“It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” - Luke 15:32
Ugh... my head...
“Dimitri! Father Dimitri!”
There was a pain in my head that reminded me of the pressure you feel standing underneath the rotors of a Blackhawk. What is it about alcohol that makes your head feel great in the evening, and a complete disaster in the morning? The clock taunted me and buzzed its lovely beckoning call to warn me of approaching Matins service, and that I needed to wake up anyway.
“Damnit KAZ!!! WAKE UP! It's Mike!!!”
“Ok, Mike hang on!”
I slid into my robe and slippers, then headed downstairs to see what had gotten Mike Krunz in an uproar. Mike and I, of similar age, went to high school together, the military together, and even now, he helps me with maintenance of the church and unlocks the doors every morning for those who wish to pray before he heads off to work. However, as I know he is awake at this time every morning, he is far from what I'd consider a morning person. His visit to my abode this early cannot be without significance.
I opened the door to a vision that always gives me a sense of de'ja vu. I swear every time I've seen this man, he's looked exactly the same. Shaven head, yet somehow unkept looking, thick black eyebrows, turned up nose, and a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, never falling. The glow of the embers made a soft orange light that complimented that of the Sun rising off to his right, and framed his standard 5 o'clock shadow.
“Ok Mike, what's going on? Any particular reason you felt the need to try to break my front door down?”
“Kaz, I think you need to get over to the Church. God is needed today in a big way.”
“What in the world are you babbling about?” I inquired.
“You really don't want to know what I think. Just hurry up and get dressed.” he returned.
Mike reminded me that I am not dressed or showered, but I wanted to make sure Mike realized proper preparations take time. “Alright. Put out your butt, go on in and grab a bite. I'll be ready in a minute.”
“Kaz, just please don't take too long, you can get ready for services later.”
As Mike wandered into the kitchen, I trudged up the front stairwell like each step was covered in 3 feet of snow. Reaching the top, I felt a buzz enter my head from the small physical exertion, and last night's attempts at self-medication.
I shouted down the stairwell extremely puzzled. “Hey Mike, why aren't you on the way to work?”
After a few seconds, I knew I was not getting an answer. No matter, he'd probably been distracted by some shiny object of some sort. In the desert under fire, I'd trusted him with my life, but here as a civilian? I think he can only focus when he's got immediate, physical harm bearing down on him, which, if had kept banging on my blasted door, he would have.
I had put on my anterri hastily with some sneakers to keep prep time to a minimum. Returning my (now filled) flask to its home in my robe, I had run downstairs to gather Mike and return to the Church.
“Mike! Mike?” I shouted his name, but my call was not returned. A few moments later, I had noticed that my basement door was open, and heard Krunz muttering to himself. “Mike, what is going on? Hello?” I pressed. “I'm ready to go when you are!”
“One damn moment Dimitri, trust me, you'll need this”
In a moment, Mike had emerged from the basement. I had thought his face looked more pale than it usually does, but then again, he didn't have his cup of coffee yet this morning. He had turned to me, and raised his right arm, holding... my Beretta M9 service pistol. Correction, my LOADED Beretta M9 service pistol.
“Come on man, why would I need this?”
“Haven't you been paying attention to the damn news? All hell is about to break loose. For s@#t's sake Dimitri, don't you even watch the NEWS anymore before drinking yourself unconcious? Holy s@#t man, have you fallen that far?”
“I have to admit, I haven't paid much attention to the news lately... come on, we can talk about it on the way over to the Church.”
Only, we didn't talk about it on the short walk to the church. We didn't even get the chance. The moment I walked out my front door, I understood why Mike was so spooked. It was eerily silent, except for the direction of the church, where I could hear singing, crying, and yelling. Mike and I picked up our pace and ran across the parking lot to the front of the church. The lot didn't have many cars, but there was a line out front that contained at least 30 people.
“Father Dimitri! What's going on?” “I've lost contact with my daughter and the phones are down, can you pray for her?” “Father Dimitri, what's happening?” “I heard there were gang riots going on, but it seems too widespread. Are people going nuts?” “It's the end of days, not no stinking riots.” “Hey Mom, I told you zombies could happen.” “It's not zombies, Brad, stop making things up.”
On and on it went...
“People! Please! Look, panicking right now is not, nor will ever be the answer. We must trust in God to guide us to the right path. Let's just enter the church for now to Pray for our loved ones, and guidance, and then we'll all gather in the reception area to turn on the news and see what's happening, ok? It's not the end of days, it's no zombie apocolypse, it's probably a bunch of riots because let's face it, the economy stinks. We are all struggling to pay our bills, to keep food on our tables for our children, to make ends meet. We're working too hard for too little while the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. It was only a matter of time before the pressure took it's toll on the peace. Let's just pray for God to take care of us, and watch and guide us, as much as he is good, and loveth mankind. Amen.”
