Light costs the fuel it burns.
Dan Lloyd had been slumped over his drink in the dim lit pub for near ten minutes before an assembly of Greys staggered drunkenly through the door. Their hands and clothes caked in dried blood or mud; or both. He had hoped for a quiet evening supping at his chipped mug of foul tasting whiskey. His only respite from the world outside those old gates. He slunk back into the shadows as the gang threatened their way to their own reserved table. He tried not to watch them but his past with these vermin had necessitated it. He noted their patterns; how they walked; how they held themselves. Weighing up their strengths and weaknesses for what he hoped wouldn’t be another infraction. He reclined and shut his eyes, desperately trying to shake off his rising anger when he heard the Greys demand free drinks and food.
‘You!’ Grunted a voice above him. He didn’t answer. He didn’t want to answer. Nothing he could say could lead him backwards now. ‘You! I’m talking to you!’ They hissed.
‘What?’ He snapped, opening his eyes finally. Before him stood a dirt-covered teenager dressed in a worn set of clothes that looked to have been painted and repaired several times. No-one was making clothes any more. People just stole or scavenged the ones that were left; there wasn’t much call for fashion or even the flickering of brief style any more. Survival was what mattered now. The sign of a good jacket was its weather stains and easy to repair tares; those were the ones that lasted the cold winters and scorching summers.
‘I want your seat!’ Growled the Grey, his beady eyes showing a malicious anger.
‘Too bad, I’m sitting in it.’ He said, considering his next response and its consequences.
‘I don’t think you’re listening to me!’
‘No, I heard you fine. And I ain’t moving!’ He interrupted, his bruised fingers stroking the handle of the machete under his table. After a menacing stare down the Grey skulked away with his tail between his legs. This wasn’t a good sign. Greys had a propensity for stick together like rats in a flooded basement. He hurried his whisky now. Raising his hand he caught the barkeepers attention.
‘I need two more.’ He ordered, glancing to the Greys as they turned around to look at him; the greasy teenager whispering something to them one by one, pointing his thin finger at him with a smirk.
‘Absolutely, If you’ve got the coin!’ Responded the barkeep. Dan held up half of a white candle that looked to have been used sparingly. The man’s eyes lit up with joy. ‘For that, you could have ten drinks!’
‘Just two is fine.’ He smirked.
‘Right away!’ He grinned, bouncing away like a child with a new toy. The barman raced quickly across the bar, the small candle gripped in his hands. As he busied himself he placed the candle down with care by his workstation.
‘Where’d you get that candle?’ Asked one of the Greys, his beady eyes flicking between the barman and the candle.
‘Customer.’ Explained the barman, his fat fingers clasped around it as if his life depended on it. A rumble ran through the air as the Greys all turned to look at Dan. With a sigh he stood; his machete now concealed under his coat. As he walked toward the bar he wrapped a knuckle on its run down the surface to get the attention of the man behind who had stepped back in fear.
‘Changed my mind about those drinks.’ He explained, reclaiming the candle from the hands of the barman with some effort.
‘We want that fuel old man!’ Spat one of the Greys as they stepped out in front of Dan, his dirt-stained face shielding a young man no older than seventeen.
‘Alright, first. I’m not an old man. I’m thirty-seven. Second, Unless you plan to trade for it, it’s mine.’ He explained, his irritation showing as he stepped around the first Grey without care.
‘Come on lads! Drinks.’ Quaked the barkeeper, anticipating trouble as the other patrons exited the pub like birds fleeing a burning tree.
‘Are you a walker?’ Asked the apparent leader of the Greys, his freshly cleaned baton flashing as he waved it threateningly under Dan’s chin. ‘Walkers aren’t welcome in Dawn.’
‘I’ve been here for a while. I feel welcome.’ Eluded Dan as he looked about as if people would suddenly spring to his side. It happened quickly. Before the Grey could gather himself Dan was standing with one of the gang members throat in the vice-like grip.
‘You’re outnumbered, old man!’ Grinned one of the teenagers as his group scrambled to arm themselves with the weapons from their pockets and packs; their bloodstained hands holding knifes and various blunt objects threateningly.
