The streets were full of others with the same idea, just with different execution plans. There were several bikes sharing the main street with them, but also the expected walkers as well. Some were pushing shopping carts, others pulling wagons and others with ingenious contraptions of their own making.
They saw wheelchairs with store and hospital logos toting both goods and small children. A two-wheeled wagon from a store or restaurant display was full of suitcases and being pushed by two college aged men and accompanied by a half dozens others in university shirts.
In spite of the number of people they saw, they did not see a single moving vehicle although the police officer said they had managed to start a few. But it was no wonder; there was no room on the street, what with the people, stalled vehicles and debris for a car to safely navigate the roads.
On a street corner, an overweight, middle aged woman sat in a wheelchair berating passersby,
"I need someone to push me! My scoooter don't work and I need someone to push my chair! I can't go nowhere! Somebody has to push my chair! What's wrong with you people? One of you has got to help me now!" she shouted.
"Why doesn't she use the wheels and move herself?" asked Lamar as they passed the woman.
"Because for most of her life, she has had one excuse after another and has had someone else pushing all of her wheelchairs in life. She will either push, learn to walk or die where she sits." said Patty without any emotion in her voice.
The real question was where were all these people going, thought Patty. She and Lamar were headed home, but what about all these others? Surely, some must live in Shreveport, but why were they leaving and where would they go? Was the shared belief that "somewhere else" was better than where they currently were? Had the information that this phenomenom was worldwide been shared with all?
Thinking of Elena, Patty also had to put out of her mind the plight of all the children she saw. Even though they were presumably with their parents, family members or caregivers, many had looks of trepidation and uncertainty. Children crave safety and normalacy and many had probably been in the final days of the school year when this burnout of technology happened. Now, just a mere few days later, they were plodding along the road and witnessing their parents obvious stress and concern over their welfare.
The main street eventually would lead Patty and Lamar to the Interstate on which they would head west and directly to their homes. Patty was certain they would be forced to travel along the service road rather than on the highway as that was how things were before.
Although the travel was slow, they soon worked their way to the edge of town and at that point passed the airport. There were at least two large commercial airliners crashed nearby, the hulks still smoldering. Black smoke hung in the air along with the fumes of burning fuel, insulation and the sweet, sick stench of burned flesh.
In spite of this maelstrom of destruction, the worse she had seen yet, there will still people, many people, crowded around the terminal building and parkinglot. They were the people who had left the hotel, been on standby or simply waiting for their flight when the Burnout happened. And now, paralyzed through shock, remained waiting, waiting for another flight to arrive and take them to their destinations. Patty reckoned it would be one hundred years before that techology would return.
Moving on past the airport, they arrived at I-20, they found many of their fellow riders and walkers were heading directly onto the Interstate as if was perfectly normal. Patty and Lamar huffed up the entrance ramp and saw the road was populated with disabled vehicles and hundreds of people traveling both east and west. There were also armed soldiers and military vehicles as well which surprised Patty and Lamar.
There were about twenty soldiers dressed in BDU's and armed with M16s. There were two Hummers parked on the shoulder and others parked further down the road. Patty's curiosity got the best of her and she wanted to ask them what was going on, and she was not alone. Each soldier had dozens of passersby peppering them with questions surrounding them.
Patty rolled to a stop as close to one of the troopers as she could and tried to listen to the snatches of conversations..
"Air National Guard.. safety on roads.. government attempting to organize.. food, water or supplies.. continue to your destinations.. "
Frustrated, Patty turned back to Lamar,
"I can't hear what they are saying but they are National Guard from what I understand and what is on their uniforms, but it does not sound like they are here other than for public safety and to keep the peace." she said.
"We should just keep moving and maybe one of the other soldiers further down the road can answer our questions. Whatever they have to say, we still need to get home and there is no sense in trying to fight this mob." said Lamar.
"You're right, let's get going." replied Patty.
They pedaled west and due to the crowds, dead vehicles and debris, they were forced to start and stop frequently and to avoid crashing into others. It was a frustrating experience.
"This is worse than rush hour gridlock" observed Lamar. "I hope it thins out when we get out of town."
"It is about ten miles to the airport and that's on the edge of town. Then we have another twenty or so miles to the Texas border from what I remember. I think this all depends upon where these people are going." said Patty.
The made about a mile before Patty biked over to the shoulder where another Hummer was parked and three soldiers stood nearby. As Lamar said, there were fewer people stopping here for information so Patty was able to speak with one of the servicemen, a young man with two stripes on his sleeve and wearing full battle gear.
