Highway Robbery

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write about someone in a thankless job.... view prompt

34 comments

Fantasy Thriller Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Diamonds, wealth, luxury—none of it holds a torch to self-preservation.

Vaux sorted through a storage trunk, pushing aside a framed photo and picking up a coin purse. The silver pieces clinked together in the pouch. His crew looted the rest of the caravan, pulling apart cupboards and drawers, taking whatever they could find.

It’d been ages since one travelled down their roads.

“The law,” a merchant called, “is going to get all of you.” He struggled against the rope binding his hands, his face in the dirt. Two dead guards lay beside him. Sunlight broke through the shedding trees overhead.

“All of you will hang from the gallows,” he continued. “I swear it. Hounds will sniff you out, a cudgel will break your nose, and you’ll be dragged to town square for your crimes.”

Vaux walked over. He threw the coin purse to a crew member, then knelt beside the merchant, boots digging into the ground. 

“Wait until the law-”

“Listen,” Vaux said. “Laws are for city folk. You can’t put a man on trial if you can’t find him.” He unsheathed his dagger and pointed it to the trail. “Did you know what lies ahead? Did you think your two guards would keep you safe?”

“I’ll hear none of this, thief. Return my belongings at once-”

“It’s better you ran into us than what dwells further down the path. We’re at least offering a quick death.” Vaux held the merchant up and tapped his dagger against his neck. “Should’ve picked your route more wisely, but I’m not complaining.”

The merchant opened his mouth to beg, and Vaux slit his throat.

Blood spattered the leaves. 


- - -


Vaux paced through his camp at dusk.

A dozen bandits picked at what little food remained, sitting around campfires, arguing over cards. Women watched over children—the young ones ripping grass from the earth, searching for worms.

Hungry stares caught his gaze. Deep, sunken eyes. The caravan’s loot could not feed them all, and it wouldn’t be long until winter.

“Captain,” a man said. Vaux stopped and turned to see Rhyer, a long-standing member of the group. “Got a minute?”

They walked to Vaux’s tent and sat across from each other. A map spanned a crate between them. Lamplight lit their faces with an orange glow, and Vaux began dissembling his pistol. It refused to work if not cleaned after every shot.

“This road’s giving us nothing,” Rhyer said. “What’s the plan for packing up and moving? ‘Cause nobody in their right mind is travelling through once they hear the rumours.”

Vaux nodded. He ran a cloth over the pistol’s handle, the wood regaining its shine. 

“We got nowhere else to go,” he said. He looked to the map, trails marked off with an X. “All other roads are just as barren as this one, or already have a group like us that won’t be willing to share.”

“Then what’s your plan? The men are growing restless, Vaux. They trust you to make a decision, but there’s not going to be another merchant with the swine folk living under the bridge.”

Vaux took a vial of black powder from his pocket and reloaded.

“The damn swine,” he said. “They breed quickly in the dark, don’t they? You can hear their cries and squeals if you listen for it. They’re building armour and weapons down there—I’ve seen one with a butcher’s cleaver. How long will it be until they take them to a village?”

“You’re missing the point-”

“Ain’t at all.” His pistol clicked in his hands. “If the swine decide to move out, they’re not going to be stopped. Royal army is out on their crusade for riches. Trade around here’s going to die. Us along with it.”

He pointed his dagger to the map—right on the line marking their road.

“We’re keeping this route as ours. Get every man here to sharpen their weapons. If they’re all restless for a fight, we’ll walk straight into one. We’ll bring it to the swine folk. It’ll be like any highway robbery.”

Moonlight lit the roads. Vaux led his group of bandits down the path, the silver light glinting off their sharpened blades, bandannas pulled up to their eyes. Leaves broke under footsteps. Faint squeals sounded in the distance. 

Corpses littered the path close to the bridge, hunters and runaways prey to the swine folk. A wheelbarrow, poorly put together, held human remains—the limbs of gutted travellers. A feeding trough for the swine. 

Vaux tightened his bandanna against the vile smell.

He stopped outside the entrance. A bundle of sticks tied together acted as a gate to the underpass, fires burning within. He turned to face his crew, who held their weapons at the ready, their thumbs over the levers of their pistols.

