YEAR ZERO, DAY 1
I don’t know who is reading this. Maybe you’re in a distant future. A future free of The Corporation, Sons, and identification scans, and none of this means much to you. Maybe I languish in a cell, and you’re the Inquisitor sentencing me to death. Perhaps I’m writing to no one. To you, whoever (or ifever) you are, greetings from the dead. Because, by now, I am dead, or will be.
That fate is sealed by having these thoughts. Writing them down serves as a witness to my crime. As for my death, it may come quick, like from the barrel of a gun.
Or slow, like all the nameless who perish in the camps. Few come back from those places we pretend don’t exist.
But we see the distant smoke and brush the grey ash, which falls like snow from our sleeves. Those that return aren’t really here.
Inside, where it matters most, they’re still in the camp. You glimpse it in how they stare without seeing, speak with the hollow, withered voice of the dead.
They are trapped in a nightmare that never ends. One from which there is no waking. And even if they did wake, they’d still be in the I.P.A.
If I don’t go to a camp, I might end up on Manhunt as a warning to others. Don’t dare to think, to remember the old ways, or to long for a full belly and a hope for tomorrow or you’ll end up like Joey Cryer, it will say.
There’s a thousand ways this can go, but each end in my death. So why am I doing this? Because I need you to see who I am, who we were.
Not only my family, but all of us.
I need you to understand what happened; in case you’re living in an unimaginable future where people walk free, and truth isn’t fluid. Perhaps it’ll make you stay vigilant. Make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Either that, or it’s because I need to remember. It’s getting harder every day. If you hear their lies and alternate facts enough, you kinda begin to believe them. Besides, it seems decades since they murdered the old ways, and countless people with them. But it’s not. It’s two years.
Two miserable, impossible, years.
I’ve often reflected on the time spent in history class learning about the defining moments that made us. Usually it’s all Kings, and Queens, Presidents, or Generals.
No one talks about the ordinary people who endure these moments. Not really. These are the people trying to feed their family, live until tomorrow, or fall in love.
Now I realize how they felt. I didn’t pay much attention when it was happening. No one did or I wouldn’t be writing this. I had ‘more important’ concerns, like whether I’d fit in at High School, or if the girl I liked, liked me back.
By the time I noticed anything was amiss, I was living in the aftermath of our defining moment. And then, I really was too busy.
Busy keeping peace in my family,
holding us together,
trying not to stand out,
and feeding my little sister.
Who had spare time to figure out where it all went wrong? So now, I guess I must make the time, get it down on paper, look at it. Perhaps I’ll understand. I doubt it, though.
One thing is certain though; there’s nothing a geeky sixteen-year-old can do about not-so-secret police, prison camps, or The Corporation. But I want to write it all. Before they find me.
Before they kill me.
Because, let’s face it, no one is getting out of this alive. So, I guess I should hurry. Let’s start with who I am, before I bum you out with all this death talk.
My name is Joey Cryer. I’m sixteen years old. My father, Iwan, taught political science at the local college. Now they call it a reeducation center, or Liberty camp, but it’s really a death camp. At least for most who get sentenced there.
But anyway, he came from Wales twenty something years ago to go to school. He met a girl there, fell in love, became a citizen, and never left. The girl was my mom, Beth. She’s a legal aid lawyer down in Manchester.
Before that, they both worked for a few years in Manhattan. After my brother Peter came along, they moved somewhere safer. It didn’t end up that way though, did it. Sorry, I promised I’d get away from the death talk. It’s just kinda hard because it permeates everything now.
Where was I? Peter. Yeah, he has vague memories of the hustle and bustle of the big city. Not me though. I’ve lived all my life in the same small house,
on the same small street
in the same small town.
It used to be Symes, New Hampshire. But there aren’t states or towns anymore. Now it’s Precinct Twenty-eight in Ward Seven.
I’m the second of four children. There’s the eldest Peter, who I’ve mentioned. He’s three years older than me, and seventy percent more jerk.
Next comes yours truly.
And three years behind me is my brother Winston, most people call him Winnie though.
Last is my little sister, Julia. She’s ten years younger than me. I don’t think my parents planned on having her. She just was, and then they loved her.
It all started around the last election year. I remember that much because the teachers made us watch a bunch of junk about it. Mostly the usual talking heads from the major parties.
But there was this other guy. Wayne Carrington. He’d formed a new party. It didn’t have a name at first. Different people called it different things, sometimes the Freedom Party, other times The Trust. The one that stuck though was The Corporation.
I guess it’s because the V.P. candidate, Bobby Mallory, was a bigshot businessman who told anyone who’d listen how America should run like a corporation. You know, this guy at the top telling everyone else what to do. The presidential candidate, Carrington, differed from Mallory. Hell, he differed from most any politician.
Wayne Carrington III was reminiscent of an old-time fire and brimstone preacher. He had the whole weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth thing down pat.
