written by: George Gad Economou
People carrying grocery bags filled with all necessities—and sometimes unnecessary luxuries—kept coming out of the store, a constant flux of temptation; Jimmy leaned against the wall of a tiny hardware shop on the other side of the avenue. Staring at the grocery bags, at the smiling faces of children devouring chocolate-bars and ice-creams, giggling their parents’ attempts to wipe them clean away.
Jimmy’s mind grew hazy while watching the same old scenes being played out time and time again always with different protagonists, yet always with the same familiar happy ending; they’d all go home, cook dinner, watch television, go to bed. And come morning, the same old routine would be repeated; and the day after, and so on and so forth, in ad infinitum—and it was to be infinite, for one man’s death there was another’s birth to balance the social equilibrium.
Jimmy reached into his worn-out leather jacket and grabbed the pack of cigarettes he had found yesterday in a trash-can; he took out one of the longest stubs, straightened it up, lit it. The smoke was heavy, strong—and slightly hay-tasting.
He let his eyes follow the young woman that had just walked in front of him wearing a fancy, tight-sitting suit; the click-click sound of her heels rang in his head loudly, bringing forth memories of distant dreams. Struggling with his urges, he followed her body swaying under the movement of every step, until she turned in the next corner and disappeared, forever, from his life; yet another sporadic meeting with a stranger, a connection that existed exclusively in his mind.
The beautiful stranger was instantly erased, when a young couple walked by him, both munching on buttered corn; his nostrils, burned as they were from the cigarette’s heavy smoke notwithstanding, were aroused by the wonderful scent that overwhelmed him so quickly and devastatingly. He almost took a step forth, he nearly reached out to grab the woman’s corn; he didn’t, restrained himself at the last minute. But, why?—he questioned himself silently; he’d often wonder why he still attempted to play by the rules imposed upon him by others, whom he didn’t know and who didn’t give the slightest damn for his welfare.
He put the cigarette out on the pavement, then crossed the street carelessly; perhaps, had he been hit, his miseries would have ended painlessly, in a (deliberate) accident and there’d be no more pain, nor tears. However, no oncoming car drove straight into him; a couple of drivers barked angry words and threw suggestive gestures at him—along with the ever-present loud honking—but, that was it.
Jimmy observed the grocery-shop entrance in awe and horror; another family exited at that moment dragging behind them several bags; the two young children were trying to help the father carry all the weight, while the mother was struggling to maintain some control over the children. They were all laughing warmly and genuinely; the father and mother even had the time to exchange a loving glance, or two, while juggling between keeping the kids in order, and out of the street, and carrying the heavy groceries.
With jealousy burning his heart and numbing his mind, Jimmy entered the store confidently; he ignored the queer looks the other shoppers gave him; he even smiled, albeit faintly and sadly, when other shoppers writhed away from him.
“Can I help you, sir?” the robust police officer asked Jimmy emphatically.
“I’m just browsing for now, thank you,” Jimmy tried, and failed miserably, to smile casually, but, didn’t put the apple back in its place.
“Are you sure you can afford that?” the officer motioned to the apple.
“I’m just browsing,” Jimmy fearfully repeated.
“If you want, there are some older fruits in the back; they’re cheaper and more appropriate for the likes of you.”
“I’ll think about it, thank you,” Jimmy nodded, still holding on to the fresh, delicious-looking apple.
How long has it been, he thought as the officer took a few steps away from him without, however, ever removing his glare from Jimmy’s back. Fresh fruit, and look at all the other things, too; meat, the sweets, drinks. It must have been months, at best, since we last ate something fresh; always picking the rotten fruits, the spoiled meat. What others throw away, we eat. If only I could buy just two apples and a chocolate-bar; it’d make mother so happy, and me too, just by seeing her eating something tasty and healthy for once. It’s been going on for so damn long, I don’t know what to do anymore, I’m…should I give it a shot? I could, what’s there left to lose? That damn officer is staring bullet holes through me; if I give him one opportunity he’ll…where has the heart gone, the compassion? Are we even human anymore? Mother always talks about the days of yonder, her mother’s mother's childhood, the telltale stories we’ve all heard, never believed; children bedtime stories, meaningless fairytales to make the world seem less frightening. Can I do it, is there a point? Yes, I should, no I shouldn’t; just walk out of here, scorned but unscathed, back to mother; we’ll figure something else out, something safer, less…damn it, the apple smells amazing, it’s been years since I felt like that, what’s so wrong about being famished and in need for just a tiny little comfort? Just for a few moments, it won’t last, but those few moments will still be glorious and…NO I need to go, put it back, I…Jimmy picked up another apple and moved away from the fruit-stand. All the chocolate-bars and with all the different flavors, too; what would mother enjoy the most? Strawberry, banana, cream, chocolate-filled chocolate, triple-chocolate-filled chocolate bar; and we need to scrap for every piece of food and others just have it all right here for the picking, ripe and ready, no effort, no danger (a child—no older than six—shoved Jimmy aside and picked up two bars, which he threw in the filled basket his mother was carrying) and here it is, right in front of me, I hear them calling; the look on mother’s face, she’ll be worried at first, definitely, but, in the end, she’ll eat, and smile and rejoice, even if it won’t last, just something to take away the brutality of it all, the…Jimmy picked up two chocolate bars and walked, slowly, towards the cashier; the officer was following him, three steps behind, sturdily.
