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The Burnout Chapter Forty Nine

Patty was dreaming.

She was riding on the back of Mark's motorcycle along a tree lined highway on a perfect day. Her shorts were too short, her t-shirt too tight and her cheek was pressed against his well muscled back, eyes closed and savoring every minute. She was young, in love and her stomach churned as fast as the engine of the bike but the air around her was strangely stuffy and overly sweet.

The highway became a street, then an alley and strangely, the hallway of a nightclub. She stepped off the bike and found herself wearing a tight short skirt and sparkling gold top. Mark took her hand and they stepped through the door directly onto the dance floor to join the multitudes, but the air was still stagnant and sickly.

The music pounded and the floor shook, all bodies moving in syncopation to the deep bass and rhythmic beats. There were not vocals, just the pounding rhythm of the music. Patty danced, her arms over her head while Mark wrapped his around her waist and moved in perfect synch with her. Patty tried hard to enjoy it, but the smell of the air was suffocating and enveloping her.

Then the song, the voice of a child. Patty turned to the stage at the other end of the floor, despite Mark's insistence otherwise and saw Elena. She was along on stage, wearing a silver sequined dress, her hair crowned by a large white bow. She nervously held the microphone, but her voice grew more confident with each note.

Patty pulled away from Mark, but he pulled back harder,trying to drag her back to the dance and him. She resisted and as their hands parted, he turned gray, frozen in time, then black and finally, crumpled to the floor in a pile of dust and blew away with same stench as the air.

Patty walked toward the stage or was carried as is the case in dreams, but the dancers around her turned, twisted and reached for her arms, hand and legs with each step. She pushed them away and like Mark, they too turned to dust and left.

Finally, the stage began to pull away from Patty, Elena still singing, oblivious to her mother and her struggle. Patty broke loose and with one last effort reached for Elena, but her legs did not work, neither did her arms and finally, she fell to the floor. The stage rocketed away into the distance and Patty...

Sat up in bed. Her head was throbbing and the smell was still around her. She sat up, felt dizzy and turned to look over her right shoulder. There on the shelf were a half dozen candles, all in tall glass containers with images of saints embossed in cheap bright colors, the light spilling across the dark bedroom, the smoke sputtering blackly.

Patty's mother had her head down on the edge of the bed to Patty's right. She was clutching a rosary and snoring lightly. In the flickering light of the dark room, she saw her father, seated in an old chair, his cap still on, wearing an old work shirt, jeans and clutching an old rosary in his left hand.

Patty's mother looked up and saw Patty's eyes open.

"Madre de Dios! Santa Maria! Patricia!" she gasped.

She leaned across the bed, grabbed Patty's hands in hers and began to weep. Patty looked at her father, his black deep set eyes, rimmed with crows feet, open, tears streaming down the side of his face.

"Um mom?" said Patty.

"Oh my baby, oh my baby..." her mother moaned.

"Um mom, can you move those candles or blow some of them out. They stink pretty bad." said Patty.

"Oh si, oh si. Santa Maria, gracias, gracias.. " she exclaimed as she replaced the candles with two large white pillar candles from the other side of the room.

"What happened? The last thing I remember was the front yard and then something hit me in the head." said Patty as she gingerly put her hand on the left side of her head and felt a large bandage in place there.

"Arturo is so sorry about that. He did not know who you were and things happened so fast." said her mother.

"Arturo? What did that bonehead do? He's known me since he was a baby, I even changed his diapers!" said Patty referring to her teenage second cousin.

"We were all very scared when you came so fast, but it was only a .22 so it's okay, you're home and that's what matters." said her mother.

"It's not okay, Dad, will you say something?" Patty implored her still silent father.

"Who shot you?" he asked nodding to Patty's bandaged shoulder.

"That. It's a long story, but first, where is Elena?" asked Patty.

"Asleep. She just went down about an hour or so ago. She has been in here every day, reading to you, holding your hand. We have to pry her out of here just to go to bed?" said mother.

"Asleep? Every day? What time is it? How long have I been home?" asked Patty.

Patty's father took out an old pocket watch and consulted it.

"It's about nine o'clock. Say, do you like my new watch? I got it for five eggs. Pretty good deal, huh?" he replied.

"Sure dad, it's real nice, five eggs..?" said Patty confused before her mother cut her off.

"Eduardo! Quit going on about that silly watch. Baby, you've been home for three days and asleep most of it. Donna said you've been through a very rough time, if not for those antibiotics, she doesn't think you would have made it..."

