’d say, “Where illumined consciousness is, there is liberty.”

 

Kristin listened, drowsily. She laid her head on Louie’s shoulder, and whispered,

 

“So that’s what got us through all this stuff, and got us on this bus to Senor Camacho’s  heaven? Oneness?

 

“ Seems so”

 

“When we meet your mom, we’ll tell her all about it.”

 

“We?”

 

“ I’ve got to meet the woman who raised such a brave, sweet, kind and wise son. You’re  like that dude in that movie “The Ten Commandments.” What was his name?

 

“Moses”

 

“Yeah, Moses.  He met God, then lead his people out of danger and bondage  to the promised land .He  performed miracles. Kind of like you with that plane, Alejandra, last night, Don’s blood pressure,  the stuff at the church, and now this beautiful bus to heaven. I’ve got to read Mose’s story some day. What’s it called?

 

“Exodus”

 

 

fin

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EXODUS

 

“Quatro tortillas de harina para los burritos!” yelled Senor Camacho to his helpers in the kitchen. 

 

Those words were music to the ears of Louie Santiago. They meant that he had finally made it to the take-out counter at  the front of the 100- person deep lunchtime queue for Senor Camacho’s delectable carnitas burritos.

 

No one made carnitas like Senor Camacho and his Nueva Aztlan restaurant. His  restaurant was open just four days per week, Thursday  through Sunday, and they sold over eight tons of the delectable, crispy, savory, tender and unctuous carnitas. It was at least an hour’s wait for a table, and at least 30 minutes in line for one of  his legendary burritos, made with carnitas-stuffed, homemade tortillas smeared with creamy, lard- rich frijoles, and dressed with a bright- green  and nippy cilantro/ jalapeno/ tomatillo sauce.

 

Louie wiped drool from his lips as he watched Senor Camacho roll his four fat burritos. Senor Camacho was a short, stocky, gray-haired, handsome man who resembled the late, great actor Cesar Romero. He had parlayed his grandfather’s recipe for Jalisco-style carnitas into a small fortune that enabled him to own the large, 30-store strip mall that  his restaurant occupied, as well as a 500 –acre  ranch outside of Bodega where he raised the hogs and produce  for his restaurant  The ranch was also where he stored his estimable collection of vintage cars and trucks. He was a philanthropist, who supported the local Catholic churches.

 

He called his palatial ranch “Nueva Aztlan,” the name given to California by Mexico before the Mexican- American war.

 

Louie had great respect for Senor Camacho, and told him so.

 

“ You’re the best!” He exclaimed as he was handed his four, foil-wrapped, over stuffed beauties. Senor Camacho smiled graciously. “ Gracias, amigo.”

 

Louie bought a Jarrittos soda to drink with his lunch, and returned to his work van for the 60 mile drive home to Oakland. He’d eat while he drove, and talk to his brother and business partner, Victor, on Bluetooth.  He needed to discuss the billing for the plumbing work he’d  done that morning at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown  Santa Rosa, one of their biggest accounts.

 

He smacked his lips before he took the first glorious taste of his burrito. He took a bite, and yelled  “Hot damn, this is good!” 

 

He’d eat two burritos now, then drop off the others to his mom, Millie, in Oakland.  Mom loved Senor Camacho’s carnitas, and eagerly anticipated Louie’s Friday service calls to Santa Rosa. Louie always returned with burritos for her. He was a devoted son.

Louie knew that his mother was an amazing woman. She was a life-long Christian Scientist and student of New Thought metaphysics, and at 75 years old, she looked 50, and had never been sick a day in her life. She refused to retire, and still worked a 30 hour week as an English tutor of Hispanic students for the Oakland Public Schools.

 

Louie ‘s late father Jaime, and his brother Victor had never warmed to religion and God, and mom didn’t push them to embrace God, belief, or Christian Science.  She’d tell them “Atheist, agnostic or believer, it makes no difference.God knows your heart and soul, because God is your heart and soul!”  Because of his business partnership with Victor, Louie led a secular lifestyle. But he strongly felt mom’s spiritual power and the security of his own oneness with God, and frequently applied the spiritual wisdom that mom had taught him.

 

It was mom’s unique belief system, intellect and beautiful persona that made it difficult for Louie to find a wife. He wanted someone just like her, but so far, no luck. 

 

Louie pulled the van onto busy  southbound Highway 101, took a bite of burrito, then punched the office phone number for his talk with Victor. Susannah, the pretty young brunette secretary answered. Louie figured that if he couldn’t have a gorgeous wife, at least he could have a gorgeous secretary.

 

“Santiago Plumbing. This is Susannah. How may I help you?”

 

“Hi, Susannah”

 

“Hi, Louie. You sound like you’re eating.  Since it’s Friday, I’ll bet it’s carnitas, right?”

 

“You got it!  Too bad you’re a vegan.. You’d love ‘em!’

 

“I’ll stick to my tofu. You want to talk to Victor?”

 

“ Yeah, thanks.  Hey, are you and your boyfriend coming to Victor’s A’s game tailgate party tomorrow?  Victor’s taking my nephew Eddie to the game for his seventh……”

 

Suddenly, there was a blinding flash, like someone had popped a flashbulb in Louie’s face. His Bluetooth made a deafening pop.

 

Louie dropped his burrito. “Jesus Christ!  What the fuck!” He yelled.

 

The flash had momentarily blinded him, even though he was wearing sunglasses.

 

As he gathered his wits, he realized that the van had stalled. He instinctively hit the brakes, but with the engine off, the power brakes didn’t work.  As his vision returned, he

saw that his van had veered to the right, and had barely missed  hitting the car in front of

 him, which was also stalled.

 

He tried to start the van. The starter cranked, but the engine wouldn’t start, and none of his dashboard lights came on.

 

“What the hell?” He said.  “I just bought gas this morning, and this van’s damn near new!”

 

He rolled his window down and looked around. All about him, all he could hear was engines cranking. A chill went through his body as he saw nothing but a procession of stalled cars everywhere, in both directions. Traffic was at a dead stop.

 

“What the fuck?” He thought.

 

A balding, big, husky guy in a blue work shirt  with an angry look on his face  jumped out of the car in front of him. He approached Louie’s van, bellowing.

 

“Hey! What the hell are you doing?  What did you do to my car?”

 

Louie had been raised street-wise in Oakland.  He reached in the glove compartment for his Smith and Wesson 40 caliber pistol. He stuffed it down the front of his pants and got out of the van.

 

“I didn’t do anything, dude!” He answered. “Look around, man! Everybody’s stalled!’

 

The big guy stopped and looked.

 

“Shit! You’re right!”  What the hell is going on?”

 

All around them, on both sides of the six-lane highway, cars and trucks were stalled,  with grumbling drivers cranking their starters, or staring at their engines under open hoods.

 

“ I’ve never seen anything like it!What the fuck?”  The big guy looked at Louie and asked, ”Do you think that bright flash had anything to do with it?”

 

“I dunno” Said Louie. “I’m gonna call my brother in Oakland and see if anything happened down there.”

 

Louie reached for his phone.  The screen was dark  He pressed buttons. Nothing happened

 

“Shit! My phones’s dead too!  Try yours!”

 

The big guy returned to his car, and got in. Louie heard him yelling expletives.

 

He got out of his car, holding his phone.

 

“It’s dead. Nothing. I just bought the goddamn thing. What the hell, man?”

 

A beautiful 20-ish  blonde girl in a blue nurse’s uniform climbed out of a Honda Accord that was stalled behind Louie’s van.  Louie and the big guy stared at her appreciatively.

 

“Holy shit, great ass!”  Thought Louie.

 

She walked up to them. She was gorgeous, with almond shaped, green eyes. “What do you guys think is going on?  My car, my phone and my laptop are dead!I’m gonna be late for work, and I can’t even call!

 

 She was wearing an ID badge: “Kristin Dupree R.N.”

 

“We don’t know!” Said Louie.

 

 Big guy spoke up. “It’s got something to do with that bright flash because…”

 

“Oh my God! Look!” Shouted Kristin.  She pointed to the sky.

 

Just west of them, gliding slowly and silently down, was a large jet airliner.

 

“It’s engines are dead! It’s got no power! Yelled big guy.

 

The jet was banking to the right and left and would then level up, while slowly descending

 

“He’s flying on stick control ! He’s gonna land it on Orchard Road!

 

Louie suddenly recalled one of mom’s favorite New Thought sayings, something she told Louie to always remember;

 

“The  omnipresence of God, realized in consciousness, is the law of elimination to all forms of discord.”

 

“God is here. And all is well,” he thought.

 

They watched as the plane leveled off, then descended from view.

 

“All right!  There’s no smoke! He didn’t crash! He made it!  Said big guy.

 

“Thank God! Answered Louie

 

 Kristin was shocked and stunned by it all.

