Five days later, the angels drove Aileen and Jessica to a wooded area close to the Tennessee state line. The gleaming red Cadillac's white top sheltered them from the blazing June sun. Fluffy wisps of clouds drifted overhead.

Inside the back of the car, the air-conditioner hummed; its air felt good on Aileen's skin. Cradling the baby, she smiled. A suitcase stood on its side at her feet. The angels had outfitted her and Jessica with clothes before leaving the house. Unknown to Aileen, the house and the fence had since vanished, their purpose now complete.

As the convertible pulled to a stop, Aileen stuck her head out the window. "I don't see any shelter here."

"That's because it's underground. It's walled in thick concrete so that earthquakes won't demolish it." Andrew climbed out of the front passenger seat and opened the door for Aileen. "There's a door resembling a manhole inside that thicket up ahead. Watch your step—the thicket is low on this side, but dense."

Aileen stepped out, clutching the baby against her chest. Andrew picked up the suitcase and carried it around the back of the car, joining Aileen and Jessica. Tess, Monica, and Gloria also climbed out.

Silently, Tess led the way into the thicket. As Andrew, while carrying the suitcase with one hand, assisted Aileen into the thicket with the other, the new mother stopped to pull her pants legs loose from a branch. She held Jessica against her chest, careful not to drop her.

Tess paused to wait for Aileen to free her pants leg. She was eager to get the young woman to shelter, now that she had recovered from Jessica's birth. She wanted mother and child to be as safe as the ravages of the Tribulation would allow them to be. A smooth metal manhole cover lay in the ground at Tess' feet.

"Mr. Midgeway!" the supervisor angel shouted. "It's Tess."

The cover swung upward; a blond head rose above the hole. "Tess!" the man greeted her. "Come on down, you and your friends."

"Thank you, Brad." Tess turned to Aileen. "We helped Brad and his friends find this shelter a few months ago," she explained. "When they were running from the law. It's made of good sturdy material, built to withstand earthquakes. But there will be plenty of angelic protection, too, when the need arises, because some of the coming earthquakes will be stronger than even this shelter would otherwise be able to endure."

"They came here to avoid taking the implant?" Aileen asked. Tess nodded.

One by one, Tess, the other angels, and Aileen climbed down the steel ladder, Andrew waiting till last. Setting the suitcase on the ground, Andrew held Jessica until the others had descended the ladder into the shelter; he then crouched to hand Jessica down to Aileen before climbing down the ladder himself. Candles lay in a pile in one corner of the room; sleeping mats lay piled in another. An overhead light bulb shed a soft glow throughout, Aileen noticed.

A group of men and women gathered around them, shoes softly clumping on the stone floor. "You remember Tess—she led us to this shelter, remember?" the blond man said. "She and these other angels." The others smiled and greeted their visitors.

Tess craned her head to look at Aileen. Stepping backward, she laid a hand on Aileen's arm. "Brad, this young woman and her baby need a safe place to stay," Tess told the assembled group. "Her husband was killed just a few short days ago." She paused. "Will you take them in and look after them?"

Brad furrowed his eyebrows. Sighing, he shook his head. "I hate to say no, Tess, but we're not equipped to take care of a baby." Aileen's face fell; biting her lower lip, she gazed down past her baby at the smooth stone tiles at her feet. "We have no formula, no diapers—"

Andrew raised his hand. "Brad, God would not ask you to take these two in if He wasn't going to provide. Just as He provided you with food and other supplies when He brought you here—supplies that will last until Jesus returns—He will provide baby Jessica with what she needs, as well." He smiled. "You will have the necessary supplies this very day, and for as long as they're needed."

He inserted his right hand into his pants pocket; his left hand gripped the suitcase handles. Nodding agreement, Gloria pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.

Monica raised her head toward the low ceiling, then nodded. Evidently, she had received some instructions from the Father. Without a word, she circled the group toward the back door, disappearing into a supply room. A moment later, she returned with a plastic diaper bag hanging on her elbow.

"You will find the other supplies in the back room," she told Brad. She turned to Aileen, holding out to her the diaper bag. "Jessica will need a diaper change very soon."

Aileen patted the back of Jessica's diaper, then smiled ruefully. "I think she needs it now." Monica and Tess laughed. Aileen took the diaper bag, its smooth plastic handle dangling from her fingers.

Chuckling, Brad exchanged glances with the others, then laughed again. "Well, since God has provided, I see no reason to say no." The others nodded agreement.

Aileen smiled gratefully. "Thank you," she told him, then scanned the assembled believers. "All of you."

A woman stepped forward. "We will help you care for your baby for as long as you need us to." Aileen nodded.

Setting Aileen's suitcase on the floor, Andrew pulled out his pocket watch, glanced at it, then shoved it back into his pants pocket. "I've got to get back to work," he told Tess, who inclined her head. He disappeared.

Tess turned to Monica and Gloria. "We have work to do, as well. The Father has another assignment for us." She hugged Aileen, then rubbed her hand over Jessica's head. Looking Aileen in the eyes, she added, "Never forget, baby, that God loves you. Never doubt that again. The demons have no power over you now. They've lost the war for your soul."

Aileen beamed. "They sure have. Thanks to you. And to God." Laying Jessica on a nearby pine table, she proceeded to change the baby's diaper.

The angels disappeared. Above the manhole cover, a dove cooed softly as it flew overhead.


©2005 by KathyG.