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The Burnout Chapter Twenty

Patty stepped out of the pickup truck and was immediately slammed by Lamar who picked her up off the ground and then set her back down again.

"Hey...! What's wrong with you....?"

"Do you know what you have.. the shooting on the interstate... been looking all over... scared the out of me... the kids missing... they're killing people.... "

"Lamar, slow down! What are you ranting about?" Patty countered backing away from the frantic Lamar.

The woman in the scrubs hurried over and placed herself between Lamar and Patty, but it was useless.

"Thought Peri and those crazy women got you and the kids... and ..." Lamar babbled.

Patty had enough and slapped Lamar across the cheek as hard as she could. He kept up babbling and when Patty reached back to slap him again, he stopped her hand in mid-air.

"Hey, that hurts Patty. Cut it out." he said.

"Finally. What's gotten into you Lamar?" exclaimed Patty.

"I've been looking for you. Where did you guys go? I thought the worse had happened." he replied

"Well that's nice, Lamar, but you could have asked Pastor Stone. He was here when I left." said Patty.

"No I couldn't. He and a group of the locals here have gone in the direction of the interstate. When I woke up and saw you gone, I thought you had gone with them. And then Shirley showed up and told us what happened and I assumed the worse." he said.

"Why the interstate? What happened? Oh, I'm sorry, my name is Patty Valdez, and you are..." said Patty to the woman in the hospital clothing.

"Shirley, Shirley Wintergreen. What Lamar is talking about is the shooting down on 20. Actually, there were several shootings and it was still going on when I left this morning."

"Shooting? What sort of shooting? What's going on?" asked Patty.

"What I know is the group I was with were in the area near the cut off from I20 for the state highway when a large group of people, fifty or more, came down the east bound lanes and were basically rounding up anyone they met and taking what they wanted. Food, water, even women or girls it looked like. Of course, some people were fighting back and there was shooting."

"We, the four others and I, headed this way and walked all night in the pitch black. We thought about making a torch or something, but we were worried someone would see us. We reached Winona this morning and found the church and here we are." finished Shirley.

"I can't believe it. We were just at the same place two days ago," said Patty.

"Which is why I was worried. I thought you and the kids had gone back that way or something... I don't know, I was just worried." said Lamar sheepishly.

"That's very sweet of you, Lamar. But you know I can take care of myself and I won't let anything happen to the kids. Say, did you see what we got? Bikes, another trailer and some food for the trip! Come check it out." announced Patty.

Lamar came over to Stubby's truck and met the older man and helped unload the bikes and other gear. Just then, Katelyn came up to Patty and whispered something in her ear.

"Are you sure? Okay, let's get inside, I think I can help you. Let me get my backpack." said Patty.

A few minutes later, Patty came back outside.

"Well, what's up with Katelyn? Is she alright?" asked Lamar seeing that Patty came back alone.

"She's fine, in fact, she's very much normal. But I am afraid we may have to wait a day before we get going." said Patty.

"Why? I was ready to get back on the road. I've had plenty of rest, but frankly, I want to get back to Ellen as soon as possible what with that business back on 20." said Lamar.

"Well, Lamar, I am sorry, but Katelyn needs a day off her feet, if you know what I mean." said Patty pointedly.

"Wha? Look, I don't... Oh, that time of the month, huh? You know Ellen just be-bops along when that happens and Katelyn is half her age, so I am not trying to be insensitive, but you know, can't she manage for a few miles today?" said Lamar in a low voice.

"Lamar, you're a man, but you try riding a bike for five or six hours on your heavy day and get back to me on how that works out for you, okay?" said Patty.

"Oh, ahem, well, I had better move these bikes. Come Brad, let's take of these and the wagon and get this place ship shape." said Lamar bruskly.

"Well, missee. I had better head on down to the Interstate and see if I can't help out with the Pastor and all. Seeing as they don't have a truck and he ain't getting any older, he'd probably appreciate the ride." said Stubby.

"Mr. Tyrell, thank you for everything. We will be here when you get back, but you be careful, you hear? We came from down there and things weren't nice then, but I am sure they are worse now." said Patty.

"Yes, ma'am. Alright then, see you later. Say bye to the kids for me." replied Stubby and then he climbed in his old truck, turned it over and headed south on the state highway.

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The Burnout Chapter Nineteen

Patty was awoken by the sound a clanky engine, which startled her. An actual running vehicle? She thought she was dreaming but continued to hear it outside of the church. She got off the cot and carefully stepped around the other cots and belongings on the floor, but quickly saw there were others awake as well by the noise.

Patty had to go to the front doors of the church and look out the glass to see who or what was coming. It was still too early for the sun, but the sky light enough to see. Rolling to a stop in front of the church was an ancient Chevy step side pickup, the back loaded with what looked like old junk, but there was clearly a used bicycle in there.

Patty went back and pulled on her day clothes (and reminded herself to wash out some of things she had been wearing before leaving, they stunk) and went out front. She arrived in time to see the driver of the truck get out and greet the older man who said grace at their table last night.

The driver was middle aged, wore a straw cowboy hat and had good sized gut going over his old Wrangler jeans. He was openly carrying a cowboy style single action revolver in a worn leather gunbelt and holster. He greeted the older man warmly as they shook hands.

"Brother Stubby! Good to see you, the Lord be praised. When you didn't show up the past couple of days, I started to worry you found some trouble out there." said the older man.

"Preacher, it's good to be back. I told the missus I needed to come by here early before I got started today. I wanted to tell you what's going on and see if you needed anything, too." STubby replied.

They both turned and saw Patty standing by the door and the Preacher turned to her.

"Miss, you came in last night if I recall with a group of young people and another gentleman. I did not introduce myself then so you could eat and rest, but I am Pastor Stone, the presider of the congregation." he said.

"I am Patty Valdez, it's very nice to meet you Pastor and I wanted to thank you for your hospitality and good food." said Patty.

"Of course, child, we are happy to have your company and fellowship in these perilous times. This is Tyrell Monroe, but we all call him Stubby." said Stone directing his attention to Stubby.

"Nice to meet, um.. Stubby." said Patty.

"You too, miss," said Stubby touching the brim of his hat.

"So you got your truck running. They said they could get them going in Shreveport, but that's the first one we have seen." said Patty.

"Oh Stubby has a way with fixing things, the older the better. I am waiting for him to do something about my arthritis," laughed Stone.

"That's your line of work, Preacher, the miracle department. I just fix old bikes and mowers," said Stubby.

"So you come outta Shreveport, did ja missie? Things are bad out that way. Marshall's out of control, same with Longview. Folks are fightin' over food, water anything that runs. I only went as far as some of the suburbs and got outta there." said Stubby

"What were you doing over there, Stubby?" asked Patty.

"Went over there to see what was goin'on and try and find what the goverment was doin'. Turns out, a whole lotta nothin'. We's on our own, Preacher." said Stubby gravely.

"Lord be praised, we will have our work cut out for us." said the Preacher clasping his hands and looking to the ground.

"Stubby, I couldn't help but notice, you have a bike in the back of your truck. Does it work?" asked Patty.

"That thing? Aw no, it needs some work. Why? You need a bike? Lots of folks do these days, good way to get around with no cars or trucks." replied Stubby.

"Actually, I have one, but I have three young people with me who could use a bike each." said Patty.

"Well, you come to the right person, missie. You need to come out to my place and see what I got." he said.

"Stubby is our local fixit man, junk shop and odd jobs expert. He has plenty of bicycles and all other things at his place. He made the bar-b-que grills and smokers in fact." said Pastor Stone.

"Tell you what, missie. Let me run this stuff back to my place, unload and I can come back and get you and whoever else needs a bike. We can go back in my truck and saves everyone time. That be alright?" asked Stubby.

"That would be, thank you, but I hate for you to waste the gasoline. I can get the kids up and ready now if you'll wait?" said Patty.

"Waste gas? That's funny, missie. There's hardly a running vehicle around here anymore, so there's plenty of gas everywhere." laughed Stubby.

"Okay then, Stubby, I'll get the kids fed and ready and we will be here waiting for you." said Patty.

Patty went inside and quickly cleaned herself up in the bathroom and changed into her last set of clean clothes. She woke both girls and told them to get ready as quickly as possible as they had a big project this morning.

In the fellowship hall, Patty found Lamar snoring away, but Brad was up and ready, so she took him and left Lamar behind. Outside, Pastor Stone and a few others were outside tending the fires on the grills and putting together breakfast.

"Pastor, I don't remember meeting your wife yesterday. Is she here now?" Patty asked the minister.

"No, I am fraid Magnolia went home to the Lord three years ago. Cancer. Yes, it was trying for her and me as well, but I am glad she does not have to suffer through these perilous times indeed, praise be." he replied.

"I am sorry. Well, how can I help?" asked Patty.

"You are a visitor in my home and to my congrgation and are subject to my hospitality, young lady. You go on with those little ladies and help yourself to what's out. We got lots of eggs, home made biscuits and peaches. Good fresh peaches picked yesterday." he said.

Pastor Stone was right, the peaches were delicious and welcome, as were the eggs and biscuits.

"Where are they getting all this, Patty?" asked Katelyn.

"I don't know. I am sure some of it was from the local market, but honestly, they haven't told me" answered Patty.

"We grows it!" laughed an old man as he dropped fresh biscuits on each of their plates.

"This is farming country. The eggs and peaches we see to. The biscuit flour comes from the store, but we grows corn to replace it later in the season. Don't know how it's gonna work, no running tractors and all. 'Spose we'll have to use the old horse and plow like my daddy did." he added.

"Have many more people come through last night or today?" asked Patty.

"Nope, it's like someone turned off the tap from the interstate. You folks were some of the last to come through. Maybe its best seeing how many we got here now. You enjoy that, you here?" he said as he walked off.

"What are you talking about, Patty?" asked Cassie. "What did he mean about the interstate?"

"Nobody else is coming from the direction like we did yesterday." answered Patty. "I hope that does not mean more bad news. Okay, I want you guys to finish up, our ride with be here soon." replied Patty.

"Our ride? You mean like a car? To take us home?" exclaimed Cassie.

"No, a man is going to give us a ride to his home where he has bikes and other stuff for sale. I don't know if he'll take money, but I brought some other things to trade with him if need be." said Patty.

No sooner had Patty spoken when the distinctive sound of the ancient pickup rattled in the distance alerting them to the return of Mr. Stubby. A few moments later, he pulled into the parking lot and got out looking around for his customers.

"Mr. Stubby, over here," said Patty.

"Hey, hey little lady, and look at the group with you. Hey kids, ready to go look at bikes?" he said.

All agreed and climbed aboard the ancient pickup truck and headed north on the two lane state highway.

"Where have you been, Mr. Stubby? I heard you say you drove around to Pastor Stone this morning" asked Patty.

"I went up to Big Sandy, the cut over the back way to Longview. That place is just getting to be a mess so I came back on another back road. The closer you get to the big places, the worse it is." he said.

"Big places? Like cities?" replied Patty.

"Yep, that and the interstate. Folks attacking each other now for anything useful. Food, bottle of water, a bike. You was smart to get off that road. If you is heading west, you'd do right to stick to the side roads if you can." Stubby said.

After a few minutes, they came to a wide spot in the road and to what must have been Stubby's place. On the side of the road there was an old sign on a trailer with removable letters which said

STubBys Odd n En s
Old, NEw, Fixed like NEw
Anteeks, mowers fixn
Gud deals

and which was in front of an open gate to a dirt road.

Pulling in, Stubby drove a short ways and brought the truck and passengers to the front of a sprawling house and to what could only be described as a yard of treasures.

There were dozens of bikes tightly lined together in the front yard along with claw foot bathtubs, ancient farm equipment, nostalgic road signs, a full sized buck board wagon, a couple of old gasoline pumps, numerous piles of scrap iron, a Ford Edsel and an actual Model T roadter.

"Welcome to Stubby's!" said Stubby. "Hop on out and take a look around. Remember, everything is negotiable and everything is for sale!"

Patty immediately took the kids over to the bikes and started looking. Many were older Schwinns or children's bikes, complete with pink seats and frayed tassels on the grips. But there were a few decent cruisers and ten speeds in the mix.

The door to the house opened and a tall, skinny woman about Stubby's age came out holding her apron in front of her. She smiled a big toothy grin and started tossing handfuls of feed onto the ground in front of her and immediately attracted dozens of white hens around her feet.

"Hello, Mama. Got some new folks here looking for some bicycles." Stubby yelled.

Patty waved and went back to the bikes.

"Stubby, how much for this one, this one and this one?"

"Well, let's see. They in pretty good shape and I'll check out the tires and chains and what not for you, and make sure the brakes work of course." he said and paused, removing his straw cowboy hat to reveal a gleaming bald head surrounded by a fringe of close cropped graying fuzz.

"In the day, i would have asked for fifty bucks each, but folding money ain't doing much good. You got anything I could worth about that much?"

"I already sold my earrings in Shreveport, but I have this gold band and these two gold chain necklaces." offered Patty.

"Well, they look nice, but I am not sure who I can trade those things with." he said

Patty paused and then reached into the bag she brought with her.

"How about this?" and she held up the .44 magnum pistol she had taken from Chris.

"Say, that's a Ruger Redhawk. That's a nice piece you got there, and it's in .44 you say? Well, that might be worth my while." said Stubby carefully taking the gun from Patty's hand.

Noticing his interest, Patty decided to try her hand and up the ante.

"I don't really want to part with it as I promised it to one of the others back at the church. Now if you could include with the bikes some sort of trailer and some food for the trip, we might have a deal we can all live with. I mean, that gun before the Burnout was worth more than the $150.00 you want for the bikes, right?" countered Patty.

"Got a good point, little lady, yes indeedy. Well, let's see what I can put together for you, okay?"

Stubby's wife came back out in the yard and asked,

"You young people want to come inside for some coffee and cake? I just pulled it out of the oven."

Even though all four had recently eaten breakfast, the idea sounded good so they went inside leaving Stubby to rummage around the yard and property.

"Ya'll sit on down here and I'll get your cake." the pleasant woman said.

The kitchen was small, but neat and tidy, with curtains hanging around the open window, white faced cabinets, and the heavenly smell of something delicious in the air.

"Now this is an old coffee cake recipe of my mama's but it sure is good. You young people drink coffee don't you?" she asked

"I love Starbucks," said Cassie.

The older woman laughed, "We don't have none of that, honey, just good old Folgers. That be alright?"

"It will be fine, ma'am" said Patty giving Cassie the eye.

Hot cups of coffee were set down along with a bowl of sugar and a small pitcher of heavy cream.

"You just call me Evelyn, honey. Got coffee now, but that won't be the case someday. Gonna make that man of mine a bit  ornery when he don't get his cup of coffee in the morning."

"Why is that?" asked Cassie. "Can't someone, like grow coffee out here?"

"I'm afraid not, baby. Coffee comes from across the world and that ain't gonna happen for a long time. The sugar comes from down in Lousiana so maybe that's not lost. But coffee and chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg.. Lord, we gonna lose some many nice things now." remarked Evalyn.

"I hadn't thought about that," said Patty.

They all wolfed down their slices of coffee cake and coffee and with full mouths said thank you. Evalyn smiled and collected their plates and took them to the sink.

Stubby walked in and asked if everyone would come out back behind the house as he had something to show them. Everyone, Evalyn included went down the steps and into the large "yard" behind the house.

Yard was a misnomer as the back area stretched for an acre or more and was bordered by heavy trees behind a white fence. There was a sizeable pig sty populated by two fat sows and numerous piglets, two large chicken coops, a big vegetable garden and at least three small buildings dotting the back pasture.

Just down the steps was a red cedar picnic table laden with several items with the three bikes and a green wagon along side.

"Here be the bikes and this wagon for a trailer. It's a garden cart, but I put bike wheels on it and this here tongue which fits to this attachment on the bike here. You can move it to another bike if you wants too.

'Now here I gots some food good for travelling and eating, too" Stubby said with a smile.

He reached into a medium sized gunny sack and pulled out two five pound hams, the husks hard, red, gray and straight from the smoke house. He opened a smaller but similar bag and took out a flat wedge of some sort of meat and laid in on the table.

"Here are a couple of hams I smoked myself. They don't look too good on the outside, but cut into them and you gots some good eating. This is whole bacon I made from the same pig. Just a slice will do you and can season the whole pot of whatever you eating."

He took out a shoe box and wrapped in wax paper were two round wheels of cheese. Real cheese.

"I makes this from whole milk, not like that stuff you get in the store. Lawdy its good."

Next, he opened a good sized bag and took several bags of dried peaches, plums, strawberries and apricots out. Another was full of small red and russet potatoes.

Then came another bag which was hand milled wheat flour, a can of baking powder, a plastic bag with baking soda written on it, a plastic bottle of oil, and some sugar.

Finally, he set a worn, but clean cast iron dutch oven on the table along with a similar type skillet.

"You know what these are, don'tcha?" he asked.

"I do, that's a dutch oven. You can make anything with one of those and campfire." said Brad.

"Yes, indeedy, boy. You got all the makings here for camp bread, potatoes, just about anything if you put your mind to it. Good food after a long ride is dee-licious." Stubby added.

"So little lady, all this for the pistol? We got a deal?" asked Stubby.

"I think we do, sir, thank you very much" said Patty holding out her hand to shake.

The next half hour was spent loading the new bikes and cart into Stubby's truck and then the food which was tucked into several cardboard boxes for the ride. As they were saying their goodbyes, Evelyn handed Patty the rest of the coffee cake wrapped in a worn but clean linen cloth and a plastic tub full of vinegar and pickeled eggs.

"May the Lord watch over you children. You ever get back this way, you come see Stubby and men." said Evalyn.

'Thank you, ma'am for your hospitality." said Patty.

Stubby then started up the truck and they headed back for the church and to get started on the next leg of their journey.

When they pulled in the parking lot. they immediately saw Lamar standing between the food tent looking around while a woman wearing a nurse's scrub shirt stood next to him trying to talk, but who he promptly ignored.

As they climed out of the truck, Lamar ran quickly to the truck, his face white.

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The Burnout Chapter Eighteen

The Burnout Chapter Eighteen

Patty drove the group hard until almost sundown that day trying to get them as far from the interstate and Peri as possible. Eventually, they could go no further and would have to figure out the sleeping arrangements which would prove to be interesting.

The three kids had no sleeping gear at all except for Cassie who had something she called a "pillow pet" which was a stuffed animal that converted to a lumpy pillow. Patty rolled her eyes and searched for a suitable location to setup camp for the night.

They had just passed through the small town of Winona and continued north a short ways before arriving at a turn off for a medium sized Baptist church. The parking lot was a hub of activity with a few dozen people cooking over cut down barrel bar-b-que grills underneath the shade of several canopies and open sided tents.

They had scarcely stopped when a middle aged man approached them with his arms open and a big smile on his face.

"You folks look like you could use some good food and a rest! I'm Reverend Murphy the associate pastor here.." he said

But before he could finish, Patty pulled back and drew her Glock,

"Hold on there, mister. We don't want any trouble or funny business. Now you just slow down and keep your distance."

The minister paused and looked at the weapon in Patty's hand before speaking slowly and gently,

"I understand your concern miss, what with these young people under your care and all the horrors going on out there. We mean you no harm, we only want to offer food, a safe place to rest and fellowship."

"Please, let me get my wife and some of the women from the auxillary to prove our intentions." he offered.

A few moments later Murphy returned with a plump woman, her hair pulled back under a kerchief and a beaming pleasant smile on her face. Behind them a handful of others followed including a couple of older men and women and a young couple.

"Welcome to our church home." said the woman. "I am Berta Murphy, I am in charge of the ladies auxillary and ministry. You folks sure look like you could use a break and something cool to drink."

"That would be nice," said Patty, "But you have to understand, the last person who offered help had other plans, if you know what I mean."

Berta looked down and said, "Times are tough, but they are most difficult for the women and the little children, Lord have mercy. Why don' you bring these young people over to the tent and get them something to eat? If you want to leave, then we won't hold you or hurt you. You can even keep them guns you have with you, alright?"

Patty thought about it and looked at Lamar who shrugged and then to the kids. Brad looked hesitant, Katelyn cautious but Cassie had the look on her face that she was already sitting inside the tent eating whatever was smelling so good on the grill.

"Alright," said Patty. "Thank you for your kindness.."

The welcome wagon exploded at that point. An older man came and took Lamar and offered to help with the bike. The young couple went to the teens and relieved them of their loads and directed them to the tents to wash up.

Murphy and Berta stayed with Patty and accompanied her slowly to the tent.

"You have the cares of an older woman, miss. Things must be rough where you came from, but don't worry, you're safe here. We got some good food on the grill, shelter, water and a place to clean up. Sharing God's grace and love is the Christian thing to do. Folks around here don't have much, but we can share what we does have and let the Lord figure out the rest." said Berta.

Patty was slightly relieved to see two men in brown uniform shirt with stars on the breasts armed and keeping an eye on the crowd. There were at least fifty people in and around the tents and half that many cooking, plating food, picking up trash and keeping kids under control.

Their gear was directed to a location off to the side, but kept separate from other travelers' personal things which included a fair number of bikes, wagons, carts and an older motorcycle. Patty kept her Glock and carried the .22 by the strap on her shoulder. She secured the other firearms within the bike trailer as best as possible before walking away.

The food was a combination of pork bar-b-que prepared in barrel smokers, grilled meat over wood fires, fresh corn, beans and mounds of cornbread muffins. Beverages were tea (cool, but no ice), water or pitchers of milk. Absent were sodas, packaged bread, liquor of any kind, and convience foods. Patty could care less, it all looked delicious.

Even though the meal was served at a church, there was no communal blessing as people were already eating or finished by the time Patty, Lamar and the kids sat down. An older man with streaks of white in his combed back black hair and dazzling white teeth did come by say a small prayer of thanks for their arrival and deliverance in safety to their final destinations. Then he left them to eat, which they did without hesitation.

While she was eating, one of the men with the deputy stars on his shirt came over and sat down opposite of Patty.

"My name is Deputy Conkle with the county sheriff's office. You folks doing alright?" he asked.

"As well as can be expected." said Patty.

"You have a nice bruise on your face. Was that the result of an altercation, miss?" he asked.

"It was, but that was a few days ago." said Patty looking back down at her food.

"Was it caused by anyone in your party?" he said with raised eyebrows.

"I know where you are going with this and I appreciate it, but I am not in any danger. Why would I be carrying if I were? No, the people I am with are the good guys. We get picked on by the bad guys, but we have managed so far."

"Tell me, do you have any idea what the governement is doing about all this? A soldier in Lousiana said there is a relief effort on, but everything we have seen points to things much worse." Patty asked.

"Ma'am, everything we know has come from folks like you who have been out on the road. A couple of riders came down from Big Sandy and told us they saw a big old military plane flying near there and another group said there were National Guard troops in Longview, but we haven't heard or seen anything yet." he noted.

"Longview's burning, crime running rampant all over the interstate out that way and towards Marshall, Shreveport. That's where we came from and there is nothing going on back that way except bad things." said Patty.

"We have heard some of the same things. Thankfully, the traffic on our road is light, hardly any coming through. But I reckon that will change as things get more desparate." he said.

"So why all this?" asked Patty waving her arm around. "Why aren't you saving the food for the town, blocking off the road and sending people like me elsewhere? I appreciate this, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't seem very wise to be doing all this."

"Pastor's idea. It's not too much trouble actually. No power, some of this food was going to go bad anyway. And so far nobody's been any trouble. You see, most of these folks just want to get home, not stay here. I am sure you are the same way. We feed them a meal, let 'em get cleaned up and they leave then or the next day."

"'Sides, we've been able to help some folks who were in pretty bad shape. Had a few kids, young kids mind you, come through whose folks never came home or left them somewhere. Had a young woman with a baby come in from the interstate a few days ago. No food, no milk for the baby. They would have died and were already in bad shape as it was. someone's got to do something, so we try to help." Conle said.

"That's nice, but nothing personal, you're stupid. Have you seen what's out there? What about a month from now? What about next winter? What if a thousands start rolling in from Longview, Tyler or Marshal?" asked Patty.

The deputy shrugged, "I don't know. But I do know if we seal ourselves off to the world that will only make us more interesting to the wrong kind of people. Anyone comes through here they are going to see a bunch of poor folks handing out some corn bread and beans, I don't think that's going to end the world. Well, i'll let you back to your meal and get out your hair. If you need anything, we'll be around. Take care." said Conkle as he got up from the table.

Patty went over what the deputy said and it only gave her a bigger headach. A few moments later, Berta came over and joined her.

"I hope you find everything good, miss." she said.

"Yes ma'am it's great. It's been awhile since we had a sit down proper meal. This was very generous of you." replied Patty.

"Well good, dear. Now I don't know if you are planning on staying with us tonight, but if you are interested, we have the church available for the women and the fellowship hall for the men. And don't worry, we have the deputies and many of the men watching over things tonight. We also have wash facilities available if you want to rinse out your things or clean up yourself." said Berta.

"That's very kind of you. Do you mind if I check with the rest of my group and see what they want to do? As for me, I could use with a night inside, but I want to be sure." said Patty.

"Of course, dear, we aren't going anywhere." she replied.

Patty found Lamar sitting with a half dozen older men listening and asking animated questions and evoking guffaws of laughter. Lamar turned when Patty came up and introduced her,

"Guys, this is the lady I was telling you about. Patty, these are - I can't remember all their names, but they're a swell bunch of fellows." he boomed.

"Nice to meet you ma'am. You outta Dallas like Mr.Lah-mar?" asked a man who looked he wasn't a day under one hundred years of age.

"No, Fort Worth, well Aledo, which is west of Fort Worth. Sorry to interrupt, but Lamar did you want to stay here tonight or should we move on?" asked Patty.

"Move on? Why? These good folk have offered us food and a roof for the night. I plan on bedding down here and waking rested and ready for tomorrow." he exclaimed.

"Alright, what about the kids? Have you seen them?" said Patty.

"They prob'ly over at the basketball court, missie." said an another old man. "It's round back of the fellaship hall."

"Thank you, I'll go round them up. Nice to meet you." replied Patty.

"Nice ta meet choo, missie." came the chorus of responses as Lamar laid into another big story.

Patty went around the back of the church as the man suggested and sure enough found the three teens shooting hoops with a half dozen similarly aged kids. For a moment, the scene looked as if nothing had ever changed in the past week.

"Hey Patty. Do we have to go?" asked Katelyn.

"No, if it's alright with you, I thought we would take up their invitation and sleep here tonight. What do you three say?" she asked

"Can we? That sounds great." said Cassie. "They said we can get cleaned up and sleep on a cot. I can't wait."

It was funny to Patty how a couple of simple things could mean so much to a teen who was previously multi-tasked and over stimulated by a never sleeping electronic society. She wondered if someone like Cassie would even remember Facebook or Twitter five years from now.

Patty took the kids back to the front of the chuch and the gathered up their things. Patty, Cassie and Katelyn went into the church and were directed to the bathrooms and found the hall was wall to wall fold out cots, but most were not occupied.

Patty went back outside and was told she could put their bikes and other extra gear in a storage hallway inside and where it would be safe. Brad found Lamar still outside so he went in and located his place to sleep in the fellowship hall after washing up.

Before falling asleep, Patty wondered if it would be like this the rest of the way home. Maybe they had taken the wrong road at first and now things were going to get better. Patty thought about her daughter, said a prayer for her, and fell asleep.


