Chapter OneOn the Run
Someone was following her in a car. Vicki
clutched her books to her chest and walked
toward town. She didn't look back. She
couldn't risk letting them know she suspected.
Mrs. Jenness had let her go. That was a
surprise. But Vicki would have stayed all
night without ratting on her friends. But
would her friends be as faithful to her? On the Run
Seeing Shelly and her mother in the principal's
office had sickened Vicki. Shelly had
been sincere about her faith, hadn't she?
Could it have been an act? The sight of Judd,
John, and Mark turning away from her down
the hall made her heart sink. Didn't they
care? Or were they trying to protect her by
keeping their distance?
Vicki had a good idea who was following
her: someone from school assigned to see
where she went. Perhaps Judd and the others
had figured that out. They wouldn't have
simply abandoned her.
Vicki had to get back to her friends. She
had to talk with Pastor Bruce. When Mrs.
Jenness discovered she had no parents, all
the kids would be at risk. She needed to keep
moving and stay away from Judd's house.
Vicki looked in shop windows and
followed the reflection of the trailing car.
When it stopped, she ducked into a drugstore.
She sat at a bench in the back and tapped out
a message on the tiny digital system on her
wrist that looked like a watch. She asked
Judd to meet her at a nearby park. She would
try to shake whoever was following her and
meet him there.
The front door opened. A man's voice.
Loud. "Did a girl with red hair come in
Vicki crouched beneath the prescription
"Right there," the cashier said.
Vicki looked up. The overhead mirror ran
the length of the wall and angled down. The
man behind the counter pointed toward her.
Vicki remembered how her little sister,
Jeanni, used to play hide-and-seek by sticking
her head in the closet, her rear sticking
out of the coats.
"Duh," Vicki said as she leapt to her feet.
"Stop!" the cashier shouted.
Vicki pushed open a door that said
"Hey, you can't go in there!" the pharmacist
"We'll get her," someone shouted.
Vicki locked the door behind her. Footsteps
and shouts outside. Darkness inside.
Vicki fumbled for a light switch. Keys were
jangling, getting closer.
"What did she take?" someone said.
Vicki moved toward a thin strip of light on
the other side of the room. The back door!
She tripped over a chair and banged her
head. The doorknob jiggled behind her.
She leaned against the back door, and it
swung open to blistering light. A siren rang
just above her head. She staggered out. As the
door swept shut she read, "Emergency Exit
Only-Alarm Will Sound."
* * *
Judd had waited in his car after school, hoping
Vicki would walk that way. After twenty
minutes he was about to leave for Lionel
and Ryan's school when his wrist messenger
vibrated and he saw Vicki's message. He
quickly sent another to Lionel and Ryan:
"Get home and keep watch. I'll be there as
fast as I can."
The park had been a late-night teen hangout.
With the rise in crime, a lot of kids were
afraid to go there. Judd sat in the parking lot
looking at the empty swing sets. Before the
disappearances, the place would have been
full of little kids. Now there were no families
at picnic tables or moms and dads with
strollers. It was a ghost town.
* * *
"Get the car," the loud man said. "I'll meet
you at the end of the alley."
Vicki heard shuffling and then silence. She
didn't want to rise up from her hiding place,
but the smell was overpowering. She peeked
from under the lid of the huge garbage bin.
No one. Something furry moved behind her.
Vicki ran down the alley. She was halfway
to the main street when a car passed. A
second later it was back.
"There she is!" a man said, but she didn't
see his face. She was running the other way.
The alley fence was way over her head-no
time to climb. Every door she tried was
locked. The car pulled behind her and
gunned the engine.
* * *
Judd had been so focused on getting to the
park and alerting Ryan and Lionel that he
forgot to let Vicki know he was waiting.
He backtracked, slowing to look in shop
windows and down alleys. He heard the
screech of tires and swerved to miss an
oncoming car barreling around a corner. He
drove past the drugstore and hung a left.
Judd sped past an alley and slammed on his
brakes. Vicki ran toward him, the car bearing
down on her.
Judd made a U-turn and opened the
passenger door. Vicki jumped in. "Go, go,
go!" she shouted.
"I don't mean to be rude," Judd said,
speeding away, "but you look awful."
"Thanks," Vicki said, panting. "Just get me
out of here!"
Judd sped through a yellow light. The car
behind had a red, but it ran through the
light, swerved to miss oncoming traffic, and
"Who is that?" Judd said.
"It's gotta be Handlesman or somebody he
told to follow me. They want us bad."
Judd turned at the next light, then into an
alley. They careened around another corner
and through an empty parking lot.
"Hang on," Judd said as he crossed a patch
of grass and turned into a tree-lined subdivision.
