Patty stared at Catelyn and was about to speak when it dawned on her. The radio. Of course, the radio they took from the two contractors east of town. She dug through her backpack and turned it on, slowly adjusting the volume.
"Firecracker Two, Firecracker Two, what is your position, over?"
"Big Bopper, same place as before. Can I come in now? over?"
"Hold position until instructed. Big bird and little bird in flight, over."
"Come on, Bert! Cut out the game! We got cut to shreds out here. Forget you, I'm coming back, hold the gate open. Oh yeah, over."
"Firecracker two, you hold your position, you hear me? Firecra.. Wayne! If you come back I'll have the gate bring you in for a write up, mister. You know I'll do it too, Wayne!"
Another voice cut into the transmission.
"Bert? There's someting big coming down Beltline our way. There's like ten or twelve trucks, a school bus, and what's that? A milk truck? Oh geez, it's an old Brinks truck out front. Bert, they're back and they got a bunch more guys this time. What do you want me to do? Bert?"
"Sentinel four, how many time do I have to tell you, use your call sign! Hold your position, I will redirect big bird your way with suppression fire, hold your position."
The radio filled with static as the broadcast stopped and did not resume. Patty scanned and found one other faint transmission where the voice was so distorted they could not understand a word. She turned it off.
"They sound more disorganized than I thought they would," said Patty. "And Beltline? That's clear on the other side of the airport. It sounded like they are about to get some visitors they had not planned on."
"Look! That helicopter is turning away!" said Antonio pointing to the south where Brad's neighborhood was.
"Okay, sounds like we have an angel, let's not take this for granted. Look, we are going to loop around towards this big road called Midway and take it south to 635 where Catelyn and Candace's family live. Somewhere, we have to find some more water. How much does everyone have with them right now? I have about a liter and a half" said Patty.
"I got three of these bottles pretty much full." said Antonio holding up three recycled water bottles.
"I have one and a half, just about." said Cately holding the same type of bottles.
"I had a full two liter bottle, but it's missing." said Candace looking in her pack.
"You probably dropped it or left it behind. It's okay." said Patty.
"Umm, I don't have any." said Brad looking at the ground.
"Okay, everyone take a good drink and let's get moving. Stay out of sight but keep an eye out for a creek or something like it." said Patty.
They moved out under the rapidly rising sun and begain a circular, long route away from Brad's old neighborhood, but towards the street Patty had identified on the map. When they reached the large four lane road, they were not surprised to find it deserted with most of the stores and businesses looted, shot up and abandoned.
They traveled non-stop for over three hours until the reached the intersection with the loop. Before dealing with the massive road, the scouted out and found a small creek hidden in the trees behind a section of warehouses all long abandoned and looted.
Patty filtered more than three gallons of water and while they drank, they put together a quick meal of MRE's, freeze dried food partially rehydrated with the new water and some of the left over candy from the card store. Patty took stock of the ammo situation and realized she burned through two more magazines at this morning's firefight. Catelyn had fired less than twenty rounds from the Ruger, Antonio barely got four shots off and poor Candace did not even fire her adopted carbine once. She proudly showed Patty that she had managed to recover the spare magazines for the rifle even though she forgot the water.
They crossed 635 without incident and noticed several plumes of dark smoke rising from both sides of the loop. Noting that Antonio warned them about possible gang activity, they kept a low profile by sticking to the sides of the road, moving slowly and keeping to the bushes or behind other cover when visibility was limited. The landscape changed from stores and businesses to homes and lawns.
They came to a street which intersected with Catelyn and Candace's, but after the experience of Brad's home, they kept their excitement in check. They moved slowly, but the neighborhood was quiet, even eerily so. Houses were empty tombs, dead cars sentinels and yellow lawns left in rememberance of the dead. In time, they came to the girl's street and stood there, across from the house and waited.
"You or me? Who's going first?" asked Catelyn out loud.
"Both of us?" said Candace looking at her big sister.
"Sure." they shifted their loads and took hands, a snapshot of the past, like two little girls coming home from a friend's house, an afternoon of Barbies and make believe, looking both ways before crossing.
Brad started after them, but Antonio put his hand across his chest.
