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The Scouts were packed and ready to go before they left camp for breakfast. The two units met and ate breakfast together. It is amazing how quickly boys can make friends even with such differences in culture. When they finished eating they went back to their camps and the bus was there waiting in the scout's camp.
The driver had the bus prepared for loading, the cargo doors up on both sides.. By the time all the Scouts' gear was stowed below and each boy had his daypack with him to take on the bus, the Boys' Brigade arrived and likewise stowed their gear below in the bus cargo bays and had daypacks. When everything was loaded, the boys boarded and found seats.
Before the bus driver had closed the cargo doors, a staff member arrived in a loaded pickup truck. "We have MREs, dehydrated trail food, a camp kitchen and some large tarps with poles. We are trying to help those going home, or to safety."
The leaders helped get the equipment stored and thanked the staff for all the help. It was just after two o'clock local time when the bus pulled out of Philmont and began the trip north.
It wasn't long before the American boys had taught the Scots 'A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.' By the fourth verse it had become 'A Hundred Bottles of Ale on the Wall.' When that was finally over, one of the Scout leaders taught them 'Pink Pajamas.' Things then quieted down and the boys talked amongst themselves.
* * * * *
Conversation on the bus with the Chicago refugees was sparse when they were back on the open road.
It seemed that too many changes in too short a time had resulted in everyone being emotionally numb and somewhat exhausted.
Without warning, there was a jarring thump of the bus hitting a rather large pothole, and Ahmid cried out in pain.
"I swear to you, if there were any way that I could think of to help you, I would." Father Doherty said regretfully to the man behind him.
"What's his problem?" Jingo asked from a few seats back.
"Ahmid was shot, and still hasn't been able to see a doctor." Father Kinsey answered as he looked sympathetically at the suffering man.
"Did the bullet pass through, or is it still in there?" Jingo asked cautiously.
"It is still inside." Ahmid answered in a pained voice.
"We need to get that outta there. You guys have a first aid kit anywhere around here?"
"Yes. I know right where it is." Father Kinsey said quickly, then rushed to the back of the bus.
"Can I see?" Jingo asked as she walked to Ahmid's side.
After a moment of hesitation, Ahmid turned in his seat and opened his shirt to reveal the bloody gauze pad on his shoulder.
Jingo slowly removed the pad then, after a moment of examination, she spoke without looking up, "Trav, you bring your skittles?"
"Yeah, but I ain't got much. I'm savin 'em." Trav whined.
"Bust 'em out, Trav. 'Sides, I only need one or two to help this guy deal with the pain. I promise that I'll leave your boner pills alone." She said impatiently as she looked away from the wound and held out her hand.
Reluctantly, Trav pulled a zip-lock bag out of his pocket that was over half full with over a dozen different types of pills.
"He needs somethin for pain. What'cha got?" Jingo asked impatiently.
Trav carefully selected two pills and handed them to Jingo.
"Here. Take these." She said as she handed the pills to Ahmid.
Before he could protest, she continued, "We gotta get that bullet out. This is gonna hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. These'll take the edge off."
Ahmid looked at the pills for a long moment, then when he seemed to have worked up his courage, he took the pills and washed them down with a drink of water from the bottle at his side.
"Where's that first aid kit?" Jingo asked as she looked toward the back of the bus impatiently.
"I almost have it. There were other things stored on top of it." Father Kinsey called in return as he tried to extract the case from a cabinet in the bus's 'kitchenette'.
"I'm gonna need a few of you guys to hold him down. You let him move around too much and it's just gonna take me that much longer." Jingo said frankly.
Arthur, Jim and Artimus got up from their seats and moved around so that they were surrounding Ahmid.
"Here you go. Is there anything else I can get you?" Father Kinsey asked hopefully as he presented her the first aid kit.
"Yeah. Keep hold of that. First thing I'll need is alcohol swabs. Next, see what kind of antibiotic cream or spray you have, I'm gonna need all of it. Once you got that, I'm gonna need gauze pads and bandages." Jingo said seriously.
"I'll help you." Father Franklin said as he moved to Father Kinsey's side.
"Here's the alcohol swabs." Father Kinsey said as he held out the packages to her.
"Would you open things before you hand them to me? If I wasn't gonna use 'em, I wouldn't have asked for 'em." Jingo said as she accepted the alcohol swabs and tore two of the packages open.
"Yes. Of course." Father Kinsey said nervously as he fumbled to open a plastic tube of antiseptic ointment.
With a few quick flips of her wrist, Jingo opened a very dangerous looking butterfly knife.
"It's okay, she's a friend." Father Doherty whispered to Art and Euan as he noticed that they were on either side of him.
Jingo wiped her hands with the first alcohol swab, then moved the next one several times up and down the blade of her knife to sterilize it.
Ahmid's eyes went wide and he seemed to lose all color when she turned to face him and he saw the knife.
"Hold him." Jingo said firmly, then moved into action.
Father Doherty felt a body press into him from each side and glanced down to find that Art and Euan had instinctively moved close to him. As he turned his full attention forward, he put an arm around each boy and held tightly on to them as he watched Jingo go to work.
From their vantage point, he couldn't see much more than her back. But Ahmid's sudden scream of pain was more than enough to let him know what she was doing.
"Keep hold! I almost got it." She called out over his howls of pain. A moment later, Ahmid suddenly fell silent.
"Is he alright?" Father Franklin asked in panic.
"Yeah, he either passed out from the pain or Trav's pills. Those coulda been horse tranquilizers, knowing Trav." Jingo said as she kept her attention on what she was doing.
"That's got it." She said as she turned and unceremoniously dropped the spent bullet on the open lid of the first aid kit.
"Give me the antiseptic." Jingo said firmly.
