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Chatter - Short Story


Brandon carefully conned the shortwave radio bands searching for the faint signal he had heard a few weeks earlier. He located it on the maritime bands and while the speaker only spoke Spanish, he found it strangely comforting. After all, it meant someone was alive. That was, someone besides Brandon and his dog, Cooter.  

Brandon hightailed it to his cabin in the middle of April when the plague first reared its ugly head in the far East. He stopped long enough to pick up some last minute supplies before making the four hour drive into the St. Francois Sauk mountains where his hideaway was located. Since then, he had barred the door so to speak and remained hunkered down until the mess passed. 

He had a medium sized solar setup which kept the well water flowing, powered some LED lights and the shortwave set. At first, he limited his communications to an hour or so a day. The rest of the day he worked on his garden, construction of the coop and yard for his dozen or so layers, and getting the place ready for the duration. But lately, he found himself trolling the different frequencies more and more each day. 

Brandon had few friends, none he could think of by name, only passing acquaintances from work and such. He was married once and briefly. His distance and lack of patience for  her idle chit chat drove his wife away eventually. He had not spoken with her in more than a decade and could sadly assume she was carried away with all the others. 

But for now, Brandon searched for any scrap of information about the outside world, more importantly, for the sound of another human. Cooter lay by his feet, resting his doggie chin on his crossed paws as he had hour after hour lately. 

It was then the six inch speaker blared with the sound of a male voice: 

"This is station WGY906 on air. Are there any listeners out there?" said the voice. 

"That's not proper protocol," thought Brandon. "Clearly some sort of amateur working the dial." 

He then reached over to his catalogue and looked up the call sign WGY906. He nearly fell out of his chair when he read it was a FEMA call sign out of North Texas. 

"This is station WGY906 on air. C'mon folks, there's gotta be someone awake tonight?" said the voice which Brandon detected had a slight southern drawl to it. 

Brandon decided to keep his cards close and play it safe considering it was FEMA and all. 

"This is K... KGX713, over. Repeat KGX713, over. I hear you nice and clear, over." Brandon stated. 

"Well, hot dog. We got one guys!" said the man's voice slightly fainter into the microphone as if he turned away for a moment. It seemed Brandon could hear at least one other voice in the background, maybe two. 

"Sorry, I had to tell the rest of the team. How you doing out there, KG.. um, KG?" he asked. 

"All is positive and affirmative, over. And the call sign is KGX713. Say, how long have you had your license, over?" asked Brandon. 

"License? Oh, for the radio. I don't have one I'm afraid, KG. We just got this rig up and working this morning and we're just trying to spread the word. My name is Ryan and I am in Denton, Texas just north of Dallas. It's good to hear another voice as always. Where are you at?" Ryan asked. 

Brandon panicked. Denton was far away, but who knew if the JBT's were triangulating his signal even now as he spoke. He'd have to make it quick and figure out how to play this one out. 

"I'd rather not say, if you don't mind, over. What with things being as they have been the past few months, one can't be too careful, over." Brandon replied. 

"I gotcha. Tell you what, I'll tell you about us and you just chime in whenever you want, okay?" said Ryan. 

"Affirmative, over." said Brandon. 

"Cool. OK, so we are where I told you and you're the first person we've reached on the big radio. We've found some others on the CB and with handhelds, but now that we've got this system up and running, we can really spread our wings."

For the next half hour, with Brandon furiously taking notes, Ryan explained how he and a group of others, primarily from Louisiana  southern Arkansas and east Texas made their way to the FEMA center they were now broadcasting from. 

Their hope that the center being a "continuity of government site" would have some sort of authority or organization. Instead, they discovered all within were dead. The power was still nominally on as were the computers and they learned the truth about the effects of the plague both in the United States and the rest of the world. 

"So, the government is gone and it's the same everywhere else. Most of the people in the world are dead except for a few scattered crumbs like you and I, KG." finished Ryan. 

Brandon slumped in his chair the enormity of the situation he knew in his heart to be true. 

"Look, if you want, KG, and if you have the means, you can come visit us here. We got a great group of folks, more every day in fact." said Ryan.

"How many of you are there, over?" asked Brandon. 

"Over two hundred now. We got the power working to this place and are working on clearing out bodies, you know? We've got a lot to do and need everybody we can find to get things going again." replied Ryan. 

"I imagine so, over. I have some things to attend to, Ryan. Will you be on the air tomorrow, say the same time, over?" asked Brandon. 

"Sure! I'll holler at you tomorrow, KG. Take care." said Ryan and then he cut out. 

Brandon turned down the volume on the short wave and put his head in his hands. 


That night Brandon tossed and turned in his bunk.

"What if this Ryan guy was telling the truth? What if the plague had run its course and survivors were regrouping? What if there was a chance to rebuild society?" 

Of of these possibilities were intriguing to Brandon. He had long embraced the survival movement known as prepping and the results were clear. He bugged out, survived and still had adequate supplies and knowledge to continue on indefinitely. 

But Brandon had never thoroughly thought out what would happen afterward. He always assumed that daily life would be dangerous, but over time, he would hook up with a burgeoning community and share what knowledge and skills he had obtained over time. 

Brandon bolted out of bed, turned on an LED lantern, grabbed a notebook and pencil and began making a list of questions for Ryan the next time they spoke. 


For the first time in months, Brandon was actually excited about the day and could be caught whistling and even smiling to Cooter. He tossed the dog several treats as he cleaned and straightened out his small, but efficient cabin. Brandon had not realized it before, but he had been neglecting chores the past few weeks what with the hours he spent in front of the radio so now he had plenty to keep him busy. 

