Sister Penny was a robust woman with shoulder-length dark hair and chubby cheeks. She wore what I would consider to be a Hawaiian Moo-Moo, also known as a sundress, and no stockings, just black penny loafers. Her skin wasn’t dark but she spoke Spanish very fluently.
Brother Nathan joined her at the door, peering from behind her frame a good foot above her head. He was very fair complected unlike his sister and sporting a full beard and mustache that accentuated the shaggy blonde hair of his head. Both had the same eyes, green like an Evergreen. He wore a t-shirt with a cross on the chest and a pair of sporty, red shorts with sandals. He reminded me a little of Bryan.
“Hello?” I said finally.
“Well, hello!” Sister Penny returned cheerfully.
Alice rustled in the Joshua tree behind me causing me to remember I needed to get her down. I grabbed her as she jumped fearlessly into my arms and swung her feet down to touch the pavement of the courtyard. She gasped as she landed and turned immediately to face the siblings in the doorway to the church.
“Hello,” she said, then without hesitation, “we saw you on t.v.”
“You did? Well bless your soul! I’m so glad. We thought we might truly be alone. Please, come inside.” Sister Penny motioned for us to come forward and we followed her in. The dog, Bella, had returned to the bushes out of sight, I noticed as I looked around on my way in.
They walked us through the church kitchen. It wasn’t very big like you would see in some churches, but there was a table and all the appliances necessary to prepare and store food.
“Please, sit here,” Sister Penny motioned towards the table, “are you hungry or thirsty,” she asked Alice, then looked to me.
“Yes,” said Alice, “I’m thirsty.”
“No,” I answered just after her, “I’m good.”
“Okay, then, let me see what I have in the fridge for you,” Sister Penny began digging in their refrigerator as Brother Nathan remained standing quietly off to the side. He watched Alice and I for a moment before he spoke.
“Where are you from?” He asked me.
“Parish. Ever heard of it?”
“Yep.” He shook his head slowly and the look on his face was suddenly sad. He disappeared then and we didn’t see him for most of the visit that followed.
Sister Penny found some apple juice for Alice and poured her a large cup before joining us at the table.
“How is it that the dog… Bella? Isn’t one of those Undead creatures?”
“Sodium Iodide treatments daily and a whole lot of praying to the Lord.”
I listened with fascination while Alice sipped at her Apple juice and distracted herself with a children’s book of Mormon Sister Penny had slipped to her with the juice.
She continued without prompting, “Bella has been my dog for 10 years, she came to me from a hispanic couple that moved and couldn’t take her with them. I had to learn Spanish to communicate effectively with her so you can just imagine how attached I’ve become.”
I nodded, ironically relating the dog to Alice.
“My brother and I are part of the Dixie LDS church, and on the side, he liked to dabble with cameras and video, so once we came out of hiding, we decided to broadcast from here in hopes of reaching other survivors like ourselves.”
“Where did you hide?” I interjected.
“Well, that’s a testament to God and Jesus right there… Because let me tell you something, there wasn’t any warnings on the news…” She sighed and wiped at her eyes which had suddenly teared up.
“Nathan had recently been abandoned by his wife and three kids and so he was staying with me. He’d been staying with me for the three months prior to all this and we were outside working in the yard when a quiet voice told me to go to the bomb shelter. Now mind you, I’d only gotten that shelter 3 weeks before all this, not because I feared bombs, but so I’d have a place to store all of my canned goods and dry goods! I had a garden and I like to can and know how to dry and package and all that…” She smiled weakly, slowly shaking her head and looked heavenward for a moment before continuing on. Alice burped and excused herself without a pause in her reading.
“So I called to Nathan, who was in the front of the house pulling weeds out of the bean garden, and told him that the Holy Ghost said we needed to go down into the shelter right then. At first, he wasn’t sure about that, but since he generally will do as I ask if it’s reasonable, he humored me and we called Bella to join us.” She paused to remember.
“I asked him to seal us in as I readied the lamps and candles. Everything else we needed was there because that same voice had told me to put it all there the first day after the men came and put the shelter into the ground for me. I had plenty of ‘canned heat’ to cook with, a can opener for the store-bought cans, water, food, blankets, clothes for both of us, baby-wipes for cleansing, the list goes on. Dog Food… And I had spared no expense, as instructed by the Holy Ghost, so that there was a proper ventilation system installed and bathroom facility. My entire life savings of about 75,000 dollars…”
Uncontrollably, I gasped at this.
