by Joe Pachinko
Lazlo got to the tree line just as the first Hellfire Missile exploded. There was a gargantuan cracking of trees and a fire cloud shot through the forest with the smell of burnt wood and chemicals. He got up, smoke rising from the back of his legs, backpack, and the hair on the back of his head, and started running. “Fucking drone!”, he thought, “I’ve got tree cover now.” He could hear the drone buzzing over the tree tops with a nauseating insectoid hum. He was scared. If he had any shit to shit, he would have shit it. He ran. The hum followed.
The mass arrests of ‘Domestic Terrorist Suspects” had been coming for a long time. Starting in the big cities and moving to small. The Department of Homeland Security Forces were kicking down doors and taking masses of people away. Nobody knew if they were being taken to internment camps for “Re-education” in order to “develop an appreciation of U.S. policies”, or if they were being killed. Nobody asked. The list of activities that made you a potential terrorist was so long that it made everyone a potential terrorist. So they started arresting people for not using their “Freedom Card” to make purchases, people who still used cash, and anybody who wouldn’t contribute money to the Presidents’ “Constitutional Liberty” program. The last time Lazlo was trying to buy a bottle of cheap wine at the “Save-Mart” he had tried to pay in cash.
“Don’t you want to use your “Freedom Card”?” the checker asked him.
“No. That’s alright, I’ll just pay in cash if that’s O.K.”
“It’s O.K.? Are you sure you wouldn’t rather pay with your Freedom Card? You get a .003% discount?”
“No, really, it’s O.K. I’ll pay in cash.”
“And if you buy three bottles there’s a .006% discount plus the Freedom Card discount that makes a .009% discount?”
“I’d love three bottles but I only have enough money for this one.”
“Well, if you use your Freedom Card you can charge it and the interest on your low monthly payments would only be 25%?. And if you…”
“I’ll pay CASH.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, would you like to contribute $1.00 to the Presidents’ Constitutional Liberty program? To help protect our Constitutional Rights?”
“What Constitutional Rights?”
“You know…our rights and stuff?”
“Oh,” the checker looked shocked. That should have been the tip off. Lazlo paid and had walked out the door when he was stopped by some teenagers with clipboards.
“How are you doing today?” one of them asked.
“I’m just ducky,” Lazlo said.
“We’re taking a survey. Do you feel that, after they’re tortured, terrorist suspects should be executed, or just held in indefinite detention? Do you A: Strongly agree? B: Agree? Or C: …well, ha ha, there is no ‘C’. Ha ha.”
” Yes there is a ‘C’,” the other one said. “C: Mildly agree.”
“What terrorists?” Lazlo asked.
“Just answer ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’?”
“I…,” Lazlo saw the security guard approaching, “Have a nice day,” he told them and ran for his car.
The DHS goons were already arresting “terrorists” in the two small towns he drove through to get back up the mountain. There were armored cars and troops running through the streets with what looked like whole families in handcuffs, crying children. When he reached the edge of the last town, Petunia, the DHS soldiers were shooting dogs with machine guns. He took a side road up the mountain to avoid the checkpoint. They were too busy shooting dogs to chase him. That was two days ago. He had heard gunfire in the woods down the mountain, threw some food into a backpack, grabbed his shotgun, and headed up into the woods.
He had run about two miles through the woods and fell down next to tree, gasping. “God damn cigarettes…should’ve quit. No…I shouldn’t have.” The drone was still humming above the trees, “loitering”, but it was at least a half mile away now. He remembered reading that one Hellfire Missile cost $68,000. That meant the government had already spent $136,000 trying to kill him because he wouldn’t use his fucking “Freedom Card”. He thought of a human being chasing an ant and trying to kill it with a hand grenade. It wasn’t even a tank trying to kill a butterfly, more like using a nuclear warhead to kill a mosquito. He got his breath back, opened the backpack and pulled out a can of Spam. Popping his switchblade, he sliced out a wedge and chewed, savoring the salt and fat. The switchblade was his most prized possession, handmade in Italy, a real Frank Beltrame with an imitation plastic ivory handle, and of course, illegal in the U.S.. He looked up and again admired the green golden light filtering down through the trees. A cathedral, he had always thought of it like that. And the fools’ gold that shined everywhere in the dust, like gold had been sprinkled all over the mountain top. He pulled out an apple. The top was rotten, “Just like the fucking country,” he thought and cut the rot away. Taking a bite he heard the high pitched whining, then saw them. The spy bugs, electronic surveillance drones the size of a dragonfly. There were three, hovering a few feet from his head, ugly metallic things. He grabbed his shot gun and blasted them. They popped when they were hit. He suddenly thought of his grandfather who used to put snake shot in a .22 revolver and shoot bees out of the air to show what a great shot he was. A missile landed half a mile away with a roaring boom. The woods were burning now. He got up and ran. He couldn’t help thinking “That makes $204,000 they’ve spent to kill me.” The drone was closing in on him. Drenched in sweat, he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. Where was he running to? There wasn’t anywhere to go. He saw Isabels’ face looking at him across a restaurant table with her unearthly green eyes, waiting for him to love her, to adore her, but he had been cold, dead inside. Maybe there had always been something wrong with him. He reached the top of the mountain, the ocean stretched away below, radioactive with white caps, the green of Isabels’ eyes. He could hear the drone getting closer. The fog was coming in across the sea. There was a tremendous flash of white light.
Camp Climax, California
May 6th, 2012