“Listen up!” Vaux yelled over the squealing from inside. “None of these pigs are human, do not treat them as such! Show them no mercy! We clear this out, trade will start up again, and then we’ll eat like kings, hear me? Our blades will find the hearts of these monstrosities-”

The gate broke open behind him. A brutish hybrid of man and pig, burly with steel plates covering its chest, charged at him. Spit foamed around its tusks as it swung a serrated blade. The wind rustled the mane running down its spine.

Vaux dodged back—the weapon grazed his coat. He spun his dagger around his hand, then swung a wicked slice that cut into the pig’s neck. It backed up, stumbling. Another bandit shot his pistol. Bone and brain splattered the grounds.

“Don’t leave any of them breathing!”

He charged into the den. Torches made of human remains hung upon the stone walls, fires burning within skulls. Totems of rock with odd symbols scrawled on them stood in the middle. A pig with gold earrings rushed forward, others scrambling to their hooves, knocking over makeshift dining tables and the flesh atop them. 

One swine picked up a drum of stretched human skin and began to play.

Vaux turned and fired a point-blank shot. The bullet exploded through a pig’s chest—it squealed as it dropped, a hole where a human heart would be. Gunfire flashed in the night. He lunged forward, deflecting a cleaver, riposting with an uppercut slice to spill a swine’s guts.

The drum beat to a frantic tune. A skewer whistled through the air, impaling one of Vaux’s men. A small pig with a chain-wrapped hook around its hand killed another, slashing open the bandit’s stomach. The drumming picked up pace, furious, and the swine folk fought to the beat.

“It’s the drummer!” Vaux called, yet his voice went drowned out by the battle. A legless pig crawled to him, balancing on two gaunt arms, taut skin pulsing with veins. It raised its head and puked. 

The projectile vomit hit Vaux’s coat and melted a hole in the leather. He kicked at the pig, then stepped around a body of his own. Another skewer whistled his way. He sidestepped into the wall, the wrong direction, then raised his knife as if to deflect it-

A pistol fired and shot it out of the air.

Rhyer nodded to him—the man’s skin burned with swine vomit.

Their numbers thinned, twelve bandits dropping to six. The large swine, carrying hammers and cleavers, did not fall with ease. His men duelled with the savage beasts, who grew more vicious as the drumming quickened.

Vaux dashed forward. The drummer hid on the opposite side of the underpass, beating two bones against its barbaric instrument. Vaux stabbed his dagger in a swine’s eye, then aimed his pistol, steadying his shot, focusing on the space above the drummer's snout—right between its eyes.

He pulled the trigger. The gun smoked but didn’t shoot.

Misfire.

Vaux cursed, threw the pistol aside, and picked up a cleaver off a dead swine—the handle not fit for human hands. He flung it at the drummer, who raised its arms to block it.

The swine folk froze as the drumming stopped. One bandit sliced open the veins running down a pig’s arm, forcing it to drop its hammer. Another took the second to dodge back and reload their pistol, then ruptured a skull with a well-aimed shot.

Vaux stabbed at the skewer-throwing pig, who seemed confused without the beat of the music. He grabbed a lance from its quiver, then stabbed the drummer before it could get back into rhythm, pushing the rod through its chest, silencing it.

His men fought until no swine was left standing.

By daylight, they dragged corpses of the swine folk to a bonfire. Vaux sent one bandit to town, spreading rumours of the path being clear, then stepped aside to watch the pyre. His men took down the fortifications and freed up the path behind him.

Rhyer approached, stifling a rattling cough.

“Have to get you to a plague doctor,” Vaux said. “All of us. Those pigs are walking disease.”

“Don’t you think we should get a reward?” Rhyer asked. He’d tied clothing around his patches of burnt skin. “The town down the road should thank us. We’ve earned their coin.”

The fire crackled. Swine folk charred black within.

“We’re outlaws,” Vaux said. “Nobody will want anything to do with us. What we did was an act of self-preservation—we don’t get the luxury of credit or thanks. We got rid of experiments that never should have happened. Now we mourn our dead and move on. Winter is on the horizon.” 

Rhyer nodded, covering his mouth to cough.

Vaux walked back to camp.

It wouldn’t be long until the next caravan.