Before long, the shadows through the window grew long with the setting sun and that meant prime broadcasting time. Brandon warmed up the shortwave set, put on a fresh pot of tea and took a quick trip to the outhouse while he let Cooter relieve himself in the yard. 

Eying his pocket watch, Brandon noticed that Ryan was a few minutes late for their arranged time. 

"Young man does not know good radio etiquette or how to be perfunctory for appointments." he humphed to himself. 

Just then, the speaker crackled and Ryan's voice came through, loud and clear. 

"This station WGY906 on air, who's got their ears on tonight!" his voice boomed. 

Brandon adjusted the speaker volume and keyed his mike. 

"This is KGX713, over." he said. 

"KG! What's happening? Hey, did you hear me asking who's got their ears on? I learned that from a guy calling in from Arizona yesterday." said Ryan. 

"I did. If we get the chance to meet someday, I'll be happy to go over radio jargon and standard responses, over." replied Brandon. 

"That would be cool. So you must be a real ham, do I have that right? A ham?" asked Ryan. 

"Indeed, I have had my license for several years, over. Any news you can share with me today, Ryan?" asked Brandon. 

"You bet, KG. After we spoke last night, we got in touch with five or six others during the night. We made contact with folks all over. Lesse, that guy in Arizona, someone in Washington state, Wisconsin, a lady in Ohio and even one guy in Iceland." said Ryan. 

"That's great, Ryan. We're they thinking of coming down where you are, over?" inquired Brandon. 

"Almost all of them, even the guy in Iceland. He was talking about fitting a boat and trying his hand at getting to Canada and then down our way. He's all alone and said he'd rather die at sea than stay where he is." replied Ryan somberly. 

"I can imagine. So these people who you are talking to, do they have any skills you need? I guess, does your community have a list of skills or trades you are looking for? Perhaps trade goods, over?" asked Brandon. 

"Right now they only thing we need are living people. It's more of a come as you are proposition right now. As for skills, Casey sitting at the radio next to me worked in a comic book shop before all this. Evie was a waitress." said Ryan. 

"There are women there, too?" blurted Brandon without thinking. 

"Sure, men, women, some kids, some older folks. KG, you old devil, you sound like you're looking for a girlfriend." laughed Ryan. 

Brandon blushed and looked down subconsciously at his shoes. 

"No, I was just surprised that you are advertising women being at your survival community. I mean what if brigands or convicts were listening, over?" asked Brandon. 

"They would if they wanted to KG, I can't control the airways. And besides, if there's one bad character out there, he'll have to deal with all of us. We stick by our own, you know?" replied Ryan. 

"That's good to hear. So how do I know you won't rob me and steal what I have if I decided to pay a visit?" asked Brandon. 

"What would we steal?"

"Food, for instance."

"Why? The stores are full of food, enough for a lifetime."

"What about my truck or fuel?"

"I have a dozen different cars I can drive right now. And we can't use all the gasoline in the tanks if we wanted too."

"Guns or gold?"

"We got a National Guard armory down the road with anything you can imagine. The coin and jewelry stores are wide open if anyone wanted anything from those places, not that they're worth anything any more." 

"How do I know you won't put me in chains and force me to labor for you?"

"Slave masters don't sleep well, KG."

"What if I wanted to leave if I didn't like things there?"

"How can we stop you? And if you left, we don't have enough people to look for you if you did." 

Brandon stopped and said nothing for a few moments. 

"KG, you still there? Did we lose you?" asked Ryan. 

"No, you didn't Ryan. Rather, I'm glad you found me. And please, call me Brandon. Brandon Mitchell is my name."


Ryan cut off the conversation after fifteen minutes saying he had others to check in with including a group he had made contact with in Nebraska. Word had it they were heading Ryan's way in the next two days and wanted to check on road conditions. Brandon was immediately jealous. 

Standing and stretching his back, Brandon looked around the cabin and was struck about how small and dark it was. Cooter lifted his head and looked up at his master sensing something was wrong. 

"Cooter, how would you like to go on a trip, buddy?"


The next evening found Brandon having winterized the place as best he could. He decided he would leave in two or three days once he calculated a route, fuel stops and taking time for detours due to road conditions. At the approximate time, he reached out to Ryan on the radio. 

"Ryan, this is Brandon Mitchell, you know, KG. Are you on, over?"

"KG, how's it going good buddy. I was hoping you'd call in. So what did you decide you wanted to do?" Ryan asked. 

"Well, after thinking it over, I guess I'll give it a shot." said Brandon. 

"Great, we'll be glad to have you! We've been on the radio all day with people and groups all over. So many out there. So when are planning on leaving?" asked Ryan. 

"I think in a day or two. I have to get the place buttoned up, put gas in the truck, get some food and supplies together, round up the chickens.."

"You have chickens! Man, I can't wait to see you! We got a small flock we found here about but everyone can't get enough fresh eggs." interrupted Ryan. 

"Indeed, I have chickens and plenty of good knowledge and skills which might be of use to you. Small engines, power systems, animal husbandry, gardening. I hope I can be useful." replied Brandon. 

"Why you're a regular Mick Steen, KG." said Ryan. 

"Mick Steen, who's that?" asked Brandon. 

"He's our local jack of all trades. Older guy like you. Fixes stuff, got the lights on, found some dairy cows. Yep, you and he will get along great. Either that or you'll go at it like a couple of cats in a sack." laughed Ryan. 