‘I’ve been outnumbered before.’ He quipped. ‘Have you ever fought someone who is even a little capable?’ Asked Dan as he stepped forward, throwing the now choking Grey toward his friends. ‘You could just let me walk out of here. We’ll forget anything happened. You can continue raping and pillaging what’s left of the world. Live to fuck another day!’ he added as he removed his machete from the folded coat, placing it on the bar to his right. Without dropping eye contact he put the jacket on and picked up the black and silver machete. In a sudden explosion of violence, the Greys darted forward as a fight burst into life. Fights of passion or anger don’t last long. They fought without form or proper purpose. Throwing punches and kicks like they were trying to kill a startled animal. Dan wasn’t an animal; he had been in more fights than he could count. Without using his machete he managed to knock three of them unconscious in as many moves. Three remained as they took a second to appreciate their predicament. One he threw across the bar, the sound of him hitting the shelving behind indicating the breaking of many mugs and bones. A well-timed and easily attained punch to the throat left one of the two remaining Greys choking on his own blood. Bending over to pick up his pack, he paused and looked around to the now destroyed bar.
‘Sorry.’ He said as he threw two new candles to the barkeep. As he turned to leave the fowl faced teenager sprang forward with a knife drawn. With a wild swing of the small blade, he made contact with Dan’s shoulder, cutting it deep enough for a spray of blood to break through his thick coat. With a quick turn and a swing of his machete, Dan cut off the hand of the Grey and threw him to the dingy floor. The twitching fingers hit the dirt and hay stained floor with the slap only a dismembered body part could.
‘Now you have no hand and I don’t think there are many doctors left in Dawn since you all chased them out.’ Dan explained, cleaning his machete on the shirt of the teenager. ‘I suppose that’s the rod for your own back.’ He added rooting through the pockets of one of the unconscious. As he stood he heard a click that he knew all too well. ‘P99.’ He said as he turned to see a group of armed men entering the pub.
‘Don’t move Lloyd!’ Ordered the man in front, a handgun raised to his chest.
‘I’m gonna’ put my machete down.’ Dan declared, raising one hand in compliance. ‘Now I’m going to remove my pack.’ He explained as he raised his other hand after threading it through the straps of his green and grey pack; carefully avoiding his still bleeding shoulder.
‘Do you have any other weapons?’ Asked the leader, signalling one of his men to pat Dan down.
‘Clear.’ Acknowledged as he stepped away.
‘Breaking more rules.’ Drawled the man Dan knew to be head of the guard in the small town of Dawn. ‘Drinking before curfew; carrying a weapon indoors; fighting with gang members; destruction of Dawn property.’ He listed before signalling to the other guards to seize Dan. ‘This was your final warning, walker!’ He added before he jammed a swift blow of the butt of his gun into the back of Dan’s head.
This wasn’t the first time he had woken up in this cell; the familiar smell of stale urine and oil bringing it back into focus quickly. He lay for a moment as a flood of memories rushed him. He remembered fighting and drinking, those two memories intermingled with other similar memories.
‘Walker!’ Called a high pitched voice to his left. ‘Walker! Wake up!’ Dan slowly pulled himself up and sat painfully on the mattress that sat loosely in the rusted bed frame, touching the back of his head as it throbbed. ‘Looks like you’re in the shit now!’ said the voice Dan didn’t recognise. ‘This is your third stay!’ It added.
‘So! It means you’re about to be kicked out! Third strike!’
‘Dawn is a shit hole anyway! Too many Greys!’ Retorted Dan looking to the person in the next cell. He was young, maybe in his early twenties. He had a number of fresh cuts and bruises along his fowl face. He was dressed in usual grey attire, faded and mismatched colours with lines of paint or pointless markings.
‘Don’t you dare talk shit about Greys! We will rip you to shreds!’
‘I’m sure you will.’ Retorted Dan sarcastically.
After around an hour, the sound of keys jingling filled the air. Two doors opened and a burly man Dan knew to be Bill, the self-elected leader of Dawn. he entered, eyeing up the two prisoners.
‘Ready to tell me where your leader is?’ He asked the Grey, his thick Scottish twang calling clear.
‘I would rather die than sell him out!’ Hissed the Grey, his blemished face mangled as he bared his yellow teeth like a trapped animal.
‘You just might!’ Retorted Bill. ‘And you. You know you have something of a reputation in Dawn as a waster, a drunk and a walker.’
‘Yeah, probably.’ Acknowledged Dan, looking out of the small barred window.
‘I remember when you came here, looking for work, looking to help Dawn, to use your skills as… whatever it is you were before the Dark.’ He eluded as he unbolted the cell door with a colossal ring of keys.