Jimmy wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve and was desperately trying to control his panting. His heart was racing, his legs trembling; he was reaching the point of no return; he wished to drop the stuff down and run, before he collapsed right there on the cold marble floor, but, couldn’t; just thinking of his mother’s expression, when she’d see the fresh apples, was all the fuel he needed to keep on going.
With the corner of his eye he saw the officer taking a step toward him; instinctively, he shot forth, pushing those standing in line aside violently; he jumped over the barrier and could see the automatic door opening; he smelled the fresh air of freedom; a couple more steps and he’d be out and lost in the crowds; he’d be free and his mother would be delighted; they’ll eat the apples, then the chocolate-bars; perhaps, they’ll even manage to brew some coffee, too, and the day will be glorious, like all their days ought to have been; one more step, the door was there, the sidewalk, the open street, his mother awaiting for his return, oblivious to his actions and thoughts…
BANG and the sound was heard only after the horrific pain of his exploding kneecap had been registered through his body and he was flat on the floor, staring at the cold marble; the pain had disappeared just as quick as it had appeared; a sudden jolt of excruciating suffering, then it was all over.
The officer walked steadily toward him; Jimmy managed to sit up, pleading for his life. The officer smirked satisfactorily, no one else in the store moved a muscle, yet none appeared to be repulsed; mere spectators to an all-too-familiar scene. Mother, how to get there, how to—Jimmy’s thoughts returned to the tiny basement apartment they shared in a rundown condominium; the officer’s gun was raised, Jimmy saw the flash of light through his blurry vision—he didn’t even have time to utter a farewell, nor any final thoughts crossed his mind. The flashback theory was proven wrong—a bright light, followed by everlasting silence.
“It wasn’t a bad day,” Richard said calmly, as he flipped the newspaper and took a sip of his 30-year whiskey.
“I can’t stand the news any longer,” Cynthia complained.
“Why, love? We had 34 executions today; 34 less worthless excuses of men in the world.”
“That’s what I’m talking about; why do we need all these murders?”
“Don’t talk like that!” Richard sat up, agitated. “Do you want anyone to hear you? Do you know what’ll happen?”
“You’re right,” she said submissively. “Of course, you’re right; it’s just…sometimes, I’m thinking…”
“Don’t. There’s no use in thinking, Cynthia.”
“You’re right. How was work, then?”
“Not bad; in relation to how the railroad business is going in general, anyway. Unfortunately, we did lose a project; maintenance of a minor line.”
“You still have that expansion, though, right?”
“Yes, of course. But, we did have to let 15 men go.”
“We couldn’t afford to pay them any longer; without the maintenance jobs, they were useless.”
“What will happen to them?”
“Why should I care?”
A key hit the lock and the main door was opened cautiously; Ashley tip-toed in and froze under the doorframe.
“Where have you been, young lady?” Richard demanded sternly. “It’s almost five minutes to curfew.”
“I’m sorry, daddy,” she apologized and closed the door behind her. “We got caught up with discussion; with the girls. That’s all.”
“Make sure it does not happen again; I told you, I want you home at least an hour before curfew.”
“Yes, daddy. I’m sorry. Hello, mother.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go to my room. I’m exhausted.”
“Goodnight, Ashley,” Richard said coldly.
“Goodnight, dear,” Cynthia said with a gloomy smile.
Ashley closed her bedroom’s door; immediately, she took the five 20-dollar bills out of her stocking and put them in the tiny box stuck inside the mattress of her bed. She counted the bills hurriedly—she was quickly approaching the 1500-dollar goal. She got undressed and laid down on the bed; suddenly, the street-lights were all turned off and only the flashlights of the patrolling army officers were occasionally illuminating the dark, moonless night.
“What’s the point, man?”
“It’s our only way out,” Tom replied calmly. “If we want out—and we do, right?—we have to do what must be done.”
“And you don’t feel bad about it?”