"Hi, I am sure you are sick of answering the same questions over and over again, but can you tell me what is going on?" she asked with a smile.
"Sure, no problem. The earth has been under a solar storm for the past few days and when combined with our atmosphere, most small electronics were disabled world wide. The federal government has a national relief effort underway but it is taking time to get things moving.
We are with the Lousiana Air National Guard and have been federalized to help with the relief effort. Right now, our communications are still under repair, but we have some rudimentary systems working for command and control. We hope to have food, water and medical aid available at central locations shortly and we ask the public's assistance and patience in the meantime." he answered in a robotic and prepared fashion.
"Your vehicles are still running?" asked Lamar. "Are their plans to get some type of mass transportation available for all these people?"
"Many military systems were hardened for electro-magnetic anomolies and about half of our vehicles are functioning. Many railway trains are still operational, but they have no switching, communications or GPS systems available, so other systems have to be designed and deployed before they can be used. We also have some aircraft functioning, but there are no transponder or VLR systems functioning either.
We don't have the heavy lift capacity to move civilians at this time, but are working on possible solutions. Right now, the focus of the U.S. Military is get as many of our people from overseas and their dependents home as soon as possible to help with the relief effort. We are also working on allocation and disbursement of resources from public and private sources for the greater good." he reported.
"I see. Is the military providing security along all of the Interstate? We are trying to get to the Dallas/Fort Worth area." asked Patty.
"Our unit is only tasked with I-20 to the Texas border. We are spread thin, but if you do have any problems, pull to the side of the road and wave one of us down. We cannot provide transportation, food or water, and can render aid for emergenicies only and direct civilians to known locations for supplies.
If you don't have any more questions, I have to get ready for patrol. Excuse me, ma'am." he said and broke off the conversation.
Patty looked at Lamar and jerked her head to the side to indicate that they should move on before discussing the conversation. Once out of earshot, Patty spoke first,
"Sounds like they are making this up as they go along. Half of their vehicles are not working, communications are limited and most support systems and infrastructure are not functioning."
"And what about that 'disbursement of private resources for the greater good'? What greater good and whose resources?" asked Lamar. "Does that mean someone down the road is going to divvy up our supplies for everyone else and leave us hanging?" he added.
"I know, I caught that too." said Patty. "Let's keep moving, but start thinking about where we are going to stay tonight, we will need a camp site but away from the have nots, if you know what I mean."
They decided to stop short of the Texas border by about seven miles around 5PM. While some people were continuing down the road, many more were doing the same, stopping, setting up a rudimentary camp site and eating. It wasn't five minutes after Lamar and Patty stopped and were going through their gear when a young couple with a little boy approached them in the field where they were.
"HI! Do you mind if we camp near you guys? It's always better to have safety in numbers don't you think?" the young man said.
The couple had a large baby stroller loaded with things and each wore a backpack. The little boy, who was about four, had a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack and was wearing yellow sunglasses.
"Sure," said Patty, "We don't own the ground so camp where you want."
"Great, say, you wouldn't happen to have a couple of bottles of water would you? We are just about out and Ian is real thirsty." said the young man with a sheepish smile.
"So that's it, huh?" asked Patty. "Safety in numbers? But you really just want a handout, right? And only some water? If you are asking for two bottles of water, I'll bet you don't have very much food either? And probably need some toilet paper, a tent, blankets and so on, right?"
"Hey!" said the young woman this time, "You guys are loaded down with stuff and we don't have anything. Are you going to let a little boy go hungry while you feed your fat faces?"
Patty was about to explode again, when Lamar intervened.
"Rather than get upset, suppose we work out a trade? I mean, why come asking for welfare if you have something of value you can purchase something with, right? You don't want to be labeled as a bum do you?"
"No, I suppose not," said the young woman, "But what do you want? I'm not sleeping with you! I am a married woman!" she shouted.
Lamar waved his hands in front of him, "As am I, madam. What do you have to trade?"
The young man reached into his back pocket and took out his checkbook,
"I could write you a check.."
"Oh, please" said Patty rolling her eyes. "OK sweetie, you got any jewelry? Gold, silver, diamonds? Either of you have a gun or ammunition? We'll take that for trade."
"Say what?.." said the young woman before her husband intervened.
"I have my class ring and Shelly has her engagement ring, wedding band and some earrings, but none of the earrings are real gold. We also have my baseball card collection and a Hummel figurine that my mother-in-law gave Shelli. Any of that worth anything to you?" he asked hopefully.
"You brought baseball cards and figurines but not water or food for your kid? I've heard everything now." said Patty.
