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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