Everyone picked at their food that night, that is everyone except for Brad who ate quickly and then resumed his watch at the edge of the camp. Patty pitched the tent in the low light of the fire and sent Catelyn and Candace to cleaning up and off to bed. Then she went to Brad.
"Hey, how's it going?" Patty asked quietly.
"Fine." said Brad.
"Do you want to talk about today? We haven't had much of a chance with the trip and Lamar leaving and all, but I'm here if you want to?" said Patty.
"I'm fine. Don't want to talk about anything." snapped Brad.
"Okay, I won't push it. Let me tell you something before I leave you alone. Right before we left Shreveport, some guy trapped me in an alley and tried to rape me. If it wasn't for some dumb luck and divine intervention, you and I would probably not be having this conversation right now.
"After it happened, I never told anyone. Instead, I went back to my hotel and blamed myself. I shouldn't have been walking alone. I shouldn't have been dressed like I was. It was my fault, I attracted that scuz bucket. All of those things. And you know what? I was wrong. It wasn't my fault and even though I killed him and have to live with that for the rest of my life, what I don't have to live with is the blame for what he did.
"He attacked me. Rape is a violent act, it's not sexual, it's about control. He wanted to control me and as long as I blamed myself, he kept winning. That's it. And I won't let him or anyone else determine how I feel about myself. I'll be over on the other side of the camp, I can't sleep and if you want to talk, I'll be there."
Patty got up, but Brad spoke before she could leave.
"He didn't do anything to me, just talked." Brad paused and gulped and then started again, "Well, he slapped me around, but he said he was going to do stuff to me and then kill me slowly.
"Patty, I'm not gay or anything, am I? I mean, maybe that is why he wanted to attack me because he thought I was.. you know.." said Brad looking down.
"That has nothing to do with it, Brad. Like I said, what his kind does is just another form of violence like hitting someone. You didn't do anything wrong so stop blaming himself. It's not your fault." said Patty quietly but firmly.
"Anyway, I don't want to have some "gay or not gay" talk with you. That's something for someone else like your parents or something. But I have seen the way you look at Catelyn, so I don't think that's an issue." Patty said with a small smile.
Patty put her hand on Brad's shoulder and went to the other side of the camp where her bike and gear were. It was a quiet night and other than the sounds of crickets, she heard nothing out of the ordinary. She took out her small LED flashlight and went through her bag for clean clothing and a change of socks. Then she cleaned up and laid out her sleeping bag, but did not lay down. Rather she sat cross legged with the Ruger in her lap and thought things through.
Without the second bike trailer, they would have to spread the heavy stuff around. She kept a mental count on the food and figured they easily had enough fresh food (courtesy of Stubby) to last he rest of the week. Then they would have to rely on the freeze dried foods and the few remaining canned goods they had left which might last four mouths three days or so. Not good as they still had several miles to go.
Lamar was right. There were too many delays and it was taking too long to make real headway. But it wasn't the kids fault. They might be young, but they were strong and had more energy than a middle aged person like Lamar. And there were, when they wanted to be, optimistic to a fault.
Finally, she realized that she would have to escort these kids all the way into north Dallas before she could make it home to Aledo. That meant a detour of at least forty miles, maybe more. In the morning, she decided to check the maps of Dallas and see if there was a better way to get where she was going.
The next morning, all four dragged themselves awake each quietly expecting to see Lamar waiting for them. They were each disappointed to see he was nowhere in the vicinity so the hard part, distributing all their gear, became the first order of business.
Patty stoked the fire and put on a camp coffee pot and make the kids drink a big cup laced with creamer and sugar and then fill up on water. After a quick breakfast, they loaded up and went back to the highway to resume their journey.
It was around noon, under a scorching sun, that they reached the outskirts of Grand Saline. In contrast to Mineola, the town was guarded, but not closed up to passers by. At the entrance to town, dozens of dead vehicles were positioned to keep travelers on the road. Guards were waiting for them as they approached the gate leading into town.
"Okay folks. If you want to pass through town we need you to stick to the main street and go straight through to the other side. If you get off the main street, you may be detained or even shot. We have no spare food or goods for sale, but if you have a skill or something you think we may need, feel free to ask at the table underneath that flag just ahead. Any questions? Okay, keep your weapons holstered and don't point long guns at anyone. We will take that as a threat. Go on through." said a taciturn man in a sweat stained brown police uniform.
A few yards from the gate, which had been constructed of chain link fence and erected across the two lane road leading into town, there was another square shaped construction of wood and chain link fence with a small window facing the street. Next to it stood four men holding long arms underneath a large U.S flag flapping in the wind. On both sides of the street, fencing and abandoned cars lined the street creating an adhoc barrier between the road and the town on either side.
A sign hung over the square shelter which read as such:
We need the following goods. Fair trades and barter available.