“Just three minutes after we were completely locked in, we heard something and the same voice told me we should not open the door and we should not look to see what it was. Nathan didn’t like that at all. In fact, he was quite squirrelly at first and was going to open it anyway until the voice spoke to him too. We knew then. We were given a gift to see it all for just a brief period of time and we spent the next few days talking about it and speculating on the status of all that we knew.”
I couldn’t hardly believe what I was hearing, but I remembered the story of Noah and his Ark and reminded myself that stranger things have happened and still are.
“Do you have any cookies?” Alice interrupted.
Sister Penny hopped to her feet to grab the nearby cookie jar, setting it down with a big smile, she asked, “would you like some milk too?”
“You have milk?” I asked astonished.
“It’s powdered,” she explained. I felt a little disappointed in that. I’d never been fond of powdered milk, but it made sense, real milk was definitely a thing of the past. Alice didn’t seem to mind and nodded with enthusiasm.
“How long did you and your brother stay locked up?” I asked as she made a pitcher of the milk.
“Yeah,” she said and poured some milk into a clean cup for Alice who busily began dunking homemade chocolate-chip cookies into it, “three months was all we could stand before the curiosity and the smell got to us.”
My left eyebrow raised quizzically, “The smell?” I questioned.
“Well, Bella couldn’t use the toilet and I guess neither the Holy Ghost nor myself thought about that one. Although I did have some cleaning supplies down there too, I suppose it was a timing thing really – to let us know when to come out. God has to have a sense of humor.” She chuckled.
I was a little jealous. Compared to what I had went through for my first three months, they’d had a cake-walk. I was contemplative as we sat in silence.
Brother Nathan rejoined us shortly after. He had been broadcasting while we sat talking. He found himself a small bottle of water from inside the fridge and leaned against the counter to open and drink it. After a moment, he spoke with a melancholy tone, “Parish, huh?”
“Yep,” I said. Alice, startled, looked up at him, then smiled before returning to her cookies and milk and book. I noticed him smile back at her, briefly, sadly, then return to a state of sudden rigidness.
“My wife and kids went to Parish, last I heard.” He stared coldly at me then. Waiting, but for what, I didn’t know.
Growing nervous, I stuttered, “There are some survivors in Parish that I know…” and quickly added, “none that sound like your wife and kids.” I paused, took a breath, and asked, “Do you and Sister Penny want to move base?”
I know that sounded kind of silly, but that’s what they had set up at the Dixie LDS, and they’d only done that so as to meet more survivors. It made sense, especially since Nathan could possibly have estranged family that might have survived there. Somewhere. I didn’t really think so, but what the hell. It’s possible, right?
“You mean move to Parish?” Penny clarified. Nathan looked at her, then me, serious consideration was obviously turning the wheels in his mind. Penny waited for him to answer me, clearly decided already herself that she wanted to by the hopeful look on her face. After a moment, Nathan nodded.
“We should pack up all our food,” Penny declared to Nathan, “as much as the truck will carry.” I didn’t notice a truck, but I guess they had one somewhere that I hadn’t seen.
I remembered Amber suddenly. “Uh, I forgot, I have someone back at our motel room, can you two meet us at the Motel 7 when your finished packing?”
The siblings looked at each other and for a moment, I thought they were going to accuse me of dodging out on them – which would have been ludicrous – but I guess they knew that too because Brother Nathan asked instead, “How many survivors are there?”
“6 that I knew of before you, including myself. Two of them are online and I’ve only heard from them a couple of times.” I smiled and gathered myself up out of the chair, encouraging Alice to finish eating and put the book away.
“No, no, she can take it with her,” Sister Penny insisted. This pleased Alice and she playfully stuck her tongue out at me for my original instruction towards her. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Nathan snickering momentarily before regaining his composure. Alright, this can work, told myself and Alice and I left the siblings to pack their things. We returned to the Motel 7 ten minutes later to find our room empty and a note on the bed.
It read: “Found a car and went back to Parish. You’re an ASSHOLE!”