 

“ What’s happening, guys?  Planes coming down, cars stalling, and nothing works !  It’s crazy. It’s too much! What the hell is going on? 

 

“I don’t know, Kristin , but we can’t leave our cars out in the middle of the freeway. Let’s push them to the shoulder,” said Louie

 

Kristin got in her car and steered while Louie and big guy pushed it off the road.

 

She got out of her car and was about to step in Louie’s van to steer it when there was another flash of light, this time from the south.

 

“Oh, no, not again!” She screamed

 

She climbed into the van and sat still. Tears of fear were etched on her face.

 

Louie and big guy’s eyes were glued southward, because this time, the flash was accompanied by an ominous rumbling.

 

On the other side of the free way, a semi-truck driver had climbed to the top of his trailer for a better look.

 

“ See anything? Yelled Louie.

 

“Oh, yeah!  Jesus Christ! Look!”

 

Louie and big guy followed the driver’s gaze. Rising from the south was an enormous plume of churning black smoke. It was rising quickly, higher and higher, and began flattening out at the top

 

“Holy shit! Is that a mushroom cloud?”  Asked big guy, his voice cracking.

 

“I dunno, but whatever it is, it’s one helluva fire,” answered Louie.“Let’s get our cars off the road, and then try to find out what the fuck’s happening”

 

With the shell-shocked Kristin steering, Louie and big guy pushed the van and big guy’s car to the shoulder.

 

When they were done, Louie turned to big guy and stuck out his hand.

 

“ By the way, my name’s Louie Santiago. Santiago Plumbing.”

 

Big guy firmly grasped Louie’s hand.“ Jerry Simmons. I’d say I’m pleased to meet you, but I’d be lying my ass off.  I gotta get moving, ‘cause my kid’s expectin’ me to watch him play baseball this afternoon. He’s a star pitcher for Pinole Valley High.”

 

Louie tried to be friendly .“We’re both from down south. I’m from O-Town. Are you workin’ up here too?”

 

“Yeah. The construction outfit I work for is building a new extension at Kaiser Hospital.  I’m a foreman. I was headed home for a few beers and a relaxing weekend,

but it looks like that just got shot all to hell.”

 

Kristin had been looking south at the ever- expanding cloud. She saw something else in the distance.

 

“Hey, guys!  I see a CHP car down there a little ways. There’s a crowd of people around it.”

 

“Oh, good!”  Said Jerry. ”Thank God.  Let’s walk down there and see if we can find out what the hell’s going on.” 

 

Louie tucked his pistol into his waistband and covered it with his workshirt.

 

They began walking toward the CHP cruiser and had gone just a few yards when they heard “Excuse me, are you a nurse?”

 

Kristin turned toward a large black SUV on their left.  Louie and Jerry followed her gaze.

Sitting in the driver’s seat was a stocky, middle- aged Filipino woman. She looked pained and distraught.

 

Kristin walked over to the passenger window and peered in

 

“Yes. I’m a nurse.  Can I help you?

 

“I hope so. I’m having chest pains, bad chest pains!  I’m afraid that I’m having a heart attack!”

 

Kristin spoke to her very calmly. 

 

“ It’s probably a stress reaction to what’s going on. I’ll go back to my car. I have a paramedic kit with some medicine in it.  I’ll bring you something.”

 

Kristin walked back to her Honda and removed a large medical bag from the trunk.

She fished out three pill bottles, and emptied one pill from each into her palm She put the bag back in the trunk, and walked to the SUV.

 

“Here- put this little pill under your tongue. In a few seconds, your chest pain should stop.” She waited.

 

“Yes, it’s much better!” Said the woman

 

“Now, swallow these two pills with some water from your bottle. They will help your heart, and let you relax “

 

“Oh, God bless you!”

 

“When you get home, make sure you call your doctor and have him give you a stress test.

 I’m sure it will turn out fine.”

 

Louie and Jerry watched, admiring Kristin’s gentleness and professionalism, as well as her beauty and great figure. She was inspiring.

 

Louie suddenly had the urge to give the woman a silent Spiritual healing treatment.

 

Louie whispered, “God is omnipresent, omnipotent perfection everywhere, now. All are one with God and perfect in God, now. I fully accept in consciousness the perfection of all God’s expressions, now. I give thanks that perfection is revealed everywhere,  now, by grace, in a perfect way. So shall the word be that goes forth from my Soul. It shall not return to me void, but shall accomplish the good that I intend.  And so it is. Amen.

 

He looked at Kristin and the woman and smiled.

 

 Kristin patted the woman’s hand, said “Take care.”  She turned to Louie and Jerry, and resumed walking toward the CHP cruiser.

 

“ That was great,” commented  Louie. What did you give her?”

 

“A nitro tablet for her angina, an aspirin for her heart, and a Valium to calm her down.”

 

“I gave her a spiritual healing treatment, too.”

 

“Oh, you’re into that stuff?  You sure don’t look the type! A mystic plumber?”

 

“Well, you don’t exactly look like a nurse, either.  A Playboy bunny, maybe?”

 

Kristin giggled. “ Yeah, looks can be deceiving, that’s for sure!”

 

She flirtatiously punched Louie on the arm.  He grinned.

 

 They strode up to the crowd that surrounded the CHP cruiser.

 

A tall, gray haired officer stood outside the vehicle. The ID tag under his badge read McGinty.  He looked tense, but he spoke in a calm, measured tone.

 

“ There doesn’t seem to be any other emergency services available, and since I’ve got no  communications working, and my car’s out too,  I’m going to walk to the Rohnert Park CHP station to see what happened  It’s about seven miles, so it’ll take awhile. “

 

“Excuse me, officer,” said Jerry. ”We just got here. What do you think has happened?”

 

“ It’s EMP, believe me!” Interrupted  a short, half-bald guy in jean shorts and an orange SF Giants shirt.

 

“What’s EMP?” Asked Jerry. 

 

The short guy loudly explained;“It means electro- magnetic pulse. When a nuclear device is detonated, especially at a high altitude, the electrical pulse it creates can destroy semiconductors, like transistors, diodes, integrated circuits, microprocessors, and even some types of electrical cable. In essence, just about everything electronic  we use today is wiped out.  The Internet, computers, phones, TVs, appliances, cars, trucks, planes, you name it.  That plane that went down a few minutes ago probably had some limited control because its backup system used lead acid- batteries, which are immune to EMP. That’s why your cars still crank; they use lead-acid batteries.”

 

 

“Well, let’s not assume anything,” said McGinty  I’ve heard that solar flares can cause  temporary electrical outages. Maybe all our stuff will come back on after awhile.”

 

“Bull shit, officer. Get  real!  That flash was no solar flare!” The short guy was red-faced with anger . He pointed to the giant black, roiling cloud that hovered to the south. “And that’s no solar flare.  It’s a nuke, a goddamn nuke!  Those Islamic fucks got their hands on a nuke, and  bombed San Francisco, just like Michael Savage, the radio commentator, said they would.”

 

“Oh, lord, lord!” Cried a large black woman in the crowd.

 

“So what do we do ? Asked Kristin

 

“Get used to living back in the 1880’s. That’s where we’ll be for a long , long time.”

 

Kristin looked frantic. “So all our cars, phones, computers and everything else electronic  is destroyed?”

 

“Yep,’ fraid so! And our fucking political leaders knew this was coming, and did nothing!”

 

“Well, I don’t want to get into that right-wing blame - game shit,” said Jerry. I just want to get home to Pinole and watch my kid play baseball.”

 

“Well, you better find a bicycle, a horse, or start walking. Then hope to hell that Pinole still exists!” Said the short guy.

 

“Oh! Fuck me!” cried Jerry. He knelt on the ground and buried his head in his hands.

 

Louie walked over and stood near him.

 

“I got your back, dude” He said.  We’ll all have to help each other get home.”

 

“If we have a home left, “ sniffed Jerry.

 

A pretty young brunette girl wearing a gold necklace, expensive designer sandals and abig red straw hat spoke up.

 

“Officer, if it was a nuke, should we be concerned about radiation?

 

“ I’m no expert on this stuff, but that big cloud seems to be blowing to the east.” Said McGinty.

 

The short guy responded. “It’s still a good idea for everybody to get indoors. For now, we should stay in our cars. But, the other thing we need to worry about tonight are bandits.

There could be a lot of opportunistic, lawless assholes out there tonight trying to break into cars and rob us. We’ll be safer if we stay in the cars that are right here and remain as a group.”

 

“ That’s a great idea” said McGinty, but I’d recommend that those who are able to walk the seven miles come with me to the CHP station.”

 

“That shoots me down” said Jerry.  I’m still recovering from foot surgery. Plantar fascitis.”

