She stared at the boot. It was the first thing she saw when woke up in the drainage ditch the next morning. Everyone knew the term "knocked out his boots", but it really didn't apply in this instance. There was something sticking out of the top of the boot which bore a passing resemblance to a state fair turkey leg, but way overcooked.
The explosion, or multiple explosions knocked Patty off her feet and across the other side of the ditch. She was pretty sure, without benefit of mirror, that her eyebrows and bangs had been singed, but that remained to be seen. Otherwise, other than some significant dirt, burn marks, an aching rear end to go along with the egg shaped bruise on her right shin and several long scratches down her back, Patty was the picture of health.
The last thing she saw after getting both the air knocked out her and off her feet was the helicopters, three to be exact, illuminated as they passed low over the BNSF facility. The choppers were huge, with short dark wings laden with short dark clusters of Hellfire missiles. They fired on the presumed DHS agents in the parking lot and at several other targets of interest. (What Patty did not know and never would, was that the targeting was done with infrared and heat sensors; it was due to the fact she had fallen into the drainage ditch and left wet and mud covered that she did not rate as high on the "kill" scope as the unfortunate ones in the parking lot.)
Patty slowly got to her feet and surveyed the damage. The parking lot was still smoking in foot deep craters which pock marked the parking lot. There were at least three black bundles at different locations in the parking lot which Patty had no interest in investigating their contents, she knew well what they were.
Patty looked around and found the carbine intact off to her right. She only located one of the two magazines she had scavenged and called it a victory in her fight with the DHS. Best of all, she was still alive and not on some cargo plane for Maryland. At least not now.
In spite of her injuries, Patty had an urgent need to put as much room between her and the BNSF building as soon as possible. She first had to do something about the fact she had drank nothing since the night(?) before and eaten even less. She dug through her bag and found a plastic liter bottle which was half full of warm water. She took a few gulps and seeing the water in the bottom of the ditch, decided she could refill if need be with her water filter.
After another drink, she pulled the filter out and heard the tell tale sound of two pieces of plastic striking each other. The filter was broken into and even with the spare cartridge, was useless. Patty stared at the final few sips in her bottle and closed the top securely. Another option would have to be found closer to home.
Home. The word immediately sent a shiver down her spine. She had no idea what she would fine there, but she had no doubt that was where she was going, come hell or high water. Had last night gone any different, she would have never made it at all.
Patty readjusted her bag, picked up the carbine and started limping south towards the Loop. She was going to walk around the north side of town, head south to 30 and then west to her parent's place. Her route would take her close to the municipal airport of Fort Worth and the Joint Reserve Base on the edge of Fort Worth. Forget about motorcycle gangs, roving cannibals and rioting mobs, Patty had Uncle Sam to worry about.
The further and longer she walked, the more she felt like someone had run a bulldozer over her. She plodded on with her eyes focused on the west and Elena, a holy grail burning just beyond the next bend. Woe be tide the man, woman or beast who stood in her path, the carbine was no longer hanging benignly on her shoulder but instead our front in gripped hands.
It was not an easy journey. She had to plod south on 35 to reach the Loop and that took her through some neighborhoods which in good times were dicey, now, they were wastelands. All of the cars along the interstate had been stripped, looted, vandalized and many were burned. Houses and buildings closest to the road had also been victims of random violence and destruction.
At the intersection of the Loop and 35, it appeared that the police, DHS and other interested parties had gone toe to toe as it was littered with multiple burned out police cars, black Hummers and impromptu roadblocks. A single body, now long decomposed hung from a lamp post with a rotting placard around it's neck: TRAITOR. Patty turned west.
She passed near enough to Meacham Field to see a similar scene of destruction as the BNSF building with multiple fires burning and no signs of activity. Similar to Addison Airport and adjoining downtown Fort Worth, Patty was sure the field would be a hub of DHS activity. Rather, it was devoid of people and sound.
It was more than seven miles along the loop to the north side of the sprawling Joint Reserve Base formerly known as Carswell Air Force Base. Early in the afternoon, as she limped down the road, out of water and running out of steam, she nearly jumped out of her skin as two gray fighter aircraft screamed over the road in a north to south trajectory.
She was still getting used to the sound of jet aircraft when she heard the familiar sound of heavy equipment rumbling nearby. She slowly turned and saw a small convoy of sand colored military vehicles approaching her along the Loop. She panicked and ran off the road into a small copse of trees and tall grass and tried to take cover.
She heard the sound of a vehicle braking, metal on metal contacting and rolling to a protested halt. The other vehicles rumbled past and continued on when she heard a voice yell from the road.
"Hey, you in the bushes. I need you to come out and show yourself, please."
"Hey, come on, I gotta get back to work and I don't have all day. Can you just come out and let us know you're alright and not one of the bad guys? Then you can go on hiding in the grass for all I care."
Patty sat still.
"Don't make me send one of the guys in there, okay? We're tired and we don't want to get a bunch of chigger bites dragging you out of there."
"No, go away and leave me alone." Patty finally said.
"Good, so you can talk. Look, we don't want to hurt you, we just want to know if you're okay. Can you just stand up?"
"No, you'll shoot me or something. Just go away and leave me alone, I want to go home." she replied.
"Hey lady, me too. I'm not going to shoot you. Whatever, if you want to hide in the grass be my guest."