"Humph," thought Brandon to himself, "this Steen character will be my assistant when I'm through."

"Sounds great, Ryan," said Brandon through pursed lips. "Any good news you can share with me, I know your're busy and have to go soon."

"Sure, KG. I got a great story. A woman and a little girl came in last night. The woman had stepped on something and had a pretty badly infected foot. I don't think she'll make it. The girl, she's about three or so but she's in pretty good health. The woman found her about a month back and they've been on foot this whole time. See, the woman couldn't drive a car." 

"Anyway, they don't have a radio, never they heard any of these broadcasts. Just the woman said she had a dream to head this way and so they did. The little girl keeps saying 'Go see G. Go see G.' We don't know why or what it means, but don't that beat all? That little girl is like our mascot around here. We don't know her real name or anything about her, but she's cute as a bug." 

Brandon paused as his eyes watered up, the first time in as long as he could remember. 

"I can't wait to meet her, Ryan. She sounds like a real little miracle." he said in a cracked voice. 

"She sure is. OK KG, let's plan on talking one last time tomorrow and then I guess I'll see you in a week or so, good?" said Ryan. 

"Sounds like a plan, Ryan. I am looking forward to meeting you, that little girl and the community real soon." said a beaming Brandon. 

And he meant it.


The next day, Brandon filled the gas tank and turned over his old Ford pickup. It sputtered but finally caught and soon was purring away. He checked the tires and fluids and pulled it around in front. 

He took two large duffles and filled them with clean shirts, pants and socks. He then took down a large tote and filled it with non-perishable foods including dog food for the trip. 

Satisfied with his work, he fed the chickens one last time and took around his place. 

"I'm going to miss this old place," he thought to himself, "But seeing some new faces will be fine all the same."

The evening found Brandon pacing the floors until his scheduled call in with Ryan. He ended up calling in early and waiting as his attempts were ignored for a few minutes. Just as the first time, the speaker squawked to life.

"This is station WGY906 on the air. KG, you out there?" came Ryan's southern drawl. 

"This is KG, over. How's it going Ryan?" asked Brandon. 

"Just peachey. Man today is a day of all days. We've got dozens of people calling in to our broadcasts from all over and even more traveling here now as we speak. But I got good news for you tonight, KG." said Ryan. 

"What's that?" asked Brandon. 

"I got a full staff of ten folks working the radio tonight so that means you and I can have a good long chat. I figure this being your last night before you head out, you probably have a lot of questions." replied Ryan. 

"I guess I do, but to tell the truth, it's just good to hear another human voice. I guess I really missed it." said Brandon. 

"That's what everyone says, KG. So tell me, were you married or have kids before all this?" asked Ryan. 

"Yeah, I was married, but that was over ten years ago. Don't know what happened, well, I do. I wasn't much of a talker and kept to myself. I think that drove the poor woman away. I realize that now." said Brandon. 

"Don't beat yourself up, KG. You got a second chance most don't get. So how long's it been since you talked to another person? We keep a sort of unofficial record around here of who's gone the longest." said Ryan. 

"Really? I haven't really thought about it. I bugged out when the virus started spreading and was fortunate enough to be off the beaten path when things fell apart. I guess I'd have to look at a calendar." replied Brandon. 

"That's the same story most folks share with us. I was in Little Rock in the middle of May when the virus arrived in LA, Seattle and San Francisco. Afterward, I went down to Baton Rouge and helped my sister and her family until.. well they all passed. That was tough. Then I had to lay low for the rest of the summer, what will all the government folks looking for folks who weren't sick. Remember that?" asked Ryan. 

"No, actually I didn't experience that, Ryan. I was fortunate enough to get to my place here in the hills before it got that bad." said Brandon. 

"You were lucky, real lucky. I haven't heard anyone who got out of the cities so late in the summer. By then the quarantines, the roadblocks and all were up. You must be like a fox, Brandon." laughed Ryan. 

"Well, I can be crafty when I need to be. But that's not what happened. See, I bugged out in April long before the virus reached the States. Where I am right now is miles from the nearest town or house. How many months does that make it? Six months? Is that right? How's that for the record, Ryan?" asked Brandon with a smile on his face. 

There was silence for a few moments before Ryan finally spoke. 

"Let me ask you something, Brandon," asked Ryan using Brandon's real name for the first time. 

"Since April, have you had contact with anyone? You know, a trip into town for some groceries or gas? Maybe a look around in the past few months? Even just a drive through a nearby town?" Ryan asked in a serious tone. 

"Why no, Ryan. Like I told you, have been sitting tight here since April. If your worried I might be carrying the virus you don't need to. I have been maintaining strict mitigation and quarantine protocols the whole time. I even have a respirator and Tyvek suit I wore during the first few months whenever I left the house." said Brandon. 

"Yeah, those respirators, saw a lot of them in the end.." said Ryan his voice trailing off. 

"So I don't think you have anything to worry about Ryan. Now you're starting to worry me, like I did something wrong or maybe you don't want me to come out your way." said Brandon. 

"No, you didn't do anything wrong, KG. You did everything right, right by the book. But unless I heard your wrong or your left something out, then I can't let you come here." said Ryan quietly. 

"What do you mean," blurted Brandon, "What's wrong? I need to get there.. what are you talking about?" 

"Brandon, I want you to listen carefully to me. You have been in self-imposed quarantine for over six months and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is none of us have." said Ryan. 

