Peri stayed hidden in the bushes while the dregs of humanity passed her by on the rural road. She had quickly gotten off the interstate once she came to the mobs fighting over whatever food or supplies were left, but cursed herself for having lost Patty's trail. She prayed that Patty, that tub of lard Lamar and those bratty kids were the first to be robbed, beaten and suffer worse things when the violence flared.
For now, Peri's only hope was to take this dumpy state road north and hope she could find some way to get started on her plan again. She had a few contacts in Canton and with the right persuasion, (and a willing ally or two) she could move west to her hideout on the lake.
After the walkers had passed her by, she continued north, but took cover when a large mob headed the same direction she did. Shortly after, she heard the conflagration and gunfire to the north and detoured through an empty farm field and then again through a copse of trees. Some two hours later, torn by brambles, underbrush and thorn, she came to the outskirts of a hole in the wall named Winona.
Besides sounding like the name of a boozy country singer, the town instantly made her cringe at the thought of small town toothless hicks blabbering away in rundown churches and spitting tobacco juice of the floor at the local watering hole. Worse, this place, Winona, had some strange glow or power over it which turned Peri's stomach. She did all she could to avoid going through town and continued north cross country.
After what seemed like an eternity, the town slipped behind her and she faced only a two lane country road. Behind her, she could see a small white steeple of a church further south and clearly, the source of her misery. She dwelt for a moment on her absolute and rabid hatred for all forms of traditional religion, especially those in small towns, the lair of her late father.
Lost in thought, she did not notice the old pickup truck until it almost ran her down but managed to stop by stomping on its worn out brakes and swerving to the side of the road.
"Lord have mercy, girl!" shouted the driver jumping from the cab. "I almos' hit ya! Are you okay, dear?"
Peri almost ran away, but quickly adapted to the moment,
"I... I.. where am I? They left me here... those people.. those animals" before breaking down into tears.
"There, there. Oh my, you were with that mob, wern't you? Look at those scratches on your arms and legs. I need to get you to the church and have someone look you over." the driver said.
"oh please, no! not back there in that town! Is there a doctor or hospital you can take me to? Many of those men.. they took turns.. I don't want to be pregnant or have a disease... please, is there a doctor nearby, but not in that town?" Peri pleaded.
"Sure, sure.. In Big Sandy, up the road. They got a clinic, ain't big, but they have nurses and stuff there. C'mon and get in my truck and I'll have you there in no time, little lady." said the older man.
Peri got into the front seat of the old pick up with the gentleman's help and put her head back as if she was both exhausted and in dire pain. The driver turned over the ancient vehicle engine and headed north up the same road.
"My name's Snuffy and don't you worry about a thing. We gonna get you to the clinic and all checked out. Were you with other folks or were you alone?" he asked.
"I was with a group, but we were separated and had planned on meeting up in Canton in a week or so. Maybe they came through here in the past few days? A woman on a bike, Hispanic, with a middle aged man also on a bike. They may have had three teenagers with them as well." asked Peri on a whim.
"Why you must mean Miss Patty and Mister Lamar! You's in luck cause they just moved on this morning. Why they's probably in Big Sandy or near there right now. After we get you to the doctor, I'll check the roads and try and get them to you!" said Snuffy.
Peri smiled to herself and evil blossomed deep within her.
"You are so kind, Mr. Snuffy. Providence has smiled on me at last."
Patty rolled to a stop west of Big Sandy and the others halted behind her.
"I still can't believe the nerve of those people." Patty exclaimed. "A tax to ride along a public road simply because it crosses through their town. If there were someone or some way I could call and do something about it, why I..."
Lamar smiled and said, "I would have hated being a car dealer who sold you a lemon, Patty. The scorn of a woman..."
Even Patty had to smile at that. "Well, at least they did not get anything. Did you see the way that young cop was looking over Candace? Imagine what sort of tax he wanted?"
They had arrived at the outskirts of Big Sandy an hour or so ago and were stopped by a roadblock manned by local PD and volunteers. Due to the problems with looter and bandits, a tax was instituted on all passers by and could only be paid with gold, silver, coinage or valuable barter such as food or ammunition.
In spite of invoking Reverend Stone and Snuffy's names, the town would not budge. So, Patty and company were forced to back track a few miles and take a series of side roads in order to reach the state highway heading west out of Big Sandy. They lost valuable time and now would have to make up for it by riding later and stopping only when darkness prevented them going any further.
Now, they faced a new road, new challenges and the same old problems with bandits, marauders, stray dogs and stray humans. Patty took a deep drink from her canteen and startled peddling.
"Come on, folks. Daylights burning."
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