Chapter OneWord Power
Vicki Byrne awoke with a start at 4 a.m. She
could not push from her mind her friend
Shelly. Vicki had prayed for Shelly often,
but this morning was different. The more
she thought of her, the more concerned she
became. Was Shelly in some sort of
Vicki wanted to talk to Shelly about God,
but each time it was as if the door had
closed. Either Shelly was busy or Shelly's
friend had barged in and stopped the conversation.
Vicki could tell Shelly was still
in shock after the disappearances. Shelly
needed the truth. Each time Vicki had
called her, she either got the answering
machine or someone who said Shelly
couldn't talk right now. It would have been
easy to give up and talk to people who
wanted to hear her message, but Vicki
couldn't get Shelly out of her mind. Shelly
looked so lost and confused.
She dialed Shelly's number but hung up
before it rang. This is crazy! Her mom will
kill me if I wake them up at this hour for
She picked up her journal. "Please God,"
she wrote, "give me a chance to speak to
Shelly about you today."
* * *
At breakfast Judd told Lionel and Ryan,
"Remember to be waiting for us after school
today. I don't want to be late for our study
"Yes sir!" Ryan said, saluting. "By the flagpole."
"Too many war movies," Lionel muttered,
shaking his head.
"I'm not kidding," Judd said. "Don't be off
playing soccer or basketball-"
"We'll be there," Lionel said, scowling at
"My newspaper could be what God uses to
get to students. Maybe they'll take it home to
Vicki squinted. Judd was talking as if it
were his idea. She felt silly for caring.
Couldn't she just be happy it was being done
and that people would be reached? But Judd
shouldn't care either.
"We get to help, right?" Ryan said.
"I need everybody," Judd said. "The school
paper comes out on Tuesday. I want to beat
them and get ours out Monday. Vicki and I
will write the articles and get it on the computer,
but we need you guys to help print
and fold and-"
"Grunt work," Lionel said.
"There's no little job," Judd said. "We're
starting with 500 copies. That'll take everybody's
"How are you gonna give it out?" Ryan
Judd shrugged. "I figure I'll take one
entrance and Vicki can take another. We'll
hand it out as the kids go in."
Ryan poked at his cereal and shook his
head. "What if the principal and that coach,
what's his name?"
"Handlesman," Vicki said.
"Yeah. What if they stop you before you
"He's right," Vicki said. "No Bibles, no
talking about God, you know the drill. Everybody's
"Distribution is the least of my worries
right now," Judd said. "We need to write theUnderground first."
"Is that what you're calling it?" Vicki
"Got a better idea?"
* * *
On the way to school Judd reminded Lionel
and Ryan again to be ready after school.
When they were gone, Vicki said, "You might
want to go easy on them. I mean, you can
come across wrong if you're not careful."
Judd cocked his head. "I want them to
understand how important this is. You know
how busy Bruce is, and we only have the
weekend to get the paper done if we want to
distribute it Monday."
Vicki didn't like having PE first thing every
day. Mrs. Waltonen sometimes lost track of
time, and they were barely able to dress
before second period.
"Byrne!" Mrs. Waltonen shouted as the
Vicki ran over as the other girls left the
gym. Thin and dark with short hair and
glasses, Mrs. Waltonen had seemed shattered
the week before while talking about losing
her grandchild in the disappearances.
"The other day," Mrs. Waltonen said, "you
said something about knowing where people
were. The ones who disappeared."
"You know I can't allow those conversations.
About religious things."
"I don't want to offend anybody," Vicki
said. "I won't disrupt class anymore, if that's
what you mean."
"You don't understand," Mrs. Waltonen
said, lowering her voice. "After class, on
a personal basis, you know, one-on-one,
I don't think they said anything about
"You want to talk about where your grandson
"Granddaughter," Mrs. Waltonen said.
"Not even six months old."
Vicki stared at the teacher. Mrs. Waltonen
was older than Vicki's mother, and yet she
was looking to Vicki for some kind of hope.
"Everybody's lost someone," Mrs. Waltonen
said, "and it's left us without answers.
But you're-well, better because of it.
Something's different for you, Vicki."
Mrs. Waltonen suddenly seemed so soft.
With her shrill whistle and the way she
barked orders, she was the last person Vicki
would have expected to start such a conversation.
"I have changed," Vicki said. "And the reason
I believe I know about your-"
The bell rang. Girls ran from the dressing
"You have to go," Mrs. Waltonen said,
touching Vicki's arm.
"It's OK. I want to stay and talk-"
"Maybe later. Maybe Monday."
Vicki didn't want to let the moment go,
but Mrs. Waltonen urged her to dress and get
to class. Vicki wondered if she would actually
have the chance to lead one of her teachers
to the truth.