Peri looked down at Chris' body on the blacktop. "Stupid cow" she thought.

Before she died, Chris told them about three men who came along and wanted the horse, the only one they were able to capture. Marci and Peri were out for the other and Chris, without any guns or weapons, thought she could "tough" out three men for the horse.

They shot her without two seconds thought and then helped themselves to whatever they found interesting in the wagon. Peri found that between the men and whoever else had come along, most of her really good drugs were gone. Several of her herb containers were opened, contents spilled out and tossed on the road. Her clothing and other possessions rummaged through and discarded.

Peri collected what she could and started the long walk west leaving Marci behind to cry over Chris.

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The Burnout Chapter Seventeen

"So what's the plan, Patty?" asked Lamar as he pushed his loaded bike and trailer and tried to keep up.

"We have to put some miles between us and the The Weird Sisters. I figure it will take them a few hours to get those horses back and hitched back up. Not to mention the problem they are going to have without any guns and anyone able to walk up and help themselves to their stuff." replied Patty.

"Why didn't we just take that wagon? I mean, we're walking and it's hot." moaned Cassie.

"I told you no whining. You want to live and see your family again, you need to put a sock in it and learn to save your own life instead of waiting for someone like me to do it." snapped Patty.

"She's got a point, Patty. Why did we leave those horses and the wagon behind. It was as good as any way to travel all things considered." said Lamar.

"I'll give it to you straight. First, we need to start keeping a lower profile and that means fewer attractions. That wagon was a neon sign to everyone and we don't have the numbers or ability to defend it from every weirdo we come along.

Second, we are leaving the interstate in just a few miles and are going to start taking secondary roads and maybe some other creative ways to get home. The wagon would have only slowed us down looking for a road the horses could travel on and limited where we could go. Third, horses need food, water, rest, shoes and a whole bunch of other stuff that takes time and resources we don't have.

"Finally, that wagon was dirty. Dirty like a car driven by a child rapist or a house where a murder took place. I don't have any fond memories of it and can't say I would want to ride around in it." said Patty stonily.

"I know one thing, I don't think I can ever drink orange kool aid again," grimmaced Lamar.

"I wouldn't worry about that, it's going to be next to imossible to get in a few weeks. But if it's any consolation, before we left I dumped that big thermos out onto the road." said Patty with a smile.

"OK, you three. Tell me your names and ages." said Patty to the three teens.

"I am Cassie and this is my twin sister Katelyn. We are both 17." said the weepy blond.

"I am Brad and I'm 18." said the young man.

"So what were you three doing in the middle of nowhere." asked Patty.

"We were coming back from a Students Against Drunk Driving convention in Memphis and were almost home when the van stopped running. Do you know what caused that?" asked Katelyn.

"Something to do with the sun. So it was just you three?" asked Patty.

"No. Our sponsor teachers, Mr, Haskel and Mrs. Eddington were with us along with five other kids. Mr. Haskel left after the van broke down and went to Longview to get help. When he didn't return, Mrs. Eddington went two days later with one of the other kids."

"A few days after that, we were out of cokes and snacks and we kept fighting and arguing about stuff. The other four kids went off looking for food and to walk home yesterday and we haven't seen them since." said Cassie stuffing a handful of dried fruit mix into her mouth,

"It was real scary at night because people started walking around checking cars and trucks looking for food and stuff. We finally started hiding in the woods off the road so they wouldn't find us." said Katelyn.

"So what? You were going to sit there and wait for someone to help you? What were you doing the whole time?" asked Patty.

"Staying alive," said Brad finally speaking.

"I checked several of the abandoned cars and found some useful things other people had left behind. Like in one car I found a lighter, in another a machete and in another a two liter bottle of soda. We drank the soda and I kept the bottle to store water in." Brad said.

"When it rained the other day, I used an umbrella and a wind breaker to run water into the bottle. I then beat an old hubcap into a bowl to boil the water so we could drink it. I got a squirrel with rocks, but Cassie wouldn't eat any of it." he finished.

Patty looked over at the young man and was slightly taken aback.

"You're a regular Daniel Boone, Brad. Good for you." she smiled.

"Not really, I just watch alot of reality shows. Hey, I wanted to ask you about the guns you took from those women. I'd like to have one if I can. It's been hairy the last few days, the kinds of people coming by and looking at the girls. The whole time I was wishing for some kind of gun, so can I have one?" Brad asked.

"I don't see why not, they're not mine, i just took them. Do you know how to use one?" responded Patty.

"I have a .270 and a shotgun at home, so whatever you have I can probably shoot." said Brad with appropriate amount of teen age bravado.

Patty stopped her bike and dropped the kickstand. She took the rifle Chris was carrying and handed it to Brad.

"it's a .243 and here's a box of cartridges. Besides that, we have a couple of shotguns, a .44 and some other stuff from the wagon and of our own. When we get to a point where we can rest for a couple of hours, We'll figure out what you girls are going to carry, ok?" said Patty.

"Guns are icky," said Cassie. "Besides, did you know more people are killed by guns in the United States then any other country on earth."

"Whatever, you're such a wimp, Cassie. Patty, right? I'll take one. I have no plans on getting raped or robbed, I just want to get home." said Katelyn.

"Have you ever fired a gun before?" asked Patty.

"No, but I can learn." replied Katelyn,

"Well, let's wait until we stop and I go over it with you, alright?" said Patty.

"Can we take that break? My feet hurt." said Cassie.

"No breaks, not until we get off the interstate and well away from it. And don't whine like that to me anymore, Cassie. Life's going to get alot harder here on in." said Patty.

They came to the exit Patty was looking for which would put them on state highway 185 north. Patty's plan was to follow it and eventually hookup with Highway 80 and then into Dallas by way of Big Sandy, Mineola and a few other small towns. The route would also bypass Canton entirely which was Peri's original destination.

Patty hoped Peri would have her hands full with trying to save her stuff and get the horses back and would ultimately, not have time to pursue Patty. But just in case that didn't happen, Patty decided to take a detour and another route home. Even if Peri was hell bent on getting revenge, she would have a lot of ground to cover and little chance of finding them.

As they travlled, Patty asked herself more than once why she simply did not shoot the three women or at the very least, Peri, knowing how unhinged the woman was. It would have been easier if Peri would have come at her with a weapon or threatened Lamar or even the kids, but it didn't turn out that way.

Up until now, everyone Patty had shot had been a direct threat to her or someone else. Further, nearly all of her attackers had been armed or were in the process of assaulting her or another person. Peri was not armed and was merely saying mean things. That did not constitute a death sentence in Patty's mind. She hoped she would not regret that decision.

Now on the the state highway, it was a direct contrast to the interstate they had been on for the past few days. There were fewer abandoned cars, fewer people walking and the further they traveled, more signs of people getting on with their lives.

They passed within distance of more than one home where the rural residents were expanding gardens, feeding small livestock or hanging laundry outside. While they saw plenty of people wearing guns or with one nearby, they were also surprised by small acts of random kindness.

A little boy who yelled "hi!" several times and followed alongside to the end of his property, a woman who offered them water from her well (which they gratefully took) and a man who handed them fresh ears of corn refusing any sort of payment and saying, "It's for the kids..".

While it was pleasant, Patty was well aware not to let her guard down and that problem was compounded by the addition of three teens who suffered from varying degrees of naivite.

Cassie was clearly a normal teenager which meant a combination of backtalk, arguments, selfishness and self pity. Katelyn appeared to have a head on her shoulders, but lacked any real world training or knowledge. Brad was self-sufficient and exceptional, but he was also a teen aged boy which pushed the Dumb Belief in Immortality rating to Defcon Five.

Patty had her hands full.

Then there was Lamar. He was feeling much better since he started taking the antibiotics, but with the exception of his late night spying on the three crazies, he spent most of his time looking to Patty to make all the hard decisions. And during those times, he had a tendancy to take it easy a little too much for Patty's preference.

For instance, when the woman offered them the well water, Lamar took a cup and sat down under a tree and took a break, rather than get all their containers and fill them first. That meant Patty was left to do the filling as well as keeping an eye on the teens and the road.

Then, when they received the corn from the kind man, Lamar set down his shotgun next to his bike and went over and chewed the fat with the farmer. What if it had been a trap? What would Lamar have done then? Shouted mean words? Called his lawyer?

It was little things like that which drove Patty nuts. In spite of everything that happened, Lamar still needed to be reminded the situation they were in and his responsibilities to the group.

Thinking about Lamar, Patty's thoughts turned to the pills they had taken from Peri's wagon. If there was anything one could say about Patty was she was prone to think about tomorrow today. The pills, to Patty, were an irreplaceable commodity. Yes, they could get Lamar well, but they could also be used for her family when she got home. So  she filled an extra bag, weight be damned, with antibiotics, pain killers and some others she recognized.

Even taking some for herself, she could use the surplus as a very valuable trade item if need be along the way home. And that led her thoughts to additional transportation namely for the kids. Preferrably, three more bikes for them to use. No, she had no regrets about leaving the horses and wagon behind regardless of the Lamar's questioning, the horses would have been more work than they were worth.

