Needless to say, they didn’t knock.
“Stay where you are. On your knees with your hands on your head,” the biggest one said.
“This is my home. What are you doing? What do you want?” I said as two more pushed me to the floor.
“You know exactly what we’re after, man. Where are they?” the big one said towering over me, his knee bumping my left eye.
“Where are who? Why are you doing this?” I said, wincing as his two partners wrenched my shoulders. I knew who they were and what they were after.
“The books, man. Where are the goddamn books? Our informant ID’d you as a subversive and told us you had a fucking library here. Hundreds, she said. Now where are they?”
It came to this as I’d predicted after He Who Shall Not Be Named was elected our leader and then turned everything over, spilling our constitutional rights onto the floor and, in essence, burning them. We no longer could peacefully gather to discuss, let alone debate, the state of affairs in which our land now found itself. Besides, you never knew who of the people you talked with might be one of their informants.
Within just a few months of taking power, HWSNBN ordered all news organizations to cease operations except for his sycophantic bootlicks at the renamed Supreme Network. He also shuttered all newspapers, except for The Truth and Our Democracy, now our two national newspapers. He had his cyber-cops monitoring all online interaction, again causing fear, anger and doubt among the half of the citizenry who voted for the other side. The First Amendment—-marketed by the government as The Worst Amendment, a true threat to national security—was stricken from the Constitution by well-armed executive order. And everyone just watched.
Next came book banning, kowtowing to the conservative religious zealots instrumental in getting the Supreme Commander elected. That part was easy, just emptying Libraries, bookstores and even schools of everything from Huckleberry Finn to To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. Seuss to, of course, Fahrenheit 451.
With the precedent set, the government decided to remove other sources of education, entertainment and enlightenment from the public. Anything not given an imprimatur by HWSNBN was taken from the owner and destroyed.
I was a teacher, a writer of children’s books teaching youngsters to respect one another, always keep an open mind about someone and not base our opinions on the way they look, speak or pray. Yeah, I was one of their subversives.
“One more time, man. Where are you hiding the books?” the big one hissed in my ear, spritzing it with spit when he pronounced the evil word. The click of his pistol hammer cocking into place may have been the loudest sound I ever heard.
“They’re gone, all gone,” I said.
“You lyin’ son of a bitch. I’m counting to three and you better come clean or I’ll blow your faggot brains all over your nice baby blue carpet. Guys, who in their right mind would have a baby blue carpet in their place?” He laughed the laugh of someone who knew not of freedoms other than his now-inalienable rights to bully, beat and burn.
“I gave some away and destroyed the rest,” I said, half-expecting the next sound I heard, a blast, to be my last.
“Search this place, Lou. Who’d you give ‘em to, author?” He stretched that last word out like it was a vile taffy.
“The school libraries in Beekmantown and Green Island. They had so little to offer their kids and…”
He swung the barrel of his pistol against my cheek, I saw a flash and down I went. But I was till alive.
“You want any more of that, you’ll stop bullshitting us and tell us where they are. The next time I pull the trigger.”
“I’m telling you the truth. Then other books, my collection of histories and classics, I destroyed them with the dignity they deserved. Instead of the brutish methods you…”
The pistol swung again, but a roar accompanied the flash this time. But again I was still alive. I reeled in pain and disorientation from the discharge by my ear as the bullet destroyed the glass door in the empty bookcase across the room my wife gave me on our last anniversary.
“Last chance, asshole. Next time, right in your ear,” the big one said, and I was fairly sure he meant it. I could see that from the barely contained manic anger in his piglike eyes peering from above the black mask covering the lower half of his face.
“There’s nothing in the basement, attic or shed out back,” the one called Lou said as he reentered what was until a fortnight before my study.
“I’m not lying,” I said above the pounding ring in my right ear. They’re all gone.”
“Computer. Where’s your goddamn computer, faggot,” the big one shouted into my left ear.
“One of your colleagues visited me last week and confiscated it at the behest of your informant across the street. The one who used to spend her days listening to talk radio and watching me from behind her curtains,” I said, preparing for the next blow.
“Is that so… You got any other devices you can use to spread your subversive lies with, writer boy?” the one called Lou asked.
“No, your people are quite…thorough.” I had five manuscripts on that computer and another two on my old iPad, which now were chewed up bits of plastic, glass and magnetic inspiration in some government scrap pile.
The one holding me down released his grip and I once again fell to the floor.
“All right, Andrews, we’ll be leaving now. But recognize this is only a warning. We’re keeping you under surveillance on the regular. If you so much as shit we’ll know what color. You get me? I shoulda taken that shot when I had the chance. You elites sicken me,” the big one said, giving me one more punch in the head.
And then they were gone.
That night, after cleaning up the mess as best I could, the blood would always be a reminder of that day, I went to the basement and made sure the curtains were shut tightly. With my penlight, I found the drain in the floor and unscrewed its cover.
Reaching into the pipe, I snagged the hook in the wire from which I’d suspended the plastic bag and pulled it up into the tiny circle of light. My Kindle hadn’t been dislodged in the search. I removed it from the bag and carried up into my darkened study, where I had digitized my library and transferred all my books to this glorious instrument.
I thumbed through the virtual pages and found the volume I was searching. I tapped it open and selected the words from March, 1861 and read them as I had many nights since the election and division of our nation. They gave me hope, as they will so many of us, even those who merely watched while all this happened. Your words once again inspired me:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
The next morning the big guy broke in again, kicked open my bedroom door and saw my Kindle on the nightstand. You never really hear the shot, do you, Mr. Lincoln?
Some people don’t have better angels. Some maybe don’t have angels at all.
© 2018, Joseph Hesch