"But.." interrupted Brandon. 

"Please, listen to me, this is hard for me to tell you, Brandon. The rest of us were exposed to the virus, from our friends, families and strangers before they died. But for some reason or another, we never got sick. Nobody can explain it and even here, on the FEMA computers, they could not figure it out until the end. It seems some people are naturally immune, but they are still carriers." said Ryan. 

"Well, obviously I am immune as well," replied Brandon. "I mean it's an airborne virus and it's not like I am in a fallout shelter with filtered air. So I don't think we have anything to worry about, do we?" said Brandon, now with a hint of desperation in his voice. 

"It doesn't work like that, KG. The virus is airborne, but only over a short distance. Most were infected through contact and you.. you have had no contact. I guess there is a small chance, almost Infinitesimal that you are immune, but the only way to find that out is for you to leave your cabin and come here."

"Sure.. so I'll make plans to ..." said Brandon. 

"But odds are you aren't immune and you will contract the virus long before you ever get near here. You'll drive through an infected town, pick up a gas pump handle covered in the virus, any number of ways. And you'll get sick and then you'll die. I can't let you do that, life is too precious. I won't have that on my head." said Ryan. 

"But maybe there is a cure for the virus at that center you're at. Maybe they found a way for me to live there and not get sick. If anything, I can just bring my respirator and gear and live with you guys, I'll just be separate and keep covered up, OK?" begged Brandon. 

"There's no cure, Brandon. It just how it is. And your gear won't work either, Brandon. All the authorities in the end did the same thing and they all died. Respirators, gloves, sanitizer  none of it works long term. The virus finds a way around it." said Ryan. 

"But that's not fair! I am alive, just like you and all the others. You can't make me stay here! It's not fair! I want to see all the people, the little miracle girl! I have to show that Steen guy how much I know!" shouted Brandon. 

"I'm sorry, Brandon, I really am." said Ryan quietly. 

"You just didn't want me there, none of you did. You guys were just pulling my chain. There's probably nobody there, just you and a few other flea bitten good for nothings sitting around in an old building messing with people." said Brandon bitterly. 

There was no reply or sound from Ryan, just the quiet static from the speaker. 

"Brandon, I'll be right here if you ever want to talk for a bit. I don't know what will happen, but there are more people coming here and I am sure we will have someone you chat with from time to time." said Ryan hopefully. 

"Sure, pick straws to see who gets stuck talking the old man in the woods. The freak who didn't die. A man in a jar cut off from the living world like a trapped lizard in some kid's room. Looking out and watching all of you live, love, grow old and do things. No thanks, Ryan."

"This is KGX713 signing off. That means good bye Ryan." said Brandon as he keyed the mike for the last time. 

Brandon stood and balled his fists. He so badly wanted to smash the shortwave to pieces and toss the remains into the fireplace, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Instead he flipped the receiver to scan mode, the dial spinning away from Ryan's frequency to the next station. 

Brandon kicked aside his packed duffles, threw open the front door and stared at the dark sky knitted with diamond like stars. In the background, the speaker sputtered with the chatter of hundreds of voices from across the globe. 


Short Story - Surrounded By Idiots

Rex was in his workshop working on his new tool organization system when his stupid wife knocked quietly on the door.

"Dear? The president is on TV. He about to make an announcement about something.."

Rex let out an extra big sigh to indicate his lack of patience with the bag of hammers he shared marital bliss with. That was how Rex communicated with his wife, the volume of the sigh measured only by the level of stupity of the question.

"Busy. Leave me alone", Rex muttered.

Rex went back to his project rearranging his sockets by inches rather than the New World Order metric system. If the UN invaded, they weren't going to find his tools ready to use but rather, in an American inch based confused manner. As he worked, he reached over and switched on his multi band AM/FM/Shortwave/Scanner set on the shelf above.

"...clearly, this has profound implications on the security of the United States and the rest of the democratic and free world. Therefore, I have decided to impose unilateral sanctions on the Peoples Islamic Caliphate until they have demonstrated the desire and conviction to return to the civilized way of life share by the majority of peoples on this planet. Make no mistake, the United States has nothing but the up most respect for the Muslim faith and for the people of the historic and traditional region of the middle east, but their leaders have led them astray and for this, I must take action...."

Rex sighed again, muttered "twit" under his breath and switched off the radio.

A few moments later, the Box Of Rocks knocked on the door again,

"Rex, honey? The television just went out. Could you take a look at it when you are not too busy, please?"

"Leave a man alone, woman." Rex replied without turning from his work bench.

Rex did reach over to the keyboard on his PC which was also on the workbench handy in the event he had to look something important up. He opened a browser and went to the only site with real news and information, "Detonator2012" The browser timed out after 30 seconds of trying and ended up on "404 Page Not Found".

"Swell. What did that dummy do to the Internet?" thought Rex.

Hauling his butt off his Craftsman stool, Rex went to the shop door, unlocked the three locks, swept the door open, his rage growing by the moment.

"Woman! What did you do to the internet? I have work to do out here!" Rex growled as he strode from the shop into the kitchen.

Darla looked up from the cinnamon rolls she was rolling out on the kitchen counter and then quickly looked down at the floor.

"I didn't touch the internet connection, dear. I was waiting for you to come and check the TV set. I mean, when you weren't busy, darling" she quickly added.

Rex let out an extra louder than normal sigh, "Surrounded by idiots." he muttered and stomped into the family room to check the internet connection.