"We had to get out of our apartment because some guys were breaking into people's homes and the water was out so we grabbed some of our possessions and figured we would just go to a refugee center or something.
Instead, we were told to go to the interstate because the Army was supposed to be handing out supplies. And when we found out they weren't, well, we hoped someone would help us. We didn't know any better, honest." the young man pleaded.
Patty sighed and looked down at the ground.
"Here's the deal. I am going to give each of you some water from one of our containers and one extra bottle for the kid. Then I am going to give you each some food, but I want most of it to go to the kid.
Then I want the three of you to go back to Shreveport and find a church or something like that and see if they will help you. I suggest you keep an eye out for a store that might still be open and taking cash or be willing to trade her engagement ring for some food or other supplies. You might even try and do the same with those weekend warriors up on the road there.
After I give you that stuff, we are going to move somewhere else to camp, but don't follow us or ask for anything else because we won't give it and are willing to protect our stuff if we have too. Got it? Finally, I am only doing this for the kid and not for you two.
In the future, if you survive this and get a second chance, I suggest you make better plans with your son in mind rather than your own short term needs."
"Thanks for the lecture, lady. Now are you going to help us or what?" said the woman with her hands on her hips.
"You might want to have a talk with your wife or whatever she is when we get done here, kid. She's gonna get you killed before long." said Patty to the young man.
Patty pulled a two liter bottle from the trailer and poured the litle boy a cup of water and stood there while he drank it. Then she gave him another. She then took a single water bottle from her bag and put it in the little boy's backpack.
She took a banana out of her bag and although it was mushy, held it out to little Ian,
"Does this look good? I thought so. Let me peel it and you can have it, ok?"
Ian took the fruit from her hand and starting stuffing it in his mouth.
"Let momma help you with that" said the young woman, her eyes glazed over staring at the banana.
"Back off and wait until he's done, sister." said Patty firmly.
Patty took out a roll and broke it into a few pieces and handed it to the little boy a piece at a time. Then she put an apple into his small backpack.
Finally, she took out a protein bar and fed it to him until it was gone. Then and only then, did she hand a hard roll and apple to his parents. While they were eating, she slipped one can of tunafish, a can of fruit cocktail and a candy bar into the little boys bag and put her finger to her lips and said "Shhh" to him. He nodded and sat down on the grass while his parents ate.
Patty used the same cup as the little boy had and gave the parents each two cups of water and then put it away.
Then she gathered the rest of her stuff and pushed her bike away. As she and Lamar walked off, the little boy said "Fank you." and waved. The parents were too busy eating to say anything.
"What a mess," said Patty. "I have a feeling we are going to be seeing lots of that and we only just got started. I only gave them something because my parents are watching Elena and I am thankful for what she has."
"From now on, I am staying away from people, especially those with kids, as much as possible. And you make sure I do, Lamar."
They mounted up and rode another mile or two before pulling off the interstate and crossing a field and picking a campsite. They broke out the tent and sleeping bags, but Patty took the time to reorganize and sort through their gear.
She divided the dehydrated foods between her backpack and Lamar's with the idea being if they had to abandon their bikes in a hurry, they would have a good supply of light weight food.
She then divided all the ammunition between the two bags reasoning that if one of them could no longer go on or if they were separated, they other would have ammo for whatever firearm they ended up with. She took a lock blade knife she had purchased and threaded the holder on her gun belt and placed the knife inside. She then removed a fixed blade knife with a four inch blade and put it inside the sheath it came with. Her plan was to put it in her sock on her left side under her cargo pants and boot she would wear tomorrow.
Finally, she took stock of their water, both bottled and in containers, and of all the foods they had scavenged from the hotel and CVS, what they had purchased before hand. While they would need to get more water, there was actually more food than she thought and they could probably make most of the trip eating those foods, but better safe than sorry.
Afterward, she separated out her clothing and tossed the dress shoes which were still in her backpack in favor of the boots she bought at the sporting goods store that morning. She changed out her socks and removed the labels and packaging from the lightweight pants, shirts and rain wear she bought.
When she was finally done and satisfied with her work, she took the plate of ham, rolls and cut fruit Lamar offered her.
"We should save the gas for the stove as long as possible," he said, "Since we will need it for the dehydrated stuff."
Patty agreed and the broached the hard subject.
"Lamar, we are going to have to take turns on watch tonight. Besides the fact that neither of us feels comfortable sharing a tent, we need to be on the lookout for those willing to take advantage of the situation."
"I understand, Patty, but you are going to have to show me how to use the shotgun at the very least. I am more than ready to do my part, but I have no idea what to do with that thing." he said.
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