‘Careful around those people!’ Warned the Grey, his piercing eyes scanning Dan as he sat back down. Bill sat painfully down next to Dan and exhaled loudly.
‘There are eleven Greys looking for you Lloyd. You should have seen what I had to do to stop them coming in here.’
‘You should have let them in. The less of those people the better!’ Stated Dan looking to the Grey in the cell.
‘You better stop talking shit about the Greys, or I’ll…’ Snapped the Grey, pushing his chest against the bars.
‘What? Break out of prison and run away? You Greys are like rats; Laughable in small numbers!’
‘SHUT UP BOTH OF YOU!’ Bill boomed, his temper wearing as he stood up quickly. ‘You’re both as pointless as each other! We have rules in this place. Rules you agreed to follow.’
‘I know that.’ Started Dan looking up.
‘Do you? Because killing a Grey isn’t something I remember telling you to do.’
‘Killing?’ Said the two prisoners in chorus.
‘No doctors left. The one without a hand bled to death shortly after your little scrap.’ He explained.
‘YOU DID THIS!’ Roared the Grey shaking the bars feverishly.
‘I did.’ Said Dan nonchalantly.
‘Come with me.’ Ordered Bill, pointing to the door.
‘WE’LL GET YOU! YOU FUCKING WALKER!’ shouted the Grey reaching to grab Dan as he walked by. With a swift and powerful kick, he snapped his hand backwards. The Grey screamed as Dan walked away smiling.
‘I’m sure you will.’ He added exiting through the metal door which was being held open by a guard who was clearly stifling a smile. When he arrived outside he was met by Bill as he dropped Dan’s belongings down at his feet.
‘You have an hour to get out of Dawn.’ He sighed.
‘John. You don’t have to do this, sir.’ Pleaded Dan picking up his pack and machete.
‘You don’t have to call me Sir any more Lloyd. Those days are gone.’
‘It’s almost dark.’ Breathed Dan looking up at the sky instinctively.
‘All the more reason to get a shift on then.’ Snapped John, his hands stroking the gun he always had with him. ‘You remember when you came here. Looking for somewhere to stay.’ He added looking at Dan with pity.
‘And I let you, despite you being a Walker, despite your violent streak, despite it all.’
‘Sir.’ Said Dan, knowing already that Bill’s mind was made up.
‘We’re not serving anymore Dan. The fights over, this is what we have now. It’s because we served together I let it go this far. I’m starting to regret that now.’ Explained Bill with a sigh. ‘You’ve got an hour to get out of Dawn. If you don’t, then the Greys won’t have to kill you.’ He added as he walked away and disappeared out of sight.
‘Sir.’ Acknowledged Dan. He had seen the things John had done to secure Dawn’s place as a safe haven for people escaping the endless cruelty of the dark. After bolting his machete to the side of his bag he headed through the doors of the prison and into the street where he was met with the usual staring eyes and the occasional insult. When it came down to it, there were only three things he cared about in this world. His old and torn map of the entire United Kingdom was chief amongst the list. For a long time he had marked and altered it; adding new place names and marking areas where only fools would stride. While he was walking back to his room in an old broken down hotel he traded some old dried twigs for some water. He flipped over his mattress and removed his belongings, placing them in his pack hurriedly as the sun began its silent decline. After he had packed everything he stood for a second and took a breath. He didn’t know what to do next, he could already feel the shakes rising as his body begged for any sort of alcoholic beverage. A few minutes later he stepped out onto the street and was heading toward the old gate. The streets were emptying now, the gold was on the walled village of Dawn when he finally got sight of the only exit.
‘Banished?’ Asked a harsh voice from around the corner of the old rice building.
‘Yep.’ Reported Dan, not bothering to stop as he adjusted the straps of his pack.
‘After your body parts are exploded across the old gate, what do you want me to do with all your stuff?’ Scoffed the woman joining him at his side as he paced. A small group of men assembling around her as she walked. He supposed they were trying to look menacing as they spread their shoulders out like monkeys trying to assert dominance.
‘I don’t suppose it’ll matter.’ Mused Dan removing his pack and searching through it while he walked.
‘Can I have your machete?’ She hissed as she went to grab it by the handle. Moving quickly to avoid her snatching hand Dan paused.
‘I thought you’d learnt not to do that again.’ He said looking to her scarred hand as she held it painfully, the bruise he had gifted her still raw. ‘Stealing is against the rules isn’t it?’
‘I thought killing Greys was against the rules!’ She retorted. ‘Who by the way! Are desperate to talk to you.’