November 24, 2021 08:05

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34 comments

Alex Sultan
08:47 Nov 24, 2021

I had a lot of fun writing this - but I'm not too sure how clear it is. Does it need more imagery? All feedback would be appreciated. Thanks for reading.

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Keya Jadav
13:15 Nov 24, 2021

It's amazing! A little suggestion though, how about highlighting a few features of the swine? The fictional creatures were a bit difficult to strike up with (or maybe it's just me lol)

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Laura Jarosz
22:53 Dec 01, 2021

Actually, I thought this was incredibly descriptive!

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Delia Tomkus
12:31 Dec 06, 2021

I think that if I had one edit it would be to clarify on the swine. I think that it needed just a tiny bit more explanation. Honestly, though, it's really good

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Sam Newsome
01:50 Dec 02, 2021

Dystopia and such graphic descriptions are not my strong points. I would like to see more background as to era, place, or motivation over and beyond bad guys taking care of other bad guys or perhaps mutants.

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Alex Sultan
03:20 Dec 02, 2021

Thank you, Sam. This is great feedback - exactly what I was looking for. It is something I can work into the next fantasy/thriller I write. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Thanks again.

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Laura Jarosz
23:02 Dec 01, 2021

This is a touch darker and gorier than my personal taste, but the creativity at play here is fantastic. You took the prompt in a fresh direction, not only in characters, but in setting. Speaking of setting--the worldbuilding here has some unique touches, and some clever original monsters (at least, I've never read anything like them!) The descriptions and dialogue are solid and believable. I want to read more from this world and this character!

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Alex Sultan
23:27 Dec 01, 2021

Thank you, Laura. This is a very kind comment. While thrillers don't do well on this site competition-wise, comments as kind as this are inspiring. I'd like to think I did alright with this story. Thanks again for reading and the thoughtful words :)

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Delia Tomkus
19:53 Nov 30, 2021

I love this! I am a huge fantasy fan(when I play dnd most of my characters remind me of Vaux)

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Alex Sultan
04:45 Dec 01, 2021

Thank you, Delia. Dark fantasy is one of my favourite genres! It's one I have a lot of exposure to through reading and such. Vaux was a challenge to write, and I'm glad you liked him. Thanks again!

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Sarah Simpson
14:53 Nov 29, 2021

Your intro is fantastic! It really drew me into the story. I love your name choices. I think they are perfect for the setting. You did a great job with Vaux’s dialect. It was consistent and helped establish his personality.

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Alex Sultan
04:47 Dec 01, 2021

Believe it or not, it took me a while to get Vaux's name. I went through a whole list looking for it, passing names like Cole, Yeager, Duval, Kane, etc. None of them clicked like Vaux. Thanks for the kind words Sarah, your comment is very nice :)

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Sarah Simpson
15:14 Dec 01, 2021

I think it creates an image of the character without having to physically describe him.

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Dorsa S.
02:34 Nov 29, 2021

this was such a cool read - the imagery was lovely, especially through the fight. nicely executed plot; enough to keep the story moving but well enough so that the reader can catch on. it could use a bit more information on the creatures. i understood it was a hybrid, but perhaps describe its features that it has for it to resemble both a pig and a human. other than that, well done on this story. good luck in the contest! :)

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Alex Sultan
04:48 Dec 01, 2021

Thank you, friend! This one may be my new favourite on my profile. Your kind words and feedback are very much appreciated - I'm looking forward to your next story.

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Annalisa D.
03:21 Nov 27, 2021

I enjoyed reading this story. It had a great pace to it, lots of excitement and interesting characters. I like the idea of the drum music being what moves and strengthens them. It was creative and a fun read. The swine folk definitely sound creepy and nightmarish. I like the mention of them being charred within the fire at the end. There were some great descriptors and lines. Nice use of the prompt too.

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Alex Sultan
16:47 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you, Anna. I really like the drummer too! I think it is such a cool concept and I'm glad I could convey it effectively. I do find writing these sort of outlaw heroes sort of difficult - balancing the cruelty of killing a merchant while still making Vaux likable was a challenge, so it is nice to hear it worked. Thanks for reading :)

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Tommie Michele
22:45 Nov 26, 2021

Can I just start off by saying that I am SO SORRY for the late edits? I hope you have time to go through them before your story is closed for editing. I had a lot of fun reading through this for the second time, and I love the added imagery with the swine. I saw a comment earlier saying that the swine reminded someone of Minecraft (pigmen, I think they were called), and as someone who played Minecraft as a kid, I can't disagree--the imagery fits perfectly--but the thought makes me love it even more. Here's what I came up with for line-by-li...