Father Kinsey handed her the open package without hesitation.
She worked on Ahmid's shoulder for a moment, then leaned back and asked, "What about a gauze pad?"
"Here you go." Father Kinsey said as he handed it to her.
"I'll let one of you guys bandage. I want to get this blood cleaned off me." Jingo said as she pressed the gauze pad into place.
"I'll do it." Father Franklin said as he stepped forward.
"Thank you." Father Kinsey said with relief as he handed Father Franklin the roll of gauze.
"Are you boys alright?" Father Doherty asked in a whisper.
"I've never seen anything like that before." Art said as he continued to stare at Ahmid disbelievingly.
"Nor have I, son." Father Doherty said quietly.
"I've been so sheltered." Art said distantly.
"Just because you ain't seen a bullet bein dug outta some guys shoulder before don't mean that you been sheltered." Emo said frankly, then added, "I'm pretty sure that you don't get to see stuff like that in most of your better neighborhoods."
"I think Emo's right. That's a good way of looking at it." Father Doherty said with a smile back at the older teenager.
"Is everything alright now?" Greg asked from the driver's seat.
"Yes. Jingo removed the bullet from Ahmid's shoulder and he's resting now. Everything's fine." Father Doherty said loudly, hoping that Greg could understand him.
"Next time, give me a little warning, okay? When I heard him scream, I thought I was going to have a heart attack." Greg said frankly.
"If there is a next time, I promise." Father Doherty said with a smile.
* * * * *
They had been driving for a while, now. Father Doherty hadn't been paying much attention to their surroundings, choosing to focus more on the people he found himself traveling with.
Art and Euan had been disturbed by Jingo's makeshift surgery, but seemed to be doing alright now.
Even though Emo had joined into their conversation earlier, Father Doherty still got the sense that the older teenager was probably the most solitary person of all of them.
"Everyone! Look at this!" Greg called out from the front of the bus.
Without thought, Father Doherty hurried forward, followed by Jingo and Artimus.
"That is strange." Father Doherty said as he looked at the small town ahead of them without a single light on. There were no street lights or traffic lights, just a few lonely cars lighting the streets of the otherwise desolate town.
"A blackout?" Artimus ventured cautiously.
"That seems the most likely explanation." Father Doherty said honestly.
"You need to get on the radio and see if anyone knows anything 'bout this." Jingo said frankly.
"Can one of you guys take care of the radio?" Greg asked hopefully, then added, "I can only make out a little of what you're saying, I probably won't be able to make any sense at all of the talk on the radio."
"There's enough of us that one of us can stay up here by you and take care of it. You're already doing us a great service by driving." Father Doherty said with a smile at their driver.
"If you'll show me what to do, I'll help." Euan said quickly and Father Doherty could hear the hope in his voice.
"Yes, Euan. Come on up here and make yourself comfortable, then we'll show you what to do." Father Doherty said warmly.
"I'm an old hand at talking on the CB. It might be best if I took care of the radio." Artimus said frankly.
"I believe you would receive a greater blessing if you shared your experience with Euan." Father Doherty said as he looked Artimus in the eyes.
The expression on Artimus' face changed from serious to tender, then he gently smiled and said, "Thank you, Father. You're right. I suppose I've gotten out of the habit of looking for blessings."
"I'll return to my seat. Please let me know if you and Euan find out anything about the town ahead." Father Doherty said before slowly walking back to his seat.
* * * * *
"Well, I'll tell you what they told me." Artimus said as he walked down the aisle.
Everyone turned their full attention to Artimus and waited expectantly.
"No one knows how big the blackout is, but it's BIG. According to the truckers that we talked to, no one... not one single truck anywhere in range of our radio, has found a single town with power. But the good news is that about an hour from here, they said that there's a truck stop that has its own generator. I'm thinking that until we know what's going on, we'd be smart to head to that place where everyone can refuel." Artimus said frankly.
"Yes. Make sure that Greg knows where you're talking about, then have Euan switch over to channel 14 and spread the word about the change in plan." Father Doherty said seriously.
"Yeah. And there's one other thing that they were talking about. If anyone has an AM radio, you should still be able to tune in Chicago. From the sound of it, that's going to be our best shot at getting any news." Artimus said seriously.
"Which station?" Father Doherty asked quickly.
"The only one that's still broadcasting." Artimus said frankly before walking forward again.
* * * * *
"I found my radio, but we're going to have to stop somewhere for batteries." Jim said as he carried a smaller version of a boom box up the aisle.
"No. I noticed when we were putting things in here today that this bus is outfitted with electrical outlets. There must be an inverter set up somewhere." Arthur said seriously.
"Then find a plug and plug it in! We need to know what's going on!" Harry said nervously.
"Got it!" Jim said as he quickly plugged in his radio.
"It's almost eight o'clock, so we should get the headlines, first thing." Arthur said quickly.
"I hope this works." Jim said as he set it to AM, then started slowly turning the dial.
The sense of isolation became more intense as the radio went on and on, searching for an active station.
Finally, everyone was relieved to hear a voice crackle to life amid the static.
"...details are sketchy right now, but we're still here. I know it's scary, and it may be cold. But remember that you're not alone. We're all in this together. Check on your neighbors, check on the old folks down the street. It's the top of the hour, so for anyone who just joined us, we'll be right back with a summary of what little we know." The male broadcaster said before a recorded jingle played, announcing the stations call letters.
"So I guess that means that Chicago is blacked out, too." Arthur said slowly.