Except for him, the Apocalypse at hand was this crap about true Americans being an endangered species, getting buried in ‘demographic changes.’ When he ended up being one of the last candidates, no one could believe it, least of all my parents.
Before that happened, most places shunned him, treated him like the punch line to an extremely dark joke. But afterwards, he was kinda legitimized.
I guess if you promise people more money in their wallet, and a fuller belly, hating anyone that’s not like you isn’t a deal breaker anymore.
Right before the election, he gave a speech at my high school. I guess half the school board were supporters or something because they made us all go.
A lot of the teachers called in sick that day. I guess it was a protest. At least that’s what the rumor mill said. Given what happened later, in the first purge, I wonder if any of them regretted not coming, or if it would even have mattered if they did.
I half listened to the speech. Being fourteen, I cared exactly enough to get B’s on Mr. Welles’ civics tests.
Most of the time I was too busy staring at Cameron Black, wondering what her hair smelled like to pay attention to anything else. Besides, elections are the same as everything else. Adults decide, and kids have to live with it.
I remember a lot of talk about violent demonstrations involving a group called The Sons of Liberty. They were kinda like The Corporations canvassers and private army rolled into one. Except instead of clipboards and pamphlets, they had bats and fists. Believe me, you didn’t want them knocking at your door. That is when they bothered to knock.
Carrington and Mallory denied they had anything to do with The Sons. Every time a Sons rally turned riot, or they dragged an opposition party member into the street for an ass kicking, Mallory was quick to point his fingers at the other parties for allowing America to become so lawless, for refusing to use a firmer hand.
Funny how that finger was always pointing at others, never at himself.
And the more he scared people, the more he sounded like the solution to problems he had created. None of this meant much to me until the day we went to meet dad for dinner.
Mom was stuck at her office, buried under a million papers. She called, said dad wanted us to walk over to his office to meet him.
Peter bailed, said he had somewhere to be. I shrugged. It’s not like I cared if Peter came. He’d grown so angry and bitter that I didn’t enjoy spending time with him much anymore. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s true. Everything with him always ended up in an argument. He wasn’t much fun to be around.
And him and Winston together? Forget it. I’d say they were about a millisecond from coming to blows, but Winston wasn’t a violent sort. He was more a peaceful resistance kinda guy. I mean, he always said we’d avoid lots of destructive things if people learned to say no, I won’t do that.
Me, though, I’m happy it will not be only Julia and me like it often was.
About the only person in my house Peter got along with was Julia. Sometimes he’d help me take care of her. We’d take turns reading her books, or all get down on the floor, play with her Godzilla toys, and just laugh.
You know, when we were with Julia is about the only time I remember seeing Peter smile.
I just realized you might think my family sucked, leaving me alone all the time, but there are genuine reasons for it. Here’s a list:
- Mom worked a lot. It was the rush hour traffic that made her late, though.
- Dad was usually shuttling someone somewhere, meeting a student, or lecturing.
- Peter was always at football (or baseball, or basketball, or soccer) practice. If it involved a ball or running, Peter was all in. He’d also started sneaking off to Corporation party meetings. It’s part of what made him a jerk. I never thought he was a true believer or anything. I figured it was a rebellion thing. Besides, most of the jocks were into it.
- And Winston. Well, he was always the smartest of us. I’m not saying the rest of the Cryer clan are dumb or anything. We simply aren’t in Winston’s league.
I mean, he’s a grade behind me, but three years younger. When he wasn’t busy bugging our folks about getting a dog, his favorite topic of discussion, he’d be at science fairs, academic decathlons, or debate team meetings. Towards the end he’d hang out at the library a lot because he wasn’t on speaking terms with Peter, or pretty much anyone, anymore. But that came later.
The walk to my dad’s office isn’t too bad. It’s only like a mile. We usually passed the time by joking around and laughing the whole trip, so it goes by fast. Winston and I take turns carrying Julia. A four-year-old is kinda heavy. By time we reach campus we both need a break. I put her down, take her hand as we stroll towards the quad. Dad’s office is in the building that overlooks it.
The quad is a friendly space. Kinda like a park. When the weather is nice, like it was that day, students hang out there sunning themselves, toss a football around, or play Frisbee. Some of them are there simply to be seen.
The guys parade around shirtless to show off their toned chests and abs. The girls wear as little as they can without being arrested. I’m sort of looking forward to it, because, you know, fourteen-year-old hormones and all.
I’m disappointed when we get there, though.
There are few kids hanging out because a political demonstration takes up most of the space. It’s a sizeable group of students, townies, and probably some out of stater’s.
They’re protesting The Corporation, and whatever boneheaded thing Mallory’s chirped this morning. I’m apprehensive. The protestors are peaceful. But there’s a few kinda sketchy looking people at the edges wearing masks and bandannas.
I want to ask Winston if he thinks those guys are from an anti-fascist group, but I don’t want to worry Julia. Winston and I exchange glances, and he nods an answer to my unasked question.