And then the kids. What to do about them? Yes, she was going to get them home to wherever they lived in Dallas, but what about the meantime? They weren't her kids. Could she tell them what to do? Was their health and welfare her responsibility beyond making sure they did not get hit crossing the street? What if Brad had a thing for Katelyn and they started... well you know. What then? Technically, they were adults, but...

This was enough to give Patty a headache. At least she had plenty of painkillers if she got one.


Peri pushed aside her hair from her sweaty brow and pulled open the compartment underneath the wagon bench. Inside, wrapped in a red mechanics rag, was a nickel plated, pearl handled .38 pistol.

It belonged to her late father, the stinking, drunk, Bible toting, gambling drifter who wandered in and out of her life from the age of three until just last year. The year she shot him in the head with the same very gun.

Still some more killing left in this gun. Peri opened the cylinder and counted the rounds. She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not...

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The Burnout Chapter Sixteen

Patty woke slowly from a dream about Elena. The little girl was standing next to a blacktop road in the middle of the country on a perfect sunny day. Elena was wearing a beautiful white dress, mary jane shoes and had a big white bow in her hair. In the dream, it was from Patty's point of view and she was looking at Elena.

Elena turned, waved at Patty and skipped down the road away from Patty. Patty tried to move, but her legs were locked, her feet stuck to the ground. Elena grew smaller and smaller the further she got away and Patty could not cry out to her. Then she woke up.

Patty' throat was dry and she looked for a water bottle but only saw the metal flask Peri had given her. For some reason, the thought of drinking the overly sweet liquid made Patty slightly nauseaus so she reached in her bag and found a water bottle.

Drinking the entire bottle, she felt better and more clearheaded than before. She looked down and saw her Glock was out of its holster and lying off to the side. She did not remember doing that last night, but for that matter, she could not remember much of anything at this point. She checked the gun and found it loaded, so she put it in her holster.

Patty changed into travel clothes and repacked her things before getting out of the tent. She saw Lamar was sitting up and besides looking tired, seemed his old self. She went over to check on him.

"Lamar, it's good to see you up. How are you..?" and then he cut Patty off.

"Patty," Lamar said in a low whisper, "Listen to me carefully. Last night they doped you and me and took all the ammunition from your gun, No, don't check it, I already reloaded it. They took those four young men and had them tied to a tree and were making them.. do weird things. Look, we need to get our things together and get out of here..." he stopped suddenly as voices approached.

"Lamar, you look much better, but I think you need to rest again today. I am sure.." Patty stopped as Peri and Marci approached.

"Peri, would it be alright if Lamar and I stayed with you one more day? I hate imposing on your kindness, but he seems really weak this morning." said Patty in a sweet voice.

"Of course not!" said Peri, "To help a traveling sister is the best way we can serve our goddess and the earth. Come, let us get you some food and drink and we wil be on our way."

Patty winked at Lamar and followed Peri to the main campsite beneath the trees. The four young men were dirty, but were up and collecting and stacking the gear which had been taken from the wagon.

"Here, Patty. I made you some more of my vitamin drinks for your ride today. I recommnend you drink both of those today. It will get your color back and replenish your body."

"Thank you, Peri. I will be sure to do that." said Patty with a big fake smile.

Patty went back and took down her tent and repacked everything into the bike trailer. She also added Lamar's backpack but he would not let her take the sleeping bag but only gave her a "look" which meant something was up. She also dumped out the flask and replaced the contents with plain drinking water.

Patty asked Marci to help her put her bike on the wagon as she would be riding Lamar's. Afterward, she checked the Ruger .22 and found it was unloaded and the two spare ten round magazines missing. Patty pretended to be packing her bag but instead checked for ammunition and saw the ammo she captured from the bad guys a few nights ago was still in her fanny pack.

Patty reloaded the .22 with a box from Lamar's backpack and patted herself on the back for splitting the ammunition so many nights agon. By removing the magazine and placing it inside her fanny pack and pretending to be attending to her normal daily hygeine, she carefully reloaded the magazine and then replaced it in the rifle without anyone noticing.

Afterward, Patty went to the wagon to talk with Lamar.

"Did they give you anything?" she whispered to Lamar.

"Yes, that one woman brought me more pills and some of that orange drink. I pretended to be excited and palmed the pills and fake drank a few sips of that swill. When she wasn't looking, I pitched it." he replied quietly.

"Good. We are going to have to be patient and see if we can get out of here later in the day or even tonight. I don't want there to be more shooting if we can avoid it." said Patty.

The wagon was hitched and the party began to move back towards the road. Patty pretended to be blissful and carefree as she moved her bike toward the road with the group.

"Patty, I thought we would ride together again, but it looks like you put the other bike on the wagon." said Peri as she came up to Patty.

"Yes, I must ride the bike, but you should really be up higher on the wagon. That way you can see the road ahead and lead us better." said Patty with a sparkle in her eye.

"That is very wise sister. I can see you are already feeling better." replied Peri.

"I feel wonderful, like I could ride all the way to that place on the lake you told me about. Peri, later could you tell me more about this sisterhood and what it means? Before now, I felt so lost, but with you, I feel much more.. whole." said Patty.

"The goddess be praised. Your inner eye is opening to the truth of the world around you. I am so happy we are companions on this journey to a new world!" said Peri.

"Thank you, Peri. I just feel, happy. Does that make sense?" asked Patty.

"Oh it does, sister. The wheel of the earth turns and makes it's ways known!". exclaimed Peri.

"Marci, make sure they have drank plenty of the electrolyte solution before we leave." said Peri to Marci and pointing at the four poor men.

"You. Get your stuff out of the wagon and put it somewhere else or leave it here." ordered Chris to Lamar.

"What? I thought I was riding back here, miss." he said

"For now, pig. But we don't have room for all your junk." she snapped back.

"Chris, why not put it on the bike trailer? After all, we may need it later." she said with a wink to the big woman.

"Okay, Patty. Yeah, we'll keep it for later. You were a good find. I think I am going to like you." said Chris turning back to the wagon.

Lamar made a small smile and shook his head at Patty and her resourefulness.

Once the wagon and group was underway, Lamar decided to take advantage of his position in the back to see what Peri had in all the bins in the rear of the wagon. He assumed it was supplies, food and other necessities for the trip.

After quietly checking several of the bins, he was not surprised to find what he figured was back there. In one bin were several plastic containers marked "Herbs" and had titles like "Poppy", "Chamomile", "Marigold" and others he had never heard of like "Devils Claw" and "Maca Root". In a nearby bin, however, he found the source of the medications Peri had been actually dispensing.

There were several large pharmacy sized containers of Prozac, barbituates, ritalin, thorazine, methedrine, valium, Librium and several others he did not recognize. He had read once that combining certain drugs as obscure as digestive medications with high blood pressure treatments could cause memory loss and confusion and he wondered if that was what Peri was up to.

A trained pharmacist would know certain prescription drugs could be combined to cause an adverse reaction. A trained pharmacist would have access to these type of drugs and with the wrong motivation could compound and dispense them to the unsuspecting. And that was exactly what Peri was doing with the assistance of Chris and Marci. Lamar did not know the "Wny" but at this point, he could care less. Peri was dangerous.

Lamar got Patty's attention and pointed at the bins and shook his head hoping she would understand what he had found. Patty merely nodded and kept her eyes on Marci, Chris and Peri who were all riding in the front bench of the wagon. The four men, eyes souless and blank, walked along side.

After an hour into the trip, Peri called for the party to come to a halt. Patty rolled her bike to the right side of the wagon and saw on the side of the rode, a van marked "Dallas Christian Academy" and three teens, two girls and one boy, standing nearby.

"Please, do you have anything to eat? We haven't had anything in three days.." said one of the girls, a pretty blond who was the exact duplicate, albeit with messy hair and soiled clothes, as the other girl.

"Oh my poor children. Of course I do." said Peri gently as she stepped down from the wagon.

"Oh my, your shirts. Dallas Christian Academy." said Peri reading the girls t-shirt. "Did you know that Jesus was a myth based upon old pagan customs? Of course you didn't. I am sure they brainwashed you into believing all that nonsense didn't they?"

"Please, we are really hungry.. Can you help us.." said the girl, obviously tired and exhausted.

"Certainly, but I am afraid you will have to earn it, child. Now about that Jesus business. The myth about the virgin birth and heaven was all invented by the Egyptians thousands of years before your so-called Jesus existed. Now, if you are really hungry, then you are going to have to accept the truth, the real truth before I can help you." said Peri quielty, but firmly.

Patty looked at Chris and Marci and watched as one jabbed the other in the ribs and smirked at the teen age girl's quandary. Like a pair of cruel cats about the torture a captured mouse, they seemed to be enjoying this all too much.

Peri crossed her arms and turned back to the wagon,

"So, you can have a nice can of soup if you repeat after me - 'The Jesus boogie man never lived and was all make believe like Santa Clause and the tooth fairy?' -  Can you do that, child?"

The girl started crying, "Please don't make me do that. Why are you being so mean to us. We didn't do anything to you.."

"Come on, lady, quit picking on Cassie. Why don't you just leave us alone?" said the young man putting his arm around the crying girl.

"Shut up, pig." said Peri casting an evil eye at the young man.

"C'mon Cassie.. How hard is it? Just admit Jay-sus is a big fat bunch of bull and you get some food. C'mon, Cassie, come and get it?" taunted Peri.

