|“Grampa, I’m bored,” Paul whined.
“I’ll tell you a story about when I worked in the factory.”
“We’ve already heard all of those,” Anna said. “Tell us one you’ve never told before.”
I looked around the room, feeling very exposed.
“How old are you kids now?”
“Paul’s eight and I’m ten,” Anna said.
“Why don’t you two help me clean out the closet instead?”
“Really?” Paul said.
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I said.
“Oh, alright,” they said.
We walked into the small closet, shut the door behind us, and I switched on a small light.
“Okay, if I’m going to tell you this story, we need some ground rules. First, you never tell anyone that you don’t trust. Second, never say where you heard this story. Third, never speak of it in any room that may be monitored.”
They both eagerly nodded their agreement.
“But why are we in a closet?” Paul asked.
I pushed aside a coat to see him better.
“This is one of the few places where we can’t be seen or heard.”
They settled into the corners and waited.
“Well, it was a long time ago, long before either of you were born. It started with the election. People were tired of the bipartisan bullshit, so they finally elected a new party. They called it the Citizen’s party.”
“Grampa, what’s ‘Bipartisan’?” Paul asked.
“It means two groups of people who can’t agree on anything.”
“The leader of this new party was handsome, young, and charismatic. He drew a lot of comparisons to J.F.K.”
“What’s J.F.K.?” Anna asked.
“Don’t they teach you kids history anymore?”
“Sure, we download our lesson every morning,” Anna said.
“Of course you do. I forgot they teach you everything on those infernal computers now.”
“Yes, but we’ve never heard of J.F.K., are those letters supposed to mean something?” Paul asked.
“I suppose not. Anyway, this new leader had everybody excited. When he was elected, the whole country was unified for the first time in a long time. President Sullivan made sweeping changes. He dissolved the NSA and DHS, claiming that Americans shouldn't have to spy on Americans. The public saw him as a saint after that move.”
“What’s DHS?” Anna asked.
“Do you mean First Citizen Sullivan?” Paul asked.
“DHS and NSA were groups of people who secretly did bad things to good people. And yes, I mean First Citizen Sullivan, but in those days he was called ‘President’.”
“What’s ‘President’ mean?” Anna asked.
“It’s what we used to call our leader, way back when the people chose who would lead.”
“Oh,” they said together.
“Next President Sullivan got people working. Welfare, that’s where the government paid people to do nothing, was nearly cut in half when he instituted the 'Drug test for paycheck' rule. Every welfare recipient was subjected to random drugs tests. If you failed, you no longer received welfare ...ever.
Soon his approval rating was the highest ever recorded. He rode the wave right into Congress and got term limits increased to four. The public was ecstatic. But like any politician, he was using misdirection.
The NSA and DHS were never really dissolved, only renamed into the Citizens Defense Force. We later found out that the CDF, while seeming to be a benevolent entity that gave out food to the needy, was actually laying the groundwork for the most massive spying network ever conceived.”
“What’s ‘spying’?” asked Anna.
“You know how there’s cameras everywhere and the CDF watch to make sure everyone’s following the rules?”
“Oh yes, they say that keeps us safe from the bad people,” Paul said.
“I’m sure they do say that. Well, that used to be called spying. Now they use some watered down word like, ‘monitoring’.”
“They say monitoring is good for us,” Paul said.
“It’s actually good for them. Within its first year of operation, the CDF cut violent crime in half. President Sullivan was once again praised. People were getting used to him pulling off impossible tasks. He was elected to his second term by a ninety-three percent margin.
Soon after, rumors began to circulate that the CDF was overstepping its bounds. That raids on suspected criminals were merely excuses to take people’s guns away. Little did we know that he had already enacted a law that made gun confiscation perfectly legal and gave the CDF nearly unlimited power.
Militant groups were quietly targeted one cell at a time. The media was not allowed to report on the raids for 'security reasons'. President Sullivan was elected to his third and final term by a margin of only seven percent.”
“What’s ‘Militant’?” Paul asked.
“People who really don’t like being told what they can and can’t do. Soon after that, the bubble burst. The man who ran against him had a mysterious accident and was killed. The story came from outside sources that Sullivan had ties to organized crime, and that his mighty CDF was full of former crime bosses and their people.
Sullivan never denied it. In fact, once the cat was out of the bag, he declared martial law. His first move was to declare the CDF the only official media source and outlaw all others. He then dissolved the legislative and judicial branches of government and absorbed their duties into the CDF.