"It seems..." Father Doherty began to say, when a different voice came over the radio.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
"I am Roland Bennett and this is the news." The announcer said in a bold voice. "Of course, first and foremost on everyone's minds right now is the blackout. How long will it last? How far does it extend? To be honest, we don't know. But what we can tell you is that along with losing electricity, we've also suffered the loss of all communications. That being cell phone, internet, land line... it's all gone. But, we are not without resources. A high ranking member of the local police department made a point of bringing by three satellite phones, so if anyone has phone service and has any news to share, they can contact us. We'll be giving out those numbers at the end of the program."
Father Doherty reached into his pocket and took out the satellite phone that had been given to him just hours before.
"We also have staff monitoring citizens band radio, also known as CB's. If you have access to a CB radio and have any news to report, you can try to get a message relayed from wherever you are. We will be monitoring channel 8 for messages directed to us."
Father Doherty leaned out in the aisle slightly and saw Euan sitting on the floor, holding the microphone of the CB radio in his hand.
"For those that have access to ham radio, we also have staff monitoring those frequencies. So, as you might have guessed, we don't know very much about what's going on right now, but as soon as anyone finds out anything, we'll pass it on to you."
"I'm sure that you can tell from my informal delivery that we're more or less flying by the seat of our pants here. The majority of our programming is provided by the network and what little we provide at the local level has been closely monitored. We've been repeatedly warned against 'inciting' the citizenry with un-American discourse. Basically, over the course of time, it means I let them take my freedom of speech, we, at this station, let them take our freedom of the press. Now, here I am, in the middle of a blackened city, ready to make all of you a promise. I don't know how long it will take for the government agents to shut me up, but until that happens, I promise to give you the pure, unvarnished truth about everything we learn."
"Oh my God! Is it really that bad?" Harry asked in wonder.
"Probably worse." Jingo said frankly.
"Father, can you come up here?" Euan asked loudly.
"Yes. What is it?" Father Doherty asked as he hurried up the aisle.
"I just heard from some of the people at the back of the... what is this? A convoy?" Euan asked slowly.
Father Doherty chuckled as he remembered a silly song, then nodded for Euan to continue.
"There's at least one car near the back that's having trouble. The guy I talked to said it looked like his radiator was about to blow." Euan said gravely.
"Tell the person with the radio that we'll be stopping at a truck stop in about half an hour. There's no way we can stop the entire 'convoy' for one car, but once we reach that truck stop, we can wait for them to catch up, or dispatch a tow truck from there, if need be." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"Thank you, Father. I didn't know what to tell him." Euan said with relief.
"No. Thank you, Euan. You are providing a very important service by doing this." Father Doherty said honestly.
"Would you mind if I showed Art how to use the radio, too? That way he can take over for me if I need to use the bathroom or something." Euan asked hopefully.
"Yes. That sounds like a very good idea." Father Doherty said warmly.
* * * * *
"What did I miss?" Father Doherty asked as he returned to his seat.
"A massacre..." Jim said in a disbelieving voice.
"What? Where?" Father Doherty asked quickly.
"Earlier today, in Texas... the announcer, he said that the feds... they just... killed... everyone." Harry said in astonishment.
"Kids. They killed kids." Arthur said firmly.
"Yeah, at a school. They got all the kids together, and according to the announcer, it was a setup, they got everyone in one place, then... they started shooting." Harry said slowly.
"Why did you turn the radio off?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"I think all of us needed a few minutes to process what we just heard. Besides, they said that they're going to do five minutes of announcements about local emergency shelters and stuff before they get back to the news." Jim said simply.
Father Doherty nodded that he had heard. He couldn't think of anything more to say to contribute to the conversation.
As he turned, he spotted Emo, watching him.
As soon as Emo saw that he had the priest's attention, he said, "This is what my brother was worried about, wasn't it?"
After a moment to consider, Father Doherty slowly shook his head, then said, "As much as I hate to say so, I think that whatever this is, is just beginning. I believe that your brother saw what was going on around him and realized how bad things might get and he knew that there was no way he could protect you from what he saw coming."
"Like what?" Emo asked cautiously.
"Honestly, I don't know. But look at what's happened already today. Don't think of them as unrelated events, but as parts of someone's master plan. The list that you're on, the roadblock, the murder of those children in Texas, this blackout... I can't see the big picture yet, but I feel safe in saying that whatever is happening, has only just begun." Father Doherty said honestly.
"Okay. If you were trying to freak me out, it worked." Emo said nervously.
"No, Emo. I'm not trying to freak you out. I'm just trying to get across to you that your brother wasn't disrespecting you or trying to get rid of you. He was truly and honestly trying to protect you as best he could."
Emo looked around cautiously, then moved out of his seat and moved around Father Doherty to sit next to him, in the seat by the window.
Father Doherty waited, sensing that Emo wanted to tell him something very personal.
"If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell anyone else?" Emo whispered.
"Yes. That's part of my job as a priest." Father Doherty said with a smile.
"I don't know that much about priests. My mom says that we're Methodists, but I don't think I've ever been inside a church." Emo said frankly.
"I promise, Emo. Anything you tell me will stay between you and me and God." Father Doherty said warmly.
After a moment to consider, Emo hesitantly said, "I just... my name is really Marsden... Marsden Parker. People started calling me Emo because of how I act and how I dress."
"What would you like for me to call you?" Father Doherty asked gently.
"Around everyone else, you can call me Emo. But... you know, with things being like they are, I just wanted for someone to know the 'real' me." Emo said slowly.
"I'm honored that you would trust me like that. Especially since you haven't known me that long." Father Doherty said honestly.
"You don't look down on me. You talk to me like I'm like everyone else. When I said something, you listened and said I was right... I can't remember the last time anyone told me that I was right about anything." Emo explained.
Father Doherty heard the volume on the radio go up a few seats behind him, but was content to remain where he was.