This time, Cassies presumed twin sister intervened,

"You're really mean, you, you,, I don't know what you are. We have been left her for who know how long and if you just want to be a witch, then go do it somewhere else." she said.

"A witch? Oh child, you don't know the half of it." said Peri.

"Hey girlie, your boyfriend wants you to starve rather than give up your skygod myth man. They all do that. That's how they control us women. Subjugate us with their male god myth and fairy tales and then force us to have their children." shouted Chris from the wagon.

"Hey, come on, is that any way to treat this poor girl? Let's give them some water and a few cans of food and move on. They look like more work than they are worth, sister." implored Patty.

"Still your tounge, Patty. What do you know anyway?" snapped Peri.

"Hey, Cassie?" asked Peri in a venomous voice, "Which one did it? Your father? The pastor? Some church elder? Which one convinced you to give your life to Jay-sus and then said you had to give your body to them to prove it? Which one told you all those filthy pigs told you it was all about God's love and then stole your innocence? Which one lied to you for their own filthy lust? Huh?"

"Nobody... I don't know what you are talking about.. We were left here after the van stopped running. We don't have any food.. why are you talking about my father..?" said Cassie before breaking down into tears.

"Peri! What's wrong with you?" said Patty. "What are you doing.. There's no need to get so nasty.."

"That's it.." said the young man, but Chris jumped down from the wagon and barreled into him as he charged towards Peri.

"C'mon pig. C'mon and hit a woman you pig? Can you do it, huh?" mocked Chris to the emaciated young man.

Everything happened quickly after that. Patty drew her Glock and Lamar jumped down from the wagon and pulled the hidden shotgun from his sleeping bag. Lamar moved around the left side of the wagon to the front while Patty went right and drew a bead on Chris.

"That's enough!" shouted Patty. Chris turned and looked shocked for a moment and then relaxed.

"Put that away, lipstick. It ain't loaded and I don't like it in my face." said Chris.

"Really?" replied Patty and then casually fired a round over Chris's head into the trees beyond the side of the road.

Marci reached for her coach gun in the bench but was stopped by Lamar's shaky but stern voice,

"I wouldn't do that, miss." he said.

"Your gun was empty last night, I did it myself. And I took all of your bullets, too." said Chris to Patty incredulosuly.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways, sister." said Patty.

"Stop it! You'll spook the horses!" shouted a nervous Marci from the wagon.

"That won't be a problem in a few minutes, Marci. Now get on down from there and leave that six gun on the bench or I'll have Lamar fill your full of holes." ordered Patty.

"I thought you were one of us, Patty." said Peri quietly. "You can still be part of our circle. All I ask is that you turn that gun on Lamar, kill him, and I will forgive you, my sister."

"Solly, Chollly, not gonna happen." said Patty. "I don't know what happened to you before the Burnout Peri, but you are one sick puppy. Drugging, torturing, picking on poor kids. You got some real issues, but that's for you to work out with the gorilla sisters."

"Marci, Chris, Peri, get over to the median and put your hands on the guard rail. Lamar, bring Chris and Marci's guns back here." said Patty not taking her eyes off of the three women.

"You kids. Any of you know anything about horses?" said Patty to the three kids.

"I do," said the boy. "My aunt has a riding school in Celeste."

"Good. Go unhitch those horses from the wagon if you know how. If you don't, figure it out real fast. Lamar, get those kids some water and food from the wagon, then get back over here." ordered Patty.

"Okay, you three climb over that median, cross the other side of the highway and start walking across that field over there," said Patty to Chris, Marci and Peri.

"Our stuff. Someone will steal our stuff," whined Marci.

"Not my problem, honey. Git going or I am going to start shooting. Go!" Patty shouted.

Peri looked over her shoulder and Chris and Marci slunked away,

"You will regret this. You and your brat. I will make you pay you treacherous backstabber. All of you!" Peri shrieked.

"Heard it all before." said Patty, silently relieved but her stomach churning at the thought of that crazy red head coming after her.

"The horses are off the halters, what now?" said the young man behind her.

"Lamar, get any food or water they have which we can take off the wagon. Get some extra antibiotics and pain killers and stick them in your bag for later. And find the rest of our ammunition they took. That really ticks me off they robbed us like that." said Patty.

"More than that Patty, They have been feeding our food to those four guys. We are missing a lot of canned goods from our stash." said Lamar.

"Swell, take what they got and let's get out of here" said Patty watching the three women slowly walk through the nearby fields.

"What about us?" asked the young woman nearby.

"You're coming with us," said Patty.

"We are going to have to walk with our bikes for the time being, but I expect each of you to carry extra supplies from this wagon for yourself. And no more whining, you got it?" said Patty to the first girl.

Patty turned to the four young, dishelved men next to the wagon.

"You, go back to Longview and look for help, do you understand me?" she said sternly.

One of the men looked up at her and muttered,

"Who are you? What do we do, mistress?"

Patty sighed and looked at the young man, "I am not your mistress, but a friend. Do as I say and you will live. Now go, that way and take this with you.."

And Patty pointed at the pile of supplies Lamar and now, the young man were taking from the wagon. Patty handed each a few bottles and cans and sent them on their way to who knows where. Hopefully, the drugs would wear off soon and they would be right again. But for what? Who knew.

Within fifteen minutes, Patty, Lamar and their three new charges left the wagon, but not before Patty went and slapped both horses on the rump and sent them down the road with a few rounds fired over their heads.

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The Burnout Chapter Fifteen

Lamar slowly came around and awoke, his head pounding and his joints sore.

"How long have I been out?" he thought to himself.

He found he was lying half in, half out of his sleeping bag in the back of the wagon that had passed them earlier in the day. It was then it came back to him the girl with the red hair, the medicine and some big woman giving him a drink of orange kool aid.

He sat up slowly and stared into the darkness allowing eyes to adjust. There was a half moon out and he was able to dicern that he and the wagon were in a clearing with several large trees nearby. He could make out he and Patty's tent just a few feet away and could hear the quiet sounds of someone, presumably Patty, deeply sleeping inside.

It was then he heard leaves shoffling and the sound of someone coming near, so he lay back down in the wagon and kept still.

"Wake up, piggie and take your pills." said a gruff voice.

He opened his eyes and they were immediately blinded by the light of a Coleman lantern sitting on the wagon's tail. Standing next to the lamp was the big woman who was driving the wagon team earlier in the day. She had short hair, was wearing a cowboy hat, overweight and had a six gun holstered on her belt.

"Hey," he said sleepily, "I really have to go to the bathroom, bad."

"I'm not gonna help you with that, pig. Get down and do your own business and then come back and take your pills." said the angry woman.

Lamar scooted off the edge of the wagon and carefully lowered himself on shaky legs to the ground.

"You wouldn't happen to have any toilet paper, madam? I am afraid all of mine is in my backpack." Lamar sweetly asked the woman.

"Great. Your bag is right there, sleeping beauty. Just get it and go do what you got to do. Your pills are here. Take them and drink everything in this cup, you hear me? I got to get back to more important things, pig." she griped and stomped off into the night taking the lantern with her.

Lamar felt for his bag and found a flashlight in one of the outer compartments. He turned it on and carefully examined the pills. One was anti-biotics, while the other was a pain killer and was big enough to knock out an elephant.

He pocketed the pain killer and took the antibiotic, but washed it down with a bottle of water. He tossed out the cup of kool aid figuring it was what gave him the headache.

He wrapped a handkerchief around the end of the flashlight to muffle the light and then checked the nearby tent. Patty was inside passed out in a deep sleep. Lamar noticed her Glock was out of its holster and sitting nearby. He picked it up and carefully extracted the magazine as Patty had shown him and saw it was empty. He then checked the three spare magazines and found them empty as well. Something was not right.

Lamar scooted back out of the tent with the pistol and magazines and went back to the wagon and his bag. He rooted around and found a box of nine millimeter rounds Patty had put inside and reloaded the gun and all the magazines. He then checked the shogun in the back with his bag and found it still loaded. That only left the .22, but he could check that out later, Right now, he wanted to find out where all of those people in the wagon went.

Lamar turned off the light and allowed his eyes to readjust to the darkness. He stuff the Glock in his front pocket and the spare mags in his cargo pants pockets, but separated them as to make as little noice as possible.

Walking through the long grass, he made a circular route around the wagon but did not see or hear anyone. However, he did notice a dull glow coming through the trees so he decided to check it out.

Moving slowly and as quietly as he could, he made his way through the trees and soon heard laughing and talking.

"Go piggie. Roll around in the mud like a good piggie."

Lamar got down on all fours and crawled through the underbrush towards the sounds and the light. Through the bushes he saw a bonfire and the three women standing nearby all with large flasks in their hands. The red head was wearing a long dress and had some sort of garland on her head. The other two women were dressed in their normal clothing, but both had long sticks in their hands. All were laughing.

Nearby, against a tree, were three of the young men, all tied together with their heads down and their eyes covered with black cloth blindfolds.

By the fire was the strangest sight. One of the young men, on all fours, wearing only his underwear, sitting on the ground. He rolled around in the dirt and then stopped, got in a crouch and begged ike a dog. One of the women threw him something which he then picked up off the ground and stuffed in his mouth and which caused all the women to laugh.

"By the goddess, look at him. Beg little piggie! Beg for your treats! Worship your mistress and kiss her feet!" laughed the red headed woman.

