When they came for….

I had a big glass of cold sun tea to my lips when both the front and back doors slammed open. Oh well, you knew this day was coming. The thought flickered through my mind as booted feet thundered through my house, closing on where I sat at my desk. I took a long sip, letting the chill liquid slide down my throat as a group of men in dark coveralls and full tactical equipment pushed into the small space with me. One, a man a little shorter and a lot thicker around the waist than the rest, stepped forward.

“Allen Tanner, I am here to arrest you on the charge of treason. I would advise you to come peacefully.”

A few of the men behind him stared at me, and I saw nothing but hate in the eyes that met mine. A few grinned openly, like they were hoping for an excuse to shoot me. I refused to give them one. I pushed back from the desk slowly, raising my hands as I did so.

“So, you’re here to arrest me for treason. Will you tell me the details of my supposed high crime?”

One of the smiling ones lost his grin. Stepping forward and lowering his automatic weapon to point at my chest, he snarled. “We don’t have to tell a traitor anything, Captain. Let’s drag his ass out of here, and if he keeps delaying us, let’s just shoot him and spare the taxpayers the cost of his trial.”

Fat Man (for that was how I thought of him now) put a hand in front of the angry young man. He gave me a smile that went nowhere near his eyes as he answered. “No, Corporal Renton, he’s right. Someone facing a charge of treason is entitled to know the details of the crime they’re being charged with. Very well, Mr. Tanner. You are charged with communicating with an enemy nation. You are also charged with sending information to, and receiving information from, said nation. You are also accused of, by undertaking these communications, offering aid and comfort to said enemy. Does that make the nature of the charges you face sufficiently clear to you, Mr. Tanner?”

I favored him with a smile. “Actually, no, it doesn’t. You accuse me of sending information to an enemy nation. Would you tell me precisely what information I am supposed to have sent?”

The smile disappeared. “I have to tell you what you did, not the details of the prosecution’s case. Now, I advise you to stand up, so we can properly restrain you.”

“So I can’t know what information I supposedly sent. Can I at least know how I supposedly sent it? Am I accused of sending it in an email to someone? Did I drop a folded piece of paper with the information on it in an inconspicuous corner of my local park? Am I accuse of sending it via smoke signals when I burned my leaves?”

Fat Man’s jaw clenched. “You know perfectly well how you sent the information!” He didn’t quite bellow, but he came as close as his fat body allowed. “You communicated the information in the comments section of a web site run by and from the foreign government in question.”

So either they’ve managed to get the NSA to sic their supercomputers on my VPN communications, or they’ve got someone monitoring the comments section of that site. Neither possibility was impossible. It made no difference how they knew, because they clearly did. Hell, I’m dead anyway, might as well make this clown squirm as much as I can. “So, Captain….”

“MacMurray, James MacMurray, if it’s any of your business.”

I gave him a smile. “I’d think it’s the business of any American to know the name of the men who’re helping crush freedom.”

MacMurry flushed. “I am not crushing freedom, I’m defending it! Don’t try to push your sins off on me, sir!”

I let myself laugh, and the change clearly upset MacMurray. He sputtered and in that moment of inarticulate near silence, I drove my point home. “But you are. I know the communications you speak of. I posted a reply to a story on the BBC’s web site, correcting some facts they got wrong about the protest march in DC, the one that was fired upon by private security forces working for the President.”

“That wasn’t a ‘protest’, it was a riot by traitors, and they got what they deserved!”

“No, Captain MacMurray, there was no riot. If he wants to push that lie, your boss should have jammed cell coverage. He didn’t, and plenty of folks streamed what happened live. He did manage to keep those live streams from getting out of the US, but plenty of folks here saw what happened. Those people were peacefully marching to protest the suspension of elections, and the private security contractors opened fire on them without provocation.”

MacMurray’s anger so overcame him, his words came out in a storm of spittle. “They were traitors! The President suspended elections because he couldn’t be sure the vote would be secure.”

