Marie had been in the Stained Glass Windows Museum for four days when the power went out. Up to that point, she was actually enjoying her secluded hideaway. She’d found a stash of bottled water in a cupboard, and she was rationing the food supplies she’d brought with her.
The museum was essentially a long hallway with window displays positioned at various points, creating a walking tour. The only doorways were the entrance and the exit, and Marie had blocked them off the best she could. She felt somewhat safe, but she was prepared to hide in a secluded area behind a set of windows if someone broke in.
However, when the power went out, the whole atmosphere of the museum changed. Without the lights on, it felt eerie during the day, with only a meager amount of sunlight filtering in through some stained glass windows that were part of the outside wall. The night was much worse, and every sound coming from the pier made her heart race. She heard a steady wail of emergency sirens, and she figured the illness was likely hitting Chicago hard.
As she reached the one-week mark in the museum, she was essentially out of food. She had tried to resist eating her final granola bar, but she just couldn’t help it. Finally late one night she couldn’t take the solitude and starvation any longer. She slipped out the back entrance of the museum and was astounded at the mixture of sounds that filled her ears. The museum walls had effectively muted the city noise, but now the sirens could be heard clearly, as well as sporadic rounds of gunfire.
The biggest surprise was that she couldn’t see anyone walking along the pier. It had always been bustling with people, but now it was dark and abandoned. The stars blazed above her, the first time she’d noticed them since leaving Utah. She stepped out onto the pier far enough to get a better look at the darkened city and was shocked to see flames engulfing three separate skyscrapers along the Magnificent Mile.
“Hey! What are you doing?” a man called out as he shined a flashlight on her. “Get over here! Don’t you know the mayor declared a mandatory curfew in this area?”
The man was a hundred yards away, and Marie immediately bolted back toward the museum. She quietly shut the door, then barricaded it again. She listened intently for the man to approach, but he apparently didn’t know where she’d gone.
She clutched her stomach as it rumbled for the hundredth time that day. “Heavenly Father, am I supposed to just die here?”
As Marie prayed for help, Nathan was traveling Highway 20 in the middle of Iowa. He’d been driving non-stop for three days, other than parking on empty dirt roads a couple of times to catch some sleep. Overall, the traffic had been minimal, and it was clear that the president’s order about crossing state lines was being taken seriously.
The route Aaron had helped Nathan create would keep him off the main freeways unless absolutely necessary. He had traveled to Vernal first, and then crossed into Wyoming without seeing a checkpoint. He’d headed north to Casper, where he reached Highway 20 and crossed into Nebraska and then Iowa without any trouble. He’d stopped at a gas station in each state, and each time his cash was eagerly accepted.
As Nathan passed through Dubuque, Iowa, he pulled into a Wal-Mart parking lot. This was the one stretch of highway where he and Aaron were unsure what to do. Dubuque was on the western bank of the Mississippi River, and it was also the point where the borders of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa touched. So there was a very strong chance a federal checkpoint would be in place at the bridge across the river. Dubuque was about 180 miles from Chicago, so Nathan hated to abandon the car this far from his goal, but he knew he’d never be allowed to drive across the bridge into Illinois.
As he sat in the parking lot, he pulled out the chip-tracking device. Aaron had given him a thorough lesson about it before he’d left Utah, and it had been surprisingly simple to figure out. He turned the device on and immediately checked on Marie’s status. She was still in the same location she’d been for a week. She wasn’t moving, but Nathan hoped she was just sleeping.
He then switched it to the feature that would pick up chip signals within 200 yards. He pointed it at the Wal-Mart store, and only about a dozen chips were identified. He scrolled through the names and hometowns of the people inside the store, but they were all Iowans who likely weren’t heading east.
Nathan was actually surprised the store was even open. From what he’d seen during his drive across the country, most stores were now empty. Desperate shoppers had emptied the shelves within a couple of days after the president’s announcement, and the trucking industry had essentially stopped making deliveries. He’d seen dozens of 18-wheelers parked in truck stops along the way, but he hadn’t actually seen one traveling down the road since he left Wyoming.
As Nathan pondered his options, a nice sedan with Illinois license plates pulled up across from him. Two women jumped out—a blonde and a brunette—and they rushed into the store as if they really needed to go to the restroom. Nathan pointed the device at them and saw they were from Chicago.
An idea hatched in his mind while the women were in the store, but it seemed crazy, so he took a moment to pray about it. Within seconds he got a strong confirmation that it was the right decision to make.
“Okay, Lord,” he thought. “This is out of my hands now.”
When the women returned, Nathan got out of the car and approached them slowly. “Hello there,” he said. “Are you two on your way to Illinois?”
The women looked at him cautiously before the blonde replied, “We hope, but we don’t know if they’ll let us cross the bridge. We both work in Chicago as nurses, though, so maybe they’ll let us through. Why?”
“Oh, I just have a friend I’m trying to reach there, but there’s no way they’re going to let me through with my Utah license plates. Is there any chance I could catch a ride with you?”
The brunette looked skeptical. “Are you a Mormon?”
“Yes, I am.”
She shook her head. “Then they’d never let us across with you in the car.”
“They wouldn’t even need to know I was there,” Nathan said. “I can hide in the car trunk if you want.”
The brunette rolled her eyes. “That would make things even worse. They’d track your chip in an instant.”
