They woke at dawn with no uncertain amount of apprehension about what was coming their way. All were eager to get home, but at the same time, well aware of what lay before them. The easy part was getting up, the hard part was getting started.
The ride up 205 for the first few miles was uneventful. The repetitive handful of small homes, dirt driveways, metal outbuildings, non-functioning vehicles and staring, silent observers to their passing. There was no more friendliness in the eyes of these locals. They had seen too many travelers, pausing for water, advice, shelter or food these residents could neither spare nor share. The level of distrust had not reached the point where "shoot first, ask questions second" had become the law of the land, but that did not forbid each from openly bearing arms and directing them at Patty and the teens direction as they passed.
Then, like the weather, things changed. Around a short bend, the small country homes with kitchen gardens, pole fences and sheds gave way to long shale driveways leading to garish mini-mansions complete with geographically diverse landscaping, swimming pools, oversize SUV's and topiary. All of which neither functioned nor provided protection from the elements or passerby.
The Ford Excursions, F450 pickups and Suburbans were as dead as the iPhones and in-car DVD players they housed. The houses with pristine lawns were overgrown, patched with brown and worthless for food production due to the excessive fertilizers, weed killers and hardy foreign grasses. Some yards were nothing more than postage stamp sized enclosures surrounded by concrete swaths, patios and unending swimming pools now green swamps bereft of functioning filters, chemicals or pumps.
Clearly, the residents of these fine homes did not send their children to 4H Club but rather advertised their new loyalties documented with signs that stated 'Brock played football' while 'Chelsea did cheer'. The gentrification of rural Texas extended the exoburbs out further not only by residence but by pass time as well.
"Where is everyone?" asked Candace.
"Oh, they're there. Just watching us from inside their homes." said Patty.
"What are they doing?" asked Catelyn.
"By now, who knows. But look at that." replied Patty.
Up ahead, a home which once priced in the mid four hundred thousands, excessive by rural Texas prices, now featured a partially burned roof, broken windows and open doors. Toys, clothing and household goods were strewn across the yard. A useless Cadillac Escalade stood abandoned with it's hood and gas tank door left open. They turned their eyes and rode on.
The change was gradual, but complete within a few more miles. The homes grew closer together as the hinterlands gave way to the actual suburbs of Rockwall, Texas. But Patty was having none of it. As they approached farm to market 549, they took a sharp turn to the east before heading north in a circular route around the spreading signs of population.
Her plan was simple and hopefully, would help them avoid trouble. After FM549, they would cut over on FM542 to rejoin 205 which eventually intersected with state highway 78. 78 ran through a strip of land between the two sides of Lake Ray Hubbard and from there into Wylie. Years ago and just out of college, Patty briefly lived in Plano, a large bedroom community which bordered North Dallas to the south and Wylie to the east. Patty hoped she knew enough about the area to navigate around troubled areas.
As they traveled north, they passed a more modest housing community on the west side of the road. Many of the home's windows were boarded or the houses were obviously abandoned, it's owners gone somewhere unknown. But in front of a simple ranch house just off the highway, a small boy, no more than three stood in front crying. The door to the house was open and there were no other people around.
Just when Patty was ready to stop, a woman with hair a strewn wearing an old house coat ran outside and scooped the boy into her arms and huddled down on the yard turning her head away from Patty and the kids.
"Please go. Don't .. we ain't got nothing.. just leave us be.. he's a baby.. let us be, please.." the woman whined.
"Ride on, don't look back." said Patty. This time, the group followed her orders without question. Patty dared look back and saw the woman run behind the house deeper into the subdivision. "This is the new normal" thought Patty.
Before they crossed to the next farm to market road, they saw their first body lying in the grass nearby. The carcass was bloated from the heat and the sex was indeterminate, but had clearly been left carelessly behind. The only sound was that of the relentless cicadas.
"I thought there would be more people, didn't you, Patty?" asked Brad.
"I thought there would be too. I wonder where everyone went?" she replied.
"Maybe they went closer to Dallas. Maybe there is a center or something that people can go to for food and stuff." said Candace.
"Maybe so, but how would they know?" asked Catelyn. "It's not like TV or the radio work. And that lady back there. She was scared of strangers and it looked like she and that little boy were all alone."
"I don't know, let's just focus on the road ahead and please, keep an eye out. This place is creepy."
They all agreed.