Lamar had seen enough and as soon as the women broke out into loud laughter, he quietly crawled back the way he came. There was something wrong with these women and he needed to get Patty and get away from them as quickly as possible.

He went back to the tent and tried to wake Patty, but she was out hard. There would be no moving her and their things until Patty was lucid and ready to move. Thinking carefull, Lamar came up with the workings of a plan.

He returned Patty's Glock to her holster along with the magazines and left them as he found them as to not raise suspicion. He then rummaged through her bag and found the derringer Patty captured the other night and hid it in his front pocket. Next he made sure he had extra shells for his shotgun and carefully hid it beneath his sleeping bag.

Lamar knew the women would assume he was doped up and useless and that Patty was carrying an unloaded gun. All he needed was to get five minutes alone with Patty when she woke up and they could make their escape. Now just to wait until morning.


The three women and the four young men returned about an hour later to the campsite. Lamar lay still and pretended to be sleeping. He felt a rough hand shake him and then turn away speaking to another in the darkness.

"Yeah, he's out like a light. So's Patty. Do you really think she'll come around, Peri?"

"She will. She's in so much shock I could convince her that I was Wonder Woman and we were flying home in my invisible jet. Just a few more days of drinking that concoction and she will be so mixed up she'll forget all about that brat and going home.'

"We need to keep our eyes open for a few more like her on the road and in Canton. When I see Cerci she will be delighted at our work and my plan." said the other woman's voice.

The voices dropped off and the women went and bedded down leaving Lamar to make his plans.

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The Burnout: Chapter Fourteen

Lamar ate and dozed on and off again throughout the day. Patty, lost in her thoughts of anger and self loathing did not notice that Lamar's condition was worsening. He started to run a fever and his face remained swollen and it was not until that evening that Patty noticed.

While Lamar's ribs were aching, it was his mouth that took a beating and with the loss of two teeth, it became infected. When Patty realized what was going on, she woke Lamar and gave him aspirin and directed him to rinse his mouth several times with a travel sized bottle of mouthwash.

Patty knew that Lamar needed antibiotics and the care of a real doctor or hospital before his conditioned worsened. Making the decision, she told Lamar they would be striking out for Longview in the morning and hope they would find a functioning hospital or doctor's office quicly.

The next morning, Lamar's fever had broken, but he was still weak and that left Patty to collect, pack and load their things. Lamar insisted he could ride his bike so Patty conceded and they started back to the interstate.

The rain had lasted most of the day so by the time they slogged their way to the highway, their tires and shoes were caked with heavy mud making the trip miserable. Combined with the humid temperatures, Lamar's illness and Patty's outlook, the morning was reflected the situaition all too well.

On the road, more of those they passed on foot looked worse than they had before. Clothing was wet and muddy. People dragged their feet. Children, pushed in strollers or pulled in wagons looked as if they were in a state of shock. Gone were the elderly, the infirm, the idle. All left behind somewhere on the road to await their eventual fate.

There was no assistance on the road. The premise made by the Guard miles ago in Lousiana was nothing more than a bandaid for a heart transplant patient. There were too many people, too much need and to large of an area for anyone to possibly render any effective aid or relief program. Surely, someone in charge decided that triage would take place by way of the natural order.

Just past the exit to Hallville and before they reached the outlying area of Longview, Patty and Lamar stopped for water and to check his temperature. They rolled over to the shoulder and Patty made it obvious, with her rifle in hand and hair wet and in her face that she wanted no conversation or requests for aid from anyone passing by.

Lamar's fever was up again and while Patty dug through her fanny for a packet of aspirin, a large wagon pulled by a team of horses slowly passed by on the interstate. The wagon was enough to draw attention ever from the most cynical such as Patty.

It had started life as an open wagan probably used for hayrides and farm tours. However the owner had modified it with a plywood cover over three quarters of the bed and doubling the height of the wagon. In the back were numerous blue and clear platic totes stacked, a medium sized blue water barrel, sacks of feed tucked against the rail sides and a large yellow thermos container attached to one side.

The wagon was pulled by two large draft horses and on the driver's bench was a big man or woman and a petite woman with beautiful long red hair spilling from beneath her straw cowboy hat. Alongside walked four forlorn men with long hair and tatoos and one big woman wearing a plaid shirt, rain coat and carrying a rifle.

The red haired woman stared at Patty for a  moment, raised her hand and said "Ho!" to the driver and the rig rolled to a stop.

"Sister Traveler," she said in Patty's direction, "Do you need aid?"

Startled by the woman's voice and strange words, Patty jumped.

"My friend is sick. He was badly beaten and I think he has an infection or something. He's running a fever." Patty replied

"I am a trained pharmacist and herbalist," said the red haired women stepping down from the wagon. "Let me see him, sister. We mean no harm. Marcy, take charge of the wagon and move it from the highway."

The redhead approached and did not even look at Lamar, but instead directed a curious gaze to Patty. Patty could care less, she was relieved to find some aid of any kind especially after the past few days.

"You men need to replenish your electrolytes." said the woman with the rifle to the four, long haired men. They plodded over to the yellow overside container and each filled an old fashioned metal cup with a yellowish orange liquid from the container and drank deeply. AFterward, they stepped to the side of the road and sat on the damp grass.

The driver of the wagon, "Marcy", leaned over the side and stared at Patty and Lamar while the red head examined him.

"What are your names?" asked the pharmacist

"I am Patty and he is Lamar." said Patty.

"You were injured as well, weren't you? Brigands, highwaymen and theives. How the mighty have fallen.." she remarked quietly.

"He has an infection indeed from the loss of the teeth and his injuries. I have anti-biotics and pain killers which will help. Wait here."

The woman went to teh back of the wagon and rooted around before returning with two pill bottles.

"Chris, bring me a cup of the electroylyte solution. His body is dehydrated and in need of replenishment." she called to the woman with the rifle.

"Forgive my manners, sister, I have not introduced myself or my companions. That is Chris and our drover is Marci. Our four assistants are CJ, Mark, Danny and Glen. And you may call me Peri, with an i. I am afraid my real name is too difficult to pronounce for most, so I keep it simple." she said with a beautiful smile of perfect white teeth.

"It is nice to meet you. It is nice to meet anyone nice at this point." said Patty finally relaxing. "What is that drink you are giving him?"

"It is an electrolyte concoction of my own brewing, partically useful after exertion and labor. The boys seem to like it better than us, I assume because it was formulated for the male body."

"Here, you try this." she said holding out a metal flash to Patty.

"It is similar but enhanced with angelica, rose and nettle. All particularly suited for womena and our unique essence."

Patty unscrewed the top and took a small sip. The flavor was a combination of berry, honey and a hint of mint and she immediately felt a burst of energy. She too three more long draws before replacing the lid.

"That was wonderful, thank you." said Patty as she handed the flask back to Peri.

"No you keep that, Patty. I have plenty more and it does my heart good to see you enjoy it. Now, I suggest that we lay your friend Lamar in the back of the wagon and let him rest as we continue on our journey. I trust you are heading west for some time as we are as well, so we might as well enjoy each other's company for a time, alright?"

"What about his bike?" asked Patty.

"I used to ride regularly myself" said Peri, "I will ride it and it will give us a chance to get to know each other."

"Marci, have the boys help Mr. Lamar into the wagon and make him comfortable. I will be riding his bike and will take up the rear with our new sister, Patty."

In a few moments, Lamar was made comfortable in the back of the wagon, wedged between the numerous boxes and totes and laid upon his sleeping bag. He seemed to be in a daze brought about by the combination of pain killers, fever and fatigue and shortly afterward, dropped off to sleep.

Peri and Patty mounted the bikes and rode along behind the wagon.

"Thank you for helping Lamar, Peri. I don't know what I would have done." said Patty.

"Of course, do not mention it. You have not known him very long have you?" said Peri.

"No, only a few days. Since before the Burnout, how did you know?" asked Patty.

"Your demeanor. I am a bit of a student on the human condition and relationships. You were cautious in how you touched him which indicates you have never been intimate. He wears a wedding ring while you have no such symbol of patriarchal chattel, nor does your ring finger indicate you have worn one recently.

You clearly have a leadership role over him or in place of him as you are carrying more arms than he and do so with forcefulness which suggests he recenly acquiesced to your authority.

"Your hands are no stranger to work while his are soft and callous free meaning you took charge while he relaxed. He allowed himself to be attacked and beaten while you, the fairer of the two, have fewer injuries and I am willing to wager, repulsed those who dared lay hand on you, another sign of strength. Am I correct so far?"

"Well, that's flattering of you, but Lamar is not weak nor am I the leader. I know we are a mess, but it took both of us to get this far. Lamar has his strengths and I have my mine, but if it was not for him, we would not be where we are today." said Patty with some resentment in her voice.

"My pardon, I did not mean to offend you, Patty. I was merely making an observation. What happened? You were attacked?" asked Peri.

"Yeah, a group of guys jumped us a two nights ago. They beat Lamar and tried to rape me, but we got lucky." said Patty quietly.

"Men are such pigs, especially now. They think every woman is free for the taking now the lights have gone out. But it won't always be that way, Patty. I am sorry about your pain and I am joyous that you survived intact." replied Peri.

