Death Stories for Those Who Stayed Behind - DeWalt
He never thought himself to be unreasonable or stubborn, but that’s what his crew would say when they were angry. He felt he was a fair businessman, reasonable even. He knew the intricacies of accounting better than anyone he’d ever met, and rightfully so. Ledgers, contracts, and inventory management had been literally bred into his family line for generations. The art of negotiating contracts & deals came relatively easy to him, until his crew at The Roadhouse in Steel Horse Crossing. It was a new challenge to him and secretly he simultaneously hated and loved every minute of it.
As much as he despised being run around like a solestros, he thrived on the negotiations veiled as common social interaction. However, lately he had begun to enjoy the social interaction more than all the time he’d been sitting at a desk running numbers. What was this town doing to him? Building a tavern in a small outpost town on several trade routes seemed like an excellent mid to long term investment. This was the first time he’d taken on a project of his very own without his family’s backing or interest. It was something just for him (and his employees) to enjoy the profits of their labor.
It wasn’t without a hundred different difficulties, all new to him with it being a unique venture. He hadn’t had such opinionated people in his employ before. Why didn’t anyone tell him the location he chose for the tavern was directly on a path the local raiders had been using for quite some time? When the train brought in tourists and travellers, sometimes they didn’t have enough hooch to fulfill their needs and had to send them somewhere else for their thirst. Sometimes they had inventory to spare and the train & trails brought nothing but dust and zed. He knew there were risks in building in a fairly young town, but Grandfather always taught that if one doesn’t invest in the beginnings of things, they miss the biggest payoffs. DeWalt was starting to think the old may have missed the mark with that one because he certainly hadn’t done anything distinctly wrong.
The rest of the crew had grabbed everything of value and were on their way out of town. No one knew where the safest route out of town exactly was, but they knew they needed to head South and quickly. He hoped they somehow avoided the swarms of raiders attacking the roads because they were all carrying so much. Heck, Phillips had an entire still strapped on his back. There was no way they were going to be able to handle outrunning warpath raiders or any of those other nasty ones working with them. Odds are most of them will make it in one piece.
He walked swiftly back to the Roadhouse to make the arrangements. He nestled little bundles of oil-soaked rags around the perimeter of her floor. He used the broomhandle to loosen the wooden roof tiles up so that there’d be better airflow. He was just hauling the very last armfull of tinder inside when he heard the barbaric screams coming up the swamp trail behind the bar. He barely had enough time to set it down and grab his weapon when he heard the pounding on the door. This wasn’t the first time something tried to pound that damned door down, but it certainly was the first time it had gotten barricaded shut while the bar got lit up from the inside.
He wasn’t going to give those filthy raiders the satisfaction of using the Roadhouse as a trap to lure others again. He wasn’t going to yell for help or run out the back so that he could lead them to the people trying to evacuate. These damned raiders had done this crap so many times over the last few years that it was almost kind of funny at this point. DeWalt sat his hammer down on the bar, found his chair, and cracked open the finest bottle of hooch he had stashed just for this occasion. Propping his feet up on the bar, he took a drag off a fine cigar he’d been saving for a while, and took a swig of hooch before saying loud enough for the raiders (but not the townsfolk) to hear “This is MY damned bar and I’m not leaving!”
Realizing the people they heard inside were not coming out, the raiders attacked it loudly. Perhaps they were trying to intimidate the denizens of the Roadhouse into leaving by throwing loud explosives at it, making their presence incredibly known to the last straggling evacuees of Steel Horse Crossing. DeWalt enjoyed these few moments of seemingly complete madness by realizing he’d never been more serious, more sane in his whole life. He bent over and lit the little pile of oily rags with his cigar and laughed loud enough to antagonize the raiders further. They busted through the door, faces dripping with sweat & blood, covered in scars. He picked his axe up off the bar, spit the cigar across the room, and stood in front of the beautiful hearth with the stone owl. “COME AND GET IT!”, he yelled just as the rags and everything else lit up like a bonfire and the melee began.
The townsfolk heard the yelling coming from the Roadhouse and smelled smoke. As they always did, they dropped whatever they were doing and looked in the direction of the bar at the edge of the swamp. In that split moment of listening, the Roadhouse blew up loudly, scattering small pieces of wood and stone all over town before the smoldering door landed right next to Town Hall. Every person still anywhere near Steel Horse Crossing shouted, “GO TIME!” and scattered to their rides as quickly as possible.
He knew he was dead. The smell of his own burnt flesh may have put him off from eating any meat cooked over a fire again. He laid there slumped on the floor of the burning building, inhaling the toxic smoke through a hole in his face where his mouth used to be and through a hole or five in his throat and lungs. It sounded more like gurgling and he didn’t know why he even bothered to try. The explosion made quick work of the bar and it was just steadily burning now. It sounded just like a lovely fire roaring in the fireplace. It would have been almost comforting had he not heard the pops, bangs, and screams of about a dozen of the stragglers taken down by snipers and traps on their way out of town. He imagined there would have been a lot more of those pops had the Roadhouse not burned as loudly & brightly as it did. Good thing they had a solid door.