The first few days of travel from Jasper’s hotel in Seminole were spent bumbling along the narrow corridor of land between Oklahoma City and McAlester. Both of those cities had been bombed, OKC because of its population density and the Air Force base on the edge of the city, and McAlester because of the huge Army ammunition plant there.
We didn’t have a way of determining what was extremely radioactive versus just radioactive, so we tried to go as directly between the middle of the two as we could. Jesse wanted to swing completely around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to the south, but everyone else agreed with me that adding another hundred miles to our already long trip wasn’t worth the effort. That meant shooting south towards Ada, Oklahoma and then working our way southwest between DFW, which Alejandro confirmed had been nuked, and Wichita Falls.
We knew that a lot of the military bases had been whacked, so we also had to assume that the Lawton, Oklahoma and Wichita Falls, Texas areas had been also because of the Army and Air Force bases located there. We decided that our best route after Dallas would be to once again thread the needle between two fallout zones and eventually make our way towards western Texas or New Mexico.
Once we crossed the Red River into Texas, there was a noticeable climate shift. The snow was still present, but it was only about ankle deep instead of the calf-deep variety that we’d become accustomed to. I couldn’t be sure, but I also thought that it wasn’t nearly as cold. The area to the south of the river was flat, but there was a lot of debris hidden in the snow and that caused all sorts of problems for us. My biggest fear was that someone would break a leg or step on some weird irradiated nail or something unforeseeable like that. If we had a true medical emergency, I didn’t know what we’d do, but we’d have to figure it out quickly.
It was rough going as we worked our way just north of DFW. I’m not sure how much warning the people down here had, but the outbound roads from the city were littered with vehicles that no longer worked. The EMP must have wiped out the electronics on all these nice cars and their owners had to simply abandon them. I wondered if the vehicles would always be on the road or if they’d eventually be taken apart for scrap by various types of scavengers.
The few people that we saw along our trip were from far away and they disappeared into the snowfields long before we ever reached where they’d been. There was a different vibe down here, that’s for sure. It was hard to explain, but it seemed like everything was simply paused, waiting for something to happen. I wondered what it was that made me feel this way.
On the ninth day after we left Jasper’s we were walking down the vacant side of the road and topped a slight rise in the highway. On the reverse slope of the hill we ran into a large camp of people spread out over both sides of the roadway. They’d used old vehicles to form a large perimeter and there were several of the dead creatures surrounding the camp. If anything else, it just confirmed my belief that they couldn’t climb since even a small child would have been able to make it up and over the barrier. I consulted with our group about how to bypass the area, but the people in the camp had already seen us.
There was a flurry of activity in the camp and I watched in amazement as one of the vehicles was put into neutral and manually pushed out of the way. Five riders on horseback galloped through the opening and up the rise to meet us. I cursed at our stupidity for foolishly silhouetting ourselves on the hill. There was nothing to do but unsling our weapons and have them accessible, while trying to remain unthreatening to these people.
The riders were at our location within moments. They wore heavy duster jackets and cowboy hats, with scarves over their faces and each carried a rifle across his lap. I was reminded of a hundred different westerns I’d seen over the years.
“What are you folks doin’ on the road?” one of them asked.
I stepped forward a half step and replied, “We’re making our way southwest to try to get below the snowline. Get somewhere warmer where we can try to grow some crops.”
“Good luck with that buddy, the snow’s everywhere,” another of the riders answered.
“You some kind of farmer?” another rider snickered. “Ain’t got no use for farmers.”
“Yeah, well, it’s already much better here than it was where we came from so we’re hopeful that we’ll…”
I never even saw the rider kick his horse forward. The big beast’s chest slammed into my body and sent me spinning away. I heard shouting and saw a flurry of movement all around me but my head was spinning from the blow. I tried to get up on my hands and knees but was kicked in the side and I crumpled over. I tried to make sense of what was happening and started to pick my head up again. A shadow fell over me and I looked up in time to see the butt of a rifle come crashing down into my face.