“No; and neither should you, Peter. I know you’re a sentimentalist, and it’s perhaps why I love you, brother, but still…you need to become one with the world if you’re planning on surviving much longer.”
“Yeah, you’re right…it’s just…I just don’t like it.”
“Can’t say the same, bro.”
“I know. It’s what terrifies me, to be honest.”
“That’s good; being terrified, that is.”
“The force that drives the world forth.”
“You’re catching up real quick, bro. Maybe, you’re too smart for your own good.”
“I’ve heard that before; the first time was at school. And people kept telling me all my life.”
“And yet, you never listened, did you? Refusing to retard yourself down to an acceptable degree.”
Peter nodded solemnly, then picked the small bag of brown, cut heroin up from the table; he burned a tiny chunk in a metal spoon.
“By the bye, yesterday they shot Sasha’s boy down like a dog; for two apples and two chocolate-bars,” Tom stated coldly, while gently pouring gasoline into empty wine bottles.
“He’s better off than the rest of us,” Peter whispered heavily and inhaled deeply the rising junk vapor.
“Up-Down; Up-Down,” Richard’s thunderous voice overshadowed the digging sounds produced by a hundred men. “Quicker, damn it! With more bravado! We’re not paying you to sit on your asses!”
“Why don’t they just quit paying us all together, like the damn slaves they’re treating us like?” whispered one of the workers and a dry chuckle escaped the mouths of a few other workers.
“Quit laughing! Laugh on your free time! This isn’t comedy-hour on Channel 4!”
“True; their shows are less funny than your face,” whispered the same worker, to the same results.
“Alright, that’s it,” Richard sternly said and grabbed the joker from the neck. “You think you’re a comedian, huh, funny-man?” He shoved him away from the chain gang and the worker found himself flat on his ass on the hot dirt. “How funny it’d be, if you were to lose your job, huh? You know how many men are dying to get a paying job? To prevent their children from starving on the streets?
“And here you are, well-paid, well-fed, well-housed and, instead of working, you’re taking cracks at me, making fun of the hand that feeds your whole damn family.”
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s…must be the heat, the…I don’t know why…” the worker stumbled on his words and remained on the ground, petrified.
“You sure as hell are sorry now that you were caught; you didn’t seem that sorry when you cracked up all those tasteless jokes.”
“I was, sir, it’s…just a way to take the load off just…it’s hard work, and…”
“Of course it’s hard work, you mendicant! That’s what you’re paid for; hard work. The world may need railroads and infrastructure, but, railroads and infrastructures don’t need you; they need men, who know their damn place.
“If you don’t, or refuse to acknowledge it, get the hell out! Go back home, tell your wife and children there won’t be any more bread on their table.”
“No, sir, I know my place. I’m sorry, I…I acted stupidly. It won’t happen again, I promise,” he sat up on his knees and pleadingly stared at the freezing, merciless gaze of Richard.
“It sure won’t happen again,” Richard said sardonically, “because, you are now to go back to your family and tell them there’ll be no more fancy dinners, nor a nice, sturdy roof over their heads.”
“You can’t fire me, please, I…I have four children, my wife can’t work, it’s…”
“You should have thought of all that before putting your comedy skills to the test. Get the hell out! You’re FIRED!” He screamed at the top of his lungs and for a brief moment, work had ceased; the entire chain gang numbly stared at the unfolding scene. One quick, fiery glare from Richard was more than enough for work to recommence and all that could be heard on the site were the shovels hitting the dirt.
“Mrs…Sasha, I’m so sorry, I’ve just been told what…” Ashley’s voice died down abruptly and she collapsed into the robust, steadfast arms of the middle-aged woman.
“It’s alright, honey; let the tears flow, it’ll do you good.”
“I just can’t believe it, I…”
“I know, Ashley honey, I do…it’s…” Sasha’s hitherto sturdy voice broke.
“If only he had known; if we had told him…”
“It would have killed him, baby, and you know it. My Jimmy was a good boy, he would have never…”
“Still, he might not have tried to…”
“I know; I keep thinking about it, too. He died because he wanted to do a nice thing for me.”
“I could have helped him, give him money; he never…”
“He was not that kind of a boy, my little Jimmy,” Sasha gravely agreed.
“So, now what are we going to do?”
“Stick to the plan,” Sasha’s expression turned cold instantly.
“That simple, huh?”
“It’s the least we can do; if we want to avenge Jimmy, we’ll do what we must. We knew the price we’d have to pay.”
“I guess,” Ashley nodded in passive agreement; in the meanwhile, she was loudly sniffing her nose and trying, not very successfully, to suppress the brooding tears.