‘Who? The Greys?’
‘Yep. They want to use you as fuel.’ She sang. ‘So why not just give me your things?’
‘Because if you try to take anything that belongs to me, maybe I’ll cut more than a hand off my next victim.’ He said not bothering to stop as the group around him did.
‘You ought to be careful what you say!’ Snapped the woman, her cronies, circling around him.
‘Two broken legs not healing properly; one has an infected injury on his left shoulder and this one has two fractured fingers.’ Dan listed as he eyed up the men. ‘And you.’ He added turning to the woman who had been clenching her fists in poorly repressed rage. ‘You’re about as strong and able as a soft breeze. I’d prefer to leave this cesspit without having to injure any more people. But if that’s how it is.’ He sighed as he wrapped his fingers around the handle of his machete.
‘What’s going on here?’ Asked an old grizzled Scottish voice from behind.
‘Nothing.’ Said the woman as she slunk back.
‘Doesn’t look like nothing!’
‘It’s nothing, Norman.’ Stated Dan as he walked toward him.
‘You sure?’ He asked, accepting Dan’s handshake as they started to walk together. The woman and her entourage sunk back into the alleys.
‘Yeah, it’s fine. Thanks though, I’m not in the mood for another fight.’ Dan explained as they walked quickly toward the old gate. The wall that shielded Dawn from the horrors of the road was made of stone and wood in a patchwork pattern. Old car doors and any metal object that could be found was cemented to the base of this twenty-foot fall.
‘Indeed. I see they took my request to patch you up.’ Norman said tapping Dan’s still sore gash across his shoulder.
‘Oh, I’ve you to thank for that then?’
‘Yeah. Least I could do after you dealt with that pack of fuckin’ animals.’ He smirked.
‘Why let them in?’
‘I’m told to let in anyone who could trade.’ Norman sighed. ‘If it were up to me I’d shoot them while they knocked on the door.’ He added in a whisper, looking around nervously.
‘Lock the gates as soon as I’m out.’ Requested Dan.
‘You’ve been banished again?’
‘Yeah. Open the gate!’ He yelled looking up to the guard who was perched atop, his rifle in hand as he scanned.
‘Can’t you just wait till morning? The first blue is at seven.’ Pleaded Norman.
‘He wants me out by sundown.’ Explained Dan. After a brief pause, Norman looked up and nodded. The wood and metal creaked as the gates were thrown open, the thick forms wobbling as the chains that held them ran over rusty cogs.
‘Goodbye, Lloyd.’ Said Norman solemnly. Dan nodded as he headed out into the almost silent world beyond the gate.
‘Be careful.’ Dan warned, pointing to the woman and her group as they re-entered the street to watch Dan leave.
As he stepped over the threshold he heard Norman shouting as the huge plates of the gate swung shut with a thud. ‘There’s no light outside the gate tonight!’ He yelled frantically. Dan turned and watched the gatekeeper moving toward the quickly decreasing gap.
‘What? Why?’ Asked Dan.
‘He doesn’t want the fuel to be wasted, what with winter coming!’
‘Is Stock still standing?’
‘Yes. Dark is in about twenty minutes. If you run. You might make it!’ Norman belted through the now-closed gate.
‘If the Greys ask which I went. Tell them North!’ Dan shouted before turning to find the town of Stock on the horizon. It wasn’t far. After a hasty stretch and strapping his possessions tight he started.
‘Can I trouble you for some spare light, sir!’ Said a voice from inside a recess in the wall. A very weak looking man in his late fifties stepped out, his torn clothes and gaunt appearance more than enough to categorise him as a settler.
‘Not any spare.’ Said Dan turning.
‘Alright. Well, thanks.’ Sniffed the settler.
‘You should run with me to Stock. It’s not safe out here.’ Said Dan, an appreciation for the old man’s existence causing him to be uncharacteristically friendly to someone he didn’t know.
‘Run!? At my age?’ Laughed the man. ‘Not a chance.’
‘It’s not that far.’ Dan postulated squinting into the distance.
‘Too far for someone like me. I’ll stay here.’ Waved the settler, turning to return to his hole in the wall.
‘Fair enough.’ Said Dan starting a jog. ‘There’s no light outside the gate tonight!’ He yelled turning to run backwards. Like a bolt of gaunt lightening, the settler darted out of his hole, his age not showing as he sprinted past Dan; his eyes filled with a fear only the Dark could provoke.