“He suspended elections three years ago. What’s he done to secure the process? When, precisely, does he intend to let Americans vote?”

I caught a blur of motion just before something slammed into my head. Pain exploded, then was amplified as my back caromed off the desk. I hit the floor, and a boot came down in my right hand hard enough that I felt bones break. I didn’t try to keep the scream of pain in. Then I felt something cold pressing against the back of my head.

“Those fuckin’ socialist bastards got what they deserved, and you’re gonna get what you deserve too, you worthless traitor!”

It didn’t surprise me that the voice was Renton’s, and I knew without looking that what I felt was the barrel of his gun pressed against my skull, ready to fire. I swallowed my cries of pain and forced myself to lie still. MacMurray spoke into the silence I made, and I could almost hear the smile in his voice.

“Now, Corporal Renton, don’t shoot him. If we drag him out of here dead, his neighbors might think him some sort of martyr. We’re likely to have to come back here as it is, what with none of them reporting his traitorous behavior. No, let them see him come out as he is, a battered and beaten traitor being taken to his trial. Let them watch as he’s given a fair trial, then given a fair sentence of death for his crimes. After that, any of them who might think to speak ill of our glorious President will think twice.”

The barrel pressed harder on my skull for a moment, then the pressure vanished. I rolled over, looking into the eyes of the young man who’d struck me and smiled. “He’s right, I’ll get a ‘fair’ show trial, then I’ll be executed by someone just like you. You just need to wonder how long it will be before your beloved President sends someone like you for you. After all, a good dictator never leaves witnesses around to talk about the crimes he’s committed.”

Renton’s mouth hardened, and the rifle centered on my face…then I saw his eyes dart about, taking in the men around him. I knew I’d made my point, that he couldn’t trust them. Another man came forward to roll me over before handcuffing me. It wasn’t a lot, but if I could spread doubt to a man like him, my death wouldn’t be for nothing.

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On the 4th of July

Since seeing the French parade their military during the 2017 Bastille Day celebration, Donald Trump has talked of doing the same thing. Initially, he wanted to recreate the same pageantry on a larger scale in Washington, DC, complete with tanks rolling down the streets, while soldiers marched behind and military aircraft flew past overhead.

Those plans came to a screeching halt when the city government pointed out that tanks would render the roads they drove over unusable for days, and that they would expect the full cost of repairing said roads to be borne by the federal government. Even Trump’s own military advisers advised against such a parade, saying it would not be the best use of precious military resources. Most important, nobody seemed to know where the money to cover such a display would come from.

This year, however, it seems all the restraining voices have been silenced, and Mr. Trump intends to have his pageant. Things have been scaled back. No longer does he expect Abrahams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles to pass in review. No, now they are to be ‘parked’ in ‘prominent spots’. And while no surging mass of service members will be required to parade past him, a large contingent of service members will be taking part. And he will get his military fly-over, courtesy of the Navy’s Blue Angels.

Mr. Trump calls this a ‘Salute to America’. Yet those attending will be separated, with ‘VIP’ tickets being issued by the Republican Party. And while funding to pay for the review stands, podium and all the other associated work to stage this event is still largely kept from the taxpayers who are paying for it, the Park Service has already admitted that over two million dollars of it’s funds will go towards paying for this. That money, by the way, came from admission fees charged to enter national parks, and was originally intended to cover maintenance and upkeep of our national parks.

What is most disturbing about this ‘Salute to America’ is the fact that it does nothing to actually salute this nation. Unlike France and many other European nations, America has no history of parading our military services through the street. We honor not the various services, but the brave men and women who step forward to serve in them. And while I have not read, nor heard, what Mr. Trump will say in front of the Lincoln Memorial, I will stake a fair amount of money that much of it will be not about the courage of those who volunteer to service, nor will it be about this nation as a whole. No, it will mostly be about Donald Trump.