“Oh, good, you’re both here,” Peter panted, as he burst into the basement apartment. “The pigs are coming.”
“What?” Ashley ejaculated. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, unfortunately; more than two dozen, according to the watchers.”
“Are we ready?” Sasha asked coolly.
“Not by a long shot. Tom hasn’t prepared even half of the bombs yet.”
“What are we going to do?” Ashley asked exasperatingly.
“We run,” Peter stated.
“Not you, Ashley,” Sasha said solemnly.
“What?!” She cried out.
“They know you. You can delay them. Give us some time to collect our things. Where are they?”
“Two blocks down,” Peter responded.
“Damn it,” Sasha spat. “Ashley, it’s our only hope. We need time.”
“I can’t do it, not now, not with Jimmy…”
“It’s for Jimmy you must do it; don’t you understand? If they catch us, we’re dead. If we run now, without anything, we’re dead. We need time; we’ll go someplace else, reorganize. Make things right.”
“Sasha, it’s not…” Peter tried to protest, but one fiery glance was more than enough to shut him up. “I’ll go upstairs, help Tom with the packing. Hurry!”
He disappeared from their sight, as he hurried up the stairs.
“Honey, you must do your duty.”
“I…” she resignedly lowered her gaze to the dust-covered stone floor. “Alright.”
“That’s my girl,” Sasha planted a quick kiss on her cheek, then headed towards the door. “Get dressed and get to work; we don’t have much time.”
From the street heavy-armored footsteps were heard, as well as the screams of those unfortunate souls standing in the way of the law and order river. Sasha rushed upstairs, while Ashley took her everyday clothes hurriedly off and got dressed appropriately for the occasion; she sighed heavily at the bottom of the stairs, then walked out on the street just in time to see the army of gun-wielding officers approaching menacingly.
“Now what?” Peter asked reluctantly, examining the new surroundings.
“We wait,” Tom said sternly and Sasha nodded her approval silently.
“What about Ashley? Where is she?”
“Probably gone home,” it was Sasha’s turn to respond. “After what she did for us…”
“She simply did her part to the cause,” Tom corrected her. “We all have to do what we must; so simple.”
“I still…” Peter began, then stopped. “You need help with these?” He pointed at the empty wine and beer bottles Tom was laying in a row.
“No, I’m good,” he shook him off. “Just keep watch, make sure no one sneaks up on us again.”
“How did they find us?” Sasha asked.
“Someone ratted us out,” Tom explained sullenly.
“Oh, come on, man!” Peter protested. “We were living in a targeted neighborhood!”
“Sure, but, the usual raids consisted of four to six pigs; not two damn dozens!”
“He’s right, Peter,” Sasha agreed. “They were too many, and too well armed, for it to have just been a casual raid.”
“I don’t know…” Peter rubbed his forehead. “Who would do such a thing?”
“I can think of more than ten, bro,” Tom said matter-of-factly. “Someone promised them a decent-paying job or just some cold cash, and they didn’t hesitate one bit; hell, most people would betray us for a warm meal in a heartbeat.”
“I still don’t want to believe it.”
“You better believe it,” Sasha scolded him caringly. “Otherwise, you’ll be dead sooner rather than later.”
“Ashley, where have you…WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?” Richard shot up from the armchair, his face instantly turning bright red. “WHAT ARE THESE CLOTHES? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?” He demanded.
“Nothing, it’s…NOTHING!” She cried and stormed past him, locking herself up in her room. “Damn it,” she sobbed whisperingly, staring herself at the body-length mirror.
“Ashley, OPEN UP, DAMN IT!” Richard knocked on the door violently, pulling the knob determinedly.
“Richard, what’s going on?” Cynthia asked, still half asleep.
“Ask your damn daughter!” Richard barked back at her; Cynthia pleaded with Ashley to open her door, to no avail.
“Damn it,” Ashley continued to whisper to herself, staring in disbelief at herself, at the torn mini dress, the blood stains on her face and arms; resignedly, she sat on the edge of her bed, hid her face in her palms and burst into muffled tears—the memories kept coming back, the horrific images would not disappear no matter how hard she wished them erased.
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF HELL DID YOU DO?” The door collapsed with a humongous bang and Richard burst into the room panting, his eyes spitting fire.
“NOTHING!” Ashley cried back at him. “Leave me alone, will you?”
“WHAT?!” He pulled his hair violently. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I DEMAND TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! RIGHT NOW!”
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY ROOM!” She got up, momentarily ignoring the excruciating pain traversing her whole body, and got right up to his face. “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!”
Richard slapped her with all his strength; exhausted as she was, Ashley collapsed on the floor holding her reddening cheek, glaring at Richard in sheer bewilderment.
