Short Story: Preserving Society

I sat on my couch staring at a television that flickered with images like something from a nightmare. I kept hoping I’d wake up. The longer I waited to, the more obvious it became I wasn’t going to. That this was real. News reports were blaring, but the anchors’ tones were different. They mocked-mourning and sadness. Those emotions were nothing more than expertly crafted table-readings. It was sickening to behold, but I was too numb to notice.

The talking heads were doing what they did best. Talking. About another presidential assassination. They’d become more common in the last decades. People outright refused the position or title now. They feared the inevitable. No one blamed them. ‘Course, that didn’t keep the poor bastards’ heads from being splattered like dropped watermelons. Or their cars from being bombed. Or their homes. Or any of the other insanity the rebellion had taken to.

It was a difficult time. One of revolution. This was worse than any yet. Bloodier than the American revolution. Bloodier than the French Revolution. Any of the Arab Springs. Bloodier, simply by virtue of its battleground.

The U.S. was a hot-bed of dissent and protest. When those things inevitably failed the aggrieved, the riots started. It was difficult to say they ever failed. They never had a purpose. The eventual repercussions were no less undesirable:

Militias formed with growing frequency. States, counties, municipalities, embraced their rights, superseded the Federal Government where they could, because they could. That meant catering to the lowest common denominator– the loudest blatherers of so-called majorities regarding things more terrible than fair.

Eventually the National Guard got involved. Then, when they too, failed, the Army. It was the first time in history that our military patrolled to keep order. The truth was, there was never a snowball’s chance in hell it could. Everyone knew that. Even I did. Most of us “unaffiliated” just kept our heads down, noses to the grindstone. We started thinking or talking about leaving. It was just griping, at least in most cases.

Passports were denied en-masse soon after. It became obvious anyone wanting to leave wouldn’t have an easy time of it. The Feds wanted to keep everyone in-country, paying rising taxes for the forces oppressing them. Meanwhile the locals wanted sworn or blood oaths to defend their beliefs. Otherwise you were a spy. It was asinine, but then, it had been.

The first ripples of chaos came with the first presidential assassination. It wasn’t the only assassination at the time, surely wasn’t the last. The bloodbath hadn’t yet begun. Even now I doubt it’s at full-volume. Every time we think that, some bastards kick it up to a new eleven.

I was just a laborer. Just trying to feed my family. Occasionally I griped; about unnecessary security check-points, about guarded work-sites, about “wellness” stops on roads, and searches at every place of public gathering. But it was just that; griping.

The turning point was the talking heads’ first allusions to “refugee camps,” and “protective re-locations,” alongside “fears for our fighting men and women.” The euphemisms were thin. Smoke-screens. It was the beginning of a round up aimed at political dissidents, prisoners. People I knew began disappearing. Men I worked with– women too, gender didn’t matter– just up and gone. Sometimes, their lives and families went with. Sometimes, they didn’t. It wasn’t difficult to see the “protective re-locations” were involuntary.

Anyone not touting the Feds’ line were watched. It was like the Cold War Russia portrayed in the US media. Lots of dystopia. Lots of shadow games. Lots of state-sponsored murder. All the same, there was no denial of how bad things were. The disappearances were as much political maneuvers as insurance against further aggression. Fat lot of good it did in the end.

I didn’t know yet how it was happening. That is, how people were being picked from the crowds. I learned the hard way; a decade or so before before, we’d learned the government– our government– was spying on us. It was so wholly and thorough that the volume of information being collected could never be fully sifted. Not by humans. It was never meant to be. Instead, it was fed into a secret database. Every person was identified, profiled, and connected to the collected datasets. Phone transcripts. Emails. Forum posts. Illegal audio and video recordings. Every opinion, every thought, and every belief ever espoused within range of an electronic device was collected.

It’s not difficult to see where we were headed. Orwell was nearing a perpetual-motion disaster with all the spinning he was doing in his grave.

That night, of the fifth presidential assassination, I was staring at the TV, absolutely dead to the world. Dead inside. Dead, in that special way of one who’s endured more trauma than one has a right to– and yet is about to experience more.