 

Kristin chimed in,  “ Yes, I’m a nurse, and I’d caution anyone with improper or ill-fitting  shoes to be very careful on such a long walk.  Bad shoes can cause a blister, a  blister can pop, bleed,  get infected and render you unable to stand or walk. I’ve seen it happen many times. So, if you go, please be careful.”

 

“Are you going, Kristin?” asked Louie.

 

“ No, I think I’ll say here, save my feet and guard my stuff.”

 

“Me too”, said Louie. “I’ve got about 20 grand worth of plumbing equipment in my van.”

 

McGinty listened, then added “ Well, those who are going to stay should get to one of the  stores nearby right away for food,  water and toiletries. They might be in short supply pretty soon.”

 

The small group began to break up. McGinty, the black woman, the pretty young brunette girl and six others began walking to the CHP station. Louie, Jerry, Kristin, the short guy and a woman driving a brand new BMW stayed with their cars.

 

The short guy walked up to Jerry and held out his hand.

 

“ Hi, I’m Don Zeno. Sorry I had to give you all that bad news. But, I’ m just as worried as you are.  I’ve got two kids and a wife myself. I’m hoping that this thing didn’t take out Emeryville, ‘cause I’ll lose everything- my family, my home, and my job. I’m an electrical contractor. Or, I was..”

 

He began to choke with emotion.

Jerry patted him on the back.  “Hang on, Don. We’ll all get home somehow.”

 

 Four of them walked to a freeway exit that lead to a 7-11 store. The woman in the BMW decided that she’d leave her car on the road, and rent a room at a nearby Ramada Inn.

 

The freeway traffic jam and remote roadside location of the store meant that it hadn’t yet been picked clean by the local populace. With no electricity, the interior of the store was very dim.

 

As the group stepped in, the proprietor, a frantic looking Indian woman, yelled at Kristin.

 

“Hello, miss. Are you a nurse?”

 

“Jeezus, here we go again! .” Mumbled Jerry

 

“ Yes, I am,” answered Kristin. “Something wrong?”

 

The woman grew more excited and began speaking loud and fast, with a heavy accent.

 

“My husband can’t see! He was looking up in sky when big flash come, now he can’t see!”

 

Kristin looked at the group and grimaced. “ Oh dear,” she muttered

 

“Where is your husband?”

 

“He’s in the back room. I have wet cloth on his eyes.”

 

Kristin followed the woman to the back room, while Louie and the others began filling a shopping cart with food. Jerry and Don headed straight for the beer, and began loading the cart.

 

Kristin saw a tall, neatly dressed and handsome man in his mid-forties. He had a wet white towel wrapped around his face

 

“Hello, sir, my name is Kristin. I’m a nurse. Your wife said that you were looking in the sky and saw the flash?”

 

“Yes, miss.  Now I am blind!  Blind!  Who would set off such a thing? Why are people so evil?”

 

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. My guess is that the flash burned your retinas. The best thing for you to do is to keep your eyes covered. Your sight might return in a few hours.”

 

“And if it doesn’t?”

 

“Well, you might require eye surgery, but let’s be optimistic. Time will tell.”

 

“So in the mean time, I pray, right?” Thanks for your advice, miss.”

 

“My friend will pray for you too. He’s a mystic.”

 

Kristin turned, and said, “Louie, could you come here for a minute?”

 

Louie put the big bag of Doritos and 12 pack of beer he was carrying into the cart.

 

“Coming, dear!” He chortled.  He walked to the back room and smiled at Kristin.

 

Kristin looked very somber, but tried to smile back. “Louie, this gentleman might benefit from one of your healing prayers. Can you help him?

 

Louie looked sympathetically at the man’s covered eyes. He glanced at Kristin. She forlornly gazed downward. He gently put his hand on the man’s shoulder.

 

“Of course I can,” he said.  “My mom taught me this special prayer when I was a kid. It’s called the Unity prayer of protection.  It’s a favorite of soldiers and policeman all over the world. It’s also a fine healing prayer, because it affirms our perfect Oneness with God. I’ll say it with you now.

 

“The light of God surrounds us. The love of God enfolds us.  The power of God protects us.  The presence of God perfects us. We and God are one, so all is well”.

 

“That’s very beautiful.” said the man. Please say it again so I can remember it.”

 

“Sure. I’ll repeat it, and I’ll also write it down for you and your wife. Thousands of people have claimed that the prayer has helped them.”

 

“Thank you, Louie. You are a kind man.”

 

“Well, like my mom says, “ Sooner or later, we all realize that kindness is our only strength”

 

The man sighed. “ If only those idiots who caused the flash knew that!”

 

“Tell me about it.” Lamented Kristin.

 

Louie grasped the man’s hand, and said. “All will be well”

 

“Thank you, sir.  And please pray for everyone else, too We’re all going to need it now!”

 

Kristin patted the man’s arm, then  returned to the store. She spoke to his wife.

 

“Keep his eyes covered for a few hours. He should be OK.”

 

“Oh, thank you, miss!” Shouted the wife. She took Kristin’s hand and kissed it.

 

Kristin gave her a small smile.

 

Louie, Jerry and Don rolled the beer, chip, sandwich and candy bar laden cart up to the counter.

 

Kristin laughed. “ Jeezus, guys, you managed to include the five most important food groups. Alcohol, salt, fat, caffeine and sugar.  Good work!”

 

The three men roared with hilarity. “Proper nutrition is about the last thing on my mind right now” Said Don “What I’m really thinkin’ is, how the hell do we pay for this stuff? All I have is a Visa card, and now, it’s totally useless.”

 

“I got cash,” answered Louie. The place where I bought burritos today is cash only, so I hit the ATM before I went there.”

 

“ Cash only! Burritos! Exclaimed Jerry. “Are you talkin’ about Nueva Aztlan?  Were you in line up there this afternoon? Jesus Christ, I thought you looked familiar! I was in there eatin’ with my crew. You were the guy that  yelled “You’re the best!” to the owner. One of the guys in my crew heard you and said, ‘Now there’s a dude who knows what’s good’ honest to God!”

 

Louie chuckled. “ If you ever fire that guy, tell him I’ll hire him!”

 

Jerry laughed and shook his head. “Jeezus, what a coincidence!”

 

 Louie shrugged. “ Well, like my mom says, ‘Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous’.”

 

 “Damn, your mom is full of wise little gems, isn’t she? Commented Kristin. ”I’d like to meet her.”

 

“Well, if you’re ever in Oakland..” Louie replied

 

“Assuming Oakland still exists.” Interjected Don.

Don’s tactless remark dampened the group’s good spirits. Louie dutifully paid for the supplies, and the group silently left the store with the cart. They began rolling it back onto the freeway to where their cars were stalled.

 

As soon as they left the store, Louie asked Kristin, “You seemed kind of down when you were helping that poor guy at the store.”

 

Kristin bristled with anger.  “ Well,  Jeezus, Louie, how can you tell somebody that they’re blind for life? His retinas got fried by the flash.  Unless he gets surgery right away, he’ll never see again! And, where’s he gonna get surgery, if what Don says is true! He’s fucked! We’re all fucked!

 

She began to cry. She picked up her pace to walk ahead of the group.

 

As she passed a black SUV, she heard “ Nurse! Miss nurse!

 

The Filipino woman that she had treated earlier was beckoning her over.

 

“Jesus H. Christ! Not again! Poor Kristin!  Jerry bellowed.

 

Kristin reluctantly stepped over to talk with her.

 

“I want to thank you, nurse! I’m feeling much better. I was going to leave my car and walk over to my church, St. Christopher’s. It’s just four blocks away.I was on my way over there for confession when that flash hit, and everything stopped. What do you think happened?”

 

“Nobody really knows.  I don’t know.  But going to your church is a great idea. You’ll have a lot of supportive, good people gathered there. It’s a safe place to be.”

 

“Do you want to go with me? If you don’t, where will you stay?”

 

“Well, I ‘ll stay in my car. I’ve got three good guys that will look after me.’

 

“With pleasure!” Yelled Louie, Jerry and Don, almost in unison.

 

“ Ay dios mio,” said the woman. If only I were young and beautiful again, I’d stay with you!”

 

They all laughed, and Kristin bent into the SUV and kissed the woman on the cheek.

 

“I’m Kristin”

”I’m Alejandra. If you have any trouble, please come over to my church. It’s right over there.” She pointed to a large cathedral building about a mile away. “Father Tony is my priest. He’s a wonderful man, very young, very handsome, very liberal and very accepting. He will welcome you all.”

 

“Well, thank you, Alejandra.  It’s good to have a plan B.  Take care.”

 

Kristin turned to face the guys.

 

“Well, if all else fails,” she quipped

 

“And only if the church has earthquake and fire insurance,” said Don. I’m a devout atheist. God will see me in there and knock the place down! “

 

“I haven’t been to church since I was ten years old” added Jerry. “The only God I believe in is money”

 

“Well, you know where I stand,” stated Louie. “How about you, Kristin?”