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Alex Sultan
00:59 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you for the feedback! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. No worries about being late on it, I always edit on Friday so it works out. I've edited in nearly all of your suggestions, and am still considering the others (The wheelbarrow one is great - your suggestion makes it a lot clearer) I'm glad you liked the story. I'm looking forward to seeing if you write something new this week. I think these prompts are alright.

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Tommie Michele
03:25 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you! It’s good to know the timing worked out. I like the prompts this week, too—I might try to get myself away from the sadder side of speculative fiction this week (or, I might not—I never know what kind of short story I’m thinking about until I sit down to write it, so we’ll see how this week goes). Good luck in the contest this week, friend! This is one of my favorite stories of yours, and I hope it does well :).

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Sir James
11:09 Nov 26, 2021

It's a well thought plot and the way it has been executed is even more captivating. The battle scenes and elements are well touched with imagery, successfully sparking the imagination. It's an ably executed story.

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Alex Sultan
01:02 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you, James. I've wanted to write this story for some time now, and this prompt fit it well. I appreciate the kind words - I was at first worried about the imagery. Thanks again for reading.

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Kevin Marlow
01:58 Nov 26, 2021

I agree with the need for some subtle descriptors of the pig men, Orcs of Tolkien kept coming to mind. You hint at how disgusting they are, I need visual evidence of that. The action is good as always.

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Alex Sultan
05:48 Nov 26, 2021

Thanks for reading, Kevin. I appreciate you taking the time to do so and comment. I'm drafting a couple more sentences on the imagery - thank you for the feedback.

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Mariah Cheng
20:12 Nov 25, 2021

Dang! Well done Alex! Keep the good reads coming.

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Alex Sultan
01:01 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you, Mariah! I'm glad you enjoyed this story :)

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Darya Silman
13:16 Nov 25, 2021

Incredible story, with unexpected heroes and twists. I vote for the bandits to get through the winter unharmed! Swine people reminded me of Minecraft game.

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Alex Sultan
19:20 Nov 25, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. I had fun writing an anti-hero, and fantasy/thrillers are always my favourite. Thanks again for reading.

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Keya Jadav
13:34 Nov 24, 2021

AHH! It's such a cool plot and a great take on the prompt! The action scenes are well described, with each step synchronising. I got captivated straight away. There are many impressive phrases and lines being used...it's hard to pick a favourite. Also, I liked how you simultaneously displayed the dominance of Vaux and the way he led his team. I think you did a great job writing this one. It was fun to read!

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Alex Sultan
19:22 Nov 25, 2021

Thank you, Keya. I really enjoyed writing this one - win or loss, it was a lot of fun all the way through. Vaux was an enjoyable character to write. I'm going to draft out more imagery on the swine folk, your critique is helpful and appreciated :) Thanks for reading.

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Tommie Michele
13:25 Nov 24, 2021

Hi Alex, I hope you’re doing well. Another incredible action story from you :). I’ll have time to go line by line either later today or tomorrow (Thanksgiving break!), but here’s what I have for first read-through: For your question about whether you have enough imagery, it could really go either way. I would love to see more imagery, but if it interrupts the flow of the story, then you could absolutely leave it the way it is. As for the prompt, I really enjoyed your take on it and I think it came through loud and clear (especially with t...

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Alex Sultan
19:30 Nov 25, 2021

Thank you, friend. Here's to hoping the prompts are good this Friday.

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Francis Daisy
10:56 Nov 24, 2021

I'm not an expert, by any stretch, but I do pretend to write. In my very humble opinion, I feel that you have just the right amount of action and imagery in your story. It read smoothly and intensely all the way through and then the ending was perfect leaving the readers wondering about the next caravan. I wouldn't change a thing.

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Alex Sultan
19:26 Nov 25, 2021

Don't worry, I do consider myself alright at this, but I'm not an expert by any means either. I appreciate you taking the time to read this through and comment - this is one of my favourite stories on my profile. I'm glad you liked it :)

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