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.