The monstrous tornado wasn't playing around. At nearly a mile wide, it proudly and savagely squashed homes and fields. Ripped apart buildings and bodies. Andy and Gizmo had nowhere to go when the town's sirens finally blared, so they stayed put under their bridge, down low near the water of the Colorado River. The two survivors, a dog and his man, were homeless and that sad fact saved their lives and left them with, perhaps, a sadder fate. Andy and Gizmo were all alone.
The sunshine following the storm did nothing to cheer the flattened destruction of Hiramsville. The devastation was complete. No standing structures. No birds. No dogs. Not a single human being. Andy stood with Gizmo in his arms and wept tears of the inconsolate. He thought of Dora at the store who called him sweetie pie every time he stopped in to buy cigarettes or a six-pack. And Jimmy from the food pantry who would give him a lift back to his bridge, joking the whole way. Despite his homelessness, Andy was a personable man and his company was always enjoyed by those who were not prone to judging their fellow man by the size of his car, wallet or home. Unfortunately, in Hiramsville, the guiding light of the Prosperity Gospel where Brother Wayne founded the powerful central Texas chapter, those non-judgmental types were far and few between. Still, Andy and Gizmo had made friends, but now those friends were all gone.
Gizmo woke hungry the day after Armageddon, and licked Andy's face to expedite a meal. He was a small dog, a long-haired Chihuahua mix, and didn't really require much. But Gizmo had bear-sized hunger pangs that had to be satisfied to keep him alert and strong to help Andy. Gizmo knew his human was in a weakened state. Had been since he was shipped off to the place where humans kill each other. Andy's nightmares filled in what Gizmo didn't already know when he returned from duty. That Andy had fought in a war and killed other humans. That he was injured in some kind of explosion. And that, after returning damaged and broke, Andy had asked, pleaded, then begged for help. Over and over. Andy finally gave up when he was directed to an Army chaplain who said simply, "Pull yourself up by your boot straps, son. God is going to help when He's good and ready. "
Andy roused as usual, gasping and shivering, in a hyper-vigilant mode and reaching for a weapon that hadn't been by his side in years. Gizmo sat in his lap and waited for the calm that took an hour to appear. Hungry or not, part of Gizmo's plan for Andy's healing process was exploiting his own cuteness. Deep in a dog's soul is the love for his human and an abiding concern for the human's well-being. Gizmo knew making Andy smile, even for a flashing moment, made him feel just a little better. So, he flipped over in Andy's lap, pulled his lips back and wriggled around until Andy tickled him and told him repeatedly what a good boy he was.
Andy had braced himself for the sight that was so familiar in his nightmares, but he still sank to his knees and cried when he saw what was left of Hiramsville. It was the desolation and loneliness that slapped his psyche down so assuredly. Alone. All alone. Suddenly, Gizmo yipped and danced, whirling around and around on his hind feet until Andy noticed, then watched, and finally lost that empty despair in his eyes. Gizmo, in his love, would do anything to help.
Breakfast was had at Brookman's Grocery among its ruins. Andy and Gizmo were sharing a can of tuna, some dry raisin bran and turkey jerky when a tiny whimper rose from an overturned Porsche that had been tossed through, what once had been, the front doors of Brookman's. Andy had checked it out earlier but found only wrecked upholstery and a Prosperity Gospel cross hanging from the upside down rearview mirror. Gizmo dropped his jerky and ran to the sound which had pitched into a piercing wail. He loved babies and children and the distress of one sent him into a dog panic. Barking shrilly, Gizmo ran back and forth from the car to Andy until the man was there pulling an angry, red-faced baby from under the overturned car seats. Andy also loved the very young and had cared for his sister's boys before she and her husband converted to the Prosperity Gospel and banished him for his problems and poverty. "There there, sweetheart," Andy cooed. "We can help you."
And they did. Andy found some Pedialyte and baby food while Gizmo kept watch over the baby and kissed her little hands. While he was rummaging through the baby's car looking for a diaper bag or something that moms usually carry with them, Andy looked up and saw a pink cell phone wedged between the gas pedal and floor. He hoped it might give him an idea of the baby's name or anything to help him know more about her. Andy felt relief to see there was no privacy lock on the phone and went straight to texts. He read the last text sent to Dear Husband.
It said: Come get your child. I'm sick of you, her and this town. The church is the only thing I'm grateful for because it showed me that money is the only way to true happiness. And Brother John has more money than you! Ha ha. See ya. BTW, Lily is in the Brookman's parking lot. Keys in car.
Andy didn't read the text out loud. For Gizmo to get the gist of it, he didn't need to. The dog laid his head protectively across the baby's body. Andy dropped the phone and reached for Lily, gently bouncing her and patting her back. She was quiet and sleepy again and allowed him to swaddle her against his chest. Andy had made a promise to Lily, Gizmo and himself - This baby is going to have a home and I'm going to help her find it.
It took the three survivors six hours to get to the Prosperity Gospel's compound across town. The crushing devastation that remained of it was marked with gaudy bits of gold and shredded velvet fabrics. The pool was holding tree limbs and a couple of luxury vehicles along with a partial sign that read, "Pray for His help and ye shall prosp... ".
Andy didn't really expect to find any breathing souls at the compound especially as the town seemed to quieten further with each passing step and minute. Certainly the last thing he expected was a chorus of voices crying, "Help! Help!" from beneath the ground. Gizmo went into full alert, circling and sniffing a patch of uprooted trees and garden bushes until he pinpointed the spot he wanted and started digging. Man joined dog. Both dug furiously. And baby Lily lay quietly in her swaddle and watched them help.
There were fourteen survivors in the underground tunnel of the Prosperity Gospel's compound. As they were the lowest-tithing congregants of the church, the fourteen members were only allowed entrance to the tunnel, not the ornate and fortified bunker where the richer church goers took refuge moments before the tornado struck. Sadly and unbeknownst to all except Brother Wayne, the so-called fortification of the bunker never occurred because in his great and unmatched wisdom, Wayne decided to pocket the extra construction costs for his private jet. The walls and ceiling of the bunker were like an eggshell when the hand of god smote the church with a 100-year-old oak, smashing the bell tower and causing the entire altar to crash through the bunker. All inside perished before they could join hands and ask for help that was never coming. Not, at least, for them.
Gizmo heard the helicopters before Andy did, though he was the first among the survivors to recognize the far-off sound that was quickly getting closer. Then the first three helicopters apeared, hovering over them. Andy could see women, men and large dogs inside of each one and they were all peering at the survivors from above. A woman's booming voice, one that even drowned out the deafening drone of the choppers, said, "We are the Volunteer Rescue Team. We are here to help."