Just southeast of the Mesquite Municipal Airport, they had to cross Interstate 30, the first major road they had seen since Interstate 20 far to the south. The scene there was no different. The road in both directions was littered with abandoned vehicles, many of which had been burned or heavily vandalized. A number of eighteen wheel dry trucks had their trailers open and the goods tossed aside likely by those looking for food or other relevant valuables.
What struck Patty was that a path had been purposely cleared through the middle of the interstate in both directions, the blocking vehicles shunted aside without concern. As if a bulldozer had tossed cars and trucks like toys to the sides of the road. Something or somebody big and organized had done that. They crossed the bridge over the highway without incident and continued without seeing anyone on the interstate below.
From the farm to market road, the cut across a road named Williams Street and rejoined 205 on the north side of Rockwall. To the west, a small subdivision jutted out into an undeveloped field and ended abruptly. To the east, the land was still populated by plowed fields and small houses. It was there, at a gate which had been reinforced with dead vehicles a young man holding a rifle by his side stepped onto the side of the road and waved at them.
Patty's tires scraped on the rode as she stopped and she unslung the M4 carbine around to point at the young man.
"Hey, I'm cool." he said holding his right hand up. "Just wanted to say hi and see how things were going."
He was probably around eighteen years old and was wearing Wranglers, a t-shirt and a baseball cap. His gun was a scoped bolt action rifle. Behind the vehicles at the gate behind him, there were three other men and one woman, all armed and all looking apprehensively at Patty and the kids.
"Be careful with that," Patty said, "The last person who pointed a gun at us ended up dead. We can't afford to take chances."
"I getcha. Where are you guys going?" the young man asked.
"Dallas. We are trying to get home." said Catelyn.
"What's your name?" he asked Catelyn, "Mine's Tyler."
Brad scooted his bike between Catelyn's and Tyler.
"I'm Brad, this is Catelyn, Candace and she's Patty." he said pointing her way.
"Cool. What's it like out there? We haven't been further than to see the rest of Rockwall and we don't go there anymore." Tyler said.
"Bad. Look kid, nothing personal, but we've got to get moving, we have a long way to go." said Patty.
"Do you guys need any water? We can't give you any food, but we have water from our wells and everyone needs water, don't they?." said Tyler with a smile.
"That would be very nice, Tyler." said Patty. "I'm not trying to be rude, we've just had a real bear getting this far and it's not going to get any easier."
"No problem. Hey Dad, can we give them some water?" yelled Tyler to a man behind one of the cars.
"Sure, hang on." The man stepped back and brought out a large five gallon bucket from the shade of a nearby tree.
"My name's David Ogle and you've met my son Tyler already. Where did you folks come from?" he asked.
"Shreveport, well I did, these kids came from further east." answered Patty.
"We've heard all kinds of stories from folks passing by. Did you hear anything about some sort of government aid or FEMA?" asked David.
"Heard about it and saw it. If they haven't been here, count yourself lucky from what we can tell." replied Patty.
She then told them about the trade off small towns to the east were doing to get a few supplies. She also told them about the convoy they saw, but she left out the part about the ambush the day before.
"That don't seem right, but at this point, we'd be willing to listen to their offer." said David.
"Where is everyone? It seems like all those homes back there were empty or everyone was hiding." asked Brad.
"Little bit of both, I am afraid. Lot of folks moved in together or started walking towards the city looking for handouts and such. Lot of rumors going around about FEMA food trucks and aid camps so people just headed to Dallas or across the lake seeing if it were true. 'Course it probably wasn't but that's not gonna stop folks who ain't got a pot to pee in. Not many of them came back, neither."
"At the same time, we also had some problems with groups of folks coming out of the city looking for food. They thought everything out here was one big farm. You know, fields of corn, eggs for the taking, apple trees full of fruit and all that nonsense folks in the city believe. Some of them people who came our way weren't real happy when they saw this." he said waving his arm around. "Figured we were hoarding stuff in our houses, so we've had to block off our area and let them know the hard way not to mess with us, if you know what I mean." he finished.
"So how are you guys getting by?" asked Patty.
"Well, it's a little bit of everything. See, all these homes behind me sit on four or five acres. We got water wells and most everyone had some sort of garden or a few chickens. Sure, we do everything by hand, but we figure we got it better than they do just over the lake for instance. We've been throwing in together, expanding our gardens, doing guard duty, sharing with those who got less."