“Uh, I don’t have a chip. We’d be fine.”
Both women did a double-take.
“That’s strange,” the blonde said. “Who are you?”
“That doesn’t matter. Anyway, if I can just ride in your trunk to Chicago, I’ll give you $100 when we get there. I’m actually trying to get to Navy Pier.”
To make his point, he pulled the $20 bills from his pocket. The women looked at each other. The money had caught their attention. “We can get you within a couple miles of Navy Pier—if you make it $100 each.”
Nathan frowned. Aaron had given him $500, and he had about $300 left. Finally he said, “It’s a deal.”
He got his backpack out of the car and then locked the door out of habit, although he was quite sure he’d never see it again. Then he put his life into the hands of two questionable strangers as he climbed into their trunk and they slammed it shut.
Ten minutes later, the car pulled up to the checkpoint at the bridge across the Mississippi River. Nathan listened intently as the women charmed the guard and said they were desperately needed in Chicago to help take care of Black Flu victims.
“Hold out your hands,” the guard said.
Nathan heard the beeping of a chip-scanner, then the guard asked someone nearby, “What do you think? Their chips verify their story.”
There was a muffled conversation, then the guard said, “Drive on. Go save some lives.”
“Thank you so much,” the blonde said as she hit the gas. Soon they were across the bridge into Illinois, and the women started playing a hip-hop music CD. The hours passed, and he prayed the women would hold up their part of the bargain. After a while Nathan remembered the chip-detector also had a GPS system. He switched to that mode and was relieved to see they were within a few miles of Chicago.
The music CD finally ended for the third time, and Nathan could hear snippets of the women’s conversation. He was shocked to hear that they planned to pull a gun on him and threaten to turn him in for “chip non-compliance” if he didn’t give them all of his money and possessions. They suddenly noticed the CD had stopped, and he heard one of them ask, “Do you think he’s been listening to us?”
Then the music started playing again. Nathan began to search frantically for a handle to release the trunk from the inside, and thankfully the car had one. They soon left the freeway, and the car began stopping occasionally at intersections. They were still moving in the general direction of Navy Pier, so he planned to stay in the trunk a little while longer, but then the Spirit said clearly, “Get out at the next stop.”
As the car began to brake, Nathan pulled the handle. The trunk popped open, and he leaped out and took off running down a side street. The car went about 50 feet before the women noticed the trunk lid was up, and by then Nathan was long gone.
The next few minutes were among the most frightening of Nathan’s life. He stayed in the middle of the street, which was only safe because the entire city was dark except for skyscrapers burning in the distance. He heard a lot of shouting inside many of the buildings that he passed, and he sensed families were beginning to collapse under the stress of the past few days.
He paused for a moment and set the chip-detector so that it treated Marie’s chip like a geocache—giving him the remaining distance and direction to reach her. The device was designed for evil purposes, but it had been such a blessing in helping him on the journey.
Two blocks later he felt prompted to switch the device to the chip-detector mode, and he was stunned to see three people were about 30 yards behind him and getting closer. He pulled his handgun out of his pocket and whirled.
“Run the other way or I’ll blow your heads off,” he shouted.
His pursuers stopped in their tracks. One called out, “Hey, take it easy, man. We’re not going to hurt you.”
“I’m serious,” Nathan said.
Another man laughed. “He’s bluffing. The feds took away all of the guns. Let’s get him. Brix would love to have another white boy to kick around.”
The trio started moving forward, and Nathan didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. As the shot rang out, one of the men fell to the pavement, crying in agony. “Help me. I’m bleeding!”
Nathan instantly sprinted down the street for the next six blocks. At last he spotted what looked like the top of a Ferris Wheel. It had to be Navy Pier. He checked the device again and was thrilled to see he was within 200 yards of Marie. He soon reached the side of a building, and Marie was now only ten yards from him.
“She’s got to be just inside,” he thought as he searched frantically for a way in. He moved along the side of the building until he found a door. It was locked, and he tried to kick it in. It gave way, but something else was blocking it.
“Marie!” he called out. “It’s me, Nathan! Are you there, Marie?”
Marie was awakened from a restless sleep by a loud crash. Someone was trying to break in! She rushed to her hiding place behind one of the stained glass displays, but then she heard a faint voice. “Marie! Marie! Let me in!”
She knew that voice. Could it possibly be true?
She cautiously approached the door. “Nathan?”
“Yes! Oh, Marie! I’m so glad you’re alive!”
She was almost too weak to move the desk that was blocking the door, but she moved it just enough that Nathan could squeeze inside. He leaped over the desk and they found each other in the dark. He took her in his arms, then kissed her gently.
She hugged him tightly, still struggling to comprehend what was happening. “How did you get here?”
“A series of miracles. The important thing is we’re together.”
He kissed her again, and Marie felt safe for the first time in months. They hugged tightly, and Nathan whispered, “Everything is going to be all right.”
A Crippled Nation
The next morning, Nathan and Marie began planning their escape from Chicago, but their options were even more limited than they imagined.
The nation was falling apart economically, food shortages were developing, and most medicines were running out. Although there were still a few peaceful rural areas left in America, the nation’s cities were falling prey to a “survival of the fittest” mentality that was causing fear and anger among the citizens.
In order to stabilize the nation, the U.S. president had made a secret request to the United Nations, arranging for them to send in “peacemakers” to help quell the growing unrest.