He flew across a bridge, spun in the
entrance to a park, and came to a halt behind
some shrubs. The trailing car was nowhere in
"Better stay here awhile just to make sure,"
Judd said. "Who gave you the shiner?"
"A filing cabinet, I think," Vicki said.
Through gasps, Vicki told Judd about her
interrogation at school. Judd told her they
had listened to Shelly and her mother
through the bug in Mrs. Jenness's office.
"What did Shelly say?" Vicki asked. "How
much were you able to hear?"
"We heard Shelly crying and her mother
yelling at her to give you up," he said. "Not
"Then maybe they pushed her into it,"
Vicki said. "At least that's what I hope."
Judd sniffed. "Is it me, or is there an odor
Vicki blushed. "I hid in a garbage bin."
Judd pulled a blackened piece of banana
peel from her hair. "Pretty resourceful."
"And gross," Vicki said, shuddering and
rubbing her arms. "I hate goose bumps."
"Are you cold?"
She shook her head. "Judd, they told me to
bring my parents tomorrow."
"They don't know about your mom and
"If they do, they're not letting on."
Judd paused. "Uh, I want to thank you. We
couldn't hear the interrogation, but we could
tell you handled yourself well. We were all
"You would have done the same for me."
"Mark wanted to rescue you. Said we
should give ourselves up."
"He didn't think I could handle the pressure?"
"He didn't think it was fair to put you
"I could've choked Handlesman," Vicki
said. "He treated me like some dumb little
girl, like I'd never have the brains to put two
sentences together, let alone a newspaper."
"Don't worry," Judd said. "You'll get your
chance to show him Monday morning."
"You're not going through with it again,
Judd nodded. "Why not? If Bruce is right,
the treaty between Israel and Carpathia will
be headlined around the world. We can't
pass this up. We have to tell people what's
"Bruce says the treaty signals the beginning
of the Tribulation, right?"
"Exactly," Judd said.
"But how are you gonna get the Underground
inside? You've got the guard checkpoint,
cameras, and every teacher in the
school on the lookout."
Judd shrugged. "We've got God on our
Vicki ran through all her options, and
none seemed very good. Judd waited until
dusk to start the car.
"Can we stop and see Bruce on the way
home?" Vicki said. "I want to see what he
"He could pretend to be your father," Judd
"That'd be lying," Vicki said. "He'd never
A few cars lined the New Hope Village
Church parking lot. Maybe the Tribulation
Force is meeting, Judd thought. He parked in
front and kept the engine running. He waited
while Vicki dashed inside. He flipped to a
news station on the radio.
"Not a day has passed without some major
development with new UN Secretary-General
Nicolae Carpathia," the reporter said. "And
today was no exception. Cincinnati Archbishop
Peter Cardinal Mathews, who some
see as successor to the vanished pope,
announced a new cooperative religion that
would incorporate the tenets of all major
religions. He calls it the Global Community
"Our religions have caused much division
and bloodshed," Cardinal Mathews droned.
"From this day forward we will unite under
the banner of the Global Community Faith.
Our logo will contain sacred symbols from
religions that represent all, and from here on
will encompass all. Whether we believe God
is a real person or merely a concept, God is
in all and above all and around all. God is in
us. God is us. We are God."
Judd shook his head. What a pack of lies.
"We will elect a pope," Mathews said.
"And we expect that other major religions
will continue to appoint leaders in their
usual cycles. But these leaders will serve the
Global Community Faith and be expected to
maintain the loyalty and devotion of their
parishioners to the larger cause."
The reporter continued. "United Nations
Secretary-General Nicolae Carpathia said the
move toward one religion is a welcome
"'We clearly are at the most momentous
juncture in world history,'" Carpathia said.
"'With the consolidation to one form of
currency, with the cooperation and toleration
of many religions into one, with worldwide
disarmament and commitment to peace, the
world is truly becoming one.'"
"Another incredible development came
when Nicolae Carpathia answered questions
regarding the rebuilding of the Jewish temple
and the future of the Islamic Dome of-"
Vicki jumped in the car and slapped the
"Go!" she shouted.
"What's going on?"
"Look," Vicki pointed.
Running toward them was an angry Coach
Handlesman. Judd sped away.
"What's he doing here?" Judd said.
"Bruce's office door was kinda open, so I
knocked. All of a sudden Coach Handlesman
starts yelling! He accuses Bruce of crimes,
says he'll have him thrown in jail. I was outta
"How could Coach Handlesman know
Vicki shook her head. "Maybe Shelly gave
them his name. Bruce went with me to her
"Great," Judd said. "I didn't want to drag
Bruce into the middle of all this."
Judd parked near his house and watched
for Coach Handlesman. When he was sure
they had eluded him, Judd pulled inside the
garage and lowered the door.
Lionel and Ryan peppered them with questions
"No lights tonight," Judd told them. And
the four would take turns watching the street.