And if that happens, it means this expenditure of our tax dollars is paying for nothing less than a publicly-funded campaign rally…and that should worry every American.

The Occasional Okatu recommends: “Carole & Tuesday”

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about anime, but that’s mainly been because most of what’s being released right now is either continuing episodes, or just not that good.

There is one except to that, unfortunately, it’s an anime that’s not easy to find in the US. That exception is “Carole and Tuesday”. The story is set on a terraformed Mars at some indeterminate point in a future where most creative work is done by AI’s. It starts with a chance meeting between two very different people.

Carole is a child of poverty and hardship, a young woman who’s earliest memories are of being in a refugee camp without her parents. From there, she is shipped off to Mars, where she grows up in group homes with other orphans. She lives in an attic over a shop, working odd jobs and busking for what she can make.

Tuesday, on the other hand, is a child of wealth. Her family is so rich and powerful that she has no clue how to survive in the outside world. She wants for nothing material, but her family treats her as a failure due to her poor performance in school. Desiring to make a life of her own, she runs away from home. Her destination is Alba City, the biggest city on Mars.

It is there that she hears Carole playing a melody she composed, and is so struck by it that she begin writing lyrics. It is the thing these two different young women share, a love of music. It draws them together, and when Carole offers Tuesday a place to sleep in her attic, she accepts.

They flesh out their first song that night, and on an impulse, sneak into a concert hall the next day to play it on a grand piano. Only a few people are in the hall: a security guard who Carole knows and bluffs her way past, some people giving the hall a final cleaning before a performance that night….and the roadie for the performer who will be doing the gig. What they sing is this, an example of the music composed and performed for this anime:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R2ldnfCPUo

The roadie, who had started shooting a video when the girls went on stage, along with every person in the hall, stops in amazement. They get interrupted by another security guard who chases the girls off, but when the roadie posts his recording of their performance to social media, it become popular, and the young women begin the voyage to becoming professional musicians.

The most recent episode is #10, and so far, I am quietly amazed by both the music this anime features and the story it tells. It’s listed as a co-production with Netflix, but they aren’t currently offering it in the US. You can find it online, such as at:

http://www.anime1.com/watch/carole-tuesday

Or you could try this link:

https://animekisa.tv/carole–amp–tuesday

Where ever you find it, watch it, because this one is a good one.

Ring tone

I hear the tinny, almost comical rendition of “The Ride of the Valkyries”. After so many times hearing that same string of notes, I know what it is: someone’s idea of a ‘cute’ ring tone. By this point, if I could find the person who put that ring tone online, they’d be dead, as dead as I’m about to be.

The first time I heard it, I was kicking back, reading a book as the Metra West commuter train took me to the Ogilvie and the hope of a sunny day to stroll downtown Chicago. The sound came from overhead, just the first dozen notes, then in a wave of compressed air and a flash of flames, my life ended.

The next thing I knew, there I was, reading my book again. The crappy PA blared Berkley will be the next stop, but nobody moves. Sitting in the middle of a massive rail yard, nobody gets off at Berkley on the weekends. The stop is brief, and as we start rolling again, I hear the same music. I die realizing I’m stuck in a macabre version of “Groundhog Day” where I relive my death over and over.

The third time, and I get out of my seat, and everyone stares at me. Like me, most of them know nobody will get off or on at Berkley, and they wonder why I am out of my seat. But I will only have a moment to find out where the tone comes from, and with it, the bomb connected to the phone. My ears told me the last time that it was in front of me, so I charge away from the doors towards the front of the car. Again, the announcement comes forth and the train slows to a stop. I should get off. Even as the cowardly part of my mind thinks the thought, my heart rebels against the idea. The train starts to move, and the ring tone begins. It’s behind me now, and I turn towards it. I see five bags vanish in a flash, and I die again.