 

She thought for a moment, then replied. “I’m a nurse. I see spiritual miracles happen every day. I think that people like Louie and his mom are onto something, but I haven’t taken the time to think about it or understand it. Some day I will.”

 

“Let me know when you’re ready!” Offered Louie

 

“I will” She answered.

 

Jerry  interrupted .” Guys, the church thing is plan B. What we need to do right now is figure out which cars we’re going to stay in tonight. Since we’re parked together, I’d say that we put all our valuables in the middle vehicle, Louie’s van. I’d also recommend that we turn Kristin’s car around so that it faces north. That way, if what Don says is true,  and bandits show up tonight, we can watch from both directions.”

 

“Good thinking.” Louie raised his work shirt and showed the handle of his pistol.

 

Don and Jerry nodded appreciatively.

 

“Anybody else packing?” Louie asked

 

”I carry a baseball bat” Bragged Jerry. “  I use mace,” offered  Don.

 

“Jeezus , Louie, have you been walking around with that thing stuck in your pants all this time? My God!” Yelled Kristin.

 

“My brother bought it for me, Kristin. We’re from Oakland. Even nuns pack guns in Oakland!”

 

“ And I thought you were some holier- than- thou mystic,” she laughed

 

“ I am,” Louie answered .”We’re all holy, except some of us don’t know it yet. The unholy are the ones who cause all the trouble. They don’t feel God or spiritual consciousness, but they do feel this. He patted the gun. My brother doesn’t believe in God or metaphysics, so I carry this gun to make him feel better. He owns half of our business.”

 

“But with you, it’s pray first, shoot later!” Joked Kristin

 

“Exactly!” Agreed Louie. “And later, if you like, we’ll recite Psalm 91.  If you believe and accept what it says, you’ll never need a gun, mace, or a baseball bat .”

 

Kristin looked at Louie, and shook her head in confusion.

 

“This is all very interesting,” declared Don,” but I’m dyin’ for a sandwich and a beer!”

 

“Amen!” Shouted Jerry, sarcastically.

 

They pushed the cart to where the cars were parked. Jerry opened the driver and passenger doors of his sedan, and he and Don took seats. They each grabbed a beer and a sandwich from the cart. They opened their beers and clicked cans.

 

“To better days!” Don toasted.

 

They both looked south, to the massive black cloud that now obscured the horizon

 

“ And may God help us all,” muttered Jerry.

 

Louie opened the door to his van, reached in, and grabbed the two remaining burritos.

 

He smiled at Kristin.

 

“ Please .Tell me you’re not a vegan”

 

“Shit, Louie, are you kidding?  I’m a fucking omnivore! I’ll eat anything that’s not still breathing, as long as it doesn’t smell like shit.  I even ate a goddamn ghost pepper last week. Thought I was going to die.!”

 

Louie roared with laughter. He stared at Kristin affectionately. She was his type of girl.

 

“Well, Kristin, just because you’re beautiful, sweet, intelligent, a damn fine nurse and mainly because my van won’t run, I’m going to share something very precious with you. My last two burritos from Nueva Aztlan, the single finest Mexican restaurant in the world!”

 

Kristin stared at Louie with delight. “All right!” Thanks, Louie, I’m starved!”

 

Louie unwrapped both burritos, and gave one to Kristin

 

She bit into it hungrily.

 

Her beautiful green eyes opened wide with surprise.

 

With her mouth full, she looked at Louie and shrieked “ Oh my God, Louie,  this is fucking delicious!’

 

Jerry looked up from his sandwich, and said  “What’s delicious?”

 

“My last two burritos from Nueva Aztlan”

 

“Thanks for sharing., you asshole.” Grumbled Jerry

 

Louie and Kristin roared.

 

They all became quiet and pensive as they sipped beer and enjoyed their food.

 

An old, heavyset men with a pronounced limp walked by, heading north.  He looked over at the group and smiled.

 

“Making the most of a bad situation, I see! He quipped. “Any idea what happened?”

 

“Not sure,” answered Louie. “Some say it was a nuke.”

 

The man shook his head, and kept on walking while he spoke.

 

“Well, it had to happen, it was inevitable, with all the crazies around today. I just wish I’d been home at the time”

 

“ Don’t we all!” Said Don “Where’s home?”

 

“Ukiah. I’ve got a sixty mile walk”

 

Don shook his head. “Well, good luck!”

 

“Right” He kept on walking.

 

Kristin muttered, “Poor thing, he’ll never make it. I wonder if any of us will ever make it home?”  Her eyes teared up.

 

“ Wondering and worrying about stuff is futile and useless, Kristin. ” offered Louie. “What’s important is what’s happening now. Let’s enjoy our lunch and get some rest. When tonight comes we’ll deal with it then. When tomorrow comes, we’ll do what intuition tells us to. I have a rule that I live by, ‘Now is the only time, and God’s grace is sufficient for the needs of the moment’ To me, that’s all that life really means.”

 

“Wow, you really are a big ball of spirituality, aren’t you? Snapped Kristin, sarcastically.

 

“Am I getting on your nerves? Joked Louie.

 

“No, not really.  It’s just that I’ve been paying a shrink $200 an hour to help me with a worry problem that you just solved in ten seconds”

 

“Anything for a pretty girl,” he declared.

 

Jerry let out a huge beer belch to get attention. Louie and Kristin looked at him and laughed. 

 

 “Hey, you guys, it’s gonna get dark soon. We need to get organized.I think that Don and me should crash in my car, facing south, and that you guys should crash in Kristin’s

 car, facing north. If any shit happens, we can all get out and jump in Louie’s van.”

 

“Sounds good,” agreed Don.  “We should all take turns staying awake until morning.

I’ll take the four a.m to dawn shift. Ever since I was in the Army, I’ve gotten up at four a.m.”

 

“And I’ll go from dusk to four,” replied Louie. I’ll meditate. To me, it’s more restful than sleep”

 

“Jeez”, blurted Kristin, Jerry and Don, almost in unison.

 

The sun was setting at 8pm when they went to their respective cars and settled in. Kristin lay in the back of her Honda, while Louie reclined on the passenger seat. Jerry sprawled in the front of his sedan, while Don folded his jacket over himself and snoozed in the back.

 

At 10 pm, all hell broke loose. At first, the sounds of windows breaking, gunshots, yelling and screaming seemed far away. Then the sounds got closer, like a ruinous mob was approaching, leaving mass destruction in its wake. 

 

Kristin awoke from her nap, and sat up, trembling. Louie was already out of the car, watching a  motley, noisy crowd of men and women descend on a huge hardware store directly alongside the freeway. In the distance, at the Ramada Inn, smoke and flames billowed from the upper floors. Screams and yelling filled the air.

 

Kristin got out of the car and grabbed Louie’s arm. She gasped in horror as she saw a large black woman try to fling a huge rock through the store’s front window, only to be blown three feet in the air by the loud blast from a store owner’s shotgun.  The crowd began to scatter

as shotgun blasts and automatic weapons fire started mowing them down. Kristin  counted 12 bodies lying in the parking lot.  Four men exited the store. Two held shotguns and two held automatic rifles They kept firing at the crowd, then stopped to survey the carnage. Suddenly, more gunfire erupted. Louie pulled Kristin down to the pavement. One of the men from the store was hit, and cried out in pain.  The other men ran back inside the store, leaving the wounded man in the parking lot. His wails of agony soon mingled with the moans and screams of the other wounded that littered the parking lot. “Oh, dear God,” wept Kristin.

 

Jerry and Don ran up to Kristin’s car, crouching.  Gunfire sounded all around.

 

“Jesus Christ,” yelled Don. “This is worse than Iraq!”

 

Two flaming objects arced through the air and landed on the roof of the store. Soon, flames and smoke were visible from the store’s roof. A smaller mob attemped to break the store’s windows with bricks.  Five more shotgun blasts and rapid bursts of weapons fire mowed down another ten people. Their tortured screams of intense pain joined the cacophony of misery that echoed through the night.

 

The store’s roof was now completely engulfed in flames. Three men from the store ran to the parking lot, and dragged their screaming, wounded friend to an ancient Chevy pick-up truck. They tossed him in the back. One man with an automatic rifle crouched in the back of the truck, firing random bursts of gunfire in a circle, while the other men jumped in the cab, started the truck, and rapidly drove away.

 

Jerry crouched on his knees and looked on with amazement.

 

“What the fuck’s that all about? How come their truck still runs?”

 

 “It’s got an old Kettering ignition. Points,  plugs, condenser and coil. It’s EMP proof ” Explained Don.

 

  “Fuck me,” said Jerry ”My old 75 Ford truck has points. Why didn’t I drive it up here

today? I’d be home right now.”

 

“Don’t count on it,” commented  Don.

 

By this time, the store was completely on fire. Paint and chemicals began exploding inside, and the heat became intense.

