Originally Posted: 21 Jun 2013

Rebecca and I turned off highway 55 and followed the signs as they wound through the abandoned town along the highway until we came  to the walls of Virden.  They’d been busy in the last month.  As far as I could tell from my current vantage point, the entire town was surrounded by an eight foot ramshackle wall made from cinder blocks, sheets of corrugated tin roofing panels, cattle pen fencing and overturned vehicles.  Guards peeked over the top of the wall at us every so often and I had the distinct feeling that there was a rifle scope aimed right at my head.

I slid the handle of my baseball bat into my belt and slowly raised my hands above my head.  “Becca, I think it’s best if we show them that we don’t mean any harm,” I said to my wife.  She nodded her head and followed my lead by lifting her arms as well.  We walked the last one hundred feet with our arms raised and our open palms facing the wall’s defenders.

“That’s far enough,” a voice said from behind the wall.  “State your business.”

“We came to Virden because it’s supposed to be an open community,” I shouted so I could be heard by the people on the wall.  “We don’t want any trouble, just passing through and we saw the signs on the highway.  If you aren’t an open community, then we’ll just keep on going on our way to the south.”

“No, the signs are right, we are an open community, for the right people.  Do you have any other travelers with you?  Maybe your children hidden a few blocks away or something?”

“It’s just us,” I said, still shouting but I tentatively lowered my hands.

“We’ll have to search you and ensure you don’t have any open sores, which are an indication of radiation sickness, and worse.  After that, you can come in, get introduced to everyone and determine if you want to stay or if you’re just visiting Virden.  Hold on.”  There were several loud clangs as the locks were thrown to open the gate.

I was surprised when the town’s gate opened about fifty feet to my right, far to the side of where I’d expected it to be since the road led right up to the wall.  Three people dressed like scavengers came out from the gate and two of them had shotguns that they aimed right at us. The men wore heavy coveralls and had long trench coats to help with the acid rain.  They wore military style gas masks and all had what looked to be firefighter helmets on, which is a wise choice since the helmet could protect against both rain and blunt force trauma.

The unarmed man came up to me and said, “I need both of you to strip.”  I started to object, but he sighed and held his hands up to stop me.  Clearly this wasn’t the first time that he’d encountered people unwilling to get naked in front of strangers.  “Look,” he said, “Neither of you has anything that we haven’t seen a thousand times.  We need to ensure that you’re not bringing any obvious diseases into our community.  Either you strip and let us examine you, or you guys can continue on your way.”

“It’s ok Charlie,” my wife said to me.  “I can handle it.  We need a safe place to stay and if this is the price I have to pay, then so be it.” She didn’t even wait for my answer before she shrugged out of her backpack to let it slide to the ground and began unzipping her rain jacket.

Before long, both of us stood stark naked in the chilly air.  The only exception was our masks, which they’d allowed us to retain in position over our mouth and nose.  The man inspecting us had each of us bend over to expose the area between our ass cheeks and then I had to lift my scrotum up for his scrutiny while Becca was forced to raise each breast up so he could ensure there were no sores hidden underneath along her skin.

When he was satisfied, he said, “Ok, you passed.  You can put your clothes back on.  Welcome to Virden.  I hope you enjoy your stay, but let me warn you right now: If you aren’t a contributing member of the community, you will be asked to leave and not return.  Is that understood?”  We both nodded that we understood the terms of our admittance into the town.

We rushed to pull our clothing back on as a storm blew in rapidly from the west.  Just as we entered the main gate of Virden it began to rain.  The dark sludge fell from the sky and we couldn’t see beyond a couple feet in front of our hands.

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