Over the past three days, Nathan had steadily pushed Marie in the wheelchair through the streets of southern Chicago. They stayed silent, and Marie’s sign served as an effective deterrent to keep potential troublemakers away. They had slept the night before under an abandoned school bus, but it hadn’t been very restful.
Nathan estimated they had traveled about thirty miles so far, but he also knew that Nauvoo was along the Mississippi River on the western side of Illinois. They were probably still nearly 270 miles away, but he hadn’t told Marie that yet.
Throughout the third day they had been traveling south on a road called the Dixie Highway. The area seemed more affluent than those they’d passed through, and on the left side of the road a golf course appeared. A sign on the fence said:
Idlewild Country Club
Marie’s eyes lit up. “This place seems nice. Maybe we can find someone here. I’d like to trade some of these cans for something different.”
Nathan was definitely getting tired of pork and beans. It was making them both feel sluggish.
“Sounds good,” Nathan said. “I really need to take a rest. My whole body aches.”
Marie nodded. “You’ve been pushing yourself too hard. At the very least, maybe we can sleep for a couple of hours.”
They walked along the sidewalk for another quarter-mile when they spotted the clubhouse. Marie hopped out of the wheelchair and tried the front door, but it was locked. Nathan pulled Shawn’s keys out of his pocket and tried them all, but none of them would open the lock.
“It figures,” she said, shaking the door handle a couple more times. Then she noticed an open gate that led to the golf course. “Let’s at least go find some shade.”
Nathan pushed the wheelchair along a path and followed Marie to a secluded wooded area, where they collapsed on the grass. Before closing his eyes, Nathan peered through the trees, and turned on the chip detector, but he didn’t locate anyone nearby. Judging by the length of the grass, no one had been maintaining the golf course for at least a couple of weeks.
He looked over at Marie, who was already drifting off. She was so pretty, but she was also still very frail. He reached over and moved some stray hairs out of her face.
“We just need to get to Nauvoo,” Nathan said softly. “Then we’ll be able to recover.”
Nathan felt something tapping against his shoulder. He slowly opened his eyes, thinking Marie must be trying to wake him.
“Hold on, Marie,” he said. “Just a few more minutes.”
“Well, at least we know her name,” a deep voice said.
Nathan jerked awake and saw two men in security uniforms staring down at him. The shorter one was pointing a chip detector at Marie, and then he swung it back toward Nathan. He frowned and said, “Hmm. You two have a lot of explaining to do.”
Nathan reached over and tugged on Marie’s arm. “Hey, wake up. I think we’re in trouble.”
Marie stirred, then her eyes got big as she saw the men. Nathan helped her stand up.
“A woman reported seeing you trying to get into the clubhouse, so we were sent here to check things out,” the taller man said. “Neither of you have a chip, which requires me to turn you into the Chip Compliance Authority.”
The other man pointed at Marie’s bandaged right hand. “That looks a little fishy. No wonder your chip doesn’t register.”
Marie stared at him for a moment, then said, “I’m not going to lie. I had the chip, and I cut it out earlier this week, but I only did it because a CCA member had tracked me down and I felt threatened by him. He went way beyond his authority. I was afraid he was going to kill us. Thankfully we got away from him.”
“She’s right,” Nathan said. “We feared for our lives. You two seem much more civilized than that other guy.”
The taller man shrugged, slowly pulling a knife out of his pocket. “We hope we’re a little gentler out here in the suburbs, but we still need to enforce the law. Besides, you were trespassing on private property. We’re going to have to take you into custody and get this sorted out. Follow me.”
Nathan motioned for Marie to sit in the wheelchair, and then he pushed her in it, following the taller man toward the clubhouse. The shorter man followed behind them, and Nathan prayed he wouldn’t notice the pistol hidden in his waistband.
“We’re so sorry,” Marie said, on the verge of tears. “Please just let us be on our way.”
The men ignored her as they opened the clubhouse and led them into an office, where they motioned toward two folding chairs.
“Stay right there,” the taller man said. “We’ve got a city authority coming to interrogate you.”
Meanwhile, Nathan could hear the men checking out the wheelchair in the other room. One man said, “It just looks like pork and beans in this suitcase.”
Within two minutes they heard someone else enter the clubhouse.
“Over here,” one of the men called out. “They’re in the main office.”