 

“Everybody! Get in my van! “Yelled Louie.

 

They all climbed in, as smoke, pillars of fire and explosions burst from the ruined building. While the heat outside was unbearable, the interior of the van was cool. 

 

Panicked cries for help and screams of agony streamed from the multitude of wounded that lay in the store’s parking lot, as they slowly burned to death.

Kristin covered her ears. “This is worse than hell! She shouted.

 

“The only positive thing is that the fire will keep the bandits from attacking us tonight .” declared Don.

 

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” answered Louie.

 

“Got any prayers that will get us out of this mess?” Asked Jerry.

 

“Yeah. I’ve been meditating on Psalm 91 ever since I heard the mob of bandits coming. It’s a prayer of protection.  I’ll recite it for you.”

 

“He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.  You shall not be afraid of the terror by night; nor of the arrow that flies by day.Nor by the pestilence that walks in darkness; nor by the destruction that wastes at noon..A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.”

 

“So how do we dwell in the secret place of the most high? Where the hell is that?”

 

“ The secret place of the most high is your own consciousness when it’s fully aware of  your oneness with the omnipresence of God.”

 

“But I don’t believe in God!” Interjected Don.

 

“Well, God believes in you, whether you believe it or not.” 

 

 Jerry pondered Louie’s latest sermon, then stated, “I think I’ll just hope for the best, keep my baseball bat handy, and leave the praying to you.”

 

“That’ll work.” Louie agreed.

 

Kristin sat on a toolbox in the rear of the van, with fingers stuck in her ears to drown out the tortured wails and fiery explosions coming from outside.  She gave Louie an anguished look.

 

“Louie, what kind of God would permit a living hell like this?” No wonder Don and Jerry are atheists!”

 

“It’s a long story, Kristin. And this isn’t the time to tell it. But I’ll assure you that God is here, in your consciousness, despite what you see appearing outside. Let’s just pray that this horrible stuff passes over us tonight. In spite of what we see, we are still One with God.”

 

  Debris from the fire began falling on the roof of the van. The sides of the van began warping from the heat, making a clanging sound. The interior of the van remained cool.

 

Kristin, Jerry and Don leaned back, covering their ears with their hands to try to smother  the endless cries of misery from the tortured, dying hoard that lay in the burning remains of the store. Louie sat with eyes closed, in meditation.

 

They remained in those positions for hours. By 3am, the fire had burned itself out. The screaming, yelling and gunshots had also ceased. Louie grabbed Kristin’s arm and led her out of the van and to the back seat of her car. “Lay down and sleep” He said. “You’re safe now.” Kristin kissed him on the cheek and lay on the seat. Louie covered her with his jacket, sat in the passenger seat and dozed.

 

With daylight at 7am and in  the still morning air, came the stench. The smell of burnt wood, paint and rubber mixed with the foul odors of scorched human hair, skin and  bloated, roasted corpses.

 

Jerry and Don climbed from the van and relieved themselves on the side of the road.

They both began retching from the smell.

 

“I can’t stand this shit!” Jerry wailed. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

 

Kristin exited her car, grabbed her bag from the trunk, and ran to the hidden shelter of some roadside shrubs to heed the morning call.  When she emerged, she had a rag tied over her mouth and nose.

 

She approached Louie and said, “When I was in medical school, we did an autopsy on some house fire victims. They smelled just like this.  Let’s get out of here, because that smell can damage us psychologically.”

 

They walked over to Don and Jerry. Louie winced when he saw the side of his van. The heat from the fire had bubbled off most of the paint. The only remains of his

“Santiago Plumbing” sign were a large  “S” and an “ing” 

 

“I like that”quipped Kristin. “S ing”

 

“Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling, that everything’s going my way.” Joked Louie

 

Don looked at Jerry with amazement “ See, Jerry? I told you that fucker was crazy!”

 

They all laughed, uneasily.

 

“We need to get out of here” said Louie. “ The smell is unbearable. We made it through last night ‘cause the fire kept the creeps away. Tonight we might not be so lucky. Any ideas?”

 

 

 

“I vote for the CHP station” said Don. We need the cop’s fire power against the bandits.

 

“ Well, what about Jerry? He can’t walk seven miles with his bad feet!” Argued Kristin

 

Don appeared irritated, then said “Well, we’ll put him in the shopping cart and push his fat ass over there.”

 

Jerry roared with laughter and yelled  “Now who’s crazy? Are you out of your mind?”

 

“Then let’s walk to the church that Alejandra talked about. It’s only a mile away, and maybe they’ve got coffee. I could kill for a cup,” offered Kristin.

 

“I’ll vote with Kristin” said Louie. Let’s load the cart with as much as we can carry, and walk over there. Any place is better than where we are.”

 

“Maybe there will be a drugstore along the way. I’m on blood pressure meds, and I’ve already missed two doses.” Revealed Don.

 

“That’s not good,” stated Kristin. “I’ve got a blood pressure reader in my bag. Come over to my car and I’ll check it.”  She fished the device from her paramedic bag, and clamped  the cuff on Don’s arm. She pumped it up.

 

Louie watched in silence, and prayed. “He is perfect in God”

 

Kristin monitored the device, and when it registered, she said ” 115 over 75, heart rate of 70.” Damn, Don, you’re blood pressure’s lower than mine, and I don’t take meds!”

 

“It’s probably because my wife and kids aren’t around to bug me!” Don jested.

 

Louie smiled at the results and said ” Let’s load the cart with just the essentials and get going. Maybe we can find more food and water on the way.”

 

Kristin tossed her paramedic bag in the cart. She bent over and kissed her Honda good bye. Louie added a flashlight, hammer and hatchet from his van. Jerry took his baseball bat, and Don his mace.

 

They rolled the cart off the freeway and headed toward St. Christopher’s Catholic church .

 

The commercial street they traveled was littered with damaged cars, broken glass and bullet casings. Most of the stores had broken windows and damaged doors. The only store that was intact was a large supermarket.  Three armed guards stood by the door.

 

Jerry yelled, “Are you open for business?” 

 

“Yeah, but cash only. And a five minute time limit inside ”

 

Louie counted his cash. He had $100. He and Kristin walked up to the store .One of the tall, burly guards lowered his shotgun and handed Louie a flashlight. “Make it quick.” He ordered.  Louie headed for the water jugs, while Kristin loaded up on canned goods and a can-opener.

 

“Get some more chips and beer!” Yelled Jerry  “And Tequila!” added Don

 

Louie and Kristen carried their baskets of goods to a checkstand, where a lone checker looked at all the stuff, and said “Give me $30.”

 

“$30? That’s all?” Objected Louie.

 

“I can’t scan any prices without power, so I just have to guesstimate,” replied the checker.

 

“Well, thanks!” Louie answered, as he handed aver the cash.

 

They bagged the food, left the store and crammed the goods in the heavily-laden  cart.

 

The remainder of the walk to St. Christopher’s was like walking through a bombed -out city.  The street was full of abandoned, plundered cars, torched buildings, broken glass and debris.

 

Right before they arrived at the church, they came upon a most gruesome sight.  Crumpled against the wall of a gutted auto-parts store were seven bodies. Spray-painted

on the wall above them was a sign- “Looters.”

 

“ Oh, shit! Vigilantes!” Exclaimed Don.  “They can be worse than the bandits. The sooner we get off the street, the better!”

 

They hurried their pace, and pushed to cart to the broad brick staircase that led to the heavy, ornate wooden doors of St Christopher’s church.

 

Jerry climbed the stairs and tried the doors.

 

” Shit. They’re locked,” he muttered. He pounded on them.

 

Louie whispered, “Father. Help us.”

 

“Let me try,” said Kristin

 

She mounted the stairs, grabbed a door handle and pulled. Suddenly, the door burst open  A short, stocky, black haired woman rushed past her, jumped down the stairs and ran up the street

 

“Get your ass back here!” Yelled someone from inside the church. An old, tall, skinny, tattooed and disheveled man with a long gray beard pushed past Kristin and began looking up and down the street.

 

“Fuck!” He screamed. “Where did she go? Who unlocked that fuckin’ door?” 

 

He was joined on the steps by an obese, tough-looking, tattooed and homely Samoan woman in a red straw hat. Beside her was a thin, dread locked African man in filthy, baggy sweat pants and a worn blue hoodie. Behind them stood a handsome, young, casually dressed, dark- haired man with a neatly trimmed goatee.

 

“Run!” Screamed the young man to Kristin.

 

The African yelled ”Shut the fuck up!” and backhanded the young man across the mouth with a loud slap. He fell down.

 

Louie’s group stood mesmerized and  speechless.

 

“Uh, maybe we’ll just keep moving,” said Kristin

 

The bearded man grabbed her arm. “The fuck you will, my cute little nursie.”

