A dim bulb flickered on. After tossing me into the cage and locking the door shut, Liam and Gloria had turned their backs on me. They now stood at a bench, talking in low voices. I had to fight down the urge to gag.
The room was small and poorly lit, completely void of windows. I guessed that they’d carried me into the basement. A wooden bench ran around the outside edges of the room, its continuity broken only by the staircase and a pair of heavily-stained refrigerators. The bench was mottled with patches of darker colour against the wood, the source of which I couldn’t begin to fathom. From where I cowered in my cage, I could see knives and saws and all sorts of peculiar utensils scattered across the benchtop, but I didn’t need to see those things to know the intentions of the Willows.
Three other cages, very similar to my own, stood nearby, two of them holding skeletons and the last housing a young woman, stripped naked and covered in festering wounds. She moaned weakly every now again, but these sounds of misery and agony went unremarked by our captors.
My hands were tied behind my back. My mouth was gagged. Thankfully, they had neither blindfolded me or bound my legs, but for the first time in my life I felt truly helpless. My weapons were all back in the bedroom, and even if I chose to run, there was no hope of escape. Far from trying to make plans, my mind was occupied with self-blame. How could I have been so stupid to find myself in this situation? I’d been too trusting, first with Reed and then with these freaks. I’d been too keen for a reprieve, for a bit of comfort and a feeling of family. It was my fault. And, no doubt, my weaknesses had put Reed in danger too.
“Valken,” said Liam, turning to me with his smile in place and a blade as long as his forearm in hand, “We are all so happy that you decided to stay in our little community this evening. Company is always such a pleasure, and fresh food is better.”
As Liam addressed me, Gloria unlocked the woman’s cage, dragged her out by her hair, oblivious to the screams, and with one swift movement, slashed her throat open. As the body slumped to the floor, Gloria began to lick her now blood-drenched hands, smiling at me all the while. Together, they hung the body from the ceiling by a meat hook before beginning to sharpen their utensils.
Surely, I began to think, I was in some kind of nightmare inspired by that indefinable sense of dread that had plagued me during the day, combined with Reed’s sale of the child. All I had to do was close my eyes, will myself awake and I would find myself back in the bed where they’d left me, and I’d be able to leave this town behind.
My Pip-Boy alarm began to sound. My eyes flew open, expecting to be met with an empty room, dimly lit by the filtered light of the moon streaming through the window. Instead, the scene remained unchanged. Gloria and Liam continued sharpening their utensils while the body swung slightly, a pool of congealing blood slowly forming beneath it.
“Jesus!” cried Liam. As he jumped back, a knife slipped from his hand and clattered on the concrete floor. The smile was plastered across his face again in seconds. “Now, Valken, making a fuss will only cause trouble for you. Why don’t you be a good man and switch off that alarm for me?”
I shrugged to indicate that I wasn’t able to. He seemed to understand what the gesture meant, and moved towards me and walked behind my cage. I could feel him fiddling with the Pip-Boy, his proddings slowly growing more impatient as the alarm continued to chime.
“Damn it,” he murmured, then I felt the blade of his knife caress my neck. “I’m going to free your hands, and you’re going to turn off the alarm, and then there’s going to be no more trouble, okay. Remember, we’re your friends, Valken.”
Words like that, far from soothing an imprisoned man, act as a goad. I still can’t comprehend how he could think that a false overture of friendship would negate my knowledge that I was going to be his dinner for the next month. A ready-made plan leapt into my mind.
As soon as I felt the bonds begin to loosen, I activated V.A.T.S. As the chemicals flooded through my body, I twisted in the cage, time continuing to slow. Liam’s eyes widened, but he was realising his mistake too late to save his life. Bloodlust and a desire for revenge drove me as I wrenched the blade from his hands, reached through the bars of the cage and buried it in his chest. He was dead before he hit the ground.
The blinding speed given by the hyperawareness of V.A.T.S. wasn’t enough to help me unlock the cage, however, so I could only watch as Gloria turned and reeled back in slow motion, waiting for her to pull out the gun that would end my life. I could see her eyes darting about, her hands reaching towards the counter. I remember wishing that I could have another chance at this day so that I could avoid making the mistakes that would mean I never got to see Dad again, and in doing so, I closed my eyes, prepared for the inevitable.
I heard a door creak open and heavy steps coming down the stairs. They could only belong to Sally’s father, Henry, and so seal my fate.
“Henry.” Gloria’s breathless voice confirmed it.
For the first time in a long time, I began silently to pray, ‘God, I know I’ve not been a good person during my time out here in the Waste, if ever I was one even in the Vault. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I don’t deserve much of anything besides a quick death. But please, if there is a Heaven, an afterlife of any kind, let me meet my mother there, and let us watch over my father together.’