"Donna, the PA from Dad's doctor's office? What about the antibiotics.." answered Patty.

"Yes, she came here as soon as we could get her. She treated your injuries and you were very sick. Fever, infection, so much. We found the medicine in your bag and have you on a .. regimen.. that's it, until it passes. Donna took two of the bottles, the rest are there." said her mother pointing at the dresser where six large bottles of antibiotics and two of pain killers sat, all courtesy of Peri.

"Oh.  How is Elena? Did she think I was, you know.. after the Burnout? Did she think I was not going to come home?" asked Patty quietly.

"No, she always knew. She prayed by the window every night before bed and every morning when she woke up. She said you were out there, but you were not alone and you would come home because you promised." said her mother.

"Mom, Dad? I have to tell you what happened. All of it, now, before Elena wakes up. Somebody has to know and if I don't I'll go crazy. It's not nice, but I need to tell you, please?" said Patty.

They both nodded and listened for the next few hours while Patty told them about Shreveport, Lamar, Peri, the kids, the journey, DHS, all of it. They sat silently, except for the few times her mother excused herself for a new kleenex or when Patty needed a drink of water. Her father said nothing, but the tears rolled from his crow feet lined eyes at different parts of the story, those times when his little girl was hurt or scared and he was not there to save his little girl

When she was done, Patty sat back, exhausted and said nothing.

"Do you need to see a priest?" asked her mother.

"Be quiet woman! She has said what she needed to and if there is more to say, we will be here for her. God has brought her home and here is where she and the baby will stay with her familia. We are all together now and it is good." and the matter was closed.

He stood and went to Patty and kissed her on the head, squeezed her hand and left the bedroom.

Patty's mother stood and straightened the covers and went to the door as well, but paused first.

"I will be right next door if you need anything. Patty, I am glad you are home, I did not think..." she said and then left hurriedly to cry in her room.


Patty stayed in bed the better part of the week, most of it with Elena next to her. She held the little girl, read stories to her and told her of her great adventure home. Fighting dragons, giants and monsters to get back to her little princess and how the world was going to live happily ever after and she would never leave her again.

Over the next few days as she recovered, her family told her of what happened when she came home and since the Burnout occurred.

Arturo, along with her brother, sister-in-law and a few other relatives, were living in or around her parent's house. The young man heard the shooting and came around the corner with a rifle he kept close at hand and not recognizing Patty, fired, thinking she was a looter or crazy person, both which were common in those days. Fortunately, his nerves and inexperience prevented Patty from suffering nothing worse than a graze, concussion and awful headache.

She paid Arturo back and made him and her brother go back to the bridge to retrieve the M4 which she had left behind and which surprisingly, was still there and suffering nothing more than a few scratches. Peri's body was there as well, but had begun the process of returning from whence it came. Patty rested easier knowing the sad young woman was not still alive and after her and Elena any longer.

Arturo remarked about Patty having a "machine gun" which made her immediately think of Antonio, Catelyn and even Brad. She hoped they too, would find the same peace she had finally found.

Her father told her what had happened since she left at home. The renters stayed in their homes and were allowed to remain rent free for the crisis as long as they a) helped with food production and kept their homes in good shape and b) helped in the common defense of the others. There had been some troubles with people coming from Fort Worth and other areas, but in the past few weeks, these things had died down.

The morning of the Burnout, Patty learned her father, driving that beater of truck, had gone to the bank to put money into Elena's college fund. When the lights went out and nothing functioned, he withdrew fifteen thousand dollars from his savings account (with a threat to the bank manager that he would move all of his business to Bank of America if his request was denied) and went shopping.

He went first to Costco, then the feed store, the hardware store and finally the gun store. He proudly told Patty how he filled Rosa the truck's bed with rice, beans, Colgate and Charmin and went home, where Patty's mother called him a fool for buying all that toilet paper. Rather than apologize later, she criticized him for not buying more cooking oil and then slapped him on the arm. Eduardo was right again as usual.

Patty's brother arrived a few days later, but her other brother and sister had not come yet, but they held out hope. The house was surrounded with gardens, chickens and in the empty lot, a stand of corn grew, hopefully to be harvested and made into Christmas tamales later in the year.

Things changed slowly, but for the better with the military back in control and the scourge of the DHS gone. Several of the Department's leaders were arrested, tried and imprisoned with most under investigation for crimes against humanity if one wanted to be so dramatic.