The fourth time and I am out of my seat even as I realize I am back again. Without thinking, I grab the red shopping bag with the C-Span logo on it which is nearest to me down from the overhead rack. A woman just behind me shouts protests. It holds a list of events at a literary event dated to occur today, but nothing more. I drop it and grab another shopping bag, this one black with the logo of a local grocery chain. I have time to look in it and see a single book before the ring tone starts and everything disappears in a flaming blast.

Everything is as it was. I am holding my book again, but I drop it as I jump to my feet. Only three bags left. One of them is mine, the black backpack I carry when I go into the city, so that can’t be the bag. I ignore it and the two I remember looking into to grab another backpack. It’s a dark-blue pack with a battered leather bottom, and I notice it’s heavy. Both zippers are together on one end of their track, and as I pull the upper one around, it snags on the nylon overlying it. The PA blares out “Berkley. The next stop will be Berkley.” and I force the zipper back away from the fabric stopping it before pulling it open enough to reveal…an old laptop that is consumed with me by the blast from above.

I drop my book the moment I return. I stand and reach for the last backpack, a pink kid’s pack with a rainbow in the lower corner. It too is heavy, like the last one I looked into. I try to be calm so I can open it without jamming the zipper, and it works. But inside it are coloring books and crayons, not explosives. I stare at them as the PA repeats it’s announcement and the same stupid notes come down from over my head before my world disappears in flames again.

I am back again, and I remember my wife handing me my backpack as I left. How it felt heavier than it normally did. The strange way she smiled at me after I kissed her cheek and told her my usual “See you when I get back.” As the PA comes to life again, it dawns on me. She knows what I really do in Chicago. I walk around, but in Chinatown, and what I’m looking for is massage parlors that offer not massages, but sex. Could my wife build something like a pipe bomb hooked to a phone? As I disappear again, I know that she could, and that the ringtone is her message to me. The Valkyries didn’t just collect the valiant dead, they also brought vengeance. And this is her revenge on me.

The disappearance.

“Okay, remember, I’ll count to ten, then I’ll come find you! Ready….start! One….two…”

My eyes are closed, but I hear my children run off, laughing as they go. In a single-floored ranch like ours, it’s not hard to tell which way they’re going. I hear Kevin and Lisa’s footsteps echo as they dash down the hall.

“three….four….five…”

The muffle screech of a hinge in need of oiling tells me they’ve gone into the room they share. I hear murmured words, too indistinct to make out, and know they’re trying to figure out where they’ll hide.

“six….seven…..eight….”

The slight rasping noise of a sliding door opening and closing lets me know they’re hiding in their closet. Now, to make a show of finding them.

“nine….ten….ready or not, here I come!”

I make sure to be as loud as I can as I make my mock search of the house, opening doors and calling out as I wander around. “Where can they be? Those kids have gotten too good at hiding for me!” I hear them giggling as I fling their door open. “Could they be in here?” The closet take up most of one wall opposite their beds, and I hear Kevin hushing Lisa as I approach it. My fingers slip into the recesses on the opposing sliding doors and I slide them aside with a shout of “Found you!”

But there’s nobody in the closet, there’s nothing in the closet.

All of Lisa’s dresses, her tops, Kevin’s jeans and the pile of dirty clothing he insists on leaving in the closet….all of it is gone. The entire space is empty, not even an errant sock lies on the floor. But as I stand there, stunned by the sudden change, I hear them. They’re still giggling like they’ve put one over on Mommy for once and managed to hide from her.

I slap the back wall, push against it at different spots hoping that somewhere there’s a hidden door, some trick that’s allowing my children to hide not just themselves but all the clothing I know they have from me. But the wall is solid, as is the floor when I stomp on it in the vain hope of finding a trap door.

“Kevin! Lisa! Do you hear me! Come out this instant!”

There is no answer beyond more giggles, and I begin to panic. Could I have been mistaken and they hid in the master bedroom? I go out the door, thrust open the door to the room my husband and I sleep in, and begin searching.