“Henry. He… he killed Liam. I.. I.. I don’t…”
“Good on ‘im.”
That rustic voice… My eyes snapped open in time to see Reed’s arm jerk alongside the explosive report of a Magnum .357, and Gloria’s skull open to paint a crazy flower of blood and brains against the wall behind her.
Without so much as a word, Reed freed me from the cage and led the way back upstairs and into the cool night air. Bork and the Brahmin were waiting on the other side of the road, with the Yao Guai feasting on the mauled corpse of Sally’s mother. Although my stomach roiled at the sight, I felt a sense of vindictiveness. I could also appreciate the irony of a cannibal being eaten. But there was something imposing in Reed’s manner that prevented me from saying anything to him. We set out in the same unbroken silence.
We were some way out of the town, amidst a great pile of stones when Reed’s footsteps stopped.
I turned to look at him. “What’s wrong?”
“You ain’t ‘m been honest wi’ me, Valken.” he had the Magnum levelled at my chest.
“We’re all entitled to our secrets, aren’t we?”
“No’ ‘f ‘m gonna put me in danger. How y’ so green y’ don’ know that were a trap? E’en churren know dem small, smiley villages be the wors’ kin’.”
“That’s a lie. You didn’t know either, or you wouldn’t have stayed.”
“‘Twas a test, y’ dolt. An’ y’ failed. S’ tell me now, where y’ from an’ where y’ gwan?”
Though he said the words in an even, kindly tone, the bass rumble of Bork clearly made it clear that it was a threat. “Fine. Girdershade ain’t my final destination. I’m looking for Vault 112, which I’ve been told is somewhere nearby.”
“Dem Vaul’s be bad news. Why you ‘m be lookin’ fo’ ’em?”
I sighed. No doubt I could have put together some elaborate lie that he would have believed. Maybe that I was on a mission for the collection of old-world artefacts for Abraham Washington back at Rivet City, or that the Brotherhood of Steel had asked me to search the Vault for some particular item. Instead, I told him what truth seemed relevant: that I was following a trail of breadcrumbs that would lead me to my father. I told him a little about my childhood and a little about my journey so far.
He stood silent, contemplative, after I’d finished.
“Well…” I prompted.
“I know where Vaul’ One-One-Two be. Mi’l o’ th’ Waste. Tha’ Deathclaw terr’t’ry. Y’ won’ reach the door.”
My heart sunk. Surely I wouldn’t be faced with another such setback. Surely my luck wasn’t that bad. I was hoping that he was mistaken when I said, “I have to at least try.”
“S’lung as I git paid, I dun ca’e. I’ll take y’ dere.”
Our long march that night was uneventful. The sailing of the moon across the sky, to us, was marked by the slow thickening and giving way of a loose forest, with the ground beneath our feet growing ever rockier.
For the second night in a row, my pursuers went unseen, and I was beginning to think they were nothing more than a figment of my imagination. How could I be sure that they weren’t just another lonesome wanderer like myself? But then I remembered Grandma Sparkles’s warning. Talon Company. They’d attacked Rivet City just because I was there. I’d seen the corpses. They, at least, were real.
The sun was just beginning to break over the horizon when ahead of us loomed a short ravine. The ground seemed to fall away sharply on the other side, but, as yet, we could see nothing of the landscape beyond.
“Howdy!” Reed’s voice, loud and unexpected, made me jump.
A figure, indistiguishable from the rock face a moment before, moved towards us silently. I unhitched the shotgun from its place on my backpack and cradled it in my arms.
“Wouldn’t be wise o’ ya to try threatening me with that, boy. You in our territory.”
Reed seemed to come alive on hearing the words. “Jonas? Da’ yo’ voice?”
“Reed? Well I’ll be damned. It’s an age since we saw you ’round these parts.”
Jonas led us through a crack in the rock and into a massive cavern home to two dozen people at least. On walking through, I felt a chill of déjà vu. Last time I’d been in a place like this, I’d been ankle deep in the blood of men, women, and children that I’d slaughtered. I could feel myself blanching. Why did that memory have to come up?
It felt strange in that Raider outpost, being greeted like old friends and treated like honoured guests when all I could think of was the trail of bodies behind me. No doubt the people I was amongst had done even more horrible things, but I couldn’t bury my guilt in that thought. Maybe that’s why I gave myself over to the chaotic carousing and drunkenness that seemed the way of life for those people.
I can’t say how much or how long I drank. All I know is that eventually I passed out, and thought no more until I was woken by screams.
Disclaimer: The preceding is a narrative account of the author’s playthrough of Fallout 3. It is not paid content. Fallout 3 and all related trademarks remain the property of Bethesda Softworks. OnlySP.com team members have no personal or professional affiliation with Bethesda Softworks or any related companies.