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The Burnout Chapter Forty Eight

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.


"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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The Burnout Chapter Forty Seven

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."

She waited.

"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.

"For real?"

"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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