"You look very careworn and fatigued, Patty. Your body is in need of proper vitamins, minerals and supplements brought about by stress, poor food and exposure. As your "physcian", I recommend that you finish that flask I gave you." Peri said with a michevous smile.

"Alright," said Patty and she took a deep drink from the flask and indeed, felt the same rush as before. She took another drink before closing it and returning it to hang on her bike handle.

"Where did you guys come from?" asked Patty feeling much better than just a few moments before.

"Marci, Chris and I knew each other in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We were actually heading to Canton for the Faire Days to sell herbs, herbal remedies and practice our craft." said Peri.

Patty giggled, "Faire Days? You mean First Monday? I have never heard it called Faire Days. It's just a big three day flea market and garage sale." replied Patty referring to the famous outdoor flea market in Canton.

"I know, I romanticize it for my own amusement. In the coming days, as the new world shuts down and the old world emerges, the people will return to Faire Days and fetes, harvest festivals and seasonal gatherings. We will be forced to return to the earth and honor her callings and respect nature as our mistress and equal. Oh listen to me prattle." said Peri off handed.

"What about the others, Cj and those guys?" aske Patty ignoring Peri's flowery speech.

"Oh them? We met them shortly after the lights shutdown. They were in a rock band, not famous, just local and were travelling somewhere for a show and their van broke down the same time as ours. Seeing our dilema, they joined with us as we carvan west to our place of joining." said Peri.

"Where did that wagon come from?" queried Patty.

"A local trade of sorts. It was outside an antique store near Texarkana and seeing that it was an appropriate form of conveyance in these times, we obtained it and the horses for our needs. It was amazing how readily the owners accepted the old coin of the realm and useless bits of technological trash for so useful a treasure as that wagon." sighed Peri.

"It seems like we are headed that way, Peri. I mean down the path towards the old fashioned ways of doing things. Horses, wagons, farming will be big again too, I am sure." remarked Patty in a dream like voice.

"More than that Patty. It will be a rebirth of our earth mother. This day of reckoning was long coming and not happenstance." said Peri almost gleefully.

Suddenly overwhelmeningly sad, Patty spoke, "Peri, alot of people have died because of this. We saw burning planes near the Shreveport airport that fell out of the sky. I am sure many died in the hospitals and in car crashes. Imagine the people stranded in the deserts of Arizona or Nevada miles from cities and help. I don't find any of this fun, but it sounds like you are almost happy it happened."

"Oh my! Not at all Patty! I wept for the losses of both strangers and my own family and friends who most assuredly perished. Rather, I think we are receiving our comeuppance for our arrogance and blatant disregard for nature. No, this is a tragedy by all counts, but it is also a wake up call. Sort of like blacking out from drinking and realizing you have a problem, do you know what I mean?" said Peri.

"I guess," said Patty and she took another long drink from the metal flask.

"Now, where are you and Lamar going?" asked Peri

"I am going home to Fort Worth and Lamar to Dallas. What about you?" replied Patty.

"We are going to stop in Canton, and then go on to what I call, our place of joining. It is a remarkable place on Possum Kingdom Lake where sisters have joined together to celebrate the rebirth of our earth mother and commune with nature. Only now, our purpose has become more urgent."

"In the coming days, there will be a need for herbalists and healers, a need for those who can instruct in the turns and times of the earth, the planting and the harvest. It is a calling and we must share our knowledge as the world falls into darkness once again." said Peri.

"Sounds like a hippie commune," laughed Patty felling slightly giddy, "I am sorry, I am not making fun of it and I am sure it will be a nice place, especially to be in the country away from this mess."

"I understand your mirth, sister Patty. In the face of my losses, it gives me comfort to go where I am headed." said Peri.

"Are you bound to someone back home, Patty? A boyfriend or fiance?" asked Peri

"No, my daughter is the most important person I am trying to get home to. My ex and I divorced over five years ago and he promptly disappeared from my life and my daughter's. Nope, I am the single mom and that has been fine for me." said Patty.

"Perhaps you and your daughter would like to join us, or at least visit? The cities will be no place for a young girl or yourself in the coming years." asked Peri.

"We'll see. Right now, I just want to get home." said a weary Patty.

They rode on for another five or so miles and passed Longview. They could see thick black smoke from several fires burning unchecked in the city. Every store and gas station along the highway was closed or vandalized, but that did not stop passerby from carefully checking the ruins and trash strewn around each building

On the east bound lane, a truck with a grocery store brand on the side had a large group around it arguiing about the contents. Patty and Peri's group hurried by as far on the opposite side of the interstate as possible. As they passed, they heard different people shouting..

"We should share everything.."
"Go away, we found this.."
"My kids need food, open up that truck.."
"This truck belongs to our town.."

And so it went. They rode away and did not look back until the truck and mob were well behind them.

Inside, Patty alternated between periods of giddiness, burst of energy followed shortly afterwards by short bouts of sadness. She attributed it to fatigue, the non-stop stress, adrenalyne and lack of fresh food. She was unsure about Peri and her friends, but was so worn out she simply wanted to give in and let the pretty redhead herbalist "drive" for awhile.

Shortly afterward, Peri sped up on her bike and rode alongside the wagon and spoke in a low voice to Marci. The driver than slowly rolled the wagon over to the side of the highway, down the shoulder and through a copse of trees into a clearing.

"How does this look Peri?" Marci asked from atop the wagon.

"Splendid. Have the men unhook the horses, brush them down and feed them. Afterward, we will eat, but I want the wagon well out of sight of the road." she replied

Patty went to check on Lamar and found him still asleep. While the wagon was unhooked, she climbed aboard and checked his temperature. He felt nearly cool and appeared to be sleeping deeply.

"Patty, why don't you get cleaned up and put on some different clothes? I am sure you would feel much better after our long ride." said Peri.

"That sounds great. Lamar looks like he is doing much better thanks to you Peri. I don't know how we can thank you." replied Patty.

"Don't mention it. I will check on him in a few minutes and then you and I can have something to eat." said Peri.

Patty shrugged out of her pack and pulled a clean set of clothing out as well as her sneakers. After relieving herself, she changed behind a large stand of bushes and then wiped down with a handful of baby wipes and brushed out her hair.

As she came out of the bushes, Peri was standing nearby, "Ah, the woods have given up a nymph or a sprite to share her wisdom with us. Praytell spirit world dweller, what say you?"

"This sprite is in bad need of a hot bath and working toilet. Please direct me hither," laughed Patty, surprised at the sound of her own voice.

"Come then, we have food and shall eat, sister." said Peri direting Patty towards the main camp.

The wagon was partially unloaded by the four men and an awning had been setup next to one side. Underneath, a tarp with a blanket on top lay and several containers were open along with plates, cups and utencils.

Patty sat and Peri handed her a plate of fresh greens topped with nuts, dried fruit and canned chicken. Peri liberally sprinkled some herb concoction on top and then poured a vinagerette over the salad.

"Where did you get the fresh greens from?" asked an incredulous Patty.

"The forest and fields give up their bounty for those who know where to look. It is wild dandelion and others. Here, have some of this tea I brewed." said Peri.

The tea was served in another of the metal cups and was pinkish red in color. Peri had sweetened it with honey and while it was room temperature, it was delicious.

It was then Patty noticed the four men were not with them, but rather, were sitting by themselves away under a nearby tree. All were silently eating out of cans with spoon or fork.

"Peri, why don't they join us? Why are they over there instead of under this awning?" asked Patty.

"Patty," said Peri in a low voice, "It has been very hard for all of them, You see, when we met them, they were hopelessly addicted to drugs and they suffered the effects of a painful withdrawl. I was forced to administer some traditional barbituates the first few days to calm their cravings, but even now, they are still going through the symptoms."

"In a few days, I am sure they will be more cognicent of their surroundings, but it would be best if we all stayed on our guard. I have had to have Marci or Chris watch them and make sure they do not go into my stocks and stores." said Peri.

"What will happen to them? I mean, where are they from and won't they want to get home as well?" asked Patty.

"Oh they will stay with us, there is afterall, safety in numbers, both male and female. When we arrive at the joining, they will be given new tasks and labors which will benefit them and others." said Peri.

"But what if they have families or friends they wish to get to?" implored Patty.

"Oh come now, Patty, look at them. Dishelved appearances, crude tatoos all over their bodies, years of drink and drug abuse. They have no families as they were probably kicked out of their homes years ago. Think of the mothers and girlfriends they lied to and abused over the years. All the young women at their shows falling for their flatteries and attention only to be tossed aside the next morning." argued Peri.

Peri's argument seemed so sensible and sane to Patty that she found herself agreeing. After all, these men were probably one step away from the riff raff she and Lamar had dealt with and if it had not been for Marci, Chris and Peri, they would have succumbed to temptation.

Patty took another sip of the tea and found it as delicious as the first. The evening seemed so much nicer and relaxing than any other since the Burnout. Patty had pleasant thoughts about Elena and suddenly felt very sleepy.

"Patty, why don't you get some rest, we'll clean up here, okay?" said Peri seeing Patty's drooping.

"Sure, sounds great. See you in the morning." said Patty.

It took all of her concentration and effort to setup her tent and sleeping bag for the night. She had planned on checking on Lamar, but figured he needed to rest as much as she did. Patty did not even remember falling asleep and was out at once.

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