Nothing. They’re not in our closet, nor in the bathroom adjoining our room. Could they be under our bed? On hands and knees, I peer into the dim space under our king-sized bed, and see nothing but a few dust bunnies in need of cleaning up.

Could they be under their beds?

I hadn’t thought of such a possibility, sure as I was that they’d hidden in their closet, but now I rush back to look. I find nothing, not even the favorite well-worn teddy bear Lisa keeps hidden under her bed so it is close at hand on stormy nights. But even as I look, I can hear my children laughing quietly, and quite close at hand.

“Kevin! Lisa! This is not funny! Come out at once!” Nothing, just the same occasional murmur of gleeful giggles. “Do you hear me? I said come out!”

But they don’t come out, they don’t suddenly pop up to bask in their joy at having frightened their mother. I cross the hall, intent on going through the small bathroom the children use. It has the same fixtures, right down to the slight crack in the glazing on the sink, but it is empty of anything personal. The children’s toothbrushes, the battered stainless steel comb Kevin inherited from his grandfather, even Lisa’s collection of hair clips, all of it is gone.

I search the rest of the house, panic tightening my chest as every attempt to find Kevin and Lisa proves fruitless. There is no place for them to hide in our back yard, but I look anyway. Again, nothing.

Now, the panic is all-consuming, a thing that has swallowed me, an ocean that threatens to drown me. I call 911.

“Carswell’s Corner 911, please state the nature of the emergency.”

“It’s my children! They’ve gone missing, disappeared!”

“Where did you last see your children, miss?”

“In my kitchen. I was playing hide and seek with them, and they’re not here. I’ve been through the whole house, I’ve searched every room, and I can’t find them anywhere!”

A moment of silence, then the disembodied voice comes back. “Miss, I’m showing you’re location as 127 Wolff Road, is that correct?”

“Yes, yes, that’s where I live! Please, can you get someone here to help me find my children?”

“Yes, miss, I’ve dispatched a car, they should be there shortly. Please stay on the line until they arrive miss.”

“Yes, of course, anything, just get them here to help me search!”

Another, longer moment of silence, then I hear a car, driving fast, coming up the road. The engine noise drops, the screech of tires stopping fast, and I see flashing lights out the front window. “Miss, officers should be in front of your house now. Can you open the door for them?”

I rush to the front door, yank it open, and a pair of men in uniform are waiting. One is older, tall and slender, his hair going gray. The other is short and heavy set, his dark hair buzz-cut short. Neither of them look happy. I don’t care if they’re happy or not.

“Officers, I’m glad you got here so quickly. I need your help. My children have managed to find a hiding place in the house that I can’t find. I need you to help me get them out.”

The younger man looks disgusted, like he’d just heard someone tell the biggest lie of all time. The older man just looks sad as he speaks to me.

“Mrs. Sanchez, how many more times are we going to have to come here? We’ve searched your house more times than I can remember, with you right behind us. Every time, we’ve never found any kids, and that’s because you’ve never had any kids!” He scrubs a hand over his face and shakes his head. “I’ve told you before, if you keep calling us, we’re going to arrest you for filing a false police report. I’m not going to do that this time….but this is your last warning. If I, or any other officer, have to come here again, you’re going to go to jail. Now, have I made myself clear?”

Is he insane? I remember my children. The hours I spent in labor before Kevin came out. How Lisa had always been sick as a baby, but had grown to be a force of nature. I remember every time they fell. Every scrape on their knees. Every day home from school for a fever. Everything. ”But officer….”

He didn’t give me the chance to finish. “I don’t want to hear it again. I mean it. We’re going now. Your husband should be home soon, so you can tell that poor sorry bastard all about it. God knows how he puts up with someone as crazy as you.”

And that was it. He turned and walked away, his young partner giving me a final, sickened stare before following him. They weren’t going to help. They didn’t care. They thought I was insane, people who believed something as crazy as me never having any children. I close the door knowing I’ll have no help.

I have to find them. I have to. I can hear their giggles, but where are they?