"I'm here for you, Marsden. If you ever need to talk to someone, or just to have someone listen, I can do that for you. I've even been known to give a pretty good hug, when there's a need." Father Doherty finished with a smile.
"You don't rape little kids, do you?" Emo asked as he backed away slightly.
"No. I won't lie to you. There are priests that do. Just the same as there are teachers and scout leaders and all kinds of people in the world who do those horrible things. But I'm not one of them." Father Doherty said as he looked Emo in the eyes.
Emo stared at Father Doherty for a long moment, then finally said, "After the day I've had, a hug sounds really good. But if you grab my nuts, I swear to God that I'll beat the shit out of you."
Father Doherty tried not to chuckle, but couldn't help it. Finally, he said, "That sounds fair to me."
After a moment, Emo shifted in his seat a little and moved fractionally closer.
Father Doherty very slowly and carefully raised one arm and draped it around Emo's shoulders.
They sat for a long, silent moment until Father Doherty quietly said, "Just yesterday I was surprised to find that I have a son."
Father Doherty felt a movement on his shoulder and supposed that it was Emo's nod.
"He's a grown man, and I'm very proud of him. But I never got to experience a moment of his childhood. I never got to hold him or give him advice or be there when he needed me. Since I met him, I've been feeling regret for missing all those things that might have been. I suppose what I'm really saying is that being here like this with you, it makes that hurt less." Father Doherty said distantly.
"I never had a dad. Don't know who he is, even. Steve's only a few years older than me, but he tried. When he went away to college, I felt like he abandoned me... that's when Emo was born. My mom's a lazy cow who wouldn't lift her fat ass off the couch if the house was on fire. For my whole life, Steve did everything for me, then all of a sudden, he wasn't there."
"From the sound of it, he probably had very limited options. He was probably trying to do the best thing that he could to take care of you." Father Doherty said softly.
"Yeah, but while he was gone... he changed. I mean, yeah, when he came back he had a ton of college loans to pay back and he was the newest cop on the force and he had me and mom just being dead weight, holding him back... I get that. But, I don't know, something else. It's like he wasn't my Steve anymore."
After a moment to be sure that Emo didn't have more to say, Father Doherty quietly said, "I'm sure that your Steve is still there, but it sounds like his plate is pretty full with all kinds of adult stresses and worries. I think that when things calm down, it might be a really good thing if you and your brother could spend some time just being together. It sounds like after his time away, that you need to reconnect."
Emo slowly nodded, then said, "That sounds nice. We used to sit like this. I mean, on the couch, in front of the TV. Not talking or anything, just... being together."
"Well, Marsden, that I could do for you. When we find ourselves somewhere with a couch and a TV, I think I would like it very much if we could spend some time that way." Father Doherty said with a smile.
"But it probably wouldn't be the same. I mean, you're not my brother." Emo said in a conflicted tone.
"No. I'm not your brother, but I'm a father, in both senses of the word. It might not be exactly the same, but maybe it will make it hurt less." Father Doherty said speculatively.
"Yeah. Okay." Emo said softly.
"And no raping, I promise." Father Doherty added with a chuckle.
"I'll hold you to that." Emo said with a grin.
* * * * *
The Scout bus pulled into a crowded rest stop. The boys and adults made use of the facilities to save those on the bus. The leaders decided that saving time was most important now and gave each boy an MRE as they returned to the bus. When all of them were back, the trip resumed. With full bellies (after a second MRE for the boys) they settled down, and sleep soon claimed them.
Mr. Montgomery had taken over driving. He was heard mumbling something about Americans driving on the wrong side of the road.
* * * * *
"Jesus Christ!" Greg exclaimed from the driver's seat, then thought to add, "Sorry, Fathers."
"What's the problem?" Father Doherty asked as he hurried forward with Emo at his side.
"I hope you weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, because it looks like we're going to have a two or three hour wait for gas." Greg said as he slowed the bus to a stop at the back of a line of cars.
"If it's the only functioning gas station in this part of the state, I suppose there's nothing to be done about it." Father Doherty said frankly.
Some squawking on the CB drew Father Doherty's attention.
Art looked up at Father Doherty and relayed the message, "They said that the fellow with the bad radiator made it. Everyone is here."
"Good. We'll have to be sure to see that his vehicle will be fit to travel tomorrow." Father Doherty said frankly, then turned back into the bus and asked, "Are any of you experienced with auto mechanics?"
There were several negative responses, but Artimus stood and walked forward.
"I can usually figure out what's wrong if it's something minor, but I'm by no means a mechanic." Artimus said reluctantly.
"Art, would you get on the CB and ask around, see if there's anyone who would be willing to help our friend with the radiator problem." Father Doherty asked hopefully.
"Yes, Father." Art said immediately, then began calling on the radio.
A knocking on the door of the bus surprised everyone.
Greg quickly opened the door.
"Is everyone alright up here?" Keith asked as he climbed aboard.
"Yes. This vehicle is quite comfortable. I don't know how we'll ever be able to thank you for allowing us to use it." Father Doherty said honestly.
"I would have planned to drive it myself, but there's no way I could've afforded to pay for the fuel for this big assed thing." Keith said frankly.
"Yes. That's likely going to be a concern for us as well." Father Doherty said seriously.
"Got'cha covered." Trav said as he stepped forward.
"You're going to pay?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"Yeah. As long as it's one a ours." Trav said simply.
"Which means...?" Keith prompted.
Trav reached into his pocket, which, considering the way he wore his pants, was halfway to his knee.
When he pulled out the charge card, all the men stared at it in surprise.
"I didn't know gas companies even issued a black card." Keith said in wonder.
"Don't just ev'body git one dese." Trav said with a cocky grin.
"And we're just supposed to use it to see that you get there. No extra charges." Jingo said firmly to her companion.