Vicki was late for second period. She
wiped her forehead and said, "I had gym."
The teacher let it pass. After each class she
looked for Shelly. She felt more than ever
that something was wrong.
* * *
"A kid in homeroom got her Bible taken,"
Lionel said in the car after school. "They
called it 'dangerous material.'"
"All we hear is stuff about self-esteem and
peace," Ryan said. "Makes me sick."
Judd thought Bruce Barnes would be overjoyed
at Vicki's news about talking with her
PE teacher. But they found him weeping, his
head on his desk. A young woman rose to
meet them and closed Bruce's door.
"I'm Chloe Steele," she said. "You must be
the Young Trib Force."
Judd, Vicki, and Lionel introduced themselves,
but when Chloe saw Ryan, she hugged
him tight. "I know you, don't I? You used to
play with Raymie."
Ryan looked embarrassed and didn't seem
to know what to do. "Raymie's her little
brother," he explained.
"I'm sorry," Chloe said. "I'm helping in
the office, and Pastor Barnes is not having a
"What's wrong?" Judd said.
Before she could answer, the door opened
and Bruce waved them inside. Judd saw
tearstained pages on Bruce's desk and recognized
the church directory. He picked it up
and saw Bruce, a bit younger and fuller in the
face with a pasted-on smile. Surrounding
him were his wife and children. What a treasure
Bruce had lost!
On the next page was Dr. Vernon Billings,
the now departed senior pastor. Judd quickly
turned to the back of the directory and found
his own family. His mother and father stood
behind the smiling twins, Marc and Marcie.
Judd was off to the side, a few inches from
the rest, straight and rigid. No smile. He
looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in
that picture. Judd flipped through a few
other listings and saw friends and familiar
faces now gone.
"Let me see," Vicki said. Ryan pointed out
Raymie's picture and then grew quiet. Bruce
wiped his eyes.
Bruce explained that the reporter, Cameron
Williams, had discovered the directory
and was impressed by the pictures of the
Steele family. Chloe blushed.
"It brought it all back to me," Bruce said.
"All the pain that night my wife and kids
Bruce composed himself and asked if anyone
minded if Chloe joined them. No one
"There's been a development with the two
witnesses in Jerusalem," Bruce said. Judd
noticed the others sit straighter when they
heard Bruce's solemn tone. "This is going to
be on the news tonight, and you may not
want to watch. A half dozen thugs tried to
charge the witnesses. I don't know what they
thought they could do, but they were killed.
On the spot."
"What happened?" Judd said.
"They were burned to death."
"Cool," Ryan said.
"There's nothing cool about it," Bruce said.
"God judges his enemies. But you can bet
this breaks his heart too. What you saw was a
direct fulfillment of God's prophecy in Revelation
11. Grab a Bible and let's read what
the angel tells the apostle John."
Bruce asked Vicki to read the passage.
"'"And I will give power to my two witnesses,
and they will prophesy one thousand
two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."
These are the two olive trees and the
two lampstands standing before the God of
the earth. And if anyone wants to harm
them, fire proceeds from their mouth and
devours their enemies. And if anyone wants
to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.'"
For the next half hour Bruce explained this
and other prophecies being fulfilled before
their eyes. Vicki told of Mrs. Waltonen again
and also how worried she was about Shelly.
"Why wouldn't God let me see her today?"
"I don't know," Bruce said. "But keep praying
for her. Your chance will come."
The six of them huddled to pray and ask
God for opportunities to speak of their faith.
Bruce prayed that people would have their
eyes opened to the truth.
* * *
Over hamburgers in front of the TV, Ryan
said, "We forgot something."
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Lionel
said. "I can see pickles. What'd we forget?"
"We didn't ask Bruce about the Underground."
Judd smashed his trash and tossed up
a shot that bounced around the can and
dropped in. "Ask him?" he said. "Since when
do we need Bruce's permission?"
"Judd!" Vicki said.
"I just think it would be better to surprise
him," he said. "Let's get the first issue done
and see what happens."
He didn't return Vicki's gaze. "I'm tired,"
she said. "I'll write my story in the morning."
Judd sat at the computer in his father's
den. The next time he looked up it was 3 a.m.
He still wasn't satisfied with the graphics for
the Underground logo. Creating a newspaper
was going to be a lot more difficult than he
He spotted a copy of the same church
directory he had seen in Bruce's office. He
leafed through until he came to his family.
Judd had clenched his teeth hard at Bruce's
office. He had to be strong. He had to be the
What he wouldn't give to have his mom
and dad back! He wanted to ask questions.
Life questions. Questions about the Bible. He
missed his brother and sister. He just wanted
to be with them and laugh again.
One picture haunted him. The youth
group. All those kids sitting around a table,
smiling and eating popcorn. Every one of
them was now gone. All but one. All but