 

Louie, Don and Jerry started up the stairs toward him. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a Sig Sauer  pistol.  He pointed it at them.

 

‘Don’t get excited, boys. Just get your asses in here. And bring that fuckin’ cart. He looked at Kristin with a leer. ”And you too, sweet thing.”

 

“She sho’ is fine. Damn!” Said the woman. ”I wants me a little taste of that!”

 

The African man began pushing the three men into the church.Jerry turned around and grabbed him by the throat. Don kicked him in the crotch. He groaned and crumpled to the floor. Louie started for the bearded man but was met by the pistol against his forehead. The woman pulled a  buck knife and pointed it at Kristin .”Get yo’ fine little bootie in here, cupcake.” She licked her lips, then glared at the bearded man

 

“Waste’em, Gary!” She yelled.

 

Gary stared at Louie’s group. ‘You folks better calm down, and start actin’ like Father Tony over there, real peaceful, or I’ll blow you all away, one by one.” 

 

At gunpoint, Gary forced the group into the dim, cavernous chapel, with its ornate stained glass windows. 20 pews lined each side of the chapel’s broad aisle. At the head of the aisle was an alter, and above that a huge marble statue of the crucified Christ .Giant  gothic gold candelabras flanked the statue .The atmosphere inside the church was shadowy,  cold and eerie. 

 

The African man got up from his beating, rubbed his sore neck and mumbled to Gary, “Let’s take them out back before we shoot them. I don’t want to have to drag their bodies out of here”

 

“Good thinking, Darnell. That fat one weighs about 300 pounds.”

 

”Fuck you!” Yelled Jerry

 

“ Don’t waste’em outside, someone will hear the shots!”  The woman advised.

 

“Yeah, Amy, you’re right.”  Besides, I wanna fuck with them a little first, especially the priest and blondie over there.”snickered Gary.

 

“Me too !” Said Amy

 

 “Me three” Laughed  Darnell.

 

Father Tony was back on his feet. He stood behind Louie. He bellowed at Gary. “  You’re going to pay a steep price for the evil that you’re committing in this holy place. There was a reason why God let Alejandra get away!”

 

 

“Well, fuck God and Alejandra.” Answered Gary.  “God won’t do shit, and Alejandra’s  too old and fucked up to run more than a block. She’s probably dead of exhaustion already!”

 

Kristin was stunned at what she’d just heard. The woman fleeing the church was Alejandra!

 

She stared at the red straw hat and jewelry that the gross and smelly Amy had on.  It was the same red hat and jewelry that the pretty little brunette who’d walked away with officer McGinty had been wearing!

 

She felt sick.

 

Amy grabbed her by the arm. “Better search this bitch and those three motherfuckers before we do anything else, Gary,” she urged.

 

“Help me search em’, Darnell” Gary ordered.

 

“I’ll search the cupcake” Announced Amy.  She pulled  Kristin up by the hair,placed her hands on her butt and squeezed. “Feels yummy” She laughed. She began kissing Kristin’s neck and rubbing her all over. Kristin cringed her nose with disgust.  Amy reeked.

 

While Gary and Darnell searched Don and Jerry, they ignored Louie.  Louie quickly turned to Father Tony and handed him his money and his pistol. Father Tony stuffed them down the front of his jeans.

 

Don had also been staring at Amy’s red hat. He recognized it as the hat the pretty young brunette had been wearing,.  “Hey, Miss Piggy, where’d you steal that hat?”

 

Amy glared at him, and pulled her buck knife.  She walked over to Don and waved the knife under his throat. “Let me cut him, Gary,” she pleaded.

 

“Then you’ll clean up all the blood.”

 

“Fuck that!” she bellowed. I’ll wait till we take ‘em out back, then I’ll cut his little dick off.”

 

“You’re lucky you’ve got that knife, you fat, disgusting, stinking  pig, and that Hillbilly Jim here has that gun, otherwise the three of you would be dead,” snapped Don.

 

“ Give it time, Don.” Added Louie.

 

“What are you, a fuckin’ fortune teller?” Asked Gary

 

”No, I just know how Lady Karma works, and I’ve got a feeling she’ll be coming to see you soon.”

 

“Amen!” Exclaimed Father Tony.

 

“Well, maybe Lady Karma will keep her distance after I tell you losers how Amy got her hat,” explained Gary. “We was headed up north from Berkeley to sell meth to them kids at that big rock concert in Clear Lake this weekend. We got as far as Rohnert Park when that flash hit.  Me an’ Darnell are like ‘what the fuck’? but Amy sees that every other car is stopped, and that her phone is dead. She’s all like, ‘shit, this is big!’ So, we get out and start walkin’ and it’s plain to see that no one can call the cops, ‘cause there ain’t no phones. So we used Amy’s knife and started jackin’ women and faggy guys for their money and shit.. Amy cut one dude pretty good, and Darnell knocked  a couple of bitches out, but other than that, nobody got hurt. But then I thought, ‘ what we need is a gun.’ Now, I had to hock my piece to get cash for gas up to Clear Lake. So, I’m lookin’ for another piece.’”

 

“Anyway, as luck would have it, walkin’ towards us is a group of people with a CHP officer, with this cute little bitch in a big red hat..  Amy’s all like, ‘ I want that hat!’  I’m all like, ‘ I want that cop’s gun!” So Amy walks up to the cop real nice and says.’Excuse me officer, do you know what happened? ‘And before the cop can answer, she stabs him in the liver, then pulls the knife all the way up to his chin. The little brunette bitch in the hat started screamin,’ so Amy pulled the knife out of the cop, and got the little bitch in the throat, right through the jugular.  Shit, between her and the cop, we had blood spurtin’.everywhere!  The rest of the group ran like hell.  The cop was dead, so I reached down and got his piece. I even took his fuckin’ little name badge, McGinty. Darnell is a horny bastard, so he dragged the cute little brunette’s body off into the bushes, and fucked the shit out of it. When he was done, he pulled off her red hat and jewelry,  and gave them to Amy’”

 

“That little bitch was still a virgin!” Laughed Darnell

 

“And her hat looks good on me, doesn’t it?” Sneered Amy.”I looked good enough for Father fagbait here to let us into the church. I told him I needed confession. I said ‘Father, I just killed a cop and a teenager!’ Then I showed him my knife. Gary didn’t want to me to kill him, because he thought he was cute. Gary did time in Quentin, so he likes the pretty boys. That old bag Alejandra was the only other person in the church, and horny Darnell wouldn’t let me cut her, because he heard that Filipinos give good head’”

 

“You sick bastards!” Yelled Jerry

 

“Well, you wanted to know how Amy got her hat, so now you know. Tell Lady Karma to stick that in her pipe and smoke it.” chuckled Gary

 

“She’ll be smoking you, soon enough” said Louie.

 

”Amen,” added Father Tony, with revulsion.

 

“Fuck all this talk,” blurted Darnell. “I see me some beers in that cart! Ya’ll want some?”

 

“Fuck yeah,!” confirmed Amy.” And see what they got to eat in there. I already ate all of Father fagbait’s communion wafers. They tasted like shit.”

 

Father Tony glared at her.

 

“ Yeah, Father fagbait, you want a beer?” Teased Darnell. Might be the last one you’ll ever get! And tell me, Father, are all priests gay?”

 

“Of course they are!” asserted Gary. “That’s why, after we have a few beers and fuck little nurse nasty over there, we’re gonna fuck us a priest! I could go for a pretty boy’s tight little bootie. It’ll remind me of San Quentin!”

 

“Yowza, boss! Sounds good!” Shouted a joyful Darnell, He rifled through the cart, pulling out bags of chips and and cans of chili and spaghetti. ”Ooh! Look what I found!” He yanked out a quart bottle of Cuervo Gold Tequila

 

 “Jack pot!”

 

“All right!” yelled Gary “My favorite!  Pop that bad boy and pass it over.”

 

Darnell twisted the cap off the bottle and took a huge swig. He began to cough. He handed the bottle to Gary. Gary took an even bigger swig, draining almost a cup from the bottle.

 

“Aah, That’s good!  You want some, Amy?”

 

“No, fuck that. I gotta have some food in my stomach before I can drink that shit. I’m gonna open me up a can of that spaghetti. You want some?”

 

“No, fuck the spaghetti, I’ll have me a can of that chili. What you want, Darnell?

 

“Chili”

 

Amy began opening up cans of food.  She passed them to Gary and Darnell. “Give us each a beer” Gary ordered.

 

Amy handed each of them a beer, and they began eating. They scooped food out of the cans with their fingers, licked them, then tipped the cans to their mouths, and emptied the rest in.

 

“Ah yes, it don’t get any fuckin’ better than this!” Exclaimed Darnell.

 

Louie, his group, and Father Tony looked on in silent disgust.

 

“Sorry we can’t share any with you losers, but we gotta have our priorities!” Proclaimed  Gary.