“Get the hell out of my home,” Richard demanded in a trembling voice. “Right now. I don’t want to see you again.”
“Richard, what are you talking about? Calm down, we can…” Cynthia protested and grabbed him by the arm; with one swift move, he shoved her away, striking her on the nose in the process.
“Fine, I’ll go!” Ashley got to her feet, battling the horrendous pain. “Besides, why would I want to stay here, with an imbecile slave like you?”
“WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?” Richard demanded and shook her from the shoulders.
“You heard me,” she retorted in a low, steady voice. “You’re nothing but a servant to the system. You make me sick!”
“My job,” he heaved, “is what’s been putting food on your plate for all these damn years! It’s what has put a roof over your empty head, you ungrateful whore!”
“Justify it any way you want to, I don’t give a damn! You’re nothing but a worthless pawn! Nothing more! You’re worth nothing!”
“What are you doing?” He asked flabbergasted, panting when Ashley took a box out of the mattress.
“Packing,” she said coolly.
“And what’s that?”
“My earnings,” she threw the box and a few clothes in a backpack then hurried past Richard without sharing a glare with neither of her parents.
“WHAT EARNINGS?” Richard demanded and rushed behind her, grabbing her by the upper arm.
“My earnings from whoring myself out,” a dry chuckle escaped her mouth when she noticed his stupefied look. “Oh, you didn’t know? It was a lucky guess, then, calling me a whore moments ago, huh?” She freed herself up from his grip. “Too bad; I thought you knew. Bye!”
Ashley slammed the door behind her and rushed into the dark streets; she hid behind a large trash can when she stumbled upon a patrolman, then ran through the dark, abandoned alleys having nowhere to go, yet feeling freer than ever before.
“Okay, I’m in,” Peter threw himself on the half-broken couch and instantly reached for the junk resting on the three-legged coffee table.
“Do you have to do this now?” Tom asked patronizingly. “You’ve been clean for five damn days.”
“Because I had to,” Peter retorted, already heating up the spoon. “Not because I wanted to.”
“You need to stay clean for a little while longer, bro,” Tom pleaded, but received no response. Peter leaned forward and with a cut straw inhaled the blue vapor rising from the spoon.
“I’ll do what I have to,” Peter said dreamily, “but, I don’t need to be sober to do the next part. Getting hired was the toughest part.”
“You think you’ll be able to find a soft spot in their defenses high as a kite?”
“Yeah,” Peter nodded. “As a matter of fact,” his speech was getting blurry, his mind storming far off to a different realm altogether, “I’ve already done so.”
“What?” Sasha jumped into the conversation.
“Yes,” Peter sniffled. “I got the tour, along with all the other new ones; it’s not as heavily defended as we thought it’d be. It’s quite some distance from the city and…besides, it’s just a railway construction site, there’s no one important in the vicinity.
“The guards are mainly there to ensure no one is slacking off; they’re not afraid of any terrorist attacks.”
“That makes our task easier,” Tom smiled faintly.
“But, is it worth it?” Sasha’s inquiry darkened his smile. “I mean if they don’t think it important enough to safeguard it, will they even care if we go through with the plan?”
“It’ll be the first hit; not the only one,” Tom fired back sternly. “It’s simply to show them we can hit them, whenever we please.”
“And, after that first strike,” Peter said, out of the world of colors, “they’ll increase security everywhere, crack down every hotspot they know of; probably, they’ll raid every single building in a 500-mile ratio, just to be sure.”
“We’ll go into hiding,” Tom explained. “We’ve talked about it. We’ll let them think they won, that it was a singular instance. As soon as they relax, we hit them again. And again. We’ve gone through all this.”
“What about all those they’ll capture, interrogate, torture, murder?” Peter insisted.
“All good causes need great sacrifices,” Tom said coldly. “If we want to change the world, some of us will have to perish; become heroes, martyrs.”
“No, my Jimmy is a martyr,” Sasha retorted in a broken voice. “He’s the real hero.”
“We’re just the instigators, Tom,” Peter continued. “We’re merely the ones handing out weapons to others, urging them to fight our war.”
“It’s everybody’s war!” Tom shouted, his voice quickly breaking. “Making the world a better place is everyone’s business, damn it!”
“Will we, though?” Sasha sighed heavily.
“I doubt it,” Peter said, then once more nodded off, chasing great dragons in flaming meadows.
“What happened here?” Ashley asked in a low, flabbergasted voice while staring at the hideout.
“They came,” an exhausted, broken-down man sitting cross-legged on the blood-stained pavement responded, “they took them all out, executed some, took others away, and they burned the neighborhood down.”
“How did you get away?”