"We can jess tell tha boss that the Fathers NEEDED a big ass pile a nachos and some malt liquor or they won't gunna make it." Trav said as he looked askance at Jingo.
"Just remember who that card belongs to. Do you want to piss him off?" Jingo asked frankly.
Trav seemed to think about it for a moment, then quietly said, "We jes be gittin tha gas."
Jingo nodded, then walked back to her seat.
* * * * *
The bus had moved a few car lengths forward when Art said, "Father Doherty, there is someone on the radio who needs to speak with you."
The priest was surprised to be singled out, but hurried forward and squatted to be by Art's side.
"Big Noise, this is Monarch, the Father is here, go ahead." Art said firmly into the microphone.
Father Doherty smiled at the sound of Art's aristocratic British accent as he talked on the radio. When Art noticed, he shyly said, "Euan picked that name for me."
"It suits you." Father Doherty said fondly, then listened to the trucker speaking on the CB radio. "This is Big Noise out of Abilene. I happened upon your convoy a few miles back and heard some of Monarch's radio chatter and got to thinking that if y'all need a place to stop for the night that there's a campground just over half an hour up the road, about mile marker 142. They don't have electricity, but even so, I hear that they're still in pretty good shape. They have public toilets and running water. I doubt that you'll find much better anywhere 'round these parts."
Father Doherty thought quickly and decided that it sounded like a very good idea.
"Art, please tell him 'thank you' for me. Then, if you would, start spreading the word to the others in our 'convoy'." Father Doherty asked hopefully.
"Yes, Father." Art said quickly, then started talking on the CB.
* * * * *
The starting and stopping crawl to the truck stop felt like it took forever. Euan had joined Art at the front and they were talking quietly on the CB, letting everyone know what the plan was.
When the bus finally stopped at the fueling station by the truck stop, Jingo spoke up, "While you're getting the bus gassed up, I need to get some more bandages and things for that hurt guy."
Father Doherty thought that it sounded like a good idea and decided that he should also go along, in case he could see anything else that they might need.
"Give me the card." Jingo said as she looked at Trav.
"But you said..." Trav began to say when she cut him off.
"If the boss sees that we bought bandages, I don't think he'll have a problem. Give it!"
Trav handed over the credit card without further protest.
"Does anyone need anything?" Father Doherty asked as he stood.
No one answered, so he followed Jingo off the bus.
* * * * *
The restaurant at the truck stop was a bustle of activity. It looked like every available seat was filled and there was a line of about thirty people waiting to be seated.
Jingo and Father Doherty walked into the convenience store area and up to the counter where several people seemed to be waiting, but weren't standing in line.
"You need to pay first, then we'll start your pump. We'll call you up for your change when the pump has stopped." A clerk behind the counter called loudly enough for all to hear.
"Diesel pump seven." Jingo called out as she held up her card.
The clerk took the card and looked at it with a little surprise, but ended up placing the card on the countertop in a line with several others before saying, "Your pump is started for a fill up. I'll call you when it's ready."
Jingo gave a single nod, then walked away to look at the merchandise in the store.
Father Doherty looked around and was impressed with the efficiency of the truck stop's workers.
They had everything running smoothly and even though the store was packed, no one seemed to be upset about having to wait.
As he wandered around the store, he found himself on the candy aisle. When he spotted a small package of gummy bears, he smiled as he thought of Emo. He picked up the package, then walked to the next aisle where the cookies were kept and selected two small sleeves of cookies.
* * * * *
"Diesel pump seven!" The attendant at the counter called.
Father Doherty walked to the counter in time to see Jingo emerge from one of the aisles with her arms loaded with several packages of gauze and other medical supplies.
He got behind her in line and watched as the attendant took the black card and put it into an old fashioned credit card imprint machine.
"I haven't seen one of those things in ages!" Father Doherty exclaimed with a smile.
"Me either. It took the boss nearly half an hour to dig this thing out of the store room when we lost the connection to the home office." The clerk said honestly.
"It's good that you're still able to process credit transactions. You're helping a lot of people by doing this." Father Doherty said honestly as he placed his purchases on the counter.
"The boss said that we'll make a whole lot more than we'll lose since we're probably the only working gas station in the state. Gotta make the most out of the opportunity." The clerk said cheerfully, then asked, "Do you want those added to the credit card?"
"No. I'll pay cash for these." Father Doherty said as he took out his wallet.
"It's okay. I'll pay for them." Jingo said in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.
"No need. I just wanted to get some treats for the boys. They've been very cooperative and helpful." Father Doherty responded with a smile, then waited for the clerk to ring up his purchases.
* * * * *
When Father Doherty took his seat on the bus, everyone seemed to be nervous as they silently looked out the windows at the incredible sight of all the bustling activity surrounding the truck stop. The only sound on the bus was the AM radio playing at a low volume, too low for him to really hear it.
Father Doherty reached into his shopping bag and extracted the package of gummy bears, then handed them to Emo, who was still sitting in the chair next to his.
"Thanks!" Emo said with surprise, then added, "I love these things!"
Father Doherty smiled at the sincere appreciation then rested back, internally readying himself for the next leg of their journey.
* * * * *
"Okay, Doc. I think we can do this. I'm going to have to fly this thing like an F-16 and without tilt wings and afterburners that will be a challenge. Get everyone packed and we'll load up tonight and I want to be airborne an hour after dark. Radar is enough of a problem but I want us clear of hostile airspace before they can see us." Major Murdoc (USAF Ret), the private pilot said.
"I'll get everyone here that is evacuating and they can come to the hangar. Almost everyone is coming. There will be a small crew staying to keep everything running. The company power grid is still up and completely isolated. We will be cutting the other location off so it won't attract attention." The doctor remarked seriously.