 

Louie stared at him in silence

 

Gary let out a huge belch. Darnell and Amy followed suit.

 

“Now, I’m ready for some tequila,” said Amy.  Then, I’m gonna eat me some cupcake! She smiled at Kristin. She had no front teeth.

 

“Ooh wee! Dessert!” Yelled Darnell.

 

Amy grabbed the tequila bottle and took a long swig. “Yum, good shit,” she mumbled.

 

She walked over to Kristin, slapped her in the face, and pulled her up hard by the hair. Kristin whimpered and tried to squirm free. Amy punched her in the face and jaw, then held her knife to Kristin’s throat. She leered at her, and said  “C’mon, cupcake, time to give up that cute little coochie.”

 

Louie, Don and Jerry bristled with fury.

 

 Gary chuckled, raised his pistol, and said, “Calm down, boys, and enjoy the show.”

 

Amy pulled Kristin by the hair up to the alter. When Kristin tried to fight her and wiggle free, Amy punched her in the face and kneed her in the stomach.

 

“Don’t mess her face up,” yelled Darnell. I want her to be pretty when I fuck her!”

 

“ You do, and you’re a dead man, said Jerry. “Guaranteed”

 

“Screw you, fat boy!.”Chided Darnell. “You’ll be shot before the sun goes down. Gary’s got a bullet with your name on it!”

 

Louie and Father Tony watched in silence.

 

“Quit arguing with that asshole and hold her down on the alter” screeched Amy. “I want Jesus up there to get a good view of me munchin’ that sweet little coochie.”

 

Darnell grabbed Kristin in a full Nelson and wrestled her down on the alter. Amy pinned Kristin’s legs to the alter, than kneeled and started to pull off  Kristin’s pants.

 

She licked her lips and moaned, ”Ooh, this is gonna be so good!”

 

Suddenly, Father Tony yelled, “God, forgive me!” He pulled Louie’s pistol from his waist and fired two shots at Amy’s back.  Amy screamed, stood straight up, turned to face Father Tony, then collapsed on the floor. The bullets had punctured her aorta.

 

Don and Jerry rushed Darnell.  Don grabbed his legs, while Jerry hit him with a vicious right cross and a left hook to the chin.  Darnell’s jaw cracked.  He  released Kristin and  collapsed to the alter, unconscious. Don and Jerry pinned him to the floor

 

Kristin ran for the doors and struggled to open them.

 

Gary was too drunk and stunned by the loud shots to react quickly. Just as he raised his gun to shoot Father Tony, Louie hit his arm. The gun fired, but the bullet missed, and shattered one of the church’s stained glass windows. Gary tried to shoot at Father Tony again, but he’d just used his last bullet.

 

“Fuck!” He screamed. He turned and hit Louie on the bridge of the nose with the pistol.

Louie went down to his knees, blood spurting from his face.

 

In the commotion, no one heard the sound of ancient engines approaching the church.

 

Gary kicked Louie in the head, and lunged toward Father Tony. Father Tony aimed the pistol and tried to fire, but Gary was too quick.  He punched Father Tony in the nose, and wrestled the pistol from him. He whipped Father Tony in the face with the butt of the gun. Blood spurted from Father Tony’s nose and forehead.

 

 

Gary was enraged. He ran over to Louie and pressed the pistol against his temple.

“You’re dead now, you spic fuck!”

 

He didn’t hear the banging on the church doors.

 

Kristin did. She unlocked them.

 

The doors swung open wide. Staring at Kristin were a short, dark- haired woman, a stocky, gray -haired Hispanic man,  and a younger Hispanic man holding a  double-barreled shotgun.

 

“Kristin!” Shouted the woman. Thank God you’re safe!”

 

“Alejandra! Yelled. Kristin. “Look out! That creep’s got a gun!”

 

 She pointed at Gary. Gary was distracted. He turned the gun away from Louie and toward the doors.

 

The younger Hispanic man with the shotgun was glaring at him. He raised his weapon.

 

“Hola, guero. Drop the gun “

 

Gary froze.

 

Outside the church was an old Ford pickup truck with four young, shotgun toting men. Behind the pickup was an ancient, beautifully restored yellow school bus. One of the  gun-toting men jumped off  the truck and ran to the back of the church.

 

Gary yelled at the gunman in the doorway. “I ain’t droppin’ shit, motherfucker! You drop your gun! I shoot faster than a cat can jump!  I’ll pick all of you off! 

 

He aimed the gun at the young man.

 

They stared at one another in silence. No one moved.

 

Inside the chapel, Darnell had awoke, and was struggling to stand up. Don and Jerry watched him. Someone slowly crept past them.

 

Gary aimed his pistol at the young man’s head, and prepared to fire.

 

“Drop it, pendejo,” came a voice from behind him.

 

Gary was startled. His arm dropped. The man behind him rushed over and stuck the barrel of his shotgun in Gary’s back, hard.

 

“The party’s over, cabron. ” He said.

 

He shoved Gary against the wall of the church.

 

Louie got off his knees, pulled his shirt up, and wiped the blood from his eyes.

 

He stared at the people in the doorway. He recognized one of them

 

“Senor Camacho! What are you doing here?”

 

Senor Camacho knew Louie as a good customer.

 

“Hola, amigo, we meet again,” he said, smiling at Louie.

 

 

Gary began yelling. One of the gun toting men had him by the throat.

 

The other man held Darnell by the dreadlocks

 

“Que hacer?” One of them asked Senor Camacho

 

“Dispareales. La parte de atras” He answered .

 

The two men began pushing Gary and Darnell to the rear of the church

 

“What the fuck are you doing? Bellowed Gary. “We got rights!”

 

“I ain’t done nuthin!” Screamed Darnell. “It was all Gary and Amy’s idea!”

 

The shotgun toting men pushed and kicked them outside the church into the rear yard.

 

 Inside, Alejandra hugged Kristin, then spotted the bloody Father Tony.

 

She ran over to him

 

“Oh, Father, look what they did to you!” She wiped his bloody face with her hands.

 

“I’ve got some hydrogen peroxide and bandages in my bag. It’s in the cart,”  advised Kristin “You patch up Father Tony, and I’ll take care of Louie”

 

Louie held his hand to the cut above his nose. He walked up to Senor Camacho

 

 

“ What made you come here, amigo?” He asked

 

“Alejandra,” said Senor Camacho.” I brought guards and a bus down to my parish, St Benedict’s, so that I could rescue Father Valdivia and the sisters from the desperadoes that are killing and stealing. As we were driving everybody back to my ranch, Father Valdivia saw Alejandra running toward the church. He yelled “Stop! She’s a Catholic,” so we did. Alejandra  told us that she’d run over from St. Christopher’s, because some desperadoes had taken over the church. If she had been one minute later, we would have missed her. It was a divine coincidence. It was God’s will that we saw her, and God’s will that we found out about you”

 

Don, Jerry and Kristin listened in amazement.

 

Kristin spoke. “Louie, didn’t you say that coincidence is God’s way of remaining  anonymous? I think I’m beginning to believe you!”

 

Louie nodded. He looked affectionately at Kristin as she cleaned his face and bandaged his wound.

 

Father Tony sat on a pew as Alejandra lovingly wiped his bloody forehead, then wrapped it with gauze and tape.

 

“What amazes me is that St Benedict’s is five miles from here! How did you get there, Alejandra?” He asked.

 

“I don’t remember, Father. Something just told me to run, and it gave me strength!”

 

“Praise God!” Added Father Tony. He reached for Alejandra and hugged her.

 

While Louie and Father Tony were treated, Senor Camacho walked to the rear of the church.

 

Suddenly, Darnell and Gary bellowed, “ No! Don’t!  Stop!”

 

Two shotgun blasts echoed through the chapel.

 

“Ay dios mio!” Shrieked Alejandra.  She looked skyward and made the sign of the cross.

 

Father Tony bowed his head and prayed.

 

Senor Camacho walked back into the church with a sad expression, shaking his head. He stopped and looked at Amy’s body.

 

“Que paso?” He asked.

 

Father Tony was about to tell him, but Louie spoke first.

 

“She was shot with my gun. She was about to desecrate this church with an unspeakable act.”

 

Father Tony stared at Louie, and mouthed, “Thank you!”

 

Louie held his index finger to his lips. Father Tony’s actions that day would forever be kept secret.

 

Senor Camacho turned away from the body and sighed, “ It’s for the best.”

 

He yelled in Spanish, and the two young gunmen returned to the chapel  One of them grabbed Amy’s legs, and the other her arms.

 

“Esta fea y gordo,” one said, as they struggled to drag her out.

