She was the Wicked Witch of the Apocalypse.
Her hair was matted, dirty and some appeared to have been pulled or maliciously cut from her scalp. Her face was scratched, lips swollen and her left eye was framed with a fading purple bruise. Her dress was torn, held up with an old piece of rope about her waist and soiled. Her legs and arms were covered with scratches, bruises and bug bites. Her shoes were ratty, water logged and one was missing a lace.
Peri had a worse trip home than Patty.
Peri stood stooped at the far end of the bridge, an ancient nickle plated revolver with a bone grip clutched in her hand. She leaned over the gun and scowled at Patty as if she was trying to stare all of the life out of the tired woman with her nasty gaze.
"I got you, I got you, I got you. Told you I would. Waited so long, went through so much, but in the end, justice is served, revenge is sweet." muttered Peri.
"Peri." said Patty coldly. "What happened to you?"
"What didn't? Your fault, all of it. Robbed, raped, lost all my stuff, left for dead, that's what. Lost everything but this," she said brandishing the small gun.
"Peri, I am sorry, but it's not my fault. You wanted to kill me, my friends and those kids. I had no choice." said Patty quietly.
"IT IS! YOU COST ME EVERYTHING! THIS WAS MY TIME! A TIME OF MAGIK AND REBIRTH AND YOU DESTROYED IT YOU... YOU... B**CH!"
"Okay, so you want to blame me. Fine. And killing me will bring about this 'rebirth and magic'?" replied Patty.
"Don't mock me. Killing you will bring me satisfaction." snarled Peri.
"Why? Why do this, Peri? If you kill me than what? Why aren't you with your friends on the lake? It's not far from here and you look terrible." said Patty taking a step toward the rail where she leaned the carbine.
"My friends? The lake? What the.. Stop. Oh no, I see what you're doing. See you got a new rifle, huh? Well, you're going to need a new one after today." said Peri darting toward the rail while keeping the pistol trained on Patty.
Peri snatched the M4 by it's barrel, lifted it as high as she could in her weakened state and tossed it off the bridge to the tracks below where it clattered on the rocks.
"The pack, take it off and throw it over too." she said pointing at the bag on Patty's back. "Slow now, this gun goes off quick."
Patty removed the strap from her left, then right shoulder and tossed the bag off the bridge.
"Okay, turn around real slow in a circle with your hands over your head. I want to make sure you aren't hiding anything back there." Peri ordered.
Patty did as she was told and turned to face Peri again. She looked Peri in the eye and spoke slowly.
"If you are going to do this, do it. But please, can I do one thing? Can I just say a prayer for my daughter? I won't see her again and I want her to know I love her."
"You want to pray? To what? Ha! Sure you can do that. My sainted daddy used to pray all the time, too! Holy mother of Jaysussss! He would prattle and blab all that mumbo jumbo all hours of the day. But when the sun went down, he got all heathen, going to the gin joints, moonshine and frolicking with the dark women of the bayou. All the sins and pleasures of the flesh, he rioted in it, wrapped up in his holier than thou false teachings!"
"And me? What did he do with the little girl who worshiped the ground he walked on? Left me at night with others, he didn't care who. Good, holy men of the congregation he called them. Good men who did dark things at night behind closed doors with little girls too scared to tell!" Peri hissed.
"And you want to pray to that same god? That false god of hate and lies? Go ahead, but be warned. When that little girl lies down to sleep tonight, I'll be the answer to your prayers. I told you I'd get that brat and that day is coming fast!" she shrieked.
Patty could not control herself with Peri's last words and she lurched toward the girl, her hands outstretched like eagle talons. Peri's mouth opened in a surprised 'o' shape and without aiming, fired the revolver, or it went off involuntarily in her hand. The small gun barked and the round tore away a piece of Patty's left arm, just below the shoulder.
Patty winced in pain and grabbed her arm, momentarily stopping her onslaught. Peri regained her footing and held up the gun in both hands, closed one eye and squeezed the trigger.
From the barrel, came a tiny fizz sound, then nothing.
Peri looked at the gun in horror and then at Patty. She raised the gun again and pointed it in Patty's direction.
"PERI! DON'T!" yelled Patty taking a step forward.
But it was too late. The cartridges, settled in their respective chambers, old, mossy green, milky white in color, expanding and contracting over decades of heat and cold, had meted justice with the cold calculation of physics and chemistry.
The primer on the next round cracked and the tiny pistol exploded in Peri's hands. Patty instinctively averted her eyes and felt something painfully strike her right earlobe. When she looked up, what she saw was horrific.
The barrel of the revolver was expanded and shredded into three pieces, the longest of which had peeled off, traveled in an upward arc and embedded itself in Peri's face, tearing out her left eye, exposing the bone of her skull and leaving a lightning shaped rip across her scalp. Peri's face was blackened with powder burn.
Peri's right hand, her gun hand, was a bleeding stump, two fingers missing, her thumb at an awkward angle and a third finger hanging by a gory thread.
Peri wheeled backward, the gun sliding from her blood slick hand and clattering to the deck of the bridge. She looked at Patty with her one remaining eye, wild and hate-filled as she fell forward. She waved both arms like windmills in an attempt to stay afoot and lurched toward the railing of the bridge.
