|"I'm gonna make this country great again!" The voice of Jack Talman blares from the television set in the lobby. The crowd inside the voting center roars their support and adulation. I push through the crowd toward the exit, deafened by the noise. And am carried along with the flow of the tide of people around me. I try to dodge fists and elbows, feet and knees as I search for a route to the door, out of the insanity. I set out this day to vote. Instead, I find myself trying to survive an increasingly angry and violent mob. I look around for the group of friends with whom I arrived. They are nowhere to be seen.|
"Yeah," shouts the amplified voice of Talman, "get 'em out of here." Screams of approval surge through the crowd.
I hear a crunch and I scream. The pain is intense. I raise my arm over my head to cover my face, and it doesn't move. I stare at it blankly. Out of the corner of my eye I see motion, and unconsciousness engulfs me.
I wake slowly, every inch of my body an aching mass. I lay on a hard, unforgiving surface, curled on my side, barely able to breathe without pain. I can't breathe through my nose, it's full of something and the coppery taste of blood lingers in my mouth. I try to open my eyes. They are glued shut. A hand touches my shoulder and I flinch, agony lancing through my body. I whimper.
"Are you OK?" asks an almost familiar voice. I hear cloth ripping and shrink away from a soft touch. Ever so gently, dampened cloth dabs at my eyes. After a lifetime of intense pain at the gentle touch, my eyelids flicker. They are swollen shut. I see the silhouette of a young woman. I almost recognize the bruised face, but my eyes won't focus. I can't move my arm. When I try to touch my face, nausea floods through my insides. I curl around the pain. Swallow the bile rising in my throat.
The almost familiar voice asks, "what can I do to help?"
"Let me die," is my whispered response.
We should have seen it coming. Oh, some people tried to raise warnings, but they were mostly ignored. Or bought. Or squelched. Or disappeared.
At first, the people saw this latest campaign as a joke, much the same as in elections past. But as the months marched on, so did his followers - in silence and stealth. The warning signs were all there at his rallies - malice against "the other," hateful rhetoric, violence against dissention - but no one looked past the joke. Until it was too late.
By then, the votes were in and the results boded ill for all of us. For on that night, the world as we know it changed - forever.
I return to consciousness slowly. Fragments of conversation roll through my mind.
"Damned sand nig ... kept ... own kind," one voice proclaimed.
"He wants ... white. Here, try this," sneered another. Searing pain swathes my face, my eyes. Laughter.
John Duncan Talman, called Jack by his friends and family, was born with the proverbial silver spoon planted firmly between his sparkling white teeth. The youngest grandchild of a self-made robber baron, Jack was a scion of wealth and privilege. Born near the end of the last great war, he was afforded all of the advantages his station had to offer.
Throughout his early life, his grandfather regaled him with tales of the "good ol' days" in the beginning of the last century when unbridled capitalism ruled the land.
"Those were the days," his grandfather expounded, "when a man with vision could accomplish anything. They didn't stomp on a man's freedom to make money. And women!" the old man huffed, "don't even get me started on those vile creatures."
Jack took it all in.
The only living son amidst all the sisters and girl-cousins of his generation, he was a prince. He got the first and best of everything. He lacked for nothing.
The almost familiar voice again. I try to open my eyes.
"Georgie, wake up. Oh, gods, Georgie." A gentle stoke to my cheek. My face feels wrong, but I can't move my arms up to touch the wrongness. I am beyond pain now. I just want it over.
"Wha.." I begin, and my head erupts in fiery pain.
Jack grew up to be an even wealthier man than his father. Despite his less than stellar business ventures, he sold himself as a successful business entrepreneur, based solely on his moderately successful shipping empire. As much wealth as he touted, his true worth fell far short of the mark.
A big, muscular man, Jack used his size and force of personality to "convince" others to agree with his opinions. He hired tough men. Men who listened to only him. Men who never offered unsolicited advice. Men loyal to him and his vision of the world.
The only women he hired were prostitutes and servants. After all, women were only good for two things - sex and making his life more comfortable. He hadn't met a woman yet that held any worth. Including his mother - especially his mother. From a very young age, his grandfather never had a good word to say about his mother, and his father stood by, saying not a word. His grandfather hated his mother. He felt that Jack's father had married far below his station. And Jack believed every word of the man he idolized - Barron Duncan Talman, his grandfather.
The almost-familiar voice screams in terror and I try to move as agony rips through my body. The screams continue, I try to move past the agony toward the screams to help, to do . . . something, anything. Then suddenly, the sound stops in mid-scream. Silence. Crunch. Darkness.
Years pass. Jack Talman watches the tides of social interaction. He makes a bigger name for himself, diversifies his interests until the Talman brand is ubiquitous. It matters not that most of his ventures fail. His name is all that matters. Then he makes his move. His media holdings have done their job and the time is ripe. John Duncan Talman throws his hat into the political arena.
My world shrinks to pain and blackness and sound. I have no idea how long I have been in this place. My arm is healed, but it's crooked. And my fingers won't do what I want them to. Mostly my arm doesn't work, though. I never hear the almost familiar voice again.
Time flows, and I lose track of the days. The men come into the small space that is now my home. They grab my arms and carry me to that room. No questions. No statements. Just pain. Until I pass out. Then they haul me back to the small space and dump my unconscious form onto the pallet in the corner. Before they lock the door, they leave a bottle of water and a bowl of a tasteless watery gruel by the door.
When I regain what senses remain to me, I feel my way to the door and dip my fingers into the bowl. A cold, watery mixture of some unspecified - and decidedly rotting if my nose is any indicator - something hovers near the bottom of the bowl. My fingers probe the contents of the bowl and feel squirming... things... in the liquid. Maggots. My stomach heaves and I crawl to the hole in the corner of the cell.
Talman's political platform is built lies, just like his public persona. Pure lies. His speeches rally the uneducated, the bigoted, the bullies. He invokes the law of the land - but only as it benefits him and his cronies. All "others" are exempt.
I look "other." You see, my name is Georgio Caletti and my family roots go back to Italy - Sicily to be exact. My family emigrated to this country after the first great war; after they were persecuted. We hail from dark Italian stock - dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin. And, much to the chagrin of the rest of my family, I inherited the dark looks of our only Arabic ancestor. The thick goatee I sport accentuates that impression.
It was not something that occurred to me when I went to vote that morning. I guess it should have.
Talman's campaign sweeps the land. He manages to "win" the election - mostly by intimidation and scare tactics, but the numbers show him the clear winner. His "security" branch soon takes over the military. And in a carefully delivered speech on the day he is sworn into the highest office, his calculated words touched off manufactured crises all over the land. It provides just the excuse he needs to seize absolute power.
On his second day in office, John Duncan Talman, called Jack by his friends, suspends the laws of the land, and turns the last great Democracy into a Dictatorship.
On his third day in office, John Duncan Talman, called Jack by his friends, enters the nuclear codes. Armageddon has begun.