We walk faster, because the hardcore AF’s are as violent as The Sons, and wherever you find one, the other is soon to follow.
That never works out well for anyone.
We’re halfway across the quad. I see dad exiting his building when a chant of “America First. America Last. America Always,” drifts across the quad.
I glance behind. See an enormous group of Sons approaching. They’re carrying bats, crowbars, anything that can be used as a weapon. Winston taps my shoulder, points in the opposite direction.
There’s a shitload of AFs’ coming that way.
I don’t know where they were hiding.
The protestors, Winston, me, and Julia are trapped in the middle. Dad’s running towards us, waving wildly for us to run away. We barely have time to turn around before the two mobs engulf us.
Julia’s hand is torn from mine in the swirling wave of hatred. I don’t see Winston or dad anywhere, but I’m trusting they’ll be okay because Julia, Julia can’t protect herself.
I’m fighting against the tide, but it’s pushing me further away. For a moment I see Julia. She’s crouched on the ground, hands over her ears, mouth open in a shriek which is drowned out by shouts of hatred and pain from the wailing crowd.
I’m freaking out, but it’s making it harder to push through to her. Soon she’ll be lost. The thought does something to me. I won’t say the fear goes away; it simply doesn’t matter. Not as much as Julia.
Everything is kind of a blur.
I remember seeing two guys in AF masks pounding on some Son. He’s unconscious. But it didn’t matter to them because they keep kicking him. Then this kinda big Son comes towards me with a baseball bat. He’s winding up, swinging for the stands. But the blow never comes.
Because he’s Peter.
“Julia’s there,” I shout, pointing.
He stares at me for a second, before he hammers a way through the crowd for me.
“Not a word to mom and dad, or you’ll regret it,” he says.
I sweep Julia in my arms, kind of cradle her against me to shield her and run as fast as I can until we’re free of the crowd.
I hear distant sirens and see small fires burning everywhere. The police have arrived, but there’s not much a small-town force can do against such large-scale violence, even with state police help. They appear to be setting up a hasty cordon. I guess they’re trying to keep the violence contained on campus.
One of the cops sees me running with Julia, sprints to us. He sweeps us through the police barricade towards a makeshift field hospital. It’s just a few ambulances and the local EMS truck. When I see Winston and Dad are already there, a little banged up, but nothing serious, I bawl. We all hug and stuff, after which dad takes us home.
I help Julia bathe. Then we curl up with a bunch of books. She seems fine. But Julia has always been resilient. Max and the wild things are starting the wild rumpus when she falls asleep on my shoulder. I don’t want to wake her, so I lay there.
With nothing else to do in the darkening room, I let the distant drone of my mom and dad talking downstairs lull me to sleep.
When I wake a little after midnight. I go to the room I share with Winston. It’s big and has a folding partition across the center, so Winston and I can have privacy if we want. We usually close it halfway at night unless one of us needs to talk. It’s open, so I knew Winston had something on his mind. He lays in bed staring at the ceiling, hands behind his head.
“Are you okay?” I whisper.
“I guess, just sore. How’s Julia?” he asks.
“You know her. She takes everything in stride.”
Winston chuckles. “Dad’s fine too, but,” he begins.
He seems to have a hard time finding his words, which isn’t like him at all. Winston always knows exactly what he wants to say.
Finally, he says, “Sometimes I don’t understand people.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I guess I don’t understand why some people think it’s okay to hurt others because they’re different. If hating someone I’ve never met is what it means to be an adult, I hope I stay a kid forever,” he says.
I want to say something to make him feel better. Something wise, profound, and deep.
But all I do is shrug, say, “It’ll all work out. And if not, we’ll fix it when we’re adults.”
“What if it’s too late,”
“This is America, Winnie, it’ll never be too late.”
“I guess,” he says.
He’s silent for a few minutes. He rolls away from me, says, “School starts tomorrow, we should get some sleep.”
After I’ve changed, crawled into bed, Winston whispers, “You know Peter’s one of them. I saw him there. Until today I never believed he was enough of a jerk to really be a Son. I always thought he was flirting with it, trying to piss off mom and dad. But a true believer. It never crossed my mind.”
“I know. But he helped me get Julia,” I reply.
He nods, and we speak no more.
In the morning I go to High school. By seven thirty the riot is forgotten, replaced by daydreams of Cameron Black. And she dominates my thoughts for most of the school year.
You know, I thought writing this might take my mind off the guy I left to die in the woods.
I can kinda feel mom and dad staring at me with that hurt, disappointed look. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where they don’t even yell at you or anything, and it just makes you feel even worse. If they were here, they’d have helped that guy. They always used to say, ‘you can do the easy thing or the right thing, but they’re often not the same thing.’
It’s probably too late for me to do the real right thing, namely help him, but I can bury him at least.
That’s a kind of right. Isn’t it?