Antibiotics, anticoagulants, insulin, pain killers
Ammunition, .223, .308 and 7.62 x 39
Bottled gas butane or propane
Sugar, coffee, baby formula
Patty's group passed and noted the forlorn man and woman sitting inside the shelter watching them pass uninterested. "Things are going fast, at least these people are trying and not stealing like the last group" thought Patty.
The ride through the town was interesting in a few respects. No matter what the size of the lot, yard or green space, there were clearly vegetable gardens marked out and tended by dozens of people of all ages. There were clothes lines strung between houses with freshly cleaned clothing and bedding flapping in the breeze. While there were no running vehicles, every vehicle had been pushed to form the barricade or pushed out of the way. All had obviously been emptied of gasoline as every gas cap was open.
Nearly everyone had some sort of gun in hand or in a holster on their belt or otherwise. There were numerous guards along the way, some as young as ten and others well advanced in years. As they passed a large parking lot, they saw more than three dozen people were lined up and being served food cafeteria style under an open sided blue and white striped tent. Behind the tent, on a homemade spit, the carcass of a mid sized animal was skewered and turned slowly over a fire. There was a large white posterboard sign next to the tent which read "Groups Five and Six Only!" in bold black letters.
Every store they passed was closed and many were boarded up. Next to a closed Chinese restaurant, a group was cleaning out the grease trap and pumping it into a large plastic bin on wheels. Patty had no idea what they would do with that stinky stuff other than make some biofuels. Her belly rolled when she thought it would be recycled for food in some way.
The last thing they saw was a small white building with a stage constructed in front of it. Hanging from a long beam suspended over the stage were five bodies in various degrees of decomposition. Candace stopped her bike and retched on the street.
"Come, don't look." said Patty to everyone. But Patty looked long enough to see the signs strung on each of the decaying bodies. Looter. Thief. Murderer. Looter. Rapist. Justice was swift, she thought before turning away herself.
Finally, they came to the end of town and another gate. The guards opened the gate and waved them through without a word and they rode on.
"We're going to need water before tomorrow." Patty said to the three teens as they rode. "If you see a body of water, a creek, pond or anything, let me know. We will have to stop and filter some more before we move on."
On their right, about two miles out of town, there was a sign for 'City Lake' which looked innocuous. It was well within sight of the road and there were a few boats on the lake, all oar powered, and manned by fishers obviously trying to supplement their post-Burnout diet.
Patty wheeled her bike over and took out the Katdyn and all of her containers. She directed the kids to do the same and then started filtering water. They managed to fill all of their containers and after drinking as much as they could (and pouring the somewhat cool water over their heads) they topped off and mounted up to continue their journey.
As they walked toward the road, they were greeted by a pleasant faced older man carrying a pole and tackle box in one hand and a sixteen gauge pump shotgun in the other. Walking on one side was a black and white cocker spaniel and on the other, a boy aged about six who was carrying a Sponge Bob fishing pole and bucket.
"Afternoon, folks. Are the fish biting?" he asked as they approached.
"I am afraid we did not do any fishing," replied Patty. "We just came for some water."
"Goodness, I hope you didn't drink out of the lake, young lady!" said the startled man.
"Oh, no. We have a water filter and cleaned it well first. Thank you for asking. Do you live around here?" replied Patty.
"Good, good, don't want you to get sick. Sure, I live just across the road a mile or so over. Live with my wife, my two boys, their girls and all my grandkids. Good to have us all together, right Tyler?" he said to the young boy.
"Yep, grampa.!" said the young man.
"We got together after the lights went out, safer that way. Now you young people look like you're going somewhere far away, am I right? Where to?" he asked.
"Dallas and then Fort Worth. Well, it's been nice talking to you, but we have to make this daylight work for us. Say, is there anything up the road we should be aware of? Any problems?" Patty asked.
"No, pretty quiet out this way. We heard stories about east of here and of course, down south, but nothing here other than the usual livestock thefts, drifters and a bad group here and there. But we're managing. Can't wait until the government gets things going again. They had a fella come into town last week said he was from FEMA and said they had emergency supplies on the way."
"The only bad part was they asked us to round up unnecessary guns and make a list of folks who were causing problems, but I figure we can burn that bridge when we get to it" the elderly gentleman finished.
"We heard about that back east, but we haven't seen any relief trucks or airplanes." said Patty. "Oh well, I am sure those things take time. Well, we best be on our way."
"Right enough. You folks take care." said the main with a wink. "C'mon Tyler, let's go catch a whopper."
As the two walked off to the lake, Patty stared at them until Brad spoke.
"I wonder what you have to do to get on a list of people who cause problems. Back in Grand Saline they hang them before they can make any list. Seems stupid." he said.
Patty looked at him, but kept her opinion to herself. Then they rode west towards home.
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