Chapter OneDanger on the Road
JUDD was stunned. Vicki was gone.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
Lionel and Ryan looked up from their
spots on the floor before the TV. Ryan
shrugged. "There's a note by the phone."
Judd grabbed it and read quickly. "Hitching
to Michigan to see Bub. Back soon."
He slapped the note on his thigh and
caught himself before he swore. What was he
so mad about? This was his fault.
Vicki had asked him to drive her to see
her big brother Eddie's buddy. Judd refused
before he thought about it, telling her he felt
responsible for Lionel and Ryan and had better
stay with them.
"Let them ride along," Vicki had said.
"Nah," Judd said. "The roads are just starting
to reopen. We don't really know where
we're going. There are rumors school is going
to open again, and I'd hate to be out of state
if that happens."
"You're going back to school?"
"If it opens, sure."
"Because we have to."
"We have to? Judd, what are they going to
do if we don't show up? They'll figure we disappeared
along with thousands of others.
Anyway, if Bruce is right and there's a peace
treaty signed between the UN and Israel,
we'll have only seven years left to live. Why
would I want to spend half that time in
school? To learn what? The world is going
to hell, and we'd be sitting in class, trying to
prepare for a future that doesn't exist."
She had a point. Judd was a junior, but
Vicki was a freshman. School did seem like a
waste of time, but Judd didn't know what he
thought about breaking the law by refusing
to go. If it came to that, he assumed they
would all go, Lionel and Ryan back to Lincoln
Junior High, he and Vicki to Prospect
Judd had underestimated how desperate
Vicki was to locate Bub. She had never met
him, had only seen pictures and talked to
him on the phone-the last time the morning
of the Rapture. Her brother had met him
when he ran off to work in Michigan after
high school. Eddie said he liked Bub at first
because he was a wild party kind of a guy.
But then Eddie became a Christian. He
wasn't able to persuade Bub to quit his loose
living, but he kept rooming with him anyway.
It was Bub who had confirmed to Vicki
that Eddie had disappeared in the Rapture.
"I've been having trouble reaching Bub by
phone," she had told Judd. "I want to just go
Judd thought it was a bad idea and said so.
He even thought about telling Bruce, but the
kids had agreed they weren't going to treat
Bruce like a parent. If Judd had known Vicki
was going to just leave and hitchhike to
Michigan, he would have taken her himself.
He hated to think of her out there alone on
the road. He felt responsible for her, though
he knew he really wasn't. The four of them
were on their own now. They all lived
together in Judd's house, sure, but it had
been their choice to accept his invitation. The
only rules were that they would always tell
each other where they were. Vicki had fulfilled
Judd missed Vicki. There was no other way
to say it.
It wasn't that he was interested in her
romantically. At least not yet. He hadn't
decided how he felt about her in that way.
But she was the easiest person in the house
to talk to. She would turn fifteen before he
turned seventeen, so they weren't quite two
years apart. Lionel was only thirteen and
Ryan twelve, so although they were boys,
Judd usually chose to talk with Vicki.
But she was gone, at least for a while. He
worried about her.
Judd liked having Vicki around because
she was a buffer between Lionel and Ryan.
They squabbled all the time. Judd told himself
he didn't care, but they got on his nerves.
He knew they were like brothers and that
down deep they liked each other and probably
loved each other as brothers in Christ.
They just didn't act like it.
Lionel, who had been raised in a Christian
home, was a know-it-all who treated Ryan
like a dummy. Well, what did Lionel expect
from a kid who had hardly been to church?
The whole thing made Judd feel old. Here he
was, suddenly without parents, and he was
worried about people who lived with him
and for whom he felt responsible. All this in
just a couple of weeks. It was too bizarre.
* * *
Vicki feared she had made a mistake as soon
as she caught the attention of the driver of an
eighteen-wheeler. She had been praying that
a family would give her a ride. If not a family,
then a couple. If not a couple, then a
woman. Vicki hesitated when the truck
rumbled onto the shoulder and awaited her
approach. She could have easily ignored him,
but, after all, she had been standing there
with her thumb out.
She prayed as she approached the passenger
side. At the trailer park she had grown up
in, a friend was a truck driver. So she knew
how to mount the steps, open the door, and
swing herself inside. But with the door open,
Vicki froze. This driver was a man, and he
already had a passenger-another man. She
smelled alcohol and both men held beer
"Well, well, well," the passenger said,
"lookie what we got here!"