Wait…what?

I open the door again. My door is stained wood, but not this door. It’s red, and not some calm brick red either. No, it’s a bright, almost garish red, the sort most people would call ‘fire-engine red’ I hate red, especially bright reds. Did some vandal paint it this hideous color?

Then I look closer, and see the wear around the door knob. The scratched paint near the lock. There are scuff marks at the bottom, some of them old enough to have started fading.

What is happening here?

 

What is your writing fantasy?

 

What’s your writing fantasy?

I know, I know, you don’t indulge in such trivial, juvenile things…but the reality is, we all have them.

Some of us dream of a string of Pulitzer’s sitting on a shelf somewhere. Others, no doubt, picture themselves posing for a photo to go with the glowing review of their latest book in the New York “Times”. Maybe yours is having half a dozen studios clamoring for the rights to turn your book into a block-buster.

Whatever it is, we all harbor something like that somewhere in our heart of hearts.

So, what’s your fantasy? No, it can’t be just getting published (far too limited), or worse, just getting finished with your current WIP. What do you dream of for your work? I’ll start out, and offer mine, and even if it’s not as grand as some of the ones listed above, I think a lot of writers will be able to relate to it.

I imagine myself reading something I’ve written in public. Not to a huge crowd, but enough that there are people who will hear me. I keep my face down, following the lines I’ve written, so I don’t see anything of the response until I finish and look up. That’s when I see it: absolute, dumbfounded astonishment. The sort of stunned, gap-mouthed look you see on people when they’ve witnessed something so amazingly beautiful that their brains are still trying to process it. To have my words get that sort of response from people, that’s my fantasy. Even if only half a dozen people heard my words and react like that, it’d be enough. I’d know I had written something worth reading.

So, comments below if you choose to chime in, and thanks for reading.

Why not tonight?

I tip the glass up and the sharp taste of the Bushmill’s in it fills my mouth. It slides down my throat as I swallow like a fiery being that fills my body with heat. The surface ripples, catching a stray bit of light from the bar’s overhead illumination. It looks like an eye winking rhythmically at me, mocking me, daring me.

“I could do it tonight.”

No one could have heard me whisper the words to myself, not with the music blasting over the sound system. But I hear them, and I wonder why I don’t do it.

I have a gun, a snub-nosed .38 that even an expert couldn’t hit a target with from more than ten feet away. I told the man at the gun store I was buying it because several of my neighbors had been robbed, but that was a lie.

I have learned how to tie innumerable knots. I tell people I learned to tie them because I’m interested in boats. I am interested in boats, but that had nothing to do with my desire to understand knots.

I look down at the amber liquid in my glass. I could just keep drinking, drink until I can’t stand straight, until my senses begin to reel. The drive home is long, the road busy, and there would be many opportunities.

On the drive here, I saw men standing in the mouths of allies, sometimes alone, sometimes with other people. The way they all look furtively about, their very wariness, is a sign that they are buying and selling drugs. I could stop and buy something from one of them before going home to do it in private.

“So why don’t I do it? Why don’t I kill myself?” I ask the reflection in the whiskey. Life has been one long string of disappointments. A job I hate, one failed romance after another, family dying one by one, leaving me alone.

Why am I still alive?

I take another sip, look into the glass, and find the answer. I don’t kill myself because I still have hope. Some part of me believes my soul mate is out there, waiting for me to find her. A portion of my heart still thinks I’ll find a job that makes me fulfilled.

I look at my reflection, and the tired old man who looks back at me smiles. I push the glass away, stand, and head for the door. I look up as I exit and see the sky, darker than any of my musing. I see the scattered stars, shining like tiny beacons. Even as dim as they are here in town, they’re ever-present. Like my hope, they too refuse to fade away. I know why I won’t take my life tonight, or any of the countless nights to come.

“You don’t kill yourself because you’re too stupid to just lay down and give up, that’s why.”

It’s not much of a reason, but it’s enough.