Family room was a misnomer as he and Darla had no children to speak of. Darla, that quack of a doctor said, was healthy as a horse and as fertile as a Kansas wheat field. It was Rex, he claimed, that had some "reproductive issues". BS thought Rex, and he refused to see another so called doctor again after that day seven years ago.

"I want a son" he demanded of his wife. "Why can't you get that through your fat head?"
Clearly it was her fault that Rex was heirless and was forced to fish and hunt alone each weekend.

Rex went to the corner next to the television and saw that the power light on the cable/internet box was lit, but everything else was dark. "What the...?" he thought.

Rex than tore back the curtains on the window and for the first time in as long as anyone could remember, was speechless.

A pall of black smoke was hanging over the area in the direction of downtown. It was then Rex noticed the sound of sirens warbling in the air. His repose was interrupted when the emergency weather siren down the street sprang to life and let out its loud deep moan.

"The Schumer has hit the fan!" Rex yelled. Excitement built in Rex's stomach much in the way a younger man would feel when he saw the woman he was going to marry for the first time or scratched off the winning number on a Lotto card.

Rex bolted for his gun safe which was in the back of the walk in closet in the bedroom "What will I take? The AR? The SKS? The WASR? What about the Mossie? Got to have some firepower, but the need for multiple man stopping rounds is too important to neglect" he mumbled to himself.

In the background, Darla was babbling something about the sirens and smoke, but Rex tuned her out as he was so adept at after many years of practice. Rex ripped open the closet door and went for the safe. His fingers were fumbling with the combination lock and he had to stop for a moment, take a deep breath before starting again.

"This was going to be great" beamed Rex inside.


Rex was sitting on the foot of his bed, (well actually Darla's bed as Rex had a habit of sleeping on the couch or a fold out cot in his workshop), loading magazines for his AR15. It had been a tough decision, but he decided to go with the AR after carefully considering a number of factors.

Rex also had out his Para-Ordinance .45, his Mossberg 12 gauge and his Kel-Tec .380 for a backup piece. He was going through The Big Plan in his head, but Darla kept buzzing into the room like an annoying horsefly sharing news from the radio.

"gas lines are forming.. government says to stock up on bottled water... the ball game was cancelled tonight.. looting reported downtown.."

Looting. That word stood out to Rex like a neon sign in the desert. Looting meant looters to be dealt with and that was OK with Rex. Looting also meant "strategic reallocation" which literally made Rex's mouth water. He could not wait to get downtown.

But for now, there magazines to be loaded. Rex had six down and fourteen more to do before he could even consider heading out the door.

"Rex, I really think I need to go by the market and pick up a few things. I know you are busy and all, but if you could drive me in the truck, I could be in and out in just a few minutes..." Darla said quietly.

"First, it is not THE truck, it is MY truck. Second, your inability to plan for an emergency does not make it a priority in my schedule. YOU should have listened when I told you to purchase extra food and stuff. But NO, you dilly dallyed around the house doing NOTHING while I planned, I prepared, and I did the heavy lifting. You can thank me later for having the foresight to purchase long term storage food some time ago. We will be able to eat well, but its NO THANKS to you, you ... dimwit." Rex growled.

"What long term storage food?" asked Darla. "What are you talking about...?"

Rex sighed. "The food I purchased online. Buckets of food. Freeze dried, dehydrated, MRE's. Real food we can eat when the poop hits the ocillator and our neighbors are eating their beloved cats and dogs. You are as dense as Jupiter, woman."

"How much did you spend, Rex? Where did you get the money from?" asked Darla, her eyebrows drawing together.

"Woman, MY finances are none of your business. Now you listen to me and listen good. The thin veneer of civilization is coming off the world right now. We can sit here and have a nice little conversation or you can get out of my hair and let me get to work!" Rex roared.

Darla stood for one moment staring at Rex and then turned and left the bedroom shutting the door quietly behind her.

Rex continued loading magazines for the next 45 minutes before carefully putting all of them in the load bearing gear he had purchased at a surplus store. Then he changed into the outfit he had laid out on the bed. A pair of 5 in 1 khakis with matching shirt, suspenders, steel toed boots and a black authentic SEAL stocking cap. He imagined he looked like an intrepid explorer or post-apocalyptic action hero, when in actuality, he looked more like an overweight janitor with a head cold.

Picking up the two long guns, Rex opened the bedroom door and went with purpose to the garage where his truck waited. He said nothing to Darla, got in the truck, punched the garage door opener and drove out in what he imagined would be the urban wastelands of America. The adventure begins!


Rex had wanted to join the military as a boy. But as high school ended and manhood approached, he had second thoughts and instead took a job at a local factory working the floor. In his mind, he rationalized that he could always join some branch of the service at a future date, and for the time being, he could earn money which would allow him to get out of the house and away from his doting, but simple minded mother. In reality and subconsciously, the thought of military training and undressing in front of other men mortified Rex.

As for now, Rex was barreling through his neighborhood in the direction of downtown. The Big Plan, as he called it, was downloading its way through his buzzing brain. There were looters to deal with, resources to be located and missing pieces in his master prep list to be filled. Rex was sure this would be the best day in his life.

Approaching the big intersection closest to his neighborhood, Rex was pleasantly surprised to see the long line at the gas station and the burst of activity in front of the super market. People were grabbing grabbing carts and actually yelling at each other in the parking lot. At the gasoline station, two men were fighting over the pump while a woman tried to separate them from a full blown fist fight.