He was young and blond with
close-cropped hair, and he wore a sleeveless
tee shirt despite the chilly evening. He
offered her his free hand, but she hesitated,
one hand on the door handle, the other on
the side of the cab. The man smiled and she
smelled his breath. "C'mon in, honey. You
can sit right here between us."
"Yeah," the driver said. "We'll take a lady
like you anywhere you want to go!" He was
muscular and sweaty.
"I was, uh, just wondering how far it is to
Mount Prospect," Vicki said. There was no
way she'd ride with these two.
"You know good and well where it is," the
passenger said. "You had your thumb out
there, honey. Now, where to?"
"Nowhere," she said and began to step
"No you don't, sweetie," the young man
said, and he pushed the door wide open.
Vicki hung from the handle and dangled
high off the ground. He pulled the door back
toward him, and Vicki had to act. The last
thing she wanted was to get close enough for
him to reach her. She let go and dropped to
"Thanks anyway," she called out, heading
toward the back of the truck as the door shut.
But she knew that was not going to satisfy
the truckers when the door opened again and
the man bounded out, sloshing his beer can
as he did.
Vicki slipped in the gravel and tried to run,
her heart thundering. She was no match for a
man that size. As she desperately prayed she
realized how stupid she had been to take off
on her own. What had she been thinking?
The man was gaining on her when another
truck rolled off the side of the road, the skidding
tires kicking up dust. Vicki found herself
next to the passenger door of that vehicle as
it flew open. Now what?
She was relieved to see this driver was
alone and older, probably in his sixties, big,
barrel-chested, and with a week's growth of
white whiskers. His smile disarmed her.
"You ought to be careful, hitchikin' by
yourself these days, little lady," he said.
"Can you help me?" she said.
"What's the trouble?"
She pointed behind her, but when she
turned, the young man had turned tail and
was climbing back into the other truck. Taking
no chances, Vicki leaped aboard the new
"Where you going?" the old trucker said.
"Michigan," she said, noticing a leather
cross dangling from the CB radio mounted
above the dash.
"I can get you as far as Michigan City, Indiana,"
he said. "How'll that be?"
"An answer to prayer," she said.
The old man was shifting into one gear
after the other every few feet, getting back up
to speed as he pulled back onto the road.
When he finally had the rig in the right lane
and rolling with the heavy traffic, he cocked
his head and stared at Vicki.
"Did you say that just to get next to me,
'cause you saw the cross? Or are you really a
woman of prayer?"
"I am now," she said.
He chuckled and turned his gaze back at
the road. "Aren't we all?" he said. "Call me
"Are you a deacon?"
"Actually no. But once I found the Lord
and started telling everybody on the squawk
box, they started calling me Deacon. I'm a
little zealous I guess you might say."
"You a believer, Miss?"
"Vicki," she said. "With an I."
"Well, praise the Lord, Vicki with an I. Tell
me your story and I'll tell you mine."
Vicki ran down her whole history before
Deacon reached the state line. The ride was
punctuated by occasional static from the CB
radio, words she could just barely make out.
"That you, Deacon?" came one interruption.
"This here's the Fat Fox."
"Hey, Fatty, how ya doin', come back."
"Seventy-threes to you, Deke. Still totin'
"That's a big four, Fats. You will be too if
you wanna survive the flip side."
"I got the whole sermon the other day,
Deacon," the other man said. "Just saying
"Well, hey back, Fox. Don't be making the
Lord wait on you too long now, you hear? I
want to be calling you brother next time I see
Deacon explained to Vicki that he liked to
preach over the citizens' band radio. A lot of
drivers were scared and curious since the vanishings.
"I take a lot of heat for it from some.
They tell me to put a lid on it or save it for
Sunday, but it's way too late to be ashamed
of God, don't you think?"
Vicki nodded. "Did you not believe before,
or did you just not know?"
"I knew. My mother, God rest her soul,
told me every day of her life. But I blamed
God because she married the wrong man. He
treated her wrong. Me too. I hated him till
the day he died, and I always thought she
deserved better than a man like that. I quit
going to church fifty years ago and never
went back. She sent me verses and reminders
and letters and prayers every month until she
died a couple of years ago. I almost got saved
at her funeral. I knew what they were saying
was the truth, but I figured that if I came to
Jesus I would have too much apologizing to
do. Three former wives, you know."