“I was too passive to be executed and too useless to be taken to the labor camps.”
“So, you stayed behind?”
“What else was there to do?”
“Go someplace else? Do something? I don’t know.”
“They took them all?”
“Yes. Haven’t you heard?”
“Seriously?” He chuckled dryly. “Where have you been for the past few days?”
“So, you really have no clue about the great attack on the railways?”
“A group of terrorists handed out homemade bombs to some labor camp prisoners, over at the Clearance railway site. They attacked the guards, the superintendents, the machines…tried to burn everything to the ground.”
“And?” She rushed him in agitation.
“They didn’t manage to do lots of damage…some guards got some burns, a couple of machines were destroyed…and almost everyone in the chain gang was shot on the spot; few unlucky ones, the ones looking more suspicious, were taken for further interrogation down at the Jailhouse.”
“Shit, they did it, they…” Her eyes popped wide open in a sudden. “Did you say at the Clearance site?”
“Yes; how come you haven’t heard about it?”
“I’ve got to go, thanks; take care,” she hurried down the street, her heart in her throat.
“What are we doing here?” Peter nervously asked. “If anyone sees us…”
“Calm down, we’ll figure something out,” Sasha reprimanded him dryly.
“Like what?” Peter insisted. “Tom’s gone to God knows where and we’re essentially willingly stepping inside the monster’s lair. What are we going to figure out?”
“A way to survive,” Sasha stated coldly.
“Right…like we always do, huh?” Peter chuckled. “Like we did, when we decided not to waste time and attack when we knew we weren’t ready? What now? Are we going to invade one of the houses, take the owners hostage, and wait?”
“Might not be a bad idea…”
“Sweet Jesus,” Peter sighed heavily and abruptly began scratching his arm over his sweater.
“Don’t even think about it,” Sasha scolded him. “Not now; and you should quit, once and for all.”
“Leave me alone,” he retorted angrily. “It’s the one thing that still makes some damn sense in this world.”
“Being high all the time?”
“Yeah, it helps me forget the madness.”
“Well, you better embrace the madness.”
“Why? Because, with Tom gone, I’m humanity’s last hope?”
“Tom’ll come back.”
“Sure, of course. Besides, who needs me as their Messiah, right?”
“Either we remain united, or we all perish.”
“I didn’t see unity doing us any good down at the railway site.”
“We might have hastened things a bit, due to circumstances.”
“Oh, that’s what we’re calling it, huh? Okay, fine by me. Just…let’s find somewhere to rest.”
“To get your fix?”
“Aren’t you tired of aimlessly walking about?”
“It’s not aimlessly walking; we’re going somewhere.”
“I didn’t think you were interested in abstract concepts.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’re obviously going somewhere, we just don’t know where.”
“You don’t know where.”
She saw her mother standing in the kitchen through the window, stirring a pot; Ashley sighed deeply, then took two steps towards the condominium’s entrance. She hesitated, took a step backwards, then another one forth. She was panting and her heart was beating hard against her ribs, but, it felt as if there was no other choice.
Suddenly, two shadowy figures turned from around the corner and her first reaction was to smile; the smile, however, froze on her face the very next instant.
“Hey, Ashley,” Sasha greeted her heartily.
“What are you doing here?” She asked, terrified.
“We’re seeking for a place to hide for a while; lay low.”
“This is not the place; this is…this is where the officers live!”
“That’s why it’s the perfect place!” Sasha exclaimed.
“Peter?” She gave him a most pathetic pleading glance.
“I just found out, Ashley,” he apologized, his eyes lowered; he was scratching his arm violently. “Besides, I just need…I only want…”
“Sasha,” Ashley said more sternly, “you can’t do that. Where’s Tom?”
“Running some vital errands.”
“We can’t go upstairs, not after…it was you, wasn’t it?”
“Peter delivered the bombs,” Sasha patted him complimentary on the shoulder.
“Had no choice, I…”
“How did you find this place?” Ashley continued. “I never told you…”
“You told Jimmy,” Sasha explained coldly.
“He promised never to…”
“I did that, too…” Peter said in a barely audible whisper. “Tom made me inject him with some pure junk…he told us everything about you.”
“What?!” She cried, then covered her mouth with the palm of her mouth and looked about nervously.
“It’s better we continue this talk upstairs,” Sasha said. “Away from curious glances.”
“We can’t, we…” Ashley protested, but was already too late; Sasha had pushed her way into the condominium, with Peter sheepishly following her with a lost gaze.
Unwilling to remain behind on the darkening streets, Ashley hurried into the condominium and tried to keep up with Sasha, who had already climbed the first set of stairs.