It was accepted that the power grid would be down for the foreseeable future and as Americans invariably do and much to the dismay of a control freak like Merrick, alternatives were coming into play. A number of small factories were cranking out simple, but effective solar panels which could be massed produced and which could produce enough electricity for lights and basic appliances. This was followed by battery producers and even the GM plant in Arlington was talking about coming online and building a basic car without any electronics. They would all adapt and evolve.

After a month of recuperation, Patty returned to work, not with ledgers and spreadsheets, but in the gardens, composting, cooking, tending to goats and chickens, but the entire time with Elena. They took books, paper and pencils and the little girl's elementary education resumed, but she did not complain, but relished having her mother to herself again.

A few months after Patty came home, her strength returned and hair grown back over her head wound, Arturo alerted everyone to a stranger coming up the road. Regardless of how things were, old habits died hard.

The man was tall, thin, wore a billowing shirt far too large for him, had a beard, carried a worn backpack and a long gun in his right hand. He walked slowly down the cracked asphalt road, now sporting sprouts of brown fall grass, looking carefully at the countryside until he crested the small hill and saw the mailbox to Patty's house.

He removed an worn ball cap to reveal a head of wavy red hair going gray and then slowly walked down the driveway where Patty's family crouched holding weapons behind the truck or on the porch. Patty went out, unarmed to greet him.

"Lamar?" she said.

"Patty." his voice no longer booming but sorrowful and quiet.

"You made it back, come over and have a seat, I want you to meet my family."

Introductions were made and Patty's mother  brought the man a glass of water, but left the two alone on the porch.

"So this is your parents, took me awhile to find it, but I knew I would. Patty, I wanted to say first, before anything else, I am sorry. I am sorry for leaving you and  the others. I am sorry for letting you down. Not a day went by that I did not regret my decision and I prayed that you would get home. Was your daughter alright?" he said.

"Yes, she is inside with my parents, you can meet her here real soon. Lamar, I understand and I forgave you long ago, don't think about it any more. Your wife?" Patty asked.

Lamar looked down and shook his head.

"She died. Found out when I made it home. Stupid really. She was trying to help a neighbor string a laundry line between two of the town homes, not two or three days after the Burnout, and she fell, hitting her head. She went into a coma, there was nothing they could do, no 911, hospitals or doctors. They buried her nearby and fortunately, when I got there, somebody was able to tell me what happened."

"Since then, I just tried to survive. Had to get out of the city and managed for a few weeks scavenging and keeping my head down. Thanks to you, and this" he said touching the barrel of the shotgun leaned against his chair, "I made it."

"Lamar, I am so sorry." said Patty and she touched his hand out of sympathy.

"How did you find my parent's house? I never told you the address and I can't remember if I told you they lived in Aledo." said Patty.

"You did, but that wasn't how I figured it out. You gave me your business card in Shreveport when we first met. Fortunately, I didn't put it in my wallet or I never would have gotten this far. Anyway, after Dallas, I made my way to Fort Worth and found your offices. They were a mess, but after poking around, I found your office and then your parents address and here I am." Lamar said with a small smile.

"Wait, you said something about your wallet. I don't understand." said Patty.

"My wallet was stolen and I'm willing to bet yours was too. Do you have it?" he asked.

Patty sat back and thought about it. No, she had not seen her wallet since Shreveport but why would she have. She carried her useless cash in her pants pocket, the same cash which was taken by the two TSA agents. And none of them knew who she was, only her name, so when they searched her pockets and fanny pack, they must not have found her identification.

"Peri took it!" exclaimed Patty.

"That's what I think too," said Lamar. "The night we first met her and she took the bullets out of your guns. Remember?"

Patty nodded, "And that's how she found me." She then told Lamar about that fateful night she made it home. He shuddered remembering how evil the redhead was all too well.

Lamar had lunch with Patty's family, but afterward, declined staying any longer. He was headed back to Fort Worth where the military was putting together work crews to move abandoned vehicles, salvage warehouses, cut firewood for winter and deliver food to aid stations around the city. He would be housed with other single men and fed three meals a day for payment. He looked forward to the honest work and made no secret, he eventually would move on to find his place in the world.

Patty hugged the big man goodbye and he walked back out the way he came, alone. Elena stood next to her mother, holding her hand and watched Lamar walk away. After he was out of sight, they went back into the house, where Patty would read stories to Elena, ten hundred times, until they were all done.

The End

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