 

Senor Camacho walked to the front of the church and addressed the group

 

“I had no choice but to eliminate those two, because there is no place for such degenerates at Nueva Aztlan, and  I couldn’t leave them  behind to prey on someone else.From what Alejandra told me, they were evil beyond redemption. Father Tony and Father Valdivia will disagree, but the peace and security we’ll all enjoy at the ranch is too precious to sacrifice for redemption that probably wouldn’t have happened.May God forgive me for what I had to do.” He made the sign of the cross, and wiped his eyes.

 

Louie stared at him, dejectedly.  Kristin patted Louie on the back.  “That Lady Karma’s a bitch, ain’t she?”

 

“She sure is,” Louie muttered. “Live by the sword, die by the sword. Live by Karma, die by Karma. I’ve never seen it fail. Thank God I don’t live that way, and you don’t have to, either.”

 

Kristin looked at him, blankly. Louie’s mystical ramblings were hard to understand. She had many questions for him.

 

Jerry and Don walked up to Senor Camacho, introduced themselves, and shook his hand.

 

He recognized Jerry from the restaurant, and was delighted to learn that Jerry was a construction foreman, and that Don was an electrical contractor. They would be valuable additions to his ranch’s community.

 

Don couldn’t wait any longer.  “Senor Camacho, do you have any idea what happened? Was it a nuke?  Have you heard anything on the radio at your ranch?”

 

Senor Camacho faced Don. “ I have an old Zenith Transoceanic vacuum tube radio at the ranch. It still works, in spite of the flash .But we’ve heard nothing but static on every band, shortwave, am, fm, and vhf. It’s like there’s nothing out there. My satellite system was fried, as well as all my computers, TVs and phones. There’s no communications at all, so we’ll just have to wait and keep scanning with the radio for signals.  I feel that it was a nuke, but from who?  Islamic terrorists, North Korea or Russia? We might never know. There is one curious and good thing. There’s. a lack of radioactive fallout. I bought a Geiger counter years ago because we have uranium ore deposits on the ranch . The Geiger counter is not registering abnormal levels of radiation. That makes me wonder if it was a nuke, or maybe another type of explosive?” He shrugged.

 

Don shook his head in bewilderment.

 

Jerry asked, “ Do you have any idea what happened to the Bay Area? I live in Pinole, Don lives in Emeryville, and Louie has a plumbing business in Oakland.  Are the cities still  there? That second flash and big cloud scared the hell out of us.”

 

“I commute from Forestville to San Francisco for work.” Kristin added. “Is San Francisco still there?” 

 

Senor Camacho shrugged again. “I don’t know. We’ll have to investigate. After the clouds down south disappear, my guards and I will go to Petaluma, find a boat, and row around the Bay. Then we’ll see if anything’s left. With all the desperadoes around, it will be very dangerous.”

 

“I’ll go,” said Jerry. ”So will I” Added Don. “Me too” Affirmed Louie.

 

Senor Camacho nodded his approval, then said, “In the meantime, you’re all welcome at my ranch..It’s got plenty of everything. Plenty of housing .Plenty of clothing.Plenty of electricity from solar power, plenty of fresh water, and plenty of food. I have cows, sheep, hogs and chickens. I have fresh lettuce and greens year round, and plenty of canned summer vegetables and fruits. I’m two miles from the ocean, so I have plenty of fish. I have 30 acres of vineyards, and my wine cellar has 5000 bottles of Cabernet. I’m even making brandy this year!”

 

“On second thought, maybe I’ll just stay on your ranch!” Joked Don.

 

“It’s my heaven!” Senor Camacho replied.

 

The two gunmen walked back into the chapel. Their T-shirts and jeans were splattered with dirt and blood.

 

“Enterrado?”  asked Senor Camacho.

 

“Si.”

 

He motioned for the gunmen to return to the pickup truck, and then addressed the group.

 

“Amigas y amigos, it will get dark soon, and the desperadoes will return.  We need to go now. Let’s all get on my bus and drive home to my ranch, which is now your home. God has blessed me today. I drove the bus down alone, and now I return with two priests, three nuns, a nurse, an electrical contractor, a plumber, and a builder! What a bonanza!

 

He laughed with joy and clapped his hands.

 

“Don’t forget Alejandra” interjected Father Tony. “ She’s a spectacular cook. Her lumpia and adobo are legendary at St. Christopher’s!

 

Alejandra hugged Father Tony.

 

Senor Camacho smiled, then said, “vamanos!”

 

He led the way to the school bus. Alejandra and Father Tony climbed aboard first.

 

They were greeted by short, plump, gray-haired Father Valdivia, and three nuns. All four were all dressed casually, like they were going camping.

 

They stared at Father Tony’s bandages. ”My God!” the nuns whispered. “We heard shots! Is everything OK?  Asked Father Valdivia

 

“ Yes, Father, all is well. God’s good has prevailed. I’ll explain more to you later.” Father Tony winked at him. Father Valdivia gave a knowing nod.

 

One of the nuns spoke up. “Father Tony, where are sisters Margaret and Ellen?”

 

“They left Friday morning, before the flash, for a retreat in Angwin. Given what happened at our church, it was a blessing. I’m praying that they are safe there”

 

“So will we,” responded the sisters. They bowed their heads.

 

Don and Jerry wrestled the shopping cart on board, and each grabbed a beer. They offered beers to the priests. Both priests smiled, but declined. They took seats, and admired the beauty of Senor Camacho’s perfectly restored bus.

 

“Amazing!” they said in unison. They popped their beers. 

 

Don sipped his beer, and watched the three nuns praying. Suddenly, he felt a twinge of fear as he thought about his family in Emeryville.  Something happening inside compelled him to speak.

 

“Excuse me, sisters. Could you pray for my family? I don’t know how, because I don’t believe in God.”

 

The eldest nun, frail, 85-year old Sister Catherine, raised her tiny, neatly coiffed, gray-haired head. She looked at Don and smiled. “Honey, you don’t have to believe in God to pray!”

 

The 40-ish, tall, brunette and beautiful nun beside her, Sister Gloria, chimed in.” My dear, your lack of belief has no effect on God. God loves you unconditionally, because He is you, whether you believe it or not. Realizing and returning His unconditional love is the highest form of prayer. You don’t believe and pray because you’ve let your intellect and ego get in the way. They’re shouting so loud that you can’t hear God’s still small voice calling you to prayer.”

 

Don was stunned by the sister’s insight, emotion and frankness.

 

Young and pretty Sister Marie, a 21-year old novice, smiled at Don and added “ You don’t need to believe in God to pray , because real prayer is listening  for  God and feeling his presence within.  God is always speaking within you.  Just quiet your mind and open your heart. He speaks to everyone, no matter what they believe, or don’t believe. Your consciousness, filled with God from prayer, can create miracles. The people that you hold in consciousness- your family- may receive those miracles. It’s mysterious,. but true.”

 

“Your loving desires are prayer, and God hears every one,” offered Father Tony

 

Father Valdivia laughed.  “Aren’t you sorry you asked?” 

 

Don sheepishly looked away, “I’ve got a lot to learn,” he mumbled

 

“Me too.” Added Jerry.

 

.Louie and Kristin climbed aboard, and sat together.  Senor Camacho went to the driver’s seat, and started the bus. He tooted the horn, and motioned for the gunmen in the pickup truck to lead the way.  He yelled, “vamanos a ir Nueva Aztlan!” He began singing a norteno ballad, and followed the pickup to the ranch.  He had a beautiful, majestic voice.

 

Kristin listened attentively to Senor Camacho’s pretty singing, smiled, then leaned her head back against the seat. The bizarre events of the last 36 hours were taking their toll. She was physically and mentally exhausted. She looked over at Louie. Two big bandages covered the gash above his nose. His gray work shirt was stained with blood. He was staring out the window. He seemed lost in thought.

 

She mustered the energy to speak.

 

“Meditating again?”

 

Louie was also very tired, and was startled by Kristin’s voice. He put his arm around her and squeezed. She snuggled closer.

 

“ Yeah, I was just thanking my mom for teaching me to always practice the Presence.She taught me that there’s no problem that can withstand the presence of God consciousness- the consciousness of Oneness. She’d say, “Where illumined consciousness is, there is liberty.”

 

Kristin listened, drowsily. She laid her head on Louie’s shoulder, and whispered,

 

“So that’s what got us through all this stuff, and got us on this bus to Senor Camacho’s  heaven? Oneness?

 

“ Seems so”

 

“When we meet your mom, we’ll tell her all about it.”

 

“We?”

 

“ I’ve got to meet the woman who raised such a brave, sweet, kind and wise son. You’re  like that dude in that movie “The Ten Commandments.” What was his name?

 

“Moses”

 

“Yeah, Moses.  He met God, then lead his people out of danger and bondage  to the promised land .He  performed miracles. Kind of like you with that plane, Alejandra, last night, Don’s blood pressure,  the stuff at the church, and now this beautiful bus to heaven. I’ve got to read Mose’s story some day. What’s it called?

 

“Exodus”

 

 

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