Hours later, the sun was beginning to rise as he saw the town come into view. The road was clear to the gates, all the dead cars having been salvaged for scrap long ago. Vincent saw men on top of the walls, keeping an eye on the road. He continued his walk, and was noticed when he was a mile or so from the town. He took his time, making no sudden moves, even waving at the guards, empty jerry can hanging off his belt. They shouted at him to stop about twenty yards from the gate, and he complied, putting his hands up and interlacing his fingers on top of his head.
Five guards stood atop the wall, all armed, all pointing weapons at him. Three rifles, one bow, and one crossbow, all aimed at his center mass. One of the riflemen, a dark skinned, hard faced man, wearing a cap to keep the sun from his eyes, shouted, “Name and business.”
Not a question, Vincent noted, and replied, “Vincent Tassin. Trade.”
“Gas.” Vincent turned so they could see the small can on his back.
“What you got can pay for gas?”
“Ammo. Some of it might fit that rifle,” he gestured with his elbow. “Also got a bit of silver, if y’have any use for it. But what I got that you might actually want, is this.”
He removed one hand from the top of his head and crept it toward his jacket. The guards tightened their grips on their weapons and refocused their aim. If he tried anything, he would die. Vincent reached into his inside breast pocket, and removed a small, clear, glass cylinder filled with a white dust. He held it between his thumb and first and middle fingers, and shook it a little.
“Is that?” The guard asked him, a look of wonder dawning on his face.
“Pure salt,” Vincent said. “And more where that came from. I just need some fuel to get my bike up here. Got a couple more vials of this in my pocket. Maybe I’ll trade some more when I come back through. With my motorcycle.”
“Fine,” the guard said. “You can pass. Open the gate!”
The gate, made up of a school bus with various car parts and sheet metal welded to it, was thrown into neutral and pushed back. Vincent looked at what had once been the bus’s windows and realized there had been far more guards than he’d thought. He couldn’t see enough to count, but there were plenty of slits in that bus you could stick a rifle through. Shaking his head, he made his way up to the gate, meeting the guard as he got closer.
Putting his rifle on his shoulder, the guard eyed Vincent and said, “You’re free to come and go as you like, but we have one law. Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing. You savvy?”
“I’m just passing through.”
“Keep it that way.”
Vincent nodded, tired of this tough guy routine, and walked past the guard. The town was a squalid affair, built on the remains of a suburb near one of the many swamps in Louisiana. Buildings were built of log, rusty sheet metal, or dilapidated wood from before The War. Around the still standing houses they’d built walls to keep out wandering creatures, and here they eked out a squalid existence, fearing to move to safer environs with more humans. For a moment Vincent wondered what they would do when Warlord Buramog came knocking at their door. All the salt and crossbows in the world wouldn’t help them then. He decided it wasn’t his problem, and looked for someplace to buy fuel.
Feeling something move in his back pocket, his hand shot out faster than a viper and latched around the wrist of a teenage boy who wasn’t as quick as he thought he was. Vincent’s other hand drew his large Bowie knife, and with a practiced motion he spun the kid around, pinning the youngster to his chest with an iron strong arm. The knife he put in front of the kid’s face, close as he could get it without risking the kid jumping and putting his own eye out, and whispered, “Drop it. Now.”
Something clinked to the ground, and Vincent nodded, but didn’t let the kid go. “Now,” he continued,” do you know where I can buy some fuel? Gasoline? Just point me to it.”
The kid’s other hand, which had been locked around Vincent’s arm, let go and, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, pointed down the street. “T-t-try at Dee’s. She might have some.”
“Good boy.” He withdrew the knife and shoved the kid into the street, then looked down to retrieve what he’d tried to steal. It was a locket, and Vincent was glad he’d caught the kid before he’d had to chase him. I’d hate to get strung up my first day here, he thought. Killing children, even thieves, was frowned upon by most societies.
Vincent looked over and saw the same guard he’d been dealing with all this time motion to his knife, and look pointedly at the kid running for his life. “We have a problem?”
A wolfish grin came to Vincent’s lips, and he slammed the knife back into the sheath, shaking his head. He tossed the locket up and caught it, calling back, “No problem. Just getting some directions.”
He heard the guard snort at him, but he didn’t pay any heed. Dee’s, the kid said, he thought. Now where is Dee’s? Walking down the street he came to a ramshackle building with the word “Dee’s” written on it in crude, white paint. Shaking his head and sighing again, he opened the door and entered.
If you enjoyed this story, you can find more of my work in the DimensionBucket Media anthology, Darkest of Dreams: