Fiction


Somewhere in America, a young man sits at the breakfast table, eating his cereal.  He’s getting ready to go.  His backpack and coat are in the chair next to him.

His parents are nervous and excited for him.  He’s told them that he’s going to the city for a job interview.

Before he leaves, he gives his sister a hug.  She tells him to be careful.  The big city is not a safe place.  He gets into his truck and takes off.

He sits in horrible traffic for hours.  Slowly, he crawls his way downtown.  He looks out his window at the dirty streets and the crowds.

He finally finds a parking spot, and then he walks, in the noise and the shadow of the towering skyscrapers.  He hates it here, but he’s willing to do this.  He’s here to save his country.

For a while, he hangs out in front of a store window, staring at a display of the latest phones.  Across the street, a slim figure strides down the sidewalk.  It’s easy to recognize her.  She’s a female journalist, and he has read online that she walks to work every day.  He agrees with his President–she’s one of the enemies of the people.

Pulling out his gun, taking the shot–it all happens in a flash, and she crumples to the ground.

The next bullet is for him.  He doesn’t mind dying.  He has fulfilled his mission, done what he believes his role models and leaders wanted him to do.

Maybe–he thinks in his last moments–maybe, thanks to his sacrifice, America will continue to be free.

 

When America first woke up, she didn’t know where she was.

She wobbled upright on the couch, her head spinning, the stink of Old Crow and cheap beer hanging in the air.  “I’ve got to stop having these crazy blackouts,” she thought.

There was the sound of incoherent mumbling nearby.  She gingerly turned her head to look.  Oh, God.  Richard Spencer was passed out next to her, his head back and his mouth open.  Was it possible?  Did she make out with a Nazi last night?

America rubbed her face and tried to remember what the hell happened.  Nightmarish images floated back to her.  The fascist embracing her waist, whispering in her ear.  “I will make you feel like a real woman… you’re not a woman until you’ve been taken by a strong man…”  And she had let him take her, she suspected.

Her living room was torn to pieces.  Trash everywhere.  The plants on her windowsill were dead.  There were greasy spills and burns on the carpet–and a few unconscious people, most of whom she didn’t know.

She stood up on shaky legs and made her way to the bathroom.  Clutching the sink, she did her best to straighten up her hair.  The water which ran from her tap was filthy, so she gave up on the idea of splashing her face.

A noise from somewhere in the house caught her attention.  There it was again–a tiny, quiet sob.  She wandered into the kitchen and found her daughter crouched under the table, shaking.

“Oh, honey,” America said, reaching out to her.  “I’m sorry things got so nuts.”

“Mom…what did you do to our house?”

“It’ll get cleaned up, sweetheart.  I guess…I just wanted to try something different for a change.  Our lives had gotten so boring…so politically correct…”

More and more of it was coming back to her.  The kitchen table surrounded by a crowd raising a champagne toast, screaming out that everything was going to be great again.  America cheering along with them.  She would be number one again.  She would be a star again.

She snapped out of her reminiscing and looked down at her child.

“I got so damn tired of feeling guilty all the time,”  she heard herself saying.  “So I had too much to drink.  Big deal.”

“Big deal?  Mom, what about the people who got killed?”

“Someone got killed?”  America searched her mind, but she was completely blanking out on this one.

Her little girl broke down in tears again.  “The neighbors across the street…some  of the men here burned their house down…and shot them…said they were the wrong kind…”

“Really?  Huh.”  America scratched her head.  She peered back out at the wreckage of yesterday’s party.  Fuck.  What if she went to jail?

The fascist in her living room stirred and gave a loud snore.  She stared at him, her confusion turning to fear.  How would she get him out of her house?

“Shot…shot them,”  she muttered.

“Mother?”

She turned to see her daughter standing in the kitchen, a heavy backpack weighing down her skinny shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Mom.  I have to take off for a while.”

“Don’t leave, cupcake.  You feel upset right now, but it’ll get better.”

America moved in to attempt a hug, but her child pushed her away.  “I can’t stay here anymore.  It’s awful.  Our family is in debt.  The land we live on is toxic.  I have to…”

“No!  If you leave, I’ll be stuck here with…with them.”

“You shouldn’t have invited them in.”  The girl shrugged and walked out.

“Fine, go then!”  America snarled after her.  “Where you gonna go, anyway?  You don’t think the Europeans have their own problems?”

Behind her, she heard rustling and groans, much like the sound of a horde of zombies jerking into motion.

Her guests were waking up.  The party would go on.

“Hey, Sis?  You realize that the guy who’s selling you the laptop lives out in Frackville, right?”

I leaned over my sister’s shoulder and whispered a few non-English swearwords.  “Why the hell would he be out there?”

“I dunno.”

“So this means I have to go outside the city limits, then.”

“It’s only an hour’s drive beyond the wall.”  My sister shrugged.  “People do it all the time and they’re fine.  Katie went outside just two weeks ago to visit family.”

Mother emerged from the living room, her face drawn.  “Right into the middle of the Disturbance.  This laptop worth this to you?”

“I need a laptop to do my work.  No worries, Mom.”

***

I continued to tell myself I wasn’t worried even as I got ready for my trip in front of the bathroom mirror.  I pulled my hair back and stared at my face, belatedly regretting all the time I spent lounging in the sun over the summer.  Was my skin a bit too tan?

Maybe it wouldn’t matter.  Even though I had chosen my rattiest jacket and ripped jeans, it was painfully obvious I was a cityfolk.

I grabbed my knife and purse.  It really was going to be okay.

***

At the checkpoint, a pot-bellied bearded man with a gun slung across his back sauntered up to my car.  I rolled down my window.

He nodded.  “Hello there.  Purpose of trip?”

“Just travelling to Frackville to purchase a laptop.”

“Mmmmm, going shopping, huh?”  He eyed my purse eagerly.

“How much is the toll going to cost me?”

“I don’t know yet.”  He chuckled.  “You got your ID on you?”

I handed my metropolitan ID card to him.

He scowled darkly.  “Maria?”

“I’m Ukrainian,”  I snapped.

“Oh.  Yeah, I guess your last name does look Russian.  That’s okay, then.”

“Can I go?”

“Not sure.”  He leaned into my window.  “What are you doing trying to go into Nowhere unaccompanied, anyway?  It can be dangerous for females around here.”

“My father died defending the city during the killing days,”  I said coldly.  “It’s your militia’s fault that I don’t have a male guardian with me.”

To his credit, he looked abashed at this.  He cleared his throat and stepped back from the car.  “I see.  We need to run one more quick check on you, ma’am.  Rob?”  He gave my ID to the other guard, who was holding a tablet.  “Check her voting record?”

Rob typed my name in.  “She didn’t vote at all last election.”

“Lucky for you,”  the first guard said.  “You won’t get hit with our wrong candidate surcharge.”

“Great.”  I felt relieved and, for once, grateful for the political cynicism which led me to be a non-voter back in 2016.

“We’ll be nice.  Let’s make your toll payment an even hundred bucks.”

I forced a polite smile, made the payment and accepted my ID.  As I slowly drove away, a truck came to a stop at the checkpoint, and the guards gestured at the truck driver to get out so they could inspect his goods.  I heard the driver yelling obscenities at them, and I sped up until the checkpoint was out of sight.

***

The laptop seller lived in a little white house in Frackville’s mostly empty downtown area.  Across the street, there were a couple of abandoned buildings, with a Trump poster peeling away from one of the brick walls.

I knocked on the door.  A skinny old man cracked it open and peered out at me.

“Hi!  I’m here to pick up the laptop?”

“Nice to meet you, Maria.  Come on in.”

His name was Gus.  He grinned at the knife on my belt (“They still don’t let you have guns in the city?”) and then vanished into the back of the house.  I sat on the sofa and waited.  There was a cross hanging in the entry hallway, but I noticed a distinct lack of Trump portraits.  This was an encouraging sign.

I smiled at him when he returned, bearing the laptop.  “I see you’re not a big fan of President Trump, eh?”

He fidgeted nervously.  “May his soul rest in peace.”

“Amen.”

President Trump had been assassinated soon after the beginning of what we all called the Disturbance–because nobody wanted to call it a civil war–but the Disturbance rolled right along without him.  It was common for the residents of the Nowhere lands to give a place of honor in their home to portraits of the Martyr President, sometimes building miniature shrines in his memory.

After his initial moment of anxiety, Gus relaxed.  “Yeah, I never did like him much.  He seemed like a big talker to me.  Seemed like a fake.”

“Doesn’t that get you in trouble around here?”

“Me?  No.  I leave the militia guys alone, and they leave me alone.  I’ve lived here forever, anyway.”

I examined the laptop.  It was small and the keyboard was wearing out, but it would have to do.

Gus shuffled his feet.  “Sorry, I would offer you some coffee, but I only have a tiny bit left, and I don’t know when the roads will be clear for me to go get groceries.”

“That’s okay.”

“So what kind of work do you do?”

“I knit handmade hats and scarves.  I sell them online.”

I glanced up at Gus.  “Would you like my website address?  Maybe I could make you something?”

“No need for that.  Doubt I could afford it.”

There was no time for me to hang around any further.  I stood up and looked out once again upon the desolate street.

“Are you ever angry at the militia, Gus?”

“Angry?”

“About what they did to your town?”

Behind me, I could hear his soft laughter.  “The town has always been like this, before the militia ever came.  There haven’t been any jobs in Frackville for years and years.  Why do you think the people here voted for Trump?”

***

I opened the car door.  I couldn’t wait to leave this dead zone and go home.

Somewhere in the distance, the small figure of an armed man crossed the road.  The sight should have made me scared, but instead it made me sad.  How had we created a world like this?  How had we allowed this to happen?

The curtains in the front window of the little white house moved.  I didn’t want to make Gus uncomfortable by staying there too long.  I got in the car and started on the drive back to the checkpoint and my exit out of Nowhere.

 

 

Natasha wrinkled her nose at the computer.  It was another e-mail from that annoying Eurobrat chick, inviting her to yet another lame party.

There would be many selfie-worthy parties around town this weekend, but this wouldn’t be one of them.  It would be an event for a good cause and it would be full of the depressing people who cared about good causes.  Beers For Prairie Dogs!  the e-mail proudly proclaimed.  Natasha had seen enough.

She was about to delete the e-mail, when something caught her eye.  Could it be?  Was one of the Kardashian sisters really going to be calling into the event live?  And who knew she cared so much about prairie dogs?

***

Her plan was to hang out in the corner of the room, close enough to hear that sultry Kardashian voice, but far enough not to have to interact with any of the political dorks.  It might have worked–except that, unfortunately, Eurobrat was there.  She spotted Natasha’s hiding place and came running over.

“Oh, I’m so glad you could make it!”  Eurobrat gushed.  “This is such an important night for us.  Have you signed our petition?”

“Yes,” Natasha lied.

“Great!  Wow, it feels like I haven’t seen you in forever!”

“No, you haven’t,”  Natasha mumbled.

“Well, you should join me tomorrow.  I’m going to go door-to-door canvassing for Representative Funkhousen.  It’s going to be so much fun!”

Natasha had no idea how to respond to such a pathetic statement, so she remained silent.  During the awkward moments that followed, she had plenty of time to examine the sweater which Eurobrat was wearing.  It had a giant embroidered owl on it.  Her eyes then wandered to a table with a bowl of chips, which the young activists were ravenously attacking.  At the far side of the room, people were waving their arms and excitedly yelling out answers to trivia questions.  Zoning Laws Quiz, the sign above them read.

A few of Eurobrat’s friends had gathered around them.  They were all equally bright-eyed and enthusiastic.  One of them, a pony-tailed guy who had been entertaining everyone with tales of his tree-climbing protests, gave Natasha a careful once-over.

“Hey, how’s it going?  Have you seen the latest poll results?”  he asked her.

“Oh, I don’t keep up with that stuff.”  She shrugged.  “I hate all politicians, anyway.”

He shook his head.  “This isn’t about you liking them.  It’s bigger than you or me.  One wrong choice in the election, and the country could end up moving backwards.  We could go to a very dark place.”

She stared at him with interest.  She didn’t believe anything scary would actually happen to the country.  And what difference did it make who was President?  She never noticed any.  This guy sounded like he was into conspiracy theories.  But if he cut off that long hair, he could be pretty attractive.

She smiled at him.  “Wanna go out for drinks after this?”

He smiled back.  “No, but I’ll be at a rally for the new corporate tax Sunday.  I would love to see you there.  You could help raise money for our income equality organization?”

Her face fell.  She hated doing sales and asking strangers for money.  What was it with these people?

“Is this the only thing you ever do for a hobby?”  Her voice was edged with irritation.

“Well, yeah.”  He still sounded unnaturally cheery.  “Why are you here?  Don’t you want to work for the revolution?”

The revolution?  What did that even mean?  She now felt embarrassed that she briefly considered going out with this guy.

“I’m a little concerned that you can’t give me a clear answer.  Are you sure you’re truly committed?”  His cheerfulness was melting away.

“Yeah.”  Her eyes darted back and forth.  When was the Kardashian call going to happen?

“She’s totally committed!”  Eurobrat defensively put an arm around her friend.  “I’ve known her for years and she’s a fabulous person.”

Their conversation was disrupted by a loud voice.

A particularly skinny activist had climbed up on one of the tables.  “Welcome to all my fellow warriors!  Thank you all for being here for this world-changing event.”

Eurobrat and her friends cheered and applauded.

“As some of you may know, a certain Kardashian sister is a supporter of our movement…”

There were scattered boos around the room.

“We had hoped to convince her to call in tonight, but her schedule is a bit crazy.  But I’ve got exciting news.  She did agree to post a picture of a prairie dog on her Instagram.  Please share the picture on your social media, tell your friends to do it too…”

A wave of cold rage washed over Natasha.  So these losers had lied about a celebrity phone call, just to lure people here.  She had wasted her time with a bunch of nutjobs.  Random drunken clubbing would’ve been better.

“Personally, I’m glad that this event will not be tainted by an association with a reality TV star,” Eurobrat sniffed.  “Wanna go take a look at the prairie dog shirts, Natasha?  They’re so cute!”

“A prairie dog T-shirt?”  Natasha asked through gritted teeth.  “What makes you think I would be caught dead wearing such a thing?”

“Um…you seem upset,”  Eurobrat said.  “Can I hold some space for you so that you can work through your feelings?”

“Yes, I would love to tell you exactly how I feel!”  Natasha screamed.  “I can’t believe I even came to this dumb party!  All I wanted was a chance to talk to the Kardashians…”

Eurobrat stepped back.  “But…what about helping us?”

“You’re such fucking idiots!  You really think your party’s going to change what the government does?  Nobody cares.  And I don’t give a fuck, either.”

She turned on her heel, leaving everyone with their jaws dropped, and stalked out.

“I told you you should be more careful about those invitations you send out, Eurobrat,” she heard someone behind her say.

Once she was out on the street, she could breathe more easily.  She was, indeed, working through her feelings.  It still wasn’t too late to go somewhere else.  The next party she would go to would have people drinking cocktails, wearing the latest fashions–you know, doing the things that really mattered.

Dedicated to all the disappointed elves

She worked her magicks in the darkest recesses of a D.C. conference room, her navy blue pantsuit blending perfectly with the shadows.  Lady Hillary bent her head over a makeshift altar and chanted the incantations that would turn her into the Ruler of the Free World.

Just as she was halfway through her TPP spell, the door of the room flew open and a slim silhouette appeared.

She turned from the altar and sighed heavily.  Naturally, it was one of Bernie’s elves.  Many of them had by now acknowledged defeat and scurried back to their woodland communes to tend their tiny herb gardens, but a couple of die-hards here and there were still trying to mount attacks on her.

The Bernista had flowing locks and big, bright eyes.  She was followed into the room by her unicorn sidekick.  Lady Hillary glared at them with impatience.

“You’re never going to give up, are you?”

“It’s not too late!”  the elf proclaimed with a trembling voice.  She threw her hands up and wiggled her fingers in the air.  “I cast my positive vibrations upon you, oh dark one!  Acknowledge that you are not the rightful nominee!”

Lady Hillary cackled.  “Spare me this amateur stuff.  You do realize, of course, that I have persuaded the majority of those in the Democratic Party to vote for me.”

“It’s all lies and fraud!  It cannot be true.  Bernie is the chosen one for this time.  Did you not see the Goddess send down the little bird at his rally?  Do not question the bird!”

“Enough about that stupid bird already…well, never mind.”  Lady Hillary softened her tone. “Look, you and I both know that the only way to defeat the Donald is to make an alliance with me.  Be reasonable, my little one.  You want to believe in good witches, but that’s not how the world works.  Although I do so admire that pure heart of yours…I feel as if…I must have it…”  She reached out her hand toward the glowing center in the elf’s chest.

“Don’t touch me!” the elf squealed, backing away.

“Or what?  Your Bernie will save you?”

“Bernie will save everyone in Americaland.”

“Ha!  You think his wizardry is truly powerful enough to make all his promises come true?  He will have to raise taxes.”

A slight smile played upon the elf’s lips.  “Ah, but you do not know about our secret weapon. Our unicorns aren’t just adorable…they also fart money.”

“Is that so?”  Lady Hillary stared at the unicorn with great interest.

“I feel a little put on the spot,” the unicorn said.

The elf tilted her head.  “Now will you concede the battle?”

“Concede?”  Lady Hillary laughed.  “Clearly, you do not understand the kind of power you are dealing with here.”  As she said this, she expanded and grew in stature, until she towered over the Bernista.  “I am not merely the Democratic candidate for President.  I am also a crazy leftist and a sell-out Republican at the same time.  Simultaneously responsible for too much war and too much appeasement.  Too calculating and too loud.  Too easily influenced by corporations and by socialists.  I contain it all, the left and the right, the masculine and feminine, every policy and none of them.  I am the everything and nothing of politics.  Try to stand against me and you will be consumed by the void.”

The elf covered her face, but she was past saving.  Her bright eyes turned black–she had gazed into the heart of the political machine.  One more moment, and she vanished into a puff of glitter.  The unicorn pooped out a little pile of cash and fled.

Lady Hillary shook her head.  “Always the same with these creatures.  So much fire, so little strategy.  It’s a shame–this one was cute.”  She turned back to the altar.  “Ah, yes.  What should I do next?  Where is that spell to get Bernie’s endorsement?”

He grew irritated with their questioning.  They were members of the lamestream media, forever doubting the things he needed to do.

“It’s understandable that some people had to be arrested, but did they have to be shot?”

“They were troublemakers.  They were rioting.  Okay?  This is what happens.  Linda?”

“Do you have anything to say about the 30% unemployment rate?”

“That’s temporary.  That’s only temporary.  Sometimes there needs to be a little pain.  I’m about to bring amazing jobs to this country, believe me.  You have no idea.”

“But how will you do that, when…”

“Okay.  You’re done.  I already told you, honey.  Amazing jobs.  Hey Rick, how are you?”

“I’m doing very well, thank you.  Mr. President, you have increased domestic oil production…”

“We’re drilling everywhere.  Drilling everywhere.”

“…You’ve also removed excessive regulation, making it easier for our corporations to grow.  We’re getting richer by the day.  My question is, how much more glorious and powerful is America going to become in the near future?”

“You don’t even know, buddy.  So much glory.  So great.  Number one.  Number one.”

“Thank you for your inspiring answer.”

“No problem.  Let’s see…Dan?”

“Mr. President, you’ve shown that you are not afraid to punish our enemies, even if it means using nuclear weapons.  The American people are grateful for your help and protection…”

“You’re laying it on pretty thick, pal.”

“Hahahahaha….”

“But I do know that they’re grateful.  I know they are.”

“What do you tell the naysayers who say that you’ve made the world a more dangerous place?  That the civilian casualties in our strike on London were too high?”

“Those people were losers.  They had to be bombed.”

Another reporter chimed in.  “But those Americans who are protesting your policies…”

“They’re losers too.  That’s why I had to lock so many of em up.  Losers belong in jail.”

“Don’t you think that…”

“All right, I’m finished with this question.  We’re done.”

“Mr. President, please…”

“Hey Gary, will you remove this guy?  Will you take him outside?  Thank you.”

“What?  Hey, hold on!  You can’t do this!”

“Mr. President, you can’t just remove journalists because they ask you questions you don’t like.”

“You again, Linda?  I thought I told you before, sweet cheeks.  Security, take them both outside.  And make sure to help get them sobered up when they’re out there.  And don’t go easy on her–they wanna get equal treatment, right?”

Once the noise of the journalists getting dragged out of the room died down, the President nodded and lifted up his hand.

“Okay, we can keep going.  Kelsey?”

“You are obviously a man who cherishes and protects American women.  Where do you think that quality comes from?”

“That is a great question, Kelsey.  Believe me when I say that…”

A few decades had gone by, and still the war went on.  Nobody in the country even remembered who Osama bin Laden had been, although some had a vague memory of a terrorist getting killed at a televised White House dinner.

And yet, every Friday afternoon the same thing continued in my hometown–the old hippies came out to protest.  The real 1960s hippies had died out by then, but these folks proudly carried on the tradition.  They slouched down Main Street with signs proclaiming hilarious things such as “Troops Out Of Iraq!” and “No Money For Israel!” and “Funding For Infrastructure!”  They circled the downtown blocks, screaming at a President who couldn’t hear them, and who wasn’t listening anyway.

I could hear them, though, every week when I left the office.  The company I worked for manufactured toy drones, and I was always worn out after a long day of customers with malfunctioning drones which crashed into trees or attacked their children.  Friday was when I would treat myself — fries and a beer at my favorite downtown pub.  Even as I chewed, the hippie chants echoed in my direction.  Rain or shine, they were there.  And she was there.

I did my best to keep my eyes on my plate and avoid eye contact as she went past the glass. But on that particular day, much to my dismay, she came in to talk to me.

“Hey, Mom.”  I managed to fake a weak smile.  “I’m very tired right now, so…”

“Can’t I even say hi to you anymore?”

“Not if it turns into another crazy rant…”

“It’s not crazy.  It’s not crazy to tell you that your job is bad for you.  You’re wasting your life. You hate those stupid toys…”

“Oh, sure.  And you’re not wasting your time doing this?”

“I’m doing it for my country!”

“Look, Mom.  Nobody cares.  Your country isn’t paying attention.  This is my one reward for my shitty week–could you please leave me alone?”

“Okay.  Have a good dinner.”  I felt her move away and walk out behind me, but didn’t look back.

But once I’d finished my beer, my anger faded away.  Alcohol made me sentimental.  So what if she wanted to walk around and yell with her anti-war sign, or tell me about all the conspiracy theories she’d read on the Internet?  She was retired, and retired people got to spend their time doing whatever silly stuff they felt like doing.  Hell, maybe I’d join her at the rally.  I wouldn’t hold any signs, of course–I didn’t want any embarrassing pictures of me online–but I could applaud the speeches and pretend to chant along a little.

I paid for my meal and went to the city square, where the marches ended every week in a sparse, hoarse-throated rally.  I must’ve taken too long, because the square was empty by the time I got there.  The cops were half-heartedly arresting one or two people.  The grey-bearded little man who liked to throw eggs at them was being led away.

No rally, no protest, no chance to chant.  No chance to make it up to Mom.  It was now drizzling miserably.

I heard indistinct shouting to my right.  It was the other protester who was there every week — the one with pictures of chopped up babies.

“You’ll burn in eternal Hell!”  he boomed at me through his bullhorn.

He eyed me with suspicion as I approached.  I handed him a twenty.  “For your church,” I said.  I didn’t tell him that I felt sad for him.

He glared at me, but he did pocket the twenty.  In return, he handed me one of his anti-abortion brochures.

As I walked away, he called after me:  “Remember, God doesn’t just want your money!  He wants your soul!”

I laughed.  How sweet of him to assume I had one.

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