"Hey. Are you with the DHS or what?" Patty yelled.
"No, I'm Army. Geez, you don't have to insult a guy." he replied.
"Sure, take a peek. Look, I have an Army helmet, Army BDU's, a drive an Army truck and I even have Army underwear on. And Rodriquez here has ugly Army glasses on. I think they look good on him and so do the ladies."
Patty lifter her head and sure enough, there were two soldiers standing next to a Humvee on the side of the road. She slowly stood up.
"Please don't point that rifle at us ma'am. We have orders to shoot people who do that and I really don't want to radio my sergeant and make him come down here. He's been a real bear lately."
Patty lowered the rifle and started walking toward the road.
"You shoot me," she yelled, "And I'll get real nasty real quick on you. My feet are killing me and I haven't had a bath in weeks."
"No problem." said the young soldier as she walked closer, "Thanks for warning us though."
Patty walked up to the men and looked at them carefully.
"Got any water?" she asked.
"Yeah, only in my canteen though. We haven't resupplied yet so if you don't mind drinking after me.." he said holding out the container.
Patty took it and had a long draw.
"Where you going, lady?" asked the other soldier, Rodriquez.
"Home. Got anything to eat?" she asked.
"Can't help you there. We will after we get back to the base, but here, you can have this." and he handed her a pack of chewing gum with strange writing on it.
"Kuwait" he said looking at her expression. "Grabbed a whole bunch of stuff on the way out the door when we moved out. That was from some little place near the docks."
Patty nodded and put a slice of gum in her mouth. Spearmint. It was delicious.
"You had any problems with DHS?" asked Patty as she took a second slice.
"No, but they did with us. Bunch of mailmen with an attitude." said the first soldier, Dickinson, at least that was written on his jersey. "That one of theirs?" he said pointing at the rifle Patty was holding.
"It was, it's mine now. And don't give me any of that U.S. Property business or interest of public safety talk either." she said.
Both soldiers laughed. "That's for the brass to sort out. As long as it's not pointed at us or used for no good, we don't have orders to disarm anyone."
"So what's the deal? You guys doing something about this DHS problem or you just puttering around?" Patty asked.
"Lady, we've been out at the airport all night rounding up the last holdouts. We still have a few nests around, but now we have air cover, they're running like cockroaches." said Rodriquez.
"Air cover? Like helicopters? Was that you?" said Patty.
"Apaches? If that's what you saw, yeah, that's us. Took awhile to get what we had up and running and longer for the rest to arrive from Europe and the Middle East. Ever seen an Apache try to land on an aircraft carrier? Now that's funny, we were coming into the Gulf..." Dickinson was saying when Patty interrupted.
"What about the rest? Who's in charge?" she asked.
"Rutledge is. General Rutledge, he's heading up the recovery right now. As soon as we get things settled down, that'll change probably. Communications are the.." he said.
"What happened? We heard it was a solar storm." Patty said excitedly.
"Solar something or another. Worldwide, but we can recover, it'll just take time. Like I was saying, communications are the most the important thing we can do. We got a bunch of factories like in Ohio, Arizona and others cranking out these portable radios with old fashioned glass tubes in them. They're really cool. Once people know what's going on, maybe they'll stop shooting each other. " said Rodriquez.
"Hey lady, if you're okay, we gotta get going. We gotta get some chow and rack time before we head out west. You need anything else?" said Dickinson.
"How about a ride. I'll be real quiet and won't ask any more questions. Promise." she said.
They could only take her about five more miles down the road, but it was a relief to Patty's feet. The two young men told her how they were in Iraq when the solar storm happened. Most of their gear was hardened and the next few weeks were spent packing up and moving out before the region went nuts. They hooked up with units from Afghanistan and other countries in the area before joining an armada of Navy and private freighters which brought them back to the States.
They said the rest of the world was dealing with the crisis in different ways, some countries were managing while others descended further into anarchy. The military was returning to the U.S. from around the world and starting relief efforts as they could, but knew it would take years for the nation to stabilize.
Dickinson and Rodriguez offered to take her on base for a check up and maybe something to eat, but Patty declined and once they arrive at JRB, she thanked them and started back on her long walk home.
She went west to Interstate 30 and as the shadows grew long behind her, she came to the merge of 20 and 30 and shortly afterward, the turn off for town. Her parents lived south of the town proper, actually, outside of town in a small cluster of homes, four of the six they owned and rented, situated near a farm to market road.
She passed through the familiar country side and in time, came to the final stretch of road, a farm to market road five miles from her parents front door. She was overcome with nostalgia when she arrived at the small metal bridge which ran over a set of old railroad tracks long ago abandoned.
As a child, Patty and her brothers would play there, where the old cross shaped wooden poles ran parallel to the tracks some still strung with rusty pieces of telegraph wire and where it was not uncommon to find one of the old green glass conductor bulbs among the grass.
She looked down on the tracks and the wooden poles, some leaning, missing and other still upright and looking like a line of grave markers testament to a time past and whose time may come again. One day, she would take Elena there. She would take Elena many places and spend every waking hour with the child trying to recapture the time which was stolen from them. The sun was setting and it was almost time for dinner, she had to be going.
But Patty turned and found her path blocked. One last time.
"Got you, b**ch. Now you die."
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