If I’d known those would be my last moments as a free man, I might have done something more worthwhile. Anything more worthy of themselves. Instead, I stared at the TV. The talking heads drooled through the air between me and the box in stereophonic sound and 4k-ultra-high-definition.

The door to my living room exploded off its hinges. I barely blinked. I was a junkie nodding off. Filled brimming with drool and stoned by it. Nothing in the world could bother or affect me. The smoke hadn’t even cleared when the masked military team encircled me. They brandished rifles. Screamed unintelligibly. I knew enough: I was being “relocated.”

Turns out, “it was concluded I might present a security risk” given “adequate motivation.” When my wits finally returned, reality re-focused. I remembered my ages-old griping. It was the check-points and such. Everything I’d bemoaned was recorded, logged, later used as rationale for imprisonment.

The camp isn’t so bad, I guess. It’s no Ritz. No skid-row. But I can’t complain, really. We get three meals, a place to sleep. Freedom was nice, but it wasn’t for us. Not yet. We never cared for it. Maybe one day we’ll be willing to earn it again. Then again, who could fight for the insanity we left behind? Who’d want to?

Maybe the talking heads should do a segment on that; why’s society worth preserving in its current state? I’m not holding my breath or anything, but I’m betting if they did, they’d be hard pressed to find honest answers.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Judging Independence

Listen closely,
to the mortars’ song.
They cry of freedom,
by banging a gong,
but shriek in terror,
at a girl’s thong.

What great masses,
of fools and hypocrites,
would deny man or woman,
their in-born spirits?
Perhaps the same ones,
that themselves have no merits.

Yet those same masses,
seem to rule the world,
with chaos and madness,
and delusions hurled.
If only we, the minority,
could be quite so unfurled.

Judge not,
lest ye be judged,
but there is no jury,
and they’ve bought the judge,
forever our innocence,
has been smudged.

A corruption of spirit
of truth and unity,
and thus I must say,
without impunity,
that our independence,
caused a wisdom-immunity.

Two centuries have come,
and then some,
all but a fraction,
spent waging war.
It’s hard not to feel,
just a little bit sore.

If independence this be,
I just have to ask;
is it me?
Or have we failed the task?

Bonus Story: Stronger Without Them

Cold wind whipped snow and ice in drifts across a plain of white mounds and frozen boot-prints. The mounds were the size of a man tall, five or six men wide, and spotted the horizon for countless miles. The man was clad in furred leathers, well-insulated from the cold with only thick, wild hair and beard to shield his face. He planted each step with a stone’s determination. It made his resolve immovable. His head was kept upward, eyes small, squinted against the snow that pelted and plastered his face and furs, coated him with a fine layer.

His people had a legend, one that made the trek all the more unavoidable: if a man were to seek to rectify the past, he must first risk his future, his life, in the mounded flats. Only once he made it through, could he hope to seek out recompense for the slaughter of his wife and children. He made the journey alone, as a man should, was certain he would die before he found refuge in the Gods’ embrace. He refused to listen to reason from those in his tribe; the invaders, they said, were the ones to blame.

But he blamed the Gods. For millennia, their tribe had lived the way of the righteous, their gratitude and sacrifices never late nor without due praise or ritual. They had given to the Gods all that had been requested, earned nothing but their contempt in the process. He’d had enough. He was man, and no God– gracious or not– would keep him from seeking his bounty. The righteousness that compelled him forward was just as it had always been; with conviction of spirit, character.

The Gods had let the invaders come. In any case, had not prevented it. In the harsh of Winter, when their ardor was already dampened, his tribe had been half-slaughtered by the invaders clad in their fierce battle armor. With sword and musket alike, they pillaged, plundered, raped and conquered all they’d seen. It was only after their leader, in his bear skins and helm, was killed that the tribe had finally withdrawn.

The snows of the village were stained crimson like the hands of the Gods that had neither prevented nor appeared during the massacre to stop it. The seasonal perma-frost had been breached by the pyres of a dozen men, their women and children. What few did not die by the sword wished they had. Only the fear of reprisal in the after-life kept them from turning their weapons upon themselves. The echoes of men and their families wrenched billowed cries for absolution through the blizzard that came after the battle.