“What are you going to do?” Ashley asked in exasperation.
“We just need a place to hide for a while, after…”
“Don’t you know that…”
“Of course, I do.”
“Is that why you decided…”
“No,” she interrupted Ashley coldly. “There were different reasons.”
“Not now,” she barked.
“Ashley!” Cynthia exclaimed and hugged her daughter when she saw her standing at the doorstep, defeated.
“Hey, mom,” she responded whisperingly. “How are you?”
“Better, now that you’re here; I suppose you’ve heard…” she stopped. “Who are your friends?”
“Oh, right, yes; may they come in?” Sasha and Peter were already inside the apartment.
“We’re here just for a short while, we…”
“Cynthia, what’s going on? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” Richard demanded when he walked into the room. “Ashley, what are you doing here? Who are they?”
“Dad, I’m glad to see you’re all right; I heard…” she hurried towards him and hugged him; Richard remained still, unaffectedly glaring at Peter, who had sat on the couch and was frantically searching his pockets, and Sasha, who was examining the apartment in fascination.
“Ashley, why are you here? And who are these people?” He demanded coldly.
“I’m Sasha, sir,” she introduced herself, with an intentionally emphasized sarcastic tone, “and this is Peter.”
“And what do you want?”
“Just to stay here for a short while, or a bit longer. We’ll see.”
“What?!” Richard ejaculated. “Do you think I run some sort of a motel for the waste of skins?”
“It’s not like you have a choice,” Sasha said. “Peter,” she barked at him, “can’t you wait a little while longer? You don’t want to upset our generous hosts.”
“Leave me alone, will you?” Peter dismissed her and lit the lighter under the spoon.
“What is he doing?” Richard’s jaw dropped.
“Never mind him,” Sasha commanded Richard’s attention. “So, are you going to let us stay here voluntarily, or…”
“Ashley, you’re the one behind all this, aren’t you?”
“No, she’s not,” Sasha responded. “Besides, don’t tell me you won’t help a couple of fellow human beings that are being unjustifiably persecuted.”
“You’re criminals, too! Not only drug-addicts and scum; criminals, too! ASHLEY!”
“It’s not my fault, dad,” she apologized in a low, sincere voice. “I only came back, because I heard about the attack.”
“Did you have anything to do with that, too?” Richard demanded of Sasha. “Speak!”
two knocks—intermission—two knocks
“What are you doing?” Richard barked, but Sasha had already answered the door.
“Hey, Sasha,” Tom hurried in, panting and sweating profusely. “Everything alright?”
“Sure, all things considered.”
“Good,” he drew a deep breath. “Oh, hey Ashley, you okay?” She nodded, Tom’s gaze then moved straight to Richard, who was standing rigid, his fists clenched. “How are you, Mr. Superintend?” Tom took a low, ridiculous bow.
“Who are you?”
“Name’s Tom; I’m the maker of the bombs that burned the skin on your forearm,” he pointed mockingly at the tight bandage across Richard’s left arm.
“You son of a bitch!” Richard took a step towards him; instantly, he froze, when Tom casually raised a gun.
“Tom!” Ashley cried.
“Not now,” he scolded her. “Now, Mr. Superintend of a labor camp and oppressor of the free people, do you still want to take me down? Please, do try!”
“What do you want, you fucking terrorist?”
“To lay low for a while,” Tom shrugged his shoulders. “As you may know, the dogs, whose cocks you so eagerly suck, are on our trail.”
“Why here? How did you know where I live?”
“It was Jimmy, dad,” Ashley said in embarrassment. “It wasn’t his fault, but…”
“I did tell you he was a no-good punk, didn’t I?”
“Don’t talk like that about my son, you son of a bitch!” Sasha erupted.
“Your son? Ashley, what’s going on?”
“Your daughter,” Tom said coldly, his finger still on the trigger, “has been a great help to our noble cause.”
Richard and Cynthia both glanced at Ashley in astonishment, furiously and affectionately respectively.
“That’s true,” Sasha added. “She’s been an invaluable asset to our efforts to free the world from tyranny.”
“You ungrateful brat,” Richard barked at Ashley, then turned his attention to the rest. “And you imbecile idiots! Don’t you understand that it’s this tyranny—as you call it—that has helped the world move forth? That has made the world a better place for hard-working, intelligent people to live in?
“Are you really that fucking stupid?”
“You blind fucks,” Peter chuckled dryly, as he abruptly, and momentarily, came back from the magic realm of wild colors and tame dragons. “Don’t you see you’re all fucking wrong? Cursing and threatening with violence one another for pure bullshit? Tyranny, terrorism; what’s the fucking point?