"Hold up and give them some space. If there's trouble, we'll be here."
The two girls pushed open the front door even though Catelyn had her house key with her, the door was unlocked. They stepped into the darkness and then silence. A few moments later, Candace ran outside and vomited on the grass while Catelyn staggered out behind her and put her hand on the door jamb, head down.
"I was afraid of this," said Patty, "Come on." and the three crossed over to the girls' home.
Candace looked up and ran into Patty's arms and began crying loudly.
"They're.. they're dead! Somebody killed them... it's urghhh.." and she broke down further as the emotional trainwreck came to a stop.
Brad and Antonio stood there until Antonio walked over and did a group hug around both Candace and Patty. Brad tried walking over the Catelyn, but she simply turned around and went back inside. Patty broke off from Candace and Antonio and followed her inside the house.
The entry way seemed normal enough, with the exception of the smell. Their parents had obviously been dead for some time and the house long since ransacked. Everything in the living room was tumped over and someone had clearly defecated in the middle of an expensive Oriental rug littered with shards of china and crystal.
The body of their father was in what must have been a family room which looked out onto a deck and kidney shaped swimming pool. His body lay half in and half out through a shattered sliding glass door, his face fortunately to the floor. Their mother was in the kitchen, blood long gone brown stained on the white tile floor beneath her.
Patty went back into the family room and saw two portraits of the girls still hanging on the wall, both with crude graffitii scrawled around their faces. She went through to the bedrooms and saw the same wreckage. Drawers pulled from dressers, underwear and socks thrown about the room, beds ripped and stripped, and mirrors shattered in bathrooms as if the invaders were too ashamed to look upon their own reflections.
She went back and found Catelyn crouched down next to a cabinet looking through the pages of a photo album, half of which was scattered in the hallway.
"All the pictures from when we were little. The new pictures were digital so Mom kept them on her laptop. All the pictures I have of my parents, they are younger than they were." she said.
She carefully picked through the photos, images of birthdays, trips, relatives long gone, a girl on her first bike, a Christmas, and stacked them neatly into a pile.
"I'll find you something to put them in." said Patty quietly.
She went into the kitchen and found an old zip lock bag, left alone in an otherwise empty cabinet. As she returned to the family room, she saw a shadow block out the sun from the front room and Brad's voice came to her.
"Umm Patty, you'd better come here." he said shakily.
Patty brought her carbine around and went toward the door, but did not make it to the entry way before her stomach sank at the sight she saw through the open door as they surrounded Antonio and Candace.
There were more than ten of them. Scruffy, clothing dirty, faces covered in stubble, beards and on more than a few of them, dark fuzz. They moved like roosters, strutting slowly around the two teens, holding guns on shoulders or stuffed in to over sized pants. They summed up the prey before moving in.
One, with oversize sunglasses wearing a faded white wife beater moved closer to Candace, his head moving side to side like a shark testing the water. He came within five feet of her and let out a long, loud whoop.
"Fresh, new, clean and tasty!" he yelled to his friends who all let out hoots of joy.
Antonio already had the .357 out at arm's length, pointing it from side to side at each man as he spoke or yelled. His arm was protectively around Candace who looked up and buried her face into his side when the man spoke. Her rifle was missing.
Patty backed into the darkness and left Brad standing in front of her, his face illuminated by the light of the open door. As she backed up, she stepped onto Catelyn's foot who was just behind her.
Patty turned and put her fingers to her lips as Catelyn was about to speak. She then put her hand on her rifle and mouthed to Catelyn, "Candace's rifle" and shrugged. Catelyn turned and reached behind the door and lifted it up. Patty nodded and quietly checked the rifle to verify it was loaded. She then handed it back to Catelyn along with a spare magazine from her belt.
She pointed Catelyn to the window nearest the front door, but covered by a drape. Catelyn nodded and quietly moved over and stood ready behind a very good copy of a French provincial arm chair. Patty darted to the small office type room to the right of the front door and stood by the parted curtains. She hoped this would work.
She looked at Catelyn and pantomimed the pulling of the curtains apart, then shooting with her two fingers. She held up three fingers and started counting down slowly.
One, two, three .... boom ....
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