After crossing myself, Mike and I opened the main doors to the vestibule, letting people into the the pew area. As I went towards the Iconostas, a young man I only vaguely recognized came up to me.
“Father, would you have any objections to me watching the news now instead of waiting for the whole group? She works up in Forest Lake and I can't get her on her cell.”
I nodded my approval and asked if Mike could let him in to the reception area. Watching them go, I returned to the back of the church behind the Iconostas, and reached into my robes for a drink. I had a feeling I'd need a few more before the day was through. Bolstered by liquid courage, I went in front of the pews, and began a quick prayer service.
During the service, I had attempted to focus on the people who had come this morning. Some were people who used to come every Sunday, and during weeknight services. Others were people that I knew only came for Holidays, and one or two I hadn't recognized at all. I led everyone down the hallway to the reception area, where Mike and the young man I had seen before were intent on the news broadcast in front of them on the TV.
“State police and the National Guard have issued a request asking that people stay in their homes today. There have been reports of multiple car accidents across the Twin Cities area, clogging all major arteries, exaserbated by other people leaving their cars behind unattended in frustration. It is unknown what has caused the huge rash of accidents, but what is known is that even with assistance of National Guard volunteers, there is not enough manpower to clear the accidents quick enough to alleviate the traffic pressure. The local police has been stretched thin trying to quell the riots that have spawned overnight in downtown, especially to the southwest of the Mississippi river...”
At that point, I had begun to lose focus on the news report, and shifted my attention to the people that have followed me in here. Mike and the young man were busy chatting about the news reports. Mrs. Emma Chrin and her son Bradley were arguing about whether or not zombies were real. At one of the tables, a group of older parishoners had gathered, and could be seen praying together. I was snapped out of my people watching by Teresa “Terry” Batiuk. Terry was well known in the parish, as of all the people in the church, she probably had one of the strongest people mentally you'd ever meet. She'd have to be... she came over to the United States on a boat from Russia when she was 6 years old, lived through World War II, the eventual “Red Scare”, and Cold War. As long as I had known her, she was sharp of mind, and for someone in now entering her 80s, in remarkably good condition.
“Hello Father, can I trouble you for a moment?”
“Of course Terry, I'm glad to see you. Been missing you at services lately.”
“We can talk about that later Father. I'm more concerned about John over there. He said someone attacked him this morning, and apparently tripped on something and gashed his arm pretty bad. I think he might need some medical attention.”
“Thanks Terry. I'll send Mike over, as he has some experience with wounds. Could you see about calling the hospital or the police to get him some help?”
“Of course Father.”
I walked over to where John was sitting, and indeed he had a fairly deep laceration on his arm that had been covered with a strip of his own ripped shirt. A man in his mid 60s, John had a pot belly, greying hair, and that horrible comb-over I promised myself I'd never do no matter how bad my own male pattern baldness would get. I waved to Krunz to get his attention, and began to ask John what happened. John had repeated the same story to me that he must have given to Terry not 15 minutes earlier. Some derrainged teenager attempted to mug him, and during his attempt to get away, he tripped on some loose concrete, and cut his arm on an exposed fence. During recalling the story, Mike had returned with some clean bandages and alcohol from the first aid kits we keep a stock of in case someone has a food allergy or some other unexpected emergency happens during a large church function. The strangest part of John's story was the way he described his attacker. He stated the kid's eyes were bloodshot, with pale skin, disheveled clothing, and walked with a limp. He never asked John for his money, and in fact, never spoke at all, but just attacked him. The teen did not attack with a normal “fists and kicks” method, or a weapon, but in an animalistic fashion, with scratches and bites.
John's story attracted attention. After all was said and done, including John, at least 4 of the people in the Church at the time were attacked, 2 of which actually were bitten, but the bites did not look very serious. John's injury was by far the worst.
After attending to John, and speaking to quite a few of the others, Mike pulled me aside.
“Kaz, we need to talk.”
“Sure Mike, what's on your mind? Is this what you didn't want to speak about earlier?”
“Random riots, traffic jams all over the place, phone calls having problems, people being attacked in the streets, rumors about some rampant virus, rabies my ass by the way...”
“John, Steven, Anna, Alex... they were all attacked on their way here. I think we seriously need to start making preparations.”
“Preparations for what Mike?”
“Survival. The end of the line. I think God might be returning, and this time, he's pissed off.”