"Dad," Chloe said to her father, sleeping on the couch because he couldn't face his empty bedroom. "Dad!"
"Let me sleep, Irene," he mumbled.
That hit like a knife to the heart, but Chloe pushed the feeling aside. She'd had to learn to deal with the physical rather than feelings to make it here. It wasn't a lesson she'd soon forget. You could mourn, sob, freeze up, or wish for death when there was downtime, but first you had to deal with the problem at hand.
She shook her father's shoulder.
"Dad, it's passed noon," Chloe said. When she was sure he was awake, she added, "time for food."
"You don't need to wait on me, Chlo," her father said. "Just have something for yourself."
"You know what happens when you don't eat?" Chloe asked, "You're tired all the time, a headache sets in that never ends, you start to get weak, even something like walking a short distance exhausts you, and with all that going on, you don't even think to eat."
Her father sat up at that, "Has that happened to you Chlo?"
"Two thousand miles is a long way," Chloe said. He didn't need to know what she'd been through, it wouldn't help. "I can see the signs, you need food."
"Alright," her father said, "alright."
- - -
Rayford looked at Chloe as they ate a meal composed of, basically, what was grab. He wanted to tell her that he believed that they'd been through the rapture and the only hope they had of seeing Irene or Raymie again was to convert to their religion. But it wouldn't be right to just force that on her.
If he was going to tell her what he believed, then he first should listen to what she believed. It was only fair. "What do you think happened, Chloe?"
"A lot of people back at the university thought that it had to be aliens," Chloe said, "Who else could have technology that targeted human beings but didn't touch any other mammals? A militia that claimed some of the territory I went through as their own were convinced it was the government. Something about chemtrail exposure and children being most susceptible. They didn't have an explanation for why it only hit people, but when I brought that up one pointed out that animals don't leave clothes behind, so we might not notice them as much.
"There's a cult in Wyoming that thinks it was a first strike by the devil, and the apocalypse is coming. On the other hand a Nebraska cult I bumped into thinks that it's God, those who were worthy were taken, everyone else is damned. The gates of heaven barred.
"A helo pilot I got a lift from is convinced that the world we see isn't real, this is all some kind of computer program and the servers handling children and certain adults went down. He was remarkably unperturbed by the idea. I think because he believes that tech support will get the servers back up and then everyone we lost will be returned.
"A street preacher in Des Moines claims its proof that we're all actually living in the first century. The theory is, basically, that we're all living Acts 29 and Jesus is about to return but, in order to draw us away from belief the devil invented all of human history since then as a delusion so we won't be ready when the second coming comes. Under this theory it's been about 13 years since the delusion set in so none of the children really existed in the first place, and the people who disappeared didn't either.
"Obviously that theory has even more holes in it than the idea that the universe had a hiccup and dumped a lot of people in the next dimension over.
"There are so many theories out there, and the truth is that none of them make any more sense than, 'It just happened by random chance,' because what happened is impossible.
"I'm waiting on more evidence," Chloe said.
Rayford nodded, but then he said, "I think that your mother was right. She said this would happen right down to people disappearing but their clothes being left behind."
"I can see how you'd believe that," Chloe said, "but that makes God a monster who was responsible for all of the death that followed the event. Surely an all powerful being could wait until someone had parked their car to take them."
"I don't have an answer for that," Rayford said. "But I think that the only way to see the others again is to join their religion."
"It would also make God a kidnapper," Chloe said. "Every child was taken, not just the ones who believed in that particular strain of Christianity. They were taken from their families without being given a choice."
"I know that too," Rayford said. "I don't have any moral answers, but I do think your mother was right."
"How are we supposed to feel about them being with a mass murdering kidnapper if it's true?" Chloe asked.
"Maybe there are things that we don't know about that somehow made it necessary," Rayford offered weakly.