When the sun was up, enough light filtered into the basement of the Strait's house in Prospect Heights, to enable the three prisoners to find their way around without the use of a candle.

 

Chloe designated one corner of the basement as the latrine. Water was no longer flowing through the pipes, so she urged everyone to drink their fill of water from one of the smaller containers, and then instructed them to use that to catch their urine. They would do that with all of the containers as the water supply dwindled.

 

"We may have to recycle it if we run out of water," Chloe explained.

 

"Gross!" said Raymie. "Like why don't we just get water from upstairs?"

 

"One problem," said Chloe. "There is none. Pipes have probably broken somewhere closer to where the bomb hit. We may be able to get something from the refrigerator in a few days; but even that won't be much more than a water bottle and some ice cube trays. I'm not saying that we would actually drink our own urine; but we have to be prepared, just in case."

 

Chloe found some old newspapers and put them in one corner, along with some cardboard boxes to catch bowel movements.

 

"And what are we going to do about the smell?" asked Raymie.

 

"One of two things," said Chloe, who was beginning to lose patience with her younger brother. "Either we put up with it or we bellyache. And we already know which you will do."

 

Irene remained silent and deep in thought. She was facing a difficult decision.

 

Then, at 9am, according to Chloe's watch, some five hours after the bombs had landed, the trio looked up as one when they heard footsteps running across the floor above them. The basement door flew open and Vernon and Elaine Billings came tripping down the steps. Light from the house above was blinding to those who had become accustomed to manoeuvring in the dark, and the darkness below was equally blinding to Vernon and Elaine.

 

"Quickly! Close the door!" shouted Chloe. Elaine Billings promptly shut the door, and then reached out for her husband's shoulder as she stumbled in the darkness. Vernon Billings was a big man, and he had no difficulty holding up his much smaller wife.

 

"My, it certainly is dark down here!" Pastor Billings remarked, as he held tightly to the railing. "Don't you have any candles?"

 

"We do, but we're conserving them," Chloe said coldly. She knew that she should be more polite to the minister and his wife. They were always sweet and polite to her. And yet something about them rubbed her the wrong way.

 

"Sister Strait, you must hear what has happened!" exclaimed Vernon Billings. "Go ahead! Tell them Elaine!"

 

Elaine Billings obediently responded. "You see, Irene, we prayed about this business in Montana, after Vern talked to you on the phone this morning. We asked God to give us a sign if this really was him.

 

"We were both sitting there in the cellar, having breakfast when it happened. Vern heard this voice. Well, we both did," she said, with a nervous look toward her husband. "And it said 'Come!' Just like that: 'Come!' "

 

Pastor Billings picked up the story from there. "We talked about it for a while, and then Elaine went up to the kitchen and brought down her promise box. We pulled out a card and it was the one from the end of Mark's Gospel, where it says, 'If you eat any deadly thing, it will not hurt you.'

 

"Can you see what God was saying, Sister? He was giving us a promise that he would protect us if we would just head out for Montana right now. We've packed up food, water, and a few clothes, and we're ready to go.

 

"But we want to give you a chance to come too. Are you with us, Sister?"

 

Elaine piped in sweetly, "Please come with us, Irene."

 

"Oh, I don't know," Irene answered. "Are you sure it's safe? Wouldn't it be better to wait a little while first?"

 

"And miss out on the rapture?" asked Elaine. "Look, we've been out there in the open for at least half an hour now, and we're as good as gold. I was scared at first too, but I'm not now."

 

"God'll protect you, Irene," Pastor Billings said softly. "I'm sure of it. Please, trust him, and come with us, Irene!"

 

"Can we, Mom?" asked Raymie. "It's better than staying in here. Look, it hasn't hurt them!"

 

"What about you, Chloe? Will you come with us?" Irene asked, the pained expression on her face pleading desperately with her daughter.

 

"No way! If you want to do something stupid like that, I… I don't want to be a part of it. Seriously, Mom, do you think this is the way God would do it? I think you're all panicking because things didn't turn out the way you expected. Just admit that you were wrong. It's no big deal!"

 

"I come against this doubting spirit!" Pastor Billings said as his eyes narrowed and he lifted his hand toward Chloe. The big man looked even bigger as he stood a few steps from the bottom of the stairs in the semi-darkness. Chloe recoiled in shock. She had never seen this side of the man before, and she did not like it at all.

 

"I rebuke you doubting spirit, in Jesus' name!" he shouted dramatically.

 

And then Pastor Billings lowered his hand and resumed his saccharin voice. "The car's waiting, Sister," he said softly. "It's your choice now. You can step out in faith or you can stay here and miss the rapture. What will it be, Dear? It's time to leave." And he started to move back up the steps.

 

"Please, Chloe!" said Irene pathetically. "Please come with us!" as she too moved toward the door.

 

"Mom, no! You don't know what you're doing!" Chloe shouted, shocked that her mother was so quick to believe two people who had talked themselves into believing what they, too, badly wanted to believe. "What about Daddy?"

 

"Tell him that I love him," was all that Irene could get out before she turned and raced, sobbing, up the steps. Elaine and Vernon had already reopened the door and stepped out into the hallway near the kitchen.

 

"Are you coming, Raymie?" Irene said almost as an afterthought. She had naturally assumed that young Raymie would go along with whatever she decided.

 

"Bye, Sis," Raymie said, with a one-armed hug. "Sorry for all the bad times I gave you." And he too headed up the steps.

 

Chloe was too shocked to answer. Raymie was at the top of the stairs before she could say a word, and then all she said was, "Raymie… No…"

 

And they were gone.