Prose Header


by Dylan Larson-Harsch

The rain drove viciously against the ground, pelting the defenseless sidewalk, waging war upon the asphalt covering the road. Nick carefully guided his car along the treacherous street, knowing at any time a slippery patch could bring about a bloody disaster. Inside the protective shield of plastic and metal that his vehicle provided him, he surveyed the calm suburban neighborhood devoid of any movement save himself.

Looking upon the peaceful homes led Nick to muse on the revolution that made them that way, the Great Upheaval of 2023. It was then that society really began in the correct, proper form it should have taken long ago, when citizens stormed United Nations buildings around the world and declared the organization defunct, thereby obliterating the last remnant of authority in the world.

“Those were the good old days,” Nick remembered his aging tutor saying in a dry, cracked voice. The man had taught Nick about all aspects of the Revolution, from its birth with the Advocacy Party in the former United States, expansion to other countries after the inherent success of the Party’s policy of dissolving government, the Great Upheaval, and finally, utopia.

After the Upheaval, all countries began to meld into one, and with no authority to dictate differences, borders became hazy, and people freely crossed from one territory to the next with no clear semblance of ethnicity. Eventually, society came to a mutual, unspoken agreement that separate nations no longer existed, that the world was a haven for all mankind without boundaries.

Nick’s attention was drawn into reality by the red glare of a stoplight, a visual diction piercing the rain. Nick eased down the brake pedal, careful not to slide on the wet road. Having not recalled a stoplight at this certain intersection, Nick realized it had been newly erected by those who lived around it. He smiled at this indication of society at work. Without government to do it for them, some citizen, probably a parent, concerned about the speed of traffic at the intersection, had gathered enough resources and manpower to construct this edifice of colors and commands. That was how all things were in the modern day of self-reliance.

Once the light had given green-tinted permission to proceed, Nick drove the remaining distance to his home in silence, accompanied only by the now gentle tapping of raindrops upon his vehicle.

* * *

Upon arrival at his comfortable one-storey home, Nick shed his coat and settled in on his well-worn couch to watch the evening news, one hand resting comfortably on the handgun keeping watch on the end table. Nearly everyone in civilized society owned a firearm of some sort; they had been subsidized by the government just before it fizzled out of existence. Owning weapons made Nick feel safe and secure, and the crime rate had dropped to almost nothing.

Nick particularly enjoyed the news, and it became a habit of his to watch it every night after coming home from Graceful Interiors, the furniture store where he worked as an accountant. The job, although not the most exciting and meaningful, was a steady one that served its purpose well in paying the various expenses necessary for survival, though Nick rarely had any extra money.

When a section of road in front of Nick’s house had become broken and impassable, Nick was obligated to pay for its reconstruction himself, not because he was the one who used it most but because others expected him to do so, and Nick did not desire a violent quarrel.

Nick smiled and returned his attention to the news, which now displayed a building enveloped in flame. All around, citizens were attempting to douse the raging fire with meager amounts of water while they waited for the real fire crew to arrive. The fire crew was just a slight step up from the citizens; they were funded only by a meager trickle of wealth from large philanthropic mega-corporations, and were limited in both members and equipment. Fighting fires had become a job that one would take only as a last resort.

Suddenly, the screen dissolved into static, but then returned a moment later bearing the picture of a worried anchorman.

“I’m sorry for the interruption,” the man was saying, “but it appears that a group of about ten thousand people have established boundaries of a so-called country they are calling Ralegine. The fraudulent nation is shown here,” a map of the former United States appeared with a red box around an area of the Midwest, “For more we turn to—”

Nick snapped off the television and ran outside. The box had been around the area where he lived. Why had no one informed him of this? Why hadn’t he been consulted?! Sure there were rumors but...

Off to his right, an orange flare caught Nick’s eye, and he deduced that riots must be taking place. He leaped into his car, which was sitting stoically in the driveway, and felt under the dashboard for the shotgun he kept there for emergencies. He drove off in a hurried panic, determined to investigate this so called Ralegine and aid in its defeat.

* * *

Ten minutes later, after arriving at the presumed genesis of the flare, Nick surveyed only a wasteland. The Central Trade Depot, known formerly as City Hall in the Archaic Ages, was now a husk of its former glory. Charred metal beams hunched in mournful dilapidation over ashy ruins speckled with fallen stones and flesh.

Nick parked his car and exited, gripping the shotgun. The air tasted metallic and heavy, and distant gunshots pierced the night.

I’m too late, Nick thought. The battle has already occurred. But who won?