Rex was giddy with excitement as the world crumbled around him. The sheeple would be strayed and lost and men like him would step up to the plate ready to take charge. Finally things would be made right and he could feel the back slaps and see the welcoming grins as men who heretofore had more possessions and stature than he had would now be forced to see him in a new adoring light. It would be magnificent.

The only drag was Darla and her worthlessness. More than once in the past hour Rex had considered inviting her along under the pretense she could load magazines or hand him weapons as he needed them. Secretly, however, he hoped that a stray bullet would take her out in all the action finally allowing him the freedom he needed to find the Perfect Mate for the strange new world coming. His fevered imagination created a woman who looked like Pamela Anderson but spoke as much as Clint Eastwood and could shoot like him too.

Putting his fantasies out his mind, Rex got on the interstate and headed towards downtown. The first order of business was some target practice on the looters running rampant. Then a side trip to a couple of gun stores to "relieve" their overstock and then a quick run through Walmart to stock up on some essentials. All told, Rex figured he had a couple of hours to kill, then would head home to get his house in order. He cursed himself for not telling Darla to fill the bathtubs as they would need the water. She was so dumb, she was probably eating bon-bons and trying to get the TV to work.

Downtown was approaching and Rex' excitement built. He would finally get to see his AR in action. For real.


Rex exited the interstate into downtown off the ramp which led to the retail part of town. He knew there were some high dollar jewelry and electronics stores down there which would attract the kind of people he had a high desire to put down before they made their way, as they eventually would, to where his house was.

Rex was stunned when he saw the phalanx of several dozen uniformed and armed police officers forming a skirmish line off the main avenue. "Why aren't they abandoning their posts and heading home to protect their families?" Rex wondered aloud. Something wasn't right so Rex continued driving further down the boulevard.

Persistance paid off when he spied a line of "disadvantaged youths" walking out of the broken glass doors of a big box electronic store carrying televisions and game consoles. "What a bunch of idiots." thought Rex. "All those electronics are going to be worthless in a few hours. Time to relieve the gene pool" he figured.

Rolling to a stop a few hundred yards away, Rex lifted his AR from the passenger seat and checked the magazine in the rifle. He opened the truck door and stepped out onto the pavement. His heart was beating a hundred miles an hour, his mouth was dry but his palms were sweating profusely. Rex shook his head and lifted the AR to his shoulder.

Allowing his eyes to focus on the steady line of young people streaming out of the store, Rex sighted in one particullarly large man wearing a bright red tank top. He appeared to be directing the others and encouraging them on in their looting.

Rex drew a bead on Red Shirt and squeezed the trigger. Everything happened fast after that. Red Shirt fell back onto the pavement and everyone else froze holding their boxes and loot in the middle of the street. Then one cried out and the whole mob began to flee in every direction including towards Rex.

Rex tried to draw a target but looking through the scope at so many moving people up close was too difficult, so he just pulled the trigger in their general direction. That only made things more chaotic as people ran in circles with many getting closer to him.

Panicking, Rex jumped back in his truck but momentarily forgot how to start or drive the thing. Something primordial clicked in the back of his head and he managed to turn the key and kick the engine to life just as the vanguard of the mob reached his truck. Dropping the truck in reverse, he screamed when a huge woman landed on his hood and started shouting the foulest curse words through the windshield.

Another man grabbed the drivers door and actually got it opened as Rex floored the vehicle backwards down the street. For a moment, the man got his hand on the barrel of Rex's beloved AR, but the increased speed of the truck caused him to lose his step and fall to the street and roll against the curb.

Rex turned the steering wheel to the right and managed to toss the big woman off his truck hood where she too landed and rolled across the empty street. The rest of the mob by this time was picking up anything they could get their hands on and started throwing things at Rex's rapidly retreating truck. Bottles, cans and a few pieces of asphault bounced off the roof and bed of the truck as Rex peeled down the side street.

Rex looked back in the rear view mirror as the mob fell behind him, his hands shaking and barely able to keep the truck steady on the road. Rex turned back onto the main boulevard and he sped down the opposite direction from the interstate entrance which led home.

Rex felt his breakfast coming up and he did not even make it to a full stop before a half digested mess of instant coffee, Pop Tarts and scrambled eggs launched itself all over the console, his lap and the floor of the truck cab.

Rex just kept his head down as the contents of his stomach emptied into the truck and did not cease until it was done.

"Oh lord," muttered Rex, "I gotta get out of here" as he wiped his chin with the back of his hand. Rex looked down at the AR which was partially covered in vomit on the receiver and stock and pushed it with disgust to the passenger floor.

Rex looked around to make sure he was alone and then took his foot off the break and drove on. He was going to hit a gunstore and then get home. This was not the way it was supposed to be.


Moments later, Rex's truck came to a stop in front of Masterson's Gun and Sporting World. Masterson's was on the edge of downtown in a semi industrial area featuring contractor supply stores, pawn shops, and a few "buy here, pay here" car dealerships.

Rex did not frequent Masterson's as the prices were too high for his blood, but he assumed that the owners had probably abandoned the place knowing the rioters and mobs would be descending shortly. Rex grabbed his Mossberg from behind the truck seat and did not give the AR a second look. He had a feeling that he would not be touching that particular rifle for some time.

Rex went to the front door and expected it to be open, but was surprised to find it locked. He pulled on the door a few times before putting his face upon the barred glass door and cupping his hands over his eyes looked inside. He found himself starting, through the glass, at the barrel of a very large shotgun.