Nathan and Marie looked nervously at each other as a large middle-aged black man entered the room. He moved behind the desk and slammed his fists down.
“What’s your purpose here?” the man shouted, his eyes blazing. “How dare you trespass on this country club! You’re lucky someone didn’t shoot you!”
Nathan tried to respond, but couldn’t get the words out before the man pointed in his face.
“Don’t say a word. For all I know you’re one of those Christians passing through looking for a free handout. You won’t find that here!”
He motioned toward Marie. “It looks like you cut your own chip out. I suppose it’s just as well, because if you’d had a chip, you never would’ve made it across our city limits. Our sensors would’ve been triggered instantly. That’s why Flossmoor is still peaceful—we don’t let your kind pass through here.”
The man paced back and forth, glaring at them. “We ought to just string you up at the city limits as an example of what happens when people don’t get the chip.”
Marie finally couldn’t take it anymore. “Sir, we’re from Utah. We’ve been walking from Chicago for three days. We didn’t even know we’d crossed into another city.”
Nathan put his hand on her arm, trying to comfort her.
The man stopped in front of Nathan. “Okay. You’ve got one chance. I want you to tell me exactly why you never got the chip. There’s one right answer. Otherwise, we’re locking you away.”
“Tell the truth,” the Spirit prompted.
Nathan’s heart began pounding. The truth wasn’t what this guy wanted to hear, but he’d take a shot.
“I’m a Christian,” Nathan said. “My church leaders counseled us against getting the chip, and I followed that guidance. I believe God doesn’t approve of it. The chip limits our freedom, and at this point I’d sacrifice my life before I would get it.”
The man stared at Nathan for a full thirty seconds, then he turned to Marie. “What about you? You clearly got it, then cut it out. That’s also against the law, you know.”
“I made a mistake,” Marie said. “I should’ve never received it, and now I feel the same way about it as Nathan does.”
The man frowned at them, his eyes darting back and forth. “So if I took you to a chip implant center right now, you’d choose to die rather than get the chip?”
They both nodded.
“Very well,” the man said. “Let’s go. We’ve got an execution chamber at the city hall.”
The two other men returned to the room and took hold of them. They forced them back into the clubhouse lobby, where the black man stepped toward them and said, “There’s one other thing I need to discuss before you die.”
He reached into his pocket and held out an object in front of him. A small metal cross.
Nathan blinked hard, and the black man put his arm around Nathan’s shoulder.
“You passed,” the man said. “I’m Pastor Haskell, the leader of the local Baptist Church.”
Nathan was still unsure what this meant. “So you’re not going to lock us up?”
“No, we want you to join us,” the pastor said. “Good Christians need to stick together.”
Marie let out a sob of relief and collapsed into the wheelchair. “That wasn’t nice!” she said. “I nearly had a heart attack.”
Pastor Haskell extended his hand to her. “I know. I’m sorry, but we have to be cautious. People will say or do anything right now if they think it will get them some food.”
“Where is your group?” Nathan asked. “I hope you aren’t planning on staying here too long. I think the mobs aren’t far behind us.”
“We have a group of about 300 members of my congregation who are going to leave for Springfield,” Pastor Haskell said. “ We know things in Chicago are getting worse by the day. Did you see a lot of violence on your way here?”
“No but like I said, I think we’re just moving ahead of it. We’ve been trying to stay ahead of the smoke, too. That looks like quite a fire.”
“You’re right,” Pastor Haskell said. “We’ve been able to get some reports about the situation, and groups of gang members are going into suburban neighborhoods and invading people’s homes, where they kill the residents and set the homes on fire. It’s only a matter of time before they move south.”
“Aren’t the police doing anything?” Marie asked. “We haven’t seen anyone.”
Pastor Haskell shook his head. “The police tried to keep up at first, but there were too many attacks in so many neighborhoods at the same time. Now the residents are fighting back, driving the gangs out and posting roadblocks with armed guards at their neighborhood entrances, but it’s just deteriorating into a civil war. I feel the Lord is directing me to lead my congregation to safety while I still can. We have a summer camp near Springfield, and other congregations are going there as well. There will be safety in numbers.”
Nathan prayed in his heart and felt the confirmation from the Spirit that they had been led to Pastor Haskell.
