I came to when they threw water at my head. I was seated upright, with a burlap sack over my head. I was tied to a chair. Metal. No chance I could break out. I tested the knots around my wrists. Sturdy. These people were professionals. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case. They pulled the sack off my head. Thankfully, it was nice and dark in wherever the hell I was. I thought the straw smell was from the bag, but it turns out, I was in a barn. There were two people there: one on my left, and one on my right. The one on the left backed away, lowering the bag; the other moved towards me, raising a gun. Great.
“Tell us what we want to know,” he said sternly.
“What do you want to know?”
“Or I’ll put a bullet in your head.”
This guy wasn’t the real interrogator. I’ve dealt with enough crazy fucks in the last year and a half to know that this guy was full of it. Still, he had a gun pointed at my head. It’s hard to argue with someone like that.
Just as he realized he misspoke, the doors were thrown open on the other end of the barn. It was twilight. Thank God this wasn’t going to be a cliche interrogation.
Three men stepped in from outside. The one in the middle led; he was clearly in charge. The other two were armed, one with a shotgun, the other with an AK. Now escaping really was off the menu.
“You started with the gun? Really? What, do you want her to think you’re desperate?”
The man with the pistol stepped back and put the weapon back in its holster.
“Sorry, Dave, I just got excited…”
“Don’t apologize to me,” the leader replied calmly, “apologize to her. She’s the one whose life you threatened.”
He looked at me apprehensively, then left.
The leader… Dave, I guess, knelt down next to me.
“I apologize on behalf of my colleague,” he began, “He’s very… Excitable. I assume he didn’t hurt you.”
I shook my head. Dave nodded.
“Now, judging by your calm demeanor, I’m guessing this isn’t your first interrogation. I don’t recognize you, so I know it’s your first one with me.”
One of his guards brought him a stool. He sat down to look me straight in the eyes.
“I’ll be quick about this. Why were you sneaking around our territory?”
I stared at him, silently. The first question was always the best chance to judge the character of your interrogator.
He smiled at my silence. “A pawn to block my pawn. Simple, yet speaks volumes. You’re clearly a scavenger, unassociated with any of the various factions in this area. I assume you have been dealing with the other leaders in your time here. But why stay here? Because of the nice weather? I realize that there have been 50 years of winter, but running full-speed to a warm climate despite the risks seems insane to me.”
“There are plenty of people here,” I answered.
Dave’s face lit up.
“Ah! Our silent prisoner finds her voice. Tell me, how long have you been wandering?”
“Two and a half years.”
“Any thoughts of settling down?”
What the hell is this?, I thought. What is he getting at?
“I’ll go ahead and take your befuddled look to mean you hadn’t considered it,” Dave continued. “I would like to offer you a place to live. Free food and water. Safety. Comfort. All in exchange for your… Skills.”
I don’t know what look I gave him. Somewhere between an intended look of bravery and an uncontrolled look of fear.
“Oh, no, not like that,” he quickly added, seeing my expression. “You see, we have need to expand our borders. And no one knows this area or its people quite like a scavenger, particularly one as experienced as you are. We need more land, by any means necessary. You need food and shelter. We can help each other out. What do you say?”
I spat in his face. Next thing I knew, I was on my side with the butt of a shotgun pressed in my temple. His guards didn’t happen to like that answer.
Dave chuckled and wiped his face off. He waved away his guard and sat me back upright.
“I can understand you would hesitate to trust us, but keep in mind that we caught you once. We can do it again. And again. And again. If you escape, you’ll have to deal with us forever chasing you. Or you can accept my offer and never worry about anything again.”
I stared him down. No threats. I wasn’t going to act until he threatened me.
“Or, of course, you could stay here,” he said, turning to walk away. “Which would be a problem, seeing as you can’t move. And to make matters worse, we’re going to burn the building down with you in it if you disagree. This barn is in no-man’s-land; no one will ever know.”
The most terrifying part wasn’t so much the threat itself, but the way he said it. He said it like he had burned down a thousand buildings before and killed hundreds of people. Like nothing mattered. Like nothing was out of his control. My choice was obvious.
“I like living,” I said as flatly as possible.
“Excellent. Let’s hope we can continue to find mutually beneficial solutions to our problems. As a show of good faith, I’ll untie you myself.”
He was very deliberate and careful in the way he untied me. He made sure I wasn’t hurt. When I walked into the open air, I saw his home.
“I don’t believe I caught your name,” Dave said as he led me through his plot of land. He lied about the barn’s location, but I was still unsure if he lied about the fire.
“Alex,” I said.
“Well, Alex,” he said, gesturing towards the buildings overflowing with wires, with antennae poking out everywhere and people running about between solar panels and all sorts of instruments beyond my understanding,
“Welcome to the Alamo.”
Drew Schackmann is a contributing writer for Gutai-Pravda Assembly. You can contact him on Twitter.
© 2015; David “Drew” Schackmann, Jr.