* * * * *
The pilot had done his preflight carefully as he knew how precious his cargo was. His boss would not be happy if anything went wrong. Finally everything and everyone was loaded aboard the custom 767-300ER. He was still amazed that this was a private field with camouflaged hangars and runway. He entered the code to open the hangar doors and clear the runway. The previous owner was one paranoid SOB, but everyone was grateful, now, that he was.
A short taxi and it was 'showtime.' Throttles full, brakes off, and the large aircraft was gaining speed. Lifting into the air the pilot leveled out at 800 feet above tree tops. He left the throttles at full. The idea being to stay below radar and get out as fast as possible. He took a heading of 270 degrees. Well into Ohio air space, he banked to the right and took a heading of 020 degrees to head toward Toronto.
Once over Lake Erie the plane gained altitude. "Toronto Tower, this is HE-001 requesting landing clearance."
"HE-001 we do not have a flight plan or transponder."
"One moment." The copilot entered a code into the keypad.
"Roger HE-001. We are routing all private traffic to CYOO Oshaw Airport."
"Ah, negative, Toronto, We are a 767-300ER."
"General Aviation? Not many of those, eh?"
"Clearance granted. Vectors to come. Welcome to Canada."
* * * * *
The Chicago group traveled for over half an hour in inky blackness on the unfamiliar road. When the bus reached the sign at the entrance of the park, Father Doherty felt a little relief that they had found it without any problem.
"It looks like this place is set up for RVs and campers. I'm guessing that will work well for this bus since it's almost like a mobile home." Artimus said as the bus meandered down small roads before stopping near the front of what seemed to be an enormous camping area.
"They have electricity!" Jim said with surprise.
Father Doherty realized that what he was looking at was, indeed, a well lit tourist center just thirty feet away.
"Don't get your hopes up. It's solar." Father Franklin said seriously.
The yellow tinge of the lighting was indicative of low power bulbs and none of the lights seemed to be overly bright. But still, it was light.
As Father Doherty looked around, he also noticed that all of the paths in the major areas seemed to be lined with small lights along the sidewalks, providing a safe walking path to and from the facilities.
The air brakes hissed as they finally came to a complete stop, and a moment later, the sound of the engine stopped.
Movement outside the bus caused Father Doherty to look up and he saw two people in park ranger uniforms approaching.
Before anyone else could react, he moved to the front of the bus and gently placed a hand on Greg's shoulder, then indicated the door.
As soon as Greg had opened the door, Father Doherty stepped outside and greeted the park rangers.
"Good evening. How can I help you?" Father Doherty asked pleasantly.
"Good evening. We just wanted to let you know that since the power is out, we won't be able to provide the full range of services that we normally offer. The restrooms and tourist areas are still available, but there's no hot water for the showers and, of course, there's no electricity. For that reason, we're discounting our usual camping fee to five dollars per vehicle per night." The first ranger said, as the second moved away toward Keith and Emmogene's truck that had just pulled in behind them.
"That's more than fair." Father Doherty said as he pulled out his wallet, then thought to add, "Please be aware that there may be as many as two hundred vehicles arriving over the next hour or so. We're all traveling together, so if any of them are unable to pay, please call on me so we can try and work something out."
The ranger looked at the side of the bus, then hesitantly asked, "Lesbian Gravy?"
Father Doherty chuckled, then explained, "The members of that band were kind enough to allow us to use their tour bus."
"Oh. I just wondered... I used to love their music. I hated to hear that they had broken up." The ranger said honestly.
"Oh! Well, then, you may be interested to know that the man in the truck over there was a member of the band. I have to admit that I don't know anything about them, but I'm sure that he'd be happy to speak with an admiring fan."
"Really? Thanks!" The ranger said happily, then rushed away.
Father Doherty smiled, then turned and climbed back onto the bus.
* * * * *
"I didn't think about it when we packed the bus, but we've got food boxes packed into every nook and cranny at the back. I would have hated to leave them behind, but now we need that space." Artimus said frankly.
Father Doherty looked out the windows at the seemingly endless caravan of cars arriving in the campground.
"Earlier, someone mentioned that there were people traveling with us who didn't have time to gather food to bring with them. I think it might be a good thing if we circulated amongst the other travelers and found out if any of them would have need of a box of food." Father Doherty said slowly.
"That sounds like a great idea! If you can give away a few of these boxes, I'll be able to get the beds freed up for tonight." Artimus said happily.
"There are also some extra blankets and clothes stored in the cargo area underneath the bus. We should get those, too. Just in case they're needed." Father Franklin said thoughtfully.
"Yes. If you'll do that, I'll take the boys with me to talk to people." Father Doherty said decisively.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement, so Father Doherty walked toward the front of the bus as he said, "Emo, would you and the boys like to help me with something?"
Emo looked up with surprise at being asked, but quickly nodded.
"Art and Euan, do you boys feel up to walking around for a bit, helping me see that there isn't anyone doing without food?" Father Doherty asked with a smile.
"Yes, Father, we would be happy to help." Art answered for both of them.
* * * * *
As they walked from one campsite to the next, following Father Doherty, Art was amazed at how good he felt.
He was helping people. Not in an abstract, distant way, like making a donation. He and Euan were walking with a priest, going from vehicle to vehicle asking people if they had enough food and were going to be warm enough.
The looks on their faces and the gratitude in their voices was nearly overwhelming to him. He felt so blessed for being given the opportunity to truly help people that were in need. When Father Doherty found that someone was in need, he would ask one of the boys walking with him to hurry back to the bus to get what was needed.
The sound of a woman's crying drew Art out of his introspection.
"Please, Margaret, don't distress. Just tell me what's wrong and I'll do whatever I can to help." Father Doherty said gently.
"My son... he's been missing for three weeks and... and the police don't have any leads and now... I got scared for my other kids and I left. But he won't know how to find me! What if he comes back and can't find me?" The woman said before breaking into fresh sobs.
"I believe that you did what was best, Margaret. I know it's of little comfort, but this is something out of your control. Offer it up to God and trust that all will go according to his will." Father Doherty said gently.
"Yes... you're right. I need to be strong. My babies need me." She said as she tried to control herself.
"Just now, we're checking to see that no one has to go to bed tonight with an empty belly. But as soon as we're finished, I'd like to come back here to speak with you for a while and pray with you. Would that be alright?" Father Doherty asked gently.
"Yes. Thank you, Father. I would like that." Margaret said as she dabbed at her eyes.
"We'll speak again soon." Father Doherty said softly, then stepped away from the SUV.
Blurring vision caused Art to wipe his own eyes and Father Doherty noticed. "Is something wrong?"
"You have a satellite phone, don't you?" Art asked as he fought to compose himself.
"Yes." Father Doherty answered slowly.
"I think... I know my mother has to be worried about me. I should have called her before we left Chicago. Do you think I could borrow your phone to call her now?" Art asked hopefully.
"Yes. Of course." Father Doherty said as he took the phone from his pocket and handed it to Art.
"I'll only be a minute." Art said as he started to dial.
"Take as long as you need." Father Doherty said as he led Emo and Euan away.
After a moment, Art scowled that his call was being sent to voice mail. But when the tone for him to speak finally sounded, he calmly said, "Mother, I'm sorry that I didn't call sooner. Euan and I ran into some trouble. We weren't seriously injured, but... well, I'll explain when we're able to talk in person. I just wanted to let you know that Euan and I are safe. We aren't being held against our will and, in fact, are doing something quite important. I won't go into it now, but I'm certain that you would approve. This is much like those dreadful things you have me do that are supposed to 'build character'. I will call again soon and we will talk. I love you."
* * * * *
"There are still people coming in. How are we going to get to all of them?" Euan asked as he looked at the lights of arriving vehicles entering the campground.
"I think that we've spoken to enough people that if there's someone who is in need, that they will be directed to us." Father Doherty said honestly as they walked.
"Where's the bus?" Emo asked as he came to a sudden stop.
Father Doherty looked around, then spotted the bus at the other side of the camping area, pulled off at the side of the road.
"It's over there." He said as he pointed.
* * * * *
As they approached the bus, Father Doherty noticed that it was parked beside a large, grassy field that gradually sloped up and away from the side of the road. Jim and Arthur were securing clamp-on lights to an awning that extended from the side of the bus as Keith sat on a folding chair, tuning an acoustic guitar.
There was a low humming rumble that Father Doherty couldn't quite place, but then he realized that it was the sound of a generator.
Suddenly, what he was seeing made sense to him. What they were doing was setting up a stage, and the grassy field that they were beside was a natural amphitheater.
"Boys, why don't you go and get some blankets or mats or something so you can sit in the grass. It looks like the band is going to put on a show."
* * * * *
Eventually, Keith was joined by four other men about his same age. When the music started, it turned out to be just about the complete opposite of what Father Doherty expected. The band started off by playing a fairly good rendition of Don McLean's "Vincent" also known as "Starry, Starry, Night".
The sound of the music playing started drawing people from all the cars and campers around the campground.
The next song was Terry Jack's, "Seasons in the Sun.", which Father Doherty thought was an odd choice, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it as more and more people arrived in the grassy field.
"Margaret. How are you doing? Please, come sit with us." Father Doherty said as he gestured to the blankets arranged on the ground.
"Thank you, Father. That's very kind." Margaret said shyly as she and her kids joined Emo, Art and Euan on the blanket.
* * * * *
After an exceptionally good rendition of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper", Emo turned to Father Doherty and said, "I never thought that a band named 'Lesbian Gravy' would be singing songs like these."
Father Doherty chuckled, then said, "I assume that they're adapting to their audience and trying to make everyone comfortable."
"They're doing a good job of that." Art said from Father Doherty's other side before turning his full attention back to the performers.
* * * * *
Father Doherty was surprised to realize that he had lost track of time, along with everything else.
As the band played on, they sang familiar songs and encouraged everyone to participate by singing along. It was odd to hear nearly two hundred people singing the chorus of "American Pie" in the otherwise still night.
When he had realized what Keith and his band were planning on doing, he never imagined how an open air concert could help everyone to let go of their problems for a little while and experience the feeling of community that had formed out of nearly nothing.
As he looked around in the dim light at all the faces of people caught up in the music, he knew within himself that this, all of this, was nothing less than a miracle.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Margaret?" Father Doherty asked as he helped her to stand.
"Better, I think. I'm still worried about Brody, but I'm going to try to do what you said and leave it in God's hands and trust that everything will go according to His plan. Hopefully, His plan will include Brody coming home to us... but we'll just have to wait and see." Margaret said bravely.
"There are two other priests staying on the tour bus with me. If you need anything, even if it's just to talk, please feel free to come to us." Father Doherty said sincerely.
"Thank you, Father." Margaret said, then gathered her children to usher them back to the SUV.
* * * * *
Father Doherty and the boys watched as the makeshift stage was broken down and the bus was moved back to its original place, so it could be reconnected to the utilities, such as they had.
The open air had been chilly and exhilarating, but Father Doherty felt as though he was chilled to the core.
"Where are we going to sleep?" Emo asked as he followed Father Doherty onto the bus.
"I noticed that the seats recline, so I suppose that most of us will sleep that way." Father Doherty said frankly.