“When was the world a good place to live in? You’re killing each other, without seeing the pointlessness of it all.”
“What?!” They all addressed Peter in unison, but, it was already too late; Peter had nodded off back to the meadows of faraway shadow dreams and finally was free to chase dragons through flaming cliffs for all eternity.
“Damn it,” Ashley sniffed her nose loudly, being the first to reach Peter and check for a pulse.
“See him?” Tom pointed at Peter’s body. “Another victim of your tyranny claimed; are you happy?”
“Victim of my tyranny? Am I the one that turned him into a hopeless addict?”
“If not you, and your bosses, then who?”
“You, you moron! You and your meaningless fascination with a problematic world that killed indiscriminately.”
“Shut up!” Ashley cried out loud, amid painful tears, catching both Richard and Tom off guard.
“Honey, take it easy,” Cynthia rushed to her daughter and hugged her by the shoulders. “You should go lie down for a while; you need rest.”
“No one moves!” Tom demanded.
“Don’t threaten my family!”
“Shut the fuck up!”
“Or what? You’ll shoot me? Go ahead, do it!” Richard spread his arms. “See what happens. Do you know how fast security will be here? Do you even understand how fast you’ll be shot down like the dog you are?”
“What if I don’t care about dying?”
“Then, you’re an even bigger moron than you seem,” Richard’s smirk widened.
“Tom,” Sasha put her hand tenderly on his shoulder, “don’t do it. It’s not worth it; he’s not worth it.”
“You want to hide, right?” Ashley protested under her tears. “And yet, you are threatening to do the one thing that will bring the entire force straight to you! When did you become so blind, Tom? You are supposedly the brains of the group!”
“And you the body,” he barked back at her. “Thus, shut up!”
“Don’t talk to her like that,” Richard stepped forth determinedly.
“Don’t take another step,” Tom tightened his grip on the trigger.
“Or, what? You’ll get them all killed?”
“Yes, and make them martyrs of the new world order.”
“There won’t be any new world order; nor will any of you be martyrs. You’ll just be statistics, numbers on a newspaper’s back page.”
“You’re wrong,” Tom smiled sardonically and turned the gun to his head.
“NO!” Sasha and Ashley cried together, but it was pointless.
The gun was fired, blood and brain matter exploded in a grotesque fountain; Tom’s body fell heavily on the thick carpet, staining it forever.
Barely seconds later, sirens and speeding cars were heard approaching.
“Richard, what are we going to do?” Cynthia asked, her voice and body trembling violently.
“Don’t you worry,” he reassured her in a calm, steady voice and picked the gun up.
“Dad, what are you…” Ashley started.
“Shut it,” he said casually.
“Sir, we had a gunshot report coming from here,” the police sergeant said, as soon as he had burst through the front door.
“Yes, sergeant,” Richard said calmly. “These terrorists entered my apartment and threatened my wife and myself with this gun. I managed to take it away and shoot their leader in the head. The rest are yours to arrest or execute.
“By the bye, they’re also the instigators of the Clearance railways site bombing; probably, they came here to finish the job.”
“Dad!” Ashley protested when two fully armored officers grabbed her by the arms and dragged her violently out.
“Sir?” The sergeant inquired.
“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Richard shrugged his shoulders. “Our daughter died two years ago in the General Director Memorial bombing.”
“Richard,” Cynthia whispered, shakily hanging from his arm.
“Don’t worry, honey, it’s all over now. We’re safe.”
“That’s all of them, sir?”
“Yes,” Richard nodded.
“What’s going to happen to them?” Cynthia asked fearfully.
“We’ll interrogate them first, ma’am,” the sergeant said. “To find out about their accomplices, their plans, anything useful. Then, we’ll execute them, unless they prove themselves more useful to us alive.”
“Very good, thank you for the immediate response, sergeant,” Richard shook the man’s hand.
“Nothing but our duty, sir. And, may I add, wonderful job killing the scum yourself and protecting your family, and the world. No, sir,” the sergeant refused to take the gun Richard gave him. “Keep it, just in case there are more of them that know your address.
“We’ll increase the patrols, but, I don’t think there’s any need for relocating you just yet. Please, do try to get some sleep and relax.”
* * *
Middle of the night and Richard was General Secretary in his dream, enjoying all the rewards earned by living a life according to the rules, serving the greater good. He was about to receive the Golden Medal (the highest of honors) for his executing a dangerous terrorist and for making the world an even safer place for those worth living.
His wonderful dream was interrupted by a gunshot; he jumped up, his heart racing. Cynthia was not next to him on the bed. He lit the lamp on his nightstand and read the scribbled words on the tear-stained yellow paper atop her pillow:
it’s just not worth it