"Place is closed! Get back in your truck and go! Got nothing to sell today!" shouted the voice behind the shotgun.

"Are you the owner? Are you clearing the place out? Got anything you can't take away?" shouted back Rex. Suddenly he felt stupid. This wasn't like it was Christmas and he was trying to buy the last Nintendo thingie for his brat kids at the last minute. It was the freaking end of the world and this old toad looking man was pointing a shotgun at Rex!

Rex stepped back and racked a shell into the Mossberg and leveled it at the store window. "Stand back old man, I'm coming in!" Rex yelled.

Click. Nothing happened. Rex looked down and saw he had the safety on. By the time that dawned on him, the window of the shop blew outwards towards Rex.

Rex instinctively shielded his face with his left hand and in doing so lowered the Mossberg when a second shot came out the now missing window. It went wide, fortunately for Rex who was standing directly in front of the store, and instead took out Rex's truck windshield.

Shaking from his stupor, Rex dropped the Mossie and stumbled backwards towards his truck and promptly tripped over a low concrete parking barrier. He wasted no time and rolled over to his right and then crawled to the drivers door as another shotgun blast struck the hood of his truck.

Climbing into the front seat, Rex struggled to get his keys out of his front pocket as tears of frustration and pain poured out. "Please don't shoot me!" he could hear his voice pleading as he pulled the keys out and fumbled with them while lying across the front seat, his fat butt hanging out the front door.

Getting the keys free, he shoved them in the ignition and turned the motor over. Pulling down the shift he managed to pull his body into the truck, get his foot on the accelerator and jerk the vehicle back into the street. Dropping into drive. Rex floored the truck as a final shot took out his rear window.

Bawling like a baby, Rex barrelled back down the street towards the interstate. It dawned on him then he had left his Mossberg in the parking lot in front of the gun store. Oh carp! They will trace it back to him and put him in jail. They are going to come for him and stick him in a cell with a bunch of murdering rapists who would do awful things to him. "I gotta get out of here!" Rex screamed out loud.

Rex pulled onto the interstate and slammed on the breaks. Two police cars were blocking the entrance from traffic and there were at least four officers standing behind the roadblock. One put a megaphone to his mouth and shouted, "You! In the truck! Shut down the engine and step out of the vehicle with your hands in the air. This area is under lockdown! Step out of the vehice!"

Rex slammed the truck in reverse and floored it back down the entrance ramp. He was lucky as there was not another car behind him, but in his haste hit the guard rail and bent the bed at a terrible angle and flattened the rear passenger tire.

Two of the officers had drawn their guns and were coming around the roadblock towards the truck. Rex opened the drivers door, hopped out and ran for his life down the ramp back towards the street.

As one of the officers shouted, Rex stumbled onto the main street just as a large group came down the street carrying something long between them. It was a door, with something red on it. A man. A man wearing red lying on the door. It was the people from the electronic store! One looked up, pointed and shouted something unintelligible at Rex.

Rex screamed and ran the other way straight past the two officers who had been behind him on the entrance ramp. For a moment the two entities converged before a handful of police officers appeared from somewhere, but Rex was already fifty yards away running the fastest he had in his life.

"Home! I gotta get home! Darla will hid me! She'll have too!" Rex wheezed. "Gotta get out of here! Where am I?"

Too late. An older model sedan blocked the road in front of him and an older man wearing spectacles stepped out of the passenger side. "Hold it right there buddy!" he said as he pointed a shotgun directly at Rex. It was the old toad from the gun store! Rex looked back and saw the police, with the mob coming behind him. The old man in front with the shotgun.

Rex, wheezing from lack of breath, released his bowels in a single dump into his pants and fainted to the ground.


Rex woke up slowly, his head, no, his whole body aching like it had been run over with a steamroller. He sat up gingerly and allowed his brain to slide with a crash back into place and carefully opened his eyes.

He was on a cot. In a cell. A jail cell. A holding tank or something, "Probably a FEMA camp", the little voice in his head said.

"Wake up morning glory" said a voice to his left. It belonged to a uniformed guard standing outside the bars. "Hope you had a nice nap. Time to read you your rights and get you processed".

The guard starting reading the standard Miranda warning while everything sank into Rex's mind. He needed to get out of here. He needed to call Darla. Get her down here. Identify him, pay bail. Get him home. Home, wonderful beautiful home.

"I need to make a phone call. I get one of those don't I?" shouted Rex.

"Sure, you get one. Get up" replied the guard as he opened the cell door.

Rex looked down and noticed that his clothes were missing and he was now wearing an orange jump suit and some sort of cardboard slippers.

"You made a mess of your old stuff. After we searched you and collected all those guns, we cleaned you up at the hospital and put you in that outfit. How do you like it?" the guard smirked.

As the guard led Rex down the hallway, there were other jail cells, all full of leering and taunting voices. Rex stared at the floor and tried to block out the horrible and disgusting things the other inmates were saying to him,

The phone was in the next hallway and the guard lifted the receiver and handed it to him. "One call, three minutes max, no redo's for wrong numbers. Got it?"

Rex nodded and slowly punched his home phone number. On the fourth ring, Darla answered.

"Darla? It's me Rex. I need you to listen to me. I need you to get downtown and arrange bail for me. I am being held downtown. I don't know why. All those other people were rioting and looting. I was only trying to help. Now I know you have questions, but you listen to me. Get down here. Bring your purse 'cause it's going to cost a few bucks to get me out. You hear me?"