"The bunk beds in the back are free now, who gets to sleep there?" Artimus asked curiously.
"I think that Ahmid should get one of the beds. After all he's been through, it's the least we can do for him." Father Doherty said honestly.
"Let me check on his shoulder, then we can either wake him up or carry him back there." Jingo said as she stood and moved to Ahmid's side.
"What about the other bed?" Artimus asked curiously.
"I think, for all that he's done to help everyone here, Father Doherty should get the other bunk." Father Franklin said seriously.
Everyone present seemed to be in agreement.
"No. Thank you for the thought, but that goes contrary to everything that I believe in. There's no way that I could sleep comfortably knowing that I was doing so at the expense of others." Father Doherty said firmly.
Everyone could hear the conviction in his voice and, although many thought that he deserved the more comfortable bed, none had the will to defy him.
"Who gets it then?" Artimus asked simply.
After a moment to consider, Father Doherty smiled and said, "I think it should be Greg."
The man seemed to be about to refuse when Father Doherty said, "He's going to be doing most, if not all, of the driving tomorrow. If anyone needs a good night of sleep, it's him."
Everyone seemed to agree with that answer and Greg finally accepted it without protest.
"Art and Euan? Would you mind helping me?" Father Kinsey asked from the small kitchenette area.
The boys were surprised to be called upon, but hurried back to see what Father Kinsey wanted.
Father Doherty's eyes lit up a moment later when he saw what the boys were carrying.
"Would you like some hot chocolate, Father?" Art offered as he held forward one of the two cups that he carried.
"Yes. Thank you, Art. And please thank Father Kinsey for me." Father Doherty said with a smile.
"Mmmm." Father Doherty purred after taking a sip.
"Want some, Emo?" Art asked as he offered the other cup to him.
"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Emo said hesitantly.
"Art, when you're done handing those out, would you and Euan come and see me?" Father Doherty asked with a smile.
"Yes. We'll be there in a moment." Art said with a curious look on his face.
"Oh! That's good!" Emo said appreciatively.
"Let's sit so we can take our time and enjoy this." Father Doherty said as he gestured to the seats they had been using on the trip.
* * * * *
"You asked to see us?" Art asked cautiously as he and Euan stood at Father Doherty's side, each holding a cup of hot chocolate.
"Oh, yes. I bought these for you at the truck stop and forgot to give them to you at the time." Father Doherty said as he handed them each a small package of cookies.
"Thank you, Father!" Art said with surprise.
"Yes. Thank you. We didn't expect to get anything special." Euan said timidly.
"I just wanted to thank both of you for being so helpful. Please, enjoy them." Father Doherty said with a tender smile.
"Thank you, again." Art said before hurrying away with Euan at his side.
"That was nice of you." Emo said in a considering tone.
"Being nice comes with the job." Father Doherty said dismissively.
"I'm beginning to see that." Emo muttered absently, then seemed to drift off into his own thoughts.
* * * * *
"If I counted right, we should have plenty of blankets for everyone, but we might be a pillow or two short." Artimus said from the front of the bus.
"The way these seats are shaped, I don't think I'll need one." Father Doherty said honestly.
A few of the others made sounds of agreement with him.
"Then we might have enough. What do you say? Are we ready to call it a night?" Artimus asked as he looked around.
No one said anything, so their silence was taken as acceptance.
After a moment, Artimus asked, "Who wants to help me with Ahmid?"
"You should probably wake him up and get him to use the bathroom and maybe drink something before you put him back to bed." Jim said seriously.
"You wanna help me? I'm betting that he'll be too out of it to find the bathroom on his own." Artimus said seriously.
Jim got up from his chair and, together, they were able to coax him awake, at least a little bit, and get him to more or less stand.
* * * * *
Although he didn't think about it, when Father Doherty finally sat down in his seat with a blanket to cover him, he found that Emo was sitting in the seat next to his.
The look in Emo's eyes spoke of uncertainty, but he didn't say anything.
Deciding to take a chance, Father Doherty leaned in and gave the skittish teenager a quick hug as he whispered, "Good night, Marsden. Sweet dreams."
"Thanks. You, too." Emo said shyly.
Father Doherty unfolded his blanket and reclined his seat when a movement beside him caught his attention.
Emo's hand was nonchalantly perched on the armrest, right beside Father Doherty. With a smile, Father Doherty placed his hand over Emo's and gave it a gentle squeeze before closing his eyes for sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Let's see, where are we? We have finally begun the journey toward what hopefully will be some semblance of safety.
I sure hope that lady can be reunited with her son. She seems very nice, and I am sure she is worried sick. I know if I were in that situation, I would be totally freaked out.
It is nice to know that the radio station in Chicago is still broadcasting, and is able to get some semblance of truthful information into the hands of the public.
I loved the idea of the concert by Lesbian Gravy. I think it really hit the spot, as, I am sure, did the hot chocolate.
It was interesting to find out that Art got the reminder that he should try to get in touch with his mom. I am sure she is worried sick, and I'm pretty sure she will let Euan's parents know he's alright, too. I am sure Art feels pretty bad that he hadn't thought to call his mom earlier. But, being a kid, I am also sure he will get over the guilt pretty quickly, if he hasn't already done so.
Well, that is about all I can come up with for notes, right now, so I will just say, stay tuned.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
They may not have covered many miles but the group has come a long way in coming together as a unit (no, wait isn't that a different story?). Father Doherty sure has become the leader for the group and caravan as a whole.
Emo finally has a friend who will help fill the void left by his brother and unknown father. I'll be interested in finding out more about Art and Euan's story. Art's mom isn't East of the Mississippi so maybe she is in England, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.
Now we need an update on Kettle Falls.