It was impossible to tell from the wrecked scene if the Depot had been a stronghold of Ralegine or of civilians, and Nick’s scouring eyes revealed no insignias or markings. He set out through the rubble, treading carefully upon a slick, uneven mixture of stone and metal that crumbled in his wake.

When he reached the wreckage, Nick heard a faint moan that warbled its way through the endless patter of rain. Nick turned to his left and made his way to an upturned arm buried under heaps of soggy ash and soot. Nick hurriedly brushed away the debris to reveal the face and body of a woman he thought must be middle-aged, for her face was carved with shallow wrinkles.

Her mouth cracked open and emitted a small croak, and her eyes directed Nick to her chest, where, a large shard of glass had embedded itself.

He hoisted her into his arms, with much effort, and struggled to his car to transport her to the nearest hospital. Ambulances were long extinct. After many stumbles and slips, he managed to open the rear door and laid the woman on the back seat. For a moment, he stood watching her labored breathing, blood trickling from her abdomen and staining the seat cushions.

Should I really be helping this woman? he thought, She may be a Ralegine rebel. If she is, I should shoot her right now.

But Nick was overwhelmed by his humanitarian urges, and as he was just stepping into the driver’s seat, a shout interrupted him. Nick turned slowly to face a group of about ten men all dressed in identical uniforms and who all bore the same stolid expression. One man detached himself from his comrades and motioned for Nick to kneel, and Nick obeyed, realizing his shotgun lay abandoned in the Depot wreckage.

“Identification,” the man said in a voice like crunching gravel. Nick reached into his back pocket for his cream-colored card, a thing of unknown origin that had followed Nick since birth and was something he had been told to keep safe and have at all times. Never before had Nick needed the use of the laminated rectangle, but he always had kept it dutifully on his person.

Once the man had thoroughly inspected the card and returned it, he inquired it of the woman. Nick replied he had only just found her in the rubble, to which the man scowled and motioned for his men to search her, despite Nick’s pleadings about her injury. After long, agonizing minutes, the group came to the conclusion that the woman carried no ID and the man furrowed his brow.

“Fine,” he said, “do what you must.”

Under the blackened sky, like charred ash, one of the company produced a handgun from his belt, and Nick watched in mortified silence as her pain evaporated along with her life. The incident passed through Nick with no sensation other than the trigger and the dreadful thunderclap that came afterwards.

“Why...” The word was toneless and flat as it escaped from Nick’s tongue.

“She carried no ID, therefore she must have been an insurgent, and for that, the penalty is death,” the man replied.

These words weighed down on Nick and his mind refused to focus. How could these men act in such a militaristic fashion and not be part of the Ralegine rebellion? How could that be, with no government? And how could there be a penalty, if there were no laws?

“What penalty? How?” Nick screamed his frantic inquisitions.

“According to the Contract, I am not obligated to disclose that information,” the man began, to Nick’s frustration. “But I will, for as a proper citizen, I feel you have the right to know. We are members of the militia that serves the Brangle Corporation. We were sent to investigate this new government that threatened our power and to destroy them, if necessary. And as you can see, it was.”

Brangle. Nick recognized the name, a furniture manufacturer that he often did business with. But a militia? And a Contract?

Nick realized his body had taken on a state of shocked numbness. “How is that possible?”

The man smiled a devilish grin. “It is possible because there is no government to stop us.” He paused. “And we must not be discovered.”

The white globes of Nick’s eyes saw the man raise his pistol, but the man was interrupted by the crackle of a device strapped to his shoulder. He lowered his pistol grudgingly and tore the device from his person in vexation.

“What?” the man spoke harshly into it, then cocked his head as the device garbled out some words Nick was too far away to understand.

“Yes,” the man replied, “another protest? Working hours and wages? Yes, you can use force! But try to minimize our losses; good workers are expensive these days.”

The man terminated his conversation and the static was silenced. He turned his attention back onto Nick, who had shrunk up against his car like a frightened animal, tears beginning to slide down his cheeks.

“No government,” Nick said, having dawned on dreadful knowing, “capitalism at its most corrupt. And you, you are the enforcers. You and the identification cards. To make sure everything stays as it is.”

“Precisely,” the man replied, and the glimpse of an idea seemed to flicker across his eyes. “Hm. You seem able-bodied, physically suitable. And free.”

He motioned to one of his company, who detached himself from the group and approached Nick bearing handcuffs.

“What’s happening?” Nick cried in desperation. “What are you going to do to me?”

“I believe ‘serf’ is the most commonly used term,” the man replied. “Be happy in your work.”

Copyright © 2013 by Dylan Larson-Harsch

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