All Congressmen, judges, and attorneys were taken straight to prisons. Those who refused were …well, let’s just say they were taken somewhere where they wouldn’t cause any more problems for Sullivan.”
“We don’t know what those words mean,” Anna said.
“Those were the people who used to run things, before the CDF took over.”
“So, you’re saying that the CDF is bad?” Anna asked.
“They control everything now. They watch everyone’s every move. People who speak against them suddenly disappear and are never heard from again. So, yes, I’m saying the CDF is bad.”
“Grampa, I have to go to the bathroom,” Paul said.
“Okay, go and come right back.”
“Tell me more, Grampa,” Anna said.
“Your computers teach you about ‘The Purge’ don’t they?”
“Yes, they say that a long time ago there was a horrible accident that left parts of the planet uninhabitable,” Anna said.
“Well, they got it partly right. Did they say why it happened?”
“Well, long story short, Sullivan launched the weapons that destroyed parts of the world and other countries fired back, destroying most of our country. Through the whole thing, sickness became rampant and the surface of the planet became uninhabitable.”
“Is that why everyone has to live underground?”
“After the devastation, mankind had to move underground to survive. The CDF already had bunkers in place that were the size of cities. Food, shelter, everything people needed was provided. But the cost was our freedom. We are constantly monitored for any trace of disobedience.”
“I’m back,” Paul announced.
“Did everything come out alright?”
“Never mind, old joke.”
“What did I miss?”
“Not much, just the description of how Sullivan destroyed most of the planet.”
“How do you know all of this, Grampa?” Anna asked.
“Because I’m one of the few people left alive that witnessed it.”
“Why haven’t you told anyone else this story?” Anna asked.
“Who says I haven’t?” I said with a sly grin.
“What would happen if they knew you were telling us this?” Paul asked.
“Horrible things. That’s why you must never tell anyone you don’t trust.”
The door swung inward and four men in black uniforms stood just inside. The blood-red badges on their uniforms bore the letters, 'CDF'.
“Soloman Wainright,” the first officer boomed. “You are charged with ordinance number 321597-b, corrupting minors and 3519748, speaking against the CDF, how do you plead?”
“So entered. You have been found guilty and will accompany us for sentencing.”
Knowing I would be given no appeal, I held my hands out and they cuffed me.
“Remember what I said, kids. Be good until your mother gets home.”
As I walked, the first officer paused and shot a suspicious look at the children. My blood froze at the thought of them being taken into custody too.
“Are we leaving?” I asked. “I’m not getting any younger.”
He turned and led us to the transport. The last thing I remember was a sharp prick in my arm.
I woke strapped down in what looked like an old dentist’s chair. The upholstery was an ugly light green that had several darker stains on it that I was pretty sure I could identify.
“What, no anthill and honey?” I said into the darkness beyond the single light above me.
“Is that what you’d prefer?” said a deep voice that sounded vaguely robotic.
“I don’t know. What did you have in mind?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Are you to be my torturer?”
“Let’s call me an information extraction specialist.”
“Why do you people insist on giving yourself fancy names that mask what you really do?”
“Alright, I’m here to break you. Does that sound more to the point?”
“At least it’s honest.”
“Honesty is overrated.”
“True, but it’s easier to keep track of than a bunch of lies.”
“Alright, enough foreplay, let’s get this party started.”
“You want to be tortured?”
“No, but you’re going to do it anyway, so let’s get on with it.”
“As you wish.”
Electricity erupted through my body, making me go rigid with pain. I squeezed my eyes shut for fear that lightning might shoot out of them. I tried to keep from screaming, but it finally escaped me. The agony ceased as the electricity was shut off. I opened my eyes to a faint steam rising off of my skin.
“Do I smell bacon?” I said through raspy breaths.
Instantly the electricity invaded my body again. I screamed and it shut off.
“That didn’t last very long,” I rasped.
Electricity once again surged through me. Again, as soon as I screamed, the torment stopped.
“You were supposed to say, ‘That’s what she said’.”
“Are you ready to begin?”
“I …thought …we …already …had.”
“Oh no, that was just to get your attention.”
“So …now …what?”
“What’s next?” I shouted.
I waited, listening to my heartbeat return to normal and my breathing slow.
The longer I waited the more I noticed subtle sounds. A low drone that was barely audible, a drip of some invisible liquid every thirteen seconds, faint scratching on metal.