“That sounds great,” Nathan said. “We’ll contribute in every way that we can. You can have all the pork and beans we have.”
Pastor Haskell smiled. “We’ll take them. That wheelchair will come in handy as well.”
By nightfall, Pastor Haskell had taken Nathan and Marie to a small park in a walled community farther south, where members of his congregation were preparing to leave the following day. Pastor Haskell introduced them to several families, and they were warmly welcomed. Among the group were people of seemingly every color and nationality, all working together.
The men in the group had fashioned some contraptions with plywood and bicycle tires that sure looked to Nathan like handcarts. It warmed Nathan’s heart to see how the Lord was inspiring Christians of all denominations to take refuge from the coming devastation.
Marie was quickly welcomed by a group of single mothers who were thrilled when she offered to help take care of the kids. One little girl bonded with her immediately, and Nathan smiled as he heard the girl’s mother say, “You’re a lifesaver, young lady.”
At one point, Pastor Haskell was working alongside Nathan, who told him, “I know God helped us find you. Thanks for inviting us.”
“You’ll be a good addition to our group,” Pastor Haskell said. “I’m sorry I had to frighten you that way at the golf course, but I really needed to test your devotion.”
“What if we’d said no?” Nathan asked.
“We would’ve taken you to the police, because you would have shown you couldn’t be trusted.”
“Did you suspect we were Christians?”
The pastor gave him a small grin. “Your eyes gave you away. A true Christian has a light in his eyes that I’ve learned to recognize over the years.”
“I know what you mean,” Nathan said. “I do want you to know we’re members of the LDS Church. You know, the Mormons.”
Pastor Haskell raised an eyebrow. “Like the Mitt Romney kind of Mormons?”
“All the better,” he said. “I used to hate you guys, but before moving here I lived in Long Island, New York, and I saw your members in their yellow shirts helping clean up after Hurricane Sandy.”
“You mean the Mormon Helping Hands?” Nathan asked.
“Yeah, that’s it. I got to know some of your leaders and they offered my congregation more help than my own leaders did. So now I see we’re all on the same team.”
As the sun set, Nathan watched a few men carry some crates to the far end of the park. He walked over to Pastor Haskell and asked, “Do they need some help?”
“No, they’d be fine,” he said. “Just enjoy the show.”
Pastor Haskell gave him a funny look. “Hey, the country might be falling apart, but we’re still going to celebrate the Fourth of July.”
Nathan felt like he’d been slapped. He hadn’t even realized what day it was. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. I had honestly lost track of the calendar.”
“It’s no problem,” the pastor said. “We bought these fireworks a few months ago, and since we can’t take them with us, we’ll start off our journey with a real blast.”
Nathan smiled. “Great idea.”
A few minutes later he was sitting on the grass next to Marie, who was being climbed on by her new buddy, four-year-old Sylvia.
“We’re gonna watch fireworks!” Sylvia shouted, and everyone around them smiled. The fireworks didn’t last long, but they were greatly appreciated. The group clapped loudly and then went to bed, planning to arise for a long trek to Springfield that would take several weeks.
Two Months Later
As the “Summer of Discontent” rolled on, new problems seemed to crop up across the United States. Some states were relatively unaffected by the turmoil except for an increase in violent crime and gas shortages, but other areas seemed to get hit repeatedly by those problems, as well as power outages and civil unrest.
A political cartoonist had created a popular drawing entitled “The State of the Nation” that symbolized America’s turmoil. The drawing showed an American flag unfurled on the ground that had the United States traced on it. The right side of the flag, correlating with the East Coast, was tattered and ragged, with burn marks in trouble spots such as Washington, D.C. and New York City.
The upper center of the flag was completely burned away, symbolizing the upheavals in Chicago and Detroit, while the nation’s midsection was frayed and unraveling.
The bottom of the flag was ripped up and covered with dark smudges, showing the remains of Hurricane Barton and the unrest it caused earlier that year.
Then the lower left side looked like a cat with long claws had shredded California into several jumbled strips, symbolizing the results of the massive earthquake and the Black Flu there.
The only part of the flag that was relatively intact was the blue field with the 50 stars, because so far the upper Northwest and other Western states had been fairly unscathed.
However, as the calendar turned to September, that symbolic flag was about to be trampled on by Mother Nature in a way that would affect every single thread.