Vicki wondered why he thought she'd
"Anyway, my last wife became a Christian
about six months after she left me. She
wanted to come back, make things right,
clean me up, get my life straightened out.
I didn't want any part of it. She warned me
that Jesus would come back and I wouldn't
be ready. Boy, was she right! When everybody
disappeared, I only needed to know
one thing: Was Janice here or gone? As soon
as I knew she was gone, leavin' her waitress
uniform right where she stood, I knew it was
true. I knew what to do, who to pray to, and
what to say."
"Me too," Vicki said. "Quit drinking and
Deacon tilted his head back and roared
with laughter. "You got off the sauce and the
cancer sticks when you got saved too, did
He laughed louder. "Is that a fact?"
"Yes, it is, and I don't think it's funny. Why
are you laughing?"
He wiped his eyes and down shifted. "I'm
sorry, sweetheart," he said. "You just don't
hit me as the hard-livin' type, if you know
what I mean."
"You should have seen me three weeks
ago," she said. "I never thought I would look
like this, talk like this, or act like this either.
Most people called me trailer trash."
"Grew up in a park?"
"Yes, sir. Prospect Gardens."
"I know the place. No garden, is it?"
"Never was. Asphalt and dirt."
"And some indoor/outdoor, right?"
"That plastic indoor/outdoor carpeting
that's supposed to fool people into thinking
you've got a yard?"
She laughed. "We sure enough had a slab
of that ourselves," she said.
Vicki told him of the trailers that had
burned, and of her brother's friend Bub, who
had been left behind.
Deacon was quiet for a few miles and
appeared thoughtful. "Ever wonder if he
doesn't want to be found?" he said finally.
Vicki shrugged. "It doesn't make any difference.
It's like God put him in my heart and I
have to be sure he knows the truth."
"Not everybody reacts well, you know,"
Vicki nodded. "That's OK. I'm just supposed
to tell him."
Deacon told her that he wouldn't feel right
about leaving her at the Michigan state line,
not knowing whether she got a ride to Portage.
"I'll sit with you as long as I can at the
truck stop there," he said. "I want to make
sure you catch a ride with somebody I know
"Thank you, Deacon," she said.
* * *
Judd wished Vicki had told him she was
going with or without him. He would have at
least made her promise to call him once in a
while so he'd know she was all right. Now
how would he get word to her about school?
Loudspeakers began blaring late Friday night,
informing residents to tune in certain radio
and TV emergency-broadcast stations. "Local
schools will reopen a week from tomorrow,"
came the announcements, "and those stations
will carry the details."
"What details?" Ryan said, and he and
Lionel joined Judd in front of the TV.
"Listen and find out, stupid," Lionel said.
"I just figured you'd know, genius," Ryan
"Knock it off, you two," Judd said. "I want
to hear this."
"We already know what they're going to
say," Lionel said. "We know when, we know
where, and we know what. School. Yuck."
"You both go to Lincoln, right?" Judd said.
"Me too," Ryan said. "But we're not in the
"At least I have something to be thankful
for," Lionel said.
Judd shushed them as the list of schools
came up. As the names of junior highs
scrolled past, Judd read, "Formerly Lincoln
Junior High, now Global Community Middle
Lionel seemed to flinch. "Why would they
do that?" he said. "Change a perfectly good
name. I liked going to a school named after a
The phone rang.
"I'll get it," Ryan said. Judd let him as he
watched the high school listings. But the station
did better than just list the openings.
The news of Prospect High was accompanied
by film footage of the changing of the sign
"It's for you," Ryan said from the kitchen
Judd heard him but didn't respond. He
stood, staring at the screen. A cherry picker
and crane on the back of a truck hoisted a
workman to the Prospect High sign. As Ryan
nagged him from the kitchen, Judd saw the
man on TV trade one sheet of plastic for
another that slid in front of the lights on the
Prospect High was no longer. His school
would now be known as Nicolae Carpathia
High. The sports mascot would also be
changed. The teams formerly known as the
Knights would now be the Doves.
"C'mon, Judd!" Ryan whined. "It's Bruce