Stan shuffled his way through the lines, exited the grocery store, and returned home. The Chevy’s gas gage now edged to the left of the “E”. As he turned off the engine, Stan wondered whether the car would start again tomorrow with so little gas in the tank.
Christine and Natalie were wide awake on the sofa. “Stan! Where have you been? You’ve been gone for more than three hours …” It was then that Christine noticed the sparse amount of food Stan carried. “Simply to bring home some rice, bread, and beans? Stan, where in the world have you been? I’ve been worried about you. Our candles are getting low. And it’s really getting damp and cold in this apartment without any heat.”
“What’s going on?”
Stan placed the meager groceries on the kitchen counter and returned to the living room. “Christine, please sit down,” he said as calmly as possible. “We’re in big trouble.”
He waved his hand as if to say, “Be quiet.” Christine had rarely seen that sort of expression from her husband. She knew it must be something serious.
“There’s very little food in the store,” Stan began. “The electrical power is still out all over the area, the cellular phone system doesn’t seem to work, and the gas stations are closed. But that’s the least of our worries right now.”
Christine’s eyes widened, and she instinctively pulled Natalie closer to her. Stan continued soberly, “From what I heard on the news, there’s been a major earthquake in L.A. and a series of other cataclysmic catastrophes that have hit California all the way from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We’re talking volcanoes, toxic fumes, and that sort of thing. The water supply for most of the state has been contaminated. We have no food, no water, no electricity, no heat, no gas, and no way to get around anywhere.”
Stan’s body began to shake as his voice chocked in his throat. Finally he whispered, “Christine, I’m scared.”
Christine sobbed uncontrollably as Natalie stared at the tears streaming down her mother’s face. “What are we going to do, Stan? Where can we turn?”
“I don’t know. But I met a lady at the grocery store—she gave me the loaf of bread. She said that her church was providing her and a bunch of other people with food and shelter. I laughed at all those church people who spent so much time, energy, and money storing food and water and all that for Y2K, and then nothing happened. Now, it’s not so funny.”
Christine nodded and brushed her tears away.
Stan spoke quietly, “We don’t have much gasoline in the car, but we can’t stay here, There’s only one place to go—the church. They used to say that the church was a refuge, a safe harbor in the time of the storm. Let’s go see if we can find that woman’s church, and let’s pray to God that there is someone there who can help us.”
“Okay, Stan. It will take me just a few minutes to get some things together.”
Christine and Stan quickly assembled an “overnight” bag filled with a change of clothing, some basic hygiene items, and a few necessities for Natalie. On the way out the door, Stan paused long enough to grab the church bulletin the woman at the store had given him, and the meager groceries he had brought home, including the loaf of bread. “Somebody might need this,” he said to Christine.
As they clambered into the car, Stan worried whether it would even start. The gas tank had to be nearly empty. Beyond that, if the car cranked, could they make it to the church? And if they did, would they really find a group of people like those the woman had described. A group that truly loved and cared for each other? A group that would take them in, as well?
Stan shoved the key into the ignition, turned the switch, and the car roared to life.
“It’s a miracle!” Christine gushed.
Stan looked over at her and scowled. “Just because it started doesn’t mean we have enough gas to get there,” he was about to grouse, but then thought better of it and held his tongue. He had to admit, miracle or not, his heart had leaped when the car had started. Maybe it’s a sign, Stan thought. He eased the car out of the parking space, careful not to use any more gas than necessary. He retraced the route back to the grocery store and drove a short distance beyond it, where he caught sight of the church. Just as Stan pulled the car into the church parking lot, the engine gasped and clunked to a stop, “Looks like we’re going to be here for a while,” Stan said to Christine, as he quickly turned off the ignition to conserve what he could of the battery.