She opened her mouth, blood filled and gaping from lost teeth and muttered with in a dirt raspy voice,
"Go****** yooouuuuuu... " and fell head first over the railing, her fall abruptly stopped by one of the ancient telegraph poles along the tracks. The back of her head was impaled on the splinted creosote soaked upright and her body flopped over the top, one arm catching on the cross bar where she hung, her body vibrating in the final contortions of death.
Patty grabbed the rail and looked down on Peri's final demise and let out a deep gasp. She then fell to her knees as twilight whispered it's final sigh of the day.
Some time after dark, Patty felt her way down the incline and retrieved her bag from the tracks. She could not see Peri's body, except for a dull outline sheathed in the fluttering fabric of her dress, but she could feel her presence. Patty grabbed the bag and climbed hand over hand up the rocky side to the flat surface above. Dragging herself away from the bridge, she opened the bag and by touch, found the small LED keychain light she had tossed inside while in Shreveport.
She depressed the button and in the green glow it produced found the first aid kit, depleted from the injuries to Brad, Candace and Antonio. She took a large alcohol wipe, tore the package open with her teeth and painfully applied it to her injured shoulder, yelping as it burned the open wound.
Catching her breath, she examined the wound in the dim light and wrapped a gauze bandage haphazardly around the injury. Tying it off as best as possible, she stood on shaky legs and started down the road toward home.
The final three miles were crossed staggering, limping and eventually, on hands and knees. Patty could not see more than a few feet in front of her face and worried constantly about snakes, coyotes and two legged predators. She mumbled to herself with cracked lips and in her delirium, kept seeing Peri staggering after her, the barrel of the gun protruding from her head and waving a foot long butcher knife over her head.
Around dawn, Patty came to mailbox with Valdez written upon it in black paint, the letters neat and block like. She could not see the house from the road and slowly stood, using the mailbox for support. She staggered across the grass up the small incline and looked down upon her parents house, a few hundred yards from the road.
As a child, Patty would race up the dirt drive to the mailbox while her mother timed her with the clock on the stove. She would count down the final seconds from the kitchen window as Patty ran the last few yards. 4.. 3...2....1! Run, Patty, run!
Patty fell face forward into the grass and passed out.
Time passed and Patty slowly lifted her head. The sun had climbed above the horizon and the sounds of life came from nearby. Patty dragged her body through the grass until she could partially see the home. She could hear voices from inside, talking, laughing, living. Tears formed in her eyes and she witnessed but did not take part in these stranger's home lives.
The screen door opened partially, Patty could see the hem of an apron toss a handful of kitchen scraps into the dirt pan yard causing a handful of chickens to come scurrying to the door. The wearer of the apron stepped into the yard and her presence made Patty gasp. It looked like her mother, but she was easily twenty pounds lighter than the last time she saw her.
Patty whispered, "mama' in a little voice and lay lower in the grass to avoid detection. She waited patiently until her father stepped onto the porch, as thin as he was when she left, wearing his trademark ball cap, holding a steaming cup of coffee and staring at the yard. He turned, opened the screen door and the little girl exploded outside.
She was wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, tennis shoes and had her hair in a single long pony tail halfway down her back. The pants were riding just a bit high on the ankle. "She has grown", thought Patty. "I will have to get to Target after work and pick up a couple of pairs before school starts again."
Elena ran to the chicken coop, but turned halfway there and yelled at her grandfather.
"Abuelo! I say ten, don't forget! If I'm right, I win! Don't forget!"
"I won't, but you still have to get all ten to the house without dropping one or I win!" he yelled back.
Patty watched as the child went into the fenced chicken yard and stooped inside the coop. Each time she popped out, she had another egg clutched in her hand to be deposited into a small basket on the ground. She whooped when she took number ten out and held it up to her grandfather who laughed at the tiny victory.
Patty slumped down in the grass. She looked at her hands, her dirty nails, the palms of her hands lined with dirt, rough and calloused.
"No, I can't do it. No, I'm too far gone. Too much blood, too many bad things. She has a monster of a mother, I can't sleep under the same roof as her. No, I must crawl away and keep going. Someday, someday I'll come back when she is older and understands. She has too..." Patty muttered to herself.
She slid back into the grass and crawled back to the road trying to decide which way to go next. When she heard the child's voice one more time.
"Abuelo, I win! I win! What do I get?"
"What do you want, baby?"
"A story, read me a story for ten hundred years, all of them!"
"Of course, of course, let's go inside."
Patty turned. Her Elena. Her baby. She had to see her one more time. Once more.
Patty crested the grass covered rise and stared at the house. Elena was on the porch with her grandfather when Patty started toward her.
"baby... it's mama, baby.. i'm home.." she crowed in a scratchy, parched voice. Her face was dirty, swollen, blood encrusted from her wounded ear, hair lopped unevenly short, clothing shredded and torn, she staggered toward the house like a zombie. Tears poured down her face..
"elena! elena!" she heard in her head, but all that came out of her mouth was a horrible, gravely moaning.
A scream from inside the house.. Elena shoved in the door.. Patty croaking.. her arms waving in front of her.. another man much younger came around the side of the house.. a rifle.. Elena screaming in terror.. shouting.. a shot.. impact...
The world went black.
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