"There's two stock ponds and that little lake over there has some fair sized fish. We've been putting a dent in the rabbit and squirrel population too, so we been eating. Can't say the same for the folks coming from Dallas and elsewhere. Even the people in those new housing communities over there don't have it like we do. No sense in moving on unless we have to." replied David.
"What about the local government? Rockwall? The county?" asked Patty.
"Nope. The sheriff office and the local PD ran some patrols early on the first few days. They even used horses as there weren't many running cars, but that ended as soon as it started. We heard they kept having run ins with folks cutting through our town and they decided to hunker down with their own families, I guess." he answered.
"So how are things north of here?" asked Patty. She then told the Ogles the direction and roads she meant to take. David then pointed out the places they had visited, but unfortunately, they had only gone a few miles from their home. They had one working vehicle, but driving it only brought attention from the 'have nots' so they kept it hidden. There was little else he could share with them other than rumors and rumors of rumors.
After talking for a few more minutes, they decided to move on and thanked the Ogles for the water and fill up of their containers. Tyler told them they would be welcome to visit again, but much to Brad's displeasure, he directed the invitation to Catelyn.
Before they rode off, David Ogle asked,
"Hey, anything you'd be willing to trade one of them military rifles for? We got guns, but could use something fancy like that if it's doable."
"I'm sorry, but we can't trade any more guns. They are too valuable these days." answered Patty.
"Understand. Well, you folks take care." he said
"You too, good luck."
The little group continued north until the hooked up with highway 78 and began the journey towards the lake and across it. Along the way, as they approached the lake, they saw several people, both in small watercraft and along the shore, fishing.
"That many people, I doubt there's a fish alive or anywhere in the area." remarked Patty.
Within a short amount of time, they crossed the thin strip of land dividing the southern and northern sections of the lake and crossed into Wylie or near enough to it. Patty led them to a farm to market road that took them through the wide spot in the road called St.Paul and then up to Parker Road.
Parker ran east/west and would take them into northern Plano only a few miles from Dallas. Patty was going to make up the trip from there. She might take interstate 75 south or cut over to Ohio Road or the Tollway. Frankly, she had no idea. Her choice of direction would be determined by who or what threatened them along the way.
Parker was a long stretch of road that alternated between rural, small homes to gated communities comprised of more upscale dwellings. There were people in both types of living arrangements and all were trying to make the best of the circumstances as they could and a few even waved at them as they rode by.
The passed a large shopping center and saw that the stores were all closed, boarded up or looted. The gas station on the corner and some small restaurants were the same condition. The smell struck all of them the further west they went. Too many people and nowhere to put all the waste.
As the afternoon grew late, they soon came to Interstate 75 and a hard decision as to what route to take the kids to their home. Candace was excited as they were probably only one or two hours from home by way the crow flies.
As they paused in the parking lot of an abandoned Texaco station, they heard a loud chopping sound puncturing the air to the south. They looked up to see not one, but four dark helicopters come their direction and pass over heading north. All civilian marking numbers on their tails and had normal running lights on.
"Wonder who that is and where they are going?" asked Patty.
"Probably someone else who wants to shoot us, eat us or call us names." said Brad in a dry voice, "Does it really matter anymore? Let's get going."
The day was getting late and rather than find a place to stop, Patty decided it was pointless. It was best to use the remaining light to get everyone as close as they could to their homes. They took interstate 75 as the first choice and would ride it south to Loop 635 and then head west towards the girl's home first.
The first few miles were not out of the ordinary. It was not until they came to several vehicles bunched together that they stopped and Patty carefully surveyed the situation from a distance. There were at least four eighteen wheelers, all dry vans, with their doors open and no fewer than thirty or forty people, mostly men, going through them and moving boxes to a couple of older model pickups with trailers attached.
"I'm not riding through that, not with two teen age girls" thought Patty. So they turned their bikes around and took the closest off ramp, 18th street, which was in South Plano just north of the Dallas county line and the George Bush Tollway.
"Do you want to take the Tollway instead?" asked Brad.
Patty knew why he asked. He lived in Addision which would be closer that way. Patty relented and they cut over to Bush which turned out to be a better decision. The sides of the road were open and visibility was much better. There were also fewer vehicles diabled along the way.
For a few minutes, Patty thought things were going to turn out better than she thought initially. Maybe they could get Brad to his house, stay the night, drop off the girls at first light (or have Brad do it) and she could be on her way to Elena and home. Maybe things would work out after all.
She was wrong.
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