There was a pause and then Darla slowly spoke.

"Rex. I am leaving right now for my mother's. I have taken half of the money from the bank account and am only taking my things with me. I will leave the keys to the front door on the kitchen counter. I am taking my car, the one you allowed me to drive. but will leave it for you to come get when I am done with it. Don't call me. I don't want to speak to you again. I hope things work out for you. Good bye".

The line went dead.

"All done cowboy?" said the guard,  "Let's get you back to your cell, then"

"Wait. What happened. The riots. The announcement on TV. The looting. Gas lines. What happened?" pleaded Rex.

"Huh?" grunted the guard. "Oh downtown. They cancelled the ball game and some people started some trouble at the arena. Yeah, there was some looting and crime, but it's all under control now. Don't worry about that. You have plenty of other things to worry about. Lesse, attempted murder, discharging a weapon in public, disobeying an officer, resisting arrest, attempted armed robbery. Yep, you got a full dance card tonight cowboy".

The guard opened the cell door and guided Rex inside.

Turning away, the guard muttered under his breath, "What a world. Surrounded by idiots".

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The Burnout - Author's notes

Thanks for reading this little story about Patty and her friends. It's been fun creating this world and bringing it to life.

Between 2002 and 2008, my job had me traveling constantly. It was not unexpected for me to be on the road three days or more a week, usually several hundred miles from home. Around the time of Katrina, I read, in a business newsletter of all places, about a man trapped in New Orleans for the better part of a week in a hotel and how he survived. All of those things got me thinking and so I started the Burnout, in fact, I have a framework for the story somewhere on a hard drive from way back then.

At the same time, I started writing a story called The Traveler. Same idea, but instead of a woman, it was a guy from south Texas trying to get home from San Francisco after a nuclear war. Several of the key events in The Burnout came from The Traveler, notably, the derringer, the dangers of strange old weapons, redemption and getting shot by your own family when you come home because they didn't recognize you. All realistic possibilities in my opinion.

When the story started, I knew it was going to be about a woman and her name was Patty Valdez. I knew she would be in business and on a trip alone. I also knew that her sidekick would be a blowhard businessman who really means well, but just can't seem to ever adapt to the changed world. Everyone else, just came along as the story progressed, albeit with several modifications.

The "DHS as the bad guy" was part of the original story because if you recall, that organization was formed after the 2001 terrorist attacks and with all the airports I found myself in,  I kept having this vision of TSA agents continuing their job long after the end of the world. Only two things survive in the post-apocalypse, cock roaches and bureaucracy.

As circumstance would have it, little news stories float to the surface (mainstream news, not whacky conspiracy sites) from time to time about strange things the government is up to. Recently, DHS ordered something like two hundred million rounds of .223 ammo, the US Department of Education ordered a bunch of semi-auto shotguns, the national weather service bought several thousand rounds of .40 caliber ammo and some other faceless fed agency bought a bunch of .357 rounds. All of that worked it's way into the story during the recent edits and made it seem more realistic.

The story was sidetracked when I redid the middle to include more of a mythological element. Peri was actually going to be a man, the equivalent of a snake oil salesman/pharmaceutical rep who uses his sample bag to do evil. Instead, I wiped that out and made him a woman based upon Circe from The Odyssey. Some of the events found in that part of the story were influenced as well, such as the scene where Lamar and Patty go between the rock throwing thugs and the dog attack (Scylla and Charybdis) and later, the glass eyed rapist and the Deliverance inspired cannibal (Cyclops).

Like all good ideas, it seemed right, until it got on paper and diverted the story. Add to that, some personal changes in my life at the time and we had the "Big Gap" around June. My muse returned and we got back on track, with a vengance.

Someone asked about a sequel. Except for The Empire Strikes Back, sequels usually don't go well, at least not for me. The protagonist completed a journey and made it home, so now what? Have Patty kidnapped, dragged off to Oklahoma and have her do it all over again like Snake Plisskin? That works for some writers, (like some have done successfully in this genre, just not me), So, for now, Patty is home and will live happily ever and we probably won't hear from her again.

So what's next? I have some other story ideas which are in progress, one of which is about done, but I have to look at it for awhile and decide what it will do.  I really want to get back to America 2.0 for instance. The problem is my characters like to hide from me and I often have to coax them out so I can find out what will happen next. That's writing.

Thank you for reading, for your kind comments and for your patience.

PS - Gun notes. There's a big subset of my readers who laser in on guns and gun factoids in my stories. Often, they educate me on something I did not know as I'll be the first to admit, I am not a big time "gun nerd" and make obvious mistakes. That being said, here are some things nobody noticed or at least they did not tell me so!

- Chris, one of Peri's sidekicks, had a coach gun (that's a short barreled shotgun used by stagecoach drivers in the old west).  If you recall, Patty disarmed them, took all their guns but never mentioned that particular weapon or who ended up with it. I assume she tossed it in the bushes, but that  wouldn't make any sense would it? Chalk that up to a continuity problem courtesy of the author.

- The .243 rifle. After the attack on the Hallmark store, it disappeared and was not mentioned in the story again. (Actually, it was left behind during the escape). Antonio was right about that particular gun, nobody wanted it.

- The derringer. Patty only fired one of two rounds from it, leaving another for later, but the gun mysteriously disappeared from the story and was not used again, even when Patty was confronted by Peri on the bridge. I don't know what happened to that gun; maybe Merrick found it and took the long way home.

Thanks again,

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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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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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