“Very effective,” I yelled after two hours. “Is this the psychological portion of the program?”
“No, that comes next,” the disembodied voice answered.
“So you are there. Why haven’t you asked me any questions?”
“I have only one question for you. Who have you told your lies to?”
“I’m sure you know they aren’t lies.”
“We say they are, so they are.”
“I guess that’s convenient when you can re-write the history books on a whim.”
“Yes, including your personal history.”
“What do you mean?”
A light came on in the far corner of the room, revealing two enclosures made of thick glass. Each was six feet high by two feet wide by two feet deep. A hose ran from the top of the enclosures up to the ceiling. Inside each was one of my grandchildren.
“No,” I said softly.
“Yes,” the voice chuckled.
“Please don’t hurt them. Do anything you want to me, but don’t hurt them.”
“Tell me what I want to know and they will go free.”
I hesitated for a long time.
“You have more patience than I do.”
Suddenly the container with my granddaughter in it became cloudy. She started to choke as gas was pumped into it.
“Tell me! Who else did you tell?”
“I …I can’t!”
Anna’s gasps for breath became less frequent as the horror of suffocation shone on her face.
“No, please!” I cried.
“Then say goodbye.”
“G …G …G …” was all she could manage.
She slumped against the clear wall and gasped her last breath. Her face, frozen in pain disappeared behind the cloudy haze.
“YOU FUCKING MONSTER! I’LL KILL YOU!” I strained against my restraints with all my might.
“That would be a neat trick. Would you like to see your legacy disappear altogether?”
I turned to my grandson who had watched in horror as his sister died.
“Please, grampa …” he said with pleading eyes.
“I can’t …”
The container became cloudy and he began to struggle for breath.
“NO! Alright, I’ll tell, just stop!”
“Names first, and I suggest you hurry.”
Names and locations of my most trusted friends poured out of me like a river of betrayal. All the while my grandson struggled to breathe.
“There, that’s it. I’ve told you every name, now stop this!”
He crumpled against the wall, hand pressed against the glass as if waving goodbye, then he slowly slid to the bottom and was still.
“NO! NO! NOOOOO!!! YOU FUCKING LIAR! YOU TOLD ME YOU WOULD STOP!”
“I did stop,” the voice said, calmly. “Just not in time.”
“You …I …He …” I struggled with every ounce of my being, but my bonds were too strong. The pain in my chest and the coppery taste in my mouth overpowered me. My heart was thumping like a jackrabbit on crack.
“Before you go, I just wanted to congratulate you for killing both of your grandchildren, all of your friends, and ending a revolution, all in the space of five minutes. Well done.”
I tried again to pull free. My hands became contorted claws from the pain and realization, and then it was over. The thumping in my ears slowed, then stopped.
The glass containers slid open. Anna and Paul’s bodies collapsed to the floor.
“Well done,” the distorted voice said.
Anna and Paul slowly opened their eyes, stretched, then stood.
“Thanks, mom,” they said in unison.
A tall woman in her late thirties emerged from a side door and approached them.
“How many times have I told you two, at work you must call me extraction specialist.”
“Sorry, mo …I mean extraction specialist,” Anna said.
“So did we finally earn them?” Paul asked excitedly.
“Well, I’m not sure that your death was very convincing,” she said with a thoughtful look.
Paul’s face fell.
“But, I did the best I could.”
Their mom smiled, reached into her pocket and pulled out two small red badges. They read, ‘CDF junior’.
Paul grabbed his and ran out the door whooping and yelling. Anna held hers in her hand, staring blankly at it.
“What’s wrong, Anna? You two have been working on this mission for a long time. You should be happy.”
She glanced over toward the chair that held the corpse of the man she used to call Grampa.
“Were any of the things he said true?”
Her mother stared at her with hard eyes that bored into her, then she looked away and said, “No.”
They walked out, leaving the decaying leader of the soon to be former resistance cell, slumped in the chair.
Sullivan sat in an elaborate office. On his huge mahogany desk sat a large, ornate engraving that read, ‘First Citizen’. He was surrounded by video monitors. Dozens upon dozens of them lined the walls, each showing a person going about normal daily routines. But at the moment he was intently focused on the one that sat in the middle of his desk.
It showed Soloman slumped in an old dentist’s chair. He pressed ‘replay’ and the video skipped back to the beginning of the interrogation. As Soloman writhed in pain, the First Citizen leaned back in his chair as if watching a favorite movie. A smile crept across his face.
Word count: 2629