But he would no longer stand for it. They had done all the Gods had asked of them, more even, in the promise that the Gods would watch after them, protect them. They had failed. He would not. Once he found them, he would paint the hallowed grounds of their hidden refuge with their blood. He would bury his sword in their bellies for every life lost and given in vain. Then, satisfied with the carnage, he would turn the sword on himself to die alone, the Gods vanquished and his work done.

He had fought the cold and the snows for five days to cross the flats. Like others of his tribe, he’d taken to resting only to conserve his strength, eat stored morsels and drink from a water-skin. He was no fool, knew not to take the journey lightly. If he did, there would be no one left to avenge the fallen, seek retribution for the sacrificed.

By the sixth day, he stood before a clearing in the mounds where the storm that raged seemed not to exist. In that emptiness, the ground was stone, clear of snow. The mounds around its perimeter formed a wide circle open before him. A furious huff of hot breath blasted from above his white-covered beard, fogged the air with the fire of his heart and ready wrath. His last steps were even firmer than the thousands that had brought him here.

He stopped in the center of the clearing, in his tribal tongue, demanded an audience with his Gods. It was answered with an intense, blue glow of light that deposited three, elongated figures with bulbous heads and black-eyes before him.

“You seek an audience, primitive?” The center God asked.

He spat at their feet, then in his tribal tongue, barked, “You have forsaken us! Broken the bonds that bound us to your servitude. Your treachery must be answered for!”

“You speak of the battle passed,” the left-most God said.

“Yet there is little that can be done for the dead,” the right God said.

“No!” He shouted in defiance. “There is one thing that can repay us for their loss.”

“Blood.” The three chimed in unison.

Your blood!”

He drew a thick blade from his side with a sound of metal that rang through the open air.

“You mean to stand against your Gods?” The middle God asked.

“I mean to seek vengeance for all the blood spilled in your name, both in sacrifice and in the battles past– those you failed to protect, as was your promise to our people.”

The three Gods fell silent, as if to speak mentally. Then the middle one spoke with a bargaining air about him, “We cannot resurrect the dead. What is is what what must be. But we can offer something for the sacrifice your people have given this winter, both from the battle and when we did not think to aid you.”

He was unconvinced, his mind unchanged. He demanded they speak, “And what is that?”

“Bountiful harvests,” the middle God said.

“Warmth and fertility,” the left God added.

“And strength and protection in the battles to come,” the right God finished.

He growled from his throat. In a quick charge, he launched himself at the middle God, kicked him backward to rebound at the gut of the left God. The blade slice deep at its belly to ooze green. The curiously-colored blood did not faze him– blood was blood and it was to be spilled. With an outward spin, he moved for the God at the right, buried the blade in its belly as he’d planned. More green spilled out, leaked from the God’s mouth. He twisted the blade, heard the crunch of soft bones, then pulled it back. The second God fell dead.

His blade dripped a trail toward the God that still lay dazed on the stone ground. He dropped a heavy knee to its chest as it eeked out a few, last words.

“We would have… given you anything, made you the most powerful tribe,” it said, barely drawing breath.

“Your cowardice and bargaining only weaken us.” He grit his teeth, “We will be stronger without you.”

Then, the blade plunged into the belly of black-eyed God. The bulbous head gave a shudder with a last, rattling breath. Its eyes shut. The smallest bit of green oozed from the God’s mouth as the tribal rose to his feet, readied to bury the sword in his own gut and finally end things. Instead, something compelled him to look at the carnage around him, his three Gods slain about it. His own words resonated deeper than he’d first realized.

He lifted the blade to examine it, “No.” He sheathed it, spat at them once more, “Enough has been lost to you. I will lead my people now. Protect them as you should have. I will show them they are strong– stronger even without you. Then no man, woman, nor child will ever think to play servant to your kind again.”

With a steadfast resolve, he